Chapter 7

Ash loves, loves, loves to go down on girls. Sometimes. Once in a while. The right girls.

It’s been a very, very long time and a very, very few girls.

He’s never tried to explain it and he’ll never be able to. It’ll sound like nonsense. But if a woman tastes like anything, it’s this perfect mix of the sea and something beautiful and wild all at once. Like that first ocean, the one all life walked out of. After that, his thoughts get tangled into creation and beauty, but it’s something perfect and wonderful he loves to do and doesn’t want with just anyone.

Ash wakes Chloe in the black-velvet predawn, one of his favorite times, the time of cats and owls and prowling things. He hands her coffee. She dresses in the morning quiet and does her makeup while they drive. Ash touches her thigh and they don’t talk. He orders her biscuits and coffee and tea without asking, hands them to her wordlessly, and she kisses him. The drive to Folly is long and quiet. This is all he wanted. This, right here. This is everything. When Chloe finishes her biscuits, she holds his hand and looks out the windows.

They’ve hardly spoken to each other when they mount the dunes. Ash holds her again as they watch the sun rise: the perfection of that everyday miracle. Chloe curls into him, warm and soft. He isn’t shivering alone in his prep-school hoodie. After the sunrise, it’s like a spell breaking. Chloe touches his face. “Thank you.

“Thank you.” Ash has to whisper in the face of it all.

“What will I do tomorrow morning?

“Come with me.” It’s not a question.

“What, are you going to drive all the way to College of Charleston to get me?” Chloe nuzzles into his neck. It’s like something broken inside him finally starting to mend.

“No. I’ll just wake your ass up like I did this morning.

“I can’t stay at your place every night, Ash. You’ll get sick of me.

“No, I won’t.

“You will.” She laughs.

“I swear I won’t.

He drops her at her dorm at nine and asks when she finishes class.

“Two-thirty? I have lit class until then. Which is stupid, I’ve already read everything.

“Pick you up at your place at three? I’ll get you lunch.

“Ash. You don’t have to get me lunch.

“You didn’t have to go to Folly, and otherwise I’m eating with Thatcher, so save me. What rehearsal do you have tonight?

“Rent. I mean, you can study in the back if you want, plenty of the boyfriends or girlfriends do — I mean, not that you’re my —” She turns crimson.

“Perfect. I’ll study for the bar then.” He kisses her. He bites back what he wants to say which would be radically stupid and impetuous and Thatcher’s department, not his. “Have a good day, Chloe. See you here at three.

She waves. He waits long enough to watch her ass as she walks away, the bottoms of her jeans wet with seawater. She has two mornings’ hauls of fossils in her bag.

At the library in Charleston School of Law, Ash throws his law books on the desk across from Thatcher in the library. Thatcher looks over his glasses at him. “You’re late, Ash.

“You’re early, Thatcher.” He gets to work sorting everything out on the desk: notes and books by subject, pens and paper, coffee.

“Lolita make you late?

“I don’t want to fight you, Thatcher. And I’ll punch you if you call her that again.

“You could spin and point and take someone home. Which one? You know it and I know it. We look the fucking same.

“I don’t want someone random.” Ash sits in the green leather chair and pulls in the heavy oak. Sunlight streams from the high windows. “I want Chloe.

“A baby like that is going to break your heart, brother.

Ash sets down his pen. “She gets me.

“What do you mean, she gets you?

“What’s on my dining room table?


“I asked you a question. What’s on my dining room table?

Thatcher rolls his eyes. “I don’t know. A goddamn dinosaur.

“It’s a leatherback turtle skeleton. I dug it out of a drainage ditch in Summerville while you and Violet were mooning around two summers ago— you never asked me what the fuck I was digging up over there — and I’ve been piecing it together. I think it’s a new species. Chloe is the only person who’s seen it and the only person I would ever let touch it.

“So baby girl likes your dork hobbies.” Thatcher looks at Ash over his glasses. “Hurrah. Great reason to throw a teenager in your bed.

“She cares about things.” Ash can’t help snapping.

“Like what? Boy bands?

Thatcher can be more sarcastic than Ash can when he wants to be. It’s supremely annoying. Ash opens one of his books to where he left off and starts taking notes, as if he needs to. Daddy’s the one who decreed they needed to study every day, and they needed to do it in the law library, and what Daddy wants, Daddy gets.

“Her name is Chloe Stanton. She’s starring in both Midsummer as Puck and Rent as Mimi this season, which probably makes her both the best theater and the best vocal freshman in her class, and one of the top five in the school. She got into Julliard. She has a near-eidetic memory. Her performance of Puck was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

“Helps that she’s got a great ass. Where’s she from, one of those towns in South Carolina that sounds like a kiddie name for genitalia?

