“Sorry again,” Brandon ran his hands up and down her bare arms as if to warm them up, although I was pretty sure she was hot enough already, even if she weren’t wearing such a skimpy tank top. “I hope you understand. I just don’t think we’ve been dating long enough for that.”
“Maybe next time,” Alicia said, reaching up on her toes to kiss Brandon again. I almost gagged. He kissed her back for a few seconds before pushing her away politely.
“Goodnight, Brandon.” Her singsong voice carried clearly as she descended the steps away from his apartment above the garage.
“Do you think we should tell him that we can hear them from all the way down here?” Kat whispered. She pulled another marshmallow from the bag and stabbed it onto the end of her poker stick. She leaned forward just enough to rest the stick on one of the large stones encircling the campfire, her marshmallow quite far away from the hot coals.
“No way,” Krystal replied. “I wanna hear all the juicy details.”
“Guys, stop. This is his date. We should be more respectful.” I tried to keep from giggling.
“Oh please.” Krystal reached over and shoved my shoulder. “Tell me you’re not steaming with jealousy.”
“Brandon has made it very clear that he doesn’t like me for more than a friend.” Repeatedly.
“Yeah, right. I see the way he looks at you.” Kat raised her eyebrows. “You watch, his date won’t have been gone five minutes and he’ll be out here with us at the campfire.”
As if to prove her wrong, the screen door leading into his apartment creaked opened and swung closed, tucking Brandon safely inside and he turned off his porchlight.
“Guess not,” I mumbled. The three of us all sighed at the same time and then laughed at one another. I grabbed the bag of marshmallows and shoved one in my mouth without even roasting it over the fire.
Krystal poked at the fire with a stick and a large log shifted, sending sparks into the air. The full moon reflected off the gentle waves illuminating the lake as far as the eye could see. I leaned back onto my hands, gazing up at millions of stars. I closed my eyes and breathed in the smoky night air, loving everything about the cool breeze that barely offset the humidity. There was no comparison to summer in northern Michigan.
I sensed, rather than saw, a shadow hovering over me and didn’t bother opening my eyes before I heard a gruff voice, “Come running with me.”
“Oh! You startled me!” Kat jumped beside me. I still didn’t open my eyes.
“I didn’t hear you come down,” Krystal said.
“Were you listening for me to come down?” Brandon asked.
“No… not exactly.”
“I was.” I finally opened my eyes and looked up at him. “Kat said you’d want to come down and hang out with us at the campfire, so yes, I was listening for you.”
“I don’t want to hang out at the campfire. I want you to come running with me.”
“Right now? It’s almost midnight.”
“Yes, right now.” He reached down to offer me his hand. I stood and brushed the sand off my shorts, wishing I could keep my hand in his.
“Okaaay… let me go grab my running shoes.” I made a face at the twins then mumbled to Brandon, “You can wait here if you want.”
“I’ll follow you.” He was close behind me as we trudged through the sand until we reached the gardens. I was grateful for the lighting that guided us along the winding path up to the house. The cobblestones would have been difficult to navigate without the lights. After a few minutes of walking he broke the silence. “Sorry to pull you away from your friends.”
“We were just hanging out. No big deal.” I toppled on one of the stones and he reached out to steady me. I was hyper-aware of his body that close to mine as he pushed me back to a standing position.
“I just need to go running right now.” His voice was much too close to my face and I almost held my breath.
“Okay, okay, I’m hurrying,” I grumbled, wishing I could shake off the warmth of having his hands on my arms. It reminded me of how he’d been holding Alicia’s arms when they were kissing on his porch and I pushed away from him, hurrying the rest of the way through the gardens.
He waited on the porch, stretching his hamstrings while I ducked into the mudroom to grab my running shoes. I came back out and sat on the porch swing to tie my laces. His impatient insistence was annoying. I could almost envision him with his arms crossed and tapping his toes. He didn’t even give me the chance to stretch before he took off down the road. I hurried to keep up.
“Brandon, slow down,” I called. He slowed a little but jogged in place waiting for me to catch up. “I haven’t even warmed up yet.”
“I’m warmed up enough for the both of us,” he snapped. “Come on.”
I tried to keep up, but his pace was a lot faster than normal. It didn’t take long until my legs couldn’t handle it and he was a hundred yards ahead of me. I didn’t bother calling out for him this time. I just let him run. He didn’t even look back. I kept up a decent pace while watching him gain a greater and greater distance from me. So much for me running with him.
At the end of the peninsula I found him at the edge of the beach, hands on his knees, breathing heavy like he’d just run sprints. Probably wasn’t far from the truth.
“What the heck, man? I thought you wanted to run with me.”
“I did. I’m sorry.” We were both panting and covered in sweat. I slipped off my shoes and socks and walked knee deep into the water, considering jumping all the way in. He followed my lead and we stood there staring out at the moon shining a spotlight onto the lake.
“Are you okay?” I asked, turning my head halfway toward him.
“Yeah, I just needed to work off some adrenaline.” He kicked the water as if frustrated.
“Oh… I get it. Your little girlfriend got you all worked up and then left, and now you wish she hadn’t.”
“That’s not true.” His statement was almost a growl. “I asked her to leave.”
“Yeah, I know. I was just teasing ya.”
“How do you know?” Brandon turned toward me, and I shrunk back ready to be reprimanded for what I was about to say.
“We could hear every word you said while you were on your porch.”
“Yep.” I made a popping sound on the end of my word in emphasis.
“You know, that sucks.” He kicked the water harder as if he still needed to get rid of some frustration.
“It’s no big deal. I didn’t want you to sleep with her anyway.”
“I just don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who comes up north and has a summer fling, you know?”
“Shhhure…” I didn’t really get it, but whatever. “You had a willing girlfriend, and you weren’t willing to give her what she wanted.”
“That’s just it.” Brandon turned to me in emphasis. “She’s not my girlfriend. We’ve gone on two dates.”
“And one of them was interrupted.” I cringed, knowing that was mostly my fault.
“Exactly! I don’t sleep around.” He trudged back out of the water and sat down on the sand, leaning back on his hands. “We should at least be in love first, ya know?”
We? I wished he meant me and him, but whatever. I came and sat next to him, hoping my feet would dry before I had to put my shoes back on. He didn’t seem in a hurry to get back.
“It’s been a long time.” He spoke so quietly I almost didn’t hear him. My stomach plummeted.
“So, you have… before?”
“I’m a seventeen-year-old guy. What do you think?” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“I don’t know. Not all guys do that, you know?”
He snorted but didn’t offer any further comment.
“Were you in love?”
“What happened?” I backtracked. “I don’t mean ‘what happened’ that night! I mean what happened that you’re no longer together.”
He chuckled, then got serious again. “We were together for a year and a half, and she dumped me a few weeks after my parents were killed.”
“See, now that sucks,” I said, then mumbled under my breath. “Her loss.”
“Don’t you get it though? It was my loss too. First my parents, and then my girlfriend. Like I needed any more loss in my life.”
“Yeah, I get it. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Me too.” He reached for his shoes and socks, shaking the sand out and brushing off his feet. I followed his lead, knowing I’d be shaking sand from my running shoes for weeks. We got up off the beach and started back toward the road. “Thanks for letting me vent.”
“You’re a great friend, kiddo.”
“Gee, thanks,” I grumbled. We picked up the pace and held a steady jog back down the peninsula toward the house. There was that word, friend. Plus, he’d added ‘kiddo’ as if to remind me that I was too young for him. Whatever.
Running To You
Click here to read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!