As if she sensed him, Mari stopped and turned toward the window. Slowly, she stepped to the sill and looked down. A smile slipped across her face. The window was already open and her curtains fluttered in the breeze.
Smiling down at him, she said, “You could have come to the front door.” Mari had on a white cami and jeans. There was a patch of lace at the top of the cami, but the shirt was cut lower than anything she usually wore. It was the kind of tank top that Mari would have layered, but tonight she hadn’t. Her arms were bare, her hair pulled up, and that smile on her face made Trystan want to climb up the side of the house to her.
“I didn’t want to risk being seen. You know, by nosy neighbors and all that.” Trystan had his hands in his pockets. He might have looked suave on the outside, but his pulse was pounding in his ears and the paper with Mari’s address on it was getting strangled in his pocket.
Mari leaned on the windowsill. Her br**sts curved beautifully, swelling, as she leaned on her elbows. “Are you sure this didn’t have anything to do with, I don’t know, being you?”
Trystan grinned. “What does that mean? Being me is pretty good, but you’ll have to be more specific.”
She laughed. It was that magical sound he loved. It reached deep into Trystan and he didn’t want it to end. “The Romeo and Juliet thing, this little seduction scene you’ve got going on here. It’s insanely romantic. If you showed up with your guitar and sang from below my window, I would have died.”
Trystan snapped his fingers. His palms were so damp from nerves that they nearly slipped past each other without making a sound. “Damn it. I knew I forgot something.”
Mari smiled down at him before straightening up. “I’ll be down in a second. There’s a door by the kitchen,” she pointed the direction he needed to go, “I’ll come down and open it up.”
“But I was going to scale the wall.”
“Don’t you dare!” she said, still laughing and disappeared from the window.
Trystan walked in the direction she pointed and came to a leaded glass door made from thick wood. His heart dropped into his shoes. Not only was she smarter than him, but she was way richer. He was poor. Suddenly a rush of cold ran through his stomach and he wanted to leave. This was a mistake. There was no way they’d have enough in common, coming from such different backgrounds, but before Trystan could give it another thought, Mari threw open the door. She looked fantastic, her body all smooth curves and that bared neck was perfect for kissing. Trystan felt every inch of his body respond to her. If only his body listened to his brain.
“I’m glad you came,” she said shyly, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. “I started to think you weren’t going to show up.”
Trystan walked past her and into the kitchen, trying not to gape. The kitchen looked like something that belonged in a showroom somewhere. His fingers found his pockets again and hid out in there to conceal the nervous twitch of his hands. “Practice ran late.” Turning toward Mari, he said, “I wouldn’t have missed this.”
“Good.” She held out her hand and Trystan reached for it, hoping she wouldn’t mind how warm it was. “I mean, I’m glad you came. Not seeing you after school was weird. We’re always together. Did you notice that before?”
His eyes slipped over Mari’s body and her face flamed red. “Of course I noticed. I notice every inch of you, every day.” He tugged her hand, pulling her into his arms. This was where she belonged. He could feel it. Smiling that wicked smile of his, Trystan said, “For the longest time, I thought you knew, and that you were just playing me.”
“Ha!” she blurted out, and wrapped her hands around Trystan’s waist. “I was playing you? You made me so crazy that I couldn’t think straight. I had no clue you thought of me that way at all, I mean, why would you?”
“Are you kidding?” Trystan asked, his hands tangling in her hair, as he tilted her face up to meet his gaze. “You have no idea what you do to me, how you make my heart hammer in my chest, until it feels like I can’t breathe another breath, how one look from those dark eyes sets my skin burning, longing for your touch, or how your smile sets me on edge and fills my dreams until I see you again. I thought you were doing it on purpose, but then I realized that you didn’t know—that you were just being you and I was the one with the problem.”
“Yeah. I was hopelessly in love with you.” He ran his fingers through her hair as he spoke, brushing the back of his hand against her cheek. She looked up at him with such wide dark eyes, eyes that didn’t trust what they saw. She was afraid he’d hurt her, and Trystan felt exactly the same way.
After a moment, Mari looked down, breaking the intensity of the moment. “Come this way. I want to show you something.” Trystan followed her through the dark house, their fingers laced together. As they climbed the stairs, he knew where they were going, to her bedroom.
Stopping in front of the door, she turned to him. “I thought we could hang out and talk for a while, if that’s all right?”
“That sounds perfect.”
Mari pushed the door open and a smile leaked across Trystan’s face. She stepped into the room and turned to watch his reaction. He glanced around at the white moldings and thick trim around the door and window. There was a flat screen TV on one wall along with a stereo and iPod dock. A Kindle sat on her night stand, with a computer screen glowing softly on the desk next to her bed. The bed made Trystan pause. It was larger than his—well, the one his dad threw away—and was covered in a white and purple bedspread that had a cascade of ruffles on the skirt.
