FOR STEPHEN, AS ALWAYS.
KEEP THE TEA AND CUPCAKES COMING, BABE.
About the Author
About the Publisher
I WASN’T THINKING ABOUT FALLING IN LOVE the day I met Danny Greer. I wasn’t thinking about anything beyond the paper on the Industrial Revolution I hadn’t yet started, and the cool pewter sky above me. I was lying on the top row of the bleachers facing the practice field, watching the clouds skid past, and absently wondering if I could lift myself off the cold metal. Just a few inches. Nothing anyone would notice.
There wasn’t much chance of that anyway. A few people were hanging out on the lower rows, seniors mostly, passing around a Red Bull and wandering off to smoke in one of their cars. Out on the field Ms. Singer’s fifth-period PE class was choosing up sides for soccer. No one was paying any attention to me, which suited me just fine.
Jess and Darcia had drawn sixth-period lunch, and I had lunch alone. I didn’t mind being out here on the bleachers by myself, which was where I’d be every lunch period until it got too cold. By November I’d probably hole up in the library, hiding a yogurt from Mrs. Gaffney at the table way in the back, behind Technology and Applied Sciences. Until then I was happy to read the clouds and make the leaves dance in scuffling, twisting funnels along the curb.
Or lift myself off the bleachers, even though it hadn’t worked so far.
I closed my eyes, concentrating, the ridges of the metal bench digging into my spine through my jacket. The wind had picked up, spreading the familiar scent of earth and dead leaves, but something else, too. Something heavier, thick, almost electric, like a storm in the distance.
I opened my eyes to find someone staring down at me, and almost toppled over.
“I thought you were asleep,” the boy said, and straightened up.
“And you thought staring was a good idea?”
“You could have been dead,” he offered with a shrug. “You were doing a good imitation of a statue. Or, you know, a dead thing.”
I blinked. With the weak autumn light behind him, I couldn’t see much more than a rough outline of an angular face, and shaggy hair that fell into eyes deep in shadow.
I could just make out his mouth, though. It was wide, full, and right then it was twisted into a smile.
“Thank you,” I said without thinking, and watched him bite his bottom lip. The electric thrill vibrating in the air was in my blood now, tingling, and for a moment I felt my spine hover over the metal. A breeze whistled between my back and the bench in the afterthought of space there.
“You’re kind of weird,” the boy said, but he was still smiling when he pushed my legs aside and sat down next to me.
That was Danny.
It wasn’t love right away, because nothing ever is, no matter what the songs say, but it was the start of it. A beginning in one way, and the end in another. I think that might always be true of love.
We were completely different. Danny was tall, sweet, graceful despite legs that went on forever. I was little, moody, uncoordinated. We didn’t like the same music or the same movies. He put onions and mushrooms on his pizza and never wore socks and could sleep through a pipe bomb. I survived on bananas and yogurt and always wore hats and got carsick unless I chewed gum with my headphones on.
It didn’t matter. I loved him. I loved him so much that I couldn’t see anything else for a while. Danny filled the cracks inside me, blotted out the cold, empty places in the world. It didn’t take long before Danny was the only thing that mattered.
Love like that is what they make movies about. It’s the thing you’re supposed to want, the answer to every question, the song that you’re supposed to sing.
But love like that can be too big, too. It can be something you shouldn’t be trusted to hold when you’re the kind of person who drops the eggs and breaks the remote control.
Love doesn’t break easily, I found. But people do.
DANNY WAITS FOR ME IN THE LOFT ABOVE Mrs. Petrelli’s garage. We’ve made a kind of nest there against the wall away from the broken window. Two ancient, sour mattresses are stacked in the corner, covered with an old striped sheet I took from my basement. There’s a blanket, too, mostly for me, a wooden crate full of books and paper and colored pencils, a couple of pillows, and a box of fat white candles.
We don’t see much of each other in the daylight.
Mrs. Petrelli’s house is behind mine, and I cut through the ragged hedge that borders our yard to make my way to the garage. Mrs. Petrelli is that indeterminate kind of old—too ancient to work anymore, not that she ever did, as far as I know, but not frail enough to be carted off to a nursing home yet. When Mr. Petrelli died two years ago, she sort of deflated, curling in on herself like a yellowed piece of paper. She doesn’t drive anymore, so she never bothers with her garage.
