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The third weekend in June was, to most people, a three-day stretch of summer. To the townspeople of Avalon, Georgia, however, it was known as the Kissing Festival. For three weekend nights residents would gather in the town center for fun, food...and kissing.
Lots and lots of kissing.
It was tradition to greet your neighboror any other random stranger you came acrosswith a kiss. Sometimes these kisses were an innocent peck on the cheek and other times a passionate mouth-to-mouth embrace. Either way, it was difficult to spend an evening at the Kissing Festival without getting smooched.
Which was why Scarlet Jacobs wanted to go home.
Scarlet stood amidst the kissing chaos in the town square waiting for her best friendand self-declared fashion consultantHeather to show up.
She glanced around at the evening's festivities. Kissing booths, kissing workshops, kissing competitions...all across town the celebration was in full swing.
It was similar to a New Year's Eve party but instead of mistletoe, the townsfolk hung paper stars above their doorways. And instead of a single evening of champagne and confetti, there was an entire weekend of parades and, well...confetti.
The original Kissing Festival began in 1865 when soldiers retuned home from war and their loved ones ran into the streets to welcome them home with kisses. The town, grateful for its returning men and eager to boost community morale, declared it a weekend celebration.
Which was sweet.
The town mayor kissing the pizza delivery guy? Not so sweet.
Scarlet sighed as the sun began to set. Heather was late, which was no surprise, but Scarlet didn't like standing by herself in a crowd of tongue-happy citizens. Her fear of being kissed by some well-meaning neighbor was growing by the second.
She kicked at the sidewalk with a scuffed-up sneaker, trying to look uninterested. As music began playing in the distance, her blue eyes traced the familiar drawings she'd inked on the toes and sides of her shoes.
Scarlet had a tendency to doodle. She drew on her arms, legs, and any napkin she could get her hands on.
But, mostly, she drew on her shoes.
The doodles on her sneakers were of a symbol; re-sketched and repeated in different sizes and thicknesses. Scarlet didn't know what the symbol meant, but she knew it was from her past.
Which was miraculous because Scarlet had amnesia.
And her past was a complete blank.
After waking, alone and abandoned in a neighborhood park a year ago without a clue as to how she got there or where she was from, Scarlet had clung to any evidence of her original identity.
The symbolwhich Heather referred to as Scarlet's "mark"was the only memory, or rather image, she'd retained. Well, that and her name and age.
Scarlet knew the symbol held some significance, but she couldn't recall what it was. She couldn't recall anything.
Her chest tightened as she though back over the last twelve months. Despite what others thought, there was nothing fun about being a seventeen-year-old with amnesia. It wasn't exciting or "cool" not knowing who you were or where you came from. It wasn't a mystery you could solve by asking the right questions, like a game of Clue.
It was confusing. It was lonely.
And it was terrifying.
The days following her awakening in the park were still a blur. Scarlet remembered hospitals, social workers and police reports, but not clearly. The first clear memory she had was the day she met her to-be guardian, Laura Walker.
Laura was an attractive young businesswoman who managed to get custody of Scarlet despite many court hurdles. She took Scarlet in, gave her a home, and tried to make her life as normal as possible. But normal for an amnesiac is next to impossible.
Not knowing what exists in the past is like running through a maze blindfolded.
And that's how Scarlet felt. Blind and lost.
Running through a dark labyrinth without direction, without purpose.
Scarlet had spent weeks after her awakening plagued by nightmares and racing thoughts. Unanswered questions tormented her while fear of the unknown crept into every pore of her being.
Without Laura and Heather, Scarlet probably would have gone crazy.
Laura encouraged Scarlet not to give up on her past; believing Scarlet would one day find her lost memories. She gave Scarlet support and understanding, without treating her like a broken doll in need of repair.
While Heather kept Scarlet from sinking into a deep depression and crying her eyes out everyday. If it weren't for Heather, Scarlet would probably be a snotty, pathetic mess.
But Heather refused to let her mope. She was constantly dragging her out of bed and into the real world, trying to get her to have "fun" and "be happy".
It was obnoxious.
And Scarlet loved her for it.
Heather had made it her mission to get Scarlet to fully "participate" in life. So, here Scarlet was, attending the blasted Kissing Festival.
