My eyes fluttered open, but I didn’t budge. My body awoke to the television static of Adam tracing his fingers on my back. Moment after moment, I blinked and stayed in place, memorizing the pattern he drew. After another round of lines, slants, and curves, I spoke up.
“I love you, too.”
His hand froze and rested in the middle of my back. I turned over to see him hiding a blush as he rolled over to his side of the bed.
“I didn’t realize you were awake.”
I smiled and tilted his chin up. “I haven’t been up long, it was the perfect way to start the day.” I pecked his lips as they quirked.
“How did you know that was what I was writing? It could’ve been nonsense for all you know.”
I grinned and laid my head back on his shoulder. “I used to do the same thing when we were dating. Except I did it when you were out like a light.”
“Oh yeah? No fair, El.”
“I was so afraid of saying it out loud it was ridiculous.”
“Why’s that?” He intertwined his fingers with mine. “What were you afraid of?”
“Ruining everything. If I said it too soon and you didn’t feel the same or if I waited too long it might’ve been too late.”
“I would’ve waited. You know that.”
I gazed up at him as his eyes closed. “How long?”
“As long as it took. There’s no need to rush.”
“What if things had been different?”
His eyes popped open, and he raised his eyebrows. “Different how?”
I fidgeted with the ring on my left hand. “What if it’d been a one-way love?”
“Then we would’ve been the best friends anyone could think to imagine.”
“And that would’ve been enough?”
He squeezed my hand to stop me from twisting the ring. “What are you getting at, El?”
“Would my friendship really have been enough? Would I have been enough?”
Adam wrapped his arm around me, pulling me in closer. “Of course. I wouldn’t trade you for anything.” He eyes widened after a moment. “You’re talking about my ability aren’t you?”
“If you don’t want to-”
“No, no I think I know what you’re asking me now.” He paused for a moment more. “The truth is, I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think I’d have opened up to you anyway.”
I hummed in response. “I can live with uncertain but likely.” I smiled and kissed his cheek. “Sorry to be a downer. I don’t even know why I was thinking about it.”
“It’s okay, better to get it out in the open than let it sit and fester, right?”
I nodded. “Right. Now that we got that out of the way, what do you say we make breakfast? Then we can figure out what to do today.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He touched his nose and stuck his tongue out when my eyes widened.
“No fair! Fine, but you’re doing dishes.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, then bobbed his head. “Fair enough.”
I slid out of bed and combed my fingers through my hair, working through tangles. Adam followed my example, grinning as he ruffled his own bed head.
I tilted my head to the side. “I don’t know if you made it better or worse.”
“Here.” He tousled my hair scrubbing his hands through it. “Now we match.”
I huffed and blew strands away from my face, parting the rest with my hands. I turned and stalked to the bathroom, retrieving my brush and a tie for my hair.
I pressed the brush into his hands and turned so my back faced him. “You messed it up, so you have to fix it.”
“I doubt you want me to do that. I’d probably pull half your hair out.”
“Just be gentle, and don’t rush. I trust you.” I sat on the floor and crossed my legs.
He knelt down and peered over my shoulder. “You’ll have to tell me if I’m being too rough.”
“Of course. I usually start at the bottom and work my way up.”
He gathered a section of hair in his hands and repeated bits of the phrase as he started. “Bottom, work up.”
The brush started feathery light, breezing through the bottom parts of the locks. The brush ran over my back as it worked through the hair, moving up at a snail’s pace.
“I’m not hurting you?”
“No, I barely feel it. You’re doing better than I would.”
He paused and continued, trying to brush from the top now. He hit a few snags on the way down, stopping and starting over again.
“I don’t wanna pull too hard.”
“You’re doing great, Adam, don’t worry.”
He started from the top of the other side, trying to pull the brush through. When he hit a larger knot, I winced.
“Sorry! Bottom up…”
He started over and worked slower. He tested each strand not to repeat his mistake, and I waited as he finished. I combed my fingers through, gathering all my hair into a ponytail and tied it. I smiled up at him as I stood and plucked the brush his hands.
“I didn’t hurt you too bad, did I?”
I shook my head. “Of course not. Just a knot. Trust me, I’m usually a lot harsher.”
The lines of his mouth quirked, and he stood. His head followed me as I rounded him and stopped at his back.
“Uh uh, I like my bed head.”
I huffed. “Come on, it’s only fair. It’ll be quicker for you anyway.”
He hung his head. “Fine, but I pick breakfast.”
“Okay, then.” I started at his scalp.
“I thought you said bottom up.”
“That’s for long hair.” I pulled the brush through without a hitch. “See?”
He nodded and turned his head back as I made my way through, parting his hair and brushing it away from his eyes with my fingers. I finished and faced him. He touched his hair and ran his palms over it.
“That was fast. Okay, food time.”
He hurried out the door and down the hall as I followed behind, hiding a grin. He reached the pantry and pulled out a box of pancake mix, laying a small bag of chocolate chips over it.
“You can never resist dessert for breakfast, can you?”
He gasped. “I’ll have you know pancakes are a breakfast food, thank you very much.”
