Scanning the crowd of people outside as they leave the meeting, a flash of red draws my eye. Piper walks down the sidewalk toward her car parked at the corner.
She turns to me, folding her hands together in front of her dress. She smiles and my heart stops.
“I cannot believe you just did that.” Piper laughs. “The look on my dad’s face. He thought you were going to be on his side. And Mayor Himmel probably couldn’t believe a high school student would stand up and argue with her.”
“Yeah, my parents gave me a hard time last night because they thought I was coming to support the project.” I rub a finger under my nose and grin. “But they wouldn’t answer my questions or even give me a chance to explain.”
“Oh. Yeah.” She rocks back on her heels and sniffles. “That’s kind of, well, mean.”
(Note to self: Eating crow tastes like dirt, but she’s worth every bite.)
“It was.” I tuck my hands into my jean pockets. “And so was I. Mean that is. To you. And I’m sorry.”
The cool night breeze slips between us, chilling my skin. Piper’s quiet sniffles send daggers through my chest, worse than Blackwood’s mind machete.
“I should have talked to you that night. At Iggy’s party. Or at least let you explain on Monday.” I use my hand to dispel the magic-static in my hair. “Not that you owed me anything, just that… I kind of overreacted.”
“No, you had a right to be mad. I told you I wasn’t going, then I did.”
I look into her eyes and she gives me a sad smile.
“Can we sit and talk?” I point to a bench in an alcove near the edge of the cement courtyard.
Four-foot tall Boxwood bushes surround the bench in a u-shape, sheltering the back and sides from view of the main street that runs in front of the courthouse. Few cars will pass at his hour, but those that do won’t bother us.
I take a deep breath, and the dampness from the air spreads to my lungs. Or maybe I’m suffocating. It feels the same. I sit next to her on the wooden seat and the sweet scent of roses from her hair rises to my nose. The breeze cools the heated skin on my face, but it does nothing to cool the heat rising in my chest.
“I didn’t want to go the bonfire.” She twists her fingers together in her lap. “I planned on working on the recycling project.”
“But Melody called right after you and I talked.”
“She said she and Ky were fighting and wanted to have a girl’s night.” Piper rolls her eyes. “Then when we got to Iggy’s, Ky was there, and Melody skipped off into the sunset with him.”
“Sounds like her.” Melody’s weird comment and Iggy’s head shake resurfaces in my mind and my stomach sinks.
(Note to self: You missed the obvious setup. And melody and Ky were in on it.)
“I played bags with Iggy, but then he went inside to get you. Then Blake took his spot and… well, you know the rest.”
Iggy is never going to let me forget how I screwed up this one.
“Yeah, the rest was me being immature.” I bounce my knee. “Can we start over?”
“I suppose.” Piper gathers her long hair with her hand and twists it, letting it fall over her shoulder and onto her chest. “Now that I know you aren’t trying to help my dad cut down all the trees.”
“I can’t promise someone else won’t. But I’m against it.”
“Hmph.” She shakes her head. “That anonymous investor sounds a bit shady.”
“I wonder who it is.” Were they magical or human?
“Oh, I know who it is.” Piper says with a giggle.
“Who?” The look on her face makes me smile before I even know the joke.
“It’ll be some rich old lady with about fifty cats.” She nudges me with her shoulder. “Those are the types of people who spend most of their time in a library.”
“Really?” I laugh, trying to ignore my racing heart. “I guess I need to get a cat, so I can fit in.”
“You’ll need a few, so they can keep each other company while you’re off reading at that new library.”
“I think I’ll have to ease into it. I’m allergic to cats. Have to build up an immunity.”
Piper laughs, and I catch my breath. This is so easy. I stare into her gaze, my pulse in my throat.
Piper chews on her bottom lip again. I have the strangest urge to touch it with my finger or to lean in to see how it tastes.
(Note to self: Time to quit reading those romance novels.)
(Another note: Time to start living one.)
It’s do or die. Right now. I want Piper to like me, the nervous book worm with no idea what he’s doing. She’s sitting here with me. She wanted to talk. The warm zing of hope gives me the courage to ask the question I’ve choked on for a year.
“Hey, uhm, will you go out with me sometime?”
Crickets. Literally, the crickets chirp from beneath the bushes surrounding our tense bubble. Piper’s face gets even redder and she twists her hands in her lap.
“My dad doesn’t want me to date.”
Reaching over, I pick up her hand and hold it between mine. “But do you want to?”
Please say yes. Please say yes. Please say yes.
She lays her other hand on top of our hand pile and her teary eyes meet mine. My stomach plummets.
“Can I… think about it?” she whispers.
Dammit. I am really bad at this shit.
“Okay.” I drop my chin to my chest with my nod. “Yeah. Sure.”
“Please, don’t be mad.” She squeezes my hands.
“I’m not.” Embarrassed and depressed, but not mad.
She sniffles and my heart thumps. Now I made her cry? How could I be so wrong? I thought she would say yes and instead, she’s in tears trying to find a way to let me down easy.
“I gotta, go.” I pull my hands away, leaning them on my knees as I prepare to stand.
“Zaidyn, wait.” She grabs my elbow. “Let me explain.”
De ja vu. Pressing my lips together, I lean forward, elbows on my knees, and wait for her to speak.
“It’s not just my dad.” She wipes a finger under her eye. “I have issues with relationships because… because of my mom.”
I frown. “Your mom?”
It’s not you it’s me. Let’s just be friends. It’s my Mom. At least her excuse is unique. I’ve never heard that one before.
“She left when I was really little. I barely remember her.” She takes my hand again and draws little circles on the back of mine with her fingertip.
My heart breaks for her and at the same time, I feel guilty for still having both my parents. But I press for more to make the connections. “What does this have to do with us going on a date?”
“I guess I don’t want to get close to somebody and get hurt. I think that’s why Dad doesn’t let me date either.” Then she whispers, “And until now, I’ve been fine with his rules.”
My sluggish heart beats a little faster. “Until now?”
She holds my hand tighter between hers and breathes, “Until you.”
In all the times I’d fantasized about this moment, the steps of the courthouse never entered my mind as the setting for my first kiss with Piper. But this little secluded bench, surrounded by greenery and crickets and the soft glow of the streetlight, is beyond perfect.
I reach a hand to her cheek and slide it to the nape of her neck. Tangling my fingers in her silky dark hair, I dip my head in and close my eyes. My lips hover a breath away from the warmth of hers, my hands shake—so do hers—and I want this exact moment to last forever because nothing will ever be better than this anticipation.
(Note to self: You’re an idiot.)
Finally, when I can’t stand it anymore, I press my lips to hers, and a tingle runs across my skin. This new moment becomes my favorite. She lays her hands on my shoulders, then slips them around my neck and scoots closer. Her thigh burns against mine. I hold her, one hand on each side of her tiny waist until I slide them around to her back.
My head spins and a lightness fills my chest. And my arms. And my legs. I know without looking that I’m levitating with her. Not breaking our kiss, I ease us back the inch to the bench. She doesn’t seem to notice, but I have to be careful. She can’t know about me.
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