Small town gossip seems to be out to destroy young Phoebe. Abused, lost and crippled emotionally by the very people who were supposed to have protected her, Phoebe struggles to find her place in the world. In the midst of her pain and betrayal, a love so true enters. Gavin is like a dream, showing her what love and respect feel like. Together they venture innocently into the forbidden and experience a new level of pain. Many choices and much confusion lie ahead of Phoebe. Will she be strong enough to get through the heartache? Will this be a pain too great to survive – one that will end Phoebe’s existence? Will she be able to attain redemption to move forward and live?
Book Rating: PG
e x c e r p t
My Safe Harbour
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
The Lord will hold me close
Phoebe Mueller—that is my name. I feel as though I am shut up inside myself and would like to be set free. But when tears begin to bubble up and seem to want to take over, I just swallow hard and shove it down, and feel embarrassed to even think about crying. Isn’t that what mom would say? “What is wrong with you? Stop being foolish.”
So, I’m resigned to not express that side of my feelings too much.
It was 1982; I was fourteen years old living in a small valley town in Pennsylvania bordering New York and New Jersey. There were already rumors about me. So what did it mean “like mother like daughter?” I don’t know why people had to talk. I guess no one had anything better to do. It made it hard when I wanted to have friends, because to my dismay much of the times they would not be allowed to hang out with me.
I was always told by my own parents that I wouldn’t amount to anything so I guess that is just what the town’s people thought. I really felt I had no control over anything in my life. Sometimes I down right hated it. I felt so empty and really wondered if anyone knew what happened at my house. Did they know that dad would just fly into rages and I would end up across the room? Did they know about all the shouting and bad name calling?
Usually I wanted to be away from this house of horrors. It’s amazing that I was even allowed to go anywhere, but I always knew I would pay for it later. I would think in the back of my mind, “Is this really worth it?” As soon as I would return home from wherever it may have been, my father would say I couldn’t do anything because I had been running all week. His idea of “running” was when my mother would have me walk up town to get a gallon of milk for her from the nearest convenient store or my having worked my shift at the local ice cream stand. That seemed so stupid, but I didn’t argue.
Mom was always so busy with her church involvement, she really didn’t pay attention all the time.
End of ninth grade. Ahh summer. I didn’t have to go to school. I never did well in my studies and I didn’t care to try. I really didn’t like school other than the escape it provided during the day. During summer, I had more time during the day before dad would come home. A bit more time to relax.
I made a new friend last year, named Amanda Rabasca. We laugh a bit together, and she has invited me to her house lots of times. For some reason I was allowed to go there, and I was glad. They treated me as if they actually wanted me around. We went fishing and did all sorts of things together. I spent the night quite often. I really enjoyed her mom. I’ve even started calling her Mom.
Amanda and I talked a lot about things. She had dated some boys before and I asked her many questions. I was so intrigued. She had already kissed a boy! She was a year older than me.
During a visit once, she asked me if I would like to walk up the hill from her house and meet the Stohls who’d moved in earlier this year. I was a bit nervous. I wasn’t very much into just going and meeting other kids, but I said yes, because she would be there. So we took our walk, up the big hill about a mile, the tall pines shadowing the road and sun trickling through the leaves, leaving blotchy patterns on the asphalt. It was only early June, and here in the mountains, we really only had one sweltering week in the summer and that usually came mid-August.
I loved this time of year; I could wear a t-shirt and jeans and be perfectly comfortable. We walked mostly in silence. I was thinking about these boys that she would introduce me to and I got nervous again. Rather stupid actually. Who cares? Who cares what they think? Had they heard stuff about me yet? Would they form their opinions by what they had heard? Most people did. OK stop, I reasoned in my head. Amanda wouldn’t take me there if she thought they would be mean or if she thought anything bad would happen. She knew them; she’d met them on her school bus.
I started asking about them, and found out they were brothers. “No girls?” I asked. Amanda was fine with it, because she had two brothers. I didn’t really know how to act around guys. At home it was just me and my three sisters.
The time I spent hanging out at Amanda’s house helped me see a little bit of how boys acted. I think both her brothers liked me being around. They would sometimes fight, because they were both pining for my attention in some awkward way. Sometimes it made me feel good about myself, but other times it made me feel horrible for taking pleasure in the attention. They kept their energy between the two of them. I never felt afraid to be around them.
The walk was all uphill. After walking in mostly silence, Amanda said, “There’s their house,” and pointed to the left. It was a beautiful log cabin home set back in the woods off the road, with a straight gravel driveway. I really felt nervous now. It looked as if they had money. My home was an old house in town. It was about a hundred years old, messy inside and out. My mother was a pack rat and never much for cleaning.
My sisters and I had chores. We rotated each week, having full responsibility for washing the dishes and kitchen cleanup, managing the trash removal, feeding the pets, vacuuming, or setting and clearing the table.
There wasn’t much nag about vacuuming, so it didn’t get done all that often. The biggies were the kitchen and table chores. I usually didn’t mind doing chores. What I resented was the times my dad’s rage flared, and I was blamed for a dish from the night before my rotation would go out. He acted so foolish and out of control, there were times I would talk back. That was not good. It usually ended up with him beating or yelling at me. As for my bedroom, it was the one room in the house I kept clean myself. I felt it was the only clean room in the house.
We walked up the driveway, and all those thoughts of comparison flashed through my mind. As we got closer to the house I saw a small area of grass to the left of the driveway. I hadn’t noticed that from the road since it was behind a knoll. The front porch was very pretty. A bunch of split wood was neatly stacked; baskets of bleeding hearts and some ferns hung in the spaces between the beams. A few cars were parked to the right of the driveway, which looped around the back of the house. I saw three motorcycles sitting in front of the porch on wet stones beneath. It appeared someone had just washed them, and they were now drying off in the sun. One was larger than the others, with a back seat of its own.
A young man walked around the side of the open garage. He was wearing a gray jersey with navy blue sleeves. Another young man, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, came through the garage. They were about fifteen feet away.
Oh gosh! The second one was cute with a capital “C!” The first one wasn’t all that bad either. You could definitely tell they were brothers.
OK here we go, I thought.
Amanda said, “Hi, this is my friend Phoebe I was telling you about. Phoebe, this is Drake and his younger brother, Gavin.”