Participating in life.
And where was Heather? Running late.
Scarlet half-heartedly watched the Main Street parade pass by. A float adorned with large papier-mâché lips cruised along advertising a variety of lipstick flavors, as couplesand strangersthroughout the street kissed unabashedly beneath stars.
Scarlet raised her brow and shook her head. The kissing tradition was bizarre.
Hello, I'm a stranger. I'm going to kiss you now. Smooch-smooch.
Yeah, no thanks.
Scarlet glanced up and noticed a trio of paper stars floating above her from an extended tree branch.
Avalon folks got a little star-crazy during the festival; draping stars from just about any place available. Trees, doorways...power lines.
Scarlet quickly moved from beneath the kissing beacon to a star-free spot on the sidewalk and watched passing pedestrians casually greet one another with a smack on the lips before parting ways. As if exchanging a kiss with your hairstylist and bank teller wasn't weird at all.
Scarlet twirled a strand of her dark hair as her eyes glanced about the town square. Suddenly, her gaze caught on something.
Or rather, someone.
Across the street, beyond the parade and chaos, stood a guy wearing a black T-shirt and baseball hat.
And he was staring right at her.
Intently. Deliberately. Unashamed.
Scarlet froze in place as their gazes locked.
He eyed her with both curiosity and darkness, and something deep within her began to stir.
The stirring started in the pit of her stomach, crawled into her chest and wrapped itself around her heart; squeezing until her breaths became shallow.
Her heart began to hammer as she eyed him more closely.
From the way he was dressed, Scarlet assumed he was her age, if not a few years older. Dark tufts of hair peeked from beneath the hat he wore, reaching below his ears, and the shadows of his hat made it impossible to see his face clearly. The only features Scarlet could make out were his square jaw and the glint from his eyes.
Eyes fixed on her.
Something about him seemed familiar. The way he stood, the way he looked at her....
It was dangerous and safe and...familiar.
Her brow was furrowed in deep thought when Heather suddenly appeared at her side. Scarlet pulled her eyes away from the stranger long enough to find her friend out of breath and doubled over.
Used to Heather's theatrics, Scarlet looked back up, hoping to see the boy in black again, but he had vanished.
"Whew!" Heather righted herself as Scarlet blinked and returned her eyes to her friend.
Heather's blonde hair was smoothed-down beneath a pink headband matching her pink shirt and pink shoes. She wore a short jean skirt and a sleeve of shiny bracelets.
Even sweaty and panting, Heather looked perfect.
Scarlet looked down at her own outfit of shorts and an oversized green shirt and knew Heather would not be pleased.
Heather took fashion seriously. Scarlet did not.
Sucking in air, Heather said, "FluffyMrs. Allen's ferocious dogchased me all the way down Pine Street trying to tear me to shreds with his razor fangs. I barely got away."
Scarlet scrunched her face, "Isn't Fluffy a Chihuahua?"
Still panting, Heather said, "Yes. A human-eating, demon-possessed Chihuahua."
Scarlet nodded, "Sure."
Heather was a bit of a drama queen.
As she caught her breath Heather eyed Scarlet up and down, clearly forgetting about her near-death experience with Fluffy. "The baggy green shirt, Scarlet? Really?"
Scarlet rolled her eyes, "It's a kissing festival...not a fashion festival."
"Well, thank God. Because, you'd be booed out of Avalon." Heather ran a hand over her shiny hair. "I mean, seriously. You have a closet the size of my bedroom full of cute, appropriately-sized shirts...and you choose a parachute top for the Kissing Festival? Have you learned nothing from me?"
"I've learned not to go near Fluffy unless I want to be eaten alive by the demon puppy from hell."
Heather huffed, "I'm telling you, I almost died!"
"I'm sure it was a close call." Scarlet smiled and looked back at the passing parade. The sun had dipped below the surrounding mountains, streaking the sky with the fading colors of dusk. Street lamps started to click on and tiny white lights strewn about the town began to shine against the falling shadows.
The scene was picturesque. Music in the air, twinkle lights in the sky, cobblestone streets and grassy knolls...it looked like a postcard.
