Exclusive Excerpt from Always You
by Nell Iris
I stiffen, waiting for Lee to say something, but he doesn’t. He pads across the floor and then my mattress dips and he shuffles close. Close enough for me to feel his warmth through the sheet but not enough for our bodies to touch. Carefully, he pulls down the cover from my head.
“You’re going to suffocate under there,” he murmurs and presses his palm against my back, right between my shoulder blades.
We lie in silence for a while. The sounds of his breath and the warmth of his hand relaxes me for the first time since yesterday and I sink into the mattress, reveling in the fact that the quiet between us is as comfortable as ever despite the awkward conversation we just suffered through.
“I forgot to ask if you’re okay,” I whisper after several minutes. “About Debora, I mean. I didn’t mean to rant at you like that. I’m sorry. I’m a terrible friend.”
“Shut up,” he says without heat. “You’re not a terrible friend. You were busy looking out for me, just like you always are.”
“I just—” A light pat on my back stops my words.
“Let me talk, please?”
I hum my agreement.
“To answer your question first: yes, I’m okay. I should have ended things between us a long time ago, but I got comfortable. And she’s a nice person. Funny to hang out with. So I thought, ‘so what if I’m not head over heels?’ I’ve never been anyway. But yeah. She saved me the trouble of ending it. I was relieved.” He scoots a little closer and moves his hand from my back to my upper arm, giving it a squeeze. “It was the reason she ended it that shook me.”
“I understand. Being told you’re gay and that your best friend has feelings for you must be a shock.”
“Yes. But not for the reasons you think. Only because I didn’t think you want a relationship.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Every time I asked why you’re single, why you never have a boyfriend, you were adamant you didn’t want a relationship. That you liked being by yourself and able to do what you want.”
What was I supposed to say? I don’t want a boyfriend because it can’t be you? I don’t think so. “Yeah,” I say.
“But that’s not the real reason, is it?”
My throat is dry and I’m certain I won’t be able to produce a sound, so I shake my head.
He hums and scoots even closer to me, his chest brushing against my back, his body curling around mine without really touching, his hand sliding down to my waist, and then coming to rest on my belly. He’s so warm; he’s leaving little trails of fire in his wake, even through layers of clothing and bed linen, and I gasp.
“What are you doing, Lee?”