With a crack of thunder and a whip of icy cold wind, the heavens opened up over Dallington High. Thick raindrops began to fall and, all around me, people ran for cover. Feeling an icy cold droplet land and drip off the end of my nose, I smiled and pulled my hood up.
Despite the howling wind and the beginnings of rain, the victory party was in full swing. Students crowded the parking area and although the growing drum of rain dulled the volume of the music, nobody seemed to notice. The electricity in the air increased tenfold as lightning streaked across the sky. Kegs were flowing and Dallington was happily celebrating the victory against Drummer.
I should have been with them. I should have been drinking myself silly. But instead I was pushing through the crowd, smiling and laughing when people spotted me and declared a shot in my honour - but never stopping and fully enjoying the moment.
There was something I had to do first.
"Michael!" I yelled out, seeing a sudden flash dirty blonde hair and a varsity hoodie.
"Taylor?" He turned around as I called his name and a smile lit up his face. "Hey, good game! You were awesome, I knew you could beat Bright!"
I smiled in return. All around us people were dancing, chatting, and drinking. Glancing over Michael's shoulder, I could see Travis Jones holding a bottle of tequila and boasting to the gathering crowd that he was going to skull the entire thing.
"Thanks! Christie was so good as well, especially in the third quarter."
He grinned, taking a sip of his beer. "Yeah, she's pretty good."
The conversation slowed, and I swallowed awkwardly. Michael was looking at me, obviously waiting for me to ask him whatever it was that I'd wanted to ask. I swallowed again, racking my mind for a subtle way to find out where James was.
"Er..." I began. "So... where's the rest of your team? Probably here, right? Celebrating? I know Travis is right there behind us, but I mean, you know, Nathan, Cody... probably with Julie, you're here with me obviously. Just wondering where everyone is. Gotten lost in the crowd. So just wondering."
I tried to give a nonchalant shrug, pretending it was just a throw away question. He gave me an odd look, and I felt my pride shrivel and die. I couldn't have been more obvious.
He grinned. "So, you're looking for James?"
My face grew hot and I felt a surge of instant denial. "No way! I'm just, you know, wondering."
His grin widened. "Okay, well, if you're just wondering, I guess I could just tell you that he left about ten minutes ago."
Disappointment lanced through me and I struggled to pretend that I didn't care.
"Oh. Well. Cool." I nodded. "Thought so."
He was probably with Mercedes. They probably had some super romantic dinner planned. An image of James smiling lovingly at Mercedes across a candle lit dinner spread across my mind and I felt my throat constrict.
I forced a smile. "Hey, have you seen Christie?"
Michael tilted his head slightly. "I might also just mention that James went home. He said he had a headache."
My smile faltered. A headache? It was probably just an excuse to get some alone time with Mercedes.
He continued. "Mercedes was pretty annoyed when he left without her. She was even more annoyed when she tried to call him but he wouldn't pick up. And apparently she doesn't know his address."
"Oh..." I started, not really understanding what he was getting at.
He took another sip of beer. "But... you know, I know where he lives. And Christie has a car. So we could probably find Christie and then drive over to Stirling's house... just to check that he's alright and doesn't need any panadol."
I stared at him for moment.
"Well... Yes... We could do that..." I said cautiously, feeling nerves shoot through me. Was I really going to do this? Go to James Stirling's house in the middle of a thunderstorm and say... what exactly? That I was sorry? That I missed him? That I maybe actually really kinda liked him quite a lot?
Michael grinned, chucked his beer into a nearby bin, and yanked his mobile out of his pocket. "Alright. Let's do this romantic midnight run."
He took off into the crowd, flipping his mobile open and typing in Christie's number. I followed close on his heels, feeling my temperature rise and my hands start to shake. With growing uncertainty about what I was actually doing, I pushed my hair of my face and tried to talk to him over the crowd. "It's not even midnight yet... It's only eight thirty... maybe we should just go tomorrow. His little brother is probably trying to sleep."
Michael sent me and amused look over his shoulder as he pushed through a drunken couple having a very drunken fight. "Casey? Yeah, right. He's probably watching the golf channel."
"Oh. Okay." I said, my voice failing me as my throat tightened. What the hell was I doing? What was I going to say? I didn't even know how I felt or what I wanted or what I should do...
