Authors: Mindy Hayes
“Oh, he’s just making it more interesting,” Skylar says as he and Brodee strum their guitars.
I’m really going to miss this, hanging out with this group, laughing and never having a dull moment. After spending four years with them, I’m comfortable with them. I don’t want to lose this.
We’ve talked about making sure we get together in between semesters or on breaks, but they’re all heading out of state for college. Since Skylar, Harper, and I are the only ones going to University of South Carolina together, it feels like we’re grasping at anything we can to not lose what we have.
“Go ahead, Sky,” Brodee interjects, pausing their guitar playing. “Show Mikey how it’s done.”
“Only if you take the place of Dickerson.”
“Bring it,” he challenges, setting down his guitar, and springs off the couch from beside me.
With all the boys in on the rousing game, I crawl onto the beanbag with Harper and lay back.
“I’m gonna miss this,” she says with a soft smile on her face.
“That’s exactly what I was just thinking.”
Around eleven we call it quits. Since we live next door to each other, Brodee agrees to take me home. As we’re making the fifteen-minute drive home, Brodee turns down the music.
“You and I need to make a pact.”
“A pact…” I slowly repeat.
“Yes, a pact,” he says in all seriousness. His eyes remain focused on the road. “No matter what happens after this summer, we won’t drift apart.”
I chuckle. “We won’t drift apart, Brodee. Our lives are so tangled together there’s no way that’s even possible—like our families would even let us.”
“I know, but Jackson and Isaac were talking earlier, and it got me thinking.”
Oh great. Any sentence that begins with ‘Jackson and Isaac were talking’ never ends with anything intellectual or significant. “What could Jackson and Isaac have said that was so thought-provoking?”
“What they said doesn’t matter. I just…” Brodee fidgets, keeping one hand on the steering wheel and rubbing the fingertips of his other hand over his mouth. “There are so many variables at play: different colleges, distance, the unknown future—I don’t want things between us to change. You’re my best friend. I never want what we have to go away.”
“It won’t,” I assure him, “because we won’t let it.”
“You promise?” He glances my way, the lights of oncoming traffic flashing across his face.
“Pinky promise.” I lean over, my elbow resting on the center console, and hold out my pinky toward him.
Brodee gasps, mocking. “Not a pinky promise. That’s the most sacred of all promises.”
“Shut it, clown, and pinky promise me.” I keep my hand firmly between us, waiting.
He laughs, but reaches over to interlock his pinky with mine.
“So, it’s solidified,” I say. “We’ll never change.”
MY HEAD TAPS
on the car window, jostled by the pavement on the drive to Cape Hatteras. I listen to my mom talk to Tatum in the front seat. We left at five this morning for some cruel reason. Leaving Skylar’s when we did didn’t make much of a difference. If I weren’t so excited about leaving I might have been able to fall asleep earlier, but my mind wouldn’t stop forming every possible memory that we might make this summer. This summer is all we have left. And with it being the first summer in Hatteras without my dad, I’ll need Brodee more than ever.
We won’t get to the beach house for another six hours, and my body is begging to sleep, but I can’t get comfortable. I keep repositioning my pillow beneath the curve of my neck, but it doesn’t help.
“C’mere, Pete,” Brodee’s soft voice encourages. “You can’t be comfortable. Lay on my shoulder.”
I peer over at his reassuring smile. He nods his head to the side, persuading me to lean into him. He’s always been more like the brother I never had, so snuggling up to him isn’t all that weird. I gradually move, curling around the side of his body. He shifts so we fit comfortably together. It
much better. I inhale his soothing scent and fall asleep within minutes.
THE HEAT OF
the sunlight beams through the passenger window, slowly waking me. The engine is still purring, so I know we haven’t arrived yet. I’m not sure how long I slept, but hopefully we’ll be there soon.
As my brain fully wakes, I feel warmth resting on my thigh. My eyes gradually open to a familiar masculine hand curved around my bare leg. Brodee’s head rests atop mine. During the course of my nap our arms intertwined. I feel his tight abs through his T-shirt and reign in the urge to run my fingers across them. That wakes my brain instantly.
Why do I want to rub my hands all over his body?
I remain frozen, too afraid that I’ll wake him and he’ll read my thoughts. Then his fingertips gently stroke the inside of my thigh, drawing continuous circles. Maybe if I were wearing jeans, it wouldn’t feel so intimate, but I’m in shorts, and Brodee is doodling on my skin.
Is he doing that in his sleep?
Goosebumps instantly spread across my flesh. Stunned, I shift my head from under his. Our eyes lock, but his are not dazed by sleep.
“Hi,” he whispers.
“Hi,” I repeat back, lost in his light green eyes.
Get ahold of yourself, Peyton.
“Did you sleep okay?”
His hand retreats from my thigh. He stretches his arms out in front of him like nothing happened. I guess it isn’t a big deal. He was merely giving me a more comfortable position for the long drive, and his hand got bored. He’s a doodler. I’ve never seen a homework assignment of his that didn’t have some sort of drawing in the margins. That’s all it was. His restlessness kicking in.
