THE PHOTO TRAVELER

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CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

“Gavin!” Alanna shouts when I appear in her bedroom. Then she catches herself and lowers her voice and runs over to me. The violet night shines behind her, against her neon-green tank top and white silk pajama pants with pink hearts printed all over them. We throw ourselves into each other’s arms and hug so tightly that I feel the amethyst I gave her last time dig into my chest. “You scared me! Where’ve you been? It’s been over a month!”

I cannot believe how happy I am. Everything else disappears. “Hey, it’s not my fault.” I finally press my lips to hers and then come up for air. “If you’d taken photos of yourself every day of your life,” I joke, “it would’ve made it a lot easier for me to get back here!”

She giggles and puts her lips to mine again. “If you really knew me, you’d know I practically do.” She pauses. “Is something wrong? There’s something different about you...”

I decide not to hold back. I feel an unwavering trust between us. I know I can be who I am with her, so I sit down on her bed and have her sit next to me, and I start telling her everything—about Bud dying on my birthday, my current encounter with Naima, even about Mel.

She listens wide-eyed, but the first thing she says is, “You should call the police. They’ll find you soon enough.”

“It’s not that easy. Can you imagine what the cops would think? ‘Hey, there’s a bunch of time travelers after us. You mind taking care of that?’ No, that’s not happening.”

“What are you going to do? What if they hurt you? Or worse...”

I grab her hand. “No one’s going to hurt me, okay?”

“If anyone does, I swear I’ll kill them!”

“Oh yeah?” I smile, “And how are you going to do that?”

“I don’t know. But I will.”

I kiss her on the nose. “Okay, tough girl.”

She takes a deep breath. “Oh my God, I forgot. Happy birthday!” She gives me a hard kiss on my cheek. “And… I am so sorry. About your grandfather, about everything… Is there anything I can do to help?”

I can’t take it. I sink back against her bed pillows and start to cry. “Just be here. Just be here forever.”
She crawls up next to me. “But I am. And I always will be. Whether it’s to help you somehow or to talk or hold your hand, or just listen. I’m here for you.” She strokes my cheek and gently wipes my tears away with her thumb.

“You know,” she whispers, “for me it’s only been a couple of months since I’ve met you. But there’s something so special about you... and the way I feel when I’m with you… and the even stronger feelings I have when I’m not. All I do is think of you.”

I take her fingers from my wet cheeks and kiss them. “Alanna, you drive me crazy. I’ve never loved anyone before, so I don’t have anything to compare this to, but… I think this is what it’s supposed to feel like.”

She surprises me by suddenly pushing herself up onto her elbows and off the bed, then turning around to look at me. Her hand is clutched around the amethyst.

Did I do something wrong? Was I too honest? Have I scared her? Have I lost her? I don’t want to ask anything because I’m afraid of what she might say, but I have to. “What’s wrong? Did I say something—”

She shakes her head violently. “No. No. It’s—do you really mean it?”

“Of course I mean it.”

A dazzling smile comes over her face. “Gavin... I feel the same way too.” She jumps back onto the bed and climbs on top of me with her legs on either side of my waist. “I just thought I was crazy. To feel this way for boy from … the future. We’re nuts aren’t we?”

“I like being nuts with you.” She brings her face down to mine until our noses touch. Our passionate kisses make me lose track of time until I lift off her tank top. “Is the door locked?” I ask as I start to take off my own shirt.

She grins. “Mm-hmm, and the parents are out.”

She kisses my ear, then my neck. I roll over on top of her, this time moving my lips across her chest, her stomach, her arms, her neck. She moans each time I kiss her and our fingers intertwine as we continue whispering to each other.

“I’m so happy I met you,” I murmur into her ear as I move her hair from her face.

Then I move lower again, following my hands with my mouth and my mouth with my hands. I gently pull down her pajama pants with my mouth and breathe in the scent of her thighs, and feel the soft, thin hairs stand on end as she reacts to the pressure of my lips. Shivering, I raise my head and lock my eyes on hers.

“What?” she asks.

“I’ve never…” I blink hard. I can’t even believe this is happening. Or might happen. Two weeks ago I had only kissed one girl.

“Me neither.” She blushes. “But I want to.”

“Are … you sure?”

“More than sure ... there’s no one else I....”

“Me neither.” I wrap my arms around her and pull her close, so close we’re practically one person.

Afterward, we lie on her bed still pressed against each other with her head resting on my sweat-slick chest and her fingers caressing my stomach.

She finally turns her head up to me and asks, “What do we do now? You said you only had a couple of photos of me.”

I hesitate. “You think I’m gonna just let you go? Yeah, right. I’ll get more. Somehow. Nothing will keep me from you. Or I’ll bring my camera next time and just take, like, a million pics of you. It’ll be like our own photo shoot.”

She nods and sinks her head back down on my chest—and then asks me the only question I never wanted to hear. “Why haven’t you found me in your present time?”

What am I going to tell her? I hesitate, then say, “Well… I don’t know. Don’t you think it’d be kind of weird for someone of your present age to be with someone of my age?”

She looks puzzled, but finally nods. “Yeah, I guess so...”

“Plus, what if you’re with someone else, or married with kids? I don’t want to have to off anyone because I’m jealous.”

She rolls her eyes and playfully hits me with a pillow.

I’ve dodged that bullet, but her question forces me to wonder again what I’m doing. I know how this is going to end, so what am I doing here? I don’t know, and somehow I don’t care. Not now when I’m with her. I push the doubts out of my head and focus on how she feels in my arms. But I can’t keep the questions from floating around at the back of my mind.

Suddenly I hear voices outside.

I jump from the bed and rush to the window. Naima and Axel are scanning the street trying to locate my eyes.

Alanna wraps herself in the blanket. “Who is it? Is it them?”

I turn quickly, back against her wall. “I need to go. If they see me they’ll know where you live. That’s not a good thing at all.”

“But…”

“I’ll be back. I promise I will.”

Her eyes swarm with tears. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I promise.”

They shout my name, this time the words sounding nearer.

“I have to go. I’m sorry.”

The last thing I remember seeing, is the sparkle of a tear slipping over her cheek.

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