Not once did Lexie release her friend, and by the time they got out to the tractor pulling the flatbed trailer loaded with hay and happy people, Camille knew that getting out of going along was out of the question. So, giving up on that idea, she dutifully climbed aboard and took her seat at the back of the trailer letting her feet dangle off the edge as Lexie left to make sure all was going well with Nick and the tractor.
“Everybody ready?” Nick called just as two shadowed figures appeared from the side gate. “Okay! Hang on! Here we go!”
“No! Hey! Wait! Hey!” the two figures yelled, racing to the trailer just as Nick put the tractor in gear and the whole trailer jerked forward. At the last possible second, the two figures jumped aboard and caught hold of the trailer edge right next to Camille.
Fearing that she would be knocked off either by them or by the jerking of the trailer, she grabbed onto the bale of hay behind her. It was in the next breath that she realized who was sitting right next to her, but the tractor was already going too fast to jump off and run.
“Oh, sorry,” Jaylon said, regaining his balance. He ran two sets of fingers through his dark brown hair to push it out of his eyes. “You okay?”
No words would come as she nodded even though her body still clung to the bale. He was so close, the smell of his cologne made her head spin dangerously.
“Who’s that?” Seth asked, bending down so he could get a look at Camille.
“Camille,” Jaylon whispered when he stopped long enough to see her. The name was obviously supposed to be an introduction, but it hardly made it from his mouth to her ears. He looked stunned speechless.
“Camille Wright,” she said as she forced her hand across Jaylon to Seth, but the second her arm brushed Jaylon’s chest, she regretted the gesture, and at the first possible opportunity she pulled it back and grabbed back onto the bale as they rolled over a rut in the road.
“Camille Wright?” Seth asked, obviously searching for the connection. “Hey, aren’t you…?”
“Umm, Camille,” Jaylon said as he cleared his throat. “You remember Seth Taylor.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said although her voice was drown out in the roar of the motor. “How are you doing?”
Seth laughed. “Well, I’d have been better without that 30 yard dash.”
“And those last two pieces of pie,” Jaylon said teasingly.
“That too,” Seth admitted.
Camille laughed, fighting not to notice how close Jaylon’s arm was to hers or how intense his blue eyes were as they gazed at her.
“So how’ve you been?” he asked, leaning casually closer to her.
In self-defense she slid closer to the bale although if he advanced any further, she might have to become hay herself to get any closer to it. “Fine. You?”
“Great,” he said, and then he clasped his hands in front of him as he leaned onto his thighs. How he didn’t fall off, she had no idea.
“Jaylon’s teaching now,” Seth supplied over the top of Jaylon’s bent back.
“Teaching?” She released the bale slightly as she leaned down to look at him. “What are you teaching?”
“Drama.” When he looked back at her, his eyes burned two irreparable holes in her soul. “And English.”
A smile spread through her heart and to her face as her spirit lost all track of the ground. “Drama, huh? I bet you’re great at that.”
He shrugged and looked back down. “I try.”
“Mr. Allen himself,” she said, falling easily into his presence although it made absolutely no sense.
Once again he smiled at her. “What can I say? Drama’s my life.”
“So, do you like it?” she asked genuinely interested in hearing the answer.
“I love it.” His smile lit her heart.
“Drama, huh? Well, I guess that means you just had your Spring Production then?”
“Third week in March. We pulled it out by the bare skin of our teeth.”
She laughed. “What was it about?”
“Some dumb farce,” he said as if it didn’t matter at all. “Two crooks who were totally incompetent. Good thing was we had the right cast for it.”
Her eyebrows knit in the center of her forehead. “That was nice.”
“That was the truth,” he said with a shake of his head. “Our lead, Michael, he was backstage memorizing lines five minutes before we went on.”
“Five minutes?” she asked with concern. “No way.”
“I swear.” He held up both hands just as the trailer hit another rut, and with absolutely no warning he tumbled right into her. Only her strangle hold on the bale saved them both from toppling right off the edge.
“Look out!” she yelled, grabbing onto him with one arm and clutching the bale with the other. People behind them started laughing, and it took more than a moment for him to sit up straight again. “You okay?”
“They’ve really got to watch those bumps,” he said, inching farther away from her. “Hey, McGee! Watch where you’re going!”
