And she was right. Because I had. But she’d been the catalyst, that was for damn sure.
And maybe, just maybe, I had found some small way to save her, too.
“You ready, pretty girl?” I said, slinking her hair away from her neck. I restrained myself from kissing her soft skin because then we’d never leave the car.
She gave me that adorable smile that softened my insides. “Let’s go.”
She led me toward the row of tombstones across the way until she found her brother’s.
She smoothed her hand across the stone where his name had been etched. And then she sank down to her knees and I followed suit.
“Hey, Christopher, I want you to meet someone very special. His name is Daniel Quinn.”
I had trouble finding my voice. Suddenly this had become very personal and very real. I squeezed her hand. “Hi, Christopher.”
“You would love him, Chris.” She swiped a tear from her cheek and I felt the back of my eyes prickling. “And guess what? The dude will play Minecraft with me for hours.”
I grinned at her comment. “She practically forces me to, Chris.”
We sat on the ground for maybe twenty minutes more while she told Christopher about school, the suicide hotline, how we’d met, and how the family was holding up.
As we headed out of the graveyard, my stomach tightened in anticipation for our next destination. I hadn’t been there since the funeral, and I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it now. But I had Ella with me. She provided me with strength and hope and incentive to face my demons head-on.
The ride to Lakeside Cemetery was mostly quiet. It was a comfortable silence as Ella held my hand and sang softly to the songs piping through my stereo system. It reminded me how much I looked forward to plugging in my earbuds and working in my garage later. Ella kept pushing me to fix Fire so we could take her for a ride.
My parents were out of town for the weekend and Ella planned on staying the night. And it felt so damn good to have her with me.
As I pulled in the driveway of the cemetery, I inhaled a deep breath. I knew the section and lot number, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the patches of grass would have filled in around his plot and the tree planted near it would’ve grown taller.
“Do you want me to wait in the car for a bit to give you time to yourself?” Ella asked. I wanted to say, No, please, I need you. But the fact of the matter was that I did need to do this by myself.
She traced her thumb across the inside of my wrist, over the tattoo I’d gotten from Bennett at Raw Ink the weekend before. It was simplistic—a baseball with Sebastian’s number 7 inked inside. But it was a huge and powerful step for me—to acknowledge him in a way that hadn’t brought forth a tremendous amount of guilt.
This was getting easier. Better. I was finally able to breathe more freely.
I nodded. “Give me a ten-minute head start.”
As soon as I saw his name imprinted in the stone along with his birth and death dates, my legs practically gave way. It all came rushing back to me, and I heard a roaring in my eardrums that ended up being my own heartbeat.
I remembered how they’d lowered his casket into the ground to be sealed for eternity and how the very idea of that had been staggering. Now I sank to the ground and allowed all of the memories to flood my brain.
How none of my classmates seemed to be able to make eye contact with me that day. Maybe they sympathized or even pitied me. And they should have, because I was pretty damned pitiful. I was lost and broken and hadn’t even known how I’d get through the rest of the day.
The rest of any day going forward.
“Bastian, I loved you like a brother,” I told him. “I’m so sorry. So damn sorry that you’re not here anymore. And for as long as I live I will never forget you—you’ll always be with me.”
Shudders rolled up my back and pulsed through my shoulders until all of that emotion transformed itself into ugly sobbing. My whole body shook as I remembered everything.
Every damn thing. Just like Ella had encouraged me to do.
“But I’ve got to move on. If anything, to honor you,” I panted out. “Because right now, I’m just doing whatever it takes to get by.”
I placed my head in my hand and rocked forward. “It’s fucking hard trying to be you. But you were good at it, Bastian. And I need to get better at being my own damn self.”
I felt Ella’s heat behind me, so I tugged her onto my lap, encircled her in my arms, and held her tightly against me. “Thank you,” I said against her ear, more than once.
I felt Ella’s tears dripping onto the back of my hands, her gaze fixed solidly on Sebastian’s grave.
