Forbidden Love Romance by Penny Wylder


“If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?”

I turn my head to look at the boy beside me. Josh Anston, the quintessential boy next door. Except in real life, he and his mom live an hour away from us—way too far, if you ask me. We see each other now and then, whenever my dad hosts his wine-tasting nights or when Josh’s mom gets her friends together for big cookouts on their apartment rooftop. But those visits are few and far between.

Until this summer. Until Josh’s mom Susan complained to Dad about cabin prices up here in the Poconos, and Dad came up with the most brilliant solution of all time—to share one.

It was just for a month. Going into it, a month felt like eternity. More than enough time for all my wildest fantasies to come true.

In reality, it’s almost over, and I feel like I’ve hardly blinked. Tomorrow we pile back into my dad’s car and drive back down the dirt road to reality. To our separate lives, to our separate schools, to the world where Josh isn’t my boy-next-door. He isn’t my anything. Just a summer crush, probably unreciprocated.

But right now, for one more night, I can imagine. I gaze into those perfect gray-blue eyes of his, the color of the summer sky right before a storm rolls in, and I can trick myself into believing this moment will never end.

“Anywhere in the world?” I repeat softly.

He nods. “Anywhere. Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Italy, just, anywhere you can think of. Where would you go, Pau?”

The nickname stirs a flurry of sparks in my stomach. He and Susan are the only ones besides Dad who call me that. At school, I’m Paulina, prim and proper. The straight-A student, the well-behaved girl, the girl who’s got it all. All except for a social life or a boyfriend or anyone worth catching feelings for.

In reality, that’s because I’m already stuck. Stuck on Josh, with those eyes boring into me like he sees straight through to my soul. Stuck on his perfect cheekbones, the curve of his jaw, the way his lips part just a little as he watches me, like maybe he’s thinking the same thing I am. Maybe he’s thinking about kissing me, too. About the way those lips would feel against mine or how it would be to wrap my arms around him, feel his strong arms hold me close, his muscular body pressed against me…

“If I could go anywhere…” I answer slowly, eyes still locked on his. All around us, the night weaves on. The stars sparkle overhead, millions of them, more than I could ever see back home near Philly, where the city lights flood the sky. Crickets and frogs sing along the shores of the lake, and the grass we’re lying in is getting dewy as evening settles in. But I don’t mind. It’s still warm this late in August, and I could lie here forever watching him watch me. “I’d stay right here,” I finish, my voice so soft I can barely get the words out. I’m glad it’s dark because my cheeks flush, and I’m worried if there were any more light out here besides the distant half-moon and those same stars, he might be able to see the way my pulse jumps in my throat, my hands quiver a little against the grass. I press my palms flat onto the ground and pray that I seem normal. Pray that he understands what I just said, that he feels it too.

Those gray-blue eyes of his never waver. His lips curve upward, the barest hint of a smile. But his eyes still seem sad. Distant almost. “I know what you mean,” he whispers, and now I really can’t control my racing heart. It crashes like the surf in my ears, an echo of the lakeshore down below which sloshes faintly, stirred by the late summer breeze.

“Do we have to go back tomorrow?” I bite my lip. Notice the way his eyes drop to my mouth now, tracking me the same way I track him. But I must be imagining it. I have to be. He hasn’t made a move all summer and we’ve had an entire month of this—the torturous almost-kisses, a million midnight conversations that could’ve turned into something at any moment. He could’ve kissed me a hundred times and I would’ve lost myself in it. But he never does. “What if we just stayed here?”

Josh grins sideways, a lopsided smile that I see every night when I close my eyes, burned into my memories. “We could live in the little cabin,” he says, meaning the one my dad and I are currently sharing, attached by an outdoor porch to the smaller one Josh and Susan took. “I bet the owner wouldn’t notice. There’s two whole bedrooms in there, we could make one our living room, share the other one.”

My cheeks flush brighter at the thought of sharing one of those tiny rooms with him. The single bed would barely fit us both. We’d need to cuddle together, wrap our arms around each other to keep from falling out of bed.

I’d be fine with that.

I grin at him. “We could steal snacks from the kitchen whenever she was out, maybe fish for dinner if we’re really hungry.”

