“WE’RE NOT HAVING a barbecue without meat, Jett.” I stormed in from the Stonewoods’ kitchen after rifling through the grocery bags.
Nancy eyed her husband and Jett. “I told you both to get hot dogs, burger meat, and steaks.”
I crossed my arms. “There’s none of that in there.”
Senior Stonewood rolled the whiskey in his tumbler around and pointed at his son. “I had it in the cart. He put it back.”
“Are you the father, or is he?” Nancy quipped.
“Dad came to his senses. A vegetarian lifestyle is better for the environment and our health,” my boyfriend announced as he sipped tequila.
“It’s the Fourth of July!” The words burst out of me. I held onto my anger even though I felt it slipping. “We’re having everyone here this afternoon and you decided to make a play on health? Are you insane?”
Jett’s eyes sparkled with mirth as he lounged next to his father in a red T-shirt and blue jeans. Completely casual and completely sexy. “Pixie, no need to raise your voice.”
“I swear to God, you’re going to kill me.”
“No,” he deadpanned. “The meat would kill you. I’m saving your life so I can keep annoying you for the rest of it.”
I motioned to Nancy. “We have to go get something to cook.”
She grabbed her phone. “I’ll text Brey.”
Senior Stonewood got to his feet and said he needed to cut the grass. Jett ambled over to me as his mother left the room, still typing on her phone. He wrapped an arm around my waist where my white-and-blue striped maxi dress cinched. I shoved it off. “You’re on my shit list.”
“I’m always on your shit list.” He nuzzled into my neck. “Come upstairs with me. You need to unwind.”
I narrowed my eyes and said what I always did when he pushed me too far. “Get fucked, Phantom.”
He laughed as his hands slid to my jaw to cup my face. “You know that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”
I sighed. “I don’t like having parties where people aren’t happy.”
“They’ll be happy,” he said with so much conviction I almost believed him.
“People like steaks at a barbecue.”
“They’ll be healthy too.”
I growled but he kissed me, took what was officially his, and reminded me of what I got to have with him every day.
We fought like banshees half the time, and Stonewood Enterprise’s team knew how to pinpoint our weaknesses when they wanted something. Bob pleaded his case for everyone to have a week off after the Fourth of July weekend to me, not Jett.
After a fight within the tinted windows of Jett’s office and some great make up sex, Gloria announced that everyone was getting a week off.
We balanced one another.
I was the light to his dark, and he was the steady rock to my unstable ground.
After my stay in the hospital, Jett didn’t really leave my side. We argued over everything I did that was, in his eyes, dangerous. The overprotective side of him that he never wanted to turn off got a constant workout with me.
We needed to live and enjoy every experience. Jett wasn’t used to doing that. He wanted to work to make experiences better for everyone else.
And he did work. A lot. I was aware that he and Bastian had a partnership that allowed him a little more time, but it wasn’t much. The partnership remained unpredictable, risky. Dangerous. But we didn’t shrink from danger. As I constantly reminded him, we barreled full speed ahead even when the signs told us to stop.
I pulled back from him. “I love you, but we’re having burgers today.”
“I’m not.” His mouth turned down. “And I thought you wanted to try being a vegetarian.”
“I tried it for a day and decided it was terrible.”
“Jesus,” he grumbled as he slid his hand in mine and pulled me toward the front doors. “Let’s go get the damn cardiac arrest food then.”
I skipped along with him and beamed when we made it to his massive pickup. He swung open the door and lifted me in. Yup, still got hot all over when he did.
He rounded the hood of the truck and got in on his side. He turned the key in the ignition and then side-eyed me. “Victory.”
“Yes,” I answered with too much humor in my voice.
He growled and leaned past me to grab my seat belt and buckle it. “You’re irritating me on purpose.”
“Probably the same way you irritated me on purpose by not getting the meat in the first place.”
He chuckled and backed out of the driveway. “I intend to get some on the side of the road before we get back home.”
“Ah. Now, there’s my fun-loving man. I see why you purposely left the meat now.”
His smile was wolfish as we drove back to the store.
Unfortunately for both of us, my phone sounded on the way back. A new song. One for my mother. Aretha belted out that there wasn’t a mountain high enough or a river wide enough to keep her from getting to us. And as if my mother knew that was her song, she rang Jett’s phone when I ignored her call.
“Vick’s answering service,” Jett answered as I smacked his arm and glared at him. He was supposed to make me scream in ecstasy on the side of a small-town road. These were goals we needed to accomplish.
Instead, he chatted with my mother, window rolled down, breeze flowing through his dark hair, while he smiled wide with one tanned forearm on the door.
“She’s here. You know she never answers that phone though. She thinks it’ll ruin her fun.” He winked at me. “I know you’re fun, Annabelle. Something’s wrong with your daughter. The sooner you get to this barbecue to straighten her out, the better.”
I rolled my eyes at their ridiculous conversation. The man joked more with my mother than I had ever known he could joke in his whole life. Since my hospital stay and a family Christmas together, we’d all gotten along better.
We had a long way to go still because we were Blakelys. We pushed until we got what we wanted. My mother still wanted a cautious daughter. I still wanted a zero-to-sixty lifestyle. I wanted to live because I still didn’t know how long my clean bill of health would last.
And it was clean. I made sure to do doctor check-ins now. I made sure to follow up with my nutritionist. I wanted to live long and be crazy healthy and crazy happy.
Loving someone did that to you, made you want to be better, live better, and live longer. It made you realize all you had to lose. I’d already been embracing the world and acknowledging its beauty, but with love, the world dazzled even brighter. I didn’t want to miss a single sparkle of it.
Every piece of life was meant to be shared with someone you loved, and I shared it all with Jett. The highs and the extreme lows. He let me wallow on my bad days and protected me fiercely in those moments.
As we pulled into the Stonewoods’ driveway, he hung up and reprimanded me for not answering. I rolled my eyes the whole time. We made quick work of getting ready for the barbecue, and then family started to show up.
As the sun descended over the lake, Jett announced we weren’t going anywhere for fireworks. “I bought some for our lake this year.”
“Shut up,” I squealed. “You did?”
His mouth kicked up. “Told you everyone at the barbecue was going to have fun.”
I barreled into him and gave him a huge hug as everyone laughed at my happiness.
We laid out blankets, and I sighed when we finally sat down on our own. Jett picked me up and set me in his lap. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and I leaned my back into his chest. “I love you for doing this,” I said as I looked up at him.
He nodded once and l scanned our family and friends. “Everyone seems happy.”
“They are.” I patted his arm and gave him a peck on the neck. “You did that. You always do that.”
He hummed and pointed out the man in the distance on the lake. After a moment, a beautiful spark as bright as a hive of fireflies in the dead of night whizzed into the darkened sky. It left a trail of glitter and then burst into golden arcs raining down like a shimmering weeping willow.
Our family and friends oohed and aahed. My mother glanced over from her blanket with my father and mouthed a wow to me. I yelled out to everyone, “My boyfriend is the best!”
Brey and Katie laughed along with Jax and Jaydon.
Firework after firework lit up Greenville over the lake. I could have sworn my happily ever after couldn’t get any better. Jett read my mind, and he wanted to prove one thing. The sky wasn’t the limit for him. He would always, always get into the damn stratosphere with me.
Another firework sailed into the sky, I heard the hiss as the rocket shot up and when it burst, the color lit up the sky with words I had been waiting for.
In red: Will
In bright white: You
In blue: Marry me?
In green, a pixie fairy.
Thump. Thump. Thump.