Chapter 26

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I woke up feeling heavy, yet somehow well-rested. It was as if my mind had been cleared and my heart had been unburdened, but my body was still fast asleep, even as I opened my eyes and blinked in the bright morning light. The first morning I had woken up here had been amazing and unbelievable; the cicadas had been singing and it had been sunny outside, warm.

And this second morning it was particularly warm.

I titled my head sideways and found Lauren still sleeping soundly next to me. I didn't wake up on her chest or even in her embrace as every cliché scene would have it, but instead laid next to her, looking at how her chest rose and fell with every deep breath she took. A light snore came from her lips, informing me she was still fast asleep.

How lucky was it that we didn't have to go anywhere today. We had a entire day in Italy to ourselves before we returned to the States tomorrow to investigate my boss.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried not to think about it. Everything in my head was still so squishy. The knowing Howard was involved, the telling Lauren about my past, the mention of Anthony...

He would probably always be an unanswered question in my life and would probably always hold a spot somewhere inside me, but now as I looked at Lauren, I knew it was no longer in my heart. Something had happened last night while Lauren had listened and let me unburden myself. I couldn't quite explain it, but everything just seemed... brighter somehow – lighter.

I could see colors better. I could see the distinctive small shades of black in Lauren's hair, I could see a scar behind her jawline I hadn't noticed before. I saw the tattoo on her arm that curled its way onto her back, and I saw freckles on her skin I hadn't paid much attention to before.

It was like my eyes were allowing me to notice these things now that Anthony had gotten off my chest. He had been like deadweight on my heart, body and senses, and now that it was gone, it was like I had superpowers.

Lauren was still sleeping, but I couldn't wait for her to wake up. My body felt awake all of a sudden, eager to try my new powers out. It wanted to remember what touching someone and meaning it felt like. It wanted to indulge in pleasures and sweetnesses it hadn't sensed before. It wanted...love.

Carefully, I lifted my hand and let it trail down a vein in her arm that laid on top of the covers. I saw her fingers twitch when my index finger pressed down and feathered over her skin, but she didn't wake up. The light snores continued.

I had never noticed how soft her skin was. I also hadn't noticed all the small cuts and old white scars that now popped into my vision as I leaned up on my elbow and explored her arm, until my finger wanted to go further. I let it travel up to her shoulder, up to her tattoos, and let it follow the pattern for a moment. I wondered if there was a meaning behind the tattoo or if it was just a labyrinth of black ink.

Finally, my finger trailed over her right breast. My eyes flipped up to her face when her snores stilled for a moment, but then a second later continued.

I took a deep breath. The sensation of feeling her skin traveled up my arm and through my body, until it landed in my stomach and made it flutter nervously. But this was the good kind of nervous. The kind one got the night before one's birthday, almost anticipation-like.

Her nipple pebbled when I let the very tip of my finger circle around it. It brought a smile to my lips as she grunted something in her sleep and stirred ever so slightly. It was affecting her in her dreams and it made me grin.

Suddenly, I wanted to know what she was dreaming about. I never thought about that. What did Lauren dream about? Me? Cats? Fat unicorns doing ballet? Probably not the latter. I wondered, though, what a girl like her dreamt of. Right now, I had a pretty good idea.

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