Nearly Six Years Earlier
“YOU’RE SURE YOU want to do this?” my twin brother, Kaleb, asks with his arms crossed firmly over his lanky chest. His bottom lip twists into a knot that he sucks between his teeth, and I roll my eyes.
“How many times are you going to ask me that?” One of my legs is already dangling out my second-story bedroom window, my weighted combat boot stretching my leg toward the grass. I’ve snuck out of my house a million times—to play flashlight tag, to spy on my brothers, to steal some desperately needed alone time—but never have I felt as nervous as I do tonight.
Or as desperate.
“How many times do I need to before you realize this is CRAZY?” Kaleb whisper-yells, casting a nervous glance over his shoulder. Our parents are sleeping, and for tonight to go as planned, I need to keep it that way. When he returns his gaze to me, he has the decency to look guilty for almost ratting me out.
“This is my last chance, Kale,” my quiet voice pleads, but my twin remains unfazed.
“Your last chance to what, Kit? What are you going to do? Confess your eternal love just so he can break your heart just like every other girl those guys ever come into contact with?”
I sigh and throw a second long leg over the windowsill, staring out at the clouds rolling over the crescent face of the moon. “Just . . . ” Another heavy sigh escapes me. “If Mom and Dad wake up, just cover for me, okay?”
When I look over my shoulder, Kale is shaking his head.
He meets me at the window. “No. If you’re going, I’m coming with you.”
“I’m coming with you or you’re not going.” My brother’s eyes mirror my own—dark and determined, a brown so dark they’re almost black. I know the look he’s wearing, and I know there’s no point in arguing with it. “Your call, Kit.”
“Party boy,” I tease, and before he can push me out the window, I jump.
“So what’s your plan?” he asks after hitting the ground after me and breaking into a sprint at my side.
“Bryce is going to take us.”
When Kale starts laughing, I flash him a smug smile, and we both hop into our parents’ SUV to begin our wait.
Adam Everest is throwing a party tonight bigger than he’s ever thrown. He and the rest of his band all graduated this morning, and rumor is they’re all moving away to Mayfield soon. My brother Bryce would have graduated too if he hadn’t gotten suspended for vandalizing the principal’s car as part of a senior prank. Our parents grounded him for life—or at least until he moves out—but if I know Bryce at all, that isn’t going to stop him from making an appearance at the party of the year.
“You sure he’s coming?” Kale asks. He taps nervous fingers on the passenger-side armrest, and I point my chin toward the front door. Our third-oldest brother steps onto the porch, sporting that midnight-black hair that all of us Larson kids are known for. He shuts the front door quietly behind him, shoots nervous glances both ways, and jogs toward our parents’ Durango, slowing when I give him a little wave from the driver’s seat.
“What the fuck, Kit?” he asks after swinging my door wide open, letting in a gust of late spring air. He shoots an angry glance at Kale, but Kale just shrugs a bony shoulder.
“We’re coming too,” I say.
Bryce’s head shakes sternly from side to side. He learned to give orders as star quarterback of our football team, but he’s apparently been hit in the skull one too many times to remember I don’t take them.
“No fucking way,” he says, but when I rest my hand on the horn, he tenses. I’m the baby of the family, but having grown up with Kale, Bryce, and two other older brothers, I know how to play dirty.
“Yes fucking way.”
“Is she kidding?” Bryce asks Kale, and Kale lifts an eyebrow.
“Does she look like she’s kidding?”
Bryce sneers at our brother before gluing his eyes back to my weaponized hand and asking me, “Why do you even want to come?”
“Because I do.”
Impatient as always, he throws his aggression back at Kale. “Why does she want to come?”
“Because she does,” Kale echoes, and Bryce bristles when he realizes we’re doing the twin thing. I could argue that the sky is neon pink right now, and Kale would have my back.
“You’re seriously going to make me take you?” Bryce complains. “You’re fucking freshmen. It’s embarrassing.”
Kale mutters something about us technically being sophomores now, but it’s lost under the snark in my voice. “Like we’d want to hang out with you anyway.”
