Chapter Three

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              The following morning, I felt something pressed against my leg, but I was far too drowsy to process that whatever it was shouldn’t be there and instead shifted my position, ignoring the kink in my neck. I inhaled the sweet smell of vanilla, though I didn’t recall my mom owning any vanilla scented candles, and cozied against the soft surface of the couch, the steady sound of breathing coming from beside me.

              That was when I sat up in alarm, looking over to find Noel sleeping soundly on the couch right next to me, his hip resting against my leg that I had bent, tucked behind me. His chest rose and fell with each breath he inhaled and exhaled and I felt flustered beyond belief.

              How had we managed to fall asleep next to each other? One minute we were both watching the movie and then we both all of a sudden fell asleep? I tried figuring out at what part of the movie I fell asleep but my brain that had yet to have fully awoken wasn’t functioning properly. I decided right then and there that I only had one option, and that was to scram before Noel woke up and realized he had slept next to a girl who he wasn’t particularly close with. Cautious not to move Noel, I carefully picked myself up off the couch, patting down the imprint that my sleeping body had left until it was no longer prominent. I made a grab for my cell phone and house key and tiptoed my way to the door when I saw Noel stir.

              I froze, praying to the heavens that he wouldn’t wake up. I had practically completed my escape, and now he chose to awake?

              I must have forgotten to say a bedtime prayer last night because the heavens were not on my side today. Yawning loudly, Noel sat up and almost instantly turned to where I was standing several feet away, staring like a deer in the headlights right back at him.

              “Carol?” he questioned, his voice groggy and sexier than what I considered to be fair for someone who was already flustered to begin with, meaning me. I most likely looked like a mess, pieces of hair sticking out of my messy bun in tangled knots.

              “Sup?” I responded meekly, doing that cool little head nod thing that people often associated that word with. As soon as I said it, I internally slapped myself across the face. How lame could a person be to say something like ‘sup’ to Noel Henley after he first wakes up? I’m pretty sure I felt my cheeks heat up, but I pretended to ignore it and instead darted my eyes towards the front door that was right within my grasp, the morning light peeking through the glass panel on the side, desperate to reach out and grab hold of the doorknob.

              He blinked at me for a second, most likely taken off guard by my incapability to be anywhere near as cool and collected as his usual crowd. Finally, he managed to compose himself enough to respond. “Um . . . not much. . . Sup with you?”

              If Piper were here, she’d probably be cracking up right about now. And then, unable to help myself, I would inevitably join in, and finally, Noel would laugh the situation off along with us. But if my estimation was correct, Piper was down somewhere in Florida right about now getting ready to board a cruise ship, and relieving awkward tension had never been my forte.

              In other words, I needed to get out of there.

              “I was just on my way back home. Thanks for having me, Noel. I appreciate it. Have a great Christmas! I’ll see ya around.” I quickly turned and made a dash for the door, the craving to get the heck out of there before something ridiculous happened now becoming a necessity and not just a yearning.

              I had just made a grab for the doorknob, finally beginning to calm down the slightest bit, when I felt a hand latch onto my unoccupied hand, preventing me from opening the door. Whirling around in surprise, I shot a look at Noel that asked ‘what the heck do you think you’re doing?’

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