Chapter no 12

Better Than the Movies

“He had kissed her long and good. We got banned from the pool forever that day, but every time we walked by after that, the lifeguard looked down from her tower, right over at Squints, and smiled.”

The Sandlot

“Thank God we parked close.” Wes started the car and turned on the windshield wipers as the rain pounded down. “We would’ve been drenched if we’d been a second later.”

My heart was beating in my neck. The inside of the dark car felt intimate against the roaring storm, and I was wholly unsettled. Since the moment I’d realized the way I truly felt about Wes, I’d been overwhelmed with a sort of panicked need to tell him. To make sure he knew before Alex got comfortable on him. “For sure.”

“Sorry about my sketchy friends.”

“Nah—it’s cool.” He was referring to the fact that his friends had played Cards Against Humanity for about 1ve minutes before deciding they all wanted to go along when Noah got the pizza. I’m fairly certain I was smiling maniacally when Alex climbed into the minivan. “I was supposed to go home as soon as the movie ended, anyway.”

“Yeah, what’s with that? You’re months away from leaving for college, but your dad’s still all over your business. Is he a smidge overprotective, maybe?”

He looked over his shoulder before putting the car in drive and pulling onto the street, and the new song from Daphne Steinbeck—“Dark Love”—was starting on the radio. It was slow and heavy on the sexy building beat, and I considered switching the station because it felt like too much.

It was too perfect.

I said, “Big-time. Even though he’s moved on with his life, he never forgets about my mother’s accident and the fact that sometimes the things that seem unlikely to happen in life do actually happen.”

“Wow.” He glanced over at me. “Pretty tough to argue over that one, eh?” “I don’t even bother.”

The rain intensi1ed, and Wes switched the windshield wipers to full speed. He pulled out slowly onto Harbor Drive, the busy street that ran parallel to Michael’s neighborhood, and the bright, multicolored lights from the businesses lining the road were completely blurred by the downfall. I leaned forward, cranked the defroster, and said as casually as I could, “So Alex, huh? You’re going to ask her out?”

“Did Michael say that?” He craned his neck closer to the windshield, taking his time as we neared an intersection. The stoplight switched to green, and he accelerated when the cars at the cross street all came to a stop. All clear, we got back up to speed, but in the distance I saw a Jetta zip out of a gas station and onto the road in front of the Suburban we were following entirely too closely and—

“Car!” I braced myself for impact as the brake lights in front of us glowed bright red through the drenched and foggy window. Wes’s tires tried to stop on the wet pavement, but the brakes locked, and we were going to slam into that Suburban.

Wes steered the car to the right, throwing us up and over what might’ve been a curb, and then we were headed for something very green. It looked like a forest. “Shitshitshitshit,” he chanted as he attempted to control the car. His foot mashed on the brake, but as the headlights lit up the steep, muddy slope in front of us, we just kept moving down that hill and toward the trees. We were going to hit a tree—there was no way we weren’t—and I said a prayer as fast as I could

while my heart pounded.

He jerked the wheel again, and as soon as he did, I felt a huge bump, like we’d hit something, and I worried the car was going to Aip over.

But it lurched to a stop instead.

I looked over at Wes, and his face was Aushed like he’d just come back from a run. We were both breathing hard as thunder continued to pound, the rain

slapped on the roof of the truck, and the radio still played “Dark Love.” “Did that just happen?”

“Are you okay?” His hands were still tightly wrapped around the wheel, and he blinked at me, frozen, before he unclenched his 1ngers and put the car in park. “Holy shit, Liz.”

“I’m 1ne.” I tried to look out the windshield but still couldn’t see anything. “Oh my God, we’re 1ne…?”

“Oh my God.” He laid his back on his seat and let out his breath. “That was wild.”

Wild. From the time he’d slammed on the brakes until now had probably been a minute—tops. But that minute had been like an hour. In the span of that minute I’d worried that we were going to die. I’d worried about how my dad would survive if something happened to me, I’d worried about Joss, I’d worried about Wes’s mom, and I’d mourned the fact that I’d never get the chance to see things through with Wes.

Bizarre, right?

“I can’t believe we’re okay,” I said, remembering the way Wes had jerked the wheel. I said, “You were incredible.”

