Without looking up from her study guide, Destiny stretched out a hand for the half-full mug of tea that should have been next to her highlighter. When her fingers connected with empty table space instead, she reached a bit farther and missed again—only this time, she heard the distinct sound of glass sliding against wood and tea sloshing over the café’s lo-fi playlist. Lowering her book, she glared at her best friend from across a sea of sticky notes and pens.
Terrell had a single finger resting in the handle of her cup and a wide grin on his face. He leaned back in his seat as if he was preparing to pull the mug again. A few of the twists that were too short to join the others in his ponytail swayed as they framed his cheeks.
Destiny lifted a brow as she went for her mug, a silent warning: thin ice.
He dragged it out of reach a third time.
“I’ll kill you,” she said, letting her book drop to the table.
“You are killing me,” he said. “We’re supposed to be playing in the snow right now.”
Destiny stood up to grab her cup and return it to her side of the table. “You’re early,” she pointed out before sitting and finally taking a sip of lukewarm earl grey.
He slid a plate with the last half of his cheese Danish to her side, too. “You got me a watch for Christmas, Des. I know when I’m being called out.”
She supposed that was a fair assumption. Terrell’s mom was always going on about how he’d been late to his own birth.
That wasn’t the reason she’d gotten him the watch, though.
First of all, he’d asked for a watch. Kind of. During one of their many phone calls this past fall semester, he’d said something about never remembering where he left his phone now that he was livestreaming at home all day.
But there was also a second meaning—one she’d thought would be pretty obvious given the embarrassing message she’d had engraved on the inside of the band.
It was possible he’d taken the words as a friendship thing. Or maybe he simply hadn’t noticed the engraving at all.
The other option was that he had noticed. And understood.
And he was pretending he hadn’t.
Which was fine.
She took a bite of Danish.
There were few things in this life Destiny valued more than their friendship, and she had zero intention of messing that up.
Still, she’d shown up today in the scarf he’d gotten her, the softest yarn she’d ever felt looped warm and toasty around her neck.
She hadn’t even taken it off after coming inside just so he could see her in it. Now, the extra layer only made her feel exposed.
Her eyes fell to his empty wrist, but she kept her voice light as she wiped her hand on a napkin and picked her book back up. “If you were wearing the watch,” she said, “you’d know that I still have eight more minutes of study time left.”
Terrell flashed her that smile that got him out of 99.9% of his schemes. It was a little hypnotic the way it pulled people, making them think they were in on something with him. Just between us, it whispered.
Destiny would have given anything to go back to the time when she was part of the .1% that didn’t fall for it.
“Actually—” he started. He set his elbows on the table and propped his head against his hand. The motion made the sleeve of his Christmas sweater slide down his watch-less arm. It was the perfect reminder for Destiny to get it together and stop looking at her best friend like that.
“Seven minutes,” she said and turned the page of her book without any idea what was on it.
Training her gaze on this new page, she told herself to focus. If she concentrated hard enough, she might be able to read a few words this time instead of thinking about watches and troublemaker smiles.
There was a chance that she’d been at this too long. Her bagel from breakfast was gone hours ago, but the plate was still sitting on her notebook, keeping paper from blowing about as other customers came and went. Her empty coffee cups were there, too. She was probably way overdue for a break. But she’d also really like to test out of microeconomics, so…
“The scarf looks pretty on you.”
That’s not what he meant, she told her speeding heart. He’s just trying to go build a snowman. “I know,” she replied. Another unread page was turned.
“I made it.”
She stopped pretending to study.
“You’re always complaining about how cold it is on campus, and I’d been looking for something to do to give my eyes a break from staring at a screen all day.”
Destiny gaped at him in disbelief as he went on. “It was my first time crocheting, so it’s not that good. I kept having to start over, but—”
“Shut up.” She held the chunky purple knit out from her neck to admire it. When she’d opened it on Christmas, she had tried to figure out the brand, wanting to get it in more colors, but she’d only been able to make out a leaf shape stitched on the corner. She had been planning to ask Terrell about it later, when they were both less wrapped up with family and holiday stuff.
“You like it?”
She nodded. The groggily typed thank you text she’d sent him while her younger cousin bounced on the couch didn’t feel like nearly enough anymore.
