About The Author
“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” James Earl Jones Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, thirteen years ago… Claire ran her tongue over her lips, checking their current state. A soft, smooth, and slightly-moist mouth was ideal for kissing. Hers didn’t feel chapped or dry, but to be on the safe side, she swiped the shea butter pomegranate chapstick over her lips, pressed them together then blew into her hands for a breath check. Minty fresh. Perfect. The girls she knew were experts in the art of kissing. It embarrassed her to admit at fifteen, she hadn’t kissed anyone. But they didn't pass judgment. Rather, her friends had given her pointers and informed her fresh breath was essential for a French kiss. For that reason, she managed to avoid garlic, onions, milk, and her favorite, corn. The tasty grain was on the Cosmopolitan list of “What Not to Eat” before a kiss. Last thing she wanted was Forrest pushing her away because of corn residue in her mouth. Her gaze swept over Herring Creek Farm. The August sun shone on green everywhere. The edge of woodland sloped down gently to a bramble-filled ditch, overgrown with cow parsley. Beech trees lined the fence to the north, their overhanging boughs provided dapple shade for the horses that stood idle, flicking away flies with their tails. Chirping birds and humming bees filled the air with the sounds of their daily duties. Male laughter rose as Jason, Adam, and Blake tossed a football between them in the yard. They rarely let her wander away from their view, not that she had a wild streak or anything, but they were Alphas and they hovered. Always uncertain of what the band of brothers might throw at her, she didn’t dare get too close to the boys. They loved to throw questions at her or worse, ask her to participate in their football tossing game, just so they could play the big brother role. Big brothers tended to be overbearing. Phooey! She wasn’t even related to any of them. Her gaze swiveled to Forrest. He stood not too far away in cargo Khakis and a fading Transformers T-shirt, throwing tennis balls to his father’s two black Labs. Warmth spread inside her chest, a sensation that was now synonymous with Forrest. The sight of him held an intriguing allure. Tall, athletic, with tousled dark brown hair that flopped over his eyes. Woven leather bracelets encircled his left wrist, drawing attention to the lean, hard muscles of his arms. All that football and skiing had done wonders for his amazing frame. His face wasn’t too shabby either–sharp, angled jaw, full, firm lips that curved into a proud yet pleasant smile, and a nose that was just a little too big. The slight imperfection only made him more appealing. Women often stopped in their tracks and stared at him. Claire noticed the admirers every time, but Forrest seemed oblivious to the sudden pauses and clandestine stares. When he did bestow them with a glance, his fans overcompensated with a weak smile or a blush, a dead giveaway of their admiration. He always took it in stride, never flaunted, and without a trace of arrogance. He was modest and unaware of the chaos he caused, this made the girls fall for him all the more. According to the few conversations she overheard between Jason and the others, teenage boys were horny all the time. They thought about sex every second of the day. If the wind hit them just right, they would get excited. Not Forrest. He thought with the head on his shoulders, not the one south of his waist. He was different that way and stood apart from the others. Despite the opportunities that came his way, he dated very little. She once overheard him telling the other guys he was a one-woman man who prized genuineness and thoughtful conversation above lipstick and high heels. He was handsome, breathtaking. Her racing pulse and breathlessness proved it. However, what she really loved about him was his inner beauty. From the way he cared for the animals on the farm, to his warmth with everyone on the island, and his commitment to his family and friends. He was eighteen–if a day older–and he stole her heart without even knowing it was in his pocket. For the last two years, these new and strange feelings often left her befuddled. They were too strong, too intense. Physically and mentally, she reacted to him in a way she never had with any boy. The slightest touch, whether it was tugging on her hair or fixing her backpack, sent her heart spiraling out of control. On days they weren’t around each other, she missed him. When she saw him, heard his name, happiness filled her. At night, his face was always the last thing she’d see; her stomach would backflip and she’d tingle all over before drifting into a dream where they