“No, she’s not from fucking Aynor or Cheraw or something. She’s from goddamn Florence.

“Oh, meth capital of the state.

“She’s not on meth, brother.

“What do you think Mama and Daddy are going to say when you walk in the house with an eighteen-year-old?” Thatcher leans back in his chair.

“Don’t really care.

Thatcher roars with laughter. “Fine. You can have your teenage bride. I’ll stop. As long as you know she’s going to break your heart, I’ll stop. Just say, ‘Thatcher, there is a good chance this girl will break my heart.’”

Ash sighs. “No.

“Okay, fine. Enjoy it while it lasts then. She’s hot as hell, by the way, so I can’t really blame you too much. Whatever.

They spend the rest of the time working in silence. Ash takes Chloe to lunch; they go back to his place, fool around some. He wakes her up, after they nap, and takes her to rehearsal. And she’s good. Chloe’s really good. The whole cast is great but she’s clearly the best of them. He finds himself watching her instead of memorizing legal precedents.

She spends the rest of the week at his house. Midsummer closes on Friday; he has to have dinner at his parents’ that night — they’re expected Friday nights without a damn good reason — but he tells Chloe he’ll pick her up at the cast party afterwards.

And goddammit, she’s trashed when she calls him at eleven thirty. He pulls up to find her carrying her heels even though it’s cold as hell outside.

Ash sighs. “Come on, honey. This is the downside, I guess.

“What downside?” She glares.

“To seeing an eighteen-year-old. You drink like my goddamn twin. Come on, let’s go home.

“You can take me back to my place. I can take care of myself.” Chloe’s eyes narrow even more.

“I’d rather take care of you.” He draws on all the patience he’s spent dealing with Thatcher in this state for years. “If it’s all the same.

“It’s not.

“I think you’re just embarrassed you’re drunk in front of your older boyfriend.

“I’m not embarrassed, I’m just —” Chloe’s voice was rising and it stops. She doesn’t say anything. Neither does Ash. He just drives the rest of the way home, helps her out of the car, and walks her inside.

Ash dresses her in one of his UGA T-shirts, and brings her out to the kitchen, where he sits her in a chair. He pours her a bowl of cereal and a big glass of water and sits down across from her. “Drink it all. Or you’ll feel like shit. Trust someone who went all the way through UGA, which is like College of Charleston but replace the more recreational substances with straight corn liquor.” He pauses. “You didn’t have anything other than alcohol, did you?

She shakes her head. The kitchen is all horrible yellow light against the dark outside.

“You didn’t set your drink down? No one put anything in it?

“Um. No.

“I have to ask.” Ash sighs. “I don’t want you to wake up here in the morning freaking out, wondering what the hell I did to you the night before.

Chloe puts her head in her hands. “Ash. I would never think that. It was a regular party. I went. I got drunk. Random guys hit on me and I told them to get fucked while I hung out with my friends. We talked about theater shit. It was fun. I knew at the end of the night I was coming home to you and that made it even better.” Chloe crosses her arms. “I’m a fucking college freshman. I get to do the shit you did when you were a college freshman. What’d you do, Ash? Go out and get drunk and get laid? I think I’ll come back here to get laid. How’s that sound? But I’m not going to act like a twenty-six- year-old just because of this. Whatever you want to call this.

“I think I called it dating, earlier. When I called myself your boyfriend. In case you missed that part, being drunk.

“I didn’t fucking miss that part! I just wasn’t sure if you said it by accident.” Chloe takes a deep breath. “I’m not going to apologize for going out and getting drunk, if that’s what you want me to do. Next time, I won’t bother you with it.

“No. Always call me. And I don’t want you to apologize. I just want you to be safe. Now, c’mon.” He helps her to her feet. “You’re lucky the tides are late.

“Oh my god, are you kidding me?

“Good thing I don’t touch women drunker than I am, or you’d be up even later, so at least you’ll get a few hours’ sleep.

“Ash!” Chloe sounds anguished. She throws him sad puppy eyes.

“Nope. Bed. Do I need to sleep on the couch?” He’s serious. He can’t touch her when she’s like this.

“No.” Her lip pouts out. It’s adorable.

“Come on, then.

Ash folds her up in his arms to sleep, with his bear, as usual. But Chloe’s ass presses against him; his arms wrap around her. It’s difficult enough to fall asleep, and she simply refuses to. When she whines, he tells her to hush. “You made your bed, you lie in it.

“I would never have drank if I’d have known this was part of the deal.

“What, did you think you were going to come home trashed and I was going to fuck around with you while I'm sober? Jesus, Chloe. What kind of asshole do you think I am?

She shrugs. “Go get drunk.

He’s a terrible person for even entertaining the idea. “Go to sleep.

She’s quiet for a while. The wind rattles the live oak leaves outside; Ash hears the dim noise of traffic. He tries to breathe deep and really hopes he doesn’t have to tell her to go sleep on the other side of the bed. “You said you were my boyfriend.” Chloe blurts it suddenly into the dark.

“Yes.” It just sort of popped out, like a secret told by accident.

“You didn’t ask.

“I guess I sort of assumed.” He had mostly hoped they wouldn’t have to have a discussion about it. That it would be obvious. That they could slip into it, like a warm bath, and never have to talk about it. Not because he was afraid to, but because it would just be that easy.

“It would be nice if you had asked.

“I’m sorry. Do you have any objections?


“Okay then.

“But you know I have two stepdaddies. You never asked about my real one.

“I just kind of assumed he was out of the picture.” God, they need to go to sleep.

“He is.” Chloe shifts in his arms. “He’s in Broad River Prison serving life for first degree murder. Killed a guy during a meth deal gone wrong.

“Jesus Christ.” Ash reels. This is new information. “I know I shouldn’t ask, but —”

“Yes, he fucking did it. And your daddy is one of the most important lawyers in the Southeast, love. Your mama likes to take care of stray dogs and my mama cleans houses. You have two brothers and I have four but yours all have the same daddy. You have a wolfhound? We have pit bulls, honey. We have pit bulls because my oldest brother, he used to know a guy who was into dog fighting and he got me one of the puppies that wouldn’t fight so good. You still think your mama and daddy will like me when they find all this out? Because allegedly, they don’t like you too much to begin with, so they’re gonna like me even less.

“Here, sweetheart. I need you to do something for me, okay? I need you to go to sleep. If you can’t sleep with me I can sleep on the couch. We can talk about this in the morning.

“You’re just putting me off.” Her voice has an edge to it.

“No, baby.” Ash sighs. “You’re just drunk is all. Close your eyes. Lay on your belly and I’ll rub your back. No fooling around. Just back rubbing, okay?

Chloe flips on her stomach as sulkily as one could possibly manage.

Touching her makes his cock rise. But he rubs her back until she falls asleep. Then Ash gets up silently. He turns on the shower and gets in. It takes him all of thirty seconds to get off. He thinks of Chloe on her back, legs open, begging for him.

The alarm goes off so early. Ash hits his phone and tries to get up, but small hands pull him back down. “Hi.” Chloe speaks in a whisper.

“Time to get up and go to Folly.

“I love this time of day.” Chloe still whispers into the early morning dark. “When nothing’s woken up but us.” She stretches. “You didn’t have to dress me, Ash.

“I sort of did, yeah.

She pulls the T-shirt off. In the dull glow of the streetlights filtered through the curtains, he can barely see her breasts, their high, full outlines, the nipples tipped into hard nubs. She touches him. “You didn’t wear a shirt to bed.

“I never wear a shirt to bed. I hate sleeping dressed.

“You wore pajama pants.

“I hate wearing them, too. But you were pretty persistent.

She palms him suddenly and his morning hard-on, half because he just woke and half because she took off her shirt, rises into her hand. He groans a little. Her thumb strokes idly against his head. “Lay back down with me.

“Time to go to Folly.

“Ash, it’s such a lovely dark morning outside. You said the tides were late. Lay down with me and listen. Just for a second. Take off your clothes and lay down with me.

He sighs and humors her while she shimmies out of her underwear. Her nipples are hard against him when they lie face-to-face; her belly’s soft; he can feel her mound pressed against his stiff cock. Chloe wraps around him, wiggling so his thigh wedges between hers. She nuzzles into him and rests her lips against his neck. The wind rattles the live oaks, rustles the palmettos. There’s no traffic, only the hushed hum of a city deep in dreams. Chloe smells like vanilla and flowers and beach wind.

“You taste so good.” Chloe shifts in his arms. “I’m always trying to figure it out. But something there almost tastes like chocolate.” She rocks slightly, almost lazily, on his thigh, like she’s hardly aware of it. Ash begins, in spite of himself, to move against her.

Her lips are soft on his neck. “Play with me, Ash.

“When we get back.

“No. It’ll be light and busy and loud. Play with me now, Ash. Folly can wait an hour.

