Here is a Memorial Day spent with the Men of Honor through Annabelle’s eyes. May we never forget the brave men and women who fought for this Country.
Gathered in the yard, the sound of laughter echoes around me. Another Memorial Day spent with family. A holiday where we celebrate all the men and women who died fighting for our country. Men like my father and uncles who could have suffered the same fate. Thankfully they didn’t, but they never walked away unscathed either. It’s something that hurts my heart every time I see the scars on my father’s back.
Music is playing, the grill is fired up and the new pool our dad’s recently put in is ready. Something we all share since our properties are linked. The three boys are off in the clearing playing a friendly game of football, one I try not to watch because I know Braedyn is over there without a shirt on. Something my temper nor hormones need to deal with. Most days I’m not sure if I want to slap him or kiss him….
No! Not kiss him. Never kiss him. Not again. That was a big no, no. It should have never happened all those months ago.
But lord, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It was a kiss that probably no sixteen-year-old girl should have but one I’ll remember forever. It’s forbidden— his touch is forbidden—he is forbidden. The boy who sleeps down the hall from me, one my father loves like a son and uses as his personal watch dog.
I’m pulled from my thoughts when Hope bumps shoulders with me, her soft laughter floating through the air as we discuss Ella’s idea about the fundraiser we’re planning to have at school.
“So who is going to bring it up?” Mia asks quietly. “Because I’m too chicken.”
Ella slings an arm around my shoulders. “I vote Annabelle.”
“Why me? It was your idea.”
Which I have to admit is a good one. Actually, it’s brilliant and could raise us a lot of money. If our father’s go for it. Which they won’t.
“Because you’re the oldest,” she says. “Come on, take one for the team.”
I relent with a sigh. “Oh, all right.”
“This could get very ugly.” Hope snickers.
It probably will but it’ll also be funny to see the look on their faces.
My attention swings to my dad who sits across the yard from me in a lawn chair. My Uncle Sawyer, Cade and Cooper next to him. They talk amongst themselves while our moms sit at the picnic table cutting up fruit. When my dad laughs at something Uncle Sawyer says I can’t help but smile with him. No matter how much he drives me crazy with his overprotective nature he will always be the first man I ever loved. He’s my hero. Nothing or no one will ever change that.
Just as there’s a break in conversation the boys come walking back over, grabbing a drink from the cooler. I make sure to avoid eye contact with Brae.
“Hey, Dad,” I call out.
His ice blue eyes swing to mine, the smallest shadow casted over them by the hat he wears. “Yeah, baby, what’s up?”
“Remember the fundraiser I told you about that us girls are doing at school for the homeless shelter?”
“Well, Ella just came up with an excellent idea that will raise a lot of money.”
“That’s great. What is it?” he asks, tilting the beer bottle up to his lips to take a swig.
“A kissing booth.”
The bottle freezes mid air, his eyes narrowing along with all my uncles.
“Uh oh,” Hope snickers nervously.
I bite back a smile while the girls burst into giggles next to me.
“Very funny, Annabelle,” he says, clearly not finding it funny at all.
“What? I’m serious.”
“So am I. It’s not fucking happening.”
“Jaxson,” Mom scolds, though there’s no denying she’s trying to hold back a smile of her own. I’m not quite sure why she still chastises him for his language. I swear it’s ingrained into him and my uncles and it’s not like we’re little kids anymore.
“Just think about it,” I push.
“You girls should have known this shit wouldn’t fly,” Uncle Sawyer cuts in, looking and sounding as unimpressed as my dad. “We’ve spoken about this before, Shortcake. Don’t waste your time.”
“Mia you know better,” Uncle Cade says with his usual hard tone, giving her a pointed look.
“I know but…” She gets to her feet and begins singing, using her soda bottle as a microphone. “Daddy dear you know you’re still number one. But girls they want to have fun. Oh girls, they want to have fun!”
Giggling, all of us girls jump to our feet and follow suit, singing along with her. Though, we all don’t hold a candle to her incredible voice. Mia is going places and she’s going big.
Our moms clap, giving us a beat but our fathers remain stoic and unimpressed.
Rolling our eyes, we take our seats again.
Uncle Cooper puts in his two cents next, glaring daggers at Ella. “Why the hell am I not surprised this was your idea?”
“Because you know I’m brilliant like that?” She shrugs, drawing more snickers from us. “Come on. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to give Brantley Irving that kiss he has been wanting. At least I’ll make some money out of it and it’s for a good cause.”
How she manages to keep a straight face I have no idea. Especially when it’s taking every ounce of self control I have to not lose my composure at the look on my uncle’s face. His expression is as hard as stone, jaw ticking with fury.
“Wait for it. Wait for it,” Ella whispers, loud enough for everyone to hear. “The vein is gonna come out. The one that pops from his forehead just before he’s about to explode.”
I cover my mouth to muffle my laughter but everyone else has no shame. Especially my Aunt Kayla, she’s the loudest one of all. “Ella, sweetheart, you make me so proud.”
Uncle Cooper shakes his head and does his signature move, pinching the bridge of his nose as he reaches for patience.
I seize the opportunity to steer the conversation back at hand. “Come on, Dad. It could raise a lot of money. I bet we would even sell out,” I add, knowing it will get a rise out of him.
“Yeah you will because I’ll buy every fucking ticket.”
Laughter erupts through the yard once more, including mine. Getting up from my chair, I walk over to him then bend down to wrap my arms around his neck. “Awe, that’s so sweet but you don’t have to pay for a kiss from me. You get them for free,” I say, giving him a smacking kiss on the cheek.
He grunts, still moody but wraps an arm around my waist. “I’m serious, Annabelle. Drop it. It’s not happening.”
Figured as much.
“That was the most pathetic attempt I’ve ever seen, girls,” Parker chimes in, amused.
Hope kicks at his ankle. “Shut up. No one asked for your input.”
“Maybe you should’ve then I could have told you not to waste your time,” he says. “Forget dad, as if Beck and I would let it happen. We’d be there delivering kisses with our fists. Unless there were some hot chicks in line. I’d make an exception for them,” he chuckles.
“I’m sure you would,” Mia grumbles under her breath, her eyes remaining on the ground.
My heart hurts for her. I love Parker like a brother but he’s completely clueless when it comes to her feelings for him.
“I agree with Evans,” Braedyn says, my back stiffening when I hear how close he is behind me. “And if you ask me it sounds like you all need to cool off.” His arms come around my waist, his hot, hard body pressed against my back as he lifts me off my feet.
“Hey! Get off of me!” I barely manage the words before he sends us both into the pool, the cool water exploding through every cell in my body.
As I clear the surface sputtering, I see all the other girls being tossed in by Parker and Beckett.
I shove against Braedyn, trying not to revel in the feel of his naked chest pressed against mine but it proves useless. His arms are like a steel band around me as he backs me into the corner of the pool. There’s no denying the erection I feel against my stomach.
It’s then I make the mistake of looking into his clear celadon eyes, ones that always make my tummy somersault. I glare back at him, hoping to mask the affect he has on me.
“Try something like that again, Belle, and you’ll regret it.” The hard warning in his voice is clear.
Amongst the annoyance flowing through me, my heart hammers in my chest and body floods with warmth, regardless of the cold water.
I’m in serious trouble.