“Hey you,” Nate says after I climb out the window.
“Hey.” We lock hands before I say, “Let’s go to the fort tonight.”
We take the same path we’ve taken so many times together over the past three years. The path that I wonder if we’ll ever take together again. If I leave—though I don’t know how I will—we might not take this walk again.
If I stay, we might not either. Next summer he’ll be getting ready to go wherever he decides to go to school, ready to live his life. I’ll be helping here and going to school locally, which isn’t horrible, but not my dream either.
I stomp those thoughts down, not wanting anything to cloud this last time we have together.
When we get to the fort, we sit in our chairs behind it like we always do. I look through the telescope a little bit, but I’m not really feeling.
“You finished the deck,” I finally say while sitting on his lap.
“It was nothing. Dragged Brandon out there to help me, then went back out to stain it after you got home.”
“Hey!” I tease. “You lied! You said you were in bed.”
Nate only shrugs. “Wanted to do it for you guys.”
He looks down and picks at the peeling paint on the chair. A tense prickle covers my body, making me worried about what’s going on. “What is it?” I finally ask.
He stalls before answering. “I get it… What’s going on with your dad? Seeing that yesterday? I get it. I know why you feel like you can’t leave him. I don’t think I realized it before, but…I guess I’m selfish because it doesn’t stop me from wanting to keep on doing what we had planned, ya know?”
“I know.” Because I feel the same way. I lay my head on his shoulder.
“I was stressing out on saying anything or not, but I knew I had to. I want you, Charlotte. I still want to be with you and see what happens. We can apply for schools still together or not. I just want you to know…I want you to have your stars and that has nothing to do with me…but I get it, okay? I know you’re scared, but don’t be. If you decide you can’t go, I’ll understand.”
Love over takes that empty feeling, kicking and shoving it out of my system. There’s no room for it when I’m with him. “You have the biggest heart of anyone in the whole wide world,” I say before kissing him.
Nate kisses me back, urgently, taking the kiss deeper like he’s afraid I’ll disappear. He twists me so I’m facing him, straddling him, and his hands go under the back of my shirt.
And I know I don’t want him to stop. Nathaniel Chase gave me my very first moment. He gave me my first kiss. He was the first boy to see me nak*d. To take me skinny-dipping. The first boy I loved, and I want him to have every one of my firsts. Not that I think I’ll ever be with anyone else, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that nothing in life is a guarantee.
“Do you…” Breathe, Charlotte. It’s Nate. I can say anything to Nate. “I want to really be with you. Do you have any condoms?”
Nate’s eyes go wide and his hands tighten slightly on my waist. He gives me a small nod, but then says, “You don’t have to.”
“I want to… Do you want to?”
“Are you kidding me? Of course I do.”
I can’t help but chuckle at that.
Nate trails one of his fingers down the side of my face, torturously slow. “You are so incredible.”
Nate grabs my hand and I let him help me stand. He’s right behind me, picking up my bag. “I wish I could take you somewhere better,” he whispers, before leading me into the fort. It’s clean inside. I keep it that way because it’s important to me.
He lets go of my hand, grabs the blanket and lays it out, then sets the flashlights so we can see. He kicks out of his shoes and I do the same. Taking the edge of my shirt, he pulls it over my head and drops it to the floor, then takes his off.
“Okay?” he asks, his fingers on the button of my shorts.
The only reply I can manage is a nod. My heart is beating so hard. My pulse a loud bang in my ears. He pushes the button through the hole. Slides the zipper down. I hold my breath as he pushes my shorts and panties down my legs. His come off and I gasp a little, really seeing instead of catching a quick glimpse like the time we went skinny-dipping.
“I probably should have waited to do that until we were lying down.”
I love that he’s as nervous as I am. I don’t know if he’s done this before, and right now I don’t care. “It’s okay.”
“You’re beautiful.” His eyes trace my body.
And then we lay down and he kisses me, touches me. I touch him, too. Nate grabs the condom and his hands shake as he rips it open. I watch in fascination as he puts it on.
“It’ll hurt,” he says. “But I’ll be careful.”
And it does hurt, but he’s careful. His kisses help to dull the pain. And the whole time I know, this is another of our moments. And it’s what I always hoped it would be. What I hope we’ll be able to do a million times in our future. This is Nate and we’re doing something together I’ve never done with another person.
When it’s over we lay next to each other. Nate pulls one side of the blanket up and over us. His hand is in my hair like it so often is.
“You okay, Star Girl?”
“Was…was it okay?”
I lean up onto my arms so I’m looking down at him. “Was that your first time, too?”
