I stood in front of the glass wall, mesmerized. The fake sunlight shimmered down through the water, bouncing off the yellow, green, and pink coral. The blue glow of the tank gave the dimly lit nook a mystical dreamy feel.
The prom committee had pulled off an epic feat this year. Instead of having the dance in our gross school gym it was being held at the new state-of-the-art aquarium downtown. Once the student committee agreed, Megan Sims, head cheerleader and overly developed youth, was given the task of presenting the new location idea to the faculty advisor, Mr. Hall. During the meeting, as Megan waxed poetic about riding the waves of hope out into the ocean of the future, she hoisted her massive boobs up to meet Mr. Hall’s sightline. Three seconds into Megan’s spiel the dude was so titnotized that he would have offered up his first born in order to pay the rental fee.
At first, I had my doubts about spending my final prom at the aquarium. The fishy décor didn’t exactly scream romance, but I had to admit, it was pretty cool. The dance was in Ballroom A, which opened up onto a huge deck facing the Charleston harbor. Inside three giant purple octopus chandeliers hung down from the ceiling, casting cool shadows on the walls covered in varying shades of blue. Big white coral sculptures were at the four corners of the room. Tables draped in white linen with candles and seashell centerpieces outlined the room, leaving a huge space in the middle for dancing.
The rules of the night were clear: 1. Proper attire—guys were to wear a jacket and tie, girls were to have their nips and hoo-haws covered at all times. 2. No alcohol. 3. No drugs. 4. No sex of any kind, anywhere. 5. We were only allowed in the designated areas— Ballroom A and the adjacent deck.
My best friend, Sophie, had run off to break rule number four. While Will, my first and only boyfriend, was off breaking rule number two. Deciding hanging out with his football buddies was his preferred way to spend our senior prom. He’d picked me up from home, felt me up in the limo, and then ditched me twenty minutes after we arrived. I was disappointed but not surprised. People loved being around Will and he thrived on the attention, never wanting to let down his parents or his friends. Even though it was hard sharing him with everyone, I had developed an understanding over the two years we’d been together.
Once Will had his fill of his football buddies, he’d come looking for my forgiveness. With his jacket off, his sleeves rolled up, and his muscular forearms flexed, he’d toss his sexy pouty look my way, and I would fall under his spell. I was a sucker for a well-defined muscular arm. Flexed or not, they induced a severe case of amnesia in me. But Will had more going for him than just muscles. At his core he was a good guy. His smile and charm could melt anyone. He’d aimed them at me the beginning of our junior year and I’d been melting ever since.
Each time I looked into his dark brown eyes or ran my fingers through his matching short hair, I knew I was the envy of every girl in school. There was no question in my mind or my heart that Will was my future. We’d had our ups and downs like every couple. But when you loved someone you learned to work through your problems and overlook their less attractive qualities. I just thought tonight being our last prom would be different. Instead, I was spending one of the most romantic nights in a high schooler’s life with the cast of Finding Nemo.
After spending a long half hour as a wallflower, I decided to go rogue and break rule number five. I discretely slipped out of the ballroom and snuck down the hallway in search of a quiet place. Turning two corners, I found the perfect spot, the noise and booming music fading into the background. I kicked off my four-inch heels, quieting my screaming feet, and unleashed my long, light brown hair from the nest of pins holding it up. After running my fingers through my hair a few times, I directed my attention to my new date.
My nose hovered just in front of the glass as I stared into beady black eyes. I puckered my lips and puffed out my cheeks, matching the fish blow for blow.
“I can put your blowing skills to much better use.” The raspy voice filled the small area.
I stilled, praying to all that was holy on this earth and beyond that those words were a figment of my imagination. The scent of beer and cigarettes drifted toward me. My increased breathing caused my new fish friend to disappear behind the fog. My eyes closed as a deep chuckle swirled in the air. This was real. I’d been caught and there was no way out of it. I turned my head and reluctantly opened my eyes.
Hart Mitchell, Garrison High’s resident bad boy, was standing less than a foot away. He had transferred in at the beginning of the year from parts unknown. I had no concrete evidence as to why he’d been dubbed GH’s bad boy other than he definitely looked the part.
