Bits of oyster shells crunched under his dress shoes as he walked out to the road.
Looking right, and then left, he found the road empty. Maybe he should take a quick ride down the road, toward Strawberry Grove, to make sure Summer was okay. Sunset was the worst time for someone walking down the side of the road. Visibility for drivers was horrible.
Then again, would she welcome his concern? And why did he keep thinking Summer was his concern?
He jammed a hand in his pocket and pulled out his keys, grimacing. As if he really needed to ask himself that question.
“Ready to go?”
Gabriel turned and found Carlos, grinning at him. “Dinner’s over. Bachelor party begins.”
At Gabriel’s silence, his buddy’s grin fell. “Oh come on, man. Don’t do this.”
“Do what?” The truck keys burned in the palm of his hand. Gabriel knew exactly what his friend didn’t want him to do.
“Go chasing after Summer.” Carlos nodded at Gabriel’s truck. “You got your truck back. Be done with her.”
That was the problem—he and Summer were never done. They had too many unanswered questions, too many what ifs. There was no water under the bridge for them. Their bridge was six feet under, and the river was still swelling.
“She doesn’t need to walk home by herself. It’s almost dark.” He reached in his other pocket, drew out the second set of keys, and tossed them to Carlos.
“Not every woman wants to be rescued, Gabe,” Carlos said as he caught the keys. “Sometimes a good buddy needs rescuing from himself. Let’s round up the guys and go.”
Undeterred, Gabriel shook his head. “It’s the right thing to do. I can’t leave her out there.”
Carlos frowned, running a hand through his hair. “How about this—we stick to the plan and check on Summer as we drive to Wilmington. If she’s okay, we keep driving. If she’s not, we call the cops and still keep driving. I’m sure there’s a warrant for her arrest for something.”
Gabriel knew Carlos was trying to be a good friend by offering to save him from a woman he thought was bad news. He’d known Summer as long as Gabriel had, longer really, since Gabriel hadn’t moved to Holland Springs until he was nine. But it still pissed him off. “Don’t be a jerk.”
“I’m being a realist.” Carlos held up his hands in surrender. “But hey, if you want to ruin what you have with Elise, who am I to stop you?”
Crap. He’d forgotten about her. Yet another reason Carlos’s warning made sense. However, when it came to Summer, right was wrong, down was up, and left was right.
“I’m checking on the woman, not marrying her,” Gabriel snapped.
His buddy rolled his eyes and dropped his arms. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Duly noted.” Gabriel smiled, already at the truck and opening the driver’s side door. He jammed the key in the ignition, but hesitated at turning it. The last time he’d found her walking down the side of the road, he’d picked her up and had driven to The Pointe. From there, things had gotten really hot, steaming up the windows hot.
He’d been all of seventeen and Summer fifteen. They’d spent the entire months of July and August making out in his old, beat-up truck. But he wasn’t seventeen anymore. He was a grown man with goals and accomplishments that had nothing to do with Summer.
Keep telling yourself that.
Gabriel wiped sweaty palms on his khakis, started up the truck, put it in gear, and made a left onto Highway 13. As he drove, fireflies dotted the fields and ditches along the road, blinking in and out of sight. The closer he got to Strawberry Grove, the more fireflies appeared.
The sun slipped under the horizon, making his running lights visible along the blacktop. Great. Just great. How was he supposed to find her?
Light glowed from the forest of pine trees by the old Holland place. He slowly braked, put the truck in park, and rolled down the passenger side window, watching as the bugs blinked on and off.
Before he knew what was happening, he’d unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door, and strode into the forest. He crept through the woods, quiet as a predator hunting his prey, and then came to a sight that stole his breath away.
Summer, all alone in a meadow of spring flowers. Well, if you didn’t count the hundreds of fireflies dancing around her.
Laughing with pure joy, she waved a hand in the air. The fireflies followed her movements, reminding him of kids playing with sparklers on the Fourth of July.
His gut clenched.
The fireflies continued their dance, moths joining in. Something swept passed him. He followed the blur and realized it was a bat, mostly likely trying to eat the conveniently provided snack.
Summer laughed again, drawing his attention back to her. She threw out her arms and spun around. He felt himself drift closer, like he was one of those moths… and she the flame.
“Summer.” Her name a prayer on his lips. A plea in his heart.
“What do you want?” Summer snapped. “I gave you back your truck.”
He paused at the vehemence in her tone. “Thank you, but I wanted to check on you and make sure you got home okay.”
He fully expected her to ask who would be checking on him, because he lived by himself. Instead, she tilted her head, giving him a small smile. “Thanks.”
“Can I walk you home?”
“Where’s your truck?”
“I left it on the road.” He nodded his head to the right.
The moon came out from behind the clouds, illuminating the field to near daylight.
She scrunched her nose. “Someone could steal it.”
“Maybe they need it more than me,” he replied.
“Good Samaritans have nothing on you.”
He shrugged. “When people are desperate, they do desperate things. Those of us who can help, should.”
Wrong thing to say. “You Jesus freaks amaze me.” She crossed her arms. “But you do give good lip service.”
Irritation rose, making his jaw clench before he answered. “Was it lip service to let you drive off with my truck all those years ago?”
“Let me?” She shook her head and smiled. “Angel, you had no idea what I was going to do that night.”
“Really?” He crossed his arms and stared down at the lovely face highlighted by the moonlight. “Let’s think about this—the gas pump only takes pre-pays. I chose to go inside to buy a bottle of Cheerwine.”
Her smile faltered and a pink tongue licked at her lips. “So, you’re saying…”