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and concentrating on the rain dripping down the side of my face. I felt my temperature drop slightly and my heartbeat calmed a little bit. I was doing the right thing. Just like Josh had said... I had to live my life and take risks and go for it. I wanted to talk to James, so I would go to his house and talk to him. I'd figure out what to say to him during the drive over.
Looking up, I saw the back of Michael's head disappearing further into the crowd, and rushed to keep up with him. I could see him talking on the phone, trying to figure out where Christie was. Soon enough we had reached the outskirts of the parking lot victory party, and I saw that Christie was sitting on the hood of her car, holding a water bottle and chatting to a bunch of cheerleaders.
"Taylor!" One of the cheerleaders screeched, wrapping an arm around my shoulders as we approached. "Amazing game! You were just like, the best. So good. And we were so worried that you might have lost your touch after, you know, all the stuff that happened between you and James Stirling."
I looked into her smiling face and tried to smile back. "Er... thanks."
One of her friends stepped a little closer. "So... do you still talk to James? Are you two still friends?"
I shrugged, looking down and shoving my hands into my pockets. The wind was getting stronger and stronger as it whipped through the parking lot and the temperature was getting chillier by the second.
"Not really.." I began, but yet another cheerleader stepped forward to talk to me.
"So, do you know if James and Mercedes are an item now?" She asked, a little breathless. "Do you know if he's still single?"
I swallowed, feeling awkward, and stared at the three cheerleaders waiting impatiently for my response.
Christie slid off the edge of her car, giving Michael a quick kiss and coming to stand next to me. "He's still single. Anyways, we have to go now, going to go get some pizza. See you later!"
She pulled me towards her car as the cheerleaders cooed their goodbyes, and I pulled open the door to the backseat, sliding in and closing the door quickly against the gale. Rubbing my hands together and feeling glad to be out of the cold, I waited as Christie slid into the driver's seat and Michael hopped into the passenger side.
Christie turned to us, and gave me a quick grin. "So, we're going to James' house?"
I groaned. "I dunno. Michael said we should do a midnight romantic run but I'm not sure. This could go really badly... And I could be humiliated beyond belief... And it's really cold... Maybe we really should go get pizza?"
Michael turned around to face me, shaking his head in disbelief. "Trust me, Taylor, he still wants you."
"Plus, I already told Josh and Maya and Dannie and Julie and Summer." Christie said with a shrug. "And I can see Josh running towards us right now... So I don't think you really have much of a choice anymore."
I followed her eye line out of the side of the car and saw all of my friends running towards the car, whooping and yelling excitedly.
"Oh no..." I started, but then the side door was being wrenched open and they were all piling into the backseat.
"Taylor, my love! This is so exciting, we are going to plan out the most amazing speech ever for you and I was thinking maybe we could quickly nip over to your house and get that sultry black dress again? I'm thinking... You slip into his bedroom through the window like some kind of angel of sexual desire and then he ravages you and then you dash back to the car and tell me all about it?"
"Josh, shut up and move over!" Maya complained, pushing Josh out of the way as everybody tried to squeeze into the car.
"There's probably not enough room for everyone to come." Christie noted from the front seat, laughing as she watched Dannie try to dive across our knees.
"Oh my god, don't even say that, Christie!" Summer said indignantly from Maya's lap as she tried to pull the door closed behind her, panting with the effort. "I am not missing this! It's like the finale, the ending we have all been waiting for. Taylor's making her move!"
I groaned into the window, covering my face with my hands. I was half sitting on Josh's lap, and my legs were squashed against the front seat, my head scraping the roof. Somehow, all of my friends had managed to squeeze into Christie's car and pull a couple of seatbelts across our mishmash of legs and arms.
"I'm not making a move!" I said, as all of my friends watched me expectantly. Christie was pulling out of the parking lot and heading towards a backstreet so as to avoid the cops - six people in the back of the car probably wasn't very legal. "I'm just... gonna say hi, you know?"
Dannie and Maya burst out laughing and Julie awkwardly reached her hand over to pat me on the shoulder, saying, "Oh, Taylor."
I looked around at all of their faces, laughing and grinning, and I couldn't help but feel my excitement grow. "Okay... so what should I say?"
