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On a Summer Afternoon

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Busted, I thought, as the hard library couch I sat on creaked with somebody's weight. Carefully closing the book in my lap so the cover didn't show, I glanced up at the person who'd sat next to me, when every other seat in the young adult room was empty on a summer afternoon, the library being practically deserted.

I expected to see one of my siblings sitting beside me. Vanessa was the likeliest choice to run across me in a library, but then, we triplets have always been good at sniffing one another out, so it wouldn't have surprised me at all to find Adam or Jordan there, either. But instead, I found myself looking up and into the startling blue eyes of Jeff Schafer. Jeff, whose tanned, California surfer body and perpetually messy blond hair have been driving me crazy since he flew into Stoneybrook last Wednesday to spend a month with his mom.

He was alone for once, neither of my brothers in tow. This close, I could see the freckles scattered across his nose, and smell the clean, fresh scent of him, like fresh laundry and sunshine. Beneath the rumpled hem of his cargo shorts, his firm calves were trimmed with light blond hair. He rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, smiling at me. I swallowed, hard. My heart was racing so fast that I thought I might faint.

With him sitting beside me on the couch, I felt as dizzy and tongue-tied as I had last Wednesday, when I'd opened the front door to find him grinning there, lithe, and tan, and hotter than any of the guys on the baseball team who, until then, had starred in my mind while I gripped myself quiet and furious every morning in the shower. Jeff had been oblivious to my dumbstruck attraction, thank God, clapping me on the shoulder and asking if my brothers and I wanted to go kick a soccer ball around the park. Adam and Jordan had joined him, and I'd stayed home with a sudden upset stomach. Since then, I'd been putting them off with more and more outrageous excuses.

"Is this where you disappear to every day?" Jeff asked, peering at me curiously.

I shrugged, feeling myself redden under his scrutiny. "Mostly," I said.

"Huh," he said. "I didn't know you read that much."

"It's kind of a new thing," I admitted, and felt myself redden even further. This, I thought, was why I'd been avoiding Jeff all week. It took so much effort to hold myself back that I ended up saying ridiculous things. Jeff made me want to do stupid things, like reach up and brush his sun-bleached hair away from his eyes so I could see them better, or put my hand on his knee and just squeeze it, maybe slide up his thigh beneath his cargo shorts and . . . fuck. I shifted my book in my lap and looked away from him. I wondered if it was possible to faint from wanting somebody so much.

Jeff nudged my foot with the side of his foot, tan in Birkenstocks. "I've been missing you," he said, because clearly the universe hadn't seen me suffer enough that day. "I mean, I like hanging out with your brothers, but I'd hoped to see you, too."

"I missed you, too," I muttered, and glared down at the book in my lap. Jeff's hand was on my shoulder, then, squeezing tight. All of a sudden, I wanted to cry.

We sat together in silence for a long time. If he heard my ragged breathing, he was polite enough not to mention it. Finally, he moved his hand back to his lap and nudged my shoulder with his.

"So," he said, deliberately casual. "What are you reading?"

Fuck.

I could lie, I thought. Make up a title. A story. Some book about baseball, maybe, or a summer reading assignment for school. But Jeff's eyes were almost dazzling, and I could feel the heat radiating off his body like sunshine. His stupid, touchable hair was in his eyes, and how on Earth was I supposed to think with all of that?

Before I'd even realized I was doing it, I'd flashed the cover at him. Am I Blue? Coming Out of the Silence.

"Oh," he said, reading it. Then his eyes widened, and he said, "oh," again, sounding stunned. He'd gone completely still. I stared straight ahead at the wall of bookshelves, feeling helpless and sick.

This is it, I thought. He's going to leave. He'll make some excuse and take off, probably find my brothers. My whole family will know by dinner.

But instead, Jeff shifted closer, so his leg brushed mine. "You know," he said, and swallowed, sounding hesitant, "there's a book I like. Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan. It's pretty good. You can borrow it, if you want, when you're done with that one."

My head snapped up so fast I thought I might get whiplash. "You're . . . ?" I stammered, and couldn't bring myself to finish the question.

He nodded anyway. "Yeah," he said, glancing down, shyer than I'd ever seen him. "You?"

"Yeah," I said. My voice had gone low, suddenly, hoarse in my throat. I hardly recognized it.

Jeff looked up, and a new smile broke across his face. It was like sunshine, radiant, beaming out from his eyes, from his white teeth. I wanted just to soak it up, to stretch out and luxuriate in it. My hand moved before I'd even realized it, touching down on his knee.

He laughed, quiet and breathless. His hand landed on top of mine, gathering it up into a grip so tight it almost hurt. "Thank God!" he chuckled, sounding breathless and relieved. "I thought maybe you'd figured it out somehow and that was why you were avoiding me."

"No!" I protested, horrified that he could think that. "That's . . . no."

"Then why?" he asked, leaning forward, and I couldn't help it. His bangs were still in his eyes, which were blue, and sincere, and so damned warm. His hand was still wrapped around mine as though he'd forgotten about it. And it was two o'clock on a summer afternoon. The young adult section was deserted, save for the two of us, all of the other Stoneybrook teenagers having better things to do than sulk around the library avoiding the boys of their dreams.

I tilted my face up and kissed him, like I'd been longing to do since seeing him on my doorstep last Wednesday. He made a startled sound and let me, his thumb drifting across the back of my fingers even as I darted my tongue out, shyly, and traced it along his full bottom lip.

When we pulled apart, I was grinning so hard that I thought my face would split. I reached up and finally, triumphantly, pushed his hair out of his eyes.

"Do you want to get out of here?" I asked, brushing my fingers across his cheekbone.

He laughed and leaned forward to kiss me again, warm and wonderful. "Hell, yeah!" he said, and stood, hauling me to my feet by our joined hands. My book tumbled to the floor, but we both ignored it. He didn't release my hand until we'd crossed from the young adult section into the main library, where Mrs. Kishi sat behind the circulation desk, scanning barcodes. She glanced up, and there was something knowing in her expression as she looked at the two of us, still walking so close that arms and hips brushed together.

My whole family might know by dinner after all, I thought, as we swept out of the library and into the sunshine. But I couldn't bring myself to care. Jeff was shooting me a sidelong glance, his eyes so full of mischief that I kind of wanted to push him up against the brick library and kiss him right there on the sidewalk, for all of Stoneybrook to see. After all, it was a summer afternoon and the sun was bright, and Jeff and I had a whole week's worth of missed time to catch up on.

The end.