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A Thousand Boy Kisses: Chapter 11

Soaring Wings & Fading Stars

Poppy

Three Months Later

 

“Where’s my Poppy-girl?”

I wiped sleep from my eyes, sitting up on my bed, excitement zipping through me at the sound of a voice I loved.

“Aunt DeeDee?” I whispered to myself. I tried to listen harder, making sure I really had heard her voice. Muffled voices came from the hallway, then suddenly the door flew open. I rose on my arms, the darn things shaking after I pushed my weakening muscles too far.

I lay back down as Aunt DeeDee appeared in the doorway. Her dark hair was pulled into a bun, and she was wearing her flight attendant uniform. Her makeup was perfectly in place, as was her infectious smile.

Her green eyes softened when they landed on me. “There she is,” she said gently, walking to my bed. She sat down on the edge of the mattress and leaned down to wrap me in her arms.

“What are you doing here, DeeDee?”

My aunt smoothed my hair back from its sleep-induced disarray and whispered conspiringly, “Blowing you from this joint.”

My eyebrows drew together in confusion. Aunt DeeDee had spent Christmas and New Year with us, and then a whole week with us, just two weeks ago. I knew she had a busy schedule over the next month.

Which was why I was so confused about her being back now.

“I don’t understand,” I said, swinging my legs off the mattress. For the past few days I had mostly been stuck in bed. After my hospital check-up at the beginning of the week, we found my white blood cell count was too low. I had been given blood and medication to help. And it had helped some, but it made me tired for a few days. Kept me inside so infections were kept at bay. My doctors had wanted me to stay in the hospital, but I’d refused. I wasn’t missing a second of my life by being back in that place. Not now that I could see that my cancer was increasing its grip on me. Every second was becoming more and more precious.

Home was my happy place.

Having Rune beside me, kissing me sweetly, was my safety.

It was all I needed.

Glancing at the clock, I saw it was nearing four p.m.. Rune would be around soon. I had made him attend school these past few days. He hadn’t wanted to go if I couldn’t. But this was his senior year. He needed the grades to get into college. Even though he protested that right now he didn’t care.

And that was okay. Because I would care for the both of us. I wouldn’t let him put his life on hold for me.

Aunt DeeDee jumped to her feet. “Okay, Poppy-girl, jump in the shower. We have an hour before we have to set off.” She looked at my hair. “Don’t bother washing your hair, I got a girl that can take care of that when we get there.”

I shook my head, about to ask more questions, but my aunt swept out of my bedroom. I got to my feet, stretching out my muscles. Taking in a deep breath, I closed my eyes and smiled. I felt better than I had these past few days. Felt a little stronger.

Strong enough to leave the house.

Grabbing my towel, I made quick work of having a shower. I applied a light layer of makeup. I tied my unwashed hair back in a side bun, my white bow firmly in place. I dressed in a hunter-green dress, sliding a white sweater over the top.

I was placing my infinity earring in my earlobe when my bedroom door suddenly opened. I caught the buzz of raised voices, my daddy’s voice in particular.

Turning my head, I smiled when Rune entered, his blue eyes immediately colliding with mine. Searching, checking, before brightening with relief.

Rune silently cut across the room, only stopping when he had threaded his arms around my shoulders and pulled me to his chest. I let my arms hold his waist and breathed in his fresh scent.

“You look better,” Rune said above me.

I held him a little tighter. “I feel better.”

Rune stepped back and placed his hands on my face. He searched my eyes, before his lip curled up and he pressed the sweetest of soft kisses to my mouth. When we broke away, he sighed. “I’m glad. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to go.”

“Where?” I asked, my heart kicking into a steady run.

This time Rune smiled and, moving his mouth to my ear, announced, “On another adventure.”

My racing heart increased to a gallop. “Another adventure?”

With no more explanation, Rune led me out of my bedroom. His hand, so tightly gripping mine, was the only indication he gave of how concerned he had been over the past few days.

I knew though. I saw the fear in his eyes every time I moved in bed and he asked if I was okay. Every time he sat with me after school, watching me, studying me … waiting. Waiting to see if this was it.

He was petrified.

