Generation 5, Chapter 4

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I can be pretty competitive. It depends on what it is, who’s around and if there’s a prize at the end, but even a friendly soccer game between my brothers and my friends can get a little.. Out of hand at times.. But, hopefully today, we can keep it together and avoid a fight at the end. The fights, if any, are usually between August and someone else, but I’m hoping that he can keep his cool today.

This is the first time we’ve hung out ever since I went over to his place last week, but so far he hasn’t mentioned anything about it, so neither have I. Even if I wanted to help him out of the situation he was in with Dad, I still had no idea how to do it, so for now, I think I’ll try to mind my own business like Tavish told me I should do from the beginning.. At least just until it gets out of hand, if it ever does. But, enough about that.. Today was about having a friendly game of soccer and that’s exactly what I intended this game to be. Friendly.

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Our games tended to draw in a small crowd sometimes and even though it was mostly made up of our girlfriends or friends, there were some strangers that would see the game and stop by just to watch for a little while, but for now, the stands were empty. Our games tend to be pretty entertaining, though. Not only did all of our competitive natures come out during these games, but also our athletic abilities and the games can get pretty rough at times. I got kicked in the face once, if you can believe that. We tend to pull off some pretty risky moves that could cause a sprain or even a broken bone, but that’s what made them so fun. Of course, we tried to avoid these things, but.. Accidents do happen.

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I was one of the strongest players, so was August, Pia and Tavish, but everyone else in the game was pretty good, too. Pia could definitely hang with the boys, but she was best at being a goalie and could block any shot that came to her. Tavish was usually always my backup to make goals, and I, his. Anthony and Ian were friends of mine and they attended the games religiously. Then there was Jiro, the one that was the baby of the game and was able to play only because he was my little brother, and mostly because he talked to Dad and Pop about it.. Even though I’ve told him to buzz off, our parents were able to convince me to be nice and let him play.

Niko was back in town solely for the game, which most of the time he can’t make because of school, but since it was the weekend and he didn’t have class or any assignments to turn in for a few days, him and AnneMarie drove out here. I loved seeing Niko and I wished I could see him more often, but the seldom times I did get to see him were that much more enjoyable. I was actually pretty fortunate to be able to see him twice in the past two weeks.

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“Are we playing football rules this time, or no?” Ian asked in the circle we had made, discussing the rules. Sometimes we played tackle rules where anyone that’s on your side of the field with the ball on the opposing team can get tackled by whoever is closest to them, so you gotta be fast if you want to score that goal.

“Nah, we did that last time. And Jiro almost got his elbow broken because Anthony tackled him so hard,” I replied with a smirk and Jiro rolled his eyes.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Jiro tried to brush off and Anthony laughed as he punched Jiro’s arm playfully.

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“You almost cried, little dude!”

“No I didn’t!” Jiro defended himself, but we all knew that he really did almost cry and he tried his absolute hardest not to let a single tear fall from his eye so he wouldn’t get made fun of.

“The next time that rule is in play, though, and we’re on opposite teams, you better watch out, kid,” Anthony poked fun at him and the group gave mixed laughs and chuckles as Jiro stood there a pouted.

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“All right,” I added, bringing the conversation back to the game, “So, no football rules, just normal play. Everyone know their teams?” I asked and everyone nodded, “Cool. Well, let’s do this, and try to avoid being dicks to each other so we can avoid a fight.. August,” I singled him out and he mockingly gave a fake laugh before we all separated and went to our designated spots.

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So far in the stands were only AnneMarie and Lien.. Dad and Pop sometimes came by to watch the games, but they weren’t here yet and I wasn’t sure if they were coming or not. I hoped they would. It was always nice seeing them on the sidelines whenever we were on a team of some sort in school when we were all little, so seeing them still come to our games now, even just-for-fun games, meant a lot.. But, then again, it was the weekend and all the kids were out of the house, which usually meant they enjoyed their alone time to do things that I didn’t dare even try to waste my time thinking about. They deserve these short breaks with one another after raising six kids, so I could safely assume they weren’t going to show up.

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I started the game off with August, AnneMarie coming to the middle of the field to drop the ball in to begin it all.

“I want a clean game, boys. No rough housin’ and be nice to one another. Ya’ll seem to forget sometimes that it’s a game just for fun and ya’ll are friends,” she instructed and I chuckled.

“You got it, sweetheart,” I replied.

“Can’t make any promises, but I’ll try,” August added and AnneMarie readied herself, holding the ball out and ready to drop it, though also standing in a way where she was ready to run, knowing August and I are rough players and she needed to get out of the way as fast as she could.

“..Okay, ready? Andddd… Go!” She called out, dropping the ball and running as fast as she could off of the field.

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August and I fought only a second for the ball, but I quickly got it from him and kicked it to Tavish who was already heading for their goal. Anthony was trying his best to get it from him and he eventually did before Niko could get close enough to take a shot, using a powerful kick of his to get it across the field and away from our goal. Tavish jumped to use his chest to stop it and he brought it back to the middle, more than ready to be the first team to get a point and I was right there with him. Even with only four people on a team, our games were still played at a very quick pace and taken just as seriously as a professional team, though I guess there was a little more leniency when it came to ours since we were all friends and family. Either way, it was still a blast every time because everyone always put in their best effort, aggressive or not.

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I ran towards their goal and Tavish managed to launch the ball straight at me, jumping up to chest the ball like he had done to gain control of it and the second that it hit the ground, I kicked it hard into the goal straight passed Anthony and Ian and my team cheered.

“Fuck yeah, Luca!” Tavish called out.

“Woo! Already off to a good start!” Pia added from our goal and I went back to my side of the field, more than ready to do that again.

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“Nice job, man,” Niko complimented and I grinned.

“Why, thank you. Why don’t you take this next one, try and impress your lady?” I implied and he smiled.

“I’ll try.. I’m not as good as you three, though,” he said modestly, but he was just as competitive as the rest of us, just way less aggressive and the only one that actually tried to avoid hurting anyone the most out of all of us. If he could be goalie every game, he would, but one of the rules was that if you were goalie the last half of the last game, you couldn’t be the goalie again in the first half of the next. It was just to keep things interesting and to mix up the game a little.. Keep things fair, for the most part.

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A quarter of the way through the game, the score was already three to two and our team was winning thanks to those two goals being mine and one to Tav, and although August’s team was sticking close with us and it was hard to keep ahead of them in score for very long, we still managed to keep our team ahead. Every game, we played until one team got to ten goals and even though that seemed like a lot, if we made the score any lower, our games wouldn’t last long and we all wanted to make these monthly games worth it. We all liked making a day out of them and some of us even treated them like a vacation day because some of us had to work all the time or be at school all the time, so these games were a nice get away.

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Half way through the game, I switched out with Pia, standing in front of the goal and watching the game play out in front of me, but when I noticed a head full of shiny, eye catching silver hair, I lost my focus on the ball and stared.

..Riley came?

Damn.. AnneMarie must’ve invited her..

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As she scanned the field, I looked back towards the game to make it seem as if I hadn’t noticed her yet, but out of the corner of my eye, I could tell she noticed me. When she assumed I hadn’t seen her yet and I refused to look directly at her, she then stepped over towards AnneMarie and they hugged, then sat down together to watch the game. I don’t usually get nervous about this kind of stuff and even though I didn’t think there was anything between us anymore, I hated that I still had a strong urge to impress her. 

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“Luca, heads up!” I heard Niko yell and I looked to the field to see Jiro coming in and kicking the ball straight at the goal, but right before it was too late to catch it, I stopped it from going in by catching it before it devastated my face.

“Ha-HA!” I said cheerfully.

“Aww, man!” Jiro whined.

“You almost made it, it was a good try, bro,” I reassured him, but he still pouted.

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“Why are you the goalie? Why can’t Pia still be the goalie?” He asked and I tossed the ball at his chest roughly, Jiro letting out a sound of mild pain and the ball bounced off of him and I caught it again.

“Ow! What the fuck?!” He let out as he tried to catch his breath.

She would’ve been able to stop that and not have taken it like a bitch, so you wouldn’t have scored, anyways.. Plus, you know our rules, we switch out half way through, so deal with it or don’t play,” I pointed out with a smirk.

“Whatever,” he replied as he rubbed his chest.

“Stop complaining and go away. We still got a game to play and the goal isn’t to bitch and moan all the time,” I instructed and he grimaced at me before jogging away from the goal and I kicked the ball back into play, launching it across the field.

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The rest of the game was rough.. With me taking over as goalie for the last half of the game, I wasn’t even doing a good job at it since I couldn’t stop thinking about Riley and glancing over towards her.

Goal. Goal. Goal.

I don’t know how they were getting passed me, but they were, and I could tell everyone was getting a little frustrated with me. But, Riley was so distracting, especially in the outfit she wore. It was a simple outfit, not even all that revealing, but the memory of what she wore around me last weekend was still engraved into my mind and I knew a lot of what the clothes she wore now were hiding. I haven’t been with anyone in the week I haven’t seen her, which is something that was even surprising to me, but the build up without any release was starting to kill me inside and even a gentle breeze that would blow passed me and up my shorts made me hard. 

Fuck, I need to get laid.

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“Time out!” Pia yelled and I snapped back into the game instead of daydreaming about Riley.

“Why a time out?” I asked as Pia, Tavish and Niko came over to me.

“Luca, where the fuck is your head right now?” Tavish asked, ” It’s nine to six. They’re ahead by three points and it’s because you keep letting them score. They only need one more goal to win.”

“I think that’s the reason,” Niko pointed out, nodding his head over towards Riley. Tavish and Pia looked towards where he had gestured and slowly, they both smirked and looked to me.

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“Oooooh, that explains it. Now I’m going to be distracted, too.. She’s super hot,” Pia replied and Tavish chuckled.

“Makes a lot more sense now,” he teased and I scoffed.

What? I didn’t even know she was here,” I tried to defend myself and Niko laughed.

“You’ve been looking at her ever since she got here,” he continued to call out exactly what I’ve been doing, but I ignored it.

“What are you doing watching me and not the game, huh? You’re as much of the reason why we’re losing as I am. Let’s just finish this game so I can get out of here,” I expressed in annoyance.

“And where do you have to be?” Pia asked defensively, as if she knew I had nothing to do, and since she was right, I stuttered for a split second.

“N-None of your business,” I replied with a rather childish tone and Pia laughed at me as they all went back to their places on the field. 

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This time, I was focusing, or at least I was focusing a little better than I was a few seconds ago. I still glanced over at Riley a few times, but I didn’t nearly stare as long as I had been and I gave equal attention to her and the ball. Tavish was fighting August for the ball, but August soon prevailed and came straight for me and the goal. Pia and Niko tried to stop him, but Ian and Anthony helped clear him a path by blocking them off and when August was about twenty feet from the goal, he completely psyched me out. He acted as if he was going left and so did I, but when I noticed he was faking me out and going right instead, it was too late. I slipped on the grass trying to fix my error and the ball flew passed me, brushing against the tip of my middle finger and straight into the goal. 

“Dammit..” I let out in defeat as I continued to lie on the ground and August cheered for himself and his team and their victory.

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Tavish, Pia and Niko came over to me and looked down at me on the ground.

“I’m sorry,” I said with a large sigh.

“It’s no big deal, you were really close at stopping it. Augie’s really good at those fake out’s, that’s all,” Niko said with a warm smile.

“Yeah, I know. I noticed what he was doing too late and I fucked up,” I continued.

“Well, now that the game’s over, you can go and do whatever it is that was so important,” Pia teased and I chuckled, Niko holding out his hand, wanting to help me up from the ground and I accepted it, standing to my feet.

“Good game, guys. Next month I’ll do better,” I replied, grabbing the ball from the goal and walking over to the bench I had left my bag on.

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As I packed up a few of my things, Niko and AnneMarie came over to me to say goodbye.

“Well, we’re headed out,” Niko began and I zipped up my bag before looking to him.

“Always good seeing you, bro. Until next month, yeah?”

“Yup, until then.”

“And don’t forget about me. You can call me from time to time, you know.. We still have to discuss when you kids are getting married so I know when to plan the bachelor party,” I said with a grin and Niko smiled.

“Don’t worry, I’ll call you soon to keep in touch. And AnneMarie and I still have to talk about a date, so I’ll get back to you on the whole bachelor party thing,” he answered and I nodded.

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“AnneMarie.. Always good to see you,” I added and she came in for a hug.

“Likewise, Luca,” she replied, but hesitated a moment after our hug ended, “You know.. Riley said that your guys’ date went well, but she hasn’t heard from you since. Is she wrong in thinkin’ it went okay?” She asked and I sighed softly.

“N-No, it, uh.. It did go good, I just haven’t had a chance to call her again,” I lied, “I had a few appointments during the week and I’ve been a little exhausted, that’s all.”

“Oh, well, you should tell her that, because she’s gettin’ that feelin’ again like you’re not interested,” she pointed out.

“She still is?” I asked and she nodded.

“Of course she is! I talked to her the day after and she said she had a great time and couldn’t wait for another date,” she explained and I was surprised.

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“..She said that?”

“Yeah! What, did ya think she wasn’t interested anymore after that date?” She asked and eventually, I admitted it.

“Well, yeah, kind of..”

“You two really need to learn to communicate better,” she said jokingly, “Both of you are feelin’ the same thing when both of you couldn’t be more wrong.. Talk to her, you’ll see,” she advised and I nodded in agreement.

“I will.. Thanks.”

“See ya, Luca,” Niko said with a smile and AnneMarie gave me a smile, as well, before they both walked away to the parking lot.

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Tavish and Pia came over to me after everyone else had gone, though Riley was still sitting on the bleachers not too far from me, waiting for me, no doubt.

“Hey, we’re gunna go grab some drinks. Do you and your sexy lady friend wanna come with?” Pia teased and I smirked.

“Not now. I’m going to sit here for a bit and talk with her. Maybe we’ll meet you guys there later, just text me and let me know where you two end up,” I replied and she nodded.

“Want me to take your stuff home so you don’t have to worry about it?” Tavish offered and I smiled.

“Thanks, man, but I got it.”

“All right. I hope you meet up with us later,” he answered.

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“You better come out, it’ll be fun!” Pia added and Tavish wasn’t expecting her to jump onto his back for a piggy back ride, but he caught her after a second of catching on.

“I’ll see what she wants to do. Maybe I’ll see you guys later,” I answered and Tavish carried Pia back to his car.

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Well, the moment I was nervous about was finally here, but, what made me a little less nervous about talking to Riley was what AnneMarie had told me. I shouldn’t have assumed everything went to shit after I had left Riley’s house and I shouldn’t have avoided talking to her and just found out for myself what she thought of the date.. I need to get it through my thick skull that it was a date, not something that was only meant to last a night and getting turned down for something as serious as sex on the first date really wasn’t out of the ordinary. 

