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this is the part where I spit it all out

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He still calls her boss. Always with that same smile she’d thought was a smirk, too. She didn’t understand then, back when he followed her to the arch, echoing back only what will amplify the melody she has in mind. Bess had been sure her best act was a solo, but.

Her best mornings are the ones in unison with his. Rolling over in the sun to see Samuel watering the plants on the windowsill and lifting his free hand in a little wave to her.

Her favorite treat is the honey soaked baklava from the Greek place on his street The owner, Zosime, calls her kouklamou and tucks an extra piece in all of Samuel’s orders.

Her worst feelings — the sharp doubts and twisting worries — soften when he raises his callused hands to hold her face with steady certainty and smooths her wrinkled forehead with a featherlight touch. Just a whisper between them, a gentle still rooting for you , and Bess can be okay on the bad days.

 

“Hey grandpa.”

“Mm?” She’s stuck in front of the chip display at the bodega, weighing the life and death decision of Doritos flavors.

“Any ideas on where Prish left her leather jacket?” He says, leaning over from the drink aisle with his phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder.

“I don’t know where it is, but I do know it’s actually Ananya’s.”

“Yikes.” Samuel turns back around to grab another bottle from the cooler and says into the phone, “Looks like you’re outta luck, sorry babe.”

 

That’s the moment she figures it out. Standing at the corner store with a parka over her plaid flannel pj pants, hearing him commiserate with her best friend and she just… knows, all of a sudden. She loves him.

She loves the squint in his eyes when he’s holding back a laugh, she loves the veggie broth he keeps in his fridge because he’s only ever a moment’s notice from making soup. She loves that he knows more Taylor Swift songs than she does, that he’s kept his letterman jacket with the orchestra patch on it, that he always has another audiobook on hold at the library. She loves when he can’t sit still on the subway, tapping out a tattoo on her spine. She loves that he folds his socks like Louie taught him, see now there’s room for you to share this drawer with me.

 

Bess is still reeling from the revelation when Samuel settles his chin right on her shoulder. No one else has claimed that spot like he does.

When her brother wants nearness, he’ll start a duet or sit right next to her. And for well over a decade, Bess has felt at home wherever Prisha is within arms reach. But Samuel is tactile in an entirely different way from her other favorite people. He leans . Even when he’s not touching her, she can feel his gaze from across the room and know he’s on his way towards her side. Her shoulder, usually. An insignificant curve of her body that has become precious from all the time Samuel has spent there, leaning closer and closer in.

She feels out of breath. He shifts around, easing the plastic basket out of her hands and setting it on the floor then lifting her chin, just a little, to meet his eyes.

“Alright in there? Looks like your soul’s leaking out, and you’re not even singing.”

“I love you.”

It escapes from her like an exhale, lingering around them both. In that second she waits for the weight of fear to stomp in and scare her but it only takes a moment for his whole face to light up.

“Could.. could you tell me again, with my name in there?” She can barely hear his voice over the sound of her own heartbeat, louder than the sirens in the streets.

“Samuel,” He wraps his arms all the way around her waist, still holding her eyes. “I love you, I’m in love with you, I love loving you,” she says, growing louder and starting to sway them back and forth.

“God, Bess. That’s too much more,” he whispers. “I’m gonna swoon right here, I swear.” His head ducks down again, back to her shoulder. She can feel his murmur like a mark on her skin. I love you.

 

He stays quiet as they walk back to his apartment, tucking her into his side with one hand and carrying their bags with every flavor of Doritos in the other. Bess takes his keys and unlocks the door, leaves the lights off. Their fingers stay linked together, and she tugs him toward the bed so they can sit amidst the mess of pillows and blankets.

 

All the while, Samuel is looking at her. Studying her curls and tracing her smile with his intent focus. His expression isn’t frozen, but he can't seem to move past the sheer wonder yet.

Bess teases, “I think I might’ve lost my bad luck charm. He seems to be in a state of shock.” As soon as she speaks, his grin is back in full force.

“Still here. But I don’t think I’ll recover from that anytime soon.” Their hands are still interlocked, so hers follows his as he gestures aimlessly.

She has a sparkle in her eyes as she says, “That, meaning that I love you, Samuel?”

It’s more of a flop than a swoon, but he's definitely ended up flat on his back looking dazed.

“You keep just saying that like it’s not short-circuiting my brain — my whole body  — every fucking time.”

“Huh, guess I’ll have to keep saying it then. To help you get used to hearing that I really, really love you.”

He gasps this time, fluttering his eyelashes overdramatically and Bess hovers over him with mischievous delight spelled out clearly on her face.

“Samuel?”

“Look lady, I decided a while ago that you saying my name was my favorite sound in the whole world." He’s pointing a finger right at her face now, somehow serious and silly all at once. "Trying to recalibrate over here.”

“Sure, sure, take your time. I don’t scare easy.”

Bess lays down on her side, settling with his hand in both of hers, holding their warmth to her chest. Samuel stares until she can glimpse some of his soul showing too. And they take the next deep breath together.