Page 82 of I Promise You

Anxiety crawls under my skin, warning me that I’m going to screw this up.

With a deep sigh, I tear my eyes away from her and focus on the road.“Why here?” Serena asks me as she spreads the blanket out on the ground. She sits and crosses her legs, her face upturned. She’s wearing one of my practice shirts and a pair of frayed shorts.

I sit next to her and grab her feet, slipping them out of her flip-flops. “Why do you think?” After the safari park, we escaped to her apartment and took a shower together. Then I suggested an excursion of my own.

“Mmmm, that feels good.” She leans her head back as my thumbs dig into the arch of her foot.

“This is where we met,” she says up to the darkening sky.

I tilt my head to the meadow where the students congregated in front of the band. “You were dancing to the left, over there. I stood on the sidelines and watched.”

She crawls over to me and lays her head in my lap. Our eyes cling, and we grow quiet, taking in the cool October breeze. Peace. Calm.

“What are you thinking about?”

I run my fingers through her hair. “Myles. He loved the outdoors. Boy Scout. He wanted to be a geologist.”

She touches my leather cuff. “This is his?”

I start in surprise as I glance down at the quartz embedded in the material. “No, but I bought it with him in mind.”

“You loved him very much.”

I look off into the trees. “We were total opposites. He was quiet and reserved. I was the extrovert. Once, the nanny took us to the doctor for our checkups. He goes in the waiting room, sits in the play area, and builds a castle with blocks. She never needed to reprimand him, tell him to sit down, or be polite. Me? I ran through that place like a tornado, tore down his castle, made some little girl cry, then had a pee accident in my shorts and announced it to everyone.

“He used to wear these red cowboy boots when he was little, kept them right next to his bed. At prep school, the year before he died, we had opposite day for Homecoming. I went as him: dress shirt, glasses, khakis, and a pocket protector. He dressed in my jersey. It swallowed him, but the pride on his face…”

I fan her hair out with my fingers.

“The day he drowned…” The words get caught in my throat as I struggle to keep the emotion in check. “He shouldn’t have been there, not with the crowd I hung out with, but he followed me around, and I couldn’t deny him anything. When he didn’t come up out of the water…” I wanted to die. “I dove in after him. He was a good swimmer, but he hit his head on a rock. I dragged him up to the shore, did CPR, but he…”—was gone—“never came back. I felt as if I should have died next to him.” My breath catches.

“Oh, Dillon. That must have been horrible.”

“My dad…he…he…I don’t know. He couldn’t stand to be around—” I stop, sucking in air. “My dad and I are screwed up.”

Her lips brush my hand. “Grief makes people do crazy things. I hope you work things out with him.”

“I showed up at Waylon with all this buried grief and anger. Why my brother? Why didn’t I watch him better? Did I mess up the CPR? I shoved it down with football and parties.” I hesitate. “Serena, I’ve been with a lot of girls…” I stop. “You’re different. You know that, right?”

She eases up and straddles me, her knees outside my legs. “Thank you,” she says.

I tug her closer until I can see the white glints in her honey-colored eyes. “For what?”

“For today with the safari park. Nana can be…”

“Ridiculous? But cute?”

She smirks. “And for telling me about Myles. A person isn’t completely gone when we talk about them. He’s still with you when you kiss your hands before you take the field. I understand, I see you—”

Overwhelmed, I kiss her, cutting off her words, my tongue finding hers. We start off slow and sweet as my fingers pull her shirt up and off. Her bra is black lace, her skin like satin. My fingers play with the charm around her neck. Seeing it fires off emotions in my chest. “I want to make love to you, Dandelion. Here.”

She stills and her breath hitches as she stares at me. I don’t know how long we gaze at each other. Crickets chirp in the woods. An owl hoots. The sun falls below the horizon, the last glints of the orange and pink lights making the night ethereal and otherworldly. How is it possible that our planet continues to spin with billions of people, yet it feels as if we are alone in this moment?

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance