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Collared(9)
Nicole Williams

But I can’t just say Yes or I do or I will or whatever girls in this kind of a situation do, because I’m seventeen and I’m me and Jade Childs can’t be a teenage bride. She can’t even be a teenage fiancée. Can she?

God, I’m so confused. But I’m not confused about Torrin or loving him or wanting him forever. That’s the clearest thing to me in the whole world.

“Are you just asking that because we”—I clear my throat—“you know and the good Catholic boy you’re not is making you feel all guilty?”

He’s at least fifty feet away, but I don’t miss his smile. I couldn’t miss it if we were an entire solar system apart.

“No.” He pads a step closer. “I’m asking you to marry me because I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”

The wind keeps playing with me, toying with my mind the way it’s messing with my clothes. “Not today. Not tomorrow.”

Torrin’s head shakes. He steps closer. His eyes never leave mine. “Someday.”

When the next rush of wind hits me, I move. Toward him. Before he can get a few footsteps forward, I throw myself against him. He falls back a few steps then steadies himself.

My legs wind around him and my arms rope around his neck, then I’m kissing him. For anyone to see. For everyone to see. Right here on the sidewalk I grew up riding my bike down, drawing chalk hopscotch squares on, scraping my knees on. I kiss Torrin like my life depends on it, and in a way, it kind of does. Our lives have been tangled together for a long time—this is when I know that they’ll always be tethered together.

This moment, right here, is somehow even better than the one we just shared upstairs in his bedroom because this is when I feel it. Forever. It’s right in front of me. He’s right in front of me.

“JADE CHILDS!!!” My dad’s shout echoes up and down Madison Boulevard.

A few more dogs are yapping in yards and front windows now.

Torrin keeps kissing me, but eventually I pull back. My heart is pounding. My lungs are straining. Everything else is floating.

“Gotta go,” I whisper against his lips, breathing him in one last time, hoping I can hold in his scent until I see him before first period tomorrow morning. I unwind my legs from around him and kiss the corner of his mouth.

Just as I’m about to charge back down the sidewalk, his hand snags mine. “You never answered me.” His forehead’s lined as deeply as I’ve ever seen it.

My smile crawls into place as I glance at the claddagh hanging from his neck. “I thought I was pretty damn clear with that kiss.”

With a wink, I give his hand one last squeeze before turning and running. I don’t want to run away from him moments after his question and my answer, but I know the next time my dad steps out onto the porch, he’ll be coming out with his shotgun. My dad will freely admit that he’s a cop but that he’s a father first. Thus, the shotgun.

When I reach the short white gate in front of my house, I look back. He’s still there, waiting. I know that if I asked him, he’d spend the night waiting right there. I know he’d wait longer. I wonder if any length of time’s too long for him.

I open the gate latch and wave at him. Home safe and sound. Torrin waves back, but he doesn’t move to go back inside. He stays there, watching, waiting. He probably won’t go home until he’s heard my screen door close.

I feel like I’m dancing up the walkway. I know better than to explode into the house with a crazy grin or my parents’ radar will go off hardcore, so I pause to collect myself. It’s hard to do. I just had sex for the first time. With the guy I love. He just asked me to marry him. Someday. One day. I just agreed to it in the form of a kiss that felt like it melted all of my nerves.

I need more than a pause to collect myself from all that.

It’s dark as nights come, but that can’t touch me. I feel like I’m glowing from the inside out, and nothing can dim it. Nothing.

Giving myself two more breaths to compose myself, I pull the screen door open. Just as I’m about to shove through the front door, I hear something behind me.

It might be late and something’s making funny noises in the bushes, but it doesn’t raise the hair on my neck. This is one of the safest blocks in the whole country. Nothing even remotely exciting happens here. People don’t even speed five above the limit.

I let the screen door close before I climb down the front stairs. “Here, kitty, kitty,” I call, approaching the bushes slowly.

The honorary cat lady who lives a few houses down adopted a new cat who’s under the impression the world is its litter box. Dad’s threatened to shoot the poor thing the next time it takes a sideways look at Mom’s rose bushes, so I want to shoo it away before Dad and his shotgun show back up at the door.

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