She throws her head back, red curls shaking as she laughs, eyes beaming. Someone has said something funny, and he is mesmerized by her, watching her from across the yard. Her cheeks dimple as she giggles, enthralled in conversation with George and Hannah. She looks younger when she laughs, impermeable, like nothing has ever hurt her and nothing ever will. Her eyes flicker briefly over to him, and she is smiling that smile, the smile she reserves only for him, soft, knowing and intimate. He can't stop his own mouth turning up, returning her smile, his face still reacting to her long after she has turned back to her friends. She reminds him of every good day he's ever had, and she makes him forget his bad days altogether. He puts his hand in his pocket, carefully fingering the folded up piece of paper he's been carrying around with him for the past month. The weight of the letter is slight, but its significance hefty, and he still hasn't made his decision.
She had snuck up on him, he hadn't been expecting her. When he first laid eyes on her he hadn't paid much attention, and she had mostly ignored him too. He wasn't used to being ignored, and she had practically avoided him, seemingly eager to get away from him. He had felt the challenge rise inside him, he had wanted to prove to her that he couldn't be so easily dismissed, but in the end she was the one that had showed him up.
The minute he had cornered her on the darkened basketball court, he had realized that this girl was nothing like anyone he'd ever met before. He was used to forward, flirty, outrageous, and he knew how to handle those girls. He had no idea what to do with intense, questioning and indecipherable. When he broke off that first kiss, he was already hooked, coming back to her was an inevitability.
He moves through the crowd, searching, surrounded by intoxicated, excitable friends. The party is just getting started, the music thumping loudly, spirited voices shouting over each other to be heard. He is buzzed, warm and fuzzy, slightly unsteady on his feet. She finds him before he can find her, but she is far worse off than he is, swaying slowly as he turns around in her arms.
"Hey," he smiles, amused at her unfocused eyes, her slow smile.
"Heeey," she slurs, leaning slender hands on his arms as he tries to steady her. "You wanna dance?"
"I'm good thanks," his slight lisp exaggerated by the alcohol rushing through his system. "You know I don't dance."
"Jackson!" She whines, pronouncing his name with added h's and s's. "It's our grad party! You have to dance with me!"
She's a cute drunk, all giggles and smiles and hands, but he doesn't dance, no exceptions, not even for her. He is saved by an equally exuberant and unsteady Hannah, who shouts something incoherent about dance floors and lost causes, before she drags April along with her. He watches them as they bound happily together towards the throng of people already moving energetically and competely out of synch to the heavy bass. She is happy, carefree, elated and his eyes never leave her as she moves across the floor.
She was almost instantly too much for him, they were too much together. Every time he was with her she pushed him further, and it frightened him how much he needed to be around her. It was difficult for him to process what it meant, how he was supposed to be when he was with her. Up till that point he'd only had one constant in his life, his overbearing, suffocating mother, and he was used to coasting through life without forming any serious attachments. Until her, until she pushed her way into his life with an unmatched certitude, claiming a place in his life without ever mentioning it with a word.
He'd fucked it up of course, pushed her away without ever making any conscious decisions. He never explained, he hardly knew how to explain it to himself. He knew he had hurt her, he could see that the smile she plastered on her face was fake, but she had got over it quickly, and it had left him questioning whether he had ever really had her at all.
She dances like nobody's watching, and he is hoping he is the only one watching her. Her hips are swaying, feet a little unsteady, but the way she's moving is reminding him of other times she moves with him, steady as a rock. She is oblivious to him watching her, which is just as well, he doesn't want to make her self conscious, he is enjoying the show.
"Hey, man", Tom says, dumping down into the sofa next to him. "Having a good time?"
"Yeah," he exhales, dragging his eyes away from April. "Thanks for having this party."
The whole year is here, celebrating their graduation in Tom's parents' massive Hamptons beach house.
"The end of an era, man," Tom nods solemnly. "Last time we see ninety percent of these people."
"Yup," he agrees, heart twisting as April looks over and flashes him a happy smile.
"So, what are you and April gonna do?"
He sighs, running his hand over his head, shrugging off the question. April got into Harvard, he'd gotten the chance of a lifetime to play ball at Austin. Time is running out, running away, separating them.
