Գլխավոր էջ A Thousand Boy Kisses
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This is very beautiful book,I loved it. This will be the first book that made me emotional,I felt what the characters felt.
Best read with a nice music playlists. I recommend Ed Sheeran and Birdy.Cole Tillie and Thomas Kia,that was a well written book❤️
Best read with a nice music playlists. I recommend Ed Sheeran and Birdy.Cole Tillie and Thomas Kia,that was a well written book❤️
01 November 2020 (15:55)
It is a touching book
22 January 2021 (06:33)
This will forever be my favorite novel. I’ve never cried as hard as I did while reading it . ❤️It’s amazing
22 March 2021 (22:27)
probably my favorite book. it broke me but it also changed my POV on life. i love it
18 April 2021 (16:27)
Dylan O'brien's wife?
I love this book so much. I got at the feelings❤
12 May 2021 (03:05)
amazing book l couldn't stop cry at all why does love have to be filled with obstacles .creatively written
16 May 2021 (12:14)
I love this book. I loved how she was so optimistic and all about enjoying the moment and it really changed the way I see life. But it was also definitely sad.
21 May 2021 (23:17)
This book made me cry 80% of it. It makes me rethink my life :((
02 June 2021 (20:17)
Wooow an emotional roller-coaster wooooow a definite read
06 June 2021 (22:55)
I enjoyed this book. It was sad in a good way:)
08 June 2021 (14:07)
This book was amazing. It beautifully written and a touching story. Unfortunately i found this book hard to read because i was not enjoying it, but it truly is amazing
28 June 2021 (04:02)
best tearjerker ever what a beautiful ending
28 June 2021 (12:42)
Ow omg the tears, I couldn't control them?
Well written, amazingly wonderful ?
There are no words to express my feelings
Well written, amazingly wonderful ?
There are no words to express my feelings
17 July 2021 (20:54)
OH MY GOD! I was hooked to this book from day 1! I might sound exaggerating when I'm talking about this novel! THIS BOOK IS A BEAUTIFUL HEARTBREAK IS ALL I CAN SAY (without spoilers)
20 July 2021 (05:38)
It was magnifiecent sureal passionate love, with a devastating tragedy but it has one of its kind's epitome ending. ?
02 August 2021 (08:28)
this is the best book ever i couldn't stop crying, rune and poppy's love story is my favourite. this definitely has to be a movie
04 August 2021 (17:21)
I’ve read some pretty good books but this??? This is an absolutely amazing. I literally cried the whole time but it was so beautiful. Definitely a favorite
05 August 2021 (04:43)
Omg u guys have to read this book. I finished this book in a day , it beautifully written it feels like the character are real and you know them . Definitely an emotional read and just as you finish reading it , it changes something within it just does .
07 August 2021 (18:19)
This is officially my favorite books. It was a roller coaster of emotions; i felt happy, nervous, emotional, gidy, butterflies in my stomach, laughter, sadness and a LOT of crying. I love this book wievery fiber of my being. You have to read this book
09 August 2021 (10:41)
this book was well written. I felt so connected to the characters at the short period of time I was reading. I could relate to the characters a lot and it absolutely broke my heart with news and plot-twist . I am really happy to say that they both got their happy ending and it was worth the heartbreak
09 August 2021 (14:20)
Sarie van Vuuren
is one of those books that made a lifetime impression on you and Tillie Cole just done that just amazing good
10 August 2021 (13:36)
I can't recall how many times I had cried reading this beautiful book last year.
15 August 2021 (11:22)
This book is sooo good. I cried so hard, I ended up having puffy eyes the next morning.
17 August 2021 (17:30)
1000/10 absolutely beautiful
24 August 2021 (00:47)
a lot of crying but it was all worth it because this book is
beautiful . Their love for each other is amazing .
officially my fav book!
beautiful . Their love for each other is amazing .
officially my fav book!
24 August 2021 (21:59)
It was good but I personally feel like the characters were annoying. The story line was great and the writing technique was marvelous but if you're the type to fling your mobile device across the room because of some annoying fictional character then unless you're ready to buy a new iphone/android... This is not for you.
25 August 2021 (03:36)
another recommendation from tiktok.. here i go hehe
25 August 2021 (15:24)
Does this book have a sad or happy ending?
27 August 2021 (06:51)
amazing literally my fav book ever i really recommend u to read it
30 August 2021 (12:44)
its bomb read this book changes your perspective on life but warning you shall ball your eyes out
31 August 2021 (22:10)
I bawled my eyes out and man...
Fuck!!!!!!!! This was so good but it was predictable for me why Poppy fell silent.
Fuck!!!!!!!! This was so good but it was predictable for me why Poppy fell silent.
21 September 2021 (17:53)
To sum up... A CRINGEFEST!
The dialogue was too repetitive and corny. 1/5 for me.
The dialogue was too repetitive and corny. 1/5 for me.
22 September 2021 (01:23)
i loved this book so much. i read it about a year ago and thinking of it still makes me sad. i cried so much but it was so sweet. it was such an easy book to get through and actually got me out of a reading slump. definitely recommend
26 September 2021 (01:07)
GOSH! This book is one of the most wonderful book i have ever read. This book is painful to read even from the start, the way poppy's mammaw view heaven and death and how poppy herself view life and death. You'll see how strong poppy is and as said in the book “Because I love her. I love her more than I could ever explain. My single set of footprints in the sand.” She carried them at her sweakest, such a strong girl, poppymin.
27 September 2021 (09:34)
Copyright© Tillie Cole 2016 All rights reserved Copyediting & Proofreading by www.kiathomasediting.com Cover Design by Hang Le Formatting by Stephen Jones Norwegian Translation by Gitte Doherty eBook Edition No Part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written consent from the publisher and author, except in the instance of quotes for reviews. No part of this book may be uploaded without the permission of the publisher and author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is originally published. This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, actual events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters and names are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. The publisher and author acknowledge the trademark status and trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks mentioned in this book. Dedication For believers in true, epic, soul-shattering love. This one’s for you. Contents Page Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Epilogue Playlist Acknowledgments Author Biography Follow Tillie At: Rune There were exactly four moments that defined my life. This was the first. * * * Blossom Grove, Georgia United States of America Twelve Years Ago Aged Five “Jeg vil dra! Nå! Jeg vil reise hjem igjen!” I shouted as loud as I could, telling my mamma that I wanted to leave, now! I wanted to go back home! “We’re not going back home, Rune. And we are not leaving. This is our home now,” she replied in English. She crouched down and looked me straight in the eye. “; Rune,” she said softly, “I know you didn’t want to leave Oslo, but your pappa got a new job here in Georgia.” Her hand ran up and down my arm, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I didn’t want to be in this place, in America. I wanted to go back home. “Slutt å snakke engelsk!” I snapped. I hated speaking English. Since we set off for America from Norway, Mamma and Pappa would only speak to me in English. They said I had to practice. I didn’t want to! My mamma stood up and lifted a box off the ground. “We’re in America, Rune. They speak English here. You’ve been speaking English for as long as you’ve been speaking Norwegian. It’s time to use it.” I stood my ground, glaring at my mamma as she walked around me into the house. I looked around the small street where we now lived. There were eight houses. They were all big, but they all looked different. Ours was painted red, with white windows and a huge porch. My room was big and it was on the bottom floor. I did think that was kind of cool. Sort of anyway. I’d never slept downstairs before; in Oslo my room was upstairs. I looked at the houses. All of them were painted bright colors: light blues, yellows, pinks… Then I looked at the house next door. Right next door—we shared a patch of grass. Both houses were big, and our yards were too, but there was no fence or wall between them. If I wanted to, I could run into their yard and there’d be nothing to stop me. The house was bright white, with a porch wrapped right around it. They had rocking chairs and a big chair swing on the front. Their window frames were painted black, and there was a window opposite my bedroom window. Right opposite! I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that I could see into their bedroom and they could see into mine. There was a stone on the ground. I kicked it with my foot, watching it roll down the street. I turned to follow my mamma, but then I heard a noise. It was coming from the house next to ours. I looked at their front door, but nobody came out. I was climbing the steps to my porch when I saw some movement from the side of the house—from next door’s bedroom window, the one opposite my own. My hand froze on the rail and I watched as a girl, dressed in a bright blue dress, climbed through the window. She jumped down onto the grass and dusted off her hands on her thighs. I frowned, my eyebrows pulling down, as I waited for her to lift her head. She had brown hair, which was piled up on her head like a bird’s nest. She wore a big white bow on the side of it. When she looked up, she looked right at me. Then she smiled. She smiled at me so big. She waved, fast, then ran forward and stopped in front of me. She pushed out her hand. “Hi, my name is Poppy Litchfield, I’m five years old and I live right next door.” I stared at the girl. She had a funny accent. It made the English words sound different to the way I had learned them back in Norway. The girl—Poppy—had a smudge of mud on her face and bright yellow rain boots on her feet. They had a big red balloon on the side. She looked weird. I looked up from her feet and fixed my eyes on her hand. She was still holding it out. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what she wanted. Poppy sighed. Shaking her head, she reached for my hand and forced it into hers. She shook them up and down twice and said, “A handshake. My mamaw says it’s only right to shake the hand of new people that you meet.” She pointed at our hands. “That was a handshake. And that was polite because I don’t know you.” I didn’t say anything; for some reason my voice wouldn’t work. When I looked down I realized it was because our hands were still joined. She had mud on her hands too. In fact, she had mud everywhere. “What’s your name?” Poppy asked. Her head was tipped to the side. A small twig was stuck in her hair. “Hey,” she said, tugging on our hands, “I asked for your name.” I cleared my throat. “My name is Rune, Rune Erik Kristiansen.” Poppy scrunched her face up, her big pink lips sticking out all funny. “You sound weird,” she blurted. I snatched my hand away. “Nei det gjør jeg ikke!” I snapped. Her face screwed up even more. “What did you just say?” Poppy asked, as I turned to walk into my house. I didn’t want to speak to her anymore. Feeling angry, I spun back around. “I said, ‘No, I don’t!’ I was speaking Norwegian!” I said, in English this time. Poppy’s green eyes grew huge. She stepped closer, and closer again, and asked, “Norwegian? Like the Vikings? My mamaw read me a book about the Vikings. It said they were from Norway.” Her eyes got even bigger. “Rune, are you a Viking?” Her voice had gone all squeaky. It made me feel good. I stuck out my chest. My pappa always said I was a Viking, like all the men in my family. We were big, strong Vikings. “Ja,” I said. “We are real Vikings, from Norway.” A big smile spread across Poppy’s face, and a loud girly giggle burst from her mouth. She lifted her hand and pulled on my hair. “That’s why you have long blond hair and crystal-blue eyes. Because you’re a Viking. At first I thought you looked like a girl—” “I’m not a girl!” I butted in, but Poppy didn’t seem to care. I ran my hand through my long hair. It came down to my shoulders. All the boys in Oslo had their hair like this. “—but now I see it’s because you’re a real-life Viking. Like Thor. He had long blond hair and blue eyes too! You’re just like Thor!” “Ja,” I agreed. “Thor does. And he’s the strongest god of them all.” Poppy nodded her head, then put her hands on my shoulders. Her face had gone all serious and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Rune, I don’t tell everyone this, but I go on adventures.” I screwed up my face. I didn’t understand. Poppy stepped closer and looked up into my eyes. She squeezed my arms. She tilted her head to the side. She looked all around us, then leaned in to speak. “I don’t normally bring people with me on my journeys, but you’re a Viking, and we all know that Vikings grow big and strong, and they are really really good with adventures and exploring, and long walks and capturing baddies and… all kindsa things!” I was still confused, but then Poppy stepped back and held out her hand again. “Rune,” she said, her voice serious and strong, “you live right next door, you’re a Viking and I just love Vikings. I think we should be best friends.” “Best friends?” I asked. Poppy nodded her head and pushed her hand further toward me. Slowly reaching out my own hand, I gripped hold of hers and gave it two shakes, like she’d shown me. A handshake. “So now we are best friends?” I asked, as Poppy pulled her hand back. “Yes!” she said excitedly. “Poppy and Rune.” She brought her finger to her chin and looked up. Her lips stuck out again, like she was thinking very hard. “It sounds good, don’t you think? ‘Poppy and Rune, best friends for infinity!’” I nodded because it did sound good. Poppy put her hand in mine. “Show me your bedroom! I want to tell you about what adventure we can go on next.” She began to pull me forward, and we ran into the house. When we pushed through my bedroom door, Poppy rushed straight to my window. “This is the room exactly opposite mine!” I nodded my head, and she squealed, running toward me to take my hand in hers again. “Rune!” she said excitedly, “we can talk at night, and make walkie-talkies with cans and string. We can whisper our secrets to each other when everyone else is asleep, and we can plan, and play, and…” Poppy kept talking, but I didn’t mind. I liked the sound of her voice. I liked her laugh and I liked the big white bow in her hair. Maybe Georgia won’t be so bad after all, I thought, not if I have Poppy Litchfield as my very best friend. * * * And that was Poppy and me from that day on. Poppy and Rune. Best friends for infinity. Or so I thought. Funny how things change. Poppy Nine Years Ago Aged Eight “Where are we going, Daddy?” I asked as he held my hand gently, guiding me to the car. I glanced back at my school, wondering why I was being taken out of class early. It was only lunch break. I wasn’t supposed to leave yet. My daddy didn’t say anything to me as we walked, he just squeezed my hand. I searched along the school fence, a strange feeling pulling in my stomach. I loved school, I loved to learn, and we had history next. It was my absolute favorite subject. I didn’t want to miss it. “Poppy!” Rune, my very best friend, was standing at the fence, watching me go. His hands were holding real tight to the metal bars. “Where are you going?” he shouted. I sat next to Rune in class. We were always together. School was no fun when the other wasn’t there. I turned my head toward my daddy’s face for answers, but he didn’t look back at me. He stayed silent. Looking back at Rune, I shouted, “I don’t know!” Rune watched me all the way to our car. I climbed in the back and sat on my booster seat, my daddy buckling me in. I heard the whistle blow in the schoolyard, signaling the end of lunch. I glanced out the window and watched all of the kids running back inside, but not Rune. Rune stayed at the fence watching me. His long blond hair was blowing in the wind as he mouthed, “Are you okay?”. But my daddy got in the car and started driving away before I could answer. Rune ran along the fence, following our car, until Mrs. Davis came and made him go inside. When the school was out of sight, my daddy said, “Poppy?” “Yes, Daddy?” I replied. “You know Mamaw has been living with us for a while now?” I nodded my head. My mamaw had moved into the room opposite mine a while back. My mama had said it was because she needed help. My pawpaw had died when I was only a baby. My mamaw had lived on her own for years, until she came to live with us. “Do you remember what your mama and I told you about why? Why Mamaw could no longer live by herself?” I breathed in through my nose and whispered, “Yes. Because she needed our help. Because she’s sick.” My stomach flipped over as I spoke. My mamaw was my very best friend. Well, her and Rune were tied at the absolute top. My mamaw said I was just like her. Before she was sick we would go on lots of adventures. She read to me every night about the great explorers of the world. She would tell me all about history—about Alexander the Great, the Romans, and my favorite, the samurai from Japan. They were Mamaw’s favorite too. I knew my mamaw was sick, but she never acted sick. She always smiled, she gave tight hugs and made me laugh. She always said she had moonbeams in her heart and sunshine in her smile. Mamaw told me that meant she was happy. She made me happy too. But over the last few weeks Mamaw had slept a lot. She’d been too tired to do much of anything else. In fact, most nights I would now read to her, as she stroked my hair and smiled at me. And that was okay, because Mamaw’s smiles were the best kind of smiles to get. “That’s right, pumpkin, she is sick. In fact, she’s very, very sick. Do you understand?” I frowned, but nodded my head and said, “Yes.” “That’s why we’re going home early,” he explained. “She’s waiting for you. She wants to see you. Wants to see her little buddy.” I didn’t understand why my daddy had to bring me home early to visit my mamaw, when the first thing I did every night after school was go into her room and talk to her, while she lay in bed. She liked to hear all about my day. We turned into our street and parked in our driveway. My daddy didn’t move for a few seconds, but then he turned to me and said, “I know you’re only eight, pumpkin, but you have to be a big brave girl today, okay?” I nodded my head. My daddy smiled a sad smile at me. “That’s my girl.” He got out of the car and walked around to my seat in the back. Taking my hand, my daddy guided me out of the car and toward the house. I could see there were more cars here than usual. I had just opened my mouth to ask whose they all were when Mrs. Kristiansen, Rune’s mamma, came walking across the yard between our houses with a big dish of food in her hands. “James!” she called out, and my daddy turned to greet her. “Adelis, hey,” he called back. Rune’s mamma stopped in front of us. Her long blond hair was down today. It was the same color as Rune’s. Mrs. Kristiansen was real pretty. I loved her. She was kind, and called me the daughter she never had. “I made you this. Please tell Ivy I’m thinking of you all.” My daddy released my hand to take the dish. Mrs. Kristiansen crouched down and pressed a kiss on my cheek. “You be a good girl, Poppy, okay?” “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, and watched her cross the grass to go back into her house. My daddy sighed, then tipped his head for me to follow him inside. As soon as we were through the front door, I saw my aunts and uncles sitting on the couches, and my cousins sitting on the floor of the living room, playing with their toys. My aunt Silvia was sitting with my sisters, Savannah and Ida. They were younger than me, only four and two years old. They waved at me when they saw me, but Aunt Silvia kept them sitting on her lap. Nobody was speaking, but lots of them were wiping their eyes; most of them were crying. I was so confused. I leaned into my daddy’s leg, clutching on tightly. Someone stood in the doorway to the kitchen—my aunt Della, DeeDee as I always called her. She was my absolute favorite aunt. She was young and fun, and always made me laugh. Even though my mama was older than her sister, they looked like each other. Both had long brown hair and green eyes like me. But DeeDee was extra pretty. I wanted to look just like her one day. “Hey, Pops,” she said, but I could see that her eyes were red, and her voice sounded funny. DeeDee looked at my daddy. She took the dish of food from his hand and said, “You go on back with Poppy, James. It’s almost time.” I started to go with my daddy, but looked back when DeeDee didn’t follow. I opened my mouth to call her name, but she suddenly turned around, put the dish of food on the counter and rested her head in her hands. She was crying, crying so hard that loud noises came from her mouth. “Daddy?” I whispered, feeling a strange feeling in my stomach. My daddy wrapped his arm around my shoulders and guided me away. “It’s okay, pumpkin. DeeDee just needs a minute alone.” We walked to Mamaw’s room. Just before daddy opened the door, he said, “Mama’s in there, pumpkin, and Betty, Mamaw’s nurse is in there too.” I frowned. “Why is there a nurse?” Daddy pushed open the door to Mamaw’s room, and my mama got up from the chair beside Mamaw’s bed. Her eyes were red and her hair was all messy. Mama’s hair was never messy. I saw the nurse at the back of the room. She was writing something on a clipboard. She smiled and waved at me when I came in. Then I looked to the bed. Mamaw was lying down. My stomach flipped when I saw a needle sticking in her arm, with a clear tube leading to a bag hanging off a metal hook at her side. I stood still, suddenly frightened. Then my mama moved toward me, and my mamaw looked my way. She looked different to last night. Her skin was paler, and her eyes weren’t as bright. “Where’s my little buddy?” Mamaw’s voice was quiet and sounded funny, but the smile she gave me made me feel warm. Giggling at my mamaw, I rushed to the side of the bed. “I’m here! I came home early from school to see you!” Mamaw lifted her finger and tapped the end of my nose. “That’s my girl!” I smiled real big in response. “I just wanted you to visit a little while. I always feel better when the light of my life sits beside me and talks to me some.” I smiled again. Because I was the ‘light of her life’, ‘the apple of her eye’. She always called me those things. Mamaw secretly told me it meant I was her favorite. But she’d told me I had to keep it to myself so it didn’t upset my cousins and little sisters. It was our secret. Hands suddenly gripped my waist, and my daddy lifted me to sit beside Mamaw on her bed. Mamaw took hold of my hand. She squeezed my fingers, but all I could notice was how cold her hands were. Mamaw breathed in deep, but it sounded funny, like something was crackling in her chest. “Mamaw, are you okay?” I asked and leaned forward to press a soft kiss on her cheek. She normally smelled of tobacco from all the cigarettes she smoked. But I couldn’t smell the smoke on her today. Mamaw smiled. “I’m tired, girlie. And I’m…” Mamaw sucked in another breath and her eyes briefly squeezed shut. When they opened again, she shifted on the bed and said, “…and I’m gonna be going away awhile.” I frowned. “Where are you going, Mamaw? Can I come too?” We always went on adventures together. Mamaw smiled, but shook her head. “No, girlie. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. Not yet. But some day, many years from now, you’ll see me again.” My mama let out a sob from behind me, but I just stared at my mamaw, confused. “But where are you going, Mamaw? I don’t understand.” “Home, sweetie,” my mamaw said. “I’m going home.” “But you are home,” I countered. “No”—Mamaw shook her head—“this isn’t our true home, girlie. This life … well, it’s just a great big adventure while we have it. An adventure to enjoy and love with all of our heart before we go on to the greatest adventure of all.” My eyes widened with excitement, then I felt sad. Really sad. My bottom lip began to tremble. “But we’re best buddies, Mamaw. We always go on our adventures together. You can’t go on one without me.” Tears had begun falling from my eyes down to my cheeks. My mamaw lifted her free hand to brush them away. That hand was just as cold as the one I was holding. “We do always go on adventures together, girlie, but not this time.” “Aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?” I asked, but my mamaw just sighed. “No, girlie, there’s no fear to feel. I’m not scared at all.” “But I don’t want you to go,” I pleaded, my throat starting to ache. Mamaw’s hand stayed on my cheek. “You’ll still see me in your dreams. This isn’t a goodbye.” I blinked, then blinked again. “Like you see Pawpaw? You always say he visits you in your dreams. He talks to you and kisses your hand.” “Exactly like that,” she said. I wiped my tears away. Mamaw squeezed my hand, and looked at my mama behind me. When she looked back to me, she said, “While I’m gone, I’ve got a new adventure for you.” I stilled. “You do?” The sound of glass being placed on a table came from behind me. It made me want to look around, but before I could, Mamaw asked, “Poppy, what is it that I always say was my favorite memory from my life? The thing that always made me smile?” “Pawpaw’s kisses. His sweet boy-kisses. All the memories of all the boy-kisses you ever got from him. You told me they’re the most favorite memories you have. Not money, not things, but the kisses you got from Pawpaw—because they were all special and made you smile, made you feel loved, because he was your soulmate. Your forever always.” “That’s right, girlie,” she replied. “So, for your adventure…” Mamaw looked to my mama again. This time, when I did look around, I saw she was holding a big mason jar filled to the top with lots and lots of pink paper hearts. “Wow! What’s that?” I asked, feeling excited. Mama placed it in my hands, and my mamaw tapped the lid. “It’s a thousand boy-kisses. Or at least, it will be, when you’ve filled them all out.” My eyes widened as I tried to count all the hearts. But