“Well.” He sounds awkward. “Anyway. So, are you feeling better now?”
“Loads better.” I smile in his direction. “Loads and loads better.”
The ladies on QVC have moved onto a vegetable chopper, and for a while we watch it demolishing carrots and cabbages. Then Linus says,
“How’s the shoe contact coming along?”
At the word contact I stiffen inside. Contact. Not just on paper, for real.
Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.
“Haven’t tried it again.” I’m trying hard to sound casual. “Do you want to?”
I shift my shoe over till it’s touching his. Shoe to shoe, like we did before. I’m poised for a meltdown, for a freakout, for some totally embarrassing reaction. But the strange thing is…it doesn’t happen. My body hasn’t squirmed away. My breathing is even. My lizard brain is, like, all Zen and relaxed. What’s going on?
“It’s the darkness,” I say out loud, before I can stop myself. “It’s the darkness.” I feel almost heady with relief.
“I can relax when it’s dark. It’s like, the world is a different place.” I spread my arms out in the dark, feeling it against my skin like a soft, enveloping cushion. “I think I could do anything if the whole world was dark the whole time. You know. I’d be fine.”
“Then you should be a potholer,” suggests Linus. “Or a caver.”
“Or a bat.”
“Oh my God, I should so be a vampire.”
“Except the whole eating people thing.”
“Yerk.” I nod, agreeing.
“Doesn’t it get monotonous? People’s blood every night? Don’t they ever want a plate of chips?”
“I don’t know.” I feel a giggle rise. “Next time I see a vampire I’ll ask him.”
We watch the vegetable chopper make way for a steam cooker which has sold 145 units already, this hour.
“So, bearing in mind it’s dark and all,” says Linus, casually, “what about…thumb contact? Just to see if you can do it. Like an experiment.”
“Right.” I nod, feeling a little flip in my stomach. “Um. OK. Why not?”
I feel his hand make its way towards mine. Our thumbs find each other and his skin is dry and warm and kind of how I expected it to be. His thumbnail circles mine and I playfully dodge his, and he laughs.
“So you’re OK with thumb contact.”
“Thumb contact is good.” I nod.
He doesn’t say anything more, but I can feel him extending his thumb down into the palm of my hand. We’re into finger-to-hand contact. And then palm-to-palm contact. His hand clasps mine and I squeeze back.
Now he’s shifting closer and with more intent. I can feel the warmth of him, through the air, against my arm, against my leg. And now I’m a little keyed up, but not like I was in Starbucks. There’s nothing crazy running through my head. In fact, I’m not sure anything’s running through my head at all except Is this happening for real? And Yes it is.
“Jeans contact OK?” he murmurs, as his leg twines round mine.
“Yes, jeans contact is good,” I manage.
We’ve reached arm-round-shoulders contact. Hair-to-hair contact. Cheek-to-cheek contact. His face feels gently rough as he slides it along mine.
He doesn’t say anything about it or ask if it’s OK. I don’t say anything either. But it is OK. It’s more than OK.
When we’ve kissed, like, forever, he shuffles up and sits me on his knee, and I curl into him. He feels warm and solid. His arms feel strong around me. And his hair smells nice. And it’s pretty hard to concentrate on the benefits of a food processor with four unique attachments, on special exclusive offer today for only £69.99.
Here’s the really embarrassing thing: I fell asleep. I don’t know if it was a post-adrenaline crash or just the Clonazepam I’d taken at lunchtime—but I did. When I woke, I was spread-eagled on the floor and Mum was calling me from the hall, and the ladies on QVC were talking about a magic chip fryer that halves the calories. And next to me there was a note.
I’ll see you soon. XXX
I’ve gone up a level. That’s the only way I can describe it.
If I was a hero in LOC I’d have like enhanced attributes, or some extra kick-ass weapon or something. I’m stronger. I feel taller. I bounce back quicker. It’s been a week since Linus and I watched QVC and yes, I’ve had one bad episode, but I didn’t sink quite as low. Things weren’t quite as dark.