I threw on a clean backup shirt I pulled out of my bag and left my stuff on the bench, taking a deep breath as I looked over at Riley and finally walked over to her.

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“Hey,” I began and she looked up at me.

“Hi,” she said softly, a smile on her lips.

“Can I sit?” I gestured towards the seat and she nodded.

“Of course,” she answered and I smirked nervously as I then sat down next to her.

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“How’d you like the game?” I started the conversation with something less interesting than what we should really be talking about.. Us.

“Well, from what I saw, it was pretty excitin’. Your brothers and friends are all pretty competitive. I thought you’d be just the same, but you seemed pretty laid back standin’ in front of the goal,” she pointed out and I assumed she only saw the second half of the game where I was too distracted by her to do good anymore.. I usually always aimed to impress when I had the chance to, but my performance in the last half was anything but impressive.

“Yeah, well.. I wasn’t really into playing this one, I guess. I don’t like being goalie, so I don’t try as hard as I should,” I made up an excuse and she nodded in understanding. 

“I never knew you had such a big tattoo, as well. I only noticed the one on your arm last weekend, but you had your chest hidden. I was a bit surprised when I saw it. Didn’t know it was you at first,” she brought up, still holding a smile on her lips.

“You don’t like chest pieces?”

“No, no, I’m ain’t sayin’ that. I’m just sayin’ that I was surprised, that’s all. It seemed interestin’, but you were too far away on the field, I couldn’t tell what it was of..”

“Well, maybe I’ll give you a close up of it someday,” I couldn’t help but flirt, seeing her cheeks flush a soft pink and her view went to the grass in front of her. I’ve heard that remark from a lot of different women already, it was a good ‘in’ for them to flirt with me, but in my reply, I’d usually switch the word ‘someday’ with the word ‘tonight’. The reply I gave to Riley was out of my control and it just rolled off of my tongue, I don’t think I could’ve held it back even if I wanted to.

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“So.. AnneMarie tells me that you had fun on our date,” I began and she nodded as she continued to look down at the grass.

“I did, yes.. But, by how I hadn’t heard from you, I didn’t think you did.. Am I wrong?” She asked, looking up from the grass over to me.

“Yeah.. I had fun, too,” I replied, seeing her smile grow warmer and I couldn’t help but smile, as well, by how pleased she seemed to hear me say that.. But, I felt as if I should tell her the truth on why I hadn’t called her sooner.

“Look, I, uh.. I’ll be honest. I didn’t think you were interested because I might’ve been too aggressive and I wanted to apologize for that,” I said truthfully and her cheeks went a slight pink again as her eyes went right back to the ground.

“Oh, Luca, you don’t need to apologize-”

“-No, I do.. I don’t really date, like, at all, and it’s been a really, really long time since I ever even considered dating again. I’m used to, uhm, different company that doesn’t involve anything serious later on, so.. I, uhm.. Well, the truth is.. I was really bummed getting turned down that night. So much to the point where I overthought everything and assumed you didn’t like me as much as I thought you did.. Usually my behavior is welcomed, but when you told me to stop, it just.. Caught me off guard, I guess,” I explained. 

“So, you worked hard with no reward.. You ain’t used to bein’ turned down, is that what you’re sayin’?”

“More or less.. Yeah,” I admitted in slight embarrassment.

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“Well, thank you for tellin’ me that and I appreciate the honesty, but just because I turn you down doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and just because you told me that, doesn’t mean I won’t turn you down in the future, too, if you try anythin’ again that I ain’t ready for. I’m not goin’ to pity you just because you’re sad you didn’t get laid and I don’t feel guilt when turnin’ a man down,” she said with a grin and I chuckled. I actually admired that and it make me like her more.

“Understood.”

“And, since we’re bein’ honest.. I thought that you weren’t interested anymore because I turned you down. When AnneMarie invited me to the game today, I had already convinced myself you were just some kinda pig, but I decided to come anyways and when I saw you on the field, I didn’t think that was the truth anymore. I was nervous to see you and a little angry, but, I figured I owed it to myself to talk to you and see where things might’ve gone wrong before tryin’ to get you outta my head, so I came.. You actually played well in the first half,” she admitted and I loved everything that she had said, warmed by her words, even the insults.. It told me that even though she had some bad thoughts about me, I was still on her mind.

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“..So, you did see the first half of the game?” I asked and she nodded.

“I did,” she said with a sly smirk as she looked at me, “Please, tell me if I’m wrong, but I wasn’t the one that made you laid back during the second half, was I?” She put emphasis on her words, knowing that what she really meant was to say ‘distracted’ and I chuckled.

“And if I said you were?” I asked with my own sly grin and she giggled softly.

“Then I’d be awfully flattered, although I’d feel bad, too, since I’m pretty much the reason why your team lost today,” she replied and I shook my head, disagreeing with her.

“Well, you were right. I was distracted by you, but no, I’m the reason we lost today, not you. I’m even a little surprised the game didn’t come to an overall standstill when you walked up,” I complimented, my eyes traveling down her body as she faced towards the ground again with pink cheeks and a smile on her lips.

“I’ve thought about you every day since last Saturday, you know,” I spoke quietly only to her even though there was no one else around to hear me. 

“You have?”

“Mhm..”

“What about me?” She challenged and I snickered.

“I don’t think you’d like me anymore if I told you,” I replied and she laughed softly.

“And just what does that mean, huh?” She asked.

“Only good things, don’t worry.. And you can’t act so surprised, I was laying it on you pretty hard that night and you looked so gorgeous.. How could I not think of you?” I added and she let out a slightly nervous laugh, “And you can’t even act like you haven’t thought about me every day since, too, right?” I asked back with words abundant in self esteem and she smiled.

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“And what if I say I hadn’t?” She wondered and I put my hand over my heart.

“Damn, babe.. That hurts,” I said with a fake, pained expression and she giggled again.

“Fine. Maybe I had thought of you every day, but with each day you went without talking to me, the thoughts got meaner,” she admitted and I laughed.

“I guess I deserve that.. But, the phone goes both ways, you know,” I pointed out and she slowly began to nod.

“..You’re right. Let’s just both admit we messed up and leave it at that,” she concluded, looking over at me with a sweet smile.

“Sounds fair,” I answered, observing her prepossessing skin of her legs that shined in the sun, her alluring hair and enchanting green eyes that shined just the same, and I noticed all over again how completely beautiful she was.

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“My roommates are going out for a drink.. They invited me along and want me to bring you.. You interested?” I asked and she nodded almost immediately.

“I’d love to.. Are your roommates the ones that were playin’ soccer with earlier?”

“Yeah, Tavish and Pia,” I replied and she seemed a little confused at first.

“Oh.. From your team? I assumed one of the boys from the other team, but.. You live with a woman?” She seemed a little concerned, but I didn’t blame her since she didn’t know Pia.

“Don’t worry, we’ve been best friends since freshman year of high school and she’s like a sister to me. Even if she wasn’t, I don’t have the right stuff between my legs. I guarantee she finds you way more attractive than she finds me,” I pointed out and she gave a rather surprised smile. 

“Oh. Well, that’s a little relief then,” she answered and we both stood from the bleachers to walk back to my car.

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“..Isn’t it a little too early into this for you to be getting jealous already?” I asked with a sly grin, nudging her playfully and she scoffed.

“I am not jealous. And why would I be? This is only our second time hanging out.. We aren’t even that serious yet,” she pointed out and I kind of liked how she used the word ‘yet’.

“So, you’re dating other people while trying things out with me?” I asked and she looked at me as if I had insulted her.

“Oh my Lord, of course not! Didn’t AnneMarie already tell you that I don’t know anyone ’round here? I only know you, her, your family and a few clients from the salon, that’s it.. I’m there so much during the week that I don’t have time to go out, and when I do, it’s on the weekends and I usually just stay home.”

“Or go out with me,” I added with another grin and a proud nudge and she smiled.

“..For the past two weekends, yes.”

“Well, then hopefully we can have as much fun tonight as we did before so I can see you again next weekend. And of course, if you can’t wait until then, just call me and I’ll come right over. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do,” I teased and she giggled.

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“I think our ideas of fun, at the moment, are wildly different,” Riley joked back, stopping at the passengers side of my car and I stopped with her.

“All right, then give me some examples,” I requested and she thought for a moment.

“Hmm.. Mini golfin’, goin’ to the beach and swimmin’.. Snorkelin’ and maybe even fishin’,” she named a few things.

“That’s all you got? What are we doing, going on a vacation with our parents?” I teased again and she smiled as she shoved my arm playfully, “Hey! What’s that for?”

“Don’t you be makin’ fun of the things I like! Besides, I’m almost afraid to ask what your kind of fun is,” she said humorously and I stepped closer to her.

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“I’d be more than happy to show you,” I spoke smoothly, looking down at her lips briefly before looking back up to her eyes.

“I think I’d let the suspense kill me before I’d agree to that,” she replied, not going for any of my flirting or advances and she really did seem to have her do’s and don’t in order. This ‘hard to get’ game she was playing was killing me, but.. For some reason, I really liked it.

“Mind if we stop at my place so I can take a quick shower? I feel like I smell and should change,” I wondered with a soft laugh, “And I won’t even joke and ask if you want to join me.. Of course, unless you want to, then feel free,” I continued and she looked at me with smirk, though her eyes were scolding me.

“You can shower, but I’m definitely not joinin’ you,” she replied and I laughed, Riley putting her hand to my chest and giving me a gentle push so she could open the passenger side door to get in my car. A smile was cemented on my lips as I walked around my car and tossed my bag in the back, getting in, revving up the engine and driving us back to my place.

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When we got to my house, Riley and I got out of my car and walked up the steps.

“You live here?” She seemed skeptical.

“Yeah.”

“It’s huge..?” She added with surprise and I chuckled.

“Well, it wasn’t always a house. It used to be a law firm or something run by this guy and his two sons, but when they left, we all pitched in and bought it from them ’cause it was pretty cheap. We fixed it up a little and with a lot of help from my savings, it turned into this,” I explained as we approached the door, taking out my keys and unlocking it.

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“It looks amazin’. You guys did a great job,” she complimented as she looked around after we came inside.

“Thanks.. Tavish and I added a few walls to help separate the place, although this is mostly Pia’s work as far as decorating. A woman’s touch is one of the best things in this world, wouldn’t you say?” I asked, shooting her a quick grin and she rolled her eyes with a smile.

“Go take your shower,” she brushed off my comment and I chuckled as I began walking upstairs.

“Fine, I’m goin’.. Make yourself at home, I’ll be back in ten minutes,” I answered and she gave me a quick smile before giving herself a tour of the place as I went up to the bathroom.

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I quickly rid myself of my clothes, cleaning my hair and my body hastily under the water so I had time for some relief after today. No matter how much or how little I flirted with Riley and got nothing in return, not being able to have her was beginning to build up and although I’ve taken care of myself during the week without seeing her, seeing her today made it build up all over again. Normally by now I would’ve gotten off with a handful of women, but I couldn’t do that when Riley was the only one that clouded my mind and no one else would do. Instead of seeking relief with someone else while thinking of her, I started taking care of things myself. It just seemed easier that way.

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Getting hard was no problem since all day today I’ve been trying to fight it back and the warm water with the help of Riley’s lips and body on my mind instantly got me there. I shut my eyes and took a hold of myself, stroking slowly at first as I thought about Riley lying on my bed completely naked, starting at her mouth and imagining her biting her bottom lip in anticipation to my touch. Begging for it. Her neck, her bare shoulders, her clavicle, her breasts that lay so perfectly as I knelt on my bed before her. Her tight, lean, soft stomach. Long, smooth legs that I spread open myself to reveal her tight, moist warmth that I can barely wait to dive into. I imagine myself falling over her, my lips going straight to hers and I kiss her hard as I guide myself into her using only my hips’ sense of direction and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I knew exactly where I’m going and how to get there. I’ve had too much practice to not know exactly what my hips needed to do and I didn’t need guidance by anything else.

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How I imagine what she might feel like inside makes me breathe harder, makes me stroke faster. I plant my hand on the shower wall for leverage as I continue to shut my eyes tightly and think of Riley and how hard and fast I wanted to thrust into her. She’s panting. Moaning. Saying my name. Clenching the bed sheet under her. The warm water from the shower with the help of my clenched hand painted me a perfect picture in my mind of what she might feel like and the harder I went in my mind, the closer and closer I got to coming against the tile wall. 

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“Ahh, fuck, just a little more,” I told myself just above a whisper in a slightly desperate tone, now going full force at my thoughts and fucking Riley silly until I imagined her telling me she was close to coming. I squeezed myself a little harder to imitate the feel of her insides tightening from reaching her climax and with a few more rough strokes, I came against the tile wall of the shower and I hummed a long moan at the intense feeling of my own release.

God damn, did I need that. Knowing she was here in the house, too, made it a little more exciting.

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I panted heavily as I stood in the shower, finally opening my eyes as I now put both of my hands against the wall to hold myself up and I watched as the evidence of my release was slowly washed away from the hot water that continued to pour over me. After it was all gone, I finally was able to stand normally and support myself on my own two legs without the need of the wall, reaching up to pull my hair back and let the water wash over me for one last minute before turning the faucet off and stepping out.

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After rubbing down my hair a little and drying some of my body, I wrapped the towel around me and walked out of the bathroom, but I stopped in the hallway when I noticed my door was open. Riley was brave enough to venture into my room without asking? She better be wearing next to nothing and lying on my bed if she thinks she can just barge into my room like that.. I know I told her to make herself at home, but.. Really? She went as far as my bedroom?

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I stepped up to the open door and looked in, seeing her looking out my window closest to my bed and I leaned against the frame of the door as I watched her.

“You really took ‘make yourself at home’ pretty literally, I see,” I spoke and she turned around quickly.

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“Oh, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to invade your space or anythin’.. I was just kind of curious about what your room looked like,” she replied, seeing her eyeing my body for a moment before turning her attention to the ground.

“How’d you know this was my room?”

“It smelled like your cologne,” she replied and I was a little flattered by the fact that she had memorized it already.

“You got a good nose,” I complimented with a smile and she looked back up to me with a smirk on her lips.

“How was your shower?” She wondered and I stepped up to my dresser.

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“Very relaxing,” I put simply, undoing my towel and letting it drop to the floor.

“Ah! Luca! Why did you do that?!” She exclaimed in a panic and I looked over my shoulder to see her covering her eyes.

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“Do what?”

“Drop the towel!”

“Hey, this is my room. If you’re going to invade my space, you best be ready for what I like to do in it, and what I like, is to get comfortable enough after my shower to change into my clothes. I can’t get dressed with my towel still on, now can I?” I put simply and she still seemed rattled.