I couldn’t. A thousand was a lot! “Poppy,” my mamaw said, as I looked up to see her green eyes shining. “This is your adventure. How I want you to remember me while I’m gone.” I looked down at the jar again. “But I don’t understand.” Mamaw reached out to her nightstand and picked up a pen. She passed it to me and said, “I’ve been sick for a while now, girlie, but the memories that make me feel better are the ones where your pawpaw kissed me. Not just everyday kisses, but the special ones, the ones where my heart almost burst from my chest. The ones that Pawpaw made sure I would never forget. The kisses in the rain, the kisses at sunset, the kiss we shared at our prom … the ones where he held me close and whispered in my ear that I was the prettiest girl in the room.” I listened and listened, my heart feeling full. Mamaw pointed to all the hearts in the jar. “This jar is for you to record your boy-kisses, Poppy. All the kisses that make your heart almost burst, the ones that are the most special, the ones you want to remember when you’re old and gray like me. The ones that will make you smile when you remember them in your mind.” Tapping the pen, she continued. “When you find the boy that will be your forever always, every time you get an extra-special kiss from him, take out a heart. Write down where you were when you were kissed. Then when you’re a mamaw too, your grandbaby—your best buddy—can hear all about them, just like I’ve told you all about mine. You’ll have a treasure-jar of all the precious kisses that made your heart soar.” I stared at the jar and breathed out. “A thousand is a lot. That’s a lot of kisses, Mamaw!” Mamaw laughed. “It’s not as many as you think, girlie. Especially when you find your soulmate. You have a lot of years ahead of you.” Mamaw sucked in a breath and her face screwed up like she was in pain. “Mamaw,” I called, suddenly feeling very scared. Her hand squeezed mine. Mamaw opened her eyes, and this time a teardrop fell down her pale cheek. “Mamaw?” I said, quieter this time. “I’m tired, girlie. I’m tired, and it’s nearly time for me to go. I just wanted to see you one last time, to give you this jar. To kiss you so I can remember you every day in heaven until I see you again.” My bottom lip began to tremble again. My mamaw shook her head. “No tears, girlie. This isn’t the end. It’s just a little pause in our lives. And I’ll be watching over you, every single day. I’ll be in your heart. I’ll be in the blossom grove that we love so much, in the sun and the wind.” Mamaw’s eyes flinched, and my mama’s hands came down on my shoulders. “Poppy, give Mamaw a big kiss. She’s tired now. She needs to rest.” Drawing in a deep breath, I leaned forward and pressed a kiss on my mamaw’s cheek. “I love you, Mamaw,” I whispered. Mamaw stroked my hair. “I love you too, girlie. You’re the light of my life. Never forget that I loved you as much as a mamaw ever could love her baby granddaughter.” I held on to her hand and didn’t want to let go, but my daddy lifted me off the bed and my hand eventually broke away. I clutched onto my jar super tight, my tears dropping onto the floor. My daddy put me down and, as I turned to go, Mamaw called my name. “Poppy?” I looked back, and my mamaw was smiling. “Remember, moonbeam hearts and sunshine smiles…” “I’ll always remember,” I said, but I didn’t feel happy. All I felt was sad. I heard my mama crying behind me. DeeDee passed us in the hallway. She squeezed my shoulder. Her face was so sad too. I didn’t want to be in here. I didn’t want to be in this house anymore. Turning, I looked up to my daddy. “Daddy, can I go to the blossom grove?” Daddy sighed. “Yes, baby. I’ll come and check on you later. Just be careful.” I saw my daddy take out his phone and call someone. He asked them to check in on me while I was at the grove, but I ran before I could find out who. I headed for the front door, clutching my jar of a thousand empty boy-kisses to my chest. I ran out of the house, then off the porch. I ran and ran, and never stopped. Tears fell down my face. I heard my name being called. “Poppy! Poppy wait!” I glanced back and saw Rune watching me. He was on his porch, but immediately started to chase me over the grass. But I never stopped, not even for Rune. I had to get to the cherry blossom trees. It was my mamaw’s favorite place. I wanted to be in her favorite place. Because I was sad that she was going away. Going to heaven. Her real home. “Poppy, wait! Slow down!” Rune shouted as I turned the corner to the grove in the park. I ran through the entrance; the large blossom trees, which were in full bloom, made a tunnel above my head. The grass was green beneath my feet, and the blue sky was above. Petals in bright pinks and whites covered the trees. Then, at the far end of the grove, was the biggest tree of all. Its branches hung low. Its trunk was the thickest in the whole grove. It was mine and Rune’s absolute favorite. It was Mamaw’s too. I was out of breath. When I got below Mamaw’s favorite tree, I sank to the ground, clutching my jar, as tears fell down my cheeks. I heard Rune stop beside me, but I didn’t look up. “Poppymin?” Rune said. That’s what he called me. It meant ‘my Poppy’ in Norwegian. I loved him speaking Norwegian to me. “Poppymin, don’t cry,” he whispered. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want my mamaw to leave me, even though I knew she had to. I knew when I returned home, Mamaw wouldn’t be there: not now, not ever. Rune dropped down to sit beside me and pulled me in for a hug. I snuggled into his chest and cried. I loved Rune’s hugs, he always held me so tight. “My mamaw, Rune, she’s sick and she’s leaving.” “I know, my mamma told me when I got back from school.” I nodded against his chest. When I couldn’t cry anymore, I sat up, wiping my cheeks. I looked at Rune, who was watching me. I tried to smile. When I did, he took hold of my hand and brought it to his chest. “I’m sorry you’re sad,” Rune said and squeezed my hand. His t-shirt was warm from the sun. “I never ever want you to be sad. You’re Poppymin; you always smile. You’re always happy.” I sniffed and leaned my head on his shoulder. “I know. But Mamaw is my best friend, Rune, and I won’t have her anymore.” Rune didn’t say anything at first, then said, “I’m your best friend too. And I’m not going anywhere. I promise. Forever always.” My chest, which had been hurting so bad, suddenly didn’t hurt as much. I nodded my head. “Poppy and Rune for infinity,” I said. “For infinity,” he repeated. We stayed quiet for a while, until Rune asked, “What’s that jar for? What’s inside?” Pulling back my hand, I took hold of the jar and lifted it in the air. “My mamaw has given me a new adventure. One that will last all my life.” Rune’s eyebrows drew down and his long blond hair fell over his eyes. I pushed it back, and he smiled his half-smile as I did. All the girls at school wanted him to smile like that at them—they told me. But he only ever smiled at me. I told them none of them could have him anyway, he was my best friend and I didn’t want to share. Rune waved at the jar. “I don’t understand.” “Do you remember what my mamaw’s favorite ever memories are? I’ve told you before.” I could see Rune thinking hard, then he suddenly said, “Kisses from your pawpaw?” I nodded my head and pulled down a pale-pink cherry blossom petal from the branch hanging down by my side. I stared at the petal. They were my mamaw’s favorite. She liked them because they didn’t stay for long. She told me that the best and prettiest things never stay around for long. She said that a cherry blossom was too beautiful to last all year. It was more special because its life was short. Like the samurai—extreme beauty, quick death. I still wasn’t real sure what it all meant, but she said I would understand more the older I got. I think she was right, though. Because my mamaw wasn’t that old, and she was going away young—at least that’s what Daddy said. Maybe that’s why she liked the cherry blossom so much. Because she was exactly the same. “Poppymin?” Rune’s voice made me look up. “Am I right? Was kissing your pawpaw your mamaw’s favorite of memories?” “Yes,” I answered, dropping the petal, “all of the kisses she got that made her heart almost burst. Mamaw said that his kisses were the bestest thing in the world. Because they meant he loved her so. That he cared for her. And he liked her for exactly who she was.” Rune glared down at the jar and huffed. “I still don’t understand, Poppymin.” I laughed as his lips stuck out and his face screwed up. He had pretty lips; they were really thick with a perfect cupid’s bow. I opened the jar and pulled out a blank pink paper heart. I held it up in the air between me and Rune. “This is an empty kiss.” I pointed to the jar. “Mamaw gave me a thousand to collect in my life.” I put the heart back in the jar and took his hand. “A new adventure, Rune. To collect a thousand boy-kisses before I die, from my soulmate.” “I … what … Poppy? I’m confused!” he said, but I could hear the anger in his voice. Rune could be real moody when he wanted to be. I lifted my pen from my pocket. “When the boy I love kisses me, when it feels so special that my heart might almost burst—only the extra-special kisses—I’m to write the details down on one of these hearts. It’s for when I’m gray and old, and I want to tell my grandbabies all about the really special kisses in my life. And the sweet boy that gave them to me.” I jumped to my feet, excitement running through me. “It’s what Mamaw wanted from me, Rune. So I have to start soon! I want to do this for her.” Rune jumped to his feet too. Just then a gust of wind blew cherry blossom petals right past where we stood, and I smiled. But Rune wasn’t smiling. In fact, he looked downright mad. “You’re going to kiss a boy, for your jar? A special one? One that you love?” he asked. I nodded. “A thousand kisses, Rune! A thousand!” Rune shook his head and his lips pursed again. “NO!” he roared. The smile fell from my face. “What?” I asked. Rune took a step closer, shaking his head harder. “No! I don’t want you kissing a boy for your jar! I won’t let it happen!” “But—” I tried to speak, but Rune took hold of my hand. “You’re my best friend,” he said and puffed out his chest, pulling on my hand. “I don’t want you to kiss boys!” “But I have to,” I explained, pointing to the jar. “I have to for my adventure. A thousand kisses is a lot, Rune. A lot! You’d still be my best friend. No one will ever mean more to me than you, silly thing.” He stared hard at me, then at the jar. My chest hurt again; I could see he wasn’t happy by the look on his face. He’d gone all moody again. I stepped closer to my best friend, and Rune’s eyes fixed on mine. “Poppymin,” he said, his voice deeper—hard and strong. “Poppymin! It means my Poppy. For infinity, forever and always. You’re MY Poppy!” I opened my mouth to shout back at him, to tell him this was an adventure I just had to start. But as I did, Rune leaned forward and suddenly pressed his lips to mine. I froze. I couldn’t move a muscle as I felt his lips against my lips. They were warm. He tasted like cinnamon. The wind blew his long hair over my cheeks. It started to tickle my nose. Rune pulled back, but his face stayed near mine. I tried to breathe, but my chest felt funny, kind of light and fluffy. And my heart was beating so fast. So fast that I pressed my hand over my chest to feel it racing underneath. “Rune,” I whispered. I lifted my hand to press my fingers against my lips. Rune blinked and blinked again as he watched me. I pushed my hand out and pressed my fingers against his lips. “You kissed me,” I whispered, stunned. Rune lifted his hand to hold mine. He lowered our joined hands by his side. “I’ll give you a thousand kisses, Poppymin. All of them. No one will kiss you ever, but me.” My eyes widened but my heart didn’t slow down. “That would be forever, Rune. To never be kissed by anyone else means we’ll be together forever, and ever and ever!” Rune nodded his head, then he smiled. Rune didn’t smile a lot. He normally half-smiled or smirked. But he should smile. He was real handsome when he did. “I know. Because we’re forever always. For infinity, remember?” I nodded my head slowly, then tipped it to the side. “You’ll give me all my kisses? Enough to fill this whole jar?” I asked. Rune gave me another small smile. “All of them. We’ll fill up the whole jar, and more. We’ll collect way more than a thousand.” I gasped. I suddenly remembered the jar. I pulled back my hand so I could get my pen and open the jar lid. I snatched out a blank heart and sat down to write. Rune kneeled before me and placed his hand over mine, stopping me from writing. I looked up, confused. He swallowed, tucked his long hair behind his ear, and asked, “Did … when I … kissed you … did … did your heart almost burst? Was it extra special? You said only extra-special kisses make it into the jar.” His cheeks turned bright red and he lowered his eyes. Without thinking, I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around my best friend’s neck. I pressed my cheek to his chest and I listened to his heart. It was beating just as fast as mine. “It did, Rune. It was as special as special can be.” I felt Rune smile against my head, then I pulled back. I crossed my legs and placed the paper heart on the jar lid. Rune sat cross-legged