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The Best Year - 57. Chapter 57 Epic-Log Part Four

Waking up to a door closing, I jolted awake and looked around. Seeing movement outside of the blinds as the sunlight hit me through the blinds, I groaned and kicked the covers off me. Not seeing Luke, I stretched, reaching down, readjusting myself as I headed towards the door. Peeking through the blinds, I saw everyone gathering around the picnic table. The less intense sunlight already told me it was later in the day. Derek had the grill smoking, and it looked like Toby was helping him fight back a small fire. Opening it, I winced and shaded my eyes with my hand.

“There he is,” Heather said as she held up a bottle that had a neon blue looking drink inside the clear glass. I already knew I would hate the taste just by looking at it.

“You two must’ve had a good night,” Derek said, then I smiled when he realized what he was saying and watched him shake his head before turning back to putting out the remnants of the fire. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for whatever they were cooking.

“Fuck off,” I hissed letting my hand fall back to my side as my eyes adjusted to being out here.

“You missed breakfast and lunch,” Lily said as she stood and started gathering trash, seeing her Luke jumped up from the end of the picnic table to help. His face was flushed and I wondered how much teasing he endured in the minute or so he left me in the bedroom.

“Connor said he overnighted us something,” Heather said as she made no attempt to help Lily and Luke gather up the mess. “He wouldn’t tell me what it was though.”

“Why would Connor overnight something?” Toby asked, frowning in her direction. “And to you of all people?”

“It is my beach house,” Heather countered, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know if jealousy is as hot on you as it is on Ryan Gosling.”

“I’m hotter than him, he has very tiny eyes for such a big head,” Toby argued as he handed Derek the bottle of barbecue sauce he was holding. Derek had been waving his fingers for it, but was smiling as Toby squirmed.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Heather countered as she finished off her drink and to her credit kept it when Luke offered to take the bottle from her.

“What are we going to do the rest of the day?” Ally asked, glancing in my direction. “Since you missed all the swimming earlier.”

“I kind of want to go shopping,” Heather offered as she stood, but she held onto the edge of the picnic table to steady herself. I didn’t know how far behind the rest of them I was when it came to drinking either.

“Yeah, not happening,” Ally said, rolling her eyes. “We’ve been waiting all day for the mail to be delivered.”

“I might need to go jogging or something,” I said as I reached up and scratched my bare stomach. The heat of the day was already warming my shoulders and I could feel beads of sweat forming at my hairline.

“Why do you smell like lavender, Luke?” Heather asked and I turned to see her sniffing Luke as Lily and passed by her before they disappeared into the house carrying their first small load of trash. When he didn’t answer her, she glanced in my direction.

“Why does he smell like lavender?” Ally asked, cocking an eyebrow and I let my hand fall back to my side and shrugged.

After she asked the question though, she turned her head and looked out towards the beach. Following her gaze, there were more people dotted along it. The tourist season will be picking up a lot more in the coming weeks, more schools have to be getting finished by now. Even if the beach house was private, I doubted people really cared about that sort of thing as they walked along the beach.

“I still think we should do a bonfire,” Derek said as he started skewering the last bits of chicken breasts onto the plate. It was piled with steaks, which I also knew Lily and Ally never were really fond of, so the chicken would be for them. There was a bowl of salad with a lid on it to keep it cool and protected sitting on the center of the table.

“It’s all the way down there,” Ally said and I watched her point towards the pier in the distance off to the left. We were boxed in on either side by piers, but they were a fair distance away. The people standing on them looked like dots, I couldn’t really make out. “And even then, we’re too young to be drinking, so we couldn’t bring that with us.”

“That fucking sucks,” Toby said shaking his head. “Do you think they would be out checking this early?”

“I really don’t want a mugshot, Toby,” Ally countered, reaching up and tucking her brown hair behind her ear. The breeze kept blowing it into her face, but she had it so loosely braided some of it had escaped. She looked beautiful, I had to admit sitting there in the sun, with a sheen of sweat. Swallowing, I looked away.

“It’s bound to happen eventually,” Toby said as he helped Derek turn off the grill before following him back to the picnic table.

“To you maybe,” Ally countered smiling, “but I’m a good girl.”

“Not even,” Toby hissed as I walked towards the table, the smell hadn’t hit me until I was closer and when it did, my stomach growled.

“What do you want to drink, I’ll go get it,” Ally suggested as she smiled at me and stood away from the table.

“Bottle of beer,” I answered as I sat down beside Toby who was already picking out his steak and sliding it onto his paper plate. Everything had been weighed down by various rocks and when I removed the one holding down the paper plates, I dusted off the top one and took it off the stack. I got one for Luke before placing the rock back down and when he reappeared holding a glass of water and a bottle of beer, he smiled and sat down beside me.

“Better counter weight this bitch before it tips over,” Derek said as he walked around to the other side and sat down opposite of Toby.

“This is the last of our good food, I think,” Toby said and I watched as he attempted to cut into his steak with a plastic knife.

