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For the past week, I’ve been wondering about what happened at the party. If Joe realized what he said to me, what he made me feel when he cornered me, basically admitting to his own jealousy. 

I’ve been avoiding him pretty much ever since., not sure how to act around him. Did he really mean that? Or was it just drunk talk? 

I stare out at the ocean from where I’m sitting on the boardwalk. Today is my birthday. I’m turning eighteen and I thought it was going to be a big day, that my brother, Joe and I would do something fun together. The past few years, we’d always drive to Disneyland, but this year, Ryver decided to take Madison to an aquarium. What Joe decided to do, I have no idea about. This morning when I woke up, he was already gone.

He’s probably surfing with Emma.

Sighing, I take another sip of my slushie. I’ve been walking around here almost all day, treating myself to a nice lunch at a beach bar nearby and some shopping. Iona, Gabby and my parents already called me to wish me a happy birthday.

It’s nearly dinner time now, but I’m sure I’ll come home to an empty house.

I still get up and start home. It’s nearly an hour walking, and by the time I make it to the beach house, I’m a sweaty mess.

And when I open the front door, I’m greeted by a bunch of people screaming “Surprise!” right in my face. 

I drop my bags and gasp, my hand flying up to my chest in shock. 

They planned a surprise party for me?

Ryver pushes his way to the mass of people and runs up to me with a huge smile on his face. He hugs me, lifting me high in the air. “You didn’t think I’d just let my little sis’ eighteenth birthday go by like that, did you?” he says before putting me back down and squeezing my shoulders. “Happy birthday sis. Welcome to the big league.” 

Speechless, I stare around the house packed with people. I recognize most of these faces, they’re all people who live in the neighborhood. Most of them were also at the 4th of July party. But the one face I want to find is nowhere in sight.

Joe is not here.

My spirit sinks to my stomach and disappointment washes over me. Is he avoiding me too? At that thought, my heart starts to beat a little faster. Maybe that means he did mean it. And that he’s as messed up over it as I am. 

Maybe he’s - 

“Dude you kinda stink though.” My brother’s voice pulls me from my thoughts.

“I, yeah well, I’ve been walking in the heat all day. I wasn’t exactly aware you’d be filling the house with people when I got home,” I respond, a little more sharply than I intended to. 

Ryver takes a step back, holding up his hands in defense.

“Sorry, I just… Can I go shower first? I feel disgusting and as you so kindly pointed out, smell disgusting too.”

My brother laughs and nods. “Sure thing. Pizza’s still on the way so the party can’t really start yet anyway,” he responds. 

Just as I pick up my bags and am about to head up the stairs, he leans in closer and whispers, “just be sure to lock the door though. Alcohol has been flowing for about an hour already, you never know…”

And with that, I’m off to my room.

 

********************

 

Thirty minutes later, I’m showered and dressed in a white linen tunic over a pair of light destroyed denim shorts. I slide on my flip-flops and head down the stairs, ready to join the party that is already in full swing.

While I was in the shower, the pizza arrived and the empty boxes are stacked up high on the kitchen island as I pass there, grabbing a beer on my way out onto the deck. Everyone who was inside to welcome me had moved out onto the deck or down to the beach. Music is blaring from the speakers, reaching all the way down to the beach through a bluetooth installation. 

People wish me happy birthday as I walk by them and I thank them with a smile every time. By the time I’ve made it down to the beach, my cheeks hurt from all the smiling. 

“Hey Ruby,” Julia, a girl who lives a couple houses down from us says when I pass her. 

“Hey Jules!” I respond. Just like with most people who live around here, we’re friendly with each other, but I wouldn’t exactly go out of my way to spend the day with her. Most people here have a different lifestyle than what I’m used to.

I’ve no doubt that Iona would fit right in. 

She’s my best friend, but our interests and personalities are miles apart. But I still love her to death and maybe the fact that we’re so different is why we’re such a good fit. 

“How does it feel to be eighteen?” Julia asks as she follows me down to the pick-nick table to grab a slice of pizza. 

