The next two weeks passed in a blur of activity. Anna spent a great deal of her time shopping with the girls for their trip and devoted most evenings to Austin who insisted on being old fashioned and taking her on dinner dates. Movies one night, bowling the next, she felt like she was packing in years’ worth of missed boy/girl outings. Of course she was going to be gone for a month so she understood his desire to be with her. She had effectively pushed her misgivings of them to the back of her mind, and even found that his arm around her in public was not so terrible. She hadn't let him back in her bedroom however, and had set some definite boundaries for their make-out sessions. He still pushed a little but he wouldn't have been a guy if he didn't.
Everything was....good. Good friends, a good boyfriend, shopping malls, parks and lakes, dates and parties, all the things that made the normal average college aged kid’s life in America....well perfect. Except Anna had always believed herself to be above average and she was beginning to believe she was not quite normal.
The shadow men sightings were increasing and she wasn’t sure if she was just noticing more of them or if there were more of them. Either notion was disquieting. She couldn’t quite pin down why it bothered her though, since other than the chill of malevolence she felt if they got too close there didn't seem to be anything they could do to actually harm her. She kept picturing the night of her party, and while she firmly believed the shadowy figures had somehow influenced the fight (which she later found had resulted in a knocked out tooth and a broken nose) the fact of the matter was boys fought. It was something they did with or without supernatural influence. Now if they had broken out some chain saws and started hacking people up it would have been a different story, but all and all it had been a fairly ordinary brawl.
She found it extremely odd that the shadows seemed to be little more than a slight disturbance when on some very basic level she knew they were the things of nightmares. And not just your run of the mill "a ghost is chasing me" nightmare, but the kind where a person wakes up so terrified they have to use a great deal of will to block out the image and it takes hours of daylight to feel normal again. It was distressing in a way she couldn’t define, but no matter how hard she tried to make sense of it she couldn’t.
At the moment she and her friends were gathered at Nate's house for their friend Tyler's "after hours" grad party. Nate's parents were out of town and since he had an Olympic sized swimming pool along with a very large hot tub, his place was where to be. And because it was the night before they left for Europe it was a going away party as well.
Jess and Nate had made it through two weeks without any big fights which was impressive considering they were with one another constantly. Generally Jess would have found a thousand things to despise about a guy by now but clearly adding the element of sex bought him a little extra time…and they were active-you did NOT want to walk in on them when they were alone. Kudos to that, Anna thought, though some of the other girls were critical. She personally felt that once she was ready to take that step she would be a nympho, which she stated in her friend's defense on several occasions. Not that she would be a slut, she fully intended for only one guy to receive the benefit of her sexual prowess. Whether that guy would be Austin...she still had yet to make up her mind.
She was currently standing in Nate’s bathroom feeling a little naked as she checked out her new swimsuit in the full length mirror. She'd never worn a two piece before, but Jess and Jenna had convinced her to buy it when she'd tried it on at the store. Admittedly it was very attractive. It featured just enough cleavage to be enticing and the color complemented her eyes.
She checked once more to make sure her "cheeks" were covered and headed outdoors with her clothes draped over her arm. Austin's eyes widened as he spotted her and he hopped off the bench, whistling low as he approached.
"That is one sexy suit, a little bit too sexy actually," he told her as his eyes wandered over every inch.
Blushing she shook her head. "J&J convinced me."
"You plan on wearing that over in Europe?"
"Hey, over there they go naked, consider this ultra conservative," she stated defensively.
He frowned. "Are you trying to tell me all of their beaches are nude? I know they have them...you're not going to one are you?"
She patted his arm. "The last thing I wanna do is see a beach full of hairy asses and saggy boobies."
He threw back his head and laughed. “Yeah, we imagine those places are filled with hotties, but your description is a hell of a lot more likely.”
She grinned and nodded, pushing him lightly towards the pool. "Ready for a swim?"
He pulled his shirt off and grabbed the clothes from her arm, tossing them over by the bench. She was about to comment on his physique when he picked her up off her feet and jumped in the water.
She came up spluttering and slapping him, "Jerk, I snorted it up my nose!"
He grinned as he grabbed her smacking hands, “Sorry babe, it was too good an opportunity to miss.”
She leaned up and bit his lip.
"Ow!" He made like he was going to dunk her and she screeched in protest.
