“If you’re going to sleep in Beau’s tent then who is going to sleep with me? I don’t want to sleep in a tent all by myself. There are black bears in the Cheaha Mountains. I know this for a fact because I googled it.”
Ashton threw me a saucy smile over her shoulder, “Well, I’m sure you could share a tent with Sawyer. I have no doubt he’d rather share with you than Jake.”
I flopped down on her bed and groaned in frustration. Sharing a tent with Sawyer would be difficult. We’d been on two dates since the field party and not once had we done anything more than kiss. After I’d put the brakes on his hand slowly creeping up my thigh, he’d been hands off on my body.
“He hasn’t offered that and I am not asking him. Can I get a lock for my tent?”
Ashton laughed and threw another pair of shorts on her bed to pack. “Bears can’t unzip tents, Lana.”
“Well, chainsaw psychos who wander the woods looking for young girls all alone to chop up into pieces can,” I replied.
“There are no chainsaw psychos! I can’t believe you’ve never been camping. It’s safe, Lana. I promise.”
“Easy for you to say. You’ll be snuggled up safely in the arms of Beau Vincent. I’m more than positive he could take on a black bear,” I muttered.
Ashton pulled a large red backpack out of her closet very similar to the royal blue one that Sawyer had helped me pick out. The excitement for our upcoming trip made me wish I could share in her joy. But every time I tried to get excited visions of black bears, snakes, and chainsaws haunted my thoughts.
“Stop frowning. You’ll be fine. I’ll get someone to share a tent with you. You won’t be left alone.”
Reaching for the tiny little bikini Ashton dropped on the bed, I picked it up and raised an eyebrow in surprise. “So, I’m guessing your mom hasn’t seen this one?”
Ashton rolled her eyes and snatched it out of my hand before glancing back at the door to make sure it was still closed. “No, she hasn’t. I bought it for this trip.”
“I just bet you did,” I teased.
Ashton frowned, “Shhhh… do you not remember all the begging I had to do to make this happen? The only saving grace we have is the fact Sawyer is going to be there and they believe you and I are sharing a tent. And I might have left out the fact Beau will be there.”
“Ashton! You did not! What if they ask his mother?” I asked horrified.
“That ain’t gonna happen. My parents and Honey Vincent aren’t exactly chummy.”
“Okay, if you say so,” I replied just as my phone alerted me that I had a new text message.
Sawyer: What’re you doing?
Me: Watching Ash pack
Sawyer: Why aren’t you packing?
Me: B/C I’m stressing over the black bears that are going to eat me in my sleep
Sawyer: HA! No black bears will eat you. They don’t do red heads. You’re safe.
Me: Very funny. I happen to know that they aren’t very picky and that there are plenty of them in Cheaha.
Sawyer: Naw, I’ve never seen one there.
Me: Well they’re there. Google it.
Sawyer: I’ll keep you safe.
Me: Maybe during the day but at night when I’m alone in my tent they’ll come for me.
Sawyer: Alone in your tent? Um, no. You’re in my tent.
I lifted my head to see Ashton watching me as I texted back and forth with Sawyer.
She was amused to say the least, “Well, what’s he saying?”
“That I’m sharing his tent.”
Ashton raised her eyebrows, “Told ya.”
Me: Are you sure?
Sawyer: Hell yeah I’m sure. Why do you think I’m going on this camping trip?
Me: Um… because you like to sleep on hard rocky ground and get chased by bears?
Sawyer: Funny. Go take your cute little ass to your room and get packing.
Me: Yes, sir.
“Oh, ye of little faith,” Ashton said in a singsong voice as I stood up slipping my phone into the pocket of my shorts.
“Yeah, yeah, you know everything,” I replied.
“You going to go pack now?”
“Yes, I guess I need to get on that. Do we really have to leave so early in the morning though?”
“Afraid so. It’s a five hour drive then we need to hike up to our camping spot and put up our tents before the sun goes down.”
It was still dark outside when Sawyer drove up in a Suburban that belonged to his dad. It had room for eight. This way we could all drive up together. I’d packed as much clothing as I could in my backpack. Ashton had assured me there were showers on the grounds we could go use. I was not about to get in snake-infested water to wash up.
“Good morning sunshine,” Sawyer said as I stumbled out the door. We had overslept and there had been no time to make coffee.
My eyes focused on the styrofoam cup in his hand as he extended it to me. “You drink it black, right?”
