Dark Hunger

Page 16

Anything outside of the authoritarian rules set up in the structure for someone else was deemed an abomination.

Here in debate the rules were objective. They never changed, and the goal posts weren’t moved. The answers were challenged with fact and reason and analysis, not with emotional mudslinging and accusations. This was a world that made sense.

It was like drumming. The notes were on the page, the measures were clear. Which instrument needed to be struck at which time was laid out in an orderly pattern. How you tackled it emotionally was up to you. Emotions and debate didn’t really have much to do with each other, except in one area.

And she walked past me just as I bent down to get a drink of water.


Harboring a crush on a guy for years is probably the definition—no, the epitome—of desperate. I talked to Sam, sure, and I debated him, and I joked with him, and I did plenty of other things that gave me an opportunity to interact, but when it came to sending out a signal, or flirting, or finding some way to communicate how I felt? Nope. I closed up. Watching him take a drink from the water fountain, knowing he was just as nervous as I was about the debates today, gave me a warm sense of camaraderie with him, yet I kept my feelings to myself.

It was easier that way because if I didn’t take the chance I couldn’t get rejected, right? I was torn between wanting to let him know, and terrified of the genie I’d be unable to tuck back in its bottle if I pulled the cork.

Instead, I lived in that world of ambiguity, where I knew that the feelings I had for him were becoming larger and stronger, at the same time that I couldn’t take any of the pressure off by letting them out. When our eyes met, there seemed to be a kindred spirit there, but if he felt anything, even one one-thousandth of what I felt for him, I had no way of knowing it. You would think that our hug from two weeks ago would have calmed me even now, that it told me how he felt, and yet a deep insecurity in me left me with more questions than answers from his touch. More was what I wanted.

Did he?

I walked past him at the water fountain, and he stood, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then called out to me when my back was to him. “Hey! Amy!”

I stopped and froze, skittering a little bit on the tile floor, unaccustomed to wearing high heels. I turned around gingerly, making sure I didn’t fall. The last thing I needed was to split my skirt open or bang up my knee, or worse, embarrass myself in front of him.

“Yeah?” I replied. Witty, I was, first thing in the morning. Shaking inside—and not just from the specter of the day’s debates. His smile made me feel like none of it mattered. As if the entire world was nothing but us.

He leaned back against the wall and crossed his long legs at the ankles, his elbow bent, the skin around his eyes crinkled up as those warm eyes took me in. The seconds ticked by. My skin floated inches above my body and I took my hand and rested it on my thigh, unsure what to do. The tangible feeling of my own fingers against my body felt like the most real thing on the planet. The only thing more real would have been if his hands had touched the same place.

“I’m not going to even ask if you’re nervous,” he said, looking down.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?” a guy’s voice said, interrupting us.

I turned, and then my heart picked up in double time because there stood Joe Ross. Every, and I mean, every girl except for the gay ones, had a crush on Joe at some point. He looked like a really hot version of Orlando Bloom, and yet that wasn’t quite right. Add in a little Brad Pitt, and then some George Clooney, and a touch of Channing Tatum, all mixed into a Roman God, and you had Joe.

Too bad his personality didn’t match. He was the biggest grade grubber you could imagine, and in the debate world, he was the great white shark. What I didn’t like about him was that he had this way of making comments that pierced my confidence. He wasn’t a sexist jerk; he was a jerk to guys and girls alike. An equal-opportunity jerk. I slid a step away from him, as if being closer to him would make it more likely that he could wound me and make me go into my first debate unstable and questioning myself. His presence snapped me out of the wonder of Sam.

With a blank look on his face, Sam turned to Joe and said “You doing your pre-debate damage, Ross?”

Joe had the decency to pretend to look offended, even taking one hand and pressing it over his heart, as if shocked. “What are you implying, Hinton?”

“Take it however you want,” Sam said, his face impassive.

One-on-one in a debate, that impassivity was Sam’s greatest tool. The power in the ability to appear unruffled was something so divine that a part of me would have traded anything for that skill. Okay—almost.

Almost trade.

His eyes were hooded and his face was slack, leaving the other person absolutely no way of knowing what he was thinking. It undermined Joe and made my face crack with a smile. I bit my lips and turned away to try to hide it, but Joe just nudged me, making me wobble on these damn high heels.

“If your case is as droll as your face, then good luck getting to third place.” Joe’s eyes narrowed as he tried to stare Sam down.

“You’re a poet, and you know it,” was all Sam said in return.

I took two steps back and turned, standing at the midpoint between them. Sam, tall and slim with that wavy red hair and those speckled eyes, eyes that gave no quarter. Joe, with a face carved out of marble, an angry red flush in his cheeks, and clenched hands. They stared each other down and I began to feel a strange, tingling sense of arousal. The naked aggression that each showed triggered something more adult in me. It transcended all of the silly flirting, and skirting, and questioning that made up the web of high school relationships and gave me a glimpse into a world of something completely different between men and women, and between men and men.

