We come up beside Lexi and Damien who both look calmer than they appeared when they left the water hole.
“Everything okay?” I ask cautiously. Lexi’s smile lights up her whole face and Damien even gives me one of his rare smiles. Lexi jumps up to kiss me and I grab her instantly dropping the cooler.
“Ow.” Rowan says dramatically as the empty cooler falls and hits his leg. I let Lexi back down and give him an apologetic smile. He glares at me.
“So Lexi has demand a grill cook up tonight. I thought I could set up the grill in the back yard and we can have the fire pit going as well.” I inform the group.
“Oh Lexi.” Rowan says disappointedly. “You have to learn to abuse power better.” He adds affectionately. She just shrugs at him. “Well alright loser, you go pull the grill out of the shed. The kitchen is pretty stocked. I’m taking Damien to show him where he can wash up before dinner.” He leaves his instructions and starts to pull Damien into the back of the house. I laugh and shake my head at him.
“Come on.” I tell Lexi. “I’ll show you to one of the bathrooms on the ground floor.”
“One of the bathrooms.” She laughs in disbelief. “Don’t you need to shower as well?” She asks concerned when I lead her to the bathroom. I shake my head.
“Nah the grill is going to make a mess, I’ll clean up after.” I tell her assuredly. “Go ahead, I’m going to set up out back. Make yourself at home and come find me when you’re done.” I smile at her and leave to give her privacy. I manage to wheel the grill to around the fire pit beside the oak tree in the back yard. I grab the gas bottle and thank my lucky stars that it’s full. I turn on the grill and set about cleaning it down and oiling it. I walk back into the house and change into a darker t-shirt over my jeans before I cause any more mess.
I grab some fire wood from the stack beside the house, but it’s not enough to build the fire pit. I arrange the logs so we sit around the fire pit. Then I set about chopping some more firewood on the stump as the sun sinks over the fields. I carry the firewood to the pit then search for some kindling from the trees nearby. I head back into the house to grab supplies. I can hear laughter coming from the upstairs bathroom and I shake my head. I head into the kitchen and find Lexi chopping salad ingredients.
I stand in the doorway silently watching her for a moment. She’s standing at the bench with her eyes on the task at hand, her hands deftly chop and scrape the ingredients into a bowl next to her. Her hair is falling over her shoulders and the golden streaks in the auburn color seem to be on fire as the setting sun’s rays come in through the kitchen window. Her smile is content and I suddenly have a vision of our children running around her legs playing as she tries to prepare dinner. She is a goddess in everything she does.
I move into the room with enough noise to let her know I’m there. Her face looks up and she gives me a shy smile. I crook an eyebrow at her. “I’m supposed to be cooking.” I scold her playfully.
“This isn’t cooking, this is garnish.” She challenges and I round the bench quickly and I lift her to sit on it. I stand between her thighs and fix her with a devastating glare.
“Do you always have to be so goddam challenging?” I demand playfully as I take her face in my hands. She smiles a wicked smile at me.
“You bring it out of me.” She says defiantly. I shake my head and crush my lips to hers. I kiss her into submission. I finally break away and turn away from her leaving her breathless. I grab up all the supplies I need and load them into my arms. I shoot her a warning look before I leave the kitchen. In the back yard I put everything down on the table next to the grill. I take the newspaper and light the fire pit. It roars to life putting the glow of the sunset to shame.
Lexi emerges from the house as I oil the grill some more making sure the heat is consistently spread out. I look at the stack of plates and utensils next to me. Lexi drops the salad bowl on the table beside me. She bites her lip and looks down shyly. I concede and agree to let her help.
“Let’s go grab some corn.” I tell her pulling her towards the field nearby. Her smile is beaming as I show her how to tell when it’s ready and how to shuck the cobs easily. We gather a dozen and bring them back to the grill. I lay them out evenly as she watches me. She disappears into the house and reappears carrying two open beers. I smile approvingly as I take my beer from her. I go into the kitchen to grab the plate of meat I left in the refrigerator that is dripping in our Mama’s homemade barbeque sauce.
I reach the back door and see Lexi standing by the fire swaying in rhythm with the flames. I walk towards the grill and she seems not to notice my appearance as her body continues to sway. Her eyes are completely focused on the fire, she brings her beer to her lips breaking the gaze. Her eyes shoot to mine and the reflection of the flames in her eyes cause me groan from deep in my chest as I try to focus on my task.
Lexi springs over to my side as I drop the steaks and sausages onto the grill with some onions. The aroma of the food cooking seems to alert Damien and Rowan and they appear outside seconds later, beers in hand. The three of them take a seat by the fire as I carry on cooking. Everyone is laughing at Rowan’s comments about getting me my own apron for Christmas. The laughs continue for a while as I grill.
