Authors: Mindy Hayes
Harper lifts her hands in the air. “Oh, I’ve got this. Don’t you worry your pretty little face.” She taps the tip of his nose. “I’m an impeccable actress. I’m pretty sure I walked the red carpet in another life.”
WE GRAB SOME
light jackets and walk along the shoreline. As we draw closer, there are about twenty people dancing and hanging around the fire. That’s more than usual. Party music drifts up toward us. I don’t know how there hasn’t been some sort of noise complaint to shut them down.
“So, everyone comes here to hang out?”
“Just those who vacation here every summer, yeah. Most of the time it’s just a few of us. I’ve never seen this many people before.” I look over at her, walking between Brodee and me, holding his hand. It’s a strange sight to see and makes me…jealous? That can’t be right. “There’s not much to do at night so we chill and listen to music.”
“Peyton!” The male voice is familiar even if I haven’t heard it since last summer. I turn back to the Hatteras gang to see Tyler Hamilton jogging over in all his tall, muscular beauty. His T-shirt stretches across his fit chest, almost like he can’t fit into it anymore.
Has he gotten even bigger?
He flashes his pearly whites before sweeping me up in his arms and hugging me so tightly I can’t breathe. My feet don’t touch the ground.
“Tyler,” I giggle. I hate that I giggle, but he brings out that side of me. The silly, flirty, ditzy side I never knew existed until I was in his presence. I hate myself for it. He turns me into a breathless, giggling fool. It’s embarrassing.
“Dang, Peyton. You get more beautiful every year.” He sets me on the sand, looks me up and down, and smiles appreciatively. His subtle Southern drawl is just as charming as it’s always been.
is Tyler?” Harper half-whispers, half-gasps into my ear.
I discreetly shove her away and speak over her the best I can to disguise her innuendo. “Tyler, this is my friend, Harper. And you know Brodee.” I motion to them at my side.
“Yeah. Hey, man. Good to see ya.” Tyler holds out his hand and they do that hand slap/shake/fist bump thing that guys do.
Brodee smiles tightly. “What’s up.” It isn’t a question. It’s a greeting.
“It’s nice to meet you, Harper.” He holds his hand to her for a regular handshake, and she smiles with stars in her eyes. Yeah, he has that sort of effect on women.
“Did y’all just get into town?” Tyler asks.
“Early yesterday, yeah.” I nod and roll back on my heels. “Long drive.”
“How long do I get you this year?” He smiles down at me with his ever-changing hazel eyes. The last year has treated him well. I find myself being especially nervous around him after all this time. He seems…different.
“Until the beginning of August.”
“Almost three weeks longer than last year? Sweet!” He grabs my hand. “C’mon, let’s grab y’all some drinks.”
When we get closer to the fire, Tyler offers to go to the coolers and get me something. “Dr. Pepper, if they have it.”
“All right. Harper, can I get you something?” Tyler offers politely.
“I can get you something,” Brodee interjects, stepping forward, remembering his role as dutiful, fake boyfriend.
Tyler looks at Brodee, puzzled by his abruptness.
“Diet Coke, please,” she asks.
“Sure thing. If there isn’t any DP, Pete, you want a Coke?”
“You got it.” Brodee nods.
After they’re out of earshot, Harper can’t hold back the interrogation any longer. “Ohmygoshheissofreakinghot. Peyton-Parker, why didn’t you tell me he was so hot? And why in the world have you toned that relationship down? He so does not seem like someone you just ‘hang out’ with a little bit every summer. That kid is smitten.”
I have a hard time hiding my smile. “He’s a player, Harp. Not smitten.”
“He’s smitten. I don’t care what you say. He may be playing the field while you’re gone, but you have his full attention now. He never took his eyes off you. And when he did, it was only to be polite, not because he wanted to.”
I have to laugh. “He’s a good distraction.”
. Did I just say that out loud?
“Distraction? Girl. He is not a distraction. He’s the full show. Take this like the gift it is and enjoy! Have fun for goodness sake! It’s our last summer before real life begins.” The boys are walking back so she quiets down. “Live life, Peyton-Parker. You only get one shot, one life.”
AS THE NIGHT
wears on, the four of us have circled the bonfire. Some people have tapered off to walk along the beach or headed home. About ten remain—the usuals. I’ve talked to most of them, and it never fails to feel like I’ve come home when seeing all of them again, like no time has passed at all.
Harper and Brodee are snuggled together, sitting on the sand with their knees pulled to their chests and a blanket wrapped around them, while Tyler sidles up next to me on some driftwood. It’s weird watching them like this. So unnatural. Skylar should be in Brodee’s place, flicking his lip ring and gazing affectionately at Harper. He’s going to get a kick out of this story though. Thankfully, he’s not the jealous type.
