"Bowling?" She liked Emmett, she really did, but he had some extremely odd hobbies. The video games she supposed were normal for a guy, collecting Transformers was kind of weird but still in line with being a nerd, but bowling? Wasn't that something only middle-aged men did? Casting her gaze down the long stretch of bowling lanes, Elle found plenty of evidence for that assumption. She and Emmett were probably the only people under fifty at the bowling alley that evening. Oh well. At least it meant that no one she knew would see her wearing these totally unfashionable bowling shoes. Certain colors should not be paired together.
"C'mon, don't tell me you've never been bowling before," Emmett said, chuckling.
Elle shook her head vehemently.
"Well, I'll show you what to do. It's fun!" Emmett pointed to a lane. "We're at lane seven. You go put on your shoes, and I'll get bowling balls for us."
Elle held up the bowling shoes and looked at them with exaggerated horror. Then, heaving a sigh, she went to do as Emmett had said, unable to keep from smiling as she heard Emmett laugh. Ugly shoes or not, it was good to be able to spend time with her friend again. The commotion of Brooke's trial last week had made life too hectic for normal things like hanging out with Emmett or visiting Paulette to chat.
Life had gone back to normal by now, though. Too normal, really, considering that Emmett had all but told Elle he loved her that night when she was bent on going back to California. Since then, though, nothing more had been said on the subject. Had he meant it? Elle had been turning the question over and over in her head at night while lying in bed. If he really was in love with her, why hadn't Emmett told her so again? Why was he, why were they both acting like nothing had happened? Of course, back when Elle and Warner had been dating, they hadn't been shy about saying how much they loved each other. But Emmett wasn't Warner, and while all of Warner's confessions of love had turned out to be empty in the end, Elle just knew that if Emmett said something that important, he would mean it.
A loud thump startled Elle back to reality. She looked over at where Emmett had plunked a pink bowling ball down on the ball return. He grinned at her and then set down his own ball, which was dark green. "Having trouble with shoes that aren't heels?" he asked, nodding at the bowling shoes which were still in Elle's hands.
"Oh!" Elle blushed. She'd been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hadn't even put the shoes on. "I was just working up the nerve to put something so ugly on my feet," she quipped, feeling pleased when she won a chuckle from Emmett. Elle slipped off her pink flats and laced up the bowling shoes.
Emmett also switched to bowling shoes, and then entered their names into the little computer at their lane. "There, all set," he said, gesturing to the large screen suspended from the ceiling. "Our scores will show there. You're up first. Go ahead and grab the bowling ball."
"Uh, okay." Well, how hard could it be, after all? Sure, Elle had never gone bowling before, but all you had to do was throw the ball down the lane and hit the pins. It wasn't exactly rocket science – or even law.
The first sign that this might not be as easy as it looked came when Elle picked up the bowling ball. Sticking her fingers and thumb into the holes in the ball, just like she'd seen people do on television, Elle nearly dropped the bowling ball on her fugly-clad feet before she grabbed it with her other hand.
"You all right?" Emmett asked, hovering next to her. "I tried to get a light ball…"
"I'm fine," said Elle. "Just didn't expect the weight, that's all." She cradled the ball against her side with one hand, flicked some of her long blonde hair out of her face with the other, and approached the edge of the bowling lane. Using the hand that didn't have fingers inside the bowling ball to support the ball's weight, Elle drew back and then heaved the bowling ball down the lane. It caught a short amount of air before hitting the wood with a loud thunk. The ball then proceeded to roll down the bowling lane at a snail's pace, veering ever so slightly to the right as it went. Right as it approached the pins, the ball clipped the rightmost pin, causing it to wobble and finally fall even as the ball itself rolled away into the gutter to be cycled up through the ball return.
Elle turned to Emmett with a hangdog look.
"Uh, well, it does take a little time to get the hang of it," he said. "Here, when your ball comes back, I'll give you some pointers. Now," he said once Elle had the bowling ball in hand, "the first thing is how you approach the line. See?" He demonstrated an approach. "And of course, how you hold the ball matters too." Emmett picked up his own ball to demonstrate, then set it back down. "Uh, actually, maybe it would be easier if I showed you with your ball."
"All right," said Elle, and then all of the sudden Emmett was standing next to her, his hands on hers as he adjusted her grip on the bowling ball. Elle found it hard to focus on bowling. The fuzzy pink sweater she was wearing suddenly seemed too warm for the bowling alley. Really, this shouldn't have been a big deal. She and Emmett touched each other often enough; they were friends, after all. A casual punch on the arm or a hug when one of them was having a bad day, those were usual. But until recently, Elle hadn't considered Emmett as a guy. He was Emmett, her friend, the one person who believed in her when no one else did. But now she was seeing him in a slightly different light. Under the fluorescent lights of the bowling alley, she was noticing for the first time the curve of his jaw, the way his slightly unkempt hair fell over his forehead, the way his brown eyes looked into hers…
"Elle? Did you space out there?"
