Chapter Twenty-one

THE LAST THIRTY MINUTES have been confusing, to say the least. I don’t know how to stop this spiraling into her, or even if I should try. Dakota’s words mean so much to me . . . and yet there’s a hint of something missing, some small part of me that isn’t totally connecting to them. I’m a bit on guard, and I don’t know if I should be so quick to jump when she says jump.

The spiral has much too much pull on me, and it overcomes that little niggling voice telling me that something’s missing.

I don’t want this moment to end.

I don’t want her to go.

I want her to stay and make up for the times when she left me, to make me feel normal again. It’s easier to focus on other people and make everyone around me happy than it is to come to terms with the fact that maybe I’m a little lonelier than I care to admit. It’s so easy to fall back into this routine with her. I used to think that I was made to protect her, that every atom of my body was created solely for her purpose. I was happiest when I had her, when I had someone who made me feel important, needed, necessary.

Dakota came here, to my apartment—she ran to me. But, I wonder, does this mean that she’s done running from me? Her body is so close now, so close that I could reach a hand out to her and pull her into my arms if I wanted to . . . and I do want to. I just need her touch. I need to know if that familiar tingle will spread through my body in the wake of her fingertips. I need to see if she can fill the empty parts of me that she left like holes in my body.

I take another step and wrap my arm around her small frame. She leans into me without missing a beat and my lips move with caution to find hers.

Her mouth is so soft; her lips are clouds that I want to be lost in, high above the world of common sense and far away from our shared pain. I want to float in this space where it’s she and I, and me and her. No breakups, no tragedy, no shitty parents or exams or long hours of work.

The moment my lips graze hers, Dakota’s breath hitches and relief floods through me. My mouth is timid, careful not to rush into this. My tongue glides over hers and she’s melting into me, as she always used to do.

I bring my other hand to the small of her back and pull her closer. The material of her tutu rustles against my sweats, and she uses both hands to push the sparkling fabric down to the floor, then presses her body against mine. Her body is firmer than I remember; the hard work she’s put in is paying off, and I love the way she feels now, solid and mine. She’s actually mine, maybe not forever, but for right now.

Dakota’s mouth is slightly slack, as if she’s forgotten how to kiss me. I rub her back as she tries to remember my mouth. My thumbs trace tiny circles on the small of her back and she sighs a breath between my lips. Her kiss is slow and her mouth tastes like tears and I don’t know if they are mine or hers.

She sniffles and I pull away.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her. My throat is full of molasses and my words are slow, stuck in my throat. “Are you okay?”

She nods and I look down at her face, taking her in. Her brown eyes are shining with tears and her lips are wet, pouty, and turned down into a frown.

“What is it?”

“I’m fine . . .” She wipes at her eyes. “It’s not that I’m sad, I’m just overwhelmed. I’ve missed you.” She sniffles again and a single tear escapes and runs down her cheek. I tap at it with my thumb and she breathes heavily into my hand as it cups her cheek. “Will you give me time to figure my shit out? Please, Landon, I know I don’t deserve another chance, but I will never, ever hurt you again. I’m sorry.”

I pull her in to me, relief and anxiety flooding through me as I hug her to my body. I have been waiting for months to hear these words, even if she’s giving me half a yes. Even if she needs time