I took my hand from Mac’s, then reached up to touch his cheek. When I did, his fingers moved to my waist, pulling me in closer. It was fluid and easy, like everything had been since we’d met, as I stood on my tiptoes and finally, finally kissed him. There, in the woods, on a late fall Thursday afternoon, it was perfect. I’d had no way of knowing this when I did it, of course. It was just a hunch.
“WAIT. SO we can’t use the studio?”
“No, you can,” I said. “It’s just going to be a little more complicated than I thought.”
I was leaning against Mac in the truck, his arms around me so I couldn’t see his face. When I twisted, he was giving me a look I already recognized: wary, waiting. Classic Mac. “Complicated,” he repeated. “That sounds promising.”
“It’s fine.” I turned back around. “Just trust me. Okay?”
He didn’t reply as I rested the back of my head against his chest, folding my legs up against me. The cab of his truck was cramped and smelled of garlic knots, hardly the ideal place to be together. But I’d learned not to even expect perfection in any form. And actually, this was pretty close.
It had been less than a week since the afternoon in the woods. Since then, one unbelievable thing had happened after another. Us saying good-bye a half hour later, and lingering, the way I’d only seen others do, before I finally made myself drive away. Texts all through the evening and one final call, so his voice was the last I heard before going to bed. Then there was the first day back at school, everything so different, if only to us. Again, I was a girl with a secret. This time, though, it was a good one.
I felt bad keeping anything from Layla, especially something so big as me actually, maybe, falling in love for the first time. This, though, was complicated. Kimmie Crandall, the cautionary tale, was always in the back of my mind. As much as she liked me, Mac was her brother. Better to keep things quiet, for now, anyway.
So we’d done our best to proceed as normal. At school during lunch, we stayed on our separate benches. At Seaside, he remained behind the counter with his textbooks while Layla and I took our normal table to do homework. Nothing was different, except when we were alone.
Like now, pulled over in a neighborhood playground called Commons Park. No deliveries waiting, nowhere to be. The engine was off but the truck’s cab still warm as I curled up against him; outside, red and yellow leaves kicked up by a breeze swirled across the windshield. In a twist I never would have expected, these hours between school and dinner I’d once dreaded were now the ones I most looked forward to.
I was learning new things about him all the time. Not just that he was a good kisser (very good, actually) and had the tightest set of abs I’d ever seen or touched (Kwackers, maybe?). There was also the way his hair was just long enough in front to always need to be brushed aside, something he did with a slight jerk of his head, something I now considered a signature move. The way that when he talked about a topic that troubled him—his dad expecting him to take over Seaside, for instance—he automatically lowered his voice, so you wanted to lean in deeper, listen harder.
“As far as my dad’s concerned, it’s just how it is,” he’d told me a few days earlier when this came up. “Business is family, and vice versa. Nothing trumps them.”
“You going to school would be good for the family, though,” I pointed out. “More education, more earning potential. And Layla wants to take it over.”
“Layla says she wants to take it over,” he corrected me. “There’s a difference.”
“And there’s Rosie, too,” I said. “It shouldn’t be just about you because you’re the boy.”
“Not how he sees it,” he said. He shook his hair out of his face again. “I’m still going to apply to the U and a few other schools, though. I can’t not try. That’s like quitting.”
I thought of our talk, weeks earlier, about broken things and how he didn’t accept there wasn’t a fix for everything, somehow. It wasn’t just about clocks and starters. Like so much with Mac, what he felt strongly about was wide and vast. I felt so lucky to be included in it.
For as long as I could remember, other people had either overshadowed me or left me out in the open, alone. But Mac, as Layla had said all those weeks ago, was always somewhere nearby. He left me enough space to stand alone, but stood at the ready for the moment that I didn’t want to. It was the perfect medium, I was learning. Like he was my saint, the one I’d been waiting for.
This was never more evident than when I talked to him about Ames. One day, when we were out delivering, a red Lexus had pulled up beside us. I’d frozen, he’d noticed, and the next thing I knew I was telling him everything.
“I can’t believe your parents aren’t aware of any of this,” he said when I finally finished talking. “The dude’s got a bad vibe.”
“Not to them,” I said.
“They should be able to tell if you seem weird.”
I shrugged. “I told you. They don’t look too closely at me.”
“Then make them,” he said. “If you told them what you just told me, they’d pay attention.”
I knew he was probably right. But just the thought of bringing this up with my mom made me nervous, like I didn’t have even a foot to stand on, much less a leg.
“Just think about it,” he said, clearly sensing my hesitation. “Okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Okay.”