My heart stopped. It just stopped beating. And for the first time in my life, I had that feeling. You know, like the world is moving all around you, all beneath you, all inside you, and you’re floating. Floating in midair. And the only thing keeping you from drifting away is the other person’s eyes. They’re connected to yours by some invisible physical force, and they hold you fast while the rest of the world swirls and twirls and falls completely away.
Every night, Juli Baker would sneak out of bed and lie down under the sycamore tree that Bryce Loski planted on her front yard two years ago; and every night, he would join her.
She’d lay a blanket on the grass, which was wet with the evening dew, lean back with her eyes closed and listen for the familiar, soothing footfalls that alerted her of Bryce’s approach. He’d poke her with a slippered foot in greeting, and she’d pat the spot next to her, to which he’d chuckle in reply before he plopped down beside her.
Their nights were spent lying together like that, just talking about this or that, and admiring the sycamore’s progress as it towered over them, a canopy of shapes rustling in the midnight breeze. Sometimes the night would be blessed with clear skies, with the moon illuminating the elaborate twists and turns of its branches and bathing them in a circle of glowing light. Other times, the two would grow quiet, but the silence was not uncomfortable. They’d lie there listening to the songs of crickets or watch lightning dance from a distance, relishing in each other’s company in unspoken contentment.
Bryce was feeling particularly brave this one night.
It had been two years since he and Juli had called a ceasefire, two years since he’d apologized and told her how he felt. Two amazing years of getting to know the real her, of arguing with her and listening to her laugh and holding her hand and even driving with her to visit her Uncle Daniel in the next town over—and he had yet to muster up the courage to kiss her. It has to be tonight, he thought as he marched purposefully up to the Bakers’ front lawn where he knew Juli was waiting for him.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw that she had fallen asleep, her hair splayed around her serene face in a dark, wispy halo. He felt his breath catch watching her like that, her face breaking into a wistful smile as she breathed. Under the moonlight, she looked so radiant, so… iridescent.
A wry smile crept up his face as he remembered his grandfather’s words before he settled down beside her, his eyes never leaving her face. He thought about her hair, how soft it felt and how it smelled like vanilla and oranges today in History. He remembered how Juli used to sniff him in sixth grade, thinking that it was the most repulsive thing in the world. And now, he couldn’t get enough of her smell, an alluring feminine scent that tickled his nostrils and had him leaning in closer just so he could get another whiff. If he was lucky, he could reach out to curl a finger or two around them, slippery as silk in his callused pads, and she wouldn’t even mind.
As it was, he kept his hands to himself, stuffing them into the pockets of his jacket. He tried not to think about how the most beautiful girl in the world was sleeping right next to him, unaware of his silent struggle. There was no denying it—Bryce Loski was whipped.
Juli didn’t mean to doze off.
It had been a long day at school, a full eight hours of Sherri Stalls shooting her stink eyes from across the lunchroom, of Eddie Trulock owning her in today’s English debate, and of Bryce Loski driving her crazy as he played with her hair during History…
Okay, so maybe that last part wasn’t so bad after all.
She always enjoyed the feeling of Bryce’s fingers running through her locks, the intimacy of his touch which kept her wide awake throughout recordings of the Emancipation Proclamation or lectures on the Battle at Waterloo. She’d spend every morning taming her hair so that it fell in long, russet waves that ran down the length of her back. She’d even invested in an expensive bottle of fruit-scented shampoo, hoping that Bryce would notice and ask her if she was wearing a perfume of some sorts. The scene was already imprinted on her mind—she’d smile and look over her shoulder, shooting him a demure smile as she revealed the seven wonders of shampoo and conditioner.
Crap, she was starting to sound like her mortal enemy. Well, at least she’d be giving her a run for her money.
The events of the day had worn her out so much that she’d almost forgotten her midnight rendezvous under the sycamore tree—their sycamore tree. She practically dragged herself out to the front yard, draping a ratty blanket around her shoulders as she went.