“We’ve only been here two days,” I said just as his knife snapped in the middle and he looked over at me.

“We still have the healthy food Heather’s Mom had stocked before we got here,” Toby said as he fished out another plastic knife.

“There’s enough steak for all four of us,” Derek said as he forked over his own steak and I waited for Luke to choose his. When he did, I took the last one and left the mound of barbecued chicken for the girls.

“Ally seems upset about something,” Luke whispered and I felt his elbow knock against mine as he tried to cut his steak with a plastic knife. When it popped, but didn’t break all the way he gave up, and I glanced over to see Derek eating his with his hands.

“How do you know?” I asked and I laughed when Toby’s second knife gave up.

“For fuck sakes,” Toby growled, “I’m going to go get a real knife.”

“She has been quiet,” Derek offered just before he bit off another chunk of steak. The juices were dripping down onto his chin, he only noticed when it made it through his stubble and landed on his stomach. Glancing down, he reached over and grabbed a napkin, knocking the rock that weighed it down.

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said, glancing towards the open door leading into the living room and then the kitchen. I could just hear the girls talking and when they appeared Heather and Lily were laughing with Toby following close behind them holding up a knife. Ally was behind them just carrying her own beer, not really looking at anyone. She was smiling, but only just and by the time she reached the table and sat down on the end across from Luke, it had vanished entirely.

I already knew I wouldn’t have noticed Ally being upset, mostly because I was still worried that Luke would pack up and want to leave again. Looking in his direction as he waited patiently for the only knife Toby bothered to grab for himself. He looked happier and a lot more settled into the idea of staying here for the week we had. Not even a full week, just five days, because even I couldn’t really justify missing that much practice and pool time just before State championships. Heather’s parents rented this place to tourists when they weren’t using it, for a lot of income on the side. I wondered if by Sunday it wouldn’t already be booked again for someone else. I was already grimacing at the state I knew we’d leave it in, I hadn’t been on the other side of the house since last afternoon. The room I shared with Luke already had my clothes scattered all through it, even if Luke kept his all in one area.

“Here y’all go,” Toby offered as he handed me the butt end of the knife. Leaning backwards on the picnic bench, I let Luke have it first. Seeing the salad, the girls being the only ones really interested in it right now, I reached over and grabbed it. I forked a small pile of lettuce and chopped carrots, knowing it came from a prepackaged bag, since I knew none of us would put in the effort. Then I grabbed the bottle of ranch that Lily offered me with a smile as she chewed her first bite of chicken. She had a small smear of barbecue sauce on her bottom lip.

“Thanks,” I said as I squirted the dressing on the salad and placed the bottle back onto the center of the table.

“That’s the mail,” Heather squealed as her phone dinged.

“She set up the security cam footage on her phone,” Ally said as Heather darted off back into the house as Lily scooped up Heather’s phone.

“It’s a small rectangular white box, and the mailman is so adorable, look at him,” Lily said as she handed the phone to Ally who smiled before glancing at it just long enough to see the screen before she handed it back to him.

“Adorable, is he a puppy?” Derek asked, craning his neck to attempt to see Heather’s phone.

“He’s just so sharply dressed,” Lily said, smiling as she let Heather’s screen go dark.

“He had to be like eighty, you’re fine,” Ally offered and I smirked when Derek relaxed and finished off his last bit of steak before I even started on mine.

“I might like my men old,” Lily countered, rolling her eyes as she took a drink. It was a dull orange color, and the bottle had a peach on the front of it. Wrinkling my nose I took a small drink of my beer, but even it had warmed slightly as I waited for the knife so that I could cut my steak.

“Heather is totally going to open it without us too,” Ally said just as Heather ran back through the open door.

“You’re not going to believe this!” Heather squealed as her flip flops slapped against the concrete. “Connor is a damn genius.”

“That’s stretching it a little,” Toby said but I saw him lean forward to see what Heather was holding. She was still partially trying to hide it from us, but when she sat down between Lily and Derek, she held it up. It was a forest green book, with a golden looking picture on the front. The sun was glaring off it just enough to distort the image, but when she shited I saw that it was a greek looking man in armor.

“He made a whole fucking yearbook,” Derek said as he reached for it, but Heather clutched it away from him.

“Not with your greasy assed hands, this is my copy,” Heather said as she turned the book around to look at it. The back of it was plain, but the cover looked thick and expensive. It was a hardback as well, and looked better than the yearbook that we got on the last week of school. I only looked through it once to see how many times I was in there, not many, but there was a whole page dedicated to my swimming. I hadn’t been accepted to Georgia in time for that part to be edited in, but I didn’t really care about it. Luke had been pleased that he made a few of the candid pictures not really expecting to be in it much beyond the formal pictures, and the class picture we all took together.

“How many copies did he make?” I asked, wanting to see what the front of the yearbook looked like again, but she had placed it into her lap so she could finish eating.

