The rain slanted in under the arch-covered path, but he walked on the outside anyway, not caring that he was getting wet. As soon as we were out of earshot, I couldn’t hold in the question that had been nauseating me since Algebra. I looked up at him.
“So, you dated Anna last year, right?”
Noah’s formerly content expression morphed into disgust. “I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘dated.’ “
So Jamie was right. “Gross,” I muttered.
“It wasn’t that awful,” he said.
I wanted to bang my head against the brick arch. “I don’t want to hear that, Noah.”
“Well, what do you want to hear?”
“That she has scales underneath her uniform.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
My heart leapt, but I tried to appear only mildly curious. “Really?”
“Really,” Noah said, his tone amused.
“So, uh, what happened?” I asked so very casually.
Noah shrugged one shoulder. “She just sort of attached herself to me last year, and I suffered it until her general hideousness of character and my inability to translate her moron language got to be too much.”
It was still too early to celebrate. “She said you were an awesome lay,” I said, feigning interest in the gush of water that spilled out from the gutter by the lockers. My face would betray me if he saw it.
“Well, that’s true,” Noah said.
“But she wouldn’t know from personal experience.” Just then, Noah tilted my chin so that I faced him. “Why, Mara Dyer.”
I bit my lip and looked down. “What?”
“I don’t believe it,” he said incredulously.
“You’re jealous.” I heard the smile in his voice.
“No,” I lied.
“You are. I’d reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about, but I think I kind of like this.”
“I’m not jealous,” I insisted, my face burning under the touch of Noah’s fingers. I backed up against my locker.
Noah raised an eyebrow. “Then why do you care?”
“I don’t. She’s just so—so malodorous,” I said, still looking at the ground. I finally screwed up the courage to look up at him. He wasn’t smiling. “Why would you let her say she slept with you?”
“Because I never kiss and tell,” he said, ducking slightly to meet my eyes.
I turned away from him and opened the locker door. “Then anyone can say they’ve been doing anything with you,” I said, into the dark space.
“Does that hurt your feelings?” He spoke in a low voice from behind my shoulders.
“I don’t have feelings,” I said, my face buried in my locker.
Noah’s hand appeared on the locker next to me and I felt him lean toward my back. The air was thick with our electricity.
“Kiss me,” he said simply.
“What?” I turned around and found myself just inches from him. My blood glowed under my skin.
“You heard me,” Noah said.
I felt the stares of other students. In my peripheral vision, I saw them huddled under the covered path, waiting for the rain to let up. They gawked at Noah’s long figure leaning over mine, his hand pressed on the steel by my ear. He didn’t inch closer; he was asking, waiting for me to make the next move. But as my face burned with the feeling of his eyes and their eyes on me, the other students began to disappear one by one. And I don’t mean they walked away. They disappeared.
“I’m not into kissing,” I blurted, my eyes darting back to Noah’s.
Noah’s mouth tilted into the smallest of smiles. “Oh?”
I swallowed thickly, and nodded. “It’s stupid,” I said, checking for the once-assembled crowd. Nope. Gone. “Someone poking their tongue in someone else’s mouth is stupid. And gross.” Way to employ my AP English vocabulary. Mara doth protest too much.
Noah’s eyes crinkled at the corners, but he wasn’t laughing at me. He ran his free hand through his hair, twisting it as he went, but a few thick strands fell back over his forehead anyway. He didn’t move. He was so close. I breathed him in, rain and salt and smoke.
“Have you kissed many boys before?” he asked quietly.
His question brought my mind back into focus. I raised an eyebrow. “Boys? That’s an assumption.”
Noah laughed, the sound low and husky. “Girls, then?”
“Not many girls? Or not many boys?”
“Neither,” I said. Let him make of that what he would.
“I am taking away that word. You are no longer allowed to use it. How many?”
My cheeks flushed, but my voice was steady as I answered. “One.”
At this, Noah leaned in impossibly closer, the slender muscles in his forearm flexing as he bent his elbow to bring himself nearer to me, almost touching. I was heady with the proximity of him and grew legitimately concerned that my heart might explode. Maybe Noah wasn’t asking. Maybe I didn’t mind. I closed my eyes and felt Noah’s five o’ clock graze my jaw, and the faintest whisper of his lips at my ear.
“He was doing it wrong.”
nOAH’S LIPS PRESSED LIGHTLY ON THE SKIN of my cheek and lingered there. I was on fire. By the time I opened my eyes and my breathing returned to normal, Noah wasn’t in front of me. He hung casually from the archway in the locker nook, waiting for me to get my things for Art.
The bell rang.
I still stood there. I still felt the imprint of his lips on my cheek. I still stared like an idiot. Noah’s smile spread into a smirk.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and mustered up what dignity I had left before walking right past him, careful to avoid the rain slanting under the arches. I was glad Art was next. I needed to decompress, to watch my stress level as Dr. Maillard had said. And Noah was impossible to ignore. When we stood in front of my classroom, I told him I’d meet him later.
Noah’s forehead creased as other students walked past us. “But I have a study period.”
“So, go study.”
“But I want to watch you draw.”
I answered him by closing my eyes and rubbing my forehead. He was impossible.
“You don’t want me there?” he asked. I opened my eyes. Noah looked crestfallen and adorable.
“You’re distracting,” I said truthfully.