“Good. I had to do something to keep you from turning into a popsicle when you go back to school.”
“Don’t remind me.” The weather here was nothing compared to the cutting wind she had to brave between classes. She must have complained more than she’d thought if her mom had gotten her gloves for Christmas and Terrell had handmade her a scarf. “It’s freezing there.”
“Yeah, I don’t envy you. I don’t miss the school part either.” He twirled one of her pens across his knuckles. “Thanks, by the way. For sticking up for me with my parents. I probably would have caved on my own and just applied to college somewhere, so… thanks. It’s a lot more believable when the valedictorian says gaming is a valid career choice.”
The conversation was slipping into dangerous territory—the day she’d caught feelings for her best friend territory. During her valedictorian speech, when she’d stood behind the podium, shaking just a smidge as she talked about the future, she’d realized just how much she liked sharing her dreams with the guy beaming up at her from his seat, recording on his phone even though graduates weren’t supposed to have them out.
Find me in the crowd if you get nervous, he’d texted the night before.
I don’t get nervous, she’d lied.
It was silly of her to think the distance after graduation would give her time to squash her feelings.
It was equally silly now to think that she’d expected the two of them to fall out of touch. Like the fact that he had millions of other friends and the fact that she would be in a different state taking millions of classes would somehow change the way they’d had each other’s backs since third grade.
“Gaming is a valid career choice,” she said firmly. “Plus, your numbers are looking really good, and you just got those sponsors. You’re doing great. They can’t deny that.”
He ducked his head. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking I might move out now that I’m making enough.”
She gave a surprised hum around a mouthful of tea. “Have you started looking at places?” she asked when she could speak again.
“I’ve checked out a few. Still thinking about it, though…”
“You’ll find the right one.”
“Yeah.” He glanced up at her, searching her face. “Hope so.”
“Don’t get scammed.”
He rolled his eyes. “I won’t.”
“Check the water pressure.”
“Make sure to read the—”
“Read your book, Destiny.” He laughed as he picked up his cup and drained the last of his coffee, then checked the clock on the wall. “Wait, no. Don’t read your book.” He drummed his palms against the table. “Time’s up. Let’s go play.”
He pulled on his coat without bothering to zip it, gently patting one of the pockets as if to make sure he had everything. She packed her things as he dashed off to throw away their trash. By the time she finished, he was already by the door, holding it open. She shook her head as she passed him, attempting to keep her lips from tilting upward.
He’d been like that all winter break, trying to spend as much time with her as he could before she went back to school. It was kind of cute.
Cute in a friend way.
He slung an arm over her shoulder as they walked, nagging her about living on caffeine and bread and making her pick where they’d go for real food later.
The park was just down the block from the café. Terrell had wanted to come on the very first day it snowed, but Destiny had insisted it would be flooded with kids. Now, they were the only ones there, the whole place covered in snowmen and icy forts.
Terrell’s arm slid from her shoulders as he strolled over to one of the forts and smirked. “That’s nice,” he said, bending to collect a heap of snow. “They did the hard part for us.”
“Terrell, no.” She was already backing away. “You said we were making a snowman.” A protective hand came up to cover her sleek bun and swirled edges. “Terrell, if you throw that, I’ll—”
“Kill me?” He rolled the ball of snow from one hand to the other. The dimple on his cheek was a mile deep. “You’ve been saying that for the past 11 years, and I’m still here, baby.”
She was not about to get all melty over him calling her baby. “I’ve been gone too long,” she muttered, scooping snow off the seat of a seesaw. “No one’s been here to check you.”
“Yeah.” She patted the snow, packing it together. “Bring me your head,” she said sweetly. “Let me give you a dimple on the other side.”
Terrell laughed and launched his snowball at her instead, wisely aiming away from her hair.
Destiny spun so it hit her side, not her scarf, and dashed after him as he sprinted between the swings. Her snowball caught him square in the back as he ran around the slide. She doubled back to meet him on the other end and spotted him bending down for more ammo, trying to use the slide as cover.
She tackled him from the side. They hit the ground with her landing across his stomach. In front of her, she noticed a large pile of snow and grinned as she gathered it in her arms.
“Go ahead, Destiny,” he said, his eyes bright as he angled his head to see what she was doing. “Do it. Kill me.”
