The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Twelve

Monday morning brings with it the arrival of finals week, which means that any and all of my free time is devoted to studying my ass off to pass the tests. The only time I really see Ray during the week is during our morning drive to school and lunches - the latter of which is spent pouring over study sheets - and it’s even harder to get time with Miranda. We take to studying together at night after I get off work, parked in the backseat of her car somewhere off the beaten track and covered in stacks of notes.

This is precisely where we wind up on a Thursday night, ankle deep in history papers and quizzing each other on the dates of every war ever. Miranda is a lot better at it than I am, I might add. Ask me the year when any classic novel is published and I can tell you, but I am terrible at remembering exactly when hundreds of people killed each other.

“You’re getting frustrated,” Miranda says after I growl and crumple up my sheet of illegible notes and toss it into the front seat.

“Astute observation,” I reply with a smirk. “I’m just awful at all of this. I can never remember any of these things. And the really sad thing is history is one of my better classes. How pathetic is that?”

“It’s okay,” Miranda says softly. She moves the notebook that is on the bench between us and slides against my side, draping her legs over my lap. “You don’t need to know these things. You’re going to be an amazing writer someday and then no one will care if you know when the Civil War happened.”

“1853?” I try hopefully.

“61, actually,” she responds and I grimace, letting my head fall back onto the seat cushion. “But you were closer that time. You’re getting it down.”

“No, I’m just making blind guesses,” I grind out between my teeth. “I’m not actually retaining any of this. So tomorrow I’m just going to go into my history class and guess at everything and pray it works out alright.”

“Hey now,” Miranda says. She touches the side of my face and turns my head until I’m facing her. “You can get this stuff, Jake. I know you can. You’re smart and inventive. One of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I mean, you know like the complete biography about every great author from the last five hundred years.”

“Well yeah, because I actually care about that sort of thing,” I say and shrug.

Miranda smirks playfully. “Then I guess we just need to find a way to motivate you into caring about this stuff too.” Before I can ask what she means, she twists around until she is straddling my lap in the cramped back seat of the car, her head ducked down beside mine so it doesn’t hit the ceiling. “So tell me again,” she whispers in my ear, sending chills down my spine, “what year did the Civil War begin?”

It’s honestly incredibly difficult to focus on the history notes with her perched on my lap like this, her chest so close to my face that every time she inhales her breasts brush my nose through her shirt. After a few pointless seconds of staring at the design on the front of her shirt she abruptly smacks the side of my head with a notebook. “Ow? What the hell?” I ask in alarm.

“Answer wrong, I’ll hit you,” Miranda responds, a mischievous lilt to her quiet whisper now. “Answer right and you’ll be rewarded.”

I swallow hard. Any blood that might have been left in my brain at that point is immediately on a one-way train south, which isn’t helping the thinking process any. “Rewarded is a pretty ambiguous statement,” I point out.

“The reward will just have to depend on how good your answers are,” she says simply. “The better the answer, the better the reward. So, when did the Civil War start again?”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to clear my head enough to come up with a feasible answer. C’mon Barnes, she just told you the answer a minute ago. “Uh, the 1860s,” I say.

“Good,” Miranda says and turns her head, planting a lingering kiss on my cheek. “But what was the specific year?”

“You really expect me to remember that with you in my lap?” I ask half-hysterically. I receive another notebook blow to the head in response. “Gah, okay fine. It was, uh, 61, I think.”

“Very good,” she purrs and this time kisses my mouth, a deep kiss that makes my head spin worse. I grab her sides to pull her closer but she laughs against my lips and pries my hands away. “Oh I don’t think so. You’ve got a couple questions to go before you get that reward.”

“You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you? Like actual death by sexual frustration?” I ask in reply and she laughs again. “Alright, but if I die it’s on your hands. What’s the next question?”

It goes on like this for over an hour, Miranda asking me questions about our history notes and then giving me some form of reward for each correct answer. Gradually the kisses get deeper and hands begin to wander. Her shirt slides off and her skirt is bunched up to her hips. At this point my shirt gets taken off too, which is sort of a reward for me in a way too because it’s gotten so damn hot inside this car.

“Question,” I prompt because my brain can’t handle the effort of completing a full sentence anymore. Especially while watching her adjust the strap of the thin lace camisole she’s wearing, which I can’t help but notice is the only strap on her shoulders. I may not be a master of girls’ fashion but even I can tell that means she’s not wearing a bra. Which means the glimpses of flesh I’m getting through the lace are actual skin. Like, boob skin.

