It's starting to rain when we enter the parking lot, and I try to ignore it. Hopefully it doesn't storm. It'd be pretty embarrassing to have to pull over with Brendon here due to my panicked state over the lightning. I feel awkward just thinking about it.
"What kind of books do you want?" Brendon asks once we're both in the car.
"I don't know yet," I reply. "I like a lot of different kinds. Maybe mystery? It’s cool figuring things out."
"Mysteries are fun sometimes," he agrees. "I'm almost always wrong about who the killer is though."
"So if I ever want to make a gamble over a game, we should play Clue then," I tease, grinning. "I bet you'd lose."
"You're right, and that's why I'm never playing that game with you."
"Now who's the fun ruiner?"
He laughs as I turn the key in the ignition. The sound of the engine being cranked fills the air, but the car doesn't start. What?
Brendon's now looking at me curiously, wondering what's wrong. Oh my god, no. Not now. Come on, car, please not now. Wait until I get home.
Okay, calm down. Try again. The same thing happens. The third time doesn't prove to be the charm.
"What's wrong with the car?" Brendon asks. "It started fine earlier. And you just got it fixed."
"Yeah," I say, nervously laughing. "I, uh, I don't know. Let me try again"
Please. Pretty please. I promise I'll stop making snarky comments on social media if whatever higher power there is the makes my car start again. I try once more, but it fails to catch all the way. The first person I see that misspells a word is going to get an earful. Hope they don't mind crying.
"Maybe it's just the temperature making it not work," I suggest, trying not to look my boyfriend in the eyes. "You know how that is."
"It's not cold enough for that," he replies somewhat cynically, picking up on the fact that I'm flustered.
"Let me just look at it," I interject, hurried.
I get out of the car, almost cringing when I see Brendon do the same so he can stand next to me.
I pop open my hood, staring hopelessly at the machinery within. I'm barely able to even find the engine, much less do anything to diagnose the issue with it.
"I thought you didn't know anything about engines," Brendon says slowly.
"I'm, uh, I'm just checking to see if there's anything I can do. They told me this might happen at the shop."
"Uh huh," he responds, narrowing his eyes. "What exactly did they do to make it run again?"
"Um, they replaced the . . ." I trail off, frustrated at my inability to recall anything mechanical from my dad's car books at all. "They didn't make it very clear."
He crosses his arms, looking irritated.
"You never fixed it at all, did you?" he accuses.
"I . . . No. I didn't."
It's useless to pretend I'm clueless about something he already knows. I let down the hood as an excuse to not face him.
"So you lied to me."
Oops. Forgot about that. Kind of. I sure wish I could forget about it again.
"I wouldn't call it lying," I comment, quiet.
"No? What would you call it then? Huh?"
"Okay, you're right," I admit before he gets more upset. "Yes, I . . . lied."
"And you're telling me that we've been driving around in a broken car," he starts, a scowl appearing on his face. "And that you knew about it the whole time?"
I don't like where this is going. Why didn't I just trust the car light? Why didn't I let him drive? There are regrets here. Lots of them.
"Um . . ." I answer, intimated by his harsh demeanor. "Yes?"
So much for the soft look in his eyes I liked.
"And are you aware that at any time something could have happened to it, no matter where we were?" he asks, voice rising slightly. "Like, oh I don't know, a busy road? Where we could cause an accident?"
I don't respond, as he has a point.
"Don't you have anything to say?" he snaps.
"I didn't know," I reply, meek.
"Sometimes the lights just come on and then go away," I try to defend, but my voice isn't as strong as I hoped it would be.
I've made the mistake and I know it. I didn't want him to be angry.
"You think that makes it okay?" he asks, still as harsh. "That it's absolutely fine you put us, not to mention innocent people, in danger because sometimes the lights come on and you've been able to ignore them? Yes. Right."
I didn't see it like that. He's right, being so unsafe is horrible for a lot of reasons. Guilt weighs down in my stomach, and I feel like I ate rocks. I shrink away from him, trying to avoid his words. Not to say I don't deserve them, but they still sting. He's not usually mad at me, and I wasn't ready for it. Especially not after such a wonderful evening. Great. It's ruined now.
"I'm sorry," I murmur, afraid to look at him directly. "I know it was stupid. I didn't think it would break down."
"I'm not so sure you thought about anything at all," he bites back, but turns away when he sees what I'm sure is the hurt look on my face. "Just . . . Look, we'll talk about this later. We need to find a way to get back. I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend the rest of my night in a parking lot. I guess we could try to flag down a taxi, but standing in the rain doesn't sound appealing."
