“And you can’t say ‘right here,’ ” I added, running a finger along the back of his arm. His skin was smooth and still warm from the shower. I dug in a little, kneading the muscle, and he sighed in pleasure. “Anywhere else.”
The moon was high in the sky, and a swath of light cut across the bed, angling up and over his body. I watched him frown in thought as he considered my question.
I wasn’t even sure why I’d asked. It might have been that I was feeling vulnerable after our shower, and that tiny seed of doubt was making me homesick. Maybe it was the wall I felt had been knocked down tonight, seeing him lose himself to the music and the crowd moving all around us. Or maybe it was just my way of trying to get inside that maddeningly complicated head of his. I didn’t even know.
I nodded from my spot next to him. The sheets were cool against my naked body, but I could feel the heat of him next to me.
“Why can’t I say ‘right here’?” he asked, reaching out to brush the tip of my nose.
I shrugged and he moved his leg, hooking it over mine to bring me just a breath closer. It was a tiny thing that had me smiling into my pillow.
“When we were small, our dad had a friend who worked at Elland Road, the football stadium in West Yorkshire. Max was old enough to drive and sometimes he’d bring me with him—the irritating little brother. Drive us both down there to kick balls ’round on the pitch. Leeds United play at Elland Road,” he said with reverence, “the club I’ve watched my entire life on telly at home. I’d been up in those stands, cheering them on, and here I was, standing on the same green as the men I’d worshipped. I’d like to go back there someday with my brother. See if it still felt as big.”
“I’d like to see that,” I said, grinning now. “You and Max as teenagers, running up and down the field. You’d both be shirtless in this scenario, yes?”
Niall pinned me with a glare that had me erupting in giggles.
“And what about you, where would you be, Miss Ruby?”
“I love London, getting to live there has been sort of a dream, but it’s expensive, it rains a lot, and I miss everyone.”
“My roommates, Lola and London. And especially my brother.”
“It must have been hard being away from them.”
“The time difference sucks,” I said, groaning. “It’s like we get four hours to be awake in the same day and those are early in the morning or late at night.”
Niall nodded, continuing to run his fingers through the front of my hair. I began to feel my eyes droop. “But you’ll stay in London?” he asked, and I wondered if I imagined the hint of anxiousness there.
“Through school, at the very least.”
The words burned on the tip of my tongue. “Hopefully,” I said at last.
“And tell me about San Diego. What was it like growing up there?”
“Have you ever been to California?” I asked.
“I’ve been to Los Angeles,” he said. “Perfect weather and palm trees. Lots of blond people.”
“LA is not San Diego,” I said, shaking my head but feeling my chest warm just thinking about home. “LA is cement and cars and people. San Diego is green palms and blue sky and ocean everywhere. When I was younger, Crain and I would head over to a friend’s house just a few blocks from the beach. We’d load everything up in the baskets on the front of our bikes and just stay there, all day.”
“What would you do?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said blissfully. “We’d just lie around in the sand all day, play volleyball or read or talk, listen to music. When we got hot we’d jump into the water, maybe take turns on someone’s paddleboard, when we got hungry we’d eat the lunch we packed. My mom would see us in the morning and then not until the sun went down.”
“Sounds brilliant. I quite like the image of teenage Ruby,” he said, wrapping a finger around a piece of hair and tugging. “Hair bleached from the summer and freckles across your nose. Tan skin and tiny bikini.” He seemed to consider how this sounded for a moment before clearing his throat and adding, “We’re going to imagine I’m teenage Niall in this scenario, as well.”
I laughed, pulling the sheet up around my body. “Carlsbad was an amazing place to grow up, you know? Before I left the States I was sharing this great apartment with two of my best friends. We could see the ocean from our dining room window,” I said, missing them so much in that moment it was like a physical ache. “Between our work schedules it felt like we hardly saw each other, but when we finally managed to all be there at the same time we’d make cappuccinos so we could stay up late and talk, sometimes watching the sun come up over the marina. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to leave . . . We’d all grown so busy we barely saw each other anymore.”
“Maybe. Or perhaps, you knew something bigger was on its way. Waiting for you.”
I looked at him for a long time when he said that, wondering if he meant school and work, or more. “You should go there someday. Lie on the beach, go to Disneyland, ride Space Mountain.”
Niall scrunched up his nose in distaste, but I leaned in and kissed him anyway. “Disneyland?”