Road Trip:

"Road trip!" We screamed before breaking out into a fit of laughs once we reached the bottom of the stairs that led from the dorms. Summer break was finally here. No research papers, no annoying professors, no mysterious cafeteria food, no early morning classes – summer was here and it was going to be perfect. Before heading down to visit my brother, my dorm buddies and I were headed out for a three week road trip to the coast to enjoy the sun and get a tan. Nothing could mess this up for me.

The car had already been packed the night before. None of us had slept last night, due to our readily discussing all the things we planned on doing. Well, my friends were discussing their plans, I was sitting and listening and imagining mine. I'm not normally the most outgoing of people, but I jumped at the chance to go on a road trip. Nothing like a change in scenery to make you appreciate all that's around you.

We checked the contents of the trunk of the car. All three of us had a suitcase with enough clothes to last us for a while. There were going to be laundromats in every city, so we would be able to wash our clothes. We'd all brought enough cash to pay for anything we readily had to buy, and plastic for when we booked into the hotels. The back of the car was full of random things we had thrown in there: cameras, music players, pillows, blankets, popcorn, giant sunglasses, and a bag of marshmallows littered the backseat.

"I thought the day would never come," my friend Angie exasperated as she closed the trunk of the car and slung her long, straight blonde hair over her shoulder. She hid her blue eyes behind a pair of sunglasses, even though the sky was overcast and sunglasses weren't really a necessity.

"Tell me about it!" screamed Wendy as she hugged me just to hug something and show her excitement. "Geez Cici, lighten up girl." She pulled herself away from me and flicked her short bottle black hair out of her face. She stared at me with her silver eyes, trying to read my expression. I smiled, knowing I was excited about the trip. It would be an adventure, and a bigger one than I'd ever embarked on outside the pages of a good book.

"Something's up, Angie," Wendy nodded as she continued to stare at me. "Cici here is hiding something."

"I'm not hiding anything," I defended.

"Bag check," Angie stated as she sauntered up to me and held out her hand.

"No way!"

"Give it to me," I could see her eyebrows rise from behind the glasses. There it was; I'd lost the battle.

I slung off my white hobo bag and reluctantly handed it to her. She zipped it open and found the incriminating evidence. A book. Not just any book, a 550 page copy of Frank Peretti's The Oath.

"What's this?" Wendy teased, as she took the book from Angie and looked at the forbidden object.

"I know, I know. It's a book! I started it last night and couldn't put it down. It's only 550 pages," I stuck out my bottom lip. They both opened their mouths to say something before we were interrupted by a honking from another car.

"Did you run out of gas already?!" said a teasing male voice. I knew the voice, and felt shivers run up my spine as he spoke. Blake Edwards.

I turned to see him in all his pompous glory sitting in the passenger seat of a silver convertible, smiling at us like we were a couple of dumb animals he could get a rouse out of. Him and his condescending ways. Him and his cocky attitude thinking he was so much better than anyone else because he had muscles, green eyes, and thick dark hair that every girl on campus wanted to run their hands through. Every girl on campus except for me that is. I'd have sooner taken a fire extinguisher and thrown it as his head than actually touch that thing. Never would I forgive him for all the embarrassment he'd caused me.

It wasn't as if the hate thing was only one sided either. Ever since the first day of freshman year, I'd made it my life's goal to make sure he was miserable. I wasn't succeeding very much, but I knew he hated me. After all, it damages a guy's image if he can't get every girl to fall at his feet. I would forever be that thorn in his side.

"Derek!" screamed Wendy as she ran over to the driver's side of the convertible and made out with the blond sitting in the driver's seat. It didn't look like it was that successful, due to the car door blocking them, and his seatbelt keeping him restrained against the seat. Blake, however, unbuckled his seat belt and jumped over the door before sauntering up to me and Angie.

"Ready for some fun?"

I looked at Angie questioningly. She read my gaze immediately.

"It was Wendy's idea," she held her hands up in surrender. I stared over at Wendy who was still…busy. I turned back to Angie, who was now holding my book and bag, and took them from her, brushing past Blake and crawling into the back of the car, trying my best to get comfortable with all the junk cluttering my designated seating space.

I couldn't hear the conversation going on outside; but from the body language Angie was sending, I knew she was flirting with Blake. She was twisting a lock of her blonde hair, and smiling before breaking out into a high pitched laugh at something he said. I rolled my eyes, why was the female species so pathetic?!

The car door opened, and I felt the car drop a little as someone sat down. I peered over the book to see Blake grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. His presence in the car unnerved me and I couldn't help but feel my jaw tighten.

"What?" I questioned as I lowered my book and stared him down. "Am I going to be super glued to something again?"

"Never will let that go, huh?"

"Nope," I smiled condescendingly as I shook my head.

There it was: the reason I hated Blake Edwards. First day of freshman year he put superglue on my chair, and I was stuck in it the whole class period. I couldn't shift positions; I couldn't get out of my seat. I was stuck in the chair. Eventually, I was able to get the professor's attention and explain my predicament. He got everyone out of the classroom, and I had to slip myself out of my pants and wrap myself in a sweater to get out of the room with some dignity still intact. Blake had to be right outside the door ready to make some stupid comment and make me the absolute laughing stock of the entire class for the rest of the year.

"Oh well. If it gets you out of your pants again, I might consider it. After all, who wouldn't want a look at those legs?"

I was boiling with anger and could feel my grip tighten around the book. In any second I was going to lunge at him and scratch out his corneas so he wouldn't be able to see anyone's legs or anything for that matter, ever again.

"Okay lovebirds, ready to hit the road?" Wendy asked as she stuck her head through an opened door. I almost hurled at the term lovebirds. I'd sooner skydive than have to nuzzle next to Edwards. And with my paralyzing phobia of heights, that's a pretty big deal.

"We'll follow you," Wendy addressed Blake as he got out of the driver's seat. Wendy was the only one I knew who didn't fall for any of Blake's talk. Mainly because she was taken by his best friend, Derek, a tall and muscular blond with dark brown eyes and an alluringly deep voice.

"Sounds like a plan," he smiled as he pulled on a pair of sunglasses. "See you soon, legs." He waved at me, and I once again felt my blood pressure surge. If I had the guts I would march right up to him and smack that stupidly smug grin off his face before completely rearranging his nose.

"Since when are we going with the boys?" I asked once Wendy had slipped into the driver's seat and revved the engine.

"Well, I was talking to Derek about our trip, and he suggested we all go together. We won't stay in the same rooms of course, but we'll travel the same road, see the same sights and spend time together."

"Wait, I have to endure the next three weeks with Blake constantly in my presence?"

"You make it sound like a bad thing," Wendy chuckled. "I mean, if he was ugly I would understand. But he has that dark hair and dark eyes, and that totally sexy husky voice thing going for him and—"

"Need we remind you of your boyfriend?" Angie giggled.

"Oh believe me," I rolled my eyes. "She hasn't forgotten about him. That's nothing compared to the details she goes into about Derek." I could see in the rearview mirror that Wendy's cheeks had reddened a little.

"He's not so bad, Cici." Wendy addressed as we began following the silver convertible. "Maybe if you got over the whole superglue thing you guys could be civil to one another."

"Oh yeah. I could really be civil with Edwards. If he's not embarrassing me in front of the entire student population, he's busy being a jackass with his stupid sarcasm and constant perverted innuendos."

"It's not like you've made it easy for him either." Angie continued.

"Oh yeah, because turning him in for illegal drug possession makes me the bad guy!"

