Authors: Renee Ericson
Tags: #General Fiction
I’m scared to like him more than I already do, but I might not be able to help it anymore. Not after what we’ve shared today.
We finally make our way back to the canoe around three o’clock and paddle back to the club. The distance between us in the canoe seems vast. I’ve gotten so used to touching Brent today that my skin involuntarily tingles with the need to feel him again.
Halfway to shore, in the middle of the lake, I can no longer tolerate the space between us. Putting down my paddle, I gather my courage and close the short distance to the stern of the boat where Brent sits. I don’t know if my confidence comes from the comfort I feel with him after our time on the island, but I do know that I need to kiss him right now. I kneel down between his legs and clasp my fingers behind his neck. He has the most ridiculous yet knowing grin on his face as my mouth approaches his. With his hands still firmly gripping his paddle, his lips move in rhythm with mine. After satisfying that ‘itch,’ I pull back to look at him.
“I like you, Ruby,” he admits.
“I bet. Who wouldn’t like all of this?” I smirk as I remove one of my hands from his neck, gesturing up and down my body.
“You’re cute,” he says.
“You’re a little more than cute. I like it.”
What has gotten into me?
I peck him on the nose before making my way back to my seat. Picking up my paddle, I ask over my shoulder, “Are you ready?”
“Whenever you are,” he replies. “You seem to be in charge.”
I bite my lower lip, holding in a girlish giggle, and begin to paddle to shore.
We reach the docking area, rack our canoe, and return the paddles. Then, we walk hand in hand to his car. While driving back to my house, he holds my hand the whole time, rubbing his thumb over the back. When we pull into my driveway, I’m happy to see no cars are in sight.
“So, you leave tonight.” he reconfirms.
“But you’ll be back on Friday, right?”
“Yeah, I usually get back around four or so.”
“Can I see you Friday night then?”
“Yeah!” I say with a little too much enthusiasm. Then, in a played down tone, I repeat, “Yeah.”
Brent chuckles but lets it go otherwise.
“Thanks for today. It was really great,” I add as I squeeze his hand.
“Yeah, it was,” he says. “All right, you, get out of here before I kidnap you for the week, forcing you to miss your last week at camp.”
I have to admit that I secretly wish he would. Today has been a dream. I can’t imagine what a whole week with him would be like.
Leaning over the center console, he tenderly touches his lips to mine. It’s so soft and light, but it causes anticipation to build within me. Breathing, teasing, and tasting, I hope for more. This kiss is meant to be a memory burned to my lips. Hopefully, it will be enough to get me through the week, but then I realize that I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life. Pulling his mouth back, he leans his forehead against mine, the heat from our mouths allowing us to share our connection a little longer. I can physically feel my heart jumping in my chest, echoing deep within. A tingling sensation shimmies up my spine to my head, numbing all thought processes in my brain, except that of—
I don’t know what this is called.
“I’ll call you later,” he says in a low and breathy tone.
Crap. How am I supposed to leave the car now?
Hesitantly, I pull back, open the car door, and get out. Walking toward my house, I look over my shoulder to wave good-bye as Brent leaves my driveway and heads down the street.
The first thing I do when I enter my room is flop face down on my bed. I just spent the most amazing afternoon of my life with Brent Cromwell.
Who would have known he is so sweet? Who knew anything about him?
I certainly didn’t until today. I have to admit that I used to agree with Cody. Most good-looking Audi-driving males fit the douche stereotype, but now, I realize Brent falls outside of that category.
I roll over and stare at the ceiling, wondering how long it’s been since I last kissed Brent. I know it’s only been a few minutes, but my body thinks an eternity has passed.
Geez, I sound like one of those girls again.
I have two hours to get ready before I have to leave for camp, so I straighten and organize everything in my room and then gather my things for the week. This week is going to be different from the others I’ve spent at camp because it’s the first time I don’t want to go. Of course, a break from my house is always desirable, but the fact that I’m missing out on more time with Brent leaves me longing to stay right where I am.
