A.N: So I've had this one-shot under my hat for about 2 years but I decided to tinker around with it and upload it for your viewing pleasure. It's a bit longer than my usual one-shots and is perhaps the fluffiest piece of fluff this side of Fluffington, but I like it and I hope you enjoy it as well. :D
The annual 'Stepping Stone' festival is the most popular community event in my hometown of Fairview. Held at the end of the summer holidays to celebrate the establishment of our town, the entire festival is organised around the large, grey square boulders that rise from the surface of the water, peppering a trail from the north to the south side of the river. The settlers of our town had worked extremely hard to place them there in order to create an easy transit from one side to the other. Obviously our forefathers were not the brightest crayons in the box as a more successful form of connection – a bridge...duh- had been built only a few months later. The stepping stones still held sentimental value to the town though and as a result the festival was formed in celebration.
It is your normal run of the mill town event; rides, stalls, carnival food and the opportunity for adults to get absolutely shitfaced. The only unique factor of the festival was that it was held in the parklands on the south side of the river and in order to get there you had to start on the north side and hop on over on the stepping stones. This particular part of the festival was taken so seriously that the bridge was closed for the day except for wheelchair access and the elderly; although Mrs Alice- at the age of 94- managed to jump from boulder to boulder with a gracefulness that was uncanny.
Now everyone- and I mean everyone- in town loves the festival, I had a more conflicted view, as it was where I met the boy of my nightmares and the man of my dreams.
It all began when I was seven and standing on the north side of the river, this year of the festival was particularly important to me as, after years of hitching a ride on my father's shoulders, it was the first time I would be hopping over those huge stones on my lonesome. Sure, my brother would be right in front of me and my parents behind me, but to a mature and sophisticated seven year old the rush of independence was intoxicating. I was practically bouncing on the spot in my pink converse, my brother's old batman shirt and jean shorts as I shooed away my mother's hands when she attempted to tighten the hair tie containing my white blonde hair on top of my head. The time was coming when I, Samantha Eloise McFadden, would cross the raging (in reality extremely calm) river by myself.
We were inching closer and closer to the edge of the river until, finally, my brother Will stepped up onto the first stone and turned to help me up as well. "Now remember Sammy, just go slow, take each step at a time and watch out for Keifer Williams."
He warned me about the nine-year-old serial pusher, before jumping to the next stone and blazing a quick trail in opposition to my parents' protests. I jumped to the second stone, making sure both of my canvas-encased feet were flat on the stone surface before preparing to go to the next one. I was making a steady path across the water, turning back to my parents every now and then to receive an encouraging smile and thumbs up, until I made it to the very middle of the river and heard the unmistakable sound of adults gasping, cursing and yelling. I turned around to see the cause of the chaos but felt a hard shove in the middle of my back causing me to lose my footing and break the surface of the water.
The river, fortunately, was refreshingly cool but that didn't stop the shock to my senses as my shoes filled up with water and my clothes became heavy with moisture. I knew who my attacker was; even without the forewarning I had caught a glimpse of Keifer Williams' infamous curly brown haired head running joyfully across the stones, his laughter hooting back across the river. My head broke through the surface of the water and I felt two hands grab the top of my shirt and haul me back onto the stone as I was gasping for breath.
"You alright, Sammy?" a young voice asked me and that was when my watery blue eyes flew open and met the concerned chocolate gaze of...him. I nodded dumbly in reply as he smiled and ran the rest of the way to the festival, calling out after Keifer and hopping expertly from stone to stone. After that my dad picked me up and put me on his shoulders, promising an extra ride on the Ferris wheel and an extra big stick of cotton candy to recover from Keifer's attack, but after seeing the face of my rescuer I didn't care so much about the assault. Because my seven-year-old brain realised in that very moment that I was in love with Robbie Jones and seventeen years later that hadn't changed.
Correction; it had changed, my feelings for Robbie had progressed from wanting to hold hands and bake cookies for him to wanting him to take advantage of me with his sweet, sweet body. As my love for Robbie grew, my absolute abhorrence for Keifer did as well. He was friends with Robbie- which I took to be a divine test of my love- and after the initial assault had progressed to pulling my hair in the hallways when I was 8, calling me Sammy 'McFatten' at my plump age of 13 and dating and dumping my friends at the age of...well that hadn't stopped actually. But during all that my love for Robbie never wavered, sure I had spoken (well yelled) to Keifer more than Robbie and we weren't in the same social circles but that was going to change; this year at the Stepping Stone festival.
