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The Girl He Knows- The Chapter with the FIRST KISS
I follow the air traffic-like hand signals of the surfer-wanna-be kid and turn into the parking lot, pulling into the first available space.
“I’m really sorry, Paisley,” Gigi says through my car’s Bluetooth.
“Maybe you could try Sarah Grace.” I offer up my sister, who we both know will give me hell for not giving her a heads up.
“Even if she can watch Pete, by the time I to make it all the way to Cocoa Beach for the competition I’ll have to turn around and go home.” She sighs into the phone. She was looking forward to having the day away from parenting duty and hanging out with me and her brother and I almost feel bad for her. Almost. But she’s the one who wanted kids right away. Not that I don’t want them, I do, but I’m not ready for that level of commitment and I’d like to married first and right now I am most certainly the opposite of married. I’m divorced.
“This was your idea, remember? So you can’t bail. Bring Pete with you.”
“I’m tempted—” Pete interrupts her with loud demands for juice. This is the norm with our conversations. Actually, I’m surprised we’ve gotten this far without interruptions.
“I’ll get you juice in one moment, baby. Go play,” she tells him.
“Juice. Juice. Juice,” he screams and I turn down the volume in my car.
“Fine. Juice now. Never mind that I’m doing something. Here, which flavor would you like?” she asks and then mumbles quietly to me, “Merlot or Chardonnay?”
“Grape,” he yells.
“Merlot it is.” I hear her moving around the kitchen as she gets him a drink and can picture her setting up the sippy cup. “Is it too early for mommy to have some Merlot juice, too?” she asks me.
“Hell no,” I say and we laugh.
“I’m sorry, Paiz. I’ll text Hank and connect you two so you’ll be able to find him there. He just got there, too.”
“You’re a shitty sister, abandoning your brother who only just moved back to the states.”
“Well, he has you.”
I hear Pete screaming through the house, his voice coming through my car in a range of obnoxious octaves and Gigi sighs into the phone.
“It’s deteriorating quickly here. I’m going to throw some booze into a CamelBak and take this ball of energy to the park. You all have fun. Think of me. Eat a churro or funnel cake for me. Or both. Look at some hunky surfer chest and—”
“Got it,” I say. We make our goodbye and I disconnect. A group text from Gigi follows and Hank and I make a plan on where to meet.
It’ll be fun hanging out with him. It’s been years. Thinking that makes me sad. Somewhere during college, like say when Trevor and I got married, my life changed for the worse. Too bad I didn’t figure that out until a year ago. But through the course of our marriage I’d pulled away from my friends, Hank included. Though I like to lay most of the blame on the fact that he lived on the other side of the world, I know that wasn’t the case. I lost myself when I married Trevor, and haven’t found my way back yet.
Dragging a blanket and lawn chair with me, I find Hank waiting by the Ron Jon Surf Shop kiosk. Holy Lord he’s changed. When did his shoulders get so broad? His Naval Academy T-shirt is tight across his pecs, outlining them nicely and though the shirt doesn’t cling to his stomach, I’m pretty sure a six-pack hides underneath. His board shorts fall so that his calf muscles are accentuated and it’s clear that this isn’t the same body whose shoulders I used to sit on when we played chicken in the swimming pool.
He gives me a raised hand wave, a big smile and I laugh. Last time I saw him was at his homecoming a few months back when he returned from Japan. But saying I saw him is like saying I see gators at the lake. Yeah, we shared the same space, had a brief initial encounter, but with all the family and friends surrounding him—the turn out could have been mistaken for a high school reunion—actual contact was never made.
I step in front of him and he throws an arm around me, pulling me into a half hug. We’ve done this a million times. Yet, this time my stomach gets all fluttery and I’m very aware, very aware, of his chest and the corded muscles in his arm that’s draped over my shoulder.
“Sorry about Gigi,” I say.
“I’m not. She’d have circled the food vendors most of the day, trying everything and then badgering me to eat half of whatever she gets. That was fine when we were kids but I don’t particularly enjoy deep-fried Twinkies followed up by giant turkey legs.”
