Sixteen kisses a novella, p.4
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       Sixteen Kisses: A novella, p.4

           Kelly Oram
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“Are you saying I can’t take care of myself?”

  “No. But, if there’s going to be any action, I want in.”

  I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t help teasing him. “You’re looking for some action, huh? So, I should add you to the list of guys lining up to kiss me?”

  Eli shot me a dry smile. “No offense, Cass, but you’re not my type.”

  I knew that. His was the much shorter, much girlier, much gigglier Latina type, like a certain best friend of mine. Still, I let out a breath. “No offense back, but you have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that.”

  We met each other’s gazes and laughed together. “Just friends, then,” he said holding out a fist to me.

  “Without benefits,” I agreed, pounding his fist with mine. “See you at lunch.”

  We parted ways and I had about three seconds to prepare myself for the coming whirlwind of excitement, also known as my best friend. My third hour class was drama. I didn’t love it, but I needed an arts elective, and Selena made me sign up so that we’d be guaranteed at least one class together this year. It worked, and it was a good thing, too, as it turned out to be the only class we had together this year.

  Selena was waiting near the entrance to the theater with our friends Rylin and Victoria. “Cassie!” she shrieked the moment she saw me. She grabbed me, and the three of them rushed me into the theater. “Holy cow, girl! Everyone is talking about it. I cannot believe I missed all the craziness!”

  “I saw it!” Victoria cheered happily. “I missed the Aki and Shelton part, but I saw Melissa kiss you!”

  “I can’t believe she did that.” Rylin shook her head. “Insane.”

  Kolby plopped down in the seat behind us, grinning his face-splitting grin. “I think you mean insanely hot. Damn, Cass. You’ve got to do that again for me, so I can get it on video.”

  I rolled my eyes while my friends all groaned. They put up with Kolby for my sake, but they didn’t have as high a tolerance for his particular brand of humor as I did. Yeah, he was a crass pervert, but he was my boy. We’re neighbors, and we’ve been riding quads and dirt bikes together since we were big enough to climb on them. He’d signed up for drama with me, knowing that the girl to boy ratio would be drastically in his favor. The guy was hopeless, though, and, until he got some kind of clue, no favorable ratio in the world would do him any good.

  “So…?” Selena asked me.

  That question had so many possible answers. I was at a loss as to what she wanted from me. “So…what?”

  “The story, duh! Tell us everything!”

  I propped my feet up on the seat in front of mine, and glanced around the auditorium. The bell hadn’t rung yet and our theater teacher, Ms. Schulenburg, was still MIA. “There’s not really much to tell. Jared showed up to my house early this morning because he knew my mom would cook breakfast, and he tricked me into wearing this ridiculous shirt.”

  “It’s cute,” Selena interrupted. “The man has great style.”

  “Whatever. He made me wear the shirt. Then, after first, Aki saw it and decided to follow the instructions. Shelton jumped on the Cassie train right after him.”

  “You kissed Aki and Shelton?” Rylin sighed wistfully. “You’re so lucky.”

  “They kissed me. And I don’t know if it was lucky, because it encouraged this tool”—I pointed my thumb at Kolby—“to try and join the party.”

  All three girls heaved shudders, and I laughed at the pout on Kolby’s face. “Then, he and Dom got in this ridiculous argument over who deserved to kiss me next and—”

  “No way!” Victoria’s eyes snapped wide, and she leaned forward, grabbing my arm. “They seriously fought over who got to kiss you?”

  I’m not sure why that, of everything I’d just said, was the biggest news. “Yeah. But, neither of them actually did because, while they were arguing, Melissa Videla laid one on me that got us sent to the principal’s office.”

  Again, Victoria didn’t react the way I expected her to. “Oh my gosh! Jared was right!”

  And here I thought I’d have to talk about my now-infamous kiss with Melissa. I was happy about the new topic…and not happy about it at the same time. “What do you mean? What was Jared right about?”

  Victoria’s eyes lit up at the opportunity to tell me new gossip. “So, my first hour is next to his, right? I was standing out in the hall, talking to Jace Christiansen, when Jared met a group of his friends right next to us.”

