(Spoiler for the book)
*This scene takes place a couple of months after Liv leaves for college. Clay has stayed in St. Carmen to re-establish a bond with her parents, intern with Mrs. Gates, and take online classes.
“Mom, just call Dad,” I tell her, climbing out of my car.
I hold back my sigh as I slam the door and drop my keys into my bag. I hold my phone at my side as she talks into my ear buds and walk toward the bar—the only bar—in Sanoa Bay.
“He’s not seeing her.” I make my way across the dirt road. “He’s not seeing anyone.”
“You talked to him?”
I hear the break in her voice. It gives her away every time. She misses him.
But I know she’s right. She was right when the decision was made last spring. If she took him back now, she’d be miserable, because she never got the chance to find out who the hell she was before they got married. Before being a wife and a mother distracted her from her unhappiness and lack of self-worth. She needs to find out some things before she can know if she can ever forgive him.
And maybe he needs to find out some things too.
“I went to D.C. with him for a few days,” I tell her. “He had to check out some real estate. We spent an entire day at the Smithsonian.”
“Finally let him take you to the Capital, huh?”
“I never said I wouldn’t go.” I stop, hearing the music inside the bar as the October wind caresses my bare arms. “I said I would only go if I could tour the White House, and there was no way I was stepping foot in that building while that prick still lived there.”
I almost laugh. She hates it when I curse. Still so prim and proper. You’d think being the only alum of South Florida’s chapter of Omega Chi Kappa with a lesbian daughter would loosen her up. Time will tell, I guess.
I walk toward the bar again, the palms overhead blowing in the night sky. “Call Dad,” I order her.
“I’ll do it myself.”
“No, you’re going to hire someone to do it.”
I roll my eyes. “I’ll send Iron over.”
“Mom,” I blurt out, taking charge. “Contractors only see dollar signs when they look at St. Carmen housewives. What if Dad remarries? You still going to take the alimony?”
She falls silent.
“You need to learn to be frugal,” I explain.
Okay, not really. She has her own trust fund she’s never really used, but still…
“Says the child who just purchased every color version of a fifty-dollar shirt at the White House Black Market on her father’s credit card.”
And wheeeeeere did I learn that? As if she’s not completely to blame for my shopping habit.
“I’ll have Iron there in an hour,” I tell her.
She groans a little. “Just send Trace. He’s a lot easier to talk to.”
He is. But I’m sure she only thinks so because he’s the one she knows the best, since he’s my grandmother’s favorite. His hedge sculptures are a major delight for her. My mom is used to seeing him around over there.
But I look at the time on my phone, seeing it’s almost nine. “Trace got off work three hours ago,” I point out. “He’ll be drunk by now.”
“But isn’t Iron the one who’s always getting arrested?”
“Not for anything violent,” I point out. “Or…not for anything violent against women anyway.”
“It’ll be fine.” I yank open the door to the bar. “Expect him soon.”
And I hang up before she can argue more.
Some Styx song plays on the jukebox, and the scent of smoke and fried food hits me. The bartender, Jilly, serves a beer and brandishes a new tattoo on her neck. She locks eyes with me, her disdain visible through the bleach blonde hair that hangs in her eyes.
I dial Iron. And redial every time the voicemail picks up. On my fourth try, he finally answers.
“I’m not driving your ass to the Bay,” he says without a hello.
I laugh to myself, remembering our motorcycle ride at Night Tide.
“I’m already in the Bay.” I head toward the bar. “Are you sober?”
Good. “You need to go to Palm Island,” I tell him, “and install my mom’s new washer and dryer set.”
There’s a click and the line goes dead.
I clench my teeth. You little…
I tap out a text instead.
Do it now or I’ll tell Macon about the boat you stole last week in the Glades.
He won’t wonder how I know. I know everything.
His text rolls in. God, fuck you.
I arch a brow and wait another three seconds, seeing the next text.
I smile wide. That’s right, you are. I’m so badass.
Be nice, I tell him.
Just not too nice. I actually do want my parents back together after all their middle-aged growth and reflection shit is complete.
I plop my bag down on the bar and pull my hair out of its ponytail, shaking it out. Jilly is dressed in a mini skirt and a tank top with extra cleavage, but I just came from transporting three—THREE—bodies to the funeral home from the morgue, and I am not in the mood. My friends have been bitching on TikTok about trudging across campus for their nine a.m. classes and how their research papers are keeping them from the frat party of the year. Meanwhile I’ve been up since four-thirty this morning, putting in the work for my online classes and the extra hours I’m doing at the Wind House.
Jeans and a sleeveless tee for me tonight. I don’t need the tips anyway.
“Hey,” I say, pulling out my AirPods.
Jilly spins, shooting me a glare as she pours a shot of Jack. “Do you know anything about tending bar?”
Well, you do it, so it can’t be hard.
I shoot a lazy glance around the place. “Seems like mostly beer, shooters, and vodka and cranberries,” I mumble. “I’ll Google anything else that comes up.”
She could be nicer. I’m filling in, so she doesn’t have to pull a double shift.
“And why did Macon think you were the best choice to cover for Aracely tonight?”
