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“You’re wicked, you know that? The only thing I can think about now is kissing you.” Trystan’s fingers pulled at my waist until my chest was firmly against his. The way we fit together made me feel tingles all over. It felt like I was blasted with a heater when he touched me. Suddenly I was hot and breathing like I’d run miles. He didn’t even kiss me yet. We were just talking about it.

“All part of my plan, kiss assassin.” I flirted back.

“I wonder if tha—” Trystan didn’t get to finish his remark because I reached up and grabbed his neck, and pulled his lips down on mine. Trystan’s hands held me tight as he kissed me back, his lips gently tasting mine before he lost all control and kissed me harder. I think I forgot to breathe at one point. The whole thing was perfect; the way he held me, the way he kissed me, the way he said my name like there was no one else and there never would be.

When we pulled apart, I sucked in ragged breaths and tried to calm down. Trystan smiled at me. I grinned back, and swatted his arm. “I’m wicked? That was supposed to be a little kiss?”

“I didn’t see you keeping it little,” he said, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. Trystan was happy, happy like I’d never seen him before. Every inch of Trystan was alive and resonating with mirth.

“Ha! Like that’s my fault. It’s kind of hard to do things half way with you. When you kissed me, while we were rehearsing, I almost died. No one’s ever kissed me the way you do.” I sat down hard on the couch, fanning myself. My heart was still pounding in my ears.

Trystan jumped onto the couch beside me. “And who else kissed you?”

My spine straightened and I turned slowly to look at him. I didn’t want to talk about that. Instead of answering, a blush stained my cheeks. Trystan took my hands, his eyes glittering with curiosity, and said, “Or should I ask how many? Are you really a sexual deviant? Could I be that lucky?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “A sexual deviant?”

“Back on track, Mari, my love. How many others have there been?” When I hesitated, he said, “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

“I don’t want to know how many girls you’ve slept with! God, Trystan.” I pulled my hands away and rubbed my eyes.

He was still smiling, “Are you sure? You might be surprised. I’m not the male slut everyone thinks I am. I’m only a little slutty.” He pinched his fingers together, leaving a tiny space between.

That got my attention. “What do you mean?”

Trystan shook his head, still smiling, not offering more information. “You tell me your’s first.”

“You’re evil,” I laughed. Trystan waggled his eyebrows at me and grinned widely. “Fine…I had one serious boyfriend. We didn’t do everything, but it didn’t matter. He still crushed me when we broke up. He goes to another school, so at least I don’t have to see him every day.” Trystan kept his hand on mine, rubbing the back of my palm. I glanced up at him from under my lashes, feeling foolish. “I haven’t been with anyone. Seth’s nickname for me is accurate.”

Trystan leaned forward and kissed me on the end of my nose. Grinning, he sat back slowly. “You’re perfect, Mari. Holding out for the right guy isn’t stupid, and guys who say it is just want to get in your pants.”

“Like you?” I said, kiddingly.

“Like me,” Trystan continued to hold my hand, his fingers gently brushing against the side of my fingers as he gazed at me. “Well, like me before I met you, and I’ve heard your chastity sermons for a few years now. Let’s just say you weaseled your way into my brain and I didn’t hook up with every girl I came across. The rumors of my conquests have been greatly exaggerated.” Trystan lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Meaning?” My heart was racing. Was he saying what I thought he was saying? That couldn’t be true, but I could tell from the expression in his eyes that it was—this was a secret that he was happy to share—one that he couldn’t wait to tell me.

“Meaning, I’m still a novice at this. I only had one relationship and it was with Brie.” He cringed. “Obviously I’m a total moron and have no idea what I’m doing. Besides her, I messed around and made-out, but…” Trystan looked at me for a second and then looked to the side, his lips curling into a bashful smile. “Are you really going to make me say it?”

I blinked at him, assuming I was dumb as a post and not following. “I think I have to. Are you seriously telling me that you were only with one girl? What about all that stuff Seth said?”

“Seth’s a moron. He’s all bluster, Mari. Have you ever seen him do anything but suck face with a girl?”

I cringed, “No.”

“Well, same thing for me. Appearances are deceiving. I hope you won’t use this information to tarnish my bad-boy persona at school. I like all the ladies drooling when I walk by.” He was laughing now, watching me with laughter in his eyes.

Grinning, I swatted him with my hand, “Oh, gross! Now you sound like him!”

Trystan and I laughed and kissed until the bell rang. When I emerged from the auditorium, I ran into Katie. She instantly noticed my swollen lips and blotchy skin. “Sucking face? With whom might this suckage be occurring? Or should I go look for him?” She glanced behind me, hoping to see the object of my affection.

