That was the image captured in the photo, this time taken by Tegan on her cell phone. Jeb was wearing his denim jacket again—the faded blue so sexy against his dark skin—and he was laughing, too. What I remembered, as I looked at our happy faces, was how he didn’t get off me right away. He braced himself on his forearms so that he wasn’t squishing me, and his laugh softened into a question that made my stomach quivery.
After the snowball fight, Jeb and I went out for mocha lattes, just the two of us. I was the one who suggested it, but Jeb said yes without a moment’s hesitation. We went to Starbucks, and we sat in the matching purple armchairs at the entrance of the store. I was giddy; he was bashful. And then he grew less bashful, or perhaps just more determined, and he reached over and took my hand. I was so surprised I spilled my coffee.
“For heaven’s sake, Addie,” he said. His Adam’s apple jerked. “Can I just kiss you?”
My heart went crazy, and suddenly I was the shy one, which was nuts. Jeb took my cup from my hand and put it on the table, then leaned in and brushed his lips over mine. His eyes, when at last he drew back, were as warm as melted chocolate. He smiled, and I melted into a swirl of chocolate, too.
It was the most perfect Christmas Eve ever.
“Hey, Addie!” my little brother called from downstairs, where he and Mom and Dad were playing with the Wii that Santa brought him. “Want to box with me?”
“No, thanks,” I called.
“How about tennis?”
I groaned. Wii did not make me say “Wee!” But Chris was eight. He was only trying to cheer me up.
“Maybe later,” I called.
“Okay,” he said, and his footsteps retreated.
I heard him tell our parents, “She said no,” and my melancholy deepened. Mom and Dad and Chris were downstairs together, merrily strapping on nunchucks and punching each other in the face, while here I was, gloomy and alone.
And whose fault is that? I asked myself.
Oh, shut up, I replied.
I scrolled through more pictures:
Jeb posing cheesily with a Reese’s Big Cup, because he knew it was my favorite and he’d brought it for me as a surprise.
Jeb in the summer, shirt off, at Megan Montgomery’s pool party. God, he was beautiful.
Jeb looking sudsy-adorable at a car wash Starbucks held as a fund-raiser. I gazed at the picture of him, and my insides went soft. That had been such a fun day—and not just fun, but cool, too, because it was for a good cause. Christina, my shift manager at Starbucks, had gone into labor early, and our store wanted to help with the hospital bills not covered by insurance.
Jeb volunteered to pitch in, and he was a total stud. He arrived at nine and stayed through three, scrubbing and slaving away and looking pretty much like he should be in one of those beefcake Hottest Guys in the Universe calendar. He went way beyond what boyfriend duty required, and it made my heart happy. After the last car pulled out of the parking lot, I wrapped my arms around Jeb and tilted my face toward his.
“You didn’t have to work so hard,” I said. I breathed in his soapy smell. “You had me at the very first car.”
I was going for flirtatious, along the lines of the scene in Jerry Maguire when Renée Zellweger told Tom Cruise, “You had me at ‘hello.’” But Jeb furrowed his brow and said, “Oh, yeah? Uh, good. But I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Ha-ha,” I said, assuming he was fishing for more praise. “I just think it’s sweet that you stayed the whole time. And if you were doing it to impress me . . . well, you didn’t have to. That’s all.”
His eyebrows went up. “You thought I washed those cars to impress you?”
My cheeks grew warm as it dawned on me that he wasn’t kidding. “Uh . . . not anymore.”
Embarrassed, I tried to pull away. He didn’t let me. He kissed the top of my head and said, “Addie, my mom raised me on her own.”
“So I know how hard it can be. That’s all.”
For a moment, I felt pouty. Which was totally lame. But while I knew that Jeb’s wanting to help Christina was a good thing, I wouldn’t have minded if at least part of his motivation had to do with me.
Jeb pulled me close. “I’m glad I impressed you, though,” he said, and I could feel his lips on my skin. I could also feel the warmth of his chest through his wet shirt. “There’s nothing I want more than to impress my girl.”
I wasn’t quite ready to be teased out of my sulk. “So you’re saying I’m your girl?”
He laughed, as if I’d asked out loud if the sky was still blue. I didn’t let him off the hook but instead stepped backward out of his embrace. I looked at him, like, Well?
His dark eyes grew serious, and he took both of my hands in his. “Yes, Addie, you’re my girl. You’ll be my girl forever.”
In my bedroom, I squeezed shut my eyes, because it was too hard, that memory. Too hard, too painful, too much like losing a slice of myself, which, in fact, I had. I pressed the off button on my iPod, and the screen went black. The music stopped, and my iPenguin stopped dancing. She made her sad you’re-turning-me-off? sound, and I said, “You and me both, Pengy.”
I sank into my pillow and stared at the ceiling, rehashing just how things had gone wrong between Jeb and me. How I’d stopped being his girl. I knew the obvious answer (bad, yuck, didn’t want to go there), but I couldn’t help obsessively analyzing what got us to that point, because even before Charlie’s party, things were less than great between us. It wasn’t that he didn’t love me, because I knew he did. As for me, I loved him so much it hurt.
What tripped us up, I think, was the way we showed our love. Or, in Jeb’s case, the way he didn’t show it—at least, that was how it felt to me. According to Tegan, who watched a lot of Dr. Phil, Jeb and I spoke different love languages.
I wanted Jeb to be sweet and romantic and affectionate, like he had been at Starbucks when he kissed me that first time last Christmas Eve. I ended up getting a job at that same Starbucks the month after that, and I remember thinking, Sweet, we’ll get to relive our kiss again and again and again.
But we didn’t, not one single time. Even though he stopped by all the time, and even though I always broadcasted with my body language that I wanted him to kiss me, the most he would do was reach across the counter and tug the strings of my green apron.