He unbuckled his seat belt and didn’t look at me. “Incredibly reckless for driving in this weather, you mean.”

“No, I mean not only did your driving keep us from slamming into that car, but then it kept us from slamming into a tree.” I unbuckled my seat belt too, and added, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I might’ve gotten us stuck.” He reached in front of me and opened the glove box, rummaged until he came up with a Aashlight. “Wait here—I’m going to check it out.”

He opened his door and got out. I tried peering through the windshield, to see for myself, but the windows were so fogged, I saw nothing. I opened my door and stepped out, immediately getting pummeled by the hard pounding rain as my foot squished down into the wet mud.

“Shit!” I lowered my head and ran around the front of the car to where I could sort of see Wes kneeling next to the tire. I stopped beside him and squatted. Yelled, “Seriously? A rock?”

It looked like our tire had slammed into a huge boulder and then gotten hung up on it. Wes’s front tire was literally oP the ground. He squinted, rain sluicing over his face as he looked surprised to see me. “I thought I told you to wait in the car.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” I hollered through the rain, and his face went from rock-hard seriousness to amused softness in a second. I said, “Besides, if you die, I’m stuck out here all alone.”

“True,” he bellowed, grabbing my wet hand with his and pulling me up. “I’m getting back in the car—would the lady care to join me?”

“She would, actually.”

Instead of coming around to my side, he opened his door and gently pushed me inside. I giggled and climbed in, scooting over to the middle of the bench seat, and when his big body got in and the door slammed shut, the inside of his car seemed incredibly insulated.

For a few seconds we were quiet, each of us wiping water from our faces and pushing drenched hair from our eyes. Then he pulled out his phone and dialed a number.

“I’m calling my dad,” he said as he raised the phone to his ear, looking at the steering wheel. “He can get here fast, and his buddy has a tow truck.”

“Cool.” I looked down and whispered, “Oh no—my Chucks.”

They were covered in wet, sticky mud, and that made me more upset than it should’ve. They were just sneakers, after all, and it was just mud. But… I’d wanted them to stay as perfect as they’d been when Wes had walked them over to the counter at Devlish and paid for them.

Maybe I could wash them in bleach when I got home.

I pulled down the visor and looked in the mirror as he told his dad what had happened and where we were. I wiped under my eyes in an attempt to eradicate raccoon-eye, but my trembling 1ngers were no good.

I Aipped the visor back up and took a deep breath. I was shaken by the accident, but this weird surge of adrenaline I was feeling was something more.

Because it occurred to me, as Wes’s car sat there with one tire in the air, that life was unpredictable. No matter how much planning you did, and no matter

how safe you played it, some intangible was always going to rear its head and shake things up.

Which made me wonder.

If my mom had still been alive, would she have changed her tune by now on the whole bad-boy thing? It seemed to me that because of things like car accidents and lost loves, life and death and broken hearts, we should grab every moment and absolutely devour the good parts. Wouldn’t she want that? For me to ad-lib my life instead of living by some typed-in-twelve-point-Courier-New script?

“He’ll be here in ten minutes.” Wes dropped his phone into the cupholder and turned his eyes on me. “I am so sorry, Lib.”

I suppressed a shiver and wondered if he’d meant to call me that. He usually only said it when he was teasing, but this time it’d been personal. Intimate. Almost as if we really were a thing. My voice didn’t sound right as I said, “No worries—you didn’t drive me head1rst into a tree, so we’re good.”

That made his face soften. “Good.”

I rolled in my lips and felt nervous, mostly because I really, really, really wanted to tell him how I felt and what I wanted. I took a deep breath and said, “Wes.”

“Hey. Your curls are back.” His brown eyes narrowed a little and his lips turned up. “I think I’ve missed them.”

He started to lift his hand, like he was going to touch my wet hair, but then he didn’t.

Disappointment shot through me as I breathed around a laugh. “Weren’t you the one who demanded I straighten my hair?”

“I was.” His skin was wet from the rain too—obviously—and a drop was poised to tumble oP the tip of his nose. Those brown eyes traveled all over my face, dipping over my eyes and cheeks and mouth before he said in a hoarse, deep voice, “And I think I regret all of it. I miss your clothes and curly hair. You look best when you’re you.”

You look best when you’re you. Oh, God.

