“You are a sweet boy.”
Chuckling, he peeled back the flap of the tent. “You first.”
I toed off my sneakers, then ducked inside the tent and was able to stand straight. Sebastian wasn’t able to as he stepped inside, so he knelt beside me as I inhaled the musty scent, immediately swamped by memories of the long summer nights spent in a much smaller tent.
There was an air mattress on the ground, along with two sleeping bags and a comforter I vaguely recognized from Sebastian’s house. Pillows were stacked at one side of the mattress. A little LED lantern sat on a plastic folding table. A pile of food waited in the corner—chips, sodas, Tupperware containers and even a bag of Funyuns.
That was pretty much when I knew I would forever be in love with Sebastian.
Sebastian reached over to the pile of food, picked up a container and popped the lid open. “Mom made s’more brownies.”
My mouth watered. “S’more brownies? That sounds like heaven.”
“They are amazing.” He put the lid back on and picked up another. “The last time she made them, I ate so many I thought I’d vomit.”
I laughed as I watched him open another lid. That one had strawberries and pieces of watermelon in it.
“Cut them up myself,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. “I think I deserve a pat on the head for that alone.”
Grinning, I patted the top of his knit cap and then looked around the tent again. Emotion closed up my throat. This was amazing, perfect and so incredibly thoughtful.
I kind of wanted to cry. “This is...”
“What?” Sebastian looked over at me.
“Thank you.” I dropped down on the mattress beside him. Leaning over, I clasped his cheeks. “Thank you so much. I never expected you to do anything like this, and I know I don’t—”
“Don’t say it.” He folded his hands over my wrists. Our eyes met. “There will be none of that tonight. At all. It’s just you and me and a ton of calories waiting to be consumed. Nothing else. No past. Nothing.”
I just stopped thinking. Right then. Right there.
And I just acted.
Closing the distance between us, I kissed Sebastian on the lips, throwing not just the welling gratitude behind it but also everything I felt for him. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation from him. One hand moved to the nape of my neck and he moved off the mattress, onto his knees in front of me. His mouth was soft and hard all at once, and when my lips parted, he deepened the kiss.
He was the one who eventually pulled away, and when he spoke, his voice was deliciously thick. “We should probably start eating.”
“All righty.” I would’ve agreed to almost anything at that point.
We broke apart and started rifling through the bags of chips and containers. While we ate, we talked about utterly nothing important, and it was glorious, because it had been so long since I could just...just be. Since I could talk about my favorite show or the books that were in my room, yet unread, and listen to Sebastian go back and forth on what he’d like to study in college without my mind being caught up in the past.
Once I was stuffed and Sebastian was closing up the bags, I asked, “Are we really going to sleep out here?”
Sebastian chuckled. “Hell yeah.” Craning his head back toward me, he raised his brows. “Unless you’re not comfortable.”
“I’m comfortable,” I said. I was and wasn’t at the same time, because being out here all night with him wasn’t anything like when we were kids.
His lashes lowered. “You sure about that.”
“Yes.” I scooted down. “I’m just curious to how our parents are okay with this.”
“They trust us.”
Sebastian crawled up the length of the mattress and stretched out on his side. “I want you to know I don’t expect you to stay here all night,” he said. “You can hang out for however long you want and leave whenever you want.”
Easing down next to him, I hadn’t imagined in a long time that I’d find myself spending the night in a tent again. When we were kids, I wasn’t picturing him shirtless or thinking some of the things that were crossing my mind now. I rolled onto my side, facing him. I had no idea how long I would stay, but I knew deep down, no matter what I decided about tonight, Sebastian would be okay with it.
I felt my cheeks heat before I even got the question out of my mouth. “Is it... Is it okay if I call myself your girlfriend?”
The smile that raced across his striking face nearly stole my breath. “I’ve been trying to call you my girlfriend since I realized I liked girls.”
Happiness bubbled up, and I didn’t let anything stamp it down. Nothing. Stretching across the tiny space between us, I placed my hand on his chest, above his heart. His hand folded over mine. Courage rose, pushing me to take a big step, to allow myself to do it.
I kept my eyes open as I said what I’d wanted to say for so many years. Words that, for a while, I thought I no longer deserved. “I love you,” I said. “I’ve been in love with you for as long as I remember.”
Sebastian moved instantly.
One hand cupped my cheek, and then his mouth was on mine and we were kissing. There was nothing artful about these kisses. Our lips and mouths crashed together. He tasted of chocolate and salt, and when the kiss deepened, he shifted even closer.
He worked one arm under me, and we were fused together, chest to chest, hip to hip. When he rolled me onto my back, he followed, and our hands were needy, slipping under clothes, skin to skin in a heady rush.
My hands roamed the length of his back and his sides. His hand traveled down my hip, over my thigh. He hooked my leg around his waist, bringing us even closer together, although I hadn’t thought that was possible. His shirt came off, then mine. And then we were truly skin to skin in a way we’d never been before.
Acute shivers raced over my skin as the small, rough hairs of his chest brushed against me. Unbridled sensation pounded my senses.
“This wasn’t why I did this tonight,” he said, his voice unlike I’d ever heard before. “We don’t have to do anything. We don’t—”
“I know.” Curling my hand around the nape of his neck, I opened my eyes. “I know.”
I tugged his mouth back to mine, and this time when we kissed, there was something different about it. It was uninhibited and more...more purposeful, and I felt wild in the most wonderful way. I had no idea where tonight would go, where we would end up, but I trusted him. He trusted me.
“I love you,” I whispered against his mouth.
Sebastian made this sound, this rugged and deep sound against my mouth, as his hips settled between my legs and his chest was once again pressed into mine. He moved, and I was falling, swimming, drowning in sensations.
And I lived.
And it was okay, more than okay.
It was beautiful.
It was living.
Brown leaves floated from nearly bare limbs, falling down to the ground silently. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and on Monday I had my last session with Dr. Perry.
I had my assignments.
I’d been following them dutifully.
I took Sunday evenings to truly remember my friends, and God, that had not been fun at first. Since the accident, I’d avoided looking at their Facebook and Instagram accounts or any of the pictures I had of them. I hadn’t read their old messages on my phone or their emails.
The first Sunday I’d lasted for only a half an hour before I tossed an old photo album aside. I didn’t cry. I had no idea why, especially since my eyes were their own water park at that point. The second Sunday night, when I went to their social media accounts, I’d lost it. Seeing their last posts killed me.
Megan had posted about Dance Moms that Saturday afternoon. That had been what she was thinking about, having no idea she’d die later that night, and I think that was what messed with me the most. None of us had even the tiniest of ideas that our lives were about to be irrevocably altered.
Cody had an Instagram post from that night before, a picture of him holding a red cup, smiling into the camera. He was with Chris. Both of them so bright and so happy. I focused on their smiles, because that was what I needed to remember.