“Sorry!” Nick yelled from the tractor.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was trying to off me,” Jaylon said to Camille, but he was smart enough to hold onto the bale next to hers this time. “Now what were we talking about?”
“Incompetent students,” Camille said, wishing this didn’t feel so perfectly natural.
“Oh, yeah. There’s a good topic.” Jaylon laughed as he glanced over at her. For one instant their gazes locked and even the bumping of the trailer didn’t shake them out of it. Finally he shook his head and trained his gaze into the darkness beyond their feet. “I’m going to try to get on with a college for next year.”
“Ah, moving up in the world,” she said as the tractor rounded a corner and started back for home.
Jaylon shrugged as a strange look fell over his face. “I’m getting married in May.”
That bombshell exploded at her feet before she had a chance to take cover, and in a breath it sent her spirit crashing back to the ground. “Yeah, I heard something about that.”
Squeals of delight from their classmates fell between them, but neither could think of a single thing to say for several moments.
“You’re going to have to meet her,” Jaylon finally said, glancing over at Camille, but her heart wouldn’t let her return the look. It hurt too much to watch him tell her that.
“I’m sure she’s great,” Camille said as she looked away. However, it seemed that on this beautiful night, there was no running from him or from her feelings as her gaze chanced on the stars shining down on them. They looked far too familiar for the sanity of her heart.
“So, I guess you’re coming tomorrow night?” he asked softly.
She shrugged, trying to push the whole situation away from her. “I guess.”
“You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”
“About what?” Her smile was small and sad. “About being a wallflower all night? Oh, yeah. That’s what I’ve looked forward to all my life.”
“You looked like you were having fun earlier,” he said, and instantly her gaze snapped to him in confusion. “I mean…earlier…at the cookout…you didn’t look like a wallflower then.”
She shook her head and curled her bottom lip in annoyance. “It’s like being the only gerbil on the ark.”
Her gaze found the darkness at her feet. “Everybody else has someone. I just…” The darkness slid past her feet. “I don’t know.”
A light wind whipped across her, sending a stray strand of hair into her face and finding every hole in the knit shirt she had on beneath her flannel one. Instantly she shivered and hugged the bale and her outer shirt closer.
“You cold?” he asked with concern.
“I’m fine,” she said with more force than was probably necessary for fear of what he might do to repair the situation. The tractor bumped back into the driveway, and she clutched the bale tighter. “Besides, we’re back anyway.”
“Yeah,” he said, breathing the word rather than speaking it. The trailer bounced through the yard and then rolled to a stop. “Looks like it.”
When they were sure it was safe, their classmates started vacating the trailer behind them amid shouts and laughter.
“That was fun,” Jaylon said to no one in particular as he slid off the trailer.
Gingerly Camille let go of the bale and slid closer to the edge, trying to figure out how she could dismount gracefully.
“Here, let me help.” In the next instant Jaylon inexplicably reached up and took hold of her just under her arms. Gently he lifted her, body and spirit, from the trailer and set her on the ground as every feeling she had managed to deny during the previous minutes gushed to the surface. The next moment lasted only a breath, but it felt like infinity had just engulfed her as her gaze fell into the depths of his.
“You good?” he finally asked.
“I’m great,” she said as a sincere smile wafted across her features.
“J.P., dude.” Seth clapped him on the shoulder. “We’d better get back, or the women might think we fell off the darn trailer.”
“Yeah,” Jaylon said with an off-handed nod in Seth’s direction, but he looked back at Camille. “I’ll be there in a second.”
“Okay, but you behave yourself.” Seth lifted an eyebrow and an index finger at his friend in warning.
“Oh, shut up. I’ll be there in a second,” Jaylon said, and Seth laughed out loud and walked away. Jaylon feathered his hair back and smiled down at her. He seemed to back away from her although he didn’t move. “So, I’ll see you later then?”
“Yeah,” she said as her heart panged forward. “I’ll be around.”
His eyes softened with the news. “Well, take care. Okay?”
He stood for one more breath, and then he took a reluctant step away from her, taking her heart and soul with him. Her eyes fell closed as the ripping of her spirit followed him down the driveway and through the side gate. When she opened her eyes again, she looked up at the stars shimmering above her perfectly replicating the shimmering tears on her lashes. “Why, God? Why?”