Authors: Mindy Hayes
“A year of waiting is worth it,” he says, “just to be able to do that.”
A short, nervous laugh escapes me. “Yeah,” is all I can think of to say.
Why couldn’t I be cleverer?
I feel like a cartoon character stammering, ‘Duh, duh, duh.’
“So, I’ll see you at Rylie’s tomorrow night? Yeah?”
I swallow. “We’ll be there.”
“Cool. Goodnight, Peyton.” His voice is deep and tingles my entire body. He kisses my cheek and starts to walk away.
“Night.” I smile bashfully and wave. It’s not just a tossed wave into the air. It’s one of those four fingers curl forward waves, and it makes me want to punch myself.
LEAVING HARPER IN
bed to sleep in a little longer, I head downstairs to grab some breakfast. She doesn’t do mornings like I do, and I’d rather not wake the beast.
“Morning, sunshine,” Nick greets me as he sips his coffee from the kitchen nook next to Carter.
“Morning.” I smile.
Carter gives me a head nod as he eats his cereal. He grunts his morning greeting.
“How’d you sleep last night?” Nick sets down his mug and focuses on me.
Trying to pick a cereal from the plethora in the pantry is like trying to pick a favorite book. Impossible. I decide on Captain Crunch Berries and pour myself a big bowl.
“If you could survive off cereal and cereal alone, you would try.”
“Yup.” I sit across from Nick and smile with my mouth full.
He chuckles and shifts his attention to his laptop, tap-tap-tapping away, probably working on some lawyer stuff. Whatever is it they do.
“You’re going to eat all my cereal, aren’t you?” Carter says, teasing in his raspy, morning voice.
cereal? I hadn’t realized the Captain was claimed. But if it is I’ll have to fight you for it.”
“I’ll accept that challenge.” His eyes light up cheekily. He wiggles his eyebrows. “Wrestle for it?”
I chuckle and shake my head at him. Only sixteen and he’s growing into such a flirt.
Nick speaks up. “Peyton, Brodee’s out on the water already. He told me to tell you when you woke up.”
“Cool.” I’ll head out when I’m done eating.
Nick has always been like a second father to me, but when my dad passed away he stepped up—never missed a soccer game or gymnastics meet. He even taught me how to change the oil in my car and made sure I was equipped with pepper spray (just in case). Things my dad never got a chance to do. Nick said he didn’t want me to feel the loss of a father figure. Though he’ll never ever be able to replace my dad, I’m grateful to have him.
My mom rounds the corner from the stairs. “You made it up before me this morning.” She kisses the top of my head as she passes by.
“I hadn’t realized it was a competition,” I say, chewing. “In that case I’d definitely win. I’m always up before you to go surfing.”
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t know how I raised such an early bird. If it weren’t for you, your father and I wouldn’t have gotten up until noon every day.” Her eyes drift out the window above the kitchen sink, overlooking the beach. “He always did write better at night,” she says distantly.
That’s exactly how I remember him. Hunched over his laptop, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose with only the light of the laptop illuminating his face as he wrote his next best-selling novel. Because of course it would be. He wouldn’t settle for anything less. If I ever walked downstairs in the middle of the night, there he would be, behind the French doors of his office, letting his creativity flow.
A couple minutes pass by when there’s nothing but silence. My mom doesn’t move or say a word. She holds tightly to the edge of the sink and never blinks once.
“Olivia.” Mom doesn’t respond to Nick. “Liv, you all right?” Still nothing. Her chest rises and falls with her breath, but that’s all that moves. He stands up and walks over to her. “Liv,” he prompts, gently rubbing her shoulder. She startles and looks up at his face. I now see the streaks in her makeup. “You okay?” he asks softly.
“Yeah. Yes,” she corrects. She smiles brightly—too brightly—swiftly wiping away a couple tears that leak down her cheeks. “I’m good.” She nods unconvincingly and steps around him, heading back upstairs.
Nick stays at the kitchen sink—watching her retreating figure, concern marking his face.
“She’ll be okay,” I say to assure him. She does this sometimes. She’ll be great for days, sometimes weeks. Then one day she’ll have a bad day. Some bad days are worse than others. I expected this. I knew she couldn’t be here for long without feeling the loss of him. I felt it the moment I walked through the door.
“I know,” he accepts and turns to me. “It’s hard for all of us. You know you can talk to me, right, Peyton?”
I nod, feeling grateful we at least have Nick. He lost his best friend, too, so at least he sort of gets it. “I know.” And thank him with my eyes.
He squeezes my shoulder once before sitting back down and burying himself in work again.
RYLIE HOLLOWAY HAS
the biggest beach house on the block. I don’t know that you can even call it a beach house. It’s a mansion on the beach, but it’s perfect for big parties and hanging out if we want our own space away from the parentals.
About ten people show up to Rylie’s thing, so it’s more of a chill hang out. We congregate in their movie room upstairs with some action flick playing in the background, but no one is paying attention to it.
“Let’s play truth or dare!” Rylie stands in the middle of the room so everyone will focus on her.
“Yes!” Harper cheers beside me on the couch. “We haven’t played truth or dare since, like, eighth grade.” She bumps my shoulder with hers and claps her hands together.
“There’s a reason for that,” I mumble. A collective agreement circles the room, and I chuckle to myself. “This should be interesting.”