“Thank you, Sebastian,” she whispered. “For bringing Quinn into my life.”
At Quinn’s childhood home, we cooked burgers and ate them on the deck along with the margaritas he’d concocted for us, with salt around the rims. We sat together in a reclining chair, me propped between his legs, looking out at the view together.
His parent’s property extended into the woods and when you sat back here you felt like you were in a secluded oasis. Even though Quinn grew up lonely in this house, its gardens that were filled with lush hydrangea bushes, dogwood trees, and weeping willows were impressive. Lined along the back of the land were strapping pine trees that acted as a barrier between properties.
Between us and the outside world. And there was no other place I’d rather be. Maybe tonight could be the beginning of new memories for Quinn. For us. Here. Together.
Quinn’s mouth swept over mine while the crickets chirped, coyotes howled, and the fireflies lit up the night sky. I licked the salt from his lips and tasted the tequila on his tongue and felt so relaxed and at peace with his arms around me. Protecting me. Keeping my heart safe.
But he didn’t own me completely. Not yet. Nor I him. Not according to the conditions he had set before he’d made his confession to me. And mine to him.
But if he wanted to take me right here in this chair, I wouldn’t object.
He removed the margarita from my hand and set it next to his on the side table. Then he flipped me around so I was facing him, my legs dangling on either side of his thighs.
“Before we head out in the morning,” he said, nuzzling my chin, “would you mind stopping at my aunt and uncle’s?”
“I’d love to meet them,” I said, honored that he’d even ask. I knew how much they meant to him and now that he’d begun forgiving himself, maybe he’d let them back into his life.
He cupped my cheeks and stared deeply into my eyes. I felt a fluttering in my chest, like a hatchling testing its new wings.
Brushing his thumb against my lips, he said, “Gabriella Abrams?”
He was distracting me with the lips and the eyes and the breaths, so my voice faltered a bit. “D . . . Daniel Quinn?”
“I’m in deep. So very deep,” he whispered against my lips and a bolt of lightning shot straight to my core. “With this girl—who rocks my world with her amazing lips and her brilliant mind and her generosity.”
Now that baby bird was swooping and soaring, thrashing against my rib cage, and bursting out of my chest.
“I want to be with her.” His hot breath mingled with my own. “I want everything with her.”
This boy—this man—was asking for the moon and the stars. And I was willing to shoot us straight off the map. And offer him the entire universe.
“I’m . . .” I cleared my throat trying to swallow the tears that had begun to form there. “I’m in deep, too.”
He closed his eyes as if savoring my words. His long eyelashes brushed against his cheeks and his full red lips remained perfectly still, waiting on me.
“With this boy—whose kisses, bravery, and tender heart make me melt. Plus, he’s damn hot and I want him more than I’ve wanted anyone else in my life,” I murmured. He opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on me. “I want everything with him, too.”
Those were the last words uttered between us for a long passage of time.
Because all at once he stood up, taking me with him. I wrapped my legs around his waist and secured my arms against his neck. His lips claimed mine, his tongue deep in my mouth—probing, penetrating, searching for his everything.
Sliding open the screen door with one hand, he walked us down the hall. He paused outside his room, which contained a queen-size bed, more lush and firm that the one I slept in at home.
Propping me against the wall, he flicked his tongue along my jawline and then moved up to my ear, where he pinned the fleshy lobe between his teeth. His body pressed so firmly, his groan reverberated so deeply, that I almost became liquid beneath him.
His hard bulge drove against my center and a loud moan burst from my throat. I clenched his hair in my fingers and thrust my hips against him. His eyes grew dark—so dark—as overwhelming desire coursed through them.
He laid me down in his soft sheets and then took his time undressing me. He lifted off my shirt and tugged down the straps of my bra. His tongue stroked my hard buds before pulling each breast into his mouth and sucking gently. My back curved off the bed and my nails bowed against his back.