“Come here,” I said grabbing a handful of the black t-shirt he was wearing until he was close enough for me to kiss. I laid a very loud smack on his mouth before taking the cup from his hands. “You’re my hero.”
“If I’m going to get that kind of greeting I may just start showing up every morning with a cup of coffee in hand,” Sawyer drawled in a sexy voice as he slipped his hand around my waist.
“We need to load up. Back away from the girl lover boy and help out,” Jake grumbled as he took my backpack and sleeping bag from the front porch and headed to the Suburban with it.
Sawyer chuckled and picked up the extra duffel bag that Ash and I had packed with a few things we couldn’t fit in our backpacks. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows in question.
“The backpacks didn’t have enough room in them. Besides, that isn’t all mine. Ashton and I both needed a few more things,” I explained.
“You’re breaking a camping rule but because you look so amazingly hot in those little hiking shorts, I’ll overlook it.”
I put the steaming cup of coffee to my lips to hide the silly grin on my face. Who would have known Sawyer Vincent could be so good at flirting?
“What’s with the duffel?” Toby demanded as Sawyer threw it up to him so he could strap it on top of the vehicle.
“Ash and Lana had a few things that wouldn’t fit in their backpacks. Shut up and strap it down,” Sawyer replied and turned back to look at me with a cocky grin.
“Kayla tried this and I made her take it back inside,” Toby complained.
“Ain’t our fault you’re a sucky boyfriend Toby, now strap the duffel down,” Beau said in an annoyed tone as he walked around from the backside of the Suburban.
I made my way over to the SUV to get in and stopped because I wasn’t sure if I should assume I was riding in the front with Sawyer. I searched the yard for Ashton but it was still dark out and the front porch light only lit up part of the yard.
“So, you’re Sawyer’s new girl?” an unfamiliar voice asked from behind me. I spun around to see a petite girl with a headful of pale blonde hair that sticking out in wild ringlets everywhere. Her eyes were a bright blue. So startling that they had to be contacts. She had a golden tan that didn’t match up with the pale color of her hair, at all. But she was really pretty.
“Um, yes, well no. We’re just friends,” I replied.
She rolled her eyes, “You aren’t just friends. Sawyer doesn’t kiss his friends. If he did, I’d be lined up waiting for my turn. I’ve been his friend since kindergarten and not once has he kissed me.”
“Oh,” was the only response I had for her. It was too early and I hadn’t finished my coffee yet. My verbal skills were lacking.
“I’m Heidi. Kayla is one of my best friends. We cheered together all four years of high school. Jake and I have an on again off again thing going. Right now, it’s on,” she winked at me and took a sip from her thermos.
“You getting in? I think Jake and I are going to take the back,” she paused and looked around, “unless Beau and Ash are taking it. Don’t think I’m up for the Beau Vincent love marathon the whole way.”
“Are four people sitting in the back? Won’t that be crowded?”
Heidi frowned as if this just dawned on her. “Oh, I guess we can’t all sit in pairs.”
Now, I really wasn’t sure where I should sit. Sawyer came up beside me and opened the passenger side door. “You’re sitting up here with me. If I have to drive the whole way, I at least deserve to have you to entertain me.”
That answered my question.
Heidi tilted her head back to look at Toby and Jake strapping things down on top of the Suburban. “So, how are we sitting? I’m ready to get in and I don’t know where to sit.”
“Ash and I are in the back. Someone will have to ride back there with us if we’re all going to fit,” Beau informed her as he opened the door and helped Ash inside.
“Jake you’re in the back beside Beau. Heidi can sit with Kayla and me in the middle,” Toby piped up.
“Why do I have to get stuck in the back by Beau? Why can’t you?” Jake snapped.
“Because Kayla is my girlfriend. Heidi is your fuckbuddy,” Toby replied, jumping down and checking the straps one more time with a hard tug.
“Hey! Don’t call me that!” Heidi yelled.
Toby shrugged, “Sorry Heidi, I call ‘em like I see ‘em. If the two of you ever make it exclusive, I’ll be sure to change my opinion.”
“What I can’t believe is you just said f**k in the pastor’s yard,” Jake smirked as he walked around the corner of the vehicle toward us.
Sawyer leaned down and whispered in my ear, “They’re going to argue about this for a few more minutes. Go ahead and get in.”
He held my hand and helped me up. I loved how he made me feel special when he did little things like that. “I’ll stop by a Starbucks and get you some more coffee as soon as we get out of Grove,” he promised before closing the door.
