<i> Thank you to everyone who read the first part! This part is still based on establishing relationships. No sex yet, but coming soon.</i>
I stood looking at myself in the full length mirror behind the bathroom door. My dress was almost lime green, but a duller and darker than what is normally attributed to the color. It hung rather fitted along my chest and stomach, with straps falling to the sides of my shoulders, and at the hips it cascaded downward in a silky flow. My hair was left straight down, falling near the middle of my back. I wore very little make up and only managed one inch heels the same color as my dress.
If I were being honest with myself, I would say that I actually didn't look as ridiculous as I had first thought I would. In fact, I looked pretty. Older. A bit more mature.
“Holly?” My brother tapped lightly on the door before pushing it open. “I need to go pick up Ashl... wow.” His head came around the door and he saw me. Slowly, his eyes traveled from my shoes to my barely made-up face. “Wow, Holly. You look amazing. That dress is perfect for you. Who ever would have through my baby sister not only would be wearing a dress, but would actually look this good in one.” Stepping forward, he wrapped his arms around me.
“You're beautiful, Holl. I have to go pick up Ashley, but we'll be doing pictures here, so I'll be back soon. Riley should be on his way over, so listen for the door. Love you, sis.” Giving me a playful pat on the head, he left and closed the door behind him.
I wandered back into my room and started looking at all the old pictures that were framed on my walls. Riley and Jon had been friends for as long as I could remember. Most of the pictures had me standing in between them, both of their arms around me and all of our smiles wide and genuine.
“Holly?” I heard my name from the first floor of the house. Riley had long surpassed the point of letting himself in. “Holls?”
“Just one second!” Suddenly, I felt nervous. Riley had seen me a million times before, in a random assortment of attire, but I could not remember ever having cared about his opinion on the matter before. This was different. Part of prom was dressing up, showing off your personality with your dress and your hair and your makeup. I wanted the way I looked to say something about me. I wanted 'simply beautiful'. With a calming deep breath, I stepped out of my room and began down the stairs.
He was not immediately by the door, but stood a little deeper in the living room, his back to me as he looked at the pictures framed on the wall. “Riley?” Why was my voice so close to shaking?
Slowly, he turned, a polite smile on his face. Our eyes met, then he scanned downward, his smile fading gently as he did, though to an expression far from disappointment. For too long, I stood on the last step of the staircase, watching him look at me. For someone I usually only saw in torn up jeans and a t-shirt, a suit was perfect on him. Everything was black – jacket, vest, shirt, pants – except the green tie I had picked out for him, one that matched the color of my dress perfectly. I was just as lost looking at him as he seemed to be looking at me.
At the same time, we both opened out mouths to speak, then closed them to allow the other to go first. A timid, good natured laugh followed, though we were saved by the door opening. “Time for pictures!” Jon proclaimed, ushering his date inside, being followed behind by some of his other friends, their dates, and random assorted parents.
Riley took his place behind or next to me, depending on where the parents positioned us. He placed his warm hands on my waist or my arm. He rested his chin on top of my head and his elbow on my shoulder, joking around and smiling the entire time. By the time I pinned his flower on him, I was completely at ease and my face hurt from smiling, though none of it had been forced.
“Mother's worst nightmare. Okay, time for the garters, boys!” One of the mother's called out during the picture taking process.
“Watch your hands, Riley.” My brother threatened, teasingly as he pulled his date to another part of the room, “That's my baby sister there.” The mothers laughed at the exchange, and began snapping pictures of the boys removing the garter from their date's legs.
Neither my parents nor Riley's were in attendance, meaning it wasn't truly a photo opportunity for us. “If it makes you uncomfortable, Holls, you can just hand it to me.”
I put my foot up on the second step of the stairs, giving him what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “It's okay. I trust you.” Slowly, I pulled the skirt of my dress upward until it rose just past my knee. Truthfully, I was more nervous than I should have been. How many times had Riley seen me in my swimsuit? How many times had he picked me up and thrown me in the lake, touched my bare skin? Why should him removing my garter be a big deal?
