“STELLA!” I hear my name being screeched as soon as I hear Gemma’s vehicle turn off. I’m in the barn spending more time with Zeus after supper while Beau and Dad start sorting through the cattle and ear tagging them with our tags.
“Gemma!” I grin, leaving Zeus’s gate open while I know his nose is buried in his feed bucket. I jog outside and am met with my best friend throwing her body on mine. “Woah there, sister. Just because you haven’t seen me since graduation, does not give you the right to suffocate me.”
“Sorry! Oh my gosh, you have to tell me everything about Panama!” She squeals, finally letting go of me.
“Trust me, I will.” I grin, and drag her into the barn with me and start spilling everything about Panama, including the very cute local boy who I got pretty close with. I may have left that part out when I was telling Beau and my dad about the trip. I tell her about the mansion my mother now owns, and the beautiful beach it sits about 30 yards from. Beau comes in several times to grab a new bag of tags, and then Gemma starts questioning me about him. “Dude, I’ve known him for 8 hours. Trust me, I don’t know him at all.”
“But he’s hella hot.” She grins, eyeing his ass as he walks out.
“What about your Italian boy? I need the details about your cruise and then little lovers trip back to Italy!” I smirk, smacking her shoulder with the carrot Zeus is trying to take out of my hand.
“Well, his name is Fernando, his family owns a vineyard in Italy, and he’s going to be a transfer student at Cornell this fall. He’s 20, and oh my god you’ll die when you meet him. He’s so hot.” She practically swoons as she’s describing this mystery guy.
“When am I going to get to meet him? You didn’t kidnap him and bring him back with you, did you?” I laugh, teasing her.
“Well, I didn’t exactly kidnap him, but yeah. My parents are letting him stay in our ‘guest room’ until he has to leave for Cornell this fall. And you’re going to get to meet him tonight. Jackson texted me and invited me to a bonfire tonight. I told him I was bringing along a couple of plus ones.” She grins, and puts air quotes around ‘guest room’.
“Why didn’t I get Jackson’s text? I was always invited to his bonfires!” I pout for a minute, then realize that I haven’t checked my phone since I was in the truck with Beau.
“He probably figured you were still in Panama. I mean, you were supposed to stay another week.” Gemma shrugs, leaning against the outside of the stall while biting into an apple. Zeus hears the sound and sticks his head over the wall to try to coax her into giving him a bite. She takes two more bites before feeding him the rest.
“Yeah, but I missed my dad. I couldn’t stand the thought of him running this place on his own.”
“You didn’t know he hired someone?”
“Didn’t know until Beau picked me up at the airport. We argued for a solid five minutes about whether or not he worked for my dad.” I laugh, remembering the conversation.
“I figured your dad would have mentioned a hot farm hand he hired for the summer.” Gemma smirks, and I roll my eyes before closing the stall door. Zeus has had enough attention tonight. “Anyway, meet at my house at 9 and we can ride together. Love you!”
“Love you!” I call as I watch her jog out of the barn before turning to make sure all the horses have hay.
“Are y’all done in here for the night?” I yell to my dad and Beau, sticking my head out of the barn door so I can see them. “Kay! I’m turning the lights out and shutting the doors.” I holler when they don’t answer me, and slide the doors shut before turning and coming face to face with Beau’s chest.
“Can I help you?” I ask, taking a step back and looking up at his perfect face.
“Nope. We’re done and I was just coming to make sure everything was shut up for the night. Where’re y’all headed tonight?” He asks, jerking his chin towards Gemma’s Volkswagen Beetle speeding down our driveway.
“Is it really any of your business?” I ask, crossing my arms.
“Just wondering. See you in the morning, miss Stella.” He grins, slipping inside the barn and closing the doors back behind him.
I roll my eyes and head into the house to quickly unpack and find my favorite sinfully short pair of jean shorts and a white tank top. I tuck the tank top in before slapping on a bling belt and tugging on my favorite pair of dark brown, mid-shin, square-toed cowboy boots. I pull my hair out of the low bun I wrapped it into during the truck ride, and fluff the curls out. My face usually never has makeup but on it, but I decide to go all out tonight and smear on the foundation and bronzer and blush before doing my eyebrows and putting on mascara. I tuck in a pair of hoop earrings into my ears, and swipe on some muted mahogany lipstick, before grabbing my wallet and heading to the garage where my Jeep has sat for the last month and a half.
“Bye Dad! I’ll be home before dawn!” I call to my old man who is sitting on the couch in the living room with his socked feet propped up on the coffee table as I grab my hat off the back of my dining room chair.