Lana was holding her fresh cup of coffee close to her nose smelling it at her leisure. I’d decided to drive through Mobile just so we could find a Starbucks. She was much more awake and alert than when she’d staggered out of the house earlier in a sleepy haze. I’d wanted to cuddle her up and take her back to bed but that wasn’t something I could act on. She’d drawn a line with us physically and I was trying to stay behind that line. But the more time we spent together made it harder and harder.
“Why is it Starbucks coffee just smells better than anything you can make at home?” She asked, cutting her eyes over in my direction with a flirty bat of her eyelashes. If it weren’t for the fact I already knew the girl had no clue how to flirt, I’d think it was on purpose. The more I got to know her the more I realized that she really had no idea how tempting she was.
“It’s a head game. They do an excellent job of marketing,” I replied, reaching for my cup and taking a long swig before setting it back in the cup holder.
“Hmmm… I don’t know. I’ve tried buying the Starbucks brand at the grocery store and making it at home but it doesn’t smell the same.”
I started to reply but Jake yelled out, “There’s not enough room in this backseat for me and Beau. We’re cramped up. Heidi and I need to switch spots.”
“Just stick Ash in your lap Beau and scoot over,” I replied, glancing over at Lana who was staring at me with a surprised look in her eyes. Winking, I reached for her hand.
“What is it?” I asked
She just shook her head and smiled back at me.
“AH! God, that is so much better,” Jake groaned loudly. “Throw me my pillow Heidi. I’m going to need to go to sleep. Ash in Beau’s lap is going to get out of hand soon enough and I’d rather not watch.”
My stomach tightened at his words but only for a second. It hadn’t bothered me to suggest Ash sit in Beau’s lap but the idea of him touching her still got to me. Threading my fingers through Lana’s, I focused on the road and the fact Lana would be cuddled up to me in my tent for the next three nights.
The tents were all set up and the fire was blazing brightly by the time the sun set over the Cheaha Mountains. The girls had all hiked up to the bathrooms to get showers. We’d had to set up camp closer to the public bathhouse than I preferred but Ashton had pouted when I suggested we move out another mile. Beau had dropped everything in his hands and without looking to me or anyone else for agreement, he began setting up camp. Ash had never pouted on me when she wanted her way. It was strange to see her voice an opinion. It was even weirder to watch Beau give in to someone so easily. She really was different with him. She didn’t bend to his will and ask him what he wanted first. The free-spirited little girl who would rather throw water balloons at cars, roll yards with toilet paper, and sneak out of her bedroom window to go comfort the trashy barmaid’s son was back. She’d just needed Beau to help her find herself again. A lump formed in my throat at the realization it was my fault she’d lost herself. I walked out of the firelight and into the darkness to stare out at the shadowed nature around us. Pressing a hand against my chest, I rubbed hard forcing the emotion tightening my chest to go away.
Just when I thought things were getting better with how I felt about Ashton something always happened to send me spiraling back into the pain. Granted, it was getting easier and it wasn’t anything near what it was in the beginning—but it wasn’t completely gone. I feared it never would be. Ashton would always be my biggest mistake. Not because I loved her but because I lost her.
“You good?” Beau’s voice broke into the silence around me. Dropping my hand from my chest, I stuck it into my pocket and nodded without turning to look back at him
“What’re you doing out here? Getting away from Jake’s bitching?”
“Just looking around,” I replied.
Beau stopped beside me. I could see him staring out in the same direction as me from my peripheral vision.
“You seem happy with Lana. Ash said Lana really likes you.”
I could hear the silent warning in his voice. If I hurt Lana, I hurt Ashton and Beau wouldn’t be okay with that.
“Lana is great. She knows where I stand. August will be here soon and I’ll be going to Florida and she’ll be going… wherever it is she’s going.”
Beau turned his head to look at me. “You don’t even know where she’s going to college?”
“No. It’s never come up.”
Beau shook his head, “Once, not too long ago, you were the good brother. You were careful with everyone’s feelings. It was f**king ridiculous how polite and thoughtful you were. You’ve changed, man. Can’t believe I’m saying this but I miss that guy. He was someone I always admired. I couldn’t be proud of my choices but I was always so damn proud of yours.”
The anger that had surfaced instantly was gone with that last sentence. Beau turned and walked back to the campsite leaving me there to think about what he’d said. Knowing he was proud of me made my eyes burn. That wasn’t something I ever imagined my tough ass brother admitting.