2. Cutie Cutie

"Do you want to leave? I can walk you to your place."

I shake my head. "No, I don't want to go anywhere."

A small crease forms on Eli's brow as he gives me a scrutinizing glance. "Okay."

I smile and hold his hand tighter. It's sometime after midnight. Parties are not my favourite scene and when I have to attend one, I don't stay around until this late. It's no surprise he's wondering why I'm in no hurry to leave.  

We're sitting on one of the couches, watching a drinking game some kids are having. I was sitting on my own when he noticed me and came over. A few seconds after he did, I reached out my hand to trace patterns on the back of his. When he entwined our fingers, I accepted his grip wholeheartedly.

He covers a yawn with the back of his hand. "Will I be a bad host if I leave now? I'm honestly tired."

"No. You should sleep early. They're fine having fun by themselves."

While I say that calmly, my heart is rioting. He does look tired. Should I leave him be? Should I go back to my room? But I've worked up so much courage for this. What if I never get another chance?

"But I also want to stay longer," he says. "With you."

My eyes find his light brown ones. His fringe is long, with wisps of hair falling over his eyes.

"I'll come with you," I tell him.

His brow lifts. "What?"

I swallow, my throat suddenly dry. "Your room. I mean..." I shrug. "We can... I can..."

Fuck, where did my liquid courage go? Why am I stammering?

His eyes search my face, which grows hotter by the second.

"Are you sure?" he asks.

I nod.

He maintains his gaze on me for several more seconds. Then he rises to his feet and brings me with him. "Let's go."

Before I can suggest that maybe he should let the others know he's leaving, we're outside the room and heading upstairs. Our hands are still gripping each other.

His room is on the fourth floor. He has no roommate at the moment, but he's getting one tomorrow.

He switches on the light when we walk in and he closes the door behind him. His dorm room has a living area with space for a kitchenette and two bedrooms. It's one of the newest and most luxurious dorms on campus.

After taking off my shoes, I go into the bathroom near the entrance. I gape at my reflection in the mirror. My cheeks are flushed. It's so obvious I'm excited. I study the rest of my face. I don't look too bad. My hair is still in place too. I inhale deeply. I'm in his room. This is the first part. Now I need to find a way to move things to the next level.

I wonder what he thinks about me asking to accompany him to his room so late. Does he think it's weird? I've been here before this late, but never alone. Many times, it was a sleepover in which Simon, Tori, or another of our friends was involved. Never just the two of us.

When I walk out of the bathroom, the balcony door is open and Eli is leaning against the balustrade. I walk through the living room to the balcony and stand beside him. The night wind is cool, and the view is refreshing. Eli's dorm has a great view—lush gardens that merge into the woods that surround the campus. 

My nails dig into my fingers as I contemplate my next move. Why am I suddenly out of ideas when I've been planning this night in my mind for the past week?

"The night is beautiful," I mumble, for lack of something better to say.

"It is. And so are you."

I peek at him to find his eyes on me. I return his smile, but that turns into a gasp when he wraps his hand around my waist and pulls me against him.

His other hand caresses my cheek. "I've been thinking about kissing you since that day."

My eyes widen as my pulse picks up. By 'that day,' I know exactly what he's referring to.

Last weekend, the football team had an away game five hours away. I'm currently on an internship—I was lucky to get it with the school's sports department—so I tagged along with the team. We came away with a win, but that isn't the most memorable part for me. On the ride back, I sat beside Eli. At some point—around 10 p.m. with half of the bus dozing off—he wrapped his arm around my neck, pulled me in, and kissed me. It was our first kiss.

He's not the only one who has been thinking about it ever since.

I rise to my toes and peck his lips. "Stop just thinking about it," I whisper.

Maybe that courage is finally working.

His lips stretch in a smile, seconds before his mouth claims mine. My hands anchor on his arms as I stretch my body to make up for my shorter height. His hands go lower, wrap around the back of my thighs, and hoist me up.