After graduating from school I had gone to university and studied event planning, earning a degree and a lot of experience making me a very valuable member of Fairview Events; the number one (*cough*only one*cough*) event planning business in Fairview. After a year of weddings, birthdays, christenings and luncheons my boss, Mrs Carter, had announced she was going on a European vacation and I had to run the Stepping Stone Festival. After forcing my eyes back into their sockets I had taken on the task gladly. I had almost squealed in delight as I browsed through the cacophony of companies and vendors and my finger landed on Robbie's name as one of the volunteer stall assemblers. My joy abated only slightly as my eyes descended on Keifer's name below it but I pushed it out of my mind completely because this was my chance to show Robbie that the pink converse wearing seven year old had now blossomed into an event planning dynamo who was quite willing to bear his children.
This was why I was up at four in the morning, nursing a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and carefully surveying the construction of the most important social event in town. I manoeuvred the clipboard out from under my arm and jutted it into my hip, going over (for the millionth time) the lay out and run sheet for the event. My white blonde hair had darkened over time to a more appropriate honey colour and was now pulled to one side in a casual ponytail, flowing over the shoulder of my plaid working shirt.
"Hey Sammy, where's this fairy floss machine live?" A gruff voice called from my right, I didn't raise my eyes from the clipboard and took a sip from my latte before replying.
"Down the second alley, fourth stall on the right, thanks Joe." I called and ticked that off my food and beverage list.
I looked up and noted that we were way ahead of schedule; my small group of workers were running around busily attending to the tasks I delegated them to and we would be up and going long before the ten am start. Walking down the first alley, I noticed quite happily that the engineers of the Ferris wheel were putting it through another test run and that the carousel was trilling a happy tune during its own trial. All the rides were established and working, the bar was being stocked and more importantly I had personally set up the markers and signs for the stepping stone path an hour ago.
I was furiously ticking off some more boxes and squinting my eyes at the multiple sheets as I searched for some tiny mistake I may have made that would bring the whole thing crashing down, when a smooth voice interrupted my efforts.
"Well hello Sammie, aren't you looking chipper this morning?"
I didn't even try to contain the irritated sigh that emitted from my mouth and kept my eyes trained on the paper. "Don't you have work to do Keifer? Namely, doing some physical labour and not being a pain in my ass."
His amused chuckle caused my eyes to rise from the paper and rest indifferently on his. I quelled the desire to stab my pen into his steel- coloured eye, by taking a sip of my coffee; which for some reason now tasted colder from the heat that seemed to surround me when Keifer was in the vicinity...bad heat, not good heat, which impelled me to throw the cup in the nearest trash can.
"We can't all be paper pushers like you, honey, some of us have to use our brawn and muscles to get the job done." Keifer chose that moment to run one of his hands through his hair, messing it up even more and causing one 'brawny' arm to tense obnoxiously. I raised an eyebrow and looked down at my clipboard, continuing my journey with the addition of an unwanted companion.
"So you're admitting you're all brawn and no brain, huh? Well done...And don't call me honey." I added as an afterthought, shooting a sideways glance at my childhood tormentor. Keifer met my look with one of unaffected humour, his grey eyes glinting in the early morning sun as he pointed ahead of him.
"Robbie and I finished the stalls so we went ahead and started putting up the art gallery marquee." He rattled off and my eyes were drawn over to where the blonde haired, brown-eyed object of my affection stood knocking in some posts with an oversized mallet. His light blue t-shirt was straining nicely against his back with the effort and his tanned arms stood out starkly. He was perfection on legs. Keifer clicked his fingers in front of my face, causing me to snap out of my reverie and my nose to scrunch in annoyance. He smiled sunnily back at me and continued walked over to the tent.
Robbie looked up at our intrusion and shot me a grin. "Hey, Sammy, I think we'll be finished with the tent in about fifteen minutes and then you should be set to bring the pieces in."
His smile was contagious and I returned it brightly. "That's great, thank you for doing such a great job and coming out so early."
"Yeah, well it's hard to sleep in with this guy acting as an alarm clock." He replied, landing a friendly punch on Keifer's shoulder. Keifer was the one who convinced him to help at the festival? Yeah right. I was sure he was just being modest, a characteristic I found extremely endearing.
