“It’s fine,” Brandon raised a hand to stop him, “but Harper’s right, don’t bring her back to our house again. We’ll save you some food if you decide to come back.”
He waved awkwardly and bolted for the front door.
The three of us stood there for a moment looking at the shut door and I brought my hands up with a soft clap, “Well, she was lovely. Burgers, anyone?”
Carter smirked and punched my arm, “Hell yeah, bet I can still eat you under the table.”
Like that was hard to do. I patted my stomach and winked at Brandon before looking back at Carter, “I don’t know about that, I’ve been awfully hungry lately.”
“This isn’t ice cream Blaze, you know you can’t beat me unless it’s that.”
“True.” I sighed and wrapped my arms around Brandon’s waist, looking up at his amused expression, “Aren’t you supposed to be manning the grill?”
“Everything’s practically done, but Jer’s got it covered. Bree said we needed to save you.”
I rolled my eyes, “I was handling it just fine…okay maybe not.”
“You handled that better than I would have expected anyone to. You’re kind of amazing, you know?” Brandon’s gray eyes ran over my face, resting on my lips.
“And you’re kind of ridiculously handsome, you know?”
He leaned down and gave me a soft kiss, smiling against my mouth when another happy sigh escaped my lips.
“Gah, you guys are disgustingly cute.” Carter gave us a crooked smile and shook his head.
“You know Carter, Kate’s single…” I pursed my lips and raised my eyebrows.
“The one with the awesome eyes?”
Brandon and I laughed, “Yep.”
“Oh really now? Well then, please excuse me.” After rounding the corner, he poked his head back in and looked at me with mock disappointment, “I know for a fact you perfected your right hook, I expect to see it next time someone calls you a slut. Prokowski wasn’t your punching bag for nothing, make us proud Blaze!”
Carter didn’t leave Kate’s side for the rest of the afternoon, and although it helped me breathe easier, I know Brandon wasn’t completely comfortable with him yet. It took me a bit to realize why he kept pulling me closer to him than I already was until I noticed the longing glances Carter seemed to still be sending my way.
“You need help in here?”
Turning, I saw Carter standing behind the breakfast bar with a sheepish grin on his face, “There’s not much left, I’ll be back out there soon.”
The chair scraped against the floor before he sat down, his body slumping into the chair as he brought his beer to his lips, “So today has been fun.”
“Mhmm. Glad you guys could come. It was nice to be surrounded by jarheads, it’s been too long.”
“I knew you’d miss us. It was so different when you left for school. I mean, we had a lot that we were always doing, but it still felt like we had nothing to do or look forward to without you there.”
“It was weird for me too, especially with Bree. I’ve never been around girls, but she’s great, she was the perfect roommate and friend for me. And all the guys that we hung out with reminded me of you all, so it made it easier. Going my whole life being surrounded by Sir’s unit, I felt like everyone in there before you got there, and during, was my real family. You guys were my home.”
“Even Jacobs?” He gave me his crooked grin and I rolled my eyes remembering the perverted creep.
“Okay maybe not all of you. I think I told you when you first got here, I felt like I went from one family of brothers to another, and that really is the best way to explain it. It wasn’t you, or Prokowski and Sanders, but they were still protective and funny like the rest of you, so it felt like I was back home being around them. The house and Bree made moving an easy transition.” I turned to put the rest of the crème pie in the fridge, and my heart ached when I saw his lonely expression, “It really has been good to see you Carter. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too Blaze. These last couple years have gone,” he took another swig and sighed deeply, “a lot different than I thought they were going to.”
“For me too.” I leaned onto the island and shook my head, laughing softly, “I didn’t think I would be married or have a baby, that’s for sure.”
“I did, but I definitely thought it would be with me. I had it all planned out, I was gonna sweep you off your feet, you were going to drop out of college and marry me immediately.” He puffed a small laugh and ran a hand through his short hair.
“Well, obviously that didn’t happen.” I smirked at him.
“Obviously. What did you see yourself doing?”
“Continuing school, trying to enjoy the ‘college experience’, I guess. I don’t really know Carter, I just wanted to get away, be me, or find out who I was.”
