The first time you lay eyes on someone who is going to become someone to you—your someone—you’re supposed to feel the earth shift beneath your feet, right? Sparks will course through your fingertips and there’ll definitely be fireworks. There are always fireworks.
But it doesn’t really happen that way. It’s messier than that—and much better.
Trust me, I know. I know how it feels to have a someone.
To be in love.
But the day after my sophomore year ended, I didn’t know anything. At least, that’s the way it feels now.
Let me clarify that. It’s not like I was a complete numbskull. I’d just gotten a report card full of A’s. And one B-minus. (What can I say. Geometry is my sworn enemy.)
And I knew just about everything there was to know about Dune Island. That’s the little sliver of sand, sea oats, and sno-cones off the coast of Georgia where I’ve lived for my entire sixteen-year existence.
I knew, for instance, where to get the spiciest low-country boil (The Swamp) and the sweetest oysters (Fiddlehead). Finding the most life-changing ice cream cone was an easy one. You went to The Scoop, which just happened to be owned by my parents.
While the “shoobees” who invaded the island every summer tiptoed around our famously delicate dunes (in their spotless, still-sporting-the-price-tag rubber shoes), I knew how to pick my way through the long, fuzzy grass without crushing a single blade.
And I definitely knew every boy in my high school. Most of us had known one another since we were all at the Little Sea Turtle Play School on the north end of the island. Which is to say, I’d seen most of them cry, throw up blue modeling clay, or stick Cheetos up their noses.
It’s hard to fall for a guy once you’ve seen him with a nostril full of snack food, even if he was only three at the time.
And here’s one other thing I knew as I pedaled my bike to the beach on that first night of my sixteenth summer. Or at least, I thought I knew. I knew exactly what to expect of the season. It was going to be just like the summer before it, and the summer before that.
I’d spend my mornings on the North Peninsula, where tourists rarely venture. Probably because the sole retail establishment there is Angelo’s BeachMart. Angelo’s looks so salt-torn and shacky, you’d never know they make these incredible gourmet po’ boys at a counter in the back. It’s also about the only place on Dune Island where you can’t find any fudge or commemorative T-shirts.
Then I’d ride my bike south to the boardwalk and spend my afternoon coning up ice cream and shaving ice for sno-cones at The Scoop.
Every night after dinner, Sam, Caroline, and I would call around to find out where everyone was hanging that night. We’d all land at the beach, the deck behind The Swamp, Angelo’s parking lot, or one of the other hideouts we’d claimed over the years.
Home by eleven.
Rinse salt water out of hair.
This was why I was trying hard not to yawn as I pedaled down Highway 80. I was headed for the bonfire on the South Shore.
That’s right, the annual bonfire that kicked off the Dune Island summer, year after year after year.
One thing that kept me alert was the caravan of summer people driving their groaning vans and SUVs just a little too weavily down the highway. I don’t know if it was the blazing, so-gorgeous-it-hurt sunset that was distracting them or my gold beach cruiser with the giant bundle of sticks bungeed to the basket. Either way, I was relieved when I swooped off the road and onto the boardwalk.
I tapped my kickstand down and had just started to unhook my pack of firewood when I heard Caroline’s throaty voice coming at me from down the boardwalk. I turned with a smile.
But when I saw that Caroline was with Sam—and they were holding hands—I couldn’t help but feel shocked for a moment.
In the next instant, of course, I remembered—this was our new normal. Sam and Caroline were no longer just my best friends. They were each other’s soul mate.
As of two Saturdays earlier, that was.
I don’t know why I was still weirded out by the fact that Sam and Caroline had gotten together that night. Or why I cringed whenever they gazed into each other’s eyes or held hands. (Thankfully, I hadn’t seen them kissing. Yet.)
Because the Sam-and-Caroline thing? It was really no surprise at all. There’d always been this thing between them ever since Sam moved to the island at age eight and settled into my and Caroline’s friendship as easily as a scoop of ice cream nests in a cone.
We even joked about it. When Sam made fun of Caroline’s raspy voice and she teased him about his gangly height; when she goosed him in the ribs and he pulled her long, white-blond ponytail, I’d roll my eyes and say, “Guys! Get a room.”
Both of them would recoil in horror.
“Oh gross, Anna!” Caroline would say, sputtering and laughing all at once.
Inevitably, Sam would respond with another ponytail tug, Caroline would retaliate with a tickle, and the whole song and dance of denial would start all over again.
But now it had actually happened. Sam and Caroline had become a Couple. And I was realizing that I’d kind of liked the denial.
Now I felt like I was hovering outside a magical bubble—a shiny, blissed-out world that I just didn’t get. Sam and Caroline were inside the bubble. Together.
Soon after they’d first kissed, both of them had assured me that nothing would change in our friendship, which, of course, had changed everything.
Still, Sam and Caroline were sweetly worried about my third-wheel self. And they were clearly giddy over their fresh-hatched love. So I was trying to be supportive. Which meant quickly hoisting my smile back up at the sight of them looking all cute and coupley on the boardwalk.
I eyed their empty hands (the ones that weren’t clasped tightly together, that was) and raised one eyebrow.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t bring firewood,” I complained. “I hate being the only one who did her homework.”
“Naw,” Sam said in his slow surfer-boy drawl. “We already piled it on the beach. The fire’s going to be huge this year!”
“We were collecting wood all afternoon,” Caroline said sunnily.
I couldn’t help it, my smile faded a bit.
I guess this is how it’s going to be, I thought. Sam and Caroline collecting firewood is now Sam and Caroline On a Date—third wheel not invited.
Caroline caught my disappointment. Of course she did. Ever since The Kiss, she’d been giving me lots of long, searching looks to make sure I was okay with everything. I was starting to feel like a fish in a bowl.
“We would have called you,” she stammered, “but didn’t you have sib duty today?”
She was right. I did have to go to my little sister’s end-of-the-year ballet recital.
So why did I feel this little twinge of hurt? I’d had countless sleepovers with Caroline that didn’t, obviously, include Sam. And Sam and I had a regular ritual of going to The Swamp for giant buckets of crawfish that were strictly boycotted by Caroline. The girl pretty much lived on fruit, nuts and seeds, and supersweet iced tea.
But ever since Sam and Caroline had gotten together, a kernel of insecurity had been burrowing into the back of my head. All I wanted to do was shake it off. But like an especially stubborn sandbur, it wasn’t budging.