"Well I appreciate it, anyway."
"So will you be working today or does your job stop when the gates open?" Keifer enquired and I had to search hard to see if there was a hint of sarcasm in there. He seemed to be hiding it well today.
"I'll be pretty much attached to my phone until about five, and then one of the other planners will look after the night activities, unless there are any emergencies, that is." I directed my answer more to Robbie then Keifer.
"Shit, that's a long day." Robbie whistled.
The trilling of my phone interrupted us and I smiled apologetically before turning around and engaging in a quick conversation that would allow the festival to go ahead with the dunk tank in the right position. I repeated the directions to the driver of the transport truck before hanging up and texting one of my planners to alert her.
When I turned back, Keifer and Robbie had reached the end of a hushed conversation, the result of which was Robbie nodding steadily and Keifer locking his eyes on mine. Looking between them expectantly, I had to stop myself from sneering as Keifer's thin lips curled into a smirk. Fortunately Robbie's voice interjected into my internal frustration.
"You know a group of us always do the rounds of the festival at about seven. Most of the young kids have gone home by then so we can relax a bit more. Did you want to join us, Sammy?" Robbie enquired, his good-natured smile sinking into my pores and making me feel deliciously warm.
Dear Sweet Jesus, Yes!
"Yeah, that would be great." I accepted calmly.
"We'll meet you at the Ferris wheel." Keifer interjected and pushed the thin cotton of his over shirt up his forearms.
I couldn't help the response that spluttered out of my mouth. "You'll be there?"
"Try to contain your excitement, Sammy." He winked and walked over to another post, grabbing a mallet off the ground and swinging it down in the same movement to hit directly on the top of the post. With anyone else that would have looked hot.
I turned back to Robbie and organised the time I would meet them, shooting a pleasant smile and a finger wave over my shoulder before striding away happily to check on the other parts of the festival.
I now had one more reason to look forward to the end of my shift.
"So do you always sign up for the festival?" I asked Robbie when I met up with them later that night. After the customary hellos to the rest of the group and the meaningless inquiries into what they were doing after school, we began to thread our way through the crowd and become embraced by the warm lights and laughter of the festival.
Robbie grinned up at the dark sky and shook his head in mirth. "No, actually Keifer does and he kind of bullied me into it this year. No one can say no to Keifer." He nudged his head over to my curly-haired nemesis that had paused in front of the dunk tank and leant in to shake hands with the victim (Our Mayor) in the tank. He subsequently pulled him into the water and stepped back to avoid the splash, bowing for the cheering hordes that had yet to achieve their task.
I chuckled humourlessly. "I beg to differ."
The small group stopped in front of one of the more classic fair food stalls and began ordering. Robbie shot me grin and announced that he could guess what I liked. I felt giddy at his attention and hoped that he shared my love of fairy floss.
"Here you go, Sammy." He turned around and stuck his fist out to me, a sugar and cinnamon-covered churro stood proudly from between his fingers. I instinctively took a step back and shot him a look of uncomfortable fear.
"What's wrong?" he asked, his voice laced with humour.
I swallowed thickly and shot him a smile "Oh, it's just I'm-"
"She's allergic to cinnamon, Robbie." Keifer said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and took the churro from his hand, passing me instead a pink and white swirled cloud of cotton candy. "Don't you remember when her face broke out in hives in high school when she ate that apple pie? Her nose was running like a tap."
I was hoping nobody remembered that and shot him an annoyed glare. "Thank you." I ground out and turned my attention back to Robbie who was holding a powdered sugar-covered funnel cake as well as an apologetic expression.
"I'm sorry Sam, I didn't realise."
"That's fine. It's kind of a weird allergy" I shrugged one shoulder.
"Lucky you have Keif here, huh?"
I wish I could say that my time with Robbie improved since that initial misunderstanding, but unfortunately it remained the same. Keifer would butt in to a casual conversation with some pearl of wisdom relating to me and ruin the flow that I was trying to maintain with Robbie. It seemed that the idea I had of saying one thing to Robbie and having him realise he wanted to be on me like white on rice would not be as straight forward. I would relent that it wasn't all Keifer's fault as I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that despite his attempts at learning more about me and keeping the conversation light and casual, we didn't have much in common.