I keep peeking across the bonfire at Rylie who’s been giving Brodee the stink-eye all night. Looks like his plan is working. He hasn’t seemed to notice, or maybe he’s just ignoring her. I laugh to myself and look down at my soda can, the brown liquid pooling at the top of the lid. I bring it up to my lips and sip it away.
When I zone back into the conversation, Tyler’s talking about college plans. “I’ll be heading to USC in the fall.”
“For real?” I shift my body to him.
“Don’t tell me you are, too.”
“Yeah. I am.” I smile. “Harper and I are rooming together in the dorms.”
His arm drapes across my shoulder. “Well, look at that. This doesn’t have to end when summer does this time.” He says it teasingly, but it feels like anything but teasing.
My stomach curls into a tiny cluster of nerves, but I smile back coyly and say, “I guess not.”
Tyler pulls me closer, squeezing me once before relaxing. His arm stays, surrounding me in a cocoon of warmth. He’s like my own personal heater. When I look back to Harper and Brodee, Harper is biting her lip, holding in a squeal, no doubt. Brodee’s expression is unreadable. Then I think about it. Since he’s going to Duke, it can’t be easy for him to think about being away from everyone. I smile gently, and his features soften.
“Hey y’all!” Rylie plops beside Tyler in her short denim skirt and red halter-top.
Isn’t she cold?
“It’s good to see you two, but I don’t think we’ve met yet.” She reaches her hand out to Harper.
Harper rocks forward on the balls of her feet and takes it, smiling. “I’m Harper.”
“Rylie.” Her smile is so fake I’m surprised it doesn’t crack.
Even before last year, Rylie was so certain Brodee and me had a secret thing going on.
Because how can you spend every day together on a summer vacation and not fool around?
Easily. I could have told her that.
“‘Sup, Rylie,” Tyler says, scooting closer to me, giving her more room on the driftwood.
“I’m having a little get-together tomorrow night, and I was wondering if y’all wanted to come. It’ll just be the normal people, not all these randoms who were here tonight. I want to catch up with everyone!”
Again, I look to Brodee for confirmation. I’m not going to accept anything until I know he’s okay with it. Who knows if she has any ulterior motives? Clearly, she can see we
don’t have anything going on since he’s cuddling with Harper. Or awkwardly huddling together, I suppose is a better term. They could at least pretend to like each other. Though, if they were too convincing, I might be a little worried.
“Sounds like fun!” Harper says before anyone else responds. I can’t tell if she’s being fake, too, or if she honestly wants to go. Brodee doesn’t dispute it, so I agree too. Maybe I’m misreading Rylie or overthinking it.
“You can count me in,” Tyler joins in.
“Great! Okay. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.” She flashes a sultry smile at Brodee and saunters away, her hips sashaying from side to side as she walks across the sand in her tall wedges.
Who wears wedges at the beach?
“Well,” Harper laughs, “isn’t she a treat?”
Brodee and I share a look and bust up laughing.
“What did I see in her?” he mutters as he shakes his head and takes a swig of his Mountain Dew.
“Beats me,” I say.
“Yeah, man,” Tyler says, chuckling. “Rylie is a handful.”
“It was fun while it lasted,” Brodee replies, shrugging.
Tyler gives him a funny look, like he can’t believe he’s talking like that in front of Harper.
“Harper and Brodee aren’t really together,” I explain quietly. “He just wanted Rylie off his back. For obvious reasons.”
Tyler nods with understanding and laughs. “Smart move, man.”
“We won’t be able to keep it up for long. Skylar’s going to be here next week?” Brodee asks Harper.
“Yup!” She smiles dreamily as if they just started dating—not four years into the relationship. “Skylar’s my real boyfriend,” Harper explains.
“And my good friend,” Brodee interjects as if that explains everything.
Tyler looks at them like they’re crazy.
TYLER WALKS ME
home, while Brodee and Harper follow slowly behind us, dragging their feet. Harper’s probably making Brodee give us space.
“It really is good to see you, Peyton,” Tyler says, sliding his hand into mine, lacing our fingers together. “I’m glad you’re here.”
When I peer up at him, it feels like my eyes trail up for hours. He’s taller than he used to be. What a difference a year makes. It makes me feel…dainty. And that isn’t a word I would normally use to describe myself. I’m five-seven. Looking up at Tyler, he has to be at least six-three. Thank goodness for tall boys; I’m used to being around Brodee, who’s only a few inches taller than me, so I mostly feel level with him.
“Me too.” I smile.
When we reach the back of the beach house, Tyler looks to see if Brodee and Harper are there. They must have stopped along the way because they are nowhere in sight. It’s too dark to see very far though. When Tyler turns back, he doesn’t waste any time. He leans down, taking my face in his big hands, and kisses me. It’s soft, tender. I definitely don’t hate it. I wouldn’t mind if it lasted longer. When he pulls back, he flashes a shy grin. He could make me forget
for the summer.