Authors: Amy Sparling
The Summer Unplugged Series
Also by Amy Sparling:
Copyright © 2014 by Amy Sparling
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the
author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover image from shutterstock.com
My name echoes through the small auditorium of my high school. I’m surprised I hear Principal Walsh’s voice over the thumping of my heart inside of my chest. I take a few steps forward, graduation gown swishing around my legs and just a tiny bit too long for comfort. If I tripped and fell right now I would be so mortified. This isn’t like falling in the hallway or something—it would be falling in front of the entire senior class and their families.
Luck is on my side though, because soon I’m right in front of Principal Walsh and he’s handing me a fake diploma
because they mail out the real ones and he’s shaking my hand and I don’t even screw up the handshake like I had worried about for the last three days. I can’t stop the massive grin on my face as I walk off stage and join the rest of my graduated classmates back in the folded metal chairs at the front of the room.
did it. I am officially finished with high school.
Somewhere in the audience behind me
is my mom and my little brother Bentley. Mom’s probably swatting away tears of pride and Bentley is no doubt bored out of his mind and wishing he had his Nintendo DS to keep him company.
The person sitting next to my brother is the one I can’t keep my mind off of. Jace Adams.
My super-hot and always wonderful boyfriend of eleven months and sixteen days. I don’t normally pay attention to how many days we’ve been together, but our one year anniversary is coming up quickly and I am just as excited about it as I am about finally graduating high school.
I am eighteen, I am no longer tied to eight hours of school every day and I have almost been Jace’s girlfriend for an entire year. My life seriously can’t get any better than
this. I know it’s pathetic, but I feel my cheeks turning red at the thought of Jace sitting somewhere in the audience behind me. I miss him so much even though we’re in the same room together. Unfortunately I have to wait until graduation is over so I can run and find him and my family in the crowd. It’s only a few minutes away, but it’ll feel like an eternity.
A set of long brown curls swooshes around from the seat in front of me and Becca, my best friend, gives me a quick smile and
a thumbs up. I had confided in her before the ceremony that I was terrified of tripping and eating the stage when I walked up to accept my diploma. So her silly little thumbs up is probably her way of congratulating me on not embarrassing the hell out of myself. I give her a thumbs up in return and sink back in my chair, letting myself get consumed in thoughts of Jace until the ceremony is over.
Mom takes everyone out to a celebratory dinner after graduation and her boyfriend surprises me by paying for the entire meal. Mom was single for pretty much all of my life and it’s really awesome seeing her so happy now. Plus Jace and I think that her newfound lovesickness has changed her personality in ways that benefit us. She used to hate the idea of dating and wouldn’t want me to do anything with a guy. Now she encourages my relationship—of course, Jace’s freaking perfect personality probably helps with winning her over.
Jace grabs my hand the moment we say goodbye to my family in the restaurant parking lot. I wrap my other hand around his arm and snuggle close to him as we walk to his truck.
“So how does it feel to be an alumnus of Lawson High?” he asks after he places a quick kiss on the top of my head.
“It hasn’t really sunken in yet.” I roll my eyes in a playful way when Jace pops open the passenger door for me. Ever since I poked fun of him for being too much of a Southern Gentleman, he’s made it a point to open my door all the time.
Even when we just take a quick trip to the gas station or something lame. I love it though, secretly, but I still make fun of him. I crawl up into my side of his truck and lean over to accept the kiss he plants on my lips before closing my door. Even after eleven months and sixteen days, the boy still gives me butterflies.
Jace gets in his truck and starts the engine. “I’m sure it’ll sink in soon. High school students don’t get to go to parties on a Thursday night,” he says, alluding to Becca’s graduation party that we’re on our way to, “But a graduated person can party whenever they want.”
“Woohoo,” I say with a laugh. “You know, this is like the first party we’ve ever been to together.”
Yeah I guess you’re right,” he says, crumpling up his eyebrows as he thinks. “Guess we’ll have to make it extra fun.” He wiggles his eyebrows in a sinister yet playful way. I look out the window so he doesn’t see me blush.
