"The mistakes are all there, waiting to be made."
-Saveloy Grigorievitch Tartakower
It was a knock on my window this time. A few days ago, it was a mysterious note with a meeting place, and a few days before that it was the ring of my doorbell with no one on the step. Somehow these nightly adventures had become a regular thing, and they never came about in normal ways.
From my spot under the covers, Sebastian’s grinning face in my second story window caused only a mild heart attack. He waved. Tossing down my book, I headed over to the window and wrenched it open, glad that I was fully clothed. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sebastian was sitting on the limb of the tree as if he belonged there, one hand holding onto a branch above him, and the other resting on his knee. “Hi.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“Seb, what are you doing in a tree at midnight?” I asked, tugging a hand through my hair and painfully aware that I was in ratty sweatpants and a paint-covered t-shirt. “And knocking on my window?”
With a grin, he said, “I thought you might want to go somewhere tonight. So I thought I’d come over and ask.”
My eyes narrowed. “Did something happen to your phone?”
“No,” Sebastian assured me. “But phones are for making normal plans. I always feel weird texting about these, ‘cause they’re supposed to be spontaneous and adventurous, not planned.”
I sighed. “You should come with a list of warnings. People need to know what they’re signing up for when they agree to be friends with you.”
Sebastian laughed, one of those full-bodied laughs that shook the branch he was perched on. “Go ahead,” he said. “Write one up and I’ll hand it out. But you know, I’m pretty normal with some of my friends. Most of them.”
“So you mean I’m one of the select few who has to deal with this nonsense?” I asked, leaning an arm on the window frame. “Great.”
That only made Sebastian smile wider, and it warmed something in me. Even with a list of warnings, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our friendship. But choices are never up to me.
“You coming, then? Or are you too tired?” His eyes glinted with challenge.
“I’m coming,” I assured him. “Just let me get changed.”
Sebastian glanced down at my outfit like it was the first time he was noticing it. “Right, okay. I’ll meet you at the ground, unless you need help climbing down?”
I glanced up sharply. “What, through the window?”
“Seb, my house has doors. I know how to use them.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Doors are cliche.” He leaned a little closer to the window. “Come on, Hana. Adventure.”
Closing my eyes, I shook my head. “You’re going to get me killed one of these days.”
“If you fall I’ll catch you.”
I scoffed. “We’ve never even done a trust fall, and I’m supposed to take your word for that?”
Sebastian just grinned and shifted his weight to start climbing back down the tree. Still wondering what the hell I was doing, I waited until he was out of sight then pulled on a pair of jeans and a nicer shirt. It was a cool night, and there was enough of a breeze to keep me comfortable, so I added a light jacket. Twisting my hair into a quick ponytail, I deemed myself good enough for wandering around in the dark and headed towards the window, questioning my sanity with every step.
When I peeked out of the window, Sebastian was looking up at me from the ground. He gave me two thumbs up, and I rolled my eyes. Hopefully he could see that in the dark. Ducking my head back in, I stepped out through the window feet-first, sitting on the sill while I got my bearings. With less grace than Sebastian exhibited, I slid from the windowsill to the branch and scooted along it to the trunk of the tree. Slowly, I worked my way down through the branches until they stopped about eight feet from the ground.
“Just jump,” Sebastian encouraged. “I won’t even have to catch you; it’s not that far.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights,” I muttered as I let go of the branch and landed hard on the ground. I stumbled, but Sebastian caught me with a steadying hand on my arm.
“Or the dark,” he added, his hand lingering for a moment before letting me go.
I brushed myself off and straightened. “So, where to today?”
Sebastian started walking, and I followed. “How do you feel about mild trespassing?”
“Um…” I gave him a look. “My mom’s a lawyer.”
“Whose case does that help?” Sebastian replied. “Are you saying that makes breaking the law out of the question, or that if we get caught, she can help us out?”
I blinked. “Uh, I was thinking the first one, but now that you mention it…”
He grinned. “So that’s a yes?”
“What are the chances we’ll get caught?”
Sebastian thought for a second. “Ten to fifteen percent.”
I shrugged. “Decent odds. Lead the way.”
Triumphant, Sebastian picked up his pace, taking us to the edge of the neighborhood where the houses were fewer and farther between. “I’ve been down here a few times,” he said as we headed off the road and onto someone’s property. There was a small section of woods about a hundred feet from their house, and we disappeared into it. Sebastian stepped over a fallen branch and continued, “I’ve never seen anyone out here after sundown.”
“I hope you’re right,” I muttered, glad I’d chosen boots instead of sandals.
After twenty or thirty feet, the woods thinned out and opened into a little clearing and a cultivated pond with a waterfall that ran by pump. There was a set of wooden stairs leading from the clearing up to the house, and a few benches sat on either side of the steps. “I’d love to have this in my backyard,” Sebastian commented as he sat down on one of the cement benches.
Taking a seat beside him, I agreed, “This is really peaceful.”
The only sounds were the summer insects chattering in the trees, the intermittent rustling of leaves in the wind, and the gentle waterfall splashing into the pond. It was almost a full moon, and the light cast a shine over the water, glistening with the ripples that spread across it. We sat there for a while, just listening to the sounds.
“How’d you find this place?” I asked eventually, as I had with almost every other spot he’d taken me to.
Usually, Sebastian gave me real answers, launching into stories of his nighttime adventures or painting pictures of all the coincidences that led to him stumbling upon things. This time, he didn’t.
“This neighborhood holds no secrets from Sebastian Reynolds,” was all he said. After a pause, he looked over at me. “Except I somehow didn’t know you until this summer. Why is that?”
“I’m just the neighborhood’s best kept secret.”
My eyes were on the moonlit water, but his were on me when he said softly, “I’m glad you’re not a secret anymore.”
I looked up at him, suddenly aware of how close we were. We were very close. “Me too.” Me too, I’m glad we’re friends. Me too, I’m glad I have someone to go on adventures with to take my mind off my dad, my mom, Anita, life. Me too, it’s nice having a best friend again. Me too, I don’t want this to end like last time. Me too-
“Can I kiss you?”
We were inches apart, maybe centimeters. A slight shift and our lips would be touching, but they weren’t yet. So there was still time to gather my willpower and steel my nerves.
“No,” I whispered, my voice barely there, ghosting across his lips.
And there it was.