"Okay you two." Jenna came to the edge of the pool with her hands on her hips looking ridiculously scrumptious in her dark red bikini with black flowers. Her generous boobs were threatening to spill out, and Anna feared if she attempted to jump in she would lose the top completely.
"What mom, what'd we do?" Austin teased.
"I never thought Anna would become one of those girls who giggled and flirted and shrieked, but it appears you have demented her!" She was smiling as she said it, but Anna didn't doubt she was half serious.
"No, I think it's Jess's influence," Marina stated coming up to the side of the pool.
"I do not shriek!" Jess protested walking up beside her.
"Oh no?" Marina promptly pushed her over the side laughing gleefully as Jess obligingly shrieked.
That started a war. Every girl at the party was being chased and tossed in the pool with the exception of Marina who continually dodged, pointing and laughing at the rest of them. At least until Anna made a suggestion to the ever willing Austin who came out of the water and grabbed the lithe blonde around the waist. To Marina’s credit not only didn’t she shriek, she kicked and wrestled almost free of him.
He finally managed to pull her over the side and give her a dunk for good measure.
"Damn that girl is deceptively strong!" He exclaimed. "She may look thin, but she is wiry as hell, and those legs!"
"Oh you're checking out my legs now Aussie?" Marina’s blue eyes flashed as she came after him for revenge.
She was so tenacious that he finally had to give in and let her dunk him or he would have had to watch his back for the rest of the night.
"Are you guys done, because I would really like to go lounge in the hot tub with my boyfriend." Anna was sitting on the edge of the pool by this time, a mock look of disapproval on her face. She knew the casually thrown boyfriend comment would make Austin happy and she found that despite her Sometimes Claustrophobia (which she decided was more the case than bipolar disorder) she did enjoy making him feel good.
Marina grudgingly let go of his hair which she was still holding for another dunk and Anna had to laugh at her expression. She was not one to piss off. Of their little group she and Jenna were the two you wanted to avoid confrontation with, although with Marina it was definitely more physical where Jenna could kill you with a look.
Austin climbed out of the pool and pulled her to her feet, kissing her lightly on the mouth. His eyes were crinkled, which meant he was enormously pleased by the comment as she’d figured, and he scooped her up and brought her over to the hot tub.
Nate and Jess were already in it with Holly and Tyler and as Anna and Austin settled in Anna noticed that Jess was trying to get Nate's attention without success. He was animatedly talking about the football teams he and Austin were putting together for the summer and she couldn't compete with that, a fact which was irritating her more and more by the second. As a last ditch effort she placed herself between him and Tyler.
"Excuse me, hello, your girlfriend is trying to talk to you, you know the one that's leaving tomorrow for a WHOLE month! Maybe you could talk to Tyler about football when I'm gone?" She was scowling, distorting her normally beautiful features.
Nate leaned back against the side of the tub and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at her. "What do you want? What can't wait until I'm finished talking?" His voice held a note of reined in hostility, and Anna braced herself for an argument.
"I just TOLD you, I'm leaving tomorrow, I want your attention, I want you to focus on me!"
"I have done nothing BUT focus on you for two weeks straight, and now you're gonna bitch at me for talking to someone for five fucking minutes?"
"Don't swear at me!"
"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck."
Jess stood up and pointed a finger in his face. "You are being an asshole, and I am leaving."
His arms came up on either side of his head, "So GO."
She looked momentarily surprised, then splashed water in his face and climbed hastily out of the tub.
Anna watched in amusement as her friend stormed across the deck, thinking the probability of her actually leaving the premises were slim to none, and if she did, she would be back.
"Are you going after her?" Austin asked.
She shook her head snickering. "Nah, she'll be fine, she just needs to chill-ax." That was their favorite phrase to throw at her when her mood swung south. Chill-ax Jess, or as Macey would say, Chill-ax Crabby pants.
Nate resumed his conversation about football and Anna eyed him thoughtfully. He actually had a chance of holding onto her friend if that's what he wanted. It was best not to cater to Jess when she was in one of those moods, especially guys, or she wouldn't respect them.
She continued her quiet study of Nate and decided she could definitely understand her friend’s attraction to the guy, there was just something about him. Aside from his all American good looks she knew that despite his preference for slang he was very intelligent. She’d had debate class with him in high school and he’d never lost an argument.
