My American Flag

Two more weeks. I read the letter over and over again, soaking up the words that he wrote. “Hey Pumpkin! Can’t wait to see you! I love and miss you so much! I’m sorry I missed your birthday, but I’ll be home soon, I promise! I’ll be home in two weeks, and we’ll do whatever you want! Love you!” He promised me two weeks and he gave me two weeks. Just not in the way I expected. I miss you daddy, always.

Momma and daddy were high school sweethearts, or so dad tells me. Momma says they met in high school but never started dating until after they graduated because she was focused on college. I always loved hearing my parents’ love story growing up, especially when daddy told it to me since he was gone so much. You see, my daddy, he’s a general in the United States Army, so we move around a lot. I’ve never really had a lot of friends, none I was real close to anyways. We move so much, I just never wanted to get close to anyone because I’d just lose them when we moved again. My momma, she passed away three years ago from cancer, so it’s just me and my daddy now. When she died, daddy asked if I was okay with leaving the States. He said there was a great job for him overseas in England, so I said yes. Heck, it was better than staying here in the house we’d lived in for nearly three years where the last of the memories of my momma haunt me. Wishin’ I coulda done somethin’ to help her with her pain back then. So I said yes to England and we went. Spent my entire junior high schools traveling to Paris and London with the few friends I’d decided to make. My best friend over there, Mac, she was always wantin’ to go somewhere and was always up to somethin’. My daddy said we were crazy every time we were together. Now, I never thought I’d be sayin’ goodbye to my best friend, but I am.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Mac said to me as we walked to school together. It was my last day, and then this weekend we were graduating from the eighth grade. Next week, my daddy’s makin’ me go back to the states for high school. I have to live with my Uncle Joe and his family who I barely even remember ‘cuz daddy has to go help out in Iraq with the war, and he didn’t want me stayin’ with Mac’s family here.
“I know, Mac, I can’t either. But my daddy isn’t givin’ me much of a choice. It’s either I stay with Uncle Joe or he’s sendin’ me to boarding school in the States. Either way, I won’t be here.” I yank the main door to our school open and we walk through. Walkin’ down the hall to my locker, I see Aaron standin’ there. After Mac and my daddy, Aaron is the next closest thing I have to family here and I don’t want to leave him. He has been there for me through so much. Heck, he was the first person that got me to tell him about my mom. Mac didn’t find out until last year. I just told her she was gone and didn’t go into details. But Aaron, he forced it out of me when we were playing one-on-one basketball in the parking lot at our apartment complex.
To me, Aaron is the “boy next door,” just like my daddy was for my momma. Aaron’s a year older than us, but the high school and junior high are in the same building, which is huge. Even though his classes are on the third and fourth floor, he still always meets me at my locker every mornin’. I think it’s cute.
“Hey girly,” he says, pulling me into a hug. I take a deep breath, soaking his smell in. 
“Hey, Aaron. We need help and fast,” Mac says to him. I haven’t exactly told him I’m leavin’ yet, because I don’t want to hurt him. He’s like a brother to me and I’m a sister to him, especially since his real sister died in a car crash about a year ago. It was right after she turned sixteen, and I remember that night perfectly because I was with Aaron when he got the call from his momma sayin’ he needed to stay with us that night.
Aaron released me, saying, “And what exactly do you need help with Miss Mac?”
Opening my locker, I glance as Mac silently asking her not to tell him. Not at school, before the day has even started. I swear that girl has a mind of her own, though, and she definitely calls me out on it. Right in front of Aaron.
“Kat, he needs to know. You can’t keep this a secret much longer. And you definitely shouldn’t keep it from him since there isn’t much time left.”
Bangin’ my head on my locker door, I glance up at Aaron. “What is she talkin’ about, Kat?” He’s starin’ at me with those beautiful bluish gray eyes that I love so much. “Tell me. Please.”
I can’t keep it a secret anymore. I finish gatherin’ my stuff for first period, not lookin’ at him. Closing my locker door, I swiftly glance up at him and say, “My daddy’s bein’ shipped off to Iraq, and he’s shippin’ me off to live with my uncle. I leave next Friday.”
I watch him as the words I say sink in. Whipping around because it hurts too much to see him like that, I stalk towards my first period classroom. Mac walks in shortly after me and takes her usual seat in front of me.
Barely above a whisper, I hear her say, “I’m sorry. But it was time he knew the truth.”
I don’t reply to her. Instead, I lean back in my chair and think back to last year and remember Addie.
School is going by quickly today, probably because us eighth graders have already finished all our finals so it’s basically a blow-off day. The only reason I’m here is because we have to come if we want to graduate. I’m not risking having to retake my eighth grade year in the States, so here I am.
It’s lunchtime now, and they have my favorite food today: fish and chips. Aaron has the same lunch period as me, so I look for him as I walk into the courtyard with my food. I spy him and Mac sitting at our usual table, along with Jaz and Scott. I start heading over when I see that Aaron’s head is down on the table. I stop and stare at him for a few seconds, trying to decide if I want to sit with them today or not, when he looks up and finds my eyes on him.
Getting up, Aaron starts walking toward me. I sit down at the nearest empty table.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Aaron asks, stopping in front of me.
“I didn’t know how,” I reply, looking up at him.
“You didn’t know how? That’s the answer you’re going to stick with? Whatever.” I watch him walk away, back into the school. I can feel the tears rolling down my face but don’t bother with them. Not even caring that I haven’t touched my food, I get up, walk to the nearest trashcan and dump it. Heading back into the school, I silently find the nearest bathroom and lock myself in the stall. Then I hear footsteps. Looking under the stall door, I see footsteps outside of it and then hear a short knock.
“Kat, I know you’re in there. Come out, please?” It’s Skye. We’ve hung out once or twice together when I was with Aaron, but she’s a lot closer to him than she is with me.