This is stupid, I scolded myself. All that matters is that Sam and Caroline still love me and I love them.
Just not, the whiny voice in my head couldn’t help adding, the mysterious way they love each other.
I sighed the tiniest of sighs. But then my friends released each other’s hands and Sam plucked the firewood bundle out of my arms. He hopped lightly from the boardwalk onto the sand and headed south. Caroline hooked her arm through mine and we followed him. I ordered myself to stop obsessing and just be normal; just be with my friends.
“Cyrus is already so drunk,” Caroline said with a hearty laugh and an eye roll. “We have a pool going on how early he’s going to pass out in the dune grass.”
I pulled back in alarm.
“There’s beer here?” I asked. “That’s, um, not good.”
The bonfire was not more than a quarter mile down the beach from The Scoop, where my mom was working the postdinner rush. And when you make the most to-die-for ice cream on a small island, everybody’s your best friend. Which meant, if there was a keg at this party, it would take approximately seventeen seconds for the information to get to my mom.
Luckily, Caroline shook her head.
“No, the party’s dry,” she assured me. “Cyrus raided his dad’s beer cooler before he got here. What an idiot.”
Down the beach, just about everybody from our tiny high school was tossing sticks and bits of driftwood onto a steadily growing pyramid. By now, the sun had been swallowed up by the horizon, leaving an indigo sky with brushstrokes of fire around its edges. Against the deep blue glow, my friends looked like Chinese shadow puppets. All I could see were the shapes of skinny, shirtless boys loping about and girls with long hair fanning out as they spun to music that played, distant and tinny, from a small speaker.
But even in silhouette I could recognize many of the people. I spotted Eve Sachman’s sproingy halo of curls and Jackson Tate’s hammy football player’s arms. It was easy to spot impossibly tall Sam. He tossed my firewood on top of the pyre, then waved off the laughter that erupted when most of the sticks tumbled right back down into the sand.
I laughed too, and expected the same from Caroline. She was one of those girls who laughed—no, guffawed—constantly.
But now she was silent. So silent, I could swear she was holding her breath. And even in the dusky light, I could see that her heart-shaped face was lit up. Her eyes literally danced and her lips seemed to be wavering between a pucker and a secret smile.
I looked away quickly and gazed at the waves. The moon was getting brighter now, its reflection shimmering in each wave as it curled and crashed. I zoned out for a moment on the sizzle of the surf and the ocean’s calming inhale and exhale.
But before I could get really zen, I felt an umph in my middle, and then I was airborne.
Landon Smith had thrown his arms around my waist, scooped me up, and was now running toward the waves.
If I hadn’t been so busy kicking and screaming, I would have shaken my head and sighed.
This is what happens when you’re five feet one inch with, as my grandma puts it, “the bones of a sparrow.” People are always patting you on the head, marveling at your size 5 feet, and hoisting you up in the air. My mom, who is all of five feet two and a half, says I might grow a little more, but I’m not betting on it.
Landon stopped short of tossing me full-on into the surf. He just plunked me knee-deep into the waves. Since I was wearing short denim cutoffs and (of course) no shoes, this was a bit of an anticlimax. I looked around awkwardly. Was I supposed to shriek and slap at Landon in that cute, flirty way that so many girls do? I hoped not, because that wasn’t going to happen. After a lifetime of tininess, I was allergic to being cute.
I’m not saying I cut my hair with a bowl or anything. I’d actually taken a little extra care with my look for the bonfire. Over my favorite dark cutoffs, I was wearing a white camisole with a spray of fluttery gauze flowers at the neckline. I’d blown out my long, blond-streaked brown hair instead of letting it go wavy and wild the way I usually did. I’d put dark brown mascara on my sun-bleached lashes. And instead of my plain old gold hoop earrings, I was wearing delicate aqua glass dangles that brightened up my slate-blue eyes. (Or so my sister Sophie had told me. She’s fourteen and reads fashion sites like some people read the Bible, searching for the answers to all of life’s problems.)
While Landon laughed and galloped doggily back onto the dry sand, I said, “Har, har.”
But instead of sounding light and breezy, as I’d intended, it came out hard and humorless. Maybe because I was just realizing that Landon’s shoulder had gouged me beneath the ribs, leaving a throbbing, bruised feeling. And because everyone was staring at me, their smiles fading just a bit.
I felt heat rush to my face. I wanted to turn back toward the ocean, to breathe in the cloudy, dark blue scent of it and let salt mist my cheeks.
But that would only make everyone think I was really annoyed, or worse, fighting back tears.
Which I wasn’t.
What I was feeling was tired. Not literally. That afternoon I’d downed half a pint of my latest invention, dark chocolate ice cream with espresso beans and creamless Oreo cookies. (I might have eaten the cream from the cookies as well.) My brain was buzzing with caffeine and sugar.
But my soul? It was sighing at the prospect of another familiar bonfire. Another same old summer. A whole new round of nothing new.
Except for this restlessness, I thought with a frown.
That was new. I was almost sure I hadn’t felt this way the previous summer. I remembered being giddy about getting my learner’s permit. I dreamed up my very first ice cream flavors, and some of them were even pretty tasty. I graduated from an A cup to a B cup. (I’m pretty sure all growth in that area has halted as well.) And I was thrilled to have three months to bum around with Sam and Caroline. The things we’d always done—hunting for ghost crabs and digging up clams with our toes, eating shaved ice until our lips turned blue, seeing how many people could nap in one hammock at once—had still felt fresh.
But this summer already felt like day-old bread.
I shook my head again and remembered one of those first ice cream flavors: Rummy Bread Pudding.
If I’d turned stale bread into magic once, I could do it again, right?
It was this bit of inner chipperness that finally made me laugh out loud.
Because me channeling Mary Poppins was about as realistic as Caroline singing opera. And life was not ice cream.
Who was I kidding? Nothing was going to change. Not for the next three months, anyway. On Dune Island, summer was the only season that mattered, and this summer, just like all the others, I wasn’t going anywhere.
After the bonfire was lit, I rallied, of course. It’s hard to be too moody when people are skewering anything from turkey legs to Twinkies and roasting them on a fire the size of a truck.