“You couldn’t have asked me to leave?!”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“J-Just.. Just put some clothes on, please!” She requested and I simply turned around and leaned against my dresser.

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“All right, all right.. There.. You can look now,” I replied and she dropped her hands, but instead of seeing what she expected to, I gave her a full frontal and she gasped.

“Oh, my God! LUCA!” She exclaimed again and I laughed as she put her hands back over her eyes and turned around as fast as she could, “What the hell?!” She asked and I continued to laugh.

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“Hey, I warned you.. My space, sweetheart. Don’t be surprised by anything I do, you asked for it by coming in here,” I continued to justify my actions.

“So this is what you do in your ‘space’? You flash women your genitals?”

“That’s usually what happens if there’s a woman in my room, yeah,” I agreed with a slight attitude, “But, most of the time the lack of clothes I have on is more expected and welcomed rather than shocking.. Although, no, some women have been pretty shocked, actually, when I drop my pants.. It’s a compliment, really, so I guess I should thank you for your reaction,” I said with a grin, turning back to my dresser and picking out some clothes to wear for real this time.

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“You’re unbelievable.. I can’t believe you just did that..”

“Did you like what you saw?” I asked with an ego that my room could barely contain and she scoffed.

“You’re a jerk, you know that?” She expressed with a little annoyance in her tone.

“What? How?” I asked, perplexed by her words as I slid a pair of underwear up my legs and secured them around my hips.

“Just because,” she answered and I chuckled as I slid a pair of pants on next, then threw a plain shirt.

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I stepped over towards her and stopped an arms length away, “You can look now, no more surprises,” I assured her, but she didn’t budge.

“I don’t believe you,” she replied with a stern tone.

“I promise.. You can even kick me in the nuts if I’m lying. Free shot,” I offered and I heard the tiniest giggle from her that I assumed she probably didn’t want or expect me to hear.

“I wouldn’t do that.. I’d leave and never come back, that’s what I’d do,” she threatened, but I knew she was bluffing.

“Okay, fine, do whatever you want. Just turn around, please?” I answered.

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Riley ever-so-slowly looking over her shoulder, removing her hands from over her eyes and she looked me up and down quickly, seeing that I was telling the truth. 

“See? I don’t break promises,” I added and I wasn’t sure if she was acting angry despite hearing her giggle a little just moments ago, or if she was actually a little angry with me now.

I stepped closer to her, closing the gap between us and I reached to touch her hips, expecting to be pushed away, but surprisingly, I wasn’t.

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“Hey.. I’m sorry, okay? A lot of the time, I don’t think before I do things,” I apologized with a slight smirk, slowly wrapping my arms around her.

“Well, maybe you should start usin’ that brain a’yours a little more often when I’m around,” she scolded and even her angry face couldn’t get me to stop smiling.

“I kinda like when you’re angry.. You pucker up your lips a little like you just ate something sour,” I pointed out and her cheeks turned a light pink.

“I do not,” she defended and I laughed softly.

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“Yes, you do, and it’s adorable,” I complimented, pulling her in a little more and pressing my lips against her cheek that lasted only a few seconds, “You ready to go?” I wondered and she nodded with a smile, pulling herself from my grasp and I followed her out of my bedroom and back outside to my car.

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As I drove Riley and myself to meet up with Pia and Tavish, I kept glancing over towards Riley, seeing how relaxed she was in my car like she was already used to it. Legs crossed, arms and hands limp, her face relaxed as her eyes scanned both things close and far away, as if not wanting to miss a single inch of anything. My favorite, however, was watching her hair be tousled around by the wind that blew into the car and there wasn’t a single inhale I took in that didn’t have her scent all over it. I enjoyed how she looked at the world with such a sense of wonder and amazement and not as if she were bored seeing palm trees over and over again. 

“The trees and the ocean are my favorite,” she spoke softly, turning her head towards me and giving me a quick smirk before looking back out the window.

“You’ve never see a palm tree or the water?” I somewhat joked and she looked back over to me.

“Well, I saw the water when I was a little girl. My mom once drove me down to Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, so I saw the water, but palm trees don’t grow down there. So, I guess, yeah, I’ve never seen a palm tree before I moved here, and I absolutely love them,” she continued, keeping the smirk on her face the entire time she talked and it was easy to see that she really did genuinely enjoy her choice in moving here.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to go to the party anymore. For the first time in a long, long while, I actually wanted to, well.. Just talk.

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“Change of plans,” I announced, taking a turn down a different road when I was meant to keep going straight.

“Where are we goin’?” She asked with the same smirk on her lips, curiosity evident in her brows.

“It’s a surprise.. Do you want me to tell you where, or can you trust me?” I asked, giving her a quick grin and she gave me a suspicious smile.

“If it’s anything like the surprise you gave me in your bedroom, then no,” she replied and I laughed.

“No, no, nothing like that.”

“Well, all right then,” she agreed, putting her view back out the window and I kept my excited grin as I continued down the road of changed plans. 

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Before taking Riley to the surprise location, I stopped at a liquor store and grabbed a nice bottle of wine for us to share. She gave me another suspicious smile as I gave it to her to hold onto, but I didn’t say a word as I continued on our way to where I wanted to take her, as well as a place I knew she wanted to go. 

When we were finally there, I pulled into a small dirt path meant for a single car to park and Riley looked to me with a rather happy face.

“Is this the dock?” She asked and I nodded.

“Yup.. You still wanted to come here sometime, right?” I asked and she nodded with a strong sense of enthusiasm, “Well, let’s go,” I added, shutting my car off and getting out as she opened her own door and did the same. 

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“I should warn you that it’s a lot more boring here without a huge group of people to get drunk with, but it’s still nice,” I pointed out as we walked up to the dock and she shook her head, disagreeing with me.

“I think it’s beautiful and romantic and I like it better without a lot of people. It’s quiet, you can listen to the ocean and relax, and we don’t need a ton of people to get drunk with. I don’t mind spending the night alone with you, anyhow,” she replied and I gave her a rather mischievous brow with an accompanied grin on my lips and she suddenly changed her expression, “Don’t you look at me like that. You know exactly what I meant, so.. Whatever you’re thinkin’, stop thinkin’ it,” she disciplined me and I couldn’t help but give a quick chuckle.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied as I bit my bottom lip and checked her out without her noticing.

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When we reached the edge of the dock, we stopped and looked out onto the water, standing there and listening to the ocean for a moment together.

“Thanks for takin’ me here. I already think this is a lot more fun than a party where I won’t know a single soul,” she expressed and I nodded.

“Sure thing.. Besides, I’d just be introducing you to people and I doubt you’d remember every single person’s name. Who knows if you’d even get any drinking in or even have any fun at all. Plus, the moment Pia met you, I bet she’d drag you away from me somewhere and that just won’t do,” I replied with a coy smoulder and even now, I could see her cheeks turn a soft rose hue. Riley then peaked over the edge of the dock and a gentle gasp came from her.

“My gosh.. This is the dock you were talkin’ about where you were drunk and fell off with Niko, right?” She asked and I nodded again.

“Yup. Long fall, huh?” I asked rhetorically, seeing her continue to look over the edge and I grinned as a playful prank came to my mind.

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I took a strong hold of her hips and pushed her forward a little, “Don’t fall!” I said, but quickly pulled her back so she wouldn’t and she let out a quick, quiet, panicked scream before whipping her body around and clinging to me. I couldn’t help but laugh as she held me, knowing she was trying to figure out what the hell just happened, and when she finally did, she released me and hit my chest.

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“You really are a jerk! You know that!?” She expressed in both anger and relief.

“I’m.. I’m sorry,” I tried to speak through my continued laughter, “I just saw the opening and couldn’t pass it up,” I continued and she hit my chest again before I managed to put my hands up to try and block the blows.

“My heart’s beatin’ so fast right now! Good lord,” she continued and I finally managed to die down my laughing enough to speak clearly.

“Okay, okay, stop hitting me, I’m sorry! I’ll never do that again, I promise, it was just a joke!” I said with a apologetic smile, trying to get her to not be mad at me and when I noticed a gentle twitch of a smirk on the edge of her lips, I held out my hands to invite her into my arms.

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“Come here,” I invited and she slowly stepped over towards me.

“You ain’t gunna try to push me again, right?” She stopped to ask just before she was within my reach and I chuckled.

“No, never again,” I assured her as I leaned forward so then she was within my reach and I grabbed her hips, pulling her the rest of the way into me and securing my arms around her. Riley put her arms around me, as well, although her lips puckered a little like I’ve noticed they do when she was a little angry.

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“Aww, are you still mad at me?” I asked as I observed her face, though she shook her head.

“..Just tryin’ to get my heart to stop racin’, that’s all,” she expressed with a slightly embarrassed smirk and now I was genuinely starting to feel bad.

“I’m sorry.. I didn’t think it would scare you that much, but it was a stupid joke and I shouldn’t have done it,” I apologized again, but she shook her head as she looked down to my chest.

“It’s all right, it just startled me, is all.. How about I get the wine from the car? You still seem to like makin’ me a little nervous, so.. Maybe that’ll help me loosen up a bit,” she admitted, her eyes coming back up to meet mine and I nodded.

“Yeah, sure. I actually forgot about it.. I left my car open,” I replied and let her go, watching as she smiled and let go of me, too, then walked back down the dock and back to my car.

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I liked how she admitted she was still nervous around me, because I was still a little nervous around her, too, even though I never really seemed like it. Her being nervous made me feel like she still liked me a decent amount and was still willing to put up with my stupid jokes, and really, overall stupidity, which was nice.

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Although I liked that she was getting the wine so she could loosen up to be on my level of apparent relaxation, I suppose I should do some compromising, too, and not be so loosened up to the point where it seems like I don’t care. I needed to try and stop playing it this cool because it reminded me of how I was with other girls, ones that I would only know for a single night, and I constantly needed to remind myself that she wasn’t one of them.. At least I didn’t want her to be.

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When I noticed Riley coming back, a smile grew on my lips as I watched her trying to figure out how to open the bottle, but it was no use. 

Riley handed it off when she reached me, “You got a cork screw?” She asked and I thought for a quick moment, then patted my legs looking for my keys, knowing I had a mini pocket knife attached to them that had a mini cork screw on it and I took the bottle as I pulled my keys out of my pocket. Flipping out the cork screw with my thumbnail, I began twisting it in and when it couldn’t go anymore, I put the bottle between my knees and pulled. A loud ‘pop!’ came from the bottle once I’d opened it and I handed it back to Riley as I tossed out the cork and returned my keys to my pocket.

“We’re just drinkin’ outta the bottle since we don’t have any cups, right?” She asked and I chuckled.

“Yup.. I guess I forgot to pick up some plastic ones while I was at the store,” I replied and she shrugged, not caring at all.

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“What should we toast to?” She wondered as she observed the bottle and I thought for a short moment.

“Hmm.. To avoiding a potentially awkward and crowded party.. And having a second first-date that isn’t a blind one, instead,” I offered up and a warm smile came to her lips as she looked to me.

“I like that.. Cheers,” she replied, taking a quick swig of the bottle and handing it off to me as I then took a quick chug, as well.

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I stepped over to the edge of the dock and sat down, letting one leg hang off the edge and the other lying comfortably on the dock and Riley came to the edge, too, and joined me in sitting. She hung both legs off, staring off into the ocean and I figured I should think of something to talk about since I was the one that decided to suddenly change our plans and choose to be alone.

“Do you remember any more of that day your mom took you to Mobile Bay?” I asked, bringing up the subject she was talking about in the car and Riley took another sip of the wine before setting it down.

“Yeah, I do.. I was about eight years old and my daddy had just passed about six months prier,” she began and I already felt bad for bringing it up again.

“Oh.. I’m sorry to hear that,” I added before she continued and she looked at me with a genuine smile.

“It’s all right, I’ve come to peace with it. He was very sick, so it was only a matter of time,” she looked back to the ocean, “But, that trip with my momma helped me recover from the loss, in a way.. My momma did everythin’ to distract me from grievin’ and she did a good job. The months after he died were rough, but, eventually my momma was thinkin’ that we need to move on and experience the world a little more like my daddy loved doin’ instead of bein’ sad all the time.. She’d cry alone by herself sometimes, like she didn’t want me to see it. I knew she was havin’ a hard time, we both were, but I think she mostly put it behind her for my sake. She wanted me to be strong, so she had to set an example..”

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“Understandable..”

“My parents first date was at Mobile Bay, actually, and she even took me to the seafood place that they had gone to on the shore that made the best crayfish dinners and pecan pies.. I absolutely loved goin’ there and eatin’ the same meal they fell in love over,” a bigger smile came to Riley’s lips and it was contagious, a smile spreading on my lips, as well. Her voice and the way she described things made me think I was listening to a narrator in the first opening scenes of an old, southern love story, or something like the opening to the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that Pia forced me to watch with her. It was actually quite soothing listening to Riley talk and I didn’t mind listening to her one bit.

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“What did your dad do? If you don’t mind me asking,” I wondered and she looked over to me.

“He was a butcher, a farmer, a fisherman, a tractor and heavy machinery mechanic.. Pretty much anythin’ that had to do with farm work, he did it. When I mentioned him experiencin’ the world, I meant that he would catch his own fish and crayfish, butcher his own born and raised cows, chickens, pigs, and what-have-ya and go around to so many different towns, cities and states and try to get them to buy their product from him. Everything he did was clean and natural, no added anythin’ to the feed of the animals or in the water he used to grow his crops. He was a kind, gentle, but very persistent man and he had an amazin’ way of talkin’. You ever heard of the sayin’ a good businessman can sell a ketchup popcycle to a woman in white gloves?” She asked and I shook my head, though it did paint a pretty good picture at how good he was, “Well, that’s exactly what he could do.. Every place he’d visit, too, he’d always bring me home a souvenir. My momma then took over the business after he passed and has kept it goin’ ever since. He built it up so good for us that whatever you find in a grocery store in the southeast is probably from our farm,” Riley finished and I took a quick sip of the wine before addressing her words.

“Damn.. With all that on his back, he must’ve been working twenty-four-seven,” I pointed out and she giggled softly.

“Dawn to dusk. Momma and I would help, of course, but it was hard work. She had to hire a few people for help after he was gone because he did so much around there that her and I combined couldn’t even do half of what he did.. But, luckily we could afford it thanks to him bein’ the good businessman he was and gettin’ the farm some buyers for our products before he was gone,” she answered.

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“Well, he sounds like he was an amazing man,” I complimented and she smiled with a nod.

“Thank you.. He was,” she answered, grabbing the bottle of wine and taking a generous sip of it.