“We should be there soon,” he says, slipping me a glance and leaning away. “The first thing I plan on doing is grabbing my surfboard. If you can keep up, I’ll let you come with me.”
I look at him, feigning annoyance at his challenge. “Like that’s even a question. I could surf circles around you.”
A slow grin turns the corner of his mouth. “I knew that’d wake you up.”
WHEN WE REACH
the Outer Banks and drive down the 12 toward Hatteras, I roll down my window to feel the salt air in my long blonde locks. This part of the drive is my favorite. It never lasts long enough. Seeing the Atlantic to our left and the Pamlico Sound to our right, and knowing it’s just me and that ocean for the next two months, is a promise of living. Life begins on that water. Our home in Charleston might not be far from the ocean, but there’s something different about The Cape. It feels worlds away from the real world, like being in a dream. Everything is better. Brighter. Magical. We don’t live by clocks. We live by moments. And every moment counts.
We drive through all the beach towns on our way down, watching their colorful, weathered shingles and wraparound porches as we pass by. The lanky palm trees sway in the wind. Sea grass sprouts on the side of the road.
I once heard that salt water is the cure for everything. I couldn’t agree more. When we’re in Hatteras, the ocean heals our family. We don’t fight. We don’t stress. We relax and have fun. This summer we need the healing more than ever.
Though, I fear it may feel less like home without my dad. Since losing him, my mom hasn’t been the same. How can she be? There have been times I’ve caught her standing in the middle of a room staring into space—so quiet and reserved with her feelings and thoughts. For the last eight months it’s felt as though she’s crawled inside her head to keep from projecting her grief onto me, knowing I have my own heartache to work through. Her silence is deafening.
Only recently has my mom begun to come out of her shell and smile again, becoming the woman she once was. Now I worry that maybe the beach house was a terrible idea. What if we don’t continue to heal? What if being here is worse than being at home without him? What if I lose her completely? I push the thoughts away. I have to believe Hatteras is the key to making us whole again, or at least a step in the right direction.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ll get to see Tyler Hamilton. Our summers together for the last three years have never been anything serious, but who doesn’t want a summer fling? We haven’t talked since last summer, but I know he’ll be there. He’s always there.
My stomach flutters with anticipation the closer we get. The light gray shingles of our two-story beach house come into view, and the white Bahama shutters on all the windows have been propped open. It’s like the house is welcoming us back.
I’m ready for you
, it says. My fingers itch to pull the car door handle and jump out. I need to be there already.
When we cruise into the circular driveway, there are two cars already parked up front: Brodee’s Patriot—which I’m assuming his little brother, Carter, drove up—and his dad’s Lexus. Tatum said they drove up after graduation yesterday to air out the house and get everything ready for us.
Once our car is in park, I fly out of the passenger’s side. Before going inside, I stop, look up, and absorb it all. The tall front stairway of the cozy wraparound porch and the glass double front doors are the perfect greeting. There are hundreds of beach houses here, but not one compares to ours. It’s the perfect mixture of beach and home. Big enough that we have our own space when we need it, but not so big that it feels like more of a hotel than a home.
I hear Brodee’s feet on the gravel as he runs at full speed, vaulting off my shoulders, nearly knocking me to the ground. He runs past me. “C’mon, Pete! Let’s get changed and go!” He runs up the wooden staircase of the white front porch, his backpack tossing from side to side, and busts through the front door.
Well, at least I had a second of peace to take it all in. Here we come, summer.
WHEN BRODEE AND
I wake up the next morning, we drive a couple towns up to Rodanthe for the surf. We stand in the parking lot at the back of his black Patriot, sliding on our wetsuits. He turns his back to me and stands there. “You mind?” he asks. I don’t catch on at first because wetsuits are made specifically with long enough zippers to zip up your own, but I don’t question it.
“I’d do it myself, but my zipper has been giving me issues. I think I need to get a new one. It’s time for an upgrade anyway.”
“It’s cool,” I say nonchalantly.
His back is tan and muscular with freckles speckling his shoulders just like they kiss his face. I push away thoughts I shouldn’t have about him. Thoughts I haven’t stopped having since yesterday morning. I don’t know why they’re assaulting me all of a sudden.
Once I’m done, I turn my back to him so he can return the favor even though I’ve always zipped up my own wetsuit. “I always get my hair caught in it,” I reason. It only seems fair. I sweep my long blonde hair to one side.
His fingers graze my bare back as he pulls up the zipper, and I have to suppress a shiver.
Did he notice?
It might be warm, but I know I have goosebumps covering my entire body.
Get ahold of yourself, Peyton. You’re being ridiculous. This is Brodee. The boy who used to give you covered wagons and wet willies. The boy who tugged on your braids and burped the alphabet in your face while holding you down so you couldn’t get away.
Sure, Brodee has grown up. I’m not blind to the fact that he’s not a pubescent boy anymore. He hasn’t been for years. So, why now? Why, during our last summer together before we’re separated, am I looking at him differently? It goes against our pact. We can’t change. I can’t be having these thoughts.
“YOU GOT THIS
one, Pete!” Brodee hollers. As I lay on my stomach with the water splashing my face, I stroke swiftly. I push myself as hard as I can toward the oncoming swell. “Take it!” I hear him yell from a distance. “Now!”