I’d already toasted up a large handful of marshmallows and was contemplating the wisdom of a fire-roasted Snickers bar when Caroline trotted up to me. Sam was right behind her, of course. Since Caroline didn’t like anything that tasted of smoke, she was just drinking this year’s Official Bonfire Cocktail: a blueberry-pomegranate slushie garnished with burgundy cherries.
“This was a terrible idea,” Caroline said, taking a giant sip of her drink. “Everybody’s teeth are turning purple. But mmmm, it’s so yummy, I can’t stop.”
She slurped noisily on her straw.
“Real attractive, Caroline,” Sam joked. But from the uncharacteristic lilt in his monotone, I could tell he wasn’t joking. He really was swooning.
Caroline responded by taking another slurp of her slushie, this one so loud it almost drowned out the crackling of the fire.
I threw back my head and laughed.
And then—because what did I care if I had purple teeth in this crowd?—I reached for her plastic cup to steal a sip of the slushie.
“Get your own, Anna!” Caroline teased. Holding her cup above her head, she shuffled backward in the sand, then turned and darted into the surf.
Laughing again, I ran after her, kicking a spray of water at her back. Caroline scurried back up to Sam, still cackling. She threw her free arm around Sam’s waist and nestled against him. He slung a long arm around her shoulders. It was such a smooth, natural motion, you’d think they’d been snuggling like that all their lives.
I didn’t want them to know that their PDA was making me regret all those marshmallows, so I grinned, waved—and turned my gaze away.
And that’s when I saw him.
Of course, I didn’t know his name yet.
At that moment, actually, I didn’t know much of anything. I suddenly forgot about SamAndCaroline. And the too-sweet marshmallow taste in my mouth. And the fact that you don’t—you just don’t—openly stare at a boy only fifteen yards away, letting long seconds, maybe even minutes, pass while you feast your eyes upon him.
But I couldn’t help it. It was like I forgot I had a body. There was no swiping away the long strands of hair that had blown into my face. I didn’t worry about what to do with my hands. I didn’t cock my hip, scuff my feet in the sand, or make any of my other standard nervous motions.
There were just my eyes and this boy.
His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of well-worn khakis, which were carelessly rolled up to expose his nicely muscled calves.
His hair—I’m pretty sure it was a chocolaty brown, though it was hard to tell in the shadowy night light—had perfect waves that fluttered in the breeze.
His skin looked a bit pale; hungry for sun. Obviously, he was a summer guy, though (thank God) he wasn’t wearing shoes on the beach. And he didn’t have that “isn’t this all so quaint?” vibe that some vacationers exuded.
Instead, he simply looked comfortable in his skin, washed-out though it might have been. He shot a casual glance at the party milling around the bonfire, then looked down at his feet. He did that thing you do when you’re a summer person getting your first delicious taste of the beach. He dug his toes into the sand, kicked a bit at the surf, then crouched down and let the water fizz through his fingers.
He stared at his glistening hand for a moment, as if he was thinking hard about something. Then he looked up—and straight at me.
I wish I could say that I smiled at him. Or gave him a look that struck the perfect balance between curious and cool.
But since I was still floating somewhere outside my body, it’s entirely possible that my mouth dropped open and I just kept on staring at him.
It’s not that he had the face of a god or anything. At first glance, I didn’t even think of him as beautiful.
But the squinty softness of his big, dark eyes, the strong angle of his jaw, a nose that stopped just short of being too thin, that swoop of tousled hair, and the bit of melancholy around his mouth—it all made me feel something like déjà vu.
It was like his was the face I’d always been looking for. It was foreign and familiar, both in the best way.
Looking at this boy’s face made me feel, not that famous jolt of electricity, but something more like an expansion. Like this oh-so-finite Dune Island beach, which I knew so well, had suddenly turned huge. Endless. Full of possibility.
“Who’s the shoobee?”
Caroline’s voice brought me back with a thud. I must have been holding my breath, because it whooshed out of me.
I closed my eyes, then turned around. When I opened them, I was looking at my friend. But I wasn’t really seeing her. I was feeling the boy’s gaze. It was still on me, I was sure of it.
“He’s … he’s not wearing shoes,” I pointed out to Caroline. “Which means he’s not a shoobee. Not technically.”
Caroline shrugged and peered over my shoulder at him. I was dying—dying— to turn around and look too, but I bit my lip and made myself stay put.
“He’s kind of hot, for a short guy,” Caroline said idly.
“He’s not short,” I huffed.
“Hmm, maybe five nine,” Caroline allowed. “Of course, compared to you, everybody’s tall.”
“And compared to Sam,” I reminded her, “everybody’s short.”
“Maybe that’s it,” Caroline said with a giggle.
I gaped. Caroline did not giggle. She cackled. She brayed. Was this what love did to a girl?
Caroline’s eyes widened slowly. Was she wondering the same thing?
If so, she didn’t let on. Instead, her focus returned to the mysterious boy down the beach.
“You should go talk to him,” she said.
“No!” That’s when my heart actually did leap into my throat. But it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight thing. It was abject terror.
Which Caroline didn’t notice at all.
“Look, this is totally low-risk,” she said. “I saw him checking you out, so he’s probably interested. And if he isn’t, or if you screw it up, well, he leaves at the end of the week and you can forget all about him.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said dryly. “But have you considered the other possibility? That he doesn’t leave until the end of the summer? And I run into him everywhere I go, my humiliation festering like an infected wound?”
“There is that,” Caroline agreed with a laugh. I was happy to hear that she’d gone back to the bray. “Or … it could go really well.”
Could it? As Caroline danced back to the fire, I glanced the boy’s way again. He was sitting on the ground now. Clearly, he didn’t care at all if he got those nicely threadbare khakis wet or gritty. His bare heels were dug into the sand. His forearms rested on his bent knees. They looked strong and a little ropey and were completely mesmerizing. To me, at least.
The boy was gazing out at the ocean. I didn’t get the sense that he was itching to join the bonfire. Or, for that matter, that he was burning to talk to me.
At least, that’s what I thought until I saw him sneak another glance in my direction.
Before I could look away, he caught my gaze. And then neither of us could look away.
Instantly, I felt like I had to know what color his eyes were.
I wanted to hear what his voice sounded like.
I needed to know his name.
Caroline was right. I really had no choice.
I was going to talk to him.
Unless I had a heart attack as I walked across the sand, I was going to talk to him.
One of my feet inched forward as if it were testing to make sure the sand hadn’t magically turned quick, ready to suck me under.
