“Jake!” Brandy said. “Vouch for me. Didn’t we hit every red light on the way to school today?”
Jake nodded. “We did, but you also ran them all, so I don’t think that can be your excuse for why we were late this morning.”
Brandy huffed. “That wasn’t the only reason–”
“Yes, The Great Sweater War of 2004. I remember,” Jake said with a grin.
“Did you get detention?” Kiki asked.
Jake shook his head. “Nah. First period is Health, which Coach teaches. I think I’d have to light him on fire for him to give me detention.”
Taylor snorted. “Even then, he’d be like, ‘Sure you had a good reason for it, West. You go over those plays yet?'” She did a pretty decent impression of the football coach, Kiki noted.
Jake chuckled. “You’re probably not off.” He reached down and took Kiki’s hand in his.
Eight years they had been a couple, since the ripe age of ten, and Kiki still felt a beautiful warmth whenever he touched her.
“Brandywine!” A.J. called out, jogging toward them.
Brandy squealed and reached for him. “Lemme see! Lemme see!”
A.J. spread his arms wide, smiling even wider.
She squealed again. “Ohmigawd! They look so good!” She smirked then took his face between her hands. “Now lemme feel,” she said before going in for an open-mouthed kiss.
“Stop it. Stop it right now,” Brent said, approaching the group with Busta in tow.
Brandy completely ignored her cousin while A.J. flipped him the bird.
“So, Brent and I were thinking–” Busta started.
“No,” Brent interrupted. “No, you and Brent were thinking of nothing. Brent was trying to ignore you and you kept talking.”
Busta grinned. “Underneath that adorable scowl is a heart full of love for me. Anyway, we were thinking that since it’s Friday, we should do a bonfire on the beach tonight.”
Taylor sighed and stepped forward, taking Busta’s face in between her hands. “Oh, Busta, my sweet little goofball.” She kissed his forehead. “It’s Tuesday.”
“It is?” he said, face falling. “Wow. That’s way too bad.” After a pause, he shrugged. “Oh well. We should still do it.”
“I’ll go if Brandy and A.J. don’t go,” Brent said.
Brandy unsunctioned her mouth off of A.J.’s to frown. “That’s not very nice,” she pouted.
“Neither is listening to you screw in the beach grass and then try and tell everyone you were looking for seashells.”
“We were!” Brandy argued.
A.J. grinned, not put off by the conversation at all. “And then we got distracted.” he looked at Busta. “We’re in.”
Brent scowled, giving up. “Yeah, us too.”
Amber frowned up at him. “Um, excuse me. I can speak for myself.”
Brent looked at her in surprise. “Oh. Uh, sorry. Do you want to go?”
“Even if I did or didn’t, we don’t have to do everything together. If I didn’t want to go, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.”
Brent stared at her for a moment and then said, “So . . . you don’t want to go?”
“Yes, I do! God!”
Brent threw up his hands and turned away from her, rolling his eyes.
Kiki cleared her throat and looked at her boyfriend. “Jake, didn’t you dad get that portable grill for his birthday? Do you think he’d let us borrow it?”
Jake quickly jumped on the subject change. “Oh yeah, for sure. We could definitely do some burgers and dogs.”
That caught A.J.’s attention. “Hey, I’m always down for some eats.”
“Shocker,” Brent muttered, but there was less annoyance in his voice now and his scowl wasn’t as deep.
“Great!” Kiki said. “Jake will bring the grill. I’ll go shopping for the food and stuff after school. Anyone want to come?”
“I will!” Brandy said enthusiastically. She couldn’t pass up a shopping trip, even if it was just barbecue items.
“I’ll drive,” Taylor volunteered.
“Yeah,, I’ll come too,” Amber said, giving in.
“And I’ll bring the brewskis!” A.J. announced.
“Yeah, maybe let’s hold off on that part,” Jake said. “As Busta helped point out, it is not, in fact, the weekend and I am not going to hear about how hungover you are tomorrow.”
“Hey, I got Irish blood. I’m not gonna get tanked over a beer or two.”
Jake clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. “No doubt. Now if only I believed you were capable of limited yourself to a beer or two.”
