“So, what’s the deal with you and Kyle?” Austin asked once they’d left Yearwood city limits and hit the interstate to head into Wilmington.
“What do you mean?”
“There was nothing on your face. He just wanted to touch you.”
Sommer stretched the muscles in her neck. “I don’t know what his deal is.”
“His deal is that he likes you,” Austin clarified. “ He’s always liked you. What I want to know is if he’s bothering you because if he is, we can turn this car around and I’ll handle it.”
She smiled at his defensiveness. “It’s fine, Austin. He just stopped by to see Mom. Everyone’s been worried sick about her since word spread about her cancer.”
Austin wasn’t convinced. “So, why’d you decide that you could come with me all of a sudden?”
As the sadness washed over her face, he knew the answer before she even said it. He would miss her too, immensely, and although he wasn’t too fond of a long-distance arrangement, for her, he was willing to try anything.
“I want to be the last face you see. To make sure that you don’t forget me.”
He wanted to laugh. If ten years apart hadn’t erased her from his memory, what did she think would happen now? Especially, now that he’d tasted her?
“Do you really think I could?”
She smiled. “Of course not.”
They engaged in light conversation for the rest of the ride, skirting around the issue of Kyle. Austin still wasn’t satisfied, but he made Sommer promise that she would call him immediately if Kyle gave her any trouble. She’d waved away his request at first, but then after realizing that he was serious, she’d promised.
Austin held her by the hand as they walked towards his gate and he took a moment to revel in the fact that no one was trying to take his picture or get his autograph. The minute he landed in Texas, that would change. He’d be thrust back into the public eye and celebrity lifestyle, and it would only make him miss the small town privacy even more. It was one of the good things about being a professional football player—he was hidden behind a helmet for much of the game, so there were still parts of the world he could escape to where his celebrity wouldn’t follow. He was grateful for those moments of reprieve and knew that he wouldn’t stay away from home for another ten years. It felt good to be around people who simply knew him as Emma’s once badger-toothed, autumn-eyed boy that a solid pair of braces and weight-lifting equipment had done a world of good.
“I think this the furthest I can go,” Sommer said, looking around. Her grip on his hand tightened. “Austin, I have to say goodbye now.”
At that moment, those were the seven most dreaded words he’d ever heard in his life.
There were tears on her cheeks and as she tried to wipe them away, more fell in their place. “Thank you, Austin, for this bit of happiness during one of the most difficult times of my life,” she said, voice laden with heartache.
Austin felt his chest swell. There was no way she’d seen them as just a fling, and the evidence of that was tumbling down her cheeks. So, why was she being stubborn? Even if every odd in the world was stacked against them, he was still willing to try. This wasn’t fate. Fate said that there would be a way for them to be together, regardless of their fears or circumstances.
“This isn’t goodbye, Sommer,” he vowed. “And even though I’ll miss your laugh, your smile and even the way you roll your eyes,” she laughed and lowered her eyes, “I won’t say goodbye.”
He cradled her face and pressed their lips together for what he hoped wouldn’t be the last time.
Picking up his carry-on, he made his way through the gate. As he entered the tunnel, he turned and gave her a final wave, dropping his hand only when she disappeared from sight.