held hands and kissed. Now in a few days he’d leave the island and head to Boston for college. Her heart screeched in anguish, its flesh lay bare in the raucous collision between reality and fantasy. She had to kiss him. And for that she needed complete privacy. She studied the stoned-faced, two story red barn with an old, worn-down tractor collecting dust next to it. She glanced at the boys, still lost in whatever they were talking about. Probably all the college girls they would be meeting when they arrived on campus. Which meant Forrest would be meeting college girls, too-knowledgeable, sophisticated girls living away from their parents, who no doubt would be on him as quick as lightning. Panic set in. Fear. Her chance with Forrest was slipping through her fingers. She needed to kiss him and let him feel everything in her heart. Here goes nothing. Stealthily she moved around the farm and hauled open the unwieldy door, tired hinges creaking like a testy old man. She paused and waited for one of the boys to call after her. When they didn’t, she rushed inside, closed the door behind her, and sucked in a deep breath, calming her nerves. A puff of the sweet, musty summer's straw odor pressed into her nose. The barn had recently undergone extensive renovations by Luc and Marjorie, Forrest’s parents. Old flooring was removed and replaced with a new tongue and groove floor. Claire walked passed the stalls with rubber mats and hay racks to the corner away from the windows...in case the boys peeked around. She dug inside her second-hand hobo bag for the ripe plum carefully picked from her mother’s kitchen. Her friends had told her to find a nice piece of soft fruit that tasted good. Tilting her head to one side, she bit a mouth-sized hole into the plum. The taut skin of the fruit was tangy, a complete contrast to the sweet juice that rolled down the side of her mouth. With a flick of her tongue at the corner of her lip, she licked away the sweet nectar. It was delicious, just like how she’d imagined Forrest would taste. She went in for another bite. Her eyes lulled shut as she drowned in the fantasy of kissing Forrest. She pushed her tongue into the flesh of the plum a little more and surrendered to the sheer pleasure of experimenting. “Claire.” Startled, she jumped back and almost toppled over. The plum slipped from her hands onto the ground. Oh. My. God. Utter humiliation. Forrest saw her kissing a freakin’ plum. She stood frozen, silently praying he’d turn and walk out of the barn, instead she listened to his steps closing in on her until they stood facing each other, barely inches apart. He picked up the plum, brushed off the collected dirt, and examined it for a second or two. His eyebrows knitted close together. “Were you kissing a plum?” “No.” She tried to grab the fruit from him, but the big goof was already six feet tall and built like a quarterback compared to her small, five-feet-two-inch frame. He lifted his arm out of her reach. “Then what were you doing?” Pretending I’m kissing you. Pathetic. “Um…nothing.” His gaze searched her face. Claire’s first reaction was to make a run for it, but then Jason would think one of his best buds did something to her. Mortified, she lowered her head and focused on the floor. “Claire, look at me.” His voice was low, with a trace of huskiness and authority. There was no rescue from this embarrassment. Pure absolute torture. She coughed and pushed her hair back behind her ear, even though it was already there. He caught her chin and raised her face, forcing her to look at him. His eyes were gray, not a dull, unremarkable gray like that of concrete or stone, but a combination of misty gray and blue like the ocean at dusk. They were sensual, alluring, and warm. They beckoned her to reveal her deepest secrets, and to lose herself in their warmth. “Who is the guy?” A thick fog dampened her ability to think. “What?” “The guy you want to kiss. Your crush.” His eyes searched her face for answers. “Who is he?” You. She wanted to scream. Instead her heart tripped and stalled. “Claire, who’s the guy?” His voice racked her brain as she scrambled for a name of any fifteen-year-old boy from her class. But they lived on an island where everyone knew everyone’s business. If she was brave enough to lie—for the record she wasn’t—the boy would have to live his life in fear with her four protectors breathing down his throat. “I don’t have a crush.” He smiled. “So I didn’t just catch you making out with a plum?” She turned hastily and tried to run off, but mortification followed. Forrest stepped in front of her, blocking her escape. “Have you kissed your crush?” “No.” She tried to walk past him. He inched closer to the door. “I need to go,” she said and hoped she sounded annoyed and angry. Unfazed, he made no attempt to move. “Have you kissed anyone?” Something in his voice grabbed her attention. It was low and gravely as if he cared whether or not she’d been kissed before. Chin up, she stared into the eyes that had captured her heart, caught the twinkle of amusement, and her stomach flopped in disappointment. Silly of her to think Forrest might actually look at her and see an actual girl with feelings instead of Jason’s shadow. