Chapter no 9

If Only I Had Told Her

I sip the rum as I go, reading faster now that my brain isn’t keeping track of Autumn’s movements in the background. As the story is narrowing to its finale, it’s easier to rush.

The ending surprises me. I’d predicted a coldhearted end to their tale. Autumn has shown that it’s easy for her to drop friends, and I expected the same from Izzy and Aden.

I close the laptop and set it on the coffee table. Her novel is even better than I expected, but I can’t focus on the story.

Writers write what they know. I knew that.

But if Autumn has depicted my love in such perfect nuance, then it means she knows. It means she’s always known, always understood how I feel about her.

All these years, I had convinced myself that I’d fooled Autumn into thinking my feelings were puppy love at worst or teenage hormones at best. But she knew the truth. She observed my love and served it up to me, fictionally requited.

Jack said, “I’m leaning toward she knows you love her, and she’s fucking with you to make herself feel better.”

She knew. All summer, she knew.

All these years, she knew. Since middle school.

She could have told me my feelings were obvious and it made her uncomfortable or that she needed space. That would’ve been enough. I would have understood. She wouldn’t have had to spell out why.

Instead, she vanished on me.

I was dumb for kissing her that New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t deserve the ice that took years to thaw so that she’d simply smile at me again— especially not if she knew I was in love with her and missing her all semester. If she knew that I loved her, then she must have known how it would twist me when she magically came back to me that Christmas only to abandon me again.

The rum is gone; the book is done. Why am I still sitting here?

This new knowledge sits like a boulder on my chest. I make myself get off the couch with great effort.

I drink a glass of water before I go to find Autumn. I want to be clearheaded when I confront her.

I check my mother’s room first, but of course she went to my bed. Because she’s always known, and she’s using me to make herself feel better.

As I turn the doorknob, my brain freezes. I don’t know what I’m going to say to her.

The light from the hall falls across her face, and she winces.

“Autumn.” I’m so angry at her, yet her loveliness hits my body like a punch.

She makes a noise and blinks at the light. I push the door so it’s mostly closed and the light isn’t directly in her face.

“Autumn,” I say again.

“What?” She sits up, pushes the hair from her face, and looks at me, bleary eyed and beautiful.

“Why did you have to leave me like that?” is what comes out. “I was tired. You were reading.”

“No.” I’m not going to hold back. I say it. “After we turned thirteen.

Why did you have to leave me like that?”

Autumn goes still. I can tell that she is fully awake and understands. She has no answer.

I know that now.

Finally, she says, “I didn’t leave.” We both know she is lying. “We just grew apart.”

I’m not going to let her do this to me anymore. “We did not just grow apart, Autumn.”

“I didn’t mean to,” she says. “I’m sorry.” Tears shine in her eyes. She looks sorry.

But that’s not enough. Not enough by far.

“I already know why you did it.” She doesn’t have to explain that part. I know she’s never wanted me like that. I don’t need to hear her say it. “I just want to know why you had to be so cruel about it.” It’s time to face what Jack has been telling me all these years.

She stiffens. This time, I’m not going to shrug it off.

“Okay, I was stupid and selfish that fall. And I’m sorry. But everything would have gone back to normal if you hadn’t kissed me out of nowhere without even asking. Do you have any idea how much you scared me that night?”

Scared? A vision of her face as she pulled away from me floats before my eyes. She was disgusted. No, she—

“I scared you?”

Autumn’s tears have started to spill over. “I wasn’t ready.” She drags the heel of her hand across her cheek like a small child. “And I didn’t know what to think.”

She wasn’t ready? I scared her.

This is too much to take in. I sit down at the foot of the bed. I’m facing my window, her window, and I can’t bear that, so I look down at my hands.

She wasn’t ready? And I scared her.

I’d clenched her arm. I’d tried to be romantic, but I’d missed her cues.

I deserved the way she treated me the following year. I’m lucky she gives me the time of day now, that she thinks of me fondly enough to put parts of me in her novel. Autumn brings out the worst in me. All along, I knew that, yet I’d still blamed her.

I hadn’t overshot the mark with Autumn that night. I shouldn’t have taken the shot at all.

If I had waited, given her space. If I’d trusted the Autumn I knew instead of the tall tales of locker room jerks…

I feel the mattress shift as she scoots across the bed. “I’m sorry. I hate myself for hurting you.”

She tries to get a good look at my face in the dark, but I can’t bear to see her yet. I woke her up to confront her cruelty only to discover that I am the one who owed her the bigger apology.

“I’m sorry too,” I say. We’re both so many years late. “For what?”

She must still be part asleep. “I’m sorry for kissing you.”

“Don’t say that.” She sounds sadder than I’ve ever heard her sound before. “Don’t say you’re sorry for that.”

