Flash Fiction: Krishna & Gavin

(Krishna & Gavin’s story originally appeared as a serial flash fiction on CharlieGsOutfitRatings Instagram on 3/15/21 to 4/1/21 under “Book Vibes.” It has been modified for this blog post.)

Man and

Ten years ago

            Krishna had fallen in love with Gavin Fables on July 24, the summer she graduated high school ten years ago. She had let her best friend June drag her to a bonfire which had turned into an alcohol-soaked mess three hours in. Her first sip of beer was her last—gross—but June was wasted, and Krishna couldn’t drive her stick.

            They were stuck.

            No way could she call her parents. Mom was working an overnight shift and Dad was out of town with her brother, who had opted to stay at university for summer courses.

            June was hanging all over stupid Vince Berkshire, whose best known attributes were petty theft and sexual harassment, and they were throwing stuff into the fire to see what happened.

            As Krishna pleaded with her contact list to give her a suggestion on who could drive them home, June thew up on Vince’s shoes. Vince then picked her up and carried her toward the fire as a joke.

            As a joke?

            June screamed.

            He kept walking.

            Not a joke.

            Krishna ran to stand between her friend and the fire. “Put her down, Vince.”

            He didn’t listen. So Krishna employed the one tool she knew would work—she kneed him in the nuts. June fell to the ground, and Krishna dragged her away to the tree line.

Then, with June shaking and crying in her own trembling arms, Krishna grabbed June’s phone and dialed Gavin.

            He answered on the first ring. “June Bug, what’s up?”

            “It’s Krishna. Your sister got drunk, I can’t drive a stick, and I just kneed Vince in the nuts for trying to throw her into the bonfire.” She heard keys jangling in the background.

            “I’ll be there in ten. You safe?”

            “We’re in the trees.”

            “Good stay there.”

 

***

Present Day

            Krishna stood in the Fables kitchen, faded with memories and time, while her clients spoke in low tones about the small bedrooms and the lack of open-concept living room. She bit her tongue. This was a town with three traffic lights and one coffee shop. If they wanted open concept, they’d have to do it themselves.

            Besides, how could they knock down the wall where Gavin had painted a family mural? Krishna walked over to the now beige wall, hating that the artwork had been erased. She put her hand against the drywall, remembered watching him painstakingly sketch out what he wanted.

           Her fingertips brushed the small spot, shoulder height, where he had depicted her on the old tire swing out front. She couldn’t believe her second home was going to belong to a new family. Couldn’t believe she had to be the one to sell it. There were only two real estate agents on a three-stoplight town, and Kyle was working on an industrial deal.

            Her stomach clenched with desperation. She wanted this place, but it just wasn’t feasible. Not without selling her condo and her car. Her student loans had made sure of that. This is what she got for trying to stick it out through law school despite hating everything about it. A mountain of debt and nothing to show for it.

            Every inch of this place reminded her of carefree summer days and movie nights and childhood dreams. Of her sleepovers with June. Of the way Gavin’s smile twisted her heart. She hadn’t seen June in a year, Gavin in the three since June’s wedding.

            Her phone buzzed and she fished it out of her pocket. She squinted at the number, recognizing it even though it wasn’t saved in her phone. She laughed once, startled. “Hello?”

            “Hey, it’s Gavin. Want to explain to me why you’re selling my house?”

***

            Gavin paced in front of his childhood home, checking his phone every eight steps. He was still fifteen minutes early. He had been fifteen minutes early for what felt like three hours.

            The fact that he needed an appointment to see the house where he literally lived the first eighteen years of his life was grating. Sure, he knew his parents had talked about moving out west to be close to June now that she had twins—grandchildren to spoil and better weather—but he didn’t think he’d have such a visceral reaction to it.

            He sure as hell didn’t think he’d actually lose his shit on his sister’s childhood best friend. Hopefully the container of M&M cookies that he baked her would sugar coat his apology. They were her favorite…at least they had been ten years ago. He couldn’t speak eloquently, but he could bake, and sometimes chocolate said more than words ever could.

            Five hours—er, minutes—later, Krishna pulled behind Gavin in the driveway. He knew logically that she had grown up since eighteen. When he’d seen her at June’s wedding, he nearly didn’t recognize her.

            And somehow in those few years, she’s changed again. Or maybe it was the suit instead of bridesmaid’s dress. The champagne in her hand instead of the iPad and tense shoulders.

She walked over to him, hand extended. “Gavin, good to see you.”

            He could still read Krishna’s unspoken thoughts, and he knew she was lying. And she’d offered him a handshake over a hug. He bet she was trying her best not to hit him over the head with the iPad.

            He lifted the cookies. “Apology for being a dick?”

            She looked at the cookies and then at his face. “You didn’t add any secret ingredients to these cookies?” referring to the time he laced their neighbor’s cookies with a laxative in retribution of a stolen bike.

            “Just love.” She made a face. “Seriously. They’re just cookies.”