We’ve been coming to the Easter Surfing Festival for as long as I can remember, beginning in our high school days, a decade at least. Before Gigi and I could drive we’d nag Hank and his friends to let us tag along, and once we were given the state’s permission to operate a moving vehicle, made the pilgrimage with a car of girls. Each of us wearing our bikini tops and short shorts, hoping to catch the eye of the surfing world’s next Kelly Slater, which was unlikely for me with my pasty white skin and flaming red hair. But Gigi, well, that’s another story.
I tug my large navy blue and white polka dot sun hat from my beach bag and put it on. The sun is already beating down and the humidity is close to triple digits, yet, the clock hasn’t reached mid-morning.
“That’s a new one,” Hank says and carries my chair, his chair, and a cooler.
“Yeah, the other one was so threadbare it wasn’t really functioning as sun hat anymore.” It was hard to let it go because my dad had bought it for me my thirteenth summer. It’s now tucked safely away in tissue paper and a Rubbermaid bin along with other keepsakes from my decreased father.
“Let’s find a spot before it gets too crowded. Maybe we’ll get lucky and watch the competition from our chairs.”
I let him lead me through the crowd and agree to the first spot he suggests because it’s perfect and gives us a good view of the water and then if we turn our chairs around we can see the bandstand, where later tonight a movie would be playing. I love the competition and scanning the waters for sharks as surfers cut the waves, but watching the movie under the stars is my favorite part. As a kid we used to go to the drive-in, which has since closed, replaced by apartments. This is the next best thing. Luckily, my hometown, Lakeland, does a movie on the town square that affords the same vibe and when I’m in town visiting I try to go.
“Is it too early for a beer?” he asks as we set up our chairs and mark our space.
“Yes, but you’ll have the rest of the day.” I toss my towel over the chair and scan the food vendors.
“You’re eyeing the food aren’t you? You’re going to make me eat something fried.”
“Only for breakfast, I promise to aim for something with nutritional value for lunch or dinner.” I smile and clasp my hands together before I check my pocket to insure my cash, credit, and ID are safely tucked but ready for action.
“I like that. The ‘or dinner’ part.” He laughs and shakes his head. “Can I sway you to have a healthy granola bar that I’ve packed in my handy cooler? No?” he says when I give him a pointed look. “Let’s make it quick. Long board competition is starting and that’s my favorite.”
“You can wait here,” I say and step away from the chairs.
“And miss seeing you squealing over an elephant ear? Not on your life.” We laugh and he follows me to the food vendors. His hand on the small of my back, my breath shallow as my body responds to his touch. I’m grateful he can’t see my face because I’m sure I look a little panicky. This is a response I’ve never had when Hank’s touched me before. The clear explanation is I’m lonely or horny, or both. It’s been a year since my divorce and I’ve lived like a nun. Hank is…well, hot. Like, holy shit hot. And safe. It’s not like he’s ever thought of me like that, not even once. I’m another sister to him. So this physical reaction is just that, physical, and all because I haven’t had anything of the sort in a long time. The hairy guy with all the tats and really worn, dirty looking, jean shorts, working the beer table would likely give me the same reaction if he touched my back. That’s how pathetic I am.
I turn and slap Hank in the chest. “Look at that.” I point to the banner waving in front of me. “Foot long corndog and flavored funnel cakes. I’ve never had an Oreo funnel cake. I think I’ve just had my mind blown.” My stomach rumbles with delight.
“I can’t imagine anything more disgusting,” he mumbles.
“Says the man who wanted a beer at ten a.m. When did you become such a food snob?” I move toward the mini-donut vendor.
“When the Navy started measuring my body fat and set standards. Who wouldn’t want a beer this early in the morning with this heat?” His forehead is dotted with tiny beads of sweat.
I order a dozen and a strawberry lemonade. “Yeah, I can see how that might change things. Of course beer is still allowed.”
“Beer is expected.”
The announcer near the pier calls out the next competition and the crowd begins to flow toward the beach. I know Hank wants to see the competition from the beginning. Back in our teen years, movies like The Endless Summer, Big Wednesday, and North Shore were the go to flicks. Growing up close enough to the water, watching others your age make pro-am status in surfing competitions, only added to the dreams and Hank was one of many who thought they’d give it a go. He’s never been one for trends, more a tried and true guy, and the long board was always his favorite for surfing. Hence, his desire to get back to our beach chairs.
