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Page 11

Shut up, shut up, shut up!

“Oh, yeah.” Emerson glances down. “It's for my sister. Brit. You met her when...”

He trails off, but I know what he’s thinking. When I was halfway to giving him my virginity on his back porch.

Emerson clears his throat. He looks pained, awkward as hell. Like he wants to be anywhere but here.

My heart drops as I realize the truth: he doesn’t have a thing to say to me. In fact, he probably can’t wait to get away.

Damn! Why didn’t I see, the reason he didn’t come after me, or try to track me down at all. To him, it was just a kiss. Hell, he’s probably made out with dozens of girls, right there in that exact same spot.

I’m nothing special. It didn’t mean a thing. I feel tears sting the back of my throat. Behind him, I see my mom. I quickly steer my cart around him.

“I've got to go. Umm, bye.” I speed away as fast as I can.

“Who was that?” Mom looks past me.

“Nobody!” I exclaim. “I just ran into him with my cart. Did you get the pasta? Good, let's go.”

As I steer her away, I can’t help but glance back for Emerson. But he’s gone. Deep inside, I feel an ache of disappointment. Call it hope, or maybe just foolish day-dreaming, but I felt like that kiss was the beginning of something.

I turn back, and tighten my grip on the shopping cart, telling myself it doesn’t matter, it never could have worked anyway.

You’d think I’d be able to lie just fine, with a family like mine, but it turns out, I can’t. Not when I’m lying to myself.

“Ugh, I’m so bored.” Carina flops beside me on the back porch and pulls out her phone. She taps away at the keys, ignoring the gorgeous beach spread out in front of us, the sea grasses rippling in the evening breeze. “There’s like, nothing to do here.”

“You could go into town,” I suggest, putting my book aside. “Or take a walk.”

Carina fixes me with a look. “Seriously? Whatever. We don’t even get cable TV. I’m going to demand we get it installed, I can’t believe mom thinks she can keep us here all summer like this.”

“You didn’t have to come.” I reply, already annoyed by her whining. Ever since the car pulled up, she’s done nothing but bitch about the house (too small), the town (too dead), and the “like, criminal” lack of AC and decent cell reception.

Carina flips back her glossy blonde hair and rolls her eyes. “Please, mom practically begged. You know what she’s like, it’s so pathetic.”

“Now, now,” my dad’s voice comes, amused, as he strolls out onto the porch, carrying a bottle of wine. He’s wearing a rumpled Oxford shirt, open at the neck, and a pair of his threadbare corduroy pants. “I’m sure your mother has a whole program of fascinating activities planned. She wouldn’t drag us out here for no good reason now, would she?”

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Carina giggles at the sarcasm in his voice, but I just feel a twist of betrayal. He always does this, cutting her down, making snide, witty comments about her when she’s not around. Carina doesn’t seem to realize, and I’ve long since given up trying to defend her, so I look away, out at the ocean horizon.

Dad pulls up a rocker and opens the wine. “Jeanette?” he calls, without getting up. “Glasses, if you will.”

“I can get them,” I start to get to my feet, but he waves me back, and a moment later, mom appears with two wine-glasses. She passes them over, out of breath.

“Dinner will be ready in just a second,” she tells him, waiting for approval, but he just pours wine into one of the glasses and holds it out to me.

“Honey?” My mom speaks up, looking concerned. “Do you think we should…?”

“They serve wine to children all the time in Europe,” Dad replies dismissively.

“It’s OK,” I interrupt quickly. “I don’t want it.”

Carina rolls her eyes again and snatches the glass. “Honestly, mom. Grow up. I drink all the time at college.” She takes a long sip.

Mom gives a nervous laugh. “You’re right, sweetie, of course.” She pauses another moment in the doorway, then heads back into the kitchen.

I watch dad pour himself a glass—all the way to the brim—then set the bottle down. Not on the table, but on the stool beside his chair. Within reach.

Suddenly, I feel an ache in my chest so strong, I have to move. Get up, get away, do something.

I leap up. “I’m going to take a walk.”

“Where?” Carina snorts.

“Just down the beach.” I pull on my battered Converse sneakers and grab my camera from beside my chair. “I’m not hungry, so don’t hold dinner for me. I’ll be back later.”

Carina shrugs, and dad barely looks up from his book, so I quickly head down the steps to the beach and stride away. The expanse of sand is cool and empty; I put my hands in my pockets and hunch my shoulders against the ocean breeze. I dig my feet into the sand with every step, feeling the burn in my thighs, and focusing everything I have on the mantra running through my mind.

It’s just the summer. Your last summer. You can make it.

I walk a mile along the beach at least, lost in thought until I see the faint flicker of a campfire further down the shore. A couple of trucks are pulled up on the sand, tailgates down, and people are gathered nearby, dark outlines against the pink-streaked sunset sky.

I head closer, curious. As I approach, I hear music playing, a song I love. ‘Use Somebody’ by the Kings of Leon. The party is around my age or older, couples and groups drinking beer, hanging out. It looks like a fun time, but I hesitate on the edge of the crowd. I’m not the kind of girl who can just march into a group of strangers and make friends. Besides, I’ve still got this heavy ache in my chest, all these thoughts whirling in my mind.

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