Authors: Mindy Hayes
THE SKY IS
clear tonight. Hardly a cloud in sight. I feel him. Cloudless skies make me feel like it’s a little easier for my dad to watch over us. Nothing is there to hinder the pathway.
After we played cards with the family, the four of us decided to veg on the roof.
“That’s cool that your parents are so close,” Skylar says, looping his arm around Harper on the recliner they share.
“Oh, yeah,” I say, blinking away the moisture in my eyes, grateful for a distraction. “My mom and Nick go way back. They grew up together in the same church and went to the same schools. Even went to college together. Nick is actually the one who introduced my mom to my dad.”
“Really? That’s sweet,” Harper says. “How come I didn’t know that?”
I shrug and look back up into the night. “I guess I never mentioned it. My dad and Nick were roommates their freshman year of college. Just fell into place from there. And Nick met Tate shortly after that. So, they all go way back.”
“Pete and I were doomed from the start,” Brodee says. His tone is light.
I shove his shoulder. “You’re
to have me in your life. You. Are. Welcome.”
He laughs. “Yeah. I guess.”
“We hitting the waves tomorrow?” Skylar asks Brodee.
“Yeah, man. There’s going to be some sweet surfing in Buxton. It’s only like fifteen minutes from here.”
Brodee and Skylar talk over Harper and me in the middle. She leans into me. “You going to invite Tyler?”
“Why would I?”
“Oh, I dunno, because you’re totally into each other.”
“Well, yeah, but we don’t have to do everything together. Should I invite him? You don’t think it would be weird?”
“Invite who?” Skylar interrupts us.
“Peyton’s boy toy,” Harper replies.
“You have a boy toy?”
“Can we not refer to him as my boy toy?” I ask. “He has a perfectly acceptable name.”
“Tyler,” Brodee answers for me. He says his name like a swear word.
“Tyler sounds like a tool.”
“You don’t even know him,” I retort.
“He is.” Brodee smirks at me.
I shove him again, but this time I’m being less playful. “He is not!”
“He’s going to USC too, and he’s smitten with our Peyton-Parker,” Harper pipes up.
I want to bury my head with my tail feathers in the air.
What does that? An ostrich?
“Well, let’s meet him. If I have to play nice with him at USC, I might as well get to know him now.”
“He’s probably working tomorrow,” I say, relieved. It’s not that I’m embarrassed of Tyler. I just don’t want whatever we are to be made into a big deal. Skylar has a knack for making things awkward on purpose. He does everything he can to make some people uncomfortable simply to see how they’ll react. It’s a test, really. If they can take it or dish it back, they pass. Something tells me Tyler won’t pass. I’m not ready for them to meet yet.
“You won’t know unless you text him,” Harper says, and I want to slap my hand over her mouth and shush her.
Can’t she tell I don’t want to invite him?
“I can tell you all you need to know about him, Sky.” Brodee starts holding up his fingers one by one. “Gym rat. Wears tank tops, and not ironically. Football player—”
“All right. Enough said.” Skylar stops him with one hand and looks squarely at me. “What do you like about this guy, P? Is he good to you?”
While I appreciate Skylar’s interest in real answers, I disregard him and narrow my eyes at Brodee. “You say all of those things like they’re cons. What’s wrong with working out or playing football? Not all football players are dumb jocks.”
“But I can tell you where he falls.” Brodee chuckles, glancing at Skylar who shares a look. If their eyes could high five, they would. Then Brodee continues, “Tyler’s a total kook, talks like he knows what he’s doing on the water, but that’s all he is. Talk. He’s your classic rich kid. Son of a dentist.”
Do I hear a hint of jealousy?
While I know he’s just teasing me, it pushes me over the edge. I’m not sure why I feel like I need to defend Tyler so fiercely, but it’s really ticking me off that Brodee is tearing into him. Tyler’s never done anything to him.
“Tyler’s dad is no different than yours,” I cut Brodee off. “Hounding him about schoolwork, riding his butt, making choices for him, except
dad actually makes him work for his school tuition. It’s not just handed to him on a gold platter.”
That shuts him up and not in a good way. Hurt flashes across Brodee’s eyes. I wish I’d never said anything.
Why did I throw that in his face?
“Tell us how you really feel, Peyton.” Skylar laughs awkwardly.
The whole vibe shifts. Harper tries to laugh, but it falls flat. I’ve had enough of the rooftop talk. I move to get up from my recliner.
“I’m sorry, Pete,” Brodee says genuinely. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
I sigh. “I’m fine. It’s fine.” And it is. I just want to drop it. I don’t want to talk about Tyler anymore. “I’m sorry, too. I’m gonna go to bed.”
