To the south of the baseball diamonds there are several wooded acres. Taylor and I had wandered over this way after a home football game our junior year while trying to find an adventurous way home. Instead, we came across a weeping willow tree at the corner of the school’s property where a fence blocked our progression.
Neither of us were ready to go home for the night, so we built a little fort under that tree and we declared it our secret spot. Whenever we needed to get away from the world for a while, we came here.
I ran the entire way to the woods then plopped myself down at the base of our tree and sobbed into my knees. I didn’t care that the ground was still wet with this morning’s dew, nor that it would ruin my capri pants.
I was missing French class, but my teacher, Ms. Moreau, was extremely forgiving. I would probably be hiding in her classroom during lunch, anyway, crying about the morning’s drama. There was no way I could confront anyone, especially Taylor, about what happened.
I heard some twigs snap, and I peeked up over my knees to see Taylor standing in front of me. I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye. I didn’t want to see the hurt that he must have felt after seeing those pictures of me with his cousin.
He stood there for what seemed like an eternity but was only a few seconds, saying nothing while I sat on the forest floor crying.
“I’m sorry, Tay.” I looked up at him with my tear-streaked face. “Those pictures aren’t real. I mean they’re real, but they were taken completely out of context.”
“Hey now—” Taylor crouched down in front of me and placed a hand on top of mine where they clutched my knees tight to my chest. “It’s okay.”
“How can you say that?” I questioned as I glanced up at him. His cologne mixed with the fresh spring breeze comforted me, but I couldn’t maintain eye contact, so I returned to burying my face in my knees and said in a muffled voice, “Everyone thinks I’m in love with Kade, but I’m not.”
“I’m pretty sure almost no one thinks you’re in love with Kade,” Taylor reassured me. “It wouldn’t be the first time something was wrong in the school paper, right?”
That was true, but it didn’t change how I felt about the situation. “Jimmy was a huge jerk and kept saying awful things about me.”
“Jimmy’s always been a jerk,” Taylor said. “That’s one of the reasons I encouraged you to break up with him.”
“One of the reasons?” I asked sheepishly as I peered over my knees to see Taylor looking at me with soft intensity.
“Gracie, I haven’t been honest with you,” Taylor said softly.
“What do you mean?” I asked, resting my head on the tree trunk behind me, no longer trying to hide my tears. Taylor reached out and wiped them away from my eyes. He took a deep breath, then looked up to meet my gaze.
“Gracie, I’ve been in love with you since the day I met you. You played tennis with me after running from your home crying. You always push past your hard circumstances and see the positive side of things. You’re authentic and honest, and you don’t try to hide anything about yourself. You’re kind, brave, funny, beautiful. You’re so unlike anyone I’ve ever met.” With a furrowed brow he took another deep breath and gently held both of my hands in his. He let out a nervous chuckle accompanied with a crooked smile then shyly continued. “Gracie, you’re everything I’ve ever wanted. You mean the world to me. More than you’ll ever know.”
Taylor stood and pulled me up with him. He placed one hand on the small of my back and pulled me close to him, so our bodies were touching. With his other hand he cradled my cheek and turned my face up to look him in the eye. His warmth drew me in closer as I instinctively wrapped my arms around his waist. My heart raced and I got lost in his deep brown eyes.
“Gracie Hansen, I love you.” Taylor pulled my face to his and our lips met as the world stopped moving. Nothing in my life had ever felt this right. I clenched his jacket with my hands and pulled him closer to me, kissing him with the longing that I’d been suppressing for nearly two years.
Everything in that single moment was perfect and how it should be. I loved Taylor Kendrick and had since meeting him on the tennis court two summers ago.
As he pulled away, we were both breathing heavily, and he placed his forehead on mine. Both of our eyes still closed, not wanting this moment to end.
“I love you too, Tay,” I whispered, opening my eyes to see a smile on his face.
“I’ve dreamed of hearing you say those words,” Taylor said.
We pulled each other back in for another kiss, but not nearly as long this time. Ending the kiss with a sigh, we embraced one another, prolonging the moment now that we’d admitted the truth.
“I think it’s time to head back,” Taylor said softly.
“Already?” I protested with a suggestive pout.
Taylor tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear and I leaned into his hand as he stroked my cheek with his thumb. “I think we’ve missed enough of our French class already.”
I sighed. “You’re probably right. At least Ms. Moreau is understanding.”
“And I’m sure she would love to hear about your traumatic morning,” Taylor said, knowing I frequently confided in Ms. Moreau. “But perhaps we should keep this treasure between us, hmm?” He leaned down and placed one quick kiss on the tip of my nose.
“Yes, this is just for us.” I bit my lower lip, already wanting to kiss him again.
When Taylor released me from his embrace, I shivered in the cool morning air. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders, then wrapped his arm around my waist, guiding me in the direction of the school.
Everything was going to be different now. Taylor and I could be together as boyfriend and girlfriend. My Taylor.
As we left our secret place in the woods, I never wanted this feeling to go away.
Book Club Discussion Question: How do you think Gracie will react when she finds out all the other things Taylor is lying about?