Hidden behind a canopy of shadows, SHANTEL glared at Darien from the dark sidewalk.
Her eyes darted across the moonlit beach and returned to him. He stood at the shore, staring at the sea. The island breeze spread his linen pants around his muscular legs.
Was he waiting for someone?
Palm trees swayed in the star sprinkled sky as she combed the beach with her eyes. Her glare dawdled back to his caramel skin as her ex fingered his locs, tracing a cornrow of clumped coils to the end.
She fumed, imagining his hair being wound together by random girls during his ‘time to himself.’
“Lies,” she mumbled.
Shantel patted her chest, smoothing the rising fury, and adjusted the bow neck of the designer dress he didn’t even notice.
“If he wanted to see other people, he should have said that. Not ‘I need time to myself’. Time for what?”
She bit her lip to stop the bubbling scream from boiling over. Shantel rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and scanned the shore once more. Only silhouettes of waving palm trees tickling the blue-black sky and the waves tumbling to the shore.
Darien’s lips moved. She gasped and inched closer to read his lips.
“Man,” she whispered, mimicking his mouthing. “I can’t believe this God.”
God? He’s talking to God.
Shantel slowly crawled across the sidewalk, staying low as she crept closer through the sand. She crouched behind a pair of padded beach loungers.
“This is serious,” she read. “God,” he continued. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Darien paced back and forth along the shore.
Shantel strained to see his lips as she crawled closer. Grains of sand scraped against her knees.
Darien stopped pacing and smiled. A boyish innocence spread, brightening his entire face.
She froze, and hope woke inside the darkest corner of her heart. Her stomach brimmed with fluttering butterflies. Memories of his adoring smile blazed through her mind and her heart bursted open. Shantel’s lips curved into a spellbound smile as she watched him. She rose from the shadows. If he saw her, he would remember that they belonged together.
The amazing scene played in her mind. His eyes would lock on hers and dance down her short dress. She would run to him and he would lift her into his arms, kissing her deep as he vowed never to leave her again.
Dimples of satisfaction pierced her cheeks as she waited for Darien to see her and finally fall in love.
“Is there something you want to tell me?”
Shantel whirled around.
“Terrance,” she shrieked, combing a manicured hand through her straight, dark hair. She swallowed the nervous energy pulsing through her chest, grateful for her mocha skin that didn’t cave to emotions.
“Hey, baby,” she said, laying her tone even.
Terrance glowered over her shoulder at Darien.
Think, SHANTEL, think.
She panicked, keeping her poker face intact. Her gaze fell to her sandy knees. She let out an awkward laugh and pressed her lips together.
“Please tell me you didn’t see that.” Dusting dry sand from her knees, she feigned embarrassment as she shook her head.
Terrance scowled over her head at Darien, who glanced over at them, gave a lukewarm wave, and walked away. Terrance muttered a string of curses. Then he shifted his attention to Shantel. He absorbed the beauty of her wrought smile, unsure of how to respond to what he thought he saw.
Shantel babbled, shaking her head. Her long, silky hair glossed under the moonlight.
“I’m a mess.” She rolled her eyes. “I was walking over to say hi to D. You know me being the bigger person and all, and I tripped.” Her eyes bulged as she gestured toward the cushioned lounge chair.
“I tripped over the lounger.” Shantel groaned, rubbing her palms together, freeing sand grains from her hands. “I’m dirty now.” She pouted. “What kind of idiot trips over a bright white chair?”
She aimed the self depreciating comment directly at Terrance’s bizarre need to protect her.
He glanced at her knees, squinting back the urge to help her. Instead, his glare trailed Darien until the thick night swallow his frame.
Shantel folded her arms across her chest, biting her bottom lip.
“I must look like a fool.” She tilted her head to the side, commanding her eyes to water. They obeyed.
She rolled her eyes up toward the starry sky, balancing the liquid that threatened to spill over her bottom lid.
“Nah, baby, I don’t think you’re stupid. Maybe a little on the clumsy side, but I think that’s cute.” He lifted her chin and kissed her tears.
She pulled away, sulking.
“You playing shy now?” He teased. “Last I checked, wasn’t nothing shy about you.”
A girly giggle ruffled her lips, and she threw her arms around his neck. “All girls get a little shy from time to time.”
“Not my girl. Not with me. Ain’t no need for all that.” He rubbed her back, staring into her chestnut brown eyes. “I love you, girl.”
What? Shantel loosened her grip around his neck and stumbled.
Terrance braced her body with his arms, holding her up.
Her mind raced.
Love? He can’t really be in love with me. It’s only been two months.
Shantel gulped back the flickering desire to tell him the truth. The fear of being alone held her back, locking her into the ruse. With tear-filled eyes, she smiled.
“I love you too, baby.” The lie tightened in her chest. She exhaled, hoping he didn’t feel her body tremble.
A genuine grin brightened Terrance’s smooth chocolate face, and his eyes sparkled shinier than the stars.
Her breath caught.
He really loves me.
The chill around her heart melted and deep dimples pierced her cheeks as she smiled back.
I could grow to love him.
Shantel tippy toed into his loving kiss. Except, when she closed her eyes, she still saw Darien.
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