For as long as Will can remember, she's felt a sense of urgency that she can't really name, or decide on an exact cause for. She just knows that everything seems important and sudden, and like there just isn't enough time. Time to do what, she doesn't know. Time to get out of this dusty little town, maybe, and find the big life she just knows is waiting. Time to get away from the deep, somehow ragged pain of missing Lucy. Time to finally get out from under her mother's dainty little shadow, to get away from the whispered "that's Rosie Dickson's daughter...well I never..." she hears from time to time, even though Clover City isn't exactly teeming with so many people that everyone shouldn't know who she is by now.
Right now this minute, though, the only urgency she feels is the impulse to pick up her phone, dial Bo, and cancel their date.
She picks it up, starts to call, swears under her breath, and throws her phone back down on the bed. Dammit, she wants to go out with Bo. Who wouldn't? He's funny and he's sweet and he's smart and he looks like...well, like that, with those dimples and that hair falling over one eyebrow. Bo Larson is so good looking that Willowdean sometimes can't stop gawking at him when she's supposed to be working...and he wants her.
They're sort of together now; they have been for two weeks. Ever since the night of the pageant, when she was so high off Millie's win and her mother's love and the spirit of Lucy all around, that she'd driven straight to work and kissed Bo in the parking lot. She'd kissed him so long and deep that she thought she'd faint, and from the way his hands trembled against her sequined gown, he'd felt the same.
(When she thinks of how she felt that night in the parking lot, she can't help but blush red as a beet. If they'd had anywhere to go, to be alone, they'd have gone there, and Lord above knows what would have happened. But there was nowhere, and instead they'd ended up at the Hideaway, dancing and singing along with "the ladies", and Willowdean didn't know when she'd last been so happy.)
Ever since then he's called her every single night, and on the phone it's as easy to talk to him as it is to Ellen. She hadn't really known a boyfriend, if that's what he is, could be like that. She doesn't know what she thought it would be like, but she hadn't imagined this, that it could just be fun, that he would call and tell her all the mundane things he'd done that day, or what Dolly songs he'd checked out (he said he'd listen to them all, and he was taking that promise seriously), or just listen and laugh at her jokes. And it would just be like talking to a friend, until the time came to hang up and he'd say something like "Bye, pretty girl," in that low voice of his.
They've worked together four times since the pageant, and every time he's ended up ducking in behind her as she works in the back, spinning her around and kissing her senseless, even though the boss grumbles about them contaminating the prep station and tells them if he catches them again, they'll never work another shift together. (He's all talk. No one else wants to work there and he's shorthanded, and anyway Will can see he's happy for her.) "Sorry, Mr. Cotton," Bo will drawl back, not once taking his eyes off Willowdean. "Won't happen again," and then he pops his ever present lollipop back in his mouth, pivots on one sneakered heel, and saunters back to work, leaving her flustered and breathless.
But up until now, due to schedules and Willowdean's weekend away with El at her grandmother's, they haven't really spent any time alone together. Last night during their phone call, Bo had said "hey, let's go out tomorrow night. You want to? Around seven? I can pick you up after I finish my shift."
She'd said yes because she'd thought they'd go to a movie or something, but then he'd said "let's go swimming, wanna? It's supposed to be hot tomorrow and I know a good spot on Lake Buchanen." He sounds so hopeful at the thought that she'd murmured "yeah, okay" before she could think twice.
And now here she is, and he'll be here any minute, and she's so nervous about being in front of him like she is (in her black swimsuit and hot pink cover up and jean shorts) that she feels like she can hardly breathe. She catches sight of herself in the mirror, wild hair and wilder eyes, and gives herself a brisk mental shake. "Willowdean Opal, you just quit," she orders herself aloud, probably sounding crazier than a bedbug. "Every body is a swimsuit body, as you well know." She straightens her shoulders and smooths her hair just as she sees Bo's truck pulling into her driveway. She takes a deep breath before she walks out to meet him, and another when she sees how good he looks when he hops out of his truck. In the still-bright sunshine, he stands lanky and summer brown in a plain white t-shirt and blue swim trunks, and then he walks around to hold the door open for her. Ever the gentleman, she thinks to herself.
"Hey, Bo," she says, almost shy, and he says "Hey, Will," back in the same tone before giving her one quick kiss on the mouth.
They don't talk much on the way to the lake. He tells her work was busy, she says she didn't do much that day besides read and listen to El's latest drama over the phone. He twists the radio dial up and down, looking for some Dolly for her, or so he says. It's a short ride to the lake, anyway, and once they're there he tucks a picnic blanket under his arm and insists on carrying the cooler he brought.
