"Tawni, are you crazy?"
The girl in question shimmied off her cut off jean shorts before tossing them to the pile of her already discarded clothing. "It's just skinny dipping."
"But swimming hours are over," said Kate as her best friend removed her shoes, the last bit of clothing she had on. "What if someone catches us?"
Tawni pulled her brown hair back into a pony tail, the moonlight highlighting her sun kissed skin as she moved. "We're not going to get caught. Relax."
A tad reluctantly, Kate removed her tank top. "I swear, you've been on a rebel streak ever since Brandt-" she snapped her mouth shut at her friend's pointed look. She knew that topic was forbidden at The River.
"Brandt!" she screamed.
Trying to readjust his grip on a tree branch that hung over the riverbank, he looked at her. Wet hair plastered against his forehead. Even from the other side of the river, she could see something in his eyes she had never seen before.
"You stay right where you are, Tawni, you hear me? Do not come in."
The sound of the rushing water was almost enough to drown out his response. They were stupid to be there in the first place. It was too strong of a current to be taken lightly.
The branch he held on to gave one final snap before she lost sight of him to the current. Her heart stopped and hysteria set in as each second he never emerged passed.
The River was where first love's were lost.
"Life's short, Kate. Take a risk."
And in a way, it was The River that made the preacher's daughter the rebel she was now.
With a confident gait, she waded into the calm water. Once the water was at waist level, she dove under and reappeared a few feet further out. She loved when the water's surface was smooth as glass and she could see the moon's reflection in it. It was when the water was rough she stayed away. Past experiences would haunt her and she'd become that girl five years before. But when the water was calm, she remembered how much it was a played a part in her past.
She turned to her back and let her body float. The water's caress combined with the sounds of the frogs and crickets as she looked at the stars gave her a sense of tranquility. And brought back memories from happier times. Times when Brandt convinced her to sneak out and he'd bring her to the river. To his special spot further down, where no one knew about.
Her fingertips traced the white gold chain she around her neck. The stars above started to blur from the tears that welled in her eyes.
"I miss you." She closed her eyes to prevent them from spilling. "God, do I miss you."
"Tawni!" Kate yelled from the river's edge. "Sheriff!"
Tawni rolled over and swam as fast as she could to shore. She saw Kate already redressing as she brought her head up for air. At least she'd be fully clothed. The last thing she needed was the authorities showing up. Even though she'd had more than enough encounters in the past few years, Kate hadn't. Getting Kate to take some risks was one thing, having the sheriff bring her home in the back of his car was entirely different. She wasn't going to let her friend get in trouble because she dragged her along.
Headlights lit up the beach just as Tawni grabbed her clothes and hid behind the bushes that lined the outer edge of the sandy riverside. She could hear the car doors open as she quickly pulled on her shorts.
"Miss Stephens," came Sheriff Maxwell's deep voice. "I'm sure I don't need to inform you that swimming hours have long been over?"
"I-" she stammered.
Buttoning the final button of the plaid shirt she wore, Tawni emerged from the bushes. "It's my fault, sir."
Sheriff Maxwell took one look at her wet hair and let out a long sigh. "I should have known you'd be behind this, Miss Bridges."
She shrugged her shoulders, an innocent look plastered on her face. "What can I say? It was a beautiful night for a swim. Kate was just trying to be the voice of reason. But, you know me."
And know her he did. Not only had he watched Tawni grow up like everyone else in their small town, but he witnessed her attitude change after Brandt's death. he had been the one that always seemed to bust her when she was involved in something she shouldn't have been. With over thirty years on the force, he was good at his job.
Sheriff Maxwell rubbed his hand over his face. "I swear, you've given me more gray hairs in the past five years than my own children ever did."
"It's a gift." She gingerly removed the ponytail from her hair. Combing her fingers through her wet hair, she looked into the sheriff's eyes. "Are you taking us in or what, Jim?" She heard Kate suppress a whimper after she said it.
"No. Just get home, and stay home, Tawni." He shook his head, making his way back to the car. "And I'll be having Parker drive by periodically, making sure you're there."
Parker? She looked past Maxwell to see a another man in uniform waiting next to the squad car.