“So, then.. What made you want to become a beautician? You didn’t want to work on the farm anymore?”

“Well, I’d always loved hair and nails and fashion and all that stuff ever since I was a little girl. There wasn’t much of a fashion scene in Maycomb, so when I saw stuff like beautiful celebrities in magazines and on TV with these perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect makeup, I kind of became obsessed with it because it was just so different from what I was raised ’round.. I used to always take tiny paintbrushes and paint my Barbie dolls’ nails, or take scissors and try to cut and style their hair,” she laughed at herself in such a cute way that it made me smile more, “I even cut our dogs hair, put bows in it, and painted their nails when daddy wasn’t lookin’. Man, they would be so pretty, though, running around all dolled up chasin’ the sheep,” she continued her laugh and I joined in with a genuine chuckle from picturing it. Seeing her this happy talking about where she came from and looking back on her past made my heart race a little. Every smile, every laugh, every look she gave me when talking about it was so pure and honest and if she talked about it for hours and hours more, I don’t think I’d mind.

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“What’s the craziest thing you’ve done? By yourself, with AnneMarie, anything,” I asked next and she thought for a moment before answering me.

“You know what a longhorn is?” She asked and already I was a little weary.

“Yeeaaahh..”

“Well.. We had this one named Pinky, but don’t be fooled by the name. He was huge, and so were his horns. My daddy let me name him when I was real young and he was all black with a bright pink snout, so that’s why, but.. We pretty much grew up together and one day, I wanted to try to ride him,” she explained and my eyes widened.

“Holy shit.. Were you able to?”

“Oh my Lord, of course not!” She said with a gentle laugh, “He was big and mean and hated everyone but my daddy. I don’t know what I was thinkin’.. But, when we were dumpin’ the feed off the back of the pick-up we had, he was walkin’ along the side of the truck and when my daddy wasn’t lookin’, I climbed over and jumped on his back. Huuuu-wee, did Pinky get mad.. He let my daddy pet him, so at first, for a split second, he didn’t notice because he was eatin’.. He probably just thought it was my daddy pettin’ him, but when he turned his head a little, he suddenly noticed me and the very second that Pinky made a fuss, my daddy saw me, too, and dropped the feed and grabbed me off of his back before he could lash about to get me off. Pinky sliced some pretty good gashes into the side of the truck from his horns, and the idea to ever try that again was far, far from my mind. I was terrified of him after that, but it was my own fault,” she finished and I sat there in slight awe.

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“Jesus.. I definitely need a drink after just hearing that story,” I replied and she laughed a little as I picked up the bottle of wine and helped myself.

“Enough about me now, tell me more about you.. Like, where’d you get that scar on your face, if it ain’t too much to ask?” She asked, taking the bottle from my hand when I was done with it and taking a sip, as well, then setting it back down.

“It happened about a year ago. I was hanging out with Pia and Tavish at a bar and we were pretty drunk, but Pia was completely wasted.. There was this guy that wouldn’t leave her alone and one minute she was there, the next she was gone and we knew he had something to do with it. Tavish and I caught up to him pretty quick, though, because she said she was going to the bathroom, but she was gone longer than we thought she’d be.. He had taken her behind the bar and of course we had to intervene. Dude had a knife, though, so he pulled it out and he managed to catch my face with it before Tavish got the knife away from him and knocked the guy out. It’s a boring story and I wish I could say that I saved the day, but I was useless and all credit goes to Tav,” I summed it up quickly, not really justifying it with any details because I believed it was more of a story that Tavish told best, not myself.

“You were anythin’ but useless. Doesn’t matter who knocked the guy out, you both stepped in and helped her. Who knows what would’ve happened if you hadn’t.. You’re a good friend, Luca, and the thing that matters most is how selfless you were in that moment.. Don’t sell yourself so short,” she replied with a smile and I had lost count on how many times I’ve heard that before.. Not from her, but from everyone else, too.. Especially Niko.

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“Besides.. The mystery of it before was hot, but the story behind it makes it sexier somehow,” she complimented and my left brow perked up curiously as a grin slowly crept over my lips.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yup,” she replied casually, gazing back at me as she blindly lifted the wine bottle to her lips and took a quick sip before offering it up to me. I took it without question and took a generous sip before setting it aside and scooting a bit closer to Riley, one tiny scoot after another in a rather too-excited manner and she couldn’t help but laugh as I made it obviously how much I loved her words.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anythin’,” she joked.

“Nope, too late. Can’t take it back now,” I replied with the same grin on my lips and she giggled as she faced back towards the water.

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“Your stories are so short and I feel as if I’ve been talkin’ the most tonight.. Talk about somethin’ else now,” Riley brought up, leaning back and getting comfortable as my left hand came over to her leg and my fingers slid slowly up and down her thigh. But, Riley soon couldn’t contain a soft laugh and she stopped my hand.

“Stop doin’ that, it’s only ticklin’ me and makin’ my leg twitch,” she said with a smile and I chuckled softly.

“Can I just leave it here then?” I asked, pausing my hand in its place and gently gripping her left leg before then caressing her skin with my thumb.

Riley smiled and nodded, “I guess that’s all right,” she confirmed and I was happy that she seemed relaxed enough to let me get a little touchy with her.

“So.. What do you wanna know? Ask me whatever you want,” I offered and her view momentarily went to her lap before looking back up to me.

“You’d mentioned before that you haven’t dated in a long while before you met me, so.. Mind if I ask why?” She wondered and my expression fell blank very quickly.

Fuck.. Ask me anything else but that..

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Riley seemed to notice my reluctance, “I’m sorry, you don’t need to tell me if you don’t wanna.. I shouldn’t have asked, anyways,” she apologized, but I smirked softly and brushed it off like it was nothing.

“No, no, it’s fine.. It’s just kind of an annoying subject because everyone else but me seems to want to talk about it,” I let out a quiet chuckle and my view went down to her thigh that my thumb still continued to rub gently. I sat there silently thinking to myself about what I should and shouldn’t say, but, I suppose honesty was the best way to go about this, not to mention that I thought I might score some points with her if I opened up a little more, but.. Opening up to a woman like this was still a little difficult. It was a pretty foreign need of mine.

“Well, uhh.. Fuck, I don’t even know where to start,” I took another quick moment to gather my thoughts and Riley took that short time to drink from the wine bottle, “It was a long, long time ago.. I met this girl when I was sixteen and it was kind of an unhealthy infatuation straight out of the gate.. We were inseparable for the entire year we were going out and a few days after my seventeenth birthday, she kind of just.. Disappeared,” I explained and her expression went remorseful. 

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“That’s awful.. Did you ever find out what happened to her?” She asked and I shook my head.

“Nope.. Never heard from her again. No call, no letter.. She wasn’t even at school the next day, or ever again. The only thing that I managed to find out was that she left school without dropping out, so her mom must’ve took her out with the right paperwork or maybe made her transfer, I don’t know, exactly..”

“..Did you love her?” Riley asked next and the question made me a little uncomfortable, but I let out a soft laugh to cover it up.

“I don’t know.. Can you even be in love that young?”

“I believe so. Look at Nikolai and AnneMarie.. They’ve loved one another since they were preteens,” she gave an example and I scoffed.

“Yeah, well.. They’re both freaks of nature,” I replied and she giggled softly as I took the bottle of wine and had myself a hefty chug before putting it back to the side of her right leg.

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I cleared my throat before I continued the conversation, but finally decided that maybe taking a leap into the unknown might be good for me. I do it a lot anyways, just not really in these particular circumstances. 

“I was,” Riley looked to me, “In love with her, I mean,” I finally admitted, “It seems stupid now looking back and knowing I was, though. I even told her I did on my birthday and she said it back, but I didn’t realize just how much I was until she left a few days later.. Made me wonder if she was lying to me and just saying what she thought I wanted to hear, or maybe she just said it as a birthday gift or something and I actually scared her off.. I was young and dumb and obsessed with the ‘first love’ blinders I had on. But, I was just a kid.. I didn’t know any better yet,” I explained.

“..Do you still love her?” She asked, and although I only hesitated for a second, it still seemed like too long of a pause.

“No.. Haven’t for a long time.. I struggled a lot after that, acted out and was a huge pain in the ass.. I’m sure my parents hated me for a while, but eventually I got out of the angry-rebelling or whatever the hell I was doing to deal with her leaving and started to get my life back on track.. Tried to forget her and stuff..”

“So, you’ve been avoidin’ daitin’ seriously because you don’t wanna get hurt again, right?” She asked and I nodded.

“Yeah, I guess.. To be honest, I was soooo not looking forward to being set up on that blind date with you and I mostly didn’t want to go because I hated knowing that Niko and AnneMarie and probably everyone else thought I was lonely or some bullshit, and I agreed to it to kind of prove them all wrong.. But.. Turns out that the blind date was fun and I was fixed up with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” I explained and I could tell how flattered Riley was just by the look in her eyes and how she shied away her gaze down to her lap to hopefully avoid me noticing how pink her cheeks were.

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“She was real stupid,” Riley said softly with a slight sense of anger as she stared down at her lap.

“Who?”

“Your ex.. I bet that leavin’ you was and will always be, by far, the biggest mistake she’s ever made,” she replied, my heart beating a little louder for a split second from her words and she finally lifted her gaze to look at me again, “You’re sweet and funny and outgoin’ and easy to talk to and fun.. So many great things in one package that any woman would be lucky to have,” she went on, but the more that she said, the less I believed it. I’m no prince charming, no knight in shining armor, and I’m not too good for her or anyone else, which is what she’s making it sound like. I just never saw myself that way.

“You don’t have to say those things to make me feel better about myself or to feel better about what happened or anything like that..”

“And I’m not. I’m sayin’ it ’cause it’s true.. All that you did was love her and look what she did in return. Forgive me if I’m comin’ off as rude or anythin’, but by how it sounds and how you describe it, I can tell you blame yourself for why she left and you have no reason to do that.. Maybe you should start thinkin’ that she was the mistake, not you,” she explained and I didn’t know what to say. Every person I talked to about my ex would just call her a dumbass or a bitch for leaving me. It would make me laugh and it did help, but only for a short time.. I’d never heard it put in the way that Riley said, though, and it actually did make me feel better about it all.. More at peace with it.. I hated admitting that the subject still bothered me, but it did, and I knew it always will, but hearing Riley’s view was what I needed to hear in order to truly realize that it really isn’t my fault.. It never has been.

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“Thank you for saying that.. I think it’s something I always wanted to believe, just never could.. It’s hard not to blame yourself for things going wrong when you get no explanation for why they really did,” I spoke quietly, my fingers idly fiddling with the fabric of my pants.

“I’m sorry it took this long for you to see that,” she replied and I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Heh, yeah.. Knowing it a lot sooner would’ve been nice and would’ve saved me a lot of time beating myself up, but, had I realized it sooner, I might’ve already been dating someone and I wouldn’t have been introduced to you,” I answered, giving her a soft smirk and she gave a bashful smile.

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There was a long pause after my words, watching as Riley picked up the wine bottle we seemed to have ignored for a short while and taking a few generous sips from it before handing it off to me, and I did the same before setting it back down.

“..I like you, Luca,” she admitted with a hushed voice, staring down at her lap as she spoke and a smile slowly crept over my lips.

“Then you’re even crazier than I am,” I replied and she looked up to me as if she couldn’t believe that I had just said that.

“It’s really not all that strange for someone to like you,” she pointed out and I looked away from her and out towards the water.

“Yeah, well.. Didn’t go too well last time, so you can understand my skepticism..”

“Hey,” Riley grabbed my hand that I still had on her thigh and she held it tightly, “Look at me,” and I did, “I promise that if there’s anythin’ wrong or if there’s ever a problem, I’ll tell you. You know that I’m honest, I really do try to be, and I’m not goin’ to hide anythin’ just to spare your feelin’s. If for whatever reason this doesn’t work out, I won’t abandon you, I’ll tell you why it didn’t, but for now, there ain’t anythin’ wrong with you, or me, or us. I understand you not likin’ the idea of it and you don’t wanna get hurt again and I do understand your hesitation, but I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t meant it. I do like you, Luca, and I wanna keep seein’ you.. If you wanna keep seein’ me, too,” she answered, her last sentence sounding almost like a question and oddly enough, I felt a sense of relief.

“..I do want to keep seeing you,” I finally replied, making up my mind and deciding that maybe this could be worth it. Maybe, despite my reluctance and uncertainty, I wanted to see where all of this would go with her. I was still going to be careful, I was still going to just try this out instead of putting both feet in at once, and I hoped it wouldn’t turn out like last time.

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Riley has made me feel things that I never thought I’d feel again. The need to kiss and show affection, the need to share and be shared with, so many things that I couldn’t put into words just yet, but it felt good. It even scared me a little to admit it to myself because part of me, most of me, didn’t want to believe that someone like her could have the ability to put up with someone like me, but the affectionate side of me that only my close friends and family saw was something that I wanted to start showing her.. Riley was easy to talk to and she understood things without all that much explanation needed, and I thought that came in handy since it’s a little difficult for me to share, especially with a woman I just met, but..

I liked her, too, and that scared the hell out of me.

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I noticed Riley gently bite her bottom lip and I assumed she wanted me to kiss her, but even though I don’t much care for that kind of thing, I felt a strong want to do it with her. A need to. I leaned in rather quickly, but she wasn’t surprised by it, and the moment my lips touched hers, I was brought back to last weekend when we were standing outside her home on her doorstep, but this time was different. This time it felt less like a goodbye kiss and more like the start of something exciting, the start of something new and terrifying, but, fuck it. I was sick of living in the past and constantly being reminded of it, and I was sick of people looking at me as if I needed to be pitied or coddled because they thought I was alone and lonely. 

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Our kiss was electric and I felt a tingling down my spine as she made the kiss deeper by letting go of holding my hand and bring it up to grip the back of my head. She pulled at a chunk of my hair, her nails gently raking against my scalp, her mouth opening more for exploration and my hand that still remained on her thigh gripped at her a little roughly. She was so damn sexy and all I could think about now was touching her, pleasing her, making her feel the best that she possibly could and I wanted her to feel it with me.. I wanted to be the one that she’d remember and the first one that would come to her mind when she would think about a time she felt the best she ever had.

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We were breathing a little harder than normal, every now and then she’d even moan against my lips and it made me melt just knowing that a kiss between us made her feel this good. Riley brought her other hand up to touch my neck and she gripped another chunk of my hair that made my loins quiver in excitement. She didn’t strike me as the rough type, but with everything she was doing, pulling my hair, quietly moaning, her thigh tensing up every time my hand gripped it roughly which told me she was just as turned on as I was.. It drove me wild. I could even feel through her leg every single time her hips would gently flex as if she wanted to grind on something, my something, and I couldn’t control myself anymore.

