“Willow, you know that you said you couldn't tell how I felt at the rest stop?"
I nodded, and he took my hand, laying it flat on his chest with his own resting over it. "Can you tell now?" he asked.
His heart beat firmly under my hand; my own pulse was pounding so hard that I could barely think straight. Closing my eyes, I took a deep, steadying breath, and then another as I tried to clear my mind, to feel what he was feeling. For a moment there was just the softness of our breathing--then all at once it washed over me in a great wave.
He was in love with me, too.
I opened my eyes. Alex was still holding my hand to his chest, watching me, his expression more serious than I'd ever seen it. Unable to speak, I slowly dropped my hand and wrapped my arms around him. His own arms came around me as he rested his head on my hair.
"I really do, you know," he said, his voice rough.
"I know," I whispered back. "I do, too.”
“You know that half the girls in school would have been after you."
He gave a soft laugh. "If they were into someone who was flunking out...I don't think I'd do too well with having to go to class when a bell rings or caring about homework..."
"A bad boy--even better. You'd have done well in Spanish class."
"If I ever went to it."
We lay in silence for a awhile; Alex's arms felt so warm and safe that I was starting to get sleepy. "Say something in Spanish," I mumbled.
He kissed my hair. "Te amo, Willow," he said quietly.
I came awake, smiling into the darkness. "What does that mean?" I whispered.
I could almost hear his own smile. "What do you think it means?"
I hugged him, kissing his collarbone and wondering if it was possible to actually die of happiness. "Te amo, Alex.”
“She felt so human that he could barely carry on a conversation.”
“For a long time we just held each other, our hearts beating hard. My eyes were closed, my face pressed against the warm dip between his shoulder and neck. Alex. I felt a happiness so great that it was like a deep stillness within me, as if something I'd been looking for my entire life had just slotted into place, making me whole.
Finally Alex drew back. Stroking my hair from my face, he kissed me slowly, and I wanted to melt. "I can't believe that I can just do that whenver I want to now," he whispered. "You may not be getting much done for the next few weeks. Or months, or years."
Years. My heart skipped, hoping that was true. "I think I can live with that," I said. Hardly able to believe that I could touch him whenever I wanted to, either, I slid my hand down his arm, feeling the different textures of him: hard muscle, smooth skin. "Do you want to go to bed?" I asked softly. Then, for the second time that night, I felt my face flame at the question.
Alex smiled and touched my cheek. "You still mean sleep, right?"
"Still sleep." My skin was on fire.
"Just making sure. Yeah, sleep sounds good. I'm sure I'll manage to drop off. Eventually." His smile turned teasing. "Do I have to put my shirt on?"
I couldn't help smiling, too, though embarrassment was still singeing through me. "No, I'd rather you didn't," I admitted.”
“I couldn't meet his gaze. I stared at the table just behind him--the mess of cards on it, the lantern giving off its quiet glow. "When you gave me your shirt to wear that night, I could feel you. I could feel your essence."
The world went still. We were standing only inches from each other, not touching. Outside, I could hear the faint murmur of the wind blowing through the trees.
"What did it feel like?" he asked in a low voice.
"Like...coming home," I admitted.”
“There was no way that I wanted him to stop touching me, even for a few hours. My pulse thudded as I glanced across at the camp bed. I cleared my throat. "Wel...is there a reason we can't both take the bed? The sleeping bags zip together, don't they?" Alex stared at me without moving. "Would that be OK?" I asked, feeling nervous suddenly.
The lantern light made his eyes look darker, his hair almost black. He started to smile, a grin spreading across his face. "Yes, that would be extremely OK.”
“Willow's eyes flew to his, startled. They stared at each other. Her foot felt small under his hand; he rubbed it lightly with his thumb, feeling the silky heat of her skin, his pulse hammering through his veins. He felt like he was falling. All he could see was her.
She looked closed to tears. "Alex--"
Leaning across the corner of the table, he cradled her face in his hands and kissed her.
Her lips were soft and warm. With a sob, Willow returned the kiss, throwing her arms around his neck. He opened his mouth, tasting her; felt her hair tumble down around his hands. Happiness burst through him, exploding through his chest. Willow. Oh, God. Willow.”
“How about that one? Is that a constellation?" I asked, pointing upward. We were down in the small valley where the truck was parked. Alex sat leaning against a rock; I was between his legs with my back against his chest, his arms around me as we stared up at the stars.
"Yeah, that's the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades." He bent his head, and I caught my breath as his warm mouth nuzzled at my neck. I hadn't gotten even remotely used yet to how good it felt to be kissed by Alex.