I let out a wimpy, “Hey,” feeling so stupid and the sound of it echoed and bounced off the walls of my brain for a very long minute. Awkward! I shot a glance at Drake, then at Gavin and tried to smile politely. Gavin stood with his hands in his jean pockets and I noticed the muscle in his upper arm flex. He stared straight into my eyes, with a nice smile gleaming. “Nice to meet you,” he said, with a nod.
I looked right back into his eyes. His stare made me feel a bit flushed, but I really didn’t want to look away. He had the sweetest, chocolate-colored eyes—the kind you would find on a deer—, dark brown hair, and olive skin. He obviously took care of his body and worked out. Maybe he had chopped and split all that wood they had stacked there on the porch. I loved the way his t-shirt pulled slightly taut across his chest.
Amanda started chatting it up with Drake and Gavin about the last day of school. Supposedly they had had an issue on their school bus ride home that day with a very heavy-set girl. I heard something about her walking off and the entire bus wobbling. I didn’t like that kind of talk. It made me sad for that girl. Drake was recounting it and laughing. Gavin piped in a few chuckles himself. I wanted to look at Gavin a bit more. I couldn’t help it. He was so alluring. I wanted to stare at him. I tried to get a few long looks in but didn’t want to be all creeper like. I was so taken with him. Wow this was not turning out like I thought. I was nervous, all right! Just- now, I was totally flustered and very self-conscious.
Drake turned to me and asked if I went to their school. I quietly answered, “I go to the same school as you” Oh gosh. That sounded dumb!
“Oh, I haven’t seen you, but you just finished what? You’re ninth grade? So you’re in the center building?”
“Yes, I begin my sophomore year this fall,” I answered.
Drake had just finished his junior year, and Gavin his sophomore year, which would make Gavin sixteen and Drake seventeen.
We spent our time standing out in their driveway, talking a little. I clammed up and felt stupid. I didn’t feel like opening my mouth and saying something that would get bouncing and echoing in my brain again. Why was I so self-conscious? Get a grip Phoebs! He probably has a girlfriend somewhere or maybe he had a girlfriend from wherever they moved from.
I wondered if he was just being nice when he looked at me the way he did, or if he thought me as attractive as I thought him. He had a very gentle vibe. I usually was a good judge of character when I walked into a room, or upon meeting most people. He didn’t look at me like other guys did. They always had that look of, “Hmm… I wouldn’t mind a bit of that,” eyes roaming over my entire body. Not Gavin. He just looked into my eyes.
I never believed many of the compliments people would pay me. I heard so much, “You’re so pretty,” and, “I wish I looked half as good as you.”
Girls picked fights with me, because their boyfriends had looked at me. They accused me of stealing the boys away. Duh. Most of the time I didn’t even know who they were, or who their boyfriends were, for that matter. And then there were the gross hoots and hollers that went on when I walked up town. Men out of car windows whistling or saying vulgar things, boys at school always whispering to each other, gesturing things meant for me—it was like that just about everywhere I went. I really hated it and hated guys for it. I felt they all were the same. They would see blonde hair, and I guess that brought out the pig in them. It was degrading. It made me feel like some sort of object, not an object of beauty, but of their own disgusting urges.
I remember being asked by a girl at school, if I dyed my hair. I said, “No!” and wondered why she would ask that. She said it was because my eyebrows were so dark, and she had never seen someone with blonde hair and brown eyes before.
“Well,” Gavin said “we need to get back inside, Drake. Dad wanted us to finish up a few more things before our trip.”
Drake answered with a “Yeah,” but he looked as if he was enjoying this time with us and didn’t want to go back to whatever they were supposed to be doing.
Amanda said, “OK, guys, have fun on your trip,” and waved her water bottle.
We all turned to go our separate ways, but then Gavin turned halfway back around with his hands in his pockets, and said, “Maybe we can hang out when we get back next week?” looking straight at me.
I just stared, probably looking in shock or something. I managed a smile and Amanda kindly responded for the both of us. “Sounds like a good idea. Give me a call when you are back.”
We said goodbye and he tipped his chin up. “All right, see ya!” He headed back through the garage and into his house.
As we began to walk back down the driveway I grinned at Amanda. “When were you going to tell me about them? And you talked about me to them already?”
“I knew you would think Gavin was cute. You do, don’t you?” she giggled and smacked my upper arm with her water bottle. “And I did tell you about them, I brought you up here to meet them didn’t I?” Amanda said smiling wildly.
“He is hot!” I felt heat go up to my face and I couldn’t help but almost squeal through the beaming smile I was wearing. “But I’m sure he has a girlfriend from wherever he moved from. He won’t be interested in me”
“Um, duh! I don’t think he does. He’s only fifteen. Besides, he’s been here for a while now, and I haven’t heard him talk about any girl. He was very reserved when I spoke about you and told him I wanted him to meet you. Maybe they don’t date or something. I have no idea. He DID say maybe we can hang out when they get back, which seems like he wants to see you again.”
“Maybe they’re just looking for something to do this summer. Maybe they haven’t made many friends yet,” I was convinced I was right. He couldn’t possibly be interested, seriously interested in seeing me again.
“You always rag yourself down. Sometimes I’d like to knock on your noggin to try to get that negativity out of there! He said he wanted to get together when they get back. And, um, he was staring straight at you!”
I played in my mind the grin he had worn when he said that. Oh my gosh, I didn’t want to forget. It looked so cute and sincere.
When we got back to Amanda’s house, her parents were out shopping. Her brothers, Reggie and Scott, were rough-housing as usual. Reggie was two years older than me, and Scott had just turned thirteen a month ago.
“Phoebe, you are so beautiful! Why don’t you let me take you out on a date? Be my one and only?” Reggie said, clasping his hands to his heart.
“Reggie, what will I do with you? Ask me again, maybe in ten years.” I grabbed a hacky sack off the floor and threw it at him. Scott leaped on his brother, knocking over both Reggie and the table lamp.
“Gosh, guys, you are such idiots! What if that had gotten broken?” Amanda scolded.
“Oh shut up! It didn’t—so chill out!” The boys looked at each other and laughed. Then Scott grabbed a bag of potato chips from the table and Reggie snatched them from him and ran, Scott following. Sounds of their wrestling down the hallway, as they got farther away, made me chuckle.
Amanda’s mom and dad arrived home and asked for help bringing in the bags from the car. We all trudged out to the car and grabbed a few on each arm. When we got back inside and they started to unpack all the groceries, I was astounded. They had everything imaginable. It looked like so much, but I think they only went shopping like every few weeks, compared to my mom’s weekly shopping trip, so maybe that was the difference.