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was one of the Vineyard’s elite. She was the half African-American, half-Japanese, flat-chested girl who lived in the same house with his best friend. Not that he was ever rude just… indifferent. Unlike the others, he never went out of his way for her. Once or twice, she’d caught him looking her way, brows knitted, an annoyed look on his face. No, never rude. But his opinion of her was clear. She was the little girl who followed his best friend everywhere, a nuisance, plain and simple. Humiliation quickly turned to anger. She planted her legs wide and crossed her arms over chest. “How did you know I was in here?” He shrugged. “You weren’t outside.” “I could have been by the lake.” The corners of his mouth lifted up, then his smile widened into a grin “I saw you come in.” “You were watching me.” His eyes narrowed. “We all watch over you. That’s what we do.” Not exactly what she had hoped to hear. Realizing she stood no chance to win this banter, she quickly opted for plan B. The truth. What she wanted most in the world. To be kissed by him. She edged further into the room and leaned her elbows on the window sill, her denim shorts brushing against the dusty wall. “Fine. You were right,” she started in a low voice, her back to him. “I was practicing kissing because I’ve never been kissed.” “Go on.” “Cosmopolitan has a step-by-step guide on how to practice kissing and I was following the instructions.” She paused and inspected her battered red Converse, building courage to spill everything. “But it also says the best practice is with another person.” She turned to look at him. “Will you kiss me, Forrest?” “No,” he answered without a beat. The swift blow of rejection knocked every wisp of air from her lungs. Claire struggled to inhale, to exhale, to do anything. Stunned and disoriented, she swiftly turned her attention back to the window. The sun stung her eyes, they watered. She quickly batted away escaped tears. “Claire,” he said, his voice a bit more soothing. “You’re so young.” “I’m fifteen,” she said in a desperate voice caught between frustration and crying. “And I’m eighteen.” She whipped around and looked straight at him. “We’re only three years apart.” He smiled. “Right now, it feels like ten.” They stood, staring at each other in a companionable silence, broken only when Forrest let out a deep breath. “I’m leaving for college in a few days.” Although it was summer, the words chilled her spine. She needed to kiss him and let him see, feel everything she felt inside but could find no words to express. “What if I wasn’t fifteen?” “Still no.” The rejection, although gentler this time, still cut deep into her heart. “Am I that unappealing to you?” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Claire.” She held up a hand. “It doesn’t matter. Most of the boys here are trying to figure out what to make of me. An African-American-Asian girl. Is she pretty or just weird-looking?” She shrugged with indifference, but deep down the quick glances here and there bothered her. “What do you care what others think? You’re beautiful.” An equal mixture of pure ecstasy and excruciating pain made her heart go pit-a-pat. “You think I’m beautiful?” He nodded. “Definitely.” “So why won’t you kiss me?” With quick strides, he came to stand next to her and gently stroked her cheek with the pad of his thumb. “You should be kissing boys your own age.” She looked into his eyes and her heart swelled from the emotion bottled inside. Feelings even she didn’t understand, let alone try to express. He gave her a quick smile then walked back to the door. The bitter taste of regret stung her tongue like a rusty razor blade. The moment she had planned, spent so many sleepless nights imagining, had slipped from her hands. He opened the door and turned to look at her once more. “When you do kiss your crush, I hope it’s everything you imagined it to be.” He smiled—a sweet, sexy smile that got her all flustered—and then he walked out of the barn. * * * * Rain lashed down on Claire in cold, icy pellets bit into her skin. Wet grass and dirt mushed under her shoes, slashing up her legs and staining the skirt of her dress. Focusing on Forrest, she quickened her pace. She had fallen asleep watching her favorite soap opera. