I left midmorning to pick up my supplies and set up everything on the boat. I worried about the small heater getting the room warm enough, but mom and dad had lived on the boat when they were first married. Emma and I had worked out all the particulars. She would come to my birthday dinner but act like we had nothing planned. I would come to the boat around ten and she would show up around ten-thirty.

It took me most of the afternoon to have everything set up the way I wanted. The room looked spectacular and I hoped it would show Emma how much I cared for her. I opened the small drawer next to the bed and put the box of condoms there. Now everything was perfect.

I got home and went through the back of the house. Mom had balloons and decorations all over the kitchen and the house smelled like every version of food imaginable. I headed up the stairs and ran into dad in the hallway.

"You don't have to stay home just for this," I told him.

"I'll go in later. There's always time for my boy's birthday," he said, and gave me a tight hug.

When he pulled away I smiled and said, "It's because Jasper's coming, isn't it?"

Dad put his finger to his lips to tell me to keep quiet and then whispered, "That too."

The house began to fill with people but I was only aware of Emma. She wouldn't look at me, too afraid to give away our secret. I could always tell when Emma was nervous. She would fiddle with her hair, running her fingers through it constantly.

I was stunned when Budge told me I had someone waiting for me on the porch. I went outside, making sure I shut the door so mom wouldn't invite the visitor in for the night. I saw Casey sitting on the swing with a small wrapped box in her hand.

I sat next to her and her shyness made me smile. "Hello Casey," I said to fill the silence.

She held out the box and mumbled, "Happy birthday, I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

I leaned into her, nudging her shoulder and said, "You didn't have to do this."

She finally looked at me and smiled softly. "You were nice to me Trooper, not many boys are nice to me."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I told her sadly. "You are an incredible person."

She smiled and looked down as she told me I could open the gift. I pulled the wrapping away and saw a small wooden box. I opened it to reveal a man's silver chain bracelet. It was understated and classic, nothing like I would expect Casey to pick out. "Wow," I said, reacting honestly to the great gift. I pulled it from the box and opened the clasp. She reached over and helped me attach it to my wrist. "Thank you," I said, still looking at the chain. "I love it."

She stood and again apologized for interrupting. I stood too and followed her to the car waiting in the driveway. It was the same neighbor girl waiting for her. I opened her car door and then stood in front to keep her from jumping inside.

"Casey, I really do appreciate the gift. May I give you a hug?"

Her face blushed and I knew she wasn't innocent; she just wasn't used to a boy asking permission. She nodded so I pulled her into my arms tightly. Her hands rose around my neck and she returned the same amount of force I was using.

"Are we still on for Friday?" I asked.

"Of course," she answered. "I'll see you at school on Monday."

"Good night," I said and then watched her get into the car and drive away.

I felt a bit awkward returning to the house. Emma looked at my wrist right away, noticing the new addition to my wardrobe. I wasn't trying to hurt her, but we were both moving on after tonight and I wanted her to know I was good with it.

The evening ended early because Budge couldn't help but tease Jasmine by spreading icing all over her face. Budge and I did the dishes and then both retired to our rooms. I was happy to know Budge's plans were changed, although I knew he would be on to something new in a weeks' time.

When it was time for me to leave I walked downstairs and found mom eating large bites of my southern missing cake. I took the bite she offered me and then kissed her cheek. "Thanks for a great party. I'm going to be with a friend and I'll be out late."

"Okay," she said with a full mouth. I headed for the door and she called out to me so I stopped and turned to look at her. "I know it hurts to only be seventeen, but time will fix it all."

I knew she was talking about Emma so I smiled and said, "It's not so bad being seventeen." She smiled too, revealing chocolate teeth and making me laugh.

I drove to the pier and went right to the boat house. I turned on the heater and lit the candles over the headboard of the bed. I had strung small twinkling lights all over the ceiling earlier so plugged them in to give a little light to the dark room.

I found a faux bear rug in deep red and placed it over the bed, because I wanted to see Emma's blonde hair and white body against the rich color. I got the bouquet of white roses from the fridge and placed them on the bed, before scattering red rose petals across every surface.

I finished just as I got a text from Emma saying she had arrived. I was suddenly shaking like a leaf. I felt like I needed more time to prepare mentally, until I saw her walking toward me down the pier. My heart was beating wildly for another reason. I loved her totally and it was my chance to show her.

She smiled when I held out my hand and helped her aboard. She was wearing an oversized sweater with leggings and heels. She took off her shoes as soon as she got on the deck and carried them with one hand. I led her down to the bedroom and when I opened the door she gasped loudly.

"Oh my God, Trooper," she laughed. "This is way over the top."

