Made of steel (made of s.., p.19
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       Made of Steel (Made of Steel Series Book 1), p.19

           Ivy Smoak
 

  Chapter 17

  Monday

  I hesitated. And he noticed. Of course he'd notice. I liked him, but I was still staring at his hand like it was the plague. I hated when people touched me. How could I have thought we could be more than friends if I was scared for him to touch me?

  He immediately shoved his hand back into his pocket. "Um, it's just right over here."

  I felt bad about the hurt look on his face. "Okay." My voice was quiet.

  He stepped off the path and I followed him through the grass until he stopped at a pile of huge rocks. There were a few couples sitting on them eating dinner. Laughing. Looking normal. Why couldn't I just act normal for five seconds? I wanted to hold his hand. There was a lump in my throat that wouldn't seem to go away. I stuffed my hands into the front pocket of my hoodie.

  Eli turned back around. "Yeah, so, I thought we could eat dinner here. If you still want to, I mean. And then..."

  "I want to."

  "Are you sure?" He pushed his mouth to the side like he had done at lunch earlier. It was the gesture that reminded me so much of Miles. It just drew me to him even more. He was probably thinking this was a bad idea. He was probably thinking he'd rather be with anyone else in the world right now instead of the awkward girl standing in front of him.

  But I was trying. I didn't want to be awkward. I liked him. I really, really liked him. Embrace your adventure.

  "I can walk you home if you want," he said. His hand was still stuffed in his pocket.

  "No." I smiled. "Let's eat. I'm starving."

  The smile returned to his face. "Okay." He glanced over his shoulder at the rocks and then back at me. "Just follow me to the top one."

  Without a doubt in my mind, I knew that he had just wanted my hand so he could help me up. He was a perfect gentleman. I had to let go of this fear in my head.

  I climbed up the pile of rocks behind him. When I reached the top he was unzipping his backpack.

  "I remembered a blanket this time," he said as he pulled it out of his backpack and laid it down. He sat down on the very edge of the blanket.

  As far away from me as possible. I sat down in the middle of it and picked up the Chinese food carton that he placed in front of me.

  "I knew you weren't a vegetarian because of the burger you ate earlier. But I didn't know exactly what you'd like."

  I opened up the lid and smiled. "Chicken Lo Mein is my favorite. Good guess."

  He smiled.

  We ate in silence for a few minutes. I didn't know what to say to fix the awkward tension. If I was going to reject him again, I shouldn't have been blatantly flirting with him. I told him he reminded me of home. No wonder he had tried to hold my hand. I needed to get a grip.

  Eli cleared his throat. "So, I was actually doing some research. It's not quite dark enough yet, but I was reading that you can see the stars pretty well in Central Park. It's not as easy as it is in the middle of nowhere. But apparently it's still possible. You just have to look a little harder."

  "Thank you." My voice was quiet. My favorite constellations were always the smallest and hardest to see. If you really could see the stars if you looked a little harder, that was okay. I'd be okay.

  He smiled and looked back down at his food. "That's what friends are for."

  God. I had completely ruined tonight. It was romantic and wonderful. And I had sabotaged it. All I wanted to do was fix it. "This is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me." It was nice to be able to tell the truth. I hated lying to him. I wanted him to understand why I was so scared.

  He looked back up at me. He did that thing with the corner of his mouth again. It felt like he was studying me. "How many boyfriends have you had, Sadie?"

  I wasn't expecting him to ask me that. Did Miles count? Probably not. We had never given our relationship labels. But he had always counted in my mind. He was my first kiss. He was my first love, even though he had never loved me back. "Just one. What about you?"

  "Three. Girlfriends though, not boyfriends."

  I laughed. "I guess you were pretty popular in high school?"

  "It was a really small school. What about you? Were you voted quietest or class clown?" The smile was back on his face.

  "Geez, neither. I doubt many people even knew my name in order to nominate me. Quietest was probably more me though." When I was younger I had been outgoing and fun. The older I got, and the more families that sent me away, the quieter I became. In high school, it was almost like I completely lost my voice. I was terrified all the time. I didn't want anyone to see me, but at the same time I was silently screaming for help. No one noticed. The problem was that I was good at hiding. Over the years, I had become brilliant at make-believe.

  "Look up," Eli said.

  I followed his gaze. And I saw a star. One bright star. It wasn't completely dark yet. The sky was still more dark blue than black. But there it was. I just hadn't been looking hard enough before. I looked back at Eli. He was lying on the blanket with his hands behind his head, staring at the sky.