We were so close, lips mere inches away as we sat face-to-face on his front seat. I felt like there was no one else in the world, nothing but me and Wes in the

steamy-windowed cab of his car as the rain cocooned us in showers. I wanted him to lean in and kiss me—I wanted it so badly—but I knew he wouldn’t.

How did I know?

Because I’d spent my entire life making sure Wes Bennett knew just how much I would never-ever-ever want him to kiss me. I said on a breath, “Gee, thanks, Bennett.”

His voice was quiet when he said, “I mean it.” And then I kissed him.

Going for it, I slid my arms around his neck and pressed my lips against his, turning my head just a little and scooting my hips over on the bench seat. The smell of his cologne mixed with the smell of the rain, and he was all around me.

Wes was frozen for a second, unmoving as my mouth rested against his mouth. The thought that he might not want to kiss me crossed my mind too late. Could I retreat and play this oP? Do a whole Oops, I was unbalanced from the accident and fell on your mouth with my mouth bit?

And then, as if struck by lightning, Wes inhaled and his hands tightened on the sides of my face. He was kissing me back. I was kissing Wes Bennett, and he was kissing me.

It went from breathily timid to scalding hot in an instant.

He angled his head and kissed me the way Wes was supposed to kiss, wild and sweet and entirely overcon1dent all at the same time. He knew exactly what he was doing as his big hands slid into my hair, but it was the shudder in his breath and the slight tremor in his touch that I drew on. The fact that he felt as out of control as I felt.

Wes slid me even closer to him on the seat, so we were pressed chest-to-chest. For the 1rst time in my life, I understood how people could just forget where they were and have wild, indiscriminate sex in the front seat of a car. I wanted to wrap my legs around his waist, climb all over him, and explore everything that had ever been done with two bodies. And I was still (sort of) a virgin.

I couldn’t stop my hands from going everywhere as I got lost in the all-encompassing everything of our moment. I slid them under his hoodie as his teeth nipped at my bottom lip, and then they were on his face, feeling the rigid solidity of his jawline while he kissed me like it was his job and he wanted a raise.

He made a sound when I dug my hands into his hair—like he liked it—and I wanted it to rain like that forever and never stop.

It wasn’t until he said my name—whispered it into my mouth—three times that I came back to reality.


“Hmmm?” I opened my eyes but my vision was kind of unfocused. I smiled when I saw his pretty face so close to mine. “What?”

His dark eyes were heavy-lidded as he said, “I think my dad’s here.”

“What?” I felt totally out of it as I blinked up at him and his hand moved slowly back and forth on my lower back. I don’t think I would’ve heard or noticed if a pack of wild dogs had run by.

Then I saw the headlights next to his car.

“Oh.” I took a deep breath and ran a hand over my hair, squinting as the too-bright light illuminated everything. I whispered, “Shit.”

“I should probably go talk to him before he opens your door.” His lips were

almost touching my ear as he quietly spoke to me. “Okay?”

My eyes were barely open as I felt his hot mouth whisper over my earlobe. “Libby?”

I shook my head. “Nuh-uh.”

That earned me a deep, dirty chuckle that curled my toes inside my shoes. His breath tickled my nerve endings as he said, “I’m good with staying if you don’t mind my dad seeing us like this.”

“Fine, go,” I muttered, and pushed on his chest, feeling somehow possessive of Wes Bennett as I reveled in the feel of his chest under my palms. His eyes went down to my hands for the quickest of seconds and his forehead creased, but just like that it was normal again.

I gave him a look and said, “I was done with you anyway.”

“Whatever, Miss Nuh-Uh.” His smile told me he knew exactly how much he’d aPected me. He opened his door and said, “Be right back, Elizabeth.”

“I’ll be here, Wessy,” I said, which received more dirty chuckling before he got out and slammed the door behind him.

I adjusted my wet clothing and attempted to straighten my hair. Oh my God, oh my God, did that really just happen? I felt like Wes’s dad would be able to tell

just by looking at me that I’d been making out with his son, but there probably wasn’t a lot I could do about that.

“Hey.” The passenger door opened and Wes leaned in. “He’s going to need Webb’s truck to get my car out so he’s just going to take us home and come back.”

