Supper was fine: filled with soft comments and enough cautious looks that he found it nearly impossible to remember just what they'd said.
Walking along the streets of Rock Creek, the longest way around toward the station, and still it felt as if they'd only begun to walk... and suddenly they were back.
They slowed their steps as they approached the house. "Here," he cleared his throat, "let me get that." Jimmy's hand pushed open the gate, his hair falling over his shoulder and pressing heavily on the side of his neck. Her fingers twitched, brushing against the full cotton skirt instead of reaching up to sweep the lengths back in place.
She stepped through, her shoulder touching his for the shortest of breaths. "Thank you." She turned slightly, her eyes lifting to his with another smile.
"Sure." He stepped through himself and let the gate close behind him. Together they walked side by side to the porch, Jimmy studying the toes of his boots in the near-darkness.
When Louise stepped up she leaned to the side, looking through the window, and saw the lamp burning on the table beside the door, the room empty. Turning back she shrugged. "Looks like Rachel went up to bed."
Looking up at the moon in the sky Jimmy, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Are we late?"
"No," she answered, a little too quickly, a breathless laugh in her voice. She lifted her purse and gave him a grin. "I have a key, don't worry." She watched him look at her face and then away. "Besides, I'm just going in to change clothes... then I'll head back to the bunkhouse."
He nodded, his mind processing the words. "Sure... sure."
They both laughed, nervous, flustered, and unsure. When neither one of them attempted to finish what they were saying, Lou half-turned, reaching for the door.
"Did you like the pie?"
Jimmy's question seemed to startle her and she dropped her hand back to her side. She turned back to look up at him. "It was good, but like I said, Emma's apple pie would beat it any day."
His smile brightened. "Yeah, you said that... back at the restaurant." He looked down shaking his head free of cobwebs. "I asked you that already."
She looked down at her own feet, tipping back on her heels she let go of a breath she'd held in for a moment too long. "I don't mind, I-"
"Like answering silly questions a couple of times in one night?"
Her eyes met his and she nodded. "Sure... I like talking to you. I always do."
"Good." He drew in a breath past his lips and let it out again as the soft strains of cricket-song called softly from the grass. "I like talking to you, too."
She smiled and another breath caught him unawares, pulling deep into his lungs. She had such power over him. A smile could stop him in his tracks.
"You remember, when we went after Elias," he swallowed past the lump in his throat and his worry, "and you wanted to talk about..." He waited for her to stop him, for her to look away and make it easier for him to keep quiet, but she didn't say a word. "Talk about that night... the fire... that-" his chest hurt, air all but gone from his lungs, "kiss."
Lou nodded. "You said we didn't have anything to talk about." Her tone was light, but there was that little touch of 'I told you so' that smart women knew how say with just a look.
He nodded and took one breath. Then another.
"I was wrong."
If she had told him at that moment to go away. He would have done it.
If she had told him at that moment to stop talking. He would have done it.
She could have asked him to do anything. He would have done it... even if it killed him.
"Yeah?" Instead, she smiled.
He looked down into her face, lit sparingly by the oil lamp burning just inside the window, and wondered how to find the right words. How not to ruin it again.
"I heard what you said to me that night. Heard it and wanted to believe it."
He saw her lips tense, knew she wanted to say something, but was going to let him talk. The corners of his mouth twitched with a smile.
"I wanted to think that you were sayin' it because you believed it." He took a breath and let it go. "That you felt that way 'cause you saw me as more than your friend." He reached out and took her hand in his, lightly enough that she could easily pull away. "That you saw me as a woman sees a man."
It was so soft that he almost didn't feel it. Another squeeze of her fingers against his. A touch that tingled up his arm to settle in the middle of his chest.
"I said it," she began, her lips sweetly turning up in a smile, "because I believe it." Her fingers tightened slightly around his. "I said it because maybe, if you hear it enough, you'll believe it too."
Humbled. That was how he felt. The simple acceptance in her eyes burned deeper into his heart than he could admit to himself. And hope that he'd never allowed himself to feel swept through him as he stood there before her, starting to believe.
He raised his free hand to her face, his fingertips almost brushing the soft curve of her cheek before they slid into the soft waves just behind her ear. "I believe it when you say it." He whispered the words and saw her shiver. "I didn't talk about it the next morning because..." he sighed, a frustrated sound, "I was afraid that when morning came... when you had a chance to think about it... you'd change your mind."
Jimmy's hand touched her arm, sliding down to rest with the gentlest touch along the sensitive skin above her elbow.
"And then when you wanted to talk, I dug my heels in and stopped you." He tilted his head slightly to the side, watching the play of warm light across her face. "I wasn't ready to hear it. Not then."
He took her other hand in his, slowing lifting it up between them until it was just a few inches below his chin.
"I don't know why," he confided, "until that moment, I'd been able to tell you... everything." He gave her fingers a squeeze, watching her eyes for an answer to a question he hadn't even asked.
Her answer came in a gasp of relief. "I didn't want you to think I was scolding you... or pushing. I just," her smile wavered and she blinked back a tear, "I just felt like we'd taken a step forward and I didn't want-"
"To take a step back." He finished her thoughts and it occurred to him that knowing the words didn't scare him. It was something that made him smile, his chest swelling with air. "So maybe I'll take a step forward." He took a small step toward her, their joined hands resting against his chest as he looked deep into her night-darkened eyes. Jimmy wondered if she had any idea how beautiful she looked with the lamp light dusting gold across her features. "And see if you do the same."
Lou's eyes closed slowly, her lashes made faint shadows against her cheeks as she smiled. A heartbeat later she stepped closer, rising up on the balls of her feet. Their hands were pressed between them as she turned her face up toward his, her eyes opened and she smiled.
"So," she prompted, "what now?"
Even the chill of the fall air had no affect on the warmth that passed between them. Jimmy smiled down at Lou as he leaned slowly toward her. He stopped a few inches from her lips. "I think I'll meet you in the middle."
Their kiss was soft, just a brush of lips against another. A moment passed as they looked at each other, gentle wonder and a dawning realization in their eyes as they leaned back.
"'Night," Jimmy murmured in the shadows of the porch, his hands slowly letting go of hers.
"'Night," she replied as she withdrew her key and unlocked the door. A moment later she slipped inside and closed the door behind her. For a moment Jimmy stood there in the darkness of the porch, his mind poring over the events of the evening, returning again and again to the kiss they'd just shared.
It was a simple thing. A gentle touch. A short moment in time.
And as he turned toward the bunkhouse he realized what it meant more than anything.
A step in the right direction.
I've never opened up to anyone
"Just a Kiss" by Lady Antebellum - I hope to do the follow-up from Lou's perspective using the first stanza
Author's Note: Written for the Breathtaking Moments Prompt - In the Silence of the Night
Author's Note: Thanks to Liz M for suffering through this story for me and her dogged good sense. I hope I'm worthy of her help.