The last time Devi Vishwakumar had been this close to a pool, she’d fallen into it.
But that wasn’t going to happen this time. She had a hot boyfriend, her old friends were back, and she was wearing the cutest one-piece Old Navy had had to offer, courtesy of her mom saying that bikinis were just underwear with less fabric and she would not let her daughter leave the house in one.
Everything was coming up Devi.
Even if the boyfriend wasn’t who she’d been expecting.
She looked across the pool at Ben, who was chatting with Trent and gesturing broadly with his beer. Devi never thought she’d be the one elevating her boyfriend’s social status, but she was the reason Trent and Paxton had come to Ben’s party. In fact, almost everyone here was a friend of hers. Fabiola and Eleanor had brought along their partners, and a few more of the popular kids had shown up because Paxton was there. It wasn’t a rager, but it was the sort of high school pool party Devi had always assumed she’d be invited to once she was popular and desirable. She sat down with her legs dangling into the pool, kicked at the warm water, and sighed.
“What’s up, Vishwakumar?” Paxton asked, climbing out of the pool to sit next to her. He shook his head, sending drips of chlorinated water all over Devi.
“Not much, Hall-Yoshida.”
Paxton tilted his head. “Mmm. No. Doesn’t work as well with a hyphenated name.”
“Seems like your boy over there is getting along with Trent.”
Right. Because Ben, not the incredibly athletic Adonis with the easy smile sitting next to her, was her boy. Friend, she added in her mind. He was her boyfriend, ever since the day after Malibu, when he showed up at her house saying he’d broken up with Shira, and he looked so eager and vulnerable and her mom was smiling at him and she thought, why not?
Ben Gross made sense. Neck in neck for top of the class, Ivy-league bound, and already in her mom’s good graces. Devi never would have been allowed to go to a boyfriend’s pool party if Paxton was the boyfriend in question.
“Yeah, wonder how long that’s gonna last.”
“Not long, from the looks at it.” Paxton leaned closer and pointed. His shoulder brushed against Devi, sending a jolt through her body. “See? Gross has that scrunched up look he gets when he’s trying not to correct someone. I give him ten seconds.”
“You don’t know him as well as I do.”
Devi smirked. “He’s not gonna make it five.”
“No way. My mom doesn’t give me that kind of cash. I’ll bet you three quarters and that broken monkey keychain at the bottom of my backpack.”
“Lil D, you’ve got yourself a deal.”
They shook on it.
“Okay, so that was already like three seconds—don’t look at me like that, Devi, I’m not going to let you cheat—so it’s four, fi—”
Paxton didn’t even make it through the word “five” before Ben had started gesturing earnestly, causing Trent’s arms to cross and his eyebrows to scrunch together.
“Ha!” Devi laughed. “Pay up, loser.”
“But what can I possibly give you that’s equivalent to a broken monkey keychain?”
“Um, excuse me, that keychain has an emotional value of seven million dollars and eighty-three cents.”
“How about—” Paxton dug through the pockets of his swimsuit (and hey, why did guys get pockets on swimsuits?) and pulled out their contents. “Okay, um, a rubber band, some lint, and a stick of gum that you probably shouldn’t actually put in your mouth.”
Mouth. Shit, now she was thinking about mouths—was she looking at his mouth? Was he looking at her mouth? That kiss a few months ago had been nothing—it wasn’t like Paxton had followed up on it in any way—so why was he looking at her mouth?
“Um, yeah, that’s fine. I mean, you still owe me the seventy-five cents, but—”
Paxton laughed and clapped her on the shoulder. “I’m good for it. Take it easy, Devi.”
“Yeah, I will—I mean, you too—”
“Ho-ly shit.” Paxton was no longer listening. He leaned forward, starting at Ben and Trent. “Is Gross going in for the kiss?”
“What? No way. Ben’s not—”
But he was. Ben was leaning towards Trent with the same anger-turned-intensity-turned-arousal that he used to look at Devi with. Ben, her boyfriend, who she’d always assumed was straighter than like, Jonah Hill or whoever, was leaning in as though he were about to kiss—Trent? Trent, the guy who thought that bananas were a root vegetable?
“He’s pulling back.” Paxton turned to look at Devi. “Thank God. That would have been awkward. Since you two—”
Devi was already scrambling for her phone. Are u hot for Trent???
She could see Ben pull out his phone and look at it.
No, I am obviously not “hot for Trent,” what are you talking about?
You almost kissed him!
No I didn’t!
You think I don’t know wut u look like when you’re about to kiss someone?
Are you really accusing me of trying to cheat on you with Trent?
You should do it.
If you want to. I think—I think if we want to kiss other people, maybe we should listen to that.
Never mind, just a dumb idea, I don’t know what I was talking about.
Oh my god. You want to kiss him don’t you?
Trent? Ew, no!
Not Trent, you idiot. Paxton. I can see you two all cozied up next to each other. Maybe we should just be friends. I can tell who you really want to be with.
Are you accusing me of cheating on you?
Well? Should we break up?
If I kissed Trent, would you kiss Paxton?
Stop staring at your phone and look up, dummy.
Devi looked up, and across the pool, Ben had put his hands on opposite sides of Trent’s face and was pulling him in. Trent looked confused, but after a laugh he put his hands on Ben’s waist. It was a short kiss, nothing more than a peck except for the thoughtful look on both of their faces as they separated.
“Wow.” Paxton took a deep breath. “I did not see that coming. Devi, I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t have invited Trent if I’d thought—”
“Can I kiss you?”
“It’s just, I’ve been really wanting to kiss you again for a long time, and if Ben can kiss other people—and we just broke up over text like, half a second ago, and I really like him better as a friend and academic rival who I hate sometimes, and—”
“Yeah.” Paxton’s voice was as soft as water, rippling in the wind.
“Yeah.” He gave a half-smile. “You can kiss me.”
Devi leaned in as far as she dared. Paxton slid his fingers up her arms, gently pulling her in by the shoulders. His lips met hers, soft and firm. Her whole body lit up with electricity. She was swimming, fast and furious through an ocean that no longer threatened to engulf her. Her fingers brushed against his chest, and she didn’t pull them away. She didn’t run. She didn’t cry. She didn’t tell herself to love another boy, a safer boy.
Instead, she slid her hands up his chest and around the back of his neck, pulling him closer for more.