N is for: nail polish, Once and Again, Eli/Grace, for bohemiem. PG. 949 words.
Please fold clean laundry and put away was #4 on the list Lily left while she and Rick went on their abbreviated honeymoon to Lake Michigan, right between #3 (Tell Judy that Zoe needs to brush her teeth for two full minutes) and #5 (Have fun! Love, Mom), so on Friday Grace pulls a bunch of stuff out of the dryer and throws it in the basket to bring upstairs. She's on her own for the afternoon: Judy is staying at the house for the weekend, but Zoe really wanted to go see Monsters, Inc., so they said they'd pick up a pizza when it was done. Grace thought the movie looked kind of funny, actually, but watch her tag along and run into somebody from school on her way to see a cartoon with her aunt and little sister. Wouldn't be too embarrassing.
She leaves her mom's nightgowns and a stack of Rick's t-shirts on the bed in the room that used to belong to her parents, then drops some pajamas in Zoe's top drawer. A couple of her tank tops got mixed in with Jessie's, like they could ever share clothes in a million years, and once everything is where it's supposed to be she opens the door to the attic to drop off Eli's stuff. She's just going to leave the pile on the landing, but as her sneaker hits the second step she hears his voice: "Hey, I'm up here. Don't freak out."
Of course she freaks out--barks a small, stupid-sounding yelp and has to take a quick hop down to keep from losing her balance. God, she's been home the better part of an hour and he's been up there the whole time? "It's just me!" she calls. "Uh, Grace." Her first thought is that he probably has a girl up there and her second thought is to be sort of offended, weirdly, for herself and Carla both. "I have your laundry. I'll just...leave it here."
"I said don't freak out." He laughs a little, easy. "You can come up, Grace. Nobody's naked."
He's sitting on his bed in jeans and one of those ribbed tank tops he's started wearing lately, his hair spiked all over his head and a little bottle of black nail polish balanced on one knee. Grace swallows. They haven't been alone at all since the wedding, his gaze perpetually somewhere to her left. "Laundry," she repeats, holding up the pile, and it's like they realize at the exact same time that she's holding a stack of his boxer shorts. Just, of course she is. Grace can feel herself start to blush.
"Thanks," he says evenly. "Just anywhere is fine."
She drops them on the dresser, next to a stack of cds and a little bag of something green and leafy she thinks she's probably not supposed to see. "I thought you were staying with your mom," she blurts, which is stupid--he's eighteen, in theory he can sleep wherever he wants, chaperone or not. She just...wasn't expecting to see him here. "You know. 'Til they get back."
Eli shrugs, something like a smirk passing over his pretty features. "Missed the view, I guess."
Grace basically chokes on her tongue before she realizes he's nodding at the huge green branches outside the window. "Uh...yeah," she says, following his line of sight like the sycamore trees in their backyard are the most interesting thing she's ever laid eyes on. "It's nice."
"Uh-huh." He's got the bottle open and is painting his left thumbnail--patient, methodical. His tongue sticks out a little while he works. She used to think nail polish on guys was stupid but on Eli it's kind of intriguing, one more mystery to puzzle out. "So what," he says slowly, eyes on his fingers, "are you up to for the weekend?"
"Oh, I don't know," she replies, trying for casual, as if her plans include something other than watching SNL with Judy after Zoe is in bed. "This and that." She sits down next to him, which she guesses is okay since he doesn't say she can't, and also since she's pretty sure--like, sixty-five percent, which is passing--that he was going to kiss her the other night before Jessie came in. He smells like deodorant and deeper down like boy, the way the attic smells since he moved in here, the way her room smelled after he left. Grace looks at his hands for a minute, the ragged cuticles, nails bitten down. She watches.
"Shit. Uh," he says, slipping, catching the tip of his middle finger with the paint. "You're kind of making me nervous."
"Oh, God." She shakes her head and gets up quickly, and now she really is blushing. "Sorry."
"No, no, don't worry about it." Eli glances over at her and it looks like he's thinking about something, measuring it in his mind. He holds the bottle of nail polish out in her direction. "Actually, you want to help me out and just finish?"
"Um." Grace's heart does a weird thing inside her chest, like something is alive and burrowing in there. It suddenly occurs to her that her Chapstick is downstairs on the kitchen table in the outside pocket of her backpack, and as soon as she thinks it she licks her lips without meaning to. "Okay."
"Is that cool?" He shrugs again, like it's the most normal thing in the world. "Carla used to do them for me, but."
"But." Grace nods. "Yeah, sure, of course." She sits back down and takes the bottle, pushes her hair behind her ears. Eli smiles, like he's grateful. His palm is moist and heavy on her knee.
B is for: bruises, ER, Ray/Neela, for i_am_emily91. PG-13. 675 words.
Thursday night and they're chilling in the living room, a 12-rack of Yuengling and a mostly-gone sausage and pepperoni pie on the coffee table in front of them. It's possible they're a little drunk. Outside the snow is flinging itself at the windows like the end of the world, even though it's halfway through March. Fucking Chicago, Jesus Christ.