“He’s just trying to annoy you.” I smile. “Because he hates you.”
She cocks an eyebrow but shuts up. Aracely called in sick, so Macon called me yesterday, because I was literally the last resort. He knows I know that. No one else must’ve wanted the job tonight, but I’m still trying to get him to like me, so I agreed. I want to be able to sleep with his sister whenever I want.
“I’ll show you the register,” she says, walking away.
I follow, dipping behind the bar and keeping my trap shut as she walks me through how to ring up liquor and put orders into the kitchen. The place is busier than usual, and I’m the only one on, but it’s after dinner, so other than some appetizers, I’m hoping it’s just mostly drink orders tonight.
Jilly sticks around, eats a basket of jalapeño poppers, and watches me for a few minutes, but then she leaves without a word. Probably dissatisfied I didn’t make a mistake.
“A Corona, a mojito, and a shot of Patrón,” some guy orders over the bar. “A chilled shot, please.”
I empty the rest of the ice into the cooler and set the bucket down, aggravated he didn’t at least wait to make eye contact before ordering me around, but then distracted when I realize “how the fuck do you make a mojito?”
I nod, flipping the top off the beer, hand it to him and tap away on my phone for a mojito recipe.
I study it and then glance around me. Do they even have mint leaves here?
But then I open a cooler and see them in a tub of cold water. Huh, I guess the Swamps aren’t completely unsophisticated.
Hurriedly, I mix the lime juice and sugar, then add the rum and soda water, kind of wanting to taste it to see if it’s like the one I snuck at the resort with my parents a couple of years ago, but that’s probably not a good idea.
I garnish with the leaves, hand him the drink, and then add the tequila to a shaker with some ice to chill before I pour it for him.
He smiles and takes the drinks, and I’m too excited that he’s not calling me out for doing something wrong that I totally forget to charge him.
“Ugh,” I groan, debating for a second to go confront him at his table, but that would be awkward. Screw it. Jilly drinks on the job all the time. Trace gives free drinks here and there. Macon won’t know if every shot isn’t accounted for.
Army comes in and out, grabbing food to go, and I’m half-tempted to see if he’d run next door to get me some of Mariette’s pie, but I promised Liv I wouldn’t eat any without her, so…
I usually stay busy enough to not feel paralyzed by not seeing her every day, but if I slow down long enough—especially at night—my head goes places it shouldn’t.
I look down at my phone, still not seeing a reply from our text exchange yesterday. She’d left me hanging.
Please come, she wrote.
I miss you.
My throat tightens every time she says that. I miss you too. Can you just come home for the weekend?
I did in September, she’d argued.And I can hear how she’s losing patience with me. I want you to come up here. Be a part of my life here. Meet my friends. See my room. It’s just a visit, Clay.
I rub my forehead, wishing I’d handled it better yesterday. She’s right. She came home last month after only being at school a matter of weeks, because the separation is torture. It’s my turn to go to her now.
But I don’t want to. I want to make you happy. I just…
She gave me time to find my words.
I’m worried I’ll be jealous, I’d told her. I’ll be intimidated.
But aren’t you wondering? Wanting to know what I do all day? Where I’m at. Where I eat? Who I see?
Yes, but it’s better than knowing.
That you’re creating a life without me in it and sooner or later you’ll want to be free to keep going.
I knew we’d be here eventually. We wanted to follow each other. She was willing to give up Dartmouth to stay with me, and I wanted nothing more than to pack up my stuff, jump in that car, and go with her. The two of us. On our own. Together.
But I couldn’t let her change her dream for me, and if I tagged along on hers, I’d just be my mother all over again. Knowing in twenty years, I’d still not have a clue about who I was. Incapable of standing on my own and being solid. If we were going to make it, we needed to walk our own paths.
For now… I’d cried as I typed, thankful she couldn’t see me. I can pretend that you’re not there. Making friends, having experiences, discovering a whole world. In my head, you’re not living somewhere else. You’re just not here today.
She didn’t respond. That was thirty-six hours ago.
I scroll up, seeing the pics I’d sent her in previous messages and the ones she’d sent me. Thanks to video calls and sexting, the time apart hasn’t been completely awful.
I just had to go and put my foot in it yesterday. Why can’t I just jump on a plane and go? She’s asking for so little, and I’m an asshole.
I go to her TikTok and Twitter, not seeing any new updates, but I log onto IG and I see a new post. My heart leaps at the picture in that way that makes me want to break into a smile and puke at the same time.
She’s there in a black and white flannel, buttoned up to her neck in that nerdy way I love, sitting at a Dairy Queen with another girl next to her as they both tip their Blizzards upside down like they do when they give it to you to prove how thick it is.
Another girl stands behind them both, looking over her shoulder and jutting out her ass for the camera. I know they’re her roommates—Mal and Bennett—but it’s Bennett’s arm around her neck that makes everything hurt. I know it’s her, because Liv said she looks like me a bit. Blonde.
I swallow. They’re friends. Friends do that.
But why would she post this? She had to know it would hurt me. If I were a guy, and another man was putting his arm around her, would that be okay?
“Vodka and cranberry,” someone pipes up.
