Un-Finished (2.1)

…Dax flashes a smile that could melt butter.  Well at least she knows his name.  That’s a start. 

A steam-train whistle blasts through the auditorium and the three girls strike a pose.  Dax stands on the sidelines and watches Sarah.

*********************

Later, a frat house glows to life.  Trees show green and flowers are in bloom even in the darkness of the yard.  Music pours from speakers, propped in the windows.  A large crowd circles the keg in the backyard.

Sarah, Kat, and Alison enter the yard.  They’ve changed out of their hobo attire and are party ready. There’s a cheap digital camera dangling from Sarah’s neck.  All that remains of their skit are the hats on their heads. 

Sarah adjusts hers and realizes that she has to get back in the game.  It’s been three weeks since Alan callously ended their six-month romance via text… VIA TEXT!  In hindsight it wasn’t much of a romance either.  It’s just another notch in proving her theory that each break up gets you closer to the qualities in a guy that you really want… like stacking up degrees to become an expert. 

A few guys glance at them as they walk past.  Sarah smiles… maybe one of them could be next.  At least that’s her thought, just before the large one in the middle belches and a little vomit comes out.  Maybe not.

Alison scans the crowd.  “Look around for Jake.  He should be here already.” 

Kat has other priorities and heads toward the keg.  “I’ll get us some beers.  Stay here.  So I can find you again.”  She pushes her way through the crowd and disappears

Alison preoccupied in the other direction, squeals.  “There’s Jake.”  She points across the yard.  “I’ll be right back.”

Sarah whispers to herself.  “Two down and I’m solo.”  She glances at the balcony, where she spots Dax’s drag troop reveling in their victory. No sign of Dax.  Hopefully he’s here. Did she just think that out loud?

A low voice startles her from behind.  “Sarah.” 

She whips around with the camera to her eye, to find Dax framed in the lens…  Make-up and drag are gone, clean white T-shirt, jeans and bare feet left.  She lowers the camera and smiles sarcastically.  “Do I know you?”

Dax smiles.  “She talks.”

Sarah feels her playful confidence bubble back to the surface.  “Oh, right.  I didn’t recognize you without the heels.”

Dax looks at his bare feet.  “I have no idea how you guys wear those things.  My feet are toast.  I am never doing that again.”

Sarah extends a genuine smile.  “But it was worth the win, right?”

Dax smiles broadly.  “Not at all.” 

Dax’s troop of merry men drunkenly call Dax and Sarah’s attention to the upper deck, “Dax!”  They precariously hold the trophy above their heads.  “This party’s lame.  Let’s get out of here.”   They haphazardly drop the trophy.  Thankfully, it’s saved by a fluffy bush at the bottom.  The troop slaps each other around like the Three Stooges.

Sarah laughs, “Someone should cut them off.” 

Dax shakes his head in mock disgust.  “Idiots.  I don’t know them.”  Sara smiles.  Dax notices that her hands are empty.  “Not drinking?”

Sarah points to the crowd.  “My friend went in, but I’ve been known to lose more than one friend that way.”  Sure, it’s been awhile, but Sarah knows well that Kat can hold her own.

Dax raises an all-knowing finger.  “I’ll be right back.  Don’t move.”  He enters the crowd where Kat did moments earlier, then disappears into the mob like so many before him.

Sarah is left standing alone again.  She half-laughs at herself.  “This is becoming a habit.”  She continues with her photos. 

The Three Stooges on the balcony… CLICK. 

The circle of frat boys and their drinking contest… CLICK. 

The shy freshman wishing she could melt into the bushes behind her… CLICK. 

The slight boy who modestly watches her… CLICK. 

Sarah smiles to herself then turns toward the crowd that swallowed her friends. Like the parting of the seas, Kat emerges victoriously with a beer in her hand… CLICK.

Kat sighs with relief,  “I thought I’d never get out of there.”  Sarah searches for Dax in tow but he’s not there.  She frowns further when she notices Kat holds only one beer. 

Kat catches her not so subtle reaction and points behind her.  “Good thing he showed up.”  Dax emerges seconds later.  He carries three more beers.  Sarah’s smile fills her face when she sees him.

Dax likes her reaction.  In fact, he’s a bit disarmed by how much he likes it.  He’s a pretty confident guy and has had a decent amount of luck with the opposite sex, even if he was a late bloomer.   But for some reason, Sarah has been that girl he admired from afar and never had the nerve to approach.   Right now he can’t imagine why.  He steps toward her, locked on her eyes and the party dropping away.  He stops right in front of her, paralyzed by the feeling in his core. 

Just then, Alison runs up and unknowingly breaks the shared moment.  She points to the beer in Dax’s hand.  “Is one of those mine?”  Sarah looks like she wants to knock her out.  How could Alison be so oblivious.