"Oh! So wait, listen to this," Ray says, turning around and looking up at her: he's sitting on the floor, to be closer to the pizza. "I actually can't believe this wasn't the first thing I said to you when I walked in the door. I had this guy today who tore both of his hamstrings--like, actually blew them out, he came in in a wheelchair--jerking off."
"What?" That gets Neela's attention; she's lying on the couch flipping channels, and she drops the remote and stares at him in what looks, frankly, like wonder. "Like...masturbating?"
Ray totally loses it. He throws his head back, cracking up, and the back of his skull bumps her shoulder. God, the way she says shit sometimes, he just. It kind of kills him. "Yeah, Neela," he says, when he finally pulls himself together. "Like masturbating."
"That's crap," she declares, and her cheeks are a little pink. "That's not real."
"I swear to God."
"That's not real!" she says again, but a second later her smooth face goes cloudy, lips pursed. "I don't think."
Ray laughs. "Yeah, you're wondering now."
"I am not." Neela shrugs. "Even if it was a thing that could happen, it probably wasn't even a patient. It probably happened to you."
He lets her have that one--figures she's earned it--and raises one lazy eyebrow. "Easy there, cowgirl."
"Now, Ray," she says, rolling over onto her stomach and getting that look she gets when she's planning to settle in and make fun of him for a while. "It's only natural that if you have certain needs--"
"Uh-huh. You're totally cruising."
"--that aren't being met by the Limited Too crowd, of course you might find yourself searching for other outlets--"
"Oh, you're asking for it now." He's just kidding, obviously--Neela's not exactly the kind of girl you chase around the room trying to tickle--but as soon as he starts to stand she scrambles upright on the couch, bare feet sinking into the ratty cushions and hip cocked like, I dare you. Ray snorts. She's wearing some scrub pants he thinks might be his and a faded old tank top that's riding up a little, exposing a low pale strip of stomach. He's concentrating on looking anywhere but there when she loses her balance and pitches forward, throwing her arms up to brace on his chest.
"Oof...." he grunts out, toppling back toward the TV; he catches his calf on the coffee table, and they land in a pile on the dirty, crumb-covered floor. "Shit, Neela," he grumbles, just lying there a minute, a tumbleweed of dust and her hair drifting by. Her sharp chin digs into his chest. "Spaz."
"You are," she says, giggling. "You could have caught me."
"I did catch you, sort of."
"Well, yes." For a moment Neela doesn't move, her body over his across the hardwood. She smells like cinnamon and beer. "I suppose you sort of did." She pushes herself up to crawl off him, the stretched-out neckline of her shirt falling open, and it's not like he means to check out her merchandise, exactly, but from this angle--oh, Jesus, what an asshat he is, she totally catches him looking. Neela rolls her eyes. "Better watch your hamstrings," is the only thing she says.
The right themselves and finish their pizza, drink some water 'til their heads clear. In the morning there are two pale bruises on his ribcage, marks from the heels of her hands.
Q is for: questions, Lost, Sawyer/Juliet, for bayloriffic. PG. 416 words.
At the beginning he won't talk to her.
(At the end he won't talk to her, either, but at the beginning it's only just stubbornness--Jack at the Hydra, refusing to eat. A power thing.)
They make breakfast. They work. The island gets hotter as the days go by, and the calluses toughen on her hands. At night she flings open the windows, listening. James pretends to read.
Two months after they move into the house she's pulling her hair back into a braid, fingers flying, rubber band wrapped around her wrist. He watches, intent. "What?" she asks finally, gazing at him in the mirror. James shrugs.
"Can I ask you something?"
Juliet swallows, secures the elastic. Her reflection in the glass is unafraid. "Go ahead."
"That thing you're doing." He moves his chin in the general direction of her hair. "Where'd you learn how to do that?"
"Oh." That is not what she was expecting. She tugs the braid over her shoulder, a thick ropy skein. She thinks. "My mom used to do hers this way."
James nods slowly. "Yeah," he half-mutters, and turns to walk away. "Mine too."
Juliet watches him go.
They argue. He's moody. He runs hot and cold. There are ghosts in the hallways, there are whispers in the trees: they don't know what to make of each other, a perpetual advance and retreat. She wakes up at night and finds him gone.
"What do you want, James?" she demands finally, the sound of it echoing in their spare, empty house. It's the first time she's ever raised her voice to him and it's like he's satisfied he's broken her, like it was something he wanted to see if he could do. Well, there you go. She should write it in the sky above the island: Congratulations, you win. "Just...what do you want?"
She waits for him to laugh at her. He takes her hand instead.
On Saturday they're lying in the hammock after supper, a boat in the middle of the sea. "Do you ever think," she asks quietly, "what will happen if they come back?"
She feels his muscles tense inside his jumpsuit; he scoffs, derisive, a low rumbling growl. "They ain't comin' back."
Juliet nods slowly, looking up at the white, pregnant moon. "I know," she says. "But if they did."
They stay where they are, suspended. Juliet listens. His heart ticks like a bomb inside his chest.