He took a step toward me, reaching out with shaky hands until his fingers brushed my skin. Looking up, he met my eyes, and my smile widened. Our eyes stayed together as he folded his warm fingertips underneath the frilly fabric and began to move it downward, over my knee, across my calf, to my ankle and then over my shoe. The moment seemed locked in time, unreal, and I couldn't help but wonder how long we stood there.
Hours later I had finished a three course meal, all the boys had removed their jackets and many of the girls had abandoned their shoes, though I chose to keep mine on. I had danced with all of Jon's friends as per their request, and I hoped that none of their dates minded as I was twirled and twisted.
Riley would offer to dance with the abandoned date each time it happened, but only about half a song would pass by before he would ask to cut back in with his own date. “You just want to keep her all to yourself, don't you?” One of the boys accused when this happened to him.
“She is my date,” he responded with a smile, before putting his hands on my waist and pulling me closer to him.
“What is it?” I asked as my hands found their comfortable place, locked behind his neck. I saw something in his eyes that I didn't quite recognize.
“You look uncomfortable or... I don't know... like you're stressing about something. What is it?”
“Oh, it's nothing.” Even if he hadn't broken eye contact with me in that moment, I would have known he was lying.
“Please tell me.”
There was a minute hesitation before he gave me a weary smile. “Notice how Jon's friends are fighting over you, tonight? They're all really eager to dance with you.” I definitely hadn't thought of it as fighting, nor had I recognized any of them as having wanted to dance with me for any reason other than for the sake of fun.
“I think you're exaggerating a bit there.”
His eyes were on me, the full force of their green unleashed. Yet they were still gentle and unaccusing. “I think you are underestimating how amazing you look.” My heart stopped as I struggled to remember how to breath. The sincerity of his words rose goosebumps along my spine. His whole face lightened then and fell back into the fun smile I was more accustomed to.
Gently, he lifted a hand from my waist and brushed the bangs out of my face, looking at me thoughtfully. “You really do look incredible, tonight. You picked the perfect dress for you. Everything about you tonight is...breath taking. But I think you may have just caused them to realize that you're not that little girl who used to tag along behind us anymore. You've grown up.”
All at once, I was aware of how close our bodies were, of his hand on my waist and on my face and my own hands touching the skin of his neck. I found myself studying his face, no longer overtaken by baby fat, but well chiseled and defined, though some of the boyish charm remained. “I'm really glad I asked you to come. I never could have had this much fun with anyone else.”
Before I could respond, Tim came up behind Riley. “Beach bonfire right after this. Jon said she could come,” he nodded toward me, “but he wants to drink some, so...” Translation: Riley had to stay sober or I had to go home.
“It's alright, you guys can drop me off beforehand.”
“It's alright, I won't be drinking anyway.” Our responses overlapped, and he turned his attention to me softly. “When have you ever seen me drink, Holls?”
Honestly, I never had, nor had I ever heard him talk about drinking. Jon didn't do it much, but I at least knew that he did on occasion. “I figured you just didn't when I was around. I mean, someone had to refrain if I was there.”
“Well, I mean, yeah, I wouldn't think of drinking in front of you if I did drink, but it's never really interested me anyway, so don't worry about it. Come to the beach; I want you to.”
I needed no further convincing.
“Hey Riley?” As we were walking out of the hotel where I prom was held, the only one to speak of in our small town, I pulled on his arm to slow him down. He looked down at me, confusion across his features. “Who is that?” Riley followed my gaze across the dark parking lot to a black haired boy who stood next to a restored classic car. The boy was looking at me, without hesitation, and it was not the first time that night I had noticed him doing so.
“Dean.” Riley's voice was flat as he answered my question, showing an obvious dislike that was uncharacteristic of him. “He's a junior. Trouble maker, always has been.”