  “And…?” I didn’t need the specifics. My heart was pounding as I waited to hear what Jared had said about me.

  “One of Jared’s friends saw him walk you to class—which is totally romantic by the way—and she asked him what was up with you guys.”

  My heart went from pounding to lurching in a single breath. “What’d he say?”

  Victoria grinned. “Well, he wouldn’t confirm whether he was in to you or not, but he blushed when they asked him if he was going to ask you out. Then, he smoothly ignored the questions and said it was your birthday. When he mentioned the birthday kisses thing, Ben said he’d never find sixteen guys willing to kiss you, but Jared said it would only take one guy to start it, and then they’d all be fighting over you. And he was right.”

  My face heated up. “Oh, my gosh. I’m seriously going to kill him. He actually went around asking people to kiss me?”

  Victoria shrugged nonchalantly, but the smile on her face gave away her excitement. “Not really. He just said it would be cool if you got sixteen kisses today for your birthday. Then, he may have mentioned someone would have to be brave enough to give you the first one, and he may or may not have dared a few guys to step up.”

  I choked on some spit. “Are you freaking kidding me?”

  “Hey, take advantage,” Selena said. “I overheard Scott Williamson say it was a cool idea. He’ll probably go for it.”

  Victoria, Rylin, and I all gasped.

  “Scott Williamson?” Kolby blurted. “No joke?”

  Selena nodded, like a bobble head doll on the dashboard of a car driving down a dirt road. “Sure. He’s even between girlfriends at the moment. Until I can snag him anyway.” She winked.

  I was so stunned by the possibility of Scott Williamson kissing me, I felt a little dizzy. “Holy crap. I’d probably faint if Scott kissed me.” He is only the most popular, hottest guy in the entire school. He was Homecoming king this year for heaven’s sake.

  Kolby scoffed. “Just because the guy has some looks—”

  “Some looks?” I laughed.

  “Doesn’t mean he can kiss.”

  “Oh, I’m sure he can kiss,” Rylin promised.

  None of us girls had actual first hand knowledge of that, but we all nodded, sure she was correct. There was no way a guy like Scott Williamson wasn’t an amazing kisser.

  “Who can kiss?”

  The question startled all of us from our Scott Williamson daydreaming. Asher Pepin and Wyatt Rogers, the two main male stars of the drama program at Desert Ridge High were waiting for a response. They’d sat in the row in front of us girls—no doubt intentionally, as they had shamelessly butted their way into our conversation.

  It was weird because they’d never paid any of us a speck of attention before. They were older—Asher a senior and Wyatt a junior—and they were real drama people. They took all this very seriously, and it was obvious that my friends and I fell into the group of people who needed to fill an elective. None of us had anything against each other, but we weren’t on chatting terms.

  “Uh…” Rylin was a little tongue-tied. “Scott Williamson. Um, I mean, not that I would know, or anything. We’re just assuming…” She blushed, and I didn’t blame her.

  Asher and Wyatt shared a surprised look before grinning at me. “Scott Williamson, huh? That’s setting the bar pretty high for the rest of us,” Wyatt said.

  I should have seen it coming from the second they sat down, but it was a shock to realize they were talking about kissing me. I blinked at Wyatt. “The
rest of you? Like, as in you, you?”

  Wyatt gestured back and forth between him and Asher with a laugh. “As in both of us.”


  “We heard about your birthday kisses, and we’re hoping you can help us settle an argument.”

  Asher folded his arms and, with a completely serious face said, “Who’s the better stage kisser?”

  Selena, giddy at this new development, squeaked, “Yes! She’ll totally do it!” I glared at my traitorous best friend, and she shoved my shoulder. “Oh my gosh, girl, if you don’t, I will. Now, go.”

  “Yeah, do it,” Victoria encouraged.

  Rylin nodded enthusiastically.

  “Um…” I glanced back at Asher and Wyatt. Was this seriously happening? They didn’t look like they were joking. “Sure…?”

  Okay, I’ll admit it. I completely caved to peer pressure. But, hey, I’d already been kissed three times today. What was two more, right? And really, I could think of worse things than kissing either Asher or Wyatt. So, why not? It was my sixteenth birthday. I was allowed to be adventurous.

