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When Levi groaned again, I pulled back, gasping for breath. My palms were flat on Levi’s chest. I could feel his heart racing, and when I looked into his eyes, they were leaden with lust and lit with fire.

Levi closed his eyes and dropped his forehead to mine. He inhaled and exhaled in deep and steady breaths, until he said, “We need to leave.”

My stomach flipped, wondering what he meant, when he explained, “I have one more thing I need you to see.”

Needing a minute too, I let my hands slip to his wrists and said, “Okay.”

Though we didn’t move. We stayed under the full moon, next to the water, completely silent, but holding tight. Like the bright moon above, I knew we had just transitioned into a new phase. I hadn’t ever been there with a boy before. I had never been touched before Levi. And if I was right, this shy boy with a heart of gold, hadn’t been with anyone either.

My blood rushed through my body when I realized that I wanted him. I wanted to give him, me. I wanted to give myself to him in every way I could. My cheeks blazed as I searched for words that could give my desire life, but there was none. I would never know how to say I wanted him, fully. I just didn’t have the words.

“Elsie,” Levi’s rough and strained voice called my name, and I looked up at him through my lashes. His hands on my cheeks tightened as I stared up at him, knowing there was hunger in my eyes, but he said, “We really need to get going. I want—” He stopped himself from finishing the sentence, and moved back, joining our hands and leading us from the dock, through the restaurant to the street.

I was desperate to know what he was going to say.

Releasing my hand to put his arm over my shoulders, he pulled me close and led me toward a cluster of bars up ahead. The further we got, the more people milled about; Saturday night was getting busier the darker it became.

We turned down a small alley, and arrived at a small coffee house. It wasn’t one of the big chains that littered the streets of Seattle, but a small independent house, filled with plush sofas and rich colors.

Levi guided us through it, most of the sofas occupied but for a two-seater red one beside the fire. We claimed the sofa and sat down, a server immediately coming over to take our order. When the server left us, I let my gaze rove over the room. There were people of all ages, dressed in all kinds of ways. People were sitting alone, in couples or in groups, all their chairs facing the stage. A single microphone stood on the stage, red velvet curtains dressing the backdrop.

Confused, I turned to Levi to see him watching me. His suit jacket was lying over the back of the sofa, his tie stuffed in the pocket. The top two buttons of his shirt were open as he sat back, his eyes on me.

I pointed around the room, and shrugged my shoulders in question. Levi moved to the front of the sofa, and said, “I found out about this woman and wanted you to hear her.”

His answer hadn’t made anything else clearer. The server dropped off our coffees and walked away. Levi pointed at the stage and said, “For the first hour it’s open mic. People can read their own things. Then Sarah Carol comes on, reading her works.”

My pulse raced as I realized what this place was, what we were about to watch. Then a woman wandered forward to the mic, holding a booklet in her hand. She tapped the mic to make sure it was on. A high-pitched ringing screeched from the speakers causing me to wince. The minute it died down, I was captivated by the setting.

The woman opened her book, and began to read her words. “Love like a noose, a poisonous kiss…” I listened intently to every word, the woman baring her soul for the world to hear.

As she finished, the crowd clapped and a man took the stage. And so it went on; people, one after the other, taking to the stage, sharing their poems. Some were funny, some were serious, some were so heartbreaking that tears fell down my cheeks.

Levi sat silently beside me, his hand on my leg as I stayed completely glued to every sentence bravely spoken aloud. When the final person left the stage, the server refreshed our coffees, and I turned to Levi. He was watching me closely. “They can just get up and read their words?”

“Yeah,” he said and stroked back the hair from my eyes. “It’s a poetry club, they have readings most nights, but Saturdays are for bigger poets, people who have published books, that tour the country.”

My eyes widened and I said, “It’s Saturday. Are we going to see someone?”

Levi nodded. “Yeah, but I wanted you to see the open mic first. I wanted to show you that people share their poems. That there are places to do it, if you ever wanted to.” He smiled, and shook his head. “I’ve only heard some of your poems, Elsie, but you’re better than most of those we’ve just heard.”

A heady warmth and joy sprinkled over me at Levi’s praise, only to be replaced with complete and utter fear. I shook my head. Glimpsing the stage in my peripheral vision, I turned to stare at the lonely microphone that sat center stage, under the glare of a spotlight.

“I couldn’t,” I whispered, frozen with fear merely at the thought of opening my mouth for people to hear my voice.

Never mind my poems, which also caused me anxiety at sharing my words. But the thought of people hearing my voice, at opening myself up to that kind of ridicule, to hear their cutting words, their laughter and wickedness…

“Shh,” Levi soothed, pulling me back to lie against the couch. He cradled my head against his chest. I wrapped my arm around his waist and forced myself to calm down.

Levi ran his fingers through my hair, and said, “You don’t gotta do anything you don’t want. I just wanted to show you this place.” He swallowed hard and said, “It’s your passion from what I can tell. I wanted to show you that there were people like you, people who can make magic from words too.”

And with his words, my heart fell over the precipice it had been balancing on since meeting this boy. I tipped my head to look at Levi. I wanted to say so much. I wanted to express how he made me feel, how he made me feel with what he said to me—so kind and so pure—but I couldn’t find the words. My words were stolen the minute I wanted to express my feelings.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and a woman, looking to be in her mid-thirties, took to the stage. The coffee house fell to a hush, and the woman closed her eyes, her voice powerful, but not as powerful as her words.

“Who am I? The girl on the street. Who am I? The subhuman at your feet…” The more the woman spoke, every sentence laced in hurt and pain, I felt like I had been physically punched in my gut. Levi, clearly sensing it, held me closer, kissing my head when my tears fell.

I listened for an hour to what could have been my life. This woman had had no home. She had been ignored, but more than that, more poignant to me, she had experienced what I had too. She had felt the slap of harsh words. She had been the target of cruelness… she understood. She understood what it was like to be ripped into by people, like those girls that had torn me to shreds, that had whittled me down until I was nothing but a shell… who poisoned my world until it became a world I didn’t want to live in anymore.

I knew Levi had brought me to see her because of how she had brought herself from the dark and empty streets of being homeless. He couldn’t know this too had been my past. He couldn’t know how close I came to the brink of letting their cruelty consume me completely.

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