It's Not Summer Without You
Page 21

 Jenny Han

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“That is a very stupid question.”
Now that she wasn’t mad anymore, I couldn’t resist. “I thought you said there were no stupid questions?”
She hung up the phone. But I knew I had made her smile.
I closed my phone and faced Conrad. “What do we do now?”
“Whatever we want.”
“I want to go on the beach.”
So that’s what we did. We got bundled up and we ran on the beach in rain boots we found in the mud room. I wore Susannah’s, and they were two sizes too big, and I kept slipping in the sand. I fell on my butt twice. I was laughing the whole time, but I could barely hear it because the wind was howling so loud. When we came back inside, I put my freezing hands on his cheeks and instead of pushing them away, he said, “Ahh, feels good.”
I laughed and said, “That’s because you’re coldhearted.”
He put my hands in his coat pockets and said in a voice so soft I wondered if I heard him right, “For everyone else, maybe. But not for you.” He didn’t look at me when he said it, which is how I knew he meant it.
I didn’t know what to say, so instead, I got on my tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. It was cold and smooth against my lips.
Conrad smiled briefly and then started walking away. “Are you cold?” he asked, his back to me.
“Sort of,” I said. I was blushing.
“I’ll build another fire,” he said.
While he worked on the fire, I found an old box of Swiss Miss hot chocolate in the pantry, next to the Twinings teas and my mother’s Chock full o’Nuts coffee. Susannah used to make us hot chocolate on rainy nights, when there was a chill in the air. She used milk, but of course there wasn’t any, so I used water.
As I sat on the couch and stirred my cup, watching the mini marshmallows disintegrate, I could feel my heart beating, like, a million times a minute. When I was with him, I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.
Conrad didn’t stop moving around. He was ripping up pieces of paper, he was poking at the embers, he was squatting in front of the fireplace, shifting his weight back and forth.
“Do you want your cocoa?” I asked him.
He looked back at me. “Okay, sure.”
He sat next to me on the couch and drank from the Simpsons mug. It had always been his favorite. “This tastes—”
We looked at each other and laughed. “For your information, cocoa is my specialty. And you’re welcome,” I said, taking my first sip. It did taste a little dusty.
He peered at me and tipped my face up. Then he reached out and rubbed my cheek with his thumb like he was wiping away soot. “Do I have cocoa powder on my face?” I asked, suddenly paranoid.
“No,” he said. “Just some dirt—oops, I mean, freckles.”
I laughed and slapped him on the arm, and then he grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to him. He pushed my hair out of my eyes, and I worried he could hear the way I drew my breath in when he touched me.
It was getting darker and darker outside. Conrad sighed and said, “I’d better get you back.”
I looked down at my watch. It was five o’clock. “Yeah . . . I guess we’d better go.”
Neither of us moved. He reached out and wound my hair around his fingers like a spool of yarn. “I love how soft your hair is,” he said.
“Thanks,” I whispered. I’d never thought of my hair as anything special. It was just hair. And it was brown, and brown wasn’t as special as blond or black or red. But the way he looked at it . . . at me. Like it held some kind of fascination for him, like he would never get tired of touching it.
We kissed again, but it was different than the night before. There was nothing slow or lazy about it. The way he looked at me—urgent, wanting me, needing me . . . it was like a drug. It was want-want-want. But it was me who was doing the wanting most of all.
When I pulled him closer, when I put my hands underneath his shirt and up his back, he shivered for a second. “Are my hands too cold?” I asked.
“No,” he said. Then he let go of me and sat up. His face was sort of red and his hair was sticking up in the back. He said, “I don’t want to rush anything.”
I sat up too. “But I thought you already—” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence. This was so embarrassing. I’d never done this before.
Conrad turned even redder. He said, “Yeah, I mean, I have. But you haven’t.”
“Oh,” I said, looking down at my sock. Then I looked up. “How do you know I haven’t?”
Now he looked red as a beet and he stuttered, “I just thought you hadn’t—I mean, I just assumed—”
“You thought I hadn’t done anything before, right?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, no.”
“You shouldn’t make assumptions like that,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He hesitated. “So—you have then?”
I just looked at him.
When he opened his mouth to speak, I stopped him. I said, “I haven’t. Not even close.”
Then I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. It felt like a privilege just to be able to do that, to kiss him whenever I wanted. “You’re really sweet to me,” I whispered, and I felt so glad and grateful to be there, in that moment.
His eyes were dark and serious when he said, “I just—want to always know that you’re okay. It’s important to me.”
“I am okay,” I said. “I’m better than okay.”
Conrad nodded. “Good,” he said. He stood and gave me his hand to help me up. “Let’s get you home, then.”
I didn’t get home that night until after midnight. We stopped and got dinner at a diner off the highway. I ordered pancakes and french fries, and he paid. When I got home, my mother was so mad. But I didn’t regret it. I never regretted it, not for one second. How do you regret one of the best nights of your entire life? You don’t. You remember every word, every look. Even when it hurts, you still remember.
Chapter seventeen
We drove through town, by all the old places, the mini golf course, the crab shack, and Jeremiah drove as fast he could, whistling. I wished he would slow down, make the drive last forever. But it wouldn’t, of course. We were almost there.
I reached into my bag and pulled out a little pot of lip gloss. I dabbed some gloss on my lips and yanked my fingers through my hair. It was all tangled because we’d had the windows down, and it was a mess. In my peripheral vision, I could feel Jeremiah’s eyes on me. He was probably shaking his head and thinking what a dumb girl I was. I wanted to tell him, I know, I am a dumb girl. I’m no better than Taylor. But I couldn’t just walk in and face Conrad with ratty hair.