Authors: Mindy Hayes
Whether the ten seconds are up, or Brodee just can’t take it anymore, his hands grip my shoulders, shoving me away. He inhales, his eyes widening when he meets my stunned gaze. The moment flashes between us, a palpable tension I know he can’t be immune to. Even though his lips are gone, I still feel them on mine. I want them back on mine. Then Brodee blinks and scoots away from me, back to the floor.
I touch my lips and turn swiftly to Harper.
What was that?
Tyler and Harper are laughing and shoving each other like kindergartners on the playground.
?” Harper giggles.
me!” Tyler laughs and pushes her shoulder.
“Oh, it was only a nibble. That’s my signature move. Don’t go sharing my seduction tactics!” They break out into laughter again.
Apparently I missed something.
And so did they.
I shift my gaze to Brodee for some guidance, but he’s staring at the floor with a blank look. When he feels my eyes on him he lifts his gaze to me, shakes his head, and shrugs. I don’t know if it’s his reaction to our kiss or to Harper and Tyler’s.
When they quiet down they look around at the mixed emotions in the circle. Some laugh hysterically, while others look utterly baffled.
“Did we miss something?” Harper asks, attempting to control her amusement.
“Well,” Rylie answers, “while Peyton and Brodee are totally confused and disgusted with one another, you two seem to be thoroughly enjoying yourselves.”
Disgusted and confused? Is that what we look like? Because that’s far from what it feels like. Confused, maybe. But disgusted?
Is that what he feels?
“Well, you both will be happy to know we are laughing at how bad we were at that together.” Tyler smiles at me and moves to the empty space where Brodee was on the couch. “I am much more compatible with you.” His arm loops around my neck and tugs my mouth to his, kissing me in front of everyone. He’s never done that before. His lips press fervently, but the swell in my stomach and lightheaded feeling I normally get when he kisses me is non-existent.
“Much better,” he says when he pulls away. “Don’t you agree?”
I nod mechanically.
When I turn back to Brodee, he’s moved closer to Harper, his arm around her shoulder, tugging her to his side. He doesn’t spare me another glance. Obviously, that kiss affected me a lot differently than it did him.
I will never be able to look at him the same.
THE NEXT MORNING
I get up around ten and head downstairs to eat breakfast. I didn’t mean to sleep in, but we were out kind of late last night.
“So, how’s Tyler?” Mom asks over her shoulder as she puts the dishes away from dinner last night.
“He’s good,” I say, taking another bite of my Lucky Charms.
“You guys have fun last night?” She smiles like she’s living vicariously through me. She seems to be doing better than yesterday morning. Thank goodness.
I think about the kiss and want to find a cave and never come out. Fun isn’t exactly what I’d call last night. Things are going to be so awkward today. Maybe if I stay in my room all day we’ll never cross paths. Brodee can go his way, and I’ll go mine. Problem solved.
“Yeah. We just hung out at Rylie’s with everyone.”
“Rylie’s the one that liked Brodee, right?”
I hum my response as I chew and swallow. “I’m pretty sure it’s
, but she’ll have to get over it.”
The back door opens. I turn to see Brodee closing it behind him. His hair is damp, but he’s fully dressed. When our eyes meet he ducks his head and I think he blushes, but it’s gone so fast I probably imagined it.
When we got back to the beach house last night we went straight to bed. With a brief “‘Night,” he bolted to his room before I could even say goodnight back.
“Good morning, Brodee.” The warmth in my mom’s smile is such a contrast from yesterday. I’m so grateful today is a good day.
“Mornin’, Liv.” Brodee plops on the barstool at the counter next to me. He glances at me, and I nod a hello. I wait to see where this will go. Who will crack? “Lucky Charms,” he says. “Good choice.”
“I left the marshmallows for you,” I joke, hoping to lessen the tension. I show him the remaining marshmallows floating in my blue milk. “Have to save the best for last.”
“That’s all right. You can have them,” he teases with a scrunch of his nose. Holding my gaze, he doesn’t say anything more, and a pregnant pause swells between us. I feel him drifting further away as he looks at me. I want to tether a rope to him and wrench him back, pressure him to tell me every thought.
Are we okay? Did that kiss ruin us?
Please don’t let it. Finally he says, “Where’s Harper?”
Diversion. Thank you. I blink. “Where else? She’s asleep,” I say and drink the remaining milk in my bowl.
“Still? Man. She’s going to sleep the summer away. I’ve been up since six.”
“Any good waves?”
He shrugs, not looking at me. “Decent. We’ll have to head up to Kitty Hawk early tomorrow. There’s supposed to be a storm heading in tomorrow evening. Surf is supposed to be ten to twelve feet. It’ll be perfect.”
“Is your dad still here, Brodee?” Mom asks.
“Nah. I think he had a deposition pop up, so it looks like he’ll be coming back some time next week.”
“All right. More girl time for us old gals.” She winks. “What are you three doing today?”
“I think we’re going to head over to the lighthouse,” I say. “Harper’s been dying to climb it since I showed her pictures.”
“Sounds like a good plan.”
I sit there with my empty bowl, my mom continues putting dishes away, and silence ensues. And it’s certainly not our usual comfortable silence. That kiss did change us.
“Well, I guess I should go wake up Harper so we can head up there.” Brodee can’t hop off the barstool fast enough before jogging to the stairs.
Mom hollers over her shoulder. “Oh, no you don’t. No boys allowed in the girls’ room.”
“Ahh…c’mon, Liv,” he calls back.
“You’ve never had a problem with Brodee being in my room before,” I say, confused.
“That’s because you’re like siblings.”
Rub it in, Mom.
“I don’t know what kind of undress Harper may be in.”