  He was breathtakingly handsome. He was better than the star. I inched closer toward him and lay down directly beside him. I wanted to be close to him. For years I had felt like no one was listening to my silent pleas. But I felt like he heard me.

  My heart was beating so fast that I was sure he could hear it. I took a deep breath and slid my hand toward his until my pinky brushed against his thumb. And then I held my breath for one second. Eli immediately shifted his hand so that his fingers wrapped around mine. It felt like fire and ice were coursing through my veins at the same time. It wasn't painful. It wasn't forced. It felt comfortable, like I had been holding his hand for years. I slowly exhaled. I didn't even have to wait five seconds. Eli instantly knew that he wanted this to be more. There was no hesitancy at all. It had been years since I had been wanted. It had been years since anyone had truly seen me.

  "You're shaking," he said gently. "Are you cold?" He rolled onto his side so that he could look at me.

  I shook my head. If anything, I was overheated in my hoodie. I turned my head toward his. "I've been hurt before." That was the truth. I couldn't go into any more details than that. He'd just have to assume whatever he was going to. But maybe that was enough. I needed him to realize that I wanted to take this slow.

  "The bruise on your knee..."

  "No." He couldn't know. I couldn't tell anyone. "Nothing like that," I lied. I had to force myself to make eye contact with him.

  His eyebrows were lowered, like he didn't believe me at all. "Sadie..."

  "I don't really want to talk about it." My hand that wasn't holding his was clenched into a fist in my pocket. "I'm trying to move on. I just...I needed you to know. That's why I said I wasn't looking to date anyone. I wasn't sure I was ready. I like you, though. A lot. But that doesn't mean I'm not just a tiny bit scared." A lot scared.

  "I would never hurt you, Sadie."

  And I believed him. When he looked at me like that, how could I not? My hand shook as I lifted it out of my pocket. I lightly touched the side of his face with my fingertips. Fire and ice.

  His eyes stayed locked on mine as he shifted slightly closer to me.

  I kept my hand on the side of his face. "I just...I want to take things slow." But I inched closer to him too.

  "How slow?" His breath was warm. It made me lean even closer to him.

  Surely he can hear my heart beating. "Pretty slowly."

  The tip of his nose brushed against mine. "Sadie." His voice was just a whisper. "Can I kiss you?"

  He was asking me if it was okay. I felt a tear slide down my cheek. He's asking me.

  I tilted my face up toward his until my lips brushed against his. It was gentle. His lips were soft and slightly hesitant, like he was worried he wasn't going slowly enough. He was perfect.

  He pulled away far too soon and wiped away my tears with his thumb. "Why are you crying?"

  The fact that he asked just made me cry even more.
"No one's ever been this nice to me."

  He wiped my tears away again. "You've been hanging out with the wrong people then."

  Not by choice. "I don't actually just want to be your friend, Eli. I want this."

  He laughed. "Good, because I don't want to just be friends either." He ran his hand from my cheek down to my chin and lifted my face back to his. "I want you. And we can go as slowly as you want. I'm patient."

  I loved the feeling of his breath against my skin. I pressed my lips against his again. And I loved the feeling of his hand on the side of my face. I never thought I'd be able to enjoy something like this. His tongue parted my lips and I let him in. I had told him I wanted to take things slowly, but my body had a mind of its own. It was practically melting into him. He made me feel so safe and secure, yet alive at the same time. I hadn't felt this excited about anything in years.

  His fingers drifted to my neck and I froze. There was the pain. There was the feeling of suffocation. He was barely touching me but I felt the panic in my chest. I put my hand on his chest and lightly pushed him off.

  He immediately pulled away and dropped his hand by his side. His eyes searched mine. "I'm sorry."

  "You didn't do anything wrong, I just..." my voice trailed off. "I want this. But that doesn't mean I'm any good at it."

  "Trust me, you're good at it." His smile seemed to calm me down.

  I wanted to tell him everything, yet nothing at all. "I'm worried that I don't know how to love anymore." It slipped out before I even realized what I was saying.

  He slipped his hand back into mine. "I'm more than up for the challenge of teaching you how. But I really did just bring you here to look at the stars." He nodded up and I followed his gaze.

  There in the sky, if I looked really hard, I could see Sagitta. I could see my constellation.

  "I feel like you have a bigger heart than you might realize," he whispered into the darkness.

  I let myself cry silent tears as I stared up at the stars. I hadn't felt this close to home since I was nine years old at my grandmother's house, staring up at the stars on the roof with Miles. I exhaled slowly, hoping to release the pain in my chest. I wasn't just holding on to fear and grief. For years I had been holding on to anger. I needed to let it go before there was nothing left of me.

 

 
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