I lifted my hand but stopped inches from touching him.

A small smile curled the corners of his lips up. “You can touch me if you want. You don’t even have to ask.”

I wanted to touch him, so very badly, but I hesitated. Touching him wasn’t pretending, and how would I come back from that?

His chest rose with a deep breath. “I would love for you to touch me.”

My breath caught.

Tentatively, I splayed my fingers across his cheek. A jolt of exhilaration rushed me when I felt the tremor that rocked his strong body. His jaw was almost smooth under my palm with just the hint of stubble. I slid my hand down, sliding my thumb along his lower lip. His sharp intake of breath elicited a shudder. He closed his eyes when I followed the curve of his upper lip, feeling the indent of his scar.

All these years, and I’d never touched him like this. Ever. I was lost a little in the moment, in the right now, as I coasted my hand down his throat. My fingers brushed over his pulse and I could feel it beating as wildly as mine.

I kept going.

Flattening my hand over his chest. He made this sound, this low gravelly groan that was part growl, and it was like taking a match to gasoline. A fire started. Emboldened, I went lower, following the taut ripples and planes. His muscles were hard, clearly defined like I always knew they were, like I’d always seen and only ever accidentally touched briefly.

But this wasn’t brief.

I took my sweet time, tracing just a finger over his abs and then two fingers, mapping them out, committing them to memory.

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I kept going.

My fingers drifted around his navel and lower, reaching the band on the flannel bottoms he was wearing. His body jerked again, bringing him closer. His thigh pressed against the side of mine.

This isn’t right.

I shouldn’t get to do this, but knowing that didn’t stop me. Slowly, I lifted my gaze to his.

His eyes were blue as the deepest seas I’d never seen in real life but had circled on that map above my desk. Somehow our faces had gotten closer and closer during my exploration. Our breaths mingled together.

I closed the distance.

The contact of my mouth against his was just as shocking and electrifying as it had been the first time, maybe even stronger now. It was just the sweetest, gentlest of pressures. Only my mouth moving against his, and then his hand was on the nape of my neck.

I made a sound I’d never heard myself make before, opening my mouth to him, and whatever control Sebastian had, whatever was holding him back, snapped. Sebastian kissed me, really kissed me. My heart threatened to explode. His tongue slipped in. He tasted of mint and him. My hand moved to his hip and flexed, urging him closer, but he couldn’t get closer. Not with my sore ribs and the bum arm.

But he kissed me, drank from my lips and mouth and my sighs. And he moved down, nipping at my lower lip, drawing out a moan, and he kissed his way down my throat when I kicked my head back, giving him more access. He licked and sucked, paying special attention to this spot just below my ear that had my toes curling and my hips twitching restlessly. Then he was devouring my lips once more, our tongues tangling and the only sound in the room was our panting breaths.

I had no idea how long we kissed. It went on for forever, and there was no faking or pretending each time we dived back into each other, wanting and silently begging for more. Friends did not kiss friends like this. They didn’t clutch at one another like we were, my fingers digging into his hip and side, his hand a firm hold on my neck, unwilling to let me go even though I wasn’t running.

And still, we kissed and kissed.

When his mouth finally lifted from mine, I pressed my forehead into his shoulder. Breathing heavily, I curled my fingers into his shirt. For what felt like an eternity, neither of us moved and then he shifted back down on his side, curling his hand over my hip. His hand moved, drifted up and down my back in long, smoothing strokes, and his breath danced warmly on my cheek.

And we didn’t talk the rest of the night.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

I stared at the stupid poster on the wall. It was a picture of skydivers holding hands and underneath in large print was one word: TEAMWORK.

Only a high school would have a poster of people willingly jumping out of planes as an example of teamwork. That wasn’t the kind of team I’d want to be a part of.

Dr. Perry was waiting. He’d asked me a question. Like he’d done last Wednesday and Friday, and it was now Monday, the start of my second week back, and nothing and everything had changed.

This week’s question was different from last week’s. Then he’d just really focused on how I was adapting to being back at school and when I was planning to start going to volleyball practice even though I couldn’t do anything. I’d dodged that last question, just like I dodged Coach Rogers. He’d asked how I was handling the morbid curiosity from the other students. And how I was in my classes. He’d talked about the accident. Not what was so obviously in my file, but about how hard it was to allow yourself to let go of the guilt of surviving and how important it was to move on.

This week, he asked if I’d decided when I would visit the graves of my friends, stating that doing so was important to begin the process of closure. I didn’t want to answer the question, but I also kind of wanted to, because I wasn’t talking to my friends about any of this, especially Abbi, who apparently thought I was a terrible human being, and I kind of thought the same about myself. I hadn’t opened up to Sebastian. Not even after last Tuesday night—after we spent the time together really getting to know the feel of each other’s mouths.

I ran the palm of my right hand over the edge of the chair’s arm. “I can’t think of them like that,” I said finally, staring at the skydivers over his shoulder. They were all wearing different-colored jumpsuits, so they reminded me of a box of crayons. “When I think of Megan, I still think of her sitting in my room, talking about TV shows. The idea of going to a cemetery, where they are now, I...” I shuddered. “I can’t.”

Dr. Perry nodded slowly as he lifted his mug. The Greatest Dad Ever mug was replaced with one that had an image of Elvis Presley. “You haven’t moved past the trauma of the accident. Until you do so, you won’t be able to grieve.”

My hand stopped moving and I curled my fingers around the arm of the chair.

“I can get you past the trauma. Do you want that?”

I lowered my gaze to him and drew in a deep breath. “I want, more than anything, to go back to the way things were.”

“But you can’t go back to the way things used to be, Lena. We can never go back. You have to accept that, no matter what happens from here on out, your friends are not coming back—”

“I know that,” I cut in, frustrated. “That’s not what I meant.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I...I just want to be who I was,” I forced out, and then it was like something deep inside me was unlocked, and a torrent of words spilled forth. “I don’t want to be this me anymore. I don’t want to think about this every waking moment, and when I do start to think about anything, anything else, I feel horrible because I shouldn’t. I don’t want to look at my mom anymore and see that look on her face. I want to be able to go back to volleyball, because I did...I did love playing, but I can’t even think of doing that, because of Megan. I don’t want to sit with my friends and constantly be worrying about what they really think of me. I don’t want them to think that I don’t understand the accident affected them just as badly. I want to be able to believe that Sebastian loves me and it’ll be okay and I can love him back,” I blurted out, having no idea if he knew what I was talking about, since I wasn’t even sure I did. “I don’t want to feel any of this. And I know it won’t go away. I know when I go to bed later tonight and I wake up tomorrow it will be the same, but I don’t want any of this.”

His gaze sharpened. “Do you see a future for yourself, Lena?”

I fell back in the chair, wincing when I felt the stab of pain in my ribs. It wasn’t often that my ribs still bothered me, but throwing myself around in a chair sure didn’t feel good. “What do you mean?”