It takes a minute, but I blink and look up. What?
Dallas stands there, leaning on the bar, his arms tan and bare in his sleeveless T-shirt, too, but his is black. It makes his green eyes look darker.
I glance behind him and see a table filled with his crew, and Amy sits there in the middle of all the attention.
The drink is for her. She must be home for the weekend. And she’s certainly not twenty-one, but I know she has an I.D. that says she is, because we bought them together.
I exhale, slamming my phone down as Dallas’s gaze remains on me.
“Does she have a ride?” I ask, filling a glass with ice.
He smirks. “Several.”
And the innuendo isn’t lost on me. Liv told me about her coming out of Iron and Dallas’s room one morning, and here she is now. Entertainment for a whole table.
I almost spit, the taste in my mouth is so damn awful. He’s such a prick.
I pour a shot of vodka and grab the juice.
“So how are you, Clay?” he asks as I work.
I ignore him. For a minute this summer, I wanted a relationship with Liv’s whole family. Not really anymore.
“And you and Livvy?” he goes on when I don’t answer.
I plop the drink down in front of him, it sloshes onto the bar and I stick a straw in it.
He chuckles and takes a napkin, wiping off his hand. “You don’t like me, do you?”
I stare at him. His hair has grown out a little. The Tryst Six tattoo peeks out of his shirt where it sits on his shoulder, between his chest and his arm.
“I’m not nice like Iron and Trace,” he points out the obvious. “Or a big brother like Army and Macon.”
“Because you’re miserable.”
“Because you’re a problem,” he retorts.
My gaze falters, but I steady myself. I’m not a problem. I’m a Saint, and I’ll never be anything else to him. Same as Callum.
“You know it’s only a matter of time.” He cocks his head at me. “She’ll get a part in a production with the theater at the university soon. Can’t come home as much and eventually never, because she’ll decide to volunteer her summers with a theater troupe or take a course in London or audition for a Shakespeare Festival that takes up all her vacation time.”
I inhale, and dig my toes into my shoes where he can’t see.
“She’ll make friends,” he goes on. “You’ll make friends. You’ll both realize the loneliness is too hard or you’ll meet people in your own circles—because let’s face it, you’re not in her circle—and you’ll realize there are so many other people who are probably much better suited for you.” His tone condescends. “I mean, the notion that your soulmate just happens to be born a few miles from you? Come on. It’s a big, fucking world, Clay.”
I want to take the drink and throw it on him, but I’m shaking on the inside. All I can manage is, “You’re miserable.”
“There are a lot of people out there, baby. Lots of pussy.” He leans in again, and I can smell his body wash. I know it’s his, because I’ve used their shower, and he’s the only male in the house who doesn’t use the bar soap. “Why don’t you see what’s out there?”
I have no interest in anything else but his sister. But that picture haunts me, just like everything about her life up north. Is she finding people more her pace? More stimulating in conversation and experience?
“Let’s see what’s out there.” He nods at me, his voice unusually gentle. “Let’s go to Miami. Tonight. You and me.”
He says it like we’re two buddies.
“They’ve got some great clubs,” he tells me. “You don’t have to sleep alone tonight.”
I don’t want to sleep alone a single night.
His eyes gleam. “I’ll get a girl in your bed.”
It hurts to swallow. “Was Callum a problem, too?” I ask him. “Is that why you ended it?”
His eyes thin to slits for a second, but then he recovers.
“He’s doing well, you know?” I say. “At UPenn.”
“I’ll get you someone warm and soft,” he continues as if I’m not talking. “Something good to suck on.”
“Doing well, despite the beatdown he took last spring,” I go on.
“The beatdown he deserved,” he states.
“I agree. Thank you for that.”
Some guy signals me, and I turn to pour him another draft.
“But I have wondered something about all that shit with Callum last spring,” I tell Dallas over my shoulder. “He wasn’t really “a problem” before you.”
He remains silent.
“Not that anything excuses what he did,” I point out, “but four years around Liv and he’d never pulled anything like that before. It’s curious, isn’t it?”
His jaw flexes, he inhales and exhales, and then pins me with a stare. “Let’s go to Miami,” he says, trying to take back the conversation.
But I’m loving the tension in his body.
“He will be back,” I muse. “A man, richer, more powerful than his father…”
“Get in my car, Clay.”
But I won’t. I’ve found it. Dallas’s kryptonite. I’m not scared of him anymore.
I hand the man his beer and come back to Liv’s brother, smiling small. “He’ll be back,” I almost whisper. “I wonder what he’ll do to you.”
He rises, stiff like I’ve never seen him as he looks down at me. He takes the shooter sitting in front of the guy next to him and throws it back, swallowing it and looking at me the entire time.
He takes Amy’s drink and turns away, finally leaving me alone.
Hopefully for good.
Because he knows I’m right. What Callum will inherit employs at least twenty percent of Sanoa Bay.
But the Jaegers have leverage on St. Carmen with the surveillance at Fox Hill now too. Unbeknownst to Callum.
I will never be on Callum’s side, but I’m not exactly on Dallas’s either. I might just stand back and watch when the shit hits the fan.