Brodee snatches my hand as I pass him. His thumb softly rubs the top of my hand. My thoughts jumble. I can’t remember why I was so upset. “You know I was just playing, right? I didn’t mean it, Pete,” he whispers.
“I know.” I nod and pull my hand away. Brodee’s tender touch confuses me more. “G’night, guys.”
WHEN WE GET
up in the morning, all is forgotten. Or at least everyone pretends that I didn’t have a little freak out moment. I slept horribly, though. Harper came to bed about twenty minutes after I did. I pretended to be asleep, but I couldn’t have been less tired. A creeping ache filled my chest, but I couldn’t place it. Until I did, and then I couldn’t help but miss my dad like crazy.
Sometimes his loss hits me out of nowhere. I can be fine one minute and curled in the fetal position the next. Grief is funny like that. Not in the funny ha-ha way, but the unexpected, cruel kind. It feels like I’ll never get a hold on mine.
So, when I finally fell asleep around three and was woken up at seven by Brodee to go surfing, I was less than ready to get out of bed. When I pulled back the covers, he tossed them off and wouldn’t let me have them back. He nearly died.
The four of us are headed to Buxton now with Brodee at the wheel. He’s lucky I let him live. Skylar borrowed one of Brodee’s millions of boards. That kid collects surfboards the way Harper does wigs. He has a different reason why he needs each one of them. And I get it. Each wave is different. Sometimes the surf requires a different kind of board, but I love my baby. I learned on her and can’t imagine surfing on anything else. It’s a miracle I haven’t busted her with all the wipeouts I’ve survived.
The sun feels hotter today than most. We’re out in the oceans for hours. It’s been so long since the four of us have gone out together I think we want to soak up as much time as we can. By the end of it I’m wiped out. Lack of sleep, the heat, exertion from the waves. I want to fall asleep and never wake up.
After grabbing lunch, Brodee drives us back, and it takes everything in me not to fall asleep in the front seat. Even if I could sleep, he wouldn’t let me. Brodee keeps poking me in the shoulder.
“Poke me one more time,” I warn, only half-joking. My eyes are closed as I lean my head against the headrest. “I dare you.”
I pause. I hear him chuckling to himself. “If you weren’t driving, you’d regret that.”
“So, are you saying I’m safe while I drive?”
I level a stare. “After that, all bets are off.”
“Noted.” He bites his lips to hold back a smug grin. I nearly smack it off.
A minute later he sticks his finger in my ear.
“Oh my gosh.” I throw my hands down and shift in my seat to get a good angle to punch him. “You’re gonna get it.”
“Don’t poke the bear, Brodee. You know better,” Harper says from the back seat. “Especially since you’re driving, and I’d like to live to see tomorrow. I choose life!”
“But it’s so much fun.”
I hold back my punch. Rationally, I see how stupid it would be to punch the driver of the vehicle in which I’m traveling.
Harper says, “Not when the bear is tired and could tear your head off with one look.”
He chuckles. “I just can’t help myself.”
“The big tormenting brother in him can’t be suppressed,” I murmur, leaning away from him, my head tapping on the passenger window. The tapping doesn’t even bother me this time. I don’t remember falling asleep.
“PEYTON.” A LOW
voice rouses me from my sweet
release as a hand rocks my shoulder. “Pete.” I open my eyes to see Brodee’s face above mine. “You slept the day away.”
I blink, but I don’t try to get up. I’m laying on the couch in the living room, but I can tell it’s dark outside. “What time is it?”
“A little after ten.” The corner of his mouth lifts up.
“Where are Harper and Skylar?” I rub my eyes.
“They’re just as bad as you. Tuckered out on me about an hour ago.” He stands up and walks over to the TV, flipping it on. “You sleep like the freaking dead. You even slept through dinner. I was so tempted to jump on you, but Liv wouldn’t let me wake you up.”
“It must’ve been the sun. And I would have punched you so hard.” I stretch my arms above my head.
He lets out a low chuckle. “I know. Let’s watch a movie.”
I lazily pick myself off the couch and head to the kitchen to get the taste of sleep out of my mouth. “You pick. I’m too tired to make any decisions.”
“You can’t be tired. You just slept for like ten hours, and we have a movie marathon ahead of us.”
I really did sleep the day away. “A marathon?” I laugh and walk back in with a glass of orange juice. “It’s ten o’clock.”
“The night is young. We can do whatever we want. Besides, we have to make up for the time you lost today. The summer is dwindling fast. We’ve got to soak up every minute before the semester starts.”
I don’t want to think about school starting. School starting means no more summer. It means no more Brodee. It means real life begins. And I’m not ready for any of that.
