I climb off the bike and begin to walk with it toward the edge of the water when movement to my right causes me to turn. It’s a person, and I nearly jump.
He stares at me with a surprised look that must match mine. “Elijah? What…” I don’t complete the sentence. Words aren’t necessary. We both know why. My eyes scan over his shoulder to his rental car from this afternoon, backed into the woods and camouflaged by the trees. On the ground in front of it is a blanket, a bottle of beer, a half-eaten sandwich, and a book. Of course, a book. “I don’t want to disturb you…” I mutter, feeling like an intruder. There are a thousand hidden roads outside of town, but only one both Elijah and I claim, and I had to decide to visit this one the same night he returned to town. What could this mean?
He hops to his feet, striding toward me. He’s changed outfits, now sporting a comfortable aqua polo shirt and khaki shorts. He’s barefoot, his sandals placed to the side of the blanket. His hazel eyes lock on me, and I feel like I’m in a tractor beam of a spaceship, unable to move. He reaches me in three long strides, a look of determination in his body but vulnerability in his voice. “Please. Stay.”
I have no defense for his words. Before I take another breath, he slips his hands into mine and doesn’t move. He stares at me like I’m a dream—as if I’m a prize. No one has looked at me like that in years. Surely this close, he must see the broken pieces in front of him.
“I thought the sunset would be the most beautiful thing I hoped to see this evening.” He squeezes my hand slightly. “Once again, you’ve proven me wrong.” He leans in, and a woodsy and citrus scent from a recent shower fill my nostrils. His words are so different, so daring from the quiet boy years ago, yet the look remains the same. He’s finally able to enunciate the words he’s always held back from me.
I close my eyes and prepare, hoping he’ll reward me in our own special way. His warm lips land on the tip of my nose. “Kiss you.” His voice catches as the words stretch to fill the silence.
I sway on my heels, his gentle pull the only thing keeping me from falling. My eyes open, no longer surprised to find his gaze locked on me, examining me. This is no longer the boy who backs down, who walks away. His gaze lowers to my lips, which part with a soft exhale. We are too close for the shadows to hide him mouthing the words oh my god.
Help us both.
I’m not sure how exactly we fell into this deadly greeting, but nothing in the world gets my heart beating like this. Every single time. I feel like I’m on a tightrope walking a thin cable while a storm whips around us. Every single time, I expect to fall. Every single time I nearly do.
I end this torture by pressing my lips to the tip of his nose. I linger longer than I ever have before, only the burn in my calves causing me to lower. The bottom of my lower lip brushes against the top of his upper one. A spark races through my body, and another audible sigh escapes my mouth. “Kiss… you back.”
I avoid his gaze, landing on his Adam’s apple as he takes a long gulp. “Like minds,” he says and juts his chin toward his blanket. I follow him, our hands still intertwined as one.
Mason’s Trail was Elijah’s go-to spot back in high school. At least twice a week, he’d hide out here away from the world. The first time he brought me here was junior year. Getting to know Elijah is a process. It takes a long while to earn his trust and for him to lower his barriers, but once he does, you have a permanent place in his fortress.
We’ve only been here together maybe a dozen times in the final two years of high school, but I always think of this place as our place, not his, not mine.
“I was out for a ride, and the bike just turned down the road,” I say as we slip down to a large red-and-black plaid blanket. My visit to the women’s center is just another secret I keep from him.
He tilts his head in my direction, a sexy half smirk on his beautiful face. “Did you come for the sunset or me?”