It wasn't the blonde hair or the impressive but lean build he had stopping Tawni dead in her tracks. The beige uniform didn't faze her, either. She'd developed quite a reputation with the sheriff department in the past few years.
It was his eyes. The same shade of gray her dead boyfriend's were. And the way they were honed in on her made her uneasy.
Tawni jerked her head upright, fighting to stay awake. It was Sunday morning, and as the pastor's daughter, she was required to attend the weekly services. The sanctuary was stifling with the lack of air conditioning and sweltering summer heat. Having the pews packed like sardines made it even more unbearable. Coupled with the droning sound of her father's voice preaching his sermon, she was struggling to stay awake. She would have snuck out if she was able.
Too bad she was smack dab in the front pew. Right under her father's watchful gaze.
She could see his distaste in her choice of clothing every time he glanced at her. However, Tawni failed to see the problem. She wasn't baring her midriff. Nor were any of her assets on display for everyone to ogle. Her jean shorts, simple white tee, and black converse were casual. Just not the good little church girl clothes she would have worn before.
A yawn escaped as her father started wrapping up his sermon. Sneaking a glance at her phone to check the time, she noticed a missed text alert from Kate.
Back right pew. Closest to the window.
She glanced over her shoulder to the spot in question.
Deputy Parker Harmon was occupying said seat. Tawni took her time studying him. He wore a grey button up shirt, that would no doubt enhance his eyes. Facial hair covered his defined jaw, making his already model like face even more attractive. Rolled up sleeves showcased his forearms and hid his biceps underneath. His hair, although blonde, reminded her of Brandt's. Thick and full. Her fingers itched to run through it to see if it was as soft as his brother's had been.
There was no denying it. Parker was mesmerizing.
He must have sensed her staring at him, because he looked up from his hymn book and looked at directly at her.
Something stirred in the pit of her stomach. Something she hadn't experienced in years. He was giving her the same look as he did the night he and Sheriff Maxwell caught her and Kate at The River. Not liking the effect he was having on her, she broke their gaze and faced the front.
He was still looking at her. She didn't have to turn around and check to know. The hairs standing on the back of her neck was enough to go by. She didn't know why he was back in their small town after five years, but she was curious to find out.
"Go in peace and serve the Lord," her father's voice rang. Already at his normal spot at the doorway, like he ended every service, Tawni realized she had been so distracted by Parker that she hadn't noticed him walk back there.
The congregation responded in kind before everyone stood and gathered their belongings. Following suit, she grabbed her purse and threw it over her shoulder. She jostled through the crowd, making sure she kept Parker in her line of sight the entire time.
He'd hadn't been around in five years. Something had brought him back. She had to know. It was going to drive her crazy, otherwise.
Muttering apologies to those she almost ran over in her haste, she nudged her way between the few remaining people between them.
She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him off to the side when she finally caught up to him. "What are you doing back?"
Pulling out of her grasp, he stuffed his hands into the front pockets of his dark washed jeans. "No hello?"
"Just answer the question," she said, wanting to hurry the conversation along. Her father never approved of her relationship with Parker's younger brother. It was partly what caused the rift between them. For although her father was civil to him when he accompanied his family to church, he only saw him as the town's bad boy. She could only imagine how he would treat Parker, now that he returned.
He was just about to reply when a hand landed on her shoulder.
"Tawni, do introduce me to your friend," Pastor Bridges said, sweat beading along his forehead. She didn't buy his friendly interest. It wasn't in him to be when it came to the people she interacted with, aside from Kate.
Parker stuck a hand out to her father, which he took in a firm grasp. "Parker Harmon, sir."
Recognition flashed into his eyes. "Well, well. It has been a while, hasn't it? What brings you back to town?"
"Parker's the new deputy," Tawni said stiffly.
"Really now?" She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw something akin to respect in his expression. "Do let me apologize for whatever trouble my daughter may cause," he gave her that disapproving look she'd become accustomed to. "She's become quite a troublemaker. No matter how we try to control her."
"Well, she's a grown woman, now sir. I don't know how much control you can have over her."
"She's still my daughter, no matter her age."
"I mean no disrespect, sir," Parker said, glancing at his watch. "I'm sorry, but I have to get going. It was nice talking to you, Pastor."
