The sadness in his eyes must mirror mine and I don’t want him seeing it. I don’t want him seeing me sad, so I squeeze my eyes shut. He lets go of my hand and I hear him walk around the table until his arms are around me and he’s picking me up. He sets me down on the bar so that we’re at eye level and he brushes the hair from my face and makes me open my eyes again. His eyebrows are pulled together and the pain on his face is raw and real and heartbreaking.
“Babe, I screwed up. I’ve screwed up more than once with you, I know that. But believe me, what happened at lunch that day wasn’t jealousy or anger or anything that should ever scare you. I wish I could tell you what happened, but I can’t. Someday I will, but I can’t right now and I need you to accept that. Please. And I’m not apologizing to you, because I don’t want you to forget what happened and you should never forgive me for it. Ever. Never make excuses for me, Sky.”
He leans in and kisses me briefly, then pulls back and continues. “I told myself to just stay away from you and let you be mad at me, because I do have so many issues that I’m not ready to share with you yet. And I tried so hard to stay away, but I can’t. I’m not strong enough to keep denying whatever this is we could have. And yesterday in the lunchroom when you were hugging Breckin and laughing with him? It felt so good to see you happy, Sky. But I wanted so bad to be the one who was making you laugh like that. It was tearing me up inside that you were thinking that I didn’t care about us, or that spending that weekend with you wasn’t the best weekend I’ve ever had in my life. Because I do care and it was the best. It was the best fucking weekend in the history of all weekends.”
My heart is beating wildly, almost as fast as the words are pouring out of him. He releases his firm hold on my face and strokes his hands over my hair, dropping them to the nape of my neck. He keeps them there and calms himself with a deep breath, then continues.
“It’s killing me, baby,” he says, his voice much more calm and quiet. “It’s killing me because I don’t want you to go another day without knowing how I feel about you. And I’m not ready to tell you I’m in love with you, because I’m not. Not yet. But whatever this is I’m feeling—it’s so much more than just like. It’s so much more. And for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to figure it out. I’ve been trying to figure out why there isn’t some other word to describe it. I want to tell you exactly how I feel but there isn’t a single goddamned word in the entire dictionary that can describe this point between liking you and loving you, but I need that word. I need it because I need you to hear me say it.”
He pulls my face to his and he kisses me. They’re short kisses, mostly pecks, but he kisses me over and over, pulling back between each kiss, waiting for me to respond.
“Say something,” he pleads.
I’m looking into his terrified eyes and for the first time since we met…I think I actually understand him. All of him. He doesn’t react the way he does because there are five different sides to his personality. He reacts the way he does because there’s only one side to Dean Holder.
He’s passionate about life, about love, about his words, about Les. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t just added to his list. The intensity he conveys isn’t unnerving…it’s beautiful. I’ve gone so long trying to find ways to feel numb any chance I get, but seeing the enthusiasm behind his eyes right now…it makes me want to feel every single thing about life. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the pleasure, the pain. I want that. I want to start feeling life the same way he does. And my first step to doing so starts with this hopeless boy in front of me who’s pouring his heart out, searching for that perfect word, wanting desperately to help me add feeling back into living.
Back into living.
The word comes to me like it’s always been there, tucked away between like and love in the dictionary, right where it belongs. “Living,” I say.
The desperation in his eyes eases slightly, and he lets out a short, confused laugh. “What?” He shakes his head, trying to understand my response.
“Live. If you mix the letters up in the words like and love, you get live. You can use that word.”
He laughs again, but this time it’s a laugh of relief. He wraps his arms around me and he kisses me with nothing but a hell of a lot of relief. “I live you, Sky,” he says against my lips. “I live you so much.”
Saturday, September 29th, 2012 9:20 a.m.
I have no idea how he does it, but I’ve completely forgiven him, have become infatuated with him and now I can’t stop kissing him, all in the span of fifteen minutes. He definitely has a way with words. I’m starting to not mind that it takes him so long to think of them. He pulls away from my mouth and smiles, grabbing my waist with his hands.
“So what do you want to do for your birthday?” he asks, pulling me down off the bar. He gives me another quick peck on the mouth and walks to the living room where his wallet and keys are on the end table.
“We don’t have to do anything. I don’t expect you to entertain me just because it’s my birthday.”
He slips his keys into the pocket of his pants and looks up at me. His mouth hints at a wicked smile and he won’t stop staring at me.
“What?” I ask. “You look guilty.”
He laughs and shrugs. “I was just thinking of all the ways I could entertain you if we stayed here today. Which is exactly why we need to leave.”
Which is exactly why I want to stay here.
“We could go see my Mom,” I suggest.
“Your mom?” He looks at me warily.
