I flop back on the grass, already wet with dew this early in the pre-dawn night, and look up at the sky. “There’s stars,” I whisper to my ride-or-die, Cotton. Her real name is Priscilla, but we call her Cotton because of her pale white hair. Right now, it gleams like a straight satin ribbon in the moonlight. Pretty. With a giggle, I reach out to touch it and end up hugging her.
“Girl, you’re plastered,” she says, shoving me off of her.
“Am not! Never been drunk… day in my life.” I hold up a finger in front of me in an I’ll-have-you-know gesture. I’m mostly teasing. I’ve got a good buzz on, and it would be a simple matter to lay right back on this manicured lawn and sleep it off, but I’m not drunk. “Shiloh Brookings does not do drunk.” I side-eye Cotton. “Disorderly, maybe. Drunk would be unseemly.”
Cotton snorts out a laugh. “Fine. Have it your way.” She glances behind us as the glass sliding doors open and noise from the party spills out. We came out to the backyard for the cool fall breeze and respite from the pounding bass, so it’s with reserve that I turn when she says, “Oh, lookie. Company. Hey, boys.”
“What the fuck are y’all sitting out here for? Party’s in there and your ass is getting wet!” Shane, a football player who’s been getting on my last nerve for a while, grabs me under the arms and hauls me up to my feet. “Here, let me help you with that, babe.” He helpfully starts brushing my ass off, his hands lingering too long for my comfort.
“Stop it, Shane!”
“Not until y’all play truth or dare with us. Come on, let’s party.”
“Jesus, y’all are obnoxious. Come on, Shiloh.” Cotton loops her arm around my neck and starts pulling me inside. “You know I can’t turn down truth or dare.”
I roll my eyes and allow myself to be led inside. We are out in the boonies at some freshman kid’s house — or maybe he’s an eighth grader? I don’t know. Our school goes from eighth grade to twelfth and it’s hard to tell these days. They all look the same. The house has a sweet party set-up on the bottom level with multiple rooms, pool and game tables, an indoor movie theater, and a few wet bars. While we don’t usually mix with underclassmen at all, this kid is loaded enough that most uppers are willing to excuse the fact that he’s only a freshman. Or an eighth grader. Plus, his parents own a vineyard or something, so there’s always high dollar booze along with the keg. He’s a friend of my younger brother Sammy’s, so Sammy is floating around here somewhere…highly awkward for partying.
The upperclassmen have taken over a few of the lower level rec rooms, while we can hear faint shrieks from the younger guys filtering in from some other area of the place. Every now and then a bold one tries to infiltrate our group and is sent scurrying back by a harsh word from Shane and his minions or Krystal, head cheerleader and self-appointed mean girl. The whole thing is giving me a headache. Sammy is here somewhere and I’m already ruffling up at the thought of one of them saying something to him. They are such assholes.
Like background to my thoughts, I hear cheers and see Krystal grinding on Shane’s lap reverse cowgirl style. Her eyes are locked on me in challenge, and while her moves are faintly ridiculous, it looks like he is thoroughly enjoying it. I train my eyes somewhere else, not interested in any kind of competition with her. Shane has been chasing me for the past year and I know his type. I’ve seen it a hundred times helping Mom and Dad on their investigations. Handsome cocky man, full of himself and what the world owes him. . .gets the toy he wants and within a year he has stomped on it and shattered it to bits. Not. Interested. Thank you, next.
“Shiloh?” A hand waving in front of my face pulls me out of my reverie. “Hello? Earth to Shiloh?” It’s Krystal.
“It’s your turn. Truth or dare.” I realize the game has been playing out around me while I’ve been completely out of it. I guess the lap dance was Krystal’s dare.
“Oh. Um.” I cringe at the idea of giving these guys any piece of myself, any truth to hold or dispense as they choose. “Dare, I guess.” Cheers rise up and guys start adjusting themselves in preparation for something naughty. Such one-track minds. I look at Cotton and roll my eyes. Krystal’s face takes on a calculating cast as she considers her play and as if on cue, shrieks come from the adjoining room. The underclassmen sound like they are having fun, at least. I steel myself for something humiliating, wiping all expression from my face. Krystal wants Shane and Shane wants me. It’s the way things have always been. She wants to lay me low.