Elle realized that she'd been staring into Emmett's eyes and tore her gaze away, trying in vain not to blush. "Oh, just a little. Sorry. I think I've got the hang of this."
Emmett raised his eyebrows. "Well, all right. Let's see what you've got."
Elle tried in vain to remember any of what Emmett had been telling her about how to throw a bowling ball. Unable to recall anything, she just repeated what she'd tried with her first ball, only giving it a little more power. The results were identical; she only hit the side pin. Elle turned to Emmett and gave him a sheepish shrug.
Emmett chuckled. "Well, it does take practice. I'm not that good myself." After the lane reset, he took his turn, knocking down a solid eight pins and taking the remaining two with his second ball to get a spare.
When it was Elle's turn again, she quickly took her ball and stepped up before Emmett could offer to show her the technique again. She'd been watching him as he bowled, and while, yes, a good part of her observation focused on how graceful and powerful his movements were and the way she could see the strong muscles in his arm as he released the bowling ball, she had noted his footwork, the approach he'd tried to show her before, and how he cradled the ball to aim it. Maybe she'd picked up enough to at least get two pins in one shot.
Her observation paid off. Two pins went down, then three with the second ball. Elle and Emmett bowled their way through ten frames, Emmett picking up several spares and a couple of strikes along the way, and Elle limping along with two pins here, three there, and a gutter ball or two.
Try as she might, Elle couldn't help the way her eyes were drawn to Emmett, studying him as she hadn't before. It was ridiculous, really, that she should be so worked up over a guy. Back at UCLA, there hadn't been a single guy on campus that Elle couldn't have gotten to go out with her, and if she'd wanted to, she probably could have gotten most of the committed guys, too (not that she'd ever do that to another girl, though). And this was Emmett, who she already knew and who had already pretty much confessed his feelings for her. So why was it such a big deal to bring the matter up?
The matter occupied Elle's mind all the way through the rest of the game and during snacks afterwards (nachos and drinks – beer for Emmett, a wine cooler for Elle). Before she knew it, they were walking back to her dorm room.
"I said, is anything wrong?"
Elle snapped back to reality to see Emmett waving a hand in front of her face. He was smiling, but she could see the worried furrows in his brow. Elle took a deep breath. Fine. She'd say something. There was no reason not to, after all.
"Oh, well, no, there's nothing wrong, per se…" She fiddled with one of the bangles she wore. "Um… Emmett…" Just say it, girl! "The other day, when I was planning to go back to California, you said you-"
"It's fine," said Emmett, holding up a hand. "Don't worry about it. We're best friends, right?" He extended his hand, probably wanting to do their secret handshake.
Elle took his hand in both of hers. "Emmett. Hello. We're friends, right? So you can tell me. I- I just wanted to know if you meant that. What you said that night." So much for confidence. But she managed to hold his gaze while waiting for an answer.
"Elle… Of course I meant it." Emmett brought up his free hand and put it over hers. "I'm crazy about you. You're smart, you're beautiful, you're kind. You're my best friend, and… I'm in love with you."
"Why didn't you say something, dummy?" Elle asked, a relieved giggle escaping her. She threw her arms around Emmett in a crushing hug.
"I… Uh…" Emmett seemed to be having difficulty speaking. "Then you…?"
"Good. Good! That's- That's great!" And just as Elle, her arms still wrapped around Emmett, was despairing that he had forgotten the next step, his hands were cradling her face and pulling her into a kiss. And as Emmett had just been saying, it was indeed good. Very good.
"You have no idea how long I've been wanting to do that," Emmett said when they pulled apart, his fingers gently tracing her features.
"Since you saw me in that bunny girl costume, I'll bet," Elle joked.
"I don't suppose you still have that?"
Elle laughed and smacked him lightly. "What was that about liking me for my brains?"
"Right, right, it's what's on the inside that counts," Emmett said, chuckling. "Speaking of which, don't you have an exam on Tuesday? Shouldn't you be studying?"
Elle groaned. "Way to spoil my mood."
"I'll help you study if you want," said Emmett.
"I wasn't going to take no for an answer," Elle replied, taking Emmett by the wrist and towing him to her room. She stopped, adding, "But I think we'll be able to make studying fun this time," and kissing his cheek before marching on. Just like before, Elle felt that things were finally back to normal, but this was a new, better kind of normal. She and Emmett were still friends, only better than ever. Looking over her shoulder at his smiling, familiar face, Elle felt that she could get used to this.