Chapter 1 - Summer Nights
- The best love story is when you fall in love with the most unexpected person at the most unexpected time.
“Adri! You’re here.” Madison, my childhood friend, ran up to me and hugged me as I approached the little bonfire held at the beach to ring in our last official summer break. Madison and I along with some other of our friends have one year left of college and decided to make the most of our last summer of freedom, starting with a party the first night back to town.
We were all born and raised in a small coastal town where everyone knew everyone and their business. That was one of the reasons that we decided to go to college away from here, hours away. Don’t get me wrong, I love my little town and the people but when even Gary down at the supermarket knows about your failed first kiss or when Martha at the feed store gives you tips on your first period, well that is a bit too much. They all mean well and I can’t complain about their concern but the lack of a private life as a growing teenager was challenging.
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I was usually a bit of a homebody and the only time I went to parties was when Madison dragged me to one. Come to think of it, every single high school or college party I have been to was due to her. But this summer, that was going to change.
Max, Madison’s boyfriend since high school, was talking to Baca and Alice. Emily and Keegan were passing a football back and forth a few feet from the fire and Micah was roasting multiple marshmallows on a garden rake for s’mores. We had all been friends since middle school and did most everything together, even college. Our interests had led us to pursue different degrees but all at the same college and we had found a big house close to campus that could house us all. The eight of us were inseparable but I feared that work after college would lead us all down separate paths, paths far away from each other.
“Micah, where’s the girlfriend?” I plopped down beside him and marveled at his ingenuity. There was a reason he was in the engineer’s program. You should see what he can do with a shopping cart.
“She’ll be here in a few weeks, apparently spending the entire summer with this group is too much for even her.” He joked, blew, and then poked a marshmallow that had caught fire with his finger. “Shit, that’s hot.” He shoved the finger in his mouth and grinned.
Madison and Max snuggled up together, snatched the rake from Micah’s hands, and started making s’mores to munch down on.
Baca and Keegan had left to go to their Jeep and came back with a heavy cooler. “We brought beer, wine coolers, vodka, tequila. You name it, we brought it.” Baca exclaimed while Keegan hooted and hollered. We were all passed a drink and the evening started to get more interesting.
A few drinks in we were tipsy and having a great time when Keegan shushed us all to play a game. “Alright, here’s the rules. You all hold up five fingers, we will go around the circle and admit something we have never done. If you have done it, one finger goes down, and so on. When all your fingers are down you get to chug this.” He held up several bottles of a sickly green concoction.
“What the fuck is that?” Max swirled one of the bottles around and scrunched his face in disgust.
Keegan laughed and tossed us all a bottle. “Just a little something Micah and I cooked up this morning, nothing special.” He smirked.
“There’s a flaw in your game. We know everything about each other.” I had to point out the obvious.
“Perhaps, perhaps not but just in case I invited some people and here they come.” He motioned behind me towards two guys walking up.
The first one, Levi greeted us all with a handshake and sat down by Emily. The second guy was shy, his blonde hair and blue eyes caught my attention and I couldn’t help but stare at him as he waved awkwardly and then sat down beside me. He smiled at me with a slightly crooked smile, he was gorgeous. I kept staring, noticing his well-defined body in his jeans and tee with four large letters printed across it, ARMY.
“Levi, where’s that hot cousin of yours?” Baca seemed disappointed that she wasn’t here but still put on a smile.
“She had plans… with her boyfriends,” Levi smirked and Baca’s smile turned into a frown.
It wasn’t until the stranger next to me cleared his throat that I noticed the dog tags hanging from his neck and I frowned, realizing that he had made a commitment that may risk his life. I had just met him, didn’t even know his name, yet I was concerned for his well-being. “I’m Dean.” He brought my attention back to him and I reached out my hand for a shake.
“Adri, nice to meet you.” His hand was rough with callouses no doubt from his Army training, but I didn’t mind. His touch sent sparks down my arm and awoke a new sensation inside me, something I wasn’t familiar with.
“You have beautiful eyes, Adri.” He smiled again, eliciting a blush from me. I was thankful for the darkness, hoping that he couldn’t see the effect he had on me.
Keegan explained the rules again to which we all nodded our heads that we understood. “I’m gonna start us off. I have never kissed two people in the same night.” We all held five fingers up except for Max. Madison swatted his shoulder and demanded an explanation.
It was Max’s turn. “I have never been to Ibiza.” No one took a finger down. “Fine. Levi, you go.”
“Hmm… I have never caused a unit to get smoked during training.” He smirked with his eyes trained on Dean. Obviously, none of us had ever been in that situation other than the two of them, and Dean brought one of his fingers down while looking away.
He looked ashamed but none of us pressed the matter. I didn’t want him to feel unwelcome so I quickly changed the game. “That’s enough of that. Let’s switch it up and play would you rather instead.” I felt like this game was a safer way to get to know Dean and Levi without causing trouble.
Keegan and Micah groaned but agreed while muttering under their breath.
“Ok, how about this. I will take a swig of whatever this is if that makes you happy.” I held up the sickly green fluid and they nodded excitedly. I took a mouthful and instantly regretted it when it all came spewing back out. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and felt mortified that I had done that in front of a cute guy.
“Caution, the front row may get wet!” Keegan hollered followed by “Splash zone!”
I had only one reaction, a not very ladylike one at that as I raised my middle finger at him. Keegan grinned at me and I took a sharp breath, that was stupid of me. Dean patted my back, making sure that all the liquid was out and not in my lungs as I had a coughing fit.
“Keegan, since you are so lively today how about you start answering this question. Would you rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?” Alice interjected to take the attention off of me.
“Pfft. One horse-sized duck, duh. Imagine me riding that SOB!” He high fived Micah and Baca.
“Max, my dude. Would you rather marry Baca in a strictly platonic relationship or sleep with Micah?”
“Marry, no question. I know where Micah sticks his thing and I am not going anywhere near it.” Max blurted out so fast that I wondered if he had thought of that before.
“Ok, this is for everyone. Would you rather eat a sandwich made from four ingredients in your fridge chosen at random or eat a sandwich made by a group of your friends from four ingredients in your fridge?” Max asked.
We all picked the latter except for Baca. “What? I don’t trust any of you guys.” He joked.
“How about this. Would you rather be completely insane and know you are insane or completely insane and believe that you are sane?”
The evening continued with more ridiculous questions, drinking, eating s’mores, and getting to know Dean and Levi. Emily and Levi had disappeared sometime during the evening and hadn’t returned, Max and Madison sat by the water all lovey-dovey, Micah, Keegan and Baca had all downed their bottle of green liquid and were close to passing out with Alice fussing over them.
Dean stayed by my side, keeping me company and the conversation flowing. He was really easy to talk to and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so comfortable with someone outside our octet.
“Can I ask you something?” I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to ask but I had taken a liking to Dean and wanted to know if he was sticking around or not.
“Sure, as long as it has nothing to do with my answer to Alices’s would you rather.”
I laughed and it reminded me to ask for that on a different occasion. “Will you be sent away?”
Dean frowned and I knew I had asked the wrong question. “Deployed? I honestly don’t know, none of us do but it’s a possibility.”
“How much time do you have left in the Army?”
“Just over four years and then I’ll take over the family business. My dad owns a contractor company and I’m expected to help out when I’m ready.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. I wondered if taking over for his dad was really what he wanted in life. He reached over and laced his finger with mine, sending sparks through my hand at his touch. “Don’t worry, I plan on sticking around here for a while.”
His words reassured me, some, but I still had a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me not to let him in, to not get too close. I ignored the little voice and took a leap I had never done before. “Will I see you again, after tonight?”
“Oh, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”