With me clinging to him like a koala to a tree trunk, he walks us back into the dorm. Seconds later, my back lands on the soft cushions of his couch. He settles above me, with my legs framing his body on both sides.

My heart is beating like crazy and I'm almost out of breath.

"Tell me when you want to stop," he whispers, his lips a hair's breadth from mine.

I shake my head. "I don't want to."

"What?"

"I don't want to stop."

His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows. "Sure?"

I nod.

He pulls away and gets off the couch. I take his hand when he holds it out. He leads me to his bedroom, and I know everything between us changes tonight.

And that's okay because I want it to.

~~~

I wake up in the morning to find a pair of light brown eyes staring at me.

"Morning, Jo."

"Morning."

Eli leans forward. When I realise what he means to do, I clap my palm over my mouth.

He lifts an eyebrow. "Are you going shy on me now?"

"I haven't brushed!"

"It's fine—"

He trails off as I roll away from him and end up on the floor. His deep laugh permeates the room. I come to my feet, brushing hair from my face. Cool air kisses my legs and that's when I realise I'm in nothing but his shirt and my underwear. I tug on the shirt, which thankfully reaches to my mid-thigh, and head towards the door. "Bathroom," I mumble, disappearing from his sight.

When I come back out, he's drinking a glass of water at the kitchen sink.

"Can I get my kiss now?" he teases, a slight smirk on his lips.

I step forward and press a quick peck to his lips.

He lets me get away but doesn't shut up about it. "God, you're so cute."

"Shut up."

"Cutie cutie Jo. What do you want for breakfast?"

"Whatever you make."

"I'm making for three, by the way."

"Is someone coming over?"

"My new roommate landed about an hour ago. He's coming over right away."

"Now?"

He nods.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I told you he was coming today."

"You didn't mention he would be here so early!" I whine and rush to the bedroom to look for my jeans.

His laugh follows me. "You're not leaving, are you?"

"Not before eating, no."

"Am I not a good enough reason to stay?"

"Not with your new roommate around."

"I'm sure he doesn't bite."

I roll my eyes as I pull my legs into my jeans.

"You should come with me to show him around," he says when I emerge from the bedroom.

"Feed me first and I'll think about it." My eyes land on the pile of gifts from last night, on the carpet beside the coffee table. He must have brought them up sometime before we came to the room. "You haven't checked your gifts yet."

"Why don't you help me unwrap?"

"Sure?"

He murmurs in assent as he pulls out a pan.

I spy Tori's gift from the pile and consider beginning with it. She said it's a secret but Eli doesn't mind me seeing what he got. Should I look?

"Can I open Tori's present? She wanted to keep it secret."

"Go ahead."

My curiosity winning, I unwrap the paper to reveal a small box. Given its size, I imagine there's jewelry of some sort inside. When I open it, I see a bracelet.

"It's a bracelet."

"See? Nothing controversial."

I lift the accessory, frowning. "It looks—"

"What?"

"Aged."

"Aged?"

"Worn."

He turns away from the stove. "Let me see—"

His eyes widen when he sees it. Rushing forward, he grabs it. "Where did she find this? I lost it years ago."

"It belonged to you?"

He nods. "We had a matching pair made like... When we were ten or something. I lost mine in high school. This is it."

"She probably found it and decided to surprise you."

A frown etches on his brow. "I wonder why she'd give it back."

"Why not?"

"We—" he shakes his head. "Nothing." He shoves it in his shorts' pocket and turns back to the sizzling pan on the stove.

Looks like there's a story behind that, but I don't push.

I'm almost done opening the gifts when there's a knock on the door. Eli and I exchange glances.

"Is it him?"

"Probably."

"I'll get it," I say, seeing as there's something sizzling on the pan.

"No, I got it," he says, stepping to the door.

I begin gathering the empty wrappers as he opens the door.

I rise to dump the papers in the bin just as he pulls the door wide open.

My eyes flick past him to the guy standing at the door.

All blood drains from my head as I take in his face.

It's him.

It's Jude.

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