  Wyatt’s face beamed, and he reached over his seat to take my hand. “Then come, fair Juliet. Act one, scene five awaits.”

  It took me a moment to register what he’d said and apply meaning to it. I put on the brakes just before we reached the stairs leading up on stage. “Wait, you mean you want me to act out a scene with you?”

  Wyatt stopped, and answered me with a wicked grin. “You know it, right? We all had to memorize it for last week’s test.”

  My breathing quickened. “Well, yeah, I memorized it for the test, but…”

  Wyatt started pulling me up on stage again. Asher was right behind us, gently nudging me forward. “Perfect. We get extra credit for performing the scenes we have to memorize.”

  Suddenly, I was up on stage with Wyatt and Asher, and the whole drama class was watching us with intrigue. My stomach rolled. “Yeah, but I memorize everything so that I don’t need to do the extra credit. Can’t you guys just, like, kiss me or something?”

  Asher moved me to center stage and faced me toward Wyatt. With an encouraging squeeze of my shoulders, he whispered, “You’ll do great. We’ll shorten it for you.”

  “Sure,” Wyatt said, grinning that devilish grin again. “We’ll skip right to the kiss. Almost no acting.”

  As he grabbed my hand and pulled me close, Asher faced our classmates. “The beautiful Cassandra Caldwell has agreed to stand in as Juliet for a stage kiss-off between Wyatt and me.” The entire group laughed, and I had the sneaking suspicion that the obnoxious whistle was courtesy of Selena. “We’ll let you guys be the judge.”

  It was definitely Selena who shouted, “I think Cassie should get to decide the winner.”

  What had seemed like an exciting adventure a moment before, turned into the ultimate mortification when Ms. Schulenburg stepped forward, taking control of the class. I thought for sure this was where I’d get the detention I’d miraculously avoided earlier, but my drama teacher smiled and shook her head at Selena. “Ah, but Cassie won’t be in a position to see the kiss, Selena, so I’m afraid she can’t be the judge. No, we’ll let the class decide.”

  My jaw dropped and, in my shock, I blurted, “You’re going to let us do it?”

  Ms. Schulenburg laughed. “Of course. This is a great learning opportunity for everyone. Kissing scenes are an important part of any stage production. It was very kind of you to volunteer, Cassie.” She waved her hand. “You may proceed.” To the class, she added, “Watch carefully for the different styles and techniques from both Wyatt and Asher. You’ll be surprised how much a kiss can change a scene.”

  And I thought being kissed by a girl was bad. What had I just gotten myself into? I wanted to find a nice big rock and crawl under it. Could I back out? Change my mind? Would Ms. Schulenburg be disappointed and hold it against me for the rest of the semester? Probably not. This wasn’t an assignment, after all. But she looked so thrilled.

  Didn’t matter. I couldn’t do this. I was so bailing. I took one step, and, as if he’d read my mind, Wyatt grabbed my hand and whirled me around to face him. There was a twinkle in his eyes as he flattened our hands together, palm to palm. “O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do,” he recited, moving our hands up, as if we were praying together. “They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.”

  He looked into my eyes, wet his lips, and I totally blanked. Utterly and completely. Epic. Acting. Fail. I couldn’t even remember what we were doing, much less the line I was supposed to repeat. All I could think about was my hand clutched in Wyatt’s, and how he was bringing it to his lips. “I—what?”

  A tiny smirk crossed Wyatt’s face. “Saints do not move…” he whispered.

  The prompt triggered some unconscious part of my brain where I’d stored the dialogue for last week’s test. “Oh, right.” I pulled my hand away from his, and stepped back. It was easier to think when he wasn’t so close. “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.”

  Wow, I sucked. I sounded like a robot. Is there an award for worst actress? Because I would totally win it.

  Wyatt stepped forward again, and gently grabbed me by the shoulders. “Then move not,” he declared. “While my prayer’s effect, I take.”