Trystan turned back to her, an eyebrow rising on his face in surprise, “Ruffles? Really?”
She shrugged, “What’s wrong with ruffles?”
“Nothing,” he said grinning, “it’s just more girlie than I would have thought you’d have. I thought you’d be practical, a solid colored comforter kind of girl.”
“I got it when I was twelve. Everything was purple, white, and unicorns. The bedspread was too expensive to toss, so the ruffle monster remains.” Mari folded her arms over her chest as she spoke, like she was embarrassed a little bit.
“It’s sweet. I can’t picture you at twelve, wearing ruffles.”
“I never wore ruffles. My mom wouldn’t let me. She said ruffles made me look fat.” She shrugged like it didn’t matter, but Trystan could tell it was more than that. There was a rift between Mari and her mom. He’d heard it before, the way her voice sounded weary, like she’d given up on her mom.
Trystan didn’t comment. Instead he crossed the room to a board decorated with ribbons. In the center of the board was a piece of paper with familiar handwriting. Trystan pressed his finger on the page and turned to look back at her, “Day Jones fan?”
“You know it. He’s dreamy.”
Trystan grinned and looked down for a second before meeting her gaze, “I thought I lost this. Some much happened that I didn’t know where it went.” It was the song he’d writen for Mari.
“I picked it up. If you want it back—” she reached past him to unpin it from the board, but Trystan took her hands and stopped her.
“No, it’s yours. It’s your song. I want you to keep it.”
Mari looked at his hands and Trystan released her wrists. Mari walked across the room and sat on the bed, patting the spot next to her. Trystan felt like his body had frozen and turned to ice. For some reason, he couldn’t move. It felt like he’d shatter into a million pieces. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this before, but Mari made it different. Everything was intensified to the point he could barely breathe.
Sensing his apprehension, Mari said, “Come sit with me. We can watch TV or talk.” She meant, we don’t have to have sex.
The pit of Trystan’s stomach was in a free-fall. He breathed in deeply and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry. I’ve known you forever, but this is…” he paused reaching for the right word, willing her to understand him, “this is too important. I don’t want to mess it up.”
Mari smiled at him and shook her head. Pushing off the bed, she crossed the room and grabbed Trystan by the wrist, “Trystan Scott, I swear. If you act like this when I say I want to watch TV, what will you act like when I say I want to sleep with you? Come here and sit. You won’t screw this up.” She yanked his arm, pulling him to the spot in front of her bed. He watched her, thinking too many thoughts to speak, but Mari just smiled at him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, Mari suddenly sat down and pulled Trystan down with her. They fell to the floor with a thud.
Mari laughed when she hit the floor. Sensing Trystan’s tension, she said, “Hey, I’m still me. This is still us. Nothing’s changed.”
Trystan’s smile faded as he sat up. Looking at her eyes, he whispered, “Everything has changed, for the better. Every time something finally goes right, something comes along and destroys it.”
Mari leaned in and kissed his cheek, “You’ll always have me, Trystan. No matter what happens, I promise my friendship is forever. Don’t worry so much. Let’s just spend time together the way we used to, but maybe you could kiss me once in a while, instead of torturing me with those sexy lips.” A wicked grin spread across her pink lips.
The taste of strawberry lip gloss filled his mouth. Trystan was worried, but that was only because he cared about her so much. “Anything you want, kiss ninja. But, you gotta realize that I’m in uncharted waters here. I don’t want to fall off the edge of the map.”
Mari laughed, “What, are you a pirate now?”
“I know how much you like those puffy shirts, so yes. My eye patch arrives tomorrow. I ordered it directly from Davy Jones, so it’s totally authentic. It’ll be kind of soggy, but his customer service wench assured me that it’ll dry out and have a nice sea brine coating.”
Before he could finish talking, Mari’s fingers found his waist and she started tickling him. Trystan managed to finish saying the snarky sea brine thing before retaliating. God, everything about Mari made him want to be with her. He was just so afraid of screwing it up.
No matter how much Trystan tried to worry, he couldn’t with Mari’s fingers wiggling against him. Every thought in his brain flew away as a massive tickle war ensued. Mari rolled across the floor, her smile and laughter intoxicating him further. She jumped to her feet a few times and Trystan jumped at her, knocking her back down and slipping his hands under the hem of her shirt. Her soft skin felt perfect. When Mari looked like she was about to cry, he’d let her wiggle away, only to repeat the scenario again.
Holding Mari close and hearing her laughter made him so high. If Trystan could stay like that, with her forever, he would.
The look in Trystan’s eyes faded, as my fingers found flesh under his shirt and tickled. Trystan squirmed and wiggled, periodically laughing harder than I’d ever heard him laugh. The tickle fight went on until I’d rolled across the room twice. I had no idea how much time passed—a few minutes maybe—but when I looked at the clock it was past eleven. How’d it get so late?