Fourteen Months & Two Days
A.N: So I haven't written anything in like six months- not for lack of trying. Here's the result of that. Hope it's not totally terrible. Oh and please read the A.N at the end, it's important. Enjoy : )
I couldn't quite say when things had started to change.
Maybe it was after he came back from the army. Maybe it was years before that and neither one of us had really noticed. Or maybe we did notice and we just didn't want to admit that things had been, in fact, changing for a while now.
I couldn't really say.
All I really knew was that fourteen months ago, my best friend left for the army. Fourteen months ago the ground was completely solid beneath my feet, and his for that matter. We both knew exactly where we stood. Best friends; nothing more, and nothing less. Now, fourteen months later, he's back and, well, we're not so sure, anymore.
I stared down at the letter in my hands as though it were a foreign object. And given the sentence scrawled on the little strip of notebook paper, it might as well have been.
Written on the paper, in my best friend's messy chicken scratch, was one small sentence. It read: "Arrival date: August 26th, 2009. Pickup: 2 P.M. at Rosemary Park."
I frowned. No matter how many times I looked at it, and I had looked at it plenty over the past four days, I could not decipher what the hell it meant. Was it some sort of a package? I had no idea. And if my best friend were next to me, I would kick his ass because of it. For four days I had been going insane with trying to figure out what it was he could have sent me. And why he would have sent it to the local park, instead of to my house.
It made no sense.
And it frustrated me to no end that I couldn't call him and demand an explanation. The whole writing letters instead of calling each other was beginning to get very old, very fast. Frustrated, I stormed back into the house, and into the kitchen where my older sister Heather and my mom were playing cards at the table.
I waved the cryptic letter in the air. "Can either one of you tell me what the hell this means?" I asked, finally deciding to just give in and show them the stupid letter.
I had refused to let them see it, no matter how much it was driving me insane, ever since they had caught a glimpse of one of the previous letters Jake had sent me. For a reason unknown to me, they had both teased me incessantly about the damn thing. The letter had seemed normal enough to me, but apparently I had been missing something highly amusing. So I had hid all of the letters Jake had written me ever since. But the curiosity was eating me alive this time, and if they could figure out what the damn letter meant, then I could probably deal with a bit of teasing.
I was pulled from my thoughts when Heather snatched the waving letter out of my hands. I waited as her green eyes scanned the contents. "It sounds to me like you're going to be getting a package." She stated unhelpfully.
I glared. "Thank you, Captain Obvious. I didn't realize that."
My mother, used to my sarcasm by now, took her turn looking at the letter. "You know, sweetie, you should really lighten up on the sarcasm. It makes you sound so unintelligent."
I merely rolled my eyes, and took the letter from her to look at it once more. "Who has a package delivered to a park?" I asked, incredulous.
"Apparently, Jake." Heather stated, stealing Captain Obvious' identity once again.
I ignored her statement. "What could he possibly be sending me anyway?"
My mother paused in arranging the cards in her hand to look at me. "I don't know sweetie. Why don't you go and find out? It's almost two o'clock, so you better hurry."
I glanced at the clock to see that it was, in fact, almost two o'clock and I quickly stuffed the letter into my pocket and grabbed my coat hanging by the side door. "I'll be right back." I muttered before making my way out the door, completely missing the telling look that passed between my mother and older sister.
I stood in the park, pacing back and forth in front of the old wooden gazebo, and felt like a moron the entire time.
Maybe this was one of my best friends little jokes. When we were younger he used to find anything, and I do mean anything, to mess with me. And since he knew my weakness was my incessant curiosity, it wasn't a hardship. I had never quite grasped the saying curiosity killed the cat and it was always a sure way to push my buttons. And Jake never failed to.
But surely he had grown up from the little dweeb he used to be in elementary school. I mean, he was in the army for crying out loud. Then again he was still Jake, army or no army.
I shook my head. It still amazed me sometimes to realize that my best friend, whom I had known since we were in diapers, was fighting for our country in a war thousands of miles away. It was fourteen months ago that he left for Iraq, although it felt like so much longer than that. He had joined to army, ready to take on whatever the war threw at him.
And even thousands of miles away, he was still able to mess with my head.
I threw my hands up in frustration, ready to just give up and go home. "Wait until he gets home, I'm going to kick his ass… making me stand around in a park for some fake package…" I muttered to myself, not caring about the strange looks I was earning from the people walking by.
