I press my lips to hers and pull her into my body. She clenches her jaw and her entire body tenses, but I continue to kiss her, and she relaxes again almost immediately. I pull away and she looks up at me.
"Why'd you stop?" she whispers.
My brain goes on autopilot and pull her back to me, and this time she wraps her arms around my neck as she kisses me back with a lot more intensity than I was expecting. My hands move from her wrists, up her arms and to her back, where I rest them at the base of her spine, just above the waistline of her slacks. I try to pull her even closer: I want her, every bit of her, to be with me, to have and to hold and to never let go. I press my mouth to hers and brush my tongue against her lips. They taste like cheap beer and cherry, from the lipgloss I know she likes the best. She opens her mouth a bit, and I kiss her again, this time long and slow. When it's over, she pulls her head back, but stays in my arms.
"Thank you," Charlotte mumbles.
"For what?" I ask.
"Being the best guy I could ever ask for in my entire life."
"You're not too bad yourself," I say. "You know Graham went for a run and hasn't come back yet, so I'm assuming he found something better to do. We could just hang out here all day, if you want."
"I really shouldn't, I have a lot of work to do yet this afternoon. I should run back to the lab too to make sure everything I set up this morning is still working okay. As much as I would love to," she adds hastily, "I should just go home."
I try not to let the disappointment show, but I can tell I've failed when she says, "I'm sorry, Josh. But if you want we can get dinner tomorrow or something."
I smile at her. "I'd love that."
She kisses my cheek, and I feel her eyelashes brush against my skin. She nods to me as she leaves, and it physically hurts to watch her go after having her be so close. Just as I slump into the couch to try and process everything that happened today, my phone rings. When I see the caller ID I groan.
"Hello, son," the voice says.
"Hey dad," I respond, knowing this is going to be a long phone call.
"How are things going down there at the old alma mater?"
"Great, dad. Just doing some work on my senior research project." That you haven't started yet, my brain adds.
"Ah, and what's your topic?"
I smack my forehead. "Brain chemistry. The chemistry of the brain. Super complicated stuff."
"Sounds intriguing. I can't wait to hear all about it when you come back home for the barbecue."
I decide to just not move my hand from my forehead as I slump even further into the couch. I had completely forgotten about the annual Beckman Family Barbecue, exclusively for members of the Beckman family, their significant others, and all of the other families that donate large sums of money to the university. So basically hundreds of people I don't know.
"Oh, right, yeah. I'll tell you all about it then. What day is that again? I have it here on my calendar but it seems earlier than usual."
"It's the first Saturday in August. And should we be expecting any company?"
"Possibly," I say slowly. "I'll have to work out the details."
There's a moment of silence on the line. "Well I'm looking forward to meeting her if she is available."
I grimace at his tone. Last summer, my father had tried to set me up with a daughter of one of the other alumni. To keep an incredibly long story short, that barbecue ended with my father as red as a tomato, myself thrown in the mud, and my poor 'date' covered in salad dressing. We often argue about which of us has the right to choose what's best for me, from the food I eat to college to girlfriends. You'd think the answer would be obvious. But not so much.
"I'll talk to her about it as soon as I can and let you know. How's mom?"
"Oh, she's just as vivacious as ever. And the girls are doing fine too; Natalie is starting her senior year of course, and Dani is starting her freshman year already. Amazing how time flies: your little sisters aren't so little anymore. They miss you."
"I miss them too. Tell them I said hello, would you?"
"I will." There's another pause, and I can tell my father wants to say something, but it's taking him a while to put together the words.
"You know, son, you're starting your own senior year," he says finally. "I think it's time to start thinking about what you're going to do after you graduate. Have you given my offer any more thought?"
I squirm. "Yeah, I have. I haven't made a decision yet though."
"The company could really use a smart kid like you."
My father is the CFO of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the nation. When he found out I was interested in chemistry, and that I was going to major in it at his alma mater, he was thrilled. He figured that I wanted to work at the pharm company in research and development, move up in the ranks until I was a principal investigator, and make my millions to continue the Beckman family tradition. The problem is that working at the pharmaceutical company is the last thing I want to do. I still haven't told him that yes, I do want to pursue research, but not in drugs: one of my best friends growing up suffered from severe depression, and I've met a few friends in college that also suffer from mental illness. When Charlotte told me to find something I was passionate about, I realized how much I cared about finding the cause of mental illness and learning more about it. And that's what I want to do. Not make pills.
"I'll bet," I say. "I'm just not sure yet."
"Well when you decide just let me know. I should let you go, I'm sure there's plenty of important work to be done. I just called to check in and ask about the barbecue. Let me know if your friend is coming. Goodbye, son."
"Talk to you later, dad." I hang up the phone, grab a pillow, and hit myself in the face with it.
"What the hell is even going on right now!" I yell into the pillow.
"You doing alright over there buddy?" In my anguish I hadn't noticed that Graham had returned home. I bury my face deeper into the pillow.
"Absolutely yes and absolutely no," I groan.
"Well you can talk to me about it if you want, but you have to actually look at me first."
I put the pillow back on the couch. "The absolutely yes part is because I officially am dating the absolute best person in the entire freaking world."
He grins. "Congratulations dude, but I don't think you're dating Andrea. Just kidding. That's awesome, and about time it happened. So what could have made this afternoon bad then after that?"
"My father called."
Graham immediately goes straight faced and takes a seat next to me on the couch. "What'd he have to say?"
"He called about the barbecue, and if I was bringing anyone, which he was obviously not too thrilled about. And he also offered me a job at the company. Again."
"What'd you say?"
"That I wasn't sure if I was bringing anyone, and I'm still thinking about the offer."
"You just lied to your dad. Twice." Graham stands back up and walks over to the television to turn on ESPN. "You know you're taking Charlotte, and that you're not going to take the job. Also, not to change the subject, but did you ask her what tie I should wear?"
"Peach," I say. "And I technically haven't asked her yet if she can go, or even wants to go, and frankly, I don't know if I want her there. So really I only lied to him once."
"What do you mean you don't want her there? It might make the family event you dread every year a little more bearable."
"Maybe for me, but it will royally suck for her," I explain. "My dad will grill her with questions, about her schooling, her family, everything. She'll be stuck with them all day, and we'd be spending the night at my house, Graham. I don't want her to think of me differently."
"She loves you, man. That's not going to change. So just ask her if she wants to go, and if she says yes, it'll be good, and if she says no, it will also be good. Case closed. Let's watch some baseball."