~ lemon boy ~

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He waits for me in my backyard every morning, sitting on the thick wood fence till I'm finally able to force myself out the rickety back door. My mom always pours water for coffee and frowns out the window above the sink, but she never actually says anything. I think she's just silently taking me in, along with my choices.

Admittedly, Nolan Skinner is a pretty intense choice.

Like always, his hair is gelled to a messy perfection, denim jacket sleeves rolled up his toned forearms. Nolan never looks at his phone, or at the door; he just keeps those amber eyes of his focused on absolutely nothing, his pink, tiny mouth always drawn in a slight smile. That smile is all I can think of. Always. Ever. It graces me during my dreams, and spends the rest of its time haunting me, chilling me. I'm sure he'd love to hear it.

Bag slung over my shoulder, I give Mom a quick nod, hand already poised on the knob. "I'll see you after school," I say. "Love you."

"Love you, too." She's just staring at Nolan, and his citrus-yellow hair. As if, at any moment, he might leap off the fence like some kind of comic book daredevil and do something spectacular, yet horrifying. As if he's dangerous.

As soon as I'm out the door, he hops off the fence and onto our grass, landing soundly on his feet. The slight smile remains, but his eyes squint happily when he sees me. "Jack." I don't think he realizes that I know he's happy to see me.

I wonder if he realizes how happy I am to see him.

"Nolan," I say back, nudging him in the chest with my elbow. There was a time where I wouldn't have even spoken to him, let alone touched him. Nolan Skinner doesn't have friends. Everyone knows he doesn't need them. He's an entity all by himself — he doesn't need other people to compensate for what he can do on his own, I think. And he can do everything.

We take off down the back alley with crunching, syncopated steps. The sun would normally be out by this time, but autumn has arrived with a vengeance; dark clouds hang low from the sky, covering whatever gorgeous sunrise is happening somewhere else.

Our daily trek to school isn't for talking, which is more than lovely. It's simply for contemplation, and calm breathing, and—

"Do I get an answer?"

His words stop me in my tracks. Literally.

It actually happened, then. I didn't just . . . dream it.

Nolan takes a deep breath, accompanied by an exhale that sends a light stream of mist floating off with the early morning breeze. A few birds circle above head, watching us, eavesdropping. His hands — thin-fingered, and surprisingly soft — are tucked into his pockets. "Did you think about what I told you on Friday?" I can hear the nerves bundled up in his voice, poorly tucked away.

That you like me? No, I forgot. It's totally not the reason I didn't sleep at all this weekend. "I did."

He starts walking again, briskly. We're about the same height, but it's still an effort to keep up with him. "Well?" It comes out sharp, tangy; his stoic facade is slipping away.

"Well. . . ." My voice grabs at my throat and refuses to surface, even though there's so much I want to push out. We stop at the end of the alleyway. Usually with Nolan, it always feels like no one else is up yet, that we're the only ones alive; already just this morning, all is eerily quiet — still, not as quiet as it usually would be.

"I mean, I guess I feel the same way." It's an understatement — I super feel the same way, if the same way means that I feel so . . . whatever this is for him. I would crawl inside him and live there if possible, just to have him close to me at all times. I would trade my soul just to know what his smelled like, if souls even have a scent. If he asked me to, I would—

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