And that leaves my car here. I don't say that though, as it would only antagonize him.
"I can call Eric," I offer, hoping to make amends. "He'll be able to come help us."
I scurry back to the driver's side of the car, taking out my phone from where it sits in the cup holder.
Please pick up, Eric. Please.
"What's up, Peanut Butter Jenna Time?" he asks on the end of the line, sounding like he's trying to make his voice heard over the background noise.
I'm thankful he actually answered, but I'm too anxious to say anything about the nickname.
I wonder what he's doing.
"Eric," I answer, relieved. "I need your help."
"Okay. First you lean in close and press your lips-"
"What are you talking about?" I interrupt.
"Aren't you calling for kissing advice?" he teases. "Since you're out with your true love and all."
"Eric, I'm serious. My car broke down and now we're stranded."
"Wait, wait," he says, hushing the people chattering around him. "What? Your car?"
"My car, yes. I took my car."
I don't miss the way Brendon momentarily turns his head to shoot me another glare.
"Isn't it broken?" Eric asks.
"That's why I'm calling you!" I snap, then realize that's too harsh. "I'm sorry. Really. But like I said, I need your help."
"Babe, I can't come get you," he responds. "I'm on break at a concert right now. I told you this, remember?"
Oh. Right. He had said that his band was doing a venue tonight when he called me earlier this morning. But he was on speaker phone, and I was too distracted to really listen. I was trying to carefully herd a pigeon away from my open bedroom window by using a broom.
"Well when will you be done?" I ask, attempting to not get panicked.
"I don't know," he admits. "I still have another half to do. An hour, maybe?"
"An hour?" I reply, flustered again. "Are you sure?"
"I'm pretty sure."
"No, that's . . . okay. We can wait. We're in the parking garage closest to the promenade, it's pretty easy to spot. We parked here when we came last year. I'm sorry you have to come so far."
"It's fine," he reassures. "You and the grocery guy sit tight and I'll get there when I can."
"Alright," I say, resigned. "Thanks."
"Of course. Gotta go. See you soon."
I face Brendon, who is purposefully turned away again. This isn't going to be easy.
"He's doing a concert," I tell him, reluctant. "He says he can't get here until about an hour from now."
"Great," he growls, leaning back against the hood of the car. "Absolutely wonderful."
"Do you know of anyone to call?" I ask, hesitant.
"Not anyone that would get here any faster. My friend that lives the closest to our spot is on vacation in Hawaii. The others wouldn't be too pleased to have to drive all the way here in the rain."
"Taxi, then?" I ask, hoping that even if it means I have to find a way to get back tomorrow he'll at least be less angry.
"If you want to go get it, fine," he barks. "But I'm sure as hell not standing out there."
When I glance outside, I see the weather has gotten worse. We'd be soaked within minutes if we went into the street.
"We can wait, that's okay," I try again, my tone entreating. "Eric will come, I know it, just not yet. An hour isn't that long, right?"
"I guess," he snaps.
He shoves his hands in his pockets, making it clear he's shunning me by turning a bit more to the right.
I sigh, almost crestfallen. I wish this hadn't happened. If I was less impulsive, I'd be in a warm bookstore with a bubbly Brendon. Now instead, I'm left stranded next to an irritated companion who looks as if he's wishing I wasn't here.
We sit for several minutes in silence. I'm hoping he'll say something else, but he seems like he doesn't want to have a conversation right now. Not that I blame him.
"Stop it," he interrupts, his voice not any less sharp than before. "Don't even try to use my nickname as a way out of this."
"I'm not," I reply, downtrodden. "I just wanted to say that I know I made a mistake, and that I'm sorry."
"Sure you are. You're only saying that because I'm mad."
His response makes my next words die in my mouth, and I wilt into the passenger side window. I wish he'd believe me. Maybe I should try again?
"Brendon, please listen to me," I say, using his actual name instead in hopes of placating him. "I really, truly apolo-"
A flash of light comes from outside, and I immediately seize up. I draw in a sharp breath, and I can feel the tears spring to my eyes. Great. Lightning has started coming down. This is exactly the kind of thing I didn't want to happen.
"Jenna?" Brendon asks, and I notice he's watching me now.
Oh no. He's probably curious about me cutting off. I twist away from him in an attempt to hide my face, but he's seen it already.