“You’ll make such a good house wife bro.” Rowan says bringing the attention back to my cooking. I flick a piece of onion at him.
“All right tell me how bloody y’all want ’em.” I call out to the three of them.
“You know how I like my meat.” Rowan calls back wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. I roll my eyes.
“Rare.” I confirm. He nods.
“I like being able to sink my teeth into it. Maybe Lexi would like hers rare too, she likes sinking her teeth into things.” Rowan shoots a knowing look at Lexi who blushes against his gaze. Then I watch as her eyes fall to her breast where my mark is and she bites her lip seductively at me. I choke on my beer at that. I recover and her gaze is locked onto mine.
“Rowan, come and get it.” I say holding up his plate. He jumps up fangirling then snatches his plate away. “Damien?” I call out. He looks at me thoughtfully.
“Just a bit less blood than that.” He says as he looks at Rowan’s plate. I flip another one over to burn it a little more for him. Lexi has stood up and started to walk over towards me. She pulls up next to me and examines the contents of the grill.
“Can I have that one?” She asks seductively as she points to the biggest steak at the back of the grill. I smile at her and lean down to whisper in her ear.
“Baby I would give you anything you want when you smile at me like that.” I let my lips graze her ear. She tucks her head shyly into my shoulder before looking up at me rewarding me with that magnificent smile. I kiss her forehead gently as I grab her plate and load it up with her requests. She thanks me with a kiss on the cheek before she walks away to resume her seat by the fire. I suddenly become aware of Damien’s eyes on me, he was watching our interaction closely and he seems less calm than he usually is with it.
I hold up his plate and signal him. He approaches the grill still studying me. He takes his plate and smiles a full smile at me. He looks over at Lexi and back to me before he nods still smiling and walks back to his seat next to Rowan. I load up a plate slightly confused by Damien’s actions, but decide to pay it no mind.
I leave the grill on low to keep the extra food warm. Then I make a beeline for Lexi. I drop down on the log beside her as we all toast raising our beers.
“To friends.” Damien calls out.
“To family.” Lexi adds.
“To dance.” I chime in and Lexi beams at me.
“To Florida, for calling our parents away.” Rowan concludes as we all laugh and take a drink. We all smash through our food fairly fast and each drain a few more beers. Rowan and Damien and Lexi all have seconds and congratulate my cooking. Lexi and Damien linger by the grill for a while talking until I go to collect some corn cobs after accepting a challenge from Rowan. I catch the tail end of their whispers.
“It was nice to see your body out in the sun today, you never show it off anymore.” Damien whispers affectionately.
“You know why.” Lexi hisses back quietly and less friendly.
“You know he’s different, you think I’d let him near you if he wasn’t.” He snaps back quietly. I clear my throat as I get closer and pretend to ignore them as I reach over and grab the corn then I turn away and throw a cob at Rowan.
“You guys are going to love this.” Rowan calls over to Lexi and Damien who both smile at him and resume their seats. Then they both watch on in hysterics as Rowan and I have a corn eating contest. After the food is gone and the plates are cleared I slip down onto the blanket on the ground resting my back against the log. I watch the fire for a moment before a shadow moving in front of my vision blocks the view.
I smile as Lexi settles herself down on the blanket between my legs, she leans back against my chest as I wind my arms around her waist pulling her securely against me. She exhales as her body relaxes completely and we watch the fire together. Rowan looks over at us and smiles affectionately. Then he jumps up from his log. “Well good night kids, we’re off to desecrate every room in the house.” Rowan announces crudely and I shoot him a so-not-appropriate look. He pulls Damien off the log to stand with him.
“At least leave our parents room alone.” I plead. Rowan turns around and winks.
“Are you kidding, that was the first one we hit?” He announces proudly and I shake my head at him as he laughs. I notice Damien shoot me a quick apologetic look then his eyes turn sad as he looks at Lexi in my arms. Then he disappears into the house behind Rowan.
“Sometimes I wish I was an only child.” I whisper playfully into Lexi’s ear. She laughs.
“No you don’t” She breathes out. We sit in silence and watch the fire for a long time. I hear something smash inside the house and then laughter follows it. Lexi laughs in my arms. “So much for you parents not even knowing we were here.” She whispers concerned. I kiss her neck lightly.
“Don’t worry about it. There’s no possible way Rowan or I could disappoint them any further. We’ve already hit the bottom of the barrel of potential.” I explain evenly.
“I can’t believe that. I saw the photos, it’s like a shrine to you in there.” She says. I laugh lightly in her ear.
“Give it time.” I hesitate. “Did you see the wall with my brother’s photos on it?” I ask her and she shakes her head. “That’s because after he came out to them our father destroyed every trace of him in this very fire pit.” I tell her sadly. She turns to look in my eyes.