She's a little nervous to see anyone they know, so she's glad to see that he was right about the "good spot". The long stretch of sand he takes her to is practically deserted; it's just them and an old couple walking two small dogs far down the beach, and even they disappear from sight as Bo spreads the blanket on the sand.
It's not that Willowdean thinks their whatever-it-is is a secret, but it all feels so new and tenuous, and there's something else tonight, some kind of electricity in the air that only started sparking hotter on the ride here. She's scared of being alone with Bo, yet somehow all she wants is to be alone with Bo, to see where this is going to go. Her throat is suddenly dry, so she pulls a Coke from the cooler and sips it, glad of something to do besides talk.
"It's hot as hell out here," Bo finally says, and pulls his t-shirt off in that funny way boys do, grabbing the back of the neck and pulling it over his head. "You wanna swim? C'mon." He walks into the water without a second thought, as Will stands on the shore deciding what to do. In her mind she's replaying Bo's tanned arms tugging his shirt over his head, revealing his lean, muscled abdomen. When she takes off her cover up and drops her shorts, it's going to be a very different sight.
"Oh, I don't know..." she says. "I just ate, um, before, and you're supposed to wait..."
Bo says nothing at first, just looks at her. Then he cocks one eyebrow and grins that quick Bo grin, the one that lifts up at the corner and shows his dimple. "Willowdean Dickson, you wanna get in this water with me?" he says, laughing, and before she knows it her cover up and shorts are discarded on the sand and she's striding toward him, not stopping until she's so close she can see the tiny brown slice in one of his green eyes.
"Hey, Bo," she says quietly. He's so near, so warm. She can see the tan line on his arm where his t-shirt sleeve hits. She wants to reach out and trace it, but can't bring herself to just yet. His face is inching nearer to hers until his lips are practically on her mouth, and he whispers back "hey, pretty girl" and then they're kissing in the water and it feels better than anything else in the world that she can think of.
Then somehow they're deeper in the water, almost floating, and deeper in the kiss too, and she's not really thinking at all. His mouth is hot and he tastes like cherry lollipops and lake water and Bo. His hands are holding hers at first, but then he pulls them away and starts hesitantly running them up and down her back, the way he did the night of the meteor shower.
She wants to freeze up, she even starts to freeze up, but she's determined not to fail herself this time. Not after everything. Not now. So instead she puts her own arms around Bo, her own hands on his smooth back, and pulls him closer to her. And when he reaches down and tugs slightly on her hips, she does what they both want her to do and wraps her legs around his waist. Why not? He can hold her in the water.
The feeling of being flush against each other shocks them both for a minute, and he pulls away, just a bit. "Willowdean...is this...are you...I mean, is this okay?" he pants out, and Lord almighty if Bo Larson doesn't sound as flustered as she feels inside. She doesn't even answer, just puts her mouth back on his, sliding her tongue along the seam of his lips. His hands tighten under her, holding her up, as he makes a sound against her mouth that could only be called a moan.
She's not sure when she notices that they're moving toward shallower water, but suddenly they are, and then she wiggles out of his grasp and she's the one, this time, taking his hand and pulling him towards shore. (Later, recounting this all to Ellen, she's not sure if they look at each other or say anything at all before they're tumbling onto the picnic blanket.) All she knows is she's on her back and Bo is braced over her on those strong, tanned arms of his, looking at her like this is real, and it takes her breath away.
It's not that she doesn't believe Bo likes her. At least, not exactly that. The thing about Bo is that he always says precisely what he means. And no, she may not have seen much of the world, but even she knows how rare of a thing that is. So she doesn't think he's lying, more that this is all too good to be true, somehow, or just a passing thing that isn't real the way so many other things are. But...but he's looking at her like it is, and his half-swallowed moan in the water made it sound like it is, and the way his fingers are twitching on the blanket, like he's itching to touch her, makes it seem like it is.
Given their urgency in the lake, she's surprised when he just leans down and gives her one brief, almost chaste kiss before dropping down beside her on the blanket. She rolls on her side and they face each other in silence for a minute, Bo smiling at her as he rests his head on his bent arm. She thinks of at least half a dozen things to say but settles on none of them, instead just marveling at how comfortable it feels to be lying here in a swimsuit with this boy, just looking at his pretty green eyes and not saying a word.
"I like your hair," he finally tells her, reaching out and winding a lock of it around his finger. "Yeah?" she says back, feeling the heat rush to her cheeks. How is it that four words from him can do that?