"Jenna," he says again, more insistent this time. "Are you . . . crying?"
"No," I answer, but my wavering voice betrays me.
His hand is at my shoulder. He uses it to gently turn me until he can see me again. I can't avoid this.
"You are," he breathes, seeming distressed as he peers at me. "You're really that upset I snapped at you? Look, I . . . I was just angry and because of that was a bit too harsh. I'll admit it. But you don't need to cry."
"N-No," I insist, trying to wipe the liquid from my face. "It's n-not you."
"Come here," he requests, eyes soft once more. "It's okay. I get it. You're actually sorry. I apologize as well, for being short with you. You made a mistake. A pretty big mistake, but still. It happens. Don't get so sad, please."
He opens his arms for a hug. As much as I want to receive one, I don't want him to feel bad about making me cry when he isn't the cause.
He drops his arms to his sides when I put a hand out to stop him, and he looks down at me in confusion.
"It's not you," I say again, more collected this time as I'm not having a reaction to my fear anymore. "You didn't make me cry."
While I don't want to explain it to him, I can't let him have the regret.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"I'm telling you that-"
I'm cut off again by the flashing of the phenomenon, the violent sound of thunder crashing across the space moments later. I flinch, an involuntary action, and the frightened tears make their way to the surface again. Come on. I didn't want to be a wuss like this in front of Brendon. Who, by the way, looks like he's discovered something. Wonderful.
"You're scared of lightning?" he asks, but it's not really a question.
And now the secret's out.
"I know it's ridiculous," I interject, trying to stop him from saying it. "I know there's no reason to be this way."
I look down, avoiding his eyes. I'm hoping he won't think I'm too childish. Eric usually stays with me until I get through a storm, but everyone else thinks I'm just being a scaredy cat and that I should get over it. It's irrational, I know. That doesn't mean I can help it.
"Come here, let me hug you," he requests again. "It's alright."
Of course he wants to help. He's almost always this kind. But I feel so helpless. What person is so pathetic they can't handle a type of weather?
"I don't need-" I start.
Another bolt illuminates the area, and without thinking I latch onto Brendon's torso. I cling to his shirt, burying my face in the hollow of his neck.
"It's okay," he coos, wrapping his arms around me to form a warm cocoon of human touch. "You're inside the garage, you won't get hurt."
Despite the fact that the man is startled by virtually everything, I can't help but feel anything besides safe while hugging him.
"I'm bet you think I'm really silly, huh?" I mumble into his skin. "Who's scared of lightning past the age of eight?"
"I don't think you're silly," he answers, voice gentle and warm. "We all have fears, and phobias aren't just age based. There's nothing wrong with being afraid of lightning."
"You're only saying that to be nice," I murmur. "I'm sure you don't have anything really dumb like this."
He sighs, his chest rising and falling with the action.
He pulls back slightly, just enough for me to be able to see his face. The one that now looks embarrassed.
"The dark," he confesses, resigned. "I'm afraid of the dark."
"Really? I ask in between sniffles. "Like you were as a kid?"
"No, like I'm scared of it now. I don't know why, it's just how it is. I sleep with the hallway light on and my door cracked."
"How did you go out tonight then?"
He's never seemed nervous when we've been out after the sun went down.
"If there are streetlights, I'm okay," he explains. "I just need a small amount of light. But if I was somewhere remote without them, I probably couldn't leave the house. Go ahead, you can laugh. I understand."
I don't want to. I should probably think that's childish but, in all honesty, it's endearing. He's not perfect either. He's like me.
"I'm not going to make fun of you," I answer, quiet. "It's no weirder to have a fear of the dark than of lightning. Tell you what. I won't laugh at you if you won't laugh at me, okay?"
He beams at me, brushing a thumb across my still wet cheek. It feels better than I care to admit.
"Sounds like a plan, Stan," he replies.
"Are you giving me nicknames now too?"
He laughs quietly.
"Sorry, my mom used to say that all the time. I think she just liked that it rhymed."
The fondness in his eyes touches something in me. It reminds me of the way I feel when remembering my dad.
Every time I talk to Brendon, he shows me something else we have in common. I've never felt so connected to someone like this before. Not any previous boyfriends, not any family members, not even Eric. Brendon is someone I can only describe as . . . special.
"It's fine," I answer, growing breathless at the thought. "I'm honored you'd share that with me."
