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Instead of You
Author:Anie Michaels

I pushed off the wall and started walking toward the doors leading outside, needing a little air. Cory caught my eye and gave me a questioning look, and then signaled that he would come with me. I waved my hand to stop him, then held up all my fingers, mouthing, “five minutes” at him. He nodded, but looked confused. Regardless, he didn’t follow me and I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I was glad to leave him behind. I just needed a moment.

I walked outside and shut the doors behind me, hearing the music quiet, but not the thumping of the bass. I could still feel the beat vibrating through my feet, still hear it as the windows rattled from it. I continued for about ten steps until I was at the edge of the patio, then took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

A few minutes later I was almost to the brink of panic, thinking too obsessively about all that had happened in a matter of days, when a harsh wave of music broke through the quiet. I turned to talk to Cory, who I assumed had come to find me, but practically stumbled when I saw it was Hayes instead.

“Kenzie,” he said, obviously surprised to see me. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?” He slowly made his way toward me. He was shrouded in darkness and I couldn’t see his face until he was a step or two away.

“I needed a breather.” I silently hoped he wouldn’t pry.

“I get it” was all he said in response, which made me happy. He came to stand right next to me, but didn’t look at me, facing out toward the green just as I had been before he joined me. So I turned and looked in the same direction. There we stood, in relative silence, with only the faint buzzing of the music behind us. I felt the tension start to drift away, the endless loop of stressful thoughts slow in my mind, and the silent hum of the evening cast some sort of soothing magic over me. It was the most relaxed I’d been in days.

Then, as if he’d been waiting for me to be tricked by his silence, he asked, “So when’s the wedding?”

Instantly, I was on edge again. I knew exactly what he was referring to, but didn’t want him to know that.

“What do you mean?”

“Your and Cory’s wedding. When’s the date? I need some advance notice so I can tell my professors I’ll be out of town.”

“Ha ha.” That was the best response I could produce considering my heart had started beating a million miles an hour.

“No, seriously, Kenzie. You’ve both reached that magical age everyone’s been waiting for. It’s full steam ahead now, right?” The venom in his voice, the disgust that dripped from every word, surprised me. In the sixteen years I’d known Hayes I could remember him being visibly upset so few times, I could count them on one hand. He was aloof, removed, and uninterested in anything having to do with me. His anger toward my would-be relationship with Cory was so shocking, I nearly stumbled.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I whispered, unable to come up with any other answer besides a truthful one.

Hayes turned toward me, coming close enough that I could hear his breath panting out and dragging back in. “Isn’t he what you want? What you’ve always wanted?”

“He’s my best friend.” Again, the truth fell from my lips.

“Is that all?”

I wasn’t sure. I had no idea what I wanted us to become, I only knew what we already were. Best friends. Anything beyond that seemed scary and bigger than I could handle.

Suddenly Hayes was closer, only a breath away instead of a step. I should have taken a step back, should have moved away, but his hand came up to cradle my cheek and all I could do was move my eyes up his chest, over his neck, and meet his gaze.

“Has he kissed you yet?” Hayes’s voice was even lower now, somehow rougher, almost as if it hurt him to speak the words.

“No,” I croaked out, trying to shake my head, but his big strong hand keeping my face still. Then the other one came to join, starting at my cheek, but slowly moving back into the hair at my nape.

“Good.”

Everything went black as his lips pressed against mine. My eyes closed, I could no longer hear the music from the ballroom, and all my senses dulled… except for touch. I felt his lips slowly slide across mine, felt his thumb brush gently over my cheek, even felt the hardness of his chest as my hands mindlessly slid up his front.

Looking back on the kiss I would not remember what prompted me to move closer to him, to angle my head to the right, wanting to give him access to all of my mouth, or even remember how it felt so right to be kissing him, but all of that happened. It was my very first kiss and it should have been awkward and stilted and uncomfortable, but it wasn’t.

It was, however, instantly passionate, like every cheesy romance movie where the two lovers kiss and fireworks ignite. There should have been fireworks. When his lips touched mine, nothing short of an explosion took place. We were magnetized to each other, moving closer and closer until there was not one iota of space between us.