My vignette: OSL: Carter is a prerequisite for this story. If you have not read OSL: Carter, stop reading now and go back to read that vignette. Otherwise this chapter won't make much sense. Also, you need to have read through AOCSL2 before starting this one.
-- JUNE 2002 --
Tired from the long flight, not to mention putting up with the sleazebag businessman in the seat next to me for more than six hours, I was only too eager to get home. But flying across the country was only part of the journey. Mom, Dad, and Carter were still on the other side of the Bay, and after being away from my family for so long it felt like I was only halfway there.
Knowing I'd have to wait for my luggage to drop down onto the baggage carousels, I walked down the terminal at a casual pace, holding only my purse. The soft flats I'd worn for comfort padded silently on the tiles. And people in a greater hurry than me rushed past on both sides.
Eventually I walked past exit security into the Arrivals/Baggage Claim area of SFO's Terminal 3. In their usual spot were a cluster of drivers mostly dressed all the same: black suit, white shirt, black tie. A few also wore black chauffeur's hats, and a couple of them sported sunglasses even though we were indoors.
With a sigh I walked toward them and began scanning the various names they held on nearly-identical white placards. Mom always arranged for Towncar service to get me to and from the airport, and after a few seconds I zeroed in on the placard that read "Cameron Singleton", held up in front of the face of a young man wearing both chauffeur's cap and aviator Ray-Bans.
The anonymous driver to my right, the one without a chauffer's cap or sunglasses, inhaled sharply and held his breath for a moment. I was close enough for him to dare hope that I was his fare, never mind that the placard he held read "Michael Schutzman". No doubt he was imagining for a few seconds that he'd get to spend some time chatting up a breathtakingly beautiful young woman.
That would be me. I didn't consider myself egotistical, but I was aware of the effect my physical appearance had on most men - and not a few women as well. Even in my flats, I stood six feet tall and had a figure to be proud of. While I didn't dress to expose the goodies or anything, my clothes flattered my curves and were carefully chosen to be both practical and eye-catching. My long, dark hair draped nicely over my shoulders, neatly framing a face I was proud of. I also got compliments on my electric green eyes, eyes which I now focused on my actual driver as I moved directly in front of him and nodded silently.
The poor guy to my right holding the "Michael Schutzman" sign sighed regretfully and slouched in disappointment.
Lowering his placard, my actual driver tipped his cap and gestured toward the baggage carousel. "Shall we get your bags, Miss Singleton?"
I'd started nodding before his voice clicked the recognition part of my brain. My hand jerked out of its own accord and latched onto the driver's forearm, abruptly arresting his quarter-turn. And tilting my head and narrowing my eyes to scrutinize his face, I asked questioningly, "Carter?"
My stepbrother grinned and used his free hand to remove the sunglasses. "Surprise!"
"Oh, Carter! You came to pick me up!" I threw my arms around his shoulders and gave him a fierce hug hello.
Carter chuckled and stroked my back, holding me just as fiercely. Although two years younger than me, my 20-year-old "little" brother now stood 6'3" and outweighed me by quite a bit. Leaning back, he lifted me off the floor which made me squeal in delight. And when he finally set me down on my feet, he quickly leaned in and pecked my lips. "Four years of college PLUS an extra month backpacking around Europe with your friends? I've missed you," he sighed.
"Kinda missed you, too," I replied with a beaming smile.
"You have a good trip?"
"The best. Wish I was still over there, actually."
He put on a fake pout. "Aww, I thought you said you missed me."
I reached up, knocked Carter's hat off his head, and tousled his hair. "I always miss my little brother."
Carter's eyebrows went up. "Stepbrother," he corrected.
I rolled my eyes but grinned. "C'mon. Let's get my bags and I'll tell you all about the trip."
"Nice ride. Is it new?" I asked as I hopped into the passenger seat of what appeared to be a fully-loaded Cadillac Escalade.
"Brand new. Only got a hundred miles on this one," Carter replied proudly as he climbed into the driver's seat and tapped the dashboard. He started the ignition and heavy-bass hip-hop music immediately began pumping through the speakers, but he quickly turned it down to a less deafening volume.
