Iona is talking animatedly on the phone as I sit on the edge of the pool, my feet splashing the water up a little. The shell ankle bracelet Joe got me at the aquarium shimmers in the sunlight.
Somehow, Iona managed to get an afternoon off at her boring summer job in the bookstore that she thought was going to be super fun and it's like I'm getting nearly two weeks worth of information from her in two minutes. I nod through most of it, humming every now and then so she knows I'm still here, but when I hear the name Zach and dinner, I sit up straight and interrupt her mid-sentence.
"Wait, what?" Maybe I just heard it wrong, but I'm pretty sure she just said that she either had dinner with Zach or is going to have dinner with Zach.
There's is a slight pause at the other end of the line. She's hesitating and she knows she's been caught.
"Iona, don't tell me-"
"What?!" she basically screeches, making me pull the phone away from my ear in order not to go deaf from the high-itched sounds she's producing.
"Don't you remember what he did to you? Because I clearly remember how messed the fuck up you were after he cheated on you. With a teacher."
I hear a soft groan through the line. "I know," she mumbles. "I know, Rubes but, God, after you left at Chase's party we sort of had this drunken... thing and it just, it felt so nice and so familiar. I think he's my kryptonite, Rubes. And then the other night I ran into him and we got to talking and I remember how easy it all was with him-"
"Do you remember how easy it was for him to hook up with Miss Geller under the bleachers?"
"We all make mistakes, Ruby. This time it's different."
With a sigh, I get up and head towards one of the lounge chairs where I have a glass of iced water waiting for me. It's probably not nice of me to rub the past back in her face, but I want her to realize what kind of person she's getting back involved with and how much he hurt her the first time around.
"He's going to NYU too," she adds softly. "He'll be a journalism major."
When I remain silent, she adds, "it's on the same campus I'll be going to."
I genuinely wish I could be happy for her, but I can't do it. I can try to be civil about it though. After all, it is her life and her decision and if she wants to get back with the guy who broke her heart into a million pieces and then pretty much stepped on it, then that's her choice.
"He's my first love," she adds more quietly.
Well shit, I know how that feels. I stare at the bracelet wrapped around my ankle. I know exactly how it feels not to be able to get over your first love, especially when seeing him so often.
Then again, Joe and I had never been together and he'd never cheated on me. So the situation is just a tad different, I'd say. Still, that small admission makes me feel sympathetic for her. And everyone deserves a second chance right?
"Iona," I sigh, running a hand through my hair as I take a sip of my water, feeling the cool liquid moving all the way down my throat, "I know that I can't make you not see him but just, be careful, alright?"
"I will be, Rubes. My heart has like five walls built around it now. He's gonna have to work hard to break them all."
Chuckling, I nod.
"So but tell me about you and Joe. Any progress there?"
Biting my lip, I realize I hadn't brought her up to speed about what's been going on between Joe and I the past few days. Trying to give her a quick update, I breeze through how he kissed me at my birthday party, how he wants to see if there is anything there and our date at the aquarium after which he took me out for burgers and fries at a diner on the side of the road that looked like the perfect murder scene.
"Iona?" I ask when my story is met with silence.
"Oh my God!" She squeaks, making me put some distance between my ear and the phone again. "Oh my God, Rubes! Are you like, dating now?"
"No," I answer quickly. "No it's, I don't know." Shaking my head, I run my hand through my hair. "It's just casual, I guess, just figuring this out step by step but I'm afraid that, that I can't really do that, you know?"
My best friend snorts "Well figures, you've been in love with him for as long as I can remember."
"I don't wanna scare him away though. I already nearly did the other day when I freaked out about that girl Emma being here and being all over him. It won't be long until he can tell that I'm already in way too deep."
"Okay Emma just, she needs to leave. But, Rubes, this is your chance. Even if he doesn't share the same depth of feelings, it's your only chance to be with him. Have just one summer of fun and sex."
"Oh come on, you have to. He's finally kissed you after all these years and he's admitted that he's been wanting to do that for a while. There's something there."
"Even if there is," I reply, "we can't really be together. At the end of the summer he's going off to Canada and I'm... not. He warned me about this and I can't, I can't fall in love with him, Iona. I know I can't, but it's easier said than done because I'm already halfway there. I can't just put my feelings aside. And sleeping with him is definitely going to make it worse."
"But do you want to?"
"Yes I do but-"
"Look, Rubes, I look at it this way. You've had a crush on Joe for forever. He kissed you, admitting that he's basically fancied you for years himself. So you're both going in different directions at the end of the summer. Big whoop. It's here and it's now. It's you and Joe, finally doing shit together. Have fun, enjoy it. And if it ends, it ends. But you won't know how it'll go if you don't fully give it a chance. Don't fucking hold back."
Biting my lip, I let her words sink in. It's what I've been torn between these past few days. I'll definitely fall. There's no doubt about that. But maybe Joe will too. Maybe this isn't doomed because we're leaving for different places in September.
Maybe I could go with him to Canada, nothing's set in stone for my trip yet.
This summer was going to be the summer of a lifetime.
And there's only a few more weeks left.
That night, I toss and turn in my bed, unable to find sleep. I watch the clock as the minutes tick by. It's three fifteen in the morning. I've pretty much watched every half hour pass on the clock since I went to bed at eleven.
