Trystan’s fingers skimmed Mari’s cheek and then tangled in her soft curls. They stood at the foot of the stage, surrounded by empty seats. That kiss was still burned onto his lips. He couldn’t step away from Mari. His eyes locked with hers, never blinking, never straying from her intense gaze. The moment felt so fragile that Trystan was afraid to breathe. Everything he ever wanted was standing in front of him, looking up in shock.
Mari’s body shivered in his arms when he told her that she was the reason he wrote that song. Swallowing hard, Trystan breathed, “The girl who brought me to my knees, was you.” Taking a breath to steady his voice, Trystan lowered his gaze and looked back up at her. “That song meant everything to me. It was as close as I thought I’d get to you. I’ve made too many mistakes, too many times. And then, like an idiot, I flaunted them in front of you.” A smile lifted the corners of his lips as he allowed a curl to fall from his fingers. “Mari, I don’t know what made you do it. I realize that you wanted someone for one night, but that isn’t what I’m looking for anymore.” His lips curved like he was trying to form a word that wouldn’t come.
Mari shivered, unable to hold her body still. When she finally spoke, he could barely hear her, “You love me?”
It was a question that he wanted to answer every hour of every day, but when she asked, when her lips parted and those words tumbled out, Trystan felt a pang of panic pierce his middle. She wanted a plaything. She doesn’t want you that way, he thought. It felt like fingers were pressing into his throat and cutting off the air. The way Mari looked at him—it was too much.
There was a slight tremor building in his hands. To hide it, Trystan slipped his fingers off her face and into his pockets. Looking at her through the pieces of dark hair that hung over Trystan’s eyes, he said softly, “It’s more than that. God, Mari.” He sucked in air, and ran his fingers through his hair. “There’s so much to say, and I have no idea how to say it. I wrote it down, because otherwise all those words, all those feelings, stayed trapped inside of me, in here,” his fist banged on his chest as he lifted his gaze and met hers. Stepping toward Mari, he confessed, “I love you. Everything I am, everything I hope to be, is better when I’m with you. I don’t know...” Trystan was breathing hard, like he’d been running from something terrifying.
Mari watched him, her beautiful brown eyes impossibly wide, with her lips parted in shock. As he stumbled over his words, lacking the normal Trystan Scott confidence, Mari stepped toward him and took his hand in hers. Brow pinching together, she looked up at him, asking, “Why are you trembling?”
Trystan worked his jaw, freeing the thought that was stuck in his throat, “Love destroys, I believe that—but I’m hopelessly in love with you.” His head tilted to the side as he said it, his blue eyes so soft and vulnerable. “What am I—” he started to ask, but she cut him off.
Heart pounding wildly, he couldn’t stand it. In that moment, Mari didn’t say much. She just stood there shell shocked after he said he loved her, but Trystan had to tell her. She had to know. There was no way he could let her think, after all this time, that he was in love with someone else. But when he said he loved her, she didn’t say it back. The center of his chest felt hollow, like a carved out pumpkin. He couldn’t breathe. His mind was telling Trystan to make a joke and run—do what he always did—but he couldn’t, not now, not with Mari.
The corner of Mari’s mouth curved up. She held his hands tighter and pulled them to her chest, “Do you feel that? My heart’s pounding in my chest like it’s going to explode. You do that to me. You make me crazy. You make me better. You make everything better. You’re the brightest part of my day and you always have been. I don’t want a fling, Scott,” he recoiled when she said his last name, but Mari pulled him closer, not releasing his hands, “I asked you that question last night, because I couldn’t stand seeing you every day and sitting next to the guy that stole my heart, and act like everything’s okay. When Tucker said you were enlisting—” she let out a rush of air, eyes wide, locked on his face, and continued, “I couldn’t lose you. Not without even trying. How could you think I didn’t love you?”
Trystan listened to her speak. His mind was trying to pull out of the conversation before his heart was blasted to bits and splattered across the auditorium walls. Mari could destroy him. One word and his life would never be the same, but as she spoke he couldn’t help but smile.
When she asked that question, Trystan finally met her gaze. “You love me?” he asked.
Mari nodded, smiling up at him, “I love you, Trystan Scott, every bit of you; past, present, and future.” A grin twisted her pink lips. Mari looked at him out of the corner of her eye, “Besides, it’s not like I can turn it off. If that were possible, we wouldn’t have had that kiss.”
Trystan laughed softly. The sound filled his chest, making him feel whole. Leaning toward Mari, he used every drop of boyish charm he had, “I really liked that kiss.”
Mari’s cheeks flushed as she smiled, and she quickly tried to look at the floor, but Trystan didn’t let her. Instead, he reached for her face and tilted her chin up. Smiling, he took in every inch of her red face and instantly wanted to cover her in kisses, “And I suppose you didn’t like it as much?”