“I wondered why he insisted on taking all those pictures,” Lily offered as she peered down at the book, her chicken mostly neglected and waiting for her attention to return to it. “I honestly thought he would pull his own prank and do something for graduation.”

“I forgot we took all those pictures,” Ally said as she looked in my direction. “I do remember being fondled in my father’s office.”

“I think you started the grabbing,” I countered coughing when Luke elbowed me in the side. When I glanced over at him he innocently handed me the knife, finally finished cutting his own steak.

“I did not,” she hissed as she took a bite of her chicken. “At least, I don’t think I did.”

“We don’t blame you,” Toby said, turning to smirk at me. “There’s been many times I’ve wanted to just grab this beefy chunk of fucking man.”

“Thanks,” I said smiling as I tried not to laugh, but when he winked and grabbed my thigh under the table, I jumped and laughed. I had to wrestle my leg out of his grip, only winning when I showed him I had the knife in my other hand.

“That would actually be kind of hot,” Heather offered as she finished off one of her smaller pieces of chicken. “Could we make that a thing.”

“No,” Luke and Toby answered at the same time.

“You were included, Church, the blond between the two darker haired guys,” Heather added pointing between the three of us as I sent my knife all the way through my paper plate.

“I’m cutting off your alcohol for the night, woman,” Toby said as he reached for her fresh new bottle, this one a deep fruity red color.

“No you won’t,” she said as she snatched up the bottle and took a drink.

“Hold up,” Derek said, “why wasn’t I involved?”

“Why would you want to be?” Toby asked, shaking his head.

“Oh, that would make it better,” Heather said, dropping her fork, we all watched her pat his hairy stomach.

“You’re so filthy,” Toby hissed as he helped himself to a piece of chicken the girls didn’t claim by placing it on their plates. “I’m a little scared of you right now, not going to fucking lie.”

“You’ll be alright,” Derek said smiling as he held up his bottle of beer. “I’ll take good care of you.”

“Fuck you, Derek,” Toby groaned as he shot up from the picnic table and the inevitable wrestling match started with him rushing around and attempting to put Derek into a headlock. Not even flinching, Derek stood, knocking against the table as he went. They were already making their way towards the pool, Derek grabbing Toby by the waistband of his shorts. When he yanked hard enough for the bottom of Toby’s ass cheeks to show the girls laughed and I glanced at Luke to see him taking it all in, an amused smile playing on his face. Toby was squirming, reaching behind himself trying to free his shorts from the depths of his cheeks, but gave up when Derek launched him into the pool.

“Don’t kill him,” Heather said, but she didn’t seem at all worried as she took another drink from her bottle.

Derek followed Toby into the pool as I finished cutting my steak, and started shoving it into my mouth. Luke stood so he could see over the girls, Lily and Heather had turned entirely around, Heather still clutching the yearbook, clearly forgotten by Toby and Derek.

“Do you think I should save him?” Luke asked as he edged around the table just as Derek body slammed Toby back into the water after freeing himself from Toby after he failed to climb up onto his back and dunk him under the water.

“If you think he needs saving,” I answered, nodding my head towards them. The water they had already sloshed out of the pool was making a stream down the concrete and off the edge of the deck. It didn’t surprise me when Luke took off running though, and when he cannon balled into the pool I chewed faster as I rose from the bench, not knowing how deep the water in the pool actually was.

“I mean, all we need is Jackson in there and I’ve already halfway gotten what I asked for,” Heather said and I nearly choked on my next bite of steak. “Even if Church’s doggy paddling is putting me off a little bit.”

“Is everyone finished?” Ally asked as she turned back around, looking at the state of the picnic table.

“Leave it, we’ll all get it in a minute,” Lily said, glancing at Ally just long enough to speak to her.

“Now be careful, Luke isn’t as rough as the two of you,” Heather said and I looked over her head to see Luke glare in her direction just before him and Toby successfully dunked Derek for the first time.

“I think I’m just going to clean this up, I’m a little cold,” Ally said and when she looked up to see me looking at her, she looked away and started fumbling with Derek’s empty beer bottles.

“I can help, I’m done,” I said, glancing down at my mostly empty plate. The steak was gone, that’s all I was worried about anyway. Grabbing my bottle of beer, I chugged the rest of it down as she hurried on with the cleaning.

“Ally, what’s wrong?” Lily asked as I finished the last drop of beer and let my hand fall to my side.

“It’s nothing,” Ally answered, but I saw the tear that slid down her cheeks. “I’m just not feeling good.”

“Come on, Ally,” I offered and she shook her head, the guys being loud in the pool and Heather still completely unaware of anything else happening.

“He broke up with me,” Ally yelled, the bottles clanking in her hands as she waved them out at her sides. “As soon as we got here, he called and he told me that it was over.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Lily asked as Ally stood as the quiet fell over the pool, to just the poor filter popping and humming as the waves disrupted the flow of it.