"Cigarettes aren't illegal drugs." Angie quipped.

"No, but it's not welcome on the school campus and could result in being kicked out of the school. We all agreed to those terms when we signed up for it. And I didn't turn him in; I threatened to do so unless he got rid of them. Either way, I'm not going to be an accomplice to his crime because then I would also be liable, and in a court system—"

"Okay," Wendy interrupted the debate I was having with Angie. "We're supposed to be on summer break. If you start any of that Pre-law jargon on this ride, I'm going to make you ride with the boys, Ciara." I knew she was serious if she was using my full name. "So what Blake did was wrong, we all know that. But let bygones be bygones, Cici. If you allow him too, Blake will destroy this whole trip for you just by his being here with us. Enjoy yourself and let the past stay in the past. Deal?"

I sighed knowing she was right. The only person who would be taking offense would be me. And if I let him, Blake would ruin the trip for me just by being there. I wouldn't let him do that to me. "Okay," I agreed.

"Good. Now, let's get this show on the road."

~*~

After four hours of driving, three CD's, ten embarrassing stories and 100 pages later, we were finally stopping at a rest stop. The only problem was my legs had gone numb thanks to their being shoved into the backseat of the car to share the minimal space with an abnormal pile of clutter. There was no way Angie was sitting in the front again.

After I managed to extricate myself from the back seat, I hobbled over to a bench and sat down to get some blood circulating again. Being alone on a bench would have been nice; instead, Blake had to drop by just to make sure I hadn't forgotten about him. "Just relax," I told myself. "He's not going to ruin the trip for you; you're going to have a good time."

"Hey legs," he began with his newfound nickname for me, "are your legs numb?" He began to laugh at his pathetic attempt at a joke.

"Ha ha, aren't we the comedian."

"Do you always have to be so serious?!"

The question came out of nowhere. I'd expected some sarcastic comment, but his tone and the look in his eyes as he scanned my face told me it was anything but a joke. He was seriously asking a question: a question I didn't have an answer for.

"Yeah," I stated somewhat weakly. "Yeah, I do."

"Why come on a trip that's supposed to be fun if you're going to keep your nose buried in a book? School is over for the year. Let loose and have a good time!" he spoke as he grabbed a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He took a puff before holding it between his fingers and looking around.

"Is that your idea of a good time?" I asked, gesturing to the object in his hand.

He coughed. "Yeah. You gonna turn me in again?"

"You're not on school property anymore. Technically it's not a crime."

"Oh yeah, I forgot I was in the presence of a saint," he mocked, bowing.

"You want me to lighten up? Get rid of the cigarette."

"Please, you can't stop me from what I choose to do."

"Exactly. So let's agree to leave each other alone. I don't like the fact that you're here, and you don't like it that I'm here either, but let's be civil and pretend neither of us really exist and this should go fairly well. Deal?"

"Suit yourself," he shrugged before flicking the ash off into the grass, taking another puff proceeded by another cough.

I got up from the table, and walked back to the car, eager to get onto the next stretch of road. My blood was definitely flowing again. I made sure to grab the passenger's seat so I wouldn't be cramped in the back this time. I opened my book and began to read the remaining pages.

Angie came pounding on the window ten minutes later when she realized I'd stolen her seat. I merely smiled at her before gesturing towards the empty back. She huffed and walked around. I heard the commotion as she rearranged the backseat to give herself some extra room. The next few hours were definitely going to be better than the previous ones.

After another three hours of driving, we took an exit from the interstate followed by a few more roads to get to a small museum dedicated entirely too Egyptian artifacts and cultures. Derek was a history major and loved to study Egyptian cultures most of all. Wendy wasn't too ecstatic about going to the museum, as it served as a reminder the road trip would be that last she'd see of him until September when he came back from an archaeological dig in Egypt. But we were all slightly intrigued, and entered the museum ready for some leg stretching and new information.

Halfway through the tour, I caught someone looking over at Angie. I knew she noticed it to, because she gave me the signal by wiggling her ear. I always found it funny how she could get attention like that. I mean, I wasn't jealous or anything like that, I was just entertained by the way men seemed to behave when she was in sight.

"Pharaohs were often buried with many of their possessions and all their wives and concubines," the tour guide was informing us.

"Lucky bastard," I heard Blake whisper under his breath, and couldn't help but chuckle a little. He looked over me with a questioning look on his face. I only rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the tour guide.

"The Egyptians believed that whatever was buried with them would also be with them in the afterlife." The tour guide continued to speak on the mummification process which wasn't really anything I was interested in. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Blake looking like he was going to lose his lunch, and desperately searching for a place to do so. I had to inwardly laugh, it was sort of cute the way he looked so helpless and frantic. Did I just suggest that Blake was cute? I quickly shook my head to rid it of the forbidden thoughts.

The tour continued with the occasional people asking the occasional questions. The guy who'd been spying out Angie was now closer to her, and was most likely going to ask her for her number once the tour guide was done speaking. I walked to where she could see me from her peripheral vision and waited for a 'bail me out' signal. She saw me, but didn't make any sort of hand motion, and so I left her alone. Would be interesting to see how this one turned out.

At the end of the tour, we arrived to a small area where you could buy replicas of artifacts, books, magazine subscriptions, and anything else that related to Egypt. I was looking at the key chains, particularly interested in the one which looked like a miniature replication of King Tutankhamen's sarcophagus. I wasn't interested in buying it, but the design was definitely well done.

I walked around a little more and spied Angie receiving a phone number from the same guy who had been spying on her earlier.

"You know," I was startled by a voice from behind, "if you learned to lighten up every once in a while, and possibly smile, people might think you more approachable."

"And why would I want to make myself more approachable?" I bit back as I maneuvered around him and began to walk away.

"No one can live in a shell forever Ciara."

I turned around and stared him down. For the second time that day he'd poked my armor in the wrong way. "And what gives you the right to tell me what I can and cannot do? You don't know anything about me, Edwards, and we already agreed to pretend that neither of us existed, so go back to your life and leave mine alone."

"Your favorite color is green."

"Lucky guess."

"You always wear your hair in a bun and keep a choker tied around your neck," he said taking a step towards me.

"Aren't we observant."

"You have an extremely large fetish for books, and you're deathly afraid of heights." He proceeded to take more steps towards me before cocking his head to the side and staring at me. "I don't know anything about you?"

"So you know some random facts, congratulations." I stated, keeping my glare level and my mouth in a straight line. It was a look I'd spent years perfecting, and had become the permanent state of my face.

"Why are you so damn protective all the time?"

"Why do you try to act like nothing matters?" I bit back, tired of having my buttons pushed.

He seemed to reel for a moment. He obviously hadn't expected that as my answer. "Forget it," he whispered, his voice having a fresh rasp to it.

"I'm not the only one in a shell. Mine is just more noticeable, because I'm not disguising it."

"No, you're not in a shell," he responded. "You're in one of these," he gestured as he lifted a key chain to my line of vision, a replication of King Tutankhamen's sarcophagus. "Only difference is, your body isn't dead yet."

With that, he walked away and headed towards the register so he could pay for his trinket. I stood there trying to regain composure after his few words. "I'm fine in my shell," I consoled myself, as I tried not to let tears form in my eyes. "And you have no right to try and break it down."

"I got his number," Angie came over to me and waved a piece of paper in front of my face.

I quickly rid my mind of any previous emotions and focused on her and her happiness. "Congratulations Angie. Think you might go out with this one?"

