The House

Chapter 11

Her

Stop touching your lip, Delilah,” her mother said and then smiled stiffly, trying to take the bite off. “Your chin will break out just below. You have dirt and oils on your fingers and will give yourself pimples.”

“Okay,” Delilah mumbled into her plate. Flavorless vegetables, bland chicken, undercooked rice. She looked up at her ceiling and wished for a brief pulse that the lamp would sway in some happy dinnertime rhythm. The silence in her house was intimidating. She missed the chaos of mealtimes at her old school, with forks clanging and drinks spilling and hundreds of girls speaking in excited whispers. She wondered what dinners were like at Gavin’s house and whether she could kiss Gavin at his dinner table.

She wished she’d asked him for his phone number so she could call him after dinner from beneath her blankets and tell him that she had liked his kiss.

“Delilah Blue, I said stop touching your lip.”

• • •

Delilah’s dreams were twisted and wonderfully terrifying that night. Each time she woke with a start, she remembered a dream where she’d died from the most innocent household accident—she left the stove on all day and the house exploded—and she’d fall back asleep and have another one, this time about dropping the hair dryer in the full tub or falling down the stairs and landing on a knife in her hand.

Somehow, Delilah must have gone to bed with a butter knife clutched in her fist. She dropped it to the floor with a dull clang and felt her muscles shake and pull as she stretched herself fully awake. Delilah’s head hurt, a dull ache in her temples that echoed of fingers pressing into her skull. She found Tylenol in the cupboard in the bathroom and lay back down, falling asleep until the sun was barely starting to brighten the sky.

Getting up on such dark mornings allowed Delilah to pretend she’d never slept and had been out all night, dancing wildly. In the shower she pretended that it was three in the morning and she was washing off sweat accumulated from crashing into other soaked bodies on the dance floor, and not just the innocent layer of sleep and wild dreams.

She put on whatever clothes were folded at the top of each drawer, suspecting that Gavin didn’t even really notice what she wore. To be fair, though, if he showed up at school in khakis and a polo shirt she would have a heart attack. So maybe her clothes mattered too. Delilah smoothed her hands down over her crisp red skirt and white sweater. So plain. She had traded one uniform for another. Trying to fit her personality in her clothing had always just felt like so much work.

In the mirror, she let her hands run over her hips—narrow and girlish—and up over her chest—barely there. She felt stunted from private school, as if her body needed the added chemistry of boys to become a woman and was years behind everyone else. She liked the long, sinewy lines of Gavin’s body beneath his T-shirt. She liked the way the veins on his arms stood out when he heaved his backpack over his shoulder and how his biceps peeked out from his sleeves like thick ropes. He looked strong and scrappy and like he’d just as soon wrestle her onto the grass as he would slip his hand into hers.

Breakfast—more bland. Walk to school—too long. But the sight of Gavin waiting for her at the edge of the school property made something wiggle inside her chest and her stomach turn to fire.

“So did you?” he asked, before she was close, certainly before she was close enough to be sure of what he’d said.

“What?” she called.

“Did you like it?”

She answered by walking faster and then pressing against him, arms around his neck and pulling him down

down

down

down to her mouth, where she could offer her lip again.

“I liked it too much,” she said, after he’d bitten her and she’d sucked on his lip and pulled his hair and heard the sound he made that set off fireworks in each of her toes.

“Too much how?”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Mom yelled at me for touching my lip.”

Gavin’s eyebrows inched toward his hairline. “Really? Yelled?”

“Well, no. She doesn’t yell. But she nagged me all through dinner in this voice that sounds pleasant but isn’t.”

“Because you touched your lip all through dinner?”

Delilah nodded. “So you’re obligated to do it over and over and over now.”

The school bell clanged in the background, and Gavin wrapped his arm around her shoulders, steering her toward the building. “Did you have bells at the other school?”

She gazed up at him, wondering if the topic of kissing was finished. “No. We were expected to be responsible for our time.” She heard how the words came out rote and programmed, straight from the Saint Benedict’s handbook.

“That’s it, then. Public-school kids aren’t trusted to be responsible.”

She stared at the pavement as it passed beneath their feet. She noticed that he had on new black shoes and watched them instead of wishing he would obsess about kissing as much as she did.

“Though I like to think that I’m not typical,” he said. She heard a twist in his voice, like he was smiling out the words. “I like to fulfill my obligations. Kissing or otherwise. But especially kissing.”