"So, who should we kiss first?" Heather puckered her heavily-glossed lips.
"Uh...you can kiss whomever you'd like. I'm only here for the free mouthwash." Scarlet said as she began moving down Main Street, Heather at her side.
The festival freebies were the only things Scarlet enjoyed about the event. Free toothpaste, free breath mints, free lip balm...it was like walking around a giant ad for the human mouth.
"Whatever." Heather tossed her blond hair over her shoulder with the kind of sass only pretty girls possessed. "You're here because you are fun and you really, really love kissing. I'm sure of it."
"Ha." Scarlet said, without humor. "I'm pretty sure I've never liked kissing random strangers."
Heather smiled playfully and nudged Scarlet's shoulder, "Oh, but that's the beauty of amnesia. You don't really know what you like, so I'm here to help you remember."
Scarlet rolled her eyes, "You don't know what I like either."
"True. But I know youor, at least, the you that's existed this last yearand that girl is super cool and probably loves kissing strangers."
Scarlet shook her head and smirked. "I doubt it."
Heather tsked, "You'll see, Scarlet. We'll find you a hot stranger with yummy lips."
Strange lips? Ew. "Yeah. I'm all set on lips. I've got my own, thank you."
They walked past a makeshift dental booth advertising free deep cleanings. A balding man in white scrubs stood beside a dental chair, holding shiny exam instruments while he waved and smiled at people. If red paint were splattered about it would have looked like a scene from a horror movie.
Of course the deep cleanings were free. Who was going to pay a guy in the street to dig around inside their mouth?
Three guys Scarlet recognized from school approached the two girls with smiles, their attention primarily focused on Heather.
And why wouldn't it be? Heather looked like a giant piece of sexy bubblegum.
Scarlet, on the other hand, probably looked like a giant pea.
Heather, flirty and jovial as always, greeted each boy with double cheek kisses. Intimate cheek kisses, if ever there were such a thing. Leave it to Heather to make cheek-kissing inappropriate.
Unfortunately, after exchanging kisses with Heather, the boys proceeded to give Scarlet a kiss on each cheek as well. Scarlet tried to act like kissing random guys from school was perfectly normal.
But it wasn't.
It was an awkward fumbling of bobbing heads and bonking noses that left Scarlet thoroughly embarrassed and grossed out.
The Kissing Festival: Worst idea ever.
After the boys moved on, Scarlet hastily wiped her cheeks while Heather sighed happily, "Don't you just love the Kissing Festival?"
Scarlet choked on a cough, "No, I don't. I think it's weird...and full of potential mouth diseases."
"Yeah, but you get to kiss guys like Aaron." Heather said, referring to the tallest of the three boys walking away.
Scarlet scrunched her nose. Heather had tried to set Scarlet and Aaron up a few times last year, all with disastrous results. Heather was always trying to set Scarlet up. "He's not my type," Scarlet said.
As they rounded a corner, Heather accepted a red rose from a short man beside a flower cart and kissed him on the nose before turning back to Scarlet. "Who is your type, hmm? I keep trying to set you up with these smokin' hot guys and you keep shutting 'em down. You're missing out on some fabulous opportunities, Scarlet."
"You mean like Aaron back there? The guy who kicked-off our first date by asking me how old my hot mom was? Yeah, golden opportunity he was."
"In his defense, your mom is hot and looks like she's twenty."
"That's because Laura's not my mom, she's my guardian, and she's only thirty. But that's not the point. The point is that I don't want to date anyone right now."
"Whatever." Heather said.
"No seriously." Scarlet sighed, "The whole amnesia thing makes dating...just weird. And I don't feel like dealing with any of it right now."
A moment passed as Heather looked Scarlet over thoughtfully, "I get it. You're afraid to connect with other people." Heather pressed the rose she carried up to her nose and inhaled. "I just don't want you to use your mysterious past as an excuse not to live your life, y'know?"
Scarlet nodded at her friend's words. As a general rule, Heather was all fashion and flirting. Rarely ever did she go deep. But when she did, she usually had something profound to say.
And while Scarlet loved Heather's flare for drama and insatiable thirst for boys, she was grateful for her friend's ability to switch from Whimsical Heather to Wise Heather when necessary.
