26 Kisses - Anna Michels


Seth loved me first.

And maybe it was wrong of me, but I think I really did believe that, deep down, he would always love me best. Even when I started dating someone else, even as school and life and other friends got in the way, for some reason I assumed that because of everything that had happened between us, I would always come first for him. But now, as we’re ducking through the crowd lining the street for the Dune Days parade, I see him look at Melinda the way he used to look at me. That look where his eyes go soft and his jaw relaxes, where the tension that’s usually wound up inside him like a spring driving him forward, always on to the next thing, the next adventure, just . . . evaporates. The look that always made me pull away from him and turn my back because it was too intense. He gives her that look, and instead of being happy for him, all I can think is Oh shit. Because if my two best friends hook up this summer, where does that leave me?

A microsecond later Seth pulls himself together and takes a giant bite out of his churro, sending a cloud of powdered sugar floating into the air.

“Come on,” he says over his shoulder, plunging straight into the thickest part of the crowd packing the street for the parade, his trademark dark clothes making him stand out from the tourists dressed in brightly colored T-shirts and hats. “We’re not going to be able to see from here.”

Mel hooks a finger around my belt loop as the crush of people engulfs us, and I fight the urge to shake her off, to disappear into the chaos. But Seth reaches back to grab my wrist, and the three of us end up sitting shoulder to shoulder on the curb, in a prime location to catch any freebies that might get thrown from the floats.

“Do you want some?” Seth offers his half-eaten churro to Mel, who shakes her head and turns away in disgust.

“Too much sugar,” she says, running a hand through her short black hair, fingers tangling in her curls.

“It’s Dune Days,” I say. “What’s the point of life if you can’t have a churro or some ice cream?” I try to keep any tinge of annoyance out of my voice—it’s none of my business if Mel has recently decided that sugar is basically poison.

She shrugs and leans back on her hands, stretching her feet out into the street, the laces of her untied Converse dragging in the dust.

I try to catch Seth’s eye over Mel’s head, but he’s giving her that look again and totally ignoring me. Someone standing behind us knees me in the back, and I flinch.

“Do you want me to go get you some roasted Brussels sprouts from the organic truck?” Seth asks Mel, his voice light and teasing. “Maybe some wheatgrass juice? A kale salad? You know, something really parade appropriate.”

Mel smiles and bumps her shoulder against Seth’s. “Oh, shut up,” she says, and leans against him for a moment longer than is strictly necessary.

I pop the last bit of waffle cone into my mouth and try to think of a new topic of conversation—something that will make the two of them stop looking at each other like a couple of freshmen at their first homecoming dance. How long has this been going on, and why didn’t I notice it before? I must have been blind to miss seeing the tension between them—although I have been a little preoccupied lately.

I sweep my hair up into a ponytail, able to focus on only two things: how miserable I am right now, and how much more miserable I’m going to be for the rest of the summer if Mel and Seth disappear to do the boyfriend-girlfriend thing. Not that I don’t deserve it after having practically abandoned them for the past two years.

Seth finally tears his gaze away from Mel and looks across the street. His eyes widen. “Veda, is that . . . ?”

“What?” I squint into the sun.

“Um . . . nothing. Never mind.” Seth wraps the remainder of his churro in a napkin and sets it aside. “I think I hear the marching band.”

“Really? I can’t hear—” My voice falters as I realize what—who—Seth has spotted. “Oh God. We have to move.” I struggle to my feet.

“No!” Mel grabs my arm and pulls me back down. “What are you talking