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“Delta is the one farthest away.”

“It’s in between the other two in brightness.”

“3.9 then.”

“You know this?” Corabelle turned her face back to me.

“Hey, I wasn’t that bad a student in high school.” I smiled at her.

She nestled into my neck, her nose cold. “Classic underachiever.”

I borrowed a line from Jenny. “I have to keep everyone’s expectations low.”

“Mine are sky high.”

I took one of her hands in mine. “You’re the only one I aim to please.”

Her body tensed, but before I could ask her what was wrong, she asked, “How many times did you see her?”

“Rosa?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not really sure.”

“A lot then.”

“For a while.”

“When was the last time you were…with her?”

“I’m guessing you don’t mean talking.”

She didn’t answer.

I sighed. “Are you sure you want to go into this?”

“I want to know what I’m up against.”

I drew her in even closer, each curve of her body pressed against mine. “I don’t keep track of these things. All I know is that once I saw you again, nothing else mattered. I don’t want to see her again. I don’t plan to see her again. I’m anxious for all this to be behind us so I don’t have to even think about it.”

“She loves you, Gavin.”

“She thinks she does. I’m just a meal ticket.”

“That boy doesn’t see you that way.”

I lifted her chin so she could look at me. “I totally understand why you would be worried. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to come between us again.”

She watched me with quiet eyes, fearful and deep. I felt overcome with the need to keep her as close to me as possible, to never let anything hurt her again. I bent in close to kiss her. I always communicated to her best this way, able to pour into her all the things I felt without having to fumble with words.

Her arms came around my head, and she responded in earnest. I realized I had not gotten a chance to kiss her those other nights on the roof, when I wanted to, and now the chance had come, and I let it unfurl, holding her as tight as I dared, delving into her soft, warm mouth like a dying man.

She gasped, and I pulled away, afraid I had pushed her too hard, that breathing was still too much, but she whispered, “Please take me to your place.” And so I stood up, helping her rise to standing, and we raced away from the stars and the students and the TA and the cold uncaring sea.

31: Corabelle

Gavin was so careful with me, so good.

I’d never been more happy to see his weight benches, his listing bookcases, and the scattered possessions that were all uniquely his.

He made a show of carrying me through the living room, as though I were frail, but I let him. The sensation of floating through his apartment, carried in the cradle of his arms, helped the world fall away. I could forget Rosa and her little boy, the lab room, the test results we expected tomorrow. My parents disappeared, and the hospital, the suction tubes, and the unending stream of nurses.

He laid me carefully across the bed, removing my shoes and wrapping me in a blanket. He reached inside the bundle of cloth for the snap to my jeans, easing them down without letting the chill touch my skin.

“You’re going to keep those socks on,” he whispered. “Not going to let you get cold.”

“That’s sexy.”

“But it is.”

His hands moved to the hem of my sweater, pushing it up. When my belly recoiled from the chill of his fingers, he withdrew, rubbing his palms on his jeans, then returning. “Better?” he asked.

I nodded, inhaling sharply when his hands grazed the cups of my bra as he lifted the soft wool over my chest. I wanted him to move swiftly, but he kept things slow, intent on his purpose. He tugged my elbow down and out of the first sleeve, then the second, and pulled the sweater over my head.

The blanket loosened on my shoulders, and he tucked it back in. I no longer felt cold at all, heat spreading through me as he stood at the end of the bed and pulled his sweatshirt over his head. I still had not gotten used to the changes in him from when he was a teen. His chest was broad and hard, his arms thick with muscle. When he bent to untie his boots, the corded expanse of his back shifted with every movement. I couldn’t take it any longer and twisted around so that I knelt on the bed, extracting a hand from the blankets to run it along his spine, feeling each indentation of sinew and bone.

He grinned up at me, that wicked expression that I’d known since I was small and had haunted my nights during the years we were apart. When he kicked off the boots and started to unbutton his jeans, I pushed him aside, grasping the waistband myself and jerking it open one-handed. The zipper came down with a quiet hiss.

I couldn’t stand it anymore and let the blanket fall, tugging on his jeans and peeling them down. He was erect inside the thin fabric of his boxers, and I ran my hand along it, feeling the pulsing throb.

He kicked the jeans off and pressed me down again, insisting on keeping the blanket in place. I pulled one end open and drew him inside it, creating a cocoon around us, soft and dark. He rolled farther onto the bed, lying over me, his lips covering mine. His hips pressed into me and I thrust upward to meet him, reaching between us to get rid of the boxers.

He was hot in my hands, and I wanted to make him crazy, to feel as desperate as I did. I worked the shaft with my fingers, pressing into the tip, reveling in the slippery wetness that meant he was as needy as me.

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