Heather continued, "Yeah, it makes no sense for you to get involved with some random guy."
Scarlet nodded. "I agree. No strings, no pressure."
"Exactly," Heather lowered the rose, wagged her eyebrows and stretched her arm out, displaying Freemont Park; the dead center of Avalon. "Thankfully, you've come to the right place. Booths full of hot boys you can kiss without any complications."
They stopped walking as they stepped into the park and Scarlet rolled her eyes.
The grassy park was lined with dozens of kissing booths. Twinkle lights draped back-and-forth between tall trees, making a canopy of stars above the red and pink tables below. People lined up behind each booth, applying lipstick and perfume as they readied for their purchased kisses.
Behind the booths stood a large white gazebo housing a group of musicians. As a love song filled the air, couples intertwined their bodies and swayed to the melody.
Here and there, children ran about wearing red hats and eating lip-shaped chocolates, while women waited impatiently for quickie makeovers under a flashy pink tent.
The park was littered with couples kissing behind trees and making out on park benches. And paper stars were everywhere; in trees, on the ground, above heads, inside mouths....
It was like Valentine's Day. On crack.
Scarlet looked at the kissing booths, shook her head, and smiled. "No way. You can do your spit-swapping thing and I'll stay right here. I don't really feel like paying someone to stick their tongue down my throat."
"They don't French kiss you," Heather said, smiling. "...Unless you want them to." She wagged her eyebrows again, pulling a short laugh from Scarlet.
"Still, I'm going to pass."
Heather pouted her lips, "Pretty please?"
Scarlet shook her head, "Nope."
Heather pouted for another moment but Scarlet just smiled and shook her head.
"You're no fun," Heather huffed, as she straightened her hair, her bracelets jingling merrily. "I guess I'll have to go without you."
"I guess so."
"But just so you know," Heather pointed at Scarlet with one perfectly manicured fingernail and used her best authoritative voice. "I will get you to kissand I mean kissa hot boy this weekend. It will happen and you will like it."
As she spun around and headed to the booths Scarlet smiled and called out after her, "Good luck with that!"
Heather's only response was a flick of her hand.
Scarlet stood alone in the sea of kissing townsfolk and took a deep breath. The sun had completely disappeared from the sky, blanketing the park in a soft darkness contrasted by the many strands of tiny lights.
The warmth and stickiness of the summer day still clung to the night air as Scarlet let her gaze roam across the park. She listened as the band beneath the gazebo switched from an upbeat song to a ballad.
Once again, her eyes caught sight of the black-shirted stranger.
Scarlet felt the same stirring as before come to life in her chest.
This time the stranger was farther away, his gaze focused on the festivities rather than Scarlet, giving her a moment to examine him privately.
There were no people near him; no one smearing kisses on him or dragging him beneath a set of stars. He stood off to the side, at the edge of the park.
Present, but not participating.
Scarlet knew the feeling.
He stood with confidence, his broad chest held high with his arms crossed in front. The dark hair escaping is hat curled a bit around his neck in the summer heat...reminding her of...something.
What was it?
The sight of him almost triggered a memory.
A suffocated, imprisoned memory trapped within her. Maybe if she continued to stare at him it would break free....
His eyes suddenly turned in Scarlet's direction, locking on hers with their brilliant gleam.
She cocked her head to the side, straining to see him more clearly.
Something about the stranger was definitely familiar. Almost as if there were a recollection about him specifically deep inside her.
Scarlet's heart started to pound and her mind started spinning. For a momentfor a wonderful split secondshe felt as though she were close to unlocking the memory. The precious, lost treasure buried somewhere in the abyss of her mind.
She allowed her brain to tick and turn, roving her soul for something to grasp at.
It was there, she knew it. She could feel it.
It was piecing itself together...almost a complete thought...
So close...so close...almost there
"A kiss and a treat?" came a cheerful voice next to Scarlet, interrupting her internal quest.
Just like that, the memory disappeared back into the oblivion of her mind.
Scarlet inwardly groaned. So close.
"Would you like a KissPop? They're delicious." The voice said again. Scarlet glanced to the side to see a round woman with friendly eyes and rosy cheeks pushing a dessert cart. She held up a Popsicle shaped like a pair of lips.?
