The sky was pastel from the living room. With my feet propped up against the couch, I watched Iker stack two pillows to hold the sheets up. The sheet blocked the window, and he extended his hand out to me. I tapped his outstretched palm once and smiled, pointed to the door, and he went completely still.
“Are they here?” he whispered.
I listened for a second, then shook my head, no, they weren’t. Not yet.
It was Sergio’s idea, for us to build the pillow fort and he would bring Scarlett in for a surprise. We were supposed to hide at the sound of the door and quietly slip out afterwards, but so far there had been nothing. Part of me feared this would be the case, that Scarlett and Sergio wouldn’t even make it from his place.
Iker began to move around again, but his eyes came to rest on me, staring at me with a careful fascination, gazing down like he wanted to trap every detail; freeze it all and never forget. He opened his mouth to say something, but froze like I’d pressed the pause button. He looked down. Just when it seemed like he’d gathered the courage to speak, his phone vibrated in his pocket.
He nodded, opened the text, a faint smile creeped over his features. He tossed the phone to me, muttering, “All ours.”
Won’t make it. Fort’s all yours. Enjoy. ;)
“The smiley face is winking,” I said, staring down at it, then back up at Iker. “Why is the smiley face winking?”
He just smiled and collapsed backwards onto the mess of pillows beneath us and I begrudgingly threw myself down next to him. His hand inched towards mine, and then he was rolling over on his side to lean halfway over me, his finger trailing down my side.
I laughed, a low, quiet sound starting at the base of my throat. He touched his fingers to my lips absentmindedly, like he would brush back my hair if it was covering my face or mess up his own the second things grew too still. He traced the outline of my lips and I found myself speaking against his finger, letting my chapped lips move against his soft hand. His hands were leaner than I thought they’d be, less remarkable looking, more like the least remarkable soldier at the back who ends up with the Red Badge of Courage.
“You know,” was all I said, and he nodded because he did know; He knew I loved him but I still hadn’t—
His I love you was better, and it wasn’t a competition, but I was trying so hard to beat him, or perhaps to beat my own low expectations for myself.
His hand moved down to linger at my throat. He traced the curve there, hovering over the pulse with something I couldn’t read in his eyes, and I thought about the Art of Breathing and how suddenly there were so many complications. His breath was quiet, not heavy, not hurried; it was relaxed and sleepy and “morning after” rough.
“I’m pale like you, see,” I said, breaking the silence as he kept his fingers moving.
“Not that pale,” he replied like he was trying to concentrate. He returned his full albeit tired attention to his finger at my neck, moving farther down, and then he was pressing his lips tightly to the base of my neck where it hollowed out. My breath hitched.
His remained steady, his eyes calm— everything firmly secured in place like this was his territory. His lips found mine, and it was a sleepy sort of demanding with the clashing of tongues and a strong hand underneath me to keep me in place.
The pillow fort began to slowly collapse around us as Iker tugged at the sheets. Somewhere to my left, there was a sliding movement, but then Iker’s lips were back at mine and much too distracting. His fingers trailed down my side, plucking and pulling at the fabric there like it was a hassle, sighing a little like it shouldn’t be there in the first place. His frustration was almost endearing.
He impatiently clawed and I trapped his hands, tugging my shirt off and feeling him move closer. He wedged his knee between my legs to sit up higher over me, looking down. He was calm again for one brief moment, and then the lust fought to the forefront of his mind.
“I never got a real one,” he murmured, and he wasn’t shy or timid or blushing. He was looking me right in the eye, his hands moving torturously slowly at the waistband of my jeans, telling me he never got a proper I love you.
“I know,” was all I said, arching my back to meet his touch, but he glanced away teasingly.
“Feel like I have to prove myself,” he mumbled against my skin. He bent over to place a kiss on my hipbone, to press his lips against the faint blush of a bruise from the other night, and I knew it meant I was his. And as far as proper I love you’s went, I didn’t consider that one, but as far as good ones— as far as honest ones— that was more a mark of his love than anything. It wasn’t ownership. It was “you are mine and I am yours and if there were a thousand miles between us, it would be the same way.”
It wasn’t the sort of thing people say. It was the sort of thing people understood, and if it wasn’t understood, it wasn’t there.
Iker laughed and I felt the vibrations against my chest. He tugged at my jeans and I lifted my hips so he could slide them down, moving against him although not entirely by accident.
“Maybe you do have to prove yourself,” I replied, and I felt his hand clench around the sheet below me.
It was a few hours later, and the pillow fort was more than half destroyed. The living room was a mess, I was a mess, Iker was a mess. He was lying on his back, looking up at the half-falling green pillow that held the sheet up above our heads. He stared until it began to fall, turned to look at me, and I stared back; and it was like we were meeting again for the first time.
“Shower,” I announced, ripping my eyes away because his were burning into mine with an indestructible sort of golden constancy that was tearing me apart inside. I rolled up to a sit, bent back down to place a kiss on his shoulder. He kept his hand on my side, his eyes shutting for a moment. He opened them back up, sleepily, and smiled.
“Can I take one here?”