"I don't know," she said, fiddling with the paper between her hands. "I mean, he's pretty good looking. Dark skin, dark eyes, deep voice, clear speech, nice teeth. And he seemed pretty into the history stuff that the tour guide was going on about, so he seems sorta smart. I don't know yet Cici."

"Well, if you do, he's a very lucky guy."

"Aw," she said, pulling me into a hug. I hugged her back, feeling a sort of emptiness creep inside me. She pulled back. "Wendy says to meet her out by the car. There's a motel up the road that you pay by the night, instead of by the hour. She's tired, and says she needs her rest, so we're gonna check in early. She doesn't feel like driving another two hours tonight."

"Sounds good," I smiled as we headed out of the museum.

~*~

The motel wasn't the cleanest of places, but it would serve our purpose as a place to sleep and reenergize for tomorrow. We opened the door and peered into a small room, with one queen sized bed, a television set and a bathroom. We'd all fit in there, but not all three of us on the bed. I volunteered to take the floor on account that I rode shotgun tomorrow in the car. Angie agreed, saying sleeping on a bed was better than sleeping on the floor. I begged to differ. I'd rather sleep on a floor where people's feet have been than on a bed where I don't know what's been in there.

Wendy went out with Derek to get some food, and Angie was flipping through the channels on the TV trying to find something to watch amidst the static and snow that seemed to consume every channel. I tried reading, but couldn't quite do so with the distracting noise of the television set. So I decided to join Angie in her quest to find something decent and decipherable to watch. We settled for cartoons.

Wendy came in after the first hour of cartoons was finished, holding a bag from a Chinese takeout stop. She sat down on the bed and we poured the cartons of rice and chicken and broccoli into a giant bowl we'd brought with us before all digging into the food.

"So what's on the agenda for tomorrow?" Angie asked as she stuck another piece of chicken into her mouth.

"We're not on any type of schedule, but we've just got a lot more driving to do. Chances are we'll be on dirt road for most of tomorrow because of the area we have to cover, but we should be fine. Just wear light clothes for tomorrow because it's going to be hot."

We all listened to the advice and picked out our clothes for the journey tomorrow. We decided to get an early night so we could have an early start in the morning. My companions managed to get to sleep, or at least it sounded like it. Their relaxed breathing pattern and the slight snore coming from Wendy were enough evidence to convince me they were asleep. I tried to get to sleep, I honestly did. The floor wasn't that hard, but I had Blake's voice ringing through my head for most of the night. How dare he tell me that I was in a shell, and then tell me I couldn't live in it? What gave him the right to tell me who I was and what I could and couldn't do?! The longer I tried to sleep, the more frustrated I became. I thought it was just Blake's presence that was going to unnerve me, but now I had to deal with what he said too! This was going to be a long three weeks.

~*~

Due to my lack of sleep the night before, I managed to doze a bit in the car. I didn't bother trying to read my book. There were only 20 pages left, and I needed those pages to get me out of any awkward moments that might be headed my way in the future. I could always read the book again, but I don't think anyone would really buy it and leave me alone. Maybe I'd buy another book once I got away from my two surveillance cameras.

We were on the dirt road Wendy had mentioned the night before, and even with the air conditioning, the car was still hot. We had rolled the windows down, but I could feel my clothes and limbs sticking to me due to the sweat. We stopped at a gas station to stretch our legs and refuel before heading back on the road. Derek and Blake were following us today, so they pulled up and also filled up their car.

"Looks like legs decided to make an appearance today," Blake smirked as he sauntered towards me and leaned up against the side of the car next to me.

Wendy had said to wear light clothes, and I had obeyed her advice opting for a pair of short jeans, flip-flops, and white tank top with a giant black butterfly wrapping around the side of the shirt. My hair was up in its usual bun, and the choker was still around my neck. I had decided to wear some large sunglasses today, as the sun was shining full force thanks to the cloudless sky overhead.

"Take a picture, Edwards. It lasts longer."

"I just might do that. But I'll be having that as a mental picture for the rest of the trip," he smirked as he trailed his eyes along my body. Annoyed, I turned and walked towards the gas station, hoping to find some sort of reading material. I was prepared to take anything. "Nice tattoo." I heard Blake comment.

The tank top! I'd left my tattoo fully exposed for everyone to see today. It wasn't that I was ashamed of it, but I knew Edwards, and I didn't want him to say anything about it that would take away from its significance.

I decided to ignore his last comment and continued walking into the gas station. I glanced around at the shabby place. A fine layer of dust had collected on many of the shelves and the food was probably far past expiration date. Not that it was surprising. We were probably the first people to step into this store, other than the owner, for the past year or so. I couldn't spot any reading material other than an old fishing magazine. Reading that wouldn't satisfy Wendy or Angie. I'd sooner have to buy a coloring book.

Finding that my idea would meet with little success, I headed back to the car. Wendy was finished filling up the tank, and headed inside to pay the man. Angie had stolen the front seat while I was inside. Derek was sitting in the front seat of his convertible, ready to go. Blake was out of sight for the moment, and I couldn't help but smile.

I heard the sound of a camera click and whirled around to see Blake with his phone.

"Did you just take a picture of my legs?" I asked incredulously.

"Hey," he started, raising his hands in surrender. "In all fairness, it was what you said to do."

"Like you actually listen to me."

"That time I did," he smiled smugly as he waved the phone in my face before walking towards the convertible and laughing to himself.

"Relax, Ciara," I told myself. "You can't murder him until there are no witnesses."

Wendy came out and we headed back to the car. Angie had stuck her feet up on the dashboard and had put in a country music CD. The last thing I wanted to listen to right now was country music. I dug into my pocket and pulled out my music player, flooding my ears with some rock that would counteract the country sounds, and hopefully set my mind back into neutral mode. I tried to get comfortable in the backseat, and found that if I spread the blankets out, I had a comfy little area where I could recline if I shifted my angle. I closed my eyes and managed to capture a few moments of slumber that I had missed the night before.

The headphones were pulled out of my ears what seemed like moments later. "Something's wrong," Angie whispered as I opened my eyes and saw steam coming from the front of the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and headed to where Wendy was assessing the engine.

"What happened?" I asked.

She cursed as she closed the hood and turned to me, crossing her arms over her chest as a clear indication she was not happy. "Our engine is overheated. Apparently I was low on coolant and now we don't have any."

"I think the gas station might have had some," Derek said as he walked up to Wendy and put an arm around her as a sign of comfort. He'd obviously heard the last portion of her comment.

"How far away are we?"

"We've been driving for about an hour, so the gas station is an hour back that way, and then an hour here. We're stuck here for the next while."

"Don't worry," Derek said, shaking Wendy a little, "I'll drive back and get some coolant for the car, and we can get back on the road. Simple as that."

Wendy relaxed a little bit and nodded. She may not have been pleased with the circumstances, but we weren't completely helpless.

"Mind if I tag along?" I asked Derek.

"Not a problem," he gestured as he walked towards the car.

I climbed into the backseat of Wendy's car and retrieved my book before heading over to Derek's car and climbing into the front seat, which wasn't occupied by Blake. Wendy and Derek were talking by Wendy's car, obviously trying to get all the minor details sorted out. Derek walked over to the car and leaned on the door.

"You sure you want to go all the way back to the gas station?"

"Positive," I nodded.

"Buckle up then," he smiled as he tapped the door. I obeyed orders, and opened up my book to see if I could finish the last few pages of the story. "She's all yours, Blake." I heard Derek say as the car door opened, and the car sank due to someone's body wait. The engine revved and I peered out of the corner of my eye to see a mop of black hair. I turned towards Wendy's car and saw her, Derek, and Angie waving and smiling at me. I was so going to kill them for this later.