Chloe’s right and Ash holds this perfection for a moment; this quiet hour, this darkest hour, before the birds begin, before the traffic and the noise. A whole world floats in that silence, waiting to be born, the perfect dream-time. His fingers drift down to her nipple and skim over it. Their foreheads rest together now. “Like that?” He whispers it to her.

“No, more.

Ash cups her breast; his thumb and forefinger meet at her nipple and stroke it. Chloe’s back arches and she sighs softly. “Like that?

“Mmm-hmm. But kiss me while you do it.

He finds her mouth in that perfect lazy kissing, their lips moving on each other. Neither nips or uses their tongue; Ash is too dreamy about it, too wrapped up in touching her. Chloe’s hands explore Ash: stroking his face, tracing his jaw, dancing down his neck to linger on the lean muscles of his back. She always seems to want to feel him, to run her hands over his whole body. Her palm slides down his side and rests on his hip; she rocks slightly on his thigh. She’s getting wet. When her hand skims lower, she cups his balls and pets them. He groans with pleasure. Chloe doesn’t touch his cock but instead continues to play with them, holding them, weighing them in her hands.

“You like those?” Ash’s breathing has turned ragged.

“Yeah. You come a lot.

God, he loves hearing that. Just rolling and pinching her nipples is destroying him. “Can I suck on these?

She nods and moves slightly onto her back. It’s still so dark now, that almost-black that bleeds everything to outline and shadow. Ash catches her nipple and sucks deeply: there’s something so perfect about the dark, the quiet, a beautiful woman’s breast in his mouth. He skates his hand up and down Chloe’s side with one hand, cupping her breast in the other. She whimpers and tangles her fingers in his hair. Those little sounds go straight to his cock. He wants her so badly. In this soft, dreamy time, half-woken, Ash wants that wet tightness all for himself, wants her whimpering on his cock instead of his fingers or his mouth.

He kisses down, down, down her belly, kisses right on her clit. He can already taste that magic tang of ocean and something wilder. But his tongue finds her slit and licks her in long, slow strokes. She shivers, bucks up to him, and begins to open. He slips his tongue inside her, so self-indulgent. He wants her, so badly, in this quiet, as the streetlight bleeds between the blinds. She’s licked wet and open and he wants her. That warm, wet little pussy no one’s ever touched. Ash wants it to be his.

Chloe’s clit has gone from almost hidden to swollen; he sucks it the way she likes. She squirms and hums, soft little night-noises. When Ash stops, she whines until his forehead is against hers again, his fingers circling her clit. He drips and she spreads it over the head of his cock.

“I want you. I want you so bad, Ash. Make love to me.

It’s so quiet, just the two of them, just wind in the dreaming city.

“I want you inside me.” Chloe pauses. “Please?

Ash’s resolve weakens. His bare cock rests against her slippery folds. So easy just to slip inside her. So easy.

“Ash.” Chloe speaks quietly, her voice hardly louder than the soft sounds outside. “Teach me how to make love to you.

And he’s gone.

“Oh, sweet baby, it’s so easy.” He kisses her. “Do you promise to tell me if I hurt you? You’re so small.

“I promise.

Ash lies on top of her and holds her with one arm. She twines around him, and he rests his forehead against hers. The head of his cock nudges against her wet slit. Oh my God. “If you don’t get off, because I don’t know how long I’ll last, I’ll do it after, okay?

She nods into the dark.

“Are you sure, Chloe?

“Please, Ash?

Ash begins to slowly guide himself inside her. Oh my God, so tight. She stretches around him. “Okay, baby?

“It feels so good, Ash, don’t stop.

He slides inside her a little farther and she sucks her breath in. “Relax.” Ash strokes her cheek. “Just breathe. It’s okay. It’ll pass.” He slides in a little more and she cries out with pleasure, breaking the silence around them.

“That’s it, sweetheart.” He keeps his voice soft, quiet for her.

She lifts her hips to him and he slips the rest of the way inside her. Chloe is slippery-wet, so hot and tight, tight, around him. Ash doesn’t want to move yet, doesn’t want to hurt her, so he holds her, listening to the soft scurry of night around them, the slow slide of dawn beginning.

“Please, can I move now?” Chloe looks at him, pleading.

He laughs a little. “It feels good if you move your hips on me like you’re dancing, or if you — here.” Ash begins to slowly move inside her, and while he does, he guides her hips up to meet his. She sighs.

“I can stay inside you like this, and just hit that spot and hopefully your clit.” He maneuvers his cock so he does just that. She gasps and arches up to him; her nails rake down his back.