"Will we be seeing you next week?" he asked. "Maybe bring your parents next time?"
Parker's eyes dulled. "I'm afraid they don't feel up to church anymore. Not since Brandt died." He looked back at Tawni, grasping her hand. "I know you want to talk. But I honestly don't have the time right now. Maybe we could do it over dinner, or something?"
He hadn't let go of her hand, and with his eyes boring into hers, she got that funny feeling in her stomach again. She nodded quickly, feeling her ears turn red.
With a small smile, he released her hand and said his goodbyes. She watched him leave, not noticing the small piece of paper that held his number in her hand.
She'd realized what she was feeling.
She was attracted to Parker. Bad.
"I don't know about this, Tawni," Kate said.
"We have this kind of conversation every time, don't we?" she asked, slipping through the decaying, wooden fence. "It's abandoned. Nobody's gonna call the sheriff on us."
"Yeah, but you know what everyone says about this place."
Tawni brushed off dirt from the knees of her jeans. "That's it's haunted? Don't tell me you honestly believe that."
"Yeah, well, it certainly gives off that vibe, if you ask me."
Ignoring her friend's consistent grumbles, she waded through the overgrown weeds that had taken over the yard. The overcast of the night sky gave the old, creaky, run down farmhouse and even eerier feel. Tawni could feel the excitement course through her veins.
Coming to the steps leading up to the wrap around porch, she gingerly placed a foot on the board, gradually increasing pressure to make sure it wouldn't give way. Deeming it stable, she slowly made her way up the stairs, wary of the vines that overtook the railings. The battered screen door creaked as she opened it, only to find that the front door wouldn't budge.
She went to the windows, using the sleeve of her loose sweatshirt to wipe away the dirt and grime enough to see inside.
Empty beer cans, fast food bags, and random junk littered the floor around the sheet covered furniture; evidence that there had to be a way in. She tried lifting the windows, but they were locked from the inside. Hopping over the side of the railing, she headed towards the back of the house, hoping to find the point of entry.
Sure enough, there was an open window, just a crack, above eye level. Wiping her hands on the back of her pants, she removed what little sweat on her palms there was. She jumped, but failed to get a good enough grasp to hoist herself up. Backing up a bit, she took another jump, getting a little further, but failing once again. Finally, Tawni backed up a good ten feet away for a running start.
Third time was the charm, as she was able to get her top half of her body or the windowsill. She swung a leg up to help give her some stability as she tried to open the window so she could get –
"Tawni?" Kate's voice surprised her, as she rounded the corner looking for her.
Not hearing her friend's approach caused Tawni to lose her concentration. "Ahh!" she screeched, losing her balance and falling the five feet to the ground.
"Oh my, God!" Kate rushed to her side, kneeling down on the ground. "Are you okay?"
"Warn a girl next time, eh Kate? But yeah, I'm fine," she said. She went to stand up, only to cry out in pain and collapse back on the ground, her hand going to her left ankle. "No, I'm not."
"I knew we shouldn't have come here."
Tawni tried to stand up again, only to receive the same result. Grabbing a handful of dirt, she threw it off to the side in frustration. "Dammit."
Kate gently lifted Tawni's pant leg to assess her ankle. Already swelling, they both knew that they weren't getting into the house that night. "We have to get you to a doctor."
"No, no doctors. And not my parents, either."
"Well, what do you want me to do?" she huffed, throwing her hands up in the air. "The car's a half mile or so back and you can't walk on it. I'm not strong enough to support you all the way."
Crap, Tawni thought, laying back on the ground. Kate was right, it was too far for her to even attempt to walk back, even with her her friend's help.
Then she remembered.
Reaching into her front pocket, she took out the crumpled piece of paper.
Kate nodded, taking the paper and calling Deputy Harmon. Tawni wasn't fully ready to face him, but he was the only alternative that she could think of that could get them. Sure there were probably a handful of others to call before someone that worked in the law department, but Parker was the first one she thought of, so she'd have to deal with it.
"You're lucky he was off the clock," Kate said, sticking her phone back into her pocket. "He said he'd be here as soon as he could."