Danny’s lying on the mattresses when I climb the wobbly pull-down stairs, but he sits up right away. In the darkness, it’s startling to watch him, the slow, graceful rise of his upper body, his head turning so he can smile at me.
“You came.” He sounds surprised, grateful, and the words twist in my chest, a tight little knot of guilt.
“I always do.” I curl up beside him, laying my head on his shoulder. “I always will.”
I shiver a little, pressing my cheek into his collarbone. It’s getting harder to remember the way Danny used to be. That Danny wouldn’t have waited so patiently for me. He would have called, snuck up behind me in the hall at school, and buried his face against my neck. That Danny had ideas, crazy, late-night fantasies strung together like a paper-clip chain. He was going to teach me to sing so I could join his band, and then we would go on the road. Ryan was going to be the one to finance our rock Odyssey, even though Becker was the one with money, because Danny said Ryan was the one with the brains. Danny’s charm got under your skin the way a good song got stuck in your head, and after a while you couldn’t help humming it.
Then there was the comic strip idea. Danny had pages of drawings of me, and one day I found him redrawing them with broader strokes, bolder outlines, exaggerating my pointed chin and the way my hair spiked up in the front. I thought I looked like a sullen baby chick, but he just shook his head and pulled me onto his lap. “You’re going to be a superhero. It’ll be awesome. Trust me.”
And I did, even though I growled at the picture of me climbing onto a table to shoot actual daggers out of my eyes at a vampire that looked a lot like one of the PE teachers at school. I was short, yeah, but it didn’t need to be emphasized. I elbowed him in the side for that. He just laughed.
I trusted Danny with everything, even when he was pulling me up a fire escape in the middle of the night to get to the roof above the movie theater, where you could follow the dark, lazy curves of the train tracks as they headed toward the city. I let him feed me spicy curry for the first time and kiss the heat out of my mouth. I watched in the mirror when he cut my hair one long, sultry afternoon, holding up the fuzzy ends and shaking his head.
And I’d given all of myself in return. Almost, anyway. The one thing I’d kept secret was the only reason he was here now.
“I brought you some more paper.” I hand him the drawing tablets I’d bought at the dollar store after school. They’re cheap, flimsy, intended for little kids to use with fat crayons and finger paint, but I know he won’t care. I could bring him used candy wrappers and wrinkled pieces of the Sunday paper and he would beam at me.
“I needed some.” He doesn’t look at them, though, just lays them behind him on the bed, and leans in, resting his forehead against mine, the way he has so many times, both then and now. “Thank you.”
I know what he wants, and it wasn’t so long ago that he wouldn’t have had to ask, when I would have climbed into his lap instead of just sitting beside him. Back then, we were attached at the mouth whenever possible.
It’s different now. I didn’t expect it to be. My mom says I was always that kid, the one who learns the hard way about the glowing red burner on the stove and just how high the monkey bars are when you’re falling from them into the damp wood chips on the playground.
I tilt my head up, my mouth brushing his lightly, and he pulls me closer. “Missed you,” he murmurs, lips against my cheek after a second. “Always miss you.”
When he finally kisses me, really kisses me, his lips are cool and dry and his arms are tight around me, fingers of one hand tangled in my hair. He tastes like smoke and ashes, the bitter weight of wet earth, but I kiss him back, my palm resting on his cheek.
“Always want you.” The words are breathed against my mouth, and I relax into the circle of his arms as he pulls me closer. He’ll stop when I tell him to—he’ll do anything I tell him to now—but I never say no to kissing.
I have so little to give him. I hadn’t considered that—I thought I was giving him everything he could ever want that July night, candlelight hot beneath my palms as I chanted. For once, I didn’t think I was being selfish.
I’m wrong a lot. Anyone will tell you.
Anyway, I miss it, the kissing, the comfortable weight of his arm around my shoulders as we walked home from school, the clean smell of his sweat after he’d been playing guitar with Becker and Ryan in Becker’s basement, all warm, musky boy. I miss him, too, when I’m away from him all day.
“You remember the first time?” he says. He’s laying me down, and the sheet is cold through my sweater, slightly damp in the October night air. His hands are even cooler, smooth and solid as marble, and I shiver when he runs a finger over my cheekbone. “Remember when you kissed me?”