She could barely restrain herself from devouring the chocolate while Galahad made tea over a soda can stove on the balcony. She sat in a patio chair with the box in her lap and told herself that the chocolate wasn’t going anywhere, it was really all hers, and she was not going to make a fool of herself by inhaling it. Galahad admired civilized people and she would act like one even though her mouth already watered with anticipation. She tried to focus her attention on the colorful light sticks Galahad had hung from a wire along the balcony railing. In the cool of the night the reds, greens and yellows made her think of Christmas, and when Galahad handed her a cup of tea and sat down beside her, she thought it must be a holiday of some sort, and if it wasn’t, she would declare it so.
“Aren’t you going to eat your chocolate?”
“I was waiting for you, so we could share. I’m not a barbarian.”
“That’s what I like about you. You could go around dirty, eat the potatoes instead of plant them, steal Doc’s medicines and sell them for food. Hell, you could sell yourself for food. Plenty of girls do, and some of the boys do, too. But every day you try to make things a little more civilized around this place.”
“I’m not as good as you think,” she said, fumbling with the ribbon on the foil box. “I could do better.”
“So could all of us. But when you have a bad day, you pick yourself up and try again. You refuse to let the Telo win. And that’s why I love you.”
Cassie had popped a chocolate into her mouth, and now she turned to him, wondering if she had heard him right.
“I’m sorry I’m so bad at showing it.” He stood and went to the balcony railing. “It’s just that I’ll be nineteen this fall. You deserve better than a guy who’ll be dead in a few months.”
Cassie shoved another chocolate into her mouth, embarrassed that at this critical moment, she could care about something like food. “Any of us could die, anytime.”
“A guy should be able to promise forever to the girl he loves.”
“Forever isn’t our reality.”
He rested his forehead on his clasped hands.
She went to stand beside him. “So that’s it? Do you think this is The Iliad, and a girl has no right to choose for herself?”
Galahad straightened and looked at her.
“It’s my choice to love you. Even if you die half an hour from now, the time spent with you will have been worth it.”
He took her hand, twining his fingers through hers. “You really mean that?” He folded her in his arms and kissed her, slowly backing her against the patio railing.
Cassie returned his kisses hungrily, forgetting about the chocolate as she lost herself in the sensuous heat of his mouth on hers. She felt him unclasp the hooks of her bodice, then the slow track of his fingers across her flesh. “Take me to bed.”
“Don’t you want to think about it first?”
“It’s all I’ve thought about for weeks.”
He took her by the hand and led her into one of the bedrooms, where she felt suddenly awkward and was glad her heavy theater dress was designed to come off quickly. More puzzling were the buttons and clasps of his shirt and costume pants, especially with him watching as she fumbled to undress him. She didn’t know what she was doing, but surely he wouldn’t hold that against her. Or was it her too-thin body that was distracting him? He knew she was starving. Why did he look at her like that?
“Is this your first time?”
Cassie jerked away, glad the room was dim and he couldn’t see the embarrassment flushing her face. She had done something wrong and ruined everything. She threw herself onto the bed. “I didn’t know it would be a problem.”
He unbuttoned his shirt the rest of the way and dropped it on the floor. “That’s not what I meant.” He joined her on the bed and kissed her. “I just don’t want to hurt you if it is. I want you to enjoy it.”
For a moment, Cassie could think of nothing to say that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. Of course it would hurt. Her friends had told her it would. But when you loved a boy, it didn’t matter, since how could there be a second time without a first? No matter what his past experiences might be, he was nervous, just like she was, and she felt a sudden surge of confidence. She reached for the waistband of his pants. “Don’t talk. Unless it’s to tell me how to get these crazy theater pants off you.”
* * *
Cassie lay spooned in the hollow of Galahad’s body, not dissatisfied but puzzled as to why people made such a fuss about sex. She didn’t feel any different, other than a certain wonderment that she had been able to give him so much pleasure.
Galahad nuzzled her neck and ran a hand up her thigh. “You okay?”
“Are you bleeding?”
He wadded a corner of the sheet and pressed it between her legs. “Seems like a design flaw that the female body should work like that.”
“I just feel bad we stained the sheets.”
“We’ll use the bed in the other room next time.”
She nestled deeper into the curve of his body. “So there will be a next time? You’re not going to be all weird in the morning, and ignore me like you did those other times?”
“I’ll never treat you that way again.” His arms tightened around her. “You were right. We both know the score.”
“You might outlive me,” Cassie reminded him. “Alex is almost twenty and seems fine, but Zach is dying and he’s only seventeen. And then there’s all that weird stuff going on with the growth hormone research. Someone knew something at the end. Maybe there’s a cure and we’ll find it.”
“I hope so. But it’s probably best if we live like there isn’t. That way we won’t get complacent.”
“Either way, I want to know what’s going on. Don’t you?”
Galahad sat up and stretched. “I know I want to see you eat the rest of that chocolate. Then I want to sleep all day holding you.”
She had forgotten about the chocolate, left out on the balcony. And how long had it been since either of them had slept? “You think they’ll miss us if we stay up here all day?”
“We’ll just sleep for a little while. And when we go back downstairs I’ll help you get your things and you can move into my room.”
Happiness surged through her and the last of her doubts vanished. “So I really am your girlfriend?”
“Oh, hell, Cassie. If there was a priest, minister, judge or rabbi left on this planet, I’d ask you to be my wife.”