I was starting to lose some of my enthusiasm for the evening until Robbie said that he wanted to check out the art gallery and I was the only one who shared that same desire. We waved at the group and threaded our way over to the marquee, casually walking down the aisle of artwork and pretending that we knew about the contrast of lines and shading within the pieces.
"You're looking really nice tonight, Sammy." Robbie remarked, as we were paused in front of a particularly good watercolour painting of the river and stepping stones.
"Thank you, you don't look so bad yourself." I grinned, wondering why that statement didn't hold as much excitement considering I'd been waiting fifteen years for that kind of attention from Robbie.
"What would you like to drink? I don't want to get something that'll make your face blow up." He grinned cheekily and I started to think maybe the night had a chance to improve.
"A Corona would be great." I smiled and checked my watch, quarter to nine and just in time for a little festival tradition. My dissatisfaction with the evening so far didn't stop the butterflies of anticipation in my stomach.
Robbie turned to the bartender, "Corona and a MGD, thanks."
"You know you can get two for the price of one by using a kiss token." The bartender interjected and turned to the fridge, grabbing our drinks and popping the tops expertly.
A kiss token was a festival tradition that allowed the adult festivalgoers to buy two for one drinks, between the hours of eight and nine, by simply engaging in a small public display of affection. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped I would end up in a kiss token situation with Robbie. Down. Right. Lying.
"Well do you want to cash it in?" Robbie turned to me with a crooked grin. I caught my breath and nervously smiled. This was it, the moment I had been holding out for; the bland conversations and the lack of similarities that we had could be racked up to nerves and an unfamiliar setting, but a kiss? You can't fake that.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
"Well if it's for the sake of saving." I shrugged and allowed him lean in close and press his lips to mine.
I pressed my lips firmly back against his and...
There was nothing; no heart rate spiking, no itchy fingers or rushing pulse, I might as well have been kissing a flesh-covered wall. Robbie pulled away and smiled at me, reaching over for our drinks and paying the bartender in kind. I blinked slowly and followed obediently as he jerked his head over to some vacant stools that looked out on to the action of the festival, sitting down, he turned his body good naturedly towards me.
"You've done a great job this year, Sammy." He smiled and took a sip from his bottle.
What? Nothing about the kiss, just straight into the safe conversation again? I thanked him sincerely and turned my attention to the show grounds. My eyes strayed across a familiar figure walking through the alley, his head tilted back as he laughed at one of the jokes his friends said and I could hear his humoured release even over the cacophony created by the crowd. He must have felt like somebody was watching him as he straightened slightly and looked around, his eyes finally fell on me and he smiled in recognition. I couldn't return the favour and I noted that even from this distance I could see the grin slip as his head tilted and a look of-dare I say- concern crossed over his features. That small expression made my stomach twirl in a way that it hadn't done all day and I blinked my eyes hurriedly and looked over at Robbie to make it stop.
Robbie was looking over his shoulder and waving cheerily at the friends that had entered the bar; a brief but obvious look of longing crossed his face as they sat down and ordered their drinks. It should have hurt to see him not want to sit with me but it didn't and that just increased my frustration.
"It's been great hanging out with you, Robbie. But I think I'm going to call it a night." I smiled and saw him visibly relax at not having to make up an excuse to go see his friends.
"Yeah, Sammy, I had fun, we should do it again." I could tell that he actually meant it, but in a purely platonic way and I didn't mind at all.
I could only smile tightly in reply as he placed a small kiss on my cheek and jumped off his stool. I waved weakly in farewell as he walked over to some friends at the bar, sliding off my own stool and ducking out of the tent. I walked absentmindedly around the stalls for a while shooting smiles and waves to those who called my name, before finding myself at the beginning of the path that lead to the river. At this time of night nobody would be down there and the promise of solitude was tempting enough for me to skip down the path until I reached the edge of the river. The water sparkled as if it was encrusted with millions of miniscule diamonds that sparkled and turned as the river flowed slowly and steadily.
My addition of solar powered lights beneath the surface of the water gave the stepping stone path an added element of mysticism and beauty at night and I was the only one around to appreciate it. The grey stones stood proudly in the stream and I noted with a grimace that some were littered with stray streamers from some of the more lively festival attendees. I slipped out of my ballet flats (hoping my more natural state would help with my balance) and left them neatly on the bank, hopping onto the first stone I picked up the few bits of paper gracing the surface. I made it to the other side with no trips or missteps and turned to make my way back; gripping the coloured paper ribbons in my fist. I couldn't stop the self-satisfied smile that graced my face at my successful journey crossing the stones.
