The hardness of his muscles starts a slow burn in my gut. I couldn’t explain the feeling, but I’ve felt it for the last four months.
It started with a crush from afar. Then my crush turned into a pact with Nikki to try to get him to notice me. It was time. So I did what I needed to do, and for the last few months, he’s been helping me get my stupid calculus grade up.
We’ve always been ‘friends.’ With a makeshift family like we have, it would have been impossible not to be. But I’ve always been the baby of the group and getting the man I’ve crushed on to notice me always seemed impossible. That is until he started coming around twice a week, every week, for the last few months. During that time, our friendship grew stronger, naturally, because we had more time with just the two of us. Well, I guess we were never alone since we could always hear my parents from where we studied in the basement.
Many people don’t take Nate seriously. Mainly due to his carefree, jokester persona, but also because he has never flaunted the fact he’s insanely smart. Which he probably should—maybe then I wouldn’t have had to convince my dad he was the best person to help me get my grades up.
Regardless of how it happened, my crush bloomed like a well-watered flower. During my tutoring, we shared lots of laughter and teasing moments. A few times, I even caught him just looking at me in silence. Little things added up in my head until I was sure this moment was worth the leap.
Clearly, I was mistaken. I thought things would be different, that this would be different, for us. But this something different is nothing like I had dreamed it would be.
“Em,” he says softly, breaking me from my thoughts. “You know I love you, but I don’t love you like that. We’ve known each other forever, and you know I would do anything for you, but I love you as a friend. What you’re saying, suggesting, would change a lot more than our friendship.”
Oh, God. There it is.
“I’m sorry.” I sigh, feeling every second of those mistaken dreams about some big love between us crumble around me.
“There’s no need to be sorry, firecracker.” I close my eyes when he says the nickname he had given me. “We’ve spent a lot of time together lately; it’s normal to get some wires crossed when you’re around someone so often. Maybe when you’re a little older, you’ll understand better.”
My eyes pop open, and I turn sharply. My body jerks, and I’m seconds away from jumping from the bench seat and pacing. His arm falls off my shoulders and hits the back of the swing. “When I’m a little older?”
His brow furrows; clearly, my Jekyll and Hyde move has confused him. I went from sullen to pissed off in two point five seconds. Like a firecracker. He always said my temper would light up and take off like an out of control firecracker, thus the reason for the nickname.
“Uh … yeah?”
“I’m eighteen. I’m not a two-year-old who doesn’t know right from wrong.”
He nods. “I know how old you are, Emberlyn.”
“I’m old enough to know my own feelings, Nathaniel.” He’s never liked being called his full name—but neither have I—something we both are clearly using against each other in the heat of the moment.
“Jesus,” he mumbles.
His eyes leave mine when he stands and starts to pace in front of me on the porch. The music I hadn’t even noticed being so loud before vibrates through the wall of my parents’ house, but thankfully, the large group of my friends and other random kids from our graduating class have stayed inside during this conversation.
I force myself to watch him. His large body moves in choppy agitation and annoyed steps, so different from his normal fluid movements. He’s always moved in a way that looked almost like he floated. His large body always moves with a graceful silence that reminded me of a ballet dancer. Which in turn would cause me to giggle uncontrollably because just thinking of the manly man in front of me in tights is too much to imagine.