"Well, my focus is all on you, baby." Austin kissed the tip of her nose and she smiled at him fondly. He really was a sweet guy. He would make a terrific husband someday. As soon as the thought entered her mind she inwardly grimaced and claustrophobia tried to strike. She put her arms around his neck and buried her face against his chest forcing the feeling to pass. He ran his fingers lightly up and down her back, mercifully oblivious to her thoughts.
"I'm really going to miss you," he whispered against her hair.
She nodded against his smooth skin fervently wishing she could match the depth of his feelings. The only time she ever felt as strongly as he did was when they were making out. It made no sense to her, how she could be attracted to him like that but not find herself really falling for him. Holly had pointed out that it might be because he was marriage material and she was not in a place to consider it. After giving this some thought she decided there was truth in it. She could easily picture her life with him and knew he would be wonderful to her-faithful, supportive…a great dad. But she was nineteen and the idea of her whole life being set in stone was terrifying. She wanted adventure and excitement. She wanted fireworks. That was the main source of the problem-with him it was comfortable as if they’d already been together for years and years. But comfortable wasn’t a place she wanted to begin at, it was where she wanted to arrive after being with someone for a long time. Lightning first, Little League later. Much later.
Stop it, she scolded. Give him this night and worry about the rest later. After all, who knew what would happen in a month?
The party was still in full throttle when she asked Austin to drive her home. She would be getting on a plane early the next afternoon and she didn't want to be exhausted on her first night in a foreign country. Plus she wanted to spend some alone time with him before she left.
Her dad was still somewhere in Africa. He'd called the other day and left a message telling her that if he didn't talk to her before she departed that she could reach him by leaving messages on his cell. Also he told her he loved her and to be safe, the same things she always said to him before he left on one of his trips. It would have been nice to hear “have fun”, but fun was no longer in his vocabulary. It tore at her heart when she thought about how much he missed her mom, how much his love for her had cost him. She’d once asked him if he would still have chosen to be with her mom if he’d known he would lose her so early. He had stared into space for several minutes and she’d thought he wasn't going to answer when he’d finally said, "I would suffer all the pain the world can throw at me for just one day with her." He'd smiled a little then, a ghost of his former robust grin, and told her he was certain they would be together again, he just had to endure the separation.
She had forced herself to smile back, but the comment had made her heart ache with the knowledge that nothing in this life would ever make him happy again, not even her.
When she and Austin reached her house he wasted no time pulling her to him and locking his lips on hers. There was an urgency about it that set off little trills of excitement in her belly. He picked her up sliding her body against his entire length until she wrapped her legs around his waist. As his lips found hers again she decided to break her bedroom rule. "Upstairs," she whispered against his mouth. He wasted no time obeying.
Their lips stayed locked as he carried her up the stairs and put them in her bed. She could feel his erection straining the light material of his swimsuit and it made her feel giddy. There was very little between them as she was wearing only a pair of thin jogging shorts with nothing underneath.
"I want you Anna, so badly." His voice was rough with desire and she almost felt guilty knowing his need could become painful. Most girls had no empathy when it came to a guy's anatomy but she wasn't most girls.
She ground her hips against him and the place between her thighs came alive with heat. He moaned against her neck in response and she felt herself moisten which created a whole new sensation for her.
"I'm wet," she blurted, immediately wishing she could take it back. His whole body stiffened and he lifted off her. Of course by the time he looked at her face she was flaming red, chewing her lower lip.
"You know what that means don't you? You're body's ready for me."
She continued chewing her lip, anxiety replacing desire. She shook her head. "Maybe, but my head isn't yet. I shouldn't have said that, it just slipped out, I didn't mean to get your hopes up. It just hasn't happened before and I thought out loud…
He put a hand lightly on her mouth. "It's okay, don't be nervous, I won't press you. And don't worry about me, I can handle it. I'm glad you said it, a guy likes to know when his girl is turned on." He grinned at her and she smiled back.
"Maybe the bedroom thing is a bad idea," She looked at him apologetically, and he nodded, pulling them both to their feet.
When they were back downstairs he settled them on the couch and she snuggled into his arms, her thoughts alternating between her impending trip and her confusing relationship. He clicked the television on and found a movie for them and after a while she was able to shut down her mental warring and get lost in the film.