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“You said you have so many things to thank me for. What’s the next one?”

He smiles and brings his hand up to my face. His thumb brushes over my lips and it feels as if my heart lunges toward him in a desperate attempt to remain here while my empty shell is forced to fly back to Portland. “I want to thank you for letting me be your first,” he says. “And for being mine.”

His smile briefly transforms him from a sixteen-year-old boy on his deathbed into a handsome, vibrant, full-of-life teenage boy who is thinking about the first time he had sex.

His words, and his own reaction to his words, force an embarrassed smile to cross my face as I think back to that night. It was before we knew he would be moving back to Texas. We knew his prognosis at that point and we were still trying to accept it. We spent an entire evening discussing all the things we could have experienced together if we had a possibility of forever. Traveling, marriage, kids (including what we would have named them), all the places we would have lived, and of course, sex.

We predicted that we would have had a phenomenal sex life, if given the chance. Our sex life would have been the envy of all our friends. We would have made love every morning before we left for work and every night before we went to bed and sometimes in between.

We laughed about it, but the conversation soon grew quiet as we both realized that this was the one aspect of our relationship that we still had control over. Everything else about the future, we had no voice in, but we could possibly have this one private thing that death could never take from us.

We didn’t even discuss it. We didn’t have to. As soon as he looked at me and I saw my own thoughts mirrored in his eyes, we began kissing and we didn’t stop. We kissed while we undressed, we kissed while we touched, we kissed while we cried. We kissed until we were finished, and even then, we continued to kiss in celebration of the fact that we had won this one small battle against life and death and time. And we were still kissing when he held me afterward and told me he loved me.

Just like he’s holding and kissing me now.

His hand is touching my neck and his lips are parting mine in what feels like the somber opening of a good-bye letter.

“Auburn,” his lips are whispering against mine. “I love you so much.”

I can taste my tears in our kiss and I hate that I’m ruining our good-bye with my weakness. He pulls away from my mouth and presses his forehead against mine. I’m struggling for more air than I even need, but my panic is setting in, burying itself in my soul and making it hard to think. The sadness feels like warmth creeping its way up my chest, creating an insurmountable pressure the closer it gets to my heart.

“Tell me something about yourself that no one else knows.” His voice is laced with his own tears as he looks down at me. “Something I can keep for myself.”

He asks this of me every day and every day I tell him something I’ve never said out loud before. I think it comforts him, knowing things about me that no one else will ever know. I close my eyes and think while his hands continue to run across all the areas of my skin he can reach.

“I’ve never told anyone what goes through my head when I fall asleep at night.”

His hand pauses on my shoulder. “What goes through your head?”

I open my eyes and look back into his. “I think about all the people I wish could die instead of you.”

He doesn’t respond at first, but eventually his hand resumes its movements, tracing down my arm until he reaches my fingers. He slides his hand over mine. “I bet you don’t get very far.”

I force a soft smile and shake my head. “I do, though. I get really far. Sometimes I say every name I know, so I start saying names of people I’ve never met in person before. I even make up names sometimes.”

Adam knows I don’t mean what I’m saying, but it makes him feel good to hear it. His thumb swipes away tears from my cheek and it makes me angry that I couldn’t even wait a whole ten minutes before crying.

“I’m sorry, Adam. I tried really hard not to cry.”

His eyes grow soft with his response. “If you would have walked out of this room today without crying, it would have devastated me.”

I stop fighting it with those words. I fist his shirt in my hands and begin to sob against his chest while he holds me. Through my tears, I try to listen to his heart, wanting to curse his whole body for being so unheroic.

“I love you so much.” His voice is breathless and full of fear. “I’ll love you forever. Even when I can’t.”

My tears fall harder at his words. “And I’ll love you forever. Even when I shouldn’t.”

We cling to one another as we experience a sadness so excruciating, it makes it hard to want to live beyond it. I tell him I love him because I need him to know. I tell him I love him again. I keep saying it, more times than I’ve ever said it out loud. Every time I say it, he tells me right back. We say it so much that I’m not sure who’s repeating who now, but we keep saying it, over and over, until his brother, Trey, touches my arm and tells me it’s time to go.

We’re still saying it as we kiss for the last time.

We’re still saying it as we hold on to each other.

We’re still saying it as we kiss for the last time again.

I’m still saying it . . .

CHAPTER ONE

Auburn

I squirm in my chair as soon as he tells me his hourly rate. There’s no way I can afford this with my income.

“Do you work on a sliding-scale basis?” I ask him.

The wrinkles around his mouth become more prominent as he attempts to keep from frowning. He folds his arms over the mahogany desk and clasps his hands together, pressing the pads of his thumbs against one other.

“Auburn, what you’re asking me to do is going to cost money.”

No shit.

He leans back in his chair, pulling his hands to his chest and resting them on his stomach. “Lawyers are like weddings. You get what you pay for.”

I fail to tell him what a horrible analogy that is. Instead, I glance down at the business card in my hand. He came highly recommended and I knew it was going to be expensive, but I had no idea it would be this expensive. I’ll need a second job. Maybe even a third one. Actually, I’m going to have to rob a damn bank.

“And there’s no guarantee the judge will rule in my favor?”

“The only promise I can make is that I’ll do everything I can to ensure the judge does rule in your favor. According to the paperwork that was filed back in Portland, you’ve put yourself in a tough spot. This will take time.”

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