            She opened the container and pulled one out, sniffing it. “I swear on my Funko collection, if you screw with me, I will make your life a living hell. Do not forget I have a law degree.”

            He held up his hands and took a step back, a little scared. Her Funko collection meant more than his life to her. “Promise!”

            She shoved half the cookie in her mouth, closed her eyes, and hummed. His stomach tightened and he couldn’t pull his eyes away. Would she have that same look after being kissed?

            Whoa. Nope. That was a weird thought.

            He shook his head to clear it. “Uh, shall we go in?”

            She opened her eyes. “Not like you haven’t seen it before, but yes we can.” She ate the second half of the cookie, then walked to the door. She opened the lockbox with the key and unlocked the door.

            He followed close behind her but froze at the threshold. Why did his chest ache?

            She turned around from the hall, then walked back over. “I get it. Took me an hour to walk in the first time.” She held out her hand.

            He shamelessly grabbed it, needing the anchor.

            “Come on,” she tugged. “You’ll remember how to breathe in a few minutes.”

***

            Krishna tried to ignore the fact that Gavin hadn’t let go of her hand. Lies. How could she ignore it? His fingers were trembling.

            The last time she’d held his hand was the night he picked her and June up at that bonfire a decade ago. June was carelessly asleep in the back seat, but Krishna had her knees pulled up to her chest in the front. Gavin had wordlessly reached over and taken her hand in his until they got back to this very house.

            He had tucked June into her room, then made hot chocolate. Gavin held Krishna’s hand while she sipped, melting the ice-cold terror lodged in her chest with the heat of his palm and a sugar rush.

            Now, she tugged him toward the kitchen and kicked out a chair for him. He narrowed his eyes, the furniture a new and polished staged piece and not the worn, nicked wood he remembered. She raised her eyebrows and he sighed, sinking down.

            She opened the container of cookies one-handed and set it between them. “I don’t have hot chocolate. But we have cookies.”

            His gaze flew to hers and she ignored the way her heart thudded just a little harder. “You remember.”

            She nodded once. “How could I forget?” She pushed the cookies toward him. “Eat.”

            “I made them for you.”

            She smiled. “Yeah, well, emergency measures.”

            He reached out and took one, chewing it as if it were the only thing that could help. When he finished, he leaned back in the chair and looked at the wall where the mural had been painted over. “I know it’s dumb, but I had always envisioned living here forever. Even after I moved out, I figured I’d be back.”

            “I get it,” she admitted, remembering when her parents had sold her own childhood home. Somehow this loss was worse. Maybe because she had leaned on the idea that house was gone, she still had this place. Her second home. These walls holding just as much laughter and chaos and secrets as the other.

            Now, the last of the anchors were cut loose.

            “You’re very quiet,” Gavin said.

            “I think it’s sinking in.”

            “Hmm.” He broke a cookie in half and handed a piece to her, then tossed the other into his mouth. “I’d buy it, but I can’t afford it yet. Another year and with a roommate, maybe, but not so soon after the teacher strike.”

            “That and we pay teachers shit,” she grumbled.

            He nodded. “I mean I didn’t expect to be rolling in gold coins when I accepted the job as a high school art teacher, but damn I wish I had a few more paintings to sell or something. Maybe I can work something up fast before it sells.”

            She swallowed hard, then reached over and broke a cookie in half, handing a piece to him. “It already has an offer.”

            He chewed then swallowed, leaning back until his head touched the back of the chair. “Well, then I guess this is goodbye, unless you have any bright ideas.”

            If pressed, she would blame the sugar for what came out of her mouth next. “If I sell my condo and pool our resources, I bet we’d have enough for a down payment.”

***

            Gavin stared at Krishna, his chest heavy with the weight of her words. “We can’t buy this place.” He released her hand and stood, running his hands through his hair. If his mom was here, she’d tell him he needed a haircut. No, she’d make him sit in the chair he vacated, and she’d come at him with scissors.

            He wanted to buy this place, raise a family here, spend his weekends baking in the double ovens he learned on, the evenings on the back porch, watching the sunset. But houses were more than memories and wishes. They were money and maintenance, and he knew this place needed repairs his parents hadn’t been able afford.

            Krishna stood and moved in front of him. “If you didn’t want to buy, then what are we doing here? Why did you call me?”

            “I…” He didn’t know. Because he had freaked out when his parents had told him the house was officially on the market. Because in some delusional state, he thought he could magically make the fear of loss disappear by seeing this place again. “I guess I wanted to say goodbye.”

            She swallowed and looked everywhere but at him. “I’ll step outside and give you a few moments.” She packed up the cookies and walked out the front door.

            He didn’t miss the way her fingers trailed on the kitchen wall as she passed, as if she was moved as much by this place as he was. He walked over to that wall, his hand pressing where hers had been.

            Her words echoed in his head. “If I sell my condo and pool our resources, I bet we’d have enough for a down payment.”

            It was stupid. Irresponsible. Even if they got the loan approved, he could not live with his sister’s best friend. What happened when one of them found someone else? When one of them got married?