It’s not as though I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s nice to hear his encouragement, to know he has my back out here.
I pick myself up on my board, but can’t keep my balance. I hit the water faster than I can think to balance. The water whirls around me, pounding me under until my surfboard finally pulls me to the surface.
I paddle back out to him, determined to catch the next wave. I’m off my game. He’s in my head, making it too hard for me to concentrate. Others are surfing closer to the pier, but Brodee knows how much I hate to surf that close to it after nearly decapitating myself last year. The wave had it out for me, and the pier was its partner in crime.
“You’ll get the next one. Just relax,” he says.
“It’s been like a month since I’ve gone.”
“Yeah. What’s up with that? Robby and I wanted you to come with us last weekend.”
I shrug. “I’ve been busy with end of the year stuff.”
He nods. “It’s cool. I know my parents were hounding me to keep focused so my grades didn’t slip. ‘
Duke could still check your grades,
’” he mimics Tatum’s voice. “‘
They want to know you’re not going to slack off just because you’ve already been accepted.
I chuckle. “I think I’ve heard your mom say that a couple times.”
He stops. I feel his eyes on me, but I keep mine on the water. “Can I tell you something, Pete?”
He pauses and quietly says, “I don’t think I want to go to Duke.”
My face whips to him. “What? What do you mean you don’t want to go to Duke?”
“I mean…” He rubs his hand along the back of his neck. “I do, but I don’t.”
“You’ve been working your butt off for years so that you could get in. It’s your dream school.”
He scoffs and squints at the sun. “It’s my dad’s dream, and I’ve gone along with it. It’s ingrained in me. Don’t get me wrong, getting into Duke it awesome, but…” he trails off with a shrug. “I just don’t know if it’s me.”
“You’re just now saying something? Brodee, this is a big deal. Why haven’t you said anything before?”
He tugs on his bottom lip before he says, “I can’t disappoint him, Pete. You should’ve seen the look on his face when he found out I got in. It was like
got in. And it’s not like it isn’t an incredible opportunity. I just…”
Why is he telling me this now?
“Are you thinking of not going?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
This is my opportunity to discourage him. Red lights flash. Neon arrows point to him. It’s like the Las Vegas freaking strip inside my head.
Opportunity: Take it
. From the moment we knew we were going to different colleges, it’s been different. I’ve felt the place in my heart where he resides gradually empty the closer we get, like it’s preparing for a new resident. I don’t want a new resident. But it wouldn’t be right to push my agenda. It would be completely selfish. No matter how much it hurts my heart to be separated from my best friend, I need to put those feelings aside. This about more than me.
“If it’s what you want, absolutely. After years of preparing, there has to be a part of you that wants to go. You didn’t work this hard for nothing. It’s
For a second he looks at me as if he sees right through my answer, but then he nods, peering beyond my shoulder with a distant look in his eyes. “You’re right. I did work my butt off.”
“Heck yeah, you did! So, you’re not second guessing it?”
His eyes shift back to my face. “I am, but you know me. I’m not going to disappoint my parents.” He shakes his head and squints at the sun again. “I just needed to say that out loud. To someone who would listen to me.”
My heart rate picks up. I honestly thought just
he was going to tell me he was going to USC with me instead. He applied there just in case, but it was never a serious consideration. It’s always been Duke. I kind of hate Duke.
Over the last few summers, when Brodee wasn’t on the water with me, he was studying or working on college prep assignments. His dad, Nick, meant business.
Summer isn’t a time to take a break.
It’s like he thought if Brodee weren’t consistently keeping up with schoolwork, he’d lose his intelligence and a future with Duke. Brodee hardly complained about it though. He’s always wanted to make his dad happy. But now I wonder if
is even happy.
We sit straddling our boards for a little while in silence as we wait for the next good wave. I feel his eyes on me again.
“What?” I say without meeting his gaze, still trying to process his lack of interest in Duke.
“If your heart was a prison, I would like to be sentenced for life.”
My head falls back as I laugh. “It took you a week to come up with
? C’mon, Brodee. You can do better.”
He chuckles to himself. “For real? I thought it was pretty good. So, I guess you’ve got a better one?” He raises his left eyebrow, challenging me.
A couple years back, our cheesy pick-up line challenge started when we were at Folley Beach and this guy tried to hit on me.
I seem to have lost my phone number. Can I have yours?
Brodee laughed in his face and said he could have come up with a million different pick-up lines that would have been more original than that one. And so I challenged him, and he hasn’t given up since. After all these years you’d think we’d be better at it by now.
I clear my throat. “There must be something wrong with my eyes because I can’t seem to take them off you.”
” he says with a laugh. “That was not better than mine.”
“It at least has to be a tie,” I dispute. “There’s no way yours is better.”
“We’ll call it a tie, but I expect better from you next time.”
It takes me a few more tries, but finally, about three waves later, I get up and stay. I can hear Brodee screaming, “That’s my girl!”
I almost scream back, “You wish!” But there’s a part of me that wants to revel in a make-believe world where we’re together. It’ll be my little secret.