Dale stared at the slightly weathered, red screen door and took a deep breath.
Just knock. Come on, it's not that hard. All you have to do is lift your damn fist and hit it against the wood a few times. You've faced enemy gunfire, missile attacks and bunking with guys who didn't take a shower for two weeks, so this should be a piece of cake.
Try telling that to his hammering heart, trembling hands and sweaty brow, though. Because at that moment he couldn't think of anything more terrifying than facing what may be waiting for him on the other side of that door.
He took another deep breath...and hesitated again.
Damn it, he hadn't come all this way just to stare at a door.
Then he felt it--the prickling sensation that always comes when somebody is watching you. It was an instinct that all people were born with, but his four years in the military had taught him to hone that skill into a fine art. So he had no doubt--he was being stalked...but by whom?
He glanced at the curtains of the window that looked out over the porch. Maybe the home's occupant already realised he was present and they were getting ready for battle. His unease grew when he noted the curtains remained motionless and tightly drawn together--the thick brown cloth obscuring any chance of him seeing inside, let alone allowing anybody to peek outside.
So that meant his stalker was somewhere else. He scanned up and down the street--the very one he'd grown up on. While each house brought back some memory from the past, he didn't spot a single person. Nor did he see anybody looking out of the various windows. Just as he was about to give up and leave, a high pitched giggle from the other yard drew his attention.
Turning his head, he groaned as he found himself face-to-face with Ayla. When Dale had lived there four years ago, she'd been the neighbourhood brat and it looked as if little had changed. Sure, she now wore her brown hair in a fashionable pixie cut, had grown several inches taller and had given up her overalls for a pair of tight jeans, but the ever-present smirk remained on her lips.
"I knew you would be back," she declared, crossing her arms over her thin chest.
Dale cocked a brow. "You did?"
"Of course. There's no way you can resist Brady. You've always had the hots for him."
It took Dale aback that even somebody as young as Ayla had figured out his true feelings for his best friend. Had he really been that obvious?
As if reading his mind, she rolled her big, brown eyes. "Please. You guys practically drooled over each other."
"So, does that mean everybody knows?" Dale ventured.
He wondered if Brady had faced prejudice and hatred for their obvious attraction and a pang of guilt hit Dale over his friend having to face that alone.
"Yes, but most people don't care. They like Brady too much to let something like that make them think less of him. In fact, he's very popular..." She drew out the last word for emphasis, a malicious gleam in her gaze.
A bitter bite of jealousy stung Dale, even though he knew he had no right to feel it. "How popular?"
"What do you care? You took off on him."
Since when had Ayla become Brody's advocate? Next, she'd be coming up and kicking Dale in the shins for daring to hurt him.
"I didn't have a choice," Dale replied through clenched teeth.