Neil reconnects with his friends. Closest to Heath Barrett, he sits with the other man, talking and sipping a beer.
“I’m planning on staying, my friend. I’m finally home. Just came by it the long way.”
A pretty blonde woman walked into the clearing. She carried a big, heavy bowl. Neil who was nearby, hopped up, taking it from her. She smiled, her blue eyes meeting his and she laughed. His heart seemed to skip a beat as he took in details. She was tall, for a woman, slender and athletic, with short blonde hair that was cut and styled in a casual, wispy way. Her full lips parted and she smiled.
“Neil Braxton, swear to God, you don’t recognize me!”
He peered at her, holding the heavy bowl in his arms. He set it on the nearby table, taking her hands. “Not little Cynthia Finley?”
“Not so little anymore,” she teased.
“No, ma’am. You filled out some. You were a scrawny twelve year old when I left.”
“I was fifteen.”
“Okay, you looked like a scrawny twelve year old.”
“That does not earn you any Brownie points, Mr. Braxton,” she teased.
Neil kissed her hand, his lips lingering on the knuckles and he smiled. “Well, what if I say you aren’t scrawny anymore, Miss Finley. You became a very fine lady, indeed.”
“I’d say, if you get me a drink, I’ll think about forgiving you for the scrawny remark.”
“I’d consider that an honor.” He held out his arm, leading her to the lawn chairs, grouped not far away.
Stopping along the way, he got a beer for each of them, popping it open before handing it to her with a flourish. Cynthia giggled when his sprayed him in the face. He laughed, wiping his face with his shirt, while his mother scolded him for not getting a towel. Cynthia examined the very fine abs he revealed when his shirt was over his face.
“You filled out a little, too, Mr. Braxton. When you left, you were kinda scrawny yourself. To what do you attribute this amazing change?”
“Being a Marine and clean living.”
“Clean living? You?” She laughed, tossing her head.
“Well, as clean as possible, Miss Finley. You weren’t around to corrupt me. I was only ever in trouble when it was you got me in it.”
“I did not! Okay, maybe once or twice….”
They continued chatting, not noticing that everyone else was watching them interact. They seemed oblivious to the fact that they were the center of attention. Jordan watched them, noting how Cynthia Finley smiled and posed as she talked to Neil Braxton. Something had gone on between the two of them, back in the day. Not sexual…but she’d be willing to bet they dated. Barring that, they’d been interested in one another.
Brian came over, handing her a Dr. Pepper. “Whatcha doing?”
“Watching Chase’s aunt and uncle flirt. It’s pretty eye opening.”
“He’s totally eye humping her,” he said, sipping his own Dr. Pepper.
“Oh, hell, yeah.”
The party went well. Everyone had a relaxed, good time. Heath and Miles had more to drink than their wives liked, but not so much that they couldn’t get themselves into the cars. Brian drove his family home, and Jackie got behind the wheel of her car. They said their farewells and headed home. Neil and Cynthia helped clean up, enjoying one another’s company very much.
“Would you like to see how the town’s changed?” Cynthia offered.
“I believe I’d like that, if Mama doesn’t object.”
“It’s late for me, Neil. I start my day at six o’clock. I thought you’d be tired after four days of driving.”
“Caught my second wind, Mama.”
Her eyes flickered between Neil and Cynthia, not missing how close they were standing. She smiled. “House key’s on the ring next to the door.”
“Since when do you lock up?” he asked, puzzled.
“Cynthia can tell you more about that,” his mother said, evading his question. “I’m for bed. Got to get Daddy settled.” She gave her son a kiss and hug. “It’s good to have you home, my darling boy. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too, Mama.” He kissed her cheek and watched as she climbed the stairs. “Weird to think of my folks as old, but I’m damn near forty.” He chuckled, shuffling his feet. “Is that ice cream place still there?”
“Sweeties? Yeah, but they close at ten. It’s five till.”
“I forget that they roll the sidewalks up around here.”
“There’s a twenty-four hour Wal-Mart. How about we get stuff for banana splits to share?”
They got in her car and drove to an area of town that had been deep woods when he left.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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