“Any breakfast that has the word cake and chocolate in it qualifies as dessert, and you know it.”
He rolled his eyes. “Who said anything was wrong with that?”
I took the ingredients from him and poked him in the ribs. “I never said it was wrong.”
He hummed and took to the sink to fill it while I worked to make the batter. As the faucet ran, Adam took out dishes to set the table as I heated the pan. I poured chocolate chips in the plain batter, stealing a few for myself when he wasn’t looking. He came up behind me and fished some out as well.
“Don’t think you’re the only one who does that.”
“How do you know I stole some?”
He dabbed a bit of melted chocolate onto the tip of my nose. “I do the same thing when I make breakfast.”
I scoffed, stifling a laugh when I saw his chocolate chip smirk. “I remember the first time I stayed over. I wanted to surprise you with breakfast.”
“Oh yeah. You didn’t know where anything was.”
“When I saw you and your parents rush down the hall into the kitchen… God, what they must’ve thought.”
He laughed. “Mom loved you. She didn’t have to cook. Dad thought there was a burglar in in our kitchen, and he didn’t want them to steal his stash of junk food. I’m just glad you never found the Snickers. Mom would’ve been so mad at him.”
“That’s one thing you two have in common.” I started stacking pancakes on a plate to the side of the pan.
“Where do you think I get my sweet tooth. Mom always used to hate Halloween ‘cause Dad and I scarfed the candy down.”
I smirked. “I was the kind to pace myself, so I’d have some to last until Christmas.”
“Smart. I bet you never got sick like we did.”
I shook my head as I finished off the pile. “Nope, Dad made sure of that. He’d always say I could eat as much as I wanted, but I couldn’t say a word if I got a stomach ache. I never made that mistake twice.”
He carried the plate to the table, smiling and nodding. “Seems like a fair deal.”
I grabbed the milk from the fridge after laying the dishes in the sink. The gallon gurgled as I filled each glass to the rim. Sugary steam wafted from the stack of hotcakes as Adam took the first three. I started with two, slicing through them both before starting to eat while Adam gobbled his.
“No one’s going to take it from you. There’s no rush, you know.”
He licked his lips and spoke through a mouthful. “Gotta eat ‘em hot.”
“Doesn’t mean you have to paint your face with them.”
His tongue circled his lips, erasing the chocolate coating except for the corners of his mouth.
“Much better, now slow down before you make yourself sick.”
“Yes, Mother.” He winked as he took another bite.
I shook my head as I dug in. I took the last pancake before Adam could steal it. He gulped his milk as I ate. I chugged mine after the last pancake.
“Look who’s talking. At least I don’t have a milk moustache.” He stood and piled dishes to take to the sink.
“Oh yeah?” I kissed his lips. “There you go.”
He shook his head, flicking soapy water my way. “Now we’re even.”
He scrubbed at the batter-caked dishes, placing them in the other side of the divided sink that was empty. “You know, there’s this lovely invention called a dishwasher that’d free up a lot of time.”
“Oh, quit complaining. That was our agreement remember? I cook, you do dishes.”
“Well, yeah, but I’m just saying.”
I peered over his shoulder as he finished washing the pan, placing it in the other side to rinse. “I think I’ll keep doing dishes the way I like to, thank you.”
He stopped and his head whipped around. “You’re kidding. You actually like doing this stuff?”
He offered me the dishrag. “I wouldn’t want to deprive you of the pleasure or anything.”
“Oh, no. I don’t think so. We made a deal.”
He groaned and scrubbed on. “What’s so good about washing dishes, huh? Everyone’s mess of food, prune hands…”
“It gives me something simple and mindless to focus on if I’m stressed. I don’t have to think, just go through the motions. Plus, it gave me an excuse to do something ‘productive’ if things were tense at home.”
“Oh, that makes sense I suppose.”
“Yeah, I mean it’s not like I really enjoy scrubbing the same food-caked pots and pans, but it was controllable. It made things seem cleaner even if things at home weren’t shiny and sparkling.”
“I think I get what you mean now.” I rinsed the sink full of dishes, placing them in the rack on the counter before spraying the dirty side down as it drained. He dried his hands and turned, taking the faucet hose in his hand.
“Did you miss a spot?” I peeked at the sink.
“Nope.” He turned to face me, placing his free hand on the handle while he held his thumb on the bottom to change the stream to a jet.
“Don’t even think about it.”
He smirked. “Or what?”
“Or I’ll make you scrub the kitchen floor on your hands and knees, the old-fashioned way.”
He flipped the faucet on full blast and sprayed me for a few seconds as I fought to wrestle the hose out of his grip. He shut if off and doubled over, cackling as I dripped on the soaked floor. I stepped toward him and retrieved the bucket, plastic brush, and soap from under the sink.
I huffed and turned to go change out of my clothes. He kept laughing even as I came back with towels and tossed one to land over his head, leaving him in the puddle he’d created on the kitchen floor, as I covered my own giggling.
Adam turned to the sink and filled the bucket. “Worth it!”