Or maybe I didn’t pay attention as much at home. We mostly ate deer meat which my mother and father both shot during hunting season, and my dad was big into gardening, so in the summer we ate from that, and my mother canned a lot of produce and stored it in the cellar.
I hated deer season, something to be embarrassed about. Usually they would each get a deer, and my dad gutted and cut them up by himself. They would hang them to drain, but it was hung off the front porch leaving blood on the steps. How gross is that? And strange, since we lived in town. Our house didn’t sit right on the main road thank goodness. The road ran above our house and there were separate landings of steps down to the front of the house. It still was gross, if anyone were to come by for a visit.
I needed to call my mother and see what time I was to be home. I really didn’t want to leave, but I had church in the morning and I pretty much always went. I wondered what Gavin and Drake believed. If they were even into the whole God thing.
Mom said I needed to be home in an hour and I suddenly felt sick. I liked it here, and now that Gavin was right up the road, I really wanted to be here. But, I reminded myself, he had said they were leaving, so it wouldn’t matter if I was here or not. I wondered if he would really want to get together when they came back. I convinced myself that he wouldn’t. Who was I kidding?
I wondered where they were going. Maybe some family vacation or something. I wondered when they were getting back. OK, I needed to stop and focus on something else. Oh yeah, right!
I’m going home. Well I hated that.
I got out of the car and thanked Mrs. Rabasca for bringing me home and letting me stay with her and her family.
I waved as I walked up the steps of my front porch. Pulling back the screen door and reaching for the inside door, I realized it was locked. Good, maybe no one was home, I thought. I really didn’t want to deal with anyone for a while. I searched for my keys in the front compartment of my duffle bag and found them.
Mrs. Rabasca backed out of the driveway as I entered the kitchen, which, surprisingly, had no dirty dishes in the sink. A wave of melancholy washed over me. I couldn’t understand it. I felt as if everything fun and exciting that had happened, meeting Gavin and having fun at Amanda’s house, was over for good or wasn’t even real. This was the great let-down—coming home. I felt separated into two lives, but knew the real one was here, and it made me feel empty.
I heard someone coming downstairs. It was my sister Karen. She looked at me condescendingly. “You’re probably going to get it. You were supposed to be ending your rotation of dishes and Marcy finished them for you.”
That was so stupid! I was scared and mad at the same time. So what about the dishes? I wasn’t here, and I had permission to go to my friend’s house. It was so frustrating, as if my father was finding some way to punish me for having gone to a friend’s house.
I swallowed hard as I walked up the stairs to my bedroom. OK. Don’t cry Phoebe, be stronger than that, I told myself.
Sitting on my bed I started to think of Gavin again, remembering what he had looked like when he turned around with that half-crooked smile and mentioned hanging out when he got back. I couldn’t wait. My stomach got butterflies just remembering him and what he looked like. I really hoped I would have the opportunity to be with him again. But maybe he was just caught up in the moment. When he came back, he probably wouldn’t give any thought to us meeting the way we did.
I turned my gaze outside my window. The fading sunlight was yellow-green, making the trees look black. I felt depressed again. I heard the doors close on my dad’s truck. My sister Marcy and he were getting back from wherever they had been. A few minutes later my mom pulled in. Everyone was home now. Everyone except my sister Abbie.
If it weren’t for Abbie, I would have felt very alone. Abbie really loved me. She always braided my hair or tried new styles with it and took me places, spending the little money that she had in treating me to a can of Cherokee Red from the soda machine or taking me to the candy store and allowing me to pick out a bunch of the penny and nickel candies. Sometimes we would get several different flavors of the big buddy gum sticks. She always loved the apple. I liked watermelon.
Abbie was five years older than I was, but she shared things with me that we would never tell Karen. Karen would find a way to use anything against us to get special treatment. For some reason, Karen was never hit by my father, but he would call her terrible names when he was mad about something, or when she was in the way.
Abbie and I were very much alike and we paid for it in a way that was brutal. My dad hit Abbie a lot. When she started working at the soda fountain inside the drug store in town, and made a few friends with cars, it enabled her to get away a bit more. I was happy for her, but I missed her. Then she became pregnant and left to live with the family of the baby’s father.
Now I was the prime target. I felt alone in the midst of my family, although I knew Abbie couldn’t have done anything to stop my mom or dad. She had at least made me feel I had someone to go to. Abbie would always say, “Don’t cry when he beats you; it gives him satisfaction. Don’t say anything, either.”
I tried my best to be strong like she told me. But sometimes, I was so fed up, I would say something back, even though it always made things worse. It would come out because I was too angry and felt so trapped having no say in anything, ever.
Dad was outside picking tomatoes and zucchini from the garden. I loved to sit in the warm sun of the summer and eat a ripe tomato right from the vine and thought about joining him outside. I have to say, my dad did have a knack for growing things. I usually went outside at this time of night, while katydids and crickets tuned up, but tonight I just thought I would stay in my room. Karen had told me I might get it and I was scared.
Then it was supper time. I could smell the chicken frying. “Come and eat,” my mom yelled up the steps.
Downstairs, things seemed peaceable. I thought Karen might have been wrong. I sat directly across from my father, my mother to my right and Karen to my left, with Marcy to her left. There was an empty chair beside dad which Abbie used to sit in. The empty chair was a sunken reminder of her absence. On the table were sliced fresh garden tomatoes, scallions in a glass of water, fresh sliced cucumbers, fried chicken, and my absolute favorite, corn on the cob.
I began to reach for a corn cob when my father said, “You aren’t going to just eat corn, eat something else!” These were the things I felt were stupid that would end up with my getting knocked off my chair. So I made sure to eat a few more things. I made a little circle of salt on my plate and dipped a scallion into it.
Dinner was over and church was in the morning. Just enough time for a bike ride before the sun was completely set. I rushed out the door and hopped on my bike. I rode down my driveway and turned left onto the road down to the bridge. After watching the brook’s water run over the rocks for a while, I headed home.
I hoped that the time of getting in trouble for the dishes that Marcy washed wasn’t going to be now. I came through the front door cautiously, but everything was fine. I went upstairs and cleaned my feet in the bathtub.
I loved summer days when my feet would get black from being barefoot. I loved the freedom of wearing light clothing and no shoes.
