He had heard her, apparently, as he took the side of her face in a wintry hand, and lined himself up for a second attempt. She didn’t fight, she didn’t freeze, and she gave back into him again, just as strong and just as she had imagined all day. This realization of opportunity made her more brazen than she could remember in years, and consequently greedy for possibility. After all, what had she been doing for days and days but denying and skirting?
Faye had told her to loosen up; if only she knew how she might do that, and if only she knew with whom.
She was already off to a better start, she realized upon guiding his shoulders down so he would sit with her, over her, on the nearby bench. There was an honest fierceness to this, she felt, that owed nothing to the youthful stupidity of Howard’s reign, but something a little more blunt and open. He curled an arm around her shoulders to protect the blades from the wrought iron, bearing down with his chest to sandwich her between himself. The hand that had been on her face seconds before was now shameless, dipping under the hem of her coat to find the hem of her skirt.
She should have squirmed, should have asked him what had happened to the truly sweet fellow she’d been strolling around with, but it made sense before she even had the time to take offense. How long had he been here? How long could it have been? Realizing she didn’t really want definitive answers she could have possibly calculated, she continued to take Faye’s suggestion to heart and tilted up her knee to forcibly slide his hand up her thigh. A surprise around every corner – she felt him smile against her lips. She even giggled in response, aligning her nose with his to look at too-close-to-see brown eyes. This man was years her senior, gambled like some kind of professional, swore in her presence, jumped from the sky for a living, and snuck around on a regular basis. She shouldn’t have put it past him. But hell if he wasn’t a sweetheart who had melted the cold for days. He had taken her bottom lip between his before she heard her giggling echo back at her.
Turning out of his mouth’s little embrace, her eyes searched the street veering off to the left. Behind a cart abandoned for the night were two young girls, pushing it as eleven or twelve. When he looked over as well, they knew they were sufficiently caught, and scampered off whispering in tiny, delighted, mortified French.
He laughed first and easy, giving her shoulder a squeeze that somehow calmed her right away. “It’s past their bedtime,” she said feebly.
He looked back at her, unimpressed with the words with a lingering sense of impression at her actions and allowances of his. “And it’s not past yours?”
It wasn’t how he meant it, that much was clear, but it was her first thought anyway. She leaned back to take him in, and wonder if just for a moment if she had lost her organized, logical, serious little mind. She looked at the bare amount of lipstick she’d managed to smudge across him and wiped it off his lower lip with a thumb. Why not? Oh, why not? Everyone would just die, wouldn’t they?
That one utterance, one tiny name, sealed it completely. Maybe he couldn’t feel the same way, and it was so unlikely that he could, but if he could, she would know. She would know before the night was over, and there would never be another day of wondering.
Could she pull it off seriously? Especially with someone like him?
“Are you gonna fall asleep or something, Lillian?”
“It is past my bedtime,” she blurted. When he looked almost let down, she thought about her delivery a bit harder with the second half. This time, she didn’t try. She let the words escape, to let them feel alone, instead of trying to think of how they should feel. “You should take me.”
His eyebrows all but disappeared into his hair. Still, he didn’t let go of her. She could even swear she felt him grip onto her knee. “No, I can’t, you… you keep getting me all wrong, and I’m not—”
Mouth hanging slack on instantly forgotten words, he closed his jaw a bit late. “You are.”
“Yes.” She looked up at him through her lashes.
Instead of watching her, searching her for answers, he looked off to the right, as if the lamp post itself would tell him what to do. A few moments later, after she had laid her hands on his chest, he looked back. He was bewildered, but smiling, and decisive. “What happened to that sweet girl I’ve been going around with?”
She stood, breaking away from him in such a way that he had to as well. “If you can tell me we can go right now, and you don’t have to stop anywhere, and get anything, you’re just as unsweetened.” She had him.
He paused, eyed her long, eyed the ground long, and looked back up with a smirk. Patting a pocket a bit, he stood tall. “Hate to admit it. Sour.”
Looking stunned, though there was no way she could have been, she gasped in a wide mouth and backed up a step, all smiles. “You aren’t.” As if to prove a point, she changed straight away, stepping back towards him to stand into a soft, long kiss, before tempting him back towards her again. This was unreal. It felt like they’d had this relationship for months.
“New route, huh?” He reached for her hands, and she didn’t give them at first.
“Utterly new route.” Once she was convinced there was no way he was turning around, she let him take them, fold her close to him, and brush the hair away from her neck. Seeming to notice this wasn’t a time for talking, he only applied his lips there variedly as they walked back in the direction of the housing unit. But of course, he couldn’t last.
“This is okay, right?”
“You know it’s okay.”
“Right, I know, but it actually… is… okay, right?”
“Right, of course it’s okay.”
Sliding around the building, which was alive with feminine laughter and glowing lights, she took him by the hand and led him up the fire escape, and he didn’t complain nor wonder why. She had butterflies churning when she remembered that Faye had promised to be with Rosie and Torie tonight, serving as a self-elected mediator, and would balk at a locked door. Prying open the window, he slipped past her to extend a hand and help her inside.
She closed out the cold behind her and stood still, overwhelmed momentarily. But he stepped around in front of her, shoving out any thoughts of guilt or concern or disbelief, and slid his hands between her coat and her dress, pulling her in close for a kiss more gentle than their others. Feeling more at home with him again, she relaxed, and forgot again about any involvement Faye may have had. This was their time, not hers or Skip’s, and it was going to be made the most of. Of that she was sure when he shifted his palms to slide the coat from her shoulders.