I blinked and wondered why I hadn’t spent my entire life being awestruck by the sight of his face. I let my eyes stumble all over it. “Okay.”

His lips turned up into a sexy grin, and I swear to God, he knew what I was thinking. He put his mouth next to my ear and said, “I was not ready for him to be here yet.”

I felt warm all over when he lifted his head and we smiled at each other. “I wasn’t either,” I admitted.

“Come on, kids—I’m gettin’ soaked out here,” Mr. Bennett yelled from somewhere behind Wes before he got into his car and closed the door.

Wes held out his hand, and when I grabbed it and climbed out of the car, he didn’t let go. Instead he laced his long 1ngers between mine, without looking at me, and led me over to his dad’s car in the pouring rain.

Wes Bennett was holding my hand.

He opened the back door… and a big box was on the seat.

“Other side,” his dad said, and Wes let go of my hand and opened the front passenger door for me instead. I got in, and he gave me a wink before closing my door.

I was in deep trouble because that wink straight-up made me light-headed. “Thanks,” I said as he shut my door, ran around to the other side, and got in

the back. Not only was it awkward, sitting in the front with his dad, but I desperately wanted to sit by Wes.

“Thanks for coming to get us, Mr. Bennett.”

“No problem, sweetie.” He buckled his seat belt and put the car in drive. “Last time I gave you a ride somewhere, you were pretty tiny.”

I smiled and remembered the time he’d driven all of us kids to Dairy Queen when there was a massive power outage. “Dairy Queen, right? That had to be ten years ago.”

He nodded. “That’s right.”

As he turned out onto Harbor Drive, I wished I could see Wes’s face and know what he was thinking. Was he freaking out like me—in the good way? Did he want to 1nd a way to get together later and make out a little more?

Was he interested in me—like, really interested?

Because I was beside myself with excitement, bursting with the utter ahhhhh!

that could only follow our little game of 1ve minutes in the steamy car.

His dad started talking about the car situation, and he and Wes got lost in automobile talk all the way home as I stared out the window and replayed the kiss in my head. When Mr. Bennett pulled into my driveway, I grabbed Helena’s to-go bag and my purse. I had no idea what to say, so I blurted out, “Thanks for the ride.”

“Of course. Nice seeing you, honey.”

I got out, slammed the door, and ran through the rain until I reached our covered porch. Only… I couldn’t not say anything else to Wes, right? I couldn’t let the night’s last words be from Stuart Bennett.

I watched as their car left my driveway and pulled into theirs next door, and as soon as I saw Wes get out in the garage, I set down the stuP in my hand and charged out into the rain. Once I got to the corner of his yard, I stopped and yelled, “Wes!”

The rain pounded down on me, but I yelled his name again as I tried to get his attention.

He looked over, but it was raining too hard for me to see his face. The rain Aattened my soaking hair against my face, but I shouted, “Thanks for everything!”

I ran back to the porch, pushed back my dripping hair, and got out my key. “Libby!”

I smiled and turned around, and there was Wes, standing in the pouring rain in my front yard. I tilted my head and said, “What?”

“You said ‘everything’!” His clothes were drenched as he shouted, “Does that mean you’re thanking me for the kiss, too?”

I laughed and picked up Helena’s food. “I should’ve known you’d ruin it!” “Nuh-uh, Buxbaum.” He dug his hands into his wet hair and made it all

stand straight up as he grinned at me through the storm. “That was too perfect

for anything to ruin. G’night.”

Nuh-uh. I sighed and felt warm inside, even as my wet body shivered. “G’night, Bennett.”



“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” I closed the door behind me and rested my dripping forehead on the cool of the white wood. What was that and what did it mean? “Holy crap.

“That good, huh?”

I turned around, and Helena was sitting on the chair beside the 1replace with Mr. Fitzpervert asleep on her lap, a book still in her hand and a smirk on her face. I wanted to be mad or embarrassed, but I couldn’t stop smiling. I pushed at my wet hair and said, “You have no idea.”

“Come in the kitchen before we wake up your dad.” She got up, making Fitz grunt out a cranky mrrf as he jumped down to the Aoor. Helena dropped the book and gestured to me while walking toward the kitchen. Once we got there, she grabbed her food before whipping a towel at me and saying, “Now start talking.”

