She drops my hand then lifts a dark, daring gaze to mine. “I don’t think at all while I’m doing it. I don’t plan, I let my hands . . . do whatever they want. Whatever feels good.”
She grasps the bottom of her top and slides it over her head. Her breasts are pale and ripe and gloriously new to my eyes. She stands just inches away, bare and proud. “You wanna give it a try?”
She puts her hands over mine, skimming them up the warm velvet of her rib cage. When she places my callused palms on her breasts, I take over. Cupping their weight, massaging gently, brushing my thumbs across the peaks of her nipples. They tighten and darken from pink to dusty rose and I scrape my lip with my teeth to stave off the immediate urge to latch on, lick, and bite.
My last coherent thought is six quick words:
I could get used to this.
• • •
Three weeks later
“You lying, cheating sonofabitch!”
Jenny’s hands fly out, wild and whipping, striking my face, shoulders, and anywhere she can reach.
“Jenny, stop!” Finally I get a grip on her forearms, holding her still. “Fuckin’ stop!”
Hot, angry tears cover her cheeks and her eyes are puffy with betrayal. “I hate you! You make me sick! I hate you!”
She pulls out of my grasp and runs up the porch, slamming the screen door behind her as she disappears into the house. I’m left standing on the lawn—shredded. Feeling like I’ve been flayed open, my heart not just broken but ripped out. And there’s something else—more than regret—there’s fear. It makes my palms sweat and skin prickle. Fear that I’ve messed up, terror that I just lost the best thing that will ever happen to me.
I push a hand through my hair, trying to keep it together. Then I sit on the porch steps and brace my elbows on my knees. I keep an eye on Presley, on the blanket twenty feet away where she plays with her cousins near the swing set. Her white-blond curls bounce as she giggles, thankfully, completely unaware.
Out of nowhere, Ruby, Jenny’s older sister, appears on the steps next to me. She smooths her denim miniskirt then pushes her wavy red locks off her shoulders.
“You certainly got yourself locked in the shithouse this time, Stanton.”
Normally I wouldn’t go to Ruby for any kind of advice—least of all about relationships. But she’s here.
“I . . . I don’t know what happened.”
Ruby snorts. “You told my sister you fucked another girl, that’s what happened. No woman wants to hear that.”
“Then why did she ask?”
She shakes her head, like the answer is obvious. “’Cause she wanted to hear you say no.”
“We agreed to see other people,” I argue. “We said we’d be honest with each other. Mature.”
“Sayin’ and feelin’ are two different things, lover boy.” She picks at her manicure. “Look, you and Jenny are eighteen, y’all are babies . . . this was bound to happen. Only a matter of when.”
I can barely get the words past my constricted throat. “But . . . I love her.”
“And she loves you. That’s why it hurts so bad.”
There’s no way I’m giving up, no way I’m goin down—not like this. It’s the fear that pushes me to do something, say anything. To hold on like a man clinging to a boulder in a current.
I walk up the oak staircase to the room Jenn shares with our daughter and through the closed door that tells me I’m not welcome.
She’s on the bed, shoulders shaking, crying into her pillow. And the knife sinks deeper in my gut. I sit on the bed and touch her arm. Jenny has the smoothest skin—rose-petal soft. And I refuse for this to be the last time I get to touch her.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Don’t cry. Please don’t . . . hate me.”
She sits up and doesn’t bother to wipe the evidence of heartache off her face. “Do you love her?”
“No,” I tell her firmly. “No, it was one night. It didn’t mean anythin’.”
“Was she pretty?”
I answer like the lawyer I’m trying to become. “Not as pretty as you.”
“Dallas Henry asked me to go to the movies with him,” Jenny tells me quietly.
Any remorse I feel goes up in smoke and is replaced with blue flaming anger. Dallas Henry was a receiver on my high school football team—he was always a raging asshole. The kind of guy who made a play for the drunkest girls at the party—the kind who would’ve slipped something into their drinks to get them drunk faster.