“What’s going on?” Derek asked and I glanced over to see Luke clutching to the side, only his head visible above the edge. Placing my bottle down I edged around the table wanting to walk over and help him out of the pool knowing he wasn’t really comfortable with water. His cheeks were flushed red, and he was still blinking away water. Derek hoisted himself completely out of the pool and offered both Toby and Luke his hands and when they took hold he helped pull them both out.

“Everything else was going on and I didn’t want to talk about it,” Ally answered as she went back to cleaning.

“Let that go,” Lily ordered as she stood and stepped around Heather.

“Fucking Ashton,” I hissed shaking my head.

“Did he say why?” Heather asked as she stood and placed the yearbook under her arm, pinning it between it and her side.

“I told him I was coming down here, he got angry when I said you were coming too, Jackson,” she said as she tried to wipe a tear from her cheek by lifting her shoulder up to meet it. “He thought that I was going to be hooking up with you the whole time, thinking we still had something together.”

“That fucking idiot,” Derek hissed and Ally shot him a look before she started walking again.

“That’s another reason why I didn’t want to talk about him,” she said, “I know you guys don’t really like him.”

“Did you tell him that I was seeing someone else?” I asked as I scooped up a few more empty bottles, wanting to follow her inside now that I knew it was partially my fault.

“Of course I did,” she answered, stopping long enough to answer. I heard Lily and Heather cleaning up behind us, but I didn’t look behind me. “He didn’t believe me.”

“Why not?” I asked and I watched her shoulders droop as more tears came and I wanted to punch Bailey Fucking Ashton’s face, already thinking he had a very punchable one on the best of times anyway.

“Isn’t it obvious, Jackson?” She asked, her voice falling to a whisper. “There weren't any other girls coming on this trip.”

“Do you want to work things out with him?” I asked as she started walking again and I glanced at Luke to see him still sitting at the edge of the pool, the easy smile gone and I swore to myself as I stepped inside just after she did.

“Yes,” she answered, her voice cracking. “I didn’t want to talk about this, I wanted a good week and with what happened with Luke…”

“Call him and tell him that I’m gay,” I said when her voice fell away and she dropped the beer bottles into the glass recycling bin.

“No, I couldn’t,” she countered as she stepped back around the edge of the bar and let me drop my own glass bottles into the bin.

“Why not?” I asked just as more footsteps entered the house and I glanced behind me to see Lily holding the paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware. They had cleared off the entire picnic table by the looks of it. Luke was carrying the leftover chicken, standing just inside the room. All of the guys were still dripping and there was already a puddle forming under their feet.

“Come on in guys,” she said and I watched as all of them started moving again. She grabbed a towel that had been folded and left in one of the bar stools and walked past me.

“Just tell him, I don’t care,” I said as she knelt down and started wiping the floor with the towel.

“Tell him what?” Toby asked and I looked over to see Heather roll her eyes and elbow him in the side.

“Go get changed, you're dripping all over the place,” Lily said as she took what Derek was holding away from him as Luke slid the leftovers onto the counter. I watched him look over at me before he walked around the living room and disappeared down the hallway towards our bedroom. I wanted to follow him, to make sure that he hadn’t taken on some of the blame that I felt.

“Has it changed then?” Ally asked as she stood and folded the wet towel back to keep it from dripping. “The last time we talked about this, you didn’t really know.”

“I like guys and girls Ally, that’s all I know,” I answered, shrugging my shoulders. “That doesn’t mean you can’t tell him that I’m seeing a guy, and that he doesn’t have to worry.”

“But that doesn’t fix a damn thing,” she said as she started walking again, this time towards the hallway that led to the stairs up to the second level. Following her, she stopped at a small wooden white door. When she opened it, it opened to a small room with a washer and dryer. Not having noticed it, I stood back and watched her toss the towel into the washer. “He obviously doesn’t trust me.”

“Well, it is me we’re talking about, I can see where he’s a little threatened,” I countered, swelling up and flexing in hopes to see a smile.

“Don’t give yourself too much credit,” she said, rolling her eyes, but the corners of her mouth twitched.

“And me and you have history, but he doesn’t have all the information either,” I said, relaxing my muscles, I held out my arms for her.

“I don’t want to out Luke, he’ll put you two together if I told him,” she said, shaking her head as she closed the space between us. When she was against my chest I wrapped my arms around her. I felt myself sigh, I always hated seeing girls upset, especially if I thought I was to blame. Mostly I smirked and tried to get back into their good graces by flirting or being a dumbass. Now I just wanted her to feel better, even if that meant Bailey fucking Ashton gets a second chance in the end.

“You can ask him, but Luke is already out to everyone he cares about,” I offered and looked over Ally’s head to see Heather and Lily hovering at the end of the hallway.

“I knew you would smell like lavender too,” Ally whispered and I felt my face getting warm as she broke the hug. She glanced up at me and I looked away, wanting to take a step back, then a fucking shower to wash the flowery smell that matched Luke and made their minds wonder too much for my liking.

“Don’t worry about me, Ally,” I said looking back towards her. “If you think telling him will help, go ahead. Make up a random guy’s name, if you don’t want to involve Luke.”