“I don’t know,” Miranda says and I twist my head to glance up at her face. It’s hard to tell in the shadows cast by her hair, but she looks flushed. “You pass.” And then she flattens herself against me so she can reach my mouth, kissing me more earnestly than I had ever imagine a kiss being.

I loop an arm around her waist and awkwardly turn us, stretching out across the seat of the car with her beneath me. It’s cramped but at least we don’t have to keep our heads cocked at uncomfortable angles anymore. Her legs immediately hook around my hips and when she pulls my body flush against her I can’t help the gasp that escapes me. Is this really happening?

My hands are preoccupied with keeping me from crushing her and also from falling off the edge of the slightly too narrow bench, but her hands are wandering free. Her nails leave trails of goosebumps as they trace over my back and chest. Eventually she grabs the hem of her camisole and pulls it up and away from her head. For a moment I can only stare because, well, holy shit. I’ve taken art classes and anatomy before so it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve seen a naked woman, but the mostly undressed girl here is like - wow. This is fucking real.

Miranda doesn’t give me much time to admire the view before she fists a hand in my hair and drags my mouth back down to hers. I can feel her bare chest pressed against my skin and it’s enough to make my brain want to explode, among other things. This is the girl every guy in our school has dreamed about being with, and she’s here, in the backseat of a car, with me. Me.

Wait, what does that mean? Am I really trying to one-up the guys at school? The ones who don’t even know about our relationship? Is that even what I want?

Miranda’s splayed hand glides across my stomach and a tremor rolls through me. Yes, okay, I definitely want to do this. She lifts her head slightly, glancing downward as her hand closes around the button of my jeans. The gasp that comes out of me doesn’t sound near as dignified as I would like. She grins and lowers her head again - and promptly hits it against the inside of the door, cursing quietly at the pain.

“Miranda, wait!” I say, reaching down to stop the hand that’s working on my zipper.

“What? What’d I do?” she asks, her wide eyes gazing up at me nervously.

“Nothing, it’s not that,” I explain. “You’re amazing, and beautiful, and every molecule in my body is going to hate me for this but I’ve got to say it. Are you sure about this? I mean, is this the way you want it to be? Because I really care about you, and as much as I want to do this - and I really, really want to do this - I want our first time to be special. And I just don’t think that the backseat of your car and covered in history notes qualifies as that romantic, memorable first time. Do you?”

She seems to be thinking deeply for a minute, a whirl of emotions in her eyes as she gnaws at her bottom lip, and then she sighs. “No, you’re right,” she says. I nod and sit up, hunched over awkwardly in the limited space. “Why do you have to be so wonderful?”

I grin at the question. “I’m not sure that’s the right word for it,” I admit as I button my now very uncomfortable jeans. “But you’re this amazing girl and I don’t really have much to offer, so I just want to make sure that every memory I can give you is a good one.” She sits up and gives me a curious look. “That was really cheesy, wasn’t it?” I add.

Miranda laughs, grabbing her camisole and putting it back on. A real shame, that. “Yeah, pretty much,” she agrees. “But I’m getting kind of used to it coming from you. You’re a bit like a walking Hallmark card, you know. It’s sweet though. They don’t make guys like you much.”

“Nah, there was a product recall after they realized our muscles never grew in,” I say. “I’m the only one who escaped the junkyard.”

“Well you may not be built like a linebacker,” she says, tucking herself against my side again, “but I still think you’re pretty cute.”

“I would be blushing right now but my blood is all otherwise occupied,” I inform her in embarrassment. “Which is probably for the best because if you made me blush after all that, I would be completely emasculated.”

“You’d get over it,” she says blithely and I have to laugh at the casualness. “So, my parents are away at a conference. You, uh, wanna move this back to my place?”

“Wait, if your house is empty why are we studying in a car in the Harry’s Hardware parking lot?” I ask in amusement.

Miranda shrugs. “This sneaking around thing is fun,” she says. “So, what d’you say?” Her hand settles in my lap and I twitch in shock.

“Yeah, yeah, okay, let’s do that.”

We climb into the front seats of the car and I can feel my palms sweating as she flips the ignition and drives out of the parking strip. It’s an eleven minute drive from there to her house and I spend every second of it in a silent panic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. I mean, who wouldn’t be? But there is also that tiny little detail where I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m doing, and that’s enough to send me into a self-conscious spiral of doubt. I barely even notice when the car finally stops and Miranda kills the engine. “Uh, we’re here,” she says, making me finally look up from the fingernail I’ve been picking at anxiously.

