Breathing past the burn, I ignored the hollow achy pain in my chest as I smoothed my hands over my shorts. “Aye, Captain.”
His lips twitched into a small grin.
“Is Skylar going to be at Keith’s?” I regretted asking as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
“Don’t know.” The response was clipped, which was very unlike him.
I nibbled on my bottom lip as he slowed down, hanging a right onto the road that led to Keith’s monstrosity of a house adjacent to the miles of orchards. The home was on a massive farm, and it was the kind of house no one needed unless they were polygamists and had fifty children.
His family had money. They’d run the orchards for generations, and I figured Keith would take over the family business at some point, though I knew he planned to go to college and play football like Sebastian. From what I heard, he’d already been accepted to WVU. He had the size to play college-level defense.
The paved driveway was already lined with cars, a few of which I recognized. I didn’t see Skylar’s BMW or, thank God, Cody’s SUV. “A small party?”
Sebastian chuckled. “Yeah, that was the plan.”
“All righty, then.”
He parked the Jeep behind a Honda, leaving enough space between the vehicles to get out later. I grabbed my purse off the floor and then climbed out. We hoofed it the rest of the way, bypassing the double glass doors and following the large river-rock pathway that led around the side of the house. With each step, the sound of laughter and shouts grew louder, along with splashes of water. I could smell meat grilling, making my empty stomach grumble happily.
Sebastian was right: I would never turn down grilled cheeseburgers.
“Hey.” Sebastian nudged my arm with his. “Whenever you want to leave, let me know, okay? Don’t roam off with someone.”
“I’m pretty sure I can catch a ride home with anyone. No need to worry.”
“Not worrying. I’ll just take you home when you’re ready.”
He slung his shirt over his shoulder. I guess putting it on would take too much effort.
To the outsider, Sebastian could come across as bossy, but he was just the type of guy who didn’t bring someone to a party and then leave it to them to find their own way around or home.
“Maybe I don’t want a ride home with you.” I swung my purse. “I’m sure there are a ton of people who’d give me a ride.”
“Wouldn’t that be stupid, since we live next door to each other?”
“Don’t question my logic.” I stepped around Sebastian, I walked in front of him. “And seriously, I don’t want to stay out forever.”
“I don’t either—”
“Dammit!” I shrieked as he kicked the bottom of my foot just as I raised it. Swinging around, I smacked him with my purse.
Laughing, he blocked the hit with his arms. “Watch your step there.”
“Jerk,” I muttered, turning back around.
“I’m not planning to stay out late either,” he continued. “Got practice tomorrow morning, one-on-one with the coach.” He paused. “And Dad.”
I cringed for him. “How has your dad been?”
“There’s not even enough time in the day for that conversation,” he replied, and before I could push that further, he caught my hand, stopping me. I faced him. “I’m not staying out late because of practice and because—” those vivid blue eyes fixed on me “—I need to talk to you.”
My heart lurched. I wanted to pull my hand free and run screaming into the orchards...but that would be weird. “What do you want to talk about?” I asked even though I knew what it was about.
I arched a brow. “Can’t we talk now?”
“No. Later,” he said. He let go of my hand and walked around me. “After I’ve had a drink.”
Keith jumped from the deck, landing in front of us like Tarzan, if Tarzan wore...oh my God, Speedos? Keith was a big guy—big like a bear, broad shouldered and tall. Speedos shouldn’t be in the same zip code as him.
“You brought Lena!”
Sebastian halted to a stop in front of me. “What in the hell are you wearing?”
I tried not to look down, but it was like I was compelled by some dark magic and couldn’t help myself. I saw... I saw too much. I took a step back, but it was too late. Keith darted around Sebastian, and a second later my feet were lifted off the ground and I was being squeezed to death. I squeaked like a chew toy.
“It’s been forever since I’ve seen you.” Keith moved his shoulders, swinging my legs to and fro. “How long has it been?” he asked, and I could smell the beer oozing out of his pores.
“I don’t know,” I gasped out, my arms pinned. “A month or so?”
“Nooo!” he drew the word out. “It has to be longer than that.”
“Put her down,” Sebastian barked. “Jesus, you’re practically naked, man.”
Keith threw his head back and laughed and then twirled, spinning me along with him. Without any warning, he let go and I stumbled back. Sebastian’s hands landed on my shoulders, steadying me. “You guys like my swim shorts?” He put his hands on his hips and widened his stance, and oh my God, my retinas were burning. “I can move more freely and I think it makes my ass look amazing. Plus the green matches my eyes, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” I whispered, slowly shaking my head.
Sebastian reached under the bill of his cap and rubbed his forehead. “I’m officially scarred for life.”
“More like blessed. You’re both officially blessed for life.” Keith smacked his hands down, one on each of our shoulders. He steered us through the open gate. “Hamburgers are almost ready. We’re about to throw some dogs on the grill in a few. Drinks are in the coolers.”
Keith’s place was always the spot to party. Fall through spring, there were bonfires every weekend in the fields beyond manicured lawns, and during the summer, everyone was gathered around the pool as large as the first floor of my house. And that wasn’t including the sand-colored brick patio surrounding it. A dozen lounge chairs dotted the patio, most of them occupied by faces I recognized from school. A few waved when they spotted us.
His parents had to have dropped some major money on the backyard—the kind that could’ve paid off Mom’s mortgage. Besides the pool and patio, there were flower gardens and benches everywhere, a horseshoe pit behind the pool house that was bigger than some people’s apartments and a badminton net strung up.
I hadn’t been back since the party in July.
“Hey.” Keith ran a hand over his buzzed head, drawing my attention. “Is your girl Abbi coming out?”
“Yeah.” I pictured Abbi’s face when she saw what Keith was wearing and nearly laughed out loud. “She’ll be here soon, and she’s going to be so happy to see you.”
She was so going to kill me.
“Awesome,” he replied, appearing a little too pleased by the whole idea. “Glad you made it out here. Was beginning to think you no longer wanted to be friends with me.”
I shook my head. “I still love you, Keith. Just been busy.”
“You can never be too busy for me.” Keith started walking backward, making his way to where his older brother, Jimmy, was standing in front of the grill.
His brother looked over and then burst into laughter. “Holy shit, you’re wearing them.”
Keith stuck out his rear, shaking it at his brother. “I don’t think I’ll ever take them off.”
“God help us,” muttered Sebastian.
Wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand, I peered up at Sebastian. It was so hot I was already beginning to regret the whole no-bathing-suit thing. “He’s your friend.”
“Yeah.” Chuckling, he stepped around a colorful potted plant.
Glancing at the double glass doors leading into the back of the house, I thought I saw movement inside. “Do you think Keith’s parents are here?”