I didn't think I could handle this much longer. I usually enjoyed shopping as much as any girl, but I felt constantly aware of Ronan just a couple of feet away with Jennie. I was either paranoid, or he was watching me far too much.
Glancing surreptitiously to the side, I mentally sighed a relief. I was just paranoid.
That straightened my back—I should hardly feel relieved about that.
"Why so quiet?" came from beside me. Casey gave me a questioning look, and it was a fair question, considering I had just stolen him from his conversation with Gale. But June had dressed beautifully today in an intricate black-and-white petal-mimicking dress that she designed months ago. She wore it for the first time today, and I knew Gale played a large part in its debut.
I looked down at my own T and shorts now, and then to Casey's T and cargo shorts. He noticed, because he commented, "We almost match."
I tugged on my T and observed his messy getup, letting my eyes linger on him with the belated thought that I could have liked him. Why hadn't I? He made brown eyes and neat brown hair work in an unconscious way, emitting a sweet boy-next-door look that tended to attract me. June even confessed to a short crush on him, back when he worked in lab with her during college.
But I knew why I hadn't liked him. As amazing and handsome as he was, he hadn't been Ronan, and when June introduced Casey to me, Ronan still had my heart. But now?
I didn't notice I was staring at Casey until he began running his hand up the back of his head, scuffing his hair, and looking mighty uncomfortable as he pretended to find something interesting to the front of us. I watched the pink ease over his cheekbones, and had the sudden urge to giggle.
At this rate, he would think I developed a crush on him, what with the way I kept pulling him away from June and Gale.
So I grinned now, and nodded lightly towards the aforementioned pair, "What do you think?"
Casey directed his attention to where I nodded, and grinned himself, feeling less self-conscious, "I think they might just surprise us."
I murmured, "She sure as heck surprised me."
Casey chuckled, "But you approve?"
Gale had always been a quiet reliable presence with the harder labor in the store. His mother was our landlady, and it was she that had sent her son in to help us get June's shop started. I had practically considered him a younger brother—Wes would be just a little younger than him now, although he looked nothing like Gale.
Gale stood tall at six foot one, topping both the other guys on this expedition, but he had a lankier build, and a shaggy mop of streaked blond hair that tended to turn to milk chocolate. He cared for his mother by working odds and ends all throughout high school, and she and the Thomases were longtime friends, so when it came time for Gale to apply to college, June's mother actually helped with his scholarship.
Just then, Raina called me to her from a ways ahead, having paused from her bouncing method of visiting stores. She waved to the window-front of a huge store titled Marnie's Fabrics, and I laughed when I jogged up to her, because she had, of course, found the perfect shop for June.
Raina's eyes lit up with excitement, "Look at all these fabrics! June would love it, don't you think?"
"I'll go grab her from Gale for a sec. This is perfect."
I turned to see if the group had caught up with us. Jennie still stayed near Ronan, and I watched the two of them interact so naturally. He'd always had a way with females, but his smile now nearly twisted my heart, and I jerked my gaze away.
I caught Casey walking towards another store across the mall; he sent me a guilty smile, indicating his destination with a nod toward the outdoor sports store.
I rolled my eyes and waved him away. June, however, I ran to grab. Since I'd been attempting to isolate her and Gale all day, I doubted she'd give me the time of day. But when she saw me point to Raina in front of Marnie's Fabrics, she almost threw her bags on Gale and darted forward. Little Gale—forever our laborer. I gave him a rueful look, and he laughed as I turned to catch up with June.
Inside the store, June ran her hand lovingly over everything she could get her hands on. At points, she would tug gently on a fabric and exclaim over its color or texture or pattern or whatever else finally called the shop attendant's attention.
She walked over to June, smiling as she apparently found a fellow spirit in June's exuberant reactions to the cloths.
I rubbed a piece of silky cloth hanging from a display, watching light weave through the shimmery web that swam with the slightest nudge of my fingers.
"Do you ever make your own clothes?"
I jolted in surprise, nearly yanking the fabric down with me. Even before turning to look behind me, I knew who stood there. Ronan had his hands shoved into a pair of loose faded jeans, and his long-sleeve maroon shirt was rolled up his forearms.
He looked almost uncertain as he shifted his gaze from my face to the shimmery turquoise confection hanging in front of us. I wondered where Jennie had got to.
I looked at it myself as I replied, "Oh, no. That's June's territory." I reached out to the piece again, "You think she'd like this?"
Ronan seemed to consider, "Honestly, I don't know. You'd know her better, maybe. At least about this."
I let the waves fall back. "I guess she can find her own, huh?"
I looked to Ronan, and we met each others' eyes for a moment. It struck me all over again that Ronan Thomas stood in front of me, breathing, seeing, and talking to me—as if seven years never passed.