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She’d almost missed him. “Forrest,” she called after him, heart in her throat, fearful he would enter his parents waiting pick-up truck and drive away forever. “Forrest,” she screamed his name again, a dozen needles dancing in her stomach. She stopped, her breathing stuttered in her lungs, exhausted from fear. Please look at me. He slowed his steps and after a second or two he turned. “Claire,” he said, squinting. Her heart leaped with joy. She caught him just before his parents drove away to catch the ferry to Falmouth. Smiling, she ran forward, closing the distance between them, and said through ragged breaths, “You’re leaving.” “I know.” He looked over his shoulder at his parents’ truck. “What are you doing? It’s pouring.” She launched herself at him, strong arms clamped around her waist. “I love you,” she whispered and squeezed her eyes shut. For a minute neither moved, time stopped. They stood still, holding on to each other, their bodies drenched from the downpour. She shivered, not from the coldness of the rain but the string of electricity shooting through her veins. Her heart, like a fly in a cobweb with nothing to do, waited for his laughter to confirm how ridiculous she sounded. But it didn’t come. Sucking in a breath, she waited a little longer. Except for the huge raindrops splattering with charged energy, there was absolute silence. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked into the depth of his gray ones. A fluttery feeling took over her body. “Forrest.” He swept back her matted hair, and his lips cracked into a smile. “I’m your crush.” She shook her head. A crush was the lowest level of romance. Her feelings ran beyond that. “It’s not a crush.” “Claire, you’re fifteen.” The world around her started collapsing. “I’m in love with you,” she said emphatically. “It’s an infatuation.” No. No. This was bigger than an intense, naïve, adolescent admiration. She searched his face for any hint that just maybe deep down he believed her, only to come up short. Empty. Nothing. Feeling weak and hopeless, her shoulders slumped. She was losing this battle. “You’re going to have sex in college.” He let out a heavy sigh. “Claire.” “I know about sex.” “Jesus, Claire, if you’re having sex with some douchebag…” “I’m not having sex,” she cried, fighting back the tears threatening to spill. “But I know what it is. I don’t want you doing it with girls in college.” She grabbed his arms. “Please wait for me.” “What makes you think I haven’t had sex?” Raindrops, hard and thick, hit her face like bullets. With a quick brush of her hand, she swept matted hair away from her eyes. “I overheard you telling the guys you were waiting for that person.” She was making a fool of herself but at this point what did it matter. “You want it to be special…your first time.” She swallowed the panic choking her. “I want to be your first, Forrest, and you mine. I love you.” He looked at her for a long moment. His eyes became shadowed. Hope bubbled in her stomach. And then he sighed, took a step back and broke their connection. Her heart dropped all the way to her toes. “This is a crush. It will pass,” he said quietly. “No.” He owned her heart. Forever. It didn’t matter she was only fifteen. Some things only happened once in a lifetime and had nothing to do with age. “Promise me, you’ll at least try to wait for me.” “I have to go. I’m sorry, Claire.” He touched her face and stared at her for a long beat. “One day you’ll look back at this and laugh.” “No,” she choked. “Yes.” Their gazes locked. The pitiless rain continued thrashing her skin. Forrest took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. “I have to go.” He released his grip and walked to his parents’ truck. For a brief moment, he hesitated and looked back. Hope stirred low in her belly, then he tossed his backpack in the truck and shut the door. Nausea pained her stomach, heart and chest. She had waited for this moment to come forward with her deepest feelings and bring to life those three words she’d been harboring. She fought and lost. Her world collapsed. Emotionally bankrupt, she stood in dazed isolation and took the onslaught of the chilled rain. Her wet dress hugged her, its weight heavy and oppressing. With blind eyes to the world, she stared at the shadow of the pick-up taillights until they faded. It was hard to tell when she started crying and even more difficult to discern between her tears and the rain as she turned her face to the sky above. Her eyelids fluttered to deflect the water, she wanted to move, to run, but her legs were weak and incapable of doing anything. So she stood in the pelting rain and let her body and mind drown in the cold, wet afternoon.