It was a particularly quiet summer afternoon in Swellview and Henry and Ray were currently sitting in comfortable silence down in the Man Cave. Henry was slouched in a chair on the far side of the room in front of the monitors, absentmindedly scrolling through various social media sites on his phone, while Ray sat in the middle of the room on the rotating couch watching something on his tablet. They both looked up as they heard the elevator screeching as it dropped and the doors slid open to reveal Charlotte and Jasper. They both smiled as they stepped out. Henry's heart skipped a beat when he saw Charlotte.
"Hey, Char!" he said gleefully. She smiled at him as she crossed the room.
Hey, Hen!" she replied.
Jasper smirked at Henry and shot him a playful look.
"Hello to you too, Henry," he teased. Henry rolled his eyes.
"I was getting there! Hey, Jasp," he responded, grinning.
"Nobody say hi to me, it's fine," Ray chimed in, an obviously fake sullen look on his face. All three of the kids rolled their eyes.
"Hello, Ray!" they said in unison, Henry included. A satisfied smile spread across Ray's face. Charlotte set her bag down on the floor by the couch, and both her and Jasper sat down next to Ray. They remained in silence for a moment. Finally, Jasper spoke.
"So...what are we all doing tomorrow?" he asked, "assuming no major emergencies happen."
Henry just shrugged.
"I kinda wanted to take an evening hike tomorrow, but I can't find anyone to go with," Charlotte answered.
"I'll go!" Henry responded a little too enthusiastically. They all whipped around to eye him suspiciously.
"You hate hiking," Charlotte remarked.
"No, I don't!" Henry said defensively. Jasper crossed his arms over his chest, a mischievous look on his face.
"Yes, you do. Remember that one time at camp you literally faked an injury to get out of the hiking trip?" Jasper recalled. Henry scoffed.
"That was a long time ago! Things are different now," Henry shot back.
"Okay, what about last week when-" Ray started.
"Okay!" Henry cut him off, "So, it's not my favorite activity. Still...I'd love to go with you."
Ray and Jasper both dropped the subject. Ray watched Henry a moment longer, a knowing look in his eye. He may not be the most observant person, but Henry wasn't exactly subtle. Even Ray was able to pick up on Henry's lingering stares in Charlotte's direction, and how he was finding any excuse to spend time with her or even just sit near her.
"That'd be great. I'd love for you to come! Meet me at my place around 6ish?" Charlotte suggested. Henry smiled at her.
"It's a date."
Henry picked Charlotte up promptly at six, and he drove them over to the local state park. Once they arrived and found a place to park, they got out and Charlotte grabbed her backpack full of essentials out of the backseat. She pulled out a can of bug spray and proceeded to cover herself in it. Once she was done, she went to hand Henry the bottle.
"Here," she said.
"Oh, I don't need it, I'll be fine," Henry responded. Charlotte gave him an incredulous look.
"Henry...it's the middle of summer, it's humid, and the sun's going down. I think you are going to need it," she declared. Henry just scoffed. Charlotte shook her head.
"Okay, whatever you say," she replied, disbelief dripping from her voice. She put her bug spray back in her backpack and Henry took the bag from her. Henry locked his car, put his keys in his front pocket, and they started up the hiking trail.
Five minutes into their hike, Henry was already being eaten alive by mosquitoes. He tried to hide his blatant discomfort but to no avail. Charlotte held out a hand to stop him.
"What did I tell you?" she said. Henry sighed as he set down the backpack and pulled the bug spray out.
"Fine," he replied as he begrudgingly sprayed it on. Charlotte gave him a satisfied smile. Once Henry was finished, he put the bug spray back in the backpack and they started up the trail again. Charlotte always stayed several steps ahead of Henry, as he kept slowing down and was frequently out of breath. Finally, they made it to the top, right as the sun was beginning to set. Charlotte sat down on a large rock and gestured for Henry to hand her bag. Henry handed her the backpack before practically throwing himself down on the ground. He was sweating and panting. Charlotte chuckled.
"You know we have to climb back down, right?"
Henry just shook his head.
"No. I live here now," he replied, still out of breath. Charlotte just laughed. They sat like that for a moment just enjoying the sounds of nature and the view as they both tried to catch their breath. After a while, Charlotte pulled out a water bottle and a granola bar and handed them to Henry. Henry sat up and took them from her.
"Thanks," he said as he practically chugged the water down. Charlotte grabbed a water bottle and a granola bar out of her backpack for herself and took a drink before they both started in on their granola bars. They sat in silence for a while as they ate, and Charlotte just watched the sun as it sky was beginning to change into a collection of pretty pinks and purples. Henry watched her for a moment and smiled. He thought she always looked pretty, but she looked especially pretty in the glow of the sunset behind her.
"Don't move," Henry said, and he pulled out his phone and held it up to take a picture of Charlotte. Charlotte turned around and smiled.
"What are you doing?" she asked. Henry snapped the picture before answering.
"You looked really pretty next to the sunset so I wanted to get a picture."
"Let me see," she said. Henry sat down next to her and showed her the picture. She took his phone from him and snapped a picture of them both in front of the sunset. They decided to take a few more pictures after that, and they basically turned their hike into an impromptu photo shoot. Some of them were serious, some of them were goofy, and some of them were posed to look candid. Henry estimated that they had taken about 20 pictures by the end. They scrolled through them and laughed at some of the more silly ones. Charlotte and Henry both smiled at each other, and Henry felt his heart skip a beat.
He felt like here and now, alone with Charlotte along with the perfect backdrop, was as great a time as any to tell him how he really felt. He took a deep breath and looked at Charlotte, a now serious look on his face.
"Charlotte, can I talk to you about something?" he asked. Charlotte took note of the serious look on his face and the sudden change in his voice and she frowned, now clearly concerned.
"Of course! What is it?" she questioned. Henry could feel butterflies fluttering in his stomach and his palms were getting sweaty. Usually, he was really confident around people that he liked, but Charlotte was different. Charlotte was special; Charlotte was his best friend.
"It's just that...lately I've been feeling…" he started but he trailed off.
"Yes?" Charlotte asked, trying to get him to continue. Henry took another deep breath and wiped his hands on his jeans as he tried to think of what to say next.
"I'm not really sure how to put this."
Charlotte watched him for a moment.
"You know you can tell me anything," she replied softly. Henry nodded before taking one last deep breath. He decided it was best to just come out and say it.
"I like you!" he blurted out. He shut his eyes for a minute, preparing himself for Charlotte's reaction. But, Charlotte didn't say anything. She was clearly taken aback by what he said, and she had a thoughtful look on her face. They sat in awkward silence for a moment as Henry waited for her to say something; anything.
"Please say something," he finally said softly. She shook her head a little, breaking herself away from her train of thought.
"I'm sorry. I was just a little surprised. That's all," she said. Henry watched her for a moment, praying that there was more to it than that. Henry felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest and he was almost certain he was gonna puke.
"Well?" he asked faintly after Charlotte went silent again. Finally, Charlotte smiled. She intertwined her hand with his and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.
"I like you too," she replied, smiling at him, a starry look in her eyes. Henry let out a sigh of relief and leaned into her. There, in that moment, they both felt at peace. They felt happy and infinite and alive. They stayed like this for a little while longer, just enjoying the moment. They were both secretly wishing that this moment would never have to end.
Fireflies began to fly around them, and they both decided it was best to start back down the trail before it got too dark. They took one last look at the amazing view of Swellview, now being illuminated by the streetlights and fireflies before they started back down the trail. Henry threw his arm around Charlotte as they walked together side-by-side just enjoying each others' company.