From day one, rumors flew around school, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. One claimed he started coming to GH because of his hot affair with Mrs. Crawford, the very curvy, twenty-five-year-old, redheaded English teacher. No doubt he probably had a crush on her. All the boys did and even some of the girls. Hell, I caught myself a couple of times staring at her ass when she was writing on the dry erase board. The thought of Hart and Mrs. Crawford together formed a knot in my stomach. It was icky. For some reason I wanted that rumor to remain just that, a rumor. The most absurd explanation for Hart’s arrival was the one about him being the leader of a motorcycle gang hiding from the Feds. He did ride a motorcycle but who hides from the Feds in high school?
I, along with the rest of the female population at GH, including faculty, noticed the new boy right away. He quietly commanded female attention. He appeared to be a loner. I never saw him hang out with anyone before or after school. In the classes we shared, he always sat behind me in the very back. Several times during the year I resisted the urge to turn around and sneak a peek when I felt his eyes on me. For some unexplained reason he made me nervous.
And then there was the swagger.
The swagger was an entity unto itself. It was confident, purposeful, and a majestic sight to behold. The best parts of my day were after second period biology and fourth period history. Several girls would get into position at their lockers and wait for the swagger to make its way around the corner. Just before it came into view an electric vibration filled the hallway. And when sensation collided with sight . . . no panty was left undropped.
Hart Mitchell was a definite enigma wrapped in hotness.
My gaze moved up his chest and over his sharp angled jaw, finally landing on a pair of piercing eyes. The stretch in my neck indicated that Hart was at least two inches taller than Will. From the few quick glimpses I’d taken of him during class, I thought his eyes were blue but in this light they looked smoky gray.
His gaze dropped to my strapless cream-colored dress. The wisps of hair on the back of my neck bristled. Neither of us said a word. We just stood motionless for . . .
My pulse pumped.
My breath stuck.
My head swam.
My fingers tingled.
My knees wobbled.
I needed to look away, take a breather, and focus on something neutral. I lowered my gaze to his smirking lips.
Those weren’t neutral.
They were pale pink, plump, and looked really soft like pillows.
I widened my gaze taking in the mixture of light and dark blond scruff peppering his strong jaw and circling around his mouth, accented on either side by perfectly symmetrical deep dimples. My body was having some weird chemical reaction to Hart being this close and looking this intensely at me. I wasn’t a big fan of having my personal space invaded by a guy I barely knew no matter how hot he was.
Trying to play it cool and not give in to the wobble in my legs, I slapped my palm against the glass wall to steady myself. Once adequately braced, I took further inventory of Mr. Mitchell.
His hair was long. Not Jesus long but longer than the other boys at school who either sported buzz cuts or overly product styles. Hart’s dirty blond locks hit him mid neck, were parted slightly right of center, and tucked behind his ears. The oversized blue and gray plaid shirt he wore made it difficult to see any definition in the chest region but his shoulders were broad. Half of the shirt was tucked into his gravity-defying baggy jeans that hung from his narrow hips.
The corners of my mouth slightly drifted up when I saw the ugly generic black tie draped loosely around his neck. Mrs. Demarco, the algebra teacher, must have gotten to him. She was tonight’s fashion police. She monitored each student like a boss. Within a few minutes of arriving, I’d seen her enforce her power. She sent Janice Price and Emma Sloan home for showing too much cleavage. And she had Ricky Bogart scrounging in the bag of ugly ties to go with the equally ugly jacket she made him wear. I wondered if Hart charmed his way out of the jacket.
Leaning one shoulder against the glass wall, his legs crossed at the ankles, he tapped the toe of his tennis shoe on the shiny marble floor and kept staring at me. Since it didn’t appear that he was going to start the conversation I took it upon myself to get the ball rolling.
“Hi.” The word gushed out of me all breathy like a loud sigh.
Get hold of yourself, Bryson.
His gaze lingered for two Mississippis, before replying, “Hi.”
Prickling heat spread over my skin while I waited, hoping he would elaborate. But he just stared and continued to grin. The sensation of a cotton field sprouting in my mouth took over. It was ironic that I was standing in front of a giant tank of water becoming dangerously dehydrated.
Beads of sweat began popping up along my neck.
If I could lick my own neck . . .
Delirium was beginning to set in.
I cleared my throat, hocking up just enough spit to moisten my dry lips. “I’m Bryson Walker.”
“I know who you are.”
