Authors: Jamie Blair
We got down to his car and he opened the door for me. It sat low to the ground. I bent to get in and whacked my head. I played it off, hoping he didn’t notice, but he patted my head before he closed the door.
I was mortified.
He got in and started the car. “You’re going to love this place,” he said, backing out of the driveway. “I’ve never had better pizza anywhere.”
“Good, I’m starving.” I ran my eyes over the sleeves of CD’s strapped to the visor flipped down in front of me.
“Want to listen to anything?” He glanced back and forth between me and the road.
I slid a CD out and read the cover. “I’ve never heard of Bill Withers. What does he sing?”
He looked at it and smiled. “I’m into old music. You’ll recognize this song.”
Ain’t No Sunshine
came on the stereo. He turned the volume up and sang along. His voice was deep and husky, and gave me chills. I remembered the song from a Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant movie I’d seen a long time ago.
He pulled into the parking lot of a single story, dingy, white building with a green roof and shutters that sat on the main road. The neon sign out front read
, Angelo’s Italian Eatery,
with a slice of flashing pizza beside the words. We sat in the car and listened to the rest of the song before we got out and crossed the parking lot.
“Did you recognize the song?” Kolton held the door of the pizza parlor open for me.
“Yeah. I really like it, too.” Maybe it could be our song. Maybe I could stop being such a big dork thinking about things like songs when I wasn’t sure if this was even an official date.
I followed him through the bar area, and we sat in a corner booth. Even though it was still light outside, the restaurant was dim. A white candle stub burned in a dirty mason jar in the center of the table. The place was a dive. Kolton tapped his menu on the scratched tabletop. “None of the vacationers come here, so it’s where we hang out a lot.”
“Oh. It’s…” I looked around, not sure what to say.
Kolton chuckled. “It’s a hole.”
“That’s not what I was going to say.” I couldn’t even keep a straight face.
The waitress came over and took our order, leaving a basket of breadsticks.
“How old are you?” Kolton asked. I think we’re the same age, aren’t we?”
“Seventeen, but I’m a senior. I turn eighteen at the end of summer. You?”
“Eighteen.” He took a bite of breadstick. Chewed. Swallowed. “I don’t remember you having any brothers or sisters.”
“I have a sister, Amy, but she’s a lot older. Don’t you have a brother?” I picked a breadstick out of the basket.
“Yeah, he’s a year older than me.”
“Right. I remember now.” I took a bite. My mouth filled with hot butter and garlic.
The ceiling fan shot blades of light through his eyes in intervals. Dim, bright, dim, bright. He caught me watching and grinned. “Remember the time you made me run away with you? Well, we didn’t really run away. You wanted to take your doll on a walk in her stroller.”
“You remember that?” I swung my feet under the table, unable to hold still.
“Yeah. You made me be the daddy and you were the mommy. We ate potato chips on some guy’s pontoon boat docked in the marina at the end of the street.” He shook his head and wiped his mouth on his napkin. “Our moms had the cops out looking for us.”
“I thought my mom was going to kill me!” I said, laughing. “She screamed and cried and hugged me so tight I couldn’t breathe. It’s funny now, but it was terrible then. What were we, like six?”
“Yeah, six or seven at most.” He smirked. “You were always getting me into trouble.”
My mouth fell open in mock surprise. “I was not!”
“No? How about the time you convinced me that piling rocks on top of your neighbor’s car was a good idea?”
“Oh.” I winced. “That didn’t end well, huh?”
His narrowed eyes shined. “Always getting me in trouble.”
The waitress dropped off our pizza and drink refills.
“What happened to you anyway?” I asked, sliding a slice of pizza onto my plate. “Why didn’t I see you anymore? It was like your family disappeared.”
He shrugged and looked down. “Not sure.”
I watched as he pushed a mushroom around his plate with his fork. I never knew what happened to Kolton. One day we were playing together, the next, he was gone. His mom just stopped bringing him and his brother to the beach. I remembered my mom telling me that some things are better left unknown. By the look on Kolton’s face, she was probably right.
After we finished the pizza we ordered chocolate gelato. “I think a lot about leaving my friends and going away to college,” I said. “My best friend, Kristin, is like a sister.” Stuffed, I dropped my spoon in my dish, not able to take another bite. “We’ve been best friends since second grade. I don’t know what I’ll do without her next year. We planned on going to the same school, but Kristin got a scholarship to William and Mary. She’s a genius.” I shrugged.
“You’re not a genius?” He teased.
“I’m pretty smart, but no,
a genius. I’m going to UVA and not holding my breath for a scholarship—unless I start winning the photography contests I enter. Some of them offer private scholarships to the school of your choice.” I knotted my straw wrapper. “That would be awesome, but it’s not likely.”
“Why not? I bet you’re good.” He flicked a bit of breadstick at me.
I laughed and flicked it back at him. “I’m okay. There’s just always somebody better.”
He reached across the table and ran his fingertips down my arm. “You’ll win one.”
His touch made my heart thud in my throat. “Thanks. I keep trying.” He took his hand back, leaving my skin to tingle where he’d touched. I stared at my arm, not realizing for a moment that the conversation had stopped and Kolton was watching me. I sat up straight, clasped my hands together, and smiled.