Becca’s mom works for a lawyer and he owns a
beach house off the coast of Lawson on one of those exclusive private beaches on the east end of town. She managed to talk him into letting her throw a small get-together for Becca and her friends for graduation. A get-together is what we’re supposed to call it, as her mom emphasized a million times while Becca and I were handwriting invitations for the party. She said if her boss thought it would be a
then he wouldn’t allow it. When we arrive at the address, we have to park on the side of the road three houses down.
I’m guessing her boss would flip if he saw how many cars were here. “I didn’t know Becca had this many friends,” I say as we make our way up the sandy roadside toward the beach house. Jace nods and wraps an arm around me. “With that girl’s annoying laugh, I figured you were her
“Be nice.” I elbow him in the ribs but I can’t keep a serious face because
Becca’s laugh is pretty awful. Luckily her personality makes up for it.
Music blasts through the house, audible from outside. We make our way up the two flights of stairs to the balcony that provides a beautiful view of the ocean in front of us. Only about twenty people our age are here but I guess they all decided to drive themselves instead of carpooling. Can’t say I blame them…if I had a car I would want to drive everywhere as well.
I pull Jace to the edge of the balcony so we can spend a quiet moment taking in the gorgeous view of the water as the sun begins to set. Eventually I want to find Becca and get our party on, but right now I’m happy just spending time leaning against the wooden railing, feeling Jace’s strong chest press against my back.
Our peaceful moment lasts about thirty seconds.
“Girl! You told me he was hot, but you didn’t tell me he was this hot!” I cringe inwardly as I turn to face Becca’s mom.
“Hi Ms. Gina,” I say, twisting to the side as Jace takes one preventative step backward. He can spot a cougar a mile away, the poor thing. But it’s not their fault he’s so freaking hot. “This is Jace, my boyfriend,” I say by way of introduction.
She steps forward, pushing her bleach blonde hair behind her ears and grabs his outstretched hand with both of hers. The stench of liquor on her breath hits me like a punch in the face. “I’ve heard all about you,” she says, letting her eyes wander over Jace’s muscular frame. I’m surprised he doesn’t wince in pain from her super long acrylic nails stabbing into his skin. He’s such a nice guy though. All he does is smile and thank her.
Becca rushes up, red plastic cup in her hand.
“Mom!” she grabs her mom’s elbow and pulls her back. “Don’t harass Bayleigh and Jace.”
Ms. Gina rolls her eyes in an overdramatic way. “She’s so embarrassed of her momma,” she says, dismissing Becca’s
mortification with a wave of her hand. “Ya’ll come get some food and drinks. Have fun.” She smiles at me and winks at Jace. “Come get me if you need anything, ya hear?”
Becca watches her mom disappear back into the beach house and then she turns to me. “This is like the coolest graduation party ever, but having my mom here kind of ruins the fun.”
I shrug. “You get used to her. And your party rocks.”
“This is a great view,” Jace says, motioning to the beach below. A pink flash flies through the air and I notice there’s a game of beach volleyball going on below us with a hot pink ball.
Becca’s face falls when Jace speaks, as if she’d forgotten he was also here. “Well, I’m sure this is nothing compared to all the parties you’ve been to.”
He shakes his head. “Rich people parties are overrated. I’d rather be here with my girl and her friends.”
We stuff ourselves with the delicious array of finger foods displayed on three large tables in the living room. Becca’s mom pulled out all the stops for this party—there’s copious amounts of food and sparkly decorations all over the place.
When my stomach is full and I’ve chatted with all of our mutual friends who came to the party, Jace and I sink into a fluffy couch that’s located in the…well I’m not sure what room it is. Beach houses are weird.
When we entered the house from the porch, we were in a massive entertaining area with food and drinks. To the left is an entrance to what I’d consider a living room because it has a couch and a big screen TV. But off to the side of the room, next to the entire wall of windows is a massive built in hot tub. Like, the floor suddenly turns into a hot tub. Inside the house.
“Beach houses are weird,” I say aloud to Jace as we watch the bubbles rise up from the empty hot tub.
“They aren’t usually weird, but this one is.” He glances behind us and then back at me. “We should lock that door and then jump in.”
“We don’t have any bathing suits,” I say, completely missing the silly eyebrow wiggle he directs to me. He leans in close and whispers, “We don’t need a bathing suit.”
