1. I started this chapter a few days ago with a rough outline. Today I nixed how I’d originally planned to end it. I still don’t think it’s done… it leaves off a little odd for me.
2. I realized a little belatedly that I switched perspectives toward the end…I’ve got a lot of Orson’s head going on instead of Dani’s. I’ll have to go back and rework this later, I think.
Now what? She knew she wanted to say something; the problem was she hadn’t formulated the words. She knew she had to speak up or he’d leave right here, right now. The fear of that thought had given her enough motivation to call out for him to stop.
Unfortunately for as much motivation as it gave her it provided no clarity of thought. Now what? Her mind and heart still fought so furiously with each other. She still knew very little of her own intentions. Should she say she loved him when she wasn’t sure if what she felt was love? She’d never been in love and wasn’t sure what it was supposed to feel like.
She did know she’d never felt about someone the way she did about Orson. Never before had she met anyone who simply melded into her life, so entirely. His presence in her life felt natural, so unassuming that she had never really considered whether it would be love.
What were the words! The fact that she could only stand here staring at him infuriated her. Her heart felt like it was about to pound out of her chest. Obviously, it had something to say and her brain refused to interpret it.
Slowly Orson’s foot dropped from the stare where it had sat frozen. Finally, breaking the agonizing silence he spoke in a fragile voice, “I don’t know. It depends on what it is you have to say. To be honest, I’m not sure I could survive much right now…” His throat caught at the last sentence. It seemed to end before he was done. He still hadn’t turned to face here. He put out his hand and braced himself on the stairwell banister.
Something that felt outside of her will took her body over. She took a step. Then she took another. She needed to look into his face. Really look into it, the way she knew he did when he thought she wasn’t aware. Methodically she inched her way in his direction.
Orson still stood at the foot of the stairs facing the exit. Dani slowly came closer to him, his back tensing as she squeezed between his body the stairwell wall. She walked onto the first step and cautiously turned to face him.
Orson’s face was turned down toward the ground. It may have been only seconds but it seemed to her like an eternity before he allowed his eyes to rise and meet hers. Dani felt shock ripple down her spine as she felt again what she felt the first time she saw his eyes, a shade between green and blue, they were piercing and fathomless at the same time. The eyes of an observer, one who sees the world not only for what it is but also what it could be. One who sees beneath the surface and into the potential something holds.
His brow creased. She could tell he was questioning her intentions, her motivation to stand so close. His lips were tensed. His whole frame hovered in a sort of limbo, cautious to make any sort of move.
Finally she couldn’t hold her thoughts back anymore, “The truth is…” She paused and did her best to shake the foggy sensation that washed over her brain now that they were so close to each other. She tried to reiterate, “The truth is, I don’t know what I have to say because I’m just not sure what it is I feel. If you don’t mind though, I’d like to find out.”
The wrinkles on his brow burrowed even deeper. His gaze deepened as he fell into a sea of percolating questions. He managed suppress all but one. “And how do you propose you discover how you feel?”
Dani’s palm pressed against the space where his neck met the corner of his jaw. Her fingers slid back and coiled into the hair at the nape of his neck. Dani looked up and trained her eyes on Orson’s and swam. She swam through two pools a shade between green and blue.
She saw it, not through periphery sight this time but laid before her as brilliant as fresh snow in sunshine. She saw it, the look he always tried so hard to conceal, exposed and unfettered. Dani would never be able to explain how it was that just a look could mean so much more to her than words ever could. She knew he saw her free of any other notion of who she or anyone else purported her to be. He saw… her. That’s it.
Dani took one slow breath. She took a final look before lowering her lids, leaning a closer, and allowed her lips to hover near his. She could feel when his lips parted ever so slightly and allowed a warm breath to escape and rush over her bottom lip. She waited there patiently, not daring to allow herself to open her eyes.
It was and should be his choice. She knew it must be left up to him; it was his declaration that got them to this point after all. He should at least be given the option to risk it, to kiss her.
And wait she did. What must have been only a minute lasted for hours until finally, the tips of Orson’s fingers tentatively captured the curve of her face. His other rose and pinned a fallen curl back away from her face. He slowly drew her into him, urging her to bridge what little gap was left between them.
She tilted her chin forward in anticipation only to feel him gently restrain the action with the palm now laid across the expanse of chin, ear, and nape. Instead he tilted his own head near until his forehead rested on hers. His chest laboriously rose and fell as he looked down into her eyes.
“I was wondering if you’d let me take you to dinner? Not to study or to hang out, but as a date. The kind of experience two people engage in to foster a deep relationship. A date, the kind of experience where a guy hopes to convince a girl to fall for him.”
She quirked an eyebrow and smiled, “If I say yes, will you finally kiss me?”
Dani was close enough to his face she could feel the air shift as a lopsided smile took up residence on his face.
Orson could feel the sink of her forehead wrinkle in confusion against his own. He lifted his head away and brought up his hand to press his thumb across her brow to smooth out the ridges.
“No.” He said again with a wider smile. “That’s something I’ll only do once you know for sure what you feel.”
Dani began to open her mouth to argue only to have Orson interrupt her. “We’ve spent the last few months as friends. And that friendship has gotten stronger with each new experience and conversation we’ve shared. I’m not one that believes a kiss will tell you everything you need to know. It’s biology, of corse it’s going to be an igniting experience, it’s something we’re programmed to enjoy. No. As a scientist I believe that we fine tune hypothesis through experiments, which test their validity until a truth is found or lost. Which is why I’m asking you to dinner, its an experiment of sorts. I’ve a hypothesis; we’ll be an excellent couple. I intend to prove the truth of it to you through the testing of its validity through dating, an experience outside of that which only friends participate.”
Throughout his ramble Dani’s face had broken into her own lopsided grin, her eyes filling with affection and a tinge of humor.
“So,” he continued. “What do you say to a little scientific exploration? Will you go out on a date with me?”
Orson had reasonable assurance that she would say yes, and still he held his breath. Inexperienced as he may be he was also too intelligent to believe there was anything near certainty when dealing with women.
“Yes. I’d love to,” she beamed up at him. Orson’s breath whooshed out of him. Dani wrapped her arms around Orson’s neck and pressed her face deep in the space between her arm and his collarbone. A smile spread across her face wider than she thought possible. She hugged him as forcefully as her arms could manage, unwilling to let go.