"Yeah," he says back, his eyes serious on hers, his fingers still playing with her hair. "I like pretty much everything about you, Willowdean. You know that by now, don't you?"
She tries to say something but can't, so she just nods, and they fall back into that strangely comfortable silence for a bit. "It's, um," she tries at last. "It's gonna get dark soon."
"You gotta get back?" he asks. "Is your mom waiting for you? We can go if you'll get in trouble."
"No," she smiles. "She's pulling an overnight. Do you need to go?"
"Uh uh," he tells her, shaking his head. "Nowhere I have to be but right here with you, since I know your mama isn't going to be calling all like," he raises his voice into a goofy falsetto, "Dumplin, you can't see that boyfriend of yours if you're gonna be staying out all night!"
"Shut up!" she laughs, smacking his bare shoulder. "I should have never told you that. Worst nickname ever!"
"Is it?" he says, quietly, inching nearer to her on the blanket. "I don't know. I kind of like dumplings, myself."
"Oh you...you do, huh?" she says, more shakily than intended. He nods, then rolls onto his stomach before she can blink, his mouth murmuring right next to her ear.
"Yeah, 'course I do." His words vibrate against her ear and she shivers once, then again as he reaches out one hand and begins slowly stroking it up and down her arm, so lightly she can barely feel it. "Dumplings, they're so soft...and they're sweet..." He's kissing her neck now, just slight, gentle kisses, but she's never felt anything like this before. Not ever.
"Sweet, huh," she rasps out, trying to clear her throat.
"Yeah," he says, in between delicate kisses to her jawbone. "Real sweet. You can get...mmm....get em with caramel, or sugar, or...apples..." How is he doing this? He's murmuring about baked goods, for cripe's sake, but somehow his low voice and his mouth on her are keeping her anchored to the earth in one way and making her feel like she's going to float away in another. "But I like the ones at Chinese restaurants too," he continues. "Nothing wrong with a little spice."
She bursts out laughing at that, she can't even help it, and he does too, and they just lie on the sand and laugh until their lips meet again. She kisses him until she feels shaky and hot, and he's gasping and hard against her, and when they pull back in some unspoken agreement to stop before they can't, she realizes she can only see him by the light of the moon.
"Bo?" she says, gathering her courage up because it's now or never, they'll have to go soon. "Before, um, when you...well, you called yourself my...boyfriend. And I was just wondering if..." She's not sure how to finish that sentence.
"Oh!" he looks embarrassed. "Yeah, I guess I didn't really...well, I don't know. I mean, I'm not kissing anybody else. Are you?"
"What?! Bo, of course not."
"Good," he tells her, smiling. "Then...do you want to be my girlfriend? Because I'd really like that, if you want to."
She nods, a little shyly, then reaches out to touch the dimple in his cheek, the way she's wanted to since their first shift together. Because she can, because he's her boyfriend.
"I don't wanna go, Willowdean, but we better soon," he says. "Unless...well, hey. We never got to see a meteor that night. Maybe we'll get lucky tonight and see just one ol' tiny one. Come with me?" He stands up and holds out a hand to help her up, almost like he thinks she'll say no. Like he doesn't know she'd go just about anywhere with him.
He leads her into the water, and it's still warm though the air is getting a chill to it. And then they're floating on their backs, side by side, still holding hands. The water is black and soft around them and the sky is black and soft above them and there are a million stars out, just for them. At least, it feels that way. Right now, it feels like everything in the world is boiled down to the two of them and this patch of water.
All the while they're floating, the stars stay firmly where they are, but that's okay. She knows there will be other meteor showers. There will be other nights with Bo, maybe even a lot of them. And it suddenly occurs to her that she's not thinking about much at all, other than the way it feels to be so happy and free and weightless, right here and right now, with Bo's calloused fingers laced through her own.
The feeling stays with her even as they leave the water and walk toward his truck, his hand still in hers and the sound of his quiet humming (it's 'Islands in the Stream', she realizes) in her ears. When he opens the truck door for her, he looks at her like he's aching to say something that neither of them are ready for, and he knows it, but he wants to say it all the same. In the end, though, he just kisses her again, as casually as though he's been doing it for years, and helps her into the truck.
As they drive toward home, she thinks about what she saw, written plain as day on his face. And she doesn't feel anxious about it one bit, or in a hurry for him to say anything. There will be tomorrow, and the days after that, for falling stars and wishes, for the feeling of his warm back under her hands and his words whispered into her skin.
Because for the first time in awhile, (maybe her whole wide life), Willowdean Dickson knows she has nothing but time.