too. “What will you write?” he asked. I tapped the pen to my lip as I thought hard. I sat up straight and leaned forward, pressing the pen to the paper: When I finished writing, I put the heart in the jar and closed the lid tight. I looked up at Rune, who’d been watching me all along, and proudly announced, “There. My very first boy-kiss!” Rune nodded his head, but his eyes dropped to my lips. “Poppymin?” “Yes?” I whispered. Rune reached for my hand. He started tracing patterns on the back with his fingertip. “Can I … can I kiss you again?” I swallowed, feeling butterflies in my stomach. “You want to kiss me again … already?” Rune nodded his head. “I’ve wanted to kiss you for a while now. And well, you’re mine and I liked it. I liked kissing you. You tasted like sugar.” “I ate a cookie at lunch. Butter pecan. Mamaw’s favorite,” I explained. Rune took a deep breath and leaned toward me. His hair blew forward. “I want to do it again.” “Okay.” And Rune kissed me. He kissed me and kissed me and kissed me. By the end of the day I had four more boy-kisses in my jar. When I got home, Mama told me that my mamaw had gone to heaven. I ran to my bedroom as quickly as I could. I hurried to fall asleep. Like she promised, Mamaw was there in my dreams. So I told her all about the five boy-kisses from my Rune. My mamaw smiled big and kissed me on my cheek. I knew this would be the best adventure of my life. Rune Two years ago Aged Fifteen Silence fell as she settled herself on the stage. Well, not everything was silent—the thunder of blood rushing through me roared in my ears as my Poppy carefully sat down. She looked beautiful in her sleeveless black dress, with her long brown hair pulled back in a bun, white bow positioned on top. Lifting the camera that was always around my neck, I brought the lens to my eye just as she positioned her bow against the string of her cello. I always loved to capture her at this moment. The moment she closed her big green eyes. The moment the most perfect expression drifted over her face—the look she wore just before the music began. The look of pure passion for the sounds that were to follow. I snapped the picture at the perfect time, and then the melody began. Lowering my camera, I focused simply on her. I couldn’t take pictures while she played. I couldn’t bring myself to miss any part of how she looked up on that stage. My lip hooked up in a small smile as her body began to sway to the music. She loved this piece, had been playing it for as long as I could remember. She needed no sheet music for this; Greensleeves poured from her soul through her bow. I couldn’t stop staring, my heart beating like a damn drum as Poppy’s lips twitched. Her deep dimples popped out when she concentrated on the difficult passages. Her eyes remained closed, but you could tell which parts of the music she adored. Her head would tilt to the side, and a huge smile would spread on her face. People didn’t understand that after all this time she was still mine. We were only fifteen, but since the day I kissed her in the blossom grove, aged eight, there had never been anyone else. I had blinkers on to any other girl. I only saw Poppy. In my world, only she existed. And she was different to any other girl in our class. Poppy was quirky, not cool. She wasn’t concerned with what people thought of her—she never had been. She played the cello because she loved it. She read books, she studied for fun, she woke at dawn just to watch the sunrise. It was why she was my everything. My forever always. Because she was unique. Unique in a town full of carbon-copy bimbos. She didn’t want to cheer, or bitch, or chase boys. She knew she had me, just as much as I had her. We were all we needed. I shuffled on my seat as the sound of her cello became softer, Poppy bringing the piece to an end. Lifting my camera again, I snapped a final shot as Poppy raised her bow off the string, a contented expression gracing her pretty face. The sound of applause made me lower the camera. Poppy pushed the instrument off her chest and got to her feet. She gave a small bow, then scanned the auditorium. Her eyes met mine. She smiled. I thought my heart might smash through my chest. I smirked in return, pushing my long blond hair back off my face with my fingers. A blush coated Poppy’s cheeks, then she exited stage left, the house lights flooding the auditorium with light. Poppy had been the last to perform. She always closed the show. She was the best musician in the district for our age group. In my opinion, she outshone anyone in the three age groups above. I once asked her how she was able to play like she did. She simply told me that the melodies poured from her bow as easily as she breathed. I couldn’t imagine having that kind of talent. But that was Poppy, the most amazing girl in the world. When the applause faded out, people began to leave the auditorium. A hand pressed on my arm. Mrs. Litchfield was wiping away a tear. She always cried when Poppy performed. “Rune, sweetie, we need to get these two home. Are you okay to meet Poppy?” “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, and quietly laughed at Ida and Savannah, Poppy’s nine- and eleven-year-old sisters, sleeping on their seats. They didn’t much care for music, not like Poppy. Mr. Litchfield rolled his eyes and threw me a small wave, then turned to wake the girls to get them home. Mrs. Litchfield kissed me on my head, then the four of them left. As I made my way out of the aisle, I heard whispers and giggling coming from my right. Glancing over the seats, I spotted a group of freshman girls all looking my way. I ducked my head, ignoring their stares. It happened a lot. I had no idea why so many of them paid me so much attention. I’d been with Poppy for as long as they’d known me. I didn’t want anyone else. I wished they’d stop trying to get me away from my girl—nothing would ever do that. I pushed through the exit and made my way to the backstage door. The air was thick and humid, causing my black t-shirt to stick to my chest. My black jeans and black boots were probably too warm for this spring heat, but I wore this style of clothing every day, whatever the weather. Seeing the performers begin to pile out the door, I leaned against the wall of the auditorium, resting my foot against the white painted brick. I crossed my arms over my chest, only unfolding them to rake my hair from my eyes. I watched the performers getting hugs from their families, then, catching the same girls from before staring at me, lowered my eyes to the ground. I didn’t want them to come over. I had nothing to say to them. My eyes were still cast down when I heard footsteps coming my way. I looked up just as Poppy threw herself onto my chest, her arms wrapping around my back, squeezing me tightly. I huffed a short laugh and held her right back. I was already six feet tall, so I towered over Poppy’s five feet. I liked it though, how she fit perfectly against me. Inhaling deeply, I took in the sugary-sweet scent of her perfume and pressed my cheek against her head. After one last squeeze, Poppy pulled back and smiled up at me. Her green eyes looked huge under her mascara and light makeup, her lips pink and lush from her cherry lip balm. I skirted my hands up her sides, stopping when they cupped her soft cheeks. Poppy’s lashes fluttered, making her look all kinds of sweet. Unable to resist feeling her lips on mine, I slowly leaned forward, almost smiling as I heard that same hitch of breath Poppy expelled every single time I kissed her, in that moment just before our lips touched. As our lips met, I exhaled through my nose. Poppy always tasted like this, of cherry, the taste from her lip balm flooding my mouth. And Poppy kissed me right back, her small hands gripping tightly to the sides of my black shirt. I worked my mouth against hers, slowly and softly, until I finally pulled back, laying three short, feather-light kisses on her swollen mouth. I took in a breath and watched Poppy’s eyes flutter open. Her pupils were dilated. She licked along her bottom lip before casting me a bright smile. “Kiss three hundred and fifty-two. With my Rune against the auditorium wall.” I held my breath, waiting for the next line. The glint in Poppy’s eyes told me that the words I hoped for next would spill from her lips. Leaning in closer, balancing on her tiptoes, she whispered, “And my heart almost burst.” She only ever recorded the extra-special kisses. Only the ones that made her feel her heart was full. Every time we kissed, I waited for those words. When they came, she almost blew me away with her smile. Poppy laughed. I couldn’t help but smile widely at the sound of the happiness in her voice. I pressed another quick kiss to her lips and stepped back to drape my arm over her shoulders. I pulled her close and rested my cheek against her head. Poppy’s arms wrapped around my back and stomach, and I led her away from the wall. As I did, I felt Poppy freeze. I lifted my head to see the freshman girls pointing at Poppy and whispering to each other. Their eyes were focused on Poppy in my arms. My jaw clenched. I hated that they treated her this way—out of jealousy. Most of the girls never gave Poppy a chance because they wanted what she had. Poppy said she didn’t care, but I could tell that she did. The fact that she stiffened in my arms told me just how much. Shifting in front of Poppy, I waited for her to lift her head. As soon as she did, I ordered, “Ignore them.” My stomach dropped as I watched her force a smile. “I am, Rune. They don’t bother me.” I tipped my head to the side and raised my brows. Poppy shook her head. “They don’t. I promise,” she tried to lie. Poppy glanced over my shoulder and shrugged. When she met my eyes with her own, she said, “But I get it. I mean, look at you, Rune. You’re gorgeous. Tall, mysterious, exotic … Norwegian!” She laughed and pressed her palm over my chest. “You have that whole bad-boy, indie-style thing going for you. The girls can’t help but want you. You’re you. You’re perfect.” I shifted closer and watched her green eyes widen. “And yours,” I added. The tension leaked from her shoulders. I slipped my hand into the hand still on my chest. “And I’m not mysterious, Poppymin. You know all there is to know about me: no secrets, no mystery.” “To me,” she argued, meeting my eyes once more. “You’re not a mystery to me, but you are to all the girls in our school. They all want you.” I sighed, beginning to feel pissed. “And all I want is you.” Poppy watched me, like she was trying to find something in my expression. It just pissed me off more. I linked our fingers and whispered, “For infinity.” With this, a genuine smile tugged on Poppy’s lips. “Forever always,” she eventually whispered in reply. I dropped my forehead to rest against hers. My hands cupped her cheeks, and I assured her, “I want you and only you. I have done since I was five years old and you shook my hand. No other girl will change that.” “Yeah?” Poppy asked, but I could hear the humor back in her sweet voice. “Ja,” I replied in Norwegian, hearing the sweet sound of her giggle wash into my ears. She loved it when I spoke to her in my native language. I kissed her forehead, then stepped back to take hold of her hands. “Your mama and daddy took the girls home; they told me to tell you.” She nodded her head, then looked up at me, nervously. “What did you think of tonight?” I rolled my eyes and crinkled my nose. “Terrible, as always,” I said dryly. Poppy laughed and hit my arm. “Rune Kristiansen! Don’t be so mean!” she scolded. “Fine,” I said, pretending to be annoyed. I slammed her into my chest, wrapping my arms around her back, trapping her against me. She squealed when I began kissing up and down her cheek, keeping her arms locked by her side. I dropped my lips to her neck and caught her breath hitch, all laughter forgotten. I moved my mouth up until I tugged on her earlobe with my teeth. “You were amazing,” I whispered softly. “As always. You were perfect up there. You owned that stage. You owned everyone in that room.” “Rune,” she murmured. I heard the happy tone in her voice. I pulled back, still not unlocking her arms. “I’m never more proud of you than when I see you up on that stage,” I confessed. Poppy blushed. “Rune,” she said shyly, but I ducked my head to keep eye contact when she tried to pull away. “Carnegie Hall, remember. One day I’ll be watching you perform at Carnegie Hall.” Poppy managed to free one of her hands and softly swatted my arm. “You flatter me.” I shook my head. “Never. I only ever say the truth.” Poppy pressed her lips to mine, and I felt her kiss all the way to my toes. When she drew back, I released her and threaded our fingers together. “We heading out to the field?” Poppy asked as I began leading her away across the parking lot, holding her just that little bit closer as we passed the group of freshman girls. “I’d prefer to be alone with you,” I said. “Jorie asked if we’d go. Everyone is there.” Poppy looked up at me. By the twitch of her lips, I knew I was scowling. “It’s Friday night, Rune. We’re fifteen, and you’ve just spent most of the night watching me play the cello. We have ninety minutes left until curfew; we should actually see our friends like normal teenagers.” “Fine,” I submitted and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. Leaning down, I placed my mouth