He stopped. “What? You’re leaving already?”
“Yeah, I need a change of clothes,” I said. “Plus, I’ve danced, I’ve drunk, I’ve swum. Work was actually pretty busy today, so . . . time for bed.”
“How’d you get here?”
“Hang’s dad dropped us off. I’ll just walk home.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll walk with you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“You’re always telling me what I don’t have to do for you.” He shook his head, smiling faintly. “I know what’s right and wrong, and I know what I want. You’re not walking home alone at night, Edie. I’d drive you, but I’ve had a few drinks myself.”
“All right. No need to get feisty.”
He just laughed and threw the towel aside. “C’mon, let’s go.”
I fetched my bag, and as per protocol, texted the girls good-bye. The breeze was chilly. Summer had officially come to an end. John took off the button-down shirt he had on over his T-shirt and handed it to me without a word.
Happily, it also took care of the nipple issue. “Thanks.”
“I was watching you dance. You’re good.”
“Years of playing ‘Just Dance’ in the family room, and I never did reach the high scores.”
I groaned. “You’re making me self-conscious.”
“Right,” I said, laughing a little too loud. “I’ll flick off that switch because you said so.”
He just smiled and shook his head. Seemed he was doing that a lot tonight.
“Thanks,” I eventually mumbled.
“Why can’t girls ever take a compliment? They’ve always got to act embarrassed for some reason.”
I harrumphed. “Like you do any better.”
“What do I do?” He tipped his chin. “Hmm?”
“You ignore them outright. Just pretend like I never spoke.”
A small shake of the head. “No, I don’t.”
“Yeah, you do.”
“Hit me with one,” he demanded.
“Um. I don’t know.” He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, his body a dream. He was sweet and loyal and honest and kind and strong and smart and he made me feel safe, something I didn’t think would ever happen again anywhere with anyone. “You’re a good driver. Very safe.”
“Thank you, Edie.”
“You’re welcome, John.”
“You’re damn good at pool. Whipped my ass.”
“Thanks,” I said.
Up high, clouds covered the sky. No moon to gaze at, no stars to wish upon. Though really, what would I wish for? John was walking beside me and it seemed harsh to burden a distant sun with my desire for world peace. It probably had its own problems.
“When are we playing again?” he asked. “I need a chance to beat you, get back my dignity.”
“Can’t handle being beaten by a girl?”
The side of his mouth turned up. “No. Just don’t like losing in general.”
“Fair enough. We can play again whenever you like.”
He stopped, kicking at a stone on the road. We were at my house already. It really hadn’t been far. The porch light was on, the driveway empty. Mom said she had another thing going on with her friends; God knows what time she’d be home. She was out a hell of a lot lately. But since it benefited me, I’d decided not to complain.
“Thanks for walking me,” I said, arms crossed over my chest again to hide my nerves. And why I was nervous, I had no idea. “Want to come in?”
The look he gave me, I couldn’t read. It was guarded by fences, doors, walls, probably even mines, and a moat.
“Just to hang out,” I said. “You know.”
“Nah.” He looked back the way we’d come. “I, ah, better get back.”
“See you later then.”
“Don’t get into any more fights,” I said. “Please.”
He just smiled. “’Night.”
While I unlocked the door, he waited at the curb, watching. He stood with his hands in his pockets, the wind whipping his loose hair about his face. I waved and went inside, locking the door behind me. It felt like a part of me was still out there with him, though. As if I’d been cut in two.
A shower washed the chlorine out of my hair, I’d blow-dried it, and put on my favorite black-and-white polka-dot pajamas. I opened my curtains and pushed up my window, searching the night sky. Only a little of the cloud cover had moved, allowing a couple of stars to shine through.
After a bowl of Cheerios, my stomach was happy. Book in hand, I settled down to read and actually started to get somewhere. Now that the buzz from the drinks had dimmed, it felt good to be home. I’d gone out and socialized with little to no awkwardness. Go, me.
The couple in the book wouldn’t get their act together. So very annoying.
A voice at the window said my name.
Without waiting for an invitation, he climbed right on in. I shuffled back to give him room on my bed. Converse tucked beneath him and hands on his knees, he sat, looking down at me. Studying me. Given my usual patience levels, I could only take about ten seconds of his silence.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, setting my book aside.
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”
“Then why are you looking at me like that?”
He swallowed hard. “I did want to come in and hang out with you earlier, but . . .”
“But what? Why didn’t you then?”
Instead of speaking, he kissed me.
Of course, I kissed him back. Of course I did.
Holy shit. Our mouths moved against each other, his hands cradling my face. This was what I’d needed, what I’d been waiting for without even really knowing. His skin on mine, his breath on my face. I couldn’t get close enough, no matter how I tried. Eyes hazy and lips wet, he kissed me slow and sweet. It seemed endless, as necessary to life as breathing.
Then, faces only inches apart, we just stared at each other.
I had nothing. No words at all.
Fingertips slid over my cheek, along my jaw. He swallowed hard. “Hey.”