"You really like her, don't you?"
Tom's question is more of a statement. It's awkward talking like this, they're never usually this serious with each other.
"Truth?" He takes a big swig from his beer bottle, steeling himself.
"I like her a lot. She's smart, she's beautiful, she's a little awkward. And I love her."
He'd been without her for a year and it had made no difference at all. She was still the first person he looked for when he walked into a room, still the only person he looked for. He had tried to push her out of his mind, tried to distract himself with Nikki, but it had only made things worse. He kept comparing her with April, and the differences between them could not have been greater. He had to have her, had to make her take him back and he hadn't let up until she finally relented.
He hadn't been prepared for how difficult it would be, hadn't realised the depth of the pain he had inflicted on her, the strength of her emotions. But once she came back it was like coming home, like realising he was supposed to have been there the whole time. Where Nikki was light, low-calorie, non-fattening, April was original, stick-to-your-ribs, mouth-watering realness. He knew he never wanted to be without her again.
The music is thumping, sweat mixing with perfume and alcohol and salty sea air. She comes swooping in off the dance floor, giddy and elated, sliding onto his lap.
"I need a break," she pants, breath uneven, cheeks flushed.
He buries his head in her neck, kisses her soft, sticky skin and pulls her closer. She smells like the sun has been on her skin all day, sun cream blending with sea, sweat mixing with deodorant.
"Let's go get some air," she says, voice thick and slow with alcohol.
She pulls him off the sofa, and leads him outside where the air is supposed to be cooler, but it's still hot as hell. It's also quieter, darker and they are alone. She pushes into him, her mouth finding his and he's been waiting for this all night. Her tongue is sweet, like peaches, and her upper lip is salty from the hot night, she tastes like summer. He folds his arms around her slight frame, covering most of her ass with one hand, losing his other hand in her tangled mess of hair. He kisses her harder, his lips pressing against her teeth, letting her know how badly he wants her. He's drunk, unsteady, partly from the alcohol, but mostly the scent of her skin and the rhythm of her heartbeat.
He'd never had any addictions, at least not any that meant something, but he'd never known how addicting something could be until he had snuck into her room and lost himself in her. Being with her was more than an act of pleasure, it was as if she intensified everything, every touch, every smell, every sight. She became his obsession, to the point where it was almost painful to sit next to her and not touch her. He felt like a pervert, always watching her, checking her out, taking any chance he could to steal moments alone with her.
Getting caught sneaking out of her room was as inevitable as his mother's daily calls, and though he had felt bad that April had been so embarrassed, he'd been unprepared for how loud it had made her insecurities. He called her beautiful over and over, tried his best to make her feel secure and confident, but she constantly undervalued what she was and overvalued what she wasn't. He could see her imperfections and it made no difference to him, he loved her more for them, and only wished that she could do the same for herself.
She is eager, alcohol making her more brazen than she normally would be. Her hands are on his ass, pulling him roughly towards her, arms stronger than they look. He is retracing lines he has already drawn on her with kisses on her skin, tracing the curve of her neck with his lips. He closes his eyes as she moans loudly, there is nothing hotter than her voice responding to his mouth on her. A low, rumbling growl resonates in his chest as he lifts her up in the air to align her mouth better to his. He leans her back up against the wall of the house, her legs are tightly clamped around his hips, and her closeness is intoxicating him further. There is something about her, no matter how many times he hears her voice whispering his name or feels her hands on his skin he can never get enough. He always wants more of her.
He didn't get to choose, he just fell in love and he got this person who was so right, but also all kinds of wrong. And after a while the wrongs didn't feel so wrong anymore, they felt like they had to be there to balance all the rights, to clear his perspective, to love the rights even more. He wanted all of her, even the parts she didn't want herself, the ones she tried to hide, the parts she was convinced no one would ever love. He felt so close to her, so connected, so comfortable it was almost breathtaking, he could barely handle it. He could spend hours with her doing nothing and still feeling like everything had happened. All of a sudden she had looked at him with a certainty in her eyes and it had hit him like a ton of bricks. She had chosen him and he had chosen her, for all her insecurities he knew she had none when it came to him. Her confidence in him, in them, was unwavering and words were irrelevant. She was sure. He was sure.