“I don’t know really,” I respond with a shrug as I take a bite of my pizza. “Not that different to be honest. Actually, I’m not turning eighteen until eleven, because that’s when I was born. So technically I’m still seventeen.”

Julia looks at me strangely. I’ve always been jealous of her hair. She has gorgeous deep auburn waves the fall perfectly over her shoulders. Just like most kids around here, she’s a surfer. I even believe she’s an instructor for surf camps. 

Though most people envy my natural copper locks, I sometimes wish I had beautiful brown waves of hair instead. 

Michael joins us, wrapping an arm around Julia’s shoulders as he grins at me. “Happy birthday girl,” he says.

“Thanks, Mike,” I say, offering him a smile in return. 

“So, any progress with the guy that’s got you all messed up?” 

“Wait, what guy?” Julia asks, looking even more confused than when I told her I’m only officially turning eighteen in five hours. 

“Rubes over there is hung up on some dude. It’s tragic, really.”

“I’m not… I’m not hung up on him I just-” I stop and sigh because Michael is kinda right. Only I’m not 100% sure anymore that the feeling really isn’t mutual. 

“Okay that is tragic,” Julia says, throwing Michael’s arm off her shoulder. “But this is a party, so we shouldn’t let anyone ruin the fun. Let’s go dance. I love this song!” She starts swinging her hips on the spot to one of Lady Gaga’s songs. 

As she drags both Michael and I down to where some other people are dancing, I spot Emma’s face up on the deck. My heart stops and then skips a beat when I watch Joe move to stand next to her, a beer in his hands. He leans on the balustrade and his eyes land on me. 

I gasp as his eyes seem to penetrate my gaze, even from that far away. I feel him staring right at me and I don’t know what I’m feeling. A mix of emotions runs through me at the intensity of his stare.

But before I can try to figure out what he seems to be trying to communicate to me with his eyes, Julia tugs on my arm and I turn to make sure I don’t stumble and fall as she drags me behind her.

I start to move along with the other people around me, but I can’t really seem to focus. All I can think about is Joe. He is here. But he’s here with Emma. 

Ugh. 

Stupid, dumb Emma. 

I’m pretty sure they’re hooking up. Joe’s been teaching her how to surf and she’s been over for breakfast and dinner already as well. 

Why did Emma have to show up? Why did I have to take him grocery shopping that first day we arrived? Why did I have to go to Whole Foods? 

Why did I have to suggest that he ask her out? 

Stupid, dumb Ruby.

“Come on Ruby, it’s your birthday!” Michael says, shaking me by the shoulders and trying to get me to move along with him to the beat of the song blaring from the speakers. “Screw him.”

I look at him and swallow, wanting so hard to do exactly that. But I can’t. I can’t let it go. I’ve tried so hard to get over it but it’s impossible when he’s always around.

“I’m just gonna go get another beer,” I answer and turn around quickly, heading back up to the house before Michael or Julia can follow me. 

As I make my way up to the deck, my eyes turn back to where I spotted Joe and Emma only a few minutes earlier, but they’re gone. I swallow again and continue up.

Once on the deck, I quickly move through the people gathered around the pool and make my way into the nearly empty house. For some reason, it feels like I can finally breathe again. 

As much as I love my brother for not forgetting my birthday after all and organizing this party for me, I wish he hadn’t done it. I would’ve much preferred to just have pizza with the five of us. No matter how much I hate Maddie or how much it kills me to see Joe with Emma. Ryver knows I’m not that much of a party girl and that being around this many people drains the energy straight from my body.

Once in the kitchen, I open the fridge and grab a soda out of it. Leaning against the counter, I stare out through the windows at the party that is in full swing. It’s still early, but these people sure don’t seem care. I wouldn’t even be surprised if most of them move on to another party as soon as this one ends. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryver skips out with Maddie later either. 

Or Joe with Emma.

Damn it.

I slam my soda down onto the counter out of anger. The scene Joe caused at the beach party left me so messed up he’s even more stuck in my head than before.