Michael twisted around. "Tell him that he makes you hot?"
Christie groaned and slapped him playfully on the side of the head as she took a left turn. "No! Tell him that you miss him and you made a mistake and you like him!"
Maya was shaking her head, saying, "No way! I'm with Michael... Tell him you want to jump his bones!"
Julie rolled her eyes, and she frowned at Maya. "That is so un romantic. Tell him you think he's a million times better than Ryan!"
Dannie laughed excitedly, trying to wiggle off the floor and popping her head up near my foot. "Tell him you wanna play knockout with him until the end of time!"
Summer giggled, and nodded happily. "I agree with Dannie! Tell him he should be with the kind of girl that can match his three pointer... not some slut like Mercedes!"
Everybody looked expectantly at Josh, who had remained uncharateristically silent throughout this exchange. I looked down at him, seeing his bright blue eyes flash as he cleared his throat dramactically.
"No, no, no. Ladies and Michael, thank you for your efforts but I think we all know that I am the speech writer of this little group." He cleared his throat again and took my hand. "Now, first of all, Taylor, when you walk in there, I need you to do that cute hair-pushing-out-of-your-eyes movement that you always do. And make sure you're breathing hard, as if you've just run ten miles to find him. And then you say: I love you. That's all you say, okay? None of this, let me jump your bones mister - just pure and simple, I love you. And then you let a tear slip down your face and you say something along the lines of: 'James, you are ridiculously attractive and your lay-up makes me weak at the knees and I was scared before but tonight I have emerged from the Drummer-Dallington battle with a new outlook on life and I think we should spend the rest of our days together.' Now, can you do that, Taylor?"
I stared at him in disbelief, the blood draining out of my face. "Tell him I love him? But I don't even know if I do... Isn't it a little bit dramatic..."
Josh looked insulted, and he tried to throw his arms up in exasperation, but only managed to accidently hit Dannie in the face. "No! Not too dramatic! It's perfect! And then we can all drive to Las Vegas and you two can get hitched and we can have a bachlorette party and hopefully I'll run into Leonardo DiCaprio or something."
The next ten minutes passed by in a blur as I watched my friends tease Josh and tell me happily that they were so proud of me. I couldn't talk... I felt too sick. All thoughts of planning a romantic speech were gone as I became paralyzed with fear and uncertainty and nerves. I was going to completely embarrass myself, I could tell.
Suddenly Christie was slowing to a stop, and I peered with dread out of the window.
"It's that one. Number twelve." Michael pointed across the street.
The shadows of the street lights and gleaming yellow windows threw shadows over a big, rich looking house set far back behind a thick garden surrounded by a white fence.
"It's pretty cute." Dannie commented, straining her head to look out the window. "Kinda like a big gingerbread house."
"Or an old English mansion." Summer added.
Christie pulled up the brake and switched off the motor, and there was a moment of silence as everybody turned to look at me.
"So, I 'spose I should go now..." I said, my voice barely above a whisper. I peered at the house again. "Actually, on second thought, it looks pretty dark over there, maybe he's already asleep, maybe we should come back later."
Josh patted my hand comfortably. "No way, Taylor my love. You will get out of the car right now."
I looked towards Christie, and she gave me a comforting smile, leaning forward to put her hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll wait out here for you. If everything goes well... send me a text and we'll leave. If not... We'll be here for you. We'll go get ten boxes of pizza and watch funny clips on YouTube all weekend."
I nodded, telling myself to be brave, and said a quiet goodbye to my friends. Easing myself awkwardly off of Josh's lap, I pushed the side door open and stepped out of the car. A gust of wind hit me full in the face, pushing my hair over my eyes and driving the rain into my clothing. I yelped, realizing that the rain was coming down hard now. The storm had really hit. Heavy drops of rain splashed over my face and hair and my shoes were soaked within an instant. My stomach was twirling with nerves and my teeth were chattering, but I turned around and ran towards the white picket fence, shielding my eyes from the rain.
Pushing the gate open and running up a small path through the garden, I splashed through giant puddles and almost tripped over a bend in the path. It was dark under the trees and there was barely any light coming from the house.
