November 9

Page 15


It feels like his words are turning into fists and punching me directly in the stomach. I pull my face away from his hand, but I keep my eyes closed. I feel like I might cry again, and I’ve cried enough for one stupid anniversary.
“People don’t feel uncomfortable when they look at you because of your scars, Fallon. They’re uncomfortable because you make people feel like looking at you is wrong. And believe me—you’re the type of person people want to stare at.” I feel his fingertips graze my jaw and I flinch. “You have the most incredible bone structure, and I know that’s a weird compliment, but it’s true.” His fingers leave my jaw and trail up my chin until he’s touching my mouth. “And your lips. Men stare at them because they want to know what they taste like, and women stare at them out of jealousy because if they had lips the color of yours, they’d never have to buy lipstick again.”
I release what might be a cross between a laugh and a cry, but I still don’t dare look at him. I’m stiff as a board, wondering where he’s going to touch me next. What he’s going to say next.
“And I’ve only met one other girl in my life with hair as long and beautiful as yours, but I’ve already told you about Abitha. And just so you know, she doesn’t hold a candle to you, despite being a great kisser.”
I feel his hands come up and push my hair behind my shoulders. He’s close enough that I know he can see the exaggerated rise and fall of my chest. But my God, it suddenly got really hard to breathe, like I’m ten thousand feet higher above sea level than I was five minutes ago.
“Fallon,” he says, commanding my attention. His fingers meet my chin, and he tilts my face upward. When I open my eyes, he’s a lot closer than I thought he was. He’s looking down at me with a pointed stare. “People want to stare at you. Believe me, I’m one of them. But when everything about you screams, ‘Look away,’ then that’s exactly what people are going to do. The only person who gives a shit about a few scars on your face is you.”
I want so badly to believe him. If I could believe everything he’s saying, then maybe my life would mean a whole lot more to me than it does right now. If I believed him, maybe I wouldn’t be so nervous about the idea of auditioning again. Maybe I would be doing the exact thing my mother says a girl my age should be doing: finding out who I really am. Not hiding from myself.
Hell, I’m not even dressing for myself. I dress in what I think other people would prefer I wear.
Ben’s eyes fall to my shirt, and for the first time, I notice his lungs are pulling in air with as much effort as mine are. He lifts his hand and fingers the top button on my shirt, popping it open. I suck in a quick breath. His eyes never leave my shirt and mine never leave his face. When he moves his fingers down to the second button, I could swear he pulls in a shaky breath.
I don’t know what he’s doing, and I’m terrified he’s about to be the first person to see what’s beneath this shirt. But for the life of me, I can’t find words to stop him.
When the second button is freed, he moves down to the third. Before he flicks that button loose, his eyes lift to mine, and he looks just as scared as I feel right now. Our eyes remain locked until he gets to the last and final button. When it’s loose, I look down at my shirt.
Only a sliver of skin is showing over my belly button, so I don’t actually feel exposed yet. But I’m about to, because he slowly lifts both of his hands to the top of my shirt. Before he makes his next move, I squeeze my eyes shut again.
I don’t want to see the look on his face when he sees just how much of my body was burned. Most of my entire left side, to be exact. What he sees when he looks at my cheek is only a fraction compared to what’s beneath my clothes.
I feel my shirt being pulled open, and the more of me that becomes exposed, the harder it is to hold back tears. It’s the worst time in the world for me to get emotional, but I guess tears aren’t known for their impeccable timing.
His breaths are extremely audible, and so is the gasp I hear him suck in as soon as my shirt is open all the way. I want to shove him out of the closet and close the door and hide, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last two years. So for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t ask him to stop.
Ben slips the shirt off my shoulders and slowly slides it down the length of my arms. He works it the rest of the way over my hands until it falls to the floor. I can feel his hands graze both of mine, and I’m too embarrassed to move, knowing exactly what he sees right now as he looks at me.
His fingers begin to rise up my hands and wrists, just as the first tear falls down my cheek. The tear doesn’t faze him, though. Chills break out on most of my skin as he continues moving his hands up my forearms. Instead of trailing his fingers all the way to my shoulders, he pauses. I still don’t dare open my eyes.
I feel his forehead rest gently against mine and the fact that he’s breathing as hard as I am is the only thing that gives me a sense of comfort in this moment.
My stomach clenches when his hands meet the top of my jeans.
This is going too far.
Too far, too far, too far, but all I can do is suck in a wild breath and let his fingers pop open the button on my jeans, because as much as I wish he would stop, I get the feeling he’s not undressing me for pleasure. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but I’m too immobile to ask.
Breathe, Fallon. Breathe. Your lungs need new air.