I take a sip of my soda, momentarily pleased, until her face drifts through my head again and I reach for my phone.
But then I sigh and slam it back down. Stop stalking her. Jesus.
Why am I so worried? She’s mine. We spent the whole summer barely a foot apart for more than a few hours at a time. Sleepovers and beach days and Disney World—I totally got her in some Mickey ears—and a road trip to Miami for a weekend and another one to New Orleans for a week.
Last year at this time, I could have any guy I wanted. I never checked up on Callum or obsessed about anyone else’s daily activities. Loving her is like nothing I’ve been through before. I’m afraid of losing her.
And when she’s not here, where I can be reassured every day that she’s mine, my brain fucking tilts, and I want to bang my head into a wall.
The doubts overpower reason, and I don’t know how to stop it.
I check the phone one more time and then toss it down on top of the beer cooler. I can’t believe she hasn’t called. Or texted back. It’s so inconsiderate.
I order a basket of mozzarella sticks, but then I realize I have a bar full of people I’d rather not have staring at me while I cry into my junk food. I set them in front of Amy at her table instead, to help neutralize the alcohol I’m illegally giving her.
I learn how to make a sidecar, and someone asks for a lemmy—which is just a Jack and Coke, I guess. Wise-ass.
Thankfully, most of the evening is beers and shots, until some guy asks if I’m on the menu, too. He wants to take me home to his wife, because she’s looking to “explore”. His bed will fit all three of us, he says.
But then Trace grabs his earlobe and yanks his face down onto the bar so hard I hear his nose break, and then the guy is apparently “just kidding”, he says.
And the cherry on top for the night? My tip jar holds almost enough for a swanky night at McDonald’s.
Ugh. I’m honestly glad I agreed to help Macon out tonight. If for no other reason than to remind myself that while I’m kind of tired of being in school nearly all of my life so far, it will hopefully ensure I have some better choices. I almost feel sorry for Jilly.
And Aracely. This can’t be their dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, honest job—I get that. The world needs every kind of worker, but…paying bills will always be a struggle for them. What would people be capable of without that on their shoulders, you know?
I’m a lucky girl. Luckier than I deserve.
Feeling suddenly—and rightly—guilty, I pick up my phone and dial Liv. I’m lucky to even have her. Too lucky. I should be doing everything I can to show her I know that.
But it doesn’t ring. It goes straight to voicemail like she has it turned off. I falter, my worry spiking again. She never turns off her phone.
And when the line beeps, I just want to tell her that I’m an idiot and spoiled and stupid. Let’s go for it, babe. I’d rather have a moment than nothing. A weekend, a day, an hour…rather than no part of her ever again.
But as the noise in the bar snakes into my ears and my head, and some guy shouts for a Coors, I stammer. “I…” I swallow and just blurt it out. “I miss you.”
I hang up, actually thankful I am too distracted to go into some long, heartfelt monologue of lunacy.
“That register turns up short,” I hear Macon yell. “It’s coming off your credit card, Collins.”
I glance up, arching a brow as Liv’s oldest brother points at me and heads for the kitchen, probably just passing through to make his authority known.
I drop the phone down next to the register. “Yeah, that sixty-eight cents in there will really help me finally buy that personality I’ve been eyeing for you.”
I hear Trace laugh, knowing that sound easily by now, as Macon disappears into the kitchen. Liv looks the most like him. They both have brown eyes.
I check my phone. Still no call. Or text. I walk out from behind the bar.
I go over to Amy’s table and steal one of the cold cheese sticks still left. I stuff it into my mouth, ignoring her look, and dig out a few bills from my pocket, dialing in about ten songs on the jukebox, starting with “Dearest Helpless” by Silverchair. Army and his eclectic taste in old music are rubbing off on me, apparently.
But even the music can’t drown out the voices in my head. Every minute that passes, my conscious thoughts are consumed with her. I pour someone a beer. She hasn’t called. I wash and dry a martini glass. She hates me. Someone orders wings. She’s avoiding me.
Of course she would. I’m a basket case and completely unpleasant. She wised up.
Customers start to drift out. Dallas leaves a mess on the table, and I don’t even bother to call him back to pay the bill he racked up treating all of his friends. Macon can deal with him.
There’s a twenty-dollar tip on the bar from Trace, and I let Mr. and Mrs. Torres keep me fifteen minutes longer than necessary, since everyone is now gone, because they still aren’t done in the bathroom.
I wash the dishes, wipe down the bar, and clean the tables, tossing my dirty cloth down next to the register as I grab my backpack, because I need air. The kitchen staff will lock up, and Macon will be back to count the register.
I step outside, resisting the urge to grab my phone.
Resisting, resisting, don’t do it, don’t do it… It’s only been almost two days. Just two days since she lacked the common courtesy of participating in the conversation I thought we were having.
I should ignore it.
But I don’t want to let her ignore it. She’s just going to try to call and act like “Oh, that?” And brush it off.
To hell with it. She’s doing this on purpose. You can’t even manage to return a text or a call, I type. I’m supposed to believe we’d spend time together if I were there?
I mean, hey…if she’s so busy, then what’s the point of me visiting there?