As I reached the shelter of the front porch and slowed to a stop, climbing up three small steps, the security light flickered on and illuminated a wooden balcony surrounded by a curtain of rain. In front of me there was a big red door, and to my left there was a small garden table surrounded by chairs. A big window to my left was shuttered with stylish white planks. I caught my breath, and realized that I was soaking wet. Looking down, I saw a puddle of water growing under my sneakers and inching towards their welcome mat.
"Great." I muttered. "Perfect timing."
I wiggled my feet and shook my sleeves, trying to dry off a little. My hands were like ice blocks and I felt my teeth start to chatter again as an icy wind zoomed through the porch. I looked up at the door and felt a moment of indecision, not knowing whether or not I should knock on the door looking like a drowned rat. And then I began to feel awkward... I was standing on James Stirling's front porch at nine o'clock on a Friday night in the pouring rain... staring at his front door. I probably looked like some kind of deranged stalker.
I had a sudden image of myself walking into their house, dripping all over their expensive carpets and telling James... what? What exactly was I going to tell him?
"Shit." I muttered, and turned around. I would head back to the car and tell my friends that no one was home. And then I'd just have to move on.
Suddenly, I heard a lock click from behind me and the front door opened wide. I whirled around in embarrassment to find Mrs. Stirling, wrapped in a white dressing gown, looking at me curiously.
"Taylor? Hampton?" She looked very surprising. "What are you-"
She stopped midsentence and looked me up and down, taking in my drenched appearance.
"Oh my god, you must be freezing! Get in here!"
She stepped forward before I could say anything, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and pulling me into the warmth and light of the house. I felt the change of temperature instantly, and saw dancing lights as my eyes adjusted.
"Thanks, Mrs. Stirling." I began, feeling my cheeks grow hot as I racked my mind for an explanation as to why I'd been standing on her doorstep in the pouring rain. "I was just driving past with my friends when-"
I stopped, looking down and noticing in horror the small puddle of muddy water forming around my feet. Onto a creamy white carpet.
I glanced back up at Mrs. Stirling and saw that she wasn't looking at the ground- but at my clothes.
"Taylor! You're completely drenched! What have you been doing? We need to get you out of these wet clothes before you catch a cold." She grabbed my arm, pulling me through the kitchen and into a big laundry room, ignoring my protests and stuttering excuses.
"No, really." I tried again. "I just stopped by to talk to James about this... um... English assignment we have..."
She was ignoring me, ruffling through a pile of clothes on top of the washing machine.
"...It will only take a couple of minutes... I really don't think I need to change my clothes... Mrs. Stirling?"
"Ah-hah!" She exclaimed, turning around and holding up a massive white t-shirt and a pair of grey track pants. "These should fit you. I think it's an old shirt of James'... probably from last year's basketball season. And the pants should fit you, you're a bit taller than me, so they might be a little short at the ankle. But at least they'll keep you warm!"
She smiled warmly at me and held out the clothes. "Oh, and call me Katie!"
I stared at the clothes in horror, unable to comprehend how awkward it would be if James came into his kitchen to find me sitting around in his old t-shirt.
Mrs. Stirling seemed hurt by my expression, but then seemed to realize something and started laughing.
"Oh, Taylor, don't worry! They're not dirty clothes! I just left them in here to remind myself to take them to the charity drive next weekend!"
She held them out again, and I smiled weakly as I took them, still trying to think of a way out of the situation.
"Um..." I started, but she was already heading for the door.
"I'll just go and find you some socks and slippers and I'll boil some water for some tea, okay? Just leave your wet clothes on top of the dryer and I'll give them a spin." She stopped at the door, smiling again. "Oh, and I'll tell James that you're down here, okay?"
With a flash, she was gone and the door was swinging closed.
I looked down at the clothes in my arms. Looked back up at the closed door. This could not be happening. The worst bit was... I was actually freezing cold. My jeans were clinging to my legs in that uncomfortably damp sort of way, and my hands were shaking with cold.
I felt a shiver pass through my body as I stood in the big, white laundry room.
"Oh, fuck it." I muttered, and dropped the dry clothes on the ground, kicking off my soggy cons at the same time and wrenching down the zipper of my hoodie. I was already here, in James' house, about the declare my feelings. I may as well be warm while I did it.