I scoped out the truck. "Dad's business must be doing well."
"It is. But he didn't buy this for me," Carter replied with that cocky grin of his. "I bought this baby all on my own."
I arched an eyebrow. "Really? You take up a side job I don't know about?"
He grinned but shook his head and stared out the front windshield. "You don't wanna know."
I blinked. "What is it? Business internship? Or did one of your friends start an entrepreneurial thing?"
Carter's eyebrows rose in warning. "Seriously, you don't wanna know."
But I was curious. "C'mon, Carter. You're my little brother. You're not supposed to keep secrets from me."
"Fine then. How many guys did you hook up with on that backpacking trip?"
I blushed immediately and averted my eyes. "Uh, I don't think that's a topic for polite conversation."
Carter smirked and shrugged. "Then you understand."
Unable to shake the nagging feeling in the back of my head, I sighed. "Just tell me it's not anything illegal."
But Carter merely shook his head. "I told you: You don't wanna know."
I rolled my eyes and let my head flop back against the headrest. "Fine."
"But other than your sex life, seriously, how was the trip? Any favorite places?"
I smiled and thought back over the past month or so. "It was awesome. The food, the culture, the history, and yes, some of the parties. There's a lot of good time to be had by a recent college grad. You should think about doing your own trip when you graduate."
"Why wait? I could probably cruise around for the rest of the summer and enjoy myself, especially if you were there to show me around."
I giggled. "What, me? Wouldn't you want to have an adventure like that with your friends?"
"You already know there's no one I'd rather be with than you," Carter said with complete sincerity, an open honesty in his eyes that simultaneously thrilled and terrified me.
I blushed and sighed. "It's tempting, actually. I had such a good time that I wouldn't mind going back. But that's done. College is done. I'm home now, I've got a good job lined up, and frankly I don't know when I'll have time to take another trip like that."
Carter shrugged. "Never say never."
"I suppose." I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly while staring out the window. "But for now, I think I'll just focus on starting this next chapter in my life. No longer a student. Full-time job. Back in the Bay Area. Most of my college friends are scattered all over the place. It's going to be a little weird starting all over again from scratch, you know?"
"You'll always have me."
I glanced over and smiled at my little brother. "Of course. But you moved out to that big house Dad set you up with in Berkeley, right?"
Carter shrugged while turning the wheel with both hands. "If you want, you could stay with me instead of living at home with Mom and Dad. There's plenty of room and you know I'd be happy to have you."
"I'll bet you would." I drawled, my eyes glittering at the innuendo of Carter 'having me'. But I shook my head in the negative. "Staying with Mom and Dad is only going to be temporary until I can figure out the best place to get my own apartment. Probably somewhere downtown close to work and the social scene."
Carter frowned. "Downtown? And here I was hoping you'd be close enough to visit more often. I really have missed you."
"Downtown isn't that far away, lazy ass." I reached out and lightly punched his upper arm. "We'll still see each other."
"I mean it," I said sincerely. "I'm not on the other side of the country anymore. You're my little brother and I want to spend time with you. We'll definitely meet up more often than the last four years."
"Anything would be more often than the last four years," he complained. "You barely ever came home, even for the holidays."
I heard the whine in his voice. "Don't be like that. I was busy with internships and trips and lots of stuff. But I'm home now."
"Yeah, you're home. So what does that really mean? Do things go back the way they used to be?"
It was a loaded question and he knew it. I stared over at my little brother, scrutinizing the tension his posture and the clench of his jaw. Carefully, I asked, "What do you mean 'the way they used to be'?"
Carter sighed, staring forward out the windshield. He wore his aviators, but even so I could see the pain etched in his face. And taking a deep breath, he muttered quietly, "I think you know what I mean."
"Carter ... really? Still?" I asked, feeling bad. "It's been four years."
"So? I still love you. Did you really expect that to change?"
"And I love you," I replied immediately.
His jaw clenched. "But not in the way that I love you."
.... There is more of this story ...