A/N: This was written for my fantabulous friend, Sheree, for her birthday.
They're having their bi-weekly Gravity 5 movie night in Kevin's basement the first time it happens.
Kacey won the rights to pick the movie this time around, so of course it's some corny romantic comedy that only she wants to watch. Stevie's on the couch sandwiched between her and Zander. It's January and it's freezing and so they're all huddled underneath blankets to keep from shivering so badly they can't focus.
Halfway through the movie, Stevie's right arm starts to fall asleep, and when she stretches it to get the feeling back into it her pinky and ring finger brush briefly against Zander's hand. She feels him snatch it away and wonders what his problem is, but a moment later it's back and this time it's his fingers that brush her hand. There's pinpricks of warmth where he touched her, and she can't quite tell if it's because of Zander or because her arm was falling asleep.
For some reason, it feels like they're playing a game.
It takes her five minutes to reach out experimentally. Her pinky finger finds his hand and she begins to tap out a beat on it, uncertain and a little fluttery. Suddenly, he loops his pinky with hers, locking them together, and they stay like that the rest of the movie. It puts her in mind of elementary school, of secrets and requests and dreams sealed with what is, when you're five, the most sacred of promises. She wonders vaguely if pinky promises have any place in high school. She wonders if she wants them to.
She thinks maybe this stupid movie is making her a little sappy.
The second time is in the hallway.
They're walking from their shared history class to Stevie's English class, attempting to plan out band practice that afternoon and maneuver through the crowd of bodies at the same time. This particular hallway is at a bad cross-section, with two different flights of stairs feeding into it as well as a door from the courtyard outside, and it requires an awful lot of work to keep close enough to hear each other.
Zander's voice cuts out mid-sentence, and when Stevie turns to look for him he's suddenly four people away and being pushed in the opposite direction. She goes after him, feeling a little like a salmon swimming downstream, the crush of so many other bodies surging in the same direction. It proves difficult to get next to him again; every time she's almost there someone cuts in front of her or bumps her out of the way. Irritated, she makes a desperate grab for his wrist once she's within arm's reach.
She misses and grabs his hand instead.
In the moment, it doesn't matter, because hello they were talking and could people be a little bit more considerate when they walked through the halls, please? And now he won't get dragged away in the middle of a sentence, which can only be a plus. So she maintains her grip. It's not like anyone's paying attention to them, and the hallway's so packed that no one can see their hands, anyway.
Even at such a close range it's still difficult to hear Zander's voice over the din of the hallways, so it's not until they get to her English class that she notices his voice sounds a little bit strained. And his hand is a little bit clammy (when they let go, she tries to wipe her palm discreetly on the back of her jeans). And his face looks a bit flushed. She furrows her brow, frowns, presses the back of her hand to his head.
"You're a little warm, Zander," she says. "You coming down with a bug?"
He won't meet her eyes when he responds, "Something like that," and she's not sure why.
The third time is in front of everybody.
They get a gig at an all-ages club downtown and it's a blast. The crowd loves them and they get called back onstage for an encore (they play their new, more technically challenging arrangement of "Go With Gravity," which is risky because they've been playing all night, but Kacey still kills it on the runs and Zander's solo is probably the best one Stevie's heard yet). In goofy excitement, they all line up at the front of the stage, joining hands and intertwining their fingers and taking a bow like they're in a Broadway musical. When they drop their arms Nelson drops Stevie's hand, too, but Zander doesn't.
Backstage, everyone in the band is slapping each other on the arm and congratulating each other and gushing over the best parts of the show. There's such a performance high in the room that it takes five minutes for anyone to notice. In the middle of praising Kevin for getting them back on beat in a spot where the time wobbled for a minute, Kacey's eyes drop down to Zander and Stevie's hands. She's so shocked that she drops the rest of her sentence, but Zander picks it up and keeps going while Stevie quickly detangles their fingers, clasping her hands behind her back instead. Kevin and Nelson don't notice.
Kacey corners her later that night.
"Okay, talk," she demands, eyes narrowed. Stevie knows Kacey's the nosy one, the one who will never let anything drop, and sometimes it's a useful quality but it's not one Stevie ever wants leveled at her.
"It's nothing," Stevie insists, avoiding Kacey's eyes. She glances over the room, sees a pretty blonde talking to Zander, can't explain to herself (or maybe just doesn't want to explain to herself) why her stomach feels like one of her brothers just got in a good sucker-punch when she wasn't paying attention. "Noooo-thing. Not a thing." Because it isn't a thing, not really; a thing is something tangible and real and this is, what, fingers brushing under a blanket? You can't hold someone to that.
Kacey turns around, following Stevie's gaze. A sympathetic hand touches her on the shoulder. "Nothing, huh?" Kacey asks quietly.
The fourth time is in their band room.
Since the gig Stevie hasn't spoken more than two or three words at a time to Zander. It's ridiculous, really, and she knows it, but every time she opens her mouth around him whatever's making such chaos in her stomach threatens to escape. Butterflies, maybe, except that sounds a little too pleasant. Slugs might be more accurate. Or spiders. Kacey keeps side-eyeing her and Stevie starts steering clear of janitor's closets because if anyone would actually try the "lock your friends in a closet to make them talk" trick it would be Kacey.
She's practicing her bass on the couch alone during lunch one day, about a week after the gig, when he comes in. There's a harrowing split second in which she strongly considers bolting from the room, but instead she ducks her head and pretends not to see him as she slowly plucks out the bass line to the song they're rehearsing that afternoon.
"Stevie," he says quietly, by way of greeting, sliding in next to her on the couch. She freezes.
"Zander." She means for it to come out light and casual but it sticks somewhere in her throat and comes out disjointed instead. Anyway, who would she be fooling? After ignoring him for a week, after dodging him in the halls and letting every call go to voicemail, it wouldn't have been believable.
"You weren't in the lunch room so I didn't know if you had eaten or not, so I, uh." He holds a foil-wrapped cheeseburger from the school cafeteria in front of her face. "I brought you this."
She shakes her head, focuses her eyes on the strings of her bass. "I'm not hungry."
"Not hungry?" He sounds stunned. Suddenly his hand slides under her hair and presses against her forehead, cool and dry and callused, and she flinches. "You coming down with a bug?"
It all clicks.
She grabs his hand, pulls it away from her head, because the longer he leaves it there the more heat she feels rushing to her face. Their hands drop down between them on the couch. Stevie tries to pull her hand back, put it back on her bass or in her lap, but Zander holds it in place.
"Something like that," she murmurs.
A warm forehead, a rolling stomach, no appetite. She really could, she supposed, be classified as "coming down with something." But did it have to be so entirely unpleasant? She couldn't understand why Kacey seemed to love this kind of thing, seemed to think it was fun. But maybe Kacey didn't feel it in the same way.
Zander gives her hand a squeeze before letting go. He gets to his feet, rocks back and forth on his heels.
"That girl wasn't my type," he says. She looks up at him, but he's staring resolutely ahead. "The one at the gig. Just so you know." He stuffs his hands in his pockets and leaves.
Stevie has a hard time biting back a grin.