Chills run down my spine at the mention of skinny dipping with Jace in someone else’s house. Of course we can’t actually do it, we would totally get caught by the tons of people hanging out in the house. Since Jace is so close, I lean forward to kiss him. “I wish we could,” I say.
He smiles. “One day we’ll get a ridiculous beach house and we’ll put two hot tubs in the living room.”
“I’d like that very much.”
You don’t seem like a two hot dub kind of girl.”
I roll my eyes. “Oh I’m sorry, have we never talked about my hot tub preferences? Maybe we weren’t in as serious of a relationship as I thought we were.”
He playfully pokes his finger in my ribs. “Baby you can have as many hot tubs as you want.”
I sit up straight and cross my arms over my chest. “That’s more like it.
But it doesn’t really matter because we don’t live together.” I end the sentence with my lips in a pout. Moving in with Jace is a sensitive topic for me. Ever since the day I turned eighteen last winter I’ve wanted to move in with him. Mom and Jace made me finish high school first. Well, they didn’t
me. I wanted to finish school. But you know…in a perfect world a girl wouldn’t have to wait to do anything when it comes to being with the man she loves.
But now school is officially over and no one has said a word about what we’ll do next. Not Mom, not Jace, and not me because I’m too timid about it. I can’t just force my way into living with Jace. I’d like him to
I’m just not sure he ever will.
“What’s that look for?” Jace asks, furrowing his eyebrows as he looks at me.
Guess I had been lost in my thoughts and they had taken over my facial expression. I take a deep breath and give him a small smile. “Nothing, I’m fine.”
My mom’s boyfriend David sings along with the opening theme song on a Disney chan
nel show my brother watches every morning. The silly melody is the first thing I hear when I leave my bedroom the next day. David’s terrible singing voice isn’t what makes me want to barf before I’ve even eaten breakfast. It’s his wardrobe.
When head down the stairs and round the corner into the kitchen, my mouth watering with the smell of pancakes and bacon cooking on the stove, I come face to face with David’s baggy black sweatpants and oversized orange t-shirt with the sleeves cut out. I’m talking cut out so deep that I can see his ribcage and the side of his man boobs.
It’s the kind of shirt he wears to the gym to work out but should never, ever, be worn to cook breakfast.
I have got to get out of this place. I like David and all, but…gross.
He does make a great breakfast, but so does Jace. I’d way rather wake up to the sound of Jace singing along with stupid cartoons. Of course, I have no idea why Jace would be watching Disney cartoons at nine in the morning. I shake my head to clear it of these idiotic thoughts and get back to thoughts that actually count: figuring out my plan to live with Jace.
After saying goodbye to him last night, I had
lain awake in bed before falling asleep, thinking about my future and how to make it all work out in the end. It took a while for me to stop being annoyed that Jace insisted on going home after Becca’s party. We got back to my house around midnight and Mom would have let him stay over since it was so late, but he just had to make the forty-five minute drive home for whatever reason.
It’s the “reasons” that bothered me so much. He claimed he had “things” and “stuff” to do in the morning. His vagueness wouldn’t have bothered me if it were a weekday because he has a busy and complicated job, but ever since Jace and I have become more serious in our relationship, he’s scheduled his work on weekdays only so as to keep weekends free for me. And today is a Saturday, dammit. What could he possibly be doing?
I didn’t ask though, because I don’t want to be the annoying, nagging girlfriend. I want to be the awesome girlfriend who isn’t a jealous freak and who is a delight to be around. Jace always calls me his ray of sunshine and that’s all I want to be for him. So instead of pressing the issue and asking to know what kind of things he could possibly be busy with today, I just let it go.
And then I obsessed over them alo
ne in my bed after he went home like the weirdo I am.
I have bigger problems right now than wondering what Jace is doing today. Monday will be my first weekday as an adult and I’m realizing what a total loser I have become in just twenty four hours after graduating high school. When I was a student, that’s all I had to worry about. Now I’m an adult and I’m a total embarrassment. I have no job and I’m not in college.
Becca took a job as a cashier at the local pharmacy and plans to work all summer before starting community college in the fall. She had offered to let me go job hunting with her a month ago but I turned in down out of wanting to spend more time with Jace. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I feel like the world’s biggest loser.