Dax shakes back to reality and laughs at himself.  “Sure.”  He hands Alison the plastic party cup then offers Sarah one.   Awkwardly, they stand next to each other in silence.  Dax tries to catch his breath… or maybe his cool.  After all, they just met.  

Luckily, their group gets bigger with the addition of Jake and his friends.  It provides the much-needed casual cover for surface conversation.  They all chat and laugh about the talent show.  Dax even shows off a move or two.  Jake chimes in about what he has planned for next year…   Something about boas and the chicken dance.  Sarah can’t keep her eyes off of Dax, but she tries to be subtle.  Cups run low and Dax offers to make a keg run.  Sarah watches as he disappears into the crowd again.

Alison and Kat sidle up next to her.  Kat leans in, “You really like him.  I can tell.”  Sarah doesn’t answer, but sips the last drops of her beer.  Alison nudges her, “He likes you too, you know.”

Sarah looks at her friends with a weak smile.  Do they know how gun-shy she is?  Or the fact that something about Dax turns her insides upside-down… in a good way, but definitely an unnerving one.  It feels so right, it has to be wrong… kind of way.  Stop it, Sarah.  You just met him.  Just breathe.

Kat playfully slaps her in the face.  “Get out of your head.  Just have fun.”

Sarah rubs her slightly throbbing cheek.  Kat’s right.  Just relax. 

Alison hands her a Jello shot that somehow made it’s way into their midst.  “You need this more than me.  Besides, here comes your knight in shining armor.  You need to chill.” 

Sarah quickly swigs it back and tosses the evidence in the bush.  She straightens up just in time for Dax to emerge laden with cups.  He offers one to each of them.  He bows.  “At your service, my ladies.”

Alison attempts to keep a straight face.  “I almost forgot.  You’re all into that sissy archery stuff, right?”  Sarah giggles as she grabs a cup.  Alison continues her ribbing. “Chivalry and my lady this.”

Dax straightens quickly with a wicked smile.  “There is nothing sissy about archery.”

Sarah really tries to keep a straight face, but fails miserably.  Jake joins the conversation, “Well it isn’t football, man.”

Dax can hardly believe his ears.  He turns to Sarah with mock offense, “That’s what you think too?”

He grabs for her beer.  “Give me that.  You don’t deserve it.”  Sarah giggles as she squirms out of his reach.

Dax continues to reach over her attempting to grab the cup.  “Do you know how many chest, back and arm muscles it takes to draw a bow?”

Sarah giggles slowly fall away as she realizes how close in proximity Dax’s chest, back and arm muscles are. 

He realizes it too. 

Sarah draws in a long breath with a small dose of nerves. Yet she doesn’t attempt to move away.  Maybe it’s the beer.  Maybe it’s the heat from the crowd.  But she really hopes he kisses her.

Dax says the first thing that comes to his mind,  “You know, I’m still not over that sissy comment.  In fact, archery is pretty bad-ass.  Many would even call it sexy.”  He realizes how cheezy that sounds, the second it’s left his mouth.

If it is, Sarah doesn’t mind.  “Well, I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Dax smiles mischievously.  “No you’re not.  I’m going to show you.”  He takes her cup from her hand and tosses it into the bushes. 

She laughs playfully.  “I wasn’t done with that.”

He grabs her hand.  “You’re coming with me.”

“Right now?”

*************

Within minutes, Sarah finds herself on the darkened athletic field, a few overhead lamps cast pools of light on the track.  There are several targets at the center of the field.  Dax sets his quiver and bow against a rack, as he puts on his gloves.  He’s still barefoot and the recently watered grass squishes between his toes.

Sarah stands a few feet away and watches.  She admires the confident way he moves, not to mention his broad shoulders and strong arms.  It’s enough to take her breath away, and it nearly does.  Good thing he’s not close enough to notice.

Dax picks up his bow and arrow and points to a target on the farthest side of the field.  He’d been competing in archery for as long as he could remember.  He had begged his parents to let him take lessons after he saw Robin Hood for the first time.  From that point on, he was hooked.  And he was good at it.  He finished all-state in high school, and got a partial scholarship here.  On this field, he knew he was home, and somehow he really wanted Sarah to see that.  “Watch this.”  He takes his stance, lifts his bow and pulls back on its tension then holds.  He’s still with concentration.

Sarah can’t help but watch the muscles in his arms and under his shirt stiffen from the tension.  His breath is steady and controlled.  His eyes are fixed on his target, as hers are fixed on him.  He seems to hold his position flawlessly for an eternity.

Finally, he inhales then releases his fingers with one graceful movement.  In the still night, you can hear the feather of the arrow slip past the bow and whistle through the air before it slides into its target.  Dax turns to Sarah with a sly smile.  “Sexy, huh?”  Oh God, did he actually say that out loud.  He knows he must sound like he’s trying too hard.