~*~

Twenty minutes into the drive and I was still on the same page. I couldn't believe I had honestly fallen for a trap and ended up in the same car as Blake Edwards. He hadn't said anything to me yet, which could be considered good and bad. I told myself that being in a car that had air conditioning was better than being out in the middle of nowhere with the sun beating down on my head.

"You can drop the act," Blake said.

"What act?" I asked, not daring to look up from my book and trying hard to process the words on the page.

"You're not reading."

"I am too."

"You haven't turned a page since I started driving. Ergo, you're not reading."

"You use the word ergo? "

"Good job, Sherlock."

"Really good stories by the way," I said before turning back to my book. "And for the record, I am reading, but the attempts are unsuccessful. I can't seem to process the words."

"Yeah, I have that effect on people."

"Don't make me hurl."

"Some have said I have that effect too." I couldn't help but let the corners of my mouth turn up a bit at that one. "She smiles!"

"Good job, Sherlock." I rolled my eyes and returned his last insult.

The car came to a stop, but we were nowhere near the gas station. All that one could see was dirt spreading out in every direction. I felt a pull on my hair before it fell onto my shoulders. I turned to glare at Edwards as he held the scrunchy in a tight fist and put his foot on the gas pedal again.

"Give it back."

"Let loose a little, Ciara. You're in a convertible on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Just let your hair down."

I tried to snatch the scrunchy from his hand. "If I let it down, it's gonna blow around in the wind and then I'm going to have to fight with it later to get all the knots out. Now give it back."

"No."

"I'm not asking anymore Blake, I'm telling you. Give it back."

I watched in horror as Blake threw the scrunchy to the side so that we left it in a pile of dust behind us.

"What was that for!?"

"Now you have to let your hair down," he looked at me before turning his eyes back to the road.

Infuriated, I went looking around the front of the car to find something I could throw out the car that was his. I opened the dividing armrest and found his pack of cigarettes. Without a second thought, I grabbed them and chucked them out the open window.

"What the hell!" Blake shouted at me.

"You threw away my scrunchy."

"Geez, that was a scrunchy. It's only your hair and I'm only trying to get you to lighten up."

"And it's only your life I'm saving." I said as I once again stuck my nose into my book, this time having no trouble understanding the words on the page. I didn't get very far though.

"I'm sorry."

"What?!" I said turning to Blake, not believing the words actually came out of his mouth.

"You heard me. I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?"

"Sorry that you have to be such a killjoy all the time."

"That's nice," I rolled my eyes. "I'm sorry you have to be such a jackass."

"So the saint calls people jackasses. Better not let anyone know; they might decide not to make your birthday a public holiday."

"Like I care. I'm not a saint, and never professed to being one."

"Really? What's the worst thing you've ever done? Been late for curfew by five minutes?"

"You don't know me, so stop acting like you do!" I shouted.

"And you think you know me?!"

"I know all I need to know about you."

"And what's that?"

"That you're an arrogant jerk who treats everything like a game. Who wastes his life on pointless parties, stupid games, and deathly habits."

"Oh that's great."

"And the worst part is, you don't even see it. You think that by pretending that pain doesn't exist and that everything's fine that you really do live in an ideal universe."

"And how would you know that?"

"Because you're just like him!"

"Like who?"

I realized I'd suddenly said too much. Damn him for getting my emotions involved and causing me to burst and expose something I didn't want to. "Forget it," I sighed as I turned to stare out the window and shove my emotions back into their seclusion.

"The first time I actually get you to open up about something, you go right back and close yourself up again."

"For a moment you sound like you genuinely care."

"Who's to say I don't? You obviously care if you're so caught up in what I spend my life doing." I stayed silent, knowing part of that was true. I did care about people, even if I didn't like Blake, I still saw him as a person: a person who was wasting his life on something he shouldn't be. I saw in him what I'd seen in my father year after year. And it hurt. "Want to trade information, or are you going to be silent the rest of the trip."

"Trade information?"

"I ask you a question, you ask me one, and we both agree to answer honestly."

"Fine," it was one way to pass the time. "Whose dog tags are those?" I asked, hinting at the chains around his neck. I'd seen him wear them often.

"My brother's."

"Why do you wear them then?"

"I haven't asked a question yet." I sighed. So that's how this was going to go. "Who's CM?"

CM was the tattoo on my shoulder that he had seen earlier. "Carl Mason, my dad."

"Why did you get his initials tattooed on your shoulder?"

"What about my question?"

Blake took in a deep breath. "He was found dead in Iraq. I got the news a week before freshman year started. I wear the dog tags as a reminder of what he fought for and how he would always be my brother."

"I'm sorry." I said, feeling sympathy creep up inside me.

"Me too," he said, clearing his throat a little. "So why the tattoo?"

"My dad died when I was fifteen, leaving me, my mom and my older brother behind. I got a tattoo, just to remind me of who he was."

"Looks like we've both lost someone close to us."

"Yeah. You just deal with the pain differently."

"How so?"

"You act like you're not hurting, while I don't feel anything at all."

"That's bull. You feel something or you wouldn't be crying."

I realized I was crying. Not bawling my eyes out, but there were two tears sitting on my cheeks from where my eyes had betrayed my hard outer shell.

"What do you know? I actually have a heart." I said, wiping the betraying salt water from my face.

Blake gave a snort that sounded more like a stifled laugh. "Ciara got jokes." He turned to me and smiled, and I gave a weak smile in return. "So what's your brother do?"

"I do believe it's my turn to ask a question."

The ride continued like that for miles until we finally reached the gas station once again. Blake decided it would be wise to fill the car up again, taking account for the last bit of gas we'd just driven out. I went inside to find the coolant and was in luck to find a bottle on the sparsely stocked shelves. Blake came in a while later and I gave him the coolant so he could pay while I went back and waited in the car. Blake came out a while later, carrying the coolant in one hand and a pack of cigarettes in the other. He sat in the front seat and stuck the pack into the cup holder in the front. He pulled something out of his jean pocket and held it out for me to take. It was a pack of ponytails.

"So it's not a scrunchy," he shrugged, "but at least you can put your hair up."

I smiled as I took the pack from him and slipped it into my pocket. He gave me a questioning look. "I'm in a convertible in the middle of nowhere. My hair is already knotted, so I might as well leave it down."

"Personally, I think it looks pretty down. It's almost like it's got parts of red mixed in with the brown when the light hits it. So I'm not going to complain." He smiled as he put the car in gear.

"You know, you're slightly bearable when you want to be."

"A compliment from Ciara Mason? I must be dreaming."

"Well wake up because you do have to drive this thing."

The ride back to our friends was pleasant. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face. The wind created by our driving blew my hair in a whirlwind of directions, causing it to slap my neck and face. It felt good, and for a moment, I felt as if I were flying, completely free of the limitations of the ground.

We stopped after a while and Blake reached for the cup holder, removing a cigarette from the pack.

"Sorry, gotta take one of these, and I can't do it in Derek's car or he'll kill me."

I don't know what possessed me, but in one swift motion I stole the cigarette out of his mouth and grabbed the pack as I brought my hand back to me. Blake stared at me, shocked and enraged.

"What the—"

"Don't smoke it." I pleaded.

"What?"

"You said you wore your brother's dog tags as a reminder of what he fought for. He fought for your life, and you're going to throw it away by wasting your breaths busy puffing smoke out of a tube of paper."

"What do you know about it!?"