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I brought my hand away from her thigh and it traveled straight up to the warmth between her legs. I rubbed her over the thin fabric of her shorts, giving her hips something to grind against until I could get her back to my car and have her grind in my lap instead, but what came next was something I should’ve known would happen..

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Riley gasped softly against my lips and immediately pulled back, No, please don’t-!” She let out in a panic and the second I heard the ‘no’, I had already jerked my hand as far away from her as I could.

“Shit! I.. I-I’m so sorry, Riley, I’m sorry!”

“N-No, it’s-” she stopped to take a deep breath, “It’s okay, I’m just-”

“-No, it’s not okay and I’m so sorry, I’m such a fucking dumbass,” I said with disappointment and embarrassment.

“Luca, really, you just startled me, is all.. It’s-”

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“-I just thought that-” I couldn’t believe how stupid I was, “I.. I don’t know what I thought.. I’m sorry, Riley, I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me,” I said in complete disbelief, as if I had no clue what the hell my hands were thinking.. What the hell was I even thinking?

“Luca, don’t.. It’s really not you, I’m just.. I’m not ready, is all, all right? It’s completely all me, I swear. I’m sorry I panicked like that and scared you, I don’t know why I did that,” she continued to try to put the blame on herself, but her apologizing to me for what my stupid, idiot self did make me sick to my stomach. I don’t understand why I can’t keep my damn hands to myself.

“Don’t apologize to me for stopping me, please don’t.. You’ve already made it completely clear that you’re not looking to move that quick and I don’t know what I was thinking.. I.. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I kept repeating, sitting there with a storm cloud over my head, gloomy and disgusted with myself.

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“..I’ll take you home,” I assumed she wanted to leave, about to get up to my feet, but Riley stopped me.

“No, I don’t wanna leave like this,” she urged, reaching out to touch my face and she made me look at her, “Listen to me. It’s o-kay. I’m sorry I reacted like that. I-” she paused for a moment, “It’s been a while for me and you just startled me, all right? I ain’t used so movin’ fast, but I do want to do things with you, just not yet.. Okay?” She tried to make me feel less bad about it, but that wasn’t going to happen. I was so disappointed in myself that even if she didn’t want to go home yet, now wanted to.. 

“..I’m still sorry,” I replied and she gave me a warm smile.

“I know, and I forgive you.. Believe me, when I’m ready, you’ll definitely know,” she encouraged and I nodded in understanding, giving her a fake smirk and Riley leaned back in again to briefly kiss my lips, “Have you stopped punishin’ yourself yet?” She asked and I nodded.

“Yeah,” I lied.

“Good.. Then now you can take me home,” she said with another smile, standing up and I stood up with her, leaving behind our empty bottle of wine and walking off the dock back to my car.

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Driving Riley home was agonizing. She tried her best to lighten the mood, trying to talk to me or make me laugh or whatever else, but all that I could really give her back were one-word answers and half-assed laughs that I forced myself to muster up to not make her feel bad. No matter what she tried to do, I still couldn’t get my mind off of what I did at the dock. God, I’m seriously such a fucking idiot! I’m used to getting what I want, but this was something else. This was me trying to get what I wanted without permission and I couldn’t get my stomach to stop turning as I replayed the scene over and over in my mind. Riley’s voice and the tone she used kept replaying, too. She sounded so startled and even a little scared.. Just the thought of me possibly scaring her made my stomach turn even more.. This wasn’t who I was, so why did I act that way?

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When I parked my car in her driveway, I didn’t even have the confidence or the strength to walk her to her door. I stared down at the steering wheel for a long, silent moment, and it wasn’t until Riley had reached over and touched my hand did I come out of my trance.

“Are you all right? ..Truly?” Riley asked, looking over to her and nodding a lie.

“Yeah.. I’m fine.. Are you?”

“Yes,” she said with another smile, “Do you wanna do somethin’ next week, or next weekend again?”

“Yeah.. Call me whenever you want to,” I offered back, feeling a lot more comfortable if she were the one to do it first and she nodded.

“All right, I will,” she replied, a quick, awkward silence then filling the car as she continued to sit in the passengers seat.. I thought she would’ve bolted out of my car by now.

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“Are you gunna kiss me goodnight?” She asked next and I chuckled softly.

“Only if you want me to,” I replied and her expression filled with a slight concern. 

“Of course I do.. You don’t need to ask permission for every little thing, just the more serious things, okay?” She made clear and I nodded, seeing her lean towards me and I did the same, meeting in the middle and our lips were locked for a few long seconds before she pulled away with a smirk on her plump lips, “Goodnight, Luca.”

“Night,” I answered, watching her get out of the car and I sat in her driveway until she had gotten into her place safely. 

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I pulled out of her driveway and went straight home, coming into the house and hearing Pia and Tavish and a few other people they brought home from the bar in the living room, being loud and laughing and drinking, but I wasn’t in the mood. Luckily, I managed to come inside undetected and I went straight up to my bedroom.

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I left my lights off, stepping over to my bed and throwing myself onto it, lying on my back and staring up at the ceiling and letting out a deep, heavy sigh. I was so disappointed with myself. I just couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.. Why did I do that? Why did I touch her like that when I knew well enough not to? I just can’t get anything right..

Not a damn thing. 

Generation 5, Chapter 2

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Growing up, my parents always showed so much love to us and to one another to the point where it would be hard to ever live without. I always looked up to them and wanted to have a type of relationship that they did.. Not afraid to show affection, casual, stupid and flirty jokes, the way they look at one another and being able to see their love so clearly every time they exchanged a simple glance or a subtle smirk that said a thousand words without making a sound.. When I thought I had found the same thing, I held onto it, cherished it, surrounded myself in it and let it become the center of my universe.. I completely drowned myself in it, which is why it killed me when it was taken away at the blink of an eye. Since then, I’ve done nothing but avoid relationships and have focused all of my attention on surrounding myself with my family and as many friends as I could get so whenever I start to feel abandoned, hated, ignored or anything else that reminds me of what I failed to achieve and what I lost, I have plenty of people that I can go to and get my mind off of it with.

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Right here is a perfect example of what I grew up with and why I now hate being alone. Well, I guess maybe I didn’t hate being alone, per say, but more so strongly preferred not to be. My parents loved me and the rest of us with every ounce of their being and they were never afraid to show it.. But, my Pop tended to love a little too much sometimes. I really enjoyed the first half of this hug, it made me feel amazing and loved and cared for, everything that I want, but as it went on and Pop refused to let me go, it started to become a little redundant.

“Pop, you’ve been hugging me for, like, a minute straight,” I tried to get out of the hug he had locked me in.

“I haven’t seen you in what feels like forever. I’ve missed you so much,” he tried to justify his suffocating love.

“I’ve missed you guys, too, but I was here a few weekends ago,” I pointed out, although the second that that short time frame came out of my mouth, I could guess word for word what he was about to say next.

“And it’s felt like an eternity,” he replied and I chuckled at how right I was.

“Isaiah, let the poor boy go.. You ambushed him the moment he got out of his car,” my dad tried to help me and eventually, Pop did as he said and pulled back to then have a look at me.

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“Are you eating enough? You feel skinny,” he said with worry as he examined my body.

“Yeah, I’m eating fine, Pop. An apple a day, yadda yadda,” I brushed off and he smiled as he then reached to touch my face briefly.

“This is healing nicely, too. You can barely see it anymore,” he gestured towards the scar over my eye, “But, I still wish it didn’t happen to your beautiful face,” he said with a furrowed and worried brow.

“Oh, come on, it ain’t so bad, Pop. I kind of like it.. Makes me look like a badass, doesn’t it?” I joked, but by the expression he gave me, I could tell he didn’t enjoy my attitude about it.

“I hope you don’t go looking for these scars, Luca-”

“I don’t.

“And why do you always have such dark circles under your eyes? You’re not getting enough sleep, are you?” He continued his questioning and I sighed.

“Uhh, I dunno, Pop.. I guess not. You know how it is, us troublemakers don’t like sleep,” I took a small stab back at him.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it, I just want you to be taking better care of yourself and-”

Okay, Isaiah.. Stop interrogating him and let me say hi to my son,” my dad butted in and I was so thankful he did because he’s the only one that could get Pop to stop being so parental. Don’t get me wrong, I know he’ll never stop being that way, he’s my father, after all, but man, did it get exhausting.. I was twenty three years old and I’ve been out of the house for a couple years now.. I want him to just lay off once in a while, but that’s just too much for a child to ask their parent.. Especially my parents.

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I then stepped up to my dad to greet him, too, since I hadn’t gotten the chance to yet thanks to Pop.

“Hey, Dad,” I said warmly as I hugged him and he hugged me tightly in return for a short moment, much shorter that Pop had.

“How are you, though, really? You doin’ all right?” He asked and I smiled as I nodded.

“I’m doing great, truly. How are you guys?” I asked in return and Pop gave me a look as if I had just insulted them. 

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“We’re fine, but don’t you worry about us, you’re not allowed to. You just worry about yourself and staying healthy and finding someone to give us grandbabies with, understood?” He made known, meaning for it to be a playful little joke, but I also knew that he couldn’t have been more serious at the same time.. And this wasn’t the first, or second, or even fifth time I’ve heard it, he’s been mentioning it ever since I turned eighteen.

Dad then grabbed Pop’s wrist, “Isaiah, that’s enough.. Leave him alone, huh?” He pressed and I laughed softly.

“I think that’s Niko’s job to provide that for you guys,” I replied with a smirk, looking towards the driveway as Niko’s car pulled in, “Speak’a the devil,” I said as I gestured towards Niko and Pop took his attention off of me to go smother one of his other children with love. 

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“..I’m sorry,” my dad said with a guilty smirk, apologizing for Pop being so damn impatient about grandchildren, but I brushed it off with a light chuckle.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. I know he’s always loved kids, it doesn’t bother me. Can’t blame him for being himself,” I replied as I looked back over towards the driveway and Pop was hugging Niko and refusing to let go just as he did to me a moment ago. Niko looked to me and he mouthed the words “help me” and I laughed softly, enjoying that he had to go through what all of us did and there was absolutely no way of escaping it. His hugs were like Chinese finger traps, the harder you tried to get out of it, the tighter his hugs got.

“Well, I also mean sorry because I don’t think he realizes how hard that break up was for you years ago-”

“Dad, I.. I really don’t want to talk about that right now, or ever again, actually,” I said with a pathetic smirk that pleaded for him to stop this.

“My point exactly.. If you were over it, I don’t think you’d mind.. But, there really isn’t anyone that you like yet? No one you’ve been seeing steadily?”

“Dad.. Please-”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I’m done,” he said as he looked forward and I looked forward as well towards Pop now hugging AnneMarie the same as he hugs his own kids and I felt sorry for her, but he absolutely adored her like all of us did and he treated her like one of his own daughters. It was inevitable. 

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When I looked back to my dad, he was still looking at Pop, Niko and AnneMarie, but I could tell that he was still thinking about the subject I obviously didn’t want to talk about and it also seemed like he was trying not to look at me.. It made me feel guilty for making him feel like there was nothing he could do, or that I couldn’t talk to him about this stuff, or maybe even that he thought he had offended me when he didn’t, but it was so simple.. I didn’t want to talk about it..

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Dad was a lot more sensitive than Pop was. His feelings can get hurt a lot easier and he tends to think way too much into things that ultimately result in him being depressed about it or cause himself unneeded stress, something that I’m a little familiar with, but when it happened to him, it was a lot more intense of a feeling than I could ever experience and I hated seeing him like that.. Unless you tell him right away exactly what’s on your mind, he automatically dwells on it and thinks the worst, then beats himself up over it when really there isn’t anything to worry about. I didn’t want to make him feel like we weren’t close anymore, because we still very much were, I just didn’t like talking about that one subject and I wanted him to understand that.. It was nothing against him or Pop or anyone else, I just hated reminding myself of it.. He needed to hear it, too, or else that casual little dismissal I gave him will eat him up inside.

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“Look.. Yes, the subject still bothers me, I’ll admit that, but I only don’t want to talk about it because I don’t like thinking about.. I don’t like reminding myself of it, okay? If I find someone, then I find someone, and you guys will be the first to know. Until then, I’m just having fun, all right? That’s it,” I continued and Dad looked at me as if he was happy I had said something and involved them somehow, though after my words, he still seemed a little concerned.

“..Are you being safe?” He asked and I couldn’t do this anymore, not even to make him feel better.

“I’m going inside,” I replied to avoid the subject and he chuckled.

“Hey, don’t go in yet.. I’m sorry, okay? I’m your dad, I can’t help but worry and make sure you’re making good choices, and I know you are, it’s just.. Those kind of questions just come out of me without even thinking twice,” he explained himself and a light smile came back to my lips.

“Yeah, I know.. It’s all right, it’s just hard because the only subject that I don’t want to talk about is the one that always comes up when I’m here.. It’s a little frustrating because I try to surround myself with good things and people that I love and people that love me back, not ones that used to, you know?” I explained myself, too, and my dad nodded in understanding.

“I completely understand.. I’m sorry.. I’ll talk to your father about it, too, and see if I can get him to back off a little.. I’ll do the same.. But, just know that if you ever need to talk, any time at all, you can always come over and I’ll help you with anything.. We’ll help you with anything.. You know that, don’t you?” He tried to compromise and I agreed.

“Yeah, I do.. Thanks, Dad,” I replied and he finally seemed at ease about our conversation.

“All right.. Go inside and see your siblings, they’ve been waiting for you,” he instructed and I smiled, nodding softly and going inside to see Petra, Umiko and Jiro.

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I stepped into the foyer and over towards the kitchen, but when no one was in sight, I walked down the hallway and peaked into the old dining room they had turned into a new living room, but still saw no one. 

“Must be outside,” I said to myself as I then made my way over to the back door that led to the pool.

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When I got to the back door, I noticed Petra and Umi under the shade in the lounge chairs talking, but I still didn’t see Jiro. I walked outside and the girls looked up right away with big smiles on their lips when they saw me. 

“Hey, Luca!” Umi called out with a wave and I walked over to where they were sitting to chat a little.

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“Hello, sisters of mine,” I pointed out the obvious, “How’s everything going?” I asked, sitting down next to Umiko and Petra went first.

“I had my first design job earlier this week,” she said with a smile and I was excited for her.

“Really? That’s great! How’d the client like it? Wha’d you do?” I asked.

“Well, they just bought a new, small house on the other side of town and their daughter, who’s a friend of mine, showed them some of my ideas and a few pictures of what I’ve done to my bedroom here, as well as the guest house bedroom upstairs. They liked what I did and wanted a summer, beach type of feel to their living room. You know, kind of like wanting to bring the outside in, so I did that for them. They ended up loving it! It only took me about two days to repaint and refurnish with the funds they gave me, but they really loved the end result,” she explained.

