Because of Liam

River

The funny thing about life—and I don’t mean ha-ha funny—is that those pivotal moments, the moments that change everything in an instant never give you a warning. They hit you with the force of a CAT5 hurricane and most of the time, there’s no heads-up. No blaring sirens to alert you to run for cover and bunker down. No pivotal weatherman on TV telling you the life-changing forecast. It always hits you in your blind spot. When you least expect it and think you have everything figured out. Or in my case, nothing figured out yet, just flip-flopping around and trying to fight the current.

The other funny thing about life is that most of the time, when you get hit with that life-changing moment, you don’t even know until it’s too late.

The morning starts like any other morning as winter begrudgingly gives up its grip to spring. And spring gracefully takes charge, washing the gray away and painting it blue. Hopeful shots of green break through the ground between stubborn spots of dirty snow. It’s mid-March, but I’ve been craving summer and a fresh-made raspberry lemonade, so I make my way to Pat’s Cafe to get me some. As I walk outside sipping the sweet and tart drink only Pat can make this perfectly, I see Logan across the street, looking into the open hood of the black SUV parked in his driveway. He’s wearing a black beanie, camouflage cargo pants hanging low on his hips, and he’s shirtless despite the nip in the air. He’s facing away from me as I reach his side of the street. Logan looks . . . bigger. He looks good. Really good, more muscular, and for the first time I notice the huge tattoo on his back. Skye never told me Logan had a tattoo. I don’t remember seeing a tattoo that one time I got an eye-full when I caught them in the shower. It must be new.

A beautiful, intricate design of a Bald Eagle and a dragon in battle takes most of his torso. The dragon is on its back, wings spread wide and it’s done in shades of gold, black, and green. The eagle has its talons clasped around one of the dragon’s paws and its neck. The talons around the neck have red, white, and blue ribbons tied to them. And as Logan moves and flexes the muscles on his back, both the eagle and the dragon seem to come to life.

That nip in the air vanishes. My chest flushes with heat as my eyes run over the flex of muscles on his shoulders and arms, the way his muscular back tapers into a narrow waist. How much do you want to bet there’s a six-pack on the other side of him?

Jesus! With an inward breath I realize I’m ogling my sister’s boyfriend. I shake that thought away and chastise myself for the stray tinkering of my brain.

Bad River!

Logan never, ever caught my imagination before. What’s wrong with me? I glare at my drink as if it’s at fault. I decide right then and there that indeed something is off with the fruity drink, it’s evil and is trying to corrupt me.

He hasn’t noticed me yet. His back is covered in a thin sheen of sweat despite the chill in the air and a too golden tan for this time of the year. I wonder if his skin tastes as good as it looks. I lick my lips in anticipation of his taste.

Crap on a cracker! What the hell is wrong with me?

I swear someone spiked my lemonade. I hold the drink as far away from me as my arm will allow and look daggers at it. An evil thought crosses my mind and with a smirk, I remove the top, take two soft steps closer to him and on my tiptoes with a stretched arm, I dump the evil drink down Logan’s neck and back.

Then, I step back and wait with a big mischievous smile on my face as Logan jumps and whirls around with a string of curses under his breath. All of which start with the letter F.

Except that when he spins around lighting fast and looks at me, with his right hand raised in a fist and a furious expression on his face, it’s not Logan. It’s not Logan at all. I mean, this guy looks like Logan, maybe a younger version of him, but it’s not Logan’s easy smiling face that looks at me. This man is a different person. There’s no softness to him, no warm smile or the calmness Logan always radiates.

Looking at this man’s gray eyes, I feel like I’ve just fallen into a raging storm. And shit, if I’m not the target of all that fury. Yep. I just stepped into a CAT5 hurricane and I had no warning.

My feet take another step back under the intense assault of his stare.

“What the fuck!” It comes out through gritted teeth. His voice is low and dangerous and there’s a promise of retribution in it.

“I-I, you’re not Logan—” I stammer. I’m fucking stammering! Me! River! Stammering! Fucking poisoned lemonade!

“No shit, Sherlock!” His right hand, raised.

I flinch and for the briefest moment there’s a flash of regret in his eyes, but it’s gone as fast as it came. He lowers his hand to his side, still in a fist.

“River?”

With my heart thundering, I look toward the voice calling my name and see Logan. Relief washes over me, as he gets closer and puts a protective hand over my shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

Logan takes in my startled stance, the empty cup in my hand, the melting ice on the ground and liquid still dripping from the not-Logan guy standing next to us and reaches the right conclusion.

“Let me guess, you thought he was me and dumped your drink on him?”

“Yes, I was wondering when you got the tattoo…”

I glance at not-Logan. His chest is wide and muscular. He has a few faint scars over a pec and shoulder and there’s a dusting of light brown hair that disappears into his shorts. And the six-pack is there too. It does not disappoint. Eyes up, River! My chest goes tight and a swirl of emotions I can’t quite pinpoint flutters about me. Get a grip girl.

“I’m really sorry.” I hate how he makes me feel. Out of balance, out of sorts. For a moment I thought he’d hit me. A flash of a memory blinks in my mind so fast I can’t get a hold of it.

He scared me and I never ever scare. Ever. Except, that one time. Shut up. So not the time to think about that.

The Logan look-alike is still on guard, his hands in fists opening and closing like he’s trying to gain control. There’s something off about him. He looks angry, but the level of anger is more than what the silly prank I played on him warrants.

“Liam, this is River, Skye’s sister. River, this is my baby brother, Liam. He’s a medic in the marines.”

“Corpsman,” Liam corrects Logan.