“Why is he looking at me?”
“I don't know, but I don't like it. Come on, let's go.” The harshness eased a bit as he urged me toward his car, but I couldn't help glancing back at the dark eyes that followed me across the lot.
“WOOO! We're done, boys!” All the dates, likely to their dismay, had already been dropped off, and the rest of us lounged in our formal-wear in the sand of the beach. Again, I was the lone girl, though I did not let this bother me as I hopped around barefoot, mushing my toes into the sand.
"We still have finals, dumbass.” Jon laughed in response as he took another sip from his beer. True to his word, Riley had nothing more than water, though the liquor was flowing freely among the others.
“Holly. Holly Holly Holly.” Tim slung his arm around my shoulder and leaned down close to me. “Have I told you tonight how utterly stunning you look tonight?” His fingers toyed with the strap of my dress, though in a playful rather than creepy way. The words were all too familiarly slurred.
“I think you've had a few too many, Tim.”
“No seriously. You are... wow... you're not twelve years old any more.”
“Hey, man, don't monopolize the only girl here. Selfish much.” Another of Jon's friends sauntered over putting an arm around my shoulder from the other direction. “She needs to know that she has options.”
“In case you two have forgotten,” Riley managed to wiggle me out from between both of them with a single movement, “she is still my date. If anyone is going to monopolize her, I technically have dibs.” Drunkenly rolling their eyes, they stepped away and went for more to drink.
“Thanks, Riley.” Rubbing his hands up and down my arms, he smiled, telling me wordlessly that it was nothing.
“Wow, you're arms are freezing, Holls. Come over by the fire.” His fingers slipped in between mine as he took my hand and led me over to the small fire (only referred to as a bonfire for the sake of tradition) in the center of the sand. The act was simple, merely grabbing my hand in order to lead me over, but all the nerves in my hand seemed to ignite at once. Not only was my hand in his, but he had intertwined his fingers with mine. Something in the action excited me.
“Come here.” He sat and pulled me with him, directing my body between his legs. For a moment, I sat stiffly, not sure how to react to the intimacy of the position. 'Best friend's little sister', that was how he always referred to me. That was how he thought of me.
“I'd offer you my jacket, but I know you'd refuse.”
“Then <i>you'd</i> just be cold.” We said together, his in a mocking tone, and the harmony of our laughter relaxed me a bit. “How about a compromise?” Removing his arms from the sleeves of his coat, he wrapped them around my middle and pulled me closer. My heart stopped in my chest at his touch, gentle and warm, yet firm. “Pull it closed,” he whispered against my ear, momentarily leaving me almost completely unable to translate his speech to thought.
Luckily, my hands moved on their own, and reached to wrap the front of his coat around my own body. Already I felt warmer, though I wasn't sure much of the blame for that was lying with the fire or as a direct result of his coat. Though the heat of the fire on my face did begin to make me sleepy. Slowly, I allowed my body to relax until my full weight was against his firm body.
“You really did look amazing tonight, Holls. You still do.” The whispered words were just for me, again spoken right into my ear. He moved his knees in closer, and I was wrapped in his body even more. I couldn't remember ever having felt so comfortable before. I thought of all the nights that Riley had saved me from my arguing parents. How many nights I ended in his arms. I thought of how safe I felt wrapped up in him.
Even as my heart raced, my eyes grew heavier and heavier. My body was slumping further against his. One Riley's hands came up and ran through the hair that fell across my face. “You must be really tired. It's almost three in the morning.”
“I'm fine.” I mumbled, none too convincingly.
“It's okay to go to sleep.” I didn't want to. I wanted to stay awake and make the night last forever. I wanted to be able to remind myself that it wasn't a dream. But it was getting harder and harder to resist the pull against my eyes and the fuzzy stage my thoughts floated toward. His arms wrapped tighter. “Go to sleep, Holls. I'll hold you until you do. I'll always be here to hold you...”