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“Wow, that’s really awesome, I’m proud of you,” I answered with a smile, “How much did you get for it?”

“None of your business, nosy,” she said with a smile and I chuckled, “But, it was a pretty nice chunk of cash. I put it in the bank,” she continued.

“Good girl,” I commended and she seemed a little more proud of herself than she portrayed just a moment ago. I knew she loved being praised for her hard work, and man, did she deserve it. At only nineteen, she was starting her own line of interior design work and I was floored that she managed it so well, especially so soon after getting out of high school. 

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I then looked to Umi and asked her the same thing, “Anything new to report, baby sis?”

“Hmm.. No, not really-”

“What are you talking about?” Petra interrupted, “You’re grounded because you got caught having Mike over and locking your door,” she told on our little sister and Umi reached over to quickly, but gently hit Petra on the shoulder.

“Shut up, Petra!”

“Ohh, you adventurous little devil,” I said with a proud grin and Petra giggled, though I then grew a little more serious, “He treatin’ you good?” I asked with a more protective tone and Umi rolled her eyes.

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Yes, Luca.. No need to scare him away with your subtle, brotherly warnings,” she said with a sarcastic grin.

Petra jumped in, “Yeah, if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll continue that good behavior. Andy was lucky enough to experience it first hand,” she said sarcastically and I chuckled.

“Well, he should’ve never made you cry,” I justified my actions of scaring the shit out of Petra’s now ex-boyfriend, then put my attention back to Umi, “You let me know if he does anything you don’t like and I’ll be at his door quicker than-”

“Okaaayyyy, thanks, Luca.. But, I will let you know if he ever does.. Until then, don’t worry, okay?” She said reassuringly and I nodded.

“I know.. I know you can handle yourself, but you can’t blame me for wanting you to be treated well and wanting to make sure of it,” I replied and she smiled appreciatively.

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My relationship with my sisters was very strong, and by strong, I mean I’m incredibly over protective of them. We’re a very tight knit family and we always look out for one another, although out of us boys, I think I’m the most protective over the other siblings.. I guess I was the biggest and most intimidating, so my words and my fists were something that everyone wanted to avoid, and if they were smart, having only good intentions when getting involved with my siblings was a must or else there’d be consequences.. There’s even been an instance where I was pretty close to putting someone in the hospital for how they acted around AnneMarie when we went out together to buy a birthday present for Niko a few years back. After knowing her for so long, I consider AnneMarie to be one of my sister’s, too, and I’d do anything for her just as much as I’d do for my blood.

Our parents don’t even know half of the things we’ve done for each other, they worry too much and telling them anything wouldn’t be good for any of us. We take a lot of our matters into our own hands to protect one another and not give our parents the unneeded stress..

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I noticed Petra’s eyes look behind me and she gave the slightest smirk, telling me without using a single word that Jiro was coming up behind me and I knew it was him.. He always did this.. I waited patiently, sitting there minding my own business, but the second I heard one of his steps right behind me, I stood up quickly, turned around and grabbed him, putting him into a headlock and laughing.

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“Thought you could sneak up on me, huh?!” I disciplined, rubbing my hand roughly back and forth on the top of his head to mess up his hair.

“How do you always know!?” He asked as he struggled to get out of my grip, but I wasn’t letting go.

“You little shit, you do this every time I come over! You’re so predictable!”

“Fuck you, lemme go!” He exclaimed and every time that I saw my baby brother, I swear he gets more and more like me every time and I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing at this point.

“No way! You need to pay for your non-stealthy ass trying to out-wrestle me all the time and always losing!” I replied as I kept a grin on my lips and Umiko and Petra only laughed at our play fighting.

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I then instinctively picked him up, heading for the pool and he flailed within my grasp to try to get free, but there was no competition. He was going into the water and that was that.

“Luca, no, no-no-nO-NO-NO, LUCA!” He called out as I threw him in, hitting the water and I blocked the small splash he made from hitting the girls.

“You’re so mean to him,” Petra said with a smile and I laughed.

“Nah, he deserves it. He knows I’m just fuckin’ with him, too,” I replied with a triumphant grin and Jiro popped up from the water with an angry look in his eyes.

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“I hate you so much..”

“No, you don’t! Come on, man, where’d your sense of humor go? You didn’t lose it like Augie has, did you?”

“No! I just don’t like being thrown into the pool whenever you come over!” He argued and I laughed.

“All right, all right.. Now get out and go change, I’ll get yelled at if Dad or Pop sees you like that,” I said with the grin I couldn’t get rid of.

“Not my fault!” He rubbed in my face and I could only laugh more as he got out, soaking wet and dripping onto the walkway under him.

“Then just be better at sneaking up on me and this won’t happen. Succeed, or this is your punishment,” I put it simply and he fake laughed at my joke as he wrung out his clothes.

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“Whoa, what happened here?” Dad asked when he came outside and saw us all by the pool.

“He fell in!” I said with an innocent smile and a shrug, speaking before Jiro could, “Didn’t you teach him how to walk when he was one or two? You’d think he’d have learned by now!” I said with the same grin that was a dead give-away and Dad looked at me with a slight smirk, but still gave me the eyes of ‘I know you did that’, yet he still didn’t address it.

“Jiro, go upstairs and change,” he instructed and Jiro went inside soaking wet.

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“And Luca?”

“Yeah, Dad?” I asked with my continuously innocent smile.

Stop throwing him in the pool,” he instructed with the smirk now gone from his lips and I knew I needed to behave just from the look in his eyes and the tone he used.

“It won’t happen again,” I replied, “Today..” I said quietly and he shook his head as he followed Jiro inside.

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After they were gone, Niko and AnneMarie came out through the same door and the girls immediately popped up out of their lawn chairs and went over to them.

“Niko! AnneMarie!” Umi called out and both her and Petra gave them a hug, then started chit-chatting with AnneMarie as Niko came over to me.

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“Hey, Luca,” he said with a warm smile that I didn’t realize how much I missed until now.

“Hey, short-stuff. Been a long time,” I said with a smile and he held his on his lips as he rolled his eyes to my comment and we both hugged for a moment.

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“I missed you,” he replied and we let go of one another and he sat down on one of the lounge chairs as I sat on the other.

“Likewise.. How you been?”

“Good, good.. Same old stuff,” he shrugged off, “How about you?”

“Nothing new.. So, what brings you guys back in the middle of March? You usually just come home for the summer and the big holidays,” I pointed out and he had a huge smile on his lips as his view went to the ground.

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“What is it?” I asked with my grin slowly getting more suspicious, yet bigger, and he looked back up to me.

“..I wanted everyone here tonight because, uhm.. Well.. I haven’t told anyone this but you, so..”

“Okay, out with it.. I have to know now,” I encouraged bravery and he glanced at the ground once more before looking back up to me.

“..I’m gunna ask AnneMarie to marry me,” he replied and the smile left my lips as my expression went from happy to excitedly shocked.

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“No fucking way! Really?”

“Be quiet! She has no idea and I want to try to keep it that way.. After dinner, I’m going to take her down to the beach behind the house and ask her. Not even Dad or Pop know, I was just hoping to ask her and surprise everyone afterwards, but.. I had to tell you,” he confirmed and I could feel goose bumps forming on my arms.

“Damn, what a surprise then! Everyone’s going to flip out,” I said with a chuckle and he nodded.

“Yeah, probably. I know it’s been a long time coming, but, it’s finally here, I guess.. And, I think we’re ready.. I’m ready,” he answered and my smile came back to my lips.

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“I’m so excited for you. She’s definitely going to say yes,” I said without a doubt in my mind and his expression went hopeful.

“You think so?” He asked and I scoffed.

“Of course! I mean, Jesus.. How long have you been together? Eight, nine years?”

“Almost ten,” he replied with a smile I didn’t think could get any more genuine and happy.

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“I’m seriously so happy for you. This is amazing news, Niko.. I mean, I knew you guys would eventually get married, but now, finally hearing that it’s going to happen.. I’m excited,” I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm and he chuckled.

“Yeah, well.. I haven’t asked her yet, so-”

“Stop.. There’s no way she would say no to you. You guys are still just as amazing as you were ten years ago and nothing’s change. You’re fucking middle-school sweethearts.. How often does that happen, huh? You’re perfect for one another,” I complimented and I could see in his eyes that he was more than appreciative of my words.

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“Thanks, Luca.. That really means a lot, and actually, it helps a little with these nerves.. I couldn’t even hold her hand driving here because I couldn’t stop shaking,” he said with a hopeless laugh and I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s the most genuine human being I’ve ever known and if AnneMarie even thinks for one second that she should say no, she’s the dumbest person alive. My little brother has been in love with this girl ever since he laid eyes on her and it was still obvious to this very day.

“Actually, if she says yes, I wanted to talk to you about something,” he brought up and I grew curious.

“Oh, yeah? It’s not something we can talk about now? You know she’s going to say yes, so just say it,” I encouraged and he thought for a moment before speaking.

“Well, I.. I was wondering if-”

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“Wait, wait.. Shh,” I said in a slight whisper to give him the heads up and he caught on instantly and didn’t continue the conversation.

“AnneMarie,” I said with a smirk as I stood up, her smile wide and beautiful and she came into my open arms for a warm hug, “How’ve you been, gorgeous? It’s been a while,” I asked as we then let go and Niko stood with us.

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“Yeah, it sure has,” she replied with her soft and sweet Alabama-Southern-Belle twang that everyone adored, “And I’m doin’ all right. Excited to be back in town. I was real excited when Nikolai wanted to make a random visit! I’ve missed y’all,” she said with such charm that I could easily pass out from it. She was seriously beautiful and Niko was a damn lucky man.

“Are you going to talk to him about.. You know?” Niko hinted to AnneMarie and she nodded.

“Oh! Yes, thanks for remindin’ me, baby,” she replied and I already didn’t like whatever they were up to.

AnneMarie had something to talk to me about? ..Specifically AnneMarie? Ah, man.. I think I knew where this was going..

“..Talk to me about what?” I was a little suspicious.

“Well, I got this friend from back where I lived, see? And-”

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“Oh-ho-ho-no. I don’t do blind dates, sweetheart. Sorry,” I put my foot down before she could even continue.

“Luca, don’t be like that, just hear her out, okay?” Niko reasoned, giving me a specific look that he only used when he really needed a favor.

“I don’t do that shit, Niko. It’s way too awkward and being in those positions is just exhausting..”

“Just think of it as a favor, or maybe even a gift of some sort,” he hinted for it to be a wedding gift and I sighed, unable to even deny the request when he was going to pull something like that.

“You’re killin’ me here, Niko,” I replied and he smiled, knowing now that I pretty much had to do it..

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“Fine, let’s hear it.. What’s she like? Does she have an accent?” I asked AnneMarie, never having a Southern Belle before. Accents of any kind were always such a huge turn on, not to mention AnneMarie’s accent specifically was so smooth and inviting and it made my knees a little weak every time I heard it. She completely oozed charm and grace that was, for some reason, insanely attractive to me and if this girl had the same accent and personality, I might open my mind to it a little more.

“Actually, yeah, she does. She’s from Maycomb County, like me. She’s been a good friend of mine since we were young and she moved closer to here for a change, her job mostly, and to be closer to me. Only lives a couple towns south from here,” she replied and I thought for a moment.

“All right, I’m listening,” I replied and AnneMarie got a little more excited when I finally agreed. Man, I hoped I wouldn’t regret this.

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“Okay, first of all, she is so beautiful and I ain’t even fibbin’ with that one,” AnneMarie began and Niko slowly stepped slightly behind her so she couldn’t see him and he nodded indefinitely, telling me the truth that this girl really was pretty.

“Her name’s Riley and she’s real smart, a good sense’a humor, real determined and strong-” she listed a few things off and my eyes kept going back and forth between her and Niko, who was standing behind her and motioning with his hands what she was like on the outside as AnneMarie described what she was like on the inside. His hands curved through the air to make an hourglass figure, then pointed to his legs and nodded strongly with a thumbs up, indicating that they were nice. I always liked a good pair of legs. Niko knew exactly what I liked, or at least the gist of it, and if he was giving me the approval, maybe it might actually be worth meeting this girl. Of course I cared about what AnneMarie was telling me, too, I just really needed to be completely convinced to go on a dreadful blind date, and Niko was also making it more worth it with his visual aids.

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“She’s a stylist that runs her own shop and she’s real gentle and sweet, but she does have a real fun side, like you-” AnneMarie continued and I looked back to Niko who was now showing me her breast size with his hands and he mouthed the words “not fake, all real”, and with both of their descriptions combined, I was getting more and more convinced. I really, really hated blind dates, but it was getting less and less ‘blind’ the more details I got.

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“What color hair?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Bright blonde, and it’s cute and short, and she’s got these real dark, deep green eyes that you could just stare at for hours,” AnneMarie explained and I nodded slowly, taking it all in. Blonde hair and green eyes weren’t exactly what I usually went for, I liked darker hair and tended to gravitate more towards brown eyes, hazel mostly, but maybe a change might do me some good. I didn’t think that I was picky when it came to looks, but maybe I was wrong.. Maybe I could go against what I usually aim for and see if this girl had any potential. Girls with dark hair and dark eyes tended to be wildcats, at least the recent ones I’ve been with, and I really enjoyed that, but this girl seems like a nice change. Mild-mannered, sweet, respectful, perhaps open to my kind of fun.. Plus, if I were to do it, I’d be doing it for Niko and AnneMarie and doing this as a gift or no gift, they’d still owe me one.. 

I sighed heavily as they both waited for my answer.

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“Does she know anything about me? ..Does she really know what she’s in for?” I asked with a questionable tone, “She sounds.. Maybe a little too good for me,” I continued and Niko then came back into the conversation instead of hanging back behind AnneMarie.

“Would you stop selling yourself so short all the time? If you ask me, I think you should maybe start putting the ‘flings’ behind you and start looking for something more stable-”

“Well, I didn’t ask you,” I pointed out and he rolled his eyes.

“Look, I’ve told her all about you and she knows you’re a little more outgoing, a risk taker, and well.. Fun. I’ve even showed her a picture-”

AnneMarie excitedly jumped in, “And after seeing that picture of you, she was definitely interested,” she added with a sweet smile. At least this girl thought I was hot, that’s always a good sign.

You got a picture?” I asked her, but she shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry, not on me now,” she replied, but even with Niko’s help in painting a nice picture for me, maybe I’ll consider it..

“Can I think about it?” I wondered and AnneMarie’s smile was bright and brilliant, as if she heard me say ‘yes’.