"So where's Jennie?" I asked, looking around.
Ronan shrugged, "I think she went to the restroom." He was watching my face, "Why?"
Now it was my turn to shrug, and I observed June and the shop attendant discussing the differences between what looked to me like a row of pink squares. I wondered where Raina was.
"I was just…wondering. She seemed to be where you are, so I just…wasn't sure if she left or something."
I pasted on a smile, "Wouldn't want her getting out of buying a birthday gift for June."
A side of Ronan's mouth tipped up, "No, I guess not."
I nodded, moving away with the excuse to find Raina, but he stopped me with, "Are we ok, Wendy?"
I faced him, surprised, "Yeah, sure. Why wouldn't we be?"
Ronan looked off to the side as he lifted a shoulder, "You didn't seem exactly happy to see me again."
I bit my lip. "Look, I'm sorry, I—"
"Was it because of the…last night with Jennie?"
I practically snapped, "Of course not. That's…that's your business. Why would I care?"
"I guess I wasn't sure why you seemed pissed at me."
Ashamed now, I inspected a square tile by Ronan's right foot. "I had no right, I'm sorry," I said quietly. "I—it's not…" Finally, I just said honestly, "I think old feelings resurfaced, that's all."
His face remained neutral as he asked, "What feelings were these?"
My eyes flicked around the store, avoiding his face, my arms feeling reckless and waving a little as I tried to explain succinctly, "Uh, I…not…good feelings?"
Ronan frowned, "What—"
"Yep!" I said and darted away, the restroom sign like a lifesaver as I slipped inside the doors with a hand over my heart. Scolding myself mentally, I straightened and noticed Jennie in front of the mirror, her hands paused in smoothing down her dirty blond hair. Her reflection arched an eyebrow as our eyes met.
I wobbled out a smile, "Hey."
"Yeah, of course," I walked up to the mirror and rinsed my hands for no reason.
"So, you knew Ronan in high school, huh?" Jennie asked. "He and June look alike, don't they?"
I made sure to rinse between my fingers. "Yeah. Yeah, they do."
She continued, "I met him a few times when he visited June at our college, but he never stayed long."
I was nodding absently, but when it remained quiet, I added, "Um, yeah, I haven't seen him since high school."
Jennie grinned at me, blue eyes bright with amusement, "And you said you knew him from a name tag."
I mumbled something, and she laughed. Jennie didn't carry malice, and she actually apologized for the night before. "What were you doing in there, anyway?"
She laughed again, arching her neck slightly as she hooked an arm with me, "Oh Wendy, you would." She leaned in close, "You know, I was pissed at you at first, because we didn't finish after you left. And, girl, do you know how long I've been trying to get with that?"
My mouth opened, but no sound came out.
Jennie lifted a shoulder now, strands of her hair slipping down and curving around her chest. "He said something about being sorry, and I don't know. I'm pretty sure he's not gay, though. One of my girlfriends from college said she hooked up with him once and that he was a beast in bed."
My eye twitched. "That's nice. I'm sorry to have thrown off your guys'….mojos. Let's go check on June."
Jennie rolled her eyes, "Wendy, honey, sometimes I can't believe June's the virgin, and you're not. Between the two of you, you win prude hands-down."
I pouted, "Are you insulting me?" but Jennie gave me a lighthearted smirk, "Honey, you would know if I was insulting you." She frowned suddenly, "You don't think it was something about me, do you? I mean, that made him stop?"
That made me hug her impulsively for a second. "Of course not, you silly. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? You: are what men call a babe."
She giggled and nudged me again, "You're not too bad yourself, Sheffield."
I laughed. "Let's get back. They might be looking for us," and I made sure to stay with bouncy Raina this time, as Jennie found Ronan again.
When we exited Marnie's Fabrics, it was with a number of bags that Ronan and Gale were left to carry. That reminded me; I checked across the mall, and luckily caught sight of Casey in front of the outdoor sports store. Curiously, I paused as Raina took off in one direction. I turned to walk towards Casey.
Ronan asked, "Where are you going?"
I jerked my head toward Casey, who stood before a pretty redhead holding hands with another man. It didn't look very easygoing, and I suddenly recognized the redhead as his ex, Alexa. My heart went out to him.
June popped up from behind me, piping out, "Alexa's got a new guy already? Casey better not still be moping over her."
I looked towards the three and winced when I saw Casey scrub a hand over the back of his head. June also sighed, "Ah damnit. Go save him, Wen."
She didn't have to tell me twice as I casually sidled over to the trio.
"How've you been these days? I haven't seen you in awhile," Alexa was saying when I tucked myself in beside Casey, pinching him when he nearly jerked away in surprise.
I snuck my hand around his back and into his front pants pocket, "Hey, sweetie, I was looking for you."
