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I Kissed Shara Wheeler - Casey McQuiston

"I don't get the Austen thing with you," Chloe says as Georgia slips between the rungs of the ladder to the shag rug below. "I always found Emma annoying."
"The book or the character?"
"The character. The book is fine."
Georgia leads the way to the front desk, announced by the echoing clangs of the water bottle she always carries as it collides with bookshelves and chairs. Georgia's mom waves from across the store, headphones on as she does inventory.
"Why is Emma annoying?" Georgia asks.
"Because she's manipulative," Chloe says. "I don't think she really makes up for everything she does to everyone else by the end."
"The point of the book isn't for her to make everything right. It's for her to be interesting," Georgia says, slipping behind the desk for her things.

"Anything new in the ol' CMFC?"
While Georgia rereads Regency classics, Chloe's favorite stories are the ones where the headstrong young woman on a cinematic journey to master her powers falls for the monster who's been antagonizing her all along. Georgia knows this, so she curates a stack of books behind the counter for Chloe and adds to it every time they get something Chloe might like. She affectionately calls it Chloe's Monster Fucker Collection.
"One," Georgia says. She plucks a battered paperback off the top of the stack - one of those '80s high fantasies with a loinclothed, mulleted elf on the cover. Her mama has a million. "Fairy princess on a heroic quest ravished by evil elf mercenary. Straight though."
Chloe sighs, "Thanks, but I'm maxed out in male villains for the month," she says.
"Thought so," Georgia says. She chucks it toward a box of secondhand books to be shelved. "Still on the hunt for the megabitch of your dreams."
"It doesn't have to be an evil queen," she says. "it's just preferred."

Of course Shara cast herself as the main character of her own personal John Green novel. And now the rest of them are supposed to be happy getting shuffled around like stupid little chess pieces, because Shara kissed them, and it's her board.

"How was the movie?"
"We got sidetracked doing a mozzarella stick tasting."
"A what?"
"Benjy drove us around and we picked up mozzarella sticks from every place in town. Then we ranked them on a scale of one to ten for flavor, presentation, structural integrity, and dipping sauce."
"Oh my God. I'm so mad I missed that. Did you average the results at the end? Who won?"
"Chloe, we're gay. We can't do math."
"Okay, well, next time I'll come and make a spreadsheet."
"This is why we need you," Georgia says. "Once in a generation, there is born a bisexual who can do math. You're the chosen one."

Rory looks up in time to watch Smith's smile break out across his face. It's really something to see, Smith's smile. It comes out of nowhere and hits like an earthquake, absolute and devastating. "Thanks, man."
"You're welcome," Rory says, blinking like he's looking into the sun.
"Wow," Chloe observes. "A friendship reforged."
Rory's scowl immediately returns. "Fuck off, Chloe."
But Smith hums happily as he unwraps his first taco, and the curl of Rory's lip softens.

"Can I hear one sometime?" Smith asks. "One of your new songs?"
"That depends," Rory says.
"Depends on what?"
And with all the courage in his noodle-y body, Rory says, "Depends if you don't mind that they're all about you."

I'm Still Here - Austin Channing Brown

The death of hope gives way to a sadness that heals, to anger that inspires, to a wisdom that empowers me the next time I get to work, pick up my pen, join a march, tell my story.

The march towards change has been gruelling, but it is real.

If We Were Villains - M.L. Rio

My heart feels heavy in my chest. Secrets carry weight, like lead.

How could we explain that standing on a stage and speaking someone else's words as if they are your own is less an act of bravery than a desperate lunge at mutual understanding? An attempt to forge that tenuous link between speaker and listener and communicate something, anything, of substance.

"Wherein I am false I am honest; not true, to be true," I say.
"I thought they would have beaten that bullshit out of you in prison."
"That bullshit is all that kept me going." One thing I'm sure Colborne will never understand is that I need language to live, like food - lexemes and morphemes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that, yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before.

Ignite Me - Tahereh Mafi

I almost smile. “I don’t know which version of me Adam likes. I’m not the same person I was when we were in school. I’m not that girl anymore. I think he wants that,” I say, glancing up at Kenji. “I think he wants to pretend I’m the girl who doesn’t really speak and spends most of her time being scared. The kind of girl he needs to protect and take care of all the time. I don’t know if he likes who I am now. I don’t know if he can handle it.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Kenji says. He shifts, folds his hands behind his head. “Why do you like the rich boy so much?”
I take a tight breath. Focus on the brightest star in the sky. “I like the way I feel about myself when I’m with him,” I say quietly. “Warner thinks I’m strong and smart and capable and he actually values my opinion. He makes me feel like his equal—like I can accomplish just as much as he can, and more. And if I do something incredible, he’s not even surprised. He expects it. He doesn’t treat me like I’m some fragile little girl who needs to be protected all the time.”
Kenji snorts.
“That’s because you’re not fragile,” Kenji says. “If anything, everyone needs to protect themselves from you. You’re like a freaking beast,” he says. Then adds, “I mean, you know—like, a cute beast. A little beast that tears shit up and breaks the earth and sucks the life out of people.”