Mom’s been pressuring me to go to college but no matter how many times I look over the degree list, nothing jumps out at me as being career-worthy. It’s painfully embarrassing to admit it to myself, but for the last year of my life, all I want to do is be with my love. I know it’s stupid and I know that love is just love. It doesn’t put food on the table or a shelter over our heads.
That doesn’t stop me from knowing that I’m in love and have found my soul mate. But I can’t keep living my life only caring about spending time with Jace. I have to grow up.
That’s pretty much the conclusion I came to last night before finally drifting into a restless sleep. I try to suppress a yawn but it’s no use. David hands me a plate and I load up some pancakes and bacon and then join Bentley at the table. Mom is still in the shower which is great because she’s the only chatty one in the mornings. The rest of us are content to eat our food quietly in our half-awake stupor.
I mull over the worries in my mind, trying to come up with a plan for my future. It hurts to think of this, but maybe the reason Jace hasn’t talked to me about moving in with him is because I am a massive loser. I don’t have a job to help contribute with the bills and I don’t have a car even if I did have a job. I’m not in school and again, even if I was in school, I still have no car to get to classes every day.
It’s no wonder Jace doesn’t want me to live with him. I’d just be a worthless liability. Jace insists on paying for our dinner and picking up the bill when we do fun thinks like ice skating or go to the movies. I always thought it was because he was just being romantic, but what if deep down he secretly resents me for it?
I don’t want to be someone’s liability.
I have to get a job and I have to prove to him and to my mom and everyone else that I am not a big loser with
no future. I stab into a piece of pancake and shove it in my mouth and think up a game plan. Mom and David plan on going shopping today so hopefully Mom will let me use her car while they’re gone. I’ll go to the mall first and ask every single business if they’re hiring. Then I’ll stop in every store within a five mile range and apply for jobs. That way I can find a job that’s close enough for me to ride my bike to if I can’t get a ride from anyone. I’ll try to schedule working hours in the daytime so Jace and I will still have evenings together.
By the time Mom enters the kitchen wearing pajamas and a towel on her head, I’m already feeling pretty confident about my plans for the day. I’ll stop by at least two dozen businesses and one of them has to be hiring. I won’t even tell anyone what I’m doing until after I get a job offer. Mom and Jace will be proud of me.
I smile brightly at Mom when she tells us good morning. Today will be a good day. “Good morning, Mom. Can I borrow the car today?”
She doesn’t even look me in the eye.
My fork drops to my plate.
“Why not? I thought you and David were going shopping? He always takes his truck, so…”
She nods. “We are
going shopping but you can’t take my car. Sorry.”
“Why?” I ask, trying not to sound so annoyed, but I know it doesn’t work.
Mom gives me a warning glare as my only answer. Ugh. I pick up my fork and take another bite so my mouth isn’t free to talk because the only words I can think of will get me in trouble. I don’t want to be a jerk right now, but I desperately need the car to fulfill my mission. I guess I’ll have to tell her my mission so she’ll let me use the car. It’ll be no fun surprising her with the news that I got a job when she already knows I’m looking for one.
I swallow and take a deep breath. “I’ll just have to find another way, I guess.”
“Another way to do what?” Mom asks curiously.
I shrug and take a while to answer since I know I’ve piqued her interest. “Oh I just had something important to do, and I really needed the car…but I guess I’ll survive on my bike instead.”
David lets out a little snort of laughter, which takes a lot of energy for me to ignore. Mom shakes her head. “I’m afraid you won’t be doing anything this morning, Bayleigh.”
Okay now I’m really pissed off.
“Why do you say that?” I ask, mentally picking up and dusting off my
I’m eighteen and I can do what I want card
just in case I have to use it.
Before she can answer me, the doorbell rings. The four of us turn toward the door and Bentley jumps off his barstool, screaming “I’ll get it! I’ll get it!” as he runs to the living room. Mom stands as well, placing her fork on her plate and taking one long sip of her coffee. She nods toward the front door. “That’s why.”
I hear Jace’s voice before I see him, and then I see his hand reach out and rub the top of my little brother’s head. “What’s going on, little man?” he says as Bentley lets him inside the house.