For the first time Liam’s murderous eyes leave my face and lock on his brother’s. I can tell by the scowl in his expression that Liam hates being referred to as his baby brother. He looks back at me then as if taking me in for the first time. His gray eyes look me up and down, taking in the knee-high black boots, black leggings, and loose gray cardigan I’m wearing. His eyes drop to the purple scarf around my neck before meeting my own. His eyes are darker now. The storm still brewing. They soften for a fraction of a second and then harden again.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

It’s not a question but an accusation. My dislike for him grows.

“Easy there, brother. No harm, no foul. Looks like you needed cooling off, anyway.” Logan deflects attention to himself again.

Liam levels his gaze on me one last time and without saying a word stalks off.

“Where are you going?” Logan calls after him.

Liam keeps walking as he answers his brother, anger in his voice. “To shower. I smell like a fucking fruity girly cocktail.”

I turn to Logan and say loud enough for Liam to hear me. “Your brother is an asshole!”

Liam’s step falters, but he doesn’t turn and keeps walking. My eyes track him up the driveway and onto the veranda that takes up the entire front of the blue colonial style house until he disappears behind the closed door. My eyes linger until I can feel Logan studying me with a curious expression on his face.

“I didn’t even know you had a brother. Where did he come from?”

Logan scratches his head and presses his lips. He takes a deep breath and exhales. “Afghanistan.”

I look at the house and back at Logan. “Afghanistan?”

“Yeah, he showed up late last night.”

“Then, is he on a break between tours?”

“I think this is it for him.”

Curiosity puts words in my mouth and I can’t help asking questions. “How long did he serve?”

“He’s been gone over five years.” 

I notice the odd tone to Logan’s voice and the choice of words. “Gone” as opposed to served.

“Five years? Your brother doesn’t look old enough to have served that long.”

“He enlisted at eighteen, on the last day of high school and his birthday.”

“Wow, on his birthday?”

“Yeah, we were all surprised.”

“We?”

“Our family. My parents and I. Liam never talked about enlisting. He was all set to go to pre-med, or at least that was his plan then. I was away in college and didn’t find out until he had already enlisted.”

I don’t know what to say to that. There’s more to the story, I can tell, and I also know whatever it is, Logan won’t be shedding any light on it today.

I turn toward the house again where Liam is.

Showering.

Naked.

I can remember all too well what his body looks like and my imagination fills the gaps for the parts I didn’t see. I blame the lemonade for my stray thoughts. The ever-present voice in my head says, Yeah, blame the lemonade all you want. You know you’re glad he’s not Logan.

Shut up! I mutter under my breath, nod at Logan in lieu of a goodbye, and go to class.

* * *

 

I finally make it home after four classes and a study group today. I have classes every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and an internship at a behavioral health clinic the rest of the week. Skye and I are going different ways after graduation in May. She’ll work at a local newspaper. Skye’s pretty excited about landing this job as we can still share the apartment and she can be near Logan. She’s taking a combination of on campus and online classes for her master’s in English. I decided to go on full-time, getting a master’s in psychology with two different tracks. My original track was for guidance counseling and I’m still pursuing it. Can you picture me counseling high school kids? The second track was a last-minute addition after—I shake my head to get rid of the path it’s going down.

I’m still thinking about the events of this morning. In hindsight dumping my raspberry lemonade on someone’s back may not have been the best idea I’ve ever had. But I honestly thought it was Logan and he wouldn’t have gotten mad at me.

I can’t wait for Skye to get home so I can ask her about Liam. Right on cue, the door opens.

She kicks off her shoes and drops her bag on the kitchen island before turning my way.

“Hey, what’s up, Sis? Just got home too?”

“Yeah, a few minutes ago.”

She looks at me intently. Skye can always tell when something is bugging me—she waits. I say nothing and she comes to the living room and sits on the other end of the sofa, legs crossed under her.

Our apartment is small, just four rooms. Our two bedrooms, the one bathroom we share and the small kitchen and living room are one open area, with the island where we have most of our meals working as a divider between the two spaces. We do have a small dining table that seats four, but we prefer to sit and eat at the kitchen island on most days. Skye could just as easily have talked to me from the kitchen, but she made the effort to come and wait for me to talk. I haven’t opened up to Skye in months now. It’s a habit that’s hard to break after locking myself up for so long.

“Did you know Logan has a brother?”

“Yeah, he mentioned him a few times. Liam is his name, I think.”

“It is. I met him today.”

“Really?”

“I saw Logan too. He said his brother showed up late last night.”

“Logan didn’t say he was coming to visit.”

“I got the impression Logan wasn’t expecting him. Apparently, he came straight from Afghanistan. He’s a marine.”

“Yeah, I think I remember Logan saying something about him being in the military. What’s he like?”

“He looks like Logan, same height but more muscular and his eyes are gray, not blue, but unlike Logan, he’s an asshole.”

That makes Skye frown at me. “Why would you say that?”

I rehash what happened while Skye looks at me and shakes her head. 

“Can you blame him for being upset?”

“It was a little more than upset. He was angry. Angrier than my stupid prank warranted.”

“Well, next time you see him, apologize again and it will be fine, I’m sure.”

“I don’t know, Skye, maybe he’s just a real asshole. They do exist, you know.”

She gets up and walks to her room. “I find it hard to believe Logan’s little brother is as bad as you say. Give the kid a break.”

“He’s not little, and he’s not a kid either,” I call after her.

My annoyance has left me and I feel bad for calling him an asshole. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that I’m the asshole in this scenario. I fucking hate that.

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