Tawni nodded, readjusting her leg so her ankle into a more bearable position. All she could now was wait.
Parker's black extended cab, pickup pulled up to the fence about twenty minutes later. Leaving her alone, Kate went to meet up with him and lead him to Tawni.
She closed her eyes, taking a few deep breathes to calm her nerves. He wasn't even next to her yet and she was starting to feel a little self conscious. Even with the minimal contact they'd had, he effected her like only one other person ever had. And that was his brother.
The sound of footsteps crunching dead weeds came from the side of the house before her saviors came into view.
Parker immediately went to her ankle, pushing up her jeans and carefully removing her shoe. Gritting her teeth, she tried to focus on something other than her ankle.
Her eyes took in his appearance. He was dressed casual in gym shorts and a white t-shirt. His blonde hair was rumpled, like he had just woken up or someone had run their hands through it. Jealousy flared with the thought of another girl threading her fingers through his thick hair.
She flinched when he touched one of the more tender areas. Muttering an apology, he had her try to move her toes. Able to do that, she proceeded to try to move her foot, which proved to be a bit more difficult.
Leaning back on his haunches he looked at her. "Well, I don't think it's broken. More likely you tweaked it pretty good. Some ice and elevation should help. Stay off it for a couple days and you should be okay. If not, you'll have to see a doctor, Tawni."
"Great," she groaned, her head falling back.
He moved closer to her middle, "Come on, I'll help you up."
"I can't really walk."
He smiled, "Don't worry. I got you. Now up."
She grabbed onto his shoulder, his arm around her back for support, and his other holding out his hand for her to use to pull herself up. He lifted her like it was nothing. She wobbled a bit, trying to find her balance on one leg.
A yelp of surprise escaped from her mouth as Parker swept her into the air, carrying her bridal style back to his truck. The arm around his shoulders tightened as her other hand gripped his shirt. She could feel his heartbeat against her chest, knowing he could probably feel her own erratic one. Her eyes raked over his profile as he stared ahead. He hadn't shaved, so his facial hair was prominent, even in the dim light from the moon. His cupid bow lips were slightly parted, making her itch to touch them.
"Do I have something on my face or do you just like staring at me?" he asked, lowering her to the ground on the opposite side of the fence. Satisfied she could lean against the post for balance, he hopped over, opened the doors on the side of his truck, and picked her up again.
He placed her sideways on the backseat, helping her scoot over until she was comfortable. Grabbing a pillow from the front seat, he elevated her ankle before shutting the back door. Kate got into the passengers seat, sending Tawni a look.
"What?" she fidgeted under her friend's stare.
"Why do I feel like a third wheel?" When she tried to deny it, Kate cut her off. "I can see it, Tawni. And, well...it's been five years, hun. Maybe it's time to move on."
Tawni's mouth flapped like a fish, no sound emanating. "I–"
The driver's door opened and Parker hopped in, cutting off any reply she was going to make.
Turning around to check if she was comfortable enough, he put the truck in drive. It was a quiet ride after he let Kate out at her own car. The only break in the silence was when she asked where he was bringing her. She was relieved he knew she wouldn't want to go home. Instead, he took her to his apartment.
She feigned sleep on the drive there, not trusting what would come out of her mouth around him. When arriving at his apartment, he carefully removed her from the truck and up the stairs, only setting her down when necessary.
The apartment was dark when they entered, only the light from outside gave them any sense of where things were. He bumped his elbow against the touch lamp on the end table to give them a little more as he carried her to his bedroom.
She stirred, pretending she was just waking up, as he laid her down. "I can take the couch, you know."
"It's okay." He sat down by her feet, removing her other shoe. His fingers lingered on her uninjured foot, tracing patterns on her skin. "You'll be more comfortable in here. Want a pair of shorts to wear?"
Tawni smirked, "Trying to get me in your pants, Harmon?" His fingers stilled and her eyes widened as she realized what she said.
He looked at her, eyes smiling as he contained his laughter, making her sigh in relief. A masculine snort escaped from him when he couldn't hold it in any longer and laughed. His deep laugh was contagious and soon she was joining in.
She hadn't planned on the comment breaking the tension that had surrounded them since he started the truck. It was a wonderful feeling to be more relaxed in his presence.
