She knocked on Nick and George’s door, one hand wrapped around the strap of her bag, the other tapping an staccato rhythm on her denim covered thigh.
Sweat slicked her hands but she tried to exude an air of confidence despite the churning in her belly, like the crashing of storm tossed seas against the shore.
Nancy didn’t even know if he would be here but she had to see him — a sudden urge that she hadn’t been able to squelch with her community liaison-ing or a trip to the coffee shop to lose herself in research over the next lead in the Frozen Hearts killer case. Images of what had transpired in her dreams-slash-nightmares playing on a constant loop in her head, a film reel that she wanted to keep watching even though she knew it was further from the truth than she hoped.
A door slammed down the hall and she turned, the brick-walled hallways warm despite the chill in the air outside, when the door in front of her clicked open and she was face to face with Ace.
“Hey!” Nancy’s voice sounded false to her own ears — too bright and plastic — but she didn’t know how to act around him now that she was slowly coming to realize her feelings. Though they were as new as a budding blossom on an apple tree, she felt that they went as deep as the roots anchoring the trunk to the earth and the depth of the feelings scared her.
“Hi.” Ace’s voice was soft, not particularly deep, but raspy and just the simple sound of his voice shook her to the core as the memory of the words he had spoken in her dream washed over her.
Silence stretched between them like the beams of sunlight painting the wooden floors in the hallway and Nancy felt like this was the first time in her life that she had been left speechless in the face of adversity — no matter that the adversity had to do with her emotions and not the intricacies of human life as was the typical case.
“What are you doing here?” Seemed like a rather blunt statement coming from Ace but his body language seemed so much easier than hers as he stood in the doorway, one hand braced on the doorframe.
“I— well, I was in the neighborhood.” She had to laugh as she watched the play of amusement on his face. Horseshoe Bay was a small town, anywhere was practically the neighborhood in proximity to Nick and George’s place on Main Street.
“Fair enough.” Ace ducked his head, backing away so she could walk through the doorway but she didn’t miss the pop of a dimple in his cheek as he swallowed and she had to wonder at his reaction in accordance with her own.
The apartment was clean and glittering with dust motes floating through sunbeams emerging from the shining cherry wood blinds. The smell of wood paneling and leather upholstery brought to mind all the times she had been in her father’s law office, somehow comforting and familiar, but the decor was more modern than traditional.
Ace shoved his hands in his pockets as he moved towards the small kitchenette and she watched the play of his shirt over his shoulders as he moved to grab a mug from the cabinet above the coffee pot.
“Coffee?” He asked, half turning, bangs drooping over his forehead in a cascade that made her fingers itch with the urge to push the hair back.
“Um, sure.” Nancy dropped her bag onto the sofa and crossed to the island in the middle of the kitchen.
The sound of liquid pouring into a mug was loud in the quiet of the apartment, peppered by the rush of tires and the muted sound of pedestrians' conversations floating upwards towards the apartment windows.
“Sugar, right? No cream.”
“Yes. Thank you.” Nancy curved a smile at Ace as he handed the warm mug over to her, ducking her head to watch the dark brown liquid swirling from the motion of the spoon to fend off the anxious butterflies in her stomach.
“Welcome.” He replied, taking a sip of his coffee as he leaned against the far countertop.
The words were on the tip of her tongue as she gripped the mug in fingers that ached but glancing back up at him, she couldn’t ignore the quizzical frown he was wearing.
“What?” She asked, leaning her elbows on the island, trying to ignore the uptick of her breath as he stepped to the edge of the counter on the other side. The kitchen island made up of wood and granite, somehow more like a real barrier than the unspoken thing that hung in the air between them.
“Nothing.” He shrugged but she didn’t miss the way his gaze shifted away from hers.
“Come on. I know that look. What’s wrong?”
Ace shook his head, setting his mug down on the counter with a clink.
“You think I don’t know you.” Nancy felt a scoff bubbling up in her chest and she turned away because she didn’t want to see betrayal in his eyes.
“Nancy… I didn’t say that.”
She bit her lip, the sting of tears clouding her eyes though she truly didn’t understand why his refusal to open up to her was upsetting her so much.
“Look. I’m sorry.” She heard the sound of his footsteps crossing the floor and she moved further away, fingers gripping the buttery ridge of the couch in an attempt to ground herself.
“I didn’t…” His movements stopped and she stared down at the green leather till it blurred in front of her eyes.
The coffee pot beeped as it shut off and the quiet stretched longer than the afternoon shadows as she tried to control her irrational emotions.
She didn’t want to cry, she hated it actually. Would only fall into the trap when she could no longer contain her emotions.
She knew she could cry in front of Ace and he would comfort her but she didn’t want him to feel any obligation towards her. She wanted him to offer his heart in exchange for her own but how could he when she couldn’t even let him close enough to touch.
“No. I’m sorry.” She finally turned around, unconsciously crossing her arms as a temporary barrier between them. “I shouldn’t have come here if I was just going to fly into an emotional tantrum. I— I have no excuse.”
“Nancy…” Ace’s voice trailed off and she wanted to back away as he moved closer but the back of the couch blocked her. She had nowhere to escape to.
“You’re not— I mean, it’s fine. I was being standoffish so it’s not entirely your fault.”
Nancy’s gaze caught on his blue one and she couldn’t look away, then he was reaching across the space between them. His hand wrapped around her wrist and tugged gently and she had no other option but to let him.
The touch of his hand left a smattering of goosebumps across her skin, shooting up her arm and across the skin of her chest until she felt lit up from within.
