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Chapter 9: Stage Kisses

The extent of Freddie’s love life could fill twelve journal pages. She knew this because she’d done it. Eight pages had gone to boyfriend number one, and four pages had gone to boyfriend number two.

Boyfriend number one (of the whopping eight pages) had been Freddie’s next door neighbor throughout grade school. His name was Andy, and one day, when he had been twelve and Freddie eleven, he had asked her if she would be his girlfriend. She had flushed and said, Yes, and for the next six weeks, they had been Very Serious. Sometimes they’d held hands. Sometimes he had come over for dinner, and twice, they had kissed.

Okay, so the first kiss had only been on the cheek because Freddie had panicked at the last minute and turned sideways. The other, though, she had faced with determination. It had started as a peck, then quickly escalated into something slobbery that Freddie hadn’t liked at all.

However, she’d assumed her distaste for kissing hadstemmed from her own inexperience (after all, Andy was allowed to watch PG-13s, and she was not). Plus, she and Andy were fated in the stars—she was sure of it. One day, they would progress to further bases and maybe even get married. That was how love worked.

Until Andy’s family moved away, and as devastated as Freddie had been, she’d forgotten about him three weeks later when a girl named Divya Srivastava had moved into town. Who needed boys when she could have a best friend?

Freddie’s second boyfriend, who had been awarded only four pages in her journal, was named Carl. It had really only been a summer fling, almost worthy of a Grease musical number, except that John Travolta was much more interesting than Carl could ever hope to be be.

Carl had been fifteen; Freddie too. And he’d been dark haired, and when he hadn’t been wearing his Boy Scout camp uniform, he’d worn t-shirts that said things like, Never Trust an Atom, They Make Up Everything or This Shirt is Blue If You Run Fast Enough.

He’d also worn a Witchlands hoodie that said Voidwitch on the back, and that was what had first caught Freddie’s eye. A funny guy who also gamed.

With Carl, Freddie had had her first real kiss (many of them, actually). Including the kind with tongue. She had seen PG-13s at this point, and unfortunately, she’d learned that the movies made kissing look way more exciting than it was.

When the summer had eventually come to a close and Carl had been getting ready to leave, he’d asked Freddie if she would still be his girlfriend when he went away. She had answered with a polite, “No, thank you.” (This had not gone over well, as one might imagine.)

After that summer, Freddie had decided that kissing wasn’t very interesting—and certainly wasn’t for her. Clearly other people enjoyed it, and that was great for them, but she had better things to do with her time. And for two years, she had stuck by this assessment.

Until today.

Until right now, when she was kissing Theo Porter.

Of course, she hadn’t gone into this kiss planning to Kiss Him For Real. It was just going to be a pop kiss on the lips—a way to show those RH brats that she, Freddie Gellar, was in charge.

Except that wasn’t what was happening at all.

When Freddie had stretched onto her toes and brought her face to Theo’s, he had stiffened. Surprised, certainly, which she would have expected. But when her lips had brushed against his, and when he had leaned in…

Well, that she hadn’t expected.

She also hadn’t expected her own body to react like it was currently reacting—as if time were standing still and she’d forgotten how to breathe.

For several long seconds, they just stood there. Lips to lips and eyes wide open.

Then Theo gave the softest sigh, and Freddie felt her entire stomach explode. Like a thousand sparklers going off. And when Theo closed his eyes and deepened the kiss, she found herself doing the same. She didn’t hear the audience cheering. She didn’t hear Mr. Binder shouting at them or her mom squealing from the front row.

It was just Theo. And her.

And god, he knew where to put his tongue. And his teeth. Why, it turned out the PG-13s hadn’t lied to Freddie at all, and if this was what kissing was really like, then she’d been missing out for two years.

It wasn’t until something smacked Freddie’s arm that she finally pulled away. She blinked, completely dazed, and found Mr. Binder standing there with a rolled-up script.

Behind him, the RH kids were going wild. Standing ovations, wild applause, and a few cheers of, “Woodchucks, Woodchucks!”

“That is quite enough.” Mr. Binder flung a pointed finger to the backstage area. “Get off my stage, and please for the love of god, don’t kiss like that in the show.”

Heat erupted onto Freddie’s face. Her chest too. And neck. Basically every organ inside her was awash with shame. Yet just because that kiss hadn’t gone according to plan (and just because her whole body was trembling and her lips were, for some inexplicable reason, craving more) didn’t mean she couldn’t salvage the situation.

She stepped away from Theo, resolutely avoiding eye contact, and took two steps toward the audience. Then, with the cheekiest grin she could muster, she swooped a bow.

The RH students loved it. Oh, she might have gotten them arrested, but it would seem history could be forgotten in favor of some good old fashioned hormones.

Her performance complete, Freddie fled the stage.

Her mom was waiting for her in the hallway behind the backstage area. “Who are you?” Mom asked, eyes bulging with delight. “And what did you do with my daughter?”

“Not now, Mom.” Freddie threw up a hand and marched straight for the backdoor.

She needed fresh air. She needed silence. She needed to not think about Theo Porter and the way he’d tasted.

Which had been like honey, and that made no sense at all. How could a boy possibly taste like honey? The PG-13s hadn’t said anything about that.

Freddie groaned, stomping down the ramp and into the parking lot. She would not think about him. She would not think about that little sound he had made before deepening the kiss. She would not think about the sounds that she now wanted to make remembering it all.

Freddie reached the end of the parking lot and stalked into the leaf-covered picnic area. For once, all the cigarette butts littering the ground didn’t bother her. In fact, she scarcely noticed them.

She scarcely noticed the cold either, and she didn’t mind that she’d left her cardigan in her mom’s car. She was boiling inside her skin.

