Plenty of time for that after she leaves town.

Plenty of time for that after she leaves town.

We pul up to the curb and she glances at her house, then back at me. The porch lamp is on, shedding a spotlight over the front door, pooling on the concrete space in front of it and spil ing over the cracked steps, the il umination tapering off once it hits the edge of faded lawn.

This is the sort of pivotal scene I’ve filmed a dozen times

—a typical boy delivering a typical girl home just under the curfew wire. It general y plays out in one of two ways. Either the boy lets the girl out of the car with an okay, see ya, or he fol ows her to the door and tries to kiss her goodnight—

the success or failure of which depends on the script.

Dori’s dark eyes are impossible to read in the dim interior of the car, but her hands, clasped in her lap, are not.

As this thought crosses my mind, she loosens them, offering one to me. “Thank you for dinner. It was fun and…

enlightening?” She laughs amiably and I take her smal hand in mine. The moment we touch, her laugh evaporates.

“Everything around you is enlightening,” I say cryptical y, not even sure what the hel I mean beyond the fact that knowing her has revealed parts of myself to me that I didn’t know existed. If that isn’t enlightening, I don’t know what is.

Clearing her throat, she squeezes my hand once before slipping hers from my grasp. She turns toward the door, fingers on the handle. “Wel .” She looks over her shoulder with a wry smile and I’m frozen in place. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tonight, and it feels like it’s lasted half an hour.


“Goodbye, Reid. Be good.” Before she can open her door, the driver is there, opening it for her. “Oh!” she says, laughing again. “I think it would take me a long time to get used to this.”

Her laugh snaps me out of my stupor, and while she’s exiting her side, I’m exiting mine, coming around to meet her on the sidewalk. “It wouldn’t take as long as you might think,” I say, extending the crook of my elbow. She swal ows visibly, looping her hand through my arm, her fingers cool against my forearm.

We walk towards the door, and I pul her to a slow stop just outside the edge of il umination. She al ows me to tug her closer, regarding me silently. Even in her heels, she’s a head shorter than me. “When you tel me to be good, it makes me want to be good,” I say, hearing the undisguised desire in my voice. I run my fingers through the hair at her temples, taking her face between my palms, and she doesn’t move. “It also makes me want to be very, very bad.” And then I kiss her.


When he kisses me, I forget everything—where I am, where we’ve been, and what we’ve said. I forget the fact that I’l never see him again unless I buy a ticket or rent a movie to do so. As I climb the stairs moments later, that truth spil s out from my subconscious in a rush— I will never see him again. It’s al I can do to remove the key from my bag with shaking fingers, unlock the door and drift through, turning to watch from the darkened entryway as the car pul s away and is gone.

My head is stil swimming, my face burning at the edges where he touched me with his warm hands as his mouth moved over mine. This time, there was no negotiation, and he wasted no effort with restraint or testing my boundaries.

Pul ing my body up against his, one arm encircled me as he leaned down. He kissed me gently but deeply, drawing a response that was al hunger and instinct. My hands clutched his shirt, holding on for dear life until he stopped and opened his eyes, his forehead against mine, his breaths echoing mine—ragged and wanting more.

“Goodbye, Dori,” he whispered, and my own farewel hung in my throat as his lips grazed my cheek, and then he was walking to the car, never looking back.

I fear that I’l compare this kiss with every other kiss I wil receive for the rest of my life, an unattainable standard by which to measure future faceless men. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, and the memory of this kiss wil begin to fade tomorrow, or next week, or someday. But tonight, I’m on fire, walking quietly up the staircase to my room, as though my lips are the conductors of every possible significant feeling, and every neurological receptor in my body is flooded with heat.

Mom and Dad are asleep, the slit of space beneath their bedroom door dark. My bedside lamp is on. The curtains are drawn. Clothes I left in the dryer are now folded and stacked on my dresser; various toiletries cover the top of my desk. Esther waits on my bed, her tail thumping the mattress slowly, like a drum. I run my hand over her silky head and she nuzzles into it, her tongue lol ing out one side head and she nuzzles into it, her tongue lol ing out one side of her mouth. She looks like she’s smiling, this beloved expression of hers one that usual y brings an answering smile to my face.

Tonight, my lips feel numb. No, not numb. Bereft.

When he asked me to dinner, he said You’ll be off to your life and I’ll soon be off to mine. No false promises, no option or threat of postponing the oh-so-inevitable end. The dinner, the conversation, the kiss—these were al part of a pleasant but no less certain goodbye. Since the moment I met him, I’ve looked forward to the end of our frustrating association.

Now it’s over, he’s gone, and I feel a hol ow place inside, like he’s taken a slice of me with him as a souvenir.

Chapter 30


“So, think you’l do more volunteering after this?” Frank asks as we lay out a recent donation of decorative pavers from the patio to the back gate.

