TWENTY-SIX

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I only have to lean forward to show him my answer, to a question I'm not even sure he asked

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I only have to lean forward to show him my answer, to a question I'm not even sure he asked.

Give me a reason to come back.

My lips tentatively meet his, warm and soft, unsure, but then he deepens it, pulling me against him. I want to give him more, more reasons to come back, more of me. But I'm not sure it's enough. I'm not sure I'm enough, as much as I want to be. I never have been.

The slow caress of his mouth is a beautiful torture I don't want to end, but it feels more like a goodbye than a promise. I can't continue, not in this limbo of unknowing.

"Can I be enough of a reason to come back?" I keep my eyes closed, the heat of him surrounding me, still so close that our noses graze. His warm fingers slip from my face, and I shudder. I shouldn't need him to hold me together, but that's exactly what this feels like, and I'm about to break.

"Yeah," he whispers, his soft breath grazing my cheek. "More than enough."

It's like rain in a desert, an overwhelming relief, and tears burn my eyes, making it hard to see. I drop my head, bumping into his chest. "I'm a mess."

"I don't care. You can be my mess." He pulls my hand away from my face, holding it between us. My tears dry up in the sincerity of his calm voice. "Let me be in the mess with you. You're dealing with a lot." His fingers lace with mine. "I heard about your mom."

"How?" I know eventually everyone will be talking about it, but it's surprising only hours later.

"I talked to Jay."

"Of course you did." I instantly become annoyed at the mention of my brother. "Did he tell you he sent Benny away, too?" Then it hits me, and my eyes cut to West's book bag on his bike. "He's the reason you're leaving, isn't he?"

Everything always comes back to Jason.

"My bike needs to be track ready for After Dark; it's faster to go pick up the parts." He scans me as if I might explode, but his hand tightens on mine, not letting me go. "Where'd Benny go?"

"My aunt's."

"Is it far?"

I shrug, but the weight of it all won't budge. "Not really, but far enough."

His thumb brushes back and forth on my wrist as he waits for me to say more. But I can't, not about Benny anyway.

"I really am sorry," he says, his head dipping to catch my gaze, but I keep it on his hand holding mine. "I don't mean your family, although I'm sorry for that too; I'm sorry you're hurting. But I'm sorry I said anything about us last night. I shouldn't have. Sometimes, I don't think, and I do stupid shit."

"Like me?" I look up at him, but he doesn't return my smile. His dark gaze searches my face, and I'm not sure if he gets the joke. "You know, because you invited me away this weekend and slept with me—"

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