“What do you want Skye? I don’t want to talk to anyone.”
“I wanted to see if you were okay. I passed Aaron in the hallway before I saw you come in here. All he said was “she’s leaving” and I assumed it was you.”
“Can you just go get Mac? Please?” In all honesty, I didn’t want Mac. There was only one person who would make me feel better, and I doubt he even wants to speak with me since I kept this from him. I hear the click of her heels and the door to the bathroom close. Five minutes later, someone else walks in and over to my stall.
“Open.” I reach over to the door and unlock it for Mac to step into the stall with me. One look from her tells me what I already knew: he hates me. And it’s all my fault.
I haven’t spoken to Aaron since school ended for summer. Today is my eighth grade graduation, and then I leave in four days.
“Hey, pumpkin, are you ready to head to the stadium?” Daddy asks walking into my room.
“Just about. Let me finish with my makeup and put my shoes on, then we can go.” He knows something happened when he found me crying on the bathroom floor, and he knows it has something to do with Aaron because I told him so, but he doesn’t know what.
“Kat, are you ever going to tell me what happened with Aaron? Maybe I could help.” I look up into his eyes and know he would be willing to do anything for me, but nothing can fix the mess I caused by not telling Aaron about me moving back to the States.
“Daddy it’s nothing. I promise. I’ll be okay. I’ll be out in five minutes, okay?” He leaves me to finish getting ready.
I wish Aaron would forgive me. I really do. And I don’t want to leave England without knowing he’s still here for me if I need him. I can’t leave without saying goodbye. He’s become such a big part of my life since I came here. I wish he would talk to me. I wish he would listen to what I have to say.
Pushing Aaron out of my mind, I quickly finish my makeup and reach for my shoes before walking out of my room. Daddy is sitting on the couch in our living room and stands up when he sees me. Walking over to him, he bends down and squeezes me tight. “I love you, baby girl. Always.”
Letting me go, he holds out his elbow and I grab hold of it, walking out the door to the car. Once inside, I look up to the third floor fourth window. Aaron’s room. For a second, I think back to the day we arrived in England and at our new home. I remember a boy who looked to be about my age, maybe a year older, and he was looking out that same window like he’s done so many times since then. God, I miss him. I just need to see him, even if it’s just a glance from a distance. For a second, I think I saw something move behind the curtain, but it was nothing. Here we go.

I’m officially a graduate of Brooklands Middle School. Smiling, I spy Mac with her three older brothers and her parents. I watch her for a few seconds, secretly wishing that I had a big family like her. She must feel my eyes on her because she finds me through the crowd and runs towards me. We hug each other tightly and I try not to cry. This may be the last time I see her for a while, unless I can convince her to visit me in the States, which is doubtful.
“Are you ready to party, girl?” She has the biggest smile on her face. I can’t believe I forgot about the party.
“Totally. Um, do you think…?” I mean to ask if she thinks Aaron will show or not.
“I sent him the invitation, and he RSVP’d, but I don’t know. That was two weeks ago, Kat.” She gives me a sad look before saying goodbye and heading back to her family. As she’s leaving, I get wrapped in a huge bear hug from behind by daddy.
“Daddy, can we go? Please? I want to start getting set up for the party.” I lie. Reality? I want to go home and try to get Aaron to talk to me again.
“Sure, pumpkin. I’d like to go say congratulations to my “other daughter” first. Where’s Mac?”
“She’s over there,” I say, pointing out Mac and her family. “But our parties are conjoined, so can’t you just talk to her later?” I ask, looking up at him.
“Alright, let’s go then.” He puts his hand on my back as we make our way through the crowd and outside to the car. As he drives away, I stare at my old school, watching it disappear along with the life I created there.
The party is now over, and it was a hit for everyone except me. Aaron didn’t show up. As soon as we got home, I threw on my gym clothes and grab Aaron’s basketball that he left here and head outside to shoot some hoops, alone. Two hours have passed. I think about texting him to see what he’s doing and even get my phone out sometimes to do so, but I chicken out every time.
I shoot another layup. And another. And another. Then I work on my free throws. I finally make twenty in a row for the first time and jump up and down, spinning around to look up at Aaron’s window again only to find the light still off. Where is he? I turn around to grab the ball from under the hoop and have my answer. Aaron is standing under the hoop, holding the ball in his hands and staring at me.
“Hi,” I say.
Nothing. He just stares at me.
“Um, how are you?” I ask, taking a few steps forward.
Aaron bounces the ball back to me and I catch it. Then he turns around and walks away.
No. No way. He is not ignoring me anymore. I throw the ball down on the ground and take off in a sprint after him.
“Aaron, stop it! I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was leaving, okay? I’m sorry! But I didn’t want to hurt you and I didn’t know what to tell you. Aaron!” I grab his arm, forcing him to stop and look at me.
“You’ve known that you were leaving for two weeks! Two weeks, Kat! And you never told me. We are together practically 24/7, and you just didn’t know what to tell me?”
“I’m sorry. Just please don’t hate me.”
“Kat, I can’t talk about this right now. I have to get inside.” Aaron walks away from me and I crumble to the ground, my heart breaking to pieces.
I grab the last of my clothing from the laundry to pack in my suitcases. My plane leaves at five o’clock tonight, and I’ve been procrastinating hoping my dad would change his mind but he hasn’t. Mac comes barging into my room with her brother Leo right on her feet.
“Kat, spend time with me!” She cries.
“Mac, I have to finish packing. I leave today, whether I want to or not.”
“But Kat!!”
“You could always help me if you want to. I’d get done much faster.”
“Ooo, I’ll help. Where’s your delicates? I can pack those?” Leo says, winking at me. Leo has always been this way with everyone, so I’m used to it now.