A small gasp escaped and her attention narrowed to the gap between their bodies that felt as immense as the Grand Canyon yet as miniscule as a crack in a sidewalk. What would it take to leap that boundary? If only she didn’t feel so tongue tied.
“You don’t even realize, do you?”
“What?” Nancy paused before speaking, the touch of him — skin on skin — was distracting and she could barely formulate thoughts, much less coherent sentences. “Realize what?”
“What the sight of you does to me?”
“It doesn’t matter where we are or what’s happening around us. It’s like stepping out into the morning, catching your breath sharply because of the shock of the cold air hitting your lungs. I mean… I may have looked over some poetry to come up with that line. But it’s the closest I could come to a description.”
Nancy’s brain whirled with thoughts but nothing would come out of her mouth in response. Her eyes searched for some glimpse of falsities but his gaze was as earnest as it had always been and she closed her mouth sharply.
“It isn’t that I don’t want to let you in. It’s just— frightening.”
Nancy found herself shaking her head, almost violently, in agreement.
“What we have— it’s just too precious. I don’t want to destroy whatever this is if it means we won’t have anything.” Ace’s glance dropped to his hand still wrapped around her wrist and she twisted her arm until he let go, but she didn’t let him go completely, grabbing ahold of his hands in turn.
“I know. I— I wasn’t coming here because I was in the neighborhood. I— I never told you what really happened in my Sandman dream. It was…” Nancy swallowed hard, the butterflies in her stomach flying up into her throat in an attempt to choke her but she had to get this out. “Sensual. We were… together and it just woke something inside of me. Like I told you at the youth center… there were instincts I hadn’t followed.”
Nancy felt like a dam that had burst but now that she was standing here after telling him everything she felt, she felt better, not drained but liberated.
“We were together?” He echoed, a small frown creasing the skin between his eyebrows and she almost sighed because she had to explain more in depth.
She felt a blush suffusing her cheeks and it was her turn to look down at their hands.
Normally, Nancy wasn’t shy. She went for what she wanted without a second thought because she was determined but explaining an erotic dream she had about the guy she had a crush on — to him — was taking every ounce of her confidence.
“Yes. You— you said, in the dream, how you weren’t afraid anymore. And I thought you were talking about dying but then— then you…” Nancy couldn’t get the words to come out. She swore it was like a spell had been cast and her thoughts weren’t filtering from her brain to her vocal
chords and out her mouth.
Ace continued to watch her, confusion like a shroud over his normally easy expression and she couldn’t leave him hanging but she couldn’t spit it out, so she did the only thing she could think of.
“You did this.”
And she kissed him. Just like in the dream she kissed his neck and she wasn’t sure whether he was just as confused as he was prior to her actions but his hands found her arms and he was pulling her closer as her lips crossed the skin of his throat.
His pulse raced just like hers and her hands gripped his shirt with both hands with an unyielding grip. She wanted to draw him closer, to feel the press of the couch against her back and the tension of his body against hers but she needed to know what he was thinking even more, so she pulled back though she couldn’t make herself let him go.
His eyes were closed. Eyelids fluttering open slowly as if he thought he was dreaming.
Nancy should have been worried that Nick and George were going to show up and ruin this tenuous moment between them but she knew they had gone off on a romantic weekend to the nearby mountains for hiking and camping so they wouldn’t be disturbed. Not that she had planned on anything happening, she had just wanted to tell Ace how she felt but now the weight of being alone together settled heavily on her.
“Your dream was much better than mine.” He finally mumbled and she smiled, too ecstatic to mention how the dream had so suddenly turned to a nightmare before she woke up. She couldn’t ruin this moment with the thought of death.
Before she knew it, his hands were on her cheeks, his lips burning against hers like a brand and she didn’t want to escape anymore.
The warmth of the room seemed to ratchet up ten degrees and yet the surrounding atmosphere seemed to disappear as they got lost in each other.
No longer were there tentative glances but determined touches, no longer hidden feelings only blatant movements, words had been expressed but now kisses spoke more eloquently.
Nancy didn’t know how the Sandman had so easily reached into her subconscious and planted such a fantasy but being kissed by Ace was just as tantalizing as her dream but especially more so now that it was real.
The spark of their kiss shot through her, sending tingling awareness along her nerve endings, her
body begging for more of the otherworldly sensations that were being created between them.
She moaned into his mouth, the sound loud
in her ears as he deepened the kiss. His hands slipped down to her waist and over till his thumbs dipped into the curve of her hips sending an even sharper bolt of desire through her.
They eventually had to break for a breath, for no matter how much she wished that the moment could go on forever, her body's need for air was stronger.
Ace pressed his forehead against hers and she couldn’t help but release what sounded like a giggle.
“What?” He asked on an exhalation as she burrowed her way closer so that her head was tucked beneath his chin.
“Nothing. I was just so scared to come here today. I mean— I wanted to. I just felt like I didn’t have a choice or I might explode but it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. In hindsight.”
One of Ace’s hands lifted to the back of her neck, his fingers soft and strong as they wove through her hair then came to rest on her lower back.
“You never have to be scared to tell me anything.” He breathed as she felt the press of a kiss on the side of her head.
“I know that, now.” She replied, lifting her chin to press a brief kiss to his lips.
“Now that you’ve gotten that off your chest.”
“Shut up.” She shoved at his shoulders, laughing as he pressed her back against the couch with his body.
His smile was brighter than she had ever seen it as he wrapped her in a hug and Nancy knew that she would never be over the joy that was also bubbling up inside of her. They didn’t have it all figured out, there was still a killer on the loose and she still didn’t know what she was going to do with her life but right now, she was happy and that was all that mattered.