  Oh, he took all right. The gentle grip he’d had on my shoulders became firm and he pulled me to him, smashing our mouths together passionately. I couldn’t see it, but I could tell that this kiss looked exciting to our audience. Something like you’d see at the end of a movie. Wyatt was giving it all he had. Which was a lot.

  This kiss was definitely better than any I’d had so far. There was emotion in it. Acted emotion, but still, emotion that made me tingle on the inside. Just as I started to melt, Wyatt released me, and looked deeply into my eyes. “Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.”

  Did I have another line? Hell if I knew. I blinked, and then Wyatt spun me toward the audience. Grabbing my hand, he had me take a bow with him while the class cheered. They were still clapping when Asher stepped between us, and took my hand from Wyatt. “Not bad,” he said to Wyatt. “Now, watch and learn.”

  He didn’t give me time to reset before he spun me around once, gripping my fingertips with the barest touch. The delicacy of that touch made me shiver, and he took that as his cue. Pulling me close, he lifted his thumb to my lips. “O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do. They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.”

  My lips parted when he brushed his thumb over them, and I gasped softly. This was new. Wyatt hadn’t done this. But, oh, Wyatt should have done it because whoa. I shivered again.

  Miraculously, or possibly because this was my second performance—so to speak—I remembered to say my line. But because of the whole amazing thumb-lip-brushing thing that had given me goose bumps, my words came out a little shaky. “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake,” I breathed.

  According to the play, Juliet should have moved away all cheekily here, flirting or whatnot, but I didn’t budge. I couldn’t. My feet suddenly weighed a million pounds.

  Asher moved impossibly closer. His arm slipped around my waist, and he pulled me to him, chest flush against chest. Mine caved in on contact, all the air suddenly gone from my lungs. Our mouths were a mere inch apart as he said, “Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”

  Not going anywhere, I thought to myself, as I got lost in his deep gaze. His lips brushed over mine, so lightly I barely felt them. It made me gasp again and, when my mouth opened, he captured my lips in a soft sweet kiss. It was my first open-mouthed kiss, and I have to say this was a billion times better than anything I’d experienced yet. It ended much too soon. I wanted more, and I think Asher could tell because he gave me the tiniest hint of a smile as he said, “Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.”

  His kiss scrambled my brain. That’s the only explanation for me blurting out the next line. “Then have my lips th
e sin that they have took.”

  Surprise flashed in Asher’s eyes, and his grin turned real. We could have ended the scene where Wyatt had, but this kiss wasn’t finished—at least not for me—and once I went there, Asher was more than happy to oblige me. “Sin from thy lips?” he asked without missing a beat. “Oh, trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.”

  Yes, sir. I met him halfway, eager for another taste of him. He crashed our mouths together this time with a little more aggression. Not quite with the gusto Wyatt had used, but definitely with as much passion. His hands found my face, and he tilted my head ever so slightly, changing up the angle of the kiss.

  And, then, suddenly, I was kissing him back. His lips were moving; mine were working equally as hard. His hands slid from my face into my hair—so hot—and my arms found their way around his neck.

  I finally understood why people liked kissing so much. Audience or not, I could do this with him all day. This totally rocked.

  “And scene!” Ms. Schulenburg cried. “That was brilliant, you two! Positively inspired! Now, that is what I mean by chemistry, everyone.”

  Asher pulled his mouth away from mine slowly, still holding me as I made my way back down to Earth from the clouds. When my eyes fluttered open, Asher grinned at me. “You earned yourself an A+, sweet Juliet.”

  His look of pleasant surprise made me proud. Whether it had been the acting or the kissing, I must have done something right to impress him. And that’s saying something, considering I suspected he was a god of both. “Then it’s an A+++ for you,” I replied, shocking myself because that was so totally flirty. “No matter what the class decides, you’ve definitely got my vote.”

  Asher chuckled and then took my hand, making me take a bow with him the same way Wyatt had done just minutes before. Judging from the cheers of the class, I wasn’t the only one who thought he’d won the kiss-off.

  I started to exit the stage, but Asher stopped me. He took my hand again, and Wyatt quickly took my other. “Let’s hear it for the birthday girl!”

  I got a standing ovation.

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