Eleven Months Before Impact Day
“It feels weird being out this late,” Rachel said, in between mouthfuls of burger. The way she tore into it, it made me worry she hadn’t eaten properly in days.
We were sitting on the top level of an empty car park, legs dangling over the edge, completely alone. Our perch protected us from the wind, so it was eerily calm and quiet. Above us, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Just stars, gently twinkling.
“A little, but I’m still glad I’m here,” she said. “Thanks for the food.”
I was so glad I could trust her, in that moment. I needed to be able to believe her when she said things were okay.
“Oh, it’s not a gift,” I said, a little less nonchalantly than I’d hoped. “It’s a bribe.”
“Well, it’s working. What is it you want?”
God, that smile. It was like staring into the face of the world’s cutest kitten, only intensified tenfold.
“Oh, you know. Everything,” I said, leaning back on my hands and staring up at the sky.
“Don’t hold your breath,” she said, laughing.
“I can hold my breath for a pretty long time, you know.”
“Well, you’re welcome to try, but I’ve never known you to be all that patient,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m really not.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes, just watching the stars and enjoying the peacefulness. That said, I doubted either of us actually felt all that peaceful. I certainly didn’t. One look at her and I knew she felt the same.
“So,” I said, barely able to get my mouth to work.
“We should talk,” I managed to say, letting all of the air in my lungs out in the process.
“Yeah,” she said, staring down at her lap. “I’ve been thinking the same.”
My heart was pounding against the insides of my chest, and I was breathing in quick, short bursts. The next part was crucial, because neither of us knew what the other wanted to say. All we knew was that if we wanted different things, there wasn’t an easy way to reconcile that.
“Anything you want to start with?” I asked hopefully.
“God, no,” she said, obviously as nervous as I was. I didn’t know if that was a good sign or a bad one.
“Sorry,” she said, sounding a little more sincere than I would have liked.
“It’s okay. I’m just worried I’m gonna make a fool of myself,” I said.
“More than usual, you mean?” she teased. That was good. It felt normal. Natural.
“That is just patently untrue,” I said indignantly. “Slanderous, even.”
“Sure, sure. You’re a paragon of grace and elegance.”
She laughed, and it instantly relaxed me. Being around her, it was an incredible mix of exciting and soothing.
“You know, I think I’m starting to have a change of heart,” I said threateningly, but hopefully not too threateningly. It was only meant to be playful.
“Alright, alright,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous.”
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. The fresh air was soothing, and it eased my frayed nerves a little.
“Do you feel any differently to, you know, the last time we talked?” I asked. It felt like my heart stopped beating until she answered.
“What? No, of course not!” she said, looking alarmed. “Do… do you?”
So her feelings hadn’t changed. No second thoughts, no regrets. She’d have some something if she wasn’t certain. That knowledge had an immediate calming effect. I realised that the uncertainty was the part that had been the hardest to deal with. With that out of the way, I was ready to keep going.
Don’t screw this up, Charlie.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” I said, slowly, carefully. “Like, pretty much constantly. And I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve been really confused.”
Her expression turned serious. “Look, Charlie, if you don’t want to, you know… It’s okay,” she said, her voice breaking a little.
“I… I think I do want to, though,” I said, feeling my face burning. I couldn’t look at her.
“You do?” she asked, sounding genuinely surprised. Then, “Wait, what exactly is it that you want?”
That was the question I’d been dreading, because I honestly didn’t know how to answer it. I wanted to do what she wanted to do, but I couldn’t exactly say it like that, could I?
“I’m a little hazy on the details,” I said, feeling kind of pathetic. “But I really like you, and I want to, um, you know…”
Make you happy. I actually couldn’t even finish the sentence. It wasn’t awkwardness that I felt so much as vulnerability, which was a feeling I didn’t have a lot of experience with. No, scratch that. It was a feeling I’d spent most of my life actively trying to avoid.