A.J. grinned back and gave him a punch in the shoulder. “Screw you. Just because you don’t ever partake . . .”
“Jake’s always our DD,” Busta reminded him. “If he partook, we’d all be still passed out on the floor of someone’s house.”
A.J. slung his arm around Kiki’s shoulder. “Miss Kiki could always do it.”
“Oh yeah, that sounds fun,” Kiki smiled. “Dragging you guys one by one to the car.”
“Besides,” Brent muttered. “Jake likes being the DD. It gives him an excuse not to drink and ruin his figure.”
Jake shrugged, not put off by the assessment. “Nothing wrong with staying in shape.”
“Yeah,” Taylor laughed. “That’s why you do it. The health benefits. Nothing to do with vanity.”
Jake unsuccessfully hid a smile. “Just a very fortunate side effect.”
A.J. laughed. “Yeah, so is standing in front of the mirror for three hours so a hair isn’t out of place.” He reached over to rub a hand over Jake’s chocolate-colored locks.
But Jake ducked away from the hand, looking very serious suddenly as he said, “Don’t touch my hair.”
Kiki bit her lip to keep from laughing. Maybe it should have been off-putting that Jake leaned a little on the vain side, but she actually found the flaw endearing. He seemed so perfect in all other aspects of life. It was oddly assuring to know that he wasn’t.
Or maybe she just had a bad case of love goggles.
“All right,” A.J. conceded. “No beers. But you ladies better grab some Doritos too. I’m gonna be extra hungry.”
Brent eyed the ex-Bostonian’s stocky figure. “When are you not extra hungry?”
“Fuck you,” A.J. said automatically, handing Brandy some cash from his wallet for the food.
The warning belle rand and Taylor sighed at it before the group dispersed and headed for their separate classes.
Jake kept up with Kiki. They didn’t have any of the same classes, unfortunately, but his second period History was right next to her Biology class. “Don’t think I got to tell you good morning yet,” he said, flashing out that smile she loved.
“Well, that’s not okay,” she teased. “What are you gonna do to make it up to me?”
He pretended to think about it. “Love you forever?”
Kiki’s heart warmed, but she stopped in her tracks and stood to face him. “That’s pretty good. What else you got?”
“Hmm,” Jake hummed thoughtfully. “Call you pretty and take you to prom?”
She nodded approvingly. “I like that too. Yet somehow, I’m still not satisfied . . .” She tapped a finger on her lips.
Jake’s grin broadened and he stepped closer. One of his strong hand slid over her jaw and under her ear to push back into her hair. Their faces drew together like magnets and Kiki soon felt the firm press of his soft lips on hers.
She wasn’t like Amber. She didn’t mind PDA. If it was a choice between caring what people were thinking and Jake’s mouth on her, she would choose Jake every single time.
Their lips parted and Kiki’s eyes opened hesitantly, knowing it was going to take her from that happy and warm bubble where only she and Jake resided and back into her school hallway.
“Good luck,” Jake said.
Kiki frowned. “Good luck?”
“Your biology test,” he reminded her.
“Oh yeah,” she said remembering. Then she felt her stomach sink, really remembering. “Oh yeah.”
“Hey,” Jake said, hand still in her hair as he leaned in to press his lips to her forehead. “You’re gonna do fine. You just breathe and go with your instincts.”
Kiki wanted to stay right there though. If she could just take the test with Jake so near and assuring, maybe she would actually relax. But she pushed the smile back on her face and nodded. “I know. I studied. I’ll be fine,” she repeated.
Jake pulled back and studied her face for a moment, then smiled softly, ignoring the final bell. “I love you.”
That made her forget the test in that brief moment and she smiled a little more genuinely. “I love you too.” Her eyes flicked behind him. “You should go, though, before we’re both in trouble and I’m guaranteed an F.” It was a joke, except not really.
Jake nodded, though there was hesitation in his steps as he backed away from her. He flashed one more encouraging smile and Kiki gave him one back, both saying that there was nothing to it and this test wouldn’t be like the others.
She just wished she could believe it.