I awoke to my alarm clock at six-thirty and went outside to pick up the newspaper bundle that was dropped off at the top of the steps by the main road. I loaded the bundle in my bag and rode off on my bike.
I hated the Sunday newspapers; they were so heavy and really hurt my shoulder. I had twenty-seven customers on my route; after the first ten, the bag was light enough.
Summer was easy; I could finish my route riding my bike through town in about a half an hour. This was one of the last weeks that I would be doing this, though. I had done it for a couple of years now, and I felt too old to continue.
Back home, I found my dad sitting at the dining room table, reading the newspaper and smoking a cigarette. He was always up early. Sometimes he would make a huge breakfast of pan-fried potatoes, eggs, and possibly some kind of breakfast meat. The potatoes were left in the pan to sizzle quietly until someone wanted an egg to be fixed. This was one of those mornings.
“Do you want a fried egg?” he asked
“Yes, please,” I answered. “I just need to go clean up and get dressed for church, I’ll be right down.”
I went upstairs and threw off my early morning clothes and went to bend over the tub in the bathroom to wash my hair. I walked downstairs with a towel on my head and joined dad at the table.
My mother was still in bed as was the rest of the family. Sometimes I liked how my dad acted towards me in the mornings; he wasn’t so mean, and sometimes he would try to talk with me. He went into the kitchen and began to fry my eggs as I put toast in the toaster waiting for the eggs to be done.
“Do you want some potatoes?”
“Yeah,” I said
Marcy came downstairs, and now my dad was different, catering to her. Maybe it was because she was twelve years older than me and more interesting, or maybe because she had a real job as an adult that they could talk to each other better, I didn’t know- so I ate the plate of food he fixed for me and went back upstairs to get ready for church.
Sundays were always very contradictory. My mother would be all smiles and laughter until we returned home. That is when she would pick fights with my dad and the curse words just rolled off of her tongue. Dad would pretty much be quiet with a few curses of his own thrown in. It made me uncomfortable and left me angry at the way she acted when all her pretty little church folk thought the world of her.
My father never went to church with us. I never asked why and just listened to the things my mother said about him. She would really cut him down but then say he needed to be saved by Jesus.
I trudged through most of the day then I picked up the phone and called Amanda. She said maybe we could get together sometime next week and asked if I could maybe come out for a few days this time.
Finally I was going to go to Amanda’s house for a few days. It had been a few weeks since I had visited, and I’d spent a lot of time thinking about Gavin. Is he back? I thought. Of course he is! I think he was only going for a week. I wondered if he had given any thought to our last meeting and if he would make good on his offer of getting together again.
I packed my bags with my favorite, skin-tight jeans and my jersey, a few pairs of shorts, t-shirts, and my bathing suit. I filled a small bag with makeup, including black eyeliner. What else should I bring? What should I wear when I see him again? Did it matter? Oh well, this will have to do. Besides, I was looking forward to being with Amanda and her family. She was talking about some stock-car races that were going on in Orange County. I had never been to anything like that before. But really, I didn’t care what we did; I just liked being with all of them.
Mrs. Rabasca pulled into the driveway shortly after ten a.m. and I slipped out quickly. Amanda was home finishing up some chores, but I felt so comfortable with Mrs. Rabasca that I didn’t mind. It was always fun driving with her mom. She would let me shift the gears as she pushed the clutch in and it made me look forward to when I could drive by myself.
We pulled into the driveway and I saw Amanda come through the front door. All smiles, she walked out to the car to meet us. Her auburn curls bounced as she approached me and grabbed my arm. She leaned close to my ear and said, “Guess who was asking if you were coming over anytime soon?”
“No way! Did he really? You mean Gavin, right? When did you talk with him?” I got such a swirl of delight in the pit of my stomach. I really wanted to relish all the time I had to spend here, but was overly anxious about visiting with the Stohl boys again.
“He, his brother, and I hung out the other day. I guess they were bored and ended up just showing up here looking to hang out—they’re pretty funny, actually. Always finding something crazy to do. When they were here, they took the kittens that were recently born and rolled them like bowling balls.”
“That’s horrible! The poor kittens!”
Amanda laughed. “No, no, the kittens didn’t get hurt. They looked so funny! Like little lint balls rolling. So what shall we do? Should I call them, or should we walk up to their house? I know you want to see him.”
“No. Well, did you mention that I would be coming over today?”
“I did,” Amanda said with a big smile.
“Then let’s see if he wants to see me. If he does, they’ll either show up or call, right?”
“Oh girl, you are too much! But all right.”
We went inside and saw what was on the television, then went to her room to hang out. She pulled out some hot pink nail polish and said, “Let’s paint our nails.”
“OK, but I don’t know if I like that flashy pink, how ‘bout that light pink color next to it?”
The smell of nail polish soon filled the room. It was almost lunch time and my stomach resented my skipping breakfast this morning. I had been so eager to leave, it hadn’t crossed my mind to eat.
The sounds from my stomach were so loud that Amanda heard them over the music we were playing. “Whoa! You hungry?” she said. “My mom just bought some cold cuts. We can make sandwiches.” She put her hands up and examined her fresh paint and blew on them.
“Yeah, just let me finish my left hand.” I said. I finished and waved my hands to try to speed the drying.
“I’m hungry too. My mom and dad just did their ‘super haul’ the other day, so we have a slew of food. I didn’t eat breakfast because I wanted to finish up my chores to free up the day for when you got here. OK, you good? Do you think they are dry? I hate when I think they are, then I get them all smudged.”
Out to the kitchen to rummage through the pantry and fridge. It was already past one o’clock. I had been here for two and a half hours and it felt like mere minutes.
Reggie was biting through a monster sandwich and began to talk with such a mouthful that Amanda chided, “Gosh Reggie! You think your sandwich is big enough? And I can’t understand a word you are saying with your mouth so full! The sandwich isn’t going anywhere—geesh, you act as if it was your last meal or something!”
Reggie opened his mouth and groaned inches from her face. “Sorry Phoebs, I only mean to be gross for Amanda’s sake.”
He swallowed and shoved a handful of potato chips in his mouth. “I was saying that I saw Drake and he said they would be coming over in a bit”
“Where did you see him? And could you think about swallowing first?” Amanda asked.
“He was at the convenience store when I was fueling up.”
My stomach dropped, and I got really nervous. I didn’t know if I was all that hungry anymore. I needed to use the bathroom.