"It's so sexy how you know all of this," I said when I could speak again.
"Yeah?" I heard the grin in his voice. "I know the summer constellations, too. Will that get me bonus kisses?"
"I think it might, actually.”
“I had my arms around his waist, smiling as I looked up at him. Being with Alex made me so completely happy, in an easy, uncomplicated way that I hadn't felt since I was a small child. "I love you," I said. In the five days we'd been there, it was the first time I'd said the words to him in English; they just slipped out.
Alex's expression went very still as he looked down at me, his dark hair stirred by the slight breeze. I picked up a sudden wave of his emotions, and they almost brought tears to my eyes. Gently, he took my face in his hands and kissed me.
"I love you, too," he said against my lips.”
“Willow nestled against him. He smoothed her long hair down the back of her T-shirt, feeling its softness. In a few moments she fell asleep again, her breathing warm and regular against his chest. Alex kissed her head, his arms tightening around her. As he drifted back to sleep himself, he saw a brief flash of the thousands of angels streaming in, but right then it seemed distant, almost unimportant. The only thing that mattered was that he was lying in a bed holding Willow, their bare legs entwined.
It was all he wanted to do for the rest of his life.”
“I almost jumped when the door opened. Alex came back inside, wearing black sweatpants; I swallowed as I saw his chest bare. "Forgot my T-shirt," he said sheepishly. His bag was on the floor near the bed, and I watched the lantern light play on his skin as he crossed to it. Squatting by the bag, he pulled out a T-shirt; I sat frozen, taking in the movement of his back and shoulders.
I stood up, my heart hammering. "Wait. Can I just...?" I trailed off as he turned to look at me.
"What?" he said, rising to his feet.
An embarrassed laugh escaped me. I shook my head. "Just--before you put that on, can I...?" In slow motion, I went over to him. I reached out toward his chest and then stopped, my fingers hesitating an inch from his skin. "Is--this all right?"
Alex stood very still, a soft smile on his face. "Anything you want is all right.”
“He reached across and fingered the pendant; I felt it move against my skin. "Willow, look," He said. "We haven't talked much about what might happen, but...you know that I always want to be with you, right? I mean--no matter what."
And I had known it; I felt it every time he held me--but even so, actually hearing the words made my heart catch. "I want that, too," I said. "Always, Alex.”
“Holding my pendant, I lay on my side without moving, noiseless tears streaming down my face until the pillow grew damp beneath my cheek. I didn't want to die. I wanted to live, to be with Alex, to experience so much more than I had so far. But just then, it was Alex I was crying for. All that he'd gone through, all those deaths of people he loved--and now he was having to experience it again, with me. Thinking of what he was going through was like being beaten up inside; it was even worse than imagining whatever might happen the next day. Part of me hoped that he really did hate me now--maybe it would help; maybe it would make it not hurt so much.
And more than that, I guess I was crying for both of us...that it hadn't turned out to be always, after all.”
“We kissed again. It grew deeper; Alex wrapped his arms around me, drawing me close against him. His back was smooth and warm. I ran my hands over it as we kissed, loving the feel of his skin, and almost went faint as his lips moved briefly to my neck and then found my mouth again. In my entire life, nothing had ever felt as good as Alex kissing me like that. When we finally pulled apart, both our hearts were pounding.
I cleared my throat, skimming my fingers along his forearm. "Alex, you, um...you know that I've never--"
"I know," he broke in softly. He reached for my hand, linking his fingers through mine. "Willow, it's OK. We'll do whatever you want. I just want to be with you; I don't care.”
“A framed photo on a dusty bookshelf caught his attention; he moved closer and picked it up silently. A small girl with long blond hair was standing under a tree, her face tilted up in delight as its feathery leaves brushed across her face, framing it.
A willow tree. Willow.”
“Wow," she said weakly. "That's even more amazing than I thought it would be."
Alex's arms were still looped around her waist; it took a serious effort not to draw her back to him and start kissing her again. He managed to control himself and grinned. "You mean with me or just in general?"
"In general," she said. "But I have a feeling it's especially amazing with you." She leaned back in his arms, studying him. Shaking her head with a slight smile, she reached out and stroked the line of his cheekbone. "Do you even realize how gorgeous you are?"
What he realized was that he was happier than he'd ever been. He gazed at Willow, drinking in her face, feeling amazed that this was happening--that she was here with him and that she actually felt the same way.
