I lean to the side to speak to the girls in the hall. “Congratulations, ladies, you’ve caught yourself a real winner!”
I turn away again, needing to get the hell out of Joel’s apartment before I snatch the poster tube off the floor and literally impale someone with it. I make it to the door, I wrap my hand around the knob, and then my feet jerk off the ground.
“Get out,” Joel orders with his arms tight around me.
He spins me away from the door, and I scream at him to put me the fuck down.
He begins carrying me toward the hall, and the girls there just stare at us like we’re a train wreck bursting into flames. “Get out!” he barks again, and they both blanch as they realize he’s talking to them.
“GET OFF ME!” I shout as I bat and kick at his arms and legs. He shoulders past the girl in the doorway of his bedroom to get me inside, and then he kicks the door shut behind us and pins his back against it to block me from leaving.
“Stop,” he says, lifting a hand between us when I take a determined step toward him.
“You can’t just lock me in your room,” I growl, grabbing his extended palm and throwing it to the side.
“If you wanted to be with me, why the fuck didn’t you say so? Why did you tell me to go home at your dad’s, and shrug me off at my mom’s? And not fucking say anything at Mayhem?”
“You were with . . . another . . . GIRL,” I say, getting louder and louder with each word.
His feet carry him forward and his fingers wrap tight around my shoulders. “Because you broke my fucking heart, Dee!”
I let out a humorless chuckle, and he stiffens. “That’s funny, Joel, because it only took you seconds to move on, but I haven’t been with anyone else in months.”
“You think I’ve moved on?” he asks.
I shrug out of his hold and cross my arms over my chest. I’m sure the girls that may or may not still be in his apartment—including the ones hiding in the coat closet and refrigerator—would agree with me.
“You think I’m fucking happy?” he asks, and when I don’t answer, he picks a crumpled piece of paper off the floor. Looking around, I realize the room is full of them. They litter the floor and overflow from a wire wastebasket in the corner of the room. “I drew you over and over and over again, and I could never fucking get you right,” Joel says, uncrumpling paper after paper. He pushes them at me one by one, each sketch a slightly different version of the image he gave me for my birthday. “I was terrified I was forgetting your face, and then when I finally got it, all I wanted was to give it the fuck away so I’d never have to see it again.”
“Then why bother drawing me?” I snap at him.
“Because I promised you I’d sketch you something special for your birthday.”
“You also said you loved me,” I scoff. “What’s one more lie?”
“You’re one to talk,” he snarls, and fury flashes through me.
“What the fuck is THAT supposed to mean?”
He meets my raised voice with a gaze that burns through me, his voice threatening to bring down the walls. “WHY ARE YOU HERE, DEE?!”
Every cell in my body trembles, demanding I yell back at him.
“TELL ME THE FUCKING TRUTH!” he booms, and something inside me snaps.
“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!” I scream at the top of my lungs, watching the words hit him and nearly send him stumbling back. “I fucking love you, okay?! Are you happy?!”
“YES!” Joel shouts, the corners of his lips already tipping up in spite of the anger in his voice.
I’m so livid and confused that I just want to cry, but Joel steps forward and cradles my face between his hands.
“Yes,” he says again, softer. “Say it again.”
“Say it again. I’m going to say it back, and then I’m going to kiss you.”
I want that so badly, my heart pulses in my chest. Once, twice, three times. He’s waiting. He’s waiting on me, just like he has for the past few months. I need to trust that. I need to trust him.
“I love you,” I confess in a quiet voice.
He doesn’t smile at me, or say it back, or even wait for me to finish. One moment, I’m saying the last word, and the next, his lips are on mine. Kissing Joel feels like drowning in a memory, a secret place where I’m always happy, always home. His kiss is desperate but soft, and I part my lips to him, needing to feel his tongue, his lips, the heat between us. My fingernails scratch over the buzzed sides of his mohawk, and he lifts me off the ground, hugging me around my waist and kissing me until the past five weeks cease to exist. Our hearts thrum against each other, and eventually, I summon the willpower to hold his head in place and pull mine away. He smiles up at me, his blue eyes bright and his lips an irresistible, thoroughly kissed red.
“You didn’t say it back,” I say, and he sets me down, smiling at me in a way that gives flight to the butterflies in my stomach. Normal girls have butterflies that flutter, but Joel stirs mine into a full-blown riot.
“I fucking love you,” he says, and he nips at my lips and kisses me again. He’s still kissing me when he says, “Dee?”
“Hm?” I say, but it comes out sounding much more like a moan than I intended.
Joel chuckles and pulls away. “There’s one more thing.” I have no idea what he’s talking about, so I wait, but not patiently. My hungry eyes are locked on those pretty red lips when he says, “I want to be with you. Just me and you.”