“I wasn’t going to,” he whispered back, nuzzling my hair away from my neck and kissing my sensitive skin.
If I wasn’t still half asleep, that kiss would have been enough to have me turning over in his arms to feel his lips in a million other places. Instead, I stayed facing away from him, my eyes closed and my body languid. I expected him to keep kissing me, to wake my body up so that the rest of me would follow. Instead, he simply snuggled tighter against me and held me until I fell back asleep.
In my dreams, I asked him why he came to my room if he wasn’t planning to, why he drove more than three hundred miles just to see me. But I woke myself up before he answered, certain that I didn’t want to know.
I was alone in my bed, and for a moment, I wondered if it had all been a dream. But then I remembered the way his arms had felt around me—warm, safe, real.
When our eyes locked in the kitchen before breakfast, I had the strangest urge to go to him. To wrap myself around him and mold my cheek against his chest. I wanted to feel his arms around me, and I pushed the feeling as far away as I could.
Every moment I spend with him now feels like holding my hand in the fire and liking it. The longer I stay in the flames, the more it will hurt later, but for now, we’re burning. And I like it too much to step away.
We have a breakfast of coffee and marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury eggs, and then we play board games with my dad until lunch. Then more chatter, more burning, until it’s time to start Easter dinner. My dad is in charge of boiling water while Joel and I stand side by side at the counter chopping vegetables.
It’s unsettlingly perfect.
Joel steals kisses when my dad isn’t looking, and it’s strange how a simple brush of his lips or graze of his fingertips feels infinitely more intimate, more dangerous, than having sex under my dad’s roof. And not just because my dad is nearby, but because of that flicker—that something between us that I’m becoming more and more aware of.
It’s like swimming with sharks. Like running with wolves.
It’s like falling. Like leaping.
“It’s usually just Dee and me at Christmastime, too,” my dad tells Joel after dinner. We’re all still sitting at the table, with our bellies full and mine tangled in knots. “You should come this year. We’d love to have you.”
Falling. Leaping. Vertigo.
I abruptly stand up, and my dad and Joel stare up at me.
“I feel like going for a walk,” I say, backing away from the ledge.
“Now?” Joel asks.
I need to get him away from this table. Away from my dad. Away from conversations about a future that will probably never happen. “Yeah. You coming?”
He follows me without further hesitation, and after he helps me into a jacket and borrows an oversized hoodie from my dad, we finally escape the house. As soon as I’m outside in the chilled night air, I feel like I can breathe again.
“What was that about?” Joel asks, falling in step beside me as I follow a trail of streetlamps leading away from my house.
“What was what about?”
He stops walking, and I stare back at him. In three-day-old jeans and a black hoodie, he’s wearing an uncompromising expression.
I know he wants me to explain, but what the hell am I supposed to say? That my brain is full of chemicals making me want to melt against his skin? That the feeling fucking terrifies me?
I reach out to him, unwilling to say a word, and Joel studies my extended hand before clasping his fingers with mine. We walk in silence all the way to a place I didn’t even know I was taking us.
“Where are we?” he asks as I punch a key code into the security system of the clubhouse where one of my exes works. We used to sneak in after-hours to skinny-dip in the pools or just hook up, and I still know the code by heart.
“A pool,” I answer. The club sports three pools of varying sizes, all of which are empty now—concrete husks drained of water until Memorial Day. Even though I still mess around with my ex from time to time, and I’ve brought other boys here during the season, I prefer to come alone. This place is different without the water—magical, private. Bringing Joel here is like sharing a secret, one I’ve never shared with anyone, not even Rowan.
“How do you know the security code?” Joel asks, and I turn around to walk backward, smirking while drawing him inside.
“One of the perks of dating a lifeguard.”
I lead him through the girls’ shower room, and we grab armfuls of towels before emerging out back in the fenced-in pool area. Most of the security lights around the chain-link fencing dimmed out ages ago and haven’t been replaced. The white moon and pale stars light what the rare orange bulb doesn’t, and Joel and I walk through the shallow pool to get to the lap pool, walking deeper and deeper inside concrete walls until we get to the middle of the twelve-foot-deep circular pool.
We lay the towels down and stretch out on our backs, our shoulders brushing under a blanket of pinprick stars that glow against the walls of the pool and make the dark feel a little less dark.
“I feel like we need to have some cliché conversation about the stars,” Joel says as we lie there staring up at them, and my light laughter echoes off the walls.
“Do we need to?”
“What if someone is watching a movie of our lives? We’d be a huge disappointment.” He smiles over at me, and when he looks back toward the sky, his fingers thread with mine.
We lie there like that, silently breathing in the cold and bearing the weight of the universe, until he says, “I always thought this shit was cheesy. Like when it happened in movies. But it’s kind of nice . . . being here with you.”