"Still crazy enough to talk to yourself, I see."
I jumped sharply at the deep, amused voice from behind me. A voice I hadn't heard in over a year. I spun around, and when my eyes locked on the familiar cerulean orbs, the paper slipped like water through my suddenly weak fingers.
There, not even five feet away from me, was my best friend.
His tall frame was garbed in his government issued green and white ACU's, and his dark brown hair was covered by a black beret with his military insignia on the front. It looked like he had lost a bunch of weight, only to be replaced by pure muscle. His posture was rim rod straight, his blue eyes smiling, and there was a large grin on his face. He looked older, his eyes wiser and more troubled. He looked so different and yet the same as he had when he had left fourteen months ago.
"Oh, my god." I breathed in amazement, my shocked eyes never straying from my best friend.
"Surprise, Kate." A shiver raced down my spine at the sound of his voice again.
I stared, realization dawning on me. "You're the package?" I asked stupidly.
He chuckled, walking closer to me. "I never said it was a package."
"What are you doing here?" I couldn't help but ask.
He shrugged. "They sent me home early."
I gaped. "Why?"
He rolled his eyes. "You haven't seen me in fourteen months, and the first thing you do is hassle me with the Spanish inquisition." he joked.
Realizing that I was kind of interrogating him, I shook off the shock and the pleasure finally sunk in. I let out a very uncharacteristic squeal and jumped on him.
He laughed and caught me, pulling me into a tight hug. "That's more like it."
I held onto my best friend's hand as I dragged him into the house. "Mom, Heather! You two are never going to believe who's here!" I yelled as I pulled Jake into the kitchen.
I stopped short at the sight of my mother and sister, standing by the table, grinning like Cheshire cats. I looked between the two of them suspiciously, and then spun around to look at my best friend only to find him trying to hide a smirk.
And failing miserably.
I huffed and turned back to my traitorous mother and sister. "You both knew he was coming home, didn't you?" I asked accusingly.
Heather grinned. "Of course we did!"
My mother cast Heather a long look, and turned back to me with a shrug "What your sister means is that, yes, we helped Jake arrange things a bit. He wrote us a few weeks back as soon as he found out that he was coming home earlier than planned and, well, we all thought it would be a wonderful surprise, we couldn't help ourselves." She smiled. "After all, it was so easy to see how much you two missed each other."
For a reason unknown to me, I blushed. Embarrassed, I folded my arms across my chest indignantly. "Well, I'm glad you three had this all planned out, although I was clearly going crazy for the past four days trying to figure out what his stupid cryptic letter meant."
Jake nudged me with his shoulder. "It was my idea, really. I knew it would drive you a little insane." He grinned, and I rolled my eyes not being able to pretend to be angry anymore.
My mother merely rolled her eyes and hurried over to Jake. "Oh, honey, it's so good to see you. We missed you so much." Jake accepted the hug, wrapping his large arms around my mother's small frame.
I smiled softly. Jake was like a son to my mom and I knew Jake thought of my mom as his second mother. Heather nudged me, and I tore my eyes away from my best friend to look at her. She nodded toward Jake, and mouthed 'wow' with a grin. It was so true; I didn't even bother denying it since it would be very obvious I was lying anyway.
He looked amazing.
Not that he hadn't before he left, but now… just, wow. I blushed at my thoughts and rolled my eyes at my sister for good measure.
Heather merely grinned and walked over to Jake, taking her turn to hug him tightly. "It's great that you're home Jake. We missed you."
And that was so true, too.
Apparently I was the only one who didn't know that Jake was coming home today. His family had not only known that he was arriving ahead of time, but had already seen him, and apparently was also in on the whole 'trick-Kate-into-believing-she's-going-insane' deal, as well.
I rolled my eyes to myself as I followed Jake into his kitchen. His mother, Molly, was sitting at the kitchen table with the phone pressed to her ear.
"I'm not sure how many people are coming. Do you think they'll be enough food?" she whispered, oblivious to the two of us standing in the doorway.
I looked at Jake and saw the suspicion in his eyes. I felt better instantly. Not so much fun to be out the loop is it? I thought to myself cheekily, although I had no idea what Molly was going on about on the phone either.
"Well, no I don't think he has any idea." Molly continued. "Yes, I'll see you later. Don't forget the candles." Molly added before hanging up the phone. She got up from her seat and turned around, gasping at the sight of us. "How long have you two been standing there?" she asked.