Scarlet was really starting to hate the Kissing Festival.
"Uh, no thank you." Scarlet tried to look friendly despite her frustration with the interruption. Once the cheery woman wheeled away, Scarlet glanced back to where she'd seen the stranger, hoping the sight of him would magically ignite that buried memory. But, once again, he'd disappeared.
Scarlet's thudding heart sank.
"Looking for someone?" This time, the voice was male and came from behind her.
The voice was familiar.
Beautifully, impossibly familiar. Reminiscent.
It wasn't the voice of someone she'd met since her awakening in the park.
It was a voice of the past. A voice she knew.
Scarlet whipped around to see the keeper of the voice, fully expecting to have a surge of memories to rush to her head and unlock the past.
There was no flash of memory, no sudden burst of enlightenment.
There was no instant recognition or flood of relief.
There was, however, a really gorgeous guy standing in front of her. Possibly the most attractive person she'd ever seen.
Granted, her memory only went back a year, but still. The stranger's dark beauty could not have been matched.
Wearing a blue shirt and a disarming smile, he looked to be a little older than Scarlet. His short, dark hair, square jaw, and golden eyes complimented the tan skin that wrapped around his broad frame flawlessly. He was smiling at her. Waiting.
She blinked a few times. "What?"
His smile deepened, revealing two adorable dimples, as he took a step toward her. "You look like you're searching for someone." He glanced around, surveying the park.
"Oh." She shook her head. "No, I...I wasn't looking for anyone." She blinked a few more times as the handsome guy tilted his head to the side and examined her face.
She tucked her lips in and pressed down, suddenly rethinking the baggy green shirt.
"I'm Gabriel," the stranger said, holding out his hand. "Kissing Festival virgin and reality TV fan. I like long walks on the beach and hate waking up before noon."
Scarlet smiled, both grateful and disappointed the beautiful boy chose to greet her with a handshake instead of a kisswhat is wrong with me?and took his hand. "I'm Scarlet," she began. "Kissing Festival protester and avid coffee-drinker. I like to draw and I'm also not a morning person."
"I like you already," Gabriel said as they shook hands.
His hand felt cool and dry in the warmth of the summer night. He looked at her with genuine kindness, flashing his dimples.
Scarlet wanted to swoon.
Her smile deepened. They ended their handshake and Gabriel shoved his hands into the front pockets of his perfectly fitting jeans.?
"So, you're not a fan of the festival?" he asked with a sparkle in his golden eyes. "Too many guys to fend off?"
Scarlet rolled her eyes, "Uh, no. It's not the 'guys' I'm worried about. It's the whole freakin' town. Everyone is so...." Scarlet tried to think of a nicer word than "wacky".
Gabriel prompted, "Happy? In love? Giddy?"
"Yes. It's so weird," Scarlet said. "I came last year, and vowed never to return again. But my best friend shamelessly begged me to come and I totally caved. And now I'm surrounded by..," Scarlet gestured to the crowd in the park, "All these love-sick goobers."
Gabriel laughed. "Yeah, I hate love-sick goobers. They're so happy and annoying and pleasant...always trying to be nice and friendly." He rolled his eyes dramatically, "It's so irritating."
Scarlet smiled, "Shut up."
He said, "So, why did you vow never to return? Was it the dentist guy? Because that's totally understandable."
Scarlet laughed, "You saw him too? He's so creepy."
"Totally," Gabriel gave a fake shudder, making her laugh.
She answered, "No, actually, I didn't want to come back because last year I watched the kissing relay games and nearly threw up. That's why I tried my very hardest to stay at home tonight."
"And when you say your 'very hardest' you're referring to your complete lack of resolve when caving to your best friend, correct?"
Scarlet nodded, "Precisely."
Gabriel laughed, "I like you, Scarlet. What's your last name?"
"Jacobs." Although he was a complete stranger, Gabriel made her feel safe and, for some reason, Scarlet instinctively trusted him. He made her feel normal.
And so help her, Scarlet wanted to feel normal.
"Scarlet Jacobs," he said, thinking it over with his pretty golden eyes. "I like it."
"And yours is?" she asked.