I wasn't sure where I retrieved the nerve. I glanced back towards Marnie's Fabrics and noticed June and co. standing before the store watching us with varying expressions on their faces. I suddenly felt as if on display, and extremely uncomfortable to boot.
Casey mumbled something in response, but he automatically slung his arm around my shoulder.
I turned back to face Alexa, "Oh, hey, Alexa. Who's this?" I smiled up at the man standing beside her.
Alexa recovered quickly, "Oh, this is Brandon. Brandon, Wendy." She paused, "I didn't know you two started dating."
I cheesed it up when I looked at Casey, hoping he would play along, because June was right when she said I couldn't lie to save my life. But maybe I could do it to help someone else.
"Oh, I had a crush on him for years." I almost considered forcing a giggle, but decided that might reveal me. "So I guess I should thank you for freeing him up, huh?" I threw in a wink for good measure. "But hey, I'm really glad to see you again, Alexa. Brandon, it's nice to meet you. We're here for June's birthday, though, so I got to steal Casey away, sorry!"
Reassurances were thrown out, and Casey and I escaped to Marnie's Fabrics.
"Have I mentioned you're my hero and best friend and the most rocking girl I know?" Casey murmured as we speed-walked to the store.
I nudged him with a smirk, "Tell me something I don't know."
He was laughing as we arrived, and the arm he left around my shoulders felt surprisingly natural.
Raina made a rather blatant comment about good boyfriends, and suddenly remembered the one she had who had set a dinner date with her. We laughingly let her go "pretty up."
Jennie declared, "Oi, Wendy, you're left to buy something." Then she batted her eyelashes at Casey and me, "Would you two lovebirds like to split the gift?"
I pulled away from him, muttering, "Don't be ridiculous, Jennie."
"Yeah, don't be ridiculous," Casey chimed in. Then he grinned down at me, "I already paid for a gift."
The jokes did not cease. June wondered how Alexa did not see right through me, and Gale just laughed and said I was a hero. Ronan was the only one who didn't mention it to me, but he and Casey seemed to share a moment of "oh, those situations suck." Although, I couldn't imagine Ronan having an ex who preferred another man to him.
Or at least, if it ever happened, I imagined him having a pretty blonde right beside him. Ironically, I watched Jennie toss her hair back and playfully nudge Ronan as she pointed to a pair of earrings in a jewelry shop we stopped in.
"What do guys usually limit on price for girls?"
Ronan chuckled, and replied, "Depends on the girl."
Jennie leaned in closer, "Yeah? Hypothetically, what do you think I'm worth to a guy?"
Ronan laughed now, leaning towards her.
I decided I was not watching anymore, but right then, I caught Ronan's eye, and he backed away from Jennie.
"Wendy, what do you think about this bracelet?" June appeared before me, Gale nowhere to be seen. I looked over the slim trailing silver, willing my blush to recede. Being caught spying was hardly the worst thing to ever happen to me.
A single rounded heart decorated the bracelet at the end, along with a flat piece of silver metal that allowed a personal engraving. I took it from her hands with reverence, "I would love to buy this for you."
With a delighted giggle, June dragged me to the counter and made the last purchase of the day. We debated on the words, and decided on Love June.
She hugged me now and whispered, "I love you, Wendy."
I hugged her tightly back, "Right back at you."
June drove Gale, Ronan, and me home afterwards, since my ride had left in the form of a shopaholic who forgot a date with her boyfriend.
At Gale's apartment, June muttered something about walking Gale to his apartment door, and closed the door before either Ronan or I in the backseat could reply.
I could have cried; at once thrilled and dismayed to find myself alone with him again so soon. June had to seriously trust the both of us to leave us secluded in a car in the dark.
He was looking out the tinted window now, and I wondered if he saw anything in the dark. His voice didn't even startle me, just a low light rumble like thunder in the clouds.
"So you and Casey?"
I blinked. "What?"
He turned to look at me, but I couldn't see much in the shadows. Thank goodness, because those dark blues always sent a pang down my inside. "You and Casey—I didn't think you guys were together, but are you interested in him?"
"N-no," I sputtered in surprise. Then I recovered, "I mean, I could be, not that it's really any of your business."
He shrugged, looking out the front of the window shield towards the light that illuminated a piece of wall on the building's third floor. "I've hooked up with someone named Casey before. That's just wrong."
I almost didn't know how to respond to that. "I'm going to assume your Casey was a girl."
I couldn't tell in the dark, but his voice sounded a little wry, "I'm glad you remember that much about me."
"I remember a lot about you." I could have punched myself.
"Yeah?" Did Ronan's voice just dip lower?
I scooted toward my window, "Not all of it good."
Silence slipped between us.
