As Cordelia increased the distance between herself and her friends, she thought about the situation with Anson and Danni. She hated this so much. Danni was her best friend. Except for Bianca, she had never cared for anyone the way she cared for Danni. Danni always just let her be herself. She always took the spotlight away and let Cordelia hide from attention. Well, if she was honest with herself, Danni wouldn’t let her in the spotlight. The few times she had actually wanted it. But in the end, Danni had always been right. She’d always protected Cordelia.
She told Danni everything: every little fear, every hope, everything. She had never kept anything from her before. And this, this was important in a way she’d never felt before. Sure, she’d been interested in guys, but nothing serious, just a little passing infatuation here and there, but nothing had ever felt like this before. The thought of Anson sent little shivers up her spine. She imagined his face, his lips, his eyes. His hands were beautiful, big and smooth.
Floating on her back, running her fingers through the water, Cordelia thought about all the times Danni had been there for her. And then all the times she had been there for Danni. All the moments when Danni was freaked out about this boy or that boy, or her sewing, or whatever. They’d been friends for so long, but she was starting to feel something different. Like maybe she was outgrowing their friendship. She needed it to change, but she didn’t know how to make that happen.
Cordelia could lie to everyone else, but she knew, really knew, that she liked Anson. But, Danni was making things complicated. Cordelia would never say it out loud, but she thought Danni was making a bit of a fool of herself. Laughing at everything Anson said, touching him, hanging on his every word. She’d never wanted to be that kind of girl. Or to be friends with that kind of girl. But here she was.
“What are you thinking about?” An unfamiliar voice sounded in her ear. Cordelia jumped, sunk, swallowed some water and started choking. “Hey, hey, relax.” A pair of hands grabbed her waist, held her until she finished coughing and relaxed. “You alright now?”
Cordelia nodded and looked down at the hands on her hips. Those hands she’d committed to memory. She followed up the arms and shoulders to Anson’s face and his eyes, more green than hazel now that she was close enough to get a really good look. Let her hands fall to rest on his forearms. She’d never been this close to a boy before, and she wasn’t sure what she was feeling, but she was thankful to have something to balance on.
“How are we not sinking?” Cordelia realized that she was not treading water, but her feet weren’t touching anything. Anson’s legs didn’t appear to be moving either. A quick glance at the shore made her realize how far out she’d floated. She could no longer tell who was who sitting among the towels.
“There’s some kind of dune or something. I’m standing on it.” He smiled down at her.
“I guess you can put me down then.” Cordelia smiled up at him.
“What if I don’t want to?” He whispered, leaning close to her ear. Cordelia’s eyes widened and she stiffened. At her reaction, Anson loosened his arms and let her slide down until her feet touched the packed sand beneath them. He pulled his hands back in a gesture of surrender. “I’m sorry; that was presumptuous.”
“It was, but it’s not that.” She gently touched her fingers to his wrist, letting him relax. She turned towards the shore, looking to see if anyone was watching them. “Where’s Danni?”
Anson nodded, pursing his lips, “Kyle dragged her back to campsite to start making supper. She suggested I stay behind, even though Danni really wanted me to come back with them.” His piercing winked in the sun as he looked towards the shore. Cordelia couldn’t suppress her grin. “What?”
“Nothing.” Knowing Danni wasn’t going to suddenly swim up to them allowed Cordelia to relax a little. She moved to place her hand on top of Anson’s when he pulled it away. She stiffened and stepped away from Anson, her heels hanging over the edge of the sand dune. “Oh”
“Don’t. That’s not what I meant.” Anson reached out and took her hand in his own, keeping them under the water came to his waist, and halfway up Cordelia’s torso. He waited as she allowed her body to relax. Her fingers to find comfort in his hand. When she took a step towards him, he smiled broadly “I had a long talk with Caleb and Zack this morning. We had some unexpected time.” They both chuckled.
“So you get that this,” She waved her free hand between the two of them “whatever this is. If it’s anything at all. This is all really new to me. I’m babbling. Whatever. This is going to cause some problems.”
“Yeah. I was filled in on the workings of Danni. Caleb explained that she can be a little… single minded.” Anson twisted his mouth.
“That’s a very polite way to put it.” She smiled, taking another step towards him. Her insecurities unexpectedly slipped away.
“He doesn’t even know the worst of it. He’s her brother, not her friend. She tells me more than she tells him. I hear about all her obsessions. She has been talking about you non-stop since Wednesday.” Cordelia smiled at the thought of her friend, and then feeling Anson’s fingers intertwined with her own, the smile fell from her lips. “Non-stop. God, I don’t know what to do.” She released Anson’s hand and massaged her forehead with her thumbs.
“I’m new to this group, so I don’t really know the details, but I think there are some basics we can deal with. Like the fact that I liked you – immediately. I thought you were cute in the hallway. Then I found out you were smart and interesting and adventurous over pizza.” Cordelia shot him a look from the corner of her eye. “Over everyone else, it was you.”
“You were willing to go cheeseless.” Anson grinned, placing his free hand on her hip. “Alright?”
“Danni is a fun girl, but she’s not the girl for me. I don’t believe in love at first sight, or anything ridiculous like that. This isn’t that. But when something interests me, I find out all I can about it.” He lowered his face close enough that she could smell the mint on his breath. Their foreheads were mere centimetres apart. “Right now, I want to find out if you’re interested in me.”