In my frustration, I accidentally push too hard on the horn, and an impossibly short, impossibly loud beep silences the crickets around us. All three of us are frozen in place, with wide obsidian eyes, and hearts that are racing so fast, I’m surprised Bryce doesn’t piss his pants. Silence stretches in the space between our getaway car and our six-bedroom house, and when no lights come on, a collective sigh of relief fills the air.
“Sorry,” I offer, and Bryce laughs as he rakes his hand nervously over his short-cropped hair.
“You’re a pain in my fucking ass, Kit.” He offers me a hand and yanks me out of the car. “Get in the back. And don’t blame me if Mom and Dad ground you ’til you’re forty.”
THE RIDE TO Adam’s place takes forever and no time at all. When my brother parks in a long line of cars on the street, shuts the ignition off, and turns to me, I’m pretty damn sure this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. I’ve lost count of how many telephone poles and streetlights have separated me from home.
“Okay, listen,” Bryce orders with his eyes flitting between Kale and me, “if the cops break this thing up, I’ll meet you at the big oak by the lake, okay?”
“Wait, what?” Kale says, like it just occurred to him that we’d be at a party with underage drinking and a record-breaking number of noise ordinance violations.
“Okay,” I agree for both of us, and Bryce studies my twin for a moment longer before letting out a resigned breath and climbing out of the car. I climb out too, wait for Kale to appear at my side, and follow Bryce toward the sound of music threatening to crack the asphalt under our feet. The party is already in full swing, with kids swarming all over the huge yard like ants harvesting red Solo cups. Bryce walks right into the mayhem inside the front door, and when he disappears, Kale and I share a glance before making our way in after him.
Inside Adam’s foyer, my eyes travel up and up to a chandelier that casts harsh white light over what is most definitely a million freaking bodies crammed into the space. I maneuver my way through a sea of shoulders and elbows, through hallways and overstuffed rooms, to get to the back patio door, the music in my ears growing louder and louder with every single step I take. By the time Kale and I emerge outside, it’s beating on my eardrums, pulsing in my veins. A massive pool flooded with half-naked high schoolers stands between me and where Adam Everest is belting lyrics into his microphone. Joel Gibbon plays the bass to Adam’s left. The new guy, Cody something, plays rhythm guitar next to Joel. Mike Madden beats on the drums at the back.
But all of them are just blurred shapes in my peripheral vision.
Shawn Scarlett stands to Adam’s right, his talented fingers shredding lead guitar, his messy black hair wild over deep green eyes locked on the vibrating strings. Heat dances up the back of my neck, and Kale mutters, “He’s not even the hottest one.”
I ignore him and command my feet to move, carrying me around the pool to where a huge crowd is gathered to watch the band. In my combat boots, torn-up jeans, and loose tank top, I’m severely overdressed standing behind bikini-clad cheerleaders who wouldn’t know the difference between a Fender and a Gibson even if I smashed both over their bleach-stained heads.
The song ends with me standing on my tippy-toes trying to see over bouncing hair, and I turn on Kale with a huff when the band thanks the crowd and starts packing up their stuff.
“Can we go home now?” Kale asks.
I shake my head.
“Why not? The show’s over.”
“That’s not why I came.”
Kale’s gaze burrows under my skin, digging deep until he’s swimming in my brainwaves. “You’re seriously going to try to talk to him?”
I nod as we walk away from the crowd.
“And say what?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“Kit,” Kale cautions, his navy blue Chuck Taylors slowing to a stop, “what do you expect to happen?” He looks at me with sad dark eyes, and I wish we were standing closer to the pool so I could push him in and wipe that expression off his face.
“I don’t expect anything.”
“Then why bother?”
“Because I have to, Kale. I just have to talk to him, even if it’s just to tell him how much he changed my life, okay?”