Three things run through my mind at the same time: ridiculously huge amounts of excitement that Jace is here, annoyance at my mother for knowing he was coming over and not telling me, and then a horrendous embarrassment at the realization that I’m
wearing ugly pajamas, my hair is unwashed and in a messy bun and my eyes probably look like raccoons from the eye makeup I totally didn’t wash off last night. I had gotten home so late, all I had the energy to do was fall face forward in my bed, despite staying up late, deep in thought.
“Oh my god,” I say as I bury my face in my hands. When I slowly lift my head again, Jace hovers in front of me with a big smile on his face.
David small talks to him about motocross and the professional race that’s coming to town next month. I really wish Jace would look at David as they talk, but instead, he keeps sneaking glances at me. I climb off my stool and rush to Jace’s side, throwing my arms around his rib cage and pressing my face against his side. Now I can hug him and he doesn’t exactly get to see my ugly morning face.
“You’re a little early,” Mom says. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Sure, I could use it,” Jace replies as his fingers wrap around my side.
“Would somebody please tell
me what’s going on here?” I ask, looking from my boyfriend to my mom, temporarily forgetting to hide my gross face.
Jace lets a smirk slip out from under his coffee mug. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, glancing sideways at Mom who has an equally sneaky grin on her face.
“Guys, this isn’t funny. What are you keeping from me?”
Jace sets down the mug and reaches into his pocket, grabbing his keys. He tosses them a few inches in the air and catches them. “You’re wrong, babe. I think it is very funny.” He tosses the keys up and catches them a few more times.
David laughs. “Yeah, it’s definitely funny.”
I look from my boyfriend to my family and back again. “Fine, don’t tell me,” I say giving Jace a little shove that almost makes him drop his keys. Only…wait, those aren’t his keys. His keys have a tiny metal dirt bike keychain on them. I grab the keys out of his palm.
It’s one single car key with a pink sparkly keychain attached. The keychain is the initial B.
“Who’s car is this?” I ask.
Mom clasps her hands together in front of her chest as
she bounces on her heels. “It’s yours,” she squeals as if she might burst from holding in the information any longer.
A flash of confusion hits me, followed by excitement. Total chaos erupts as I take one look at Jace and then bolt to the front door. The whole family follows me as I dive off the porch and stop suddenly in the middle of the grass when I see my new car.
A pearly blue, extra shiny Chevrolet Cobalt with a big pink bow on the hood. I’m transfixed for a few moments, unable to move or think clearly as I put the pieces together.
“That bow was a nice touch,” Mom tells Jace. “Good job.”
I look back to see them high-five each other and that’s when I finally get my voice again. “
.” I point at my boyfriend. “You were in on this! How did you keep this a secret from me?”
He smiles. “Some secrets are worth it.”
Bentley runs his fingers over the pink bow, his mouth open in childlike wonder at how a bow could be so huge. Mom comes forward and wraps her arm around my shoulders. “How do you like your graduation present?”
“Mom, I can’t believe this
,” I say, lowering my voice for the next part. “You don’t have the money for this kind of gift.”
“We all pitched in,” she says, glancing back at Jace and David. “All of us.”
Chills prickle over my arms. I can’t believe everyone cares about me enough to do this. “Thanks, you guys. This is amazing.”
We all take turns playing with the car, sitting in the driver’s seat and checking out all the features. Mom takes pictures of Bentley while he pretends to drive the car despite his feet not being able to touch the pedals. Jace grabs my hand and brings it to his lips. “I love you, Bay.”
“I love you, too.” Being next to him brings a sense of peace over my body, smoothing over all my anxiety from last night. Realization hits me as I remember my restless sleep. “This is what you meant when you said you had things to do this morning. I thought you just didn’t want to hang out with me.”
Psh.” Jace rolls his eyes. “I always want to hang out with you. Like I said, some secrets are worth keeping. Oh yeah,” he says, scratching the back of his neck. “Um, I kind of need a ride home.”
“Oh my god I’m so excited,” I say, bouncing on my heels. “I just realized that I’ll get to go visit you now. You don’t always have to come get me anymore.”
Mom clears her throat. “Jace…did you not talk to her yet?”
I glance at Jace just in time to see him cringe. “I thought you were going to talk to her.”