The house somehow looks like a miniature version of the White House, from the wide windows to the whitewashed paint to the Greek colonnades that line the front porch. There are thick hedges edging the lawn and perfectly shaped rose bushes in varying shades fill the flower beds along the front of the house. The garage is big enough to hold two tanks. “Whoa,” I breathe.

“Yeah?” she asks, a hint of the self-consciousness that only I ever hear creeping out in her voice.

“Does your dad own a small country or something?” I ask.

We get out of the car and Miranda takes my hand, leading me up to the front door. “He’s a stock adviser,” she explains with a shrug, letting us into the house. “Tells rich people where to invest their money. I don’t know how he doesn’t die of boredom.”

The inside of the house is even more impressive than the outside with every surface polished and glittering, but there’s something hollow about it all that sets my nerves on edge. It seems so fake, too perfect, like it came straight from the pages of an interior decorating catalogue. For some reason I’m reminded of an abandoned house Ray and I broke into in junior high - Miranda’s house has the same air of neglect, like no one actually lives here.

“C’mon,” Miranda says, biting her lip in a way so any blood that escaped back into my body during the drive is immediately rushing down into my jeans again. She leads the way up the sweeping wooden staircase to a hall of doors, and at the left-hand end of the hall is a white door with an ornately scripted M painted on the front in deep red.

The room beyond is modern and minimalist, with everything in shades of black and white and red. The furniture is all sharp angles and twisting shapes. I frown as I look around, and Miranda sits down on the corner of the bed. “You don’t like it?” she asks.

“I just - it doesn’t feel like you,” I admit, scrutinizing a swooping, slanting dresser. She pats the mattress beside her and I sit down, toeing out of my ratty Chucks. “It feels like the Miranda you are at school, not the real you.”

“Well you’re the only one who knows the real me,” Miranda says with a dry laugh. “The real me in here is the boxes of books underneath the bed. My mom, she’s an interior decorator; she picked out everything else.”

I twist sideways to face her, tucking her hair behind her ears. “More people should know this you,” I say. “Because I think this you is pretty awesome.”

Miranda smiles and then she’s kissing me again, her lips firm and feverous against mine. What had escalated gradually in the car takes off like a shot in her bedroom. We migrate toward the center of the bed, discarding shirts along the way. Her skirt is crumpled around her hips as she wraps her legs around mine and that makes it a little difficult to get my jeans off.

We manage though, my jeans landing with a soft thump somewhere off the side of the bed. Her skirt follows directly after. My glasses disappeared at the same time as my shirt so as I look down at her she’s a bit blurry, softer around the edges and all pale gold. The only scrap of fabric left between us are my boxers and her underwear, navy blue and pale pink. I brush back her hair, all loose and curling at the ends, and find a smattering of pale freckles forming constellations across the tops of her shoulders.

“You are beautiful,” I say. “You probably hear that all the time, but I mean it. You’re absolutely beautiful.”

Miranda’s blue eyes are wide and for a moment I think I might’ve accidentally made her cry again, but then she pulls me down into another kiss. I have to think about math homework for a minute to stop myself from ruining everything, but I startle back to reality when I feel her fingers dip below the waistband of my underwear. The noise I make is decidedly not manly and more like a frightened puppy.

“Breathe, Jake,” she says with a hint of amusement in her voice. I open my eyes, not realizing I’d closed them, and find her watching me with her head tilted to the side. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re really tense.”

“Fine,” I say, trying not to blush. “Just nervous.”

She laughs, low and sweet. “Relax, Jake, it’s not like it’s your first time or anything.” I can feel the embarrassment rushing up into my face, burning like fire beneath my already hot skin. She must’ve noticed because she suddenly freezes and her mouth forms a perfect O. “Is it? Your first time, I mean?”

I swallow hard. “Honestly, I’d never even kissed a girl before you kissed me at the dance.”

“Really?” she asks in surprise, her eyebrows shooting up to nearly her hairline.

“Don’t make me say it again,” I plead as the color bleeds from my face and into my neck and shoulders as well. God, I will literally burst into flames if the shame gets any worse.

Instead, Miranda smiles cheekily. She hooks her hips around mine and rolls us over, so she is straddling my lap and her hair falls down like a curtain around our faces. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to make sure it’s really good then,” she says, and I’m a goner.

Much later in the night, as we’re laying in her bed, sweaty and tired but oh so deliciously worn out, I smile and trace patterns in the freckles on Miranda’s back with my fingertips. She hums and snuggles more comfortably against my side, her legs twining around mine in her sleep. Everything is falling into place.

Nothing can ruin the awesome thing I have going for me.

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