I wake up in a haze, sitting up in my bed and doing a double take of my surroundings to make sure the past couple days really happened.
I had the weirdest dream.
At least I think it was a dream. I’m pretty sure it was.
Frowning, I rub my eyes and then throw the covers off my body, sleepily heading into the bathroom to freshen up and start my day. I'm not really sure yet what to do today yet. I might just stay home and lounge by the pool so I can finish my book. Or maybe I should uncover my surfboard from the dust and see if I still know how to ride a good wave.
As soon as I’ve had a quick shower, I skip back into my room with just my towel wrapped around my body.
After getting dressed in a pair of flower-printed shorts and an oversized tank top, I make my way down to go get some breakfast, only to stop halfway down the stairs. My heart skips a beat at the sound of laughter. His laughter.
I stop breathing, the memory of what I thought was a dream comes flooding back, playing in front of me like a movie. My hand moves up to my face, my fingers softly running across my lips. I can still feel the tingle from where he kissed me.
No, it most definitely wasn't a dream.
He kissed me.
Joe kissed me last night.
I start down the stairs again, trying to push the memory to the back of my head, but when I reach the kitchen I pause again. Swallowing hard, I stare at the space behind the cooking island. The place where he kissed me.
He kissed me right there.
Suddenly it all makes sense. The way he's been acting. How he saved me from that ride home with Thomas at the key party Iona dragged me off to. How he got upset when I got a little too close to Michael the other night and how he cornered me, telling me no one got to touch me. I'd figured he was drunk.
Now I know he wasn't. He wasn't drunk at all.
"Keep staring and you'll burn a hole right through that fridge."
I nearly jump at the sound of my brother's voice, my hand grabbing for my chest to try and calm my beating heart.
He chuckles, running a hand through his hair as he moves to open the fridge and pulls out a bottle of water. "Jeez, bad conscience?"
I look at my brother swallowing hard. I bet it's written all over my face that I was thinking about Joe and all the feelings he's been giving me ever since we arrived here. The good and the bad. I bet Ryver knows something is up. Would Joe have told him? No, no he wouldn't have. He knows that if my brother finds out that he did something with me, he'd be dead meat.
But now what?
He kissed me. And now what?
I know it's pointless trying to start a relationship with him. Ryver would hate both of us forever. He and Joe are best friends. Sure he wants Joe to look out for me. But to date me? To have sex with me.
Plus, there's the fact that after this summer we are both going to go in different directions.
I tingle at the thought of it. I bet he's good at it.
"Earth to Ruby." Ryver waves his hands in fron of me to try and get a reaction out of me.
I shake myself back to the here and now, trying to banish all thoughts of Joe from my mind. But that is easier said than done. "Sorry, I just, I'm still dreaming, I guess," I respond.
"Come have breakfast with us. We saved you some donuts."
Nodding my head, I start behind him. My body's moving, but my mind isn't registering what I'm doing. As much as I don't want to, thoughts of sleeping with Joe keep going through my head. What would it be like? Would he be sweet? Rough? Dominant? Fuck, I bet he's really considerate in bed. I bet he would take my feelings into account and listen to me, see what I like and dislike and not just do what he thinks I would like.
The sun already starts to burn on my skin as I walk out onto the deck. Squinting my eyes, I see Madison and Joe sitting in the lounge set.
My heart starts pounding. He's just sitting there, sipping on his coffee, dressed in white board shorts and a simple yellow v-neck. Both colors accentuating his naturally tanned skin.
God. Damn. It.
How does he make casual look so damn sexy?
He briefly looks up at me from his cup of coffee. Our eyes meet and I pretty much melt into a puddle. My knees buckle and I fall. I literally fall. Except it doesn't look like it, because thankfully there is a lounge chair right there, so it just seems like I very ungracefully take a seat.
I feel Joe's eyes on me. I'm too scared to look up and meet them, but I can feel him looking at me. He hasn't said a word to me yet, but the pull is there. The sexual tension is there.
Shit, will Ryver notice?
Joe remains quiet as I reach for an empty glass and fill it with some orange juice. I can still feel him watching me, observing my every move. What is he thinking about? Would he like to kiss me again? Or the complete opposite? Is he mentally undressing me like I would love to do to him?
It's really hard not to. Undress him in my mind, that is. Hence why I am trying to avoid looking up at him. Because I know that if I do, it will be written all over my face. I will be an open book to everyone sitting on this deck right now.
And Ryver would lose his shit for sure.
That's why I'm thankful that Maddie breaks the silence, announcing that they should leave for the city. I briefly look up at Ryver, wondering where they are going. Not that I care. I just need them out of here. I need them all out of here so I can be left alone with my thoughts and try to make sense of everything. Try to make sense of Joe and his intentions.
"Emma and I are getting mani pedi's," Madison says, obviously noticing my confusion. "And Ryver and Joe agreed to tag along."
Raising both my eyebrows, I look up at my brother and try not to burst out laughing. I thought Madison was just a fuck buddy. I don't recall my brother ever tagging along to a girl's n pedi date before. Ever.
