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Twenty Boy Summer Excerpt from Twenty Boy Summer

by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer
Chapter Two

It was just over a year ago.

Twelve months, nine days, and six hours ago, actually.

But thirteen months ago, everything was . . . perfect.

I closed my eyes, leaned over my candles, and prayed to the cake fairy or the God of Birthdays or whoever was in charge that Matt
Perino -- Frankie's brother and my best-friend-that's-a-boy -- would finally kiss me. It was the same secret wish I'd made every year since Frankie and I were ten and Matt was twelve and I accidentally fell in love with him.

Frankie, Matt, and their parents -- Uncle Red and Aunt Jayne, even though we're not related -- celebrated my fifteenth birthday in our backyard with Mom and Dad, just like always. When all the singing and clapping and candle blowing stopped, I opened my eyes. Matt was right next to me, beside me, sharing the same air. Mischievous. The back of my neck went hot and prickly when I smelled his apple shampoo -- the kind from the green bottle he stole from Frankie's bathroom because he liked how it made his hair look -- and for one charged-up second I thought my birthday wish might finally come true, right there in front of everyone. I didn't even have time to think about how embarrassing that might be when Matt's hand, full of birthday cake, arched from behind his back on a not-so-slow-motion trajectory right into my face.

While cake in the face was clearly progress from the previous year's Super Bowl coach-style shook-up soda over the head, something
in the wish translation was still getting lost as it blew across my candles into the sky. I made a mental note to clarify my demands next year in bullet points with irrefutable examples from Hollywood classics and screamed, shoving both hands into the mangled confection on the picnic table.

I scooped out two giant corners overloaded with frosting flowers.

Then, I charged.

I lunged.

I ran.

I chased Matt around the yard in laps until he dropped to the ground and wrestled the extra pieces from me, rubbing them into my face like a mud mask. We went at it for ten minutes, laughing and rolling around in the grass, Frankie and our parents cheering and howling and throwing more cake into the ring, candles and all. When we finally came up for air, there wasn't much cake left, and the two of us were coated head to toe in blue rainbow-chip frosting.

We stood up slowly, laughing with our mouths wide open as we halfheartedly called a truce. Dad snapped a picture -- Matt's arm around my shoulders, bits of cake and colored chips and grass clinging to our clothes and hair, everything warm and pink in the glow of the setting sun, the whole summer stretched out before us. It didn't even matter that Matt was going to college in the fall. He'd be at Cornell studying American literature, just over an hour away, and he'd already started talking about my and Frankie's weekend visits.

When the novelty of the birthday cake wrestling match finally faded, Matt and I went inside to clean up. Beyond the sliding deck door, shielded in the cool dark of the house from everyone out back, we stood in front of the kitchen sink not saying anything. I stared at him in a sideways kind of way that I hoped didn't expose the secret thoughts in my head -- thoughts that, despite my best efforts to contain them, went further than I'd ever let them go before.

His messy black hair and bright blue eyes cast a spell on me, muffling the chatter outside as if we'd been dunked under water. I held out a sticky hand and threatened him with another gob of frosting in an attempt to break the silence, afraid he'd hear my heart pounding under my T-shirt. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump-thump.

Matt scooped some frosting from my outstretched hand and moved to close the space that separated us, changing absolutely everything that ever was or wasn't between us with a single raised eyebrow.

"Anna," he said, dragging his frosted fingers through my hair. "Don't you know what it means when a boy pulls your hair at your birthday party?"

No. Just then, I didn't know what anything meant. I couldn't remember how we'd arrived in the kitchen, why we were covered
in cake, why my best-friend-that's-a-boy was looking at me so differently, or even what my name was. I bit my lower lip to prevent my mouth from saying something lame without my brain's permission, like "Oh, Matt, all my wishes have come true!" I felt the stupidity rising in my throat and bit down harder, staring at his collarbone and the small piece of blue sea glass he wore on a leather cord around his neck, rising and falling.



Seconds? Hours? I didn't know. He'd made the necklace the year before from a triangular piece of glass he'd found during their family vacation to Zanzibar Bay, right behind the California beach house they rented for three weeks every summer. According to Matt, red glass was the rarest, followed by purple, then dark blue. To date he'd found only one red piece, which he'd made into a bracelet for Frankie a few months earlier. She never took it off.

I loved all the colors -- dark greens, baby blues, aquas, and whites. Frankie and Matt brought them back for me in mason jars every summer. They lived silently on my bookshelf, like frozen pieces of the ocean I had never seen.

"Come here," he whispered, his hand still stuck in my wild curls, blond hair winding around his fingers.

"I still can't believe you made that," I said, not for the first time."It's so -- cool."

Matt looked down at the glass, his hair falling in front of his eyes.

"Maybe I'll give it to you," he said. "If you're lucky."

I smiled, my gaze fixed on the blue triangle. I was afraid to look at him, because if I let my eyes lock on his, he might try to -- and then everything would be -- and I might just --

"Happy birthday," he whispered, his breath landing warm and suddenly close to my lips, making my insides flip. And just as quickly as he'd surprised me with the cake, he kissed me, one frosting-covered hand moving from my hair to the back of my neck, the other solid and warm in the small of my back, pressing us together, my chest against his ribs, my hip bones just below his, the tops of our bare summer legs hot and touching. I stopped breathing. My eyes were closed and his mouth tasted like marzipan flowers and clove cigarettes, and in ten seconds the whole of my life was wrapped up in that one kiss, that one wish, that one secret that would forever divide my life into two parts.

Up, down. Happy, sad. Shock, awe. Before, after.

In that single moment, Matt, formerly known as friend, became something else entirely.

I kissed him back. I forgot time. I forgot my feet. I forgot the people outside, waiting for us to rejoin the party. I forgot what happens when friends cross into this space. And if my lungs didn't fill and my heart didn't beat and my blood didn't pump without my intervention, I would have forgotten about them, too.

I could have stayed like that all night, standing in front of the sink, Matt's black apple hair brushing my cheeks, heart thumping, lucky and forgetful . . .

"What's taking so long?" Frankie asked, running up the deck stairs outside. "Come on, Anna. Presents."

The above is an excerpt from the book Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer