Jessy gasped, jumping in her seat as the clap of thunder and splitting bolt of lightning across the screen lit the theater like daylight for an instant. In her momentary panic, she grabbed at the armrest, the fingers of her left hand finding instead the warm forearm of her fellow movie-goer and best friend, David.
They met eyes for a moment, hers still wide with residual surprise and his glittering with amusement. With a blush for her silly panic and for the unexpected touch, she took her hand away, crossing her arms across her stomach and turning her face back to the screen.
Recently, for reasons she couldn’t entirely understand, Jessy had begun to feel awkward around David; too often she found herself blushing for small things, or giggling nervously, or losing the courage to do things like brush a hand through his hair or jump on his back for a piggy-back ride – things that a few months earlier she would have done without thinking.
It was their stupid friend Margaret who’d started it, with her talk of “friends with benefits.” Jessy had never considered the idea that her tall, gangly Andy could be, as Margaret had put it, “a certified hottie.” They’d been friends for so long that she could no longer hold herself far enough away from him to be able to see him with an objective, appraising eye.
David’s lips suddenly brushed her ear as he leaned over close to whisper to her, and she nearly jumped again. “The scary part is coming,” he murmured, offering his shoulder as a place for her to hide her eyes.
Ah, this was why she loved him so. Who else would understand how much she loved horror films – and how deeply they terrified her? Who would take the time to go to these films first without her, then come back to see them a second time, ready to point out all the really horrific scenes so that she could hide her face and not be scared beyond belief?
No doubt he would also stay with her after the movie tonight, curled in an uncomfortable ball on the floor next to her bed to act as her protector. He snored and drooled and would probably sleep through the apocalypse, but somehow having him there still made her feel better.
When the film ended, the heroine narrowly escaping by boat as the only survivor, Jessy and David filed out into the chilly, early autumn night. Jessy shivered, and David dropped a friendly arm around her shoulders.
“Did you like it?” Jessy asked.
“It was alright. Definitely better this time than when I watched it by myself. Your reactions are priceless,” David said with a laugh.
“I can’t help it! I jump at the jumps, I’m scared of the scary parts – that’s what’s supposed to happen when you go see a horror movie!”
“I wasn’t complaining. I’m amused.”
“Hey, I saw you jump a little when he came out from under the shed to grab that girl’s ankles.”
“Strictly for your benefit. I am never scared.”
“Oh? Well, good. You can stay up and keep watch tonight. Make sure no creepers come into my house in the middle of the night to chop me up for their stew.”
David stifled a yawn, shaking his head. “An all-night vigil? Fat chance of that. You’d have to stay up with me.”
Immediately, Jessy began to think of ways she might keep him awake, each a little more risque than the last, and she blushed again. What was it about him tonight that made her think such silly thoughts? He was joking with her, being her almost-brotherly friend as he always had been. The flirtatious edge was something she was imagining, she knew.
“Whatever you want, just keep the monsters away from me!” Jessy cried with a melodramatic wave of her arms. She ducked out from under his arm, darted the last few feet to the door of his car and leapt inside.
The drive to her house was quiet, each of them thinking their own private thoughts in companionable silence. Once they got to the house, Jessy began to feel again a twinge of that fear she had experienced in the theater. The darkness, the quiet, the sense of waiting, it unnerved her enough that she let David lead the way through the front door, clinging to his arm as if that would save her if some slasher movie antagonist were waiting on the other side.
“I don’t want to go to sleep yet,” Jessy said as they marched to her room, David turning on lights as they went. “I’m all antsy. Let’s play a game or something, huh?”
Jessy had a grand total of three board games, one of which was nothing more than a sticky Candy Land board, devoid of any cards or playing pieces; there was little there with which to while away the evening hours.
“Let’s play Never Have I Ever,” Jessy suggested, and David shrugged, his preferred signal of acquiescence.
They sat on either end of her bed, both cross-legged, facing each other and hugging pillows in their laps. Each of them held up all ten fingers, ready to play.
“Never have I ever…read Hamlet,” David said by way of starting. Jessy shook her head.
“No, that’s boring!”
“What? We always do stuff like that.”
“I know! Let’s talk about something more fun than our reading lists and bodily functions.” She eyed him beadily, daring him to repeat his disgusting scatological comments from the last time they’d played this game.