“Why do you ask?” He had his eyes closed again, like his eyelids were heavy, and he could hardly keep them open. His eyelashes brushed his cheekbones and he sucked in a breath, shifted, and seemed to become aware of my gaze on him. He smiled lazily. He repeated his question, opening his eyes and lifting his head to look at me. He raised his eyebrows.
“Just seems right,” I said, moving to adjust a pillow.
He watched me thoughtfully and his hand returned to resting on my side. “Does it feel right to be here?”
I nodded and he shut his eyes again, leaning his head back against the pillow. His hair stuck up in places. “Then why do you ask?”
I smiled and his hand tightened at my side like he wanted to pull me down next to him, but held himself back.
“I don’t know.”
“Then don’t ask.”
“Fine,” I said, leaning down to kiss him, biting at his lip. “I’m going to take a shower.” I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to look assertive.
He half sat up. “Me too.”
“I’m taking one first.”
“Yeah,” he said mildly. “Me too.”
I rolled my eyes and stood up, accidentally tugging the sheet with me. The other half of the pillow fort fell and Iker let out a dramatic groan.
“Look what you’ve done. You’ve ruined our work of art.” He shook his head, ran a hand over the top of his head. “I can’t be around someone so destructive.”
“This is how it ends,” I replied mournfully.
“It’s over.” He leaned his head back against the pillow, stretched out his arm to stop the whole thing from cascading down.
“This is how we break up.” I pretended to sniffle. “A broken pillow fort.”
“And two broken hearts,” he finished, lifting his arms for dramatic effect. “Get behind thee, satan.”
I picked up a pillow, hugged it to my chest indecisively before throwing it right at his face. He pulled it off him with a disgusted groan. “What the hell.”
“That was rude. Also you broke up with me.” He made a face. “No shower for you.”
“I’m going to smell,” he whined as I started for the bathroom.
“You already do smell,” I replied with the very impressive maturity of my left pinky toe, smiling as I heard him scramble to his feet to follow me anyway.
The door fell closed behind Iker with a snap and he immediately reached over to adjust the water, his arm grazing my shoulder. Neither of us moved away. The water ran in rivulets down his back like tiny glistening veins and I stopped one with my finger. He scrunched up his shoulders like it tickled.
“I’m borrowing your shampoo,” I told him and he wordlessly pointed to the bottle on the floor. He had a shelf, but it was empty and I told him that was stupid. He told me it wasn’t my house. “I hope it doesn’t make my hair weird and puffy,” I added, scrunching up my nose.
“So do I because God forbid you have puffy hair.” He smirked. “I don’t think I’d like you much at all with puffy hair.”
“Frizzy,” I said emphatically as if that made a difference. “I worry about the frizz.”
“Me too,” he replied, with just as much emphasis on each word, “I worry about the destructive nature of this frizz and the immediate effect it will have on your character.”
“Shut up,” I mumbled. “You know 90% of the time you’re a pretentious prick and I can’t stand you.”
I reached for the soap, but he handed it to me before I could grab hold. “Now you’re just trying to get me to take that back.”
“Not at all. I’m just being a gentleman.”
“Shut up,” I said again, but I was grinning from ear to ear. And then I was leaning down to get the shampoo and he reached for it at the same time, and our heads collided. We were a mess of warm bodies and jumbled words, soapy fingers, apologies getting lost in the laughter.
“Sorry about that—”
“Idiot with your melon head—”
“… not my fault—”
And then it was quiet and the only sounds were the lingering chuckles and the water hitting the tiles. The water hitting the floor was loud, my feet felt slippery, my hands too soapy. I was hyperaware of my surroundings the moment before his touch drowned everything else out.
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe without you,” he confessed, a low laugh building in his throat but never quite making it out alive.
“Inhale, exhale,” I told him, reaching up to wipe away a stream of soapy water running down his cheek.
“Not as easy as it sounds.” He gently moved my hand away.
I shrugged and leaned forward, resting my head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around me and the water continued to fall, echoing against the walls, the continuity growing peaceful. My fingers brushed his pulse and I kept them there, the steady beating oddly comforting, like the quiet buzzing of an alarm clock on a day off.
I ran my hand through his hair and it felt like soft feathers on a rainy day. He brushed my hair out of my face like he was mirroring my actions for a laugh. He smelled like licorice and something burning, but it was good, and I smiled. The water was too hot, but I left it there until my skin turned pink and he tried kissing it away.
“Get off,” I groaned, but he pecked kisses on my cheek until I gave in and pressed him against the tiled walls. He kissed me like he was running out of room to breathe. He kissed me like forever was one moment in time, like he’d pinpointed an eternity, and wanted to show me what it tasted like.
Finally something was building in my mind, but it was the sort of pressure I hadn’t noticed until that very moment. It was the sort of pressure that had been building since the moment I met him and only became apparent when there had been a thousand better opportunities before to let it spill.
“I love you,” I said earnestly, and I felt like I was tripping over my words, and I wanted to be able to say them slowly and carefully like I meant them, but that wasn’t— that wasn’t us and that wasn’t me. It had to be clumsy and rushed, more like the clashing of teeth than the intricate dance of a perfect kiss.
“Really.” It wasn’t a question, but it demanded an answer.
“Completely and frighteningly.”
The water continued to fall and he shot me a lazy smile. “I know.”