Author’s Note: The root beer floats are a tradition. On the twenty-fifth anniversary, we got to keep our glasses. They’re a bit like a beer stein with the run’s logo on the side, and they were great for floats that year. 🙂
“Root beer floats. I feel like such a kid.”
“You are a kid,” Carson told his brother, annoyed. He didn’t know how much longer he could put up with Larry being Larry. He was going to hit him, and if he didn’t hit him, he’d say something he regretted. He didn’t want to fight with his brothers, and he didn’t want to ruin things with Mackenna, and so he just needed to be quiet. That’s what he’d do. He’d stay very quiet, and then he couldn’t wreck anything.
“I think at this point he’s just doing it to annoy you,” Mackenna told him, shrugging. “Let it go. Enjoy your ice cream.”
“Do you think they’d give me more root beer? This turned out to be all foam,” Nick said. He looked down at his cup and then at Carrie’s. “Yeah, yours is, too. Let me go see if they’ll give us a bit more. It’s not much of a root beer float without the root beer.”
Carrie shook her head, but he was gone before she could say no. “I didn’t need more.”
“You try not to complain about anything. Sometimes it’s something you should say,” Carson told her, stirring the ice cream melting in his cup. He didn’t feel all that nostalgic, and he didn’t even feel that hungry, not that he did most of the time.
“You okay, Carson?”
“I don’t think I can finish my float,” he said, pushing it over to Larry. “I’m going to go walk around and look at the other cars.”
Mackenna caught his arm. “You sure you’re okay?”
He nodded. “It’s… I think it’s the heat. Not sure how they managed to handle it before they decided short-sleeves were allowed, and you have it a lot worse than I do.”
“Not if I take off my coat, but that might make someone’s head spin.”
“Better not then,” Carson said, not wanting to think about seeing her without the coat. Then the corset would be all too visible, revealing more than it did now as it hugged her body, and he’d just as soon not think about that, either. “No, I’m just going to circulate a bit and see if that helps. If not, I’m staying somewhere air-conditioned until the party.”
“Yeah, go get some air. You’d be better off going down to the lake, but if you’d rather look at the cars, that’s up to you.”
“Oh. You’re right. I’ll go down to the lake,” he said, and she smiled. He thought of asking her to join him, but he needed his distance until he could get over this hyper-awareness. When he had that back under control, when he could forget the idea of touching her or anything like that, he’d be able to spend time with her again. Until then, he’d be on his own as much as possible.
He started down to the beach, rolling up his sleeves as he did. They’d just have to forgive him for ruining the costume—he wasn’t used to this. Even in the summer, wearing suits to work hadn’t been that bad because he spent all his time indoors in the cool of the air-conditioning. He wasn’t used to suits and the glare of the summertime sun.
He stopped at the edge of the sand to take off his shoes and slip out of his socks, sure they’d get looks if anyone saw them sitting there. He rolled up the bottom of his pants and waded out into the water, letting it lap over his feet with a contented sigh. This was good.
He walked along the shore for a while, letting the slight breeze coming off the water work to cool him down and wishing it was as easy to settle things in his head. He needed to find a way so that he could put all that behind him. His father, the sudden attraction to Mackenna, all of that needed to go away so that he could live a normal life. He’d have his past—most of it, at least—and he could lay his father to rest, so to speak. Then he’d move on. He’d get a new job, and he’d find his way back to where he should be, where he would be if he hadn’t had his father’s murder weighing on him all this time.
He let out a breath, and then he felt it, again. That same stupid sense that someone was watching him. He looked over at his family, but they were all laughing at something Mackenna was saying, none of them so much as glancing in his direction. Carson searched the area with his eyes, frowning when he saw someone over by the docks. The man was more of a shadow than anything, and he might not be watching Carson at all, but seeing him made him shudder anyway.
So much for calming down and cooling off.