“Of course you can! I’m seein’ her sometime next week, so if I can get a picture of her then, I’ll send it your way to help convince you more,” she replied and I was actually starting to welcome the idea of meeting her, but I still had my doubts. From both of their descriptions, she seemed a lot like AnneMarie, herself, and I’ve always thought she was an angel. I think I’ll wait until I see a picture to make up my mind.

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“Hey! Dinner time, you guys!” Pop called out from the back door and we all looked in his direction momentarily.

“Comin’, Pop!” I called back to him and he went back inside.

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“Go on, babe, I’m right behind you,” Niko encouraged and she smiled again with a nod, walking back over to the house and a grin crept over my lips as I watched Niko watching her until she couldn’t be seen anymore. He really, really did love that girl.

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Niko finally looked back to me, “Thanks for doing that.. She’s been trying to find someone for her for a while and when she thought of you, she couldn’t get the idea out of her head,” he said with a smile and I chuckled, throwing my arm around him and we walked back to the house together.

“I haven’t said yes yet, little brother,” I replied and he smirked.

“Oh, you will after you see a picture,” he replied.

“And what do you mean AnneMarie’s been looking for someone for her for a while? What’s wrong with her?” I asked and Niko laughed.

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“Nothing’s wrong with her! AnneMarie just wants her to meet new people and stuff so she’s not a stranger out here all by herself. I mean, she has AnneMarie, but that’s just one person, you know? Plus, the whole time she was trying to become a stylist, it was kind of just herself and her mom for a while and she only focused on her schooling.. Never really was room for a boyfriend or anything like that, but now that she’s out here and has her job with her own schedule, there’s time for it now, and I think AnneMarie can tell that she kind of wants someone besides her best friend all the time, know what I mean?” He explained and I slowly nodded.

“Ahhh, I see.. And you think that ‘someone’ is me?” I said with an amused laugh, making a joke at my own expense.

“Well, you never know until you give it a shot, right?”

“I suppose.. So, what you’re telling me is she needs a little hot, tender loving care from me?” I said with a sly grin.

“No! Not just that, you perv..”

“I know, I know, I’m just joking.. But, I will think about it, all right? Just don’t hassle me on it,” I added and he accepted my terms with a nod, “And, hey.. If I don’t get a chance to say it before you go down to the beach later, good luck, man,” I said genuinely and he smiled appreciatively. 

“Thanks, Luca,” he replied and we went inside to eat dinner with the family.

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Despite renovating and changing the dining room into a new living room, my parents still moved around the furniture and converted it back into a dining room whenever all of us came over to have dinner together. It was the only place they had room in the house that would fit everyone. There was chatter all throughout the room and it was noisy, but a good noisy. The room was full of life again with all of us together and I really enjoyed coming to my parents place with everyone gathered and all at the same place at the same time. It reminded me of when all of us still lived here and every night at dinner, it was just the same now as it was then.. But, there was one thing that I didn’t notice until now..

Where’s August? ..Where’s Dad, too?

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I excused myself from the temporary dining room and walked over to the front windows, looking out and not seeing August’s truck parked in the driveway and I wondered if he was coming at all. When I turned around to go back to the living room where everyone else was, I noticed my dad standing in the kitchen, his hands on the counter top starring off into nothing and I grew concerned. Shit, I knew that look.. Had August been here already and left?

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I walked over to the kitchen and stopped about ten feet from him.

“Dad?” I asked and he looked over to me, a smile on his lips, but his eyes showed something completely different.

“Hey,” he replied.

“Is Augie coming?”

“N-No, uhm.. He was here already.. We just got done talking and he had to leave,” he replied, walking over to a bottle of wine that was on the counter by the fridge and grabbing it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, stopping him from leaving the kitchen and he looked at me as if I needed to get out of his way.

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“Nothing’s wrong. Go to the table and sit down, they’re probably waiting for us,” he answered and I could tell by his tone that he didn’t want to talk about whatever was said between him and Augie, but I didn’t like that he was upset over it and I wanted to help.

“Come on, just tell me. Why’d he leave? What’d he get mad about this time?” I tried to make a slight joke out of it, hoping he might be okay with telling me if it wasn’t that serious.

“Go to the table and sit down,” he repeated, not budging on his solid choice in not answering my question. I guess it was something serious.

“All right.. Want me to beat his ass for you?” I asked and he smirked and laughed softly, glad that I was able to make him laugh, if only for a moment.

“No, that’s not necessary. Now, come on.. Let’s not keep everyone waiting,” he replied and I nodded, walking back to the living room as my dad followed behind.

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When everyone was seated, the kids along the sides and Dad and Pop at both ends of the table, I simply watched and listened in on some conversations as we all ate. Jiro and Niko were in the middle, talking about a new video game they were both playing and comparing it to prequels.. Umiko and Petra sat by Dad and talked about what they should do together tomorrow, I think I heard one of them mention either the mall or the movies.. I sat across from AnneMarie next to Pop at the other end and they talked about mundane things I didn’t care about, my view eventually going to my dad at the other end of the table and he did the same as me, quietly listening to the conversations around him, but his eyes easily read that he was upset about something.. It makes me angry knowing that even if they spend a small amount of time together, August somehow finds a way to rattle him and all I wanted to do was help, but he’d never let me or any of the rest of us in on what they always talk about. Maybe Pop knew, maybe he didn’t, but if he did, he did a way better job at hiding his feelings than my dad did about whatever it was..

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August really has been showing a different side of himself the last few years around us, especially Dad, but I wondered if anyone else noticed like I did..? It was obviously something serious, it was obviously an upsetting subject since my dad always had that same lost and defeated expression, and it was obvious because August hated coming here.. But, why? Did they have a fight none of us knew about and they’ve been arguing about it in private ever since? I didn’t understand, and I didn’t like it, either.

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As everyone was practically done eating, I noticed Niko starring at the table and I watched as his eyes were going around his plate, but I knew his mind wasn’t on food.. He looked like a man talking himself up and getting ready for one of the biggest moments in his life. AnneMarie seemed to notice, too.

“Hey, you all right?” She asked him and he looked at her with a straight face, but soon his expression went soft and loving and I knew the moment he smiled at her, he was ready.

“Yeah, I’m fine.. Uhm.. Can I talk to you out back for a minute?” He asked and she nodded.

“O’course,” she answered and I watched them excuse themselves from the table and go towards the back door, but before Niko left the room with AnneMarie walking ahead of him, he looked at he quickly and I stuck my hand out for the fastest low-five we’d ever done. A simple five like that wasn’t so simple for us and it said a lot more than we could say right now. That gesture meant good luck, go get ‘er, don’t screw this up, I love you.. It meant everything. Besides Pia and Tavish, Niko was my best friend, too, but he was also family, and we didn’t need to use words a lot of the time for us to understand one another.

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After about a minute, the curiosity I knew Pop was feeling was way too much for him to endure any longer..

“What’s all that about?” He wondered, the rest of my family all eventually looking to me and they knew exactly what was going on, they just needed confirmation.. We’ve all been waiting a long time for Niko to purpose to AnneMarie and none of us wanted to miss it.. 

“Oh, nothing.. It’s just Niko purposing to her down at the beach,” I said as if it were no big deal.

“Oh,” Pop replied, not fully grasping what I said so casually until literally a second later, “Oh!”

“He didn’t tell anyone but you?!” Umiko said in a panic, but my dad spoke up to try to contain the excitement.

“Let’s just let them have their moment, okay? I’m sure Niko would like some privacy,” he instructed, but Jiro wasn’t having any of it.

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“Fuck that! I’m watching!” He called out, popping up quickly from his seat and running towards the back door.

“Jiro!” Dad called out, but he didn’t stop.

“If he goes, so am I!” Umiko then announced, following right behind him and Petra simply gave a big, innocent smile.

“Sorry, Dad, but I gotta see, too!” She said with slight guilt, but quickly went with Umi and Jiro out the back anyhow.

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“Come watch, Dad.. If he actually did want privacy, he wouldn’t have chosen to propose here,” I joked, but I still made a pretty valid point.

“He’s right, Oliver. Don’t even act like you’re not dying to see this,” Pop agreed as he stood up, walking over to Dad and he held out his hand, “Let’s go watch our son get engaged,” he said with a warm, loving tone and Dad smiled and nodded.

“You’re right, I can’t just sit here,” he finally agreed, taking Pop’s hand and the rest of us rushed outside to the back yard.

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Petra, Umi and Jiro stood at the top of the hill with a clear view of the beach a few hundred feet away and we arrived there, too, just as Niko and AnneMarie stopped in the sand. I don’t know why, but I was so nervous for him, I’m sure all of us were. We knew how crazy it would be for her to say ‘no’ to him, it seemed flat out impossible that there was any chance she would, but it was one of those things that you just can’t help but worry about.. The big, dreaded, awful “what if”.

Niko was holding her hands and talking to her and we couldn’t hear anything. All we could do was watch and we all watched for the same thing. For her head to nod ‘yes’, for us to hear her scream it from all the way down at the beach, for her to jump into his arms, or, well.. For her to run away.. But, no, that was definitely not going to happen. It couldn’t. 

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There it was, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, then went down to his one knee and AnneMarie brought her hands up to cover her mouth in shock. I glanced over towards my parents and I could see how much happiness and emotion was beaming off of them, wondering to myself if I’d ever make them that proud..

It made me a little jealous of my brother.. Niko was always praised for his hard work, the dedication he put into balancing his schooling, his relationship, his family and everything else in his life while I barely had or tried at anything. I didn’t get good grades like him and I didn’t go to college, I didn’t have the perfect girlfriend like he did that my parents loved, I didn’t have a clue where I was going in life like he did.. I didn’t have anything.

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The moment that the little box he held opened, able to see the shine of the tiny ring all the way up to where we were, we knew Niko was asking the big question and without hesitation, AnneMarie replied.

“Yes! I will, I will!” We all heard AnneMarie’s answer loud and clear and Niko put the ring on her finger. The moment he stood up, she jumped into his arms and he did everything right, even holding her and twirling her around like I only saw in the movies.

But, just because I was a little jealous of my brother didn’t mean I couldn’t be happy for him, and damn, I really was.

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“Fuck yeah, Niko! Woooo!” I called out first to get the ball rolling and my siblings jumped in right after, making us all sound like a pack of howler monkey’s with how much we loudly rejoiced and cheered from the top of the hill. Even from all the way from up here, we could tell that neither Niko or AnneMarie knew we were watching the whole thing and they seemed a little embarrassed at first, like they’d been caught doing something inappropriate, but that was quickly proven wrong when Niko grabbed her and pulled her into a long kiss.

“All right, now we should leave them alone.. Let’s go,” Dad called it quits, wanting to give them their privacy now more then he did earlier and we all headed back towards the house.

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I sat in a lounge chair back by the pool, everyone anxiously waiting for the newly engaged couple to come back, show off the ring, and share the good news that everyone was already aware of. Dad and Pop even had a bottle of champagne lying around that they brought out, as if they’ve been waiting for this moment forever and they were completely prepared. 

Honestly? ..Kind of made me feel like shit all over again because I was one hundred percent positive they didn’t have anything like that prepared for me.. They didn’t expect great things from me like they did for Niko. 

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After about a ten minute wait for them to come back from the beach, they finally walked up and everyone crowded them, giving hugs galore and praises and good fortunes, but I just simply sat there watching it all with a smile on my face. I’m beyond happy for my brother, I’m beyond happy to have another sister as sweet as AnneMarie, it’s just that, well.. The whole situation made me feel that much more alone and worthless, even with the presence of everyone closest to me standing right before my eyes.

Fuck.. Is this going to be some kind of ongoing joke I have with myself that I go day by day trying to convince myself that I’m genuinely happy?

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When it all died down a little, Niko noticed me sitting off by myself out of the group and excused himself, walking over towards me and the smile that remained on my lips for show got bigger. I rose from the lounge chair and hugged my little brother, holding him tightly for a long moment before finally letting him go.

“I’m proud of you. And I’m completely ecstatic for you,” I began and the most genuine smile I had ever seen him give was right there before me.

“I-I.. I can’t even tell you how happy I am. There’s no way to measure it,” he replied.

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“Earlier you wanted to talk to me about something if she said yes, and.. Well, she said yes, like I fucking told you she would,” I rubbed in a little and he chuckled, “So? What is it?”

Without hesitation, he answered, “I want you to be my best man,” he said with such excitement, still on a complete high from getting engaged and I was pretty speechless. I had never thought he’d ask me to be this for him, for some reason it never even bothered to cross my mind. I always saw their marriage happening, but me as his best man? That’s actually quite the honor and quite the surprise.

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“Holy shit, uh- Yeah, yeah I’d love to be your best man! Thanks for thinking of me,” I said appreciatively and he brushed it off like it was nothing.

“Come on, you had to see this coming.. We’re the closest out of all of them and I can’t ask Dad or Pop-”

“But you would, if you could?” I teased and he laughed.

No, I wouldn’t. I’m just saying that it should’ve been a given. You’re my best friend and you’ve always been there for me. Beat the shit out of kids who looked at me wrong, protected AnneMarie as if she were Umi or Petra, brought me out of my slumps whenever I was in them.. I wouldn’t ask anyone else,” he finished and I was genuinely touched.

Damn, this is pretty awesome.

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“Wow, man.. I can’t wait to plan your Bachelor party,” I said with a devious grin and he laughed again.

“Luca, I don’t want anything too crazy, okay? I don’t want strippers or anything wild, I just want something quiet where I can get drunk with you and a few others and that’s it, okay? That’s it, I’m serious,” he tried to convince me and I smirked.

“Fine, fine.. Whatever you say,” I brushed off, not taking him all that seriously..

“Luca, I am serious,” he stressed, giving me a straight face and I studied it hard. He didn’t blink, neither did I. I squinted my eyes just slightly in suspicion and his eyes remained determined, serious, focused.. However, I was always way better than him at this game, this look we used to read one another and the very second that I saw the edge of his mouth twitch into a smirk, I called it.

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“There it is! I saw it! You’re not serious at all!” I called his bluff.

“Noooo! No! You can’t do that! You were trying to make me laugh!” He contested, but I wasn’t budging.

“Nope, you gave in first, I win,” I replied with a grin still on my lips, but Niko soon turned a little more serious again.

“Luca, come on, please? Nothing too crazy, and even if AnneMarie never finds out about anything that happens, I still want nothing that would make her upset,” he asked nicely with his big, stupid, convincing puppy-dog eyes.

“I’m just fucking with you, okay? I know you. I’ll do right by you, trust me. It’s going to be the funnest night of your life until you go on your honeymoon,” I hinted and Niko smiled bashfully at the thought of it.