The t-shirt fell to about mid-thigh, and the pants stopped just short of my ankles, but at least I was dry. Holding the t-shirt out and trying to read the black logo upside down, I saw that it was from last year's basketball season - with the words 'Stirling', 'Captain', and 'Varsity' imprinted over my chest.
"Great." I sighed. "Number 1 Groupie, right here."
The door opened and I looked up, quickly letting the t-shirt fall.
"Oh good, everything fits alright." Mrs. Stirling said as she walked in. "Oh, and James is just up in his room. He said you should go up when you're ready."
My stomach flipped. "Oh... okay. Thanks for the clothes, Katie."
She smiled, holding the door open and motioning for me to walk into the kitchen. "It's no problem. Your mother would never forgive me if I let you catch a cold! The water is just boiling now so I'll pour out two cups for you and James, shall I?"
I nodded, looking around the kitchen. It looked expensive. Black marble countertops and shiny metal utensils and a massive silver fridge. "Your kitchen is... amazing."
She handed me two black mugs, filled almost to the brim with steaming water that smelled like mint. "Thanks! I love to cook, so I keep it nice and clean and well stocked. Anyways, you take those upstairs and tell James to work hard on his English! He never did much like that subject, more of a science brain if you ask me."
She motioned towards the stair case and I moved quickly, smiling my thanks as I was sure that my throat was too dry to talk. I slowed down as the tea threatened to spill, and headed towards the stairs. I climbed slowly, my eyes focused on the rims of the mugs and my heart pounding with fear. As I reached the top of the staircase and looked around at the stylishly furnished landing and the hallway stretching out in front of me, I felt how surreal this situation was. What on earth was I doing here? Wandering around their house and holding two mugs of mint tea and dressed in James' t-shirt as if I was an old friend just stopping by to say hello?
And I had no idea where his room even was.
To my right, across the landing, there was a door slightly ajar - although it looked dark inside the room. I took a deep breath and tip toed over to the door, for some reason feeling as if I should stay quiet. Peeking through the small gap between the door and the wall, I discovered that I was staring into a cupboard full of sheets and pillows. I let out a puff of air, not even realizing that I'd been holding my breath.
I jumped in fright and tea slopped over the edge of both mugs as I quickly turned away from the cupboard.
It was Casey, standing at the end of the hallway.
My face flushed hot and cold and we stared at each other for a moment.
"Uh... Hi." I said.
He sent me an look. "Hey... what are you doing looking in the cupboard? It's just full of sheets and stuff..."
I shuffled my feet, feeling more and more embarrassed. "I'm looking for James' room?"
"Oh." He grinned at me and pointed over his shoulder. "The end of the hallway. Hey, I heard you played real good tonight. James said you aced the Drummer point guard?"
I grinned in response, feeling proud. "Yeah, we won. Pretty happy. How's the golf going?"
His face brightened automatically. "Really good! My dad and I are going to go play a couple of holes tomorrow. I'm watching replays from the Australian open now if you wanna come and watch as well?"
"Yeah, for sure." I said, realizing only a moment later that it might be a bit weird if James rejected me and then I went downstairs to watch golf replays with his little brother.
Casey was already heading for the stairs, saying, "Cool, come down when you and James are done..."
He paused, cocking his head slightly, and sent me an impish grin.
"...doing whatever it is you came here to do with him."
I blushed a bright red and opened my mouth to explain myself - but he was already disappearing down the stairs.
I took a big gulp of tea and headed towards the hallway. I could see a long stretch of wooden floor and wide windows that looked out in the garden. The swaying trees threw shadows around the hallway, and I rushed down to the end. The wooden floorboards creaked a little under my slippers and rain tapped constantly against the window.
There was a thin line of light underneath this last door. I stared at the golden handle, willing myself to knock. My heart was pounding, my hands sweating, and my throat felt completely parched. What was I going to say?
Oh, hey, Stirling, just came in to say hi.
Hi, James. How's it going? Sorry I told you I didn't love you at the Winter Dance. My bad.
Oh, sup, I was just driving by and Michael said you had a headache so I thought I'd stop in and check on you.
I shook my head in embarrassment. The seconds ticked by, and the mugs began to feel heavy in my hands.
"Just go in, already." I whispered, and bent down to put a mug on the ground. Standing back up, I put my spare hand on the handle.