She began hefting the gigantic snowball she’d created above his head, her knee pressing against the side of his puffer coat as she sat up.
Terrell let out a string of words that would have had his mother wielding a bar of soap. “Sorry,” he said as the snow fell from her hands in surprise, and he rushed them both to their feet.
“No, I’m sorry.” Destiny stepped back to look him over. “Did I hurt you?”
He shook his head, but his focus was elsewhere. He peeled off a snowy glove, unzipped his pocket, and pulled out the watch.
He sighed in relief as he checked the glass for cracks and saw none.
“It’s in my jacket pocket,” he said, waving the watch, “and I’m wearing my jacket, so, technically, I am wearing the watch. I just didn’t want anything to happen to it while we played in the snow. Switching temperatures too quickly isn’t good for watches. And it could get water spots and stuff.” He made a face that said the very thought of water spots horrified him.
Her gift had been elevated to basketball shoe status. “That’s ridiculous,” she said, grinning. “I bought it so you could use it.”
“Is that the only reason you bought it?”
Never mind. She took everything back. It was better when he wasn’t wearing the watch. He was seeing too much now, his brown eyes locking her in place.
He flipped the watch over in his hand and ran his thumb across the engraving. “I count them, too,” he read aloud. “The seconds, right?” It wasn’t really a question. “Until we get to talk?”
He’d been so casual while he’d said it that day: that he counted down the seconds until their phone calls. It was easier for him, saying he missed her, saying she looked pretty in her scarf, because there weren’t butterflies attached to those words for him, fluttering mercilessly in his stomach.
She realized now why she’d gone with the watch instead of just telling him how she felt: to avoid this exact moment. It was okay that he didn’t like her back, but did they have to talk about it? When she’d tried so hard to act normal? And at the park? She felt her eyes start to water and realized she was going to cry in public.
“Are we really doing this right now?” Destiny asked, throat tight as she pulled at the knit against her neck.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding slowly. “Yeah, I think we need to. I probably should have done this a long time ago, but I didn’t think you—I mean, it’s cool if you don’t—I just—” He took a deep breath, and she could see his exhale in the cold air. “Will you tell me what the watch means, Destiny? Please?”
Destiny couldn’t speak. None of what he said was making sense because it sounded like he was saying that he liked her—that he didn’t think she liked him—and that was… That couldn’t be right.
Terrell took a step toward her. Then another. “Should I tell you what your scarf means?” he asked, softly lifting the corner and turning it over to show that little leaf shape, the one she’d thought had been the brand. Except it couldn’t be a brand, not if he’d made it. “I thought you’d figure it out,” he said with a tiny smile. “I put my heart on it and everything.”
Destiny had learned shapes in kindergarten. She’d taken Pre-AP geometry. She’d gotten an A. “It’s a heart?” she said sluggishly.
He was nervous. He had to be with the way his hand was shaking as he held her scarf, but he still had the audacity to sound amused when he asked, “What did you think it was, Des?”
“A leaf.” She tried to glare up at him, but she could feel her cheeks rising.
“It looks nothing like a leaf,” he said, beaming back at her.
“You’re right.” Her cheeks hurt from smiling. “It’s definitely a heart.”
Terrell pinched the other side of her scarf and tugged both ends gently enough for her to know she could stay where she was if she wanted to.
She didn’t want to. She took that last step toward him.
The scarf slipped from his hands as he wrapped his arms around her waist and tucked her head against his chest.
It was the best kind of warm. Her ear thawed against his Christmas sweater as she listened to his heart beating rapidly.
“Sorry,” he said, and it clicked that she hadn’t moved yet. “Is this weird? It’s weird, isn’t it?” His arms loosened, like he might pull away.
“Not weird.” Destiny brought her arms up and briefly wondered where to put them before settling them around his middle. “A little weird,” she admitted shyly. “But good-weird.” She rested her forehead near his collarbone. “It means I like you,” she murmured.
“Huh?” he asked, leaning back so her voice wasn’t muffled against his chest.
“The watch. It means I like you.” He gave her that smile of his, and it was all dimple and schemes and just between us but even brighter. She couldn’t imagine wanting to turn back time. Now was perfect. And the next day, and the day after that—she thought they looked pretty perfect, too.