Brodee sulks back into the kitchen and hops up beside me again.
“I’ll go get her.” I place my bowl in the sink and head up the stairs. I’m not enduring this awkwardness any longer.
IT’S A TWENTY
-minute drive before I stand at the base of the black and white candy cane striped lighthouse and look up, the vivid sky as a picturesque backdrop.
“I haven’t been here since we were kids.” The nearness of Brodee’s soft voice in my ear startles me. Looking over my shoulder, I see his smirk inches from me. I’ve seen that smirk a million times before, but this time feels like the first time. My chest seizes, and my legs wobble, and my heart jumps, and nothing makes any sense. “Geez, jumpy.” He chuckles.
I try to control my breathing as my heart races. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting you so close.”
Did I read him wrong this morning?
He appeared so uneasy before. Now he looks completely at ease, like he has the upper hand. But the upper hand in what?
“Well, you’re kind of blocking the path.” He motions to the walkway in front of us, leading to the entrance of the lighthouse.
He’s not just trying to get close to you, Peyton.
As much as I want him to. I can’t get the feel of his lips on mine out of my head. This
“What are you guys waiting for? Let’s go,” Harper rushes us. For a brief moment I want to tell Harper to suck it and go home so I can have Brodee to myself. And then I realize how juvenile and ridiculous that sounds.
“My bad. I’m going. I’m going.”
There are 257 steps. I know because I counted as I gripped the wrought iron railing on the strenuous climb. Heights are not my thing, especially in the narrow stairwell of a 200-foot tower. There are small platforms along the way to take a breather, but that just makes it worse. I want it to be over and done with. Brodee follows closely behind, reassuring me that he has me in case I trip and fall down all 257 steps. His hand occasionally brushes against my lower back, encouraging me forward. Just the touch of his hand is making me dizzy. Forget the compact space filled with fifty other people. I’m going to pass out from his proximity.
“Oh my gosh, this is beautiful!” Harper exclaims as she leans over the balcony, peering down to see how high we are. She stretches her arms out like she’s flying. I press my back to the wall at the top of the lighthouse, staying clear of the edge. Maybe it isn’t so much the height as it is the irrational fear that the railing will fail, or the deck supporting us will suddenly collapse and we’ll plummet to our death. I prefer my feet safely on the ground.
Brodee chuckles. “What’s your deal, Pete? You seriously scared?”
“I’m not scared,” I counter indignantly. I’m lying. “I just like the view better from here.”
“You have to look over the edge though,” he coaxes. “It’s not so bad. It’s really pretty cool.”
“No, thank you. I can see just fine from here.” I smile, but it’s strained.
He holds out his hand. “C’mere. I’ll keep you safe.”
Whether it’s his words or his hand, I give in. The thought that I would go anywhere with Brodee crosses my mind. My hand slips into his, and I grip him tightly. A quiet chuckle passes his lips. I stare at him like he’s my anchor. He’ll keep me secure. He won’t let anything happen to me.
A gust of wind blows through my hair. I inhale and feel myself relax a fraction. The view is indescribable. Miles and miles of bright blue ocean against the vibrant green landscape. It’s so strange to think we’re at the edge of the country. I’ve never really thought about it like that before. From here on out there’s nothing but blue.
“See. It’s not so bad.”
I shrug coolly, not wanting to prove him right.
“You’re fearless in the water, with waves crashing all around you, and the possibility of rip currents and sharks and other sea creatures or even drowning, but a little bit of height freaks you out?” Harper remarks, shaking her head with a snarky smile on her lips.
“We could all plummet to our death in a matter of seconds,” I retort. “Then we’ll see who’s laughing.”
“No one. We’d all be dead.”
I want to shove her, but I realize that’s the dumbest idea at the top of a 200-foot structure with only a metal railing to stop her fall.
It isn’t until we’re ready to head back down that I notice Brodee hasn’t let go of my hand, nor have I attempted to loosen my grip on him. His touch alone was enough comfort to help me through my fear. Or maybe it was just enough of a distraction.
“Here.” Brodee steps in front of me, squeezing my hand once before letting go. “I’ll go first, so in case you trip I’ll cushion your fall on the way down.” Then he winks, and I try to find my stomach. The butterflies must have hauled it away.
Has he ever winked at me before? How have I never noticed how hot it is?
Brodee smiles and steps into the lighthouse. Gosh, I’m gonna miss that smile.
It hits me. That’s it. I’m having these unexplained feelings because I’m getting sentimental. I’ve been reading into things. That’s all it is. We’re splitting after this summer, and it sucks. It’s just my sensitive hormonal womanhood reacting to being separated from my best friend. Boom! Problem solved.
The only way I’m going to be able to survive Brodee leaving me behind is getting used to not relying on him. I need to distance myself. Focus on Tyler. It’s the only way I’ll know how to live without Brodee. I’ll stop having these baffling thoughts about us being something more, and we can move forward like normal.
AS HARPER AND
I crawl into bed that night, she asks, “ How was that kiss?”
“What kiss?” I pull back my side of the blanket, avoiding eye contact. While she could be talking about Tyler, I highly doubt it. If I answer her honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep my voice steady.
“What kiss.” She snorts. “With Brodee, dummy.”
I’m tongue-tied. Do I tell her that it was surprising and amazing and kind of perfect? And all I want is to do it over and over again?
No. Wait. I don’t.
That’s just my sentimental, hormonal womanhood taking over again.
“I know you two have never kissed before, so how was it?”
“It was awkward. I mean…good, but awkward.”
She sighs. “I really don’t understand why you never tried snatching Brodee. After all the time you guys spend together, I always thought it was inevitable.”