I spin around.
Warner is standing there, face flushed, chest rising and falling, staring at me like I might be a ghost. He strides across the room before I have a chance to say a word and cups my face in his hands, his eyes searching me. “Are you okay?” he’s saying. “God—are you okay? What happened? Are you all right?”
He’s here.
He’s here and all I want to do is fall apart but I don’t.
I won’t.

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire

She had been able to find a doorway and disappear into an adventure, instead of living in a world that told her, day after day after grinding, demoralizing day, that adventures were only for boys; that girls had better things to worry about, like making sure those same boys had a safe harbor to come home to.

Into the Light - Mark Oshiro

I fall asleep in someone's arms for the first time in my life.
It isn't love. It isn't a promise. It isn't anything but what it is.
But when you've wandered a desert for most of your life, you are going to be overjoyed when it rains.

It Happened One Summer - Tessa Bailey

Brendan's smugness was suddenly cloying, like glue drying in her windpipe. How original. Another man who thought she was worthless? How positively breathtaking.

He appreciated the cycle of things. Tradition. The reliability of weather changing, and the shifting seasons setting people about a routine. It was the consistency of this place. Enduring, just like the ocean he loved.

Although eating with him had been kind of ... nice.
Maybe that wasn't the right word.
Different. Definitely different. She'd engaged in conversation with a man without constantly trying to present her best angle and laugh in just the right way. He'd seemed interested in what she had to say. Could he have been?

After one more almost imperceptible sweep of her legs, Brendan coughed into his fist and turned again. He picked up his toolbox and started down the stairs. Just like that. His work was done and formalities were stupid. Piper followed, looking down at him from the top of the stairs. "Are we friends, Brendan?"
"No," he called back, without missing a beat.
Her mouth hung open, a laugh huffing out of her as she closed the door.
Hannah sat up and asked, "What the hell is going on there?"
Slowly, she shook her head. "I have no freaking idea."

The sheer number of photos of her glittering at parties, balls, even awards shows suggested she loved the spotlight, the wealth and luxury. Shit he knew nothing about. More than that, she clearly like polished, manicured men, probably with bank accounts that matched her own. And that meant his interest in her wasn't only annoying, it was laughable. He was a set-in-his-ways fisherman. She was a rich, adventurous socialite. He couldn't even order something new at a restaurant, and she dined with celebrities. Dated them.

He'd just have to spend the next few months keeping his admiration of her to himself, lest he make himself look like a fucking fool.

"Brendan, I think this means we're friends."
They arrived at her door and he waited for her to unlock it. "Piper, I don't just go putting my arms around girls."
She paused in the doorway. Looked back. "What does that mean?"
He gave in to just a touch of temptation, tucking a wind-tangled strand of hair behind her ear. Soft. "It mean I'll be around."

The tide had changed, and he wouldn't make the same mistakes twice. He wouldn't stay so firmly rooted in his practices and routines that a good thing would come along and slip away.
As he slid off the gold band and tucked it into a safe place in his sock drawer, he said good-bye and apologized a final time. Then he turned off the light.

And in that moment, Brendan saw right through her. Saw what she was doing. Making tonight about sex. Trying to keep things casual. Categorizing him as a friend with benefits. With a less determined man, she would have succeeded, too. Easily. She was paradise on legs, and probably a lot of weak-willed bastards wouldn't be able to stop themselves from taking anything she was willing to give.

But he remembered their kiss. Would likely remember it for the rest of his life. She'd hidden nothing while their mouths were touching. She'd been scared, surprised, turned on, and scared again. He could relate. And while he had no idea if he could offer this woman enough to make her happy, he wasn't letting Piper classify him as a casual hookup. Because what she made him feel wasn't casual. Not one bit.

Brendan always thought battling the ocean would forever be his biggest challenge. But that was before he met Piper. Maybe he didn't know the how or the what of the thing between them yet, but his gut never lied. He'd never lost a battle with the water when listening to his instincts, and he hoped like hell those same instincts wouldn't fail him now.

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