“Ha, they’re already packed. But you know what you could do? Start carrying my stuff down to my daddy’s car so we don’t have to do it. The keys are on the counter in the kitchen. Thanks!”
He stares at me for a few seconds and shrugs. “Alright. Where are they?”
I walk out and into the living room where I have a large suitcase packed and ready along with two duffle bags that still need zipped. I walk over to the first one and try zipping it.
“Good Lord, Kat. I thought maybe one bag and a suitcase. But shit this is a lot of stuff. Are you sure your uncle is gonna have enough room? Ah, hell. Just go finish packing I’ll get this stuff to the car.”
“You’re the best, Leo. Mwah!” I blow him a kiss and head back to my bedroom where Mac is folding the clothes I just brought in. I hear the door slam as Leo begins taking my stuff out to the car.
“Leo is seriously the best. I wish I had a brother like him!” I tell Mac.
“He’s pretty great when you need him to be.” She smiles at me. We go back to folding my clothing when I hear the front door open again. I hear Leo talking to someone and decide to go see who it is.
“I’ll be right back Mac. I think your brother brought someone back with him. Ha ha.” Leo is always getting random people to help him with stuff.
Walking out into the living room, I see Leo zipping up one bag and Aaron zipping up the other. Or at least they were both attempting to.
“Aaron. Hi. What, what are you doing here?” He looks up at me. I’m frozen in the doorway to the living room, staring at him.
“Hey, Kat. I, uh, saw Leo putting a suitcase in your dad’s car. Thought I’d see if he needed some help.” He looks away and gets the bag zipped. “I can get these two bags Leo.” Grabbing both of them, Aaron heads towards the front door and disappears behind it.
Walking over to the sofa, I collapse onto it and bury my face in the pillow. God, I missed him. We still aren’t speaking to each other, and like I said I leave in a few short hours.
“Kat, I’m sorry. I thought you two made up already…” Leo tries consoling me when Aaron walks back in. Standing up, I wave at the two of them and quickly walk to my bedroom to finish packing with Mac’s help.
Shutting the door, I lay my forehead against it and breath deeply.
“Kat? What’s wrong?”
“He’s here.”
“Who? Aaron?” I nod my head. “So what? You leave in a few hours. Either he needs to get over his shit and grow a pair and speak to you again, or you’ll be gone in a few hours and will be a whole continent away and he won’t ever get to.”
“You’re right. C’mon, help me finish folding this stuff and get it packed so Leo can load it up. Dad said he’d ship my winter clothes to me later. I can’t believe I’m moving to Georgia. I don’t even think it snows there!” We get back into a groove when Aaron and Leo come in and sit and talk with us. I try ignoring the awkwardness I’m feeling being around Aaron. This is going to be a long day…

Georgia, Day One
I barely slept the entire flight from London to Atlanta, Georgia. I’m so nervous, which is rare for me. I haven’t seen my uncle since my mother passed away and he came to her funeral. Stepping off the plane, I follow the rest of the passengers to pick up my luggage. Grabbing it, I slowly walk to where everyone is getting picked up and spot some guy holding a card with my name on it. I walk over.
“Hi. I’m Katherine Richards.” I say, motioning to his sign.
“Hey, I’m Jake. I help out on your Uncle Jo’s farm over the summer, and he had a meeting today and asked if I’d pick you up.” We shake hands and begin walking outside.
I forgot what it was like being back in the states. It’s hotter than Hades here, especially in Georgia. Stopping on the sidewalk, I set my bags down and take off the jacket I’d worn on the plane and tie it around my waist. When I look back up, Jake is gone. I don’t see him anywhere and the crowd of people is getting bigger.
“Katherine! Over here!” I hear someone yell and turn to my right. I see Jake loading my luggage up into a white pickup truck. Walking over quickly, I hand him my stuff to put in the bed and begin to calculate how exactly I was going to get up into his truck.
Opening the door, I gauge the distance I would have to jump. Man, I hate being short! Gripping the door handle and the seat, I lift my leg up and push as hard as I can. Jake comes up behind me and grabs hold of my waist, lifting me into the truck with ease.
“No problem. Let’s get on the road. We got about an hour drive with this traffic.” He put the truck in gear and we began our journey to my new home. 
An hour and a half later, we finally arrived at my uncle’s farm. Exhausted from the flight, I jumped out of the truck and quickly grabbed my bags out of the bed and started carrying them into the house. All I wanted was a shower.
Jake followed me inside with the rest of my things. “Alright, so your uncle must be out in the field so I’ll show you your room. It’s right back here.”
Walking into my new room, I set my bags on the bed and looked around. I would have to see about repainting it and getting some decorations up as soon as possible, but it would do. Jake sets the rest of my stuff on the floor. “So I’m gonna go find your uncle while you get situated here. I’ll see you at dinner, Katherine.”
“Jake, wait.” I say as he’s heading out the door. I wait until he looks back at me and say, “Thanks for all your help. And by the way, call me Kat.”
“Kat.” He says my name with a smile, then nods and heads down the hallway back outside.
I decide to roam around and get my bearings of this house before unpacking, so I head back down the hallway, opening doors on the way. I find three more bedrooms and the biggest bathroom I’d ever seen. Then I head down the other hallway and find the living room, kitchen, and what looks to be a master suite. Walking back towards the kitchen, I grab a glass of water and decided it was time to unpack. Two and a half hours later, I am officially moved into my new room. Getting my computer out, I boot it up and pull up Skype. Thank God, Mac is online! Clicking her icon, I wait a few seconds for the ringing to start so I can talk to my best friend.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Finally, I see the word connecting at the top of the screen and hear a screech through my headphones as Mac pops into view.
“Hey Mac!!!”
“Kat! Oh my God, I miss you sooo much already! How is Georgia? What’s your uncle like? Have you met anyone new? How big is–?”
