I hadn’t seen Jaxon since we got home from the party last night. They were all gone when I woke up the next morning. I don’t know why, but I hadn’t told Quinn yet that Jaxon and I slept together. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t want Cole to know yet and Quinn seriously can’t keep her mouth shut around him. I knew that he was worried about any future mishaps between Jaxon and me. I just wanted to reassure him myself that wouldn’t happen, before everyone else told him.

I don’t have classes on Fridays, so I usually try to pick up an early shift at the bar, especially during football season. Ed didn’t need me to come and fill in today, so I stayed home and cleaned up the apartment up. I did both Quinn’s and my laundry. Being the awesome sister that I am, I even folded and put both of ours all away. I scrubbed down the countertops and mopped up the kitchen. By lunchtime, I was incredibly bored. It had been a long time since I’d had nothing to do. Even Quinn was gone, tutoring until later in the afternoon.

I was going stir-crazy staying in this place alone. I decided to get out and jog. My dad was a runner; I can remember when he used to wake up early before work every morning to go for a run. If for some reason he wasn’t able to get a run in the morning, he would come home and run before dinner. I didn’t like to wake up early, but if I could, I would run with him in the afternoons. Quinn and Ellie used to look at me like I was crazy to want to go running in the afternoon heat. For me, running was relaxing. There’s a point where you don’t notice the heat (or the cold) and you just hit this runner’s high. Besides, I hated the gym, so I needed to get my exercise somewhere.

It took me a long time to start running again after he died. Ellie noticed that I had stopped, and she tried numerous times to get me out. She even attempted to go with me. I adored her for it, but I just hadn’t been ready. Recently I’ve been able to get out a couple of times a week again.

After my second time, getting back out, Quinn went and bought me all new name brand running gear to celebrate. She got me tons of running boy shorts and matching sports bras. I told her it was unnecessary, but once again, she hated when I “slummed” it, and she wanted me to look good, even while profusely sweating apparently. I don’t try to argue with her, there’s no point. Once she bought all this for me, she went and threw away all my old sweats while I was in class.

I left the apartment and ran past the university and toward the beach. Running across sand was a lot harder than concrete. For me, dry sand is the hardest because my feet sink down into it with each stride, but it’s a good workout. By the time I ran all the way down to the water, I had gotten about four miles under my belt. I was way too tired to turn around and run back already, so I decided to lie down in the sand and soak in some Vitamin D.

I laid back and closed my eyes. I’m not sure how long I dozed there until I realized the sun wasn’t on me anymore and I’d lost my warmth. I slowly opened my eyes to adjust to the light, and saw Cole standing over me looking down and blocking the rays.

“Hey, Ems, you should have told me you were running, we could have gone together,” he said while sitting down. He sat right down next to me and threw his sweaty arm around my shoulder. Good thing I was already sweaty myself or I would have been thoroughly grossed out.

“You know I don’t like running with you, Cole, you push too hard for me.” I nudged him while smiling. I think I’d gone running with Cole twice and both times he left me panting and heaving for air in the dust. We continued to stare out into the water, just sitting there together.

Eventually he sighed and said, “Why’d you sleep with him, Em?” he spoke in a whisper, almost like he didn’t want me to hear his question.

“He told you?” I gasped. I knew it wasn’t going to be a secret but I didn’t think he would go off telling the guys so soon. I shouldn’t have been surprised though; guys were all the same.

“No, don’t worry, he didn’t. He’s not the kiss and tell type. But he didn’t have to. I know him, Em; I’ve known him my whole life. I knew something was up with y’all last night when we were at the party. I didn’t ask him about it, but you just confirmed it for me.” He frustratingly ran his fingers through his sweaty brown hair. “Fuck, Em, you’re going to ruin everything. If y’all fight or he upsets you, Quinn will take your side, and she’ll leave if it upsets you too much. I know she will.”

