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When Maxfield cracked a rib kicking Clark Richard’s ass in high school, I’d followed her brand-spankin’-new Mini from school to her house in my ’79 TA so she could pick up the stethoscope her stepfather kept in his dresser. Then she’d followed me to the Maxfield place to check him out. She’d been cranky that day, which hadn’t been long after that kiss on the sandbar—a month or so, maybe.
The feel of her in my arms, the sound of her sigh and taste of her mouth when I took possession of it—she’d spun my head around that night. Three days later in bio, she’d barely looked at me, and I knew from the way Dover spoke to me that she hadn’t told her. If a chick doesn’t tell her best girlfriend something, it’s either so unimportant that she forgot or something she’s too ashamed to tell. Frankly, I didn’t want to know which one of those I was.
I’d gone to that sandbar the next weekend, downed a six-pack of Budweiser, and seriously considered motoring over to Dr. Frank’s floating dock, tying off my piece-of-shit boat to one of the cleats, and marching up to her door. In a rare burst of restraint, I’d settled for hoisting those cans one by one, toasting her in ways I thankfully can’t remember the particulars of now, cussing and kicking sand like a moron.
More swearing followed when I booted a mostly-buried something hard enough to break my big toe. I landed on my ass, clutching my bare foot, furious that some inanimate object would dare to be in my way while I was throwing a tantrum like the oversize man-baby Dover had accused me of being after I’d burped the chorus to “Gold Digger” in class. My anger flagged when the full moon came out from behind a cloud, lighting the small, visible portion of my buried enemy.
With only hands for tools, it had taken me a while to dig up the entire shell, which was about the size of a football. Even half-trashed, I’d known better than to use a rock or stick and risk cracking it. I’d never seen a whelk anywhere near that big, and my first thought was how much Pearl would love it. Once I dug it loose, I swept off as much of the sand as I could, wrapped it in my T-shirt, and left it by her front door.
She’d brought it to bio to show Mr. Quinn, nestled in a towel-lined boot box like it was a puppy. The whole surface, every spiral indentation, had been cleaned and polished. Quinn had her walk it around the classroom so everyone could see it up close. “The lightning whelk is our official state shell, ladies and gentlemen!” Quinn said, more excited than anyone else, as usual. But as Pearl circled the lab tables, even people who hated school and science in particular wanted to touch it. “Judging by its size, the previous inhabitant—a predatory marine gastropod, scientific name busycon perversum—was older than all of you.”
When she sat down, our eyes connected across the scarred black tabletop while our lab partners examined the shell.
“That must’ve been one scary, big-ass snail,” Dover said, and laughter broke our linked gaze.
I never did get that T-shirt back.
• • • • • • • • • •
Pearl, standing in my doorway in shorts and a God-have-mercy pink tank top, holding a bag of burgers and two shakes, was an assault on my senses. I didn’t know what to want first. My mouth watered and my stomach growled at the smell of those burgers, but when she stepped into the light my dick sensed that sweet little body feet away and said, Fuck y’all, food can WAIT.
“Thanks. I’m starving,” I said, forcing those three words out like they were near impossible to form. Hoping she took my asshattedness for hunger—for food—I took the bag and turned toward the table to hide the way my jaw steeled, fighting to bring my body under control. That was the moment I realized I hadn’t gotten laid in two weeks. No, more than two weeks—a month, maybe. I could have blamed the lack on being too busy or too tired to bother—God knows I was both—but what kind of loser is too busy to fuck? I’d go drown myself in the goddamned gulf first.
I hadn’t even been attracted to anyone since I’d realized Pearl was coming home. That was the only explanation, whether I liked it or not. It didn’t matter if I could probably go to bed right now and sleep ten hours straight. My body was more than willing to man up and perform like a superhero first—if I was fucking the girl who was currently pulling milkshakes out of a drink holder and setting them on the table right next to me.
My fingers itched to touch her. I’d barely stopped to eat all day and was starving, but her scent—oranges and flowers and a trace of saltiness, as if part of her belonged to the ocean she loved even though it had tried to kill her—was more potent than the smell of the food on the table. She peeked under both milkshake lids before leaning to place one at my spot. Leaning over the damned table to place it at my spot. My hands curled into fists, unable to look away from her perfect ass in those shorts and the sliver of warm bronze skin at her lower back when she stretched farther and her tank rose.
Hunger flared through me, a greedy flash fire of lust. I wanted to run my palms down her arms from her slim shoulders to her small hands, flattening them against the table in silent command. I would skim my hands beneath the front of that snug top, fill them with her soft tits. I would bury my face in the curve of her shoulder, inhaling her tangy sweetness. I would lap the tip of my tongue along the side of her neck, feel her pulse accelerate beneath her skin, suck her earlobe into my mouth and tug it with my teeth. When she leaned back against me, I would rush to untie, unbutton, unzip, tear open those little shorts and shove them down her legs, along with the lacy underwear my imagination conjured. Fingers sliding down her belly, I would slip one into her, adding another once she was soaking wet and her arms began to tremble. And then, fingering her with one hand while I unzipped my jeans and freed my ravenous cock with the other, I would whisper the words I’ve wanted to say to her for four years.
“Crap. They didn’t give us any ketchup,” she said, setting two huge burgers wrapped in greasy yellow paper at my spot and one at hers, flattening the bag and upending an extra-large box of fries onto it. “Do you have some?”
She turned, her head angling at whatever lunacy she saw on my face, and I struggled to understand the simple words she’d just spoken over the gradually fading vision in my head. Without replying, I twisted for the fridge, pulling it open and leaning into the cold. Fuck. I was acting like a grade-A jackhole, and I couldn’t make it stop.
I just wanted her so bad. Still.