I took another, slightly bigger, step.
The boy got to his feet.
The sadness that had been dragging at the corners of his mouth and eyes was gone. He was starting to smi—
The boy turned away. He squinted beyond the fire at a woman on the deck of one of the beach’s smaller cottages. Even from this distance, I could see the weary sag in her shoulders.
“Will,” she called again, “can you come back in? We’ve got three big suitcases left to unpack and I just can’t face them.”
The boy—Will—paused for a moment.
And then, without another glance at me, he began to tromp across the beach to the house. His mom had gone back inside to what sure sounded like a whole summer’s worth of unpacking.
I stood there watching him go. Now I felt like a speck on this newly big beach, as invisible as one of the ghost crabs that darted around the sand waving their ineffectual little claws.
But then everything changed again.
When Will had almost reached the rickety little bridge that connected the beach to his cottage’s deck, I got the second of the summer’s many surprises.
He turned around and looked right back at me. He shrugged and smiled, a rueful, crooked what’re you gonna do? smile.
Then he lifted his arm in a loose half wave. His smile widened before he turned and jumped gracefully onto the bridge. He crossed it with long, almost-bouncing strides.
Maybe that was just the way he always walked, I thought as I watched him bound away.
Or maybe, just maybe, I was the spring in his step. Maybe he’d seen something in my face that was foreignly familiar too.
In the coming days, I’d kick myself for just standing there as Will waved at me, too dumbstruck to wave back or even smile.
I’d play out different running-into-Will scenes in my head. It would happen back on the beach or in the nickel-candy aisle at Angelo’s or under the North Shore pier.
I’d think of his name, Will, and wonder if it was going to move to the tip of my tongue.
So what if it wasn’t fireworks the first time I saw Will? Fireworks are all pow and wow and then—nothing. Nothing except black ash dusting the waves.
But me and Will? I thought we could be something. If I was lucky. If he’d seen the same spark in my eyes that I’d seen in his. If, somehow, this summer was going to be different from all the others.
The possibility of that was much better than fireworks.
“Has anyone seen my wrap?” I’d just stalked into the screened porch that covers the entire front of our house. My parents and sisters, Sophie and Kat, were at the long, beat-up dining table, munching buttered Belgian waffles (leftovers from The Scoop). My five-year-old brother, Benjie, was sitting on the floor feeding his breakfast to his pet tortoise.
Not one of them even glanced at me.
Sophie ignored me completely. My mom didn’t seem to hear me. Kat shrugged her shoulders. And my dad’s eyes never left his smart phone as he said, “Nope!”
“Thanks for the help,” I muttered.
It was Wednesday, four days after the bonfire (not that I’d been counting or anything), and I was trying to get ready to go to the beach. And yet I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the front door.
First, I hadn’t been able to find my swimsuit top. I should have known to look for it in Kat’s room. Lately, Kat, who was seven, had been obsessed with breasts. She kept stealing bras and swimsuit tops from the laundry room and trying them on.
Sure enough, I found my blue-flowered bandeau crumpled on Kat’s bedroom floor. Only then did I realize that I didn’t have my wrap!
And girls on Dune Island never went to the beach without their wraps. Unless they were shoobees, that was.
The summer people lugged all sorts of unwieldy stuff to the beach: folding chairs, umbrellas, voluminous beach towels, all piled on top of giant, snack-stuffed coolers on wheels.
Local girls took three things and three things only—big sports bottles of something cold and caffeinated, reading material, and our wraps.
Wraps were homemade and usually hemless, so their edges were always fraying. They were made of a light, crumply fabric that could stretch to the size of a small tarp or be wadded into your back pocket. We used them for everything. Your wrap was both beach blanket and towel. It was a sarong, a tube top, or even a long-tailed bandanna. When the noon sun got too sizzly, you could drench your wrap in water and tent it over yourself.
Every April, which was when the sun on Dune Island started to graduate from merely sultry to scorching, we all made new wraps. We wore them until they were shredded, which conveniently happened right around Labor Day.
I loved the wrap I’d made this spring. It was pumpkin orange with a white tie-dye design in the middle in the shape of a giant eye. I’d been going for a crescent moon, but when I’d gotten an eye, I’d shrugged and kept it. Sophie always dyes and re-dyes her wraps, going for perfect, but that’s just too girlie-girl for me.
Sophie had always desired the feminine stuff I couldn’t fathom—popularity, a fabulous wardrobe, boys raising their eyebrows when she walked by.
But me? I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. Sometimes I wanted to dance and laugh with my friends until midnight, and sometimes I wanted to screen all calls and hide away with a tragic novel and a bag of candy. Sometimes I spent an hour trying to pretty myself up, and sometimes I could barely be bothered to comb the knots out of my hair before I left the house.
Sometimes I wanted to know what it felt like to tell a boy all my secrets. Other times, that seemed as impossible as waking up one morning to find myself fluent in a foreign language.
Sometimes I felt better alone than I did with people. And sometimes that just felt lonely.
It didn’t seem normal to be so wishy-washy. That was a term my mom used a lot, and it always made me think of gray laundry water, swishing around and around in circles before it drained away. And as anyone can tell you, gray is the most invisible color there is.
Orange is better.
Orange is a color people notice, people like … Will.
And there I was, thinking about this stranger named Will again. I was picturing that smile, that half wave, and the way he’d looked in his khakis. It made me want get out of the house faster than ever.
It was irrational—actually, it bordered on crazy—but here’s what I was thinking as I frantically searched my cluttered house for the wrap: I’m late for The Moment.
That’s right. I was certain that somehow Will and I were supposed to meet—really meet—right then.
At that very instant, I was supposed to be on my way to the beach and Will was supposed to be somewhere along that way, and I was supposed to bump into him.
Then I’d actually, finally, get to talk to him and …
Well, I had no idea what would happen after that. Destiny? Bitter dejection? Or some vague place in between the two? That seemed like the worst fate of all. But at this point, I would’ve welcomed even a lame Will interface—say, in front of my parents or something equally mortifying—if it would just happen already.
But it wasn’t going to happen, my newly superstitious mind was telling me now. Because while I was searching for my wrap, the magic window of time—in which a boy bumps into a girl at that perfect moment when her teeth are freshly brushed, she’s wearing her favorite bikini, and she has the whole morning to herself—was closing.
