Sparks leapt from the bonfire, illuminating the faces of the people around it. Kris Sierra sat back against a cooler half buried in the sand and watched the others, most of them already half-drunk. They'd come out here to celebrate the last day before three of them left for graduate school. Kris hadn't decided on whether he was going back to school yet, so he planned on staying behind. He didn't mind, though. He'd gotten his bachelor's degree and, for now, it was enough. The small coastal town might have been close-knit, but at least he had a job.
The rich, heady scent of cloves drifted along the breeze and Kris looked up at the other -- secret -- reason why he didn't want to leave. At twenty-four, Ashley Moreau was the youngest of them all, the last to graduate high school and college. Kris had watched Ashley grow from a quiet, scrawny geek to a quiet, more toned geek, and the guy's demeanor intrigued him the more time passed. Despite being the younger brother of Keith Moreau, Kris' best friend, Ashley possessed something different from the rest of them. Kris had yet to put his finger on it, though. Whatever it was, it lured him in and wouldn't let go.
"Hey, Kris, toss me another beer," Keith yelled over the crackling fire.
Kris twisted and grabbed a can out of the cooler, then tossed it over, Keith nearly missing it. Kris laughed and sat back again just as thunder cracked loud and ominous. Lightning split the sky, the darkening clouds closing in on them. Kris sighed.
"Think it's about time to pack it in, guys," he announced, glancing upward.
"Aww, sucks, man." Keith tipped his head up and back to peer at his girlfriend upside down. "Wanna go make out?"
She rolled her eyes and shoved him forward. "You're drunk," she laughed. "Get up."
Kris smiled as Keith struggled to get on his feet. The rest of the guys and their girlfriends soon drifted off, leaving Kris to stare into the flames.
"You're not leaving?"
The question snapped Kris' attention back up to Ashley. "Um, nah... Gonna let the rain kill the fire, then I'll head inside."
Ashley sat down a few feet away, facing the bonfire. "I meant tomorrow," he said, lighting up one of his usual clove cigarettes. The scent, while not much different from a regular cigarette, still held a touch of spice to it.
"Oh." Kris looked down at his hands and toyed with the frayed hem of his denim shorts. "Not sure. Guess it all depends."
Kris glanced up again to find himself under an intense green gaze. "A lot of things."
Ashley finished smoking and tossed the butt into the fire. Then he stood and held out a hand. Kris studied the long fingers for a moment, then reached up and let Ashley pull him to his feet. "Come on."
"Where are we going? We can't leave the fire-" A deluge of rain dumped onto the beach and the last of the bonfire sizzled out. Kris blinked, mouth hanging open. "That was weird."
"Just rain," Ashley said as he led Kris away from the beach, toward the small house they'd all rented for the week. The rain poured down onto them, soaking them both from head to toe. Ashley's long black hair lay plastered against his back, and Kris found himself entranced by the movement of muscles beneath the soaking wet shirt.
"Wait." Kris stopped just as they got to the sliding glass door. "You're not worried about what Keith will say?"
One black eyebrow lifting, Ashley smirked. "Keith's known since I was thirteen. Get inside before you drown."
Kris wanted to protest. Keith would likely kick his ass if he found out. "But-"