"Come here," he said softly. And pulling her toward him, he simply held her, cradling her against his chest.”
“Gently, I ran my hand across his chest, exploring it. My breath felt tight in my throat. He was so beautiful. His muscles were toned, defined, his skin warm and smooth. Stroking my palm up over the line of his collarbone, I felt the firmness of his shoulder, the strength of his bicep. I traced my fingers over the black AK, following the lines of the letters. Alex hardly moved as I touched him, his eyes never leaving me.
Finally I sighed and dropped my hand. I tried to smile. "I've sort of been wanting to do that ever since that first night in the motel room," I admitted.”
“Alex gazed at her. Her mouth was slightly open; she ran her fingernail against her lower teeth as she thought. She'd knotted her hair at the nape of her neck again, and a strand had slipped loose onto her shoulder, gleaming in the lantern light. Suddenly all of his objections seemed meaningless. Don't, he thought. You'll regret it.
He didn't care anymore.
Slowly, unable to stop himself, he reached out and cupped his hand around her foot.”
“Alex sat playing with the remote, turning it over in his hand. A long moment passed, and then he cleared his throat."Look... I'm sorry," he said.
"What I said i that first night- " He stopped and sighed, tossing the remote onto the bed. Scraping his hand through his hair, he said, "When I first found out, it just threw me,OK? For a lot of reasons. I don't-I don't think you're like the angels. And I've been acting like a jerk. I'm sorry."
A smile grew slowley across my face. "Yes you have," I said "But apology accepted.”
“He kissed me, so gently at first that I melted. I pressed close against him as the kiss deepened, curling my arms around his neck and tumbling into pure sensation. The softness of his hair as I ran my fingers through it; his arms hands on my skin, caressing me. It felt so, so good. I'd been afraid that I'd never have this again--this sense of being so achingly alive that every nerve ending was on fire.”
“The urge at that moment to reach across and touch Willow--to link his fingers through hers as she rested her hand on her thigh, or stroke her bright hair back from her temple--was almost overpowering. He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Yep, definitely time for a coffee break," he said, closing his eyes. "You see right through me.”
“A good angel is only a dead angel.”
“A teenage girl lay asleep on the sofa, curled up under a red-and-black knitted afghan. She was on her side, with one slender arm cradling a throw cushion nestled under her head. Long wavy blond hair spread across her back and her shoulders like a cape. Even though she was sleeping, Alex could see how pretty she was, with her delicate, almost elfin features. He stood in the doorway, watching the soft rise and fall of her chest.”
“His thumb moved slowly over my cheek. "All of this. Having you. It's worth- anything”
“Hey, he's not using a holster," I said, glancing at Alex's on the dresser. He laughed out loud. "Yeah, I guess he must want something shooting off. It'd be so great if these things were true to life - the next scene would show him at hospital like, clutching himself in agony."'Angel - L.A.Weatherly”
“The only good angel is a dead angel.”
“Willow was very relaxed company, easy to talk to when either of them felt like talking or just as happy to stay quiet, lost in her own thoughts as they climbed. Glancing at her profile as they sat on a boulder looking out at the view, it suddenly struck Alex that he’d never felt so comfortable with anyone in his life. It felt as if he’d known Willow always. No. It felt like she was a part of him.”
“OK,” he said. “‘It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.’” I felt my mouth quirk at the Blues Brothers quote. And I thought — even if he’s never going to feel the same way that I do, it doesn’t matter. I still want to be with him. I never wanted to be without him. “Hit it,” I said.”
“angels are beautiful,” I said finally. “And they’re still deadly.” “You’re really not getting this,” said Alex. He touched my face. “Yes, all angels are beautiful, but that’s just how they look. Your angel is you; she’s a part of you. And that means she’s . . . everything I love.”
“Take me home!” Alex didn’t respond, and I shoved his arm.”
“Life is not fair all the time.”
“Unable to construct genuine nanoassemblers, Xymos was using bacteria to crank out their molecules. This was genetic engineering, not nanotechnology.”
“The thoughtless, the ignorant, and indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of law, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, "How lucky is!" Observing another become intellectual they exclaim, "How highly favored he is!" And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, "How chance aids him at every turn!" They don't see the trials and failures and the struggles which these men have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realize the vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heart aches; they only see the light and the Joy, and they call it “luck”; do not see the longing arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it "good fortune"; do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it “chance”.”
“Life is full of sniffles sobs and smiles. With sniffles predominating.”
“If you’re going to be mad, she heard her father say, then use it, and don’t be used by it.”
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