I looked over to my left and saw her sitting in the hammock, her feet dangling. Slowly, I made my way over to her. My chest hurt when I saw the downtrodden expression on her face. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she repeated tonelessly, staring at the patio.
I nudged one of her sneakers. “Room for two on there?”
“I’ll get off.” She started to get up, but I put a hand on her shoulder.
“No, don’t. Can I sit with you?”
She shrugged, but she sat back and let me lower myself onto the thick woven ropes next to her. My heart beat quicker at her nearness, at the warmth of her leg against mine, at the scent of her hair. I wanted to touch her so badly, hold her close and apologize, ask for another chance. But I couldn’t.
We sat in silence for a moment, and I waited for the voice in my head to start in with all the horrible calamities that could befall her from sharing a hammock with me. But I heard nothing but the birds and the water. Apologize, asshole. You hurt her feelings.
“I’m sorry, Skylar.” I slid my hands up and down the tops of my own legs to keep them off hers. “I shouldn’t have been short with you.”
“Whatever. It’s fine.” Her voice was flat. She still wouldn’t look at me.
“No, it’s not.” I decided right there to tell her the truth. It was either that or leave her alone forever, and I couldn’t bear that thought. “I’m angry with myself and I took it out on you.”
“What are you angry about?”
“Lots of things, but mostly that I don’t trust myself around you.” I curled my fingers into fists.
“What? That’s silly.” Her tone had lightened a little.
“But it’s the truth. It’s my truth, anyway. And it makes me push you away. ”
“It doesn’t matter that I trust you?”
“It’s not that it doesn’t matter, Skylar. It does, and I appreciate it.” A warm breeze blew in off the water, and I closed my eyes a second. “What you did upstairs, make a joke…that’s actually good for me.”
“Yes. Ken, my therapist, would have taken your side and told me to lighten up.”
She frowned. “That doesn’t sound very nice. You can’t help the way you are.”
Now she was defending me. So fucking adorable. “No, I can’t. But I wish I could. I wish I were different.” I looked down at her, and those wide blue eyes pulled another truth from me. “Especially where you’re concerned.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to be different, Sebastian. I like you, even though you’re moody as fuck.”
I laughed—that was as apt a description of me as I’d ever heard.
“And I understand that you need time to feel comfortable around me.”
“Thank you.” I braved putting my hand on the top of her thigh. Her skin was warm and smooth beneath my palm.
She looked at my hand on her leg, started to say something, and stopped herself.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m just wondering…” She fidgeted, looking up at me through her lashes. “I mean… God, this is so embarrassing. I guess I’m wondering if you’re even attracted to me. Part of me says not to flirt with you because you just need a friend right now, and another part says I can’t help it, because I really like you.”
Christ, was she serious? She thought I didn’t want her that way? “Well, part of me says I spent the entire second half of dinner last night trying not to think about fucking you. And failing. Does that answer your question?”
She gasped, her mouth hanging open. Her eyes danced with shocked delight, and I wished I could keep going, tell her all the things I wanted to do to her, just to keep that happy, stunned look on her face.
“But you were right—I do need time.”
“OK,” she finally managed.
We sat there for a few minutes in silence, and I gently rocked the hammock forward and back. Eventually, her head tilted toward me, and she rested it against my arm, making me smile. This I could handle. This was the sort of pure, peaceful moment I desperately needed to feel like myself. A sense of calm pervaded me, and I breathed deeply, allowing the woodsy air to fill my lungs. Skylar’s breathing was deep and even too, and a moment later I realized she’d fallen asleep.
Testing myself, I lowered my lips to her head and gently pressed them to her hair.
No voice. Just stillness and peace.
Flooded with gratitude, I inhaled the sweet floral scent of her shampoo before closing my eyes.
It might not have been the nap fantasy I’d had last night, but it was a damn good start.
Maybe there was hope for me.
Hope for us.