"Moonlight walk on the beach, huh?" she commented sardonically. "This isn't quite how I pictured it."
I sat down a foot away from the tide and she followed, leaning against me. "Sweetheart," I drawled, "if this isn't what you imagined, your dreams have been severely limited."
Giggling, she replied, "Apparently, they have been," and continued, after a weighted pause, "Why aren't you like this with everyone else?"
I could feel the grin fall from my lips. I sifted some sand with my fingers. "Like what?"
"Funny, and relaxed, and open. And lascivious."
"Ooh, vocab girl." I grinned at her again, and she smiled back, blue eyes reflecting the moon. "I feel more comfortable with you."
"How so?" she inquired in the soft voice that had taken so much out of me.
Grabbing her adjacent hand, I help up my own for comparison. Mine were covered with calluses from writing; hers were marked by similar rough patches of skin from the guitar. "You're like me," I murmured.
She smiled, obviously touched, and I smiled back. "They're like you too, though. They like Biology…they all like me." Glittering with insouciance, the bright blue rises of her eyes danced with twinkles of moon and happiness and created a scene that made me wish I were a painter.
"Well, give me that last one, but I don't want any competition." I reached an arm around her small form and her head fell onto my shoulder. The wind swept her giggle away to the ocean, and I felt right, content, for the first time in a long time.
"But seriously, Scott. You're such a great guy. Why don't you act like this with everyone?"
"I don't know. Something about you, I guess." I moved away an inch to look her in the eyes. "Don't you feel special?"
"Oh, I am special." I felt more than heard her laugh, reverberating through my chest where out bodies touched. "But I think I get it." Pressing her face to my shoulder, she murmured, "Makes this even better."
"Really? Does it?" I tickled her side lightly, eliciting a laugh.
"Yeah." She stopped and pretended to ponder a point, and I waited for what was to come. "Except I'd kind of like to not have to lie to everyone and tell them we're going on a double date with imaginary people."
"Well, we didn't tell them they're imaginary."
She chucked her chin against my shoulder. "You know what I meant."
"They think I hate you."
"They think you hate everyone."
"I don't." Vehemence crept into my voice without my effort.
"I know. And I think they know too."
Cutting to the point as always, Clara whispered, "There's nothing wrong with wanting people to like you. And they're good people, Scott."
"Yeah, I know." My voice almost broke. "It's just-it's kind of hard sometimes, to remember that."
"Well," she said decisively, "I'll be here to remind you of that."
"Promise?" I replied mischievously.
Glittering eyes were turned on me again, and I went momentarily tharn. "Yep."
"Good. I'm going to hold you to that."
She wrapped an arm around me and giggled into my chest. "You do that," she replied.
"You didn't imagine it like this?" I questioned, hating the insecurity of my voice.
"I imagined it just like this," she answered insistently. After a moment, she added, "Only with Heath Ledger."
"Why, you…" I pushed her down into the sand lightly. "I should bury you with sand."
"No, you'd miss me too much." She batted her long eyelashes, which made eerie shadows against her pale moonlit cheeks.
Feigning consideration, I remarked, "Yeah." I kissed her on the cheek and helped her up. "It would be pretty funny, though."
"Until I got out."
"Right, because you're so scary."
"I'm big. I'm tough." She struck a mock-bodybuilder pose, and I laughed so hard tears almost came to my eyes at five-foot-nothing Clara's imitation of a wrestler.
"Seriously," she added.
"You should be scared of me."
"I live in fear."
"As you well should." We reached the gate to re-enter out condo. "Goodnight," she whispered, and kissed me. It lasted longer than she intended, by my doing, but she didn't protest.
"We're walking inside together, baby," I remarked, grinning when she smiled and blushed at the name.
"But not you you. You'll be…other-you."
"The fact that I'm apparently schizophrenic has somehow managed to escape my seventeen years."
"It's okay. You can be slow like that." She grinned, lighting up my own face more than the moon. I basked in it.
"I guess I can." Smiling with what I hoped was a trace of suave seductiveness, I whispered, "Goodnight, Clara."
"Goodnight, Scott." She gave my hand one last squeeze before disentangling herself. "See you tomorrow," she said, and punctuated it with a wink.
"Til tomorrow." I recaptured a hand quickly and kissed it before we walked inside, ready to invent a double date and ready to dream about tomorrow until it actually came.