I don’t think I’m overreacting. Some reassurance from time to time is expected and appreciated. I mean, what the fuck is she doing that she ignores me this long?
I told you this would happen, I type out. You’re finding a world. I’m not important anymore.
I throw my backpack onto the passenger seat and climb into my car, starting the engine. I ignore the lights and music pouring out of Liv’s house as I pass, knowing Macon’s only allowing a party, because Liv’s gone now. I’m not sure if he tried to keep the house respectable when she lived there, because she was in school and needed to study or because he wanted to protect her from bad behaviors and idiots.
Either way, he’s drinking more now. Even if he still doesn’t smile.
I drive, rolling down the windows and smell the rain that’s coming. Trying to cool off my brain. Clear my head. Calm the hell down. I’m cooking all this up in my head, and it’s all Dallas’s fault.
I mean, the notion that your soulmate just happens to be born a few miles from you?, he had said. Let’s go to Miami tonight. You and me. See what’s out there.
I drive, crossing the canal into St. Carmen, and up into the hills, thinking.
She’ll make friends. You’ll make friends, he’d taunted me.
I stop at the red light, breathing hard. What is she doing that she can’t call or text?
The empty streets shine with the latest cleaning, and I kind of miss the dirt roads of Sanoa Bay. The chipped paint and overgrowth. The heat and the taste of her skin when she sweats for me.
I glance across the street and see Lavinia’s, dark and locked up. The lap dance I gave her drifts through my mind, and I shake my head. “Why am I letting him get to me?” I murmur to myself. “Olivia Jaeger’s girlfriend is not a fucking coward. Liv Jaeger can’t live without her. She thinks about her all the time. University, new people, culture… Hot roommates. It’s no contest. She’s obsessed with Clay. Nothing compares.”
Or so I would’ve been able to convince myself six months ago, when I thought I was the shit.
The light turns green, I punch the gas, and tears fill my eyes as I make my way home. I lost Henry and survived. Why does this feel harder?
I park in my driveway, the house lit up, even though I know my mom is at her cottage tonight and I’m all alone.
But as soon as I step through the front door, my phone rings.
I pause, hating how my heart leaps that it could be her. Might be her.
God, I hope it’s not her.
Pulling it out of my bag, I stare at her name on the screen. It takes a moment, but I answer it, holding it to my ear.
“What have you gone and done now?” she asks before I say anything.
I sniffle. “Worked myself into a tizzy.”
My voice sounds like a guilty child who knows she screwed up.
But I can hear the humor in her tone. “Yeah, no kidding.”
“Well, I’m not wrong,” I retort, the confidence building again now that I finally have her on the phone. “This is too hard, Liv. I’m just so…”
I can’t say the word. It’s stupid.
I just can’t seem to control the feelings.
“So…?” she presses.
“Jealous,” I blurt out. “I’m jealous all the time. I hate it. The doubt that’s always there. And I hate for you to see it too.”
My head starts going, and maybe I want it to go there, because I miss her, and I’m upset. Maybe I want to sabotage this, so I have an excuse to be the first to walk away.
Before she does.
“What are we doing?” Last spring, we were in it to win it. And now… “This is torture.”
“So, you’ll come to Dartmouth this weekend then?” she asks.
“That’s not what I was thinking.”
“Thinking,” she deadpans.
Faith was never my strong suit. I’ve learned nothing is permanent. When I can’t see her and know and be reassured, my head starts making up its own truth.
“I saw your post.” I drift into the house, leaving the lights off. “You didn’t tell me your roommate had an amazing ass.”
“You like her ass?”
I lean back against the fridge, my messenger bag still looped over my shoulder. “Does she walk around naked?”
That wasn’t a ‘no’.
“Or in her underwear, maybe?” I press.
Liv says nothing, and wind rushes through her phone. She must be outside.
“She does, doesn’t she?” I say, able to read her silences by now.
“What do you want from me?” she spits out. “It’s her room too.”
I set my jaw, staring at my shoes, and try to keep my voice steady, but the tears spill down my face and I watch them dot the black hardwood floor.
She and those girls share a tiny space, talking every day, eating together probably, laughing, and falling asleep together and…
“I want you in your own room,” I grit out.
“Fine, done,” she spits out. “Will you be happy then? Will this be the end of it? Want me to eat alone too? Not attend parties? Move to another seat if someone attractive sits next to me in class? What about acting roles? Should I stay away from any that make you feel threatened?”
I push off, gritting my teeth. This is unbearable. School rules force my girlfriend to have other women in her bedroom like that would be okay if they were the opposite sex. It wouldn’t be.
She acts like she wouldn’t feel the exact same way if I’d gone away to college. She would.
But… I know it would cost Liv money she doesn’t have to pay more for a single dorm room. And there’s no way she can afford an apartment. Not yet.
And her roommates are straight. Liv knows it, I know it, and for the first time in a long time—no thanks to me—she’s not alone. Not an outsider. She has friends and an environment that makes her feel good.
She’s right. I’m angry and scared for so many reasons, and her roommates aren’t the problem. I will still miss her and be angry about it, no matter her roommate situation.
