Authors: MJ Fields
When all the kids would choose teams for beach volleyball or kickball, I was always the last chosen. Luke once told me that I should stop wearing my tutu and my crown all the time, and then they might take me a little bit more seriously as an athlete. I told him, when he was captain, he should choose me, anyway, because that’s what people who love each other do. I was young, very young, and he was … Luke. He nodded and said, “Fine.”
From then on, I was always his second pick. I understood that he needed to make sure his team had a chance to win, and he understood that I was still going to wear my crown and tutu.
There are pictures of him and me in abundance: me on his shoulders in the pool, me tagging along behind him, me at his football games, him at some of my dance competitions, and hundreds of photos at get-togethers. There are more pictures of the two of us than me or him with anyone else.
Those things don’t just happen; they are signs. A sign that Luke Lane and Ava Links are meant to be together forever.
When I went through my “awkward phase”—you know the one: body changing, boobs growing, things like that—he no longer put me on his shoulders in the pool. He no longer picked me to be on his team when we played games. Instead, he distanced himself.
At first, it hurt.
At school, when I told my best friend Harper, his second cousin, that I had been reading magazine articles on how to make a guy fall in love with you, she laughed.
I didn’t think it was funny at all.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Ava. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just …” She stopped, and I waited.
Harper Abraham was that girl you wish you could be. She was the top of our class academically; any sports she played, she excelled at; and she was a friend to all, kindness pouring out of her. She did not do drama, and she smiled often. As a result, when she laughed at my teenage heartbreak, it pissed me off.
“Just what?” I asked, packing my book bag full of magazines and books.
“Ava, don’t be mad. He’s just … I don’t know, older and, like, family,” she finally said.
his family; I’m not.”
Harper and I went through a rough time after that. I left the library and never mentioned his name to her again. I hid my love for Luke for a while. When she brought it up, I shot it down. She didn’t get it. He was mine, I was his, and that was the way it was. Harper wasn’t the kind of girl who dreamed of her Prince Charming, though. She was too worried about spreading kindness and helping the less fortunate. (Seriously, she is that perfect.)
When Luke started dating, I accepted it. He didn’t love those girls. I mean, what was there to love? They didn’t know him, and he didn’t know them.
Harper was right. Our age difference was an issue, but someday, it wouldn’t be. Until then, I had to believe that true love would prevail.
And it would.
Luke joined the Army. The day I found out, my heart broke.
“Why?” I asked him when no one else was in earshot.
“Why, what?” he asked, also looking around to make sure no one could hear me, including his bimbo girlfriend.
“Why are you doing this? Leaving me?” I waved my hand around. “Leaving us?”
He looked at me and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m a man, Ava. Until you grow up, you won’t understand this, but I need to make my own way.”
Tears immediately sprung to my eyes. My emotions were all over the place: hurt that he saw me as a child, sorrow because he was leaving, and anger because he just didn’t get it.
Then he hugged me.
“Someday, you’ll understand, okay? I’ll be back.”
You’ll be back for me
, I thought.
I prayed for Luke Lane every night. I prayed for his safety. I prayed for his return. I prayed for his love. God knew he was made for me, and so did I. That was all that mattered.
He came home on leave in time for graduation. His brother Jackson, Harper, his cousin Liam, and I all graduated that year. A few days after graduation, there was a party celebrating his safe return. And like every time he came home, there was a girl waiting. She was not me. She was physically my opposite: tall, big boobs, and red hair. I am short and dark-haired with less than average sized breasts and an ass that brings attention that I’m undetermined whether I like or not.
Alexis was also a complete bitch. Bitches come in droves, so that bitch brought her mini-bitches. The mini-bitches and queen bitch ate, drank, and were merry. They clearly enjoyed their time poolside, strutting around with their plastic personalities and plastic-enhanced body parts.
I overheard a conversation they had about how hot he was and “obviously he could do better than being a soldier in the Army because his family clearly could afford to send him to college.”
It happened to be a day when I was liking the size of my ass. I had snuck a few drinks and decided to go plant my butt amongst the bitches.