When I reached the middle of the river I looked around carefully for any prying eyes before gathering my skirt carefully and folding myself onto the boulder. After the ridiculous speed of planning and implementing an event I always enjoyed a quiet moment where I could recollect my thoughts and take a private moment to congratulate myself on surviving another highly stressful job well done. I had moved the festival forward one week so as to coincide with the full moon and improve the aesthetic of the environment. At the time I was sure it would improve the festival exponentially and people would appreciate the added decoration of the spherical, golden moon. Now, however, it was for my own enjoyment as I wrapped my arms around my knees and took a breath, revelling in the only moment of peace I had had all day; the muffled sounds of laughter, music and screams from the rides creating a pleasant soundtrack to my meditation.
Away from the action of the festival I had finally had time to contemplate on the events of the day, in particular my time with Robbie. It had been pleasant enough; he was well mannered and appropriately funny, considerate and interested in our conversation but...
There was something missing.
Not from him, he was everything that I had imagined and a little bit more. But as I spent more time with him it had become abundantly clear that I felt nothing more than a slight physical attraction and a longstanding appreciation for a childhood good deed. I couldn't stop myself from letting out a deep sigh at the thought that I had been pining over somebody for the last fifteen years and when it came to the point where I actually attempted to get to know them... it was as if I had taken off the blindfold expecting a surprise party to find only a vacant room instead.
Was I expecting too much? Was I expecting internal fireworks and sparks being in his presence? The heart pounding, cheek flushing and finger itching side effects that being in the presence of the one you like is supposed to cause?
I would never admit it out loud, but I experienced more of that when I was screaming at Keifer...in a negative way of course.
"Need some help?" an amused voice called out from the carnival side of the river. I swung my head around to be met by the sight of Keifer stepping casually onto the first stone.
"From you? Definitely not." I picked up the streamers making a mental note to return tomorrow for the markers and lights and straightened my position on the boulder, brushing out the skirt of my dress. Holding the streamers and papers tightly in my hand, I noticed that Keifer was still moving across the stone in my direction, an amused smirk gracing his features. "Stop right there Keifer. Don't come any closer." I warned, pointing an accusatory finger in his direction.
"God, Sammy, I was 9. Would you get over it?" he stressed and crossed over to another stone.
I hopped backwards quickly in an effort to get away from him, surely the cops on the bridge would allow me to cross, given my standing as the organiser of the festival. "No, I won't get over it."
"One time and you hold it against me." He muttered and jumped onto another stone. Even with the distance between us I could definitely hear that giant load of shit.
"What!" I screeched and whipped around to see him only three stones away, I jumped one stone closer to him and planted my fists on my hips. "One time? You pushing me in the river was only the start. You don't find it appropriate to count all of those years you harassed me, called me names, and fucked over my friends. One time?" I repeated venomously and shot him a look as equally poisonous in the hopes he would be infected.
"Damn, Sammy I was a kid! Did it ever occur to you that maybe I did all those things to get your attention, because I liked you and had no idea what to do about it?" he raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side.
The silence stretched between us as I stared at him for a moment before answering.
"...No!" I shouted incredulously and turned on my heel; I stepped over to the next boulder but foolishly miscalculated the distance, my foot slipped on the edge and I went crashing into the water, the familiar feeling encasing my body and soaking me to the bone. I seriously considered staying in the water as I could either drown or die of embarrassment when I resurfaced. I was debating between the two when there was another resounding splash nearby and two arms grabbed my own and pulled me up.
I gasped for breath as my head broke through the surface and saw an utterly amused (and soaked) Keifer picking me up and sitting me on the boulder. "Did you just do that to make me jump in after you?" he asked and waded closer to me, placing a hand on either side of my hips. The proper button down shirt he wore was now stuck to him like a second skin, putting all his muscles on display. I looked down at my now ruined summer dress before shooting my gaze up to meet his, his grey eyes still glinting brightly in amusement; an expression that never seemed to fade from his irises. I felt my arms break out in goose bumps and I wasn't sure if it was the water or the slowly dissipating distance between Keifer and I that was causing my skin to react in such a way. Keifer lifted his hands and brushed the wet strands of hair back off my face, his palms dropped down to rest dangerously close to my outer thighs, spread flat against the smooth stone surface. With any other person the gesture would have seemed affectionate but with Keifer that was never the case.