With a sigh, I sit up and rub my eyes. I push the covers of my body and make my way over to the window, sliding it open so the light breeze hits my room, making the curtains move. Stepping outside, I lean against the railing on the balcony and stare out at the ocean, the waves softly rolling into the shore. In the distance, the lights of the city brighten up the sky.
"Can't sleep either?"
I nearly jump at the voice coming from behind me. Clutching my chest, I turn to look at Joe where he's sitting in a fold-up chair, clutching a beer in his hand. He stands up, walking over to join me by the railing. He is so close to me that the hairs on my arm stand up at the crack of electricity between us.
"No, I uh, can't sleep," I say, turning back to stare out in front of me as to not have to look at how the moonlight casts a magical glow on his bare, tanned chest. I swallow hard and rub my hands together while I scratch my calf with my foot.
Does he have to sleep shirtless?
"What's on your mind?"
I turn to look up at his face. His elbows are resting on the railing and I watch as he lifts the bottle to his mouth, his lips wrapping around it as he takes a sip.
I swallow and turn away. The truth is, I haven't been able to stop thinking about my conversation with Iona. About how I should just go for it. Maybe I can push my feelings aside. Maybe I can make it casual.
But shit, when he's standing here beside me, bare-chested, his skin almost touching mine, it's so hard to. I'm falling and I can't just stop it.
"Rubes," he whisper-breathes as he turns to face the same direction I am.
"I... don't know."
Well, nice going Ruby. That answer's surely not going to make him ask more questions.
He chuckles, taking another sip of his beer. "You don't know?" He looks at me with his eyebrows raised.
"I just... I'm thinking about the future, I guess. I've pretty much got nothing figured out yet and then you and Iona and everyone else just seems to have this plan. I don't even know what I wanna do with my life." Shaking my head, I look up at the sky.
"You don't need to," he answers.
I lower my head to look at him. "But I should."
"Rubes, you've got the rest of your life to figure out what you want. Yeah I'm going to Canada to start a teaching job, but that doesn't mean I have my life figured out. That job is for a year. After that I've know idea what the fuck's gonna happen to me."
"But you knew for a long time that you wanted to be a teacher."
He's quiet for a beat. "Well, yes but-"
"See, I don't even know what kind of job I want."
"You got into Stanford, right?"
I nod my head in response.
"What were you gonna study?"
"English," I say, smiling sheepishly, knowing it's what most people opt for when they wanna get a degree but have no idea what the fuck they wanna do.
Joe chuckles "Well, shit you really don't have it figured out."
I laugh along with him and turn my body so I'm facing him, my side pressed into the railing. "I just know I wanna travel first. Before I figure this shit out. I wanna see the world. I need to."
"I wish I'd done that," Joe sighs, running a hand through his hair.
"You still could. Cancel the job and come with me."
The words are out before I can stop myself and big brown eyes shoot up to meet mine.
Panic bubbles up inside me. Shit, was that going too far? Did I give myself away?
Before I can open my mouth to try and take back the words, his hand is on the back of my neck, pulling me near. An eternity seems to pass between the moment his fingers curl up in my hair and his lips softly meet mine. I step closer to him, melting into his body and feeling the heat of it against mine.
""That would be nice," he breathes, "but I've already signed all the paperwork and I'd have to pay a really big fine if I break the contract."
I bite my lip and meet his eyes before I lean in for another kiss. Zach may be Iona's kryptonite, but Joe is definitely mine. As much as I would love it if he came with me, it's impossible in more ways than just one. There's more than his job in Canada standing in the way.
With his one hand in my neck, the other snakes around my waist, pulling me even harder into him. I have no idea what he did with his bottle of beer, but at this point, I don't care. All I care about are his lips moving against mine, pressing and biting, and his arms around me.
He stands up straighter and starts to move, pushing me until my back hits the wall. I groan when I hit the hard surface and wrap my arms around his back, my nails digging into his skin, undoubtedly leaving marks.
The kiss grows deeper and his tongue makes its way inside my mouth, meeting mine as we stand there, making out on the balcony.
I moan into the kiss, rolling my hips against his. He groans in response and pushes me harder against the wall. I feel something hard pressing into my thigh and heat spreads through my body whenI realize what it means.
Are we, is this... is this it?
But just as quickly as it started, he breaks away. Confused, I stare at him, my heart racing and my chest rising and falling heavily as I try to catch my breathing.
I open my mouth to ask him what's wrong but he shakes his head, pressing a finger to my lips and then I realize why he broke the kiss.
Giggling, I hear giggling.
Turning to look in the direction of the sound, I see Maddie stumbling out of the window of Ryder's room, all the way on the other side of the balcony. Her dress is haflway undone and then Ryver stumbles out after her.
My heart stops. Joe has already put some distance between us, but I bet the fact he just had his tongue down my throat is written all over my face. He looks equally as guilty standing there motionless, his eyes wide in panic.
Suddenly the giggles stop and Maddie is facing us, her head tilted in confusion. When Ryver reaches her, he looks at her in shared confusion and then faces us, his eyes widening as he sees us.
That's when I stop breathing altogether. The next few seconds feel like minutes. This is it. Just not in the way I thought. This is where it ends rather than begins.
"What are... what are you guys doing here?"
It's not until my brother speaks that I finally let out a breath and press my head into the wall in relief.
He's drunk. They're drunk. They won't remember this in the morning.