I was late. I was going to miss him.
Just like I’d probably missed him the night before when I’d somehow gotten a big gob of sunscreen in my hair and had to quickly shampoo it before going out with Sam and Caroline. And the day before that when I’d completely forgotten about a fishing party at the southern pier and had instead spent the afternoon at home doing ice cream experiments.
Those ice creams, by the way, had all tasted wretched. Probably because the spot in my brain where deliciousness usually dwelled was filled instead with all these made-up missed connections with Will.
All this was why I was pretty darn grouchy when I began searching our cluttered screened porch for my wrap. I barely looked at the plate of fluffy waffles or the sweaty pitcher of minty iced tea on the table. I made eye contact with no one and sighed loudly as I pulled cushions off the couch and rockers, peered behind the porch swing, and even rifled through the magazine rack next to the hammock.
I could not find my wrap anywhere.
I almost considered leaving for the beach without it. But the thing was, when you’d low-maintenanced yourself down to a single item, you really needed that item.
I sighed louder. And finally my mother looked up from the Scoop accounting books. She’d been poring over them with a pained squint. (Not because business was hurting. Numbers just made my mother’s head hurt. It was one of the things, besides shortness, we had in common.)
“What’re you looking for, honey?” she asked, her eyes a little bleary.
“My wrap?” I said, trying to keep my voice from sounding shrill. “The wrap I asked you about fifteen minutes ago?”
Glancing up from her magazine, Sophie snorted.
“Okay, five,” I allowed.
“Mmm.” Mom cocked her head, thought for about half a second and said, “Pantry. Next to the bread.”
Now Sophie laughed, and I heaved one more sigh, this one equal parts irritation and gratitude.
I had no doubt that the wrap would be exactly where my mother said it was. My mom is famous for random brilliance like that. Which is kind of a surprise because both my parents are—how to put this delicately?—a bit scattered. Their very existence on this island was sort of an accident. They came here from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin when my mom was pregnant with me. And then they just … never left.
They’d stumbled into the ice cream biz too, when a kitchen fiasco led my mom to invent The Scoop’s most famous bestseller, Maple Bacon Crunch. (Trust me, it’s much better than it sounds.)
My parents had added onto our house as they’d added more kids to the family, and now it kind of reminded me of Sam—a kid who’d grown too tall, too fast. With all the new nooks and crannies, our place was pretty much chaos. But it was a chaos that my mom had a mysterious mastery over.
She’d decorated with mismatched vintage wallpaper, funky estate-sale furniture, and painted floors. She’d added a fancy marble pastry counter to the kitchen, but kept the creaky, pink sixty-year-old oven. She stored everything from safety pins to sugar in old mason jars, then stashed them on random windowsills or bookshelves.
And this morning she could remember exactly where she’d spotted my wrap—but it had never occurred to her to move it to a place where I might ever have considered looking for it.
Like Maple Bacon Crunch ice cream, my mother’s world should have been a mess, but instead it was sort of sublime. You can only imagine how annoying that was.
I gritted my teeth while I thanked my mother. Then I knotted my wrap around my waist and flew out the door.
But I’d been right about missing that Magic Moment.
Even though I took the most roundabout route possible to the North Peninsula, I didn’t see Will anywhere.
So then I sped through the end of my novel, requiring a trip to the library for reinforcements. But Will wasn’t there, either.
Finally I committed an act of desperation. I convinced Sam and Caroline to go to the touristy end of the boardwalk for lunch.
“Ah, Crabby’s Crab Shack,” Sam said sarcastically as we walked into the café. The screened-in dining room was artfully distressed, with deliberately peeling turquoise paint, paper towel rolls on every table, and a big fish tank so crowded with pirate, mermaid, and fisherman figurines, I wondered how there was any room for the fish.
“My grandparents love this place,” Sam continued. “So ‘authentic.’”
“Oh, shut up,” I said, looking around with shifty eyes. The tables looked way too shiny and the floorboards had been oddly swept clean of sand. “You know you love their curly fries.”
“The cheesiest food ever,” Caroline said.
She snorted so loud that all the sunburned shoobees twisted to stare at her before returning to their fried shrimp baskets. Not one of those flushed faces was Will’s, I noted with a quick but thorough scan of the joint. I was both crestfallen and relieved.
If Will was at Crabby’s Crab Shack, I wanted it to be ironically. Or because he’d been dragged there by a clueless parent. Or because he was laughing at, not with, the curly fries.
But I knew it was too much to hope that Will would understand all these requirements just a few days into his summer here. From my experience of shoobees, there was a lot they didn’t understand about us, and vice versa.
Dune Islanders live inland in candy-colored cottages. Our houses hide like turtles’ nests on twisty cul-de-sacs and overgrown dead ends off Highway 80.
The shoobees’ vacation rentals on the South Shore stand on stilts above prime real estate. The houses stand shoulder to shoulder like a barricade. They face the waves, casting long shadows behind them.
When inlanders cross the highway to go to work in bike rental shops, boardwalk bars, beachmarts, and sno-cone stands, we don’t see the ocean. Our view is of the summer people’s trash cans.
Okay, that sounds a little dramatic. It’s not like shoobees and inlanders are Sharks and Jets, staging rumbles on the beach. It’s just that we live in separate worlds. They’re on one side of the cash register, and we’re on the other.
“If you’re so desperate for Crabby’s,” Sam said after we’d settled into a table that smelled of cleaning solution and fish, “does that mean you’re paying, Anna?”
“I’m not desperate,” I said, glancing through the screen at the boardwalk. “I just need a change. I’ve eaten at Angelo’s for the past four days.”
“Yeah,” Sam said with a grin. “The same fried shrimp you can get on the other side of the island, but for five bucks more? That is a refreshing change.”
I would have responded with a crack of my own, but I was distracted by the faces passing by outside the screen. Not Will, not Will, definitely not Will, two more not-Wills …
“Hey, who are you looking for?” Sam blurted, jolting me back to our table. “Is it Landon Smith?”
“Landon Smith?” I said. My voice was as flat as an algae-covered pond.
“Landon Smith!” Sam said. “Hello?”
“Sam thinks he likes you,” Caroline said. She glanced at Sam. He glanced back. His eyes crinkled into a secret smile, and her lips pursed into a gossipy grin. Clearly they’d already discussed the possibility of a romance between me and—
“Landon Smith?” I said with a little laugh. “I don’t think so.”