"You don't like it?" I asked nervously.

"It is amazing, but I can't believe you did all of this." She walked over to the bed and ran her hand along the red fur. "It's so soft," she murmured. She picked up her bouquet and brought them to her nose before looking back at me. Her eyes were watery and she shook her head. "Trooper, I don't deserve this."

My mouth fell open in shock. Was she crazy? She deserved so much more than this but it was all I could manage at the time. I reached out and took her hand, pulling her to me as I wrapped both arms around her. "Emma, you deserve everything your heart desires."

"My heart desires you," she whispered.

"I'm all yours," I told her honestly, and then kissed her fervently. She dropped the roses back onto the bed and let her hands run over my body. She suddenly pulled away and I looked at her eyes to see if I had done anything wrong.

In one swift motion she pulled the sweater from her body and then removed the leggings, leaving on her lacy bra and panties. She climbed onto the bed and lay in the middle of the red fur. The sight was as amazing as I knew it would be. I removed my own shirt and jeans, leaving on my boxers and socks and got onto the bed next to her.

Her body cuddled up to mine and she placed her head on my shoulders. "You still have on your socks," she laughed.

"I'll get them in a minute," I promised.

She took a deep breath and I could feel her relax into me. I let my fingers run through her hair forcing myself to take it all very slowly. Her fingers moved to my bracelet and she held it up to see it a bit better. "It's very nice," she said.

"Do you want me to remove it?" I asked her, feeling a bit odd that I forgot to take it off.

"No, it looks nice on you," she said, and kissed my wrist. She leaned across my body and looked up at me from my chest. She smiled widely and then said, "When I was little I thought you were the cutest boy in the world. Now I'm certain of it."

"Thank you, but boy doesn't help my ego right now," I said with a chuckle.

"Sorry, but you'll always be the perfect little boy from next door to me."

I decided it was time to do my best to change that assumption the best I could. I pulled her up my body and kissed her deeply as I rolled her onto her back. In that quick moment everything changed. The room was romantic and the music slowed to an erotic beat. My hand went right to her bra strap and expertly unhooked it on the first try. She pulled it from her arms and tossed it to the floor.

I kissed down her jaw to her neck and then to her chest. She moaned when I ran my tongue over her erect nipples and I was transformed to another dimension. I lost all inhibition and reticence. My hands moved at will and my body was seeking its own ecstasy. The bed was our playground and we investigated every inch of it as we moved and responded to one another.

It was Emma who removed my socks and boxers, just as I had been the one to remove her panties. I reached for the drawer and she stopped my hand. "I'm getting a condom," I explained.

"We don't need it, I'm on the pill," she answered and went back to kissing my chest.

I was shocked and when my body stopped its movements she looked up at me. "You're on the pill?" I repeated, as if I couldn't understand the words.

"I've been on it for over a year to regulate my periods, and since we are both virgins we don't have to worry about diseases."

A huge smile broke across my face and she glanced at the drawer and said, "I guess I can practice placing one, if you don't mind."

The last thing I wanted was her being an expert at anything related to sex with some other guy, so I shook my head and rolled onto her. She wrapped her legs around me and I placed myself right where I wanted to be. She stared into my eyes as I moved forward. The sensation was overwhelming and I held my breath to keep from plunging into her.

I stopped when I felt the barrier holding me back. I couldn't do it; I couldn't look into her eyes and cause her a moment of pain. She saw my hesitation and moved for me, pulling us tighter together as I felt the pressure give. She let out a soft gasp and I tried to keep perfectly still. I would stop this very moment if she wanted me to, but she began to move again, taking me right back into my trance of nothing but overwhelming pleasure.

We had no idea what we were doing, but something much deeper, more primal knew. We were transported to a place of nerves and muscles and synapses. We came undone only to be reconstructed into something better, more intelligent, more capable of love.

Both of us were panting loudly and sobbing tears of uncontained emotion. I held her head in my hands as I cried along with her. "I love you Emma, I love you more than you'll ever know."

She held me fiercely to her body and cried out her own declaration. "I love you too Trooper, and I felt your love for me, I truly did."

The twinkling lights flickered over our bare skin and the music played hauntingly in the background. Like everything else in my life it happened first with Emma, and now it was time for a new pain, a pain that could only come from my singular source of pure joy. We would finally grow apart and find out who we are supposed to be in life.

I knew there would be other girls in my bed, other girls I would hold in my arms and talk of intimate feelings, but I would never love anyone like I love Emma. I had to let her go in order to win her back. I would miss every moment away from her, but I would count them as each tick of the clock would bring me closer to her once again.