"I love you, Xandy."
A pair of green eyes stare back at me, unblinking, their lashes deliciously thick and even more deliciously black. No, I think to myself. The eyes aren't just green. Or forest green. Or grass-on-the-edge-of-Autumn-green. They're avocado green, with little flicks of chartreuse, complimented by wide, open pupils rimmed with just the right shade of muddy almond.
"Did you hear me?" he says, reaching out a long finger and flicking me playfully on the nose. Our little tic. Suddenly, his thin lips turn down in a frown, his sad dimples jumping to the surface of his equally almond skin. "Xandy, is everything okay? What are you thinking about?"
"Your eyes," I say, straining upward on my tiptoes to plant a delicate kiss on each of his eyelids. He lowers his head so I can reach his lanky, skycraper-tall height. "Their colour. It's number #62 green on my textiles chart at school."
Silence settles between us like dust.
Then, one moment he's laughing, soft chuckling, and the next he's picking me up, twirling me around, and I'm throwing my arms wide open like an eagle, and the world is spinning spinning spinning...
This is always how it's been with Caleb.
It was how I notice him, how he noticed me.
It was how I fell for him.
How I'm still falling.
The onlookers on the busy high street cast us wary glances, grunting or tutting or "Kids these days"-ing us as they're forced to avoid my outstretched, still-spinning limbs. Eventually, after what seems like both eternity and no time at all, Caleb plops me back on the grey concrete like a small child.
He raises an arched eyebrow.
Playing along with the facade, I pout, cross my arms and glance up at him, "Again, again."
He laughs. I laughs. He stoops down, I stretch us. We meet in the middle - the glorious middle of everything and nowhere - and kiss.
"I can't believe you," he says, reaching out and slotting my palm into his warm one as we resume our stroll down the street. On either side of us, the ugly, grey industrialism of branches of chain retail stores - clothes, food, promwear - begin to transform into the fluttering awnings and colourful, quriky window displays of indie bookstores and antique shops. "I tell you that I love you - for the first time, too, may I add - and all you can think about is green. And textiles. And my eyes."
"Mmm, your eyes," I pretend to moan dreamily.
He catches my joke like a silent kiss on the breeze and jokingly elbows my ribcage in return. "Seriously."
For the second time today, a rare occurence in itself, Caleb's smile drops like a leaden balloon. His Adam's apple bobs up and down nervously like an unsteady ship as he swallows hard. "What do you think? About what I said?"
"I agree. It's just like my scatter-brain to be thinking about textiles and green. A true interior designer's mind never rests."
Caleb digs deep to put on the mask of an unconvincing, watery smile.
Everyone who knows us says that it's always been like this between us. Even when Caleb and I first met, way back in the first year of high school, he was smitten with me. Or at least that much was apparent to everyone else apart from me. Now that I think really think about it, it does seem too much of a coincedence that everytime we locked eyes in the corridor he would just happen to bump into his locker (or someone else), or that whenever we were partnered up in English Lit he would suddenly develop selective mutism. Or blurt out some insanely random fact I didn't really wish to know. That was how I found out that his celebrity crush was a cross between Emmy Rossum and Princess Leia, after all. But it had never really occured to me - not even on Prom night when he grew a pair of balls and finally asked me out - that I would be the one constantly having to reassure him in our relationship.
"It's nice," I say.
"Nice?" he winces.
Okay, maybe nice isn't the right word. Kittens are nice. Chocolate cupcakes are nice. Old grandmas riding about on mobility scooters donning matching floral bonnets and dresses are nice. "I love you" is meant to be monumental. Awe-inspiring. Catch-you-off-guard, kick-you-in-the-emotional-crotch, punch-you-in-the-stomach, pull-on-your-heartstrings amazing.
I shrug, pretending to be nonchalant. "I grew up reading fairytales because..."
"...your grandma was dead before you were born, meaning she was never around to tell you any like tradition dictates," Caleb says monotonously, as if reading from a dictionary. "I know."
"Right," I say, shooting him a mischevious glance that he doesn't catch. "That's why I've grown up with the expectation that when someone finally says 'I love you' it will be accompanied by some grand, sweeping romantic gesture. Like riding off into the sunset to begin our new life at a gorgeous castle. Or handind me a perfectly-fitting silver slipper. Or at least one half of a pair of Louboutins."
By now, he's caught my drift. Finally.
But, instead of breaking out into hysterical laughter like I expect him to (I mean, c'mon, it wouldn't kill the guy to give a tear of joy. Or at least fake one), Caleb suddenly stops walking and points to window display of an antique shop across the street.
"How about that?" he says gently.
I follow the direction of his outstretched finger and my gaze comes to rest on a mirror. The most beautiful, full-length, gold-trimmed mirror I have ever seen. And...what is that...rubies....I see encrusted into the metalwork?
We gingergly cross the street to inspect the spectacular object.
One half of my interior designer brain squeals in joy at the sight of the ornate piece, but another part shakes her head and waggles a mental finger, telling me it will never fit in with the modern art decor - fanciful Piccassoesque paintings, leather couches, glass tables - of my parents' house.
"Look," Caleb says, whispering persuasively. He nods toward the version of myself reflected back at us in the scratched glass surface of the mirror, planting a delicate kiss on my temple. "This way, I can have two of you."