Authors: Nyrae Dawn
We drive to our private spot under the trees. Sadie’s car is already there as well as a bunch of other people we know. All in all there’s about six vehicles parked. As soon as Alec kills the engine, we all three climb out.
Everyone gets busy making beds in the backs of the trucks and setting up camp chairs. My chair is stuck. As I fight to get it open, I see a few girls from school looking over at Nathaniel and smiling. My stomach sinks. The stupid chair becomes even more annoying as I struggle with it.
“You’re going to pulverize that thing. Let me do it.” Nathaniel grabs the chair from me and pulls, trying to open it.
I can tell he thought it would open easy so I laugh when he fights with the thing as hard as I did.
“You’re trying to put a dent in my masculinity, aren’t you?” He grunts like he’s struggling even more than he is.
“I don’t think I have to. The chair is doing a good enough job,” I laugh. Nathaniel looks up. He’s bent over messing with the chair, but his eyes are on me. There’s a teasing playfulness to them and then half his mouth lifts in a smile. His dimple shows and I don’t know how I’m able to read that look, but I turn and run.
I hear Nathaniel drop the chair behind me and know he’s right on my tail. I don’t get far before his arms wrap around my waist. My back is lined up with the front of his body, his mouth right next to my ear.
“Think you’re tough, do you, Star Girl,” he whispers. Shivers flow in wave after wave down my body. It’s only the second time he’s called me that, but I like it.
“Maybe not tougher than that chair.” I try to keep my voice calm, but then a laugh jumps out of my mouth when Nathaniel starts to tickle me. His hands play at my sides and I can’t stop the giggles that fall out of my mouth.
I feel the eyes of everyone else on us. They’re probably all wondering what the heck is going on. I don’t play around with boys like this. Sadie does. Other girls do, but not Flatty Rae.
I’m laughing and trying to get out of Nathaniel’s arms, but he doesn’t loosen his grip. He’s strong. I wish I could melt into his hold and that he would never let go. Still I pretend to try and break free as he keeps tickling. Then my foot gets caught in something and I start to go down. I don’t know how he does it, but Nathaniel turns us before we fall to the ground so it’s him that hits the dirt first. I land on top of him, gasping as I realize how I’m laying on him.
I pause, stare.
Nathaniel pauses, then smiles.
And we both bust up laughing again. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as I do at this moment. He doesn’t push me off and I don’t move just yet. We just lay there in the dirt, my body resting on top of Nathaniel’s, his hands on my hips as we laugh.
All too soon, we’re quieting and Alec is walking over, holding out his hand to help me up. I let him and then Nathaniel gets up behind me and he’s dirty and I know I’m dirty and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
Nathaniel dusts himself off, but then looks over at me from under his lashes. He’s facing to the side of me and not head on so it’s just this side look and this half smile and I can’t stop from returning it. It feels like there are secrets in this look. Like there’s knowledge and fact, and I wonder if it was written in the stars.
I know then, I will never, ever forget this moment. I hope he won’t either.
They always play two movies at the drive in. When the first one is over, all the girls decide that we need to take a group trip to the bathroom. Makes no sense to me, but I go anyway. I don’t want to be that girl who stays behind with the guys because that’s the easy way of them seeing you as one of the boys.
There are eight of us in the dirty bathroom where no one really pees, but fixes their hair and touches up their make up and does girl talk.
“Brandon is so hot,” Cissy tells Sadie.
“I know, right?” my sister replies. “And seriously, such a good kisser!” Everyone laughs. I’m probably the only one who hasn’t kissed a boy so I keep my mouth shut.
“His brother is hot, too!” Danielle adds and they all agree. I grab a paper towel from the dispenser and pretend to wipe my hands. The last thing I want is to listen to them talk about how hot he is.
“Eh, he’s okay,” Sadie replies. “A little young for me.”
Yeah, because a year is so much younger than she is.
As awkward as it was sitting between Nathaniel and Alec for the first movie, it was better than being a part of this boy-talk cluster in the bathroom.
“If I didn’t know better, I would think Charlie had two boys fighting over her!” Sadie laughs, which everyone follows and starts to do the same. My gut clenches, but I try not to show my discomfort. Try to laugh it off, but really, I’m wishing it wasn’t so hard to believe. Not that I want boys fighting over me, because I don’t, but…why does it have to sound so impossible?
“For sure,” Bridgett says. “Everyone knows Charlie and Alec are going to be one of those couples who just end up together and then they’ll get married and that will be that.”
“Alec isn’t my boyfriend,” I grit out.
Bridget replies, “I know. You guys make that painfully obvious, but we know you will be one day. Which is a shame because Alec is hot, too. Since he’s not yours yet, you should tell him it’s okay to spread the love around a little.”
Everyone laughs again. I want to throw up. I toss the paper towel in the trash, planning to walk out, but Sadie’s voice stops me. “They might not admit it, but her and Alec have been together since they were born. It’s ridiculous. Plus, it’s not like she could have Nathaniel. Brandon told me he has a girlfriend back home.”
It feels like she just punched me in the stomach. I try to ignore the pain. “I'm not interested in him, anyway.” But I am. I know it and Nathaniel knows it and I think even Alec knows it. Why didn’t he tell me he had a girlfriend?