"So, I pushed you in and now I pulled you out...call it even?" he tilted his head to the side and smiled sunnily in contrast to the overhanging moon.
I scrunched my face up in frustration, "You are such an-"
I was going to say 'asshole' but it's kind of hard to form full words when your childhood enemy pushes himself up from the stone and latches his mouth onto yours. He swiped his tongue against my bottom lip causing me to gasp and accidentally allow him further entrance. I felt him wrap one of his arms around my waist and pull me closer to the edge of the boulder as he moulded his lips around mine. I only had a moment to think about how strong he must be to hold himself up from the water with one hand, when I realised that that probably wasn't the thing that should be the focus of my attention in that moment. Keifer had dated a majority of my high school friends and after the initial mourning (read bitching) period preceding his dumping them, they could all talk quite openly about his sexual prowess and from those pow-wows two things had been made abundantly clear; He could dodge a flying high-heel while simultaneously pulling on his pants and he could make any girl kiss him back. I had rolled my eyes and snorted at these particular sentiments, but it was a full thirty seconds between the moment his tongue touched mine and when my palms pushed against his chest.
In that thirty seconds I had kept my mouth connected to his, bending down with him as he lowered back into the water and returned the ministrations he was making on my lips. However my senses came rushing back to me and I wrenched my mouth away with a strangled breath as I extended my palms violently into his chest. Keifer's lips were still shaped as if in mid-kiss and I didn't allow myself to appreciate that they were pretty good-looking lips and that the colour now pulsing in them made an extremely small part of me want to grab onto his shirt and pull him back. The more logical part of my brain won out over it.
"What are you doing?" I gasped.
Keifer unwound his arm from around my waist and treaded his hands through the water, squinting up at me with a pleased look on his face. "Well, Sammy, when two people place their lips together and-"
"I mean why?" I shot back, touching my fingertips to my lips; which now felt warm and swollen.
"Why not?" he shrugged, his eyes shooting down to my mouth and looking at it- dare I say- hungrily.
"Because you're you." I shook my head and couldn't stop my brow furrowing in disbelief.
There was a beat of silence before he let out a humourless chuckle and threaded a hand through his damp, limp curls. "Wow, thanks."
"I mean, you're you and I'm me." I corrected, not knowing why I felt the need to save his feelings.
"That's kind of the reason why I want to kiss you." He smiled and leant in again, his hands resting on the tops of my thighs this time and causing them to tighten in both a familiar and unfamiliar way. I placed my hands against his chest and leant back.
"Hold on, you were serious, when you said you liked me." I breathed out in alarm and felt fifteen years of my life-seventeen years of understanding- crash down like a glass chandelier meeting a tiled floor.
He nodded and I quickly shut my mouth from where it had been hanging in shock.
"But you pulled my hair all the time when we were kids." I offered lamely.
He rolled his eyes. "Sammy, the key word there is kids."
"You called me Sammy 'McFatten' for two years, are you blaming that on your immaturity as well?" I spat, the scars from that adolescent interlude still stung at some self-conscious times.
"No, that was because I was trying to ignore the fact you were growing some pretty impressive tits." He replied simply and averted his gaze down to said mounds of flesh that were making themselves quite obvious due to the combination of water, cool air and the after effects of the kiss.
"Lovely." I replied sarcastically and crossed my arms over my chest, which merely caused them to sit up higher and Keifer's eyes to rise with them. "Let me guess, you dated all my friends because you were pining after me as well, huh?"
"No, I hooked up with them because I'm a guy."
"I stopped dating them because they weren't you." He finished simply and stepped back to assess my facial expression (I'm sure I was doing a pretty good impression of a goldfish). He couldn't stop the small smile playing on his lips as he pushed through the water to the stone next to mine, pulling himself up easily. It was almost comical when he wrung out the bottom of his shirt before turning and pulling me up to stand on my own stone. I was too surprised to pull my hand out of his warm grasp as he rubbed his thumb back and forth across my palm.
"Sammy, I've spent most of my life acting like an idiot to get your attention and recently I've been trying a different approach. But I think you actually get madder at me when I'm being nice to you. I enjoy fighting with you and I think you like it just as much as me. And after that kiss, well-" he blew out a breath of air and I felt the heat rise in my cheeks, "I feel something when I'm with you, Sammy; something really good...Can you honestly say that you don't feel anything when you're with me?"