Freddie reached a picnic table and braced her hands on the edge. Her heart still thundered in her ears. And her lungs—no matter how deeply she inhaled, they couldn’t seem to fill.

What the hell had just happened? What had Theo Porter done to her? Surely this was’t a normal reaction to kissing. Surely having her fingers grip white knuckled to the picnic table was not normal.

Theo Porter was the enemy. Period. She had kissed him to prove a point. Now the point had been made, and she could stop thinking about him.

After all, their gangs were sworn enemies of Verona Beach. She was Tybalt, and he was a party-crashing, good-for-nothing Romeo.

She heard footsteps crunch behind her. She didn’t have to turn to know who it was.

“Freddie,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know why he was apologizing. He hadn’t done anything wrong—she had been the one to kiss him.

“It wasn’t right for them to egg you on…egg us on like that.”

Slowly, Freddie twisted to face him. It was too much though, and every piece of Freddie’s common sense shut down at the sight of him. He was talking to her. His lips were moving, and there were words coming out, but he might as well have been speaking in Mandarin for all she understood.

And in that moment, she realized that this was why she had avoided meeting his eyes on stage: it had been simple self-preservation. As if her body had known that looking at him would lead to very, very bad outcomes indeed.

Because Theo Porter was absolutely, undeniably gorgeous.

With his hair all wild—and made wild by her fingers. With his face flushed and lips red and his sweater askew. With his slightly panicked expression and restless, weight-shifting energy.

Yes, it was all just too much.

In two longs steps, Freddie reached Theo.

He shut up, his breath catching in a way that made Freddie’s gut tighten. Then, in a voice she was certain couldn’t belong to her—it was so composed! So matter-of-fact!—she said, “I would very much like to kiss you again. Do you think that would that be okay?”

“God, yes,” he replied.

And that was all it took. Then his mouth was back on hers, and the sparklers were going off again.

This time, though, Freddie was the one who made the sound. A soft moan that just slid out from her chest and she couldn’t seem to stop.

But Theo must have liked it because he made one to match it, and now he was digging his fingers into her back and pulling her more tightly to him.

It wasn’t tightly enough, though, so she gripped him too. And the next thing she knew, she was walking backwards. She couldn’t tell if he was pushing her or if she was pulling him or if maybe it was a mixture of both.

Her back hit the picnic table. Her mouth left his lips. Cold air washed in, and for half a second, she thought he must have come to his senses. He was going to leave now, and this moment between them—whatever it was—would end.

But then his lips moved to her neck, and she realized in a hot, skittering flash of thought, that he was not leaving. And also, she realized she had not in fact reached self-actualization on Friday.

Now, however, she could most definitely say she had.

Soft whispers of air pushed from Freddie’s lungs. Her whole body was covered in chill bumps. She gripped Theo’s head again—god, his hair was so soft—and tugged his face back to hers. His lips were swollen. His pupils completely dilated.

But before their mouths could resume what they’d begun, a shout sliced through the air: “Porter? You out here, man? It’s time!”

Freddie gulped in a breath, trying to process what those words might mean. They had come from the backdoor, and now that she squinted that way (when had it gotten so dark outside?) she saw a stocky boy standing there.

“Porter?” he called again. “Come on, man. Our window of time is short.”

“It would seem,” Freddie said, her voice shockingly rough and low, “that they need you.”

Theo nodded. He wasn’t looking at the school, though. Just at Freddie. From her lips to her eyes. Then back to her lips.

It made her want to kiss him all over again.

“You’re here for a prank,” she forced out instead. A reminder to herself that they were enemies. Both alike in dignity perhaps, but enemies all the same. She hated him, and ten minutes ago (or maybe it had been longer—really, where had the sun gone?) she had wanted to murder him.

Again, Theo nodded. “We aren’t pranking the pageant.” His voice was even rougher than hers. “We just needed access to the school.”

“Oh.” She swallowed. “You’re probably not supposed to tell me that. I’m the enemy after all.”

“I know. I just…” He wet his lips. “I just don’t want you to think I’m a Very Bad Human Indeed. Proper nouns and all.”

Ah, it was too much. Having him quote her—having him care.

Freddie kissed him again. He groaned and pressed into it. Deepened it immediately, kissing her so hard, she thought he might draw blood.

She liked it.

But then he was pulling away. Backing away three steps, and freezing, miserable air rushed between them.

“You’re dangerous.” He ran a hand through his hair. A tiny frown knit his brow. “So, so dangerous, Freddie Gellar.”

She wasn’t sure why, but she liked that he called her that. And she liked the way he looked at her too, hungry and helpless at the same time.

Somewhere, in the dark recesses of Freddie’s brain, it occurred to her that maybe she’d gotten this whole Verona Beach thing wrong. That maybe she wasn’t Tybalt, hell-bent on revenge at all…

Maybe she was a different Capulet entirely.

Freddie leaned back against the picnic table. “You need to go.”

“I know.” Theo didn’t move.

“If they found out we were…” She couldn’t bring herself to say kissing. She wasn’t sure why. It just felt so….so personal. Instead, she waved between them and finished, “That probably wouldn’t be good.”

“No.” He swung his gaze toward the school, and he finally, finally seemed to collect himself. He stood taller. Smoothed at his sweater. Brushed at his hair. And then pinned Freddie with a final, blue-eyed stare. “Enemies, yeah?”

“Enemies.” She nodded decisively. “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”

“Sure.” He smiled, a soft, crooked thing.

“I still have to get that prank book back too,” she reminded him. Or maybe she was reminding herself. Everything had gone so muddy behind her eyeballs.

“Not a chance in hell, Gellar.” Theo stuffed his hands into his pockets. “See you later?”

“Yeah,” she murmured, watching him leave. “See you later.”


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