"What do I know!?" I was livid now. "What do I know?! Wanna know how my dad died, huh? My dad died of lung cancer thanks to an addiction he couldn't break. He smoked every minute of every day. I can't even remember a time I didn't see something in his mouth that wasn't burning. He left me, my mom, and my brother with nothing but a huge debt and no way of income. We lost our house and had to live with our grandparents. My mom worked herself to death as a seamstress while I had to get a job bagging groceries just so we could survive. I hated my father and I wear his initials on my back as a reminder of who he was: someone I never want to be. And you, you're just like him, smoking your life away. My dad was the happy guy at all the parties, acting like nothing ever mattered. He kept himself inside a shell and pretended that there wasn't a problem. None of us even knew he was dying, until he began coughing up blood one day and we had to rush him to the emergency room. He died four weeks later. So don't you tell me that I don't know anything about it. I'm looking at you right now, and all I see is my dad, because that's exactly the road you're headed for if you keep shoving this junk into your system." I threw the cigarettes at him, and opened the car door, needing a way to get away from him so I could control myself again.

I tried to fight the tears. I'd cried for my dad before, but these were new tears. These were the tears I'd kept pent up because I knew that hating my dad wasn't going to make me any better for it. These were the tears I wasn't supposed to cry. I screamed, trying to let out the frustration. The hot tears rolled down my cheek, and try as I would, I couldn't stop them.

"I'm sorry," someone said from behind as they put their hand on my shoulder. I felt slightly calmed by his touch, knowing my anger wasn't at him.

"No, it's my fault. I don't have any right to start interfering in your choices and your life."

"No, no, you're right. It's a habit, or an addiction. I can't break it Ciara." His voice was gentle, almost sad. I turned to him and looked him straight in the eye.

"It's your choice whether to break it or not. But only you can choose that."

"Help me?"

I was stunned by what he asked. "Help you?"

"Well we are on speaking terms now, right?"

"I guess," I shrugged.

"You want me to quit smoking? You really care that much?" I nodded. "Come on," he spoke as he led us back to the car. He reached over and grabbed the pack before throwing it far away into the dusty land. "Can't smoke 'em if I don't got 'em." He smiled at me. I only nodded as we both climbed back into the car and began the continuing journey back to our friends.

~*~

We arrived back at the spot where our friends were waiting and found them in Wendy's car with the windows rolled down and music blasting through the speakers. Upon closer inspection, I found that I was wrong. Only Derek and Wendy were in the car. Angie was lying on a towel in front of Wendy's car, trying to get a tan. I didn't envy the sunburn she would probably have later.

Derek put the coolant in Wendy's car and we were off on the road again. Neither party was particularly happy about the time we lost, but we knew we'd survive it.

"So how'd the trip with Edwards go?" Angie asked as she slipped a shirt on over her bathing suit top and climbed into the back seat.

"We didn't kill each other."

"Obviously," she laughed. "But you're not complaining about it, so I presume it wasn't too bad."

"No, it wasn't too bad."

"You're a whiz with descriptive details," she mocked me.

"It's a gift," I laughed.

"I'd say the trip was really good then," she gestured at me with her head while locking eyes with Wendy who nodded in response.

"What?"

"You laughed, for like, the first time this whole trip. Something must have happened."

"We just talked. Sorta agreed to try not being a pain to one another anymore. He's bearable when he wants to be."

"Sure," Wendy smirked before starting the engine and driving down the dirt road.

Now what was that supposed to mean!

~*~

The first week went by without any major problems. We covered miles on our trip, stopping by the occasional museum or area we thought something interesting might happen. Blake and I continued to get along without any problems. He hadn't bought any cigarettes and instead bought packs of gum, which he was constantly chewing. I found it entertaining to tease him about, and every once in a while, I found myself smiling in his presence. I still wasn't extremely fond of him, but at least he wasn't making it his life's purpose to make the trip miserable for me.

We were in an older part of the current state now, and Wendy and Derek had wanted to stop and get a picture. But not just a picture by a sign or a landmark, a staged picture complete with costumes and sets. We were in the studio busy looking through ideas. Angie said we should all get one done together, but we had yet to decide on a theme.

"How about this one?" Derek said, holding up a picture of a couple dressed in clothes that looked like they belonged to "The Little House on the Prairie" cast.

"Oh yeah, cause I really wanna look like Farmer Brown's wife," Angie rolled her eyes at Derek's lack of sense.

"I say we do this one," Blake said holding up a picture to show Derek, who smirked as he looked at the three of us.

"If you're holding up a picture of a cowboy in a saloon with a bunch of girls dressed in hooker clothes, I'm going to hit you," I warned Blake. Everyone else laughed at my comment.

"Aw," he whined before turning the picture so I could see and confirm my earlier assumption. "But you have the legs for it and everything." He said cocking his head to the side.

"How about I dress up as the cowboy and you wear the hooker outfit?"

"Didn't know you thought of me that way," he laughed.

"Pervert."

"Guilty as charged," he smirked.

"I've got it!" Wendy exclaimed before she quickly ran over to the photographer without even giving us a chance to look at the photo.

We were each handed outfits moments later and forced into separate dressing rooms. I laughed once I saw what I was going to be wearing. Only Wendy would choose this theme.

We all emerged and entered the photo set, eyeing each others' outfits and laughing at how ridiculous we looked. Wendy had chosen a "Jazz Age" theme. All three of us girls were dressed in flapper dresses, complete with feathered headbands, beads, and a cigarette with a large filter. I refused to use the cigarette as a prop. The boys were dressed as mobsters, complete with pinstriped suits and black fedora hats. We looked like we'd gotten lost on our way to a costume party, but had fun with the photos anyway.

After taking our group shots, we changed into our regular clothes and paid for the pictures. The photographer gave Angie a free shot, complete with his phone number on the back of the picture. We all laughed at Angie once we were out of earshot of the photographer. She smiled and laughed with us, but confessed she didn't mind the attention at all.

~*~

Several more days passed and we stopped at another motel. This one was a lot better furnished than the last one. The television wasn't snowy, and actually had a DVD player hooked up to it. The beds looked clean, and we had a shower with hot water. There was a pull-out couch in our room, and I volunteered to sleep there while my friends once again took the bed. However, everyone was in the mood for a movie night, and Blake and I were put on snack and movie duty while the others stayed behind.

I was used to Blake's presence by now, and didn't find it completely repulsive. We had the occasional conversation, although the content was a lot more light-hearted than our previous conversation back on the dusty road. Every once in a while I would laugh at a silly comment or crack a joke of my own. He told me I was starting to lighten up a bit, and it was nice to see. I told him he was sobering up a bit, and it was a refreshing change. We realized we weren't as different as we originally thought.

"What about this one?" Blake asked as he held up a copy of Bambii.

"I don't think that's going to do anything for your manly image if you bring back a copy of a children's classic."

"But it's so sad. His mother dies," he began to fake sob.

"Indeed a tragedy. Let's stick with something that won't make the big boys cry."

He smiled before putting the movie down and scanning for another. "Titanic?"

"Closet romantic?" I teased.

"I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

"What about Iron Man?"

"Comic geek?"

"It's classified as reading material. All I'm saying is, Robert Downy Jr., is definitely sexy in this movie."

"I would comment on that, but I think I'd just sound gay."

"This is so confusing!" I exasperated. "I mean, they could've at least given us a clue as to what they wanted to watch."

"We could just rent a foreign film that they'd have to read. I'm sure that would really make them happy."