Jake crossed his arms over his chest. "Long enough to know you're up to something."
She threw her hands up with a sigh. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Well, there goes the surprise." She huffed.
Jake shook his head. "You're not really throwing a surprise party for me are you?"
"Well, it's not a surprise party anymore. You took care of the surprise!"
"Really, mom. It's not necessary-"
She cut him off. "Nonsense. My baby boy came back from the army today. Of course I'm going to throw him a welcome home party."
"Well he really doesn't see the point."
"Well that's just too bad for him."
I pursed my lips. "Does anyone else find it odd that you two are talking in the third person?"
Molly rolled her eyes and turned back toward Jake, ignoring my sarcasm. I shrugged, used to it by now, and made my way toward the fridge to grab a bottle of water. Molly turned back to her son, pointing a finger at him. "The party is nonnegotiable, so you just be quiet and take it. And you," she turned toward me, aiming her thin finger in my direction. "Keep him out of the house until…" she glanced down at her watch, "about four o'clock. And when you get here, the both of you better look surprised. Or else." She warned.
I rolled my eyes and Jake smiled crookedly. "Yes ma'am." He said.
My ebony hair was sprawled out, contrasting strongly against the bright green grass. My eyes were closed, and the bright sun caused a yellow glow to cast behind my closed lids. I felt content, stretched out on the hard ground, with the light breeze ruffling my hair and clothes slightly.
We had gone to the park after being kicked out by his mother, the place where we always used to hang out before he had left. We had spent the entire time talking about everything, just trying to account for the missed time between us. He told me what his life was like in Iraq, and even though I already knew from his letters, it was different being told about it in person; almost like hearing about it for the first time. And then I told him what I had been doing with my life while he was away.
The hours seemed to pass by in a flash and finally, exhausted from the constant talking, we relaxed into the grass, settling into a comfortable silence.
My skin tingled with that feeling of being watched and I smiled slowly, keeping my eyes closed. "Stop staring at me."
Jake chuckled beside me. "I can't help it. You look so different."
I turned my head, opening my eyes to stare at him disbelievingly. He was lying on his side, his head propped on his elbow. "I look different?" I laughed and shook my head. "Have you looked in the mirror lately?"
He rolled so he was lying on his back to look up at the sky. "I don't look that different." He disagreed.
I scoffed. "Right, and I'm the Queen of Egypt."
He laughed and turned his head to the side, so his blue eyes were focused on me once more. "I missed you, Kate." He said suddenly, as if just realizing it.
I smiled softly, slightly self-conscious. "I missed you too, Jake."
We both looked at each other, without saying anything for a while. After a few more minutes of silence, I looked away, feeling a blush creep onto my face. I hopped up off the ground and walked toward the swings. He followed a minute later. I plopped down on the swing, and surveyed the park. It looked pretty much the same as it had when he had went there as kids. Jake went behind me, and pushed the swing gently. I smiled and lifted my feet off the ground letting myself sway back and forth.
"Do you remember when we used to come here whenever our parents would do something to piss us off?" He asked.
I chuckled. "We both used to get so angry. This was kind of like our secret place. They never came here."
He gave the swing another push. "Yeah, we would sneak out here and wish that we were grown up so that they couldn't tell us what to do." I smiled nostalgically but said nothing.
After a few minutes I finally spoke, "It's kind of funny, you know." I leaned back in the swing, making myself go faster in the swing.
"What is?" he asked.
"How you spend your whole childhood wishing you were grown up, and the rest of your life wishing you could go back…"
"Do you wish you could go back to being a kid?" He asked.
I shrugged. "Sometimes. Being an adult comes with too many responsibilities and disappointments. When you're a kid… yeah, you have responsibilities and disappointments, but they don't seem as big as they do when you're older."
"Tell me about it."
I tilted my head to the side, about to ask him what he meant. But before I could, he glanced down at his watch.
"We should probably get back." He hopped off of the swing and held out a hand to me. The sad look on his face was replaced with his usual crooked smile, and I allowed him to pull me to my feet.
"Time to act surprised." He said, and pulled me back toward the house.
The house was packed with people.
Some I knew well and some I merely knew by face from around the neighborhood. But each and every one of them was ecstatic to see Jake. And each one hugged, patted, and all but kissed him to death. I watched for about an hour as he was passed from one person to the next.
