Adam circled around to the back of the Jeep, and there Mari was. And oh Gawwwwd! She was sweater-less, all tank-topness, and round in good places.
He sidled up to her, ignoring the smell of the smoke. His hips were polite and angled away from her, since he was sore already.
“Friends offer a ride home,” he hinted.
“Friends also tell the fat girl to stop smoking—it’s not going to help with her problems.” She chuckled, but it was low and dark sounding as the corner of her lips poked up. Her shoulders slumped.
“It’s not my job to tell you what to put in your body. I hope you’ll tell me to eat as much junk food at school as I can and to drink soda when nobody’s looking, because friends want each other to be happy. Those things make me happy. And donuts. I love donuts, but those are strictly forbidden. Why can’t I have a goddamn donut? The Boston creamy kind? Those are like a heart of goodness in the middle.” His own creamy heart raced and pounded in his ears. Man, was his breathing erratic and fierce. It was wonderful to tell her these deep dark secrets he hid from people and to curse, too.
“Donuts are pretty awesome. I love a good Boston cream, too. Come on. I’ll give you a lift, and you can tell me what else makes you happy.” She stubbed out her cigarette on the asphalt and then grabbed his hand.
He pulled on hers to stop her. His heart squeezed so tight his knees nearly buckled. “You . . . You make me so happy—happier than any beverage or sugary dessert. Because you keep me safe. You’re the reason the numbers stay away, and the reason I know I can do this. I can finally graduate this time.”
Her face remained steady and calm.
Not what he expected. He expected a look of disgust there.
She took his hand and placed it over her heart. He backed up, because the soreness was beyond bad right now, and the pressure was like nothing he’d ever experienced before.
“You can do this because you’re special. You can do this because you’re amazing. It has nothing to do with me or your family. You can do this because you want it and there’s a fire inside of you that won’t let you quit. That’s what I adore about you. That’s who I wish I was. Not a quitter, or somebody that tries to cheat and take the easy way out.” She dropped his hand, but then out of nowhere, leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Sorry for the smoke smell. I hope nobody can detect it on you.” She rubbed the spot with the pad of her thumb where she’d just kissed him while cupping his jaw.
His legs instinctively carried him closer to her. And holy Jesus, that soreness doubled, but now it pulsed and his hips jutted forward. He smiled down at her but his eyelids were half closed and went heavy. It was in direct contrast to the rest of his body—more alert than ever, even if he was moving kind of sluggish. It felt similar to when the dentist drugged him up once and his response times were hampered.
“Mari . . .”
“Hmm?” She looked over her shoulder, then back at him.
“If you kiss me, I won’t tell anybody, and nobody will know. Most of the students are gone. And I think . . . I think it will make you feel better, since you kind of have some sadness in your eyes.” His right leg shook. This was a lie. He never lied. That was unjust. But he needed this more than any hand holding—more than a donut or soda. He’d fold in half and die if she refused. Now his other leg shook. “Please . . .”
“No tongue though, okay?” The right half of her lips quirked up and there was some playfulness in her eyes.
The joy inside him was pounding its way into that sore spot but also doubling his heart-rate as well.
“One, fat, sloppy kiss coming up,” she said.
“Sloppy? But I—” His heart sunk as it continued to speed up.
There was no time for rebuttals, because her lips were on his, but it was unsatisfying because she refrained from touching him anywhere else.
With one big step, he was smooshed up against her. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her even closer.
This was much better than a handshake. Was this why his mom and dad used to hug and kiss each other all the time? This reflected those odd, unnameable feelings he had when Zach showed him that video with naked people in it. They all made sounds.
Oh no. He was making those sounds right now, and his hips were moving.
His hips were in control, not the numbers.
In his next breath, he had her up against the back of her Jeep. He pinned her with his entire body. But she hugged him back, so did this mean it was all okay?
He broke the kiss. Talking was necessary.
“It hurts, Mari. It’s really, really sore. It’s sore, and I know what I’m supposed to do to end it, but I can’t do that in front of you, and I don’t think I’ll make it ‘til I get home. Can you help me?”
“Sore here?” She placed her hand over his heart and smiled.
Was she teasing him?
“Please. It really hurts,” he begged, placing his forehead against hers and rubbing their heads together since he couldn’t rub her in the places he really wanted to.
He moved his hips up once more so she could feel where he was sore.
It twitched in his pants. She had to know.
Anyone else who saw him would know. They might even point and be disgusted with him.
“Being a teenager always hurts. It’s something you’ll get used to,” she said, then the sadness in her eyes was back.
But he wasn’t a teenager. Hadn’t been in a few years. Unlike Tara, he was old enough to consume alcohol, but chose not to.
“What’s wrong? Oh no!” He jumped back. He was hurting her. He was too strong for her frame to handle, and he forgot to be careful about harming her. Using his body weight was wrong. That’s how he hurt his mom before, and she wound up leaving because of it.
“I’m sorry. I’m soooo sorry. I . . . I’m heavy, and strong, and that was wrong. Don’t . . . I won’t do it again.” He wrapped his arms around his torso, refused to look at her and dropped into a crouch.
She dropped down with him and patted his back. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one that should apologize. I lost my head for a minute. It’s not fair of me to let things get out of hand like that. It’s just that you’re so . . . God! This is unfair.” She huffed, and the faint trace of smoke was residual in the air.
It made his heart tingle, because it was Mari. She was the only smoker he knew.
It meant she was special.
He tilted his chin up toward her, but kept his gaze down at her feet.
“I don’t know what you mean, but I have to know—are you mad at me?” The thought made his heart clench, and he released a whimpering groan.
“Why would I be mad at you? You asked me to kiss you, and I made a choice. It’s not like you tried to molest me against my will. Oh wait . . . That was me.” She chuckled for a second, then stopped. “Oh, never mind me and my warped sense of humor. I’ll take you home. And you can decide if we hold hands or not, okay?
He looked up, and there was sincerity in her warm gray eyes. They were like the unfamiliar desert here. Nobody ever looked at him like that—like he mattered and was worth really knowing well.
“I like you.”
“You’ve mentioned that before, but it’s good you like to be thorough and repeat important information.” She patted his back again and then stood up. She extended her hand, but then a second later changed her mind and put it at her side.
He grimaced. “Do you still like me?”
“I only kiss people I like, and I kissed you, didn’t I?”
“You did. You kissed me real good. It was better than a donut.” He stood up next to her. “But it made me more sore.”
She laughed, tipped her head back and shut her eyes. “Oh, God, Adam, what am I going to do about us? We both need some serious help.”
“You’re going to hold my hand more and kiss me again. That’s what you’re going to do about us, because that’ll make everything better. I swear.” He crossed his heart.