I calm my voice again, standing in the dark kitchen as rain patters the windows. “You fit there.” That’s what I saw in the picture on the post, not the other girls. “I knew it a long time ago, you know?”
“Years ago, when I knew I loved you,” I answer, leaning over the island and speaking softly. “That’s why I battled so hard, because I knew you were going to win. I already knew I’d lost you, even freshmen year. The world was going to see how beautiful you are. What can I possibly give you now?”
“You know what you give me.”
I stand up straight again, cutting off my scoff before she can hear it. “You’re not stupid. Stop acting like it,” I scold, knowing what we’re good at. “When the sex gets old, you’ll realize that’s all that’s between us.”
And as soon as the words are out of my mouth, my jaw drops, and I want to snatch them back. Tears well until more spill over. I close my eyes. Jesus, fuck.
Her silence burns my ear, and I almost hang up, too mortified. What the hell is wrong with me?
“I’m sorry,” I breathe out. “But see? I can still hurt you, after all, can’t I?”
“Get in your car.”
I go still. “My car?”
“The backseat,” she tells me.
I want to.
I want to do everything she tells me, because for some reason, my conscience needed to put up a fight tonight, so when this ends, I can say “I told you so”, but I never want it to actually end. I want her to reel me back in.
But sex isn’t going to solve this.
“I’m not in the mood,” I tell her. My voice is gentle, but I’m sure she can hear the fatigue. I just want to go to bed with my shame right now. “I shouldn’t have said what I said just now. I didn’t mean it.”
“The backseat, Clay,” she orders.
But I shake my head. “I don’t want to. I just need to get off the phone.”
And smash the damn thing with a hammer before I do anything else stupid.
“I’m hideous.” Tears lodge in my throat, and I can only manage a whisper. “But I love you.”
And I pull the phone away from my ear, but then I hear her voice.
“Do you remember our first time in your car?” she asks.
I stop, unable to answer right away. Images flood back, and I drop my head, almost blushing.
Prom Night. My mom had reserved the penthouse suite at The Palmer for my friends and I to party after the dance. She knew Liv and I would be spending the night together, but with Krisjen calling it an early night when she got called home by her little sister for whatever reason and Amy passed out with some guy in the room next to ours, Liv and I didn’t want to stay. A bed a thousand people had slept on (been there, done that). Cold furniture. Amy able to hear us from the next room.
We Ubered back to my house, got my car, and intended to take a blanket and sleep on the beach, but we stayed in the car instead.
“I thought we were going to die,” I whisper. “It was so hot.”
It was May and miserable.
“But we couldn’t stop,” she adds. “I could never stop.”
My throat tightens, warmth building in my body again as the good slowly eases all of the damn ugly shit I’d been thinking tonight.
“It was so tight back there,” she muses. “I was ready to scream, because I couldn’t reach all of you. I couldn’t kiss everything I wanted to kiss, but the…the need suspended time. Nothing else existed.”
I nod to myself. “Wild,” I add. “It was so wild. I thought you were going to bite me.”
I hear her soft laugh, and I pick out my AirPods from my bag, fit them into my ears, unloop my bag from over my head and sit it on the floor.
I make my way for the front door, carrying my phone and listening.
“When I’m with you,” Liv says in my ears, “I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing with all of my time. I feel you with every sense, Clay. I always have. Your taste, your scent, your whispers in my ears…”
Chills spread down my arms and legs, and I stand inside the front door, looking out through the sidelight at the driveway and my car.
“I’m glad you weren’t my first,” she goes on, “because at least I know you’re another level.”
My eyes sting.
“That’s what you forget,” she says. “You’re not my first, but you’re the first one that I loved. There’s a reason. It’s not that good with you because of your body and what you can do with it. It’s that good with you because we’re connected. We’re connected in places your hands and mouth can’t reach. My head, my heart, and places deeper than that—you’re always inside me, Clay.”
My chest almost caves. She knows how to let me think I have the power here, and I’m grateful. Liv is a survivor. She might hate losing me, but she’d live. I’m not so sure I, on the other hand, could bear the pain.
“Get in your car,” she whispers.
I swallow hard as sprinkles hit the glass panes. “It’s raining.”
“Good. Then no one will see you through the glass.”
I peer outside, the driveway shining black. My car sits off to the side, the top up as water pours down the windshield.
I hesitate. “Why didn’t you answer your phone tonight?”
But she cages. “Lay down in the backseat.”
“Liv?” I press.
“And take off your shirt.”
She’s playing with me. That used to be my job, but she floors me now. With her, I can’t think straight.
Or I couldn’t.
An idea runs through my head, and I hold back my smile. Opening the door, I step outside, close it, and walk to my car, the rain cooling my shoulders. I run my fingers through my hair, flipping it to one side as I open my car door and dive into the backseat.
I set my phone on the console, the dome light dims, and all I can hear is the downpour beating on the roof. Water spills down the windshield, obstructing the view outside until the trees and the lampposts around the driveway are like a pool of paint on a palette.
She sits in my ear, silent.
“I love you,” I tell her.
“Take off your shirt.”
I pull my T-shirt over my head, glancing around once more to make sure I’m completely alone. Our house sits back far from the street and is surrounded by trees, far from the view of anyone driving by, but you never know.