The only sound in the room was of our breaths and moans. And whereas we’d always been so vocal before—boldly telling each other what we needed and how much we wanted each other—this time seemed different. Tender. Attentive. Reverent.
Our silence felt like a necessity as we touched, tasted, discovered, and worshipped.
His shirt joined mine on the ground and I licked the toned muscles on his chest and tasted the smooth skin on his stomach. He made swift work of unbuttoning his shorts and removing them. He knelt on the bed completely naked before me—allowing my gaze to trail over every ripple, curve, and angle. I slid my fingers down the center of his chest, in awe of how gorgeous he was—inside and out.
He flicked open the button on my pants and tugged them down, depositing them to the floor. Then he twisted me onto my stomach. I felt exposed to him, just like that first night in the bathroom—the first time I’d felt a flicker of desire for him—and now I wondered if he was thinking about that same moment.
But I didn’t want to breach our silence—this quiet serenity—to ask him.
Tonight was too special. Too perfect. Too right.
He swept my hair to the side and I felt his hot breath in my ear and then on my neck and I quivered in anticipation. He trailed his tongue between my shoulder blades and his hands snaked down to my underwear, outlining the curve of my ass with his fingers. I was hot and throbbing between my legs, sure that my underwear was already soaked.
His lips slid down the center of my spine and his fingers curved beneath the elastic of my panties as he tugged them down. I squirmed in arousal, muffling my moans into his pillow. Once he’d pulled the material from my legs, he continued kissing downward, while I writhed beneath him.
Quinn using his mouth and tongue and fingers so intimately was hands down the most sensual thing I’d ever experienced. I was dripping wet for him, thrusting my ass toward him, practically begging for him to take me from behind.
His fingers slid over my thighs to my stomach and I felt myself trembling beneath his touch. He positioned me onto my knees, his fingers found my sweet spot and I nearly exploded from the contact. While he rubbed my slick center, I felt his head move under my thighs.
Then all at once his hot tongue swiped against my opening. I groaned loudly and sank to the bed—but he held me up, anchoring me with his forearms.
I whimpered and moaned as his tongue tunneled inside me and his fingers worked their magic from the front. His tongue mapped circles against my swollen flesh and then moved down to close around my extremely sensitive bud. And that’s when I was driven over the edge.
Light and heat danced around the corners of my mind, while the world caved in around me. He stilled his lips and clung onto my thighs with I throbbed and panted and quivered.
As I floated back down he licked me tenderly before finally releasing his hold on me.
I collapsed onto the bed and then curled onto my side into a tight ball, mumbling incoherently, still throbbing in pleasure. He reached for my chin and stared into my eyes.
Stroking my slick hair away from my face, he shattered the silence by uttering his first words, in a shaky, almost desperate voice, “Ella . . .”
“Please, Quinn . . .” I rasped out. “Now.”
He bent over and picked his shorts off the floor, pulling a condom from his wallet. He slid it over his very stiff erection, trembling with need. I turned and raised my hips with eagerness, but still he took his time. He bent down and kissed me, forcing his tongue so deep into my mouth that I gasped for air.
His eyes were fixed on mine as he pushed his tip in tentatively. The feeling was so intense, so personal that I struggled to keep my tears at bay. Quinn briefly closed his eyes like he couldn’t handle all of the sensations at once.
When he opened them again he gazed at me in wonder.
“You feel amazing,” he murmured. “Christ, so incredible.”
He rocked into me, going deeper before pulling almost all the way back out. He repeated the motion, finding a rhythm that had me writhing with pleasure.
Having him fill me so completely was incredible. Gratifying. Profound.
I had fallen so hard for this boy. And I saw the same reflected in his eyes.
He cradled my head in his hands in an almost-protective gesture right before he plunged inside me again. I brought my legs higher around his waist and his thrusts became harder and deeper. His groans filled the room as he drove into me again and again.
He leaned down and pulled my breast into mouth, sucking it eagerly. His tongue swirled around my nipple before biting down. That was my tipping point as he sent me skyward again.