Do I owe her an apology for something else?

It turns out I don’t really know who Autumn is, and I don’t know who I am either. A dark laugh escapes me. No matter how I try, I always seem to end up hurting her.

“I never know what to do to make you happy, do I?” She answers so quickly that it surprises me.

“You make me happier than any other person ever has.”

The conviction in her voice is unmistakable.

“Do I?” Like Jack said to me: her story doesn’t make sense. “Every day,” she says.

We sit.

Autumn wasn’t ready for me to kiss her.

Autumn doesn’t want me to apologize for kissing her. I make her happy.

These three new facts roll around in my head, bumping against each other until suddenly they line up together in a way that makes sense.

Except it can’t be true.

Do I know how to make Autumn happy? Before, I kissed her without asking. “What if I kissed you right now?”

She takes a quick breath, and I am already dead. Autumn says, “That would make me happy.” I’m almost not sure what to do next.

You aren’t facing her, my brain gently nudges me.

I turn on the bed, tucking a leg under me, waiting for her to stop me, to clarify what she said, because there’s no way she meant it.

Autumn raises her face to mine, and her expression steals my breath.

I reach out a hand, ready to pull back at any moment. Gently, I rest my hand on her hair, just above her neck. She relaxes against my touch, and something breaks inside me.

Greedily, I pull her toward me. As I lean in, I hit her nose with mine.

I’m about to apologize when she turns her face, and her lips are so close.

All apologies, every apology, is forgotten, and my lips are on hers. I am only my lips. No other part of me exists.


I’m kissing Autumn.

The urge comes to push her back against the bed and feel her beneath me, and I begin to think actual thoughts again.

Don’t fuck this up, Finn.

I rest my hand against her hip so that my thumb can stroke that little spot that divots inward below her ribs, the glorious shape of her. Autumn sighs the sigh from a thousand of my fantasies.

I’m kissing her, and she’s leaning into me. This is real.

This is happening.


Her hand is on my shoulder, and I think she might push me away, but instead she pulls me closer, even though we’re as close as we can be sitting like this.

She wants this. She wants me.

Autumn puts her hand on my knee, and I stifle a groan. “Ow,” she says.

Her head shifts and I realize my grasp has tightened in her hair. I pull back.

“Sorry,” I say and begin to take my hands off her.

“No. Don’t stop,” Autumn says. Her hand is still on my shoulder. She pulls again, says, “Lie down with me.”

Autumn stretches out on my bed. She holds out her arms to me. “Oh God,” I say.

She wants—

She said “with,” not “on,” but her arms—

I pull myself over her, leaning on my right elbow. One of her breasts is pressed against me. When I look at her face, her eyes meet mine. Her arms close around me, and she raises her lips toward mine.

I’m kissing her. She’s kissing me.

It’s strange to feel as if I don’t have a body, but that’s what it’s like. I’m simply a soul existing ecstatically in the universe. Time and space are meaningless, temporary, inconsequential to me.

And then I crash back into myself. My body, her body, the actuality of the moment: they all hit me at once.

She is kissing me passionately. Autumn is kissing me.

I cup her face in my hand.

I’ve wanted to touch her face so many times; every smile, every frown has tempted me. The lines of her face have haunted me as much as any other part of her body.

Her body.

Autumn holds on to me tightly, pressing against me. She moans softly as our lips part to inhale and exhale. If our brains weren’t so good at balancing needs, we probably would have suffocated by now.

I hope I’m kissing her right. It seems like I am. Maybe my instincts can finally be in charge and my frontal lobe will relax before I overthink this and find some way to mess it up.

Autumn is kissing me with the same intensity that I am kissing her, fast and hard. I try to slow down, worrying that perhaps my fervor will become tiring. But Autumn shifts to match my pace like we are dance partners and the music has changed. She doesn’t loosen her grip on me. Her sounds of pleasure are dizzying.

How did we get here? Unscrambling the last few minutes is too much for me right now. I need to be in this moment while it lasts.

Her. Her.

I want to touch her breast.

No, Finn.

I try to bring my focus back to her lips—Autumn’s lips!—kissing mine again and again and again.

I try to be grateful for the breast that is pressing against my chest, but the other one is also right there.

Do I know how to make her happy? Because I can’t tear myself away from her mouth to speak. My left hand trails off her cheek and down her neck, around her shoulder.

Slow, Finn. Slow.

I try to signal what I’m doing so that she knows. No surprises, no mistakes. My thumb is at the bottom of the swell of her other breast, her ribs beneath my fingertips.


I’m moving my hand, and then—

I’m holding Autumn’s breast in my hand.

After all these years of trying not to look at them yet having their silhouette branded in my mind, Autumn is beneath me and in my hand and under my lips and hips.