I giggled—I couldn’t help it—and rubbed the towel over my head. “I, um, I had a really great time with Wes tonight.”

“Yeah…?” She opened the to-go container and stuck it in the microwave. “And…?”

“And.” I kept rubbing my hair, replaying his mouth on mine. The sound of his breathing, the smell of his cologne, the feel of his hands holding my face—

“Hey. Excuse me. Can you focus for a minute?”

That made me laugh again. “I can’t, okay? I’m sorry, but I can’t focus on anything because I had an incredible night with Wes Bennett, of all people. An incredible night that ended with him kissing me like a world-champion kisser. I am shook, Helena.”

“I’m not sure how. I mean yes, you’ve hated him forever, but I still feel like you guys have been leading up to this.”

“Really?” I set the towel down on the counter. “Have we? God, I’ve been so oblivious.” Somehow, for so long, I’d managed to be fully unaware that Wes was

attractive, funny, and smart, as well as the one person I was totally able to be myself around. I’d been so blinded by the idea of Michael that I hadn’t even realized what was happening between us.

“But it’s good, yes?” Helena leaned on the counter and beamed at me. “It seems to me that it’s really, really good.”

I opened the fridge—still smiling—and said, “I’m scared to say it, but I think it could be.”

Although… I was still concerned about Alex. I knew what he’d said about her, but sometimes feelings changed. Just because she wasn’t his “type” the other day didn’t mean that with more time together and more time to gaze upon her beauty, he wouldn’t change his mind.

She clapped her hands together. “What if he asks you to prom?”

I almost dropped the orange juice when she said that. I straightened a little and pictured his face as I stared into the fridge, the way his dark eyes had looked almost black after we’d stopped kissing. It was Wes Bennett we were talking about, and yet it wasn’t. It was Wes 5.0, the grown-ass man version, and I felt like I was in over my head because I had no idea where things stood with us. He’d kissed my face oP. That was the only thing I knew to be true. Did he still think he was helping me with Michael? He couldn’t, right?

And I didn’t know if he wanted to pursue anything with me, but I was desperately hopeful that the fervor of the kiss meant that he did.

The whole Michael thing felt silly now. I wished I could go back in time and play Michael and Laney’s personal cupid instead of pulling all the stunts I did. I hoped that my heart-to-heart with Michael by the piano had given him what he needed to ask Laney out.

“I’m sure he won’t.” I closed the fridge and was realistic about prom, even though my poor, confused little love-lover side was squealing at the thought. Regardless of my pinings, I’d told Joss I’d go with her, and I needed to stick to that. So far I’d lucked out and my shittiness as a friend hadn’t cost me anything with her, so I needed to step up and keep that going. “Plus, I’ve got a date.”

“Would Joss care if you went with him?”

“Oh, yeah—but maybe we could all go together…?” Dressing up with two of my favorite people? It sounded so much more amazing than what I had

previously envisioned as the perfect prom.

“Well, whatever happens,” Helena said, “I’ll be happy to underwrite a pre-prom salon and spa day.”

I unscrewed the juice lid and said, “That sounds really fun. But you have to come along.” And I meant it. I wanted her there with me.

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

I shrugged and said, “I mean, if you piss me oP, I’ll just tell your stylist that you secretly want mini-bangs.”

“Can you even imagine how they would look on this runway of a forehead?” “They look terrible on everyone—period.”

After that, I went up to my room and sent Jocelyn a text about Wes, which led to us going back and forth for, like, an hour.

Me: I think I might like-like him. Her: OBVIOUSLY.

Me: I think HE might like-like me.

Her: Tell me every little thing that happened.

I didn’t mention that we’d kissed, which was weird because I usually told her everything. Well, except for lately. But it had been so perfect—both the kiss and his sweet comment about my style—that I didn’t want Joss’s opinion to mar the evening’s Aawlessness.

I stayed up way too late making a Wes and Liz playlist and went to sleep thinking of his face after he’d kissed me. Because the way he’d looked at me—like he couldn’t believe it had happened and also like he wanted to do it again— weakened my knees with its mere recollection.

His eyes had been soft and hot all at the same time, intense and sweet, and I wished there was a way to archive the memory so it could never be lost.

How was I ever going to sleep?

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