“Are you asking me out?” she asked, her tone regaining just a little of her usual confidence, and even a hint of sly teasing.
“Shut up, I’ve never done this before,” I grumbled.
“Charlie, of course I want to go out with you,” she said, her hand resting on mine. If possible it felt like my face somehow got even hotter.
“That almost sounds like there’s a ‘but’ coming…”
“Well, I mean, we probably need to talk about a few things,” she said, her practical side starting to take back over again. That was a relief to me, because her practical side was a lot easier to deal with, or at least easier to understand.
“Yeah, that’s putting it mildly,” I conceded.
“Should we tell anyone?” she asked, and I could already see the beginning of her mental checklist. That was good. Structure was good.
“Do you want to tell anyone?” I asked, not quite knowing the answer to that myself.
“Well, I don’t want to keep it a secret,” she said, squeezing my hand. “But at the same time…”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe we should just keep it to ourselves for now.”
Something about that felt profoundly disappointing, like we’d already lost a battle we didn’t want to fight in the first place. Still, we both had enough to deal with without adding other people’s politics into the mix.
“We still can’t see each other very much,” she pointed out, her voice heavy.
“We’ll just have to make the most of the time we do have,” I said, though I hadn’t actually seriously considered that point before. “Or figure out a way to manage more.”
“As long as you’re okay with that,” she said.
Okay, that was as close to a perfect time to ask as I was ever going to get. I had to say it. Even if I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.
“Are you okay with me being, y’know, me?” I asked, and I know she could feel my hand trembling. She squeezed it again, and slid a little closer to me.
“Come one, who wouldn’t want their girlfriend to be an immortal ghost whisperer?”
I almost didn’t hear her oddly touching description of me, because my brain hitched on the world ‘girlfriend’. It surprised me to hear it. It surprised me even more to realise that just one word could hold that much power.
“That… just kind of slipped out,” she said, embarrassed.
“I like it,” I said, just as embarrassed.
We were close enough that our shoulders were touching. Even though we’d sat that close dozens of times before, it felt like the most intimate moment we’d ever shared.
“That’s not what I meant, though,” I said, wishing I wouldn’t.
“What do you mean, then?”
“I’m not, you know. Romantic. Or whatever. I dunno how. I might never be like that,” I said, surprised at how much the admission frightened me.
“Oh,” she said. “I don’t think I really want that, though?”
“I think I just want to be honest. If we can keep being honest, I think things will be okay, you know?”
“I hope so,” I said, squeezing her hand.
“What about Sadie?” she asked, changing the subject.
“I hadn’t even thought about that,” I lied. I’d been going over what I was going to say to Sadie in my head for days, but I hadn’t been able to come up with anything, not without talking to Rachel first.
“Do you think she’ll figure it out on her own?”
“Probably,” I said. Sadie wasn’t exactly oblivious, and she’d already told me she was suspicious about our relationship. Hell, it was almost like she knew before I did.
“Does she still not like me?” Rachel asked, and I winced. I found myself wishing I hadn’t shared that with her.
“She’s going to have to deal with it.”
“I wish I could talk to her,” she said wistfully.
“I mean, I could act as a medium, but…”
“It’s not the same,” she said, and I agreed with her. It would have felt entirely too weird.
From the very first time I’d told her about Sadie, she’d never once asked me to prove it. She’d never tried to force an interaction with Sadie in any way, even when I’d told her Sadie was present. Trying to get the two of them to talk now, it would have just felt weird.
“I guess not.”
“There was one other thing,” she said, so quietly I almost didn’t hear her.
“Would it… Would it be okay if I… Um…”
She trailed off. When I glanced over at her, I could see that she was blushing even harder than I was. Her gaze was fixed intently in the other direction, and I could feel her hand shaking a little.
“I kind of want to kiss you,” she mumbled.
“Oh,” I said, without thinking. I was surprised and probably the most nervous I’d been all night. It took me a second to realise that reaction probably wasn’t the one she was looking for, and I felt like I’d just messed everything up.
