There were fireworks on the bay that night. Christian contemplated the surreal evening as he watched the glittery embers drift and fizzle toward the ghostly city outlined on the horizon. He was so blindsided by everything that was happening that he was having trouble sorting through it. He couldn’t figure out if he was overwhelmed with extreme happiness or if he was gasping for air in the middle of a train wreck. Probably a little of both, he realized, though he was trying hard not to over-analyze the situation and enjoy what was in front of him at the moment. He could think (and fret) about it tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow meant that she’d be gone. He glanced over at her profile and was struck by how beautiful she was. He’d always known how beautiful she was, but he never gave himself permission to look at her like that. Strictly off limits – until now? Crazy amber curls tumbled haphazardly down her back, encircling her face and her shoulders as they cascaded almost to her butt. Her skin was the smooth blend of coffee mixed with cream, and her pouting, rosy lips parted as she gazed over the skyline. The earth shook and the sky dazzled as another firework exploded. He wanted to say something, to converse with her in some way and talk out what the hell was going on and what any of this meant, but he didn’t know what to say or where to start. Verbal communication was not his strong point. In his family and his neighborhood, more things seemed to be solved with fists than with words. Or they just hung and accumulated in the air, unsolved but not forgotten. He reached over and slung a sideways arm around her shoulder, pulling her toward his chest. It was the only thing he could think to do. She leaned her head against his shoulder and let the wind out of her chest with a long exhale.

Annie was just as silent as he was, and she seemed to make a point not to make eye contact. Where Christian was terrible with words, he was pretty ok with body language and hers was all contradictory. It was literally as if she was fighting against herself. One minute she was pulling him down for a kiss, the next she was making sure there was at least a foot of space in between them. She wouldn’t even look him in the eye, but she sure didn’t let go of his hand. Damn! He supposed he was glad she’d be gone if this was how confused she could make him. He rested his chin on the top of her head and inhaled the floral scent of shampoo mingled with the warm, earthy smell that belonged uniquely to her.  His heart sunk a little lower every time he thought about tomorrow, and he wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her back close to his chest. “Annie, what are we doing?”

“Shut up, Christian. You’re going to ruin the moment.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. She always did that to him. She let out another long sigh. “I don’t know. I’m leaving. That’s what I’m doing. What this is – this is me admitting that I love you more than just a friend, I guess. But I’m still leaving.”

“I know. I wouldn’t expect you not to. But will we talk tomorrow? Next week? Will I see you again? We both know that it’s better for us for so many reasons that you’ll be gone. We can’t do this right now. I have my family and you have your dreams, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t happening right now. And you know what? I guess I’m admitting that I love you as more than a friend, too. And I’m not asexual.”

“Hahahaha! What the hell? Do you even know what asexual means? You are such a nerd.” At least she was making eye contact with him now. “I don’t know if we’ll talk tomorrow. I don’t have a cell phone, but maybe I’ll buy one. If I do, I promise to get in touch, okay?”

“Damn, girl. I’m serious! You are killing me a little, you know? I’m spilling my heart to you here and you won’t even guarantee that I’ll ever hear from you again? Girl, I just want to know that you are okay and alive. I don’t need a commitment or anything like that, but can you at least let me know that you’re still alive and kicking every now and again?”

“Maybe. I don’t know! I didn’t expect this, Christian! I thought I’d just sever the ties and go! I never had any reason to look back! Just because we are here right now, that doesn’t change that. Yeah, I have feelings for you, but I am convinced that both of us will find someone else that we care for just as much, if not more, one day. Does that make this easy? Hell no! I’m panicking a little here because I didn’t expect this! I’m afraid if I tell you that I will call, then I won’t be able to not look back. I don’t want to come back to this shit hole! I can’t get out of the neighborhood, I can’t get away from my mom’s legacy here. Everywhere I go, people know my mom and my brother and they expect me to be a certain way! I’m just a girl from the ghetto here! The only way to get away from that is to get away from here. I can’t look back, Christian! Can’t you see that?” Tears streamed down her face but her voice never waivered. She was still looking him in the eyes, but this time they were open and honest. She wanted him to see her determination and the truth behind what she was speaking.

He grabbed her cheeks and brought his mouth to hers. Was it wrong that her anger was turning him on? Her eyes were so alive, so filled with passion that it made him want her in a whole new way. It was so hot.

to be continued…

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