This was a high stakes game, but nobody realized just how high the stakes really were that day.


What the fuck was Joe up to? Nothing I’d done should have triggered this kind of bullshit. With Amy’s eyes on us I tried to keep myself in neutral. Faking placidity wasn’t just a skill I’d honed; it was a survival strategy at home. When your father screams at you for forgetting to mop up the water you spilled on the floor while in the shower, or hauls you out back for a thrashing because God told him to keep you from mouthing off after you forgot to say “Sir,” you learn to hold it all together and act as if nothing upsets you.

Nothing. It can’t, because giving that little splash of emotion to the world means that anyone can pick it up and use it like a hammer against you. Joe was trying to provoke me and while he might be a master at finding weak spots in people, I was the fucking king of impassivity when it came to emotionally charged situations. Joe wasn’t my dad, and I could probably kick his ass if I had to, but who wants to do that at a debate tournament? It wasn’t like we were at a cage fighting event, you know?

“Why should I care?” Ross said, feigning ambivalence. “I already got into BU on early acceptance. I don’t need a trophy.” But his eyes said otherwise.

“Then just do your best and have fun,” Amy replied in a sing-songy voice.

He glowered at her. “I’ll shred you if we face off, Smithson.”

“Like you did three weeks ago on the voting topic?” Zing. Amy had practically ripped his balls off and pinned them to the grill of his school’s bus. She’d gone 4-0 and won the entire tournament.

“Like I—? Oh, shut up.” He stormed out, grumbling to himself. His phone rang and we heard the distant echo of his voice as he talked to his mother, muttering something about making sure he had his car back by four o’clock.

We both laughed, and the tension lifted. Good. In that moment everything changed, as if color itself became brighter, the air more infused with oxygen, the quality of light making everything about Amy ethereal and so real. As if everything else in the world was fake, and the only way to connect to a different level of the universe was to touch her.

So I did. She tipped her face up to me as I took two steps toward her and reached for her hand, the smooth, soft skin like a lifeline. I didn’t realize how much I’d been drowning, but when I felt her skin against mine I was suddenly on dry ground. Solid land. She was my anchor, my savior.

My home.

Her lips were the front door, and I crossed the threshold with a boldness I didn’t know I possessed.


The rasp of his palms sliding around my waist, the wool of his suit crackling static against mine, the softness of his lips, all told me I wasn’t dreaming. And then my own hands were behind his neck, and my lips were returning the kiss as ardently, and my brain and body melted into a puddle of Amy. He pulled his lips away and then came back, this time with more intensity. This was the kind of kiss I’d read about in books, the kind of kiss I’d hoped for.

“Hey, you two! Go to your assignments!”

We broke away, completely shocked, and I slid backwards and almost fell, only saved by Sam’s strong arms grabbing onto me, lifting me up. We both turned in surprise and Sam wiped his mouth, while I pressed my fingertips to my lips as if holding the kiss in. It was Erin, my best friend.

“What. Are. You. Doing?” she said, in a hushed voice. She pointed to the pairing sheet. “Get to your classrooms before you’re disqualified.” When she turned to me, her eyes lit up like a string of Christmas lights. “And you and I are going to talk about this later!” She looked at Sam, looked at me, and then skittered down the hall to her own event. It was a miracle that I could even hear her with the blood pounding in my ears. I couldn’t look at Sam at first, so stunned by the kiss, until his warm, deep voice reached out.

“Amy,” he said. It was a command, not a question.

I could have held back if I had tried really hard. I could have walked away at that moment. I could have held up my hand and marched off and said ‘no,’ but I didn’t. I turned and followed the demand in his voice. The heat in his eyes burned me, the movement of his hands, those fingers trying to find the resting tone, all of it triggered by one not-so-simple kiss.

“You have a hell of a way of trying to undermine me, Hinton,” I said, keeping my face slack, matching him.

He shook his head violently, brow furrowed. “No, no,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Amy that’s not what I...”

I held my hand up and touched him for the first time since we’d pulled apart, this time my fingertips on his lips. So soft. His clean shaven face, just rough enough for me to imagine what it would feel like brushing against my bare skin. A rush of warmth pooled in my belly, and other places, places untouched but in need of exploration. “It was a joke, Sam.”

He smiled and then reached up and took my hand, interlacing our fingers. “Whatever happens today, Amy...”

I cut him off. “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen today, Sam.”

Laughter twinkled in his eyes. “You will?”

“Yeah, I’ll predict it.”

“Go ahead.”

“We’re both going to Nationals.”

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