            Plus, if there was already an offer on the table, they’d need to beat it. His parents needed the money to start their new life.

            No. This wasn’t a rescue mission. This was a goodbye.

            He wandered through the rooms, the memories of laughter and love echoing around him as he circled the house one last time.

            Holding on to the front door handle for one breath, then two, he twisted it open. His heart twisted in turn. And with one final glance, he left the ghosts of his past behind that bright red door.

***

            Krishna answered the FaceTime from June the moment it started ringing. “Omg! How is Zombie June?”

            She laughed, her lopsided ponytail shaking with the movement. “I have never been this tired in my entire life. Thank god for my parents. I may even manage a shower today.”

            She smiled. “And how’re my niece and nephew?”

            June’s face softened. “Perfect. I’ll send you a video later.”

            “You better.”

            She leaned back and studied me through the screen, and it was almost like she was right in front of me, instead of thousands of miles away. “You have that look.”

            Krishna stopped frowning and flattened her pursed lips. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

            June raised an eyebrow. “That is the same look you get every time my brother pisses you off.”

            “It’s the I’m-tired-I-had-cranky-clients look.”

            She held up her pointer finger. “2000, when he pretended to do surgery on your Barbie but just pulled her head off.” She added a second finger. “2006, when he scratched your High School Musical DVD.”

            A third finger. “2011 when he scared your prom date so much, he wouldn’t dance with you. 2015–”

            Krishna groaned. “Okay! Fine! Yes he was pissing me off today.”

            She smiled, satisfied. “I didn’t even know you two talked.”

            “We don’t. Not really.” Krishna wanted to, but she could never find the right words to say. She had started so many texts to him and promptly deleted him. So many almost calls on the holidays.

            But without their families as a buffer, with only these unfamiliar adult years around them, it all seemed better left alone.

            “You should.”

            Krishna frowned. “Should what?”

            “Talk to him. Each other. You’re the only family the other has left in town.”

            She nodded but didn’t mean it. “Funny you should say that. I…well…Gavin called me because he wanted to see the house again.”

            June smiled. “He was always sentimental like that. Is that why you were frowning?”

            Krishna shook her head. “No, that’s because I was pissed at myself.”

            “Because?”

            “Because I may have suggested in the middle of a sugar high,” she held up the container of cookies from Gavin, “that we pool our money and buy the house.” Krishna expected her friend to laugh. Expected a joke or some teasing to fill the silence.

            “I think…” June said, pausing for effect, “that is a great idea.”

            Krishna rolled her eyes. “He said no. Besides, it’s completely out of our budget, even together.”

            June sat up with a determined smile on her face. “Give me an hour. I’ll call you back.”

***

            Gavin knew the moment he saw his sister’s face on the caller ID, she was up to something. They were close, but they didn’t casually call each other on Tuesday nights.           Especially now that she had twins.

            “What did you do?” he asked in way of greeting.

            She laughed. “Bought you a house.”

            He dropped the phone then scrambled to pick it up. “YOU WHAT?!”

            She was still laughing and took a deep breath. “Okay well not really. And not just you.”

            Gavin sat down on his couch, shaking his head, trying to make sense of everything. “June. What the hell?”

            “I talked to Mom and Dad and they are gonna grab the phone from my hand any minute, but Dad said if you can do the repairs, and pay the taxes and up keep, they can hold on to it for a bit until you can afford a very discounted down payment.”

            He scrubbed a hand over his face. “June Bug, they need the money.”

            She shifted the phone and lowered her voice. “Not right away. Having them here has been a blessing, and we have the in-law suite. Anyway, they need the bills to stop more than the cash.”

            Gavin shook his head, although she couldn’t see it. “I’d be stretched super thin once I managed to replace the roof, the hot water tank, the air conditioner, the furnace…”

            He knew what she was going to say before she said it. “Well, in good news, you’ll have a roommate.”

            “I’m not living with Krishna.”

            June laughed. “You’ve practically lived with her our entire lives. It’ll be fun.”

            Logic told him to say no. This was a really stupid idea. Instead, he heard himself say, “put the folks on.”

***

            Krishna stood outside the house—her house—and stared up at the bungalow. Her hands had been shaking since she went to bed last night, and her stomach refused to hold anything but coffee. Was she really going to close her eyes and jump?

            The screen door banged open and a smiling Gavin leaned against the door frame, shielded his eyes from the morning sun. “You losing your shit?”

            “No,” she lied.

            He laughed, then walked toward her car. “Well, while you go through every disaster scenario in your head, I’m going to start unpacking your trailer.”

            She waved him off as she eyed the roof. That was the biggest project left to take on that was weather dependent. The air conditioning, furnace, and hot water heater just needed to hold out a little longer. Preferably until she sold her condo.

She held a hand to her stomach and took in three deep breaths before the coffee made a reappearance. Once that condo sold, there was no backing out. No alternative.

            “You gonna make it?” Gavin called, trying to balance two large boxes in his arms.