“Mac, calm down. Chill! Ha ha. First of all, Georgia is hot and sticky. Ugh, nothing at all like the cool, nice weather of England. I miss you so much. Anyways, my Uncle Jo wasn’t able to pick me up this morning, so he sent this guy Jake to get me. Jake was so nice and he’s soooo cute. I mean, he’s totally not my type but he is still gorgeous. He’s like the opposite of Aaron. He’s the only person I’ve met so far, and I still haven’t seen my uncle. He’s out in the field—“
“Wait, hold up. Let’s go back to Jake. Everything else can wait.” She puts her hands under her chin and stares at me, waiting.
Giggling, I begin to describe Jake in full detail to her when I hear the door open.
“Kat? You still here?” Jake yelled down the hall.
“Oh my god, is that him? That’s him isn’t it? He even sounds cute! Eeeekk!”
“Shut up,” I tell her as Jake knocks on my door. “It’s open, Jake.”
Poking his head in, he says, “Hey Kat. Your uncle gave me the rest of the day off and I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing and if you wanted to go hang out in town. I could introduce you to some of my friends, if you want that is.” He had walked into my room while talking and was standing next to my dresser now.
“Yea, that sounds great. Um, just let me finish this conversation. Here, say hi to my friend Mac from England.”
“Hiya, Mac.”
“Hiiii, Jaaake.”
He gives her a smile and waves before turning back to me. “Well, I’m gonna take a quick shower and then we can go grab a bite at the diner in town before I give you the grand tour. Nice to meet you, Mac,” he says while walking out the door. A few minutes later, I hear the shower start up down the hall.
“Wait, does he live at your uncle’s house, too?! Oh my gosh, this is great!!!”
Jake comes back into my room without a shirt on. “Oh, by the way, we are going to a bonfire party tonight so dress for a night out in Georgia.” He smiles at me and goes to take a shower.
“What just happened?”
I’m guessing my facial expression is one of surprise. God, he has a nice body too. I look at my computer screen. “Jake just walked back in and said we were going to some type of party tonight,” I say trying to cover up my expression.
“And he might have been shirtless…”
“Hush! Now, help me! What the hell do I wear?! And is this a date?? We just met! Ugh. You’re the fashion Nazi, what do I wear? He said bonfire and party. What does that mean? And he’s taking me to dinner at a diner or something and I’m meeting his friends. HELP!”
“Okay, calm down. Let me do some quick research….”
I wait patiently while she does her research.
“Okay, so you should wear a pair of your nice jeans with the pink tank top we just bought you and black flip flops. Also, whether it is a date or not, you want to make a good impression but not overdo it. So I say you wear your usual bangle bracelets, the necklace your dad got you as a goodbye/going away present, and go light on the make up. I would do a little foundation and eye liner, just to make your eyes pop. Oooo, and wear that cotton candy lip gloss I gave you incase Jake tries to kiss you. Now go get ready, he’s getting out of the shower! Good luck, and call me tomorrow! Love youuuu!” God, I love Mac. She always knows what to do. I jump out of bed and start getting ready for my first night in Georgia with Jake.
Jumping out of the truck, Jake comes to my side and leads me into the diner. As soon as we walk in, someone in the back yells at Jake.
“Yo, Jake! You didn’t tell me you were comin’ in. I’ll be right there, man. Just sit anywhere.”
“No problem, Beau. Hurry your ass up though, there’s someone I want you to meet!” Jake yells back and winks at me. He leads me to a booth in the back of the room and sits down on one side while I sit across from him.
A guy, who looks to be about the same age as Jake, walks out and heads toward us. “You may be my best friend, but you don’t need to rush me, man. Oh, wait. Sorry, lil’ lady. Didn’t see ya come in with this old bozo.”
“Beau, I’d like you to meet Katherine. She’s Jo’s niece. Kat, this is Beau.” Jake says to him.
“Nice to meet you, Beau.” I say and give a small smile. Damn, he’s cute too.
“Hey Katherine.”
“Oh, just call me Kat.”
“Kat,” he says and nods toward me before turning back to Jake. “You going out to the fields tonight?”
“Yeah, man. Kat’s gonna come with me, thought I’d introduce her to some people.”
“Alright, well I’ll see ya out there. Gotta get back to makin’ food. Sammy’s in the bathroom right now, but she’ll be out in a minute to take your order.”
A girl walks over to our table right as Beau turns to leave. “Hey Jake,” she says before sitting down next to him. “And who is this?”
“Sammy, this is Kat.”
“Oh my god!!!!” She jumps up and pulls me from the booth, gathering me in a hug. “I am so excited you’re here! Finally, now there’s someone I can hang out with at home other than Jake!”
“Ahem. Kat, this is Sammy. Your cousin.”
By then though I’d figured it out and was squeezing her back.
“I haven’t seen you in forever, Sammy! How have you been?” We sit back down and talk for about five minutes before Beau comes back out and joins us. I notice Sammy grab Beau’s hand as he sits across from her next to Jake.
“Okay, well I should probably get your guys’ order before my boss gets mad at me,” she says, winking at Beau.
“Um, okay,” I say, looking at the menu. Most of it is hamburgers or cheeseburgers.
“I suggest the Hamburger Deluxe. Basically, it’s a 1/4lb burger with onion, tomato, lettuce, pickle, and our special sauce. And the buns here are to die for.”
“Um, okay. I’ll take that, I guess. But no onion or pickle, please.”
“Alrighty. You want a coke? That’s still your favorite soda, right?”
“Actually, I stopped drinking soda when I was in England. I’ll just have a water.” I smile at Sammy and then turn to look out the window.
“Jake, do you want your usual?”
“Yep. And can I get a sweet tea instead of coke?”
“Sure thing bud. I’ll get your drinks while Beau here gets the food.” They both get up and walk away from us holding hands.