“After my court-ordered penalty is complete, you mean?” The flagstone slabs vary in size. Making a pathway of them consists of what Frank terms puzzle-piecing and I cal guesswork. Frank is usual y easygoing, but when it comes to stone placement, he’d give Dori a run for her perfectionism money. Dammit, I don’t want to think about her. I glare at the cloudless blue sky, removing one glove and using the bottom of my t-shirt to wipe the sweat from my face. LA is enjoying another summer heat wave, and since the saplings we’ve planted amount to tal sticks with very little foliage, there’s zero shade in this yard.

“Dori’s not here, you know,” Frank says.

My eyes snap to his. “What?”

He takes a generous few gulps from his water bottle.

“You may be here under court order, but you could have been a bastard about it, could’ve given a lot less effort than you have. As far as I’m concerned, you’re volunteer enough to go by the title. I’d be happy to have you back.” This echoes what Dori said the night before last. And clearly, I can’t stop thinking of her. “Thanks, Frank. That means a lot coming from you.”


Frank dislikes compliments, no matter how vague. Last week, Dori whispered, “Watch this,” after making me promise not to react, and then she told Frank that he looked very handsome in teal. He glanced down at his teal linen shirt and blushed, mumbling something resembling,

“Mmmph,” before bul eting to the other side of the patio.

Dori turned back to me with the naughtiest look ever on her face. With effort, we suppressed our laughter as I fought to disregard the desire to pul her onto my lap and kiss her.

Shit. Stop thinking about her already. I’m almost out of here. This day and one more.

“Volunteering for real—I don’t know. It’s possible,” I tel him, recal ing my conversation with Larry a few weeks ago about doing manual labor charity work, when I retorted something along the lines of no way in hell. Wow. I’m a grade-A dick.

Tomorrow is my last day at the Diego house, and George cal ed last night to let me know that production has moved the dates up on my Vancouver project. I’l be on location in three weeks—the day before Dori returns from Ecuador. I have less than a month to beef up and pack on the last five pounds of the twenty I promised to add in order to land the role. George warned me that the director and some of the production team were against hiring me because they wanted the character to be older and bigger, but the guys financing the film wanted my name in the credits. Money talks, but if I screw this up, I could depreciate my future value and seriously lessen the chances of anyone giving me another shot at a film like this one.

To that end, Olaf has promised to kil me starting this weekend. Awesome. If nothing else, maybe I’l be able to get some sleep after he shreds me every day. I tossed and turned so much last night that I found myself up at 4 a.m.

Googling Vancouver’s weather, popular attractions and hot night spots… and then Quito’s weather, topography, possible safety issues and time zone (two hours ahead of LA and Vancouver, which are the same).

I’ve got to get this girl out of my head. I need time and distance, and I’m about to get both. Despite how she responded to me physical y, despite this insistent pul towards her that I’m trying (and failing) to brush aside, she knows and I know that we would never work. Everything about us is different—every damned thing. I’ve never given a shit about that before. I’ve never thought about that before. When you’re hooking up with a girl, al that matters is what she looks like and how fast and hard she’l put out.

Who cares about her past, her beliefs, her aspirations.

Who cares if she has kind eyes or endless patience or the ability to put the needs of everyone on the goddamned planet ahead of her own.

We’re not a mile away from the house when we pass Gabriel e on the side of the road, standing in front of her piece of crap Cutlass—smoke pouring from under the hood and hazards flashing. Some guy in a truck has pul ed over in front of her car. He looks about twenty-five and I don’t recognize him. “Hey Luis, pul a U-turn, man. I know that girl back there.”

Gabriel e’s eyes widen when she sees the Mercedes pul up behind her car. As I exit, the guy standing next to her glares at me with undisguised loathing. He’s dressed and tattooed like a gangbanger, which doesn’t preclude him from knowing her, but I suspect he’s a complete stranger who only stopped to help a hot girl into his car. “Car trouble?” I say, ignoring him.

“Yeah. It does this every month or so, no biggie.” She shrugs, noticeably embarrassed. This car isn’t just a late model, it’s ancient. Unlike one of my dad’s cars—a pristine 1968 Mercedes 280S—this Olds Cutlass, at least a decade younger, hasn’t been wel -cared for. There are rust spots in the doors and sidewal s, the headliner is hanging down like curtain swags, and the tires are too bald to be remotely safe. The fact that it’s not running isn’t much of a shock.

“So… is your mom or dad coming to get you? Or a friend?” I ask. Her would-be rescuer stands there regarding me icily, and I’m al kinds of glad Luis is in the car behind us.

“They aren’t answering their phones. They don’t always

“They aren’t answering their phones. They don’t always get reception at work…” She shrugs.

“C’mon then. I’l give you a ride home.”

She grins ear-to-ear, but then her smile falters. “Um, I promised my little brothers I’d pick them up early from daycare and take them for ice cream. I guess… they can just stay ’til Mama or Papa picks them up...”

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