“That’s terrible.” I nod at her sentiment.
“Do you remember that bus trip we were joking about when we first met?” I ask her and she nods turning back to face the fire. “My brother and I came to visit and tell them that I took my discharge from the army. Our father exploded about me quitting duty, and having no honor. Then he accosted me for being a coward.” I pause. “His parting shot was to wish I had died with honor in the war.” I confess and she jumps up from between my legs and straddles my lap to face me. Her eyes are filled with tears as she takes my face in her hands.
“Don’t you ever think that you don’t have honor.” She scolds me seriously as tears fall from her eyes. “You could never be a coward Link. You who went to fight, went to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves. You’re the kindest most honorable man I’ve ever met. Your father’s hateful words are just that. Hateful words from a scared man who could never even imagine the horrors you’ve faced and survived.” Her voice pierces through to a place in my heart that had actually believed his words until just now.
She kisses me forcefully and I feel her warm tears fall to my cheek. I pull back and brush her tears away and smile at her sweetly.
“I just didn’t have the heart for war anymore. I wanted to experience the freedom I’ve been fighting so hard for. I just wanted to taste it and remember why I’ve been living in a perpetual nightmare for so long.” I confess heart felt. I haven’t told anybody this. Her eyes smile reassuringly as her tears stop.
“Have you had a taste yet?” She asks hopefully. I nod certainly.
“The moment we first danced and every moment since.” I confess and her lips crush mine in a bruising kiss. Her hands tighten and fist in my hair as I pull her against me. Our kisses are urgent and forceful and her thighs are locked tight around my legs. I break away desperately I lean back looking at my goddess as the flames rise up behind her. The flames seem to be threatening to consume her I pull her closer to me to protect her and I bury my head in her neck and just hold her.
She wraps her arms tightly across my shoulders and holds me just as fiercely and protectively. I exhale in frustration as I realize something. “I need to go wash up.” I sigh. She laughs a little in my ear.
“I don’t mind the smoky smell.” She whisper coyly. I groan with pleasure at the temptation.
“No I need it.” I say defeated. She stands up slowly and steps back to let me up. I smile ruefully at her hoping she understands that I could’ve stayed on the ground holding her all night. We reach the house and I lead her upstairs with her hand in mine.
“Do you want me to show you the guest room?” I ask her seriously. I want her to know there is no pressure. She shakes her head with a smile playing on her lips.
“Where’s your room?” She asks with her shy smile.
“Last door on the left.” I tell her indicating the direction with my head. “Go ahead, I’ll take a quick shower and meet you in there.” She nods and let’s go of my hand. I don’t walk into the bathroom until I see her enter my room.
The hot water from the shower is heavenly as it washes away the smoke and dirt from the day. I smile at the soap I’m using. The same brand my entire life, my parents never could handle change very well. I hear a knock at the door and my heart starts racing. I know I don’t have the will power to refuse her if she comes in here right now. “Link?” I hear Rowan’s quiet voice and I exhale in relief as I reach over and open the door.
“What the hell man?” I demand quietly as he slips into the bathroom. I let my head lean out from the shower curtain. His eyes lock on mine with indecision written on his face. “What?” I demand again.
“I just wanted to give you a heads up that Lexi is in your room.” He says urgently.
“I know I told her where it was.” I hiss indignantly. He shoots me a shocked look.
“Are you planning to sleep with her?” He hisses with concern lacing his voice. Now I’m annoyed at his intrusion.
“That’s none of your business.” I snap. He shakes his head violently.
“Not sleep with her I meant actually sleep?” He clarifies and I shrug. His eyes dart away quickly.
“Why?” I breathe out trying to be patient.
“Link you have nightmares.” He says pausing seeming self-conscious.
“I know that.”
“No you don’t.” He says pausing again. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until you moved in but you scream the most horrible screams sometimes. I found you thrashing around in your bed the other night trying to strangle the pillow.” He says urgently and his eyes are filled with sadness. My face falls at the thought of exposing my brother to that horror. “Look Link, I know how you feel about her and how fragile she is after talking with Damien. I just didn’t want you to scare her.” He informs me and I nod appreciatively at him.
“You’ve always got my back Ro.” I say thankfully. He nods curtly.
“Always.” He says assuredly. Then I pick up on his words.
“What did you mean about her being fragile? What did Damien say?” I ask him seriously and he instantly looks guilty.
“Man I’m sorry it’s not my place to say but you need to make sure she’s ready for anything serious.” He says warningly. I don’t push him, I know he’d tell me if he could. I suspected that she’s been hurt before and this just confirms it. I won’t make a move on her until she’s ready.
“Ro?” I call his attention from his guilt. He looks at me.
“Get out.” I smile at him and laugh. He laughs too releasing his tension before he slips out the door.