"I can just see Angie's face when she realizes she'll have to spend the next hour and forty minutes reading subtitles instead of watching a movie. What about a comedy?"

"Comedy suits everyone."

I smiled once I found what I was looking for. "Master of Disguise." I triumphantly declared.

"Best movie ever."

"Definitely agreeing on that."

"What do you know, we actually agree on something."

"Better write it down, last longer that way." I watched in amusement as he asked the guy at the counter to borrow a pen and proceeded to write on his arm. We paid for our rental and walked out of the store. While we were still in the light of the streetlamps I grabbed Blake's wrist and twisted his arm so I could read what he wrote.

"June 18. Agreed with Cici on something." I shook my head.

"Don't ever say I never listen to you," he smiled.

Everyone back at the motel was up in the boys' room, already waiting to let the party begin. We put in the movie, and were happy to find everyone else excited about the choice. Derek and Wendy snuggled together on the bed while Angie and I sat on the couch. Blake couldn't seem to get comfortable and continued moving around until we had to pause the movie and demand he find a place to sit before we kicked him out. He looked over at me, and his eyes seemed to sparkle with some sort of mischief.

He sat down on the floor by the couch. "Now I can sit by your legs," he winked before he turned around and we continued the movie. I did however manage to give him a little kick in his side, and was satisfied with the small "Ouch!" he emitted.

After the movie was finished, we found that Blake had fallen asleep somewhere in the middle and was presently snoring. His head was resting on my legs though, and I didn't want to wake him up. Not that I cared about his feelings, but we girls came up with a plot to write all over his face with eyeliner and take a picture. I, unfortunately, couldn't do any of the writing, but I had fun anyway. Angie and Wendy wrote random words and shapes all over his face. It was funny that he didn't stir. I know I would have been immediately awake if I felt someone touching me while I slept: I was a very light sleeper.

After deciding it was time to head to our own room, we left. Blake didn't stir when I got up, and now I wished I'd done so earlier just so I could partake in the masterpiece the other girls had created on his face. We arrived back in our room and we took out the camera so I could see the pictures. He looked so peaceful as he slept, even with the whirlwind of writing on his face. I wondered what his reaction would be in the morning.

~*~

Another week went by, and I realized I only had another three days with my friends before I headed down to visit my brother. I was actually calling everyone my friend now, even Blake. After the movie night, he'd made sure to get back at us for the prank we pulled on him. He had pulled me out of bed early the next morning and thrown me into the pool. Angie ended up with food in her hair, and Wendy was left alone after Derek threatened to break Blake's legs if he touched his girlfriend. Blake was deterred: he loved his legs more than he loved getting revenge.

We'd finally made it to the coast, and were going to spend our last few days together spending time at the beach. We decided on a hotel that was a mile from the beach, so the price would be a little lower. Derek had taken Wendy out to some fancy fish restaurant and Angie, Blake, and I were left with getting the accommodations. Blake had requested a room on the fourth floor, so our choices were open to any floor but the fourth one.

While we were waiting for the lady behind the counter to scan our room keys for us, I noticed two guys busy checking Angie out. I nudged her in the back and whispered my find into her ear. She casually turned around to look at me, disguising the fact she was checking out whoever was checking her out.

"Hey there," said a male voice from behind me, and I realized the guys were now here instead of standing by the plant they'd previously been by.

"Hey," Angie flashed them a perfectly white smile. "Summer break?"

"Best time of the year," said another male voice.

I turned around this time to see who was standing behind us. There were two guys, about average height. Both were wearing black muscle shirts, and torn blue jeans. The only distinguishing factor was the one boy had spiked red hair, while the other had light brown hair, gelled into somewhat of a Mohawk.

"Totally agreed," Angie laughed, and I knew from her response that this was someone she would be giving her number too.

"Here are your keys," the lady behind the counter said as she handed the cards to me.

"You're staying at this hotel?" asked red hair.

No duh!

"Yeah, are you?" Angie asked. I was three seconds away from slapping that girl up-side her head. Just because she was a blonde didn't mean she had to act like one.

"Yup. We're room 619."

"Really?! We're number 322."

I was horrified that she had suddenly given our room number out to a few random strangers. Who knows who these guys could be? They might be serial rapists or something just looking for unsuspecting girls on their summer vacation! And we were unsuspecting girls on our summer vacation! Okay, maybe I wasn't completely unsuspecting, but that didn't mean she had to give our room number away!

"I'm Luke," said red head as he held his hand out for Angie to shake.

"Angie," she said, shaking his hand.

"So Angie," he cocked his head to the side and smiled, "ever been to Davy Jones Locker?"

"You mean like, from Pirates of the Caribbean?"

Luke and his friend laughed. "No. It's a restaurant down here."

"Oh," Angie laughed. "No, I haven't been."

"Would you like to go?"

"Sounds like fun," Angie said suggestively. She started twirling a lock of her hair as a sign to me that she was slightly interested in the guy. I scratched an imaginary itch on my arm to show that it was okay. "Sure, I'd love to go."

Luke smiled as she grabbed her purse and followed him out the door. Much to my chagrin, I was left with Mohawk dude, and prayed he would see something he liked and move away from me.

"So what are you going to do tonight?"

"Um," I began, looking for something that might attract his attention long enough for me to make a dash for the elevators. "Probably end up reading before I catch some Z's."

"Sounds slightly boring," he said, obviously not caring that he was insulting my entire lifestyle. "I'm going to watch a horror movie. I'd like it if you watched it with me. I could use a cuddle buddy." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

I couldn't think of something to say. As I was about to open my mouth, a large, warm hand was placed in mine and gave me a reassuring squeeze. I could immediately smell the mint, and knew it was Blake. I was relieved, and inwardly praised him as my hero.

"The guys wanna grab a pizza. That okay with you, Cici?"

"Definitely!" I played along.

"Sweet. Hey man," Blake directed at Mohawk dude, who appeared to be less interested in talking to me now. "Need something."

"Nah," he held up his hands. "I'm good." He smiled before walking away.

I looked up at Blake and smiled, a genuine smile that I hadn't felt grace my face in a long time. "Thank you," I sighed, not realizing I had been holding my breath.

"I think I need to teach you some self-defense so you can scare the freaks away next time." He sounded so serious.

I laughed. "Aren't you the one who told me I should be more approachable?" I shook my head and looked down at our still joined hands. I was surprised he hadn't let go, and even more surprised I hadn't let go.

"Um," I began, feeling a little awkward. "I should get the bags up to the room," I smiled, removing my hand from his.

"Probably a good idea," he responded.

We awkwardly maneuvered around one another before I picked up the bags and headed to the elevator. I stood there, processing the last few moments and fighting the thoughts in my head. There was something strange in the way my hand felt—strange, and exciting all wrapped in to one. I didn't know what it was or what it was supposed to mean, but I didn't want it to go away.

~*~

I was sitting on the bed, rereading the last chapter of The Oath. Frank Peretti was always a master at creating a web of mystery and finally tying everything together in the last few chapters. I'd finished the book at the end of the first week, and didn't even bother getting another one, seeing as though I'd learned to let loose a little and enjoy the fact that I was away from everything else. It was like the old world didn't seem to matter anymore, and I could just relax among four other people enjoying the beginnings of their summer vacation.

There was a knock on the door which caused me to throw the book completely off my lap. Note to self: never read mysteries at night in a hotel when you're all alone. I suddenly remembered Mohawk dude and the fact that Angie had previously given our room number out to the two random strangers. Images of being attacked in the room by him and his crazy hair began to flash through my mind and I went into panic mode. I quickly grabbed the book and headed over to the door.

