The day before sophomore year started, when her mom took her to pick up new reeds for her clarinet, she called and offered to grab some for my sax. She dropped them off a few hours later as I was sweeping out the garage, trying to earn car money. We flirted a little, talked about band and whether she could possibly make first chair as a sophomore, and then I was kissing her. Just leaned over the push broom and did it without letting myself think about it first. And it was perfect. One year ago today.
I remember the necklace I got for her and whisper, “Hey, I forgot. I have something in my backpack.” “Really?” She eases back, and the grin on her face is downright heartstopping. I forgot how much I like the way she smiles at me while we’re kissing and no one else is around. Like I’m the only person in the world who makes her feel this happy. I reach to the floor and unzip the bag one-handed, keeping my other hand in its comfy location, tucked under the side of her bra, and pull out the box containing the necklace. I slide it so it’s on my chest, right between us. “Happy anniversary, Amber.” Twin lines furrow the area between her eyes, like she was expecting something else, but they disappear when she smiles. “You want me to open it now?” “Yeah. Is there a problem?” “Of course not!” She sits up, letting her rear end slide into the space between my thigh and the back of the sofa, so I push myself upright and pull her onto my lap. She eases a finger under the tape, then peels off the wrapping paper without tearing it.
My heart nearly stops at her sharp intake of breath as she opens the box from the jeweler. “Toby, this is gorgeous!” “You like?” She nods, fingering the gold-dipped aspen leaf and the small round opal set in its center.
“I thought you might like something outdoorsy,” I explain. “When I saw this one, with your birthstone, it seemed like something you’d wear.” She doesn’t say anything. She just stares at the necklace lying against the fuzzy blue velvet inside the box. “If you don’t like it, I can take it back and you can choose something else.” Could I sound like a bigger dweeb? I can just hear Keira’s reaction. She’d say, If she already told you it’s gorgeous, why in the world are you offering to return it? Take a girl at her word!
Amber blinks, then smiles at me. “Never. It’s perfect. I’ll wear it all the time.” She takes it out of the box and asks me to hold her hair out of the way while she fastens it. Once it’s on, she wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me, long and slow and soft. It’s quiet; I can’t even hear the television upstairs. Just me and Amber and the low hum of the DeWitts’ air conditioning. Like no one could ever disturb us down here. She must have the same feeling, because she slides her hands down my back, then eventually around to the front to play with the button on my shorts again. I want to stop her, but I don’t want to, either. The sensation of her fingernails running along my waist, then lower, just below my belly button, is driving me nearly over the edge. I think I’m going to combust, but in a very, very good way. I know she can tell, since she’s sitting in my lap, but it’s not stopping her. I swallow hard and try to think of something else. Cars I might be able to afford. Ms. Lewis’s stupid syllabus. Ms. Lewis herself. But nothing’s easing the problem.
Then she maneuvers my shorts down a few inches, so they’re barely covering me, and pushes me backward on the sofa so she can get them the rest of the way down if she wants.
“Amber, we can’t,” I tell her between kisses. “If you keep . . . any more and I might come.” She smiles against my lips and moves her bodywith those glorious breastsagainst me. Then she slips her fingers into the waistband of my underwear. “Really, Amber. We need to stop.” I can’t believe I’m saying what I’m saying to herit’s bad enough I just used the word come in a sentence out loudbut what’s my alternative? “If . . . well, it’ll make a mess. Your parents are gonna know.” And I don’t want to. When it gets right down to it, no matter how good this feels physically, my brain’s telling me it’s wrong. I can’t get a hand job in her parents’ basement. It was bad enough that she gave me one at Sophomore Blast last year, when we were hidden away in her tent. Well, good, as in how it felt, but bad in the sense that we could have been discoveredby Meghan, who was sharing the tent, by one of the chaperones, by anyone who happened to stumble away from the annual sophomore class lakeside party. And bad in that when I realized what she really wanted then was to have sex, that the hand job wasn’t the destination, I squirreled my way ouut of there before she could say the words. I cut her off midI want to and told her Griff was going to come looking for me because I’d promised to play onnnnn his team in the flag football game. “We’ll figure something out.” Her eyes lock onto mine, but her hands stay right where they are. “Toby, it’s our anniversary. I . . . I think today should be the day. I’ve been thinking about it for months, and Toby, we’re ready for this. We are.” “So you really . . . ?” I can’t say the words, but it’s plain from her face that she’s planning on way more than a hand job tonight. That in her mind, we’re picking up where we left off in the tent. It felt all out of whack then. It feels out of whack now. Surreal.
“That’s a big step,” I say.
She’s a virgin. Connor pushed her, but she never went all the way with him. I know because back when I was just her friend, someone to give her the guy’s perspective, she gave me all the details. A blush creeps across her cheeks. “I, um, actually thought, when you went for your backpack earlier, that you might have a condom in there. Maybe.” No. “But the necklace was okay,” she adds in a rush. “I just thought, after having virtually no time together this summer, and with it being our anniversary, it’d be perfect. I’ve missed you so much.” “Your parents are upstairs.” She laughs. “You know they won’t check on us for a while. Their favorite show’s on, and there’s no way they’re leaving to check on us. We’re focusing on homework, remember?” What I remember that I’m supposed to be doing my homework instead of my girlfriend. I reach up with one hand to push her hair back, looping a long strand behind her ear. Man, she looks cute like that, with her hair hanging down on one side of her face and tucked back on the other.
“I really want to, Toby. I think it’s time to take our relationship to the next level, don’t you?” I know I should make an excuse, like I did in the tent. Say that the timing’s not good since it’s nearly nine p.m. on a Tuesday and I have to get home. Point out that I do not have a condom, not in my wallet or backpack or even at home in my nightstand. Tell her I think she’s too special to lose her virginity on a basement sofa. A dozen gentle letdowns run through my head, but what do I say? “No.”