at her ear and said, “But I get you to myself tomorrow.” Poppy put her arm around my waist and gripped me tightly. “I promise.” We heard the girls behind us mention my name. I sighed in frustration when Poppy briefly tensed. “It’s because you’re different, Rune,” Poppy said, without looking up. “You’re artsy, into photography. You wear dark clothes.” She laughed and shook her head. I pushed my hair back from my face, and Poppy pointed up. “But mainly it’s because of that.” I frowned. “Because of what?” She reached up and pulled on a strand of my long hair. “When you do that. When you push your hair back like you do.” I raised an eyebrow, bemused. Poppy shrugged. “It’s kinda irresistible.” “Ja?” I asked, before stopping to stand in front of Poppy, raking my hair back in exaggeration until she laughed. “Irresistible, huh? To you, too?” Poppy giggled and pulled my hand from my hair to wrap around hers. As we followed the pathway to the field—a patch of the park where the kids from our school hung out at night—Poppy said, “It doesn’t really bother me that other girls look at you, Rune. I know how you feel about me, because it’s the exact way I feel about you.” Poppy sucked in her bottom lip. I knew it meant she was nervous, but I didn’t know why, until she said, “The only girl that bothers me is Avery. Because she’s wanted you for so long and I’m pretty sure she’d do anything to make you hers.” I shook my head. I didn’t even like Avery, but because she was in our group of friends, she was always around. All my friends liked her; they all thought she was the prettiest thing around. But I never saw it, and I hated how she was toward me. Hated how she made Poppy feel. “She’s nothing, Poppymin,” I reassured her. “Nothing.” Poppy curled into my chest and we turned right, toward our friends. I held Poppy tighter the closer we got. Avery sat up as we approached. Turning my head toward Poppy, I repeated, “Nothing.” Poppy’s hand gripped my shirt, telling me she’d heard. Her best friend Jorie jumped to her feet. “Poppy!” Jorie called excitedly, coming over to pull Poppy into her arms. I liked Jorie. She was ditzy, rarely thought before she spoke, but she loved Poppy and Poppy loved her. She was one of the only people in this small town who found Poppy’s quirkiness endearing and not just weird. “How are you, sweets?” Jorie asked and stepped back. She looked at Poppy’s black performance dress. “You look beautiful! So damn cute!” Poppy bowed her head in thanks. I took hold of her hand again. I guided us around the small fire that they’d lit in the fire pit and sat down. I leaned back against a log bench, pulling Poppy down to sit between my legs. She flashed me smile as she sat down with me, pressing her back against my chest and tucking her head against my neck. “So, Pops, how’d it go?” Judson, my best friend, asked from across the fire. My other close friend, Deacon, was sitting beside him. He tipped his chin in greeting, his girlfriend, Ruby, throwing us a small wave too. Poppy shrugged. “Fine, I guess.” As I wrapped my arm across her chest, holding her tight, I looked at my dark-haired friend and added, “The star of the show. As always.” “It’s only the cello, Rune. Nothing too special,” Poppy argued softly. I shook my head in protest. “She brought the place down.” I caught Jorie smiling at me. I also caught Avery rolling her eyes dismissively. Poppy ignored Avery and began talking to Jorie about class. “Come on, Pops. I swear Mr. Millen is a damn evil alien. Or a demon. Hell, he’s from somewhere outside of what we know. Brought by the principal to torture us weak young Earthlings with too-hard algebra. It’s how he gets his life-force; I’m convinced of it. And I think he’s onto me too. You know, the fact I know he’s an extra-terrestrial, because, Lord! That man keeps failing my ass and giving me the stink-eye!” “Jorie!” Poppy laughed, laughed so hard that her whole body shook. I smiled at her happiness, then I zoned out. I leaned further back against the log as our friends talked. I lazily traced patterns on Poppy’s arm, wanting nothing more than to leave. I didn’t mind sitting with our friends, but I preferred to be alone with her. It was her company I craved; the only place I ever wanted to be was with her. Poppy giggled at something else Jorie said. Her laugh was so hard she knocked the camera hanging around my neck to the side. Poppy flashed me an apologetic smile. I leaned down, tilted her chin toward me with my finger and kissed her on the lips. I only meant for it to be swift and soft, but when Poppy’s hand threaded into my hair, pulling me closer, it became more. As Poppy opened her lips, I pushed my tongue to meet hers, losing my breath as I did. Poppy’s fingers tightened in my hair. I cupped her cheek to keep her in this kiss as long as possible. If I didn’t have to breathe, I imagine I would never have stopped kissing her. Too lost in the kiss, we only broke apart when someone cleared their throat from across the fire. I lifted my head to find Judson smirking. When I glanced down at Poppy, her cheeks were blazing. Our friends hid their laughter, and I squeezed Poppy tighter. I wouldn’t be embarrassed for kissing my girl. Conversation picked back up again, and I lifted my camera to check it was okay. My mamma and pappa bought it for me for my thirteenth birthday, when they could see that photography was becoming my passion. It was a 1960s vintage Canon. I took it with me everywhere, snapping thousands of pictures. I didn’t know why, but capturing moments fascinated me. Maybe it was because sometimes all we get are moments. There are no do-overs; whatever happens in a moment defines life—perhaps it is life. But capturing a moment on film keeps that moment alive, forever. To me, photography was magic. I mentally scrolled through the camera roll. Pictures of wildlife and close-ups of cherry blossoms from the grove would occupy most of the film. Then there’d be photos of Poppy tonight. Her pretty face as the music took its hold. I’d only ever seen that look on her face one other time—when she looked at me. To Poppy, I was as special to her as her music was. In both cases, a bond that no one could break. Reaching for my cell, I lifted it out in front of us, the camera lens facing our direction. Poppy was no longer taking part in the conversation around us. She was silently running her fingertips along my arm. Catching her off-guard, I snapped the picture, just as she looked up at me. I let out a single laugh when her eyes narrowed in annoyance. I knew she wasn’t angry though, despite her effort to look so. Poppy loved any picture of us I took, even if it was taken when she least expected it. When I focused on my cell, my heart immediately started slamming against my chest. In the picture, as Poppy stared up at me, she looked beautiful. But it was the expression on her face that floored me. The look in her green eyes. In this moment, this single captured moment, there was that expression. The one she gave to me as readily as she gave to her music. The one that told me I had her just as much as she had me. The one that ensured we had stayed together all these years. The one that said even though we were young, we knew we’d found our soulmate in the other. “Let me see?” Poppy’s quiet voice pulled my attention from the screen. She smiled at me and I lowered the phone to let her see. I watched Poppy, not the picture, as her gaze fell upon the screen. I watched as her eyes softened and a whisper of a smile ghosted on her lips. “Rune,” she whispered, as she reached down to take hold of my free hand. I squeezed her hand and she said, “I want a copy of that one. It’s perfect.” I nodded and kissed her head. And this is why I love photography, I thought. It could pull out emotion, raw emotion, from a split second in time. Turning off my phone’s camera, I saw the time displayed on the screen. “Poppymin,” I said quietly, “we have to head home. It’s getting late.” Poppy nodded. I got to my feet and pulled her upright. “You heading out?” Judson asked. I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll catch you Monday.” I threw them all a wave and took hold of Poppy’s hand. We didn’t say much as we made our way home. When we stopped at Poppy’s door, I took her in my arms and pulled her to my chest. I placed my hand on the side of her neck. Poppy looked up. “I’m so proud of you, Poppymin. There’s no doubt that you’ll get into Julliard. Your dream of playing at Carnegie Hall will come true.” Poppy smiled brightly and tugged on the camera strap around my neck. “And you’ll be at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. We’ll be in New York together, like it was always meant to be. Like we’ve always planned.” I nodded my head and brushed my lips along her cheek. “Then there would be no more curfew,” I muttered teasingly. Poppy laughed. Moving to her mouth, I pressed a soft kiss to her lips and backed away. As I let go of her hands, Mr. Litchfield opened the door. He saw me moving away from his daughter and shook his head, laughing. He knew exactly what we’d been doing. “Night, Rune,” he said dryly. “Night, Mr. Litchfield,” I replied, seeing Poppy blush as her daddy gestured for her to go inside. I walked across the grass to my house. I opened the door, walked through to the living room and found my parents sitting on the couch. They were both sitting forward in their seats, and they seemed tense. “Hei,” I said, and my mamma’s head snapped up. “Hei, baby,” she said. I frowned. “What’s wrong?” I asked. My mamma shot a glance at my pappa. She shook her head. “Nothing, baby. Did Poppy play well? Sorry we couldn’t make it.” I stared at my parents. They were hiding something, I could tell. When they didn’t continue, I slowly nodded my head, answering their question. “She was perfect, as always.” I thought I glimpsed tears in my mamma’s eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. Needing to escape the awkwardness, I held up my camera. “I’m going to develop these then go to bed.” As I turned to walk away, my pappa said, “We’re going out as a family tomorrow, Rune.” I stopped dead. “I can’t come. I’ve planned to spend the day with Poppy.” My pappa shook his head. “Not tomorrow, Rune.” “But—” I went to argue, but my pappa cut me off, his voice stern. “I said no. You’re coming, that’s final. Poppy can see you when we get back. We won’t be gone all day.” “What’s really going on?” My pappa walked to stand before me. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Nothing, Rune. I just never see you anymore because of work. I want to change that, so we’re having a day out at the beach.” “Well then, can Poppy come with us? She loves the beach. It’s her second-favorite place to go.” “Not tomorrow, son.” I stayed silent, getting pissed, but I could see he wasn’t going to budge. Pappa sighed. “Go develop your pictures, Rune, and stop worrying.” Doing as he said, I walked down to the basement and into the small side room my pappa had converted into a darkroom for me. I still developed film in the old style instead of using a digital camera. I thought it made for a better result. After twenty minutes, I stepped back from the line of new pictures. I had also printed the photo from my phone, of Poppy and me at the field. I picked it up and carried it to my bedroom. I stuck my head into Alton’s room as I passed, checking my two-year-old brother was sleeping. He was, curled up tight to his brown stuffed bear, his messy blond hair spread out over his pillow. I pushed through my door and turned on my lamp. I looked at the clock, registering it was near midnight. Running my hand through my hair, I made my way to the window, and smiled when I saw the Litchfield house in darkness, save for the dim light from Poppy’s nightlight—Poppy’s sign that the coast was clear for me to sneak in. I locked my bedroom door and switched off the lamp. The room was plunged into darkness. I quickly changed into my sleep pants and shirt. Silently, I lifted the window and climbed out. I sprinted across the grass between our two houses and crawled inside Poppy’s room, closing the window as quietly as I could. Poppy was in bed, tucked under the covers. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was soft and even. Smiling at how cute she looked with her cheek resting in her hand, I padded over, placed her present on the nightstand and climbed in beside her. I lay beside her, my head dropping to share her pillow. We’d done this for years. The first night I stayed over was a mistake; I climbed into her room, at age twelve, to talk, but I fell asleep. Fortunately, I woke early enough the next morning to sneak back into my own bedroom unnoticed. But then the next night, I stayed on purpose, then the night after that, and almost every night since. Luckily we’d never been found out. I wasn’t too sure Mr. Litchfield would like me the same if he knew I slept in his daughter’s bed. But staying beside Poppy in bed was becoming more and more difficult. Now I was fifteen, I felt differently around her. I saw her differently. And I knew she did me. We kissed more and more. The kisses were getting deeper, our hands starting to explore places they shouldn’t. It was getting harder and harder to stop. I wanted more. I wanted my girl in every possible way. But we were young. I knew that. It didn’t make it any less difficult though. Poppy stirred beside me. “I wondered if you were coming tonight. I waited for you but you weren’t in your room,” she said sleepily as she pushed my hair from my face. Capturing her hand, I kissed her palm. “I had to develop my film, and my parents were acting weird.” “Weird? How?” she asked, shuffling closer and kissing my cheek. I shook my head. “Just … weird. I think something’s going on, but they told me not to worry.” Even in the dim light I could see Poppy’s eyebrows were pulled together in concern. I squeezed her hand in reassurance. Remembering the present I’d brought her, I reached behind me and took the picture from the nightstand. I’d put it in a simple silver frame. I tapped the flashlight icon on my phone and held it up so Poppy could see better. She gave a small sigh and I watched as a smile lit up her entire face. She took hold of the frame and stroked her finger across the glass. “I love this picture, Rune,” she whispered, then placed it on her nightstand. She gazed at it for a few moments, then turned back my way. Poppy lifted the covers and held them high so I could shuffle underneath. I laid my arm over Poppy’s waist and moved closer to her face, peppering soft kisses over her cheeks and neck. When I kissed the spot just below her ear, Poppy began to giggle and pulled away. “Rune!” she whispered, “that tickles!” I drew back and threaded my hand through hers. “So,” Poppy asked, lifting her other hand to play with a long strand of my hair, “what are we doing tomorrow?” Rolling my eyes, I replied, “We’re not, my pappa is making us go out as a family for the day. To the beach.” Poppy sat up excitedly. “Really? I love the beach!” My stomach dropped. “He said we have to go alone, Poppymin. Just the family.” “Oh,” Poppy said, sounding disappointed. She lay back down on the bed. “Have I done something wrong? Your pappa always invites me along with y’all.” “No,” I assured her. “It’s what I was saying before. They’re acting strange. He said he wants us to spend the day as a family, but I think there’s something else.” “Okay,” Poppy said, but I could hear the sad tone in her voice. I cupped her head in my hand and promised, “I’ll be back for dinner. We’ll spend tomorrow night together.” She took hold of my wrist. “Good.” Poppy stared at me, her green eyes wide in the dull light. I stroked my hand along her hair. “You’re so beautiful, Poppymin.” I didn’t need the light to see the blush coating her cheeks. I closed the small space between us and crushed my lips against hers. Poppy sighed as I pushed my tongue into her mouth, her hands moving to grip onto my hair. It felt too good, Poppy’s mouth growing hotter and hotter the more we kissed, my hands dropping to run down her bare arms and down over her waist. Poppy shifted onto her back as my hand slipped down to touch her leg. I followed and moved above her, Poppy snapping her mouth from mine with a gasp. But I didn’t stop kissing her. I dragged my lips over her jaw to kiss along her neck, my hand moving beneath her nightdress to stroke the soft skin of her waist. Poppy’s fingers pulled at my hair, and her leg lifted to wrap around the back of my thigh. I groaned against her throat, moving back up to take her mouth with mine. As my tongue slid against hers, I traced my fingers further up her body. Poppy broke from the kiss. “Rune…” I dropped my head to the crook between her neck and shoulder, breathing deeply. I wanted her so much it was almost too much to take. I breathed in and out as Poppy dropped her hand to stroke up and down my back. I focused on the rhythm of her fingers, forcing myself to calm down. Minutes and minutes passed, but I didn’t move. I was content lying over Poppy, breathing in her delicate scent, my hand pressing against her soft stomach. “Rune?” Poppy whispered. I lifted my head. Poppy’s hand was immediately on my cheek. “Baby?” she whispered, and I could hear the worry in her voice. “I’m okay,” I whispered back, keeping my voice as quiet as possible so as not to disturb her parents. I looked deep into her eyes. “I just want you so damn much.” I dropped my forehead to hers and added, “When we’re like this, when we let it get this far, I kind of lose my mind.” Poppy’s fingers threaded through my hair and I closed my eyes, loving her touch. “I’m sorry, I—” “No,” I said forcefully, a little louder than intended. I shifted back. Poppy’s eyes were huge. “Don’t. Don’t ever apologize for this, for stopping me. It’s never something you have to be sorry for.” Poppy parted her kiss-swollen lips and let out a long sigh. “Thank you,” she whispered. I moved my hand and lowered my fingers to link them through hers. Shifting to the side, I opened my arm and flicked my head for her to come to me. She laid her head on my chest. I closed my eyes and just worked on breathing. Eventually, sleep began to take me. Poppy’s finger traced up and down my stomach. I had almost drifted off when Poppy whispered, “You’re my everything, Rune Kristiansen, I hope you know that.” My eyes snapped open at her words, my chest feeling full. Placing my finger under her chin, I tipped her head upward. Her mouth was waiting for my kiss. I kissed her gently, softly, and slowly withdrew. Poppy’s eyes remained closed as she smiled. Feeling like my chest would explode at the contented look on her face, I whispered, “For infinity.” Poppy snuggled back into my chest and whispered back, “Forever always.” And we both fell asleep. Rune “Rune, we need to talk to you,” my pappa said, as we ate our lunch in the restaurant overlooking the beach. “Are you getting divorced?” Pappa’s face paled. “God, no, Rune,” he assured me quickly and took hold of my mamma’s hand for emphasis. My mamma smiled at me, but I could see the tears building in her eyes. “Then what?” I asked. My pappa slowly leaned back in his chair. “Your mamma has been upset with my job, Rune, not with me.” I was completely confused, until he said, “They’re transferring me back to Oslo, Rune. The company has hit a glitch there and I’m being sent back to fix it.” “How long for?” I asked. “When will you be back?” My pappa ran his hand through his thick, short blond hair, just the way I did. “Here’s the thing, Rune,” he said cautiously. “It could be years. It could be months.” He sighed. “Realistically, anything from one to three years.” My eyes widened. “You’re leaving us here in Georgia for that long?” My mamma reached out her hand and covered mine with hers. I stared blankly at it. Then the true consequences of what Pappa was saying began seeping into my brain. “No,” I said under my breath, knowing he wouldn’t do this to me. Couldn’t do this to me. I looked up. I saw guilt wash all over his face. I knew it was true. I understood now. Why we came to the beach. Why he wanted us to be alone. Why he refused Poppy’s company. My heart was sprinting as my hands fidgeted on the table. My mind span in circles … they wouldn’t … he wouldn’t … I wouldn’t! “No,” I spat out, louder, drawing stares from nearby tables. “I’m not going. I’m not leaving her.” I turned to my mamma for help, but she lowered her head. I snatched back my hand from under hers. “Mamma?” I pleaded, but she slowly shook her head. “We’re a family, Rune. We’re not being split up for that long. We have to go. We’re a family.” “No!” I shouted this time, pushing my chair back from the table. I got to my feet, my fists clenched at my sides. “I won’t leave her! You can’t make me! This is our home. Here! I don’t want to go back to Oslo!” “Rune,” my pappa said, placatingly, standing up from the table and holding out his hands. But I couldn’t be in this closed space, with him. Turning on my heel, I ran out of the restaurant as fast as I could and headed down onto the beach. The sun had disappeared behind thick clouds, causing a cold wind to whip up the sand. I kept running, heading for the dunes, the coarse grains hitting my face. As I ran, I tried to fight against the anger ripping through me. How could they do this to me? They know how much I need Poppy. I was shaking with anger as I climbed the tallest dune and dropped down to sit on its peak. I lay back, staring at the graying sky, and pictured a life back in Norway without her. I felt sick. Sick at just the thought of not having her by my side, holding my hand, kissing my lips… I could barely breathe. My mind raced, searching for ideas of how I could stay. I thought and I thought of every possibility, but I knew my pappa. When he decided on something, nothing would change his mind. I was going; the look on his face had told me clearly that there was no way out. They were taking me from my girl, my soul. And I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I heard someone climbing the dune behind me and I knew it was my pappa. He sat down beside me. I looked away, staring out over the sea. I didn’t want to acknowledge his presence. We were silent, until I eventually cracked and asked, “When do we leave?” I felt my pappa stiffen beside me, causing me to glance his way. He was already watching my face, sympathy in his expression. My stomach sank further. “When?” I pressed. Pappa dropped his head. “Tomorrow.” Everything stilled. “What?” I whispered in shock. “How is that possible?” “Your mamma and I have known for about a month now. We decided not to tell you until the last minute because we knew how you would feel. They need me in the office by Monday, Rune. We’ve organized everything with your school, transferred your transcripts. Your uncle is preparing our house in Oslo for our return. My company has hired movers to empty our house in Blossom Grove and ship our belongings to Norway. They arrive tomorrow shortly after we leave.” I glared at my pappa. For the first time in my life, I hated him. I gritted my teeth and looked away. I felt sick with the amount of anger coursing through my veins. “Rune,” my pappa said softly, putting his hand on my shoulder. I shrugged off his hand. “Don’t,” I hissed. “Don’t ever touch me or speak to me again.” I snapped my head around. “I’ll never forgive you,” I promised. “I’ll never forgive you for taking her from me.” “Rune, I understand—” he tried to say, but I cut him off. “You don’t. You have no idea how I feel, what Poppy means to me. No damn idea. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be taking me away from her. You’d tell your company that you wouldn’t move. That we have to stay.” Pappa sighed. “I’m the Technical Officer, Rune, I have to go where I’m needed, and right now that’s Oslo.” I said nothing. I didn’t care that he was the damn technical officer of some failing company. I was pissed he was only telling me now. I was pissed we were going, period. When I didn’t speak, my pappa said, “I’m getting our things together, son. Be at the car in five minutes. I want you to have tonight with Poppy. I want to at least give you that much.” Hot tears built in my eyes. I turned my head so he wouldn’t see me. I was angry, so angry that I couldn’t stop the damn tears. I never cried when I was sad, only when I was angry. And right now, I was so pissed I could barely draw breath. “It won’t be forever, Rune. A few years at most, then we’ll be back. I promise. My job, our life, is here in Georgia. But I have to go where the company needs me,” Pappa said. “Oslo won’t be so bad; it’s where we’re from. I know your mamma will be happy to be near family again. I thought you might be, too.” I didn’t reply. Because a few years without Poppy was a lifetime. I didn’t care about my family. I was lost, watching the rhythm of the waves, and I waited for as long as I could before I got to my feet. I wanted to get to Poppy, but at the same time, I didn’t know how to tell her I was leaving. I couldn’t stand the thought of breaking her heart. The horn sounded, and I ran to the car, where my family was waiting. My mamma tried to smile at me, but I ignored her and slid into the back seat. As we pulled away from the coast, I glared out the window. Feeling a hand on my arm, I turned to see Alton clutching onto the sleeve of my shirt. His head was tilted to the side. I ruffled his messy blond hair. Alton laughed, but his smile faded, and he kept glancing my way the whole journey home. I found it ironic how my baby brother seemed to get how much pain I was in, way more than my parents did. The drive felt like an eternity. When we pulled into the driveway, I practically dived out of the car and sprinted to the Litchfield house. I knocked on the front door. Mrs. Litchfield answered after only a few seconds. The minute she took in my face, I saw her eyes fill with sympathy. She glanced across the yard at my mamma and pappa, who were unpacking the car. She gave them a small wave. She knew too. “Is Poppy here?” I managed to ask, pushing the words through my thick throat. Mrs. Litchfield pulled me into a hug. “She’s in the blossom grove, sweetie. She’s been there all afternoon, reading.” Mrs. Litchfield kissed my head. “I’m so sorry, Rune. That daughter of mine will be heartbroken when you leave. You’re her whole life.” She’s my whole life too, I wanted to add, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak a single word. Mrs. Litchfield released me and I backed away, jumping off the porch, sprinting all the way to the grove. I got there in minutes, immediately spotting Poppy under our favorite cherry blossom tree. I stopped, keeping well out of sight as I watched her reading her book, her purple