Kale sighs, and we both let the conversation go. He knows that Shawn is more than just a teenage crush to me. The first time I ever saw him play guitar was at a school talent show when we were both still in junior high. I was in fifth grade, he was in eighth, and he and Adam put on an acoustic performance that gave me goose bumps from my fingers to my toes. They both sat on stools with guitars on their laps, with Adam singing lead vocals and Shawn singing backup, but the way Shawn’s fingers danced over the strings, and the way he lost himself in the music—he took me with him, and I got lost too. I convinced my parents to buy me a used guitar the following week, and I started taking lessons. Now my favorite thing to do will forever be linked with the person who taught me to love it, the person I fell in love with that day in the junior high gym.
Love, as much as I hate to admit it. The kind that makes me ache. The kind that would probably be better kept secret since I know it will only break my heart.
I know I’m fucked, and yet an undeniable part of me still needs him to know what he did for me, even if I don’t tell him what he is to me.
With my body on auto-walk and my mind a million miles away, Kale and I find Solo cups in the kitchen and head toward the keg out back, my thoughts slowly drifting back to the present. I’ve had beer with my brothers before, but I’ve never operated a keg, so I watch a few people fill their cups before me to make sure I don’t make myself look like an idiot when it’s my turn at the tap. I pick it up with twitchy fingers, fill my cup and Kale’s, and then wander Adam’s property while my brother and I begin our underage drinking. Adam’s yard is big enough to be a public park, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence that protects the pool, a few large oaks, and enough teenagers to fill the school gym. I spare a glance at my twin and follow his gaze to a group of guys laughing by the side of the pool.
“He’s cute,” I offer, nodding my head toward the one that Kale is now pretending not to have been staring at, a cute tan boy in Hawaiian board shorts and flip-flops.
“He is,” Kale challenges with feigned indifference. “You should go talk to him.”
I give my twin a look, he gives me one back, and I say, “Don’t you ever want a boyfriend?”
“You do realize Bryce is still hanging around here somewhere, right?”
I scoff. “So?”
Kale gives me a look that says it all, and I try not to let him see how much his refusal bothers me. It’s not that I don’t love being the one who keeps his secrets—it’s just that I hate that this is one he feels needs to be kept.
“So if Shawn isn’t the hottest one,” I say to change the subject, “who is?”
“Are you blind?” Kale asks while pushing his face close to mine to inspect the black around my pupils. I use my free hand to push his forehead away.
“They’re all pretty cute.”
A girl nearby screams bloody murder as the boy in board shorts picks her up and jumps in the pool. Kale watches them and sighs.
“So which one?” I ask again to distract him.
I chuckle. “You’re only saying that because Adam is a man-whore. He’s the only one you could probably convince to switch teams.”
“Maybe,” Kale says with a tinge of sadness in his voice, and I frown before taking his cup to the keg to refill it. I’m squeezing the tap when he elbows me in the arm.
I look up to see Shawn Scarlett and Adam Everest—walking toward the keg, toward me.
There are two ways this can go. I can pretend to be confident, offer to pour their beers for them, smile and start a normal conversation so I can say what I need to say, or—nope! I drop the tap, nearly twist my ankles in a supersonic twirl, and bite my lip all the way to a secluded spot that doesn’t feel nearly secluded enough.
“What the hell was that?” Kale asks breathlessly from behind me.
“I think I’m having an allergic reaction.” My palms are sweating, my throat is closing, my heart is pounding a mile a minute.
Kale laughs and pushes me. I’m stumbling forward when he says, “I did not come all this way to watch you turn into some kind of girl.”
With my lip pinned between my teeth again, I glance back toward the direction we came and see Shawn and Adam, beers in hand, slip inside the house through the patio door.
“What am I supposed to say?” I ask.
“Whatever you need to.”
Kale circles behind me and nudges me toward the door again, and I continue walking forward in a daze, my feet eating the long distance step by step by step. I don’t even realize that my twin hasn’t followed me until I turn around and see he’s not there. My Solo cup is empty, but I cling to it like it’s a security blanket, avoiding eye contact with everyone around me and pretending I know where I’m going. I navigate a narrow path through a few familiar faces from school, but not many seem to recognize me, and the ones that do just kind of raise an eyebrow before going back to ignoring me.