Of course he knew who I was, just like I knew who he was. I mean, we’d been in classes together for the last year. But this was the closest we’d ever been to each other and the first time we’d spoken.
I couldn’t figure out what his deal was. After all, he was the one who’d interrupted my alone time with Nemo.
Keeping my palm firmly planted on the wall, I leaned forward, cocked my head to the side, and raised my eyebrows. “Sooo . . .?”
“Sooo what?” He returned.
I straightened. “What can I do for you?”
The tip of his tongue slid out and rolled over his bottom lip before disappearing from view. “Do you really want me to answer that question?”
“You’re very inappropriate.”
“You have no idea.”
“I mean you show up out of nowhere with your . . . tallness. And decide to clam up.”
He leaned back against the wall, reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
Tapping the pack into his palm, he chuckled. “Clam up. Clever. Keeping with the whole sea theme of the night.”
“Thank you. I’m quite quick-witted.” The tugging at the corners of my mouth caused my serious expression to crumble instantly.
“Obviously.” He winked at the same time a cigarette fell from the pack.
I stared as he lifted the cigarette to his mouth. I knew I should have stopped him the second I saw the pack come out of his pocket. I was on the prom committee. It was my responsibility to uphold the rules. Not to mention that smoking was a horrible, nasty, cancer bomb waiting to explode. But honestly, I wanted to see that cigarette slide between those pillow lips.
The click of the lighter brought me out of my thoughts. A tiny flame appeared and frantically flickered up toward the heavens. Just when the tip of the flame was about to meet its mate, my sense of responsibility kicked in.
“Hey, you better not light that. You’re not supposed to be smoking in here.”
“I says . . . um . . . I mean, I say.”
Looking at me out the corner of his eye, Hart raised the lighter defiantly.
I touched his bicep and tugged.
He’s definitely got some bulging going on underneath that plaid.
Squaring my shoulders, I confidently said, “I’m serious. I’m not playing around with you. I’m on the prom committee.”
He flipped the top back on the lighter, dousing the flame. With the cigarette dangling from his lips, he leaned toward me. “I wasn’t aware you had the power. Would you like to frisk me?” His voice was deep and gravelly and made my body quiver.
“No.” I squeaked, offended.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” he said, backing away.
“What kind of deal?”
“I’ll slide my stick back in its package if you put those away.” His gaze dropped and stalled for a second before bouncing back up.
“What are you talking about?”
He took the cigarette from his mouth and stuck it in his shirt pocket. “Your nipples. They’ve been trying to escape since I walked up.”
I looked down in horror. My nipples were sticking out so far I couldn’t see the tips of my toes. Crisscrossing my arms, I slapped my palms over my high-beams.
“It’s c . . . old in here,” I stammered as heat flooded my cheeks.
Yes he was.
Focused ahead, Hart said, “So you couldn’t get a date for tonight?”
“I have a date. My boyfriend is here.”
He scanned the empty alcove. “Wow! What have you been smoking?”
With my palms secured to my chest, I raised my elbows and gestured. “I don’t mean here, here. I mean here as in the building.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Will and I are in a committed relationship.”
“We don’t have to be together 24/7/365. We’re not joined at the hip.”
“That’s what a mature adult relationship is you know.”
“Stop already with the huhs!”
The faint sound of piano music trickled down the hall. I didn’t recognize the song. It must have been an oldie for all the chaperones to dance to.
Pushing off from the wall, Hart commanded, “Let’s dance.”
He took a couple of steps and turned toward me. “Stop already with the huhs. You heard me.”
I chuckled. “Where do you get off telling me to dance with you?”
“You know you wanna. I can see it in your . . .”
Nipples. He’s going to say, your humungous pointy nipples.
. . . eyes.”
Aw, he didn’t mention my nipples. Sweet.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea. Will, my very real boyfriend, will go ballistic the second he sees us walk into the ballroom.”
“Not in there.” Hart reached out his hand. “In here.”
I stared at his large outstretched hand waiting for mine. I didn’t know if it was Hart specifically or that I was getting attention from a new boy that was causing the tingles I was experiencing. Before Will there wasn’t exactly a line of guys banging down my door. I was cute by most standards with bright green eyes popping against tan skin and just the right amount of curves on my five-foot-six-inch frame. The thing was, high school boys didn’t want cute. They wanted big boobs and open legs. My boobs weren’t Megan Sim’s size but nice nonetheless. And my legs only opened and will only open for Will Forsyth.