“Are they together?” I ask Jake.
“Yea, they started going out in eighth grade. They are kinda perfect together though. Farmer’s daughter and Mr. Popular.”
“Mr. Popular?”
“Yea, Beau is the star quarterback of the football team. Sammy is on the volleyball team, so I guess they are both pretty popular.”

Three hours later, Jake is helping me out of his truck in some random field. I can see a fire up ahead with people surrounding it. There has to be at least fifty people here, maybe more.
Shutting the truck door for me, Jake says, “So this is what we Georgians call The Place. Basically, it’s just a field that Beau’s dad said we could hang out in.”
He turns his flashlight on and grabs my hand. I can feel the butterflies in my stomach that only Aaron has accomplished to make in the past. Jake and I make our way over to the party and people immediately start yelling out his name. Tugging me behind him, he heads over to a group of people. “Hey guys, I’d like you to meet Kat. She’s Jo’s niece, and he asked me to introduce her to some people.”
“Hi.” I say, giving a small wave.
“Hi, I’m Anna.” The girl closest to me says. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to my friends.” She smiles at me and grabs my arm, pulling me away from Jake and over to another group. I look back over my shoulder at him, wondering if I should be scared or not. He smiles at me. “Kat, right?”
“Everybody this is Kat. Kat, this is Jenny and her boyfriend Logan, Alyson, Britt, Layne, Kenzie, and Scott.” Anna tells me while pointing at each person in the group.
“Hi everyone.” I say, smiling.
“So, Kat. Is that, like, short for something?” One of the girls asks me. I don’t remember her name, though.
“Uh, yea, it’s short for Katherine. Sorry, what’s your name again?”
Smiling at me, she says, “I’m Jenny. Jake is my older brother. I saw you come up with him. Which means you must be the famous England cousin of Sammy’s. She and Beau should be here soon.”
“Hi, I’m Kenzie. Beau, who I’m assuming you already met since I can smell the diner all over you, is my older brother. I’m sure we’ll be great friends!” She smiles at me. “Scott, why don’t we go get some drinks.”
As the two of them leave, another girl comes up to me. “I’m Britt, Ethan’s little sister. You probably haven’t met him yet. He’s best friends with Jeremiah, Jenny’s oldest brother. And this is Layne, she’s Ben’s little sister. Ben is a friend of Jake’s and also the infamous boyfriend of Karissa Carlock.” She makes a face when she says the girl’s name. Pointing over to Jake and his friends, she says, “That’s them right there. And next to Karissa is her best friend Kristen. No offense, but they both probably hate you already.”
“What?” I ask, appalled. “Why would they hate me? They don’t even know me?”
“Because of who you came here with.” She tells me. “Jake is a hot commodity here. He is, like, the only guy who hasn’t fallen for Kristen’s crap yet. And She’s been trying for almost two years.”
“So, you came here with him. And he was holding your hand when you guys walked up.”
“But that doesn’t mean anything. I barely even know him. I barely know anyone. I didn’t even recognize Sammy today at the diner.”
Britt gives me a look that said yea right and walked away from me.
“Don’t worry about it, Kat.” Someone says behind me.
Assuming it’s Alyson, I turn around and see a girl my age standing there, holding out a water bottle to me. “I just don’t get it. So Jake brought me here, so what. He only brought me because my uncle asked him to introduce me to people.”
“Listen. Jake is just one of those guys around here that wants to wait for the right person, and the cheerleaders can’t stand that they can’t get him. He doesn’t go on dates, he doesn’t hang out with people alone, and he definitely doesn’t drive to some airport over an hour away to pick up a girl he doesn’t know unless he wants to get to know her. You may not know him, but he wants to know you. Get used to it.”
She walks away as someone bumps into me from behind, knocking me to the ground. As I feel myself falling, I automatically stick my hands out to catch myself and feel sticks jamming into my palms and knees.
“Sorry about that.” A guy says from above me. He reaches his hand out to help me up, holding a football in his other hand. Once I’m back on my feet, mystery guy says, “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Anderson, but you can call me Andy. You must be Kat?”
“Yea, nice to meet you. Um, how do you know–?”
“Kat! Are you alright?” Suddenly Jake and Sammy are standing next to me. Sammy immediately starts brushing me off. “Andy, dude, how are ya man?”
“Jake, he just ran into my little cousin. That doesn’t mean he gets treated nicely, he gets yelled at. Listen here, buddy. You owe her an apology right now.” Sammy glares at him until the guy looks away from her.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t see you standing there. And ya know, Sammy, it is dark out and there isn’t much light coming from the fire anymore. It’s not like I meant to run into her.” Andy says before turning and jogging away.
I look down at my hands and see scrapes on them but nothing too bad. Jake must see me looking at them because he grabs one and pulls it up to his face. “Kat, we need to get you patched up. Come on, I’ll drive you to Beau’s house.”
“I’m fine, Jake, really. I can take care of it at home later.”
Sammy grabs my hands and looks at them. “Jake can you run to Beau’s and grab the first aid kit from the barn? Come on Kat, let’s go get some bottled water and we’ll go to the trucks to fix these up.” Not giving me a choice, she grabs my arm and pulls me along behind her. She grabs two bottles of water and then guides me to a brown pickup truck. I can faintly see two guys standing at the bed of the truck with the gate down, waiting.
Jake turns the flashlight on so we can see where we are going. I recognize Beau standing next to him.
“Sit,” Sammy tells me. As I try to figure out how exactly I’m going to get up in the truck bed when two hands grab me around the waist and hoist me up.
“Eeekk!” I glance behind me and see Jake lifting me onto the truck bed. “A little warning next time, Jake.” I say laughing. He smiles at me before Sammy pushes him out of her way and gets to work on my palms.
