My eyes flutter shut, the corners of my mouth curling into a bright smile, as the breeze dances through the short green leaves of the grass beneath me. I giggle quietly, my toes stretching from the ticklish sensation over my bare skin, but I don’t move, allowing my body to sink deeper into Mother Nature’s embrace. The sweet scent of peach and vanilla travels to my nostrils and I eagerly inhale it, wishing this moment would last forever.
“Is it always this peaceful out here, Ava?” Marie asks me, her petite frame rolling over to face me.
She brings her hands together, before resting them under her left temple for support. I watch as strands of her chestnut coloured hair fall over her right cheek, the dark flesh the faintest shade of red from the warm rays of the sun shining above our heads.
“Only in school time…” I reply in a low voice, as the tip of my index finger brushes her perfect skin to tuck her hair behind her ear. “We timed it well today.”
Marie nods. “Thank you.”
“Showing me around.” She sits up, the hem of her baby-blue skater dress draping over her thighs. “I’ve only been here a couple of days, but I’ve seen way more than I’d planned to. All thanks to you.”
The rich chocolate-brown of her irises rests on me and I can’t help but gaze into her eyes, lost in the rawness of her natural beauty. My lips part but no sound comes out, short for words to express my thoughts.
Marie frowns, leaning toward me. “You have an eyelash there,” she tells me, pointing at my tear duct with her manicured nail.
I flinch, my nerve twitching under the sensitive flesh. “Here?” I gently swipe the pad of my ring finger across the thin skin of my eye. “Is it gone?”
“No… wait, let me…”And with that, Marie scooches closer, her face now only an inch away from mine.
My heart stutters in my chest at the proximity of our bodies, her breath brushing my cheek in a gentle rhythm that soothes my nervous system. Her middle finger strokes the skin below my eye, the motion light but precise. Normally, I would pull away, untrusting of the unidentified finger poking at my eye. But it is different with Marie. I stay still, the sweetest of tingles travelling through my body, awakening every nerve ending in me in the process with the most delicious of shivers. My middle quivers and I stare at her softly, mesmerised by her bewitching energy, wishing her touch would never pull away from my now-flushed flesh.
I wish this moment would last forever.
“There… Got it!” she exclaims, proud of herself, before waving her digit at me.
“Thanks,” I manage in a breath, looking away, embarrassment at the way my body reacts to hers washing over me like a cold shower.
But Marie squints, leaning in again. So I hold my breath, my heart stammering loudly against my ribs as her lips pause in front of mine.
For the shortest of seconds I think she is gonna kiss me, but then she says, “You have beautiful eyelashes.”
My skin burns at the compliment, and I feel her gaze invade my soul as she focuses on my eyes again, before casually pulling away to sit back over the tall grass. I force a smile, begging my body to calm itself down and my breathing to resume at an appropriate pace. I bring the backs of my hands to my hot cheeks, inhaling deeply.
Had Marie lingered in front of me a second longer, I would have made a big mistake—I would have kissed her.
I swallow hard, dread suddenly prickling my every limb and organ in a sharp, uncomfortable pins-and-needles sensation, because this is wrong.
I have never felt such a strong magnetic pull for anyone the way I do for Marie—not even for Adam, my boyfriend of twelve years. I barely know her, but there is something about Marie that attracts me. It is like being sucked into a river current; no matter how hard I swim the opposite direction, the force of gravity urges me to go with the flow—her flow.
Marie has only been here for four days, but she has turned my head and heart upside down. She is the first person that enters my mind in the morning as I wake up, and she is the last one I see when I close my eyes in bed at night. I can’t focus. I can’t eat. I can’t work. I can’t live like I used to unless I am with her. I have been blaming it on the lack of sleep and utter excitement at having a new friend, but deep down I know there is more.
It can’t be love, though, because that would be wrong.
And yet, how could something that feels so right be wrong?
I thought I had my life all figured out, until Marie checked in at Hard Rock hotel, where I work as a receptionist.
