DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.
Breakfast with the Exums followed by brunch with his father and Regina didn’t leave Owen with any appetite, so when Braxton called and invited him to lunch at Dead Tom's, Owen almost said no. Owen was glad he said yes when he spotted Kariana sitting next to Braxton. Kariana - or Kari, as she liked to be called - had been Braxton's girlfriend on and off through most of high school. During their off periods, she'd sometimes gone out with Owen. The two never became serious and their dates never progressed past an occasional play at second base, but they'd become close friends and Kariana was one of the few kids he graduated with who'd stayed in touch while he was away.
"Hi, Kari, I didn't know you were in town," Owen greeted the girl. "I see you're still doing charity work," he added with a nod toward Braxton.
"Not since her last date with you, soldier boy," Braxton teased right back as he got up from his seat.
Owen grabbed Braxton's extended hand and pulled him in for a bro-hug. Then he turned his attention to Kariana.
"You look great, Kari. College life must agree with you."
He took her in his arms for a hug marginally more heartfelt than the one he'd given Braxton.
When Owen released her, she stood back and returned the compliment. "I'd say Army life agrees with you, Owen. You're so buff. And I thought Braxton looked good when he came home from basic training last summer."
Until Kariana mentioned it, Braxton being in the National Guard had slipped Owen's mind. Like his father before him, Braxton enlisted as a cook. While being trained as a culinary specialist by the Army, Braxton was taking classes in the culinary arts at CFCC and working at his family's restaurant, Francesca's, at the Coastal Towers Resort. Most of Braxton 's friends, including Owen, spent time employed at Francesca's while in high school.
"How do you like being in the Guard?" Owen asked Braxton when they'd all taken seats around the table.
Braxton shrugged. "There hasn't been much to it so far. Other than basic training last summer all I've learned about being an Army cook is how to clean the chow hall and the field kitchen equipment. My NCOs don’t seem to think growing up working in a restaurant means I know anything about cooking. Hopefully, that will change after I go to AIT this summer."
"Advanced school is nothing like basic training," Owen assured his friend. "Trust me. Except for making it to formation and doing PT, it will be more like being in college than being in the Army. The classes are longer is all. They go all day."
"Compared to my schedule now, AIT will feel like a vacation," Braxton predicted.
"Enough army talk," Kariana complained. "What I want to know is how long Owen is home for?"
"Only a couple more hours this trip," Owen informed her.
Kariana reacted with indignation. "I thought you Army guys got a month’s vacation at a time."
"Not exactly." Owen explained to the irate girl. "We earn thirty days paid leave per year at two-and-a-half days a month. I've been in ten months, so I've earned twenty-five days. But we get weekends off unless we pull special duty or are on a training mission or something."
Kariana wasn't mollified. "I see. I did not know this. With Braxton, he is only in the Army one weekend each month. I'm still trying to understand."
Braxton started to speak but a girl's voice cut him off.
"Well, well," Braelyn said. "I should have known I'd find you here. Have you all had lunch yet or may I join you?"
Owen stood up as Braelyn sat down. "I think Braxton and Kari were about to order. I need to go meet my father and his girlfriend at the Yacht Club before I leave for Bragg. It was great seeing y'all."
"Wait," Braelyn said as she got back to her feet. "I'll walk with you."
Owen said good-bye to Kariana and Braxton before heading out the door with Braelyn.
"You don't have to walk me to the Yacht Club, Brae," Owen joked as the door to Dead Tom's closed behind them. "I remember the way.
"And curiosity overwhelms me," he added. "How did you know I'd be at Dead Tom's?" Before Braelyn could answer, Owen offered his own explanation. "Kari messaged you, didn't she?"
"She might have," Braelyn confessed. "I did send a message out to the group as soon as I got out of church letting them know I was hoping to see you before you left."
Owen stopped and turned to face the girl. "Brae, what's going on? You seem awfully interested in spending time with me all of the sudden."
Braelyn looked down at the sidewalk between them. "It's not 'all of the sudden' Owen. It's ever since you left. I've missed you more than you know. Once you were gone, I realized what an idiot I'd been and all the signals I'd missed. Owen, I was with a guy who didn't really care about me. Mark only cared about how good he looked having me as his girlfriend." She paused and looked up. "Wow, that sounded conceited didn't it?" Braelyn grabbed Owen's hands. "What I'm trying to say, Owen, what I wanted to say last night when I stopped by and what I wanted to tell you this morning but couldn't with my parents around, is that I know now that the guy I should have been with all along was my best friend, you, Owen. I know now what I should have realized then. You were there for me all along, and I blew it."
"You missed me so much, yet you never wrote, emailed, or called me the whole time I've been gone," Owen pointed out. "And, you continued being Mark's girlfriend until just recently. Somehow, these things don't add up to you having some kind of epiphany about us, Braelyn."
"What was I supposed to do, Owen, write you and tell you I'd been a fool for the last three years and should have been with you the whole time instead of Mark?"
Owen took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes, Brae, you should have broken things off with Mark as soon as this great revelation about your feelings for me came over you. Then you should have written to me and let me know how you felt. Ten, eight, even six months ago, I would have been thrilled by the news. For you to tell me now, I'll be honest Brae, it feels like a story you're telling yourself to help you get over Mark dumping you."
Braelyn let go of Owen's hands as if they burned her. "I can't believe you would say such a thing to me. I open my heart to you, and you tell me I'm making it all up. You are wrong, Owen. Think about it for a while and you'll see you're wrong.
"Oh, God, unless, that is, is there someone else? Have you met someone, Owen? Is there another girl? Please don't tell me you found someone else. I don't think I could stand it."
An image of Kenzie flashed in Owen's mind, but he knew the idea was ridiculous.
We barely spoke over a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs. Two people can’t bond over breakfast, can they. There couldn’t be anything between Kenzie and me, could there? She didn’t even remember me.
He gently took Braelyn by the shoulders. "There is no one else, Brae," he told her though in his heart he knew that might not be true. "I haven't had the time to find someone even if I'd been looking. I'm sorry if I misjudged what you told me. It's just so unexpected. While I hoped for a long time for you to feel the way you say you do about me, I never expected the day would come when you did. I need some time to get used to the idea. Now that I'll be around more, I think you need to wait and see if you feel the way about the me as I am now is the same as you did about the boy I was in high school."
Braelyn nodded slowly. "You're right, of course. You always were. I could always count on you for the answer even if I didn't know the question."
Owen slowly released his hold on her shoulders. "I've got to go meet my dad and then get going back to Bragg. I still have the same g-mail account and the same cell phone number. You can email, message, or call me if you want."
"Are you still on-line?" Braelyn asked.
"Only on Facebook," Owen replied, "and I'm only on there to use Messenger."
"I think we're still friends of Facebook," Braelyn said, "even though you haven't posted in forever. But I can message you on there, too?"
"Yes," Owen confirmed. "You can message me on there, too."
"I'm sorry I made such a scene, Owen. I guess the emotion of seeing my best friend again after all this time just got the best of me."
"I'm kind of flattered," Owen said with a smile. "Braelyn Exum maybe likes me as more than just a friend. Won't all the guys back at South Hanover be jealous?"
Braelyn gave Owen a playful shove. "Shut up and go meet your dad. You better come back soon, boy, and let me know when you’re on your way."
"I will, Brae," Owen said, pulling her close for a hug.
Braelyn had other ideas. Before Owen could evade, she pressed her lips firmly to his and gave him a darn good reason to hurry back to Buzby Beach.
© 2020 DW Davis