headphones over her head. Branches filled with pink cherry blossom petals fell around her like a protective shield, sheltering her from the bright sun. She was wearing a short white sleeveless dress, a big white bow pinned at the side of her long brown hair. I felt like I’d walked into a dream. My heart clenched. I’d seen Poppy every day since I was five. Slept beside her almost every night since I was twelve. Kissed her every day since I was eight, and loved her with everything I had for so many days I’d stopped keeping track. I had no idea how to live a day without her next to me. How to breathe without her by my side. As if she sensed I was there, she looked up from the page of her book. When I stepped out onto the grass, she flashed me her biggest smile. It was the smile she had only for me. I tried to smile back, but I couldn’t. I trudged over the fallen cherry blossoms, the path so littered with fallen petals that it looked like a stream of pink and white beneath my feet. I watched Poppy’s smile fade the closer I got. I couldn’t keep anything from her. She knew me as well as I knew myself. She could see that I was upset. I’d told her before, there was no mystery with me. Not with her. She was the only person who knew me completely. Poppy stilled, only moving to pull the headphones off her head. She placed her book beside her on the ground, wrapped her arms around her bent legs, and just waited. Swallowing, I dropped to my knees before her, and my head fell forward in defeat. I fought against the tightness in my chest. Eventually I raised my head. Apprehension was clear in Poppy’s eyes, like she knew whatever was going to come from my mouth would change everything. Change us. Change our entire lives. End our world. “We’re leaving,” I finally managed to choke out. I watched her face pale. Glancing away, I managed to drag in another short breath, and add, “Tomorrow, Poppymin. Back to Oslo. Pappa is taking me away from you. He’s not even trying to stay.” “No,” she whispered in response. She leaned forward. “There must be something we can do?” Poppy’s breathing sped up. “Maybe you could stay with us? Move in with us? We can work something out. We can—” “No,” I interrupted. “You know my pappa wouldn’t allow it. They’ve known for weeks; they’ve already transferred my schools. They just didn’t tell me because they knew how I’d react. I have to go, Poppymin. I have no other choice. I have to go.” I stared at a single blossom petal as it broke from a low-hanging branch. It drifted like a feather to the ground. I knew that, from now on, whenever I saw a cherry blossom I’d think of Poppy. She spent all of her time here in this grove, with me beside her. It was the place she loved the most. I squeezed my eyes shut as I imagined her in this grove all alone after tomorrow—no one to go on adventures with her, no one to listen to her laugh … no one to give her heart-bursting boy-kisses for her jar. Feeling a sharp pain strike my chest, I turned back to Poppy, and my heart tore in two. She was still frozen to her spot against the tree, but her pretty face was flooded with streams and streams of silent tears, her small hands balled into fists that were shaking at her knees. “Poppymin,” I rasped, finally letting all my hurt free. I rushed to her side and cradled her in my arms. Poppy melted into me, crying into my chest. I closed my eyes, feeling every bit of her pain. This pain was also mine. We stayed that way for some time, until finally, Poppy raised her head and pressed her shaking palm to my cheek. “Rune,” she said, her voice cracking, “what will … what will I do without you?” I shook my head, silently telling her that I didn’t know. I couldn’t speak, my words were trapped behind my clogged throat. Poppy lay back against my chest, her arms like a vise around my waist. We didn’t speak as the hours ticked by. The sun faded to leave behind a burnt-orange sky. Before long, the stars appeared, and the moon too, bright and full. A cool breeze whipped around the grove, forcing the petals to dance around us. When I felt Poppy begin to shiver in my arms, I knew it was time to leave. Lifting my hands, I ran my fingers through Poppy’s thick hair and whispered, “Poppymin, we have to go.” She only gripped me tighter in response. “Poppy?” I tried again. “I don’t want to go,” she said almost inaudibly, her sweet voice now hoarse. I glanced down as her green eyes looked up and fixed on mine. “If we leave this grove, it means that it’s almost time for you to leave me too.” I ran the back of my hand down her red cheeks. They were freezing to the touch. “No goodbyes, remember?” I reminded her. “You always say that there’s no such thing as goodbye. Because we’ll always see each other in our dreams. Like with your mamaw.” Tears spilled from Poppy’s eyes; I wiped the droplets away with the pad of my thumb. “And you’re cold,” I said softly. “It’s really late, and I need to get you home so you don’t get into trouble for missing curfew.” Poppy forced a weak smile onto her lips. “I thought real-life Vikings didn’t play by the rules?” I laughed a single laugh and pressed my forehead to hers. I placed two soft kisses on the corner of her mouth and replied, “I’m walking you to your door, and once your parents are asleep, I’m climbing into your bedroom for one last night. How’s that for rule-breaking? Viking enough?” Poppy giggled. “Yes,” she answered, pushing my long hair from in front of my eyes. “You’re all the Viking I’ll ever need.” Taking hold of her hands, I kissed the tip of each finger and made myself stand. I helped Poppy get to her feet and pulled her into my chest. I wrapped my arms around her, keeping her close. Her sweet scent drifted into my nose. I vowed to remember exactly how she felt in this moment. The wind grew stronger. I broke our embrace and took hold of Poppy’s hand. In silence, we began walking down the petal-strewn path. Poppy rested her head on my arm, tipping her head back to take in the night sky. I kissed the top of her head and heard her sigh deeply. “Have you ever noticed how dark the sky is above this grove? Like it’s darker than anywhere else in town. It looks jet-black, but for the bright moon and twinkling stars. Against the pink of the cherry blossom trees, it looks like something from a dream.” I tipped my head back to see the sky, and a smirk tugged at the corner of my mouth. She was right. It looked almost surreal. “Only you would notice something like that,” I said as I lowered my head back down. “You always see the world differently to everyone else. It’s one of the things I love about you. It’s the adventurer I met when I was five.” Poppy tightened her grip on my hand. “My mamaw always said that heaven looks however you want it to look, you know.” The sadness in her voice made my breath hitch in my throat. She sighed. “Mamaw’s favorite place was under our cherry blossom. When I sit there and look out along the rows and rows of trees, then up at that jet-black sky, I sometimes wonder if she’s sitting at that exact tree up in heaven, looking out along the cherry blossom trees just as we do, staring at the black sky above just as I’m doing now.” “I’m sure she is, Poppymin. And she’ll be smiling down at you, like she promised she would.” Poppy reached out and captured a bright-pink cherry blossom in her hand. She held it out in front of her, staring at the petals in her palm. “Mamaw also said that the best things in life die quickly, like the cherry blossom. Because something so beautiful can never last forever, shouldn’t last forever. It stays for a brief moment in time to remind us how precious life is, before fading away just as quickly as it came. She said that it teaches you more in its short life than anything that is forever by your side.” My throat began to close at the pain in her voice. She looked up at me. “Because nothing so perfect can last an eternity, can it? Like shooting stars. We see the usual stars above us every single night. Most people take them for granted, even forget they are there. But if a person sees a shooting star, they remember that moment forever, they even make a wish at its presence.” She took in a deep breath. “It shoots by so quickly that people savor the short time they have with it.” I felt a teardrop fall on our joined hands. I was confused, unsure why she was talking about such sad things. “Because something so completely perfect and special is destined to fade. Eventually, it has to blow away into the wind.” Poppy held up the cherry blossom that was still in her hand. “Like this flower.” She threw it into the air, just as a gust of wind came. The strong bluster carried the petals into the sky and away above the trees. It disappeared from our sight. “Poppy—” I went to speak, but she cut me off. “Maybe we’re like the cherry blossom, Rune. Like shooting stars. Maybe we loved too much too young and burned so bright that we had to fade out.” She pointed behind us, to the blossom grove. “Extreme beauty, quick death. We had this love long enough to teach us a lesson. To show us how capable of love we truly are.” My heart fell to my stomach. I swung Poppy around to face me. The devastated look on her beautiful face cut me where I stood. “Listen to me,” I said, feeling panicked. Placing my hands on either side of Poppy’s face, I promised, “I’ll come back for you. This move to Oslo, it won’t be forever. We’ll talk every day, we’ll write. We’ll still be Poppy and Rune. Nothing can break that, Poppymin. You’ll always be mine, you’ll always own half of my soul. This isn’t the end.” Poppy sniffed and blinked away her tears. My pulse raced with fear at the thought of her giving up on us. Because that had never even entered my head. We weren’t ending anything. I stepped closer. “We’re not done,” I said forcefully. “For infinity, Poppymin. Forever always. Never done. You can’t think like that. Not with us.” Poppy lifted onto her tiptoes and mirrored my stance, placing her hands on my face. “Do you promise me, Rune? Because I still have hundreds of boy-kisses that I need you to give me.” Her voice was timid and shy … it was racked with fear. I laughed, feeling the dread seep from my bones, relief taking its place. “Always. And I’ll give you more than a thousand. I’ll give you two, or three, or even four.” Poppy’s joyful smile soothed me. I kissed her slow and soft, holding her as close as I possibly could. When we broke apart, Poppy’s eyes fluttered open, and she announced, “Kiss number three hundred and fifty-four. With my Rune, in the blossom grove … and my heart almost burst.” Then Poppy promised, “My kisses are all yours, Rune. No one else will ever have these lips but you.” I brushed my lips against hers one more time and echoed her words. “My kisses are all yours. No one will ever have these lips but you.” I took her hand and we headed back toward our houses. All the lights in my house were still on. When we reached Poppy’s doorway, I leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose. Shifting my mouth to her ear, I whispered, “Give me an hour and I’ll come to you.” “Okay,” Poppy whispered back. Then I jumped as her palm landed gently on my chest. Poppy stepped closer to me. The serious expression on her face made me suddenly nervous. She stared at her hand, then ran her fingers slowly over my chest and down over my stomach. “Poppymin?” I asked, unsure what was happening. Without saying a word, she pulled her hand away and moved toward her door. I waited for her to turn around and explain, but she didn’t. She walked through the open door, leaving me glued to the spot on her driveway. I could still feel the heat from her hand on my chest. When the light in the Litchfields’ kitchen came on, I made myself walk back to my own house. As soon as I walked in the door, I spotted a mountain of boxes in the hallway. They must have been packed and stored away to keep them from my sight. Pounding past them, I saw my mamma and pappa in the living room. My pappa called my name but I didn’t stop. I entered my bedroom just as he came in behind me. I moved to my nightstand and began gathering everything I wanted with me, especially the framed picture of Poppy and me that I had taken the previous night. As my eyes scanned the photograph, my stomach ached. If it was possible, I already missed her. Missed my home. Missed my girl. Sensing my pappa was still behind me, I said quietly, “I hate you for doing this to me.” I caught his quick inhale of breath. I turned around, and I saw my mamma standing beside him. Her face was as shocked as my pappa’s. I had never treated them this badly. I liked my parents. I had never understood how other teenagers didn’t like theirs. But I did now. I hated them. I’d never felt such hate toward anyone before. “Rune—” my mamma began, but I stepped forward and cut her off. “I will never forgive you, either of you, for doing this to me. I hate you both so much right now I can’t stand to be near you.” I was surprised at how harsh my voice sounded. It was thick and full with all the anger that was building inside of me. Anger that I hadn’t known it was possible to feel. I knew to most people I seemed moody, sullen, but really, I rarely felt anger. Now I felt I was made of it. Only hate ran through my veins. Rage. My mamma’s eyes filled with tears, but for once, I didn’t care. I wanted them to feel as bad as I did right now. “Rune—,” my pappa