Authors: Mindy Hayes
I’M READING AT
the kitchen counter when my mom and Tatum come traipsing down the stairs the following morning. They take turns kissing the top of my head as they pass.
“We’re going shopping.” Mom grabs her keys off the mermaid hook on the back wall. “If you need anything, you can reach me on my cell or on Tate’s. Nick will be working upstairs today, so try not to bother him unless it’s an emergency.”
Tatum says, “And tell Brodee to load up on sunscreen, because that kid only tans he thinks the sun doesn’t affect him.” She shakes her head with that motherly concern in her eyes.
“I’ll take care of him.” I smile.
“Thanks, Peyton. We should be back in a few hours.”
“Have fun.” I wave. “Bring back something good.”
Brodee makes it downstairs just as they close the front door. “Where are they going?”
“Shopping, I guess.”
He heads for the fridge. “Of course they are.”
“Also, I’m supposed to make sure you’re lathered up with sunscreen before we go out to the beach.”
Today he’s dressed like he always is—khaki shorts and a T-shirt. But I see him entirely different. His navy blue shirt is just tight enough that it hugs his back muscles and cuts perfectly into his biceps. I gulp. And blink. Hard.
What am I doing? Stop checking out Brodee!
He turns around with a glass of orange juice in his hand and groans, flicking his unstyled hair to one side. “She’s so paranoid. I’m not going to burn, but whatever. You’ll just have to help me. I can’t reach my back very well.”
Back muscles. I’ll get to touch his back muscles.
Have to, Peyton.
Change the subject.
I chuckle nervously. “Do you remember that summer—?”
“Don’t remind me,” he grumbles and wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “You called me Zebra Skin the entire summer.”
“I just don’t understand how you could have missed that much skin.” I can’t stop laughing, picturing his brown and white striped back—a much easier image to visualize.
“You’ll never let me live that down,” he says before gulping down the rest of his orange juice.
“Never,” I pledge, grinning.
HARPER DAY SHOWS
up at the beach house around three o’clock, squealing and pumping her fists in the air. “The party’s here!”
I get her for two weeks before she has to go back home, and there won’t be a single dull moment. After I help her put her bags in my bedroom, we lean against the white railing of the back deck overlooking the beach—our own private solace. I breathe in deep. The air feeds my soul. With the ocean at our fingertips every day, nothing could put a damper on this summer.
“I can’t believe this is where you guys come every year, and I’ve never been before.” Harper takes a deep breath, inhaling the sea breeze.
I don’t know why I’ve never invited Harper.
Well, yes I do.
Hatteras belongs to Brodee and me. It’s the only place where I get to have him all to myself, and our real lives can’t intervene. When Brodee invited Harper and Skylar, I was excited, but a little annoyed, and I know that’s selfish and immature. But Skylar, Harper, and I will have USC. We’re going to be spending every day together for the next however many years. After this summer, Brodee and I will go in different directions, and we’ll never have this again. Who knows where we’ll be a year from now. When we do come back to The Cape, it may not be the same, but I get that Brodee won’t have USC with them, so I don’t say anything.
“Yeah, relaxing, isn’t it?” I finally say.
“This summer is going to be perfection.” The wind whips her long hair around. She ties the strands back to tame them.
“When’s Skylar coming up?”
“He’ll be here next week. Tuesday probably. He had to take care of some stuff for his grandparents.”
I nod. “All right, all right. So we get some girl time before he gets here.”
“If you want to consider Brodee a girl for the next few days. Yes.”
I laugh. “I doubt he’ll mind.”
“Well, let’s get this party started!” Harper throws off her shirt, exposing her white bikini top, then runs down the boardwalk toward the waves. I copy her, my tank top and shorts joining hers on the deck.
We play in the ocean for a couple hours, bobbing up and down with the tide, basking in the summer sunlight. I can’t remember the last time I felt this carefree. Hatteras has that effect. Brodee eventually makes a splashing entrance. He flings his dark, wet hair to the side and smiles brightly at us.
“Ladies,” he greets. His toned, freckled shoulders speckled with water float above the waves. After a couple hours in the water, the three of us watch the sunset from the shore. The colors reflect onto the water as they tint the sky with orange and pink. I hear the bell ring in the distance. Brodee and I share a look and go running.
“What was that?” Harper asks, jogging closely behind us.
“The bell,” I tell her over my shoulder.
With Brodee and I spending the majority of our summers in the water, the bell is the only form of communication we have with the landers. The landers being our parents—they rarely go in the water. One time we didn’t listen to the bell. It was so quiet in the distance we pretended we couldn’t hear it. The surf was too good. We didn’t want to miss a single wave. I’ll never forget it. We got lectured for an hour about the hazards of the ocean and how they’d thought we drowned. We never missed the bell again.