The progression of my cancer didn’t frighten me. The pain and the near future didn’t scare me. But seeing Rune look at me this way, so desolate, so desperate, had begun to make me afraid. I loved him so much, and I could see he loved me beyond measure. But this love, this soul-searing connection, had begun to anchor the heart I had set free to this life.

I had never feared death. My faith was strong; I knew there was a life after this. But now fear had started to creep into my consciousness. Fear of leaving Rune. Fear of his absence … fear of not feeling his arms around me and his kisses on my lips.

Rune glanced back as if sensing my heart beginning to tear. I nodded. I wasn’t sure I had been convincing; I still detected concern in his expression.

“She isn’t going!” My daddy’s forceful voice carried down the hallway. Rune pulled me to his side, lifting his arm until I was safely underneath. When we arrived at the doorway, my mama, daddy and Aunt DeeDee were standing at the mouth of the living room.

My daddy’s face was red. My aunt had her arms crossed over her chest. My mama ran her hand down my daddy’s back, attempting to calm him.

My daddy lifted his head. He forced a smile. “Poppy,” he said and came closer. Rune didn’t let go of me. My daddy picked this up and shot him a glare that should have eviscerated him on the spot.

Rune didn’t even flinch.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, reaching for my daddy’s hand.

My touch seemed to have rendered him speechless. I glanced at my mama. “Mama?”

Mama stepped forward. “It’s been planned since your aunt came a few weeks ago.” I looked to Aunt DeeDee, who smiled mischievously.

“Rune here planned to take you away. He asked your aunt to help plan it.” Mama sighed. “We never expected your levels to fall this soon.” Mama placed her hand on my daddy’s arm. “Your daddy doesn’t think you should go.”

“Go where?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Rune announced from beside me.

Daddy stepped an inch back and met my eyes. “Poppy, your white blood cell levels have dropped. It means the chance of infection is high. With your immune system being at risk, I don’t think you should travel on a plane—”

“A plane?” I interrupted.

I looked up at Rune. “A plane?” I repeated.

He curtly nodded his head once, but didn’t explain any further.

Mama placed her hand on my arm “I asked your specialist and he said,”—she cleared her throat—“he said, at this point in your illness, if you want to go, then you should go.” I heard the underlying current of her words. Go before it got too late to travel anywhere.

“I want to go,” I said with unwavering certainty, gripping onto Rune’s waist. I wanted him to know I wanted this. I glanced up at him; he met my eyes. Smiling, I said, “I’m with you.”

Rune, surprising me, but at the same time not surprising me at all, kissed me. Kissed me hard and quick right in front of my family. Rune broke free from me and moved next to my aunt. Beside DeeDee there was a suitcase. Without another word, he took the suitcase to the car.

My heart was beating a staccato rhythm of excitement.

Daddy squeezed my hand. His touch brought me back to his worry, his fear. “Poppy,” he said sternly.

Before he could say any more, I leaned forward and kissed him on his cheek. I looked him in the eye. “Daddy, I understand the risks. I’ve been fighting this a long time. I know you’re worried. I know you don’t want me to be hurt. But staying trapped in my room like a caged bird for one more day … that is what will hurt me. I’ve never been one to stay inside. I want this, Daddy. I need this.” I shook my head, feeling a sheer sheen of water fill my eyes. “I can’t spend whatever time I have left locked away for fear it’ll make me worse. I need to live … I need this adventure.”

He sucked in a stuttering breath. But, eventually, he nodded his head. A light dizziness flooded through me. I was going!

Jumping on the spot, I wrapped my arms around my daddy’s neck. He hugged me back.

I kissed my mama then looked to my aunt. She had her hand held out. I took hold of it, just as my daddy said, “I’m trusting you to look after her, DeeDee.”

My aunt sighed. “You know this girl is my heart, James. You think I’d let anything happen to her?”

“And they stay in separate rooms!”

I simply rolled my eyes at that.

My daddy began talking to my aunt. But I didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear anything as my gaze went through the open door, and down to the boy dressed all in black who was leaning against the railing of our porch. The boy in a leather jacket who was casually bringing a cigarette to his mouth, all the time watching me. His crystal-blue eyes not once straying from mine.