“Yeah. She runs an herbal booth at the flea market. It’s the place she goes the first weekend of every month. I never go because she’s there fourteen hours a day and I get bored. But it’s one of the biggest flea markets in the world and I’ve always wanted to go walk around. It’s only an hour and a half drive. They have funnel cake,” I add, trying to make it sound enticing.
Holder walks back to me and wraps his arms around me. “If you want to go to the flea market, then we’re going to the flea market. I’m gonna run home and change and I have something I need to do. Pick you up in an hour?”
I nod. I know it’s just a flea market, but I’m excited. I don’t know how Karen will feel with me showing up unannounced with Holder. I haven’t really told her anything about him, so I feel bad sort of springing him on her like this. It’s her own fault, though. If she didn’t ban technology I could call her and give her a heads up.
Holder gives me another quick peck and walks to the front door.
“Hey,” I say, just as he’s about to walk out. He spins around and looks at me. “It’s my birthday and the last two kisses you’ve given me have been pretty damn pathetic. If you expect me to spend the day with you, I suggest you start kissing me like a boyfriend kisses his…”
The word slips from my mouth and I immediately cut the rest of the sentence off. We still haven’t discussed labels yet and the fact that we just made up within the past half hour makes my lackadaisical use of the word boyfriend feel like something Matty-boy would have said to me. “I mean…” I stutter, then I just give up and clamp my mouth shut. I can’t recover from that.
He’s turned around facing me, still standing by the front door. He’s not smiling. He’s looking at me with that look again, holding my gaze with his, not speaking. He tilts his head toward me and raises both of his eyebrows curiously. “Did you just refer to me as your boyfriend?”
He’s not smiling about the fact that I just referred to him as my boyfriend and that realization makes me wince. God, this seems so childish.
“No,” I say stubbornly, folding my arms across my chest. “Only cheesy fourteen-year-olds do that.”
He takes a few steps toward me, never changing his expression. He stops two feet in front of me and mirrors my stance. “That’s too bad. Because when I thought you referred to me as your boyfriend just now, it made me want to kiss the living hell out of you.” He narrows his eyes and there’s a playful look about him that immediately relieves the knot in my stomach. He turns around and heads back to the door. “I’ll see you in an hour.” He opens the door and turns around before he leaves, slowly easing his way outside, teasing me with his playful grin and lickable dimples.
I sigh and roll my eyes. “Holder, wait.”
He pauses and proudly leans against the doorframe.
“You better come kiss your girlfriend goodbye,” I say, feeling every bit as cheesy as I sound. His face washes with victory and he walks back into the living room. He slips his hand to the small of my back and pulls me against him. It’s our first freestanding kiss and I love the way he’s securing me protectively with his arm around my lower back. He traces his fingers along my cheek and runs them through my hair, bringing his lips closer to mine. He’s not staring at my lips, though. He’s looking straight into my eyes and his are full of something I can’t place. It’s not lust this time; it’s more like a look of appreciation.
He continues to stare at me without closing the gap between our lips. He’s not teasing me or trying to get me to kiss him first. He’s just looking at me with appreciation and affection, and it turns my heart to butter. My hands are on his shoulders, so I slowly run them up his neck and through his hair, enjoying whatever this silent moment is that’s occurring between us. His chest rises and falls against the rhythm of mine and his eyes begin searching my face, scrolling over every feature. The way he’s looking at me is causing my entire body to grow weak, and I’m thankful his arm is still locked around my waist.
He lowers his forehead to mine and lets out a long sigh, looking at me with a look that’s quickly turned into something resembling pain. It prompts me to slide my hands down to his cheeks and softly stroke them with my fingers, wanting to take away whatever it is that’s behind those eyes right now.
“Sky,” he says, focusing on me intently. He says it like he’s about to follow it up with something profound, but instead, my name is the only thing he says. He slowly brings his mouth to mine and our lips meet. He inhales a deep breath as he presses his closed lips against mine, breathing me into him. He pulls away and looks back down into my eyes for several more seconds, stroking my cheek. I’ve never been savored like this before, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
He dips his head again and rests his lips against mine, my top lip between both of his. He kisses me as soft as possible, treating my mouth as though it’s breakable. I part my lips and allow him to deepen his kiss, which he does, but even then it’s still soft. It’s appreciative and gentle and he keeps one hand on the back of my head and one on my hip as he slowly tastes and teases every part of my mouth. This kiss is just like he is—studied and never in a hurry.
Just when my mind has succumbed to every part of being wrapped up in him, his lips come to a standstill and he slowly pulls back. My eyes flutter open and I let out a breath that may have been mixed with the words, “Oh my.”