Everyone from school knows my older brothers. Everyone. Bryce was on the football team before he decided getting into trouble was more important than a scholarship. Mason, two years older than Bryce, is infamous for breaking the school’s record for number of suspensions. And Ryan, a year and a half older than Mason, was a record-shattering track star back in his day and remains a legend. All of them straddle this weird line between treating me like one of the guys and acting like I’m coated in porcelain.
I find myself looking for Bryce, desperate for a familiar face, when I spot Shawn instead. He’s sitting in the middle of the couch in the living room, Joel Gibbon on one side and some chick I instantly hate on the other. I’m frozen in place when some idiot slams into me from behind.
“Hey!” I shout over the music, whirling around as the jerk leans on me to steady himself.
“Shit! I’m—” Bryce’s eyes lock with mine, and he starts laughing, wrapping his hands around my shoulders to steady himself in earnest now. “Kit! I forgot you were here!” He beams like a happy lush, and I scowl at him. “Where’s Kale?”
“By the keg out back,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest instead of helping my drunk-ass older brother stay on his feet.
His brows turn in with confusion as he finally finds his balance. “What’re you doing in here by yourself?”
“Needed to pee,” I lie with practiced ease.
“Oh, want me to take you to the bathroom?”
I’m about to chew him out for treating me like a baby, when one of his on-again, off-again girlfriends sidles up next to him and asks him to get her a beer.
“I think I can find my way to the bathroom, Bryce,” I scoff, and he studies me through a glassed-over gaze before agreeing.
“Okay.” He eyes me some more and then unties the oversized flannel from around my waist and manhandles my arms into it. He pulls it closed over my chest and nods to himself like he’s just safeguarded national security. “Okay, don’t get into trouble, Kit.”
I roll my eyes and take my flannel back off as soon as he walks away, but then I regret dismissing him so quickly when I find myself standing alone in a crowded room. I root myself to a spot by a massive gas fireplace and pretend to drink an empty beer while trying not to look awkward, which is probably useless considering I’m spying on Shawn from afar like a freaking creeper.
What the hell was I thinking coming here tonight? He’s surrounded. He’s always surrounded. He’s amazing and popular and way out of my league. The blonde sitting beside him looks like she was born to be a cutout advertisement propped in front of Abercrombie & Fitch. She’s hot and girly and probably smells like fucking daffodils and . . . is standing up to leave.
The spot next to Shawn opens up, and before I can chicken out, I rush across the room and dive ass-first into it.
The cushion collapses beneath my sudden weight, and Shawn turns his head to check out the idiot who nearly slammed right into him. I should probably introduce myself, disclose my affinity for stalking and ass-diving, but instead I keep my mouth shut and force a nervous smile. A moment passes where I’m certain he’s going to ask who the hell I am and what the hell I’m doing hijacking the seat beside him, but then his mouth just curves into a nice smile and he goes back to talking with the guys on his other side.
Oh God. Now what? Now I’m just sitting awkwardly beside him for no apparent reason, and blondie is going to be back any second and order me to move, and then what? Then my shot is gone. Then I jumped out of my bedroom window for no freaking reason.
“Hey,” I say, tapping Shawn on the shoulder and trying not to do something humiliating like stutter or, you know, throw up all over him.
God, his T-shirt is so soft. Like seriously downy-soft. And warm. And—
“Hey,” he says back, something between confusion and interest shading the way he looks at me. His eyes, glassy from drinks he’s had, are a deep, deep green, and staring into them is like crossing the border into an enchanted forest at midnight. Terrifying and exhilarating. Like getting lost in a place that could swallow you whole.
“You sounded really good tonight,” I offer, and Shawn smiles wider, giving the butterflies in my stomach a little puff of confidence.
“Thanks.” He starts to turn away again, but I speak up to keep his attention.
“The riff you did in your last song,” I blurt, blushing when he turns back toward me, “it’s amazing. I can never quite get that one.”