He rose from the bed and headed to the dresser on the opposite side of the room. Tawni sat up and removed her sweatshirt. She'd be much cooler under the covers with just her tank top on.
"Tawni?" Parker's easy going tone was gone and a serious one took it's place. "Why didn't you call? I thought you wanted to talk."
So much for the tension breaker.
She played with the end of her ponytail, not wanting to answer. She heard him walk back to the bed. He stopped next to her and lifted her chin up with a finger, forcing her eyes to meet his.
The laughter that previously shown in them was gone. Instead, she thought she saw hurt in them.
"I...," she licked her lips, not missing the way his grey eyes darkened as he watched her. "I... I didn't want you to hate me."
His eyebrows scrunched together. "Why would I hate you?"
"Tawni, a word?" her father demanded, rather than asked. He'd caught her right as she was about to head out the door. After heavy rain three days straight, she was itching to spend time with her boyfriend outside again.
She followed him into his study, closing the door after her.
"This fling, or whatever it is, you have with Brandt Harmon is over."
"No, buts, young lady," he said, waving a finger at her. "That boy is trouble. I will not, will not, have my daughter's reputation tarnished in any way."
"You don't even know him, though!" she countered. "Outside of your fake pleasantries at church, when have you ever had a conversation with him?"
"I don't need to. A motorcycle riding, adrenaline seeking, womanizing hoodlum is not the type of boy you will be involved with."
"Do I make myself clear?" Tawni refused to answer. Instead, trying to plead with her eyes for her father to see reason. "Do I make myself clear, Tawni?"
She turned away from his hardened gaze, ready to admit defeat. But then she would be letting Brandt down. Although he knew Pastor Bridge's thoughts about him, he never spoke ill of her father. She never had the courage to stand up to her overprotective father before. Instead, she was the good girl that did whatever she was told.
"Yes, Daddy," she said.
Nodding, he placed his reading glasses back upon his nose and returned his attention to his upcoming sermon. "Good."
"But I'm not breaking up with Brandt."
She squared her shoulders and took a deep, steadying breath. "You and mom have raised me to be an independent woman, to make my own choices, to have an open heart, and to not judge others. So it's a bit hypocritical to not practice what you preach. Especially since you're a pastor. I love him, Daddy. And nothing you say or do will stop me from seeing him."
She spun on her heels and left him before her adrenaline wore off and she felt guilty for speaking her mind.
Brandt was pulled up to the curb and got off his Harley just as she stepped onto the wrap around porch. Perfect timing on his part. The talk with her father left her emotionally drained. She sped up her pace and launched herself into his arms. Her arms wrapped around him as she tucked her head into his neck, calming as she inhaled his piney scent.
"You okay, sweetheart?" He held her tight, rubbing soothing circles on her back.
She nodded, lifting her head up and softly pressing her lips to his. "I just love you."
"I love you, too" he said, caressing her face, his thumb gently rubbing her cheek..
"Do you think we can skip our original plans? Can it just be us today?"
"Anything you want." Brandt placed a tender, loving kiss on her forehead. "Anything particular you had in mind?"
"The River. Our special spot."
"Because I was the one that suggested we go to the river the day he died. I'm pretty sure your parents see it as my fault. So why shouldn't you?" she whispered, her eyes wet. "If I had never asked to go there, we wouldn't have. And he'd still be here now.
"That's what you're worried about?" he asked, sitting down on the bed, one hand holding hers while the other pushed stray strands of her dark brown hair away from her face. "Tawni, they could never hate you."
Parker pressed his lips against her's for only a moment, but it was enough for her to stop her arguing.
"Do you think I'd have done that if I hated you?" he asked, taking in her stunned expression. "If you want proof we don't hate you, I can bring you to my parent's when your ankle's better. I think Mom would really like it. She misses you."
"I miss her, too," she admitted.
"Then it's settled," he said, handing her the shorts he'd gotten for her. "Think you can manage?"
She nodded, slowly swinging her legs over the edge of the bed as he headed for the living room. He was at the doorway when she spoke up.
"Hey Parker? Thanks."
"Your welcome. Get changed and I'll bring you an ice pack, and then get some rest."