“Oh my god. Kat, don’t look.” Sammy tells me. I look anyways and see a small piece of something sticking out of my right palm. Immediately I get queasy. I don’t handle blood very well. The next thing I know, I’m laying in my bed back at Uncle Jo’s house. Sammy is sitting next to me, absently stroking my hair.
“What happened?” I ask her.
“You fainted after seeing the blood coming from your hand.” I look down and see that my hand is bandaged up. Just then, there is a knock on the door.
“Sammy, can I come in?”
“Yea, Dad. Come on in. She’s awake.” The door opens and in walks my Uncle Jo, Aunt Margie, and Jake. Uncle Jo sits down at the end of the bed and pats my knee.
“How do you feel, Katherine?”
“I’m okay, just tired still. What time is it?”
“It’s 1:30,” Sammy says. She then continues to tell me what happened that night. How they got the splinter out of my palm, how Jake caught me from falling off the bed of the truck, and how Jake, Beau, and Sammy brought me home around 11:30. “You woke up once at about 11:45, but then promptly fell back asleep on my shoulder. So I stayed with you until mom and dad got home from their fundraiser.”
“Thank you, Sammy. You too, Jake.”
Uncle Jo finally spoke up. “Well, I guess we’d better let you get some sleep. I’ll check on you in the morning. Oh, and Katherine, welcome to Georgia. We are glad you’re here.” Uncle Jo and Aunt Margie smiled and kissed the top of my head as well as Sammy’s before leaving.
“I’m glad you’re okay, Kat. I’ll see you in the morning, alright? Sleep tight.” Jake gets up to leave as well and I look at Sammy.
“What?” She asks. “Don’t expect me to get up, I’m staying right here with you. Not that you need me to look out for you or anything, just because I missed my little cousin.”
Smiling, I say, “That sounds great.”
Sammy and I talk for a little while longer before slipping back under the covers and falling asleep.

The Lake
It’s been five weeks since I left England. Mac and I talk everyday when our schedules match up. I’ve even gotten to talk to Leo occasionally. I miss them so much. I talk to my dad all the time, too, and Aaron calls maybe once or twice a week to check up on me. Once day, when I was talking with Aaron, Jake knocked on my door and came in.
Knock. Knock. “Hey, Kat. Your uncle gave me the day off and Sammy and Beau have it off too. We were gonna go down to the lake, you wanna go?”
I glance up at him as he walks in. “Oh, hi Jake. Uh, how soon are you guys leaving? I’d love to go, but I’m kinda in the middle of a conversation.” I say, motioning to the computer in my lap.
“Oh, is that Mac? Hiya, Mac!”
Jake walks closer to the bed to see the computer. “Oh, hey. I’m Jake. I work for Kat’s uncle.” He waves to Aaron on the screen while Aaron just stares at him with a sneer on his face. “Okay…. Well I’ll just go ask Sammy what time she’ll be ready to go…and maybe I’ll send her back to tell you also…” Jake says walking backwards out the door.
“Who the hell was that, Kat?”
“That was Jake. He helps my uncle out on the farm. He stays here during the summer, too, because his family lives a couple miles outside of town and he didn’t want to be using up so much gas, so my uncle lets him stay here. Why?”
“I don’t like him. I don’t think you should go to wherever he just asked you to go to with him.”
I stare at Aaron for a few minutes before replying. “Aaron, I’m going to say this once and that’s all, so listen up. Jake is a friend, a good friend. He’s taken care of me and made sure that I’ve made friends. His sister Jenny is already one of my best friends. And besides, you don’t even know him. You had your chance the past three years when I was in England. But a relationship isn’t in the cards for us, so stop acting like a jealous boyfriend and grow up. I gotta go get ready to go to the lake. I’ll talk to you later.” Before he has a chance to say anything, I end the conversation.
Sammy walks in a moment later. “Hey, so we’re gonna leave in about ten minutes. I’m gonna make us a small picnic, do you want your usual?”
“Yea, that’s fine. Thanks, Sammy.”
Getting up from my bed, I set my computer down on my desk and head to my dresser to grab my bikini. As I start undressing, I notice Sammy is still standing in the room. “What’s up?” I ask her.
“I heard the conversation, Kat. I know Aaron means a lot to you. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Sammy, if we talk about what just happened between me and Aaron, we wouldn’t be leaving in ten minutes. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even go anymore if we talk about him. I just want to get out of the house and hang out with you guys, okay?”
“Alright, fine. But tonight, we are having a girl’s night. Mom and dad are going to Atlanta for some event and decided to stay at a hotel rather than drive back that late at night. And tonight, we will talk about what just happened. But for now, get changed, put a smile on your face, and let’s go out to the lake. Sound good?”
“Sounds perfect, Sammy.”
We get to the lake by 10:30. Jeremiah, Jesica, Jenny, Logan, and a few other people are already out there. I spot Beau’s truck and see that he brought Kenzie and Scott with him as well. I walk over to Jenny and lay out my towel next to her.
“Hey, chick. How’s it goin?”
“Well, I had a very awkward encounter this morning before leaving. One that I hope to God I never have to relive, although Sammy is making me tell her what happened tonight. We’re having a girl’s night, you should come over.”
“First, definitely coming over. Sammy’s girl’s nights are the best. Second, who else is coming tonight, or have you not figured that out yet? And third, you damn well better start talkin cause I know that an “awkward encounter” or whatever you call it has to do something with my brother or that guy from England that you like or liked. So talk.”
Sammy and the rest of the girls come over and lay towels down on either side of us. I notice that Karissa is sitting next to Sammy and I go silent. Noticing my immediate silence, Jenny stands up and holds her hand out to me.
“Jenny I really just want to lay here for a while.”