“You’d have to get better at building fires if we’re going to be living off of fish we catch ourselves,” he points out.

I punch his shoulder lightly. “You’re the one who let it go out last night. You put a wet log right on top of it.”

“It wasn’t wet, it was only damp.”

I roll my eyes. “Trouble in paradise already.”

“But even with trouble, it’s still paradise,” he counters. He lifts a hand as if to cup my cheek, and my whole body flares. This is it. Finally. But his fingers only skim my cheekbone, brush some stray hairs behind my ear, and then he lets his hand drop back to the grass. He leans back down to watch me again, only a foot away from me, but it feels like the widest gap in the world.

It’s our last night. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. Maybe in a month or two, next time one of our parents decides to host a party. Maybe longer than that if they’re busy. Dad’s been caught up with work a lot lately, took way too much time off for this vacation, he keeps saying. And I know Susan needs to start applying for new jobs when we get back because she hates her current teaching gig, wants to find one that gives her more freedom to set her own curriculum. For all we know, it could be as long as six months before we’re together again. Six months before I have an excuse to lie here across from the hottest guy I know and joke about the dumb stuff we always talk about. Bare our souls to each other because nobody else ever seems to really get it, not the way we do.

“Close your eyes,” I say.

He does, and I marvel at the way his lashes brush his cheeks, the way he looks so relaxed, so trusting. His blond hair falls over his forehead, almost into his eyes, but it’s not quite long enough. I want to brush it back, out of the way. I want to run my fingers through it. I want to pull him close and…

It’s our last night.

“What am I waiting for?” he asks, a sly little grin on his mouth still.

“No patience, huh?” I grin back, lean in closer. We’re just inches apart. I wonder if he can feel my breath on his cheeks. Wonder if he’s thinking the same thing I am.

“I think we’ve both been patient long enough, Pau.” He opens his eyes, and I freeze, caught in the act. There’s barely an inch between us. We’re so close that if I turn my head, our noses will touch. But he doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t even seem surprised. He gazes up at me, that same smile fixed on his face.

“Close your eyes,” I repeat, and his smile grows. But he does it again.

I remember the bridge we jumped off two weeks ago. It was a small bridge, only ten feet high, over the deepest part of the lake. But Josh had to coax me off it. He jumped first, then talked me through climbing over the side and letting go. “All it takes it one step,” he told me. “Then you let gravity do the rest. Once you’re falling, you can’t take it back. It’s nice, letting go.”

He was right about that. I hope the same principle holds true now. Because I know, once I do this, I can’t take it back.

But if I don’t, I’ll regret it. I’ll regret never trying, never knowing.

So I lean forward, slowly, and ever so lightly, brush my lips against his. I’ve never kissed anybody before. It’s feather-light. The kind of kiss you could explain away as a mistake if you really wanted to.

But then Josh cups my chin, pulls me forward, his lips colliding with mine, and I lose my breath. We both sink into it, and it does feel just like jumping off that bridge. My stomach does the same thing, leaps into my throat, and my ears ring, and I feel dizzy, out of breath, but alive and on fire with joy at the same time.

Who knew kissing would feel like this? Almost like flying.

He parts his lips, and I mirror him, our tongues brushing as he slides his hand along my jaw, around my neck, then buries his fingers in my hair. I forget about everything else. The lake, the night around us, the wet grass below. All I can think about are his hands, his body pressed against mine, the way his muscles feel tight and strong while I’m soft and curved. He melds against me, pulls me to him, claims me, and I’m right where I want to be, losing myself in this kiss, in us.

Then lights flick on up at the cabin and flood the yard. We jump apart, breathless, laughing, sharing guilty smiles, our eyes sparkling, dewy like the grass, as if we’re both dazed from shock. Maybe we are.

We reach for each other’s hands. Squeeze once, tight, our fingers hot as molten metal.

Then our parents are calling, Susan looking for Josh, Dad looking for me. We both spring to our feet. Trade one last long glance before we retreat inside those cabins for the last time. Close the doors between us and go to bed to dream about what just happened, what it meant.

Is this the end, or only the beginning?

I fall asleep with that question dancing in my head.