In there, I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was still OK. I ran my finger along the underside of my eye where some black had smudged. Butterflies were rioting in my midsection. I really couldn’t wait to see him again but this was going to be awkward, with all the thoughts I’d been having since I last saw him. He didn’t know that I thought of him, and I wondered what he was thinking about coming to visit.
I went back into the kitchen and Amanda had all the meat and cheese out. I took a small roll and shoved some ham and a piece of cheese between it and shot a squirt of mustard on it.
“Do you want some soda? We have cola, some ginger ale and we also have some grape juice. Which would you like?” Amanda asked.
“I’ll take grape juice, please”
We sat down and Amanda plopped the bag of potato chips on the table between us. I took a couple of bites and as I went to take a sip of juice someone knocked on the door and the dogs barked like crazy. I felt heat fill my face and my hands trembled. It was them. I wanted to see him, but I almost wish it wasn’t now. I was nervous and felt stupid.
Reggie went to the door and stepped outside.
Why didn’t he invite them in? Maybe he was being considerate of me. He had glanced at me as he got up off the couch and I bet he saw I was nervous. Reggie was always so good to me, such a darling actually. He had come to know me quite well, with all the time I spent with their family.
OK, I couldn’t eat any longer. We quickly threw our napkins and paper plates away and put all the food back in the fridge. I ran to the bathroom and brushed my teeth.
Amanda had already gone outside so I was left to go out alone.
At first, I didn’t see them. They had gone to the side yard and were just standing there, talking. Reggie was walking my way and raised his eyebrows at me. “I think someone likes someone!” He poked his finger at my belly and chuckled as he walked past, toward the house.
Amanda and Drake were laughing; she had her head tilted back really enjoying his company. Gavin was laughing, too, and when he turned toward me, his smile—shining white teeth against sun-drenched skin—did something twisty to my insides. I felt self-conscious, and then I realized I was grinning back at him. “Let’s go down by the river for a while,” he suggested.
The four of us walked across the field to the steep riverbank and looked down. Suddenly, I was a bit dizzy. I had been down there dozens of times with the Rabascas, but this time, I was afraid I might slip and make a fool of myself. Gavin was in front of me. My foot slipped a little and he turned and held out his hand. The thought of touching him made excitement surge through me. Slipping my much smaller hand into his larger calloused hand made my hand and arm tingle as he helped me down.
Amanda and Drake walked along the edge of the river and left us there. Alone. I didn’t know what to say, but the sound of the river filled the silence. It was loud, but so peaceful, just right. As it felt just right standing beside Gavin. I mustered my courage. “So where did you guys go, when you said you were leaving?”
“My family and I rode our motorcycles to New Hampshire for a rally. I have my motorcycle permit and my dad thought it would be good for us to take the ride together and get some riding hours under my belt.”
“So your mom and dad are into motorcycles?”
“I’ve ridden as long as I can remember. I had my first dirt bike when I was eight. My brother and I and my dad always rode together. Now we have road bikes.”
“I thought you had to be sixteen to get any kind of license.”
“I’ll be sixteen in a little over a month; I just have my motorcycle learner’s permit right now.”
I stared back at the river, trying not to seem so enthralled with him. I didn’t want to scare him. “So, um, Amanda said you moved here a year or so ago?”
“From where? And wasn’t that hard leaving old friends and stuff behind?”
“We didn’t move too far. My old town is only a little over an hour from here,” he said, squinting out at the river. He tossed a rock into the water. “I had a couple of close friends, but I can go see them whenever I want, once I get my license and a car to drive.”
I wanted to find out if he had a girlfriend, but didn’t want to jump into that in the first conversation. My mind went to his hand he had offered me while coming down the bank. I got a tingle thinking about it and began to look at his hand and arm. I loved the way the veins bulged on the top of his hand and the muscle at the top of his arm flexed as he threw another rock into the water.
“So, do you know if you guys are going to the stock-car races tonight?” he asked.
“Amanda mentioned it, but I didn’t know it was this evening. Yeah, I think we are.”
“Do you think the Rabascas would mind if my brother and I went with you guys?”
Oh wow, so maybe he wanted to keep this visit going, or so I thought. Maybe he just wanted to go see the races. I needed to stop being so presumptuous. I was excited knowing I would be able to see him again this evening. “I don’t know, maybe mention it to Amanda and she can ask them?”
A heavy silence settled in, and I felt my last words echo across the river and back. It was his turn to talk. “So Phoebe, what do you like to do in your spare time?” he asked. He looked straight into my eyes and I melted. I looked away, pretending to look for Drake and Amanda, in hopes of losing the heat that was crawling up my face. I pulled a leaf off a branch and started to tear it apart.
“Me. Um, well, I love hanging out with Amanda and I love taking pictures and drawing. I also love riding my bicycle.”
“So you like riding your bike?” he mused.
I felt embarrassed for some reason. “Yes, I like putting my headphones on and riding away for the day. It’s a nice escape to just be on my own. Have some time alone to just think, you know?”
He bent down and picked yet another rock up to throw into the water and when he stood up he cocked his head to the side and gave me an impish grin. “You seem nervous. Do I make you nervous?”
“Um, no. No you don’t,” I lied.
He chuckled. Maybe he didn’t believe me.
Drake and Amanda were coming back along the river. They appeared to have become very chummy. How come she hadn’t told me anything about it? I wanted to talk with her about this, but for now, I really wanted them to go back to wherever they had been, so I could continue with Gavin. He was so poised. I sensed he wanted to spend time with me, these things drew me to him even more than before. I just hope he wasn’t a mutt like most of the guys I’d experienced in my life.
“So where did you guys venture off to?” I asked.
“We just walked along the river. There’s a cleared spot and an electrical fence over there. I think it’s on. Maybe some of the horses walk down the side there, although I don’t understand why or how,” Amanda answered.
Drake turned to Amanda. “So, do you want to show me that thing you were talking about?”
He smiled at her, and she answered, “Yeah, sure, let’s go.”
I started to walk with them, but Gavin pulled the back of my shirt. “Hold up a minute.”
My heart pounded wildly in my chest. Amanda and Drake climbed the path to the top and were soon out of sight.
I didn’t know what to say or do. I was a bit scared, actually. Maybe he wasn’t the great guy I dreamed up in my head. He may be a jerk like other guys and now I am alone and what if he does something that I do not want to do?
