Nine months. That was how long it had been since she'd seen him. Since she'd surprised him with that little kiss on the cheek at Ed's Country Ballroom. She still felt the blood rush to her face every time she thought about that night. She couldn't believe she was finally going to see Danny after all this time.
They had kept in touch since she'd last seen him. Letters, and phone calls... But it just wasn't the same. And she was worried about him. About the way his trips to the bar and gotten more and more frequent. About how their conversations had gone from subtle flirtations, to deep conversations at 3 in the morning, about life and everything in it. About how he usually never remembered those conversations the next day, because he'd been too drunk the night before. About how her feelings for him, which had certainly grown, were now becoming jaded and colored with concern. She sighed as she combed out her long brown hair. Straight as sticks, she'd always thought.
It was Christmas Eve. She had been at church with her family when he called. His message said he was in town for just a couple days, and he was having people over. He wanted to see her. She wanted to see him too, but she was afraid.
As she got in the car, she began to feel her heart flutter. She could hardly keep herself from smiling on the way over to his house. When she finally pulled in the driveway, she checked her makeup in the rear view mirror once, took a deep breath, and got out of the car. She let herself in through the garage, just like everyone always did. She could hear raucous laughter and the loud clinking of beer bottles and billiards balls coming from the loft. She took the stairs 2 at a time. His back was to her when she first caught sight of him. He was taking his shot. He sunk 3 balls. Then stood, and turned...
He looked different. He had put on some muscle, he was tanned from months in the desert and his cheeks were rosy from windburn. But his eyes were the same. Captivating blue, with a devilish gleam. And his smile, slightly lopsided, and holding the promise of kisses; that was the same too. She let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. He was beautiful. Not in a conventional way. In the way that the person you love is always beautiful, in a way only you can see. He picked her up in an embrace, just like old times, and they laughed.
"You want a beer or somethin'?" He asked in that familiar country drawl.
She looked, with dismay, at the table full of empty beer bottles that Danny had obviously drank.
"No thanks." She said, and she took a seat on one of the stools, next to Danny's sister.
They chatted about school while they watched the guys finish their pool game. She had always been fond of Danny's younger sister, Mandy. She definitely had a much more level head on her shoulders, but they were still alike in many ways.
Most of that night would always be a blur to her, bookended by two defining moments: when she arrived, and when she left.
She stayed there, even after all Danny's friends had gone. They sat on the couch and talked for a long time. But it was starting to get late, and it was Christmas Eve. So she knew she needed to go soon.
He walked her out to the garage.
As she began to slowly walk to her car, she realized he wasn't following her when he called her name.
She turned around, and there he was lighting a cigarette. She walked brusquely up to him, yanked the cigarette out of his mouth and stomped on it.
He laughed. He used to get mad when she did this, but apparently he'd come to expect it by now. And it almost took her by surprise. Danny looked at his feet.
"Come away with me." He said.
"What??" She breathed.
He looked back up at her with that familiar grin.
"I've been all over the world, and I've never met anyone like you. I'm being transferred to South Carolina. Come with me." He sounded almost desperate.
"Danny... That's crazy. I'm still in high school."
"Yea, but you're about to graduate! You could come when you finish school." He paused. She didn't know what to say. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but...I'm serious, I think about you all the time. When I was overseas, your letters were what got me through the day. You keep me sane. And you help me to be a better person. You're the only girl I know who calls me out the way you do, and it's like...I don't wanna disappoint you."
She could feel tears prickling in the corners of her eyes. No one had ever said anything like this to her before. Not even her current boyfriend.
"I know you have a boyfriend. But that's not gonna last." He said, as if he knew what she were thinking.
She looked up at him defiantly.
"You don't know that! Jeremy loves me."
"Oh yea? Then where is he?"
She sighed in frustration. She knew Jeremy had been blowing her off, and here Danny was pointing it out, and he was right. If Danny had never joined the Navy, if he'd never been sent overseas, things maybe could have been different, but they weren't. That was the path he had chosen. And this was the path she had chosen.
"I have to go." She said, suddenly feeling a little choked up. She turned around quickly, shoved her hands in her pockets, and hunched against the cold as she all but ran to her car.
"Wait!" Danny called. She didn't look back. "You still owe me a kiss!"
She froze in her tracks. But she couldn't bear to turn around and look at him.
"I'm sorry Danny." She called over her shoulder as she slammed the car door shut.
She drove like a bat out of hell. It was a bad habit she had when she got upset or angry. She pulled out her phone and began to dial Jeremy's number.
"Hey," She said, trying to mask the fact that she'd been crying. "What are you doing?"
"Playing GTA with Greg...what's up?"
"Um...nothing. I just was hoping I could see you. I mean, we haven't really spent any time together since you've been home for the holidays."
"Yea well I've been busy with family stuff. Hey, can I call you back? Cuz we're kind of at an intense part in this game."
"Yea fine." She said, steeling herself.
"Ok bye." He said.
She immediately yanked the wheel hard to the left and pulled a U-Turn in the middle of the street. Luckily, since it was Christmas Eve, there wasn't any traffic. She sped even faster back to Danny's house. When she pulled into his driveway, he was still standing in the garage, leaned up against the wall, with his arms crossed, almost as if he'd been expecting her.
She opened the door, set one foot outside and called over to him across the roof of her car, "Well? Aren't you going to come get that kiss I owe you?"
He didn't smile, and he didn't say anything. He just walked, as fast as he could possibly walk, without running. When he reached her he took her face in both of his hands. She looked into his eyes, and in that moment, she completely surrendered. He kissed her with a violent fervor. Her hands grabbed the back of his neck in desperation, and his tangled up in her hair. When they finally parted, she was breathless. She had never been kissed that way before. But then, she had never been kissed by Danny before.
He smiled at her finally; her favorite crooked smile, and she smiled back.
"Goodnight Danny." She said and she got back in the car. He shut the door for her, and she rolled down the window. He kissed her once more, briefly, through the window, and then she drove off into the night, feeling light as a feather, invincible, happy, elated; as if nothing could ever come between them.