Authors: Jules Barnard
Copyright © 2014 by Jules Barnard
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form is forbidden without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover design by Sarah Hansen at Okay Creations
Cover photograph ©Yuri/iStockphoto
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
Print ISBN: 978-0-9915604-0-0
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9915604-2-4
For Robin, an amazing sister and human being.
You will be missed.
It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
My legs quiver like Jell-O as I clamber over the last boulder on the east side of Eagle Lake. Eric reaches for me, his sandy blond hair slicked back at the roots with sweat. This should gross me out, but for some reason he looks really hot, all sweaty and disheveled. He’s not wearing his shirt, and the close proximity to his muscled chest and golden skin ignites dirty thoughts of sneaking off behind a boulder and having my way with him.
My gaze rakes his ripped abs. Long cargo shorts hang low on his hips, providing a perfect view of the vee of muscles between his hipbones.
He squeezes my hand and I glance up. His mouth twists. “Naughty.”
I grin. Later, I will investigate those muscles with my tongue.
Speaking of later, we’ll be up here all day if Gen doesn’t hurry. What is taking her so long? It’s our first hike since we arrived in Lake Tahoe a few days ago, but I thought she’d be in better shape than this. She’s a runner, and wearing track shoes, while I have on the requisite sturdy hiking boots owned by every kid who grew up in Lake Tahoe. I should cut her some slack, but her reactions are too hilarious when I don’t.
I peek around the boulder. She’s just now cresting the stones before the lake.
“Light a fire under it, Gen,” I call.
She glances up and swipes her forehead, her chest rising and falling with each deep gulp of air. Her lips pinch and I think her nostrils flare.
She crosses her arms and glares at me. I smile back.
Instead of moving toward me, Gen drops her arms to her sides and takes an unsteady step in the direction of the water. She crouches among the large rocks and I can’t see her anymore. A stone flies from her direction into the lake, sending out tiny waves. I guess she’s taking a break.
This could be a while. I turn and meander toward Eric, who’s now several feet ahead. The idyllic, small alpine lake provides a perfect backdrop for his masculine beauty. I stop for a moment, taking in the picture, and consider my plan.
My summer goal is to immerse Gen in Lake Tahoe and lift her spirits, hopefully in the form of a cute summer fling. Gen just discovered—brutally, embarrassingly—that the guy she dated during our last year of college had a girlfriend back home. The bastard showed up with the other girl at the local bar during our last week of school. What a douche bag.
Gen didn’t cry or drunk-dial him like any self-respecting twenty-one-year-old would; she went quiet, which is worse. He totally broke her heart, and I worry he broke her trust in men along with it.
The only positive is that she never has to see the A-hole again. We’re done with college, and thanks to my badassery, I’ve secured us jobs at a casino for the summer before we head to grad school.
. Why does the thought make my stomach dip and weave like a prizefighter?
I squeeze my middle and take a deep breath. Tahoe is the perfect place to get Gen’s mind off the A-hole and spend quality time together before we go our separate ways in the fall.
Eric stops at a swath of gravel ahead and yanks off his backpack. He lays out towels and I make my way over. I sit and pull up my knees below my chin, arms wrapped around my shins. I stare at the lake without seeing it, my mind trapped in the future.
Several minutes pass and there’s still no sign of Gen. Is she really that tired from the hike?
I glance over my shoulder, but I can’t see her and the water where she crouched is like glass. My pulse flutters. It’s been too long. Rocking forward, I push to my feet. “Gen!”
She stands several yards away and raises her hand, ambling toward me like she’s on a Sunday drive.
I slump back to my spot and Eric steps beside me, his tall figure casting a shadow. “Serves you right for teasing her.” The sound of crunching comes from above and crumbs rain down into my lap.
I flick off a few with my thumb and forefinger. “Tarzan, you want to take your chow somewhere else?”
“Oh, sorry,” he mumbles, granola sticking to his lips.
I shake my head and smile. “So, I forgot to mention, my work schedule at the casino will be Tuesday through Saturday.”
We’ve only been here a few days, but Gen and I start work next week and Eric has driven up for a short visit. I have to say I’m mildly nervous about the counting element of my job as a dealer, which makes me sound mentally challenged. I’m not—I just seriously suck at math. I can write a ten-page essay on the women’s movement post industrialization in under an hour, dissect a frog, or explain Keynesian economics, but ask me to add numbers together and my brain blows a fuse. I tend to overprocess the simple concepts.
The sound of mastication has ceased, the only sign that Eric heard me. He’s moved a few feet away, his back to me, staring out at the water. He hasn’t said anything.
“Saturdays will be good tip nights,” I add, “but it stinks that my schedule will cut into our weekends together.” Weekdays were too busy with classes and Eric’s fraternity obligations back at school, but we hung out every weekend.
He turns, unloads drinks from his backpack, and takes off his shoes. He stretches his arms above his head with a lazy yawn.
“That won’t be a problem, will it?” I persist. “You don’t have classes Friday through Monday. You can still visit on the weekends if you want.”
Though we’re the same age, Eric has been a bit of a slacker. He’s taking summer classes so he can officially graduate.
He shrugs, eyeing the small rocks below us. He picks up a smooth, flat one and flicks it with his wrist out at the water. The stone skips across the surface in several beats before sinking. “Work as much as you like. You want to save money for your fancy grad school. I’ll be busy with classes.”