He closed the door behind him, giving her some privacy to undress. Falling back against the pillows that smelled a spicy scent she could only identify with him, she wondered if she was ready to put her heart fully on the line again. She'd already loved and lost one Harmon brother. She didn't want it to happen with another.
A month passed and her ankle had fully healed. She was thankful she hadn't injured it too bad. A few days off it, and she was able to bear weight on it again. And true to his word, Parker took her for lunch at his parent's.
She'd have been lying if she said she wasn't nervous about it. Her stomach was in knots, and her palms sweaty, so sure that Parker was fibbing when he said they didn't hate her. So many scenes of his mother screaming at her, blaming her for her baby boy's death; his father saying she didn't deserve to date either of his sons.
So when both pulled her into bone crushing hugs, it felt as if a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. When Mrs. Harmon finally let go, she had to brush tears away from her eyes.
Parker was right. They didn't hate her. Before leaving, she even made a promise to his mom that she'd go over at least once a week to spend time with her.
"Thank you," she whispered as Parker unlocked his apartment door. "I think I needed that."
"You're welcome." He squeezed her hand as he led her inside. "Get comfy, I'll get you something to drink."
Nodding, she removed her sneakers, placing them next to the closet in the hall, and wandered around the living room.
She went to his bookshelf along the side of the wall. He had an impressive collection of literary classics from Catcher in the Rye to To Kill a Mockingbird to Lord of the Flies. As she continued to peruse his collection of books, one cover caught her eye, making her pause.
She removed it from it's spot on the shelf, gently caressing the writing on the cover. A lump formed in her throat as she gazed at the title. It was what brought her and Brandt together back in high school. What she owed their relationship to. For without it, she doubted her and Brandt's paths would have crossed, despite them living in a small town.
"Romeo & Juliet, huh?" Parker's hand settled low on her back, handing her an iced tea. "Don't think I would have pegged you for a Shakespeare type of girl."
She placed the book back in it's rightful place on the shelf. "I was more of a Julius Ceaser fan, but how can one not love Shakespeare's most famous love story?" Running her finger around the lip of the glass, she avoided his eyes, not wanting to bring up Brandt and ruin the moment.
"It was a tragedy, Tawni. Not a love story."
Her brown eyes met with his cool grey ones. "Sometimes love stories are tragic." She attempted to give him a weak smile, but failed. "I should know, right?"
He chewed on his lip. He wanted to say something, and she knew it. The only thing stopping him was not knowing how she'd respond to whatever he wanted to say. "Well... nevermind," he muttered, moving to sit on the couch.
"What where you going to say?"
He leaned back, propping his feet on the coffee table in front of him.. "It's nothing."
She sat her drink on an end table and stood in front of him.
"It's not 'nothing'. Now tell me." Her voice was demanding.
"Dammit, Parker. Grow a pair and spit it out!"
He looked up at her, fire in his eyes. "You really want to know what I was going to say?" He sighed at her nod. "Alright. I was going to say you need to stop all your shenanigans before you really fulfill that star crossed lovers fate."
The vehemency behind his tone caused her defensive wall to come up. Especially when the topic involved Brandt.
"Excuse me? What right do you have to tell me what to do?"
"I care about you Tawni. More than you think," he said, standing up. "Do you think I haven't heard about the near accident you were in when you decided to drag race? Or diving at The Deeps in the next county over. Or the parties where you drank yourself to the edge of oblivion. If you ever loved my brother, you wouldn't be putting yourself in dangerous situations!"
"Don't you dare say that," she hissed, her restrained anger able to be detected by her tone. She pulled out the silver chain Brandt had given her years before. "You see this? There isn't a day that goes by that it leaves my neck. Not for the shower, the river, bed, or anything. I can still feel his fingers brushing against my skin as he put it on. I still have the voice mails he left on my phone because on those days when I feel like I can't go on, his voice comforts me. Even if it's a fifteen second message. I went out and bought his favorite cologne so I could spray it on his clothes, so they would never lose his smell.
"And on the really bad nights? I sprayed it on my pillow and hugged it to me while listening to the cheesy mixed tape he made me. Because until I finally fell asleep, I could pretend I was hugging him. That he was in there in my arms.
