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“Do you remember… when I died?”
I almost tripped on nothing. I crushed her tighter, unable to look at her. I could feel her eyes on me. “Yeah.” The word escaped me, jagged, rough, and that day rushed back like a nightmare.
Her voice was low and full of wonder instead of the terror I’d experienced. “All I remember is jellyfish scattering and a flash of panic—just a few seconds, really. Then a sort of peaceful feeling, and the smell of Mama’s churros, and darkness. Darkness, and then nothing.”
I stopped by my boat but didn’t put her down, staring into her face. Her dark eyes shimmered, reflecting the stars.
“And then there you were… staring down at me like you are now, but with the sun behind you instead of the moon,” she whispered. “You had tears in your eyes. Why?”
Jesus fucking Christ, this girl. “I thought you were dead.” My eyes burned, and I braced myself against the memory of the last time I’d held her like this—when she was heavy and lifeless, her head drooping over my arm.
“So did I. When I opened my eyes, I thought you were an angel—but those tears… And you were holding my hand.”
I smirked. “Accusing me of being a player back in the day, Pearl?”
“I used to dream that you’d kissed me then, in front of all those people.” Her gaze flicked to my mouth. “But you didn’t.”
Goddamn. I swallowed. “Well. I could kiss you now, to make up for missing my cue when I was seven.”
Her lips twisted, just barely, and I waited for her to laugh, but she didn’t. “Okay,” she said, and everything inside me went still.
I lowered my mouth to hers, hovering a breath away. Our eyes locked and she didn’t back down, didn’t close her eyes like she was just yielding ground. She held my gaze like the lit end of a firecracker. I’d been kissing girls for years, had popped my cherry with an older townie girl on the beach the previous summer, right before I turned sixteen. But none of that prepared me for kissing Pearl. I was starting from scratch.
When I mentioned the sandbar as a possible burial spot for his father’s ashes, Boyce started to reply, hesitated, and then stared at his boots. I wasn’t sure if I’d said something wrong or if he was remembering the same thing I was.
I was nearly twenty-one years old and a college graduate, but my mind could still summon every precious second of a kiss that had happened when I was fourteen. I couldn’t decide if that was sweet or pathetic.
Adam Yates had been my first (unsolicited and revolting) kiss, not ten minutes prior. When he’d nuzzled the back of my neck, it was almost pleasant until he’d wrecked it with a slavering onslaught seconds later—all tongue and alcohol breath and drool. Blech.
I’d seen Boyce making out with girls on the beach or pushing them up against lockers to steal a kiss at school. Girls like Brittney Loper, who was dumb as a stick but stacked and sort of pretty. Hooking up whenever it suited her with whatever guy was interesting and interested, Brit was a carefree, perpetually cheerful pothead. Hating her felt mean-spirited, and honestly I wouldn’t have cared what she did, except Boyce. Watching him with her made me spitting mad. And restless. And aroused. Which made me more furious.
I was appalled to realize that I was jealous. Not just of Brittney, but all of them. Boyce had been mine for years, or so my heart had—unbeknownst to me—decided, and now suddenly he was touching and kissing and who knows what with all those girls and I didn’t want to see it or think about it stop stop stop.
I couldn’t tell my best friend, who would think I’d lost my mind or needed to schedule an exorcism. I couldn’t tell my mother, who still considered me her nerdy, quiet, undersized bookworm who hadn’t hit puberty and who certainly hadn’t dreamed and fantasized and hungered for Boyce Wynn’s lips on hers.
So when I found myself in his arms that night, practically alone (passed-out Adam hardly counted) for the first time ever, when he said I could kiss you now, there was no way I was saying no. I wasn’t capable.
He stared, eyes hard on mine, as if he’d misheard my whispered, “Okay.” He pulled me tighter and leaned so close that we were exchanging breaths, but hesitated for a long, silent moment as if I might revoke my consent. I returned his stare, afraid he would say something funny or smartass or indifferent.
“Pearl,” he said against my mouth. The subtle brush of his lips when he spoke my name spiked down my body and curled my bare toes and shot to my fingertips where they twisted into his T-shirt. “I’m gonna kiss you. Unless you tell me not to good and loud right now, I’m gonna kiss you, and I’m not gonna be sorry.”
I didn’t move a muscle, except for the tremors I was afraid he would feel. I couldn’t distinguish that fear from desire, though perhaps those two emotions—where Boyce was concerned—had entwined until they were indistinguishable. His fingers grazed my shoulder, triggering a flood of goose bumps, and my thigh, triggering a flood of something altogether different. I mewled, a sound I had never made in my entire life, and he closed the microscopic gap between us firmly, his lips soft, warm, decisive. He claimed my mouth as if he was tasting me, coaxing me to taste him in return—minty, spicy-sweet—sucking my lower lip with a hungry growl, licking and teasing the upper, all slow, deep, unrelenting persuasion. He lifted me higher, closer, his tongue thrusting deeper, and my head swam.
And then I gave him mono. Or more accurately, Adam Yates gave both of us mono.
Me:  Thank your stupid BF for me - Adam Yates gave me MONO.
Melody:  That’s what you have? SHIT. I got that in 7th grade. It totally sucked. ?
Melody:  Wait. You hooked up with Adam? I thought you kneed him in the balls and left him there?
Me:  I DID. But not before he shoved his tongue down my throat.
Melody:  What an assmunch.
Me:  You think??
Melody:  I said I was sorry! I didn’t know Clark was going to do that!!! He’s such a dumb boy.
Me:  More like an aiding-and-abetting-an-attempted-rapist boy.
Melody:  Adam wouldn’t have gone that far!
Me:  How do you KNOW?
Melody:  You’re right and I’m sorry and I told Clark if he ever did anything like that again I’d cut him off for a month.
Me:  So can you bring me assignments in the classes we have together?
Melody:  Sure. You’re lucky on one thing, btw – we’re dissecting a FROG tomorrow in bio. GROSS.