            “We can’t fuck this up!”

            He walked over to her, put the boxes down, and put his hands on her shoulders. “We’re not going to. We’ve practically lived together our entire lives. We’re friends. Hell, we’re practically family. We got this.”

            The “we’re practically family” pierced her in a way she didn’t expect, like a plastic knife that drew blood. It should’ve been completely mundane, but without warning she was bleeding out a feeling she didn’t want to name. Couldn’t name. Wouldn’t name.

            She needed a distraction. She grabbed the top box and walked toward her new place.     “Move it, Gavin. I want to get unpacked this weekend.”

            He nabbed the second box and laughed. “There’s no way you’re going to get us completely unpacked in two days.”

            She shot him a look over her shoulder. “Wow. I thought you knew me better than that?”

            He set the box down in the living room. “I do know you! I know you like your coffee mixed with hot chocolate, that you set three alarms because you’re afraid you’ll oversleep, that you hate June’s pecan pie, but you’ll never tell her because it’s her favorite. I know that your most cherished possession is an autographed poster from The Mummy. I’m just saying, you need to sleep at some point because moving is emotional and exhausting.”

            She stared at the man in front of her, her heart beating harder than it needed after carrying only one box. “Gavin?”

            “Yeah?”

            “We’re going to be fine.”

            He nodded. “There’s my girl.” He gave her a high five. “Let’s get you moved in.”

***

            As with the best laid plans, everything went wrong. While she had packed a trailer full of her easily movable items, she had hired a truck to bring over her furniture and bedroom set. Krishna was on the phone with the moving company while Gavin jumped in the shower.

            “Stan,” she took a deep breath to stop herself from shouting, “what do you mean you can’t get here tonight? And yes, I know it’s Abby’s birthday party tonight. That’s why we had agreed on delivery by four. Yes, I know you didn’t count on a flat…”

            She refrained from groaning. She had gone with Stan and Sons because they were local and less expensive, but she knew Stan worked on his own schedule. Now, she didn’t have bed—or couch—to sleep on tonight. Thank god there was a least an armchair and ottoman currently buried underneath boxes—that Gavin had brought over.

            She hung up the phone, over Stan’s promises to be there bright and early the next day, only to hear a yelp from the bathroom. She stood and ran to the door, knocking. “You okay?”

            Gavin wrenched the door open, wet hair pushed back, rivulets of water streaming down his chest, a white towel hastily wrapped around his waist. Krishna’s mouth went dry.

            He smiled at her sheepishly. “Gonna need to replace the water heater soon rather than later. I’ll go see if I can do a temporary repair.”

            The realization that there was no hot water distracted her from Gavin being mostly naked in front of her. “But…the water heater is tied in with the whole HVAC system. We can’t afford it yet.”

            He ran his hand through his wet hair and smiled wryly. “Then we better heat up some water for your bath. Pretend it’s pioneer days.”

            She pinched the bridge of her nose. “This day is going so well.” She dropped her hand. “Stan’s not coming until tomorrow. I have no bed and no couch.”

            “So you’ll take my bed and I’ll sleep in the chair.”

            She shook her head. “You did just as much work as me today. You take the bed.”

            He put his hands on his hips and Krishna fought to keep her eyes above his collarbone. “No way. We’re adults. We can share without it getting weird. Can you stay on your side?”

            She licked her lips, but it didn’t make any words appear. Sleeping? Next to Gavin? It was every one of her teenage fantasies come to life.

***

            Krishna was in the same bed as Gavin. The. Same. Bed.

            She blew out a quiet breath and pretended to focus on the random sports-ball game that was playing on his tv. She was so nervous she couldn’t even figure out what sport it was.

            “You good?” Gavin asked, as if everything was normal.

            “Yep!” She ignored how breathy she sounded.

            He turned off the tv and clicked off the light. As he pulled off his shirt, she heard the drag of the fabric against his skin. She closed her eyes tight, as if somehow it would stop her from hearing him.

            He laid down next to her and she tensed. Why was this weird? Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him dripping wet from the shower? He was her roommate. Her best friend’s brother. Just the stinky boy who used to fart in his hand and shove it in her face.

            But everything was different in the dark. She was so incredibly in tune with him. The way he shifted, every exhale, the heat of his body only a foot away. She was exhausted and sore but there was no way she was going to sleep.

            “Krishna, I can hear you thinking.”

            Busted. “Just…” how the hell did she respond? “Haven’t shared a bed with someone in a long time.”

            “Me neither. Not since Gina moved out.”

            She turned to face him in the dark. “It’s been two years?” Her eyes had adjusted, and the moon shown bright through the window where they hadn’t managed to hang curtains yet.

            He was on his back, staring at the ceiling. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. “I know. I just…got used to being alone.”

            “I get it.” She hadn’t exactly been actively dating either since her last breakup. “I’m sure us living together is going to be great for our dating lives. Here’s my hot, single roommate. Yeah we shared a bed, but don’t worry. It was all platonic.”