I toss my shirt into the front seat.
“Until you’re bare,” she clarifies as if she can see me and knows I’m in a bra.
I ignore the tingle in my body.
Reaching behind me, I unhook my bra and pull it off, tossing it up front with my shirt. I lay down and kick off my shoes, one knee bent with my foot on the seat and the other planted on the floor of the car.
“I’m laying down,” I tell her.
My breath already fogs the windows, remembering all the times we were on top of each other in here this past summer.
“Now take off your jeans,” she orders.
“I’m not wearing underwear.”
“You tended bar in the Bay tonight with no underwear on?”
I break into a smile, loving the scold I hear in her tone, but then…I hesitate. “How did you know where I was tonight?”
Macon called me yesterday. After I’d texted Liv. I hadn’t had a chance to tell her yet.
One of her brothers must’ve mentioned it. I know she talks to Trace almost daily. Army and Iron at least once a week. Macon doesn’t talk to anyone unless there’s a point, and Dallas wouldn’t talk about me to her unless it was to hurt us.
“Take them off,” she demands.
But I play, touching my stomach and gliding my fingers over and down my neck to massage my breasts.
“I want you to watch me,” I say as I squeeze.
“I am, baby.”
“Don’t kiss me anywhere or…or suck on anything,” I pant, grazing my nipples until they’re rocks. “Or lick anything.”
“I like to watch you,” she whispers.
I nod, thinking about the times I let her watch. The times I performed more than just a little dance.
“But I love to touch you,” she states. “Now take off your jeans.”
I slip my hand between my legs, over my jeans, and squeeze and massage myself with my hand.
“No,” I say in a flat tone.
“I said no.”
I groan, feeling myself grow wet.
“You know, if I were there, you wouldn’t be pulling this shit,” she points out.
“But you’re not here, are you?” I taunt.
She’s silent, my nipples point to the sky, and I’m feeling strong again, because I know she likes how good I make her feel. That’s something, at least.
“My jeans aren’t coming off again until your hand is inside them,” I inform her. “And then you can watch me.”
She says nothing.
“Watch me come,” I tell her. “Watch me make you come. Watch me between your legs and watch my hands between my legs.”
She breathes into the phone.
“I’m going to have so much fun in my bed tonight all by myself, and when you see me, then you can have—”
Something slams right into the window, and I jerk, pulling my hands off myself.
What the hell?
I pop my head up, my lungs emptying. The wet palm of a slender hand presses into the glass, and the door opens just as I shoot upright.
Liv dips her head inside the car, calm with a smirk in her eyes as she looks me up and down. Her phone is in her hand. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”
“Liv?” I gasp. I don’t know why it sounds like a fucking question, because she’s right there, but I still can’t believe it. “Oh my God!”
I reach for her, but I don’t have to do much. She climbs in, takes my arms, and pushes me back down onto the seat, pinning my arms above my head.
The warm rain wets my bare feet where they dangle out the door.
“I’m sorry I didn’t answer the phone,” she says, staring down at me, and I just want her to kiss me. “I wanted to surprise you. And then I was on a plane.”
Yeah. I was pretty sure there was a simple explanation, but I needed a reason to be mad, I guess.
She grips my wrists as her eyes trail down my body, lingering on my breasts. “But I’m kind of aggravated I wasted the time now. You’re pissing me off tonight.”
Yeah, I know that too. She’d probably been on a plane as I was starting work tonight and all the dread and worry was for nothing. When we’re frustrated, we want someone to be mad at. I need to work on that.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” I ask her, but don’t wait for a reply. “Nothing, as usual?”
She breathes out a small laugh, fire lighting up her brown eyes. “Clay, I learned a long time ago with you that I can’t make you sorry.” She lowers her mouth toward my body. “But I can make you beg.”
She flicks my nipple with her tongue, holding my eyes the entire time. I suck in a breath.
I know it’s only been a few weeks, but tears hang at the corners of my eyes, because the distance has made me realize one thing. I feel best only with her.
“I love you.” My body shakes, and I can’t look at her. I stare at the roof.
She moves from one breast to the other, kissing and sucking so lightly my body erupts in chills, because all she’s doing is teasing me.
Her face comes up to mine, and I don’t even fight her hold as she brushes my nose with hers. “Do you think I don’t worry too?”
I open my mouth, trying to kiss her but she holds back. “About what?”
“That, at any moment, you’ll meet someone that makes you question if waiting for me is worth it.”
I close my mouth again, watching her.
“And I worry, because you’re doing something so amazing with your life,” she tells me. “I may see a thousand places in college, Clay, but you’re going to be a part of a thousand lives. More even.”
“So will you.”
She cocks her head like I’m so naïve. “But what do people say about actors at their funerals, you know? People will need you. That scares me, because some day you might think that my life’s work is shallow and unimportant, and I never know if you’re going to call me one night and tell me you’ve met someone else. You know how many first loves last?”
“I think about it all the time.” She takes my lips with hers, holding them softly. “What you’re doing. Who you’re seeing. If you still miss me. If life’s just moving on here without me.” She licks her lips, gazing down, and I see the tears in her eyes. “Part of me honestly hates it when I see your name on my caller ID. There’s a moment when I’m so scared to answer it.”