Gabriel smiled slowly, waiting a beat as if deciding how to answer. "Archer," he said. "Gabriel Archer."
Scarlet tilted her head to the side, wishing the name meant something to her in the same way his musical voice had. But no.
"So," he said, looking around with mock seriousness. "Where's this conniving best friend of yours? I'd like to congratulate her on suckering you into attending this absurd festival of love and happiness."
Scarlet smiled as she pointed to where Heather stood in line at one of the many kissing booths.
"The blond wearing all pink?" he asked.
Scarlet nodded, "Yep. That's Heather."
"Ah," he said. "She looks like a love-sick goober. She looks happy."
Scarlet smiled. Heather was happy. Happy and bubbly and excited about everything. And beautiful in that Ms. America way every girl envied.
She was nothing like Scarlet.
Heather was loud, outgoing, fashion-savvy, and girly.
While Scarlet was quiet, sarcastic, not interested jewelry and dressed like a boy.?
But their friendship worked.
As different as they were, Scarlet felt more bonded to Heather than anyone else she'd met since her awakening.
Because Heather accepted Scarlet. Amnesia and all.
They'd met last summer at the mall, just a few weeks before junior year began. Laura had taken Scarlet to buy a new wardrobe since Scarlet's park incident hadn't exactly come with a closet full of clothes.
Heather had spotted Scarlet eyeing a baggy pair of jeans and had immediately interjected herself into Scarlet's life as her personal shopper.
Soon after they became close friends.
When Scarlet first told Heather about her amnesia, Heather had freaked out.?
Not in the expected O-M-G-you're-a-weirdo kind of way, but in a O-M-G-this-sounds-like-a-movie way.
Heather spent months talking nonstop about finding Scarlet's parents, starting a 'Who is Scarlet Jacobs' fund, and doing DNA testing to see if Scarlet was from a different planet.
It had been a little obnoxious.?
Sweet, in an over-bearing, obsessive friend way, but obnoxious.
Heather thought it was "cool" Scarlet didn't have a past. She was convinced Scarlet had been a government spy, and had her memory erased in order to ensure the safety of the world.
Because Heather was a drama queen.
But it was easier for Scarlet to play along with Heather's ridiculous government theory than it had been to wallow in self-pity. Heather had been a welcome distraction.
In a way, Heather had saved Scarlet's life. Or at least, her emotional well-being. She'd given Scarlet something to laugh about and a friendship to believe in.
She'd given Scarlet hope.
She was bright and sunny and full of positivity. Sometimes it was annoying, but most of the time, Scarlet needed it. She valued Heather's role in her life and respected her a great deal.
Even though at this very moment Heather was paying to kiss a boy.
"Yeah," Scarlet continued. "She is definitely happy."
A moment of silence hung between her and Gabriel. Scarlet shuffled her feet, unsure of how to continue their conversation. "So this is your first Kissing Festival?"
Gabriel ran a hand through his dark hair, "Yeah."
"What do you think?" Scarlet smiled and raised a brow.
"Honestly?" He gave a crooked smile and shrugged. "I think it's...charming."
"Charming?" Not the word Scarlet would have chosen.
He nodded, all sarcasm gone from his voice. "Yeah, it's...I don't know...nice. Everyone being friendly and positive. People dancing and laughing. It's...refreshing. Sometimes the world is a cold place but this...this is nice. It's warmhearted." He smiled as he looked about the park.
Scarlet wrinkled her brow, "I guess so...." Up until that moment, Scarlet hadn't seen any upside to a town full of affectionate neighbors. She'd only seen a city of people using an old war tradition as an excuse to make out with the hot checkout girl from the grocery store. But come to think of it....
Scarlet looked around at some of the happy couples nearby; whispering in each other's ears, playfully kissing beneath paper stars, sharing lip-shaped popsicles.
It was kinda sweet.
The bright twinkle lights glowed above the dancers while love songs floated into the air....
"I guess, you're right. It's sorta...pleasant. All the love and flirting." Scarlet looked around again and spied an elderly couple feeding each other chocolate candies.
She leaned to the right, accidentally brushing arms with Gabriel, and her insides sparked at his touch. Scarlet blushed and immediately repositioned herself so there was space between them.