            The bed shook with his laughter. “Shit, you’re right.” He lifted his arm and mussed his hair. “Ever stop and wonder what the hell we’re doing?”

            She nodded. “Every second.”

            He looked over at her. “I keep waiting for Mom to bust in here and catch us alone together. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked my old room.”

            “Nah, you Mom trusted me to a fault. She never trusted you though. Not after Jenny Kellog.”

            He snorted. “Jenny Kellog! Oh my god I forgot about her.”

            She poked him in the side. “How do men just forget about women they’ve had sex with?”

            He turned to face her and grabbed her finger. “Hold up. I didn’t sleep with Jenny Kellog! We just…made out a little.”

            Krishna snorted.

            “Okay, a lot! She admitted she was dating Danny Fletcher, so I kicked her out. Then she told the school we’d slept together to get back at Danny or something. I honestly stopped caring.”

            She pulled her finger out of his grip and poked him again. “Liar! She gave you the bad boy street cred you craved. You scooped up every interested girl in our school by the time you graduated.”

            He smiled at her. “Nah. Not every one.”

            Her stomach flipped. Had he known that she was crazy for him? Was. Past tense. She wasn’t now. That would be ridiculous. She could not have non-platonic feelings for her roommate.

            He winked at her. “Never touched Sally Trenton or her group. They were freshman.” Krishna hit him with her pillow. He grabbed it held it against his chest. “Nope, no take backs.”

            She reached behind his head and stole that pillow. He let go of the one his chest and dove for the one in her hands. He pinned her arms down, the pillow squished between their bodies.

            “Your move,” he teased.

            She raised her head and pressed her lips against his.

***

            Gavin’s body responded before his logical brain did. He pulled back, yanked the pillow out from between them, then sank his hands into her silky, dark hair. He tilted her chin up and captured her lips with his.

            It was forbidden, a fantasy he never allowed himself to indulge in. He should have resisted.

            She was his roommate, his sister’s best friend. She was practically part of the family. She was a woman who had haunted the edges of his dreams for too long.

            And she tasted like mint and memories.

            He was never supposed to kiss her.

            He knew the moment he did, all the years of carefully controlled emotions would pour between them. God, he wanted—needed—to touch every inch of her skin with every inch of his.

            She kissed him back without fear, as if she, too, knew the moment they stopped, this couldn’t happen again. They needed to make this a perfect memory.

Her hands slid up his back and he forgot that anything but her touch and her lips existed. He wanted to kiss her jaw, behind her ears, the soft skin of her neck, but all that would require he stop kissing her mouth, and he couldn’t stop. Not yet.

            She broke the kiss first, sucking in a ragged breath. “Gavin…”

            His name was a plea, a prayer on her lips. One he knew he couldn’t answer.

            He tucked his head in the space between her neck and shoulder. “Krishna…” he breathed, both of them trying to find enough oxygen.

            “I know,” she admitted, running a shaking hand through the hair above his ear. “I just needed to kiss you once.”

            He lifted his head, his heart thundering. The way she watched him made his skin heat and he didn’t know how he’d be able to sit across a dinner table from her and not remember this moment. “Five more minutes.”

            She nodded once and their mouth collided again. She wrapped around him, him around her. These weren’t soft, get-to-know-you kisses after a first date. This was desperation, the prelude to a heart break, the only attempt to memorize, explore how amazing they would be together, if it didn’t mean losing everything.

            This house, their friendship, June’s ability to hold a grudge for decades, every memory happy and sad, it was too much to risk.

            When they finally sucked in air, small, soft kisses drawing them farther apart, Gavin’s chest ached.

            “We never tell June,” Krishna whispered, running her finger along his bottom lip. He kissed it, desperate for one more touch.

            “We can never do that again.” Her voice held so much emotion and resignation, it was a punch to the gut.

            He swallowed down the regret in his throat. “I know.”

            He rolled off the bed and walked to the door. “I’m going to go stand in the shower awhile. You try to sleep. If you’re awake when I get back, we’re doomed.”

            She frowned. “There’s no hot water.”

            He opened the door and walked through it. “Don’t need it.” And when he shut the door behind him, his heart twisted. Why had he never realized how much he needed to kiss her until it was too late?

***

            They had survived 14 days, 5 hours, and 37 minutes since the kiss. Not that Krishna was still thinking about it. Repeatedly. Almost every day.

            Not like she walked into a sliding door while showing a house today. Nope. (And the clients were in another room so no one could contradict her statement.)

            She had a weekend full of showings and she was exhausted, far beyond physically tired. The amount of acting it took to be normal around Gavin was leaving her nerves shot, her nights sleepless, and her batteries dead.

            She was going to talk to him this weekend. They couldn’t keep pretending there wasn’t this thing between them if they wanted to survive the next week, month, year. But then what? Just because they talked about it didn’t mean they could be together. It was too risky to try and too hard to not.