I stilled for a moment. Maybe I should knock?
I had a sudden fleeting image of Casey or Mrs. Stirling walking into the hallway and finding me staring like an idiot at James' bedroom door. Without thinking, I brought my hand up and knocked twice.
The sound echoed, and I stood completely still. I could barely hear anything over the blood pounding in my ears - and for the next ten seconds I held my breath as nothing happened.
I frowned. Maybe he hadn't heard? Or... my heart stilled... maybe he was just ignoring me? But no, he had told his mum to send me up.
I took a deep breath and put my hand back on the handle, and twisted slowly. The door inched inwards, and I stepped forward, pushing it open.
"James?" I called, and hated that my voice seemed to shake.
I was looking into a big bedroom. Big and wide and with white-washed walls covered in basketball posters and photos. To my left, there was a big bookcase, stacked full of books and magazines. To my right, there was a desk - covered in a mess of textbooks and papers and with a backpack tossed on top. Big windows opened out onto a small balcony that looked over the garden. A small door directly across from me must have led into a bathroom. And there, in the middle of the room, lying in the middle of his bed and tossing a basketball in the air, was James Stirling.
"Hey, Hampton." His voice was cool, and I stared at him for a moment.
He wasn't looking at me. I took another step into the room, the mug of tea forgotten. His dark hair was a thick, jaunty mess and he was still dressed in jeans and a black hoodie. His long body looked comfortable and relaxed along the bed, but his demeanor was anything but friendly. He ignored me.
I looked across the dark blue carpet and saw more papers and textbooks strewn around the room. He must have been doing homework before I came in. So much for a headache.
The silence stretched for thirty seconds before he stopped tossing the basketball. He didn't look up. "Did you want something?"
I shook my head, trying to clear my mind. I cleared my throat. Felt my heart pounding. Had no idea what to say. Turned around, picked up the second mug of tea and pushed the door closed. "Your mum made you some tea..."
He said nothing, and I placed the two mugs on the side of the crowded desk.
Silence fell again, and I closed my eyes. I had to think fast. I was completely screwing up.
"I just wanted to say..." My throat closed up, and I coughed. What did I want to say?
I thought back over the last couple of months. I remembered the night when I'd lost the game to Drummer High... the night when I'd lost the game to James and his team... the night when I'd kissed Ryan. I thought about my dad, and how he would probably never speak to me again. I thought about the first time that James had kissed me, however many months ago at Summer's party.
I thought about the Macbeth argument in English class, and I couldn't help but smile. I thought about the time James had driven me home from detention, and the time that he'd come over to my house for dinner. I thought about kissing him in the rain and talking about reality.
And then I thought about walking down the hallway at school, always looking, without realizing, for James. Playing basketball and thinking... What would James do? How would I beat James in this play? What shot would James take?
Lying in bed, dreaming about James. Thinking about James. Pretending to hate James.
And it finally hit me. After so many days and months and years of denial... it finally hit me.
I was completely, utterly, ridiculously head over heels for him.
I swallowed in fear.
"I just wanted to say... I'm sorry for... the Winter Dance. And... Um... what I said to you, about, you know, feelings and all that..."
I grimaced. I sounded like a complete idiot. I took a deep breath and straightened my back. I was Taylor Hampton - best point guard in the state, member of student council and captain of a varsity basketball team. I'd stood up to my dad and driven all the way over here with my friends. I could tell the boy that I liked that I liked him.
"I have something to say. About what happened... between us. These last couple of months have been weird for me. Everything changed and things were suddenly important and I didn't know why. I wasn't sure what I wanted... people wanted so much from me but I wasn't sure what I wanted. But I know now. I played in a championship game tonight and gave it my all and let go of all the worries and fears... I want to live my life like that. Like I'm out there on that court with Christie and Maya and Dannie and Julie and like nothing else matters except playing the game that I love and scoring that perfect swish. So, I'm here, now, telling you all this and you're probably thinking I'm some kind of deranged loser and maybe I'm way too late but... I like you, Stirling. I like you a lot. More than a lot."
My heart was beating like a drum and my chest was rising and falling with my rushed breath.
"I like the way you can beat me in one-on-one but you'll admit that I can beat you at knockout. I like it how you take care of Casey. I like it how my friends like you. I like it how you know exactly what to say to make me feel better... I like it... I like it how you kiss me."