“He goes to our church,” Luke said and I jumped hearing his voice. “He will find out eventually.”

“I won’t tell him,” Ally said, offering me a smile. “He needs to trust me and if he can’t, then there’s nothing really left, right?”

“Honey,” Lily said and there must have been some change in Ally’s voice that kicked them into action as both her and Heather started moving at the same time. Something I never would come to understand for as long as I lived, but when they got to her, I stepped out of their way and started back down the hallway.

“How are you?” I asked, my voice falling to a whisper. Luke had rushed to get dressed, not caring enough to smooth his hair back down after he dried it with a towel. Smiling, I reached up and ran my fingertips over the drying curls. Feeling them he reached up and knocked my head away as he tried to smooth them down with his hand.

“I’m okay,” he answered just as Toby and Derek bounded down the stairs, both of them holding their wet clothes rolled up in a towel.

“I left mine in the tub,” Luke said as he walked around me. I could smell the chlorine on him now, and not the lavender. He had taken the time to put on deodorant though and that only reminded me that I still wanted a shower.

“Want to take a shower?” I asked after Toby and Derek were down the hall far enough I thought it was safe to ask him.

“No,” he answered smiling. “If we both come out of that bedroom smelling the same again, we’ll never live it down.”

“You think I care?” I asked, running my finger over the words tattooed in my handwriting on his side. I didn’t know when the thrill of seeing it on his skin would fade, I hoped not for a while. I also won’t be telling him that I went home and had one of my more embarrassing and hottest jackoffs thinking about kissing my way along every letter after his skin was good and healed either.

“Where you two goin?” Toby asked as he parted us with his elbows then draped his arms over our shoulders. Looking at him, he was looking straight ahead with a smile on his face. “We have to get something going.”

“Do we?” I asked, shrugging out from under him.

“Fuck, yes,” he groaned grabbing for me in a poor attempt at a headlock. I was taller than him, something me and Derek both held over him over the years. He was the same height as Luke, but when he turned to try to wrap him up, Luke ducked. Toby had to stutter step to keep from knocking over a lamp on the end table.

“Why?” I asked as he found his footing and turned towards us.

“Because we’ve been too coupled up this whole fucking time,” he hissed lowering his voice. “We need to do something as a group.”

“We’re here as a group,” Luke offered and I smiled when Toby threw up his hands, nearly knocking over the lamp he just dodged.

“And the two of you smell like fucking flowers because you left to do your own thing,” he hissed pointing between us.

“That was in the middle of the night,” I countered, glancing over at Luke to see his cheeks reddening by the second.

“If you want to take a bubble bath with us, we’ll come get you next time,” Luke said just as I had looked away.

“Gross, no,” Toby grimaced, shaking his head. “This is one of the last times we’ll be together as a group until Christmas.”

“Don’t be so damn dramatic, Toby we have the summer,” Derek said and I looked past Toby to see that he and Lily had returned. She was dressed in a pair of white shorts and a bikini top, holding a pair of towels. Derek had a small cooler that he could easily carry.

“We want to give Ally some space so we’re going to the beach,” Lily announced smiling. That’s when I noticed that she had also loosely braided her hair, it was draped over her shoulder. She looked tiny standing next to Derek, but she was the smallest of the girls anyway.

“Where’s my woman?” Toby asked, his shoulders slumping as he turned away from us. “I guess she’s going too?”

“Yeah she’s getting ready,” Lily answered, trying not to laugh when he sulked past her and headed up the stairs to their bedroom.

“What do you want to do?” I asked as we slowly proved Toby’s point about coupling up again.

“I want to go for a walk,” he answered and I felt my heart rate pick up. A walk is something I had actually wanted, and was waiting for him to suggest since we got here. Last night had been too dark, and I was still trying to bring him back.

“We’re going to look at the yearbook whenever Ally feels like coming out to the beach,” Lily said as Derek started walking towards us. I stepped out of his way so that he could walk between me and the bar to get to the kitchen.

“Put some beers in there for me,” I said as he passed. “And text us when you’re about to start?”

“Sure,” he said, offering me a smile.

“I’ll go get my phone,” I said as I turned not looking at Luke, hoping I didn’t give anything away, and that he wouldn’t follow right behind me.

When I stepped just inside the shadow hallway leading down to the master bedroom, I picked up speed. Luke hadn’t followed me, but we weren’t really dressed for walking, or a cooling off so I knew he’d be along. Opening the bedroom door, I gently let it glide behind me. It didn’t close all the way, but I walked through my piles of dirty clothes to my bag. Unzipping it, I reached in and grabbed the box. I felt movement inside it, and I wasn’t brave enough to open the box to look inside. Instead I tucked it inside the pocket of my shorts. Looking down, noticing the square bulge that I most definitely couldn’t pass off as my cock, I frowned. Grabbing my phone, I slid it into the same pocket, but it did little to break up the shape.

“You ready?” Luke asked as the door opened just as gently as I closed it.