Oh well, it’s just a few days really, and I’ll be back on Friday.
My phone rings at about half past five, and I assume it can only be one person—Brent.
“Hello,” I say with a little too much enthusiasm.
“Hi,” Brent says, almost matching my eagerness. “So, um…I just wanted to say I hope you have a good week.”
“So, can I call you while you’re gone?”
“Sure, you can try.” There’s a long pause.
I better clarify.
“I get reception over there, but my schedule is usually full. We won’t know our allotted free time until we get our schedules tonight, but you can text me.”
“All right. You’re still up for Friday, right?”
“Good. Don’t go making any other plans.”
Okay, maybe not so desperate, given his response.
“I won’t. Thanks again for today. It was really something,” I tell him, the memories of the afternoon starting to come back.
“Yeah, it was. Thanks for coming. We should do that again sometime if you’re up for it.”
“Yeah, I’d be up for that again for sure.”
My ears pick up the sound of the back door closing as someone enters the house. Looking into the hallway to see who’s here, I see my dad slip into his room. Dragon is right behind him, but then he makes his way to my feet instead of following my father. I rub his head, affectionately assuring him.
“Ruby? You still there?” Brent asks, pulling me back to our conversation.
“Uh, yeah. Hey, I gotta go. Can I call you back?”
“Actually, I have a thing with my parents, so I’m heading out soon. I’ll text you later, okay?”
“Okay, later. Talk to you soon.”
“Sounds good. Bye.”
I put down my phone and give Dragon an extra pat on the head before heading over to chat with my dad. I’m leaving soon, so I figure I should at least say good-bye.
“Hey,” I say tentatively to his back as he stares out the window.
He must be zoning out, standing with his hands locked behind his head.
He turns his head toward me, looking over his shoulder. “Hey, Tuesday. How’s my new day girl?”
His reference to the song, “Ruby Tuesday,” still makes me happy despite how much has changed between us.
Funny, today does feel like a new day.
Maybe not one for him and me, but it’s definitely a new day for me.
“Good.” Feeling unsure from his energy, my eyes wander around the room. “And you?”
“I’m all right. Did you have fun last night?”
Does he not remember that I went and picked him up from the bar? Did he not even notice that I was gone almost all day today?
“Yeah, it was fun. I got a few strikes.”
Walking over to the bed, he plops down and lets out a heaping sigh before looking at me. “You don’t start school tomorrow, do you?”
“Uh, no. Actually, I’m leaving for camp soon. It’s my last week there, and then there’s one more week until school starts.”
Didn’t we just have this conversation yesterday morning? Yes, we did.
Sometimes I wonder if I should even bother with any conversation at all because it’s just so frustrating that he rarely remembers any of them.
“Well, we should do something before you go back. School’s going to start, and then we’ll never see each other.”
What? Who’s he kidding?
We don’t see each other now. We haven’t really seen each other for a year.
Is this some strange form of parental senioritis?
If so, I’m not really interested.
“Sure, sounds great.”
Yes, I say this to pacify him. Yes, I admit it.
“I gotta go. I’ll be back on Friday.” I turn to leave, and when I reach the doorframe, I hear the bed squeak as my dad rises.
I turn to look at him. “Yeah, Dad?”
“I love ya,” he says, looking straight into my eyes.
My heart sinks a little, but I have a hard time reciprocating the feeling. I feel bad for him and everything he’s going through, but I just don’t know if I can open myself up to loving him or at least admitting that I love him. It hurts too much.
Just last year, I was a mess, worrying about him all the time. It was exhausting, trying to keep track of his every move and cleaning up after him and his messes. One day, I finally couldn’t do it anymore. He had Jas, and he didn’t seem to notice or want my help. More importantly, I don’t think he ever realized that I checked out of our relationship. Then again, that was likely due to the fact that he checked out first. He might love me, but he certainly didn’t love himself. Maybe, just maybe, I loved him, too. Of course, I did…I do…but I can’t open my heart to him. With him, it’s best to love at a distance.