“I think they want to be alone for a while,” Gavin said. “How ‘bout we just sit here for a bit before heading back up?”
“Do you think they are beginning to like each other?”
“I’ve heard a lot about Amanda lately, let’s just say that much.” He laughed.
“Hmm. You guys must have hung out before? No?” I asked.
“We rode the same bus. Drake and Amanda sat in the second-to-last seat together. I sat across the aisle from them, and we all talked. She mentioned you back in May and thought we should meet.” I didn’t know what to say about that! I just looked at him. He looked as if remembering a particular conversation. If I read him correctly, he was pleased that he had gotten to meet me. But why? I wondered what Amanda had said about me to pique his interest. Whatever it was, I was pretty happy she had!
“Come here.” he gestured and walked over to a couple of large rocks embedded in the bank. He sat on one of the rocks and looked out at the river. “I don’t bite.”
I paused to muster up my courage, and then gingerly walked over and sat down on the rock next to his.
“So, Phoebe Mueller, do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.
I was shocked. He put the question right out there so boldly. The very thing I would have liked to have known about him. Did HE have a girlfriend?
“No.” I didn’t want to say anything more. I had no idea what kind of sentence would follow.
“Humph. I’m surprised at that,” he said grinning. I could tell he was enjoying my obvious discomfort. What is with this guy? Normally this would be where I would become very nervous, but he had such a calm about him, I felt quite safe and didn’t want to analyze his words to death. “Oh, why are you surprised?” I asked.
He continued to grin and looked down and shrugged his shoulders. “Ah, well, we should go back up and see what Amanda and Drake are doing, and maybe find out about the races tonight.” He stood up, brushed off the seat of his jeans, and gestured to me to go before him.
Dangit! I wanted to hang out a bit longer even with all my different anxieties.
“Wait, why would you say that?” I asked again.
He looked straight at me and said, “You’re very easy on the eyes”
I felt heat soar in my face, and actually got a little sick feeling in my stomach. I was afraid now. Too many guys had “liked what they saw,” and I didn’t know him. He might be just after the same as the others. After all, all guys only wanted one thing right? At least, that is what I heard from my mother and many others around me. I didn’t want to think that Gavin was like that. It tainted all the fun I had daydreaming about him. Oh, how I hoped he was different!
He must have sensed my fear. I had taken a step back and hadn’t realized I was doing so. A very sad concerned look came to his wonderful eyes. “I’m sorry. I meant that as a compliment. Please don’t be afraid of me.” He, too, took a step back, creating distance between us.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I lied, “and thank you for saying something so kind.”
He let out a breath of relief and smiled. We headed back to the house.
As we approached I saw Amanda and Drake sitting on the outdoor swing. She had her feet slung across his lap and was eating a lollipop. I couldn’t wait to have a talk with her. I gave her a questioning glance, and she swung her legs around and jumped up. “Hey, you guys going with us tonight?” she asked Gavin.
“You mean to the stock-car races? I was just asking Phoebe if Drake and I could ride with you guys.”
“Yeah, Drake told me he wanted to go with,” she said. “Lemme run in and ask my parents.”
Drake leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and watched Amanda run. Gavin squatted in the grass and picked a weed that looked like wheat and stuck it in his mouth.
His body was outrageously nice! Most boys his age didn’t look the way he did. He was sculpted. Not too big—small, actually—but very defined. Perfect height next to my five foot two inches.
I heard the front screen door slap, and out ran Amanda. “They said you guys could go with us. Maybe we could all break for an early dinner and then if you guys could be here around fiveish?”
Drake rubbed his thighs and stood up. He was a few inches taller than Gavin and a perfect height for Amanda. He stood next to her and I realized they looked very good together, and very comfortable, almost as if they had known each other their entire lives. What is up with that? I hoped to get some girl time in before we all went out again tonight.
“OK! Drake, we should go so we can get back here in time,” Gavin said
Drake looked at Amanda as if he didn’t want to leave. “All right, we’ll come back in an hour,” he told Amanda almost privately, but we could hear.
I could not believe it was almost four o’clock already! We had just spent a couple of hours together, but it felt like only minutes. “See you in an hour,” Gavin said, tugging the bottom of my shirt. I smiled back and nodded.
Dinner at the Rabascas was always lively and carefree, with Scott and Reggie devouring the food as if they had never eaten before.
“Reg, are you going with us tonight?” I asked.
“Aw, darling Phoebe, finally! I get to have that date with you!”
“I think you still have about nine years and several months if I recall?” I smiled teasingly. “But, seriously are you going?” I asked.
“I would love to, since you’re the one asking,” he grinned and winked at me across the table, then took a bite of his burger.
“Reggie! You are such a tart.” Amanda said, then turned to me. “He already planned on going, Phoebe; he’s just drumming up his fantasy drama.”
“Oh good. So you can beat off the ‘big-bads’ if they come out at this place?” I asked.
“No one will touch you, Phoebs, unless they want to have a hurtin’ put on their face,” he promised.
Sometimes I had thought of the possibilities with Reggie. He was very handsome and so charming. He had dark brown hair, with some auburn, like his sister’s, and deep blue eyes. He was sporting a bit of scruff on his chin the past few months, and he had the best smile ever. He was always so thoughtful of me and kind of protective, like a big brother would be. We had snuggled on the couch many times during movies. It usually ended with his waking me and saying, “Phoebe, you’re drooling all over my shoulder.” Nothing that would warrant any more attention than if Amanda had fallen asleep on her brother.
“You guys have to clean the kitchen and clear the table this evening,” Mrs. Rabasca commanded. “And don’t dilly-dally; we need to get going.”
Mr. Rabasca was outside packing some folding chairs and a cooler into the back of their Suburban.
It was almost five o’clock. I wanted to change my clothes and get freshened up before Gavin and Drake showed up. I quickly cleared the table and piled the dishes on the counter. Amanda and Scott bustled around, and everything was cleaned up in a snap.
“Do you mind if I get changed before we leave?” I asked them.
“OK, we’re done here,” Amanda said and dashed out of the kitchen pulling me with her to her room.
“What are you going to wear?” I asked.
“It may get chilly. I think I’m going to wear jeans and bring a light sweater,” Amanda answered.
