“Look at you,” Seth said. “Gleaming like a firefly.”
I glanced down to see my loosely-buttoned blouse had fluttered open, exposing the dewy, glistening swell of skin above my bikini top. For a split second, the reflex to cover myself kicked in, but then I looked up, my gaze locking with Seth’s, and I saw myself the way he seemed to see me—as something beautiful under the moon.
The whiskey coursed through my body and it made me feel brave. Wild. Powerful. I shuddered again, this time for his amusement, giggling as I turned it into a silly, little dance. Seth broke into a huge smile and laughed.
Still chuckling myself, I threw my head back and stared up at the sky. The stars were swirling like a merry-go-round; they were watching me and applauding.
“So what’s your deal, Firefly?” Seth asked.
Though there were other chairs nearby, I moved to sit on the end of his lounger. “I’ll tell you what,” I said, passing the bottle back to him. “I’ll answer a question of yours for every question of mine that you answer. Deal?”
Seth lay back in the chair and took a long drink from the bottle before swallowing hard. “Okay, shoot.”
“Alright…” I took a moment to think, my intoxicated mind thrumming. “How old are you?”
“Really?” He looked incredulous. “That’s easy enough. I’m nineteen. Same question.”
Seth paused before replying. “Seventeen.”
“Okay, so not too drunk then,” I teased.
He shot me a contemptuous glance.
“Okay, next question,” I continued. “Why are you out here, drinking alone on this stifling evening? Do you miss the Georgia heat or something?”
Seth sniggered. “Something like that.” He ran a hand through his hair. “No, I just needed to unwind. It’s been a very long day. Besides, I’m not exactly drinking alone anymore, now am I?” He took another sip and passed the bottle back to me.
“I suppose not,” I said, putting it to my lips. “Okay, your turn.”
Seth pulled on his cigarette. “Same question.”
“Do I miss the Georgia heat?”
“No.” Seth grinned. “What are you doing out here, drinkin’ with the likes of me?”
“Well,” I started. “I suppose, I’ve had a very long day too.”
“Hey!” I slapped him playfully on the leg. “It’s my turn to ask something.”
“Fair enough,” Seth said, reaching to take the bottle from me. “But how about I take a penalty drink and then you elaborate anyway.”
“Fine.” I waited while he tossed the bottle back. “It all started a few weeks ago when my boyfriend broke up with me.”
“Ah. I see.”
I held up a finger to quiet him. “But wait,” I said. “There’s more. He’s now dating my best friend.”
Seth winced. “Ouch. That’s almost country-song-worthy.”
“So what’s up with that? She doesn’t sound very best-friend-like if she stole your man like that.”
“I know,” I repeated, but then my inherent tendency to defend her kicked in. “But it’s not like she did it maliciously. It was more innocent than that. I think…I think the entire time I was dating him, she was unwittingly falling in love with him too.” As the words tumbled from my mouth, I realized they were true. Maybe I was being too hard on Alden.
“Ain’t nothin’ innocent about love,” Seth said in a sing-song voice. He passed me the bottle, then lit another cigarette.
“Hey, that was like—” I tried to do the math in my head, “a bunch of questions. You owe me.”
Seth ashed his cigarette and nodded for me to proceed.
“How long have you been a smoker?” I asked, eying the glowing stub in his hand.
“About a year,” he said. “And I wouldn’t call myself a smoker. I only do it when I’m drinking heavily. You can blame my roommate at VSU for that.”
“I’m sure I will if I ever happen to meet him. Okay, next question.” I reached over and pulled playfully on the collar of his shirt before releasing it. “Why is your shirt so dirty?”
He smiled at my brashness, then answered matter-of-factly. “Because I work on a yard crew. In fact, I’m going to school for business admin so I can run my own landscaping company one day.”
Well, that explained the rough hands, the hard lines, but I wanted to know more.
“Your parents have lived here a while. How come this is the first time you’ve been home to visit?”
“I was busy at school. I had a great part-time job right on campus.” He stopped to blow smoke out the side of his mouth, away from where I was sitting. “I didn’t grow up here. Don’t have any friends nearby. Saw no reason to come.”
“So why are you home now?” I asked. “Why didn’t you just stay there for the summer?”
Seth took a long drag on his cigarette, holding the smoke in, and then exhaled completely before answering. “My mom got sick.”
Until that moment, our conversation had been so lighthearted and breezy. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, ill-equipped for such a heavy subject.
“Breast cancer,” he continued. “It’s a bitch. I came home to help out, drive her to appointments and such.” The southern twang seemed to leave his voice the more he talked. “My dad works a lot. I figured it was the least I could do.”
“You’re a good son,” I said.
He seemed mesmerized as he stared at the oil lamp’s dancing flame. “Maybe.”
“Will you go back?”
“I don’t know.” He reached over to stub out the substantial remainder of his cigarette. I imaged it was difficult to smoke and talk about cancer at the same time. “I suppose it depends. There isn’t much for me here. But the few things there are, are pretty damn important.”
“Well, you can have me,” I said, not intending to sound so provocative, but also not regretting it. I had the whisky to thank for that. “I’ll be your friend.”
He leaned forward in his chair, bringing his face close to mine so he could study it. “What makes you so sure you want to be friends with me, Firefly?”
I didn’t flinch. In fact, for a moment, I could swear the only thing that moved was my heart, rushing and pumping beneath my ribs. He wanted me. I could feel it. And with Malcolm having checked out of our relationship when he did, it’d been too long since I’d felt wanted. It was invigorating. It made me feel bold.
I placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back against the lounger, then leaned forward to hover over him, my mouth inches from his.
“I just have a feeling,” I whispered, then slid my hand down to his stomach. His abs flexed beneath my touch. “Somewhere down here.”
He closed his eyes and I breathed against his lips, then pulled myself off him, slipping away into the shadows before leaving him with a challenge:
“I’ll give you the whole summer to prove me wrong.”