I could feel myself blushing.
"I also don't like it that you're with Mercedes. I don't like it. I'm jealous. And I don't like it how you lied about having a headache. And your room is really messy. And sometimes you're way too sure of yourself. And I also don't like your bounce pass... it has too much of a spin."
I closed my mouth abruptly, realizing that I had begun to ramble.
There was a long silence. I was still breathing hard, and my face felt as hot as a stove. My hands were shaking and I kind of wanted to throw up... But, despite all of that, I felt good. I felt like jumping around and dancing and receiving another victory trophy. My shoulders felt lighter and I had said all that I could. I had admitted my feelings and gone for what I wanted and all I could do now was wait.
And he really did make me wait. The seconds ticked by and he stared up at the ceiling.
After about a minute, my euphoria started to deflate. My face prickled with embarrassment. I could feel rejection closing around me, and I took a step back, wanting to cry. "Alright. I guess I'll be go-"
I stilled mid-sentence.
He sighed, and sat up, looking at me for the first time. I felt an instant flash of happiness as his eyes met my own, but I felt doubt as I saw his expression.
"Are you wearing my shirt?"
I looked down, trying to hold back tears and feeling a thousand stabs of embarrassment. "Your mum made me."
I heard him get off the bed and walk towards me. He kicked a textbook out of the way and came to stand above me. My heart beat started to race again, but I couldn't look at him.
He stopped only a hands width away, and I could feel his height towering over me. He brought a hand up and took hold of the bottom of my shirt. He smelled like soap.
"Take my shirt off, Taylor."
I jerked my head up in surprise. "What!?"
I saw a grin tugging at the corner of my mouth, and I could barely stand to hope.
"You heard me. It's my shirt. I'd like it back. So take it off."
I stared at him, seeing the glint of amusement in his eyes and feeling slightly indignant.
"What about everything I just said? I just threw my heart down in front of you and you tell me to... take my shirt off?"
He took a step closer and I stepped backwards, coming up short against the door. He leaned an arm against the wall and dropped his dark head close to mine. My breath came in short gasps and I reached a hand up to shove the hair out of my eyes. Things were happening a bit too fast for me to understand.
"Look, Hampton." He was definitely grinning now. "If you want me to kiss you again, you're gonna have to give me my shirt back, okay?"
I couldn't help but grin back at him. I grasped the bottom of the t-shirt and pulled it up slightly, stopping just below my chest.
"You have to tell me what you think first." I whispered. "You have to tell me what you think about all that stuff that I just said."
His eyes looked almost opaque as he bent down to put his mouth by my ear. I shivered as hot breath tickled my skin and he told me what he thought.
I ripped the t-shirt off, and his mouth was on mine before it had even reached the floor.
He kissed me hard, and I felt months of waiting bubble to the surface. His hands were everywhere, running over my back and tracing my bra strap and pushing me up hard against the door. I kissed him back just as hard, and suddenly I couldn't keep my hands still, either. His hair felt just as thick and messy as it looked, and his skin was warm.
His hands travelled down to my stomach, and he ran a hand around the waistband of my borrowed trackpants.
"C'mon, Taylor." He said, and grabbed my hand, heading towards his bed.
I went with him, my heart pounding and my mouth missing his.
He pulled me down and pulled his shirt off and pulled my mouth towards his.
"Wait!" I said, my head feeling thick as I sat up. "I told Casey we'd go and watch golf with him."
His eyes flashed. "Casey can wait."
His mouth fell to my neck and I felt my temperature soaring.
"But..." It came out as a gasp. "What if he gets lonely? Or feels like we've ditched him?"
James pushed himself up and grinned at me. "Hampton, we can watch golf with my little brother tomorrow night, okay?"
I felt his hand slipping over my shoulder and then his mouth was following his hand.
"Tomorrow night?" My head was spinning and I felt my heart soaring.
"Tomorrow night." He raised his head and cupped a hand around my cheek. "But only if you agree to be my girlfriend."
I couldn't hold back my grin. "Agreed. But only if you show me how to do that triple bounce play you used against Drummer."
He grinned back and pulled me down again. "Agreed, Hampton. Definitely agreed."