We spent the morning watching the competitions and making predictions. I spot one shark. Hank breaks down and gets a beer at noon and I convince him to indulge in fair food for lunch with the promise of leafy greens and other complex carbohydrates for dinner.
Being with him is easy. Maybe it’s the familiarity, but we spend most of the day laughing, touching each other’s shoulders as we point out possible sharks, and deciding who will make the next beer run with a quick rock, paper, scissors. So far I’ve been the runner more times than not.
The sun dips into the water and sends beams of amber and pink light out across the land and the air turns slightly cooler. Having sun-kissed skin assists the air with sending tiny goose bumps over my skin. We fold our chairs and set them in the sand so they act more as a lean-to. Hank pads it with extra blankets from our cars. The years of doing this have honed our skills and I settle back against a comfortable backrest and wait for the movie to start.
“Are you warm?” He asks and rubs his hands up and down my arms, over the goose bumps.
“I’m fine. Really.” I pull the blankets up to my chin as the giant screen flickers to life.
Hank lifts the blankets and scoots in next to me. “It’s Point Break,” he says tucking the blankets in around us.
“Are you going to recite the movie?” I ask, because I know he’s seen it one-bazillion times.
“Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true,” he says.
“Thank you, Bodhi. Shall I do the Johnny Utah lines?” Because I’ve probably watched it with him half a bazillion times. I hold the covers under my chin and smile at him. I can only image how terrible my hair looks, having been pressed down all day by my hat. My skin is soft from the layers of sunscreen but rough from the bits of sand that cling to it in the odd spot. I’ve eaten way more crap food today than I have in the last six months of my life and am thankful we ate big salads for dinner—not that I would tell him that—and yet, I wouldn’t change a thing.
“I can leave the Bodhi lines to Swayze if you’ll leave the Utah lines to Keanu,” he says.
He rolls onto his side, facing me, and he’s now illuminated more by the movie light, as the sun is nearly gone.
“I’m glad you’re home,” I say. I realize that I have just put words to the feelings I’ve been experiencing. I am glad he’s home. I’m relieved actually. He’s one of my oldest friends and I recognize now just how much I’ve missed him. Divorce is a lonely journey and it’s moments like this that I become aware of the depths of the loneliness.
“Are you?” He tucks an errant curl of hair behind my ear and his thumb lightly strokes my cheek.
“Of course I am.”
I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s the beers I’ve had and the bottle of wine we split at dinner. Maybe it’s that plus the beat down from being in the sun all day or the now easy mood settling across the beach. I don’t consciously think about it, reason it out, because if I did I wouldn’t do it. Instead, I go with the flow of the moment. There’s an energy between us that I’ve never experienced before. It’s not the sort of energy that revs people up, it’s the sort that wraps us in a cocoon and as I lean toward him, my senses buzz, and my breathing becomes a conscious act I perform with difficulty. I become singularly focused on one thing, kissing Hank. I press my lips to his, gently at first until instead of pushing me away, he cups the back of my head and together we deepen the kiss, our tongues meeting, and I gently suck the tip of his.
Hank groans, flips me on my back and I slide my hands under his shirt and up his chest before I wrap my arms around him.
My fingers tingle with the need to explore every part of him. Sounds fade away, light is found only in the space between us and from the energy we are creating. We explore each other’s body with our hands and our mouths and learn so much more about each other. Like my sweet spot is below my ear and his is the space where his collarbone meets his throat.
I don’t know what’s going on between us and I don’t care. This feels good. Hell, it feels heavenly. Right here, on this beach, among others who are also making out beneath their blankets with the projected movie casting odd bits of light and shadows around us, this is my Vegas. What happens here stays here. There is nothing but this moment and us. Tomorrow when the sun rises all will be forgotten and sure, we might be a little awkward around each other the next time we see each other, but it’s not like we see each other all that often anyway and it’s certainly not like this will ever happen again. Chance of that is less than nil.
~ So? I hope you liked it.
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Don't forget that there are two other books in the series.