"If you try forcing your way in here, I swear I'll kick you so hard you'll never be able to have children." I yelled at the door.

"Geez Cici. Didn't know you hated me that much."

It was Blake. I smiled for the second time that day, happy that he was near. I opened the door, and laughed at the look of confusion plastered on his face.

"Sorry," I explained as I moved aside and let him in. "I thought you were that guy from downstairs again. You know, the one with the wannabe Mohawk."

"Do you have something against Mohawks?"

I laughed. "No, just against random people who begin to start conversations with stupid pick up lines and subtle innuendos." I said, closing the door.

"I'll keep that in mind." He ran and flopped onto one of the two beds in the room. Finally I'd get a chance to sleep on a mattress.

"So Derek is proposing to Wendy tonight?" I asked casually as I sat on the remaining bed.

"How'd you know about that?"

"Remember the drive on the dirt road, and when I was searching for something of yours to throw out the car? Well, I also saw a little black, velvet box in the compartment underneath the armrest. There's only a few things that come in those sort of boxes, and after I saw that I sorta pieced everything together."

"Pieced everything together?"

"Yeah. I mean, we had originally planned that the road trip was just gonna be us three girls. But, once Wendy mentioned it to Derek, he had suggested that we all go together. Not many guys would do that, especially since he has to leave soon for his archaeological dig. On top of that, he dragged you along for moral support. Although Derek loves Wendy, I don't think he would be too keen on travelling with three other companions unless he had something planned that he didn't want to wait for. Once I saw the little black box, it all fell into place."

"You are one weird girl."

"Prelaw. A bit of a habit to try and piece everything together."

"Does Wendy know?"

"She has no idea. Angie doesn't know either; I've pretty much kept it to myself. But now you know, even though you pretty much knew the whole time."

Blake nodded before grabbing the remote from the nightstand and flicking through the television channels.

"Don't you have a TV in your own room?"

"Yeah, but it's no fun if there's no company there with you. Besides, Derek and Wendy are going to be out for a while still, and who knows how long Angie's gonna be. I thought you might like to spend some quality time with the world's sexiest man alive."

"Johnny Depp is in the hotel!" I said excitedly and laughed as the smirk fell from Blake's face. "I'm kidding."

"So you do think I'm the sexiest man alive?" he wiggled his eyebrows at me.

"I don't recall saying that at all."

"Suit yourself. I know you think I'm sexy."

"And what gives you that impression?"

"I'm psychic. I can read your mind."

"Really? Then what am I thinking?" I smirked at him.

"That I have the body of a god."

I laughed. "Oh yeah, that was definitely what I was thinking."

"See, I was right!" he cheered, completely ignoring my previous sarcasm.

I picked up one of the pillows and threw it at his head. He wasn't focused on me, and let out a muffled sound of surprise once the pillow collided with his face. He slowly pulled it away from his face and I saw a look of evil in his eyes. Before I could even protest he had grabbed the other pillow and was swatting my head with it.

I grabbed the other pillow and began fighting back. It wasn't easy, considering he had the obvious advantage in regards to strength and height. Along with that, we were trying to battle in the minimal space between the two beds. I was having a lot of fun, and couldn't help but laugh every time I landed a good blow to his head. The more I did that, the less strength I had, until he grabbed me around the waist, and we both lost our balance, falling onto the bed. I was still laughing and holding my stomach as I lay there with Blake next to me. Although I couldn't hear him, I knew he was also laughing, because of the vibration of his chest against my arm.

I managed to get my giggles under control and turned my head to the side, staring into Blake's deep green eyes. He smiled at me, and I smiled back before turning my head so I was staring at the ceiling. I felt the bed shift and Blake's face appeared in my line of vision as he placed his hands next to my shoulders and hovered above me.

"So what am I thinking now?" I asked Blake, somewhat breathless.

"You're thinking," he began, his voice soft, deep, and husky.

He never got to finish. As he opened his mouth to finish his thoughts there was a knock on the door. I blinked twice, remembering where I was and what exactly I was doing. I slid from beneath Blake's arms and walked to the door.

"Cici, you in there?" Angie called from the other end. "I forgot to get the room key before I went out."

I quickly retied my hair, not knowing what state it was in after the previous pillow fight before opening the door and finding Angie there looking like she'd gotten in a pillow fight of her own.

"Date went well?" I raised my eyebrows at her.

"Oh shut up," she slapped my arm as she entered the room and stopped dead once she saw the state it was in.

"What happened here?" she asked with the same tone of voice I had previously used with her.

"Pillow fight," I stated as I walked past her and began to pick up the pillows from the floor. Blake was lying on the bed, flicking through the television channels like nothing had ever happened.

"Who won?" Angie asked, as she walked by and poked Blake in the ribs, letting him know she was there.

"Of course I did," he smiled at her as he poked her back.

"I wouldn't always be so sure. Cici here is pretty feisty when she wants to be," Angie laughed as she sat on the bed.

"I am still here you know," I stated as I picked up the last pillow and jumped on the bed next to her, causing her to bounce a little.

"Oh, don't worry darling," she smiled at me. "I know."

Blake yawned. "As much as I'd love to hear the stories, I think it's time I got some shuteye. I'll see you girls tomorrow." He winked as he stood up and left the room, leaving me with Angie.

"So," I began, not wanting to miss a detail of how her date had been. "What happened?"

Angie told me about Davy Jones Locker, saying it was the best fish she had eaten in a long time. Afterwards, Luke had taken her down to the beach and they'd walked along the sand for a few miles, just talking. He was an Oceanography major, and was getting ready to do a summer program out on a boat where he would be studying the marine life in the Atlantic. Angie had given him her number so he would be able to contact her if he decided he was interested. Apparently he was, because he'd given her a kiss that she'd remember for a long time to come.

I was in bed that night before Wendy came into the room and decided to leave all my questions for tomorrow. But, there were questions that were plaguing my own subconscious that night as I tried to get some sleep. I knew what I'd been thinking as Blake hovered above me. I was thinking of how amazing his eyes looked: the dark ring of emerald green that seemed to get lighter as it neared his pupils. And how full and soft his lips looked, and how his breath smelled of the mint gum he was constantly chewing. He was so close too, and all I could see when I closed my eyes was his face staring at me. What would have happened if Angie hadn't knocked on the door?

~*~

The next morning, I woke up and immediately woke Wendy up, pelting her with questions. There was a nice sized rock on her finger, so I knew something had happened last night. Once Angie was up, Wendy started on her story of how Derek had taken her out to eat at a local restaurant and spoiled her with an absolutely amazing meal of lobster. After a bit of dancing on an open dance floor in the back of the restaurant they had decided on a piece of chocolate cheesecake for dessert. When the waiter brought the cake to the table, there on the slice lay a ring. She'd looked up at Derek to find him on one knee, as he took her hand in his and asked her to marry him. She hadn't given it a second thought and immediately said yes. We woke the people next door with our screaming, because they banged on the wall, obviously not happy about our wanting to share in the happiness of our best friend. Wendy beamed the rest of the time we had down at the coast. I'd never seen her look happier.

On our last day, we packed all our belongings into the car and headed out to the beach to spend our final hours together. Luke had called Angie saying that weather conditions had made the current farther out in the Atlantic a little treacherous, and that he would be on the coast for a few more days. Angie had immediately invited him to spend the day with us at the beach. He had readily accepted.