My heart skips a beat as I stare up at him, locking eyes. I find myself liking the look I find there, the way he tilts his head slightly to see me better as a soft smile appears on his face, even the comforting feeling of his arms. What's happening to me? The sensation in my heart is new to me.
Another flash of lightning breaks my thoughts, the boom of the thunder coming soon after.
I'm back to being squished up against Brendon. He hushes me gently, his face buried in my hair.
He comforts me for a moment longer and then leans back, appearing to think.
"I have an idea," he announces, his expression growing giddy.
He untangles himself from the hug, opening the passenger door of my car. He looks for something, then crows in excitement when he finds the designed cup I helped make from the back cup holder. He extracts it and gets out, setting it on the hood of the car. He fishes through his pockets until he finds his phone, scrolling through the contents.
"What are you doing?" I ask, bewildered.
"Just wait," he replies, still looking. "You'll see in a second."
I'm worried that while he's doing whatever this is, the lightning will strike again.
"There we go," he says, finding what he wants.
He sets the phone inside the cup, tapping a button so that music streams out from the speaker. The song reverberates around the parking garage.
"The cup amplifies the sound just a bit," he explains, turning to me.
"Is that okay?" I ask, worried. "We're not going to get in some sort of trouble for disturbing the peace, right?"
"Nobody is really here," he replies, shrugging. "Everyone that would still be around is working. It's fine. Now then. May I have this dance, Jenna?"
He holds a hand out to me. This is ridiculous. The man wants to start dancing in the middle of a cement structure, to music coming from a cup. I think he may be slightly insane. But he looks so enthusiastic, and I don't want to think about what's going on outside.
Okay, why not? I need a distraction, and I don't see what else I could do.
"You're the strangest person I've ever met," I tell him, taking his hand. "Just so you know."
He simply grins, wrapping his other arm around my waist. I situate the hand he isn't holding on his shoulder.
We start to dance around the car, working our way along an imaginary circle. Oops. I just stepped on his foot.
I glance towards the ground to check my footwork, trying to stop it from happening again. He releases my hand, using his to tilt up my face.
"Don't worry so much about looking down," he says. "Just relax. Neither of us are professional dancers. We're bound to run into each other a little bit."
The melody sounding around us becomes more light-hearted. Brendon returns to his position, a warm smile lighting up his face. I breathe in deeply.
I can't say I've ever danced with someone in a setting like this, but I can adapt. If I could sway to music in high school with an awkward teenage boy that kept trying to kiss me despite looking like he was going to throw up from being nervous, I can do it now. Besides, Brendon's much too tall to be almost eye level with my chest like the last dance partner. It didn't help that I was in heels. Not to mention the fact Brendon doesn't smell like ketchup from the fast food restaurant we went to before Prom. Romance at its finest right there.
I sigh, looking up to meet my boyfriend's gaze. I give him my own smile.
"Alright, fine," I agree. "Let's do this, you weirdo."
He laughs, and it puts me at ease. He presses a quick kiss to my cheek before we start to dance again.
Now that I'm not as tense, it's easier to get lost in the moment. I follow Brendon's lead, letting him guide me across the space. He twirls me around, lifting his hand as I turn underneath it. When I stop, I take a chance in testing my balance. I grip his fingers as I spin out to the side with a flourish. The giggles bubble up in my throat as he pulls me back, capturing my other hand so my back presses against his torso. He's warm compared to the cold that's creeping in from outside.
I twist to look at his face, pleasantly surprised with how happy he seems.
"Having a good time?" I tease.
"Just as much as you are," he replies, eyes glinting mischievously.
"You wish," I retort, but my facial expression betrays me.
When he shifts his arms around me, I don't even have to think about dipping. He brings me up to my original position.
There's another flash outside, but Brendon has me moving again before I can even react. He starts to sing the lyrics to drown out the sound of the thunder. Then the object of my fear dies down again, gone before I even felt frightened. This is actually working.
We move in sync with the music, lithely making our way across the concrete without having to communicate where the other is going. It's almost magical how effortless it is compared to earlier.
We pick up our pace as a more upbeat song comes on. These all seem suspiciously perfect for it to be on shuffle.
"So," I say, "did you just happen to have a playlist designed for dancing with girls?"
"Only the pretty ones," he teases, stepping back fluidly and then reuniting our bodies again. "But actually, no. While it also works for our dance, I like to listen to this playlist if I'm feeling down."
"Sure you do," I answer, holding in a laugh. "I think it's that you don't want to tell me your secret passion is ballet."
