Today's Reading

Finally, an idea moves into the white space of my brain. I simply need to get us back on track by casually mentioning I'm super psyched about going to opening night together. Surely he'll get the point I want to save our first kiss for underneath the stars during the movie.

Except that now the dryness has moved from my lips to my throat and I can't seem to say anything.

Finally, Jake says, "Hey, Ricki, I'm sorry about that, um—" He gestures to my general mouth area. "I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. I just thought . . ."

"Oh no, don't be sorry!" I'm shocked he's choosing to actually talk about what just happened. I was fully prepared to never ever, ever acknowledge it. "That was, um, cool."

"That was horrible," he says. "I just tried to kiss you and you dodged me like I was the Wolf Man or something." He gives me a small smile, and I'm so grateful he's still clearly into me that I could kiss him. On Friday night, that is.

I joke, "I'd call it more of a dodging-Dracula move." I pretend to cover my neck.

Jake doesn't laugh, and I wonder if I can use the leftover white paint to cover up how much I am blushing right now.

I must shift our conversation to how great our first kiss will be at the grand reopening. But instead, all my idiot blank brain comes up with is, "So, who're you coming as on Friday?"

It's actually a valid question since we've given the reopening a fun costume theme. People who come dressed as their favorite movie character get a free bag of popcorn. But asking Jake about his costume now just sounds like I'm refusing to acknowledge our near-kiss and changing the subject. How am I so bad at this?

After a few beats, Jake says, "I was actually considering classic Dracula. Or maybe the Wolf Man."

"Such a coincidence," I say, trying to pretend away the lingering awkwardness. "But either one of those guys will take a lot of work to get right. And I can't imagine you shaming Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi with some nonauthentic version."

"True," Jake says. "I'd need to go all in. Wouldn't want to embarrass myself with a lame, generic attempt."

I smile, but it feels like this whole conversation is a lame, generic attempt to hide our embarrassment. The silence washes over us as I continue my futile paint rolling, while also trying to think of something else to say about dressing up on Friday.

"I'm just happy for a chance to use my horror makeup skills," I say. "I was thinking about being the Bride of Frankenstein, but I haven't figured out a way to get my hair to stand up so high."

"Cool." Jake's voice sounds like he's forcing it to sound casual. "I'd love to come as something over-the-top, like a giant tomato from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but I have a feeling Wes would like us to wear costumes we'll actually be able to work in."

"Yeah, he already warned me, nothing super gory." I laugh, and it feels almost natural. "He still hasn't forgiven me for the time my cousin Lana and I did our faces all bloody victim for a Halloween Horror Night here at the drive-in."

"I didn't know they did a Halloween theme night."

"It was a year and a half ago," I say. "Before you started coming. Wes only remembers because I gave him a bad jump scare as my dad was buying our tickets. He still sometimes calls me Gore Girl as a joke."

I frown at the memory of goofing off with Lana. We had a total blast that night, but it was probably one of the last times the two of us hung out together, totally engaged and doing something fun.

Jake must feel the shift in my mood because he says, "Looks like this screen is as painted as it's going to get. Here, I'll rinse off the rollers and you can go wash up."

"Thanks," I say. "I'm sweating so much I'm starting to stink." Jake looks vaguely grossed out, which just further proves I've killed any romantic tension that may've still been lingering between us.

I blame my stupid cousin Lana, which I know is a stretch, but it's her fault we don't hang out anymore. She utterly rejected me, and now just thinking of her makes me automatically frown unattractively.

All I can hope is that I'll be able to redeem things with Jake by Friday night. And maybe then I'll get that perfect first kiss and truly experience the "Magic of the Starlight."
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