“I’m going to change my shorts,” I said, glancing over my shoulder, not wanting to turn around. “And take a piss.”

“Alright,” he said and I turned back around. Kneeling just long enough to grab a pair of khaki shorts that Mom packed, but I didn’t think I would need. Swearing under my breath I walked into the bathroom and kicked off my flip flops just inside the door. Fishing out the the box and my phone I sat them on the bathroom counter then pulled down the loose fitting shorts. When they hit the floor, adding to the smaller pile of clothes I had in here. Actually having to pee, I walked over to the toilet. When I finished I flushed and turned the water on the counter. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw that my cheeks had flushed. My heart was still racing in my chest, and I swore. I never got nervous, not really. My first swim meet was the last time I felt like this, the tension in my stomach that I had to take deep breaths to release. I felt a bead of sweat escape from my armpit and tickle down my side. Reaching up, I wiped it away before I washed my hands.

I ended up splashing my face with cold water and that made me feel better. Then I brushed my teeth, just because I thought I needed to. Dressing in my khaki shorts, I looked down and the bulge of the box and my phone was more rounded. I couldn’t tell there were two things in there and as long as I kept my phone in front, the box was hidden.

Sighing, I opened the bathroom door and jumped when Luke was standing on the other side. Smiling, he stepped around me and headed towards the toilet.

“I’ll see you out there,” I said just as he raised the toilet seat, something I had neglected to do. He had changed into a different pair of shorts as well, and slid on a navy blue t-shirt with faded graphics on the front. I saw a cross, thinking it had to be a t-shirt from a church thing.

I didn’t bother with a shirt, thinking I would just sweat through it anyway, and when he walked into the bedroom, I opened our own exit out onto the back deck. Forcing a smile as he passed me, I fell in step behind him closing the door behind us.

“They’re already down there,” Luke said as I glanced down at my shorts, still nervous that I was giving something away. It was just a gift, but I hadn’t given him anything like this, not with Mom’s input, or initiative. This one was all me to fuck up, and I didn’t want to spoil it with my fumbling.

“Ally isn’t, so we still got time,” I answered when I just saw four people on our section of beach. Derek and Toby were passing a frisbee, Derek making Toby run.

“Do you think Bailey will come to his senses?” Luke asked, glancing back towards the beach house.

“The dude is fucking dim,” I answered smiling when I heard him snicker.

“He’s not really,” Luke countered, but I grimaced not wanting to hear him defend Bailey Fucking Ashton. “I am a little worried, myself.”

“She’ll be fine,” I said as he laughed and we stepped off the smooth concrete onto the wooden deck. The hollow sound of the wood, louder and far more invasive than any other sound out here. It broke the tranquility of the place, drowning out the rolling crash of the waves against the sandy beach. I also felt the vibrations of every step Luke made.

“No,” he sighed after he stopped laughing. “I’m worried that when you get to Georgia, you might change your mind.”

“Don’t be,” I said, swallowing as I looked over at him. He was looking forward, towards the ocean. “I’m pretty stubborn, you know this.”

“I do know that,” he offered and I frowned, not thinking he would agree with me.

“Where do you want to walk to after we get to the sand?” I asked as we were over halfway down, I could hear Toby and Derek arguing already. I was gearing up to tell them all that were still going on the walk, knowing they would try to talk us into just staying and relaxing with them.

“The pier,” he said, “by the time we get there, I think the sun will be just about right.”

“Okay,” I said, turning my head to look down towards the pier. It was a good distance from where we were, but the sky had lost the light blue and deepened. The heat from earlier was also waning and I knew Lily wouldn’t make it much longer past sunset before she would want to retreat back inside. It wasn’t a short window, the sun would take its time to set, and if we didn’t make it to the pier, I knew I would need a back up plan at the ready.

Bypassing the group, I reached my hand out. I wanted him to take it, despite the threat of it being clammy. He didn’t notice it at first, so I wiped it on my shorts and offered it again. When he smiled, I knew he had seen the gesture. I didn’t think he was going to take it, there were people from other beach houses or resorts out wandering around. When he did, though, I felt myself sigh and I heard him snicker.

“I’ll get there eventually,” he whispered, giving my hand a squeeze before he let go and I felt the distance already and didn’t want to.

“I just want you,” I offered, feeling my face flush when he glanced at me and smirked.

To their credit, Toby and Derek didn’t try anything. I half expected a frisbee to knock me in the back of the head. As we gained on the pier and left them behind, I relaxed a little. Luke had picked up his pace as well, my eyes zeroed in on the pier. He was looking around, taking in the sights noticing things I’ll never see. If he asked me about a crab or a seashell, I wouldn’t have an answer. Reaching down, I rubbed my hand over my pocket, another quick check to make sure it was still there, even though I knew it was.

“Are you nervous about State?” He asked and I tore my eyes away from the pier and looked over at him.

“Not really,” I answered shrugging. “I’ll be in trouble if Tony doesn’t think I did any training while down here.”

