Piper laughs, and I catch my breath. I stare into her gaze, my pulse in my throat.
Piper chews on her bottom lip again. I have the 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. So much for being GOAT at reading. When it comes to girls, I don’t read their language.
Dammit. I am really bad at this.
“Or... or not.” I drop my chin to my chest.
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 and… I think that’s why Dad doesn’t let me date either. He’s afraid it will happen to me.” She takes my hand again and draws little circles on the back of mine with her fingertip. 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.”
The quiet is deafening. Even the crickets want to listen to her voice. Or maybe I’m too focused on her and can’t hear anything else.
“I have a confession.” Piper wets her lips with the tip of her tongue. “I lied. Saying I needed help with Trig was my excuse to get you to talk to me.”
“Oh.” Pretty sure Iggy would throat punch me again here for that lame comment.
“I’ve liked you for a long time. But I never thought you liked me and hoped it was because you were too shy to say anything.” She raises her gaze to mine. “Is it?”
Sound returns but it’s the pounding of my heart in my ears. 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 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 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. 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.
I pull away, reluctantly, to gain control of myself. Holding her I could fly to the moon. It’d be my luck to finally have her like me and ruin it by showing her what a freak I am.
Piper opens her eyes, cheeks red, breathing faster than normal. She pulls up one corner of her lip. “I’ll take that as a yes. That was my first kiss you know.”
(Note to self: No more lies. She already knows you’re a geek.)
“Mine, too,” I say, and she lifts an eyebrow. “Sorry, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Well, you did great. I think.” She touches my bottom lip with her finger, leaning back in. “But maybe I need to check again.”
Keep your ass on the bench this time, stupid.
This second kiss brings even more electricity. Instead of a tingle, an actual buzz fills my head. The softness of her lips, the heat from her breath, and the pressure of her hand on my cheek sends my blood pounding through my body.
Magic claws to get out, my skin almost splitting from the charge. At the same time, my mind is sucked toward hers. But I resist it. Touch isn’t consent for a wizard either.
Instead, I concentrate on keeping us grounded while we kiss.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Jumping back, Piper rips her mouth away from mine and we both meet her dad’s glare.
(Note to self: It was nice while it lasted. Get ready to die.)
Mr. Duke stands in front of us, hands on his hips. For a moment, the streetlight illuminates his tall thin frame, like a halo. He moves, jerking a thumb over his shoulder toward the parking lot and the glow disappears.
“It’s time to leave,” he says to Piper. “Now.”
Piper and I stand, and she grabs my arm. Glaring at her dad, she shakes her head. “Fine. I’m saying goodbye first.”
“Oh, I think you just said goodbye.” He waves to the bench and my face heats. “I’ll meet you at home.”
She turns to me. “I’ll text you later.” She kisses my cheek and her dad sighs. Walking away, she looks back at me and mouths “Sorry” then disappears down the steps.
Mr. Duke crosses his arms and stares at me, his face impassive.
“I-I’m sorry.” Not really, but what else do you say to a girl’s dad after he catches you kissing his daughter?
“I’ve always liked you, Zaidyn. You’re smart, honest, respectful, dependable.” He pauses, and I press my lips together waiting for the cussing to start.
“Mr. Duke, I respect Piper, and you. We were talking and things… happened.”
“Things happened.” His quiet echo of my words has the quality of a snake’s hiss. Chills race across my neck.
Yep. Dead and getting my first B ever.
Mr. Duke’s lips curve into a slow smile. “It’s about time.”
Squinting, I rub a finger inside my ear. “W-what?”
“I told you, I like you, Zaidyn. You’re exactly the kind of guy I want Piper to date.” Mr. Duke pats my shoulder. “But do keep your hands to yourself.”
Whistling, he turns and follows Piper’s path down the steps and toward the lot.
I stare after him, eyes wide, mouth open, and the taste of Piper still on my lips.
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