“The guy made a clear gesture at the bonfire,” Sam insisted.
I laughed again.
“Oh, would that have been this gesture?” I asked, swinging my arms around like an ape. “I guess I didn’t realize that was a declaration of like.”
“Duh,” Sam said.
“Maybe he should have made himself more clear,” Caroline suggested, grinning at me. “He could have dumped a smoothie over your head.”
“Or broken some of my ribs,” I suggested with my own grin, “instead of just bruising them. Swoon!”
I clasped my hands under my chin and fluttered my eyelashes.
“I’m just saying,” Sam said, “you should think about Landon. The guy digs you. I can tell.”
But the preposterous idea of me-and-Landon evaporated from my mind almost immediately. As Sam and Caroline started chatting about something else, my gaze drifted back to the boardwalk and its seeming flood of not-Wills.
I’d been so sure that he’d “dug” me that night at the bonfire. But now, after days of not running into him on this very small island, I was starting to think that perhaps I just wasn’t meant to see him again. Maybe Will’s sweet smile and cute shrug had meant nothing, and the spark I’d seen in his eyes had just been a reflection of the dancing fire. Maybe the beach was the same size as always.
I decided right then that it was time to give up on this boy named Will. We didn’t have a destiny together. We didn’t have some Magic Moment.
Coming to this decision in Crabby’s Crab Shack, across the table from my mad-in-love best friends, was so depressing that I ended up ordering an extra-large curly fries from the waitress in the pirate hat. And a fried shrimp basket with cocktail sauce. So when I stumbled into work at The Scoop after lunch, I had greasy skin and clothes that smelled like fried fish, not to mention a stomachache. After two hours of ice cream scooping, I was also sticky and sweaty, with my hair pulled back in a sloppy bun and an apron smeared with hot fudge.
So of course that was the moment—during the lull between the afternoon-snack crowd and the ice-cream-for-dinner crowd—that Will walked through the door.
Will was with another boy, who was the same height as him but with lighter hair, broader shoulders, and lots of freckles. Still, he was clearly Will’s brother. They had the exact same pointy chin and the same squinty eyes. But Will, it had to be said, was much cuter.
I’d been right about Will’s eyes. They were brown, but a much darker, richer, prettier brown than I could ever have imagined.
Will’s brother didn’t even notice me. Like most customers, he went straight for the glass cases, peering down at the tubs of Mexican Chocolate, Grapefruit Mint sorbet, and Buttertoe (a Butterfinger bar smashed into vanilla ice cream with some toasted coconut thrown in). I think he might have asked me if I preferred the Salted Caramel to the Pecan Praline. And I might have mumbled a reply.
But I’m pretty sure I just stared at Will and thought two things: (1) It’s him! And (2) Oh, crap!
Will had clearly spent the day on the beach. He was wearing faded red swim trunks and a worn-to-almost-transparent gray T-shirt. I wanted to reach over the ice cream case and touch it. Luckily, that would have involved some not-terribly-subtle climbing up on the counter, so it wasn’t too hard to restrain myself.
There was also the fact that as good as Will looked, that’s how gross I felt.
Maybe, I thought with a mixture of hope and dread, he won’t even recognize me, with my hair up and ice cream toppings all over my apron. For all I know, I’ve got Marshmallow Fluff on my face.
A quick swipe at my sweaty forehead came away Fluff free, but it was small comfort.
I glanced at my dad, who was sitting on a tall stool behind the cash register, his nose buried in a copy of Time magazine. I could only hope he’d stay this oblivious until Will left.
I managed to eke out a panicked smile at Will, then quickly spun around and pretended to attend to the chrome hot-fudge warmer. In actuality, I was peering at my distorted reflection in the silver cube. My face was supershiny. I grabbed a paper towel, blotted surreptitiously, then tucked a few errant strands of hair behind my ears. I would have loved to pull my hair out of its rubber band and whisk off my chocolaty apron, too. But that would have been ridiculously obvious, so I just took a breath and tried to recapture the feeling I’d had after my lunch with Sam and Caroline, when I’d written Will off and resigned myself to a summer without him.
A summer alone.
And yes, what I’d felt was sort of empty. Maybe even a little tragic.
But I hadn’t curled up and died or anything. I’d survived.
So what did it matter that Will was here, and that he was likely to take one look at me and try to forget he’d ever smiled at me? (That was, if he even recognized me.) Since I’d already lost him, the stakes couldn’t have been lower, right?
Then why was my face feeling hot (and probably getting even pinker and shinier)? And why was I having trouble getting enough oxygen into my lungs to make my brain work correctly?
Luckily, I could scoop ice cream in my sleep, so when Will’s brother finally decided on a sugar cone full of Sticky Toffee Pudding Pop, I was able to dish it up without any disasters.
But then I had to look at Will.
I mean, he was the next customer in line. I had no choice.
Unlike his brother, Will wasn’t studying ice cream flavors. Or searching for an open booth or admiring the hundred vintage ice cream scoops that dangled from the ceiling.
He was looking right at me.
His eyes were a little wide. And his hands were suddenly digging deep into his pockets, sending his shoulders up to his ears.
Oh yeah, he remembered me all right.
But I had no idea if this was a good or a bad thing.
“Um …,” I croaked out. “Ice cream?”
I gestured with my scoop at the bank of ice cream cases. You know, just in case he hadn’t noticed the two tons of electronic equipment that stood between us, humming loudly.
“I …” Will’s voice was on the froggy side, too.
Wait a minute. Was Will as tongue-tied as I was?
“I’m not really into sweets,” Will said. “He is.”
He glanced over at his brother with a shrug. The broader, blonder version of Will, meanwhile, was kind of moaning his way through his ice cream. Clearly, he was the sugar fiend in the family.
“I can’t believe you don’t want some of this,” he said to Will with his mouth full. “It’s the best stuff.”
“Yeah, it is! My daughter invented that flavor!”
I froze. Was that actually my dad inserting himself into the most awful, yet potentially fabulous, moment of my life?
“Um …?” I squeaked.
Dad had shoved his reading glasses up so they rested on top of his endless forehead. He was pointing his rolled-up Time at Will’s brother’s ice cream cone.
“Sticky Toffee Pudding Pop, right?” Dad said. “That’s Anna’s!”