“This time of night it can only mean one thing,” I say.
“Dinner,” Brodee answers with a hungry smile. “And I’m starving.”
Tatum’s salmon is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. When I saw her seasoning it this morning before they left, I wanted it to be dinner, not breakfast. I don’t know what she does to cook it, but it’s always perfect.
“Tate, this is incredible,” my mom says after her first bite. “I don’t know how you do it every time.”
“Well, thank you.” Tatum smiles. “There’s plenty, so eat up.”
“It’s just so flakey and…
,” Harper says, eyeing me impishly from across the table.
I groan, knowing what she’s trying to pull. “Harper, you could have picked any other word.”
moist,” Brodee agrees. A sly grin turns the corner of his mouth. He sits at the head of the table, watching me cringe, and laughs. I throw a roll at him and he bats it away, sending it across the hardwood floor.
“Why do you keep saying moist?” Carter asks.
“Oh my gosh,” I gripe under my breath. “Say it one more time. I dare you.”
“Children,” Mom scolds, but she’s laughing too. “No more. Stop wasting food. Just eat the
,” I warn with a chuckle. “I have another roll, and it has your name written all over it.”
“I’ve got a palm, and it’s got your butt written all over it.” She gives me a sideways glance with a grin she’s suppressing. “But seriously, Tate,” Mom continues, “You have to tell me your secret. I’ve tried making it for Peyton at home, and it never measures up.”
“I’ll never tell.” Her laugh sounds like the Evil Queen from Snow White.
Nick takes Tatum’s hand on top of the kitchen table. “She won’t even tell me. Good luck getting it out of her, Liv.”
After we eat dinner, Brodee, Harper, and I relax on the rooftop lookout, lying back on beach recliners as night falls. Without the city lights, the stars are fully visible. The sky feels close enough that I can reach up and grab one.
“First person who sees a shooting star gets the last piece of chocolate mousse pie,” Brodee challenges.
“But one other person has to witness it,” I add. I know his games. Cheater.
“What, we can’t go off the honor code? You don’t trust Harper?” he teases.
“Psh. I don’t trust you. I saw you eyeing that last piece. And you’ll be lucky if you get to it before Carter does.”
“Well, my odds are better than yours,” he says. “Harper will share with me. Won’t you, Harp?”
“Speak for yourself,” she replies, scouring the skies. “If I win, that piece of pie is all mine.”
I laugh. That’s my Harper.
I win the pie. Harper backs me. But I share a bite with Brodee. Because I’m a nice person. Not because I have feelings for him. Stop judging me.
As we’re getting up to go inside, a bonfire blazing in the distance catches our attention.
“What’s going on down there?” Harper jerks her head in the bonfire’s direction.
“It’s probably the Hatteras gang,” I say. Excitement pools in the pit of my stomach.
Hatteras gang. The one you’ve been talking about since you were fourteen?”
“That would be them,” I confirm. I was wondering when they’d pop up.
“Well, let’s go! I want to meet all the people you hang out with every summer without me. Especially
,” she says his name in a singsong voice to tease me.
I look to Brodee. I have a feeling there will be a certain someone there he’ll want to avoid.
“Under one condition,” he says, holding up his index finger.
“What’s that?” Harper asks.
He eyes her, leaning over his armrest. “You’ve got to pretend to be my girlfriend.”
“Why?” we ask him at the same time.
“Do you really want to deal with Rylie?” he asks me.
don’t. If she thinks I’m with Harper, she’ll let it go. We won’t have to deal with her snide comments and smug grin.”
“Let what go?” Harper asks, looking between the two of us.
“You know we’ll deal with them anyway.” I sigh and explain to Harper, “Rylie and Brodee have had a thing going on the last few summers—kind of like Tyler and me.” Though Tyler and I actually really like each other. We aren’t just make-out buddies. “Last year she was convinced Brodee and I had something going on behind her back. Her jealousy became too much for Brodee, so he broke it off halfway through the summer.”
“If she thinks I’m with you, we can prove to her once and for all there’s nothing going on,” he explains to Harper.
Why does he care so much?
“Are you really that repulsed by me that you can’t stand the thought of her thinking you might like me?”
“What?” Brodee frowns. “No. I just figured it’d make it easier for you and Tyler, right?” he tries to reason, but his eyes shift. A tell tale sign he’s lying, but I don’t know what about. “She’ll lay off, and he can be reassured there isn’t anything going on.”
“How gentlemanly of you.” I snort.
“Well, this should be fun.” Harper smiles and rubs her hands together before she drapes her arm over Brodee’s shoulder. “All-righty, stud, let’s get this show on the road.” She winks, and he laughs.
“You have to make this believable, Harp. If you joke about it, Rylie will catch on.”