"So, tired yet? I don't think shopping's your thing. Or maybe it is—who knows these days? I haven't seen you in years, so maybe you can shop like a champ now. You and June are alike enough, right? But maybe you usually shop with guys. If you do shop, that is."
I cleared my throat.
Ronan blinked. "Why do you keep—"
"Please, can we…not talk about that? It's all past, right?"
Ronan finally said, "No. I don't usually shop, but I'm not actually tired. Although shopping is almost as bad as Coach's old suicides."
I recalled our old high school coach, his bald head, the mean voice he used on the girls who cheered along the sidelines—even during practice. But Ronan had loved all of it. "I remember those. Don't pretend like you didn't love it."
Ronan stretched as much as he could in the back of June's Volvo. "Nah, I did. Girls would come to watch us even then." He leaned on his knees now, and grinned at me, "I think you were one of them."
"I was supporting my best friend's brother."
He stayed quiet, draping his hands over his knees, an absent smile playing along his lips. "We were more than that, weren't we, Wendy?"
"We were a summer fling, too," I said quietly, staring.
He searched my eyes, "Yeah…a fling."
I observed the empty seatbelt nestled into the space between us, "So. What about Jennie? More than a fling?"
He sounded startled, "Jennie?"
I didn't like the way he responded, and I insisted, "Yes, that gorgeous blonde with you all day. The one last night that you—" I choked in horror, then cleared my throat again, "I'm sorry about…last night, I mean. I didn't…I mean, I hope I…I hope I didn't ruin anyone's night."
He laughed, and shocked me when he reached out to tug a light brown strand. "Nah, you made mine. All the same, that wasn't…that was a mistake. I got drunk, and she kind of just…happened to be there." He looked suddenly uncomfortable.
"That was a mistake."
"Lots of things are mistakes," I shrugged, trying to show I didn't care—and frankly, it shouldn't matter if I cared.
Ronan looked ahead of him as he asked, "What were we?"
I reflected a little hesitantly on this one. "A fling? I tag flings under mistakes now, actually."
Ronan sighed and said softly, "We weren't."
I tilted my head at him, "A fling or a mistake?" inserting a playful tone to ease any tension.
"Either," he answered without a hint of teasing. That wasn't fair.
"Where do you even get off saying that now?" I asked him. "You dropped me like a hot potato as soon as we…" More choking. "You're the one that said it was a fling, if I remember correctly."
He didn't respond, and I offered as a half-joke, "Sorry I sucked in bed." But the comment angered him.
"It wasn't—" His eyes closed. "Is that what you—" Now he rubbed a hand over his eyes, glaring at me from under his fingers, "I hope you don't still believe in these asinine theories at your age."
"My age?" I repeated incredulously. "What's that mean?" The truth was, half of me still did.
He leaned his head back, letting his arm fall. "Of course you do," he muttered.
"Ronan," I interrupted, attempting to right the derailed track of conversation. "It doesn't matter. It was just a fling."
If I said the word anymore times, I might just lose its meaning.
"No," he persisted in a low voice, "Are you telling me that's all it was to you?"
I couldn't believe he actually looked hurt, but I also couldn't help myself when I answered, "What do you want me to say? That it killed me when you left? Damnit, Ronan, if you want my dignity that badly, take it."
We stared each other in the eye, and I realized afresh how suddenly feelings revived. But I recognized the feelings as stagnant—seven years laid to rest. They had an effect on me, but no more undue power.
Now he asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"'So you're okay,'" I repeated monotonously, quoting him. "You didn't even phrase it like a question, you asshole."
"We all make mistakes, Wen."
"Yeah, Ronan, and we learn from them."
The car door was yanked open, and June's abrupt voice entered the conversation, "Um, am I interrupting something?" Ronan and I tore our rather frustrated gazes apart.
Ronan just sent a glare at his sister, so I smiled for her benefit, "Um, comparing gift prices. Bad idea."
June arched a brow and turned her gaze briefly on Ronan. "Well, either way, I appreciate the gifts. It's more that I wanted to spend time with the two people I love most in the world."
She seemed to attach certain significance to the statement, and I understood the implicit meaning, so I nodded with a reassuring smile.
June settled behind the wheel, "Alright. Home."
The Volvo awoke as I tucked myself into the corner by the window. It took me a second before I realized what she said. "Wait, you need to take your brother home first."
June lifted thick lashes towards the rear-view mirror, and I frowned at the expression on her face.
"Right," she said. But she stopped there.
Before I could ask, Ronan informed me casually from his side, "I'm staying with you guys for awhile."
A/n: Oh what fun :P haha. I wasn't sure how I felt about this chap actually, but I've seen authors write that before and disagreed, so let me know!
Thanks for reading :)
PS. I reread the first chap and found incorrect tenses. I originally started this story in present tense, so switching to past might have thrown some things off. If you find anymore, just let me know! Thanks again~