Now he was pointing the magazine at me—at a shocked and mortified me.
“My daughter,” Dad went on, getting off his stool, “is an ice cream genius.”
He grabbed a tiny sample spoon, scooped up a little chunk of Pineapple Ginger Ale gelato, and thrust it over the counter at Will.
“Try it,” he ordered Will.
“Dad, he just said he doesn’t like sweets,” I said. My voice sounded reedy, as if my throat had completely closed up. Because it had.
But Will gave a little smile as he took the spoon from my dad and popped the ice cream sample into his mouth.
I cringed. I assumed my dad had chosen Pineapple Ginger Ale because it was his favorite. I had to admit, it was one of my favorites too. When I’d come up with it a few months earlier, it had emerged from the churn both spicy and subtle, bubbly and sophisticated. It had been the first time that I’d felt like an alchemist in the kitchen, instead of just someone who messed around with cream and sugar, hoping for a happy accident.
Still, Pineapple Ginger Ale definitely wasn’t for everyone. I wished my dad had picked something easier to love, like Peanut Butter Crisp or Mud Pie.
I watched Will’s face as the ice cream melted in his mouth. His dark eyebrows shot upward. The corners of his mouth slowly lifted into a surprised, and very satisfied, smile.
He looked at me and said, “I’ll have a double.”
I bit my lip and looked down at my feet, trying to keep a dorky grin from erupting on my face. I failed completely, of course. But hopefully Will didn’t see me beaming as I ducked into the ice cream case and dished up his two scoops. I hovered in the case for a moment, my eyes closed, feeling a cloud of sugar-scented coldness billow over my hot cheeks. It felt wonderful.
But it couldn’t compare to the knowledge that Will loved my ice cream.
Or, I realized, he didn’t, but had ordered it to be polite. Which you would do only if you really cared what the creator of that ice cream thought of you!
Either scenario seemed shockingly promising.
I carefully stacked Will’s scoops into a deep brown waffle cone.
“It’s a gingerbread cone,” I explained as I handed it to him. “It really brings out the zing in the ice cream.”
Will smiled at me for two beats too long, as if he didn’t know what to say but wanted to say something.
I wanted to say something too. I felt my head buzz as I searched for the perfect witticism.
“I just don’t understand people who don’t like sugar,” I blurted. “I’m obsessed with it.”
Um, what was that?
I so badly wanted to bite my words back, I think I might have clacked my teeth together.
Of course, I couldn’t take the words back. So for the next minute or so, I squirmed because I’d basically just called Will a sugar-hating freak. And Will took galumphing bites of his ice cream, probably thinking that the sooner he finished the stuff, the sooner he could get out of The Scoop and never come back.
We were saved from all this awkwardness by Will’s brother, who spoke up once again as he paid my dad for the two cones. I liked that guy already.
“I know, right?” he said to me. “How does anyone not like sweets? Of course, you’ve never seen anyone more obsessed with salt than Will. He used to buy those giant soft pretzels on the street and cover them with mustard. Then he’d lick the mustard off, along with all the rock salt, and throw the pretzel part away. It was like nails on a chalkboard listening to him crunch that salt between his teeth.”
This made Will stop eating. His mouth dropped open and he gave his brother one of those how am I related to you? looks. I knew that look well.
I glanced at my dad, who was now cleaning out the milkshake machine, his Time open on the counter next to the sink so he could read and (messily) work at the same time.
Well, Will and I already have something in common, I thought, feeling shaky and exhilarated at the same time. Familial humiliation.
Will returned his gaze to me.
“We’re from New York,” he explained. “There’s a lot of street food there.”
“I know,” I said quickly. “I love New York.”
Which was true. I had absolutely loved New York during the three days my family had vacationed there when I was twelve. I’d loved it so much that my daydreams about my future self were almost all set there. I always pictured myself—taller and with shorter hair—striding down those impossibly busy streets. I carried a cute little short-handled purse under my arm and often ducked into one of those subway stairwells with the wroughtiron railings and the globes that glowed green or red.
What this future self was doing in New York, and how she would get there, was a mystery. More than that, really. It seemed just as fantastical as, say, becoming magic. People in movies and books did it all the time, but in real life? It just didn’t happen. Likewise, it didn’t seem possible that a girl who’d lived her entire life on a nine-mile-long island could end up in New York City.
“I never had a pretzel when I was in New York,” I told Will. “But I remember having a knish from a street cart. It was delicious.”
Suddenly, Will’s mouth started twitching. He looked like his was trying mightily to suppress a laugh.
His brother didn’t even try, though. He guffawed.
“It’s kuh-nish,” he said, correcting me. “Not nish.”
“Oh …,” I choked out.
Will gave his head a little shake, then took a few more enormous bites of ice cream. The silence between us grew awkward. And more awkward, until …
“Did you know,” Will blurted, making me jump, “that if you leave your beach towel on the sand at seven p.m., it’ll pretty much be sucked out to sea the minute you turn your back?”
I shrugged and said, “Well, yeah. This time of year, that’s right before high tide.”
“High tide,” Will said with a shy smile. “I always thought that was just a saying.”
I was floored. Not only was Will (probably) choking his way through my ice cream just to be nice, but he’d admitted to flubbing something as basic as the tide.
Or, I supposed, as basic as the pronunciation of “knish.”
And even though it’s much cooler to be a big-city guy who’s ignorant about Dune Island than a backwater babe for whom Manhattan is practically Mars, I decided that we were even.
So now I didn’t even try to hide my smile from Will. I just laid one on him. A big, toothy smile.
Will returned the smile, and instantly, I was back at one end of that wire-thin connection I’d sensed between us. I was feeling the glow of the bonfire all over again.
And I wasn’t just wishing I could hear Will’s voice or see his eyes up close. I was listening and seeing—and feeling so floaty, I was a little embarrassed.
Until Will’s brother broke the spell by grabbing Will’s waffle cone.
“You’re dripping,” he said, helping Will out by taking several large bites around the base of the scoop.
“Gross, Owen,” Will said, snatching the cone back.
Will’s brother looked bewildered for a moment, then glanced at me. His eyebrows shot up and he murmured, “Ohhhhh.”
Then he leaned over and whispered—good and loud—in Will’s ear, “So that’s the girl from the bonfire. I think the dad said her name is Anna.”
“Shut up,” Will hissed.