“Don’t make me do it, Kat. You know I will.” I stare at her, silently begging her to keep her mouth shut. “Jake! Jeremiah! Kat needs a soak!”
I hear footsteps in the distance and then two hands grab my arms on either side, lifting me off the ground. “Nooo!”
“Be careful with her! Last time you two did that to someone they did a belly flop!” Sammy snickers, looking towards Beau.
“Sammy, you said you weren’t gonna tell anyone!” He yells at her. Then everyone else starts laughing and I am dragged off by Jeremiah and Jake and thrown into the lake screaming.
“I’m gonna kill you both!” I yell at Jeremiah and Jake when I resurface. Wiping my hands over my face to remove the excess water, I start looking around for Jeremiah and Jake. They know I don’t like being thrown into the water like that and should know better. I find them standing on the dock, laughing at me. I start to swim toward them when they look up and see me before sprinting off toward the rest of the group.
I finally reach the dock and am contemplating how to get out since there is no ladder for me to climb out when a hand reaches down towards me. Grabbing the hand, I feel myself being lifted out of the water. As soon as I’m out of the water, I look up at the guy who pulled me out of the water only to realize I don’t know him.
“Th-thank you.” I stammer. Damn, he is GOR-GEOUS. I take my hand back and start walking away, racking my brain to figure out his name, when he walks up beside me.
“Your welcome.” He says, giving me the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. I smile back at him. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Brandon.” Brandon sticks his hand out for me to take and I do, giving it a good shake.
“I’m Kat.” I say, looking up at him. He’s gotta be at least six foot.
“Oh, I know who you are.”
“And how is that possible if I’ve never met you.” I reply, giving a slight smile.
Leaning down to whisper in my ear, he whispers a name. One that I never thought would be talking to anyone about me. Not now, not ever. Jake.
After Brandon whispered Jake’s name in my ear, I decided to go for a walk around the lake. I just wanted to be alone, but Sammy and Jenny both followed me, trying to get my attention. After about five minutes, I stopped and waited for them to catch up. We walked in silence for a few minutes before I spoke.
“Who’s Brandon?”
Jenny spoke first. “He’s Lexi’s little brother. And one of Jake’s best friends.”
Shit. I wanted to run. I wanted to go home. And not home to the farm. I wanted to go home, to England. I don’t belong here. I don’t know why I ever thought I would be able to make it here on my own, not like I had a choice.
“Hey, why are you crying? Honey, what’s wrong?” Sammy asked.
I hadn’t even realized I’d started crying. I looked up at her face and say the one thing I hadn’t thought about the entire time I’d been here this summer. “I want to go home.” Then I take off running.
I have no idea how long I’ve been running or how much farther it is until I reach my uncle’s farm. I just knew I had to get there. Honestly, I’m surprised Sammy and Jenny let me go and didn’t follow me. I’m glad they didn’t, but I’m still surprised.
“Why hadn’t I paid closer attention on the drive over?” I ask myself while stopping to get my bearings. All I see are trees and corn surrounding me. I listen for a minute and hear a car in the distance. Turning every which way to spot it, I stop to wait. I see a truck in the distance. Afraid it could be Jake, I take off running again.
“Kat!” I hear Beau yell. Stopping, I turn and see Beau sidle up next to me in his truck. I feel tears running down my face. He’s alone. Jake didn’t come. Neither did Sammy. Beau opens the truck door silently and I climb in. We don’t say anything on the drive to my uncle’s house. Apparently, I had missed the turn to go towards town which is why I was so confused.
Before I get out, I finally speak. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Kat, wait.” I look at him with my feet dangling out the door. “You can’t leave. Jenny may not know how much you miss England, but Sammy does. She knew as soon as you said you wanted to go home, you didn’t mean home as in to the farm. You meant your old home. Just, please, at least think about it before you make any big decisions, and talk to Sammy and your uncle and aunt before doing anything about it. Sammy’s a wreck now because she thinks she’s losin’ you again, like she did when you left for England the first time. She missed you a lot. Ever since she found out you were coming back she’s changed a lot and I don’t want her to change again, because I saw how it affected her the first time. Everyone did, but she only ever told me the real reason why. It was you. Just, please, think about it.”
I nod my head and jump out, running inside the house to wait for Sammy to return home.
I was on my computer talking to Mac and Leo when the door banged open and feet stomped into the house.
“Kat!” Sammy yelled.
“Room!” I yell back. “Sammy’s back.”
“Yeah, we heard.” Mac says, laughing at me. I told her everything that happened today, starting with Aaron and Jake and ending with me running away from them. I can hear Sammy coming down the hallway towards my room.
“Do you need to go?” Leo asks.
“No, it’s alright. I hardly ever get to talk to you guys. Besides, Sammy loves you both for taking such good care of me in England.” Sammy opens the door to my room and walks in, sitting beside me on my bed and laying her head on my shoulder. “Hey, Sammy.”
“Hey you. We missed you the rest of the day. Then again, I see you got some face time with your friends in England! Hey Mac! Hey Leo!” She laughs.
“Hey-hey, Sammy. Where ya been the last two hours! Damn, girl, you look like you got some sun!” Mac leans in closer to her computer to get a better look at Sammy’s burnt face.
“Is it really that bad? Beau and Jake both said you couldn’t tell!” Sammy asks me.
“Um, no it’s not bad. Not at all. Barely visible.” I say, trying to contain my laughter.
“You are such a terrible liar!” Sammy smacks my leg and I can’t control my laughter anymore. Mac and Leo are laughing right along with me. Sammy looks at all of our faces and busts out laughing as well.  This is how Beau and Jake find us a few minutes later.
Beau walks in first and attacks Sammy, tickling her until she screeches that she has to pee. This only makes Mac, Leo, and I laugh even harder. Sammy jumps up and runs out the door to the bathroom, shoving Jake out of the doorway on the way. I hadn’t seen him until then and I immediately stop laughing.