I yanked her arm and led her down the hall. “No one.”

“Yeah, right. And that’s why we’re running away, so I can’t see the invisible man who ate your strawberry lip gloss.” Katie’s tone was light, teasing. She kept looking over her shoulder like the guy would magically appear.

“Where’s Mathboy when I need him?” I glanced around hoping he was nearby.

“He’s my sexy nerd, and he’s not going to save you from the slew of questions I’m going to hurl at your head.” We walked into the classroom and Katie set her books on her desk.

I looked back to the spot where Brie sat. Her chair was empty. I swallowed hard wondering if I could really go up against her and walk away intact.



Rehearsal was much more enjoyable with Mari in his arms and Brie god-knows-where. Trystan tried as hard as he could to live in the now, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it would all slip between his fingers at any moment. The more time he spent with Mari, the more they kissed, the more he realized he wanted her—and not in a temporary kind of way. There was something about Mari that made him come alive when she was around. All the years of jaded cynicism melted into giddy glee around her.

Tucker barely corrected Mari. She remembered everything, because she’d been prompting the entire time. She’d only lost a couple of days when Tucker threw her out. The cast had a different feel with Mari among them. She affected Trystan’s performance for the better and everyone around him strove to be as charismatic as Trystan. It was a domino effect and it started with Mari.

When Tucker first announced Brie’s replacement, no one though Mari could do it. She sat in the shadows, reading books—she wasn’t an actor—but Mari proved them wrong by the end of the first scene. Tucker didn’t stop the play, he let the entire thing run from start to end and when they finished, Tucker just sat there, staring at them with one eyebrow lifted too high.

The entire cast stood on stage, waiting for him to say something.

“Did he have a stroke?” Tia whispered out of the side of her mouth to the girl standing next to her.

Tucker laughed one sharp, “HA!” And then stood in his seat, clapping his beefy hands until they were all deaf. “I couldn’t have imagined that a high school cast was capable of this skill level. Trystan and Mari, I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about you two that pulled the whole performance up a few notches. I didn’t think this was possible.” Tucker stood there, arms folded across his chest, shaking his head.

Trystan spoke to Tia out of the side of his mouth, “We must have really sucked before.” All the girls instantly fell into a fit of giggles. Trystan waggled his eyebrows at Mari, who grinned at him in return.

Everyone looked around, wondering if they could take a break, or if they needed to do another run through. Tucker finally realized this and said, “We’re done. It can’t get better than this!” Murmuring to himself, Tucker turned and grabbed his folders and jacket.

The lights were turned off as Tucker made his way to the door. The stage lights remained on for another moment while the kid in the lighting cage got his books. Everyone ran from the room like rats from a sinking ship, except Mari who hung back in the wing, waiting for Trystan.

“You ready?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

They walked out of the school farther apart than either of them wanted to be. Mari looked over her shoulder and smiled at Trystan. Her dark curls blew like ribbons in the wind. Trystan and Mari already discussed walking places together. They decided that they’d act the way they usually did. He walked her to her block sometimes, before crossing the railroad tracks and heading towards his house. Mari knew he lived in the condos in the rough part of town, but she’d never been there.

“That went well.” Trystan smirked at her. Mari smiled back, her dark eyes caressing his face as soft as a touch. His stomach dropped. God, he wanted to kiss her.

“I was surprised it went that well.”

“I wasn’t. I knew you’d rock it. I mean, you have a natural talent for this kind of stuff. You always have.” Trystan stood at the street corner waiting for the light to change, when he felt Mari’s eyes on the side of his face. “What?”

She shook her head, “Nothing, it’s just every time I think I know you, something else comes out.”

“I adore you. You know that.”

“It’s not that. It’s your conviction. You said that with total certainty, like you knew I could do it when I didn’t even know that. How can you talk like that?”

“How can I not? Did you see you up there? It was amazing. Why haven’t you tried out for a part before?”

Mari shrugged, “Daddy doesn’t think it’s a productive use of my time.”

“I know he thinks he’s helping you, but he’s holding you back.” Trystan looked at her as they crossed the street. “You have so much potential and he’s channeling it into this little tunnel that sucks the light out of you.”

Mari’s gaze was on the ground in front of her. “There are some things that can’t be changed—like parents—I’m stuck with mine.” She glanced up at him.

Trystan knew what she meant. It pierced him at his core. “No, you can’t pick your parents, but you get to choose what life you live. Mari, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want you to know this… you’re capable of so much more.” They’d stopped walking and were standing face to face in front of Mari’s house. Trystan wanted to touch her face and pull her in and feel her lips against his.