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Being chosen as Best Man was truly an honor and I wasn’t going to take this for granted. I was going to do something classy, like he wanted, but I was also going to throw a little more ‘fun’ into the mix and find a really classy girl to take her shirt off for him. I know he said he didn’t want a stripper, but that’s just one thing I have to ignore. I’ll pick a girl that’ll be topless only, which seems a little more laid back, and either way, I know he’ll appreciate it. Niko doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who would like a girl that took everything off and I wasn’t going to get anything too crazy or raunchy. I’m going to do everything he wants me to do, but I’m just going to kick it up a notch, that’s all. I won’t make him regret putting me in charge of all of this.

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The engagement celebration went on for about half an hour, but around the forty five minute mark, I was getting a little tired of it. Even with the good news of Niko asking me to be his best man and feeling so honored to have been asked, I don’t think it was a powerful enough distraction from what I’d been thinking about throughout today. I was over this and wanted to leave. I was happy for my brother, I was happy for my family and how happy they were, but with everything that’s crossed my mind today, I was beginning to look for something else to end my night with.. The one thing that was always guaranteed to distract me from my thoughts and be able to completely let go..

Luckily, I got a text within a few minutes of thinking this.

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The text read from a girl that I hook up with every now and then, wanting me to come over. She was nowhere near what people would think she was, she’s honestly just a fuck-buddy, but the only one that I had that was consistent rather than the random girls I went home with and never saw again. She was twenty and I’d sleep with her every few months or so, but it was never anything more than just having fun and that’s what I liked. Plus, she had a great rack and I felt like I needed a different kind of company than that of my family to end the night right. This is exactly what I needed.

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After wishing Niko and AnneMarie my congratulations and luck, I quickly said goodnight to the rest of my family and left as fast as I could without making it suspicious at all. I revved up my GTO and got onto the road, heading a few blocks from where I was to meet up with a girl I thought was extremely relaxing about these types of situations, not to mention really great at sex. She understood that whatever we do together, we won’t make it a ‘thing’ and it was only for fun.. If we had time, we did it. It not, we didn’t, and better luck next time. Simple as that. 

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I didn’t pull into her driveway, I parked a few houses down in the grass the opposite direction of the way her dad would come home. Her father knew my car.

“I’m here. Down the street a bit just off the road.”

I texted Becca, letting her know I was waiting.

“Be out in a sec! <333”

She replied a moment later.

Becca’s dad had broken my windshield with a bat once because he found us together in my car in their driveway and that whole situation was not fun, but, fuck, was it exhilarating.. That sense of urgency and the feeling of maybe getting caught is what I lived for. I hated him for hurting my car, but getting caught like that? Man, that was such a fucking rush. Maybe that’s why I always tried to say ‘yes’ to her when she texted me, maybe I wanted to get caught again, maybe I wanted another chance to hurt him like he had hurt my car, but either way, getting caught or not, it was still worth it. Still fucking his daughter after his more-than-obvious warning was just another slap in his face and I loved how everything with her involved such potential chaos. Sometimes I really did want to crash and burn, and tonight, I felt as if there was a reason for me to.

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After about five minutes, I finally saw Becca walking up to my car wearing a small top and a short skirt that barely left anything to the imagination. She climbed into the passengers seat and the second the door shut behind her, she gripped the bottom of her shirt, pulled it over her head and revealed the purple bathing suit top she wore underneath. 

“Well, hello,” I said with a grin, a little surprised at how rushed it felt already and Becca smiled wide.

“Hey,” she replied with a seductive tone, climbing over and straddling me in the drivers seat right away as she then reached back and undid her top, knowing exactly what I liked seeing most during our dirty little rendezvous and I waited until I saw her breasts before doing anything else..

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I stared at her chest as she undid the ties and she tossed her top in the backseat of my car, finally seeing what I wanted, and fuck, was it glorious. Such perfect, young, supple breasts before me and I tried to forget about all of my insecurities as I stared at them. This is exactly what I needed, a distraction, a distraction from everything that bothered me and sex was always the outlet that worked best. It hasn’t failed me yet.

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I undid my pants quickly, pulling them down with my underwear and my excitement came out of my pants on its own. I stared at her breasts, letting my mind go blank and succeeding at trying my best to briefly forget about today. These situations were good for neither of us despite how badly I needed it, but with Becca in front of me now, there wasn’t much that could tear me away from this.. Even my thoughts that told me to do different, to pack up and just go home, I ignored.. Becca wasn’t a sure thing, nor was any other girl I’ve slept with, but I was okay with that for now.. Things aren’t complicated, they were good and stress-relieving, and I took full advantage of them. I’m not doing anything wrong, yet at the same time, yeah, I kind of was, and it felt great.

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I pulled her towards me, my lips connecting with the skin of her breasts and planting hard, rough, moist pecks all over them. She arched her back when I bit her nipple and when my excitement grazed against her, I didn’t notice any fabric.. Only moist flesh.

I took my mouth away from her for a brief moment, “No underwear?” I let her know I finally noticed and she shook her head.

“Nope,” she confirmed as she bit her bottom lip with the same smile she held.

“So right to it then, huh?” I asked and she nodded, my mouth going back to her chest. 

I was ready. I was ready to get lost in something that wasn’t right, something that I didn’t care about, something that meant nothing to me all for the sake of forgetting who I am. All I wanted was to let go for a little while, to have something to occupy my mind with for the rest of the night, to bask in my own accomplishment of getting what I wanted without worrying about the approval of anyone else. This was all for me.

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I reached into the middle console storage as my breathing grew a little heavier and pulled out a wrap, tearing it open and securing it on me before she adjusted the skirt she wore and she guided me into her.

“Ahh, fuuuck,” I let out as she took all of me slowly, the depth of me soon hitting her and I felt her arch her back desperately when I was all in. She let out a sharp moan, her chest close to my face and she began going up and down, taking her time at first, but going a little quicker within a minute later.

This is exactly what I needed for a remedy. I needed someone that enjoyed giving me the attention that I wanted, the pleasure I needed, and the company I craved that wasn’t that of family or close friends or anyone else that may think less of me for doing such things as this that I treated so casually and without a single care or regret.

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“I-It’s been a while, you look good,” I complimented as my hand slid up her side and up to cup her breast and she moaned softly.

“Ahh.. Yeah, y-you too.. You’re hair got longer,” she replied as she then reached up and grabbed a fistful of it from the back and pulled at it roughly, “I like it,” she continued and I grinned as she then brought her lips to my jawline and kissed me roughly all the way back to my earlobe.

I inhaled sharply through my teeth when I felt her bite the edge of my ear, feeling her going a little harder from my reaction and she knew exactly what I needed and when I needed it. We’d been getting together like this since she was eighteen, so she knew a lot of things that I liked and I knew everything she liked, too, but we still knew nothing about one another outside of sex. If I were to label this anything, Becca’s probably the closest thing to a relationship I’ve had in seven years, but that still really isn’t saying much at all. We’ve been consistent as far as getting together every few months or so to fool around, but that’s it. Seeing one another outside of these random hookup’s was out of the question for both of us and neither of us ever wanted anything more than what we were doing right now. 

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“So, what’s.. W-What’s the occasion?” I asked through heavy panting and she rode me as she answered.

“Ah! Ah.. I just.. Need to do this one more time,” she replied, slamming down on me a little harder and she leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled back and didn’t let her, causing her lips to land on my cheek instead. I rarely kissed the women I fooled around with on the lips, it was too intimate for me and I didn’t like it, but I thought it was weird that she tried to since she’s tried it before and I told her to never try it again. I only kissed a girl if I genuinely liked her or if the mood was intimate enough to where it called for it, but this? What we do together is random, emotionless, definitely not intimate or romantic, so fuck no, I don’t ever want to kiss her. 

We only had sex whenever it was convenient and the last time I saw her was six months ago, but for some reason, this time seemed to mean more to her than the rest of the times.. The vibe that was coming from her was a lot different than what I remember.. I was starting to not like it.

“Ahh, w-what.. What do you mean.. One more time?” I asked as she continued to go hard in my lap and I gripped her hips tightly for something to hold onto as she rode me, only aiding her movements.

“I j-just… Ahhhhh,” she expressed pleasurably before continuing, “I just needed one more time with you, t-that’s all,” she replied, but even though I was enjoying every bit of this, her words concerned me and I didn’t like how she made it seem like this was our last big ‘hoorah’.

“What are you talking about?” I asked as she continued to grind against me as hard as she could, as if she was trying to beat a record of ours or something.

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“I got a b-boyfriend after the last time we did, you know.. This,” she replied and I suddenly stopped, gripping her hips harder to hold her in place so we could halt for a moment and she looked at me questionably.

“Excuse me, what?” I asked, suddenly out of the mood from her words.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said with a giggle through her panting, leaning in again and trying to kiss me and I pulled back even more.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? Stop trying to fucking kiss me.. And can you explain this to me, please?” I asked as my anger was building.

“What? I got a boyfriend, like, four or five months ago. What’s the big deal? We do this all the time casually and you never complain. I just wanted one more time with you before I moved in with him,” she replied, trying to continue to bounce her hips up and down, but my grip was strong and I didn’t let her continue to tempt me.

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“Wait, wait, wait.. Are you fucking kidding me right now? You have a boyfriend and you’re moving in with him?” I asked, baffled at the news I was just given and she sighed, as if exhausted by me stopping our fun and making a big deal, but what the fuck was this? I never messed with girls that were taken, I had a strict rule about this with myself, and had she told me before I was inside of her, I’d never have let her in my lap. I don’t like messing with other guys girlfriend’s.. It’s fucked up, I don’t know if they have anything that I can get, even with protection, and I don’t even want to get into a fight where it could possibly not end in my favor. I need to figure out what I’m up against before I go sticking my nose, among other things, where they don’t belong.

“Okay, whatever, who cares? You’re better at sex than he is, but I thought we’d do it one more time before I stopped because he’ll get suspicious if we live together and I sneak out for a quick fuck,” she explained as if it were the most logical choice she could’ve made and I was baffled by her stupidity.

“Get the hell off of me,” I said with little interest, completely out of the mood now and she pulled away reluctantly to lay back into the passengers seat.

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“What’s the difference if we stop now or later? We still did it whether you come or not, dumbass. You can’t be serious right now,” she said in annoyance and I scoffed.

“Are you fucking serious right now, Becca?” I then asked angrily, pulling the wrap off of myself and tossing it out the window before quickly pulling my pants back up.

“What’s wrong? I’ve had boyfriends before and you didn’t care then!” She argued and I was completely floored.

“What?! You never told me about them! How the hell am I supposed to just know that if you don’t tell me? I don’t fuck with girls that are taken! Are you serious right now?” I asked angrily again, still baffled by the news she was telling me and she looked at me as if I was blowing her mind.

“Jesus, calm down, Luca! What is your problem? It’s really not-”

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“Get the fuck out of my car,” I said angrily as I stared at my steering wheel.

“..Really? How can you so easily stop fucking me because of this bullshit? What kind of man are you?” She asked and my eyes quickly darted towards her after her comment.

“I’m a man that you know absolutely nothing about. Get out of my fucking car and don’t ever text me again. Whatever the hell this is is over. Even if you said it was the last time, I know you and you’d text me again whenever you got fucking bored with him, so no, this is done. I’m done,” I made it more clear to her and she grabbed her shirt and quickly got out of my car, slamming the door behind her.

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Becca threw her shirt on quickly, “You know what, Luca? You’re pathetic,” she began as she leaned into the open window, “You get mad that I have a boyfriend, but it’s my choice to do whatever the hell I want, and when I tell you I have one, you make it seem like I’m fucking cheating on you! We’re not together, Luca, we never were! We just fuck! Stop acting like I’m only yours, because I’m definitely not,” she argued back and I laughed sarcastically.

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“Oh, believe me, Becca, I’m very aware that you’re not mine and I’m fucking glad! I wouldn’t want some slut anyways that sneaks around behind my back with a better fuck than her own boyfriend. It’s girls like you that make me stay away from fucked up relationships because all you’re ever looking for is the next dick to sit on!” I answered harshly and even through the dark, I could see her eyes beginning to tear up.

Fuck you, asshole!” She yelled at me before walking angrily back to her house.

“Yeah, I’m the asshole,” I mumbled sarcastically under my breath, starting my car and getting the hell out of this mess.

This night couldn’t have gone any worse.

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I drove home kicking myself the whole way there, hating what tonight had turned into and hating myself for it. I wasn’t mad at August, or Niko, or Becca, I was mad at myself. Everything that I did today pissed me off and I’m such a fucking moron. August walks around treating Dad and everyone else like shit and I don’t do anything about it when I’m the only one that can and should, Niko proposes to his girlfriend of almost ten years and all I can think about is myself, and Becca didn’t tell me about the boyfriends she’s had while we fooled around, but I never should’ve been seeing her this consistently anyways, and I should’ve never thought that things with her would never get complicated. I should’ve seen this coming a mile away and I should’ve called it quits after the first time like I do with every other girl. All that bothered me today was all because of me, everything was my fault and I had no one else to blame but myself.

“What the hell is wrong with me?” I asked myself.

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When I got home, I sat in my car for a minute, hanging my head in my own shame and letting it all sink in. Today was just not my day. I felt weak. I am weak. I try so hard to appear strong and resilient and impervious to pain, but the truth is that I absorb it like a sponge and just hold onto it until I can’t take it anymore. I get into my head too much and I end up screwing myself over from having a normal day because I can’t stop thinking, worrying, wondering. I’m at war with myself constantly but no one would ever know it otherwise because I’m so good at hiding it. I ignore it all by distracting myself. I have sex, I get wasted, sometimes I resort to drugs, but the one thing I never do is let anyone see me for what I really am. I can’t risk anyone seeing that ever again.. I don’t want to lose anyone else.

Becca’s right.. I am pathetic.

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“Hey,” I heard Tavish’s slightly concerned voice through the open passenger window and I lifted my head to look over at him.

“Hey,” I replied with little strength.

“You okay?” He asked, able to see that something was wrong, but I was in no mood to talk about it, so I lied.. Something I actually don’t do often, especially to one of my best friends..

“I’m fine..”

“..Looks like you had some fun tonight, eh?” He implied, seeing him nod his head towards the back seat and I glanced back to see that Becca had left her purple bikini top behind.

I sighed and gave a fake smirk, “Yeah, I guess you could say that..”

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“You sure you’re okay?” He asked again, but I changed the subject.

“..Wanna go grab a beer?” I asked, seeing on his face that he knew I needed one and he nodded.

“Sure.. Yeah, let’s go,” he replied, opening the door and getting into my car, not bothering to ask if I was okay again because I knew he could see that I wasn’t, but more importantly, he saw that I didn’t want to talk about it. 

I think I’m just going to wash all of this away with a beer.. Or maybe ten.

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