“I’m Ava.” I smiled nice and big, getting comfortable. They all clammed up. “So, I heard you talking shit about Luke.”
They gasped and vice bitch, the one closest to Alexis, rolled her eyes. “We were just saying he could do better.” She waved her hand about. “I mean, look at this place. It’s not like he has no other options. Clearly, he could take better care of Alexis if he just worked for his family.”
I pulled my shades down and looked over at them. “He’s busy taking care of a country. And what exactly is she doing? No, never mind, I heard. She quit school.”
“So she could be available for him,” vice bitch snapped.
“Then what does she do the other eleven months out of the year? Sit around and bitch to you guys about needing a man to take care of her?” I hold my hand up. “Never mind. Don’t give a shit. You’re all trifling ass bitches, anyway.”
“And who the hell are you?” one of them gasped. “Some teenage trust fund baby?”
“No, bitch. I’m going to be a woman who will make damn sure I can take care of myself and my man. The only sucking off him I’ll be doing is—”
“Ava, I need your help,” Harper said, grabbing my arm and yanking me up.
“Bitches,” I grumbled as I walked away.
“Fat ass,” one said behind me.
I tried to yank my arm away as I turned around. “Your boyfriend liked it.”
“Ava,” Harper snapped, pulling me into the garage.
“What a bunch of cu—”
“You’re loaded,” Harper gasped.
“So?” I huffed. “At least I’m not a cu—”
“Ava, everything okay?” Luke’s brother Jackson asked, snickering.
“Bitch told me I have a fat ass.” I turned around and bent over. “It may be fat, but it’s a nice fat ass, right?”
“Everything okay in here?”
I looked back as Luke walked in the garage.
They all said everything was good, all except me.
“Do you think my ass is fat?” I asked.
His eyes locked onto mine. There was something different in them, something that heated my body in the center and spread into every cell.
“Answering a question like that can get a man in trouble,” he said, his nostrils flaring a bit.
“Trouble is my middle—”
“Ava’s had too much to drink,” Liam interrupted, coming in behind Luke.
After that incident, the crowd thinned. My parents stayed to help Jade and Ryan clean up. I did, too. Then Mom and Logan left before Dad and I got in the pool to cool off from the drunken cleaning in ninety-degree heat.
Luke’s brothers, Riley and Jackson, were in the pool with their girlfriends. Lauren, his sister, was walking in the house with Jade.
I was on an inflatable floating tube, and Luke was standing by the edge of the pool. He was shirtless, his arms crossed over his expansive chest, wearing black board shorts hanging low on his hips, exposing the small trail of hair leading beneath his waistband. He was so beautiful it was almost painful to look at him. I swore he could have made my eyes bleed. His jet black hair was cut short on the sides, his full lips completely kissable, and his deep, dark blue eyes were cast down.
He looked up as if he could sense me looking at him, his face unreadable. I wondered what he was thinking. God, I wished I knew what he was thinking.
He squatted down and put his hand in the water as if to test the temperature. When he looked up at me again, he lifted his hand and curled his finger, beckoning me.
I pointed to myself because I was unsure he was truly referring to me.
The side of his lips curled up, and he looked around then back at me with his eyebrow raised and nodded.
I let out a very slow breath that was held as I looked around. We were alone. Everyone had left. Totally alone.
I paddled toward him, my eyes not leaving his, his never leaving mine, as I reminded myself to breathe. Just breathe.
It seemed like it took forever to get to him, but if it truly did, it was okay with me. He was looking at me, and it was so very different than it had ever been.
As I swam closer, I expected him to stand, but he didn’t.
“Water’s too cold for you, Ava.”
“I’m not cold,” I said, my voice sounding different, sexier.
“No?” He shook his head back and forth as he said it.
“As a matter of fact, I’m kinda hot,” I told him, sounding much more confident than I felt.
“I think you should come up out of that water,” he said, reaching out his hand for me.
I took it, and he pulled me up. Before he had a chance to pull it away, though, I took his hand and placed it against the base of my neck.
“Do you think I feel cold?”
His body tensed, and he shook his head.