Owen just gave a little laugh, then strolled over to the bulletin board by the front door and peered at the rental flyers, lost cat photos, and join-my-band pleas.
Will avoided my eyes until his ice cream started dripping again and he had to scramble for a napkin from the box on top of the freezer case. I tried to make myself busy until he spoke again.
“That bonfire the other night,” he said, “was it fun?”
“Oh, yeah.” I shrugged. “I guess.”
“So those people were …”
“… pretty much everyone in my school,” I said. “It was an end-of-the-year thing.”
“Yeah …“Will said, trailing off. “And then where does everybody go? For the summer?”
I opened my arms and gestured to my right and left. Since The Scoop was smack-dab in the center of the boardwalk, there were cafés and candy shops, surf shops and beachmarts on either side of us. I probably knew a kid who worked in every one of the boardwalk’s stores.
“Oh, yeah, I should have known that,” Will said. “We usually stay home for the summer too. Other people go to the Hamptons or the Catskills or places like that, but we just stay in the city and sizzle. It’s actually kind of fun. New York just empties out every August.”
I didn’t tell Will that I had been in New York in August—and thought I’d never seen so many people smashed into one place.
“So …,” Will said after popping the soggy end of his cone into his mouth. “I guess you’re going to the thing tonight?”
“The … thing?” I was confused. Sam had said something about folks going to The Swamp to watch a Braves game later. But how did Will know about …
“The Movie on the Beach?” Will asked. “I think it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Oh, that,” I said. “That’s a shoob—”
I caught myself, then said diplomatically, “That’s the first movie of the summer. They happen every other week.”
“Pretty cool,” Will said, ignoring my squirming. “Where do they put the screen?”
“It’s kind of funny,” I said, leaning against the ice cream case. “The guy who does it is a movie nut. He’s the dad of someone I go to school with. And every year he tries a different screen placement. Once he put it on the pier, but the sound of the waves on the wood drowned out the movie. Then he put the screen on these poles literally in the water. But the wind kept blowing it down, you know, like a sail? So he had to cut these little semicircles all over the screen to let the air through. Ever since, the people in the movies looked like they had terrible skin or black things hanging out of their noses, or …”
I stopped myself. Once again I was putting my foot in my mouth, making fun of something that Will obviously thought was cool. He had no idea that my friends and I only went to Movies on the Beach when there was absolutely nothing better to do.
And when we went, we laughed at the holey screen, or drifted into loud, jokey conversation halfway through the movie, ignoring the glares and shushes of the summer people who found the whole scene so enchanting.
I could tell Will could see the lame alert on my face.
“So I guess you have something else going on tonight, then?” he broached.
I caught my breath. Had he just been about to ask me to the movie? And had I just completely blown it by being snarky?
Once again I became painfully aware of my father, who’d finished cleaning the milk-shake blender. Now he was loading a fresh tub of Jittery Joe into the ice cream case just to the left of me. He was so close I could feel a gust of cold air from the freezer. The blond down on my arm popped up in instant goose bumps, which only added to the shivery way I was feeling as I talked to Will.
“Um, well, my friends are kind of having a thing …,” I said weakly.
“Yeah, that’s cool …,” Will said, stuffing his hands back in his pockets. “I heard about a party going on tonight, too, actually. It’d be funny if it was the same one.”
I was incredulous. And hopeful.
“At The Swamp?” I asked—at the exact moment that Will said, “At the Beach Club pool.”
“Oh,” I said, deflating a bit.
Of course, Will hadn’t heard of The Swamp. The dark little bar and grill, surrounded by an alligator moat, was hidden in a mosquitoey thicket off Highway 80. It had no sign, just a break in the kudzu and a gravel driveway. The only shoobees who ever found it were Lonely Planet types who tromped in with giant backpacks and paid for their boiled peanuts and hush puppies with fistfuls of crumpled dollar bills.
And the only locals who went to the Beach Club were the retirees who lived on the South Shore year-round. Mostly the Beach Club was filled with summer people from Atlanta who wanted to hang out with their country club friends—in a different country club.
Suddenly, it became clear that almost everything about The Moment was going badly. I was a muscle twitch away from just hustling Will out the door with a chipper, Have fun tonight. Maybe I’ll see you the next time you want some Pineapple Ginger Ale. Unless, of course, you hated it and you think I’m drippier than your ice cream cone! Ta!
But before I had a chance, Will stepped closer to the ice cream case. He rested a hand on top of it in a way that was probably supposed to look casual. The only problem with that was Will’s hand was knotted into a white-knuckled fist.
I felt a prickly wave of heat wash over my face. He was about to say something. Something that mattered. I would have sworn on it.
“Why don’t you come with me to the party?” Will blurted.
“Or to the movie, if you want,” he added quickly. “But at a movie, you can’t really talk. And it’d be kind of … nice. To talk. I mean, if you want to … and you don’t mind ditching the, um, swamp?”
Then I was hanging onto the ice cream case for dear life, too. I felt another head-rushy wave, but it didn’t feel at all bad.
Even so, I wasn’t sure at first what I should say. As cheesy went, Movie on the Beach was a stack of American slices—so bad it was kind of good. But a party at the Beach Club pool was more like stinky French cheese—you could swallow it, but only if you held your nose. I definitely would have preferred pockmarked Harrison Ford to the fusty air-conditioning, horrid wallpaper, and uniformed “staff” of the Beach Club.
But Will wanted to talk.
Fuzzy though my mind was at that moment, my gut told me this was a good thing.
It was such a good thing that I sort of wanted to start the conversation right there. That very minute. But one sideways glance reminded me that my dad was still there, fumbling around the cash register and so obviously eavesdropping on me as a boy asked me out for the very first time.
And then there was Will’s brother, Owen. He was still stationed at the bulletin board but had his head cocked in such a way that it was just as obvious that he was listening in too.
And then, the wind chime on the screen door tinkled as a quartet of locals—most of whom I knew of course—came in for their sugar fix.
I had to make a decision and I
But with every perfect afternoon, sweet kiss, and walk on the beach, Anna can’t ignore that the days are quickly growing shorter, and Will has to leave at the end of August. Anna’s never felt anything like this before, but when forever isn’t even a possibility, one summer doesn’t feel worth the promise of her heart breaking….
- Simon Pulse |
- 304 pages |
- ISBN 9781442423442 |
- May 2011 |
- Grades 7 and up