Mike kept her eyes focused out the window on the drive over to Bonita Park. Paris concentrated on the road while the two of them listened to music on the way over to the bonfire. For the first time since the two had known one another, she felt uncomfortable being alone with him. She found her eyes lingering on him more than they should. When they were forced together by the drywallers earlier, she found touching him made her feel very different than before.
It wasn't different. Paris looked the same. He sounded the same. He even smelled the same. She realized what was different was how she reacted to him. Pressed together, she found herself feeling anxious --even excited, to be that close to him. She had to turn her head to the side so that he wouldn't see the look on her face. Apparently, he didn't notice.
He doesn't look at me that way...
Despite her conclusion, she couldn't breath a sigh of relief. She thought to herself that she might have pushed to be a little too touchy, thinking that with the hugging in the trailer that she might have gone a little too far. It wasn't fair to constantly force her femininity on him. Though he'd never complain, she felt he might not know how to react.
I'll have to pull him aside tonight and apologize...
Paris kept his eyes on the road, but he looked just as uncomfortable as she felt. Clearly, something more than sorry was going to have to be said. They were going to have to work out the rules. But what would they be?
I don't want him to stay at arm's length. I don't even know what he's comforable with...
"What's with the frown?"
She must have not been paying attention and let her expression slip.
"Oh... Nothing. I was just thinking about something... I don't think I've been to Mission Bay in ages."
That sounded lame...
Paris turned his attention back to the road.
Evening was upon them as they approached the Park. Many of the group had already gathered near the fire ring. Paris pulled into the parking space, and hopped out, making his way around the side of the car to open the door for her. This time, she wasn't wearing a skirt -opting for a pair of denim shorts and a blue halter. She cocked an eyebrow. Paris merely sighed -exasperated.
"Get used to it." he smiled through gritted teeth.
She got out with little complaint, though she wondered now just how it was going to affect their relationship from here on out. As she got out from the car, Paris put his hand at the small of her back and motioned towards the gathering. It remained there until they were several meters away from the car and had fallen into step together. She resisted the urge to say anything to alarm him, as she was already focused on what she was going to say when they got the chance to be alone together. What surprised her most was that she didn't mind it at all.
I'm sure he's just raised that way...
They met the gathering together, with Paris introducing her to some of the others he worked with, and helping remind her of everyone's names. She noticed Natalie was staring at her with a look that could curdle milk. She didn't really give the look much thought at first, but as the introductions continued, she realized that it wasn't going to let up.
"I think you remember Dr. Cosgrove, Mike? He's been with the program for like almost fifteen years..."
As Paris made the introduction, his hand was at her waist again, turning the both of them at the same time. It caught her by surprise and she found herself giving Paris a silent warning that she didn't really mean.
It's not like I don't like it... But you should be careful not to give people the wrong idea....
"Mike? Is that short for something?" Dr. Cosgrove asked.
"Tabitha Michelle, Dr. Cosgrove. My friends call me Mike for short..."
The older man cocked an eyebrow for a moment while he mulled it over. He smiled again and offered a gentle handshake that ended up with him holding her hand like he was going to bow and kiss it.
"Somehow, I think it suits you. I saw you working today --you didn't shy away from the work at all. Guys like a girl who isn't afraid to get her hands a little dirty."
The comment was obviously meant to be complimentary, but it along with his soft handshake somehow made her feel emotionally unsteady. It was flattering in the way that she enjoyed being praised, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to be thought of as a girlfriend like the good doctor intimated. She smiled graciously in return as the doctor walked off. She turned to Paris.
"Don't spin me like a top, Paris!" She said quietly.
Paris frowned, his hand still at her waist. She didn't pull away from him.
He pulled her off to the side where they were out of earshot. To anyone not really paying attention, it just looked as though they were having a private conversation.
"Look, I'm sorry, Mike... But you gotta cut me a break..." He sighed. "I'm doing my best."
He looked frustrated. She realized at that moment that he was having a difficult time --perhaps even as difficult as she was. He couldn't treat her like a guy because she wasn't. Even with their history together, everything about her screamed feminine and she realized that it was becoming a wall between them. He was looking for her to throw him some kind of lifeline.
She softened her expression.
"Then teach me..."
"I know you're just being yourself... I get that. But you've got to understand that I don't know what to expect... I don't know what you would have been like if I had been a girl all this time... So you have to... teach me."
Paris looked puzzled for a moment, but then caught onto what she was implying. He waved off her suggestion nervously.
"Look I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable me touching you--"
She reached up and grabbed one of his hands to stop him from backpedaling.