Rune blew out a cloud of smoke. Casually tossing the butt to the ground, he flicked his chin and held out his hand.

Releasing Aunt DeeDee’s hand, I closed my eyes for a brief moment, committing to memory how he looked, right at this moment.

My Norwegian bad boy.

My heart.

Opening my eyes, I rushed through the door. Reaching the top step, I then jumped into Rune’s open arms. He enveloped me in his embrace. I giggled, feeling the breeze on my face. Holding me tightly, my feet still off the ground, Rune asked, “You ready for that adventure, Poppymin?

“Yes,” I replied breathlessly.

Rune pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes. “I love you,” he whispered after a long pause.

“I love you too,” I said, just as quietly.

I was rewarded with a rare smile.

He carefully lowered me to the ground, took my hand and asked again, “You ready?”

I nodded, then turned to my parents, who were standing on the porch. I waved goodbye.

“Come on, kids,” said DeeDee. “We got a flight to catch.”

Rune led me to the car, holding my hand as always. As we settled in the backseat, I looked out the window as we pulled away. I stared up at the clouds, knowing that soon I’d be soaring above them.

On an adventure.

An adventure with my Rune.

 

* * *

 

“New York,” I said breathlessly, reading the screen at our gate.

Rune smirked. “We always planned to go. It’ll just be briefer than we’d always thought.”

Completely speechless, I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his chest. Aunt DeeDee returned from speaking to the woman at the desk.

“Come on, you two,” she said, waving her hand toward the entrance to the plane. “Let’s get you onboard.”

We followed DeeDee. My mouth fell open when she showed us to the two front seats in first class. I looked at her and she shrugged. “What’s the point of being in charge of the first-class cabin if I can’t use the perks to spoil my favorite niece?”

I hugged DeeDee. She held on a little longer than normal. “Go on, now,” she said and shooed me to my seat. Aunt DeeDee quickly disappeared behind the curtain of the attendants’ section. I stood, watching her go. Rune took my hand.

“She’ll be okay,” he soothed, then pointed to the window seat. “For you,” he added. Unable to stop the excited giggle leaping from my throat, I sat down and stared out of the window at the people working on the ground below.

I watched them until the plane was fully boarded and we began to roll away. Sighing happily, I turned to Rune, who was watching me. Wrapping his fingers in mine, I said, “Thank you.”

“I wanted you to see New York.” He shrugged. “I wanted to see it with you.”

Rune leaned in to kiss me. I stopped his lips with my fingers. “Kiss me at thirty-nine thousand feet. Kiss me in the sky. Kiss me amongst the clouds.”

Rune’s minty breath ghosted over my face. Then he silently sat back. I laughed as the plane suddenly gained speed and we soared into the air.

When the plane leveled off, I suddenly found my lips being brought flush to Rune’s. His hands clasped my head as he took my mouth with his own. Needing something to keep me grounded, I gripped onto his shirt. I sighed against his mouth as his tongue dueled softly against mine.

When he pulled back, his chest heaving and skin warm, I whispered, “Kiss eight hundred and eight. At thirty-nine thousand feet. With my Rune … my heart almost burst.”

By the end of the flight I had lots of new kisses to add to my jar.

 

* * *

 

“This is for us?” I asked incredulously. I stared at the penthouse of the ridiculously expensive hotel in Manhattan my aunt had brought us to.

I looked up at Rune and I could tell, even through his ever-neutral expression, that he too was floored.

Aunt DeeDee stopped beside me. “Poppy, your mama doesn’t know this yet. But well, I’ve been dating someone for a while now.” A loving smile spread on her lips and she continued. “Let’s just say this room was his gift to you both.”

I stared up at her in amazement. But then a warmth filled me. I had always worried about Aunt DeeDee. She was on her own often. I could see in her face how happy this man had made her.

“He paid for this? For us? For me?” I asked.

DeeDee paused, then explained, “Technically, he doesn’t really have to pay for it. He owns the joint.”

My mouth, if possible, dropped further, until Rune playfully shut it with his finger under my chin. I stared at my boyfriend. “You knew?”

He shrugged. “She helped me plan all this.”

