As the students went to work, I kept my face relaxed and concentrated on something in the room. Usually I stared at the windowless door, but today the shy girl drew me in. Her throat worked so much she seemed to be swallowing an elephant. Her cheeks flushed a bright red, but this time she didn’t shy away from my gaze. Her light-green eyes met mine, and I refrained from letting out a groan. Her bottom lip was slightly thicker than the top, and they had a pinkish color to them, reminding me of the girl I once knew.
The more I studied her, the more I was taken back to that hot summer day in Texas seven years ago.
The ground burned beneath my bare feet. I ran as though I was fleeing a serial killer. I pumped my legs and arms as fast as I could, my breath coming out in short gasps. I’d be surprised if I didn’t die of heatstroke. The hot Texas sun beat down, adding to the sweat pouring off my body. But I couldn’t stop. I had to see her one last time. I didn’t know if I would ever see her again, and that thought pierced my heart, sending waves of pain shooting through my body.
A car sped past. The driver honked his horn and spewed cuss words at me. I threw him the finger as I darted out of the road, in between two cars, then up on the sidewalk. Small rocks embedded in my feet, and I welcomed the pain. Pain was a sign I was alive.
One more block. One more chance. One more look before the one girl I loved walked away with my heart in her hands.
The moving truck came into view on the tree-lined street. Large men swarmed the lawn. Some were hauling huge appliances. Two others were moving boxes around.
I stopped across from Lizzie’s house, wiping the sweat from my face with my sweat-soaked T-shirt. I gulped in air as an elderly man walked past with his dog on a leash. The dachshund paused to lick my foot, the sensation a rather calming contrast to my racing pulse.
“Harvey.” The old man scolded the dachshund as he tugged on the leash.
I kept my eyes on the two-story stucco house. Would she come out? Was her father home? He’d forbidden her to see me. We’d had to sneak around for the last month. My mom even said it was best if I broke ties with Lizzie. How could she say that? Lizzie was my best friend. We did everything together. She’d loved to throw the baseball, play tackle football, and climb trees. She was beautiful. She had blue-gray eyes and a distinctive square gold speck in her left eye that I would always tease her about. I’d dubbed it the pot of gold.
“You just want to kiss her,” my big brother Kade had said. “Girls are trouble, especially at your age.”
I was a teenager. Okay, I was thirteen, and puberty was hitting me hard. Sure, I wanted to kiss Lizzie, but only because she had the prettiest lips I’d ever seen. The bottom one was slightly thicker than the top, and they always seemed to have a pinkish color to them.
A horn blew, shattering my thoughts.
Mrs. Reardon came out of the house, carrying a suitcase. “Elizabeth, get moving. Your father will be home any minute.” Then she disappeared behind the moving van.
At the sound of Lizzie’s name, my heart beat even faster than when I was running over there. I scanned the neighborhood in both directions. The coast was clear. So I hurried across the street. As my feet touched the burnt grass on the front lawn, Mrs. Reardon spotted me.
“Kelton, young man. You shouldn’t be here. If Mr. Reardon catches you, he’ll call your parents.”
He could call the National Guard. I didn’t care. I wasn’t leaving until I said good-bye to Lizzie. I tilted my head slightly, trying to put on puppy-dog eyes. It always worked with my mom. “Two minutes.” Hell, I wanted more than two minutes. I wanted a lifetime to say the things I needed to say but didn’t know how.
“You’re young, Kelton. It’s infatuation. You don’t know what love is,” she said as she pulled out a small cloth from the pocket of her shorts and patted it along her neck.
Tell that to my heart. Lizzie’s voice always turned my insides to mush. I knew her tomboy personality made me love her more. I knew her touch gave me butterflies. Most of all, I knew when we were together the world around us didn’t exist. I knew without a doubt that the minute she drove away, the minute I didn’t get to talk to her, the minute I didn’t get to touch her, was the minute I would die inside.
“Kelton.” Mrs. Reardon snapped her fingers in front of my face.
I blinked away the hurt that was engulfing me.
“One minute,” she said softly.
I was about to dart around the house and slip in through the side door when Lizzie walked out of the front.
