Si gulped. “I did it.” He tried smiling but couldn’t do it. “I did it. I resigned. I’m going to stay here. In Mundania. I want to protect this place.”
Sam laced her fingers together, measuring her breath. “So you’re unlicensed?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Si spoke too fast, and he knew he did the second the words bounced out of his mouth. “I mean, I want to serve here. Mundania needs someone to protect them. Why should the city get all the attention?”
“So you resigned.” Sam made sure to keep her words at a careful pace. “And you want to work out here. Without pay, since you’re not registered anymore. And your apartment is still in the city.”
He looked up at her face. Her completely normal, forgettable, amazing face. Why anyone wouldn’t want to kiss those lips or hold her, he didn’t understand. “Because… well, when I rescued that boy the other day? From the fire? That’s what it is to be a hero. And when I heard that crowd cheering, well, that’s what my author made me for. He created me to be brave and strong… and for once, I was. And when…” He paused. Those eyes of hers were amazing. “When I saw the look on your face, when I saw I was your hero… well, that was enough. I wanted to stay here where You make me what I was written to be. I could be your hero. For as long as you’ll have me.”
Sam kept the smile in her heart from showing up on her face. She couldn’t show him. It would mean he’d break up with her. Like everyone else did. “Of course I’d have you!”
“No. I mean… I don’t want anyone else. Sam, I know everyone else thinks you’re normal. I know that’s how your author wrote you. But you’re not normal. You’re everything I’ve always wanted.” Si glanced around the floor of Sam’s living room, trying to find words. Oh, hell. Out with it. “Sam, I think I love you.”
Sam gasped. She stared past him. She gulped. She gulped again.
Her voice was so small. “Si, I’ve dated a lot of men. I’ve seen so many. I –” She closed her mouth. She opened her mouth. “No one has ever told me that before. I’ve always been bland, so that’s all I tried to be.”
“Maybe you’re bland to everyone else… but not to me. Not to me, Sam.”
Sam stood up from her couch.
The television blared on ignored before them. Her average off-white walls held generic paintings of bland landscapes.
She couldn’t breathe.
“Sam… I’m sorry. If you want me to go?” Si stood, reaching out to her. He held out an open hand to her back. It hovered there, an offer, a vulnerable, floating question mark.
Same did not turn to see the hand.
Si closed his hand and dropped it. He turned to go.
“Sam.” Her voice was so small. “You can’t commute from the city out to here without some sort of pay. You need to find a house out here.”
“Yeah?” He turned back, his eyebrows raised in hope.
“I’ve got an extra bedroom.” She spun holding out a fierce finger. “But that doesn’t mean anything, ok? I mean, it does. I mean, I love you. But we’re not sleeping together. I’m strict on that, ok? And you’re not spending the night in my room. Maybe I’ll move out for a week or two. But you can move in here. Just, no sex, ok?”
Si blinked. “You love me?”
Sam’s hands flew to her mouth, her eyes wide.
Si walked over to her and took her hands in his, gently lifting them away from her face. His whisper trembled. “You love me?”
Her face shivered. It might have been a nod.
His voice became a choked sob. “You love me?”
That was definitely a nod. Her eyes darted up to his, and away again. And then back up. “I’m scared,” she whispered.
Sam returned the shaky nod. “Me, too.” He gulped. “Let’s be scared together.”
They embraced in the standard house on a boring block in Mundania, and an average love bloomed.
This is a Barrelbottom Tale.