“Drive safe, be safe! Call me if you need me!” He hollers back before the door slams shut, and I grab my keys off the wall and open the garage door. Oh, how I missed my Jeep. I slap my hat on my head, and let the wind take my curls as I drive down the road to Gemma’s house.
“Bitch, I’m driving!” I holler when I see my best friend come running out of her house, dragging a boy behind her.
“Stella! This is Fernando. Fernando, questo è Stella. Stella è la ragazza ti ho raccontato su.” Gemma says, and I widen my eyes at her Italian.
“Ah, Stella! I have heard so much about you! Gem did not do you justice when she told me how beautiful her best friend is. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He says in the hottest accent I have ever heard. His voice literally sounds like silk.
“It’s nice to meet you, Fernando.” I giggle when he kisses the back of my hand.
“The pleasure is all mine.”
“Smettere di flirtare con il mio migliore amico, Fernando.” Gemma smirks, before strapping herself into the passenger’s seat while Fernando climbs in the backseat.
“I’m impressed with your Italian, Gemma. I didn’t know you knew Italian.” I say over the wind as I’m heading towards the bonfire spot Jackson Stapleton set up by a pond on the back 40 acres of his parent’s property four years ago`. I can’t count the number of parties and bonfires we’ve had out here over the years.
“Well, Fernando is a really good teacher.” She giggles, and I watch Fernando blow her a kiss in my rear view mirror.
I give her a knowing sideways glance as I take the next turn and find the pasture gate that has been laid down for the night. I have to flip my headlights on so I can see through all the dips and rough spots in the pasture to follow the two-lane trail back to the party spot. I smile as I see the circle of pickup trucks around the fire, every other one turned backwards so we have tailgates to sit on and lights to spotlight dance with. Everyone who doesn’t drive a truck parks along a line back away from the party a little way, so I join the line before parking, shutting my lights off, and climbing out into the pasture.
“Damn girl! Breaking out your sexy shorts tonight?” Gemma smirks when the three of us walk towards the party.
“I wore less in Panama.” I wink at her, planning on telling her about my ocean skinny dipping escapade with the local boy I mentioned earlier.
“Hey Jackson!” I grin, and catch the beer bottle he tosses at me.
“Lookin’ good there, Stella. Looks like Panama has been nice to you.” He smirks, running his hand down the back of my thigh as he steps closer to me.
“Thanks, Jackson.” I smile, grabbing his hand from my leg and leading him to an empty truck bed. He sits there for a while, trying to get me to make out with him, but he’s drunk, and has never been a good kisser. He takes the hint after me turning my head every time he dives in for a kiss and is met with my cheek a couple of times, and a couple of people start complaining about the fire getting low.
Gemma drags Fernando over and the three of us sit on the tailgate while Gemma explains what is happening to Fernando, who has apparently never been to a bonfire party before. He’s fascinated with the concept, and I go grab another beer after I’ve finished this bottle. The sun has finally gone completely down, and headlights continue streaming into the party. I grab a guy named Casey who played short stop on our baseball team, and he’s more than happy to dance with me after we’ve both had several beers and Jackson has turned up the music. Casey and I had a little bit of a thing in high school, but we were never official or anything. We hooked up once or twice after a game, but it was never serious. He wraps his hands around me and tugs my back into his chest and lets his hands roam across my stomach and dip down into my shorts. His lips connect with the skin on my neck and then he kisses my shoulder, and I grab his hands out of my shorts and hold onto them while I grind my hips on him. I’m not near drunk enough to let this go any farther past this though. Gemma rescues me when a swing dance song comes on, and we dance around the fire together.
“Thanks for the rescue.” I grin, grabbing another beer when the song is over.
“No problem. Ugh. What the hell is Colt doing here?” Gemma groans, and I turn to see Colt, Corey, and Beau all walking towards our party. “And what the hell is your hot farm hand doing with him?”
“Apparently, Colt and Beau were college roommates and best friends.” I scoff, rolling my eyes. Gemma and I head back to the tailgate of the truck Fernando is still sitting on, and we hop up with our drinks.
“Your luck is so shitty, Stella.” She shakes her head when the three of them reach the party, and at least three girls head straight to Beau, who changed out of his blue button down to an AC/DC cutoff that shows a sleeve and a half of tattoos along with a peck piece and part of a back piece. “Damn that boy is fine.”