I quickly pulled on my light-pink short-sleeved blouse that looked as if there was a white camisole underneath. It matched the new paint on my nails perfectly. I changed my shorts for tight jeans and scooted my flip-flops on. I hurried to the bathroom and washed off my old makeup. Then I hit my eyes with new black eyeliner and fingered on light pink eye shadow and reapplied my mascara.
Amanda always looked much older than she was. She was filled out so nicely. She put on her jeans also, and a white tank top. She took a teal sweater that made the color of her eyes pop. We were done in all of about eight minutes.
As we scurried out to the living room, I caught Reggie checking me out. He shot up from the couch and said, “You ready? Mom and dad are waiting outside.”
We walked out and I saw that Drake and Gavin were already there, standing outside talking with Mr. and Mrs. Rabasca. Scott was riding his bike in circles around the yard. He jumped off and dumped his bike and we all climbed into the Suburban.
Gavin sat right next to me, and I saw Reggie glance back and give him a look. It was snug with Amanda, Gavin, and me in the back seat. My stomach tingled when his knee brushed mine as he leaned forward to talk with Reggie and Drake. He smelled woodsy and fresh. He wore a black t-shirt and jeans. I found myself studying his arms again, as he leaned on the seat in front of us while he talked with the guys.
Amanda put her arm across the back of the seat and tapped my shoulder. It snapped me out of my ogling of Gavin’s arm. I looked at her and she raised her eyebrows. I tensed and gave her a look: I am dying here! I was so caught up in checking Gavin out that I wondered if he had caught it as Amanda had. I sure hope not. He must have finished whatever he was talking about with Reggie because he leaned back and turned to look at me. I glanced quickly into his eyes and then stared out the window. He was so close, it made me catch my breath. My heart was beating wildly. He had both hands on his thighs. I noticed the muscles through his jeans and I felt like his gaze was focused on me.
I slowly turned towards him. He looked up straight into my eyes, and gave me a relaxed smile.
We pulled into the fairgrounds, bouncing up and down as the suburban bumped through the field. I pretended my attention was on the fact that we were here. I wanted to remain close to Gavin, but not quite this close. My palms were sweaty and I felt a little light-headed. I wished I could hide it but I think he knew. He chuckled under his breath as I hurried to get out.
The cars were loud—doing practice runs or something. The track was dirt; the air was dusty. Some people had brought little charcoal grills and really made a time of it.
Amanda came and pulled on my arm and said, “Let’s walk around to the different vendors.” Her mother had given her some cash, so we could buy cotton candy or some kind of treat.
As we walked the grassy path out to the strip of vendors, I could feel the heat coming off of some of the cars that had just arrived. A few “tinked” while we walked past. The sun had a few more hours to shine, and it was still very warm. A gentle breeze blew and wafted the smells of charcoal and lighter fluid from where people were gathered around folding tables and chairs right next to their vehicles. As we walked farther, I smelled the sweet smell of cotton candy and the yummy smells of onions and Italian sausages coming from various stands. The roar of the car engines was our background sound to little kids running around and giggling and a baby crying.
We approached the gravel area where tents were anchored down and souvenirs on tables were being sold to those wanting to bring home memorabilia of their favorite driver—hats, shirts, lapel pins, plastic cars, and stickers, all with their special numbers and names.
“Want some cotton candy?” Amanda asked me.
“I love cotton candy! Want to share?”
“OK. One cotton candy and a large lemonade please,” Amanda said to a large woman behind the little counter. I looked over to the man that sat to the side of the cotton candy bin as we waited and smiled a friendly hello. He smiled back at me, then stood to serve someone.
I watched as the woman spun the pink fluff onto the cardboard stick, then stared at the lemonade waterfall in the lemonade machine.
We picked at the cotton candy and laid it on our tongues to melt as we walked back. The boys stood behind the Suburban, discussing the drivers as cars swirled past on the track. Mr. and Mrs. Rabasca were in their folding chairs towards the front of the Suburban.
The crunching of gravel under our feet silenced as we came to the beaten-down grass where the cars were.
The loud roar of the cars rumbled down to a quieter rumble and I turned my attention to the track. “What are they doing now? Are they going to start soon?”
“Yeah, but the dust is pretty bad, so they’ll probably wet down the track with the water truck first,” Reggie answered.
My fingers were all sticky from the cotton candy.
“Mom, do you have any Wet Ones or something I can wipe my hands with?” I asked Mrs. Rabasca.
“Sure honey, there’s a roll right under the front bench seat. There’s a plastic bag for trash, too.”
I searched under the seat, found the Wet Ones, and tugged one out of the little hole in the top. I wiped all between my fingers and threw it away in the plastic bag she had hanging on the window crank of the door.
Gavin came over to the open door. “Want to watch the race from the front seat?”
“OK.” I hopped into the middle, as he scooted in and closed the door. He rolled down the window so we weren’t shut in from everyone.
“Are they going to start soon?”
“Yeah, I think so. They had to drive a couple of laps over after wetting it down.”
I looked out. Amanda and Drake were sitting on a blanket with Scott. Reggie was standing next to his dad’s chair, but then he went to sit on the other side in the extra folding chair. It now dawned on me that I had agreed to sit in here with Gavin without giving it much thought. Back to sitting next to him and being somewhat secluded. It did cut down on some of the noise as the race started. The cars were so loud! And it was away from the dust. Regardless of that water truck, I already felt a bit gritty.
Around and around the little oval track the cars went. Gavin pulled my right arm and said, “We need to act like we are in the cars out there and lean around the corners.” His touch sent a shiver up my arm and neck. Afraid or not, it was very exhilarating. We picked out a car and decided to follow it. The car’s number was 20; it was yellow with all sorts of sponsor stickers on it.
I watched the car intently, anticipating each turn where Gavin would pull me close to him, our sides touching each time. I didn’t know what was going on with the race; I knew only my body, reacting each time he pulled me close. My heart was thumping so hard that I felt its rhythm throughout my body. Gavin rolled the window up and it was quieter. Time was passing, but I didn’t notice anything but where our bodies made contact. At one point the side of his hand touched mine and we looked at each other in silence. I wasn’t the only one stirred. I could see it all over his face. He let out a sigh. He had been chatty before, but now he was silent. It was as if we were the only people in the world.
Gavin reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of mint gum and offered me a piece. We threw the wrappers in the little bag on the handle of the door.
It was getting dark. The lights yellowed the track and made it too dark to be alone in this vehicle together.
“How ’bout we walk around a little?” Gavin said in a slightly strangled voice. We checked in with Mrs. Rabasca and started to walk together.
