I can’t believe Corey is sitting here across from me right now. After all these years apart, having him here feels like no time has passed at all. The way he smiles at me makes my heart skip a beat, just like when we were kids.
We met in elementary school, two shy kids who found refuge in each other from the chaos of the playground. We quickly became inseparable, spending long summer days adventuring in the woods behind my house, making up elaborate stories and pretending to be pirates, astronauts, superheroes. Corey was always better at voicing the male characters. Even then, I found myself staring a bit too long at his eyes when he really got into a role, so full of expression.
As we got older, our friendship changed, but never faded. We could go weeks without talking and then pick up right where we left off. He was the first person I called after my biggest breakups, victories, and defeats. Still, after all this time, no one understands me quite like Corey.
I wish I could say our timing has ever lined up. Whenever I’ve felt ready to admit my feelings, he’s been unavailable, either physically far away or emotionally withdrawn. And the rare times he’s seemed to reciprocate, I’ve chickened out, terrified to rupture the special bond we share.
But seeing him now, taller and broader than the scrawny kid I grew up with, with that familiar crooked smile… I find myself wondering…wondering if—
“Earth to Halle! You zoning out on me?” Corey laughs, snapping me back to the present.
“Sorry, just distracted by this handsome devil across from me,” I joke back. Well, half joke.
He shakes his head with a chuckle. “It’s been too long, Hal. You look amazing.”
“Not too bad yourself, stranger,” I smile. An understatement, as always.
We launch into our usual banter, catching up on work, family, friends. As always, he looks at me intently as I speak, making me feel like the most captivating person in the world. An hour flies by before I know it.
“How much longer are you in town?” I ask tentatively, afraid of the answer.
“I fly out tomorrow evening. But I’m all yours until then.” He grins. “What should we get up to?”
What I want to get up to is clear. I want to grab him by that strong jaw and kiss him right here and now. But the risk of losing what we have holds me back once again.
“Hmm, what trouble can we stir up…” I tap my chin playfully. “Got it. There’s a retro arcade that just opened downtown. Bet I can still destroy you at skeeball.”
He laughs, “You’re on! Loser buys dinner?”
“Deal,” I say with a wink. I reach across the table and squeeze his hand lightly. His eyes lock with mine for a moment before he gently squeezes back. It feels like a promise. A promise that this time, maybe things will be different.
As we leave the café together, I loop my arm through his, walking close by his side. I let my hip gently bump his with each step, thrilling at our closeness. His woodsy scent surrounds me, and I have to resist stretching up to breathe it in along his neck.
I smile up at Corey, heart fluttering as his arm flexes beneath my touch. I long to reach up and run my hands through his dark waves, pull him down towards me. His laughter rings out, and I feel weak in the knees–how is it possible he’s gotten even more attractive over the years?
I catch his gaze flick down to my lips, and I bite the corner of my mouth instinctively. I feel a blush rise on my cheeks at the desire in his eyes. Unable to resist, I trace my fingertips slowly along his forearm. I hear his breath hitch, and I know I’m not imagining the heat between us.
As we near the arcade, I gain courage. Standing on tiptoes, I graze my lips lightly along his stubbled cheek. “Thanks for meeting up with me,” I whisper, squeezing his arm.
Corey’s eyes meet mine, dark and wanting. He takes my hand, running his thumb along my knuckles. “Of course,” he says simply. Silence suffices in this perfect moment. He may be leaving tomorrow, but after years of holding back, today crackles with a potential I haven’t felt before; like the start of something destined. My heart is ready to take the leap. And I sense Corey’s is, too.
Sitting there with Halle felt just as natural as always, but different too. They had always shared an easy rapport, ever since they were kids. But seeing her now, noticing the way she moved, the sound of her laugh…it stirred new feelings in Corey he couldn’t ignore.
They had first met on the playground in third grade. Corey remembered being shocked when this confident girl had marched up and started chatting with him, the quiet new kid. But Halle had never cared about things like popularity. She had seen Corey, really seen him. And to his surprise, she had seemed to like what she saw.