Cordelia breathed deeply, her chest expanding, pressing against Anson’s skin. The feeling of his hand running up her back distracted her, made her feel girly and weak, but at the same time gave her a feeling she’d never experienced before, a weird kind of bravado. She moved her arms to slowly wrap around Anson’s waist. She laced her fingers together behind his back, pulling herself against him. This felt like the first big decision she’d made for herself in a long time. A decision to put her happiness first. The curtain of the water made her feel braver than normal. She looked towards the beach and noticed a large group of people getting up and leaving. A few feet away, she noticed her sister’s body cutting through the water. When Bianca surfaced next to her, Cordelia started to pull away from Anson.
“Don’t you dare!” Bianca placed her hand on her sister’s arm. “We’re heading back to the campsite. We’re telling Danni you’re both swimming but head back soon so she doesn’t come looking. Figure out how you’re going to do this.” She turned to Anson “If you hurt my sister, I’ll personally make sure that you end up with a shovel in your face.” She flipped her body and started swimming back to the beach.
“I guess that was my official warning, and that makes us some kind of … a thing.” Anson brushed his free hand along her jaw line, pushing her sun drying hair back behind her ear.
“I suppose it answers your earlier question.” She said quietly.
“I’d still like to hear it though.” His voice was low. “From you. Until it comes from you, it doesn’t count. You have to say it.”
She took a deep breath. What she said now would choose her path. “I’m interested. In a big way.” Anson leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers. His hand slid to cup her neck.
“I’m glad.” His breath mingled with hers. Their lips were dangerously close. The movement of the words caused his to brush against hers.
“I’m going to fight for my friendship though.” Cordelia stared at him intently. “Danni is important to me. I won’t throw that away for a boy with pretty hands. Got it.”
“That. That conviction right there. I wouldn’t want you to do anything else.” He sighed “God, I can tell you that I didn’t expect my first few days in a new town to end up like this.”
“You’re going to have to play this at my speed for a little while.” Cordelia smiled “I want to get to know you and shit before we barrel ahead.”
Anson only nodded, knowing that he was going to kiss her. That every nerve ending on his body was on high alert. That he either needed to take action, or step away from her. He pulled her face towards his, his lips settled against hers. She responded at first, but as the kiss deepened she stiffened and backed away.
“I’m sorry. Not yet. I need to figure out how this is going to work.” She placed some physical distance between them, but once again intertwined their fingers. “If that doesn’t work for you, at least you know now.”
“That works for me.” He chuckled and squeezed her fingers.
“Let’s head back to the beach, we’ll figure stuff out on our way back to the campsite.”
Anson nodded, kissed her quickly on the forehead and dove under the water. Cordelia dove in after him taking her time getting back to the short. When they reached the beach, they kept a safe distance in case they ran into Danni on the way back.
“So here’s what I’m going to do.” Anson broke the easy silence that had settled between them “I’m going to ask her to go for a walk and then I’ll explain to her that I’m not interested in her like that. She’s a nice girl but…”
“That’s totally the loser let down. You have to be direct with her. Firm but gentle. She’s surprisingly fragile.” Cordelia rubbed her eyes “Don’t tell her about us though. That needs to come from me. She is going to be furious.”
“If she’s really a good friend, she’ll be happy for you.” He looked perplexed “Friends want their friends to be happy. Especially their best friends.”
“Yeah, but she wants herself to be happy more. That’s natural isn’t it? When I thought you were interested in her I was jealous.”
“Shit. I thought I was just moving to a new town. That I’d have some time to get settled.” He smiled and brushed her arm with his fingers before jamming his hands back into the pockets of his shorts. They rounded the last corner before the campsite and paused for a moment. “So for now we just pretend nothing happened. I had a good swim. You floated a little bit. Blah, blah, blah.”
“Okay, I’m probably going to hang with Blaine or my sister for a bit. I don’t know if I can sit near you and not…”
“I know what you mean.” He blew out a resigned breath.
She looked around quickly before reaching out and grabbing his arm. She pulled him behind a dense patch of trees and pulled him close. Before he could do anything, Cordelia had her arms snaked up around his neck. Her lips pressed against his. His thumb brushed along her cheek, sending shivers down her spine. Taking a deep breath, they pulled away from one another, his hand still against her face.
“We have to figure this out, because I want to do that again. Frequently.” Cordelia’s eyes widened as the words slipped through her lips. Anson’s grin lit up his face.
“Me, too.” They composed themselves and walked around the corner to the campsite.
“Hey, guys.” Danni noticed them as soon as they rounded the corner, each with their hands jammed into their pockets. She bounced over, positioning herself between them, threading an arm through each of theirs. “How was your swim?” She directed her question to Anson. “Did you get to know my bestest friend?” She smiled at Cordelia. “Isn’t she awesome? Or did she play shy with you?”
“I wouldn’t call her shy.” He smiled at Danni, but his eyes glinted towards Cordelia. They didn’t notice that everyone else was watching the trio. “So yeah, I’d say we got to know each other.” He moved himself between the two girls and threw a friendly arm around Danni’s shoulders and an arm around Cordelia’s waist. “Let’s go get ourselves some food. It smells amazing.”