Prompt: Anika and Griffin talking about their relationship after the book
Thevan got up off the couch and I glanced lazily at him. "Leaving?"
"Sloane wants me to come over," Thevan said.
"Leaving," I confirmed.
"Spend time with you, or a hot guy? Yea, I'm leaving," Thevan said, snickering when I threw a pillow at his face. "Hey, those are mom's decorative pillows. Don't let her see you throwing them."
"Go on before he throws more," Anika said, waving her brother away.
"Catch ya later," Thevan said. "Tell mom and dad where I went when they get back."
"I was born yesterday, thanks," Anika said.
Thevan left, and Anika got up. She grabbed my hand and tugged me off the couch, leading me towards her room, not releasing my hand.
My heart beat a little faster. This was the first time I'd come to her house since graduating the Academy, but we'd been with Thevan all day. We'd talked, sure. Calls, texts, FaceTime. But not alone in person. Not since I graduated.
Anika shut her bedroom door as I sat on her bed. I looked at the painting over her bed as Anika sat next to me.
"We need to talk," she said, because she was never afraid to say what needed to be said.
I, on the other hand, appeared to have forgotten what words even were. I nodded at her.
She took my hand in hers, and I instantly shifted the grip so her ring wouldn't press into my skin. She smiled a little.
"Back then, when I was still at the school..." she said.
"We were a lot younger," I said, my vocabulary finally returning to me.
"A lot," she said, rolling her eyes. "It was two years ago, Griffy. But yes, we were younger." She leaned back a little. "God, I thought we would date. I used to ask my mom where I could take you out on dates that we could afford."
"And then," I said, darkening a little with the memory of back then.
"And then," she echoed. "And then my Uncle died. And my brother cracked. And then he shattered." She squeezed my hand. "You were so good to both of us. Do you know, I can't remember a single word you said to me at my Uncle's funeral. I just remember that you were there, and you held me. And in that moment, I thought to myself, I think I love this boy, and if I don't, I think I want to."
My heart ached. It could've been so good if it hadn't all gone so bad.
"I couldn't date back then," she said. "Thevan needed me. He needed me so much. And after what Constance put him through, he needed me even more. I sacrificed my chance at a relationship with you in favor of my brother. And I need you to know right now that I'll do it again if I have to."
"I would never stop you," I whispered.
"And that's why I think it would be so good to love you," she said softly. "You never tried to make me pick. I told you my brother needed me more than you or I needed each other, and you accepted that. You stayed by my side without pressuring me. You helped my brother the best you could. You even forgave him when he attacked you, and you forgave me for breaking Hal's finger. I'd never known you to forgive someone for hurting Hal."
"Because I never had until that day," I said. I cleared my throat so my voice wouldn't crack. "Anika, I stayed by your side because having you in my life as a friend was more important than giving you up because you couldn't be more than that. I respect that. Just like I know you'd respect me picking Hal over you if he needed me."
"I couldn't date you back then. I was 17, and my brother was in shambles, and I missed my goddamn Uncle," she said, eyes fierce with sorrow and strength. "But I'm older now. Maybe it's only been two years, but it's been a very important two years."
"The last year of my life..." I ran my free hand through my hair. "I know, Ani. I do. I don't have to be your priority all the time. When I can't be your priority, I can be your pillar."
She smiled, and it was small but beautiful. "You know, I'm having those thoughts again. What a wonderful thing it would be to love you, Griffin. I hope you'll give me the chance."
My free hand trembled as I reached out to place it on her knee. "You know me."
"All the more reason to love you," she said.
And then she was kissing me, and it was like the hawk had plunged out of the painting and into my heart to paint it with Anika's name. I pulled her closer, unable to regret the years we'd lost when the seconds we'd just gained were so wonderful.
She pulled away first, because I couldn't bring myself to do it. She pressed her forehead to mine, those warm brown eyes gazing into my mine and that smile the most cherished work of art I'd ever seen.
I traced my fingers along the tattoos on her arm, wanting to memorize every pattern there. She curled a hand around to the back of my neck, her touch gentle and warm as always.
"Are you up for a new adventure?" she asked, her mouth so close to mine that the words ghosted across my lips.
"With you? No question," I said.
She kissed me again, and it made all the waiting worth it. How could I begrudge her for putting love aside for love? She was fierce and compassionate and those were the things that made me want to wait for her, not reject her.
And as we sat in her room, that hawk watching over us, I thought that, yes, it would be a wonderful thing to fall in love.