They watched the park crowd for a moment in silence as she waited for the heat that had flooded her face to subside.
Gabriel cleared his throat.
"Free Lovers Lemonade!" A woman wearing a pink sundress walked past them carrying a tray of pink lemonade.
She handed each of them a cup and moved on.
Gabriel looked at the cup, and then gave Scarlet another crooked smile. "Wanna walk around with me? I promise to protect you from the sidewalk dentist."
Scarlet smiled. "Sure."
For a minute they strolled in silence, crossing the grassy park while observing the dancers and merchants and kissers. Scarlet took a sip of her lemonade and welcomed the ice-cold liquid sliding down her throat.
"So tell me about yourself, Scarlet." Gabriel said. "I mean, I already know about your love for coffee and sleeping inwhich makes you awesome, by the waybut what else?"
She inhaled deeply, thinking of where to start.
Well, a year ago I was abandoned in a park on the other side of town and then taken into custody by this pretty woman named Laura, who gave me a home so I could have a normal life and go to high school.?Oh, and, I have amnesia. You know. Same ol', same ol'.
Yeah, probably not the best way to keep Gabriel around. Instead, Scarlet decided to go with the random-facts-about-yourself answer.?
"Well...I speak Spanish," she said.
One of the few perks of having amnesia was that, every once in a while, Scarlet would 'remember' she knew something interesting.
She'd discovered her mastery of the language in last year's Spanish class.
"That's cool..." he said, sucking down his drink.
"Also..." Scarlet took another sip of her drink. "I'll be a senior at Avalon High this year. And I love ice cream. What about you? Who is Gabriel Archer?"
He laughed, "Well that could take me all night to explain. The short answer? I just moved here from New York. I'm a fan of this pink lemonade," he took a sip, "And I don't like snakes."
"But I do like this festival."
Scarlet nodded, "Right, because of all the love and positivity and goobers."
He smiled, "Among other things."
She smiled back.
They slowed their walk to a standstill and suddenly Scarlet was very aware of how close they stood to one another. She looked up and saw paper stars dangling from the tree above.
Something akin to panic shot through Scarlet.
Why did Georgia have to have so many trees?
Paper stars were everywhere.
Her heart began to race at the thought of Gabriel kissing her. Half of her wanted him to, but the other halfthe sane, logical, you-don't-like-to-kiss-strangers halfwanted to flee from the park and burn down every tree in Georgia.
What was wrong with her?
She was so confused by her own heart. It was pounding in panic at the thought of kissing a guy she'd just met and hammering in delight at the thought of kissing the beautiful boy in front of her.
She was no better than any of the other kiss-crazy townspeople.
Her eyes fell from the stars down to his mouth and quickly back up to his eyes.
Gabriel followed her eyes, noticed the stars and tilted his head. "Do you think it's weird to kiss someone you barely know?"
No, it's perfectly normal and gives us a fantastic excuse to make out. Kiss me!
"Totally weird," she said, immediately wanting to slap herself.
"Me too," he said.
Scarlet's heart sank a little.
Gabriel flashed his dimples, "I guess now I've got a good reason to get to know you, don't I?"
Scarlet narrowed her eyes at him playfully, "Who said I'd let you kiss me even if you got to know me?"
He nodded his head with a smile, "Challenge accepted."
Before Scarlet could conjure up a snarky comeback they were interrupted.
"I'm baaaaack!" Heather rushed up to Scarlet, completely unaware of Gabriel. "I came, I kissed, I conquered. Now, let's go find you a hot guy with a tasty mouth." Heather reached for Scarlet's arm, caught sight of Gabriel, and froze.
Her mouth hung open for a moment as she took him in. "Or...," she looked Gabriel up and down shamelessly. "We could just stay here and talk to this lovely gentleman." Heather whipped her head around and shot Scarlet an O-M-G-who-is-this-hottie? look.
Scarlet cleared her throat, "Heather this is Gabriel. Gabriel, Heather."
Heather put on her best smile and turned to Gabriel, "Why, hello Gabriel. It's nice to meet you."
Dimples showing, Gabriel said, "You too, Heather."