“Just a minute…” She surprises us all when she rises from where she is sitting and hurries out of the room. I shrug in response to Cotton’s questioning look, and we’re all quiet until her return a few minutes later. I decide I don’t care much for the smug expression on her face. “Okay, I’ve got it. Best dare ever,” she says, a glint of triumph in her eyes. “Shiloh, I dare you to go in there and be the next seven minutes in heaven kiss-ee for the freshmen!”
For a moment there is dead silence. Then laughter bursts out. Shane is rolling on the floor, his minions are laughing, and even I am cackling. “You want me to do what?” I gestured toward the door. “Go kiss a freshman for… seven whole minutes?”
Krystal nods. “Yup.”
“Oh, God.” My laughter fades into weaker chuckles and I wipe my eyes. “I’m going to feel like a… a… fucking cougar!”
Shane chortles. “She’s going to give some kid the time of his life. He’ll probably come all over himself from a kiss!”
I give him a dirty look. “Nice, Shane. Way to be disgusting.” He rises to his feet.
“Maybe I can join the fun—” Krystal yanks him firmly back down by his belt loop.
“Nope. Not part of my dare. This is all Shiloh.” Her eyes challenge me. “You in or out?”
Cotton snorts. “Just think of it this way… You’ll be giving some kid the best first kiss of his life. He’ll remember you forever.”
“Oh my God. Krystal, I cannot even believe you. Some of these kids aren’t even freshmen. They’re fucking eighth graders. This is so gross.” I slide off my chair and prepare for this indignity, jerking my top down over the waist of my jeans.
“Get in there, cougar.” Shane gives me a small shove, and I head for the door.
“This fucking sucks.” I shake my head. Why do I feel like I’m going to regret this?
The amber bottle spins into a blur on the wooden floor, the wait for it to come to a stop interminable to our waiting circle. The small group of us still collected at my home at two in the morning watch with intent gaze as it starts to slow. I look over at Myles, my best friend since forever, and grin at the collected group of underclassmen in a circle on the carpet. One of us lucky schmucks is about to get seven minutes with Shiloh Anne Brookings, captain of the dance squad and one of the hottest girls in senior class. If she kisses as hot as she looks, the reputation of whoever ends up with her is going to be set.
Shit. Their reputation will be set, regardless. They can just stand there in the closet and stare at her. They don’t even have to do anything. Just be in her presence. Please, Gods-of-ye-bottles-of-Bud. And horny dudes. Land on me.
Somehow, Shiloh wound up with our underclassmen group playing seven minutes in heaven a few minutes ago. I was just about done with it—Becky Stevens was joining in and I have absolutely no desire to be anywhere near that Stepford freak—when I saw her ambling up, that tool Shane Dobbins shoving her lightly on. “We have a smoking hot addition for your game, ” he says, and winks at us guys. What a douche. Although she is smoking hot. She’s wearing some kind of tight skinny jean with rips in strategic areas and a shirt that barely covers her…a black tank top with spaghetti straps.
Shiloh stands there by the door like, what the hell am I doing here, so Kacey plugs her in really quick as the next person in the closet and it is Game On. I think it was a dare or something… I don’t really care. She’s here and by the gods of the beer bottles I’ll be the chosen one.
The bottle starts to slow. One… Two… no, not him, please… Yesss! I release the breath I was holding with a low whoop of excitement and bump fists with Myles as I rise to my feet. In the back of my head there’s a low litany of words playing like a scratch on vinyl : don’t fuck this up, don’t fuck this up, DON’T FUCK THIS UP. I pump my fist with each mental word to build myself up.
Shiloh stands beside the closet designated for seven minutes, scrolling her phone and looking faintly bored. She looks up as I approach and tucks her phone in her back pocket. “Ah, Gunner… how awkward! Come on, let’s get in here before Sammy sees and flips his shit.”