“You play?” Shawn’s entire body shifts in my direction, his knees coming to rest against mine. Both of us have worn-through shreds at the knees, and I swear my skin tingles where his brushes against mine. He gives me his complete attention, and it’s like every light in the room focuses its heat on me, like every word I say is being documented for the record.
A shadow falls over me, and the Abercrombie model from before glowers down at me, all blonde hair and demon eyes. “You’re in my seat.”
Shawn’s hand lands on my knee to keep me from moving. “You play?” he asks again.
My eyes are glued to his hand—his hand on my knee—when Demon Eyes whines, “Shawn, she’s in my seat.”
“So find a new one,” he counters, casting her a glance before returning his attention to me. When she finally walks away, my cheeks are candy apples that have been left out in the sun too long.
Shawn stares at me expectantly, and I stare back at him for a loserly amount of time before remembering I’m supposed to be answering a question. “Yeah,” I finally say, my heart cartwheeling in my chest at the feel of his heavy hand still resting on my knee. “I watched you . . . at a middle school talent show”—please don’t throw up, please don’t throw up, please don’t throw up—“a few years ago, and”—oh God, am I really doing this?—“and it made me want to learn to play. Because you were so good. I mean, you ARE so good. Still, I mean”—train wreck, train wreck, train wreck!—“You’re still really, really good . . . ”
My attempt to salvage my heartfelt reasons is rewarded with a warm smile that makes all the embarrassment worth it. “You started playing because of me?”
“Yeah,” I say, swallowing hard and resisting the urge to squeeze my eyes shut while I wait for his reaction.
“Really?” Shawn asks, and before I know what he’s doing, he removes his fingers from my knee to take my hands in his. He studies the calluses on the pads of my fingers, rubbing his thumbs over them and melting me from the inside out. “You any good?”
A cocky smile curves his lips when he lifts his gaze, and I confess, “Not as good as you.”
His smile softens, and he releases my hands. “You’ve been to a few of our shows, right? Normally wear glasses?”
Is that me? The girl in the freaking glasses? I’ve screamed from the front row for more than a few of the band’s shows at the local rec center, but I never thought Shawn noticed me. And now when I think about how dorky I probably looked with my thick, square frames . . . I’m not so sure I’m glad he did. “Yeah. I just got contacts last month—”
“They look good,” he says, and the blush that’s been creeping across my cheeks blooms to epic proportions. I can feel the heat in my face, my neck, my bones. “You have pretty eyes.”
Shawn smiles, and I smile back, but before either of us can say another word, Joel is pushing at his arm to get his attention. He’s shouting and laughing about some joke Adam told, and Shawn shifts away from me to rejoin their conversation.
And just like that, the moment is over and I didn’t say anything even close to what I came here to say. I didn’t say thank you or tell him that he changed my life or express anything even remotely meaningful.
“Hey, Shawn,” I start, tapping at his shoulder again when Joel’s laughter dies down.
Shawn turns a curious gaze on me. “Yeah?”
“I actually wanted to ask you something.”
He turns his body back toward me, and I realize I have no fucking clue what to say next. I actually wanted to ask you something? Of all the things that could have come out of my mouth, that’s what my brain settled on? The desperate, girly part of me that I don’t like to acknowledge wants to tell him that I love him and beg him not to move away. But then I’d have to go drown myself in the pool.
“Oh yeah?” Shawn asks me over the music someone just turned up, and to stall for time, I lean toward his ear. He leans forward to meet me, and as I breathe in the scent of his shower-fresh cologne, my mind goes completely blank. I’ve lost the ability to form words, even simple ones like thank you. He’s moving away soon, and I’m blowing my last chance to tell him how I feel. With my cheek next to his, I turn my face, and then Shawn’s eyes are right in front of mine and our noses are practically brushing and his lips are centimeters away—and my brain says fuck it. And I lean forward.
And I kiss him.
Not quickly, not slowly. With my eyes closed, I press a warm kiss against his soft bottom lip, which tastes like a million different things. Like beer, like a dream, like the way the clouds swept across the moon tonight. My brain is flickering between wanting to melt into him and needing to jerk away when Shawn makes the decision for me.
