“I really don’t know,” I whispered, unable to remove my focus from his lips.
Silence took over except for the booming music playing downstairs. I wondered what other people were doing right now, what my friends were up to. Were they having more fun than me? Doubtful since my most fun moments were with Beck. Plus, he made me feel so safe, especially when he hugged me. Sometimes, I wished I could stay in his arms forever. Life would be so much easier that way.
“Wills.” His voice was low and husky.
I tore my eyes away from his mouth and met his gaze. His eyes were blazing with an indecipherable hunger. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the look until he leaned in and grazed his lips against mine.
I squeezed my eyes shut, parted my lips, and for a heart-stopping, soul-burning, mind-blowing moment, life was perfect. Then I snapped out of my stupidity and remembered life wasn’t perfect. I had lived in imperfection since I was six.
Panic rose inside of me, and I ran like a coward.
For weeks afterward, I could barely look Beck in the eye. Those were some of the loneliest days of my entire life. The only reason I was able to be friends with him again was because of the rule. A simple rule. At least, it seemed so on paper.
Absolutely no lip-to-lip contact.
Yep, that was my rule. I gave Beck a copy and keep the original in my glovebox. Having that boundary written down seems to be working for us.
Sort of …
“You sound stressed. What’s going on?” Beck’s troubled voice lures me out of the memory.
Fear scorches through me as a car zooms by, and I sink even lower in the seat.
“I’m always stressed. It comes with the territory of being a worrier,” I tell him. “But the place I’m broke down isn’t helping my anxiety, either.”
“Where are you exactly?”
“On the highway between Ridgefield and Fairs Hollow.”
“Fuck, that’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah, I know. I was …” I was what? Coming home from work? Because he thinks you work at a library, which is far, far away from here. “I had to run a few errands for my mom, and my stupid car decided it was going to overheat again.” God, I hate lying to him. It makes my heart ache.
“You really need to get your car looked at,” he says over the chatter and piano music rising in the background.
“I will,” I lie. Like I pointed out earlier, trying to explain not having money to Beck doesn’t work. “Where are you? I hear a lot of noise.”
“I’m at my sister’s. She’s throwing a week before Thanksgiving party.”
“Is that a thing?”
“Apparently. At least to her. But you know how Emmaline is. She throws parties for every holiday and the week before. Remember she did that for Easter a couple of years back?”
I smile. “Yeah, I remember. You made me go to it with you and told all the kids at the kid table that we were eating rabbit. They freaked out and started to cry, and your dad got so pissed.”
“My dad is always pissed,” he reminds me with slight bitterness. The only time Beck ever sounds bitter is when he’s talking about his dad, a cold, unemotional man who loves to work more than be a father or husband. “But that time, it was kind of worth it just to see the look on those kids’ faces.”
“You can be so evil sometimes.”
“So can you. That’s why we’re so great together. In fact, I think we might create the epitome of perfection.”
Deep down, I know he doesn’t mean we’d be a great couple, but my lips tug downward, anyway. Not because Beck would be a horrible boyfriend; I just prefer not to think about boyfriends: of having one, of ruining my life to have one, of getting consumed by one, of ending up like my mom because I get so consumed by one. And Beck, he could definitely consume me. I can feel the magnetic attraction, the overwhelming sense of drowning every time I’m near him.
I glance at the glovebox, thinking about the rule. Knowing it exists makes me breathe easier.
“Maybe I should try texting Ari again,” I change the subject. “I don’t want to make you leave your sister’s party.”
“Too late for that. I’m already in the car.”
If I had a penny for every time he said that to me, I wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
“Besides,” he continues. “I’m not about to pass up my chance to be your knight in shining armor just so I can stick around and listen to my sister’s friends babble about the stock market.”
“Is that what you rich folks are talking about these days?” I tease, hunkering down in my seat as headlights shine through the rear window of my car.
“Oh, my God, you have no idea,” he gripes. “I swear if I heard any more about exchanges and volumes and yields, I was going to start singing Linkin Park’s ‘One Step Closer’ at the top of my lungs.”
I giggle. “Man, I’d love to see that go down.”
“One day, I’ll make that happen for you.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” I tease then suck in a sharp breath as the headlights move closer.
I turn around to glance out the window, but I can’t tell if the car is driving absurdly slow or has stopped. I double-check to make sure the doors are locked then sink lower into the seat.
“It’ll have to be at one of your parties, though. That kind of stuff would fit right in with the stupid parties my mom throws all the time. Someone is always screaming about something.” I bite my tongue as soon as I say it. While Beck knows how my mom is, he doesn’t need me whining to him about my pathetic life. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bitch about my mom. She’s just been giving me a headache lately.”
“I’m guessing Claude the nose picker broke up with her?”
“Was he the nose picker? I thought that was Wally.”
“No, I’m pretty sure Claude was the nose picker. Wally was caterpillar brows.”
“You know what? I think you’re right.” I’m on the verge of smiling, something only Beck can get me to do when we’re talking about my mom’s many ex-boyfriends.
He actually came up with the idea of giving them nicknames after I divulged I had a difficult time remembering their names. We started giving them quirky names based on their habits and weird characteristics, like Claude the nose picker, Wally the caterpillar brows, and Ed the wedgie picker.