            Her condo was on the market but hadn’t sold. It was a safety net for now. If things weren’t better by next week, should she consider moving back? But if she quit this dream, Gavin would lose his too. And they had already paid for the new water heater, furnace, and air conditioner on their credit cards. If she didn’t sell the condo, how would she pay that off?

            Gavin’s car wasn’t in the driveway when she pulled in and her sigh of relief nearly shook her windows. She needed time to regroup. Maybe he’d go out with his friends tonight and leave her with a glass—or bottle—of wine and a sappy movie. For now, she could blast her Bluetooth speaker extra loud and have a quick underwear dance party to burn off steam.

            She trudged into her room, turned up her speaker, and threw on a song by Sunset Curve, her current favorite band. She stripped down to her bra and underwear, grabbed her hairbrush, and sang along.

            That was the reason she didn’t hear the front door open, she told herself later. How she missed that Gavin had gone into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Her phone was on her nightstand and with the music so loud, she couldn’t hear it vibrate with a text letting her know he was home.

            So when she finished her sweaty dance-a-thon and went to fill up her water bottle, she didn’t expect to find Gavin leaving the bathroom at the same time. She definitely hadn’t expected to run straight into him.

            She screamed. He grabbed her arm to steady her and his towel hit the ground at his feet.

            They froze.

            Krishna told herself to close her eyes, turn around, and walk back into her room, but she couldn’t stop staring at his lips. Her skin warmed as she lifted her eyes to find his gaze on her mouth, too. They both sucked in air as if they had run a marathon.

            This was a sign. They needed to figure this out. Try it or walk away. And right now she needed to kiss him more than she needed her next breath. “Gavin—“

            “I have a date,” he blurted.

            The hallway tilted and only his hands still on her upper arms kept her upright. “Date?” Her voice cracked on the word.

            She wished the floor would swallow her. Her chest filled with cotton—no, sandpaper. A date? He had a date?

            He lowered his hands from her arms, covered his front, and spun around to pick up his towel. She didn’t close her eyes fast enough and saw his perfect butt lean down.

            Please floor, swallow me now, she thought. Sadly, the floor was uncooperative.

            When his towel was secured, he turned back to her, shoving his hands through his wet hair to pull it away from his face. “I thought…we need to get back to normal. And maybe this would help.”

            He was right. It was a good plan. It felt like a betrayal. “Of course!” she managed, her voice too bright.

            “Krishna…”

            “Go get ready! I’ll just…” she gestured to her room.

            “We won’t come back here, after.”

            She closed her eyes and swallowed the jealousy trying to claw up her throat. “It’s your place too, Gavin.”

            “Doesn’t make this less…complicated.” It had been the closest they’d come to discussing things.

            “Have a…good time,” she managed and forced a smile.

            “Krishna—“

            She closed her bedroom door on his words. She leaned against the wood before sliding down to the carpet, resting her head on her knees. She could still feel all the places their skin had touched, still see his perfect butt in her mind. Now he’d be touching someone else tonight instead of her.

            How was she supposed to do this? What happened to her daydreams about baking together and staying in watching movies on Friday nights? Going to dinner then sitting on the back porch and having ice cream?

            She sucked in a sharp breath. These aren’t things she ever did with a roommate, but they were things she did with boyfriends.

            Shit.

***

            Gavin knew he made a mistake the moment the moment his date, Ash, walked into The C Chord. His stomach stayed still, his heartbeat steady, his smile forced. As he leaned in and kissed her cheek, he was startled by how she smelled like something floral, instead of Krishna’s peppermint lotion.

            He pulled out a chair for her and she sat down with a smile. “I’m really glad you finally took me up on my offer to have drinks,” she said.

            He smiled, but it felt wrong on his face. “It seemed like a good night for drinks.” Okay, that was a weird thing to say. “It’s good to see you. Outside of work.”

            “How’s the art fair shaping up?”

            As they talked, Gavin laughed, smiled, and nodded in all the right places. Ash was beautiful, funny, and smart. They had the same favorite band and had the same taste in movies.

            She was his perfect match on paper. Hell, if things progressed, they could even drive to school together. Be the high school power couple at the school assemblies.

            This is what he should want. What he needed to want.

            His leg wouldn’t stop shaking under the table.

            “You okay?” she asked. “You seem a bit…stressed.”

            “Just tired. Working on my parents’ house—well my house now. Everything keeps going wrong and it’s weird having a roommate after living alone for so long.”

            “I can imagine. Did you know your roommate before you moved in together?”

            He nodded. “She’s June’s best friend, so we’ve known each other for a few decades. Just an adjustment period.” The top of his ears grew hot and he looked everywhere but at Ash. Shit, he needed to stop talking about this, ignore the image of Krishna mostly naked in front of him. That kiss…

            “Ah,” she said, knowingly. “I see.” She tilted her head. “Damn.”

            “Damn?”

            She sighed and leaned back in her chair. “I went to college with Krishna, did you know?”

            He straightened. “No, what?”

            “Don’t be so surprised. Eastern is only thirty minutes away.” She finished her drink and set it on the table. “She used to talk about ‘her best friend’s brother’ like he hung the moon and the stars. Just never pieced together who that brother was until now.”