When his lips open to mine and he deepens the kiss, my heart kicks against my ribs and my trembling hands anchor themselves to his sides. His fingers bury in the thick of my hair, pulling me closer, and I’m far too lost to ever want to be found. I fist my hands in the loose fabric of his T-shirt, and Shawn breaks his lips from mine to purr low in my ear, “Come with me.”
Before I know it, my hand is in his and I’m following him through the crowd. Up the stairs. Down a hall. Into a dark bedroom. The door closes behind us, and in the faint moonlight casting a soft glow throughout the room, those delicious lips claim mine again.
“What’s your name?” Shawn asks between kisses, his talented mouth dropping to my neck.
I think I might answer him if I could actually remember. Instead, I’m drunk on his lips and every spot they’re touching, on his hands and the way they’re charting forbidden territory across my skin. His touch sends shivers dancing over my goose bumps—and then heat, a fire licking over my neck, my arms, my heart.
“It doesn’t matter,” I pant, and a soft chuckle sounds against my neck before Shawn straightens and gives me a smile that turns my knees to gelatin. He tugs at the knot of my flannel shirt and lets it fall to the floor between us. Then his fingers hook into my tank top and tug it over my head.
I’ve made out with guys before. I’ve passed first base and have lingered at second. But when Shawn tugs me toward the bed and lays me down on top of it, I know I’m being drafted into another league—one that I’m probably not ready for but will try to be good at anyway.
Because it’s him. Because it’s Shawn. Because even though I didn’t come here for this tonight, now I think I’ll die if I leave without it.
With my body sunken into covers that aren’t mine, I pull him down on top of me so I can feel his lips again, moaning when every inch of his body molds itself against the dips and planes of mine. My fingers slide beneath his worn-soft T-shirt, and together, we tug it over his head.
“Shawn,” I moan as I kiss him, the hardness inside his jeans sending me over the edge. I say his name just to make this real, to convince myself I’m not dreaming.
“Fuck,” he breathes, and he separates our bodies only enough to unbutton his fly as he’s kissing me. He unbuttons mine right after, and I wiggle out of my jeans and panties as he kicks out of his jeans and boxers. A foil wrapper is between his teeth a second later, and then he’s rolling a condom over himself and I’m sneaking a peek down below and biting my lip between my teeth.
Everything is moving in fast motion, so fast that my brain keeps shouting, this isn’t really happening. Shawn is a sweet dream kneeling between my legs, and when my gaze travels back up to his face, he’s smirking at me. “This has got to go,” he says, plucking at my bra strap, and I arch my back to unclasp it.
He removes the last item of clothing I’m wearing from my shoulders, and then his eyes are drinking me in and I’m shivering under his gaze. His calloused palm cups the ample swell of my breast, and he massages it gently before flicking his thumb across my nipple the way he would flick the tuned string of a guitar. I gasp at the sensation that ambushes every nerve ending in my body, and Shawn’s eyes lock with mine again. He holds my gaze as he positions himself between my legs. As he eases forward, I feel pressure, then pushing and stretching that make my eyes squeeze shut. My fingers sink into his back, pulling him as tight as I can get him, and my chin anchors in the warm crook of his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asks, and I lie by raking a hand into his hair and sucking his earlobe between my lips. He doesn’t know he’s taking my virginity—because he doesn’t need to know, because I don’t want him to know.
What would he think? Would he stop?
He starts moving again, slowly, and I command my body to relax, to loosen for him so it doesn’t hurt as much. This wasn’t quite how I envisioned my first time. I imagined scented candles and music and . . . for the guy to at least know my name.
Oh my God, my virginity is being taken by a guy who doesn’t even know my name.
“Kit,” I blurt, and Shawn continues moving in and out of me as he pants, “Huh?”
“My name,” I answer with my eyes still squeezed shut. I turn my face into the heat of his skin and fill my head with his scent, needing to remind myself that candles and music don’t matter because it’s Shawn, and that was always something too perfect to even dream of.