After downing half of my soda, I make my way back outside to try and enjoy myself for the remainder of the party. 

Thankfully, between eating pizza, drinking soda and dancing every now and then with Julia and Michael, the time passes by quickly. 

 

********************

 

At ten thirty, I’m the only one left at the house. Just like expected, the partiers all moved on to another one that will go on until the early hours of the morning. 

I enjoy the quiet surrounding me, a great contrast to only a couple moments ago. That’s what you get when you’re an introvert. Being around so many people for so long or even being alone for too long, will drive you crazy. Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m introverted I still enjoy being social. Just not too long or with too many people around. 

Iona understands that. She tries to get me to go to parties with her, but she also knows that when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough and she can’t force me to stay. That’s another reason that makes us such a good fit. She tries to get me to mingle more and I can get her to enjoy down time at home. 

With a sigh, I get up from the lounge chair and start to gather up some of the empty cups and plates scattered all around the deck. 

It takes me about twenty minutes to clean up the deck. After closing the bag of trash and putting it in the garage, I head into the kitchen to wash my hands. When I turn off the faucet and move to dry my hands, I suddenly hear a noise behind me. 

Gasping, I turn. My eyes widen when I see Joe slowly walking my way and holding a single cupcake with a candle stuck into the frosting. 

“What are you doing here?” I ask, confused as hell. I thought he’d gone with Ryver. 

Joe remains quiet as he continues to step towards me, only stopping when there’s about a foot of space left between us and I hope to God he can’t hear the sound of my heart beating out of my chest. I swallow, focusing all of my attention on the cupcake just so I don’t have to stare at the light from the candle casting a beautiful and mysterious glow over his features. 

“Rubes,” he says softly. The sound of his voice makes me go weak in the knees and if it weren’t for the counter behind me, digging into my lower back, I would’ve probably fallen at his feet just then. 

“What are you doing here?” I repeat, finally looking back up at him to find him staring down at me. 

Joe sighs and licks his lips. I expected him to say something, but he remains quiet as he glances at something behind me. Confused, I look over my shoulder to see what caught his attention. He’s staring at the clock on the oven.

10:58

“There’s something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for quite a while now.” I turn back to face Joe at the sound of his voice. “And in exactly two minutes, it’s your birthday.”

Okay now I’m definitely confused. “What does my birthday have to do with anything?”

I watch as he swallows and quickly glances back at the clock. “Blow out the candle, Rubes,” he says.

At the same time I blow out the candle, he wishes me a happy birthday. The smoke of the candle moves up between us, but it doesn’t break out eye contact. It’s only broken when Joe looks to the left to put the cupcake down on the counter. 

“What I told you the other day,” he says, taking another step towards me, “down at the beach when you were with Michael, I meant it, rubes.”

My heart starts racing. What?

“I don’t want anyone else...” he places his hand on my waist carefully, pressing himself against me, “no one else, ever, gets to touch you.” 

My mouth drops open on a small gasp at the combination of his words and his hand moving to the small of my back to pull me closer to him.

“Joe, I-”

And then, his hand is in my neck and his mouth is on mine, kissing me softly yet firmly. I moan against his lips but I am unsure of what to do with my hands. Do I place them at his waist? In his neck? On his chest? 

I don’t have much time to think about it anymore though because soon enough, he breaks the kiss and presses his forehead against mine. His breath fans my face and I can’t help but notice that he’s breathing a little faster than usual. “This,” he says, opening his eyes to look at me, “I’ve been waiting to do this for so long.”

Oh

My

God

“You… have?” It’s all I can say through the shock of what just happened. Joe kissed me. He kissed me. 

He pulls away a bit and offers me a soft smile as he tucks my hair behind my ear. “Happy birthday, Rubes.” His lips touch my cheek in a fleeting kiss before he turns around and disappears, leaving me dazed and confused in the kitchen with a birthday cupcake and the lingering feeling of his lips touching mine.

Chapter End Notes:

*wink wink*

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