The Pawn(2)By: Skye Warren
“I’ll miss our games.”
He kisses my temple. “Not as much as I’ll miss you.”
“You could download an app on your phone. We could play online.”
“I’m lucky if I can make calls on this damn thing,” he says, laughing. His expression darkens when he looks at the screen of his phone, reading the text across a white popup background. “Sweetheart, I have to call someone.”
Disappointment burns down my throat. Of course he’s a busy man. Most of my friends barely know their dads. I’m lucky he’s always made time for me. No matter how crazy things get at his business, he always makes time for our chess games. Every week.
I kiss his cheek, seeing the age spots on leathery skin for the first time.
Downstairs I find Justin by following the sound of his laugh. It’s a big, booming laugh that I suspect he’s practiced. However it happened, it’s infectious. I’m already grinning when I enter the room.
He holds out his hand to me. “The woman of the hour.”
I fold into his side, tickled by the champagne in my bloodstream and the relief of being downstairs. Whatever happened in that office was tense. Dark. “I was just checking on Daddy.”
“Working,” Justin guesses.
“Well, I guess you’re stuck with me,” Justin says, winking at the couple he was talking to. I recognize them as a famous neurosurgeon and his wife, parents to a man running for the state senate seat.
I make my introductions to them. Of course this party isn’t only for my high school graduation. Like all the other parties in Tanglewood society, it’s about networking. For my father. For Justin, who has big plans to follow his father’s footsteps into politics.
“Salutatorian,” Justin’s saying. “You should have heard her speech about the way the things we do now are the myths of the future.”
The man smiles, somewhat indulgent. “She’ll be a great asset to you, son.”
I manage to keep a pleasant expression, even though I hope to be more than an asset. I want to be his partner. He knows that, doesn’t he? Justin has that public smile, the one that’s too bright and too white. The one that doesn’t mean anything.
By the time we make our excuses, my cheeks hurt from smiling.
Justin pulls me behind a screen, nuzzling my neck. “Maybe we can sneak up to your room.”
“Oh,” I say, a catch in my breath. “I think Daddy will be down soon…”
“He won’t find out,” he murmurs, his hands sliding over my dress, under it. We’re not visible to the party, but anyone could walk back here. My heart pounds. His hands are soft and grasping—and for some reason my mind flashes to the man at the top of the stairs, his firm grip on my arms.
“Come on. You turned eighteen two weeks ago.”
And okay, I did use that as an excuse before. Because I didn’t feel ready. And it has nothing to do with how old I am or how much I love Justin. Maybe if my mother were still alive, if she could have told me the secrets of being a woman. The internet is a terrifying teacher.
I turn in his arms, pushing him to arms’ length. “I love you.”
He frowns. “Avery.”
“But it wasn’t just being seventeen. It’s everything. I want… I want to wait.”
His eyes narrow, and I’m sure he’s going to say no. He’s going to storm off. What if I ruined everything?
By degrees he seems to relax. “Okay.”
He sighs. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m willing to wait. You’re worth waiting for.”
My throat feels tight. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but he’s the best boyfriend I can imagine. And Daddy loves him, which is a huge plus. This fall I’ll start school at Smith College, the same private all-girls college where Harper’s going. Everything is perfect.
That’s how it feels in this moment, like flying.
I have no idea that in less than a year I’ll fall from the sky.
Wind whips around my ankles, flapping the bottom of my black trench coat. Beads of moisture form on my eyelashes. In the short walk from the cab to the stoop, my skin has slicked with humidity left by the rain.