Mari smiled broader. “You’ll just have to do it again and find out… see for yourself.” She looked up at him through her lashes, her cheeks growing hotter in his hands.
“Is that so?” Trystan asked, a soft smile spreading across his lips.
She nodded, “Very much, I’m afraid.” Mari glanced up at Trystan. He pulled her closer and lowered his face, inching slowly toward hers. Mari’s head tilted to the side and he was kissing her again. Her arms wrapped around his chest and she held on tight. Trystan’s palms stroked her cheek as he pulled her lips to his. She tasted like strawberries and sunshine. He couldn’t get enough, he’d never get enough of Mari.
The bell rang and shocked them apart. Trystan stepped back, his gaze filled with mirth and his lips twisted into a perfectly boyish smile. He crossed his ankles, and bounced on the balls of his feet for a second, drinking her in like this was a dream. “I have more things I’d like to discuss with you, beautiful kiss ninja, but I have to get to class. I can’t miss another or I won’t graduate, because believe me—if that weren’t the case—I’d stay here with you.”
Mari looked at him, still beaming, “Go on, I understand.” Trystan nodded at her, and grabbed his books. He was half way up the aisle when she blurted out, “Wait! Trystan,”
When he stopped and turned back, he saw concern on her face. “What’s the matter? Awh, screw it. I can stay.” He threw his books on a chair and walked back down the aisle. Mari met him halfway and laughed.
Grabbing his books, Mari shoved them into his hands, and said, “No, you can’t. Besides, I just wanted to ask you if we can keep this a secret, for now. I’m not really supposed to date. If my Dad finds out, well, I just don’t want to deal with it…”
Trystan fought back the urge to reach out and run his fingers through her soft curls again—to be that close to Mari, and to be able to touch her…
Trystan felt like he could fly. There was nothing that could bring him down. Leaning toward her, he touched his forehead to hers lightly, “My lips are sealed. I won’t tell a soul.” He smiled at her again, beaming with excitement. Pulling away from her was torture. He shouldn’t have gotten so close again. Tearing himself away from Mari was the last thing he wanted to do, but Trystan couldn’t miss another class.
As it was, he was on thin ice. Tucker saved his ass earlier and he knew it. Who would have thought that today would go this way? Trystan didn’t. Grinning at her, he sucked in a deep breath, letting it fill his chest before turning away.
“Better get going,” he said, his voice a little too high, almost like he was laughing. When did it become so hard to hide how he felt around Mari?
“Yeah, you better go.” My voice was soft. It was everything I could do to keep it from shaking. Trystan Scott loves me. He said it. He wrote a freaking song about it. A song that went viral. A song everyone knew. My heart lurched in my chest as he pulled away from me and turned to walk up the aisle.
He looked over his shoulder at me, those brilliant blue eyes gleaming. “The view’s good coming and going, I hear.”
At that point, the smile on my face increased to mega-wattage. I glanced down at the floor and back up at him, feeling the blush spreading across my face. Looking up at him from under my lashes, I nodded once and said, “Only you would say that.”
“Only you would pretend you weren’t looking.” Trystan walked backwards up the aisle, one sneaker squeaking as he clutched his books tightly to his chest. The way he looked at me made everything else melt away. I didn’t remember where I was or what I had to do next. The only thing that mattered in that moment was Trystan. He was like a beautiful black hole, and he absorbed every piece of me.
I teased, “I’ll make a note to ogle you more openly next time.”
He held out his arms, his books extended away from his body and balanced on the top of his palm. “Why wait?” Trystan was standing right in front of the door. I could hear kids moving through the halls, heading to their next class. Trystan turned in a circle slowly, keeping his gaze on me the whole time.
I laughed. Closing my eyes slowly, I opened my mouth, not knowing what to say. I wanted to look at him. I wanted him to see me do it. I don’t know why, but the moment felt charged. Every spot on my skin was hypersensitive, and when his eyes passed over me, I flushed harder. I’ve never blushed so much in my life.
Breathing raggedly, I folded my arms over my chest to try and hide it. “Very pretty,” came out when I finally spoke.
Trystan’s arms fell to his sides, and his books slapped against his leg. He ran back down the aisle to me asking, “Pretty? Seriously?” His brows disappeared under his hairline, as his soft lips hung opened waiting for me to respond.
I grabbed his shoulders and twisted him around, pushing back up the aisle, shoving him toward the door. “You’re such a drama queen. Get to class already!” Trystan allowed me to push him up the aisle. I could see the laugher in his eyes as he looked over his shoulder at me. When we were standing before the door, he dug in his heels and turned suddenly, which resulted in me smacking into his chest. It would have been sexy if I didn’t have that just-walked-into-a-pole expression on my face.
Trystan wrapped his arms around me for half a second, and whispered in my ear, “There are so many words to describe you. I plan on telling you all of them later.” He pulled back and kissed my temple before releasing me. His eyes met mine and held. “I can’t believe it.”