Sarah’s mouth hangs slightly open and she self- consciously swallows, but not because she’s appalled but because she is breathless.  She quickly fakes an unaffected tone.  “You’re awfully confident aren’t you?  You didn’t even hit the bullseye.”

He quickly walks toward her.  “Are you kidding?”  He takes her hand and leads her down field toward the target.  She laughs as he pulls her along.  Sure enough… The arrow is dead center.  At least he’s doing something right.  Dax pulls the arrow from the target with satisfaction.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Sarah backs away slowly with a smile from ear to ear.  “Oh no. Not me.”

Dax nods enthusiastically.  “Oh yes.”  He coaxes her back to the other side of the field and hands her his bow.  “Okay, let’s see your stance.”

Sarah reluctantly positions her feet apart and holds up the bow.  “I don’t have one.”  She knows she’s not the worst when it comes to athletic ability, but she’s well aware of her graceful deficiency.

Dax steps closer to her, adjusts her hands and places the arrow in position on the bow.  “Just try.”  He moves to stand behind her then adjusts her feet and arms slightly.  At that moment he realizes how perfect this plan is, although maybe it didn’t really start out as the plan.  No matter.  He’s so close that he can smell the fruity scent of her shampoo and hear the soft rhythm of her breath.  It takes all of his will power not to spin her around and press her against him.  Instead, he puts his hands over hers on the bow, then leans into her ear.  “Clear your mind.  Focus on the target.”

Sarah’s breath quickens with his proximity.  “Easy for you to say.”

Dax smiles and leans even closer to whisper in her ear.  “Not really.”  She swallows hard.  He likes that he makes her nervous.  At least he knows he’s not the only one.  He smiles then turns back to the business of the arrow and its target.  “Now, focus.  Pull back but don’t release.”

Sarah can appreciate this expert lesson in the fine art of archery.  But for heaven sake kiss me already. The suspense is killing her.  Sarah pulls back on the bow but the tension is a bit more difficult for her than it was for Dax.  “I don’t know how long I can hold it.”  Her arm begins to wobble, and Dax places a steadying hand on her elbow.  She feels his warm hand on her arm.  Now, she really doesn’t know how much longer she can hold it.

He looks down the line of her arm and whispers.  “Now look at your target.  Keep your hands steady.  And… release.”

Her fingers extend and the arrow sails into the air.  Not as graceful of a release as his, but she did it.  The arrow hits the outside ring of the closest target.  Sarah jumps into the air.  “I did it.”  She bounces up and down.  It really was exhilarating.  “I’m a bad-ass.  I did it.”

Dax smiles. “See.  I told you.  Nothing sissy about it.”

Sarah concedes, “You were right.”  She jumps around some more.  “But, I did it.  I did it.”

Dax smiles more broadly.  She is just the most adorable girl he has ever met.  But he’s not going to let it get the best of him… Not yet, at least.  Dax takes the bow from her grasp.  “And?” He smiles mischievously again.  “It’s sexy, right?”

Sarah blushes but doesn’t answer.  He hangs the bow on his shoulder and takes a step closer to her.  Good god, she can feel his breath on her face.  She might melt right here.

He leans in almost enough to kiss her.  He feels like he might just implode on impact.  Then he glides his lips past her cheek to her ear.  “It was very sexy.”  They both hold their breath for far too long.  His lips almost touch hers when…

A fog horn blows from the stands.  Dax and Sarah startle apart and look up to see his band of merry men in the bleachers., Mick calls out to Dax.  “I knew you’d be here.”  He turns to the group.  “Didn’t I tell you he’d be here?”

Sarah takes a side step away from Dax with a just the slightest bit of caution that wasn’t there earlier.  “So you take all of the girls here?”

Dax stumbles on his words.  “No.  Those guys are idiots.  I just wanted to show you.” 

Sarah smiles.  “Because I can see how this could work well for you.”

Dax shakes his head.  “I’ve never taken anyone here.”  And he hadn’t.  It’s not like he was hiding it from anyone, he just never felt like sharing it before.  Archery was his thing… the place he came when he wanted to be alone.

He takes her hand and places one kiss on the back of it.  “You’re the first, I swear.”  She melts. 

The cat-calls ensue from the stands.  He motions with his head in the direction of the dorms.  “I better walk you back, before these idiots embarrass me further.”

Sarah conceals just a tinge of disappointment.  She was so close to having the most perfect kiss… She just knows it.

********

Now, seventeen years later, Sarah sits on the examination table in the Emergency room, with a towel draped on her wet hair.  It all seems too surreal.  A nurse checks her vitals.  She looks at the nurse who barely looks up.  “I’m fine.  Really.”

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