"But that's just it, Paris..." she interrupted. "It doesn't make me uncomfortable --that's just it... It's just the opposite."
She felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment, but she couldn't let things slip back into the awkward, uncomfortable silence that had been developing. It seemed each situation like this brought more embarrassment than progress. She had to think of something.
"Come with me." She commanded.
She took him by the hand and lead him towards the water, not caring what it may look like to everyone there. When they were closer to the water and well away from everyone, she turned and pointed to a spot in the sand with a good view of the water and far enough away that they were assured a private conversation.
Paris sat in the sand at her direction with a puzzled look on his face. Without saying a word she turned and plopped herself down in between his legs and scooted back until she was able to lean against him.
"What are you doing?" He stammered.
"Just stay still like this. Don't move..." She commanded. "I can't say this while I'm looking at you. It's too distracting. So just listen to what I have to say, okay?"
"Touch me... I don't care where --just touch me. I promise I won't get upset."
Not wanting to argue the point, she crossed her arms reaching behind her. She wiggled her fingers like she wanted him to take her hands. Hesitantly, Paris did as she asked. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and then pulled them until they were around her. She felt him try to pull back, but she held firm while his arms rested against her skin. She knew it was uncomfortable for him --that he was trying to be a gentleman, but she didn't care. Then she turned back to him, still holding onto him.
"I'm not the boy you knew... I can't be that person anymore... I'm a girl now, so stop confusing us. This wouldn't feel good to the boy you knew," She inhaled deeply "Now squeeze me."
She turned back and the two of them shared a look until he understood she was very serious. He responded by squeezing a little at first. She turned her attention back to the water and leaned her head back so that her ear was at his lips. She gazed languidly out at the water, staying very still.
"To tell you the truth, I can't even remember what my old voice sounded like. This is what I am, now..."
For emphasis, she pulled his hands up around her breasts to her shoulders. Paris could have easily pulled from her grip. She could tell that he wanted to pull away from her --not because he was weirded out, but because this wasn't the sort of thing he would do. She had to fight to keep her breathing sounding normal, trying to conceal her excited state.
"I've made my peace with it. I'm still your friend, just like I've always been. But you have to treat me like what I am now. You have to let go of Michael and just see me. "
"Don't apologize. We're friends. There's no need... There's no need to be afraid of me. I might joke about it, but you're the one person in this world I want to be close to. You accepted me without hesitating; you made me feel like I wasn't a freak --just because that's the way that you are. Why would I feel unhappy about you touching me? I promise you that I won't pull away... But I need you to do something for me --something I know you can do."
"What?" He whispered.
She felt his breath on her ear and it sent shivers through her body.
"Promise me that you'll treat me as the girl that I am, Paris. I can't be anything else."
"All right." He answered.
"That's not good enough, boyscout." She replied, she turned to look in his eyes. "I know you better than that. A real promise..."
She held her breath during the long pause. She had asked for something more than just a concession. Asking Paris for a problem was not something that could be rushed. She gazed languidly out at the sparkles on the water in the fading evening light, hoping her faith was not displaced. She needn't have worried.
Slowly, she felt his hands finally move on their own. She leaned further to the side as she felt them encircle her, and he buried his head in her neck and held tight. She rested her own hands atop of his, and waited for him to speak the words.
"I promise..." He said. "Scout's honor..."
When he said the words, she clenched her fingers around his involuntarily. She had seen Paris make a promise many times over the years, but this was the first time she'd asked for one. In all the years she'd known him, he'd never broken his word --not once. A promise from Paris Overstreet was not something to ask for lightly. When he gave his word, heaven and all its angels nor all the demons in hell could not make him break it. He squeezed back and she felt his breath on her ear and neck.
I want to stay like this. Just like this....
"My brothers... they're afraid to touch me. They don't know how... It's all right. I know they're learning. I don't want you to be like them. I don't want you to shy away from me. It hurts. I want to be close to them and I want to be close to you. I want to be touched by the people I care about. That hasn't changed."
She paused for a moment, lost in her own thoughts. The confession came from her lips without thinking.
"I don't know if it's fair to do this to you, but I felt like there was this wall coming up between us. It's all right to touch me. If I don't feel right about it, I'll tell you. I know you're worried about that. I know you worry about how far, or how close or when it's okay or not okay. I want you to know that it feels good to be close to you and though it startles me sometimes, I don't feel bad about the way that you touch me. You're very gentle with me... it means a lot."
She fell silent after that, not wanting to push any further. She was glad that she managed to get the words out, without bungling it too badly. The silent moments passed between the two of them and everything felt much less tense. They sat together like two intimate friends, sharing the last rays of the evening sun.