“Yeah, I probably wouldn’t complain if he tried to crawl into my bed some night.” I shrug, before Fernando stares wide-eyed at me. “What?” I ask, and he shakes his head before a guy from the football team grabs my hand and starts dancing. This guy’s hips move a lot better than Casey’s did, probably because Casey pretty much just stood there trying to shove his hands down my shorts instead of moving to the music, so I really have no problem when this guy presses his chest to my back and starts swaying. It doesn’t take long for the guy to turn me in his arms and lay a kiss on me, but he’s a better kisser than Jackson is so I don’t protest. In fact, I find out that he is a very good kisser, and I reach up and run my fingers through his short hair. When this guy, who I find out is Joe Riley when I open my eyes, has released my lips from our impressive kiss, he offers to go get me another drink, and I nod, heading back to lean on the tailgate.
“Didn’t know you liked Joe.” Gemma teases.
“Didn’t know he was such a good kisser.” I answer, shrugging, and watching him dig in the cooler. “Why aren’t you guys dancing?”
“Fernando is more interested in watching everyone else dance.” She groans, and I don’t think Fernando even realizes we’re talking about him. “Just so you know, Beau hasn’t taken his eyes off you all night. I think I may have seen a glare when you were kissing Joe.”
“Well, if Beau wants me, then he can come get me.” I giggle, hitting the first stage of drunk Stella.
Five beers have given me the slight buzz I need to not feel a bit guilty when I take another beer from Joe and immediately pull his mouth back to mine. He takes the liberty to press my back against the side of a truck, and I willingly give my lips to him. It’s when his hands start to unbutton my shorts do I get a little annoyed. I push his hands away from the front of my shorts twice, before I finally push his lips away from mine. Joe glares for a second as I re-button my shorts.
“Look, we can make out as much as you want, but I’m not here to have sex. Got it?” I say loud enough for several people around us to hear. He rolls his eyes and nods, stepping back towards me and kissing me again. He makes it about two minutes before his hands are back on my shorts, trying to pull them down without unbuttoning them. “Joe, stop.” I mutter, before the boy is pulled off me by someone much bigger than him.
“The lady told you to stop, and I expect that you’re going to listen to her, got it?” Beau asks as he hold Joe by the front of his shirt.
“Are you okay Stella?” He asks, glancing over his shoulder at me without letting go of Joe. I nod and cross my arms over my chest, trying to tuck my beer bottle into my side. I’m not ashamed of it, I just don’t want to to be one of the first things Beau figures out about me.
“You better not let me catch you trying to get in her pants ever again.” Beau growls before letting the poor football player go.
“You didn’t have to do that. I can take care of myself.” I mutter, glaring at Beau.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t like him.” Beau shrugs, and I shake my head.
“You can’t just waltz into town and think you run the show. Like I said, I can handle myself.” I state, taking another sip of my beer before walking away, stumbling in the process over a root weed. Beau reaches out to catch me, and even though I’d normally be able to catch myself, the alcohol has left my balance equilibrium slightly off, so I crash into his arms.
“Looks like you’re a little drunk.” He says, helping steady me on my feet.
“I’m fine. What are you doing here anyway?” I ask, straightening my tank top.
“Colt thought I needed to get out. Said Corey mentioned a bonfire. I thought it would be fun.” He shrugs.
“Well you should go back to them. I’m here with Gemma and Fernando.” I tell him, taking another few gulps of my beer. Normally, it’d take me twice as many to get to the point where I’m slurring my words, but after six I’m really feeling them. Actually, I feel a little weird on the inside.
“Stella, are you okay?” Beau asks, taking a step towards me when I sway on my feet.
“Yeah, I just feel a little funny.” I lean back against the truck, my vision starting to go fuzzy.
“Stella, Stella, did you get all of your own drinks tonight? Did someone get one for you? Did you put something in one of them? Did you take something before drinking?” Beau asks, grabbing my arm and holding me up when I start to slide down the truck. I knit my brows together and force myself to think.
“Uh, Joe got me this one and the last one.” I say, holding up the beer bottle I’m still managing to hold onto. He grabs it out of my hand and sniffs, before pouring some of it onto the ground. “Party foul.”
“Shut up, Stella. This beer was roofied. You said Joe got it for you?” He asks, this time allowing me to slide down the side of the truck and sit on the ground. I nod and lean my head against the tire. “I’ll be right back.”
I sit and lean against the truck for what seems like ever before I open my eyes to Gemma kneeling beside me. “Stella, holy shit, are you okay? You don’t look so good!” She gasps, and actually lightly slaps my cheek. I shrug and close my eyes again until I hear Beau’s voice telling Gemma what happened.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think he’s going to be doing that again any time soon.” Beau claims, before bending down and scooping me up. “I’ll take her home, make sure she gets in her own bed safely.”
“You can take the Jeep if you don’t have a vehicle here. Fernando and I can hitch a ride with someone else. Please take care of her.” I hear Gemma beg before she kisses my forehead.
“Love you!” I hear her call as Beau starts walking away and jostling me around in his arms.