Oh god, I couldn’t say anything else. I needed time to think, but she was waiting for me to say something, instead of just staring at her like an idiot.
“What if I’m bad at it?” I asked, feeling like it was the most serious issue I’d ever been faced with in my life.
“What if I’m a bad kisser?” I asked again, like the biggest dork in the universe.
“Are you being serious right now?”
“Am I not allowed to be worried about that?”
“Well, what if I’m a bad kisser?” she asked, frowning at me.
“I won’t even know if you’re a bad kisser, I’m gonna be too busy focussing on whether I’m bad or not,” I told her.
“You are so cute,” she said, reigniting my cheeks with a ferocious new wave of blushing.
Without me realising entirely how it happened, our faces were very close together, our foreheads just lightly resting against one another. Her fingers wrapped around mine, and for a few agonisingly intense seconds, we held that position, staring into each other’s eyes.
I don’t know which of us closed the distance, but the moment her lips touched mine, it didn’t matter. Physically, the sensation was nothing special; a little wet, a little warm, a little soft. It didn’t feel like a physical act, though. It felt like a whole new kind of connection, one that made every nerve in my body tingle.
My hand grabbed the front of her coat, holding her close to me, the action almost subconscious. All I wanted was to just melt into her, to press myself against her, to never let her go. If I’d had any doubts before that moment, they were all gone after, at least momentarily. All I could think about was how unbelievably perfect that moment was, and how I never wanted it to end.
When we pulled away, we both smiled shyly at each her, her biting her lip cutely. We stayed that way for a little longer, just enjoying the closeness.
“So…?” I said, when the silence became too much to bear.
“Too early to say,” she said solemnly.
“I’m going to need to run a few more tests,” she said smugly. “For science, you understand.”
I shoved her playfully. “Idiot.”
“Did you not like it?” she asked, giving me her puppy dog eyes again.
“I didn’t say that.”
“I am not going to say it,” I insisted.
“You either have to say it, or do it again,” she said authoritatively.
“I’m not falling for that,” I told her.
“You totally are, though,” she retorted, and damn her, she was right.
“Are you going to be like this all the time now?” I asked. She frowned, and pulled away.
“Sorry, I didn’t meant o be annoying…”
“No, I actually kind of like it,” I said, worried I’d already managed to upset her. That had to be some kind of record, right?
“You don’t have to say that just to make me feel better,” she replied sullenly.
“I really am happy,” I told her, squeezing her hand.
“I promise,” I said, and as soon as I did, her face cracked into the most adorably, infuriatingly smug smile I’d ever seen.
“Wow, that was easier than I expected.”
“You suck,” I said. “I take it back.”
“Too late, I already heard it,” she said cheerfully.
“Well I hope it was worth it, because it’s the last nice thing I’m gonna say for a while,” I told her petulantly.
“It was totally worth it. Also, I probably need to get home soon.”
Until she said that, I’d completely forgotten that the only reason she could even be out of the house was because her mum was out, and we had no idea when she’d be back again. We absolutely needed to get Rachel back home again.
“Oh shit, what time is it?” I asked, scrambling to pull my phone out of my pocket to check.
“I really don’t want to know.”
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” I said, frowning a little.
“Me either, but I don’t want to have to leave you, either,” she said, wrapping her arm around mine affectionately.
“I’ll come by again in a couple of nights, okay?”
“Oh yeah!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Actually, I had something I wanted to do with you.”
“Well, it might seem a bit boring after tonight, but…”
“I’ll let you surprise me, then,” I said, wondering what she could possibly be planning. Whatever it was, I was just glad to be able to spend more time with her.
“So trusting all of a sudden.”
“Hey, I always trust you,” I said defensively.
“And so you should.”
“Alright, get out of here,” I said, giving her a friendly shove.
“One more time before I go?” she asked, tugging on my arm.
“…Okay,” I said, wondering if I would ever stop blushing.
Next Week: That Would Be Normal