The construction zone around Jess was an accident waiting to happen. Scratch that. The accident had already happened.
“Ow,” Chris complained, trying to pull his hand out of Jess’s grasp.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” she teased. She dabbed the cut on Chris’s hand with a disinfecting wipe. “You’re lucky you don’t need a tetanus shot.”
Her gaze traveled around the room as she unwrapped the largest bandage she could find. Construction debris lay scattered around rusty scaffolding. Sawdust floated through the air, filtering the weak winter sunlight working its way through grime-covered windows.
A grin tugged the corners of her mouth up. “Actually, maybe you do need a shot.”
“Believe me, I don’t need a shot,” Chris muttered.
Jess pursed her lips as she pressed the bandage over the cut. “Why am I always taking care of you?”
The boyish grin that always made her heart skip a beat spread across Chris’s face. “Because you love me?”
This was dangerous. The flirting was one thing, but when Chris looked at her with those icy blue eyes like she was the only woman in the world, her heart couldn’t handle it. A sigh escaped her lips before she could stop it, but her smile stayed firmly in place. She pushed away the melancholy that threatened whenever she was faced with the truth of Chris’s feelings for her, or lack thereof, and let herself slip into the flirty game that defined their friendship. “Who said anything about love?”
“Ouch!” Chris clutched his heart as if she’d dealt him a fatal blow.
Jess scooped up the debris from her makeshift nurse’s station. “Oh, please. What about what’s-her-name? You know, the girl you went out with last weekend? Bambi, Tiffany, Brittany? I’m sure she’s already in love with you.”
Chris chuckled as he scooted off the counter. “I’m sorry to report that no love connection was made. And her name was Jennifer.”
He scanned the room, and his face closed up. Jess had seen it before; the doubt creeping in that his dream would fail. He gave her a tight smile. “Thanks for all your work today. Not many people would spend their day off in this dump.”
Although far from resembling the youth center it was destined to be, Jess never had trouble seeing Chris’s vision. “This,” she gestured around the unfinished room, “is going to be amazing.” She could already envision the groups of teens hanging out, having fun, knowing Chris was there to talk them through the most difficult parts of being a teenager. “This place is exactly what the town needs.”
Chris pulled in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Thank you.” He wrapped her in a warm hug. “What would I do without you?”
Jess melted into the hug; her face pressed against his chest. “Probably die from tetanus.”
Laughter rumbled in his chest, sending a tendril of warmth through Jess’s body. Chris pulled back, but instead of his eyes twinkling with a witty comeback, they burned with an intensity she’d never seen directed her way before. “Have dinner with me tonight.”
Jess took a step back, breaking their embrace. “What? What are you talking about? We just ate lunch together.” It had been sandwiches from the local coffee shop, and they’d eaten them at a makeshift table of plywood settled over two sawhorses, but it had been a meal together. They ate meals together all the time. They were best friends.
Chris closed the distance between them. “Have dinner with me,” he repeated. “You dress up. I’ll dress up. I’ll bring you flowers. All you have to do is say yes.”
Jess had wanted this since their childhood friendship had morphed into a teenage crush that led to years of unrequited love, but she had resigned herself to friendship. Today he wasn’t offering friendship. He was offering much more.
If she could have pinched herself without him noticing, she may have tried it. “But we’re just friends. It’s what you’ve always wanted.”
Reaching down, Chris took her hand in his. “Who says it’s what I’ve always wanted? Maybe,” he leaned closer until she could feel his warm breath on her cheeks, “maybe I’ve been afraid to go after what I’ve always wanted. But I’m weeks away from realizing one of my dreams, opening this youth center, and I don’t want to wait any longer to chase the rest of them.” Uncertainty played across his features, a vulnerability she wasn’t used to seeing from him. “So, what do you say? Will you go on a date with me?”
If he was going to have the courage to follow his heart, then she would too. She rose on her tiptoes and brushed her lips across his.
It was all the answer he needed.