Eight years ago…
“I don’t feel so good, Cass.” My best friend and perpetual partner in crime, Scarlett Bodine, looked up from her hands and knees. She wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her t-shirt.
I stripped the just-in-case hair tie off my wrist and fashioned her long, dark hair into a sloppy knot. “That’s ‘cause you puked up half a bottle of Jack and a couple of beers, Scar,” I reminded her. “You shouldn’t have taken Zirkel’s bet.”
Wade Zirkel had stupidly bet Scarlett he could outdrink her. He was still passed out in the dirt back at the bonfire.
“I’m hungry,” she moaned. “Wait, no. More puke.”
As Scarlett heaved up her dinner of cheese sticks and coffee into our old Sunday school teacher Mrs. Morganson’s hedgerow, I patted her shoulder and drunk dialed my choice of designated drivers.
Bowie picked up, his voice husky. “Y’all need a ride, don’t you?”
Just a couple of words and I swear my heart did a swan dive into my belly full of Jack Daniels.
“Maybe I’m calling to listen to your pretty voice.” My super sexy flirting was ruined by a hiccup.
“You owe me $10.”
It wasn’t the fee for the ride. It was the bet we’d made not four hours ago when I’d picked up Scarlett. I was home for the summer fresh off my first year of college, eager to show off my sophomore self to my best friend in the world. And maybe her older brothers. One in particular.
I’d been doodling that man’s name on my notebooks since elementary school. My crush on him was woven into the fabric of my childhood. In kindergarten, when I’d learned to write my own name, I’d insisted on the spot that my teacher show me how to write Bowie’s, too. In junior high, I’d developed an obsessive interest in the high school baseball team thanks entirely to their all-star pitcher, Bowie.
“I got your damn ten dollars, mercenary. Now, get your ass down to Mrs. Morganson’s before your sister poisons her boxwoods with regurgitated bourbon.”
“Ah, hell. Be there in five. I’m holding you personally responsible if Scar tosses up in my back seat again, Cass.” He hung up.
I smiled and undid one extra button on my shirt.
“Fix your hair,” Scarlett instructed from the ground. “Can’t land a man with drunk hair.”
Scarlett was aware of my friendly feelings toward her brother. We had a plan. I was going to entrap Bowie with my feminine wiles, marry the man, and then Scarlett and I would be real-life sisters.
I was calculating with a stubborn streak wider than ten miles, at least, according to my mom. With Scarlett’s take-action-without-minding-the-consequences attitude in my corner, Bowie didn’t stand a chance against my long game.
I’d switched up my strategy from the hand painted sign-carrying preteen at every home game to the leggy, cleavage-displaying, ambivalent college girl. I flirted lightly as if it were mere habit and pretended that I had handsomer fish to fry than Mr. Bodine.
I didn’t. There was not a handsomer fish in all the water in all the world than Bowie. And I had a good feeling about this summer. I was bourbon-confident.
By the time Bowie pulled up in his SUV, I’d managed to drag Scarlett to her feet and wiped her face.
He climbed out in well-worn jeans and a clean polo. My stomach did a weird slosh. It was his casual, first-date outfit. It either hadn’t gone well or I’d interrupted. Either way, he was here, and I was happy.
I’d gotten used to watching the man of my dreams date other women. Hell, I dated and had a damn good time doing it.
But I was confident that someday Bowie and I would end up together. My confidence was telling me that this summer might be that someday.
He shook his head and grinned his crooked grin that he’d been smiling at me for our entire lives as he took in our drunk and disheveled selves. “Looks like you girls are havin’ a good night.” He opened the back door. “Throw her on back here.”
“Bow, I want pancakes!” Scarlett said, throwing her arms around her older brother’s shoulders.
“Jesus, Scar. You smell like puke and hot dogs.”
“Cheese sticks,” I corrected, shoving Scarlett into the back seat and rolling her window all the way down. Bowie and I spent some quality time together over Christmas break cleaning Scarlett’s last puke fest out of his door pocket.
“I had a corndog, too,” Scarlett sang. “Junior was makin’ some in the microwave.”
“That’s probably why you just destroyed Mrs. Morganson’s shrubbery,” Bowie observed.
Scarlett thought that was hilarious and laughed until she hiccupped.
“Where to, trouble?” Bowie asked, settling behind the wheel as I buckled myself into the passenger seat. Trouble was his pet name for me. It was meant ironically since I was never in trouble. I’d never be calling someone for bail money on dollar shot night at The Lookout. Not with my dad presiding as sheriff over our sweet little slice of West Virginia. I was the good girl. The smart girl. The criminal justice major who planned to come back here and serve my town. I was the best friend who got Scarlett out of her messes of trouble.
Bowie was like me. Practically a choir boy. Secretly, I thought maybe he was doing his best to make up for his parents while I was living up to mine.
Scarlett warbled a little song in the back seat.
“Let’s get some food in her,” I suggested, leaning back in the seat and sighing.
Bowie nodded at the waters he’d thoughtfully stashed in the cupholders. “You know the drill.”
“Hydration,” I twanged. I opened Scarlett’s bottle for her and handed it back. “Drink up, buttercup.”
Bowie opened mine for me, and I drank deeply. I wasn’t much of a heavy drinker. I had better things to do than go around getting shitfaced all the time. But Scarlett sure could be persuasive when she got started.
But the fact was, I was always there to hold Scarlett’s hair.
I always called Bowie, and he always came.
It was who we were.
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