“Do you think he’d believe you, if you did?” He asked and I saw his smile widen and I chewed on my bottom lip looking away.

“I planned on making a big assed production of it,” I said looking out at the ocean, the waves rolling along. We walked well out of their reach, not wanting to be wet. The sand was still warm against my feet, and uneven. If we had walked closer, on water smoothed sand it would have been an easier trip. Walking along on sand, not being used to it was a workout in itself, but I knew that wouldn’t fly with Tony.

“How so?” He asked and I smiled.

“I was going to have you film me swimming laps in the ocean sometime this weekend,” I answered, turning back to him. “That way he can’t say anything as I’ll have proof.”

“One day out of five,” he countered and I rolled my eyes.

“I mean, he knew what was going to happen as soon as he let me come,” I offered and I smiled when I heard him snicker.

“I don’t think we’re going to make it if we keep walking,” Luke said and I looked towards the sunset, it had lowered and more of the oranges had advanced across the sky. The ocean had darkened from the inviting deep blues that unnerved me.

“I think we will,” I said, but when he jogged slightly ahead of me before turning to walk backwards.

“Race me,” he said, smiling as I kept walking. “If I win, you owe me whatever I ask.”

“What?” I asked as he half turned. I jogged a few steps feeling the weight of my phone and the box slamming against my leg.

“If I win, you have to promise to do something with me,” he said and I felt my heart pick up speed.

“Like what?” I asked as he started jogging and I started chasing after him, nearly falling a few steps in.

“Maybe skydiving, I don’t know,” he yelled just as he took off, spraying sand behind him.

“Fuck me,” I hissed and went full out knowing it wouldn’t amount to anything as he gained more space, even when I cheated and hit the cold ocean smoothed sand.

The only thing that saved me by the time we reached the pier was my years of endurance training. The deep sand took a lot out of him and in the last few yards, with me being a cheating ass I was able to overtake him. After I passed him he stopped running and I ran a few yards ahead of him, just to make sure it wasn’t a trick before I bent over and held myself up on my knees gulping air.

“I guess you won,” he breathed as I straightened up and started walking.

“I’m not jumping out of an airplane,” I groaned, still breathing heavily. “Why do you do that to me?”

“I don’t think I would either,” he said smiling, his cheeks flushed as sweat ran down from his temples. The humidity down here was also something we wouldn’t be dealing with back home until the middle of June, not in full force anyway.

“We’re going to make the sunset though,” I said as we turned and started waking up the stairs that led to the top of the pier. We met an older asian couple coming down, the woman smiled at us as her husband wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. I didn’t understand a word they were saying, and I smiled when I watched him gently free her hair out from under the shawl and she took his hand.

When we got to the top, I was actually surprised there wasn’t a larger crowd of people. Most of them were at the rounded edge of the pier, that was far out into the ocean. Seeing them all, Luke slowed his pace, it was about fifty or so yards out. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if we made it all the way to the end of the pier or not though, now that we were up here I remembered what was in my pocket and my hand shot to it. Feeling the box, erased some of the sudden panic I felt and when we stopped about halfway down the pier, I looked over at Luke.

He had taken out his phone and held it out in front of him. I watched him take a series of pictures, my hand still on the outside of my front pocket. I should have taken out my own phone, took my own pictures, but I could see sunsets any time I wanted. Seeing Luke bronzed by them, his eyes creasing at the corners as he took them in. His hair, just long enough to be blown by the breeze, his lips parted in an almost smile, that’s what I wanted to see.

“Take a few with me,” he said and I swallowed as we turned with our backs to the sunset as he held up his phone. I saw us both on the screen and my wide eyes and tight lips was the first thing I noticed. Smiling to relax my face, I focused just on the phone as Luke fought with it to get the best angle he could. When he was happy, I watched him tap the screen a few times.

“I better take some too, Mom will kick my ass if I don’t take any,” I said, but never reached for the phone in my pocket when he lowered his arms. I watched him slide his phone into his pocket, his smile fading. I knew I fucked up, mentioning mothers. Looking back towards the sun, I reached for his hand. I didn’t grab it. Instead I gently rubbed the tip of my finger along the back of it.

“I don’t think I could live in a place like this,” Luke said, glancing in my direction, his smile returning.

“I’d have to drink a couple gallons of water a day,” I said watching him turn back towards the sunset. It was at its peak now, it would only disappear and leave us in darkness as it progressed. I knew my window was closing, but I didn’t know if I had already messed things up.

“I like forests better,” he offered and I swallowed.

“My last name is Forrest,” I whispered and when he snickered I relaxed and felt for my front pocket again. I didn’t anticipate my hand not fitting inside it with both my phone and the box in there. Frowning, I fished my phone out, looking at him out of the corner of my eye to see him still looking towards the pier. Turning towards it, I saw people dispersing, thinking they had got what they came all this way for. Knowing I hadn’t, I slid my phone into my other front pocket, and grabbed the box.