I drew in a breath as our eyes met. She had on a tank top, battered jeans shorts with the insides of the front pockets hanging out at the bottom, and a bandana around her neck. Her brownish-black hair was pulled into a high ponytail, which gave me the opportunity to stare at her satiny skin.
“Kelton, what are you doing here?” She searched the road. “My father will be home.”
Screw her father. He could beat me until I was blue. He’d chased me one time when he caught us kissing.
“I had to say good-bye. You’ve been ignoring me for a week.” It was summer break, so I didn’t get to see her every day like I did when school was in session. I shuffled closer to her, desperately wanting to touch her but afraid if I did I wouldn’t let go.
Her mother went inside.
Lizzie climbed down the steps, adjusting the pink bandana on her neck. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be best.” Tears clouded her eyes, but the pot of gold in her left eye shone through. She dropped her gaze to the ground.
With my thumb, I caught a tear. “Please don’t cry.” I couldn’t see her cry. It broke my heart even more. “We’ll talk on the phone.”
She lifted her watery eyes to mine. “It’ll be too expensive from England.”
It was going to kill me not to hear her voice. I leaned down until a tiny space separated our lips. “Then we’ll email each other.”
The sound of an engine drifted toward us, and as she moved to check out the oncoming car, her lips touched mine. I had to kiss her. I didn’t care who was around or if her father was the one in the noisy car. I had to taste the sweet bubblegum lip-gloss she wore. I had to inhale her jasmine scent and imbed the essence of Lizzie Reardon into my memory well enough to last a lifetime.
She stiffened when I pushed my tongue through her lips.
She melted into me as she always did when I called her Lizard. I took her in my arms as she trembled, and I tentatively kissed her. Her tongue slithered out until the roar of the engine slowed.
She gently pushed away. “You better go,” she said, almost out of breath.
Suddenly, a cold shiver gripped my body even though I was sweating like a pig. A car pulled to a stop in the driveway. Her father grimaced in our direction. But if he didn’t want me near his daughter, he would need to chase me with an ax before I moved. “Why does your father hate me?” I had to know why he didn’t want us to see each other. Every other time I’d asked her, she’d changed the subject.
“He doesn’t. He’s just torn up over what happened. And every time he sees you or any of your brothers, he can’t handle it. He blames himself.”
“It was an accident.” A pain shot through my heart at the still-too-vivid image of seeing Karen on a stretcher being wheeled out of the garage just over a month ago.
“That may be, but we’re all mourning, especially Gracie. You know how close they were as friends. She’s so distraught that she’s barely talked since the accident. My dad feels that keeping our distance from your family is best.”
Gracie and Karen had somehow gotten into my father’s gun cabinet in the garage. One thing led to another, and Gracie accidentally shot Karen.
I tried to push out the pain. I tried to erase the images of my mom crying and the sounds of sobs and screams coming from her bedroom in the middle of the night.
“Is that why you’re moving?” I asked.
The car door slammed shut, sounding like a cannon going off and making us both flinch slightly.
She nodded with sad eyes. “I’m sorry, Kel. Even if we stayed, I’m not sure I could be with you anymore without seeing the hurt in your eyes or you blaming me and my family.”
The blood rushed out of me. As I stood in front of this girl, all I saw was her beauty and warm heart. I choked back tears. “I could never blame you.”
“But what about Gracie?”
I looked past her to Mr. Reardon. His short stature was unassuming, but his narrowed gaze was anything but. I didn’t know the answer to her question even though it was an accident. Maybe even my fault.
“I got to run.” She started to leave.
“Wait.” I dipped my hand into the pocket of my shorts and pulled out a chain with a half-heart charm. “I want you to have this.” I handed her the necklace I’d bought with my allowance.
She glanced at it then up at me, tears streaming down her face. “Where’s the other half?”
I grabbed her hand and flattened her palm against my own heart. “Right here.”
She drew in a sharp breath, her bottom lip trembling.
“I’ll find you one day, Lizard.”
She smiled weakly.
“You’ll always be the other half of my heart,” I said as she walked away.
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