She sighs the sigh from the tent this morning, the one that I wished I had inspired, and I am gone again. I am only sensations. There is no other reality, only Autumn.


I feel my name against my mouth at the same time as I hear it. Again, I am crashing back into time and space.

I remember that my body is kissing Autumn. The signal comes through.


I raise my head and look down at her. “Yeah?”

“I want—”

The light is still dim, but I can see her face a little better. She is flushed and her eyes are sparkling, wet. She looks apprehensive again.

I’ll say it for her if she can’t. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No!” she cries, surprising me. “I want the opposite of that.” Autumn bites her lip after blurting out the words, and she squirms nervously underneath me, setting off a series of feelings in my body that make it hard to process what she’s saying.

Because surely, she can’t mean what I think she means. The opposite of stopping is—

“You want me to keep going?” “Yes,” Autumn says.

My body screams for the same conclusion.

My instincts want to be in charge again, but this time, they are very wrong.

“I–I don’t have—”

Autumn must assume that I have condoms, which I don’t. Does she really want to do it with me after making out once, after waiting for so long with Jamie? No mistakes. No misunderstandings.

“I don’t care,” she says. There’s a firmness to her voice, a deep certainty.

“Autumn, no.” I should sit up and let us both cool down, but I don’t move. Autumn is nuzzling me. Nuzzling me.

“Please, Finny,” she says and kisses my neck in a way that melts me. “Please, Finny.”

In all my fantasies, there’s never been an explanation for why Autumn and I make love. I always jumped into the story after having magically seduced her under innumerable, varied circumstances.

And there have been many fantastical circumstances.

Never, not in any classroom, back seat, backyard, or rooftop scenario, has Autumn ever begged me.

“Please,” she says as her lips travel along my neck and jaw. “Please, please.”

The barrier inside my mind is crumbling.

Her lips are back on mine, and I am lost to desire. Surely, she’ll tell me to stop.

I slide my hand over her shirt, and she pulls it off. She doesn’t tell me to stop when I reach for her bra’s clasp.

Autumn’s bra is off, and the feel of her skin and the shadowy shape of her body leave me in thoughtless wonder. She pulls on the button of my jeans.

She means it.

Autumn makes a frustrated noise as her fingers slip and the button stays fastened.

She wants me.

All my reason and logic have been lost to that undeniable fact: Autumn wants me.

Now I’m the impatient one.

I push her hand aside and do it myself. I pull away from her enough to scramble out of my jeans and boxers and toss them off the bed. There’s a muffled thud as my phone in my pants hits the floor, and I look back at Autumn, who’s raising her hips to slip out of her own jeans.

I am all hands again, trying to help pull them past her knees and almost pulling her into my lap instead. Autumn giggles, and I kiss her feet as they reemerge from the denim.

And then I’ve taken off my shirt and I’m looking down at her. “Oh, Autumn.” My friend. My dream. My love.

The trust in her eyes is intense. I cannot deserve that look; this cannot be happening.

She starts to pull off her panties, the last clothing between us.

I’ve lost the will to tell her that we can’t, even though I know this is all happening so quickly that we probably shouldn’t. I help her. I toss her underwear to the floor.

If this is a mistake, we’re making it anyway.

She opens her arms for me to return to her embrace. I have to say it while I still have thoughts in my brain.

“Can I tell you that I love you first?” I won’t miss my chance to tell her, even if she knows it must be true. I’m already risking so much.


I fall over her, catching myself in time to lower myself gently, positioning myself between her legs, the animal instincts back in control.

“I love you,” I tell Autumn, saying it for all the times I couldn’t before and all the times I may never be able to again.

And then I’m saying, “Oh God, I love you,” because she’s there. I’m there. Autumn isn’t telling me to pull back or stop. She’s nuzzling me again, her breath hot on my collarbone. “Oh God, Autumn.”

Slow, Finn. No mistakes.

I can tell from the way her breathing changes, the way that her grip on me tightens, she is in agony mixed with ecstasy.

Slow. Keep your head in the game, Finn. Slow.

She’s trying to relax beneath and around me. I can feel it.

Autumn wants me to keep making love to her, even though it hurts. I don’t know why I can be so certain after all the mistakes in our past, but then again, the situation is irrefutable.

Autumn seduced me.

The absurdity of the realization would make me laugh, but she whispers in my ear, “It’s okay, Finny. I’m okay.”

Autumn rests her cheek against mine. She sighs happily.

I hope that I am still gentle enough after that, because I am consumed with the rhythmic sway of her breasts against my chest, the way her thighs grasp my waist as if she’s afraid I will escape.

It’s her name I mean to say at the end, but I do not make it past the first vowel.

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