I had made plans long before her arrival, and I knew exactly where I was going and how I was gonna get there. I was gonna save money to buy a house with Adam, and then we would get married and have kids, so that we could grow old together as a family. That was—is—the plan.
But maybe, just maybe, I might want something different after all. Something else.
Or someone… else.
The thought saddens me, because I went through my entire life knowing where to go, but now… Now I come to myself within the deep dark current of Marie’s river, and I realise the straight way has been lost. And it scares me.
The journey with Adam is safe and familiar. The way to it is right there under my nose—all I have to do to get to it is… nothing. I simply need to remain where I am, living my life the way I have always lived it. And that is the opposite of scary, but if I think deep enough about it, I don’t know that I want it, this non-scary life.
Maybe I don’t want scheduled and monotonous.
Maybe I want unexpected and thrilling.
And that is how my life has been since Marie.
“I think school is over,” she remarks, her head bobbing at the horde of children dashing across the park in the distance. She graciously gets to her feet, before extending a hand out to me. “Coffee?”
“Always,” I chirp, eagerly accepting her grip.
Our skins meld—hers a rich chocolate shade, mine caramel looking—and I feel a spark, a subtle twinkle of electricity that makes the butterflies in my middle flutter all over. We exit the park hand-in-hand, our fingers entwined in the most natural of fashions, when the pad of her thumb suddenly, gently strokes my knuckles, my heart jumping in my ribcage.
Did Marie mean to do that?
I glance at her from the corner of my eye, but I can’t see anything different about her. Her features are as peaceful as an angel’s, her dark hair hovering over her upper back as the breeze caresses her face.
I command my body to compose itself and stop imagining things, because that is all it was—my imagination.
We enter the coffee shop, a quaint establishment run by a single mother of three. I order my usual and Marie has the same—a coconut latte with a sprinkle of cacao powder over the foamy surface—before we settle in the booth in the corner of the confined room. The bare skin of our legs touch under the rectangle table, the hems of our dresses stopping mid-thighs, and I can’t help but revel in the exquisite warmth radiating out of her, knowing that I long for more.
“Oh look, Ava,” Marie interrupts my train of thought. “Isn’t that your boyfriend?”
She points at the glass door with her chin, so I follow her gaze. Shame instantly washes over me the second my eyes land on Adam’s tall frame. As I urgently force myself to scooch away from Marie, she frowns but doesn’t say anything, her gaze lingering over my anxious features with concern. I feel the skin of my cheeks burn under her stare, because soon she will officially meet my boyfriend and that isn’t something I wanted to happen. Ever. Because Adam will burst our bubble. His very presence will only remind me that whatever it is I am feeling for Marie is wrong.
Sure enough, Adam spots me across the coffee shop. A beaming grin lights up his face as he waves at me, happiness shining out of him through and through. A lump grows in my throat, however, feeling awful for not reciprocating his giddiness. I force a smile, awkwardly shaking the flat of my hand over the table in an attempt to greet him in the distance so he doesn’t feel obliged to come over. But to my utter desolation, Adam collects his coffee and swiftly joins us, his black Vans stomping all over the little bubble of magic that was left around Marie and I.
“Hi, babe,” he greets me, sliding over the pink cushioned booth to sit beside me.
“Hi,” I reply in a small voice, my frantic eyes darting to Marie when he kisses me on the cheek.
But she doesn’t react. She smiles kindly, like she always does, before casually sipping her coffee.
“And you must be the infamous Marie,” Adam goes on, extending a warm hand to my friend.
“Indeed, I am,” she giggles, nodding as her small fingers close around his. “Nice meeting you.”
I sigh, my back sinking against the booth as I watch Adam and Marie engage in an animated conversation about how much I have been talking about my new friend lately. I listen to them both for a while, silently sipping my hot beverage, cursing myself for bringing Marie here, where the entire town goes for coffee. The corners of my lips eventually curl upward into a mask of pretence, my head bobbing left to nod at Adam, before tilting right to agree with Marie, as I force myself to look somewhat composed and not in the least disappointed I have to share her with him.