"He took a part of me with him that night. I loved your brother with everything I had," a single tear finally fell from the pool in her eyes. "So don't you dare question how much I loved him... How much I will always love him."
Her chest heaved with each quick shallow breathe she inhaled. She had to leave before she broke down. She hadn't felt like that since she stopped seeing the therapist her parents forced her to go to after the accident.
Not sparing a glance at Parker, she shoved past him and grabbed her shoes.
He called after her, trying to get her to go back and talk it out, but she ignored him and slammed the door after her.
She got in her car and started for the one place she knew she'd get the solitude she needed.
Some thought it was morbid she found comfort where her boyfriend drowned. To her, it was so much more. It was where Brandt Harmon's spirit lived. Where she felt most connected to him. It was were he first asked her out, where he'd take her to look at the stars in the middle of the night, and where he'd given her his necklace.
But most importantly, it was where he professed his love for her with the promise of always giving her an adventure.
Twigs snapped under heavy footsteps, startling her. The brushes behind her rustled, revealing a relieved Parker. She faced forward, ignoring him. Instead, she focused on the snapper turtle making it's way to the water. She knew he was waiting for some kind of acknowledgment from her, but she didn't know what to say after their argument.
He was right. Although Brandt was always pushing his limits and toeing the line of recklessness, he wouldn't have approved of the things she'd done. He had boundaries, and she had more than once crossed ones he never would have.
Parker sighed, sitting down on the riverbank next to her. "I'm sorry. I know you love him."
Pulling her knees up to her chest, Tawni rested her chin atop them. "I'm sorry, too. As much as it pains me to admit it, you were right. I've been using Brandt as an excuse to act out. It's not what he'd have wanted."
He laid a hand atop hers, squeezing gently. "He wanted you to live life, Tawni."
She turned her hand in his so they'd be palm to palm, threading their fingers together. "But not like this. If I'm the troublemaker, it's because I want his memory to live on. But it's not how it should be. If people bring him up in conversation, I change the topic, because I can't talk about him without feeling like my heart's going to rip out of my chest."
"You don't have to deal with this yourself. I'll be there for you."
Wiping the dried mascara trail from her face, she looked into his grey eyes. And she realized, it was the first time she saw them as Parker's eyes and not his brother's. "Why? I'm broken."
"Because I love you," he held his hand up, motioning for her to wait. "Just...let me explain. I've loved you since you and my brother first started getting to know each other. I knew from the way he spoke of you that you were something special. And when you came around more and more, well, it wasn't hard to fall for your kindness, your intelligence, your beauty, and most importantly, your heart.
"What kind of person, let alone brother, would I have been if I tried to steal you away from Brandt? I couldn't, even if you two weren't the perfect couple." He grabbed both of her hands in his, rubbing his thumbs on her wrists. "When he died, I couldn't do anything then either. No matter how bad I wanted to comfort you, you needed time to grieve. So I went on with my life. I went to college, got a degree, and started a life. I tried dating other girls, but none compared to you.
"I'm sorry I haven't been around. I feel like I've let you down when you needed someone the most. Someone that knew him as well as you did. So...Will you give me the chance now?"
"I like you, a lot. Although I can't say that I love you," she said, smirking a little at the way his expression dropped. "It's possible that one day I could. As much, if not more than your brother."
"You're saying you want to give us a shot?" he asked, not bothering to hide the hope in his voice or eyes.
"Yeah," she nodded. "Just, as long as we take this slow. It's been a while since I've been in a relationship."
He kissed her eyes, her nose, her lips, any part of her face he could. "Anything you want, sweetheart."
She laughed, able to remember a time when another Harmon male said that to her without the usual amount of sadness that came with it. "I want."
If anyone were to ask her why she didn't stay away from The River after everything she'd gone through she'd tell them the truth.
Although it was where first loves were lost and where rebels were made...
The River was also were true loves were found.
This was written for Juliet at A Drop of Romeo for the Star Crossed Challenge! The picture can be found on the site!
Excuse this for any errors right now! It's unedited, but I needed to get this up withing the next hour for it to be counted! I'll go back and makes the edits at a later date!