I waited to see what Levi would do. When he stepped into the path of moonlight, his expression soft and gentle, I could see he understood.
This jar was my light.
In minutes I was in bed and asleep. The glow from the jar kept all the haunting memories from my mind, and the nightmares from my sleep.
It was the first night I’d slept right through in years.
“Why you so damn anxious to get home?”
My leg was bobbing up and down and Ashton slammed his hand on my knee to stop it. Turning to my friend and teammate I pushed his hand off.
“What?” I asked. Ashton looked at Jake who was sitting in front of me on the team bus. We’d just played at USC, winning by six points. I’d scored a touchdown and was fairly happy with my receiving game. But from the minute we got on the plane back home, and now on the bus back to college to pick up our cars, Ashton had been right, I was desperate to get home.
My friends both waited for a response. I didn’t give one.
Ashton rolled his eyes, and asked, “You coming over to the party tonight?”
Checking my phone, I saw it was nearly midnight and shook my head.
Jake sighed, but the pair of them dropped the subject. They were now getting used to me not turning up to anything.
“You see Harper after the game?” Jake leaned across the table between us to ask.
I shook my head and stared out of the window. Jake kicked my leg under the table and I slammed my eyes to meet his. He smirked. “She was looking for you. I told her where you’d be.”
Truth was, as I was coming out of the locker room, I saw her walking down the hallway toward me. I’d pretended not to see her and fell into step with our offense coach all the way back to the bus taking us to the airport. I had nothing to say to the girl.
And it sure wasn’t her who was occupying my thoughts day and night. It was Elsie. Ever since the other night in the pool house, I hadn’t been able to get her out my mind. The very next day I’d had to travel away for this game. I looked in her room before I’d left to say ‘bye’, but she was fast asleep. Staying up that late, and her still being sick, must have wiped her out. I didn’t want to wake her up when she slept so peacefully. The jar was still by her window though, clearly refilled with one of the glow sticks I’d given her. And my heart had almost burst when, also lying beside her in bed, was the poetry book.
I’d checked in with Lexi a few times every day, and she’d said that Elsie had kept to herself; slept and read. Lexi thought Elsie’d been feeling down for the last few days. As much as I didn’t want Elsie to be sad or on her own, a part of me was real hopeful that the reason she’d been down was because I was gone.
The lights of the Husky Stadium slowly came into view as we turned a corner. I grabbed my bag, ready to get the hell off this bus. My leg bounced again as the bus pulled into the stadium car park, and I was up on my feet the second we stopped.
Jake punched my arm getting in line behind me to exit the bus. “You gotta take a pill or something, Alabama? Thought you were gonna jump out the window to get off this friggin’ bus.”
Shaking my head at my friend, I said, “Just tired, man. Need to get home.”
“What you doing tomorrow? You wanna come round and watch the Seahawks’ game at our house?”
“Nah,” I said to Ashton. “Gonna help Lexi with Dante. Austin don’t get back until Monday, and she has to work.”
Austin and Rome were away in Cincinnati playing the Bengals. But I wasn’t helping Lexi. In fact, she’d told me she had to be in her center all day. Lexi took Dante with her when she could. She’d also asked me to stay with Elsie, but there was no way I was telling these guys about that. They wouldn’t understand what was going on. They wouldn’t understand why I’d helped her that night, instead of partying with them.
I was keeping Elsie to myself. Was no one’s damn business anyhow.
Shooting off the bus like a damn dart, I threw my friends a wave and jogged across to the Jeep. I ignored the cheer bus pulling behind us. I heard Jake’s girlfriend trying to call me back. I ignored the fans that had gathered to congratulate us on our win.
I just needed to get home.
In seconds I was out of the parking lot, en route to our place. I made it home in record time, pushing the speed limits on every road. Pulling into the driveway of our house, I parked my Jeep and walked round to the back entrance. The house was dark and silent. This late, Lexi would be in bed.
Opening the gate to the backyard, I walked toward the pool house door, stopping to glance up at Elsie’s window. My heart lurched when I saw her curtains were open and that lightning bug jar was shining out over the yard from its position on the center of the ledge.
I gripped the strap of my gym bag tightly, unwilling to stop staring at the jar. The wind licked around the yard, cold air whipping at my face.
Inhaling deeply, I set back off for the pool house when a sudden movement caught my eye. Snapping my head back in the direction of the window, my chest tightened when I saw Elsie. She was dressed in dark pajamas, and her long golden hair hung down over her chest. The jar didn’t give off much light, but it lit up her face enough for me to see the most beautiful smile gracing her pretty lips.
Her head ducked down when she saw me looking, but I nervously waved my hand. Elsie looked down at me through the protective curtain of her hair. I stood there. She stood there. And neither of us moved.
I wanted to speak to her again. My stomach flipped with anxiety when I realized I wanted to tell Elsie that I’d missed her.
I’d missed this silent pretty girl.
I’d never even thought of a girl this way before, never mind missed one.
The wind surged again. Using the blast of cold air to wake myself up, I lifted my head to admire Elsie, who was still peering down. Again I waved my hand, this time motioning for her to come to me.
In the neon glow of the jar, I saw her eyebrows furrow. I shifted my stance to stand directly under her window. Elsie, seeing me below, opened the window, the wind immediately whipping her blonde hair above her head into a halo. I swallowed at how beautiful she looked.
Elsie’s eyes were fixed on mine, and with arms wrapped around her waist, she peered out of the open window. When the wind dropped, I rasped, “Come down.”
My pulse raced so fast; my blood rushed so quick through my ears that I could barely hear. I didn’t want her to say no. It had cost me a bucket of nerves to ask her to come to me.
Elsie stepped back from the cold, but otherwise didn’t move. My heart sank knowing it was a no. Nodding my head, I moved from back toward my pool house, disappointment coursing through my veins.
Just as I reached my door, the sound of the kitchen door opening behind me grabbed my attention. I looked over my shoulder, to see Elsie approaching; pen and paper clutched tightly in her hand, her cute ass little Ugg boots on her feet, and my hoodie drowning her smaller frame. A fierce wave of possessiveness crashed over me on seeing her wearing my hoodie again.
Thoughts began circling my head. I wondered if she was wearing it because she was cold, or was she wearing it because it was mine? Because it gave off my scent? Because she wanted to be close to me?
The thoughts melted away the second Elsie arrived at my door. Her head was tilted down toward her feet, and even with her face hidden by her long hair, I could see a pink shade on her skin.