"Are you new to Avalon? I've lived here all my life and I don't think I've ever seen you before. I'm pretty sure I'd remember." She may as well have batted her lashes for all the flirt dripping from her tongue.
Scarlet rolled her eyes.
"Yes, I'm new to town." Gabriel smiled politely, his golden eyes flashing to Scarlet.
"Well, then, welcome to Avalon. And welcome to the Kissing Festival." Heather went up on her tiptoes and gave Gabriel a kiss on each cheek.
"Thank you," Gabriel said, graciously receiving and returning the kisses.
"Would you like to join us as we go watch the kissing relays?" Heather said, rubbing her hands together like sweating people kissing in between sprints wasn't disgusting.
"You should come," Scarlet said, hoping he'd join them. "I might throw up. It'll be fun." She liked being near him and listening to his voice. She didn't want him to leave.
He smiled, "As much as I would love to watch you vomit, I can't. I have to go."
Scarlet nodded her head and tried to keep her smile in place; not showing her disappointment.
Heather said, "Will you be here tomorrow night?"
"Uh..," Gabriel looked at Scarlet, blinked for a moment and said, "Yes. Yes, I will."
"Fantastic! We'll see you tomorrow, then." Heather said, and again gave Gabriel two cheek kisses goodbye.
"It was nice to meet you, Heather." Gabriel said. He looked at Scarlet a moment, showed his dimples and said, "Goodbye, Scarlet Jacobs."
"Goodbye," she said, as casually as possible, even though she wanted to shout, Don't leave! You make me feel normal!
Gabriel smiled one last time before disappearing into the crowd of kissers.
Not two seconds passed before Heather turned to Scarlet with her mouth hanging open. "O-M-G, Scarlet. W-T-H?"
Heather actually spoke in text language. It took Scarlet a long time to get used to thismostly because Scarlet had to learn text lingo in order to decipher conversations with Heather.
Sure, Scarlet wakes up in a park with a complete understanding of the Spanish language...but 'LOL'? Nothing.
"What do you mean?" Scarlet asked, sucking down the remainder of her pink lemonade with a sigh. Gabriel was gone and so was the feeling or normalcy Scarlet had briefly enjoyed.
"Um...hello? Hot guy chattin' you up at the Kissing Festival? Where did you find him?"
"Find him? He's not a cereal toy, Heather."
"Nobut ooh! How awesome would that be? You open a box of Trix and wham! Out pops a hot guy! I would so eat more cereal. He's gorgeous. I mean, like, Greek-god-gorgeous. How did you meet him?"
"He just came up and started talking to me while I was waiting for you to finish at the kissing booths. How'd that go, by the way?"
"Worth every penny. Tell me more about Gabriel."
They walked together past a breath mint stand. "His name is Gabriel Archer. He's from New York. And he doesn't like snakes."
Heather raised her eyebrows and waited for more. "That's it? That's all you got?"
"Well, pretty much. It wasn't an interrogation. We just...talked."
"Did you kiss?"
"No." Scarlet said.
Scarlet sighed, "I know."
"Tomorrow," Heather said. "Tomorrow I will make sure you two kiss. And I will also be in charge of your outfit. You, clearly, cannot be trusted to dress yourself."
Scarlet looked down at her green top and innocently said, "What? You don't like my green shirt?"
"It's not a shirt, it's a curtain. You look like a bad set of drapes from the 70s. But no worries! Tomorrow I will make sure you look stunning. Now," Heather began with a crooked smile. "Let's go watch our friends' parents run laps and pass the baton of saliva."
Wonderful. Let the retching begin.
Scarlet mocked a gag but followed her friend through the crowd anyway.
Something about meeting Gabriel had put Scarlet in a better mood. She almost didn't hate the festival anymore.
Just as they left the grassy park, Scarlet caught sight of her mystery boy-in-black. He was farther away this time but she could tell he was still looking at her. His gaze was more intense than before and Scarlet felt her heart tightening.
Her mind sparked again at the promise of a memory.
She slowed her steps to eye him more clearly but a group of people passed in front of her, blocking her view. When the crowd cleared he was nowhere to be found.
Scarlet stretched her gaze across the park as far as she could but found nothing. He'd been there one moment and gone the next.
Just like the memory.