He didn’t have to tell me. It’s not my business.
“We need to hurry. I want to get back to Brandon!” My sister winks at the girls. They’re all giddy and giggling and my chest hurts so bad I feel like I can’t breathe. They've just reached into my chest and wrapped a fist around my lungs, my heart, and they’re squeezing the life out of me.
My brain keeps trying to tell me nothing has changed. I always knew Nathaniel would never be mine. He’ll leave in a few weeks and then probably be out of my life forever. My heart doesn’t get it, though.
Just a couple of hours ago, I knew I would remember this night forever. Now I know I’ll remember it for all the wrong reasons.
I’m quiet through the second movie. Quiet still as we pack up. Quiet the whole drive home. When we get back to The Village, Nathaniel whispers in my ear, “What time do you want to meet tonight?”
I know right here what I have to do. I want nothing more than to keep having my nights with him, but I know I can’t. If I don’t look out for myself, no one else will. To protect my heart, I look at him. Study his eyes, his dimple, wish I could pull his necklace out from under his shirt to see what it is. I don’t do any of that. Instead I tell him, “I can’t come out tonight. I can’t meet you anymore.”
He doesn’t stop me when I walk away.
The next day Dad tells me to clean the cabin the old couple was in—that they left. I remember them sitting on the porch together that night, and all the other times I’ve seen them just enjoying each other for the past month. Loving each other.
I don’t know why, but I cry the whole time I clean their cabin.
I miss the night. Miss the stars. Miss talking to Nathaniel.
For the past couple weeks I’ve done a good job ignoring him. I help Dad as much as I can, even when he doesn’t ask me to. Alec is off with Brandon when Sadie isn’t and he doesn’t try to get me to come. I’m surprised he hasn’t pushed me, asked what’s going on, but he’s too busy playing ball and trying to impress the summer boys to care about much else.
It hurts more than I’m willing to admit.
Nathaniel’s tries to talk to me a few times and I always reply. I’m nice and professional just like Dad expects us to be to our guests, but that’s as far as it goes. I wonder if he misses me the way I miss him, but then I try to push those thoughts away. They won’t do me any good.
A week left. That’s all I have until they’re gone and I can work on forgetting I ever knew them. Sadie will forget Brandon and date someone from our school and Alec will be my best friend again and things will be as though the Chase boys never happened.
I’m sitting on one of the docks with my feet in the water. It’s dusk. I love this time of day because it’s the bridge from day to night. Day where I work at The Village and know that’s all my life will ever be and night where I think I can be anywhere else in the world.
Footsteps sound from behind me and I flinch, wondering who it’s going to be.
“Night games tonight.” Alec sits next to me, a huge smile on his face. “Last man standing. Everyone’s coming down. It’s going to be awesome.”
We’ve always played a lot of night games in the summer, but haven’t done it much this year. It’s normally one of my favorite things. We have the area marked off from part of an empty field, not too far from The Village and going into a certain area in the woods. There are forts out there from when we were younger, along with an old house with tons of places to get lost in.
I love Last Man Standing.
Alec and I always own it. There are two main groups, but we usually break up in two man teams on each group. We’re always on the same team and we almost always win. We play with paint ball guns, in full gear.
The moon is pretty bright out here, but each group is still allowed a flashlight. Dad has portable lights they we set up in a few spots, too. It doesn’t give us too much light, but enough. It’s a cutthroat game. Someone almost always gets hurt.
For the first time since the drive-in, excitement burns through me. I want to play. I want to win.
“Sadie and a few of the other girls aren’t playing. They’re setting up the flag. You got your paint gear? Some of the others are lending theirs to Brandon and Nathaniel.”
All the happiness deflates from my muscles. How could I have forgotten Nathaniel would be here? Of course he would want to play. “I don’t feel like playing.”
“What? You never skip out on Last Man Standing, Gates. What’s up with that?”
“Umm… You never call me ‘Gates.’ What’s up with
Alec grabs my hand when I try to stand up, but I pull it away. He gets up right behind me. “I’ve been a jerk, Charlie. I’m sorry. It’s just…he’s cool. You know he’ll probably play college ball?”
“So?” I shout. “You could play, too. I know it. Don’t stick around here and you’ll be out there doing the same thing!”
Alec moves in front of me, blocking my way. “It’s not that easy and you know it. Our lives are here. Plus, I don’t want to leave. I wasn’t saying that. It’s just…”
He doesn’t continue so I ask, “What?”
“Never mind. You wouldn’t get it. Just play with us, Charlie. It won’t be the same without you out there. You know it. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever played it without you.”
Alec gives me the sweet smile that’s impossible to say no to. He has this innocent, little boy look to him that the girls love. But the thing about Alec is, most of the time, he’s not working it. He doesn’t do it on purpose. He’s just sweet and it’s part of who he is.
No matter what, I love him and I do want to play this game of Last Man Standing with my best friend. I can do this.
I’m not a runner
, I remind myself. I can deal with a night around Nathaniel. Looking at Alec, I say, “Okay. I’m in.”
He pulls me into a hug and we set off to get ready for the game.