I kept his hand in place and looked around. “No one else is here.” I looked back at him and watched his eyes dart between my lips and my eyes. “So, tell me; do you think my ass is fat?”
He didn’t respond.
I took my hand away from his, but he left it on me.
My chest rose and fell faster, so did his.
“What does your boyfriend think?”
“Don’t have one,” I responded quietly.
“So no one has touched you?” he asked as he started to pull his hand away.
I quickly covered it with mine, not wanting him to remove it.
“I’m not a virgin if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No?” His hand started to move up my neck slowly.
“No. I’m not a child, either.”
“Don’t appear to be,” he said, focused on his hand that was gently gripping my neck as his thumb slid up and down my jawline.
He was touching me, and my heart was nearly pounding out of my chest. Luke Lane was touching me.
His thumb brushed across my lower lip, and I closed my eyes and ran my tongue slowly over it. Then I wrapped my lips around it and sucked gently.
“I have a girlfriend,” he grumbled.
I tipped my head back, letting go of his thumb, opening my eyes, and looking into his. “You could do so much better.”
He didn’t confirm or deny. I knew he was aware it was true.
“Can’t do this with you,” he said as his lips hovered centimeters from mine.
My mouth was watering. My legs were trembling. My body’s core was on fire. I wanted him more than I had ever wanted anything in my life, and I was so close to having his lush lips on mine.
I had to kiss him. I was terrified that, if I didn’t take this opportunity—one given by fate—I would never have it again.
“Then don’t,” I whispered as I grabbed his waist with one hand and the back of his neck with the other.
Then I kissed him.
The sound that escaped him when our lips met came from a place of unmeasurable depth. Every ounce of courage it took to kiss him was swallowed up in its complexity. I trembled when his arm wrapped around me and pulled me tightly to him.
If he let go, I feared I might fall or pass out.
His kiss intensified. Hands in my hair, his tongue caressing mine, he kept his other hand holding me securely against him.
I couldn’t breathe. All I could do was feel, and the feelings were so overwhelming I swore all control was not just gone; it was shattered.
He pulled his mouth from mine, and I couldn’t help grabbing his face.
“Don’t stop,” I pleaded softly.
“Ava …” he whispered and closed his eyes.
My name had never sounded so beautiful and tormented all at the same time.
“Please …” I begged, bowing my head until it touched his chin.
“I’m not the man you need,” he said gruffly, and the sadness in it didn’t go unnoticed.
“I don’t need a man,” I said, daring to look up at him. “I’m going to law school; you’re going back to Kentucky. I know that.”
“Then why?” His brows furrowed.
“Because I have wanted you my entire life,” I said out loud, while inside, I told him it was because I loved him.
I love you so much.
“We’ve both had way too much to drink.” He stepped back.
“Luke …” I started, my hands trembling for a completely different reason.
“I have a girlfriend,” he repeated.
I shook my head as I told him, “She doesn’t deserve you.”
His eyes penetrated mine, and we were silent, but it wasn’t awkward. In the silence, there was a force field keeping us both in the same place, not letting us move.
I closed my eyes and said again, “She doesn’t deserve a man like you.”
“You don’t deserve a man like me, Ava. All those romantic notions you have about me are not reality. When you tell me you want me, I know damn well you want what you think I am. You sure as hell don’t want me.”
“Do so,” I said and quickly realized I sounded like a spoiled little girl.
“I’m a soldier. I fight. I breathe for my country, and I will die for my country if need be. It is who I am. I am not walking away from who I am to play house with a girl who thinks she knows me when, in reality, I never knew who I was until the United States Army brought it out of me.”
“I’m not a stupid girl,” I told him.
“Never said you were. But if I fucked you, it would be a fuck, not a relationship. No wedding bells or picket fence. If I fuck you, Ava, it’s purely physical.”
“What about your girlfriend? Do you love her?”
He shook his head. “Don’t know. I loved the promises she made to me when I got home and that, if I wanted her to come with me, she’d come. I loved the letters she wrote when I was in the field, loved that she would marry me tomorrow.”