I turned around and moved to kneel in between his outstretched legs, facing him. He had a sad look on his face. I was absolutely sure this had more to do with Quinn possibly not living next door to him and less to do with Jaxon and I potentially fighting. As one of his best friends, all I wanted to do was make him happy again.

“Jaxon and I are adults. He knows about me, and knows about my rules. He knew all of this, weeks before. He knows I don’t plan on being his or anyone else’s wife or girlfriend, for that matter. This is all for fun,” I said raising my hands in the air.

“Ems, do you truly believe that. Do you really think you’re never going to marry anybody?” he asked.

He sighed. “You really should let someone in some day.”

I needed to stop where this was going. I grabbed his face and looked into his hazel eyes. “The point is Jaxon and I are fine. We aren’t fighting, no one’s moving away. Are you kidding me, we begged you for two years to move in next to us. We aren’t going anywhere now that we’ve finally got you.” I laughed and smiled, happy when he laughed along with me.

We were interrupted by a familiar voice. “Dude, what the hell, I thought we were meeting up at the lifeguard stand?” Jaxon was standing above us, looking down at me but talking to Cole. He frowned at my position in front of Cole and I slowly moved my hands down from his face. I hated that I felt awkward about my close friendship with Cole in front of him. I moved back to sit next to Cole’s side again.

“Chill out, asshole, I came across Sleeping Beauty here, and stopped to talk,” Cole responded while swatting at Jaxon’s legs.

I shoved at him and said, “I wasn’t sleeping, I was just enjoying the sun.”

Jaxon gave me an angry, confused look. “Sleeping? Emerson, you can’t sleep on the beach out here alone.” His voice was hard as he sat down next to me with his legs stretching out in front of him.

“Don’t worry. Next time I feel the urge to sleep on the beach, I’ll invite you along,” I replied while winking at him. He looked shocked that I would say this in front of Cole. “He knows, Jaxon. Apparently you were pretty obvious last night.” I punched him in the arm. He grabbed the hand that punched him and pulled me into a scorching kiss.

“Ugh, okay guys, gross. Seriously, I don’t need to see your friends with benefits action live. I’ll see y’all at the game tonight.” He got up and started jogging back down the beach.

I was barely paying attention to Cole, because Jaxon’s lips hadn’t left mine yet. Eventually, I broke the kiss and pulled back. “You can’t just kiss me, whenever! I have rules,” I said nervously.

“I know your rules, and kissing was nowhere in there. Kissing doesn’t mean we’re dating, don’t stress,” he teased nonchalantly. “Besides, you didn’t seem to mind when I did this to you last night.” He proceeded to run his tongue along my neck beneath my jaw.

I’d never thought about someone kissing me outside of sex. In fact, that had never come up. I mean some of the guys would kiss my neck occasionally, but I’d never actually let them kiss my lips unless we were in the bedroom. I’d never had an opportunity to make a rule for that. “You’re okay with this, even knowing that I will at some point sleep with someone else?” I felt like kissing on occasion would lead to him having feelings for me, and then I would have to cut him off. I didn’t want to. I enjoyed Jaxon far too much to cut him off, but I couldn’t risk breaking his heart in the process. So that’s what I would have to do if I felt like that’s where it was leading.

“As long as that someone else isn’t my best friend or my twin brother, I can try and deal,” he finally said, although I felt like there was a lot more he wasn’t saying.

“Damn, and here I thought when my time was up with you I could still have my fun with another smoking-hot Riley brother,” I badgered him.

Instantly, he had me lying on the beach with his mouth above mine, “Not funny.” I laughed at his seriousness until he kissed my smile away. I combed my fingers through his hair, the way I always saw him doing. He pulled back and stared in my eyes.

“When you say you’ll try to be okay with it, what do you mean?” I don’t know why I ask questions I don’t want to know the answer to.

He let me go and laid down onto the sand with his palms over his eyes and his fingers in his hair. “I think you know the answer to that.”

I sat there waiting to see if he would elaborate further.