            Gavin’s head was spinning. “I’m not following.”

            “I’m not going to get in the way of whatever you two need to work through. Because my guess is if she agreed to live with you, she still has a Gavin-sized hole in her heart she’s trying to fill. And based on the look on your face, I think you have a Krishna sized one, too.”

            He ran a hand down the palm of his face. “It’s…complicated.”

            She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “The best love stories always are.”

            She stood, leaned down, and kissed him on the cheek. His body didn’t react at all.            Dammit.

            She squeezed his shoulder. “If you ever find yourself uncomplicated, you know where to find me. Otherwise, I’ll see you Monday.” She turned and started to walk away, before pausing and looking back over at him. “Tell Krishna we’re even now. And good luck.”

            The moment she was gone, he paid the bill then sat in his car for a few minutes, staring at nothing. He started when his phone rang with a FaceTime from his sister.

            “What’s up June Bug?”

            She was holding her son on her shoulder. “You’re an idiot.”

            “How are you? I love you, too. How are my niece and nephew?”

            She rolled her eyes. “The kids are fine. They’re better than you. Did you seriously take Ash out on a date tonight?”

            “How do you know all this?”

            She just stared at him for a long moment. “I may not live there anymore Gavin Michael, but I do have spies everywhere and don’t you dare forget it.”

            He swallowed. “God, I forgot how scary you are.”

            “That sounds like a you problem.” She shifted the baby and stopped to kiss his head before turning daggers back to the camera. “Now, care to explain to me why you are out on a date while the literal love of your life is packing her boxes to move back to the condo?”

***

            Gavin tossed the phone on his dash as he threw the car into drive and pulled out of the bar’s parking lot, tires squealing. It didn’t surprise him that red and blue lights immediately flashed in his rearview mirror. Dammit.

            He had nursed a tonic water with grapefruit tonight, but he was driving like a drunk person.

            “Seriously?” June called. “Who is it?”

            Gavin grabbed his cell. “I’ll call you back.”

            “Shut up and hold up the phone.”

            Pulling out his license and registration, Gavin held the phone in his other hand as Pete, his old classmate, walked over. He rolled down the window. “Pete, how’s it going?”

            Before he could answer, June started talking. “Pete! Gavin doesn’t drink, you know this. He’s just panicking. Operation Krishna is Defcon 1.”

            Pete looked at Gavin. “No shit? About damn time. Although if you want to wait three days, that’s my day in the pool.”

            “Pete, do not make me post about what happened junior year at Shelby Hubbard’s pool party,” June warned.

            Pete’s eyes widened and he looked to Gavin. “Need an escort home?”

            “Yes,” June said. “Time is of the essence. She’s packing.”

            Gavin looked between Pete and his sister. “What the hell is going on here?”

            His sister groaned. “You’re so smart but so dumb. Everyone but you knows you and Krishna have been in love with each other since Vince Berkshire’s bonfire ten years ago. Get it together. Pete, lights on.”

            Pete ran back to his car then pulled in front of Gavin, lights on. Gavin tossed June onto his passenger seat and stayed behind Pete.

            “June, what if you’re wrong and this all blows up in my face?” he shouted.

            “Can you imagine a life without Krishna in it?” his sister asked through the car speakers. “Can you just let her move out?”

            “Fuck no.” God he was crazy about her. His heart thudded so hard in his chest, his hands were shaking. “I can’t lose her, sis.”

            “You won’t, dork. If the jam incident of 2006 didn’t do it, nothing will.”

            Gavin screeched to a stopped at the end of the driveway, ignoring that Pete had stopped and pulled out his phone to presumably take video. Gavin grabbed his phone and ran toward the front door.

            Krishna opened it before he got there, looking first at the police car, then at Gavin. “Are you okay?”

            “No,” he said, stopping in front of her. “I am not okay. You can’t move out.”

            She pinched the bridge of her nose. “June,” she muttered.

            “Yes, it was me!” she called.

            Krishna startled then looked down at the phone in his hand. “Why am I not surprised? She does love interfering.”

            “Love you, too!”

            Gavin clicked off his phone. “You’re not moving.”

            Krishna leaned against the door and crossed her arms. “You left your date to tell me this?”

            “Yes.”

            She shook her head. “I can’t pretend anymore that kiss didn’t change everything.”

            “Stay,” he took a step closer, his stomach falling when her eyes met his and he had to force himself to breathe.

            “I can’t play house with you,” she whispered. “It’s too hard.”

            He lifted his hands to her neck, using his thumbs to tilt her chin up. “It’s not playing house when you’re my home, Krishna. I think you’ve always been. I want you here, in my arms, in my bed. I want to make love to you until we’re too tired to speak. I want to run into you naked in the hallway. I want to paint murals on our kitchen wall and watch those stupid movies you like.”