"What color are you gonna go for, Ryver?" I question, my lips curling up into a smirk.
"Shut up, Rubes." He throws the empty box of donuts at me and I laugh hard.
"Just make sure your hands and toes match, alright princess?"
He makes a show of slowly rolling his eyes at me before starting towards the house again. "Alright let's go."
I'm still laughing when Madison and Joe get up and pass me as they follow behind my brother. Maybe it's my imagination, but I'm pretty sure Joe briefly paused when he walked by me, just so the tips of his fingers would brush my bare knees, making goosebumps appear all over my skin. Watching him leave, I have to force myself not to bite my lip and swoon right then and there.
It's not until he's out of sight that I feel like I can finally breathe again.
"You know you're supposed to go into the water, right?"
Turning around, I see Joe walking over to me, a bright smile spread across his face, lighting up his features. His hands are casually tucked into the pockets of his shorts.
I swallow before facing the ocean again, staring at the waves. I've been standing here for probably thirty minutes now. Just staring at the waves, my surf suit hanging halfway down my waist to reveal my bikini top, my board tucked under my arm. It's getting heavy, but I hadn't noticed until now, when Joe's voice pulled me out of my dreamy state and made me tumble right back into reality.
He's suddenly standing right next to me. I can feel the heat of his skin radiating off it. There's probably half an inch of space between his arm and mine, but I can feel the pull, like magnets, between us.
"I just... haven't done this in a while." It's only a half lie. I haven't done this in a while, but that's really not the reason why I'm stuck here staring at the waves instead of riding them. It's him. And I feel like he can sense that.
After a few moments of silence, he breathes out my name, turning to face me. I swallow hard again, keeping my eyes focused on the water.
"Ruby," he repeats, reaching for my arm and begging me to turn around to look at him.
Closing my eyes, I turn and slowly lift my eyelids, his face coming into focus. He looks pained, like he doesn't understand what's going on. To be honest, neither do I. I wanted nothing more than for Joe to show affection towards me. I'd been dreaming about it for so long.
So why am I not falling into his arms and pressing my lips against his in a kiss?
"Last night -"
"Don't." Shaking my head, I look down at my toes curled into the sand. My bright nail polish is barely visible anymore. I've been digging my feet in that deep.
"Ruby -" he starts again.
Looking back up, I continue to shake my head. I swallows back tears I didn't even know were forming. "Don't, Joe. Just don't."
"I meant it," he quickly says before I get a chance to interrupt him again. He's searching for my eyes and in my attempt to look away, he finally to lock our gazes together. "I meant it, Ruby." His voice softens as he takes a step towards me.
"You know we can't." I shake my head again, taking a step away. "As much as I... as much as I want it, this is, this is doomed. I don't want to be just another notch on your bedpost and Ryver, Ryver will surely kill you if he ever finds out you touched me, let alone kissed me."
Joe takes a step forward again, closing the distance I created. "I don't care."
"But you should," I respond. "You should care, Joe."
"I meant it, Ruby. I've been... in awe of you for so long. It killed me knowing that I couldn't do anything, at least not until you were eighteen."
"I've been going crazy ever since last night, wondering what made you do it. Whether it was a dream or not. I couldn't... this morning I couldn't even look at you. I've been wanting this for so long, but you and I both know that we... we can't, Joe. And I'm, my feelings they're, they're messed up. One moment I want to do it again and the next, I want to run as far from you as possible. I don't, I don't know what is going on with me. It makes no sense but I do know that I've been wanting to kiss you for -"
Joe cuts me off, grabbing my face and planting a kiss full on my lips. Out of surprise, I drop my surfboard and pull away, looking at him with wide eyes.
"I. Don't. Care," he repeats slowly before kissing me again, much softer this time.
A single tear escapes from the corner of my eye. My emotions are on high alert and the fact that Joe is standing here, proclaiming that he would risk being murdered by my brother just to be close to me nearly makes my heart explode out of my chest.
"I've wanted this, too," he continues, wiping the tear away with the pad of his thumb, "and now I finally have a chance. My last chance."
I look up to meet his eyes and nod. I know what he's talking about. He's leaving for Canada at the end of the summer. And then when will I see him again? He'll be busy teaching and I will be discovering new places all over the world while I put off college.
One summer is all we have left. For now anyway.
"What's gonna happen when you leave?" I ask softly, searching his eyes for an answer.
"I don't know," he sighs, looking down at the sand briefly. "But can't we just focus on this? On the here and now?"
"What about Emma? And Ryver? How are we -"
"Shhh." He presses his finger against my lips and shakes his head. "We will figure it out. And Emma? She never meant anything to me. She's just one of Madison's friends and therefore stuck around."
I nod again, managing a small smile. "What if-"
"Don't say it."
"- I fall in love with you?"
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. I watch his Adam's apple as he swallows. "You can't, Ruby."
Licking my lips, I stare at him. I know I can't, but I fear it's already too late.