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We finally reached the pond, tying in our little race. We climbed down and tied our horses to the tree, keeping them in the shade while making sure they wouldn't run away. I glanced over at Sam and saw him pulling his damp shirt over his head, revealing tight, toned muscles along his body. I kept my clothes on, but took my shoes off so I could stick my feet into the cool water.
Sam walked to the edge off the pond and moaned as he laid down, flat on his stomach. He didn't go into the water at all. I walked to him slowly, admiring the sight of his toned back. I sat next to him, sticking my feet into the water. I was surprised to find that the water felt like ice. I looked over at Sam, his body completely relaxed, his breathing becoming more even. His jeans were hanging low on his slim waist, but not that obnoxious low that made his underwear stick out. He never wore his pants like that. His back was a perfect V, from his broad shoulders down to his waist.
I saw the tattoo on his left shoulder blade again, this time up close. It was a simple black cross, with wings spread out behind it. Underneath it were the words, “May Angels Lead You In” in a pretty cursive font.
I laid down next to him, flipping onto my stomach. I propped my head up with my arm, so I could still see it. I heard him turn his head to look at me, put I didn't meet his gaze. I lifted my free hand, and gently began to trace his tattoo with my index finger. His skin was warm under my finger, like a little fire. He was only a shade tanner than me. His muscles twitched and flexed under my slow moving finger, and I smiled at the feeling of it. His breathing became ragged again, as if he'd just climbed off the horse again.
“Will you tell me the story behind it?” I whispered. Our little area was so quiet and peaceful, I didn't want to shatter that.
He was quiet for a long time. I moved my finger down to the phrase, and traced each individual letter. I began to wonder if he was going to answer me, or just act like he hadn't heard me. When he finally began to speak, his voice was low, filled with a sorrow that broke my heart. “It was about four years ago, when I was 16. He was my best friend, practically like my brother. He'd just gotten his license and he wanted to celebrate. He was so careless. He was going down a back road, going way too fast. He came up on a turn and he couldn't slow down enough. His car went off the road and straight into a tree. He wasn't wearing a seat belt.”
He stopped speaking, and I stopped my finger. I had no clue how to respond to that. I looked down at him, and saw the pain in his eyes. He was no longer looking at me, but just staring into the grass behind me.
“I'm so sorry,” I told him, sounding as sincere as I possibly could.
“Now he's just being an idiot up in Heaven. He's the one that broke my nose, actually,” he said, all matter of fact. He looked up at me then, and I gave him a questioning look. “We were 14. There was this girl that he had a major crush on. Totally pathetic. But, since I knew her pretty well, I told him I would talk to her. Well, I caught her after school and talked to her before we got on the buses. Turns out she didn't like him at all, but had feelings for me. He found us kissing when he walked out of the school. And thus, I now have a crooked nose.”
He smiled fondly about the memory, and I just giggled at him. “You know, I wasn't going to say anything about your nose, but now that you mention it...” I laughed at him. He tried to look offended as he playfully pushed me onto my back, pinning my arms above my head, and leaned over me.
“Hey now, you hurt my feelings,” he teased me, trying his best not to smile.
“You have feelings?” I teased back, feigning surprise. He made his face look all grumpy and upset, but I could see the smile in his eyes. Those beautiful dark eyes that were staring into mine. The smile faded from my lips as want filled every cell in my body. He, too, let all signs of humor fade from his face, and continued to look into my eyes, which kept shifting from looking at his eyes to looking longingly at his plump lips.
My breathing sped up. What was he thinking? Everywhere he touched me burned like its own little fire. His thumbs slowly stroked the insides of my wrists. I was gazing at his lips when they suddenly came down, brushing against mine like a whisper. He lifted his head, looking back into my eyes. That little kiss wasn't enough for me. I'd dreamed of this moment, and I wasn't just going to let it fade away. I lifted my head, crushing my lips against his. He didn't hesitate any longer. His hands left my wrists, moving to cup my face. I let my head fall back to the ground as I lifted my hands to wrap one around his neck, and let the other play with his sweaty hair. I was lost in the moment as his tongue began to trace slowly along my lips, asking the question that I had only dreamed of answering.
There was no hesitation, no shyness from him. He knew exactly what to do to drive me insane. Our lips moved together, melting into one.
He pulled away suddenly, leaving me breathless and confused. He stood up, and walked back to the tree. I sat up slowly, my head spinning. I turned around to look at him, but his back was to me. He still had his shirt off so I could see the way his muscles moved as he tried to get some air. The silence was excruciating as I waited for him to say something. He sighed deeply, then went to get his shirt. When he pulled it over his head, covering the beautiful skin my hands had just touched, he turned around to look at me. “We should go back,” he said, his voice giving away no sign of emotion. His face was a mask that I couldn't read.
My heart broke. He didn't want that to happen. I stood up, letting my eyes fall to the ground. I stayed quiet as I walked to my horse and untied her from around the tree. As I climbed onto her, I heard him sigh again. He untied his horse and climbed on. We rode back in silence. I didn't look over at him, even with how badly I wanted to.
The ride lasted forever. I never thought it would end. But when the barn came into view, I pushed my horse to go as fast as she could, hoping to end the agony. He was never far behind me. When we reached the barn, we put the horses back in their stalls, and I made sure that both of them had some water. Without looking at him, I began to walk outside. “Steph, wait!” I heard him yell behind me. I listened as his steady footsteps jogged to catch up to me. I didn't turn around to look at him, so he stood in front of me.
“Look, I'm sorry. I never meant for that to happen. It was a mistake and I-” I held up my hand, stopping whatever he was about to say. I didn't want to hear it.
“I'm not sorry,” I told him, and looked him in the eye. I still couldn't read his face. I stared at him for only a second before I walked away from him. A mistake? How could something that felt so right be called a mistake?
He didn't come after me. I walked away, never turning around to look at him, afraid that I would start crying if I did. I had to make my face into a mask, too. I didn't want to have to explain what had just happened. As I walked up the steps to the house, a car pulled into the driveway. I didn't turn around to see who it was until I heard his voice.
“Steph!” He said, not quite a yell, but loud enough to get my attention. He jogged up to meet me, and I plastered a smile on my face as I turned around. I walked down the steps and met him there. He stopped an inch away from me, a silly grin on his face. “You look beautiful,” he complimented me. He leaned in for a kiss, and even though I could feel another set of eyes on me, I didn't stop him. “Ready to go?” He asked after he pulled away.
With all that had happened, I had completely forgot we had made plans. I tried not to let that show. “Yep!” I grabbed his hand and let him take me to his car. In true gentleman fashion, he opened the door for me. Before I got in, I looked over to the barn, just in time to see Sam turning away.
Round Lake, Illinois
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