The years had flown by in sleepovers, movie marathons, and endless conversations about life’s big mysteries. They had been two peas in a pod. Wherever Halle went, Corey had followed. He had treasured their closeness, but had found himself wanting more and more. The innocent love Corey felt for his best friend had slowly transformed into a deeper longing as they entered their turbulent teen years.
Corey had never dared speak those desires aloud, terrified to upset the balance they’d found. He had convinced himself Halle saw him as a brother, that she could never feel the same. So, Corey had bottled his real feelings, savoring their precious time together.
But now, sitting across from the stunning woman Halle had become, Corey felt that spark reigniting. The way she looked at him, her flirty tone…maybe she wanted this too?
No, Corey thought. He must be misreading signals, as usual. Wishful thinking. He knew if he ever confessed his feelings, and Halle didn’t reciprocate, he would lose her forever. That thought was too painful to face.
They chatted and laughed effortlessly about their lives apart. Corey cherished these moments together, the only times he felt fully known and understood.
As they chatted, Corey noticed Halle’s eyes glaze over, lost in thought. “Earth to Halle!” he had laughed. “You zoning out on me?”
She had blinked, resetting with a joke about being distracted by a handsome devil. They fell into easy banter, catching up on their lives apart.
“So, how’s the writing going?” he asked. “Any new bestsellers in the works?”
Her eyes lit up. “I’m so glad you asked! I’m actually working on this new romance novel set in the 1920s. It’s about a young socialite who falls for a rugged archaeologist on a dig in Egypt. Lots of adventure, forbidden love, steamy moments in the desert,” she said with a wink.
He grinned, picturing Halle pouring her brilliant mind into crafting this elaborate world. “That sounds amazing. When do I get an autographed first copy?”
She playfully swatted his arm. “Oh stop, you know you’ll get the very first one hot off the press.”
Hot. Precisely how he felt.
They continued chatting, and he soaked up her radiance, treasuring this time together.
Halle recounted funny travel mishaps, her hands waving animatedly. He was enthralled by her storytelling, leaning in closely.
Too soon, their empty cups signaled time slipping away. “How much longer are you in town?” Halle asked, a touch of sadness in her voice.
He hesitated before answering. “I fly out tomorrow evening…”
Her face fell slightly. “Oh. That’s so soon.” An awkward beat passed between them. He fidgeted with his napkin, cursing the perpetual bad timing. Corey wished he could stay longer, wished his work didn’t have to take him away.
“But I’m all yours until then,” he smiled, hoping it would cheer her up. “What should we get up to?”
“Hmm, what trouble can we stir up…” she mused, her index finger tapping her chin playfully as a mischievous glint danced in her eyes. “Got it. There’s a retro arcade that just opened downtown. Bet I can still destroy you at skeeball.”
He laughed, “You’re on! Loser buys dinner?”
“Deal,” she replied with a sly wink. Leaning across the table, she reached for his hand, her fingers lightly brushing against his skin. Their playful banter hung in the air, a magnetic tension between them. Their eyes locked, something charged and weighty passing through.
As they exited the café, Halle looped her arm through Corey’s, walking close by his side. Her floral scent surrounded him, and Corey had to resist the urge to pull her even closer.
Halle smiled up at Corey, eyes bright. She lightly ran her fingers along his arm, sending a rush of excitement coursing through him. Corey wanted to freeze that moment and live in it forever.
They continued on, her hip bumping his with each step. Corey rubbed his thumb along her arm, unable to resist showing small affection. Her touch ignited his longing for more.
Corey caught her gaze flick down to his lips, and he instinctively wet them in response. Did she truly want him as he wanted her? After years of restraint, Corey didn’t dare assume. But the energy between them felt different, full of heat and promise.
As they neared the arcade, Halle grazed her lips along Corey’s cheek in a feather-light kiss. “Thanks for meeting up with me today,” she whispered, giving his arm a squeeze. Corey’s heart pounded at her touch.
Corey took her hand, gently running his thumb over her smooth skin. Their eyes met, and he recognized the look staring back at him, because he often saw it in his own reflection whenever he thought about her. Hunger. “Of course,” he replied, his voice low.
In that charged slice of time, the world around them faded away, and no more words were needed. The promise of what lay ahead crackled in the air, igniting a spark that had the potential to rewrite their story.
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