“So you knew?” I repeated. Rune shook his head at me, then carried our cases into the master bedroom to the right. He was clearly ignoring my daddy’s instruction of separate rooms.

As Rune disappeared through the doorway, my aunt said, “That boy would walk on broken glass for you, Pops.”

My heart filled with light. “I know,” I whispered. But that slight edge of fear I had begun to feel seeped into me.

Aunt DeeDee’s arm slipped around me. As I squeezed her back, I said, “Thank you.”

She kissed my head. “I didn’t do anything, Pops. It was all Rune.” She paused. “I don’t think, in all my life, that I’ve ever seen two kids love each other so hard so young, and even harder as teens.”

Aunt DeeDee pulled me back to meet my eyes. “Cherish this time with him, Pops. That boy, he loves you. You’d have to be blind to not see it.”

“I will,” I whispered.

DeeDee moved to the door. “We’re here for two nights. I’ll be with Tristan in his suite. Call my cell if you need anything. I’ll only be minutes away.”

“Okay,” I replied.

Turning, I drank in the splendor of the room. Its ceilings were so high that I had to bend my head back just to see the pattern in the white plaster. The room was so big that it would dwarf most people’s houses. I walked to the window and beheld a panoramic view of all of New York.

And I breathed.

I breathed as my gaze fell upon the familiar sights that I had only ever seen in pictures or on film: the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Flatiron Building, Freedom Tower…

There was so much to see that my heart raced in anticipation. This was where I was meant to have lived my life. I would have been at home here. Blossom Grove would have been my roots; New York would have been my wings.

And Rune Kristiansen would forever have been my love. By my side through it all.

Noticing a door to my left, I walked over and pushed down the handle. I gasped as a cold breeze hit me, then I truly let myself take in the sight.

A garden.

An outdoor terrace with winter flowers, benches and, better still, the view. Zipping up my coat to keep warm, I stepped out into the coldness. Flurries of light snowflakes settled on my hair. Needing to feel them on my face, I tipped my head back. Cold flakes landed on my eyelashes, tickling my eyes.

I laughed as my face grew damp. Then I walked forward, running my hands over the glistening evergreens until I was standing at the wall that offered a panorama of Manhattan on a plate.

I breathed in, letting the cold air fill my bones. Suddenly, warm arms were around my waist and Rune’s chin rested on my shoulder. “You like it, baby?” Rune asked softly. His voice was barely above a whisper so as not to intrude into our little haven of tranquility.

I shook my head in disbelief and turned back slightly until I faced him. “I can’t believe you’ve done all this,” I replied. “I can’t believe you’ve given me this.” I pointed to the sprawling city below. “You’ve given me New York.”

Rune kissed my cheek. “It’s late, and we have lots to do tomorrow. I want to make sure you’re rested enough to see everything I have planned.”

A thought sprang into my mind. “Rune?”

Ja?

“Can I take you somewhere tomorrow too?”

He frowned, creasing his forehead. “Of course,” he agreed. I could see him searching my eyes, trying to discover what I was up to. But he didn’t question me. And I was happy about that. He’d refuse if he knew ahead of time.

“Good,” I said proudly and smiled to myself. Yes, he had given me this trip. Yes, he had things planned. But I wanted to show him something, to remind him of his dreams. Dreams he could still achieve even after I was gone.

“You need to sleep, Poppymin,” Rune said and lowered his mouth to kiss my neck.

I threaded my hand through his. “With you beside me in bed.”

I felt him nod against my neck, before kissing it one more time. “I’ve run you a bath and I’ve ordered food. You bathe, then we’ll eat, then we’ll sleep.”

I turned in his arms and lifted onto my tiptoes to place my hands on his cheeks. They were cold. “I love you, Rune,” I said softly. I said it often. And I always felt it with my whole heart. I wanted him to know, at all times, how much I adored him.

Rune sighed, and kissed me slowly. “I love you too, Poppymin,” he said against my lips, barely breaking away.

Then he led me inside where I bathed. We ate. And then we slept.

I lay in his arms in the center of a huge four-poster bed. With his warm breath drifting across my face. His bright blue eyes watching my every move.

I fell asleep, cradled in his embrace, with a smile both in my heart and on my lips.


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