I made small talk with a few of the guests but for some reason my eyes kept straying back toward Jake, who was looking more and more uncomfortable by the second. Finally I watched as he disengaged himself from his neighbor, who had been chewing his ear off for the past twenty minutes, and walked toward the kitchen.
"What's wrong with Jake?" Heather asked.
I frowned, my eyes following his tall figure as he disappeared into the kitchen. "I don't know." I answered and after a few minutes, I followed after him.
I walked into the kitchen silently and paused at the sight before me. Jake was standing with his arms braced against the kitchen sink, and his head bowed down as he stared at the floor. He looked like he was taking slow, deep breaths to steady himself and my worry increased.
"Hey." I said softly.
Jake glanced up sharply at the sound of my voice. When he realized who it was, his shoulders relaxed some and he managed a small smile. "Hi."
I walked more into the kitchen. "Are you okay?"
He stood up straight and moved his shoulders in a careless shrug. "Why wouldn't I be?"
I merely tilted my head to the side.
He sighed. "I'm fine, really. There are just a lot of people in there, I needed some air." I nodded slowly. He cleared his throat. "Well I better get back to the party." He said and made his way back into the living room.
Seeing my chance to get out of the madness, I quickly changed into my bikini, and made my way out toward the pool. I was the only one crazy enough to go in the water at this time of the year.
Everyone knew that by late August, our pool was like an ice cube since we had no heater. But that never kept me out. I jumped in, ignoring the stab of icy tingles that shot through my body from the cold water. I swam around to warm myself up for I didn't know how long.
And after awhile I leaned back to float, letting the density of the water hold my body up. I let my mind wander. Maybe Jake had developed a case of claustrophobia. That was the only reasonable conclusion I could come up with to explain his odd behavior. Whatever it was though, he definitely looked shaken up. And I didn't like it.
Pulling me from my thoughts, I heard a muffled voice ask, "How's the water?" and I allowed myself to float upward to see who it was. Jake, speak of the devil, stood with his arms folded on the wall of the pool, a smile on his face.
"Why don't you come in and see for yourself?" I asked, avoiding the question.
He grinned. "That cold, huh?"
I laughed. "I didn't say that."
"You didn't say it was warm either. I know you too well Kate."
It was so true, I didn't even bother to deny it. Fourteen months away or not, no one knew me better than Jake.
I tilted my head to the side. "Are you too scared of the cold water, Jake?" I quipped.
He narrowed his eyes, just as I knew he would. "Look at you, big tough man acting like a little girl." I continued.
His eyebrow shot up. "A girl?" he asked, his voice low in warning.
I grinned cheekily, not at all afraid, and nodded in affirmative, although he looked nothing like a girl at the moment. He had stripped off his t-shirt at some point, and the months of physical training definitely seemed to have paid off. Although he had been by no means out of shape before he left for the army, now his muscles were sharply defined, his skin toned a golden bronze. I also noticed a few scars that were never on his arms and chest before.
"I'll show you who the girl is…" he muttered and I grinned as he climbed up the ladder, in nothing but ragged cutoff shorts. I shifted in the water, waiting as he stood on the top step, trying desperately to keep my eyes on his face instead of his sinfully toned body. For some reason, I was having a hard time.
The water lapped against his feet and he let out a low hiss, finally causing my eyes to snap up to his. "Jesus, its freezing!"
I laughed loudly, glad for the distraction. "Oh, quit being such a wimp." I flicked the water gently and a few drops of icy water landed on his chest. He sucked in a breath, and I watched in amazement as his abdominal muscles tensed up from the cold. He said nothing though and instead glanced down at his chest. When he looked back up, his eyes were narrowed, a playful glint in the blue irises.
"I suppose you know," he said slowly. "that this means war."
Before I could dodge out of the way, he jumped into the water and swam toward me faster than I thought possible. To my embarrassment I squealed, yes like a pig, as I attempted to swim away. But to no avail. His hand grasped my ankle and pulled me toward him and, before I knew it, I was locked in his arms. My hands came up automatically to brace against his shoulders as his arms circled my waist.
"Now," he said, "who were you calling a girl?"
As I looked up at him, my mind blanked. I couldn't think of any sane person who would ever compare him to a girl, for he seemed very, very male at the moment. And, for some reason, I was hyper-aware of that fact as my hands braced against the muscles in his shoulders and my body pressed against his hard torso.
