With our favorite day of the week comes another installment of fiction. Again, it's a continuation of the first two parts, so make sure to read those here and here.
The walk to my car is an awkward one.
I offer to carry one of his bags, but he insists that he is okay. I can't help but smirk when he refuses my help...it's such a typical action for him. Always so independent and unwilling to admit to any weakness whatsoever.
"I haven't stopped thinking about you, Riley..."
It was the first sentence to escape his lips after we had pulled away from our lingering hug. I hadn't known how to respond, so I didn't.
"I'm parked out this way," I had changed the subject, bobbing my head in the direction of the parking lot.
We walk at a swift pace, minding our personal space so that we don't brush hands or bump into one another. I can't figure out why I'm trying so hard not to touch him. I realize that it's not because I don't want to, and the thought bothers me.
He left me. I should want nothing to do with him. Yet...here I am.
The automatic doors open and we step out into the warm evening. He suddenly halts, closing his eyes and taking in a big, dramatic breath.
"There's nothing like Florida humidity," he says, smiling in my direction.
I roll my eyes. "You've got that right...as long as you mean nothing quite as terrible," I reply with a hint of sarcasm in my voice and resume walking.
"No, I'm serious!" He argues as he jogs to catch up with me. "The air out there...in Seattle...it's not the same. Trust me."
The words nearly stop me in my tracks, but I force myself to keep walking.
My mind is plummeting into the past once again...to one of our first dates. He had been begging me to go canoeing on the river with him, and I had finally agreed.
I can feel the sun beating down on the back of my neck. The smells of tanning oil and bug spray invade my senses. I remember being so nervous sitting in front of him in that little boat. I didn't like that I couldn't see his face, although I could feel his gaze on me as we paddled.
"Tell me something I don't know about you," he had said, flicking the end of his paddle and splashing me with a fine spray of cool river water.
"Well," I say turning over my shoulder to look at him, "I don't typically venture out into uncharted waters with strange boys that I barely know."
He gasps dramatically, shaking his head at me. His sandy hair was so shaggy and I was mesmerized by the way that the sun illuminated every unkempt strand.
"I'm insulted, Riley. I really am..." he replies jokingly. I smile at him and return back to rowing.
I hear the clank of a paddle against metal and I can tell he is attempting to stand up by the way that the canoe wavers. I look back just as he takes a flying leap over the edge of the canoe. His splash soaks me and he laughs at my surprised expression as he bobs to the surface.
I pull my own paddle into the boat. "Are you crazy?" I ask him. "There are alligators in there!"
"Only small, friendly ones...with large teeth," he says, grinning as he swims up to the side of the canoe and props his arms up on the side. The boat tilts and I panic.
His cold hand gently wraps around my arm. "Come for a swim with me...nothing in here is going to hurt you, I promise."
"No, I really don't think-----"
In one swift movement he pulls me over the side of the canoe and I'm in the water, sputtering and flailing. A mixture of panic and confusion surfaces and I try to get back to the canoe.
He is laughing and I can feel the heat in my face, despite the cool temperature of the water. I try to pull myself into the boat, only to slip back into the water. His laughter continues, and I glare at him.
He moves closer to me. "I'm sorry Riley, I really am. I just wanted you to take a little swim with me."
I want to cross my arms and pout, but all of my limbs are required to tread the ten feet of water that I'm currently floating in.
He reaches out and tenderly holds my face in his hands. Our noses are just a couple of inches apart.
"Look, you're safe right here. Nothing is going to happen. In a couple of minutes, I will help you back into the canoe and we will be on our way...and not nearly as hot and sweaty."
I force myself to make eye contact with him. His brown eyes look even darker against the tea-colored river water. Something about his expression helps my breathing to slow and I am able to relax a little.
He smiles at me, and I manage to smile back.
"Do you trust me?" he asks softly, still holding my face.
I nod slowly, so as not to break our eye contact.
He kisses me. Our first kiss. His lips are wet, and cool, and soft. For a couple of minutes, I didn't even think about where we were...let alone about the river creatures that were potentially swimming below our feet.
"Riley? Earth to Riley...."
His voice brings me back to reality and I look at him, slightly embarrassed.
He laughs his goofy laugh. "You just walked straight past your car..." he says motioning towards my old red Pontiac.
"Oh..." I say blushing as I move to unlock the trunk for his bags. I suddenly feel extra vulnerable. There's no way he knows what I was thinking about, I remind myself.
I climb into the car and he joins me after shutting the trunk.
"So, where to?" I ask.