“Hey, Jake. I, uh, didn’t notice you standing there. Come in.”
Mac goes from laughing to practically screeching Jake’s name. They’ve talked multiple times when we were video chatting and became best friends. Leo has met him a few times, but he is “Team Aaron” as he likes to say.
Coming over to sit beside me, he says, “Hey Mac! Hey Leo!”
Beau sits on my other side and waves at them.
“And who are you?”
“Oh, okay, Mac and Leo, this is Beau, Sammy’s boyfriend. Beau, this is Mac and Leo. They are brother and sister. Mac is my best friend in England. We did literally everything together.” I smile at her, knowing a story is about to come.
“Hi Beau! Want to hear a story about our little Kat?”
“Uh, hi,” he says, laughing. “Sure, why not?”
“Okay, so there was this one time in seventh grade and Kat and I decided we wanted to go shopping in Paris…”
“Oh god, anything but this story Mac!” Jake slaps his hand over my mouth while Beau laughs at the time I convinced Aaron and Leo to take the two of us to Paris, even though we didn’t have our parents’ permission.
“Her dad filed a missing persons report and everything, only to get a call about an hour later that we were at the train station the whole time trying to buy tickets without a legal guardian! Let’s just say, we did not go to Paris and her dad made her wear clothes from a thrift store for a month. In England, it’s all about the clothes so it was a big deal. She started bawling in the middle of the train station!”
Everyone is laughing at the story. I hated my dad for doing that to me, but I deserved it.
“What’s so fun?” Sammy asks as she walks back into the room.
“Mac was just telling us a story about Kat.”
“Damn, and I missed it? Why didn’t someone yell for me to hurry up?” She smiles at us.
I hear a door slam on the computer and look at the screen. Mac and Leo are still there, but they are looking at each other.
“What’s up?” I ask Mac.
She looks at me when the door to her bedroom slams open and Aaron walks in.
“Leo, let’s go! I’ve been honking at you for the last ten minutes!”
“Uh, hi.” I say. “My fault, sorry.”
He looks me, his face expressionless, before turning to walk back out the door, flipping me off in the process. Leo follows him out while Mac watches.
“Boys, can you go to the living room and watch some TV or something? Kat and I need to talk,” Sammy says.
I just sit there, watching the door on the screen that Aaron just walked through with Leo following right behind him. I could hear Mac talking to me, trying to get my attention. I hear Sammy telling Mac that she’s take care of me and that she’d have me call her later. I stare at the door on the screen until the conversation ends and my home screen pops up. Sammy takes my computer and places it on my desk before gathering me in her arms. She holds me as a I cry for over an hour over the loss of Aaron. Eventually, we lay down beside each other on the bed and I pass out, ready for this day to be over.
“Jake, she’s still asleep. Just let her be for now. She lost one of her best friends today, and although I don’t know all the details about what happened this morning other than what you told me there is definitely more to the story that neither of us knows. Why don’t you run to town and grab us something to eat at the diner. Beau should be there, he knows what I like to eat for breakfast. “
I hear the shuffling of feet and the door to my room cracks open. I vaguely see Sammy slip inside and slide into bed with me again. I feign sleep so she doesn’t know that I heard their conversation.
We stay like that for another hour before I decide to let her know I am awake. Sitting up, I turn towards her. She starts to speak, but I put up my hand.
“What do you want to know?”
“You heard me and Jake earlier, didn’t you?”
I silently nod my head.
“Not right now. Later.”
I lay down again, this time facing her.
“Tell me about Aaron.” She whispers.
I sigh and tell her all about my lost friend.

The Last Summer Bonfire
I can’t believe summer is already over. It feels like I just got here and I have two months before I start high school in a completely different place, but it really is here. I officially start Buford High School as a freshman in two days, and I’m not sure if I’m excited or nervous.
Ever since I came back, I’ve started playing my guitar again. I remember how much I used to love it before mom died, and I saw that Samantha had her old one still so I asked if I could use it. It took me a while to be able to play again, and I had to relearn the chords to my favorite songs, but it’s been worth it.
Tonight is the final bonfire before the school year officially starts, and I can’t wait. Sammy and I went shopping together last weekend and I bought a bunch of new clothes, so I can’t wait to wear them. I bought a strapless dress to wear tonight with my new boots, and I plan to take my guitar to play some music for them.
As I pick up my guitar, there is a knock on my door. “It’s open.”
Jake pokes his head in. “Hey, Beau’s here. You ready?”
“Yeah, just let me grab my guitar.” I smile at him. Things have still been a little strained between us since the day I ran away from all of them at the lake, but they are slowly getting better.
Jake takes a second to look at my outfit while I grab the case from my closet and put my guitar in it. 
“Wow. You look amazing, Kat.”
I look up at him and smile as I close the case and zip it up. “Thanks,” I say, giving myself a twirl so he can see all of me. “It’s new. You like it?”
“Ya, Kat. I like it.”
“Kat! Jake! Let’s go!” Sammy yells from the front door, laughing. She knew exactly what I had planned to wear tonight, and although I haven’t come out and said it I’m pretty sure she knows why.
I see Jake swallow as he takes in my appearance, trying to be discreet about it. I pick up my guitar and sashay over to him standing in my doorway, laughing.
“Come on, let’s go. Before killer Sammy comes after us, please!”
“Hey! I heard that!” I can hear her laughing, so I know she’s not really mad at me though.
Jake reaches for my guitar case and I let him take it as we walk down the hallway to the door.
“Ooo! Kat, are you going to play for us tonight?” Sammy asks excitedly. She hasn’t heard me play yet this summer since I usually only play when I’m alone.
“We’ll see, Sammy. I don’t know yet.” I smile at her as we all walk to Beau’s truck and get in.

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