said, but I turned my back to him. “What time do we leave?” I barked, interrupting whatever he was trying to say. “We leave at seven a.m.,” he informed me softly. I closed my eyes; I now had only hours with Poppy. In eight hours I would be leaving her behind. Leaving everything behind apart from this rage. I would make sure that traveled with me. “It won’t be forever, Rune. After a while, it’ll get easier. You’ll meet someone else eventually. You’ll move on—” “Don’t!” I roared as I whipped around, throwing the lamp from my nightstand across the room. The glass bulb shattered on impact. I breathed hard, heart racing in my chest, as I glared at my pappa. “Don’t you ever say anything like that again! I won’t move on from Poppy. I love her! Don’t you get that? She’s my everything and you’re ripping us apart.” I watched his face pale. I stepped forward. My hands were shaking. “I have no choice but to come with you, I know that. I’m only fifteen; I’m not stupid enough to believe that I could stay here alone.” I clenched my hands into fists. “But I will hate you. I will hate both of you every single day until we return. You might think that just because I’m fifteen I’ll forget Poppy as soon as some slut from Oslo flirts with me. But that will never happen. And I will hate you every single second until I’m with her again.” I paused for breath, then added, “And even then, I’ll hate you for taking me away from her in the first place. Because of you, I’ll miss out on years of being with my girl. Don’t think that just because I’m young I don’t recognize what I have with Poppy. I love her. I love her more than you could imagine. And you’re taking me away, without even considering how I would feel.” I turned my back, walked to my closet and began pulling down my clothes. “So from now on, I won’t give a damn how you feel about anything. I will never forgive you for this. Either of you. Especially you, Pappa.” I began packing the suitcase my mamma must have placed on my bed. My pappa remained where he was, staring at the floor in silence. Eventually he turned away and said, “Get some sleep, Rune. We’re up early.” Every hair on my neck pricked up in annoyance at his dismissal of what I had to say, until he quietly added, “I’m so sorry, son. I do know how much Poppy means to you. I tried to leave telling you until now to spare you weeks of hurt. It clearly didn’t help. But this is real life, and it’s my job. You’ll understand one day.” The door closed behind him, and I dropped onto the bed. I dragged my hand down my face, and my shoulders slumped when I stared at my empty closet. But the anger was still there, burning in my stomach. If anything, it was burning hotter than before. I was pretty sure it was here to stay. I threw the last of my shirts into the case, not caring how crumpled they got. I made my way to the window and saw Poppy’s house was in darkness, all except for the dim nightlight telling me the coast was clear. After locking my bedroom door, I snuck out the window and rushed across the grass. The window was slightly open, waiting for me. I slid through and closed it tightly behind me. Poppy was sitting in the center of her bed, her hair down and her face freshly washed. I swallowed when I saw how beautiful she looked in her white nightdress, her arms and legs bare, and her skin so soft and smooth. I stepped closer to the bed and saw the photo frame in her hand. When she looked up, I could see she’d been crying. “Poppymin,” I said softly, my voice breaking at seeing her so upset. Poppy set the frame on the bed and laid her head on her pillow, patting the mattress beside her. As quickly as I could, I lay down next to her, shifting until we were only inches apart. As soon as I saw Poppy’s bloodshot eyes, the anger inside me seemed to flare. “Baby,” I said, covering my hand with hers, “please don’t cry. I can’t stand to see you cry.” Poppy swallowed. “My mama told me that y’all are leaving real early in the morning.” I dipped my eyes and slowly nodded. Poppy’s fingers ran over my forehead. “So we only have tonight left,” she said. I felt a dagger pierce through my heart. “Ja,” I replied, blinking up at her. She was staring at me strangely. “What?” I asked. Poppy shuffled her body closer. So close that our chests touched and her lips hovered at my mouth. I could smell minty toothpaste on her breath. I licked my lips as my heart began pounding hard. Poppy’s fingers drifted down my face, over my neck and down over my chest until they reached the bottom of my shirt. I shifted on the bed, needing some space, but before I could move away, Poppy closed in and pressed her mouth to mine. As soon as I tasted her on my lips, I leaned in closer, then her tongue pushed through to meet mine. She kissed me slow, deeper than ever before. When her hand lifted my shirt and landed on my bare stomach, I snapped my head back and swallowed hard. I could feel Poppy’s hand trembling against my skin. I looked into her eyes, and my heart missed a beat. “Poppymin,” I whispered and ran my hand over her bare arm. “What are you doing?” Poppy moved her hand upward until her hand was on my chest, and my voice was halted by the thickness in my throat. “Rune?” Poppy whispered as she dipped her head to carefully place a single kiss on the bottom of my throat. My eyes drifted closed as her warm mouth touched my skin. Poppy spoke against my neck. “I … I want you…” Time stopped. My eyes snapped open. Poppy inched back and tipped her head until her green eyes met mine. “Poppy, no,” I protested, shaking my head, but she laid her fingers over my lips. “I can’t…” She drifted off, then gathered herself and continued, “I can’t have you leave me and never know what it’s like to be with you.” She paused. “I love you, Rune. So much. I hope you know that.” My heart slammed into a new kind of beat, one that knew it had the love of its other half. It was harder and faster. It was infinitely stronger than the one before. “Poppy,” I whispered, completely struck by her words. I knew she loved me, because I loved her. But this was the first time we’d ever said it aloud. She loves me… Poppy waited silently. Not knowing how to respond in any other way, I ran the tip of my nose down her cheek, pulling back just a fraction to gaze into her eyes. “Jeg elsker deg.” Poppy swallowed, then smiled. I smiled back. “I love you,” I translated into English, just to make sure she completely understood. Her face grew serious once more, and she moved to sit up in the middle of the bed. Reaching for my hand, she pulled me to sit opposite her. Her hands dropped to the bottom of my shirt. Taking in a stuttering breath, she pulled it up and over my head. I closed my eyes, and felt a warm kiss on my chest. I opened my eyes again to see Poppy giving me a shy smile. I melted at the nervous look on her face. She’d never looked so beautiful. Trying to fight through my own nerves, I put my hand on her cheek. “We don’t have to do this, Poppy. Just because I’m leaving—you don’t need to do this for me. I’ll be coming back; I’ll make sure of it. I want to wait until you’re ready.” “I’m ready, Rune,” she said, her voice clear and steady. “You think we’re too young—” “We’ll be sixteen soon.” I smiled, hearing the fire in her voice. “Most people still think that’s too young.” “Romeo and Juliet were around our age,” she argued. I couldn’t help but laugh. I stopped laughing when she edged closer and ran her hand down my chest. “Rune,” she whispered, “I’ve been ready for some time, but I was happy to wait because we had all the time in the world. There was no rush. Now we don’t have that luxury. Our time, this time, is limited. We only have hours left. I love you. I love you more than anyone could believe. And … and I think you feel the same way about me.” “Ja,” I replied instantly. “I love you.” “Forever always,” Poppy said on a sigh, then shifted away from me. Without breaking her eyes from mine, she lifted her hand to the strap of her nightdress and pushed it down. She did the same to the other strap, and the nightgown fell away to her hips. I froze. I couldn’t move as Poppy sat in front of me, bared to me. “Poppymin,” I breathed, convinced I didn’t deserve this girl … this moment. I moved closer, until I towered right above her. I searched her eyes and asked, “Are you sure, Poppymin?” Poppy threaded her hand through mine, then brought our hands to her bare skin. “Yes, Rune. I’m sure. I want this.” I couldn’t hold back any longer, so I let go, and kissed her lips. We only had hours. I was going to spend them being with my girl, in every possible way. Poppy moved her hand from mine and explored my chest with her fingers, never breaking from our kiss. I ran my fingers over her back, pushing her closer to me. She shivered under my touch. I dropped my hand to the hem of her dress at her thigh. My hand traveled upward, until I worried I was going too far. Poppy broke away and rested her forehead on my shoulder. “Keep going,” she instructed, breathlessly. I did as she asked, swallowing the nerves building in my throat. “Rune,” she murmured. I closed my eyes at the sound of her sweet voice. I loved her so damn much. Because of that I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to be responsible for pushing her too far. I wanted her to feel special. I wanted her to understand that she was my world. We stayed like this for a minute, locked in the moment, breathing, waiting for whatever came next. Then Poppy’s hands drifted to the button on my jeans and I opened my eyes. She was studying me closely. “Is this … is this okay?” she asked cautiously. I nodded, speechless. Taking her free hand, she guided me to undress her, until all our clothes had been shed onto the floor. Poppy sat quietly before me, her hands fidgeting on her lap. Her long brown hair was flowing over one of her shoulders, and her cheeks were flushed with red. I’d never seen her so nervous. I’d never been so nervous. Reaching out my hand, I ran my finger down her hot cheek. At my touch, Poppy’s eyes fluttered up, a shy smile pulling on her lips. “I love you, Poppymin,” I whispered. A soft sigh escaped her mouth. “I love you too, Rune.” Poppy’s fingers wrapped around my wrist and she carefully lay back on the bed, guiding me forward until I was beside her, my torso moving to cover hers. Leaning in, I peppered soft kisses over her flushed cheeks and forehead, ending in a long kiss on her warm mouth. Poppy’s shaking hand pushed into my hair and pulled me closer. It felt like only seconds later when Poppy shifted beneath me, breaking the kiss. She placed her palm on my cheek and said, “I’m ready.” Nuzzling my face into her hand, I kissed the fingers resting on my cheek and absorbed her words. Poppy leaned over to the side and took something from the drawer of her nightstand. When she handed me the small packet she’d retrieved, I fought back a sudden rush of nerves. I stared at Poppy and her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “I knew this day would come soon, Rune. I wanted to make sure we were prepared.” I kissed my girl until I built up the nerve to do this. It didn’t take long, with Poppy’s touch calming the storm inside, until I knew I was ready. Poppy opened her arms, guiding me above her. My mouth fused with hers, and for the longest time, I simply kissed her. I tasted the cherry lip balm on her lips, loving the feeling of her warm bare skin pressing against mine. I pulled back for air. I met Poppy’s gaze and she nodded her head. I could see on her face how much she wanted me, as I wanted her. I kept my eyes locked on hers, and I did not break away once. Not for a single second… Afterward, I held her in my arms. We faced each other as we lay under the covers. Poppy’s skin was warm to the touch and her breathing was slowing back to its normal rhythm. Our fingers were linked on the pillow we now shared, our grips tight, hands slightly trembling. Neither of us had spoken yet. As I studied Poppy watching every move I made, I prayed that she didn’t regret what we’d done. I watched her swallow deeply and she drew in a slow breath. When she exhaled, she dipped her eyes to our clasped hands. As slowly as possible, she ran her lips over our entwined fingers. I stilled. “Poppymin,” I said, and her eyes lifted up. A long strand of her hair had fallen over her cheek and I gently pushed it back, tucking it behind her ear. She still hadn’t said anything. Needing her to know what we’d shared had meant to me, I whispered, “I love you so much. What we just did … being with you like that…” I trailed off, unsure how to express what I wanted to say. She didn’t respond, and my stomach rolled, fearing I’d done something wrong. As my eyes closed in frustration, I felt Poppy’s forehead against mine and her lips whisper kisses onto my mouth. I shifted until we were as close as we could possibly get. “I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life,” she confided, and the fear I felt was pushed far from my mind. I blinked my eyes open and tightened my hold around her waist. “Was it … was it special for you, Poppymin? As special as it was for me?” Poppy smiled a smile so wide that the sight stole my breath. “As special as special can be,” she softly replied, echoing the words she’d said to me when we were eight years old and I kissed her for the first time. Unable to do anything else, I kissed her with everything I had, p