He poked his gelato a few times with his spoon. “I applied to UVA, but I’ll probably just go to school somewhere around here.”
“Oh.” I watched him twist his straw, lost in thought for a moment. “What do you want to major in?”
His eyes shifted to mine. “I want to teach. Maybe coach a swim team or basketball.”
I studied his face while picturing him in a classroom full of kids. “What grade do you want to teach?”
He looked back down at his straw. A faint smile crossed his lips. “Middle school. They know how to button their own pants and tie their own shoes—I’d go nuts teaching little kids all day—but they aren’t cocky yet like the high school kids.”
“We’re high school kids, you know.” I flicked my straw, spraying a couple drops of soda in his direction.
He smirked. “Yeah, and judging by my cocky friends, I want nothing to do with teaching high school.” The waitress slid our bill onto the table, and he dug in his pocket for his wallet. “Are you planning on majoring in something photography related?”
“Photo journalism. I want to take pictures for
“That’s pretty cool. Can you show me some of your photos sometime?”
My photos were private. Other than submitting them for the contest gods to criticize, only my parents saw them, and only the best ones. But Kolton really seemed interested, and something about him made me want to trust him. “Sure.”
He studied my face like I’d done to him when he told me he wanted to be a teacher. I wished I knew what he was thinking. “Want to take a walk on the beach?” he asked.
Liking Kolton was a solid fact by then. We clicked, like we had when we were kids. I wasn’t ready for the night to end. “Okay. You’ll save me if the tide pulls me out, right?”
We both slipped out of the booth and stood up. He took my hand. His was warm and strong. “I won’t let anything happen to you, don’t worry.”
The moonlit beach by my house was empty other than a handful of people walking and a couple of kids with flashlights hunting for sand crabs. We took off our shoes and walked in the surf. The cool water swept in, rushed up my calves and stole the sand from under my feet as it rushed back out. My hand was tucked into his with our fingers laced, his thumb rubbing over top of mine.
“Do you have a boyfriend at home?” he asked and shot me an ornery grin.
“I wouldn’t be here with you if I had one, would I? Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Nah, they take up too much time.” He nudged me with his shoulder. “Good thing you’re only here a week. I might be able to squeeze you in if it’s only a few days.”
“Gee, thanks.” I nudged him back. He let go of my hand and draped his arm around my shoulders.
“Actually,” he said, “I’m off work tomorrow. Do you know how to surf?”
“Want to learn?”
I stopped and turned toward him. “Yeah. You can teach me?”
“Only if you wear that cute little ladybug bathing suit.” He tickled my side, and I shoved him. He grabbed my hand again and laughed as his feet crashed through the surf pulling me out toward a breaking wave.
“Stop!” I giggled, trying to break my hand from his before he dragged me into the water. “I don’t want to get wet.”
He wrapped his arm around me again and started walking back up toward dry sand. “You’ll have to get up early. I like to get out there by seven.”
“Have to beat the vacationers.” He stopped and pointed to a sand dune farther inland. “Race ya!” Then he took off.
I chased after him, laughter spilling from my throat. I could hear him laughing, too. I wasn’t far behind. When I got to the dune and climbed up behind him, my legs ached. He clasped his hands around my wrists and tugged me up beside him.
Two higher dunes on either side sheltered us, giving us our own private spot to sit. I rubbed my calf, trying to get a knot out of the muscle.
“Cramp?” Kolton stretched my leg across his lap and rubbed. It was a little awkward at first, but I liked him touching me. “Is that good?”
“Getting better.” My face grew hot. My hand found my cheek on instinct. The moon gave the crests of the waves silver tips. The ocean roared as it crashed onto the sand. I took a deep breath of the warm air. It smelled of seaweed and Kolton, making me shiver.
“Cold?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine.” I was more than fine. The shiver was from total relaxation, from being immersed in the moment.
His head tilted to the side, and his eyes studied mine. Then, he reached up, took my hand, and lowered it from my face. “It bothers you, doesn’t it? Your birthmark?”
I blinked a few times and focused on a patch of sea grass by my foot. “I guess.”
“It shouldn’t. It’s not like a big, hairy wart or something.” He squeezed my hand. His laugh was tender. “It’s actually cute—like a beauty mark.”
“Right.” I rolled my eyes. The last thing I could accept was compliments on my birthmark. “It’s gorgeous.”
He put my leg down and wrapped his arm around me. “Lauren?”
“I want to kiss you.”
Before I could see it happen, he’d cupped my chin, and his lips were against mine. They felt amazing, full and soft. His kisses were gentle. He didn’t overwhelm me, and I liked him even more for that.
After the kiss, he backed away, gauging my reaction. I closed my eyes and leaned in to capture his mouth against mine once more. His laugh buzzed and tickled my lips.
“I wasn’t sure you’d like that,” he whispered, then kissed me a third time.
We separated and locked eyes. “What’s not to like?”
Neither of us could stop smiling. “Come on,” he said, pulling me to my feet. “You have to get up early tomorrow.”
He gave me a piggyback ride all the way up the beach. I jumped off a few times to collect tiny pieces of broken shell I spotted in the moonlight. I didn’t have pockets, so he stuffed them in his.