Nate nods and I close my eyes, wishing to stay in this moment. I guess it’s something neither of us has ever done with someone else. It surprises me. I know Nate it popular and he’s gone out with a lot of girls, but I’m glad. “It was perfect,” I finally tell him.
“What are we going to do?”
My answer is automatic. “I don’t want to lose you. Like you said, we can talk every day.” It’ll be hard, but if anyone can do it, it’s Nate and I.
He rolls me over, kisses my lips, then the star at the base of my throat. “I love you.”
My eyes are wet when I say, “I love you, too.”
We’ve been out to the fort every night. He leaves tomorrow and I want to stall as though keeping busy will somehow make the night take longer to get here, but at the same time, I want it to hurry. Want to be alone with him so we can talk and he can hold me and make me forget we have to say goodbye.
It’s not goodbye, I tell myself. I’ll see him soon. He said in October.
I lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. I’m not supposed to meet him for a while yet, but I can’t stand being in this room. It’s driving me crazy. I push off my bed, grab my backpack, and crawl out. I see Nate sneaking off to the side of their cabin. He must have had the same idea as me, wanting to come out early.
Not wanting to wake anyone, I don’t shine the flashlight his way, but quietly try to catch up with him. I have a little ways to make up because I don’t want be too loud and his cabin is a whole lost closer to the woods.
Once I hit the trees, I hope I’m going the right way. Where the heck is he going? “Nate.” I whisper loudly, as though he can hear me.
I get this strange feeling in my stomach, but I try to ignore it as I keep going. There’s no reason to freak out. I know these woods like the back of my hand and Nate is out here somewhere, but he’s not going to any of our usual locations.
I stumble into one of the trees and lean against it and that’s when I see him. Them.
Only it’s not Nate. It’s Brandon.
And he’s not with some girl.
What the heck are they doing out here? Brandon’s back is to me and I see Alec give him a huge smile. One that I’ve never, ever seen him give me, or any other girl for that matter.
“What about your brother?” Alec asks.
“He thinks its Danielle.”
Everything in my world turns upside down in that moment as I see Brandon lean forward and kiss Alec. Kiss him the way Nate kisses me. The way I’ve never seen two boys kiss before. My brain keeps telling my eyes to look away because this is their private business and I have no right to intrude on it, but I just can’t do it.
Betrayal shoots through me. Alec is gay. How could he never have told me he’s gay? Did he think I would look at him any differently?
But suddenly, a whole lot of things make sense—why Brandon is even here this year, how Alec seemed to know things about Nate I didn’t expect. I think of the football Brandon has every time he’s here and realize it has a big “X” on it and remember the time Alec was screwing around and drew it on there, saying X marked the spot because he liked football so much. He did that before we even knew them, and now I know Alec must have given the ball to Brandon. His favorite football.
Brandon’s hand goes under Alec’s shirt as his mouth leaves Alec’s lips to slide down his neck, and that’s when Alec’s eyes find mine. I’m frozen. Scared, guilty, confused, hurt, every feeling I could possibly have is battling inside me.
“Shit. Charlie. It’s…it’s not….” As Alec is jerking away from Brandon, I run. I’m not quite sure why I’m running, but my feet won’t stop.
“Charlie! Wait!” Alec’s voice comes again, closer. A few seconds later he grabs me and pulls me to a stop. Everything about him looks frantic, his eyes, his facial expressions.
“I don’t understand.” It’s a pretty stupid thing to say because what’s to understand? Alec is obviously g*y and never told me.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen. I didn’t want—I thought—I was confused.”
He shakes his head. “Charlie…”
“If you don’t want me to walk away right now, Alec, I need you to be honest.” My whole body is shaking though I don’t know why.
“Officially? It started last summer.”
Oh God. The whole time we thought Brandon was sneaking out with Sadie last year, it was Alec.
“Wait. What do you mean officially?”
He looks guilty and I want to tell him not to. Despite everything, guilt for his feelings about Brandon doesn’t belong here.
“We’ve talked all year…every year. Even after the first summer.”
I’m not sure what to say, or how to react. Brandon blew off Sadie for Alec. It’s crazy.
He’s frantic now. “Swear to me. Swear you won’t ever tell anyone, Charlie. You say I’m your best friend, and you know I would do anything for you. Swear you won’t tell anyone.”
“But…don’t you want to be with him?” It’s not right that he has to be so scared to be with the person he wants. It’s not right that he felt like he had to hide it from me.
“Of course. I swear. How long have you known you’re gay, Alec?” My voice softens, still trying to wrap my mind around this.
“I’m not gay. Seriously.”