Everything else was a blur. Next thing she knew, she was watching her dad paint gardens and meadows like he usually did as he gabbled away about people and pictures with their wholes and parts, while her chickens clucked away at her feet, laying golden eggs on the grass. She didn’t seem surprised as she picked one up, weighing it in the palm of her hand and wondering how much it would sell in the county fair. The sky around her was ablaze, with hues of gold and purple streaks peeking out from beneath feathery clouds.
Suddenly, a boyish voice was calling out to her, resonating in her head. God, he was even in her dreams. Not that she minded. Juli turned—
—and woke with a start.
The first thing she noticed was the tree; the foliage of shadows swayed with the wind, as if waving her hello as she blinked the sleep out of her eyes. A yawn escaped her mouth, and she moved her arms outward as if to stretch. Then she noticed the heat that glanced off her arms.
She felt his body pressing against her side, his warmth seeping into her core as a hand reached for hers in the dark. Her body went rigid at his touch, especially when he moved over her, planting a hand on the other side of her head. “Hey.”
There it was again—those eyes, that smile. His pearly whites beamed down at her as he swept a few stray locks of hair away from her face, his hand lingering on her cheek as it went. Time froze.
Oh my God, why is Bryce looking at me like that? Crap, crap, holy crap he’s so close, so… She trailed off as his face stopped just centimeters from her face. Her mouth was dry as she prepared to speak, and she swallowed. “What’re you doi—”
“Hold still,” he murmured into her hair, and she nearly jumped. Her voice had taken lodging somewhere tight in her throat. She expected a mischievous chuckle or a sly smile on his face, and raised her eyes to allow a peek but she caught herself just in time. Instead, she settled for that one dimple on his left cheek and stared hard. She could feel her pulse accelerate, but her body was immobilized. It was as if the mere sound of his voice held her captive, sent her body into a peculiar state of paralysis, and the queerest thing was that she didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
A strange calm filled the air. The minutes that passed by felt like ages as they stayed close together, the closest they’d ever been in the two years that they’d been “going out”, with one hand around her nape, and the other, curled around her own. She shivered.
“Will you,” he started, his voice rough, “will you let me try something?”
He didn’t wait for her answer.
She felt his lips press gently onto her hair, and her breath hitched. They were soft and testing, as if treading deep waters, and he was so quiet. She let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding, raising her hands to rest lightly against his chest. She felt him shift his hold on her, the hand on her nape burrowing itself into her hair, lightly pulling her head back as he leaned down towards her.
His lips trailed feather-light kisses along the contours of her face, from the top of her hairline, to her forehead, to her cheeks, to the tip of her nose. He paused when he had reached the corners of her mouth, and sensed her tremble.
“Look at me,” he whispered against the swell of her lips, and she swallowed thickly. Her composure was dissolving bit by bit as she slowly opened her eyes and looked up.
She was met by a pair of dazzling eyes, dark pools against a shock of ice blue, framed by long lashes.
It was the first thing she’d fallen in love with, those beautiful eyes of his, peering tenderly into hers like he’d known her for forever. Her heart leaped up her throat.
She noticed his breath which was hot on her face, tickling her skin and sending a rush of color onto her pale cheeks. Her lips parted slightly, her breath leaving her—he noticed the movement, his throat suddenly parched as he focused on her lips.
And then she felt it; the corners of his mouth moved forward, suddenly, slowly pressing themselves against hers, and the world vanished.
A shock ran up her spine and back down again, leaving her feeling lightheaded. An arm curled around her waist, resting on the small of her back as fingers played with the hem of her shirt. She sighed and locked her fingers around the back of his head, pulling herself deeper into the heat of his kiss. Her eyes fluttered closed of their own accord.
And so was the night that Bryce Loski had finally, finally claimed Juli Baker’s first kiss.
for most people harry potter is their childhood, and yeah, i love j.k rowling too, but i think wendelin van draanen deserves a shout out and a round of applause and a big thank you for creating sammy keyes, who was my best friend from second grade until seventh, and taught me to never stop being curious and always to be kind even when kindness isn’t shown to you and how to stand up for yourself and your friends without being cruel.