Keeping You Away - Kennedy Fox Page 0,1

you see me as just your sister’s best friend, don’t lead me on. I’ve shared more with you than I probably should’ve, but it’s because I know you’d never judge me. You’ve always given me great advice when I had problems, and with you, I have a safe space to vent. It’s something I’ll always cherish, even if it can’t be more than a friendship. To be honest, I’m going to miss writing to you. I’ve looked forward to hearing from you each week, but seeing you in person is all I can think about right now. I’m anxious and excited, but my nerves are getting the best of me. I’m second-guessing everything, and I’m worried you’ll break my heart.

So please don’t. If you tell me my feelings are one-sided, I’ll understand.

But if they’re not, show me.

Love, Gemma

* * *

I hate that I didn’t reply before I left, but I know she wouldn’t have gotten it in time due to where I was stationed. I’m glad to be able to tell her how I feel in person instead. I want to ease her nerves as much as I can. Thinking about Gemma got me through the long ass days and nights. I’ve felt guilty because of her age and because she’s Everleigh’s best friend, but I didn’t plan this. These feelings developed over time and grew stronger over the past year. Knowing she feels the same makes me want to make her mine, and now I can’t stand the idea of not being with her.

Gemma glides across the stage and smiles wide as her dad stands and claps. Her brother, Noah, is next to him cheering loudly. He’s a year older than her, and I didn’t know him well in high school, but Gemma’s told me so much it feels like I do. He’s in love with her other best friend, Katie Walker, but never told her. According to Gemma, by the time she talked Noah into confessing his feelings, their cousin Gabe had moved to town and asked Katie out first. That was two years ago, and they’re still together. I’ve learned more about the people from Lawton Ridge while being away than I did living there for eighteen years. Though I didn’t mind hearing the gossip from Gemma because it meant the letters continued to come.

As Gemma walks off stage, she finds me. There’s no doubt she heard and saw me earlier, and the smile that spreads across her lips confirms she most definitely did.

I smirk, then shoot her a wink, and she licks her lips, then walks back to her seat.

After the ceremony is over, Everleigh rushes toward me and leaps into my arms. “You made it!” she cries.

I tighten my grip and smile. “With minutes to spare even.”

She pulls back and looks me over from head to toe. “No broken bones or bruises?”

“A few bruises from training.” I shrug. “Nothing major.”

“Thank God.”

Though I was honored to serve my country, I want to experience life in other ways too.

Mimi and Pops give Everleigh hugs, then we discuss dinner plans. Of course, Mimi already prepped a home-cooked meal.

“After we eat, I wanna take Tyler to a party,” Everleigh tells them, threading her fingers through her beachy waves once she takes off her cap. Though she’s tall like me, we look completely different. I have dark eyes and hair while Everleigh has blonde hair and blue eyes.

I’m half-listening as I scan the area for Gemma. She’s probably with her family, but I’m dying to see her.

“A party?” I furrow my brows and shove my hands into my pockets. “I’m twenty-two. I’m too old for high school parties.”

Everleigh scoffs, then swats my chest. “Nonsense. We’re technically not in high school anymore, so there.”

I snort. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that you’re a full-ass adult now.”

“Language, Tyler,” Mimi scolds.

I apologize, and Everleigh laughs.

“Trust me, you want to go. Gemma will be there.” She snickers and waggles her brows. Lord knows what Gemma’s told her or what she knows about our…friendship.

“Gemma Reid? Are y’all dating?” Mimi asks.

“Yes,” Everleigh says at the same time I say, “No.”

Pops chuckles. “Let’s feed you crazy kids so you can go celebrate.”

Everleigh rides with me and talks my ear off about some guy she’s kinda seeing. After five minutes, I already want to punch his face in or turn the radio up so I don’t have to hear about it anymore.

Once we arrive at our grandparents’ house, Mimi serves chicken fried steak with white gravy, cornbread, and