No, he was definitely, by no means, a girl.
Remembering I hadn't answered, I flushed in embarrassment. I narrowed my eyes to hide that fact. "I'm not afraid of you." I said firmly.
He grinned, and I knew that nothing good would come out of that. "Oh really?" he asked. Before I could respond, his grip tightened around my waist and he lifted me from the water.
"No!" I squealed again, wrapping my arms around his neck to keep me firmly in the water.
"What happened, I thought you weren't afraid of me?" He said mockingly.
I glared. "I'm not afraid of you, I'm more worried about being thrown ten feet in the air." I said as I tried to wiggle out of his grasp. His arms merely tightened around me. "Jake," I whined. "Be nice."
He laughed. "This coming from the girl who called me numerous unfriendly names?" he asked, but his arms loosened so that he was merely holding onto me instead of gearing up to fling me. "That wasn't very nice." He admonished.
I laughed and my legs came up unconsciously to circle his waist. "I meant it all in the nicest possible way."
He rolled his eyes. "Sure. You just don't want to do a belly flop."
I grinned. "That too…" I admitted.
"Hey you two!" we both turned at the sound of Heather's voice. She stood a few feet from the pool, a grin on her face. "The foods ready, quit groping each other."
Only then did I realized that he still had his arms around me and that, to my horrifying embarrassment, my legs had somehow encircled his waist. I flushed.
How did I keep getting myself in these situations?
We both climbed out of the pool, shivering. The cool breeze that rustled the trees didn't help our already icy skin and I reached hastily for a towel that was thrown over a lawn chair, but Jake beat me to it.
I saw his eyes scan my scantily clad body, lingering in places I was shocked to see his eyes linger on, and I paused. Did he really just do what I think he did? I asked myself silently. But before I could contemplate the matter too much, he held the towel open for me, and I stopped, unsure of what to do.
I mentally rolled my eyes at myself. "Thanks." I murmured and went to grab the towel from him, but he merely held it open wider.
I stared in confusion and he rolled his eyes at me. "Did you want to turn into a popsicle?"
I flushed and turned around to allow him to wrap the towel around my frozen body. I paused when I felt his fingers linger on my arms, but before I knew it he was already reaching for a towel for himself.
I had to be imagining things.
But I quickly hurried off into the kitchen anyway, muttering something about helping with the food.
When I was safely in the kitchen and away from my best friend, I let out a long breath. What the hell was that all about? I wondered. But before I could think too much on it, Heather strolled over to me, shoving a bowl of pasta salad in my hand.
I followed her out onto the deck, and placed the bowl down on the already filled table. Apparently, I wasn't as safe as I thought I was I realized quickly once I caught the look on my sister's face.
Once she had placed the bowl she was carrying down, she walked over to me and nudged me in the arm. "So I guess his looks aren't the only thing that's changed, huh?" She asked, a knowing lilt to her voice.
I frowned. "What are you talking about?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh come on Kate. Ignorance doesn't suit you; don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about." She gestured over to Jake, who was busy talking to an old man from our neighborhood. "You two can't keep your eyes off each other." She said.
I laughed to shrug off what she was saying, but I could feel my face begin to flush again. "And?" I asked, a bit defensively. "We're best friends and we haven't seen each other for almost a year, of course we're going to look at each other."
She chuckled. "Yeah, well there's looking and then there's looking." It was hard to miss the emphasis on the last word and I rolled my eyes at the implication.
Sure maybe I had noticed the changes in his… physique. But I wasn't looking at Jake. He's my best friend. I looked at him like I would a brother… okay, maybe not a brother because, yeah, then I would be leading into incestuous territory and that's just gross- I stopped my train of thought, realizing I was getting way off track.
Okay, so maybe we had looked at each other once or twice since he's been back… but, her accusations were ridiculous all the same. I glanced up to see Heather grinning knowingly at me and I glared in return.
She merely shrugged, "Things have changed. You better start realizing it, girl."
I sputtered, but before I could protest she had already sauntered away, leaving me with a million things to think about.
A.N: Okay, so originally this was only going to be a one-shot. But then I realized that if I left it as that, it would have been freakishly long and I doubt people would have stuck around to read until the end. So, as a result, it is now a two-shot. The second part of which I will post in about 15-20 minutes. So if you guys enjoy this, keep your eyes open for the next, and final, part to it. I hope you like it. Review and let me know what you thought! : )