If Brody had said this to me when we first entered the pavilion, I would have been crushed that he wasn't coming on to me after all. These were not the words of a guy who was interested in a girl and wanted her to be interested in him, too. But we'd been talking for so long, and our conversation had delved so deep, that I no longer thought he was measuring every word against whether it would advance his cause with me. Now he was just telling me the truth.
I said, "My family is like that too."
His mouth twisted. He nodded.
And then, I couldn't let it go, could I? I couldn't just embrace the moment and my newfound, genuine friendship with Brody. I had to bring it back around to my superficial problem, the one that had kept me awake at night for the past two weeks, ever since the Superlatives elections. I asked, "Have you discussed this with Grace?"
He nodded. "I have. I've said all kinds of things to Grace. But did she hear me? I don't know. She has this laugh. Heh! Heh! Heh!"
I knew the laugh. I hated the laugh.
Brody said, "At first you think it's a cute, nervous laugh. Except that's her response to everything. She can't possibly feel the same way about everything. Or can she?"
My natural inclination was to smooth over arguments. Kaye had scolded me about this numerous times, and I had smoothed over her scolding. My automatic reaction was hard to turn off, obviously, even when I was smoothing over my crush's problems with his girlfriend. Stupidly I suggested, "Maybe it's you, not what you're saying. You make Grace nervous."
"Why would I make her nervous?" Brody grumbled.
Say it. Say it. Say it. Tell the truth. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff as I said it: "Because you're so attractive. Maybe when you get as close to her as you are to me right now, she forgets what she was talking about." It was a big, brazen mouthful, and after I'd gotten it out, I felt my cheeks turn bright red in the heat. I stared up at the vaulted ceiling as if it was very interesting.
Something touched my neck. I nearly put up a hand to brush away a bug. But the touch was Brody's fingertips smoothing along my skin, back and forth across my collarbone.
I hardly knew how to process that he was touching me. I spent more time listening to my brain than paying attention to my body. I was all mind, and my body was just a vehicle to get me from home to class and back again, like my bike or Granddad's car or the public bus. Sure, I put my look together carefully in the morning, and throughout the day I checked the neatness of my clothes and hair. Other than that, I never gave much thought to my body.
Brody reminded me that I was made of bones and skin and muscle. He was connecting my body back to my brain in a way I'd never experienced
. I flattened my hand against the rough stucco wall. My palm turned sweaty. His fingertips felt so good stroking me in-let's face it-a first-date, innocent way.
"Is everything okay, Harper? Now you seem tense again." As Brody said this, he massaged my shoulder with a pressure so strong that it fell just short of hurting. It was intense enough, and good enough, that I wished he would do that to me everywhere.
But after a few strokes of his hand, his fingers followed the strap of my bikini, trailing fire, down to cup my breast. He wasn't technically touching me anymore since my bathing suit top separated his skin from mine. But I could feel the pressure of his hand, and the heat of it. Never mind what I'd thought about the innocence of his touch. Electricity arced from his body to mine.
If he felt the same way I did as he slid his thumb back and forth across my breast, he didn't let on. In the darkness of the pavilion, I couldn't see the green of his eyes, but the shadows underneath were deep. He looked older than me, and serious.
"What's so funny?" he whispered.
"Um, where do I start? Most guys, if they were touching a girl's collarbone and noticed she was acting tense, would take their hands off her before asking after her health, rather than touching her breast." The last word came out as a sigh. I was pretty proud that I'd produced a joke under the circumstances, but inwardly I cringed as I heard myself. I sounded like I wanted him to stop touching me. I didn't.
Incredibly, he was unfazed. "Most guys?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "You do this enough to have a test group?"
"It's all in the name of science," I said faintly.
"No means no," he said. "They lecture us about this endlessly in PE. Do you want me to stop?"
I shook my head.
"Me neither." He moved toward me. He was about to kiss me.
The nearer he came, the more scrambled my brain got. His lips were so close to my ear that his breath feathered across my cheek.
Suddenly he'd backed away from me. No! I wanted him to kiss me. Hadn't I made that clear?
He nodded toward the nearest arched doorway to the beach. Halfway understanding his message, I jerked my camera bag up by the strap just as Kennedy burst in.
"Harper!" Glancing from me to my camera bag and back to me, he let me hear all the accusation in his voice. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
I smiled. "Sorry. I was right here."
His angry eyes cut to Brody. A breeze from outside caught his wet ponytail and flopped it forward over his shoulder.
Brody didn't do much. He gave Kennedy a subtle look down and back up. I wasn't sure, but I thought this meant, Come at me, bro, because I can take you.