“Luh you.” I murmur, my arm flopping to the side.
Beau carries me to where I parked the Jeep, and carefully tucks me into the passenger’s seat before buckling my seat belt. My head slumps at an awkward position and I reach out to grab my throbbing brain. When I open my eyes I can’t really make out anything in front of me, and I can’t think straight either.
“Stella, I need you to try to stay awake.” I hear Beau’s voice, and roll my head back so it can rest on the back of the seat.
“Everything is blurry. My head hurts.” I try to say, but I don’t think my words come out quite right because Beau doesn’t say anything for a while, probably trying to decipher my words.
“We’ll be home soon. Here, try to drink this.” He hands me what looks like a bottle of water, and I warily take it. “Water is supposed to help. Drink it, you’ll feel better by the time we get back.”
I shakily lift the bottle to my lips and take a sip. It’s hard to swallow and takes me a few seconds, but Beau grabs the bottle and holds it for me.
“My head hurts.” I mumble again, letting it fall back and bounce against the seat as Beau hits all of the pot holes on the road from Jackson’s to my house. “Can you stop?”
“The sooner you get to bed the better you’ll feel tomorrow.” Beau says, continuing to drive.
My stomach does a flip flop, and I reach for my seatbelt. “No, stop now.” I mumble, and as soon as Beau sees me reaching for the buckle, he pulls over and stops. I actually fall out of the vehicle and land on my knees, barfing up all of the contents of my stomach before I feel my hair being lifted from the back of my neck.
“This is good. Maybe your stomach won’t absorb any more of the drugs.” He mutters, and I wish he wasn’t seeing me like this, but there isn’t anything I can exactly do about that right now. As soon as my stomach is empty, I roll off my knees and sit on my hip, putting my head between my hands to make my eyes focus on something. “Here, drink some more water. Maybe wash your mouth out?”
I take the water bottle again, this time holding it more securely. “I’m pretty sure taking care of me is not in your job description.” I’m still slurring my words, but I try to chuckle, but that only makes my head hurt worse, so I’m left giving him a weak smile.
“Well I bet that if your dad found out that we were at the same party and you were drugged and I didn’t help you, then he’d probably fire me on the spot and I kind of need this job.” Beau smirks, sitting in the grass beside me.
“Mhm, that’s probably true. I’m sleepy.” I yawn, which still only makes my head hurt more.
“Come on, let’s get you home.” Beau says, standing up and practically lifting me into the Jeep again.
We ride the rest of the way in silence, me squinting at the pain shooting through my head at every pot hole and bump the rest of the way, but eventually we make it back. “Wait, he’s still awake.” I mutter, stopping Beau before he hits the garage door button. “He can’t see me like this.”
“He’s going to have to see you like this.” Beau sighs, turning off the headlights and stopping outside of the viewing area of the living room, where I can make out lights still being on.
“No, there’s a loft in the barn that I can sleep in tonight.” I murmur, turning my head to look at him, barely being able to make out his face because it’s so blurry.
Beau actually laughs.
“Where do you think I’ve been sleeping for the past month and a half?” He asks.
“The guest bedroom like any normal person?” I guess, still slurring my words.
“Nope. I told your dad I’d be perfectly happy in the barn. It’s summer, I sleep with the loft windows open and it’s pretty nice in there.” Beau answers, chuckling at me.
“I’m sleeping in Zeus’s stall tonight then. I’m not going inside.” I start to cross my arms, but realize that it takes too much effort, so I lean my head back and look at him again. This time, he sighs and rubs his head.
“Fine. You can sleep in the bed and I’ll take the floor. One night won’t kill me I guess.” Beau groans, shutting the Jeep off and climbing out. I start to climb out, but stumble and fall into Beau’s chest that seems to be saving me a lot tonight.
“I can walk on my own.” I insist, even though I still can’t make out any for sure shapes around me. I can’t make out the exact facial expression Beau gives me, but I’m guessing it’s a doubtful one.
“Okay, go for it.” He sweeps his arms in front of me, and I take a step on my own. Bad idea. My knees buckle, and Beau catches me, carrying me to the barn. “You’re the stubbornest girl I have ever met.”
“It runs in my family.” I murmur, pressing my fingers into the skin of his shoulder while he walks.
Beau pushes the barn door open with one hand and carries me up the stairs. “Try to get some sleep, Stella.” He says tucking me into his cot.
“Beau, I need to be in my own bed before dawn.” I curl into a ball and try to see him as he stretches out on the floor with a sleeping bag.
“I’ll wake you up at 5.” He yawns, and then I see the outline of him shrugging off his shirt.
“Good night Beau.” I call.