Brodee picks a comedy, and even though the couch is completely empty, he chooses to sit right beside me with the popcorn he popped. His thigh grazes mine, and it’s like my body has never felt his touch before, igniting a livewire that tingles every inch of my body. But it doesn’t seem to faze him. He doesn’t flinch or subtly try to move away. Neither do I. Because why should I? It doesn’t mean anything. We’re just best friends watching a movie like we’ve done millions of times before. I’m the one making it weird. It’s not weird. It’s nothing.
Stop making it weird.
I ease more comfortably into the couch as the previews begin. Brodee gazes over at me. “You missed out on playing in the waves with us when we got back.” He lifts his arm along the back of the couch behind me. “Or I should say you were missed.” I can feel him looking at me, but I don’t have the guts to meet his eyes. I don’t know what I’ll see there. Or maybe I don’t want him to see what my eyes may convey. I’m still trying to breathe through our touching thighs.
“We can play tomorrow. I’ll feel better then. I just didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Yeah? Why not?” he softly asks.
“Just…thinking about my dad.”
He reaches his arm around and tugs me close to his side. “I miss him too.”
We don’t say anything more because the movie starts. The popcorn bowl sits in his lap, so I have to lean into him every time and reach for a handful. He chuckles, carefree, at every little humorous part in the movie. Brodee’s laugh echoes throughout the house
I want to bottle his laughter to savor it and release it when the world needs it most.
My nap didn’t revive me. Or I guess it was more of a coma. My coma didn’t revive me. If anything, it made me more tired. Halfway through the movie I feel my eyes closing, but I fight back for as long as I can.
“Here.” I look to Brodee as he moves the empty popcorn bowl to the floor and shifts away from me. “Lay down.” He places a pillow on his lap and pats.
I hesitate. It’s not like we’re cuddling. I’m just resting my head on his lap to sleep. We’ve done this hundreds of times before.
Calm your nerves, Peyton.
“I can tell you’re still tired, but I’m not finishing this movie alone. Lay down,” he orders.
I’m too tired to argue, so I do the only thing I can. I nestle into the couch and rest my head on his welcoming lap. At first he doesn’t know what to do with his arms until I feel a soft tug at my scalp. Brodee gently runs his fingers through my hair. Utter bliss. If he doesn’t want me to sleep, this is not going to help matters. My eyes flutter closed, and the haze of sleep takes me away.
THE PILLOW SHIFTS
under me, waking me.
“Sorry,” Brodee murmurs. The TV is off now, and the room is dark. “I was trying to get up without waking you.”
I sit up too fast and hold my head, sleep still heavily weighing it down.
Once he stands, he offers me a hand. I slip mine in his, but blackness flashes in my eyes when I stand up too swiftly, causing me to fall forward. Brodee grabs me, placing a hand on my arm and the other around my waist to steady me.
“Whoa there, Grace.”
“Sorry,” I mumble and let him hold me until I don’t feel so dizzy and can see straight. It takes me longer than it normally should because I feel his touch all the way down in my ankles. They wobble and tingle. Stupid weak ankles. When I open my eyes, Brodee doesn’t make an attempt to let me go. He’s only inches from my face. His fingers touch the skin of my back between my shirt and shorts where the material has ridden up.
“You all right?” His voice is low, husky, and I can’t stop the shiver that begins at the base of my spine. Our proximity and his hand touching my bare skin, mixed with the stillness of the night—the moon and stars as our only source of light—suddenly the air between us is too thick to breathe.
The words get stuck in my throat. “I’m fine.” After “fine” passes my lips I wish I could take it back. Fine is the universal sign for women
being fine in
His eyes unhurriedly drift over my face and land on my lips, leaving me defenseless. Ever so subtly he bites his bottom lip, and I’m a goner. Putty in his hands. If he leans in, my self-control cannot be held accountable. As of now, I have none.
“Peyton,” he whispers. Our bodies are so intimately close I can feel his warm breath on my face. “We should go to bed.” His words don’t convince me until he steps back awkwardly.
I nod fervently. “Yeah.” I back up out of his arms and rest my hands on my hips, attempting to act more casual than I feel. “I’m exhausted. I really need to go to sleep. I’m just gonna grab a glass of water first.” I head toward the kitchen so I don’t have to look at him.
“Night,” he says hoarsely.
When Brodee disappears up the stairs I fall back against the counter, out of breath. HO-LY. CRAP.
It’s not just me. He feels it too, right? Or am I just imagining things because I feel it so strongly? That has to be it. I’ve officially caught the train to Crazy Town.
How’s the distancing yourself working out there, Peyton?
I need to try harder.