My heart was beating in my throat and my mind was working at a hundred miles an hour. I had only started to come to terms with the fact that I had misplaced my affection with Robbie and I couldn't stop his name passing through my lips as my brain attempted to untangle all the information it had been subjected to.
"Robbie? What does-" He stopped himself and I could see from the realisation in his eyes that he had managed to answer his own question. "Oh." I don't know why, but the look that crossed his face caused a sharp twist to build in my chest, it tightened as he dropped my hand abruptly. I took a breath and tangled my fingers in my damp and wavy hair, closing my eyes in the hopes that not seeing Keifer would allow me to voice my thoughts a lot better.
"I've hated you since I was seven years old-" I breathed out slowly.
"-and you've been in love with Robbie for that long as well, right?" Keifer interrupted brashly, causing me to open my eyes and bite my lip.
Well technically yes, but a lot had happened in the last few hours and that meant my head and my heart were a little fucked up right now.
That's what I should have said but the words didn't seem to want to leave my mouth and I just stood there staring at my wet and dishevelled childhood enemy who was slowly starting to change my perception of him.
"I can take a clue, Sammy." His voice permeated the air at my lack of response and I watched him turn and hop onto the next stone. What surprised me was that at his movement I had instinctively reached out to stop him. What the hell was going on?
"Keifer-" I called out and jumped onto the boulder he had just exited.
"You did a great job today, Sammy. Best festival ever." He called back over his shoulder as he continued his trail. The first sentence was more sincere then the second.
"Samantha, why is the wood-fired pizza oven on the truck meant for the dunk tank?" Ella, my junior planner, asked before correcting the error by sending some labourers to take it down.
I flipped through the multiple pages on the clipboard and juggled my phone, saving it from a perilous swan dive. "I have no freaking idea." I tangled my fingers and phone in my hair and tried to shake the sleep and distracted thoughts out of my brain.
It seemed that three hours of sleep was not nearly enough to allow a person to orchestrate the deconstruction of a festival. I had been overseeing the packing up of the stalls and sideshow machines for four hours now, and this was only one of many mistakes that I had made. Thoughts of Keifer had stunted my sleep all night and I couldn't erase the feel of his kiss on my lips or the look on his face when I said Robbie's name. I couldn't just instantly change how I felt about Keifer due to a declaration of affection, especially after fifteen years of reinforcing the fact that I hated him. But even I found it hard to deny that in the last few years Keifer had been tolerable, he knew more about me then I cared to admit and he had the ability to make my body go haywire- in both positive and negative ways. That had to count for something didn't it?
"Sam, how about I deal with the rest of this? You look like you need a break." Ella provided sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, I'm just tired." I offered weakly, too conflicted to care about a junior planner taking on a senior duty.
"It's been a long weekend." She smiled and slid the clipboard out of my hands. "How about you go get the markers from the stones and then go home. I can finish up here and if there are any issues I'll call you."
I returned her smile gratefully and relayed some instructions that I knew I hadn't mixed up, before I turned on my heel and made my way to the river. I traced down the familiar path as I recorrected the position of my satchel. The tossing and turning all night had not helped my predicament; it had only served me with a bad case of puffy eyes and a constant nervous pulling in my stomach. I made it to the edge of the river and carefully stepped onto the first stone, the water ran steadily beneath me and gurgled happily across the smooth rocks, peppering around the boulders. I cupped some of the fresh water in my hands and smoothed it down my neck and across my cheeks, the coolness of the stream trickled into my pores and made me feel instantly refreshed; maybe some of the clarity of the water would seep through into my brain and figure out the Keifer/Robbie/kiss situation. Straightening on my post I noticed that there was another figure on the trail; his large hands holding the markers and his grey eyes locked on my figure.
His eyes met mine for just a second, but the look I saw there made my stomach clench unpleasantly, the feeling intensifying as he turned and began to hop across the stones to the other side of the river.
"Hey!" I called out and jumped across the stones spritely, stopping at a safe distance of five boulders between us.
Keifer sighed and turned back around swiftly as though his quick movements would assist in speeding up the length of our conversation. "Hey, I was walking past and saw the markers were still here so I was going to-"
"I've been thinking." I interrupted and stepped onto the next stone, shrugging my satchel off of my shoulder and placing it at my feet before hopping onto the next boulder. "Maybe I was wrong about you."