“Or like this.” Slowly, because he’s afraid he’ll hurt her, Ash begins to slide in and out of her.

“You feel so big. I knew you were big but I didn’t think you’d feel so big once you were inside me, Ash. I just want you to stay there.” Chloe wraps herself around him, nuzzling into his neck.

Because he’ll last longer that way, Ash angles himself and thrusts against her on the inside, rubbing her clit and that spot she likes so much. Chloe wraps her legs around him instinctively. They aren’t kissing; their foreheads touch. He opens his eyes and she’s looking at him. Her eyes are half-closed with sheer pleasure.

Her hips rise to meet him and she gasps. “Please, Ash.


Her hands rest on the sides of his face. “Oh honey, please, please, please.” She’s tensing. He hadn’t expected this. Ash had thought he’d go so fast in her, he didn’t think she had a chance of coming on him. But he’s been so slow and careful, and she’s so turned on, waking up now.

She’s clenching him by instinct, holding him tight. He rocks in her some more, and she begins to shudder on him. “That’s it, baby girl. That’s it. Come on me, I’ll be right behind you. Come on my cock for me, honey, please, it’ll be so good. Chloe —”

When he says her name she lets go hard, in one rushing peak that clutches him so hard it almost hurts but keeps going, wave after wave as she rides her climax on and on. He can’t help but lose it: thrusting once hard, deep, and spilling into her. God, Ash loves coming inside a woman, the warm wet heat meeting warm wet heat, the clenching tightness. Chloe’s wide eyes stare into his as he goes again and again, finally finding the end of his release.

He touches his forehead to hers again and they stay that way for a long time, until he slips out. When he does, Ash carefully gathers Chloe up and pulls the blanket over them. She sighs and curls into him. The gray light of dawn has just begun to rise around them.

He finally breaks the morning silence.“I didn’t hurt you?

“Not during. A little sore now. But it’s a good hurt, if that makes sense. That was a welcome surprise this morning. Thank you.

“Thank you.” It seems like the right thing to say, when you’ve just taken a girl’s virginity. When you’ve just taken a girl’s virginity. Oh my God. Chloe was a virgin. Chloe is no longer a virgin. This is his fault.

“I should have had better self-control.” Ash blurts it out. “I’m so sorry.

“Ash, I asked you to.

“That doesn’t mean anything. I wanted to plan it. I wanted to make it perfect, I wanted it to be different —” He’s so fucking angry at himself. So angry. Too fucking turned on, look what happens.

“Um, I thought it was perfect, thanks.” There’s an edge to her voice.

“No, sweetheart. It was wonderful. I’m just mad at myself. I wanted to wait and I wanted it to be — I don’t even know. I wanted it to be something perfect you would never forget.

“This was something perfect I’ll never forget. You held me and you looked into my eyes and you were gentle and careful and it felt so good.

She’s so fucking innocent. He just ruined it.

“I could’ve done better.” Ash wants to punch a wall. He has never punched a wall. He understands now why Thatcher punches walls.

Chloe sighs. “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have. I never should have asked. I just wanted to, is all.

“Why did you want to?” Why is he asking this?

“Nevermind.” Now she’s shut down. “Turn on the light, will you?

He turns on the light for her. It’s yellow, assaultive in the early morning light. “Why did you want to? It’s okay. You can say whatever you want to, Chloe.

“No, it’s stupid and I’m not going to.” She kicks the covers down and stands up. The bed and her thighs are red-streaked, blood-painted. She starts to half-laugh, half-cry.

Ash is stunned. She actually bled. They had joked about it, but seeing it, there’s nothing but awe. You read about it in books: he took her maidenhead. One of the most intimate things there is. It’s beautiful, this breaking, this blood.

But how can he call this beautiful? Why is she more beautiful as she stands naked, hair wild, blood on her thighs?

Ash is so in love with her. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t care that people won’t understand why a twenty-six-year-old would be madly in love with an eighteen-year-old. In that moment, he’s gone for her.

Ash finds his voice. “Sweetheart. Baby girl. That’s supposed to happen. Come back and let me hold you.

“Oh my God. I bled like a medieval princess. Well, there’re your sheets to hang out the window, Ash.” She’s still half-laughing, half-crying.

He stands and walks to her. “You’re so beautiful.” He tucks a few strands of hair out of her eyes. “Oh my god, you’re beautiful.

“I got blood all over your bed.” She says it in that same half-laugh, half-cry.

“You were supposed to, sweetheart.” Ash holds her close. “Let’s get in the shower. I think the sheets can wait to be hung out the window, don’t you?

Next chapter