Looking at him, I give him what he needs, even though the emotion is lost on me at the moment. “I love you, too,” I tell him, watching his eyes light up. “See you Friday,” I say, giving a little hand wave before going to my room to pick up my stuff.
I head out the door to load up my car for my last week at Camp White Ash. Now, after that uncomfortably emotional moment with my dad, I can’t wait to get out of here for the week. Getting into the driver’s seat, I shut the car door and roll down the window. As I’m about to turn over the ignition, a familiar red Mustang pulls up beside me.
“Hey, Ruby, are you heading out?” Cody asks from the driver’s seat of his car.
What’s he doing here now? At least he remembered my real name.
“Yeah,” I reply. “Gotta get to camp.”
“You’re back on Friday, right?”
“Yeah. Why? What’s up?”
“I’m putting together an end-of-summer thing at the lake. You should come.”
Man, I’m so glad Brent and I already have plans.
I don’t need to lie my way out of this train wreck in the making. I’ve been to a few of his parties. The people are generally nice, but everyone is crude and usually high. They mean well, but I just don’t fit in. It’s not my scene.
“I can’t,” I say.
“Why? Do you have a date or something?”
As I look down at my lap, Cody turns off his car, and then I hear his car door shut. The next thing I know, he’s standing beside my window, looking down at me.
“Don’t tell me you have plans with that douche again. You know he only wants one thing.”
“C’mon, Cody. He’s nice. And, yeah,
and I have plans,” I tell him with a touch of venom.
His lips pucker as his nostrils flair slightly.
What’s pissed him off now?
“That little shit? I remember that punk from school—”
I cut him off, slapping my hand on the steering wheel, as I narrow my eyes with a cut-the-crap look.
“All right,” he says, raising his arms, surrendering. “Well, bring him, too, if you must. Actually, that’s probably a good idea. I can make sure he’s kept in line.”
“Oh, give me a break. I’ll think about it,” I reply passively. “And mind your own business about Brent.”
“Calm down! Geez.” He motions to the house. “Is your dad in there?”
“Yeah, he was in his room, last I knew. Do you need something?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he says with finality.
“Oookaay,” I sing. “Listen, I’ve gotta go.”
He backs away from my car. “So, I’ll see you Friday, right?” he asks with a mocking look.
“I said I would think about it!” I begin to back up but then stop. “Thanks again for taking my dad inside this morning.”
Cody’s face falls as he nods in understanding. He waves and watches me back out into the street before he heads into my house.
As I turn the corner at the end of the street, I feel my muscles relax. I’m free from seeing my dad and his friends act like children. I’m free from the guilt that clouds over me every time my dad looks at me with a call for help that I don’t have the energy to give him. I’m free from knowing that I can’t help him. I’m just free. This time next year, I won’t have to ever come back. To think, in a little less than a year, my life can begin for real.
I pull into my second summer home, Camp White Ash, around half past six. Of course, I’m the first one here. Unlike the other counselors, I don’t need to spend extra time with my family, doing dinners and attending gatherings on the weekends, before returning to camp.
I head to the main lodge to pick up my schedule and the key to my cabin. After unloading my car, I settle in before going to the mess hall for a bite. There’s usually not much food on Sunday nights, but some snacks are left out for the counselors. This is my traditional Sunday supper.
After gorging on as much as possible, I walk over to the lake to sit on the dock. I absolutely love it here. There’s no nothing in the world that compares to how this fantastic gift from Mother Nature makes me feel…content.
That’s what it is—pure contentment.
The sun is just setting, making the lake sparkle with diamonds, as the trees shimmer in the water’s reflection. The sky is gorgeous with its orange and purple hues lingering among the clouds.
I tuck my legs behind me, laying my stomach on the dock, so I can touch the water with my fingertips. The cool silk of the lake ribbons through my hands as I wave them through the water.
This is heaven. This is my soul’s home.
“Hey, lady,” Lexi calls from behind me.
“Hey,” I say, rolling to my side while I shake the water from my hands. “What are you doing here so early?”