Delilah knew her grin was ridiculous, and ahead in the distance, Dhaval caught her eye. His reaction—raised brow, arms crossed—told her that he saw the wild smile and would keep at her the entire day until she spilled every detail about the boy at her side. Gavin slowed his steps and finally released her, kissing the side of her head and promising he would find her later. When he walked away, shoulders square and broad, hair as black as the shadows under the tree, she felt a little hollow, like maybe he’d taken one of her ribs with him when he left.

The grass spread brown and muddy, forming a dim smudge across the front of the school. Dhaval sat at the top of the steps beside Cornelia Stinton, a girl Delilah knew only from Dhaval’s lesson on social hierarchy Delilah’s first day back at school. Cornelia seemed nice enough. She’d moved from Wichita the year after Delilah left for private school, and therefore was one of few girls in school who didn’t seem personally offended that Delilah had ever left.

“Come here, girl.” Dhaval patted the concrete next to him. “Spill.”

Delilah sat beside him, waving politely to Cornelia, who seemed to sit a little too close to Dhaval and watch him with more interest than she maybe would have if she knew he was more interested in boys than girls.

“What’s today’s adventure?” he asked, bumping Delilah’s shoulder with his.

“Discussion of unreliable narrators in fiction, archery in phys ed, and—”

“And more kissing your new boy toy?”

Delilah gave him a meaningful glare and didn’t bother to answer.

“Girl, you work fast,” he said. “You always get what you want?”

She snorted. “Definitely not.”

“Are you dating Gavin?” Cornelia asked, leaning past Dhaval so she could give Delilah full view of her wide blue eyes. Cornelia was pretty in the way that girls often were at seventeen: prettier beneath all of the things she put on her face.

Maybe Cornelia was pretending she hadn’t seen Delilah and Gavin on the lawn just now. Maybe she really hadn’t seen them. So Delilah nodded and watched Gavin disappear inside the side door, wishing he didn’t sit behind her in English so she would be able to stare at his shoulder and remember how it felt to rest her head against it.

“He was a little too weird for me,” Cornelia said, leaning back into position and sounding sharply bored. “I’m glad that’s over.”

Delilah understood the dismissively territorial behavior: By casting off Gavin, Cornelia was allowing Delilah to have him. Dhaval made a skeptical noise in his throat. “You had it bad for him, Corr.”

Cornelia smacked him. “I did not.”

“Liar,” Dhaval drawled.

“Well, he seems just weird enough for me.” Delilah stood, telling Dhaval she would see him later, and walked into the building.

Students pressed into her as they walked past, hot and heavy all around. Everyone seemed so carefully disheveled, as if their hair had been mussed into the perfect disarray, their clothes selected to be ideally mismatched. Delilah looked down at her skirt, her sweater, her plain brown shoes.

She leaned against her locker, feeling the press of bodies behind her like a riptide. She could join it, get pulled along to class. Or she could pretend to bury her feet in the sand and wait for her world to stop spinning.

Delilah wasn’t all that familiar with jealousy. She’d had what could only barely be considered a boyfriend for a few weeks last year. She’d kissed a couple others. But she’d always let them go with as friendly a smile as she could manage, and tried not to tell them they just didn’t have the right twist for her tastes.

Giant footsteps echoed toward her, and she didn’t even realize she’d been alone in the empty hall until the second, late bell rang and the toes of black sneakers moved into her line of vision.

“Why are you still out here? I thought you were the queen of time management.” Gavin bent to meet her eyes. There was a tightness in his face, something pulling the edges taut and worried. Where is the mystery? she wondered. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen her sitting down next to Cornelia. It was exactly why he hadn’t joined her there, she realized.

“Did you kiss her?”

“Who?” He studied her for a beat before his eyes widened in understanding. “Cornelia?”

“Yes.”

Gavin nodded, and Delilah blinked down to the ink on his forearm. “Did you take her home?”

In her peripheral vision, she saw him smile, shake his head. “I told you, you were the first. Delilah, are you jealous?” He seemed to find the whole thing fascinating.

“A bit.”

“Of Cornelia?”

She looked away, fighting a smile. She liked the way he seemed unable to conceive of such a thing. “Yes.”

“Well, I promise you, I was only a tool used to completely freak out her parents.”

“But you dated her.”

“Of course I did. Why not?”

It wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear, but Delilah appreciated his honesty. “Did you bite her bottom lip?”

His smile faded as fast as a lit match put under water, but his eyes smoldered with a hunger that made Delilah’s fingertips tingle. “No. Never wanted to do that with her.”

She took his hand and pulled him toward Room 104, Mr. Harrington’s English class.