“Kit,” he says, and when he pushes into me this time, my toes curl and a breathy moan drifts from my lips. He pulls away from my vise-grip hold to kiss me, and my body responds to him, adjusting to the increasing tempo of his thrusts.
His tongue is between my lips, his hips are between my thighs, and his body is in my hands—but it’s me who is lost to him. I’m his, silently begging for more and more as he gives himself to me in the darkness of a stranger’s room. When his body spasms and he collapses on top of me, I hold him close, allowing my hands to memorize the planes of his back and the way his sweat-dampened hair curls against the top of his neck.
I want to kiss him again, but now that what we did is over, I don’t know if I should. With my fingers in his hair, I fight with myself too long and lose the battle when Shawn pushes off of me and begins gathering his clothes. He tosses me mine with a tired smile on his face, and I try to remind myself I should be happy. Even if I never see him again, at least I had tonight.
“Do you see my phone anywhere?” he asks, and I search the sheets around me to find it. He flips on the light switch, and I thank God when I don’t see any blood anywhere. We’re in Adam’s room, judging by the band posters and lyrics scrawled on the walls, and I find Shawn’s phone in black satin sheets and hand it to him, ignoring the pain that throbs down below with each little movement I make. If he knew it was my first time, he probably would have been gentler. But if he knew it was my first time, he probably wouldn’t have done it at all.
Realization hits me like a wrecking ball to my gut—because I know he’s never going to talk to me after this. He’s going to leave, going to move a hundred miles away, and my heart is going to break worse than it would have if I had just let him go.
“What’s your number?” he asks, and I stare up at him. He’s holding his phone in his hand, waiting for me to answer him, and the wrecking ball explodes into a thousand butterflies that flutter over my skin and tickle at my cheeks.
I get my hopes up before I can help it, rattling off numbers as Shawn enters them into his phone. When he’s finished, I slide my last article of clothing over my head and eagerly take the hand he offers. He helps me up and then chuckles, pocketing his phone and saying, “Here.” His fingers lift to comb through my hair, but he quickly gives up and simply smooths it out, finishing the job by tucking a long strand behind my ear.
“Better?” I ask, and he smiles before giving me an unexpected kiss that leaves me wanting to do more of what we just did on the bed, throbbing pain be damned.
The moment ends when he reaches for the knob and opens the door, and then we’re walking into the hall and his arm is draping over my shoulder. In front of everyone. I contain a squeal and play it cool, smiling like I belong here at Adam’s party. Like I’m not just some nerdy freshman who used to wear thick glasses. Like Shawn Scarlett’s arm draped possessively over my shoulder is no big deal. Like he didn’t just take my virginity and make my entire life. Like him asking for my number, giving me a kiss, and putting his arm around me doesn’t make my heart want to explode in my chest. Like I’m not hopelessly in love with him.
“What the fuck are you doing, man?” a familiar voice asks when we reach the living room, and every hair on my body stands on end as Shawn and I turn and see my brothers approaching us from the crowd. Bryce’s tone is light and amused, which tells me he has no idea we just came from upstairs. He laughs when I blush under his gaze. “Dude, that’s my sister,” he tells Shawn, and then he turns his attention to me. “Is this why you wanted to come here tonight?”
Oh God, oh God, oh God.
“You’re his sister?” Shawn asks me, and I see it happen—the moment when he recognizes me as a Larson, when he realizes I’m the little sister of Bryce, Ryan, and worst of all, Mason.
“Yeah,” Bryce answers for me, “and she’s fifteen, man.”
I barely have time to catch the mortified look Shawn gives me, but it embeds itself in my memory forever. His arm drops from my shoulder even before someone outside yells, “COPS!”
Red and blue lights flash through the windows, followed by sirens that trigger a stampede. Bryce grabs me by the arm and tugs me away from Shawn, and Shawn drifts farther and farther away in the chaos, staring after me in that way that breaks my heart. Like what we did was a mistake and all I am is a regret.
He moves away. He doesn’t call.
He forgets, but I never do.