"Oh?" Even looking down, I could sense his eyebrows were raised in deprecation. It shocked me that I could imagine his facial expressions as clearly as my own and when I glanced up it was like seeing a mirror image.
I stepped onto the next stone and met his steady gaze, nodding slowly. "Yeah."
"How so?" he gauged, his eyes were guarded and he crossed his arms stiffly over his chest.
"For the longest time, I truly believed that you were the spawn of Satan sent to make my life a living hell." I blew out a sigh and straightened the breezy blouse that was getting caught in the wind.
He paused and I swear I saw the corner of his mouth curve upwards. "...Okay?"
"-and for that same amount of time I believed that the fact Robbie pulled me out of the river meant that he was the love of my life." I couldn't help but smile, it sounded ridiculous when I said it out loud.
"So that's all it takes, huh?" he snorted humourlessly.
"Would you shut up and let me finish?" I almost growled. He let out a deep sigh and relented, motioning his hand for me to continue.
I took a deep breath and wiped my sweaty palms on the denim of my shorts, locking my eyes with his and attempting to deliver my opinion clearly. "You frustrate me to no end, every time I'm near you I get angry and we end up arguing and that kiss was totally unexpected and you're lucky I didn't slap the shit out of your pretty face." I jabbed a finger at him as my diatribe started to take a different turn.
"You've made your feelings clear, Sam, I get it; you don't like me." He shook his head and turned around stepping over to the next boulder.
"You're not letting me finish." I sighed, but this time he didn't turn back around and his reluctance made my stomach clench in fear.
"What if I said that I enjoy fighting with you?" I yelled after him, "-and that I liked that kiss..." I trailed off as he stopped and straightened on the stone. He turned slowly and those heart pounding, cheek flushing and finger itching side effects started up...they weren't negative ones either.
"What about Robbie?" he asked cautiously, jumping back onto the previous stone and staring at me intently.
"Well I don't fight with Robbie and I didn't like it when I kissed him." I returned breezily, looking up from under my lashes to see his mouth twitch in the beginnings of a smile before drawing back into a neutral line.
"You know what I mean, Sammy." He deadpanned and I took a careful step onto the final stone between us taking a moment to really survey him. His grey eyes stared straight into me and seemed to increase the heart pounding and finger itching in a very pleasant way. I noted that his dark unruly locks brought out the shadowy silver ring around his eyes and that it was pretty entrancing when you actually paid attention to it. He crossed his arms across his broad chest and the muscles beneath the skin stretched pleasantly in return. An image from last night flashed across my mind of when his wet shirt had been stuck to an impressively defined torso and I couldn't stop the heat rising in my cheeks and other places. What was going on with me?!
"Sammy?" he probed and I hoped that it wasn't just my imagination that made it seem as if his tone was softer.
I shrugged and wrapped my arms around myself, the summer breeze making my skin break out in goose bumps. "He's nice but I realised there was nothing between us. He was only around to help me go on to something better... kind of like a stepping stone." I added as an afterthought, a smile stretching at my lips as his eyebrows rose slowly at my confession.
Keifer cleared his throat awkwardly and let his arms drop to his side, looking down intensely at the stone surface beneath his feet.
"And me?" he stepped slowly onto my stone so that we were chest to chest.
I smiled and leant up to press my lips firmly to his, uncrossing my arms and gripping my fingers into the material of his shirt to pull him closer as I felt his hands brush up my forearms, my shoulders and my neck to cup my face. I moved my lips over and around his slowly and determinedly, enjoying the way that my stomach was flip-flopping in joy. This was what a kiss was supposed to be like; not pressing your lips against a flesh-covered wall but the amazing tangle of lust, nervousness, giddiness and cautiousness that was created by the action of Keifer latching his lips around my bottom one. I allowed him to deepen the kiss momentarily as he tilted my head back, before pulling away and answering his initial question.
"You're the destination." I breathed out and couldn't stop myself from covering his growing smile with my own.
The 'Stepping Stone' festival is the most popular community event in my hometown. Everyone- and I mean everyone- in town loves the festival but none more than me, because it was at the Annual Fairview Stepping Stone festival where I met the boy of my nightmares and the man of my dreams.
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