For a moment I’m dazed. She knows my name. Then I realize she’s seen me with Sammy. Of course, she knows my name. Dumbass. “Oh…yeah…he took a break this round. He didn’t want to be accidentally paired with his sister. Or even see you paired with anybody. Said something about ‘my eyes, my eyes, my fucking eyes.’” I tell her. Shiloh laughs. Score.
“Well, that was smart of him.” She takes my hand and leads me into the closet with a little finger wave at the group and I look back and waggle my eyebrows. Even if we do nothing else, my reputation is boosted just by her taking my hand. She’s so awesome. And hot. Did I mention hot?
As the door closes behind us, I start to check her out in earnest, but the lights go out and we are plunged into an inky darkness. I startle and knock into a rack of clothes beside me. “Shit. Shit.”
Shiloh chuckles. “Easy, Tiger. Part of the rules.”
“Oh. I knew that.”
Somehow the darkness heightens my perception of everything. I can smell her scent, something light and citrusy. I’m glad she’s not one of those girls that slathers on the perfume. I like being able to smell her. She smells so good. In the light from the seams of the door, I can just barely make out the outline of her body and the gleam of her eyes.
“Are you nervous?” She asks me.
“Nervous?” I force the laughter through suddenly dry lips. “Shit, no. I’ve done this lots of times.” I see the glint of her teeth and a faint white as she flashes a smile at my bravado.
I feel her hands on my cheeks drawing me closer to her. I’m a little taller than her and dip my head down to meet her lips, but then I realize my hands are just dangling. Where should I put my hands? On her shoulders? Somewhere else? I don’t want to come off as an overeager puppy, groping and slobbery. Don’t fuck this up. I decide on the shoulders and set them there hesitantly. No, that’s weird. I move them to her hips. There, that’s better. That’s not quite as middle school as shoulders, but it’s only semi-sexual. Sexual. Great. Now I have a partial boner. Where do I put that?
I lean into her all the way before I can think anything else, or worse, open my stupid mouth and start speaking, and I kiss her. It’s great — warm and not too dry and not too wet — except it lands right on her fucking nose. “Fucking light!” I curse and try again, but she’s reared back and is wiping her nose, laughing a little. I love her laugh. It’s low and husky and so sexy.
“Gunner,” she says, and places her hands on my face again. “Let me.” Her skin is so soft against mine, her fingertips cupping the base of my jaw and sliding into the hair curling at my neck. It sends tingles down my spine. And then her lips are on mine, warm and electric and delicious.
I hold my breath, not daring to breathe as she teases my lips expertly with the tip of her tongue. Then, growing bolder, I release my breath with one giant gasp — shit, was that too much? Now I’m sucking air — and tilt my head to the right. Our noses bump, but I feel her lips crinkle in a smile as she maneuvers her own mouth into position so our mouths can meet more firmly. I’m moving my lips happily against hers, exploring but not daring to go too far, when her lips part and I feel her tongue reaching for mine. Our mouths mingle, hers tasting faintly of beer. Alright, I think. . .I think maybe I got this. I move my hands to her waist and she sighs a little into my mouth. I open a little wider, dare to nibble at her lush bottom lip the way I’ve seen them do in the movies. I’m getting the hang of this now.
Shiloh is swaying gently back and forth in my hands, her head tilting first one way, and then the next. I think maybe she’s a little buzzed, because she’s not kissing me like I’m an eighth grader. It’s making me a little light-headed. She’s so soft pressed up against me. . she feels so good. . .and then the door opens behind us and the light pops on, blinding me.
We separate slowly, the catcalls behind us causing a rosy stain to flush her cheeks. I made her blush. Pride swells up in me. I turned and raise my fisted hands in the air like a heavyweight boxer who has just won the championship. I feel like a champion, I think. I feel like a fucking king.
I glance behind me, but Shiloh is slipping out and down the hall to where the other upperclassmen wait. They are giving exaggerated slow claps and wolf whistles, and she dips into a cute little curtsy. I feel my heart lurch in my chest and know there is a fucking goober-worthy grin on my face, but I don’t even care.
I’m officially stupid for this girl.
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