“So, have you ever gone to any races before?” I asked.
“No, this is my first, but I’m enjoying my time.” He grinned.
“I haven’t either. But I love summer and doing things like this, outside. I love being outside. So how is the riding coming along?”
“OK, I guess. My dad and I just rode the other day along the mountain roads. I love catching speed and winding around.”
“You should be careful. That seems dangerous, and if you don’t have your license yet, I would think you should be extra careful not to do anything wrong.”
He began to fill in the gap between us and slowed his pace. I felt a new closeness to him after what happened in the car, so I didn’t shy away or overthink it this time. “What’s the sense in having a motorcycle if you can’t go fast?”
“I suppose. I would just hate if you got hurt. I rode with my friend Billy a few times on his little dirt bike. I never drove it without him on the back though, just in case I did something wrong. I kind of know what you mean about wanting to get some speed.”
He turned and smiled big at me. He liked that statement. I guess it confirmed I was interested in him. I didn’t even think about it before I said the part of not wanting him to get hurt.
“So who’s this friend, Billy?” he asked.
“Oh, Billy’s a friend from school. He and I laugh a lot together and just enjoy each other’s company. We had some classes together this past year. I used to help him in our English class.”
“Do you like him? Like a boyfriend?” he asked.
“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. He’s just a really good friend.”
Gavin sighed a sigh of relief and I caught it. “So how about you? Any girls lingering somewhere I should know about?” I said playfully and nudged his arm.
“No— never really thought of any girls like that.” He looked at the ground now. Finally, he wasn’t so poised. I hope I hadn’t stirred up some weirdness between us. We had walked all the way to the entrance, and we turned and headed back. Some cars had their lights on and were making their way out. Uh oh! How long had we been walking? I hoped the Rabascas weren’t looking for us and wanting to leave. We picked up our pace.
When we arrived back at the Suburban, the Rabascas and Drake were just starting to get the chairs and blankets together in the way back.
“Look who’s back!” Amanda said it only loud enough for me to hear. Drake gave Gavin a smile that speculated, “Where were you, little brother?”
“OK, guys we need to clean up our garbage. Here’s a bag to put it in. We can drop it off in the big trash barrel near the entrance,” Mrs. Rabasca said.
We got back in for the ride home. Amanda switched her seat to the bench in front of us with Drake. Scott sat up front between his parents. Reggie was now seated in the back with Gavin and me. He seemed a bit irritated by something. He slouched down in the seat and pulled the brim of his cap over his face as if to settle in to sleep.
The night air was becoming chilly and the front windows were now open. I turned and searched for a blanket in the way back, bumping Reggie’s head with my elbow by accident. “Phoebe, why do you always have to beat me?” Reggie said, never moving and still slumped under his cap.
I chuckled. “Oops, sorry Reg. Do you want a blanket?”
“No, I’m just fine and toasty here with you sitting next to me. I’ll just use your body heat if I get cold.” He peered out from under the cap and grinned.
I slapped his shoulder and I turned and plopped back down on the seat. I noticed Gavin observing our banter with a serious look on his face.
“You want some blanket Gavin?”
“I’m all right.”
I opened it up regardless and fanned it out over myself and the two boys.
Gavin had his back up against the window with his elbow on its frame, his head resting on his hand looking at me. I shook a little from the chill and got a few goose bumps.
Mr. and Mrs. Rabasca were talking up front and Drake and Amanda were close and chummy again, giggling and enjoying each other.
Reggie, I thought, had dozed off, and my attention was back to me and Gavin.
The wind from the open windows continued to batter small pieces of my hair onto my face and I got tired of brushing it back, so I inched down in my seat and Gavin did too. Boldly, I swung the blanket over both our heads. We were so close now, and I no longer heard anyone else. Our faces were so close, I thought he might kiss me. I noticed his pulse pounding in his neck as the streetlights dimly lit our little blanket cave. I looked at his mouth and dreamed of his lips on mine. I had never shared a kiss before and thought it might happen right now with him. Then he let out a groan and yanked the blanket off our heads. We were pulling in the Stohl’s driveway; it was time for this evening to end. I could see a light on inside their log house, and their garage door was up, probably waiting for them to return.
Drake climbed out and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Rabasca for bringing him. Gavin gave me a look. “Will you be around tomorrow?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah! I’m staying another couple of days.”
When we got back to Amanda’s, all I could think of was taking a shower. It was very dirty being out with the dust whirling around all evening. Everyone wanted to shower, so someone wasn’t getting much hot water.
Mrs. Rabasca offered me the first shower. I hurried along as to not hog all the hot water and time. It was getting late and everyone wanted to settle in and go to bed.
I was in Amanda’s room all dressed in my pj’s and was combing out my wet hair when she walked in, wearing a towel.
“So. I see Gavin has taken quite a liking to you,” Amanda said as she stood behind her closet door to get dressed.
“I see you and Drake have gotten very chummy,” I retorted.
Amanda squealed and giggled and shot out from behind the door, fully clothed now with her head in the towel.
“So tell me everything. What was with you guys getting into the Suburban? Drake asked me if I wanted to sit inside with you guys but I didn’t want to butt in on your time together.”
“Oh, it was nice. It wasn’t as loud inside the car, and not as much dust kicking around. He asked if I was going to be around tomorrow. Do you think we could get together again?”
“Yeah, Drake said he would call me and see if we could do something.” Amanda started combing her hair. “Gavin seems so taken with you. It’s funny to watch him. When you aren’t aware, he’s always staring at you. I’ve never seen him like this in school. Drake mentioned it, too. He joked about his little brother who’s never had a girlfriend before.”
“Yeah I kind of asked him that tonight. I thought it was weird when he said he never thought of a girl like that. What do you think he meant by that?”
“Maybe he was thinking of you in some ways that would make you blush!” Amanda laughed.
My hair had started to soak my night shirt. “May I use your blow dryer? Mine’s in my bag and I don’t feel like digging it out.” I asked
“Of course.” She walked out of her room, and I began to blow dry my hair upside down to give it some volume. My thoughts relived some of the highlights of the day. The way Gavin looked so poised down at the river; the car race that we attended first hand—as if we were the driver. I remembered the spark it gave me every time he leaned over and pulled me against him, and my stomach now swirled at the memory. The way his face looked under that blanket and how I wanted him to kiss me made me go crazy.