656K 30.7K 14.2K

It's too nice of a day for August.

The open windows in the living room let in a refreshing breeze and blanket the hardwood in rays of soft sunshine. The faint hum of my neighbor mowing his lawn and the songs of a few birds perched on my deck make fighting a nap on the sofa almost impossible.

My eyes open an hour later, and the TV is playing a different sitcom, just background noise at this point. I lower the volume and pull my phone out from somewhere between the cushions. I answer a quick text from Mina and scroll through my open conversations, eyeing the "New Messages" button in the corner every few moments.

The urge to type in Axel's name and send something is overwhelming, but what would I even say? I don't trust myself to type anything I won't regret, knowing whatever I send his way will linger in my mind for however he long takes to reply.

After hovering my fingers over the keyboard for a minute, I sigh and roll over onto my side to continue curing a summer's worth of sleep deficiency. My dream this time is oddly vivid: of me watching myself sleep, only a different noise echoes in the background, and it's neither a lawn mower nor a noisy bird.

It's...a doorbell?

I shoot upwards with a gasp and pull myself off the couch, finding my way back to reality. On the way to the door, I adjust my hair and spit the piece of gum still in my mouth out—how I didn't swallow it in my sleep, I have no idea—and pop in another mint one. I stop when I reach the front door and peek through the narrow window to the right, hoping it's just a delivery person.

Blinking, I find no one at my doorstep, not making out a package sitting on the porch either. I groan, figuring some bored pre-teen was pranking me, and make my way back to the living room.

My vibrating phone stops me in my tracks, notifying me of a text from Axel.


Do you want to meet up today?


Are you still in CT?


You could say a little closer than that

I clutch my chest and stare straight ahead at the closed door, knowing who stands behind it now. I yank it open and find all six-foot-something of him waiting on my front steps, phone in hand.

"So, was that a yes?" he asks, sliding the device into his jeans pocket. "I didn't get a reply yet."

"You creepy asshole," I laugh and throw my arms around him. I bury my head into his neck for a good thirty seconds, inhaling the scent of cologne that kept me going those five weeks. He rubs his hand up and down my back and laughs, the vibrations traveling through his body. I let go and look into his eyes. "I'm not going to ask what inspired you to come to my house of all places."

"You did call me old school," he jokes and folds his broad arms over his olive shirt. "To tell the truth, the address was on the application, so I didn't have to settle for my other option."

"Which was...?"

"Voting records," he deadpans. For a second, I can't detect any humor in his tone, making my heart beat a little faster. He cracks up the moment he meets my wide eyes and continues, "Jokes aside, I really did want to see you, since I move back to New York tomorrow."

"Well, then, the answer is 'yes.'" I step aside to let him in, and he wipes the bottom of his Nikes on the rug by the front door. He observes the modern décor in the foyer, à la my mother, and then freezes for a moment. I decide to clarify, "I'm home alone, in case you were wondering."

"I wasn't," he lies through his teeth and follows me through the living room to the kitchen. Joking, he adds, "I wasn't expecting a house tour, though."

"Don't worry, this is about as far as you'll get." Because I don't trust us to go upstairs, I don't add. I pull open the fridge and eye the drinks selection. "Sparkling water or iced tea?"

"Water is fine," he says and rests his hands on the top of a chair at the kitchen table. I gesture for him to sit down, finding it almost entertaining how on edge he is, given that he freely invited himself to my own house. He takes a glass from me, murmuring a thank you.

We sit diagonal from each other at the table, each taking long sips. I wait for him to speak, not wanting him to lose the thoughts that brought him here in the first place.

"I'll start by saying I lied." My heart sinks to my stomach at his grave tone, recovering only when he continues, "I don't have a lot of time on my hands. Every day since you left, I've been wondering how long I'm going to wait to finally admit it."

"Admit what?" I ask, my hopes building.

"That I do want us to be something outside of that camp. More than just trainer and trainee. And I don't want to wait another year for that to happen." He brings back the conversation from that dinner, the part I'd rather remember. "Call me cocky, but I think you're on the same wavelength." We glance down at our hands lying flat on the table, fingers centimeters apart.

"I won't stall this time," I say, making him smile. "I really like you, Axel. I'd be lying if I said otherwise." I watch as content washes over his face, widening his already hopeful eyes. "At the same time, I can't forget what you revealed to me that night, because, at the end of the day..." I trail off, finding it difficult to be upfront. "That chair you're sitting on? That's my dad's favorite place to eat breakfast. This house we're in? He bought it. Me? I'm half him. No matter how close you'll get to me, Axel, you'll always find a piece of my family, and the past comes with them. And...I don't know how you feel about that."

He glosses his eyes over the white and chrome kitchen, curiosity overtaking him for a moment. Then, he rests them on my attentive expression. "Whitney, I wouldn't be here if I didn't already think about that. Truth be told, I stopped caring about the past the moment I realized your parents raised a pretty fucking awesome person." He cups my cheeks with his hands, and I melt into his touch. "You made me look forward to every day working with you, and that's saying a lot, since all I do is complain about my job."

A smile so wide overtakes my lips, it makes my cheeks ache under his hands. "I think I did most of the complaining for you during those godawful sessions."

"Would you complain if I did this now?"

He shifts closer and slides one hand to the back of my head, positioning my face closer to his. I nod and give him the go ahead, not wanting to waste any more time; because finally, the moment feels right.

His lips descend on mine, while he rises from his seat. Standing up with him, I move my fingers to the ends of his hair and let him lead the kiss. His mouth is slow and teasing, lighting the flames of anticipation in my mind, and his hands remain equally reserved. After several seconds, I tilt my head back and run my fingers down his back, feeling the indents of his muscles through his shirt.

He comes to life. Backing me up into the kitchen island, he grips my waist and moves his mouth faster against mine. I barely have time to react when he lifts me up onto the counter and nestles himself between my legs.

I slip my hands underneath the back of his shirt to feel his warm skin, while his lips begin to descend. They first stop at the corner of my mouth and then continue down, to my neck and then my exposed collarbone. He looks up at me from underneath his lashes and then pulls his face away, taking in the heat fanning across my cheeks.

"I would continue," he breathes, his voice hoarse, "but I still don't know if we'll be together again next summer."

I grip both of his cheeks, feeling his stubble prick my hands. "If I say yes...would I never get this again?"

He smirks and rests his hands on the tops of my thighs, face inches from mine again. "For such a smart girl, you're sometimes very, very dumb."

"Yes," I say, "your answer is yes, then."

"Good choice," he says. He grabs our glasses of sparkling water from the table and hands me mine. Holding it up, he declares, "Here's to many more one-mile runs together."

I clink my cup against his, toasting to our unlikely matchmaker: exercise.

Boot CampWhere stories live. Discover now