Suddenly he removed his hands and rolled to his side to look right at me. “You like me, don’t you?” he asked and I froze with no way to respond to his candid query. “It’s a safe question, just answer it truthfully. I promise I won’t ask to date you. You like me, don’t you?” he repeated. I nodded my head and he smiled back at me.

I’d never admitted to liking anyone before. I don’t think I’d really ever liked anyone enough even to think about admitting it to them. I felt like everything was going to be ruined now; we were having so much fun I wasn’t ready for us to stop yet. How could we possibly keep this casual bond and someone not get hurt now?

Noticing my grim expression and panic, he quickly pulled me into his lap with my legs wrapped around his hips. “Hey, hey, stop thinking about what you’re thinking right now. All we’re doing is having fun. I just needed you to know that I like you too. I like hanging out with you and I certainly like kissing you. There’s nothing more going on here.” I nodded my head and laid it against his shoulder. I felt him lean down and kiss the top of my head.

“You do understand that you’re going to be with other people and I will be as well, right?”

With a heavy sigh, he replied, “Emerson, I think you’ve made that known loud and clear. I can handle it, okay? I’m a big boy.” I could tell he was getting aggravated with me, but I had to make sure he knew what was involved here. Just because we liked each other, that didn’t mean I was just going to be kissing only him. I’m such a bitch; I wish I weren’t this way.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t hurt you. I’ve never cared about that before with anyone, I just never wanted them getting attached to me. With you, it can’t happen, I can’t be responsible for that. But I also just can’t do relationships.” Without realizing it, I was tracing my finger around his lips, outlining the plump bottom one and running my finger directly over the top one. I really didn’t want to hurt him, but I think I will enjoy having the freedom to touch him.

“I hope one day you’ll tell me why that is,” he probed. I just continued my exploration of his lips not wanting to give him an answer.

His hands started rubbing circles on my back. Since I was only wearing a sports bra and running shorts, he was caressing a whole lot of skin.

“I’m still fuming that you sleeping were out here alone, practically na**d.” He pulled me back to glare at me.

“Please, this is more coverage than a bikini and like I said before, I wasn’t sleeping.”

“You should never be set loose alone in a bikini either I can only imagine.” He shook his head.

I laid my head back down on his shoulder, enjoying the sound of his voice.

“Are you and Cole just friends or am I missing something there?” He was still wondering about what he saw when he came upon us sitting so close together on the beach. With my reputation, I couldn’t blame him that he would think that about me.

“We’re just close friends, nothing more. There’s never been anything more between us and there never will be. I was just reassuring him that nothing would change since you and I have slept together. I’m almost positive he’s worried Quinn will leave. Those two… are frustrating…”

“He’s in love with her, you know. He hasn’t said anything like that to me, but I can tell.” I don’t know if I should be shocked to hear it or relieved that someone else could see it too.

“I’m positive the feelings are mutual, but they won’t act on it for some reason.”

“When he came home over the summers he would talk about the two of y’all all the time. Jace and I swore he was banging one of you, if not both. He always said he would never do that, y’all were different and he couldn’t risk ruining everything. But the way he talked about Quinn was different,” he added.

“Yeah, I don’t even know how to talk about it with Quinn. She’s just as stubborn as Cole.” I reached out and touched the sides of his face. “Speaking of stubborn, so when can I ride with you on your motorcycle?”

“That would be never,” he clipped out.

“I don’t understand why. I’ve seen Jace ride around with girls more than a couple of times.” I countered.

“I don’t care; it’s not you on the back. I could never handle the idea of you getting hurt.”

I lifted up so I could kiss him on the neck and he groaned. He slid his hand in between us and he started running his fingers across my most intimate area. The spandex shorts didn’t allow much of barrier from his quick strokes. I leaned back with my eyes closed and placed my hands on his legs to brace myself. Right as he had begun working me up to a fever pitch he seemed to realize where we were and he pulled his hand back. My eyes snapped open with my frustration.