He wants her so much he can't stand it. Her nails are scraping against the back of his head with unmistaken urgency. Thankfully alcohol is making her decisive and resourceful, dragging him by his t-shirt towards the darkened guesthouse at the back of the garden. She is giggling and stumbling in front of him, but her breath is ragged and her dress far too short, practically scandalous. She finds an empty room, and there is a bed but they don't make it, collapsing into each other on the floor, tearing clothes off warm bodies. Her eyes are soft and filled with longing as she rests herself on her elbows while he pulls down her panties, and he's done for.
"God, you're fucking beautiful," he whispers, barely recognising his own voice, alcohol-fuelled and thirsty.
And she is fucking beautiful, pale skin gleaming in the dark room, familiar curves soft and firm at the same time. Her breasts fit perfectly in his hands, as if they were made especially for him. He finds her lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth, pushing her back down on the floor. He pulls away and places her hands over her head, holding them down as she arches her breasts up towards him, and he nearly loses it there and then. He is looking into her eyes as he gently slides inside her, and she still gasps softly every time he does it, as if it's the first time, as if he is too much for her.
She has no inhibitions tonight, letting go completely and allowing her mind to follow her body as he pounds into her. He watches her face as she lets pleasure flow through her body, trying to prolong her ecstasy, but she is already tightening around him. He leans in to kiss her, swallowing her sobs as she clasps her legs and arms around him tightly, and he loses control with her. He pulls away, feeling hot and high, struggling to calm his breathing down. She's like a drug coursing through his veins, affecting his whole nervous system, intoxicating his mind, and she's an addiction he never wants to overcome.
He'd never been angrier, never more disappointed with himself than when he had realised what brutality April had been subjected to by their teacher. He'd been forced to take a long, hard look at himself, he'd been eaten up by jealousy and he'd been so afraid of losing her that he'd not seen the situation clearly, taking vicious words of others as his ultimate worst-case-scenario truth. He'd wanted to kill Mr Canlas, physically harm him for daring to go near her, but he'd never gotten the opportunity, so he'd taken it out on a wall instead. Ramming his fist into a brick wall had not been the best idea, since his hands were supposed to be his future livelihood, but he'd barely registered the pain or noticed the blood pouring. He'd let her down in the worst possible way, and he had no idea if she'd ever forgive him. If the roles were reversed he wasn't sure that he would have been able to forgive her.
It took her a while to find her way back, her smile a little duller, her confidence almost non-existent. He had no idea how to help her, so he did the only thing he could think of and paid for her ticket back to Moline so she could spend time with her family. When she came back she was already better, but he took his time with her, making sure she ate, encouraged her to start running again and at night he'd slip into her room so he could sleep next to her. Slowly the negative power Mr Canlas had held over her released it's grip on her, and she found him again, taking little steps every day to break free from her broken self. He found it hard to forgive himself long after she had, but she saw right through his bullshit, stuck to him despite all the mistakes he had made with her, smiled even when he had done nothing for her. It was glaringly obvious there would never be anyone else for him, and also obvious that he didn't deserve her.
They venture back out in the warm night, wanting to stretch time and not be faced with the realities of a future that will not wait for them. They find their group of friends on the beach, worn out from the party that is winding down behind them, too tired to stay awake, and too drunk for rational conversation, but time is prescious right now, so they huddle together and manage as best they can. They are all going separate ways, about to be cut loose from each other, but for tonight at least they are still together, still an of course in each other's lives.
He lies down in the sand, pulling April close to his chest so they can watch the stars in the clear night. The letter that has been burning a hole in his pocket is still there, reminding him that he still hasn't made a desicion. The letter has been welcome and not, offering him a different kind of future than he had wanted, a future he had been trying to avoid, but also a future that held new possibilities he didn't even know he was hoping for. The letter is offering her, and her future, and he still has to decide.
What lasts, lasts; what doesn't, doesn't. Time solves most things, and what time doesn't solve, he has to solve himself, he understands this now. As the sun starts to rise on the horizon, he looks down at April fast asleep on his chest and he thinks to himself that he wouldn't mind spending all his days with her.
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