In which it is time to face the music.
“She’s gorgeous. You have great taste.” Adelie never reacted in the way he expected. Nate didn’t quite know how to answer the compliment.
“Uh, thanks?” Avoiding his look, she played with the napkin holder, biting her lips. “You’re not holding her up against me, are you?” He asked.
She shook her head and sat upright with a sigh. “No. I can’t, can I? It’s just… weird. Weird to see you with another woman.” She aligned the napkin holder with the condiments tray. “I think I’m a little bit jealous.”
“Jealous?” Of all things, this was the last he’d expected her to be.
She turned and contemplated him openly. Her gaze swept over his chest and shoulders, lingered briefly on his mouth, wandered over his cheeks, forehead, nose and came to a halt at his eyes. She licked her lips and sighed again. “You’re gorgeous. It’s not like I didn’t notice.”
He raised his eyebrows. “So? If you want me, you can have me. You know I’m a full-service guy.”
She shook her head and returned to fiddle with the napkin holder. “It’s not like I don’t want to. But, I once slept with a good friend of mine, way before I met Christopher. And… it didn’t turn out well. Since then, I don’t have sex with people I consider friends.”
“Is that what we are. Just friends?” He hated how desperate he sounded.
Adelie met his eyes again, wearing a crooked smile. “I don’t know. If I’d trust my instinct, I say we’re not… ” She pushed her hair back and just looked at him, a little lost and a little vulnerable. He gathered her in his arms, relieved as she put her head on his shoulder, sliding off her chair and standing between his legs. He adjusted her head on his shoulder so that her nose burrowed into his neck. Outside a gale rattled the windows. It was good to know her safely in his arms.
She traced his collarbone under his shirt. “I can’t just sleep with you. I know it won’t end well.”
He let go of her to occupy himself with wiping down the counter, avoiding her look. His jaws worked while he wiped the stainless steel surface until it gleamed. Adelie gave him space to think. He was a guy after all. Dealing with emotions probably wasn’t his forte. Was dealing with emotions her forte? Hadn’t she instead failed to acknowledge her feelings for him? She lifted the condiments tray out of his way.
“Thanks.” He put down the cloth and faced her. His raw determination dried up her throat and released a swarm of butterflies in her stomach. Friends didn’t cause butterflies to flutter. He put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. Seeking steadiness for her weak knees, she leant against him. He nuzzled the crown of her head, and mumbled: “I’m scared.”
“I understand that you don’t want to get burned. It takes a lot of faith to trust again. Heck, what do I know… I’m scared too.”
“We’re both cowards, aren’t we?” His voice was soft and only a little bit mocking.
“There’s safety in numbers.”
“True. And with you, I always feel like I can take on the world.”
“Idiot.” She poked him, and he snorted.
“What? We always work well as a team.”
He was right. They did. In planes and on the ground.
“We should go on a date. A real date.” His proposal came suddenly and without preamble.
She lifted her head and looked into his face. Instead of the usual mischief and confidence, she found a layer of apprehension. He was taking a risk, muscles tensed under her hands. “You mean a romantic date?” She felt stupid for asking, but she had to be sure of his intentions.
He nodded, brushing her hair back. “Yes, Princess. A real, romantic date. Let’s go dancing, at the Marmoset, tomorrow night.”
“Nate, I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“What are you afraid of? I just feel we both are in need of a bit of fun. You know, fun with someone you actually like. Fun with someone you care for. Making memories. Happy memories.”
His cheeks glowed red. The butterflies fluttered up again. Against her better judgement, she smiled. “Okay.”
The simple word had the most remarkable effect on his face. It exploded into a quiet firework of emotion: disbelief, wonder, happiness. “Really? You’ll come?”
She interlocked her arms behind his neck, tilted her head and enjoyed the dabbling with fire a little more than her broken heart might be safe with. “Yes. Yes, I’ll come.”