"You always have so much sass," he replies. "I swear, Jenna, you drive me crazy."
He startles me when he hooks his arms around my legs, hoisting me up. I squeal as I try to remove myself from his grasp. The ground is too far away.
"Put me down, you brute!" I shriek. "You're going to drop me!"
"No way!" he sings. "This is what you get."
I flail again, causing him to stumble. I grip his shoulders, fearing for my life. He crashes into my car, making the cup resting on it wobble and fall. He turns to watch his phone narrowly escape a fate of being cracked when it slides out of the container, instead coming safely to a halt against the hood.
"That was close," he murmurs.
"Leave it to you to be a clutz and almost break your phone."
"Is that sass again, Jenna?" he asks, an almost impish grin appearing on his face.
"What are you going to do about it, Pretty Boy?"
I can't help but laugh when he adjusts his hold and spins around in retaliation, his own chuckles escaping his throat.
"I'll vomit on you," I threaten, failing to stop my smile.
He looks up at me, I'm sure fully aware I'm lying. He grins anyway. My breath catches at how close his face is to mine, with the way his emerald irises seem impossibly deep with such little distance between us.
He slowly lets me down, but his arms make their way up to my waist and stay there. I'd be lying if I said my hands aren't lingering on his shoulders.
The music from the phone has become much quieter, a classical piece, and it doesn't seem out of place. Something about this moment is as soft and beautiful as the melody.
I shiver, but it's not from the cold outside. It's a reaction to Brendon's breath against my skin as we continue to lock eyes. He definitely doesn't smell like ketchup (it's so much better than that), and he only slightly looks like he's going to throw up.
When I lean back into my car, it doesn't take much to make him follow me. He nudges closer, so much that we're barely apart, and I have to swallow the lump in my throat. My heart flutters as I fully understand what's happening.
I swear to god, if someone interrupts us this time I'm going to kill them. And I mean in the most excruciating and sadistic way possible. Medieval torture chambers will seem like paradises compared to me.
Brendon leans forward that last inch or two, and then our lips are pressed together. The kiss is unlike any I've ever experienced, warm and molten. It's as if his mouth transforms my body into lava, causing a slow moving passion to ooze through my body. His nose grazes mine as he edges forward even more. One of his arms unwinds from my waist to caress my cheek, leaving tingles on the skin there. How can something feel so great?
My lips respond on their own, meshing against his to deepen the smoldering tenderness. My fingers find their way to his hair and intertwine with it. The strands are wonderfully soft.
I'm lost in the warmth for what seems like an hour, but is probably only a few minutes more. When he has to pull away so we can both breathe, I'm almost disappointed. It's not like I can drag in air any more sufficiently now that he's not kissing me. It's all stuck in my lungs.
"Well?" he asks, looking anxious.
"Well what?" I reply, still breathless.
"Was that okay?"
"Was that okay? Are you kidding?"
How could this man be worried about his kissing skills after he did something like that?
"It was that bad?" he asks, crestfallen. "I mean it's been a while, but I didn't think-"
"Brendon, I can't breathe because of you. You're such an idiot, asking me if you can kiss."
He looks confused. When I hold his gaze in an attempt to express myself since I can't with my words, his face splits into a grin.
He starts to laugh, a hearty chuckle that reverberates around the space.
"So it was that good?" he questions, now with a cocky tone and a tinge of pride in his voice. "Okay then."
"You've absolutely ruined the moment," I shoot back, teasing him now that I'm returning to normal.
"Oh, I disagree," he coos, grinning. "I'd say the moment is still very much intact."
He makes sure it is when he connects us again by hooking his thumbs into my belt loops and tugging me forward. The previous experience repeats itself. There goes my air again.
When we separate, he tilts his head down so he can brush against my nose with his. It seems corny when you read about it in books, but it's a mesmerizing feeling in real life. This time, I'm the first to speak.
"How about me?" I ask.
I'm joking. Mostly.
"Amazing," he breathes back, wonder coating his irises.
"Wow, that's an ego boost."
I didn't mean to say that out loud. Oops. More regrets.
He's laughing again.
"Our heads are going to be so big we won't fit through the door," he says in between guffaws. "As if people didn't think we were enough of a problem, now they have to deal with compliments making us overconfident."
I'm giggling with him now, caught up in the moment. As he draws me in for a hug once more, I can't help but feel that the space surrounding us almost appears as if it becomes brighter.
It seems I've finally found a light in the dark.