Derek and Wendy were inseparable for the entire day, constantly holding hands and beaming at one another as if they were the only two people on earth. Angie had rented a surfboard and tried to show Luke how to surf. From what I saw, I could tell he already knew how to surf, but wanted Angie to feel special, and continuously fell so he would have to ask her for more advice and more teaching. Blake was being a hermit and swam offshore by himself, while I sat on a log around a fire pit and watched the way everyone interacted. This had been the best summer ever, and I was sad that I was soon to be leaving my friends.

I soon got tired of sitting alone and decided to walk down the shoreline and begin picking up various shells. I wasn't normally one to collect mementos, but this summer seemed like it needed a few. After a while, I realized I couldn't hold them all in my hands, and folded my shirt up so I had a sort of pocket to store the shells. Someone sprayed water on the exposed small of my back and I immediately turned and glared, expecting to see some little boy who thought it would be funny to get a rouse out of a random teenager. Instead, I saw Blake and my glare died down a little. Of course, the little boy scenario still applied to him, but I couldn't really be angry with him.

"Somehow, you didn't strike me as the shell collector."

"I'm not, but I wanted to keep a piece of this summer," I smiled, as I bent down and picked up another shell.

"Want some help?"

"Don't you want to keep a souvenir of your own?"

"Well, I don't exactly have anywhere to put it," he smiled as he gestured to his bare torso.

"So I see. I don't mind the company." I continued to walk down the shoreline.

Blake and I walked for a mile as we picked up shells and talked about our favorite moments of the road trip. We both agreed that the dusty road, movie night, and the pillow fight were among our favorite moments. After we'd found enough shells for my shirt to hold, we walked back to where our stuff was. I set the shells inside a beach bag before sitting down again on a log. Blake stood in front of me and stared at me as if I were an alien from outer space, before he sat down next to me. His hair was still a bit wet and hung in his face, covering his forehead.

"Penny for your thoughts," I nudged him.

"Why aren't you swimming?"

"The water is cold," I laughed.

"Such great reasoning," he said, flicking his head and spraying me with water. "It's not too bad. Come on."

I shook my head. "You'd have to force me in."

"You asked for it," he sighed as he stood up. Before I could question, he slung me over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and began walking towards the water. I tried to protest, but my friends saw my predicament as humorous more than anything else, and stood and laughed rather than helped me. Blake was up to his waste in the water now, and I was trying to hold on so I wouldn't get thrown into the water. I wrapped my arms around his back and clasped my hands together in the front, feeling the warmth of his skin in contrast to the cold water I knew would be my doom.

"Let go," Blake laughed.

"You can't make me," I laughed back, while I prepared myself for the shock that was coming.

"Suit yourself." I could hear the smile in his voice as he dipped his body in the water and took me down with him. He came back up just moments later, with me still holding on to him. We both laughed.

"You can let go now Cici."

"What if I don't want to," I stated, a bit of mystery in my voice. He didn't have an answer, and instead began tickling my sides. My hold on him weakened, before he pulled me down so I was standing in front of him.

I looked up at him, his hair dripping with water. The smile on his face was a tell tale sign that he was enjoying torturing me. I shook my head and began to swim in the direction of Angie and Luke, who were laughing at the current scene Blake and I had created. Blake followed, but didn't try to push me under the water again: a fact I was very grateful for.

I asked Angie if she would teach me how to surf, and she gladly obliged. I, however, was not aware of the full on freak show I was about to give everyone as I tried my best to stay on the board and keep above water. I think my record was .3 seconds, but you have to start somewhere.

After my numerous unsuccessful attempts at surfing, and many more hours on the beach or in the ocean, the sun began to set and create a masterpiece of color in the sky and on the water. We all sat down on the logs around the fire pit and enjoyed the last few hours of our last day together. As the sun was going down, Blake suggested we light a fire in the fire pit and roast marshmallows. I thought back to the bag of marshmallows in the back of Wendy's car but knew it hadn't survived the whole trip.

I left to change into some dryer clothes, and by the time I returned to the rest of the group, the fire was already going. Blake had gone to buy smores ingredients, so we waited for his return. Wendy and Derek snuggled together, wrapping a towel around their shoulders. Angie was talking to Luke and pointing out different constellations in the sky, and I was listening to the waves as they crashed on the shore.

Blake returned a few minutes later, carrying a bag in one hand and a guitar in the other. He sat down next to me and put the strap around his neck.

"You brought a guitar?" I asked.

"Great job, Sherlock."

"Why?"

"I thought I might serenade you." I could see his smile due to the light of the fire, and returned it, feeling something stir in the pit of my stomach. It may have been said in jest, but something in me hoped he would actually serenade me. Instead of dwelling on the thoughts, I reached into the bag and pulled out the shish kebab sticks, sticking a marshmallow on the end of each one before handing them out to my other companions. Blake began to pluck the strings of his guitar as we enjoyed the smores.

"Any requests?" Blake joked, after he'd licked the chocolate from his lips.

"Play our song," Wendy asked.

Blake whispered into my ear, "What's their song?"

"Kiss me by Sixpence None the Richer."

"I need a capo to play that one," Blake told Wendy.

"Do your best," Wendy smiled as she clasped Derek's hand and stood up. He pulled her close and they began to dance as Blake strummed his guitar. I could tell that it wasn't hitting the exact notes due to the lack of a capo, but it still sounded beautiful. As Blake was about to begin the chorus, Wendy spoke. "Stop." Blake stopped, not knowing exactly what he'd done wrong. "Sing Cici," Wendy ordered.

"I—um," I stammered.

"You have the perfect voice for this song, and I've heard you sing it in the shower," she scolded. "Sing."

Not wanting to argue with Wendy, Blake began to play the song again and I began to sing. "Kiss me. Out of the bearded barley… nightly, beside the green, green grass…" I knew the song by heart, due to its being one of my favorites, and didn't have any problems recognizing what area of the song I was supposed to be singing. I tapped the log, keeping a steady rhythm, and felt as if I were singing for fun, and not because Wendy made me.

As the last chord reverberated in the air, I turned to Blake and saw him smiling at me. "Good job," I softly spoke.

"You too," he responded.

I turned my face back to Wendy and Derek and found they were still dancing, their eyes fixated on one another, and oblivious to the fact that the music had stopped. I felt someone's breath by my ear. "Ciara?" I turned slowly and found my lips gently pressed to someone else's in the dark. The sensation filled me with warmth right to my toes, and I inwardly rejoiced as the feeling coursed through my veins. I stroked his cheek with my thumb before pulling away.

"And I thought you never listened to me." We both chuckled.

I smiled and snuggled closer to him as he wrapped an arm around my shoulder and placed a kiss on my temple.

"I was thinking," he whispered in my ear. "What if we continue the road trip, just you and me?"

I thought about it. For the rest of the summer, I'd have to endure Blake Edwards constantly in my presence. We'd be trapped in a car together with miles of road as we traveled to visit our respective families.

"You're thinking it's the most wonderful idea you've ever heard," Blake teased.

"Not exactly," I said as I pulled my head off his shoulder and stared at his handsome face.

"Then what were you thinking?"

I smiled as I reached up and used my fingers to gently brush his hair back from his forehead, before allowing my hand to make its way to the back of his head and pull his face closer to mine until our foreheads were pressed together. "I was thinking, enduring the next eight weeks with you sounds like a wonderful idea," I whispered slowly.

He laughed lightly. "I'm glad you think so," he said before kissing my forehead, then my nose, and finally finding my lips.

With the stars shining above, my friends dancing on the sand, and my lips fused to Blake's in the light of the fire, only one thought remained: best summer ever.