But in this moment, I wanted to know what Hart’s hand felt like—warm, cold, soft, rough. I wanted to feel his skin on mine. Hart Mitchell was dangerous territory. The only thing I knew for sure about this guy was that he left me completely off balance. In the only ten minutes we had ever shared, I felt more excited and wanted than I had the entire night.
“What about your date? Where is she?” My voice was shaky.
“At the moment she’s standing in front of a fish tank not dancing with me.”
I glanced behind me and then back at Hart. He was referring to me. A crooked smile slowly crept across his face when he saw my green eyes light up with recognition. Looking back down at his still waiting hand, I felt fluttering butterflies from head to toe. Hart didn’t just want to dance. He wanted to dance with me.
I dropped my arms from around my chest and extended my hand. The touching of our fingertips sent chills ping-ponging to every part of my body.
I should not be chillin’ with this boy.
Hart’s hand covered mine as he led me to the center of the alcove. I placed my other hand on his upper arm, leaving adequate airspace between us.
His arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me to him. “Come closer.”
“Hart . . .”
“We don’t want you to have another outbreak of chilly nips.”
I giggled. “Yeah, because that happening twice in one night would really be embarrassing.”
The area was pitch black except for the bluish glow from the fish tank. No one knew I was in here . . . alone with a boy who was not Will . . . slow dancing. I relaxed, stepped in closer, and rested my cheek on Hart’s toned chest. As we swayed his chin pressed against my hair and a deep throaty hum filled my ears.
“You know this song?” I whispered.
“Tony Bennett, “The Way You Look Tonight”.
Closing my eyes, I got lost in the song, the sway, and the sensation of Hart.
“Bryson!” The loud shrill whisper of my best friend, Sophie, cut through the air.
I jumped out of Hart’s arms and shook the dreaminess from my head. Once cleared, I looked up and saw disappointment in his smoky gray eyes.
“Sophie, I’m in here,” I said, pulling my gaze away from him.
A mane of jet black curls appeared as Sophie marched toward me, her bright blue eyes full of panic.
“Thank god I found you.”
“Will, he’s had too much to drink.” She tugged at my arm.
“I’ll be there in a second.”
Sophie eyed Hart up and down suspiciously.
Swinging her gaze between the two of us, she said, “He’s asking for you.”
“I said I’ll be there in a second.”
“Okay but hurry up. I’ll wait for you in the hallway.” Sophie cut her eyes one last time in Hart’s direction before leaving.
I nervously chewed on my lower lip. “Sorry, I have to go.”
But I don’t want to.
Nodding, he said in a low voice, “It’s okay.” I turned to leave when his words stopped me. “Bryson . . .” The sound of his raspy voice wrapped around my name caused my insides to flutter. “You’re lovely.”
My chest caved as all the air rushed from my lungs. “And you’re unexpected.”
I couldn’t tear my gaze away. There was something about this mysterious bad boy using that old-fashioned term that touched my heart. Will admired when I wore my tight pair of jeans or my string bikini. But a lot of times it felt as if he liked the tightness and the skimpiness of the clothing more than the fact that I was in it. Hart didn’t say I looked lovely. He said I was lovely.
Sophie’s head poked back in as she whispered, “Bryson! Come on! Projectile vomiting is happening.”
Keeping my eyes on Hart, I took a deep breath, and stepped backward until I was forced to turn away.
The talk at school on Monday was all about the prom—who wore whom, who got drunk, and who hooked up. I was a bundle of nerves as I headed toward English class. It would be the first time I’d seen Hart since our dance. I thought about our moment the rest of the weekend. I even elaborated on it, imagining what today would be like.
Pausing just outside the door, I took in a few feeble shaky breaths. When I walked into the classroom, Hart was already at his desk, his gaze focused on a piece of paper in his hand. Nonchalantly, I stared at the top of his head, willing him to look up. But he never did. For the remainder of the school year, I waited for him to talk, smile, or just glance in my direction. But he never did. I waited for him to make me feel special like he had that night. But he never did. I considered making the first move. But I never did. My future with Will was so embedded in my mind that the idea of veering off course was not an option. So I lived my life and waited for the memory of Hart and our moment to fade . . . but it never did.