            He stepped closer, until there was only a breath between them. “I want your ice-cold feet against my thighs and the taste of lemon sorbet when I kiss your lips, and your peppermint lotion in every room. I want to watch your underwear dance parties, and kiss you under the stars, and stay under the blankets with you on cold, rainy days. I want your good days, your bad days, your forever days.”

            He used his thumbs to wipe away the tears the escaped from her eyes. “Stay.”

            Her mouth parted. He held his breath. “Yes,” she whispered.

            His mouth crashed into hers.

            There was no guilt, no shame, no fear in his kiss. It was decades of laughter and M&M cookies and summer nights catching fireflies. It was every secret glance and lingering hug and secret wish.

            A chorus of cheers erupted behind them, and Gavin pulled back, chest heaving, to look over his shoulder. Pete stood next to several of their neighbors, everyone with their phones out. 


      “Someone tell my sister I’ll call her tomorrow!” Gavin yelled.

            “Sunday!” Krishna shouted, then bit her lip and winked at him.

            “Sunday!” Gavin confirmed, then bent down and picked Krishna up in a firefighter hold. He walked them inside, kicked the front door closed, and went straight to his room.

            He dropped her on the bed and hovered over her. “Now, shall we have an underwear dance party?”

***

Epilogue: One Year Later

           Krishna didn’t know how she got roped into crocheting twenty-three frog hats for a high school production of Princess and The Frog—seriously how many frogs were in the movie—but it was 1:00am on the morning of opening night and here she was, crocheting. Not even a fourth cup of coffee was helping. Now she was somehow jittery and sleepy.

            “Almost done,” Gavin said through a yawn.

            She looked over at her boyfriend of a year and just smiled, hoping it hid her wince. It would take him another four hours to finish that hat, and that would be only if he didn’t mess up. After a delivery delay turned into a missing shipment, Krishna had spent a few hours teaching him how to crochet, and then he sat down next to her and fought with the green yarn every free moment he had this week.

            “The last two,” she mumbled as her eyes closed and her head dipped for a moment before drooping. As soon as her chin touched her chest, she shot back upright. If she concentrated, she’d be done in an hour. Then she could help Gavin finish the last one. Maybe they could be get a few hours of sleep.

            “Get up!” Gavin said. “Stand up and put on some music. We’re going to pass out on top of a pile of yarn.”

            She groaned but forced her heavy limbs off the couch and bounced in place. “Too tired to pick music.”

            He grabbed the remote, turned on the TV, and opened their music streaming service. He clicked on Krishna’s Taylor Swift playlist and turned up the volume.

            Like magic, the music made Krishna more energetic, and they bounced around singing while coaxing yarn to look like frogs. A fit of giggles bubbled out of her as she finished off her hat and surveyed the scene. Skeins of yarn were everywhere, draped over empty pizza boxes and day old coffee mugs. Piles of frog hats were on every available surface.

            She was so tired, the room spun. Yet, she had never been so happy.

            The song “Paper Rings” started playing, the lyrics “I like shiny things/but I’d marry you with paper rings” reminding her so much of Gavin.

            Despite their rocky beginning, every day since that second-first kiss had been everything. Sure, they had disagreements and she’d daydreamed about throwing his phone out the window when his alarm went off too early on a weekend—and lord knew they could never figure out what to have for dinner—but this life was everything she wanted.

            He was everything she wanted.

            She leaned over and cut a piece of yarn off the skein, then walked over to Gavin. She grabbed the hat he was working on and set it on the couch.

            “Krishna, I’m almost done—“

            “No you’re not. I’ll finish it before you leave for school. Promise.” She grabbed his hands. “I’ve loved you since we were kids.” His lopsided grin confirmed he knew. “And there’s no other man, besides maybe my god-nephew, who I would give up my precious sleep to make frog hats for.”

            He leaned down and kissed her nose. “For which you have my undying gratitude.” He kissed her lips. “Seriously, I love you. Thank you.”

            “Gavin?”

            “Yeah?”

            She wrapped the green yarn around his left ring finger. “Marry me?”

            He stared at his hand, then up at her for a long moment. “Seriously?”

            She frowned. “What do you mean seriously? Of course I’m serious.”

            He pulled out his phone and showed her the date. “It’s April first.”

            She scoffed. “Do you honestly think I’d joke about a marriage proposal? I didn’t actually know what day it was, only that you needed frog hats!”

            “God, I love you,” he laughed, then kissed her hard. When they finally broke apart, he bent down and picked her up in a firefighter hold and started carrying her down the hall toward their bedroom.

            “Gavin! Is that a yes? And what about your hat?”

            “Of course it’s a yes! I already told you that you got my forever days. And the hat will be there in an hour.”

            “An hour, what?”

            He dropped her on the bed, reached into his nightstand, pulled out a ring box, opened it, and put an antique gold and sapphire ring on her left hand. “I was going to wait until June got in next week, but you beat me to the punch.”

            Krishna just stared at him wide eyed, her thumb stroking the ring.

            “Time for another underwear dance party,” he teased, then kissed her until she forgot how tired she was.

The end

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