She releases my hands, and I don’t hesitate. I take her ass in both hands, threading our legs, and lean up, taking her mouth.
We kiss, breathless, and the taste of whatever gloss is left on her lips sends my stomach fluttering.
“But no amount of panic is going to force this to last,” she says. “If we want it, then it will.”
I know that. I knew that months ago when I committed to letting her go without me and neither of us holding back for the other.
But I want her, and she wants me, so I need to step up. “I’ll come up for Halloween,” I tell her. “Okay?”
It’s two weeks away. Our first Halloween as a couple. I want to be together for it. “I want to see your room, meet your friends, go to a party…” I tell her. “We could dress up as Daphne and Velma.”
She kisses me again and again, moaning as my hands slip under her flannel and grope her breasts.
But then she pulls back and looks down at me. “No. How about Liv and Clay,” she states. “The high school version. Catholic skirts and all.”
Dress up as ourselves?
“And this time…” She pinches my chin. “I don’t take your shit.”
I can’t contain myself. “This time…” I grip her ass. “Maybe I don’t hold back what I really want from you. Take off your shirt, Jaeger.”
She bites her lip, and I can tell she wants to smile. She’s fucking excited.
But she doesn’t want to show it.
Arching up, I thread my fingers through the back of her hair and kiss her hard and deep, slipping my tongue in and feeling her moan down my throat. I take her hand and put it to her chest.
“Unbutton it,” I whisper over her lips. “Do it now.”
Our breath mixes, her hair—longer in just a matter of weeks—is cool in my fist, and our eyes meet. Suddenly, we’re back in high school, and she’s going to do everything I want, because she wants me too.
With one hand, she undoes each button from the neck on down, and as soon as the last button is unfastened, I tear off her shirt. “You’re so beautiful.”
In seconds, our jeans are crumpled onto the floor.
“Yeah, you’re just being nice, because you want a piece of ass,” she teases.
I wrap my arm around her waist and bite her breast. “I’m not just being nice.” I sit up, pull her over my lap backward, pushing her forward between the front seats over the console, and bend her knees at my side. My clit throbs as I scoot down and fit us together like a scissor and take her panties in my fist.
“Clay,” she gasps, startled.
“You are beautiful,” I continue. “I had the prettiest girl at Prom and they all knew it.”
Clutching her underwear in one hand, I see her grab the console with both hands to hold on just before I yank hard, ripping her little white panties off her.
Holding her hips, I tip my head back, sweat already glistening across her back and my chest. “Fuck me, baby. Fuck me now.”
Her ass starts to move and I’m lost. God, I’m lost. Her hips roll in and out like a wave, her cunt rubbing on mine so good, the friction feels like little pricks on the raw flesh of my pussy.
Slow at first and then faster, she grinds on me, looking back into my eyes as I push the hair out of her face, the windows layering with fresh fog, and the sound of the rain is drowned out by the sounds of breathing and moaning.
“God,” I grit out, bringing my hand down and taking a fistful of her ass as she works me harder and harder. “God, baby.”
The long hair down her beautiful back. The soft, olive skin. Her gorgeous body and how she looks at me like I’m the most important thing she’ll ever see.
I love her so much.
“You like that, Clay?” she taunts.
I watch her ass move in and out, fucking me good.
I reach out and take a breast in my hand, keeping her ass in the other.
“You dream about me?” she goes on.
And I move one hand into her hair, gripping it, and the other I slip between us and then slide two fingers inside of her. She shudders when I go deep, her eyes rolling as she tips her head back. “Oh…” she moans.
“I dream about you in five years, straddling me like this in your wedding dress,” I tell her.
That’s what I dream about.
She shakes as I crook my fingers inside of her. We rub so hard and fast that it’s like little jerks as we chase our orgasms.
“Oh, God,” she groans. “Clay.”
“Fuck, Jaeger,” I cry. “Fuck, don’t stop. Ah!”
We come, and it billows into my thighs and spreads through my stomach as sparks rise up my arms and head until I swear that I can feel every pore on my body. The world tilts a little, and I’m suddenly so glad my mom is gone tonight.
“Clay,” she whimpers.
I breathe hard. “I know.” My mouth is so dry I can’t swallow. “I know.”
I know. This has to last. There’s no way around it. Even if I lost her, she’d be back someday. One look again and we wouldn’t be able to stay away from each other. I may not have any experience to compare to, but… She does.
I lean forward, pressing my forehead into her back and wrapping my arm around her. She knows this is it.
“No, I mean my hair,” she whines.
Which…Liv never does.
And that’s when I realize one of my hands is still fisted at her scalp. Tightly.
“Oh.” I pull it out, releasing her. “Sorry.”
She laughs and then I do too.
She collapses back onto me, turning her head and kissing me. “Halloween then?”
And she dives in for another quick peck. “And I love you too.”
Well, fucking finally. I’ve only said it five hundred times tonight.
THANK YOU FOR READING!
I do hope to write one or two more stories in this world for other characters eventually.
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