“We should be getting back,” Luke said, still not looking at me and I took a quick breath. Time had moved so slowly a moment ago, but now it all seemed to be going by in a flash.

“We have some time,” I said just as the first small group passed us by, but I didn’t give them a second look, I only knew they were there because a woman had a strong amount of perfume on and it stung my nostrils. My phone buzzed and I grimaced as my eyes found his. He smirked, hearing it, but I shook my head.

Opening the box, I gently let the necklace fall into my palm. Seeing it, he looked down, then back up to me. Swallowing I looked down at it, just to make sure it had survived the jostling it took earlier when I ran to catch him.

“What is,” he started.

“Luke,” I whispered, swallowing, I hoped for more strength to come back to my voice, as I struggled with the words that came at me in a rush. “I know I’ll never convince you to come with me, it nearly wrecked me these past few weeks. I tried to think of a way to finally convince you, because I know what I want. I feel it hit me everyday squarely in my chest when I wake up. I will wait for you, for as long as I have to. Don’t ever doubt me, because I’ll always want you. So, promise me, promise to marry me someday?”

I heard the gasps of the last few people to pass us on the pier, but I watched Luke back against the railing we stood next to. Still looking at the necklace I held out in front of me. I saw the flash of a camera behind us and I saw Luke blink, as he shook his head and smiled.

“I will,” he whispered and I rushed towards him forgetting about the necklace and wrapped him into a hug that had to crush him against the railing of the pier. Feeling his breath on my skin, I turned my head and kissed him on the neck, then backing away I found his lips. I felt him tense and move under me, our legs tangled together. I was about to break the kiss until I felt his hand on the back of my neck, holding me there.

“I love you,” I whispered between kisses, the sharp carved L cutting into the palm of my hand from the necklace I still hadn’t given him. It was the opposite of mine in every way, where mine was onyx, his was a glossy marble. Where mine was lined with silver, his was a white gold. We had been opposites that fell into all of this. I never saw it coming.

“I love you, too,” he repeated as I broke the kiss and stepped back as his hand fell from the back of my head to his side. I held the necklace up and he turned so I could fasten it around his neck. When it was securely there he turned back around and smiled.

A young couple sent me the pictures they took, which embarrassed us both, but we were thankful to have them. There was no clapping or anything, I think Luke would have bolted if any of them had, but they left us there on the pier. We never made it to the end of it, the sun had gone and we knew we were already late. So I kissed him, feeling weightless and able to breathe again, every touch from him sending racing goosebumps across my skin.

“We gotta go,” he finally said and I groaned looking up at the stars that had appeared.

“I know,” I said looking back down at him.

“Or they can forgive us if we stay longer,” he said smiling.

“Fuck yes, they can,” I agreed kissing him again and planned not to stop until he stopped me again and I’ll have to try my hand at convincing him for more time. I didn’t want to leave, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide anything, and I didn’t want to come down from this either. The year was winding down for us both. Then the next four or so years will see us juggling colleges in different parts of the country. Only seeing one another during down times and small freedoms until summers, too short of summers because I’ll still be in training. The promise will hold me through it all though, I had no doubt.

Copyright © 2017 Krista; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

Well done, Jackson!

I like the balance between the gang not being able to stop roughhousing and beings slobs, and  actually taking time to care for their found family. 

The sunset moment reminds me of that winter scene in the clearing in the woods.  It's a long way from there but also kind of a closed ring now.  



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Loved this chapter! The proposal was so touching. I hope Luke changes his mind about going with Jackson.

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On 2/22/2024 at 12:51 AM, VBlew said:

Lovely.  A marriage proposal.  And hopefully the college years and the long distance relationship do work out.

Aww thank you. :D 

On 2/22/2024 at 10:23 AM, Mattyboy said:

Well done, Jackson!

I like the balance between the gang not being able to stop roughhousing and beings slobs, and  actually taking time to care for their found family. 

The sunset moment reminds me of that winter scene in the clearing in the woods.  It's a long way from there but also kind of a closed ring now.  



I'm glad you called them slobs, because one of the comments @wildone made was that none of the guys ate any of the salad. They all essentially drank alcohol and ate steak, and some of the left over chicken. And, I wanted them to be messy in that way, being out and fending for themselves. I almost had them do worse than that.. and just eat microwave stuff or what they could get delivered... they at least cooked. 

On 2/22/2024 at 1:03 PM, mfa607 said:

What a great chapter! Thank you!

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. :D 

On 2/22/2024 at 5:40 PM, Beau said:

Love the direction this is heading. Thanks!!!

Thank you! I'm glad you're liking the story. 

On 2/22/2024 at 7:11 PM, jaysalmn said:

Loved this chapter! The proposal was so touching. I hope Luke changes his mind about going with Jackson.

Aww, thank you. These planned epilog parts have been a bit fun, but a little stressful to write. But, I am happy. Over 400k in words... is a long story to write. Longer since it took me sooo much time to actually write it. 

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Aww the proposal made me cry a little 🥲

i am glad they are committed to each other at such a young age :)

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