This is the first rancor I’ve detected from him about my post-college plans. My graduate school goals never elicited his enthusiasm, but he also never put them down. We haven’t discussed it, but I figured we’d do the long-distance thing while I’m away.
Suddenly, the rift between us these last couple of weeks, and the sexual dry spell I’d attributed to end-of-school-year stress, take on new meaning.
I don’t do passive, so I ask, “You think you’ll be able to make it up next weekend?”
Eric rummages around in his backpack. “Probably not.” He raises his head and waves to Gen, who finally nears. He seems relieved to see her. “I’ve been assigned my first project. I’m meeting with study partners next weekend, and then there’s a party with the guys.”
We’ve been together for two years and have never been attached at the hip, but the way Eric’s avoiding my eyes and the tension I sense from him sends a bad signal, like there’s something he’s not telling me.
Gen drops her backpack on my towel with a thud, her face red, her mouth turned down.
I mentally pause from overanalyzing Eric to consider her. Was she thinking about the A-hole? Is that what took her so long and why she looks like someone has stolen her puppy? I lift my chin, brows drawn together, questioning. She shakes her head, but the troubled look on her face remains.
Eric sits beside me and rubs my shoulders a little too roughly. My muscles tense. “Going for a quick dip—anyone want to join me?” He looks from me to Gen.
“Too cold,” I blurt, absently.
“Didn’t bring my bathing suit,” Gen says without looking. She picks up a handful of gravel and pours it slowly onto the ground.
Eric leans over my shoulder and grins lewdly. “Feel free to go in the buff, Gen. I don’t mind.”
I elbow him in the ribs.
Can’t he see something’s bothering her?
Eric laughs and jumps up. He strides to the water’s edge.
His stupid comment has one positive effect. He’s wiped the depressed look from Gen’s face. She shakes her head as he walks away. “Do your hormones ever cease firing?” she says.
“Never,” he shouts over his shoulder. He jogs the last few feet to the water, his form tight and athletic, before he dives in. The water is cold enough to shrivel his balls into tiny grapes, but he seems unfazed, skimming the lake in smooth strokes toward a giant boulder in the center.
Gen and I sit in silence as Eric climbs atop the rock like he’s Columbus discovering the new world.
She drops the gravel and brushes off her hand on her shorts. “How are things with him?” Leaning forward, she balances her arms on her knees in a pose similar to mine, and stares at her feet.
First, the thing she’s not mentioning that’s bothering her, and now the random question about Eric?
She fumbles with the edge of my towel. “You ever worry about him? With—I don’t know—other girls?” She holds up a hand, her gaze flashing to me. “He was joking earlier—about the naked swimming thing. But …”
Seriously, where is this coming from? I don’t like the look on her face. Worried. Sad. She must be projecting. She’s had a shitty time of it, and now she thinks all guys are alike.
“We’re good, Gen.”
She lets out a slow breath. “Cool.” She smiles her warm smile and my stomach sinks.
Are Eric and I fine?
Things didn’t feel fine a moment ago. I’ve never worried about him, but I’ve been busy. Now that school has ended … have things changed?
No, they’re still great. I’m overreacting. We’ll spend time together at the lake and get back on track.
I notice a crease between Gen’s brows. I can’t take that look. “What about you? Ready to start dating?”
She digs her heels into the gravel. “Sure. If a good guy comes along.”
Gen’s said this before, but she seems uncertain. It’s been a month since she got her heart crushed. Not long enough to heal, but we’ve talked about this. Sometimes getting back out there is the only way to pull out of a slump.
Eric splashes toward us from the water, droplets running down his toned pecs and abs. I will never tire of the sight. I smile at him and he grins back.
Eric and I are good. Of course we’re good. Gen will be good too. As soon as I find her a nice guy.
She’s smart, beautiful, and funny as hell, though she doesn’t know it, which makes her even more hilarious. I’m lucky to have a solid boyfriend, and I want that for her.
With the extra seasonal help at the casino this summer, there should be at least a few decent prospects. If not, we’ll scout the local hotspots. Most of my friends from home are either still in college or have found jobs in the city, but the populace of a vacation town is ever-changing. Lots of dating possibilities. I’ll find someone for her, or at least distract her from the slump she’s in and show her a good time.
Lake Tahoe is all about the high. How can I fail?
Gen and I approach the seamstress counter in the Blue Casino basement, the hub of lower employee relations. The managers’ offices are located above the casino floor, where bosses peer at everyone through stealthy security cameras. Blue stockpiles its uniforms in the basement and allocates them to the minions at the beginning of every work shift. To remove a uniform from the premises is considered stealing. I don’t get management’s proprietary clamp on polyester, but I’m happy to let them do my laundry for me.
I hand the attendant my claim check and she passes me a pair of black slacks and a white button-down shirt. Boring, but I’ll make it work with a few buttons open at the top. Gen hands in her claim check next, and I step away, searching for our lockers. After a long moment, I glance back. She’s still in front of the counter, staring at what I’m guessing is her uniform. Her back’s to me, so I walk up and look over her shoulder.
“Don’t say anything.
Oh, God. This is perfect. I couldn’t have set things up better.