“I don’t think ‘cute’ is the usual way that people describe sadness.”
“But you are. Your eyes get all big, and you’re like an adorable little puppy.” He pretended to look offended, so she tried to save it by adding, “Like a sexy puppy.”
“That’s a little creepy actually.”
“No, it’s not,” she insisted, and handed him the card. “You know what I mean.”
He put the card back in the drawer and leaned against the desk. “Yeah, I do. I am pretty adorable.”
“I can’t believe you kept that all these years,” Gemma said, and she was kind of amazed. “I don’t even think I have any of my birthday cards still, and that was only in April. You kept that for four years.”
“It was really sweet. And I may have already had a crush on you.” He reached out, putting his fingers in the belt loops of her shorts so he could pull her closer.
“Really? How long have you liked me for?” She looked up at him as he wrapped his arms loosely around her waist.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Remember the day I moved in?”
It had been ten years ago, and she’d only been six at the time. She and Harper had been watching from Harper’s bedroom window as the new family unloaded the moving truck all day long. They’d seen Alex running around, but when Harper went down to say hi, Gemma suddenly had a bout of shyness and hid behind her mom’s legs when her family introduced themselves to the Lanes.
Harper had started teasing her, calling Gemma a baby, which she’d denied vehemently. Then to prove that she wasn’t a baby, Harper had dared Gemma to run over and kiss Alex. And even then, and despite her bashfulness, Gemma would never back down from a dare.
So she’d run over, planted a big wet kiss on his lips for exactly one-half of a second, then dashed back to her own house, giggling like a madwoman.
“You were my first kiss,” Gemma remembered, and she was ashamed that she’d forgotten it. It had hardly even counted as a kiss, so she’d let the memory slide, until now, when it carried so much more weight.
“You were mine, too,” Alex said.
“So you’ve had a crush on me since the day we met?”
He shook his head. “Not exactly. I don’t think it really started in earnest until we were older.”
“You told me you’d been in love with me for years,” Gemma said, referring to what he’d said a few days before, when they got back together outside the Paramount Theater. “Is that true?”
“Why are you asking me all this stuff?”
“I don’t know. Just curious I guess,” she said, but she knew why.
She wanted to get lost in their memories, to immerse herself completely in him, so she didn’t have to think of all the darkness that went on outside him.
Gemma pulled away and sat down on his bed. The new comforter was satiny and dark purple, a much more mature choice than his previous bedding. And she wondered, not for the first time, why it had taken her so long to realize how much she cared about him.
“The homecoming dance my junior year,” Alex said, still leaning against the desk. “So you were a freshman.”
“The homecoming dance?” She shook her head in confusion. “I went, but you didn’t go with me.”
“No. I didn’t even go at all,” he said. “But I was outside when you came home.”
“You were in the front yard with Luke Benfield, doing something with a telescope, which I thought was really weird because the sun was still up,” Gemma remembered.
Her dad had insisted that she be home by nine. It was still light out then, so she thought the whole thing was ridiculous.
“A comet was supposed to be passing near the sun. But that’s not the point.” His mahogany eyes were wistful. “You had on this dress, and it was the first time that I’d seen you where you really took my breath away. You were so beautiful.”
A wonderful, warm feeling fluttered through her belly as she listened to him. Overwhelming love and appreciation for him filled her so much, she thought she might explode.
“And this guy was with you,” Alex said.
“Derek something,” Gemma filled in the blank. “His breath smelled like garlic, and he spent the whole night talking to his friends and ignoring me.”
“I tried to pretend like I wasn’t watching, but I saw him walk you to the steps, and he tried to kiss you, and you told him to get lost. And he walked away all defeated, and you caught me staring at you, and you blew me a kiss.”
“Oh my gosh.” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, and she laughed. “I can’t believe I did that. I’d forgotten, and now I’m so mortified. I was just being sassy or something, ’cause I thought Derek was still watching.”
“So you only did that to spite someone else? Wow.” Alex pretended to be upset. “Our whole relationship is a lie. I kinda feel like I need to question everything.”
“Oh, come on.” Gemma got up and walked over to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his. “It might have taken me a bit longer than it took you, but I love you now, and I’ll love you forever. And that’s all that matters.”
“How much longer did it take you?” Alex asked as he wrapped his arms around her.
“To fall in love with you?”
“Yeah. When did you actually know that you loved me?”
“I’d liked you for a while, but I think I knew I loved you the first time we really kissed, when we were in the backyard under the stars.”
“Wow. It did take you a lot longer,” he said, and Gemma wished it hadn’t taken her so long. She’d missed out on so much time with him, and so many kisses.
“Yeah, but I’m here now.”
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, pulling herself close to him. But just kissing him wasn’t enough, and maybe she’d known that when she came over here. She loved him completely, and she wanted to be with him completely.
Still holding on to him, she took a step backward, and he followed, unwilling to stop kissing her, even for a second. Then she turned him around and pushed him back to the bed. Before he fell back, she grabbed the bottom of his shirt and peeled it off.
His skin felt warm, and his muscles were firm and smooth underneath her. His hands roamed all over her, and he had her halter top up over her head in seconds. She’d had the foresight to skip putting on a bra today, and he took a moment to appreciate that.