Archie doesn't hear his door open.
"Valerie!" He jumps to his feet as he catches sight of her, his eyes wide while a blush warms his cheeks to the same red hue as his hair.
"I didn't catch you doing anything you shouldn't be, did I, Andrews?" Her eyes glitter as she glances around the room. "What are you doing?"
"Just..." God, why does he feel so awkward? "...listening to my music. I didn't hear you come in, sorry." He moves to turn the audio off, fingers already outstretched toward his computer keyboard when Valerie interrupts.
"No, it's fine," she says, waving a hand dismissively. "I like it; leave it on."
He hesitates, then lets his hand fall back to his side. "Okay. So, uh, what are you doing here?"
She gives him the same bright smile she always does. "Just checking up on you. Making sure you're still working--and that football hasn't completely taken over your life yet."
Slowly, he relaxes and gives her a little grin of his own. "It hasn't. Won't."
Valerie nods. "Good to hear." She crosses the room and, without invitation, sits down on the bed. He doesn't mind; in fact, he sits down beside her.
She's silent for a sold minute, and Archie knows she's absorbing the music. His heart races, desperate for approval and utterly terrified of rejection. This new song wasn't meant to be made public so soon.
"I like it," she says finally, and his shoulders sag in relief. "Why haven't I heard it before?"
He flinches, just slightly, and hopes it was subtle enough that she didn't notice. It's an awkward question, after all; he wrote this song in the wake of Grundy leaving, and he isn't sure how to explain--or carefully not explain--that fact to anyone who doesn't already know his shame. "It's kind of personal."
"The best songs always are."
The song ends... then starts again. Valerie raises a brow.
"It's on shuffle," he protests against her silent accusation. And it's the truth; it's just an unfortunate coincidence that his computer is now bearing his soul to her twice in a row.
She gives him the subtlest of laughs, barely more than an amused exhale but a laugh nonetheless. "I don't mind hearing it again."
He sits there beside her, both of them listening quietly, and he's hyper aware of her presence the entire time. He's still so anxious for judgment, and every slight shift is taken as a sign either good or bad.
Then, just as the song reaches the chorus for the second time, Archie feels Valerie's fingers touch the back of his hand.
He turns to her, startled, as the palm of her hand settles upon the back of his, and he finds her smiling at him again. The twinkle in her eyes is now as inviting as it is amused.
"You're good at this, Archie."
Her hand still rests idly on top of his own, and he can hardly think beneath the weight of it. He realizes in an instant that hasn't felt like this since those first days with Geraldine, and he's not sure what to make of that; not even being in that closet with Veronica gave him butterflies like these.
"At what?" he asks, throat suddenly as parched as a desert at noon.
Valerie laughs--a true, audible laugh this time--and pulls her hand away as she rises from the bed. "Music," she says, but surely there's more to what's happening than that. "Keep practicing. You could actually make it one day."
"Thanks," he croaks out, and by the time he realizes that she's going, she's nearly gone.
"I'll let you get back to it, then." The door closes between them before he can even say goodbye.
He sits there for a moment, surprised but pleased, and then he gets up, walks to his computer, and restarts the same song.
Perhaps a painful end can become a new beginning after all.