“And then you met Brandon, and your whole world changed?” He looked sad, even through his smile, “I’ve gotta admit, I thought getting you to marry me anytime soon was a long shot, but I couldn’t believe the girl I knew was already head over heels for some guy she’d just met. You were so different when I got here, confident, feminine and outgoing. I had to keep reminding myself that you were my Blaze. I’d already lost you to everyone here though. It was painfully obvious after those first few minutes on the beach. And seeing you with him, I just – I don’t know. It shocked the hell out of me and killed me.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about dating when I left home. I mean, I figured I would, but never thought I’d meet someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with after just two weeks of being here, ya know?” I laughed softly and the corners of my mouth tilted up, “Definitely thought marriage and babies would happen sometime after graduation. Like you said though, life doesn’t always go as planned, does it? It caused me to grow up, too soon probably, but I’m fine with that because it was the result of my actions. I just hate that those actions forced the people closest to me to grow up too.” Silence filled the kitchen for a few moments before I continued, “And while I can’t regret anything that brought Brandon and I to where we are now, I wish I could have spared Brandon and Chase a lot of the pain that we went through to get here.
“Chase? That tatted up guy…Bree’s brother right?”
I nodded and watched him try to figure it out.
“I knew it! I knew there was something going on there, he was way too possessive of you for you to just be friends. He was worse than Brandon and me combined. Where is he anyway?”
“Oh damn. When?”
“Over a year ago, he ran a red light and was hit by an eighteen wheeler. I was five and a half months pregnant with Liam. Chase was the father.”
“The fuck?” He leaned over the countertop and whispered, “Does Brandon know about this?!”
“Yes Carter, Brandon knows everything, I promise. I uh, I cheated on Brandon with Chase not long after you left for Afghanistan, but trust me when I say it is way too long and FUBAR’d to even try to explain tonight.”
“Blaze, you can’t just say something like that and not tell me what happened.”
My vision got blurry and I blinked back the tears, “Not tonight, kay Carter?”
“Yeah, alright.” He shook his head in disbelief, “But he just acts like Liam’s his son?”
“Chase was the father, but Brandon is Liam’s dad. He loves him like he’s his own.” I walked over and sat in the seat next to him, “I don’t expect you to understand what that means, it’s hard to explain it to anyone who wasn’t there for everything that happened.”
Carter continued to stare at me with wide unblinking eyes, “Jeez Blaze.”
“One day, we’re sitting down and you’re telling me the whole damn thing.”
“Okay Carter. Will you tell me all about you too?”
He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees, “Hell, I’ll tell you it all right now. I pretty much lost it after that night at the party, slept with a new girl every weekend, went to strip clubs every Friday night and was wasted all weekend, every weekend. One Friday, I’m walking out to my car with some of my boys and I see this girl sitting on the tailgate of a big truck. Swear to God I thought it was you. Walked over and saw it wasn’t, but by that point she had seen she caught my attention and started laying it on pretty thick. Honestly it was pathetic, but at that point I didn’t care. Made the guys find their own way and spent the afternoon with her, drove to Vegas late that night and married her the next day. Stupidest damn thing I’ve ever done, and God she drove me crazy. Anytime we were out, she’d try to get me to have my dog tags outside my shirt, and would always wear a ‘Marine’s wife’ shirt. Wouldn’t even call me by my name, always called me Sergeant and let everyone she talked to know she was married to a guy in the military. I mean like literally, it was the first thing she said. Even the other people would look at her weird for just bringing it up like that. She didn’t care about me just the same as I didn’t care about her. We were both using each other for something, and I think that’s the only reason we tolerated each other for the month before I left.”
“And what Lauren said about you and her?”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes, “I accidentally called her Blaze one night, and she got all excited that I gave her a nickname, I was drunk and straight up told her, ‘That name’s not for you, you’ll never be her’.”
“Jason Carter!” My mouth popped open wide, “I can’t believe you actually said that to your wife.” I know it was awful, but I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.
Carter was shaking with silent laughter, “And yet, here you are laughing about it.”
“I’m sorry,” I wiped tears from my cheeks and laughed louder, “but I was picturing what her face would have looked like when you said that.”
“Oh God she was mad. Slapped me across the face in front of everyone, hurt like sin too!”
“You were in front of other people?!”
“We were at a bonfire with some friends. That night didn’t end well, that’s for sure.”
“Good God, Carter. That’s terrible.” My chuckling made it obvious I thought anything but that.
He shrugged, “Needless to say, that marriage didn’t work out.”
“Oh, I wonder why?” I winked and a smile stretched across my face briefly before faltering when I saw the pissed off expressions on most the people that had just walked through the back door. Brandon was first, shrugging off Konrad’s halting arm with one hand, the other had his phone pressed to his ear. Bree, Jeremy and Aubrey followed behind him, the first two brooding, Aubrey was nervously looking between Brandon and me. “Babe?”