“Scared, Pete?” Brodee taunts from the floor across the room. He’s leaning against the wall, his knees pulled to his chest with a smug grin on his face.
“What makes you think that?”
“You’ve never been much of a daredevil.”
My eyes narrow. He knows exactly how to push my buttons. “Are you saying I don’t know how to have fun?”
He lifts his hands in surrender. “I didn’t say that.”
I give him a bold stare, a look that I hope comes across as bring on the truth or dare, and we’ll see who doesn’t know how to have fun. Maybe I’m not much of a daredevil, but when Brodee challenges me, I’ll do everything in my power to win or prove him wrong.
Nearly thirty minutes in, Brandi has confessed to her crush on Larson’s dad, which is slightly uncomfortable considering she’s dating Larson. Darren has downed an entire bottle of sprinkles, and now he can’t get the chalky, waxy taste out of his mouth. He’ll probably never have another sprinkle in his life. Tyler was dared to give Marcus a lap dance that turned out to be even more awkward when Marcus didn’t seem to mind it. And Rylie confessed to cheating on her ex-boyfriend, which must be the reason why he’s no longer a current boyfriend.
Now it’s my turn, and I’m determined not to chicken out. No matter what. What can Rylie possibly come up with that I can’t handle?
“Dare,” I say, glaring at Brodee.
Yeah, who’s a coward now!
I look back to Rylie for the price I know I’m going to have to pay.
She smirks like she’s hiding a juicy secret. “I dare you to kiss Brodee.”
Instant regret sets in, and the blood drains from my face.
. Why did I expect anything less?
. “That’s just awkward.” I try to think of a reason. “I can’t kiss my best friend’s boyfriend.” Even if it
“Oh, c’mon. You make it sound like you haven’t spent
summer together for years. Don’t tell me you’re not curious.” Rylie eyes me. She knows my thoughts. She’s been in my head.
the reason I’m thinking of him that way. Her accusation has weaseled its way into my brain. It’s being here in Hatteras! That’s it! I almost laugh to myself. I can hear how crazy I sound.
“It’ll be fun!” she says. “And it can’t just be a little peck. I’m talking like ten to fifteen seconds at least. Real kiss action here.”
“He’s like my brother,” I try, straightening my features. Rylie is only trying to prove herself right. And that won’t happen. All it’ll do is torment me. Maybe that was her intention all along. “I’ve known him since we were babies.”
Her eyes resemble every evil fairytale stepmother—scheming and wicked. “Fine. Let’s even the playing field then. You kiss Brodee and, Harper, you kiss Tyler.”
My attention darts to Harper for confirmation that that is
going to happen. We’re not about to kiss each other’s flings—make believe or not. She actually has a
boyfriend, but Harper lets me down.
“It’s just a game, Peyton-Parker. Why not? I’ve been curious to know how your boy-toy works his magic.” I know she’s kidding, but it annoys me nonetheless. She’s supposed to back me up.
Unless she’s trying to meddle, too.
Does she know what I’ve been thinking? No. I haven’t told her. She’s just being Harper Day—daring and adventurous. She lifts her eyebrows playfully at Tyler and crawls down to the floor where she pulls her hair into a low ponytail.
Harper’s not afraid of any dare. When we were in eighth grade, Mike McLean dared her to go skinny-dipping in Becca Adler’s pool, and you would have thought he dared her to kiss Ryan Gosling. Of course, I made all the guys stay inside and kept them from looking through the blinds, but Harper didn’t have a single qualm.
I look at Brodee and see right through the image he’s trying to uphold. Chill, tough guy looks just as uncomfortable as I feel. We both know this will be awkward as all get out.
“It’s just a dare, not a lifetime commitment,” Rylie taunts, rolling her eyes. I’m
close to smacking her.
Brodee shrugs like he’s over it and walks casually to the couch. “All right. C’mon, Pete. I won’t bite.”
I peer down at Tyler who chuckles. “It’s just a kiss, Peyton. I won’t be mad at you if you don’t get mad at me.”
Just a kiss? Sure, to everyone else, maybe. To me, it’s
much more, but I can’t ever say that out loud, and by dragging my feet, even more pressure is brought upon me. My hesitation is going to reveal why I’m so apprehensive.
Good work, Peyton.
“What happens with the Hatteras Gang stays with the Hatteras Gang.” Rylie snickers. I’ll get my revenge. Just you wait, Rylie Holloway.
I watch Harper and Tyler lean into each other as if in slow motion, assessing how they’re going to fit together. Then I’m suddenly aware that Brodee is only inches from my face.
This isn’t happening.
This is happening.
“It’s okay, Pete,” he whispers, shifting his green eyes to my mouth. My stomach flutters. “It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
His eyes hesitantly travel around my face like he’s committing me to memory, which is silly because he looks at me every day. He doesn’t need to memorize my face, and I like it a whole lot more than I should. I nod my reluctant approval, swallowing my nerves and freeze until his lips gently meet mine.
Brodee’s lips are kissing mine. It takes me a second to process that. I shut my eyes tightly as his lips press a couple long kisses against my mouth, taking my bottom lip between his. The unexpected move steals my breath. When he presses more firmly, I can’t help but lean into the kiss with a sigh.
Under the surface everything shifts off its axis, altering the make up of my being, splitting everything like an earthquake, swallowing me whole. If he can kiss me like this and not have it mean anything, I’m not so sure I could handle what it would feel like if it meant something.