Authors: Amy Sparling
Tags: #Contemporary Romance, #Young Adult, #Summer
Part 3 of the Summer Series
Copyright © 2015 Amy Sparling
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover art from shutterstock.com
Cover design by Amy Sparling
First edition March 12
For Dania North and her daughter, Jennifer. Thank for you the love and support.
I push open the heavy double doors of the humanities building at Lawson Community College. It’s a beautiful spring day outside and the sun shines and birds sing and everything seems perfect as you look around campus. But what no one can see is the nausea stirring around in my stomach, threatening to turn this morning’s Lucky Charms cereal into a colorful, partially-digested pile of puke on the ground.
I really thought the anxiety over taking my last final exam of the semester would have been worse in the morning, not directly after the test. Technically I’m a free woman for the entire summer now—no more exams! No more essays! No more waking up early for class, for an entire three and a half months. But I’m still sick.
Because I’m pretty sure I failed that exam.
My best friend Bayleigh has spent the last year caring for her newborn son and whining to me about how jealous she is that I get to go to college and she has to wait a couple of years until her baby is old enough to be trusted with a sitter. She is so freaking delusional if she thinks college will be fun. Sure, movies make it out to be a non-stop drunken festival of sex and parties, but living with your parents and taking four classes a week at the local community college isn’t much different than high school. I’ve had exactly two semesters of experience now, and college isn’t anything like the movies. I haven’t had sex, gotten drunk, or gone to a party once since I started. Even though it’s higher education and it’s supposed to launch my adulthood into a fulfilling career of responsible adult-ing, I’d rather go to the dentist every day than go back to another class.
Well….maybe it’s not
bad. And I probably should have studied more for my history final instead of spending most of my nights talking to Park on the phone or hanging out with him on his sporadic visits. Lately the visits have been getting shorter and farther apart. I know I have no right to be upset about it because it’s pretty much my fault that Park barely visits anymore.
After a few months of what witnesses would call “dating”, I told the gorgeous boy from California that I wasn’t going to be his long distance girlfriend. He was startled, shocked and hurt, in exactly that order. I probably shouldn’t have dropped
the I don’t want to be your girlfriend
bomb on him while we were in the middle of a heavy make out session, but a girl’s got to do what it takes to keep her emotional sanity in check.
And sleeping with that boy would have shattered my sanity.
He is far too hot and far too famous for a small town girl like me to get involved with, but it was nice while it lasted. Despite his constant claims that he wanted to do these drastic things that men at his age of twenty one never think of—things like “settle down” and “commit to just one girl”, I knew in my heart that trusting a boy like Nolan Park was just about the stupidest thing I could do. Far stupider than taking a history exam without studying.
So he had accepted my rejection as gracefully as a guy with a raging boner can accept a rejection, and we had parted ways, agreeing to be friends. Then...I accidentally made out with him the next five times he visited Lawson.
Bayleigh calls it the grey area in our friendship. The Friends With Benefits area. She swears that when two people have a connection as strong as the one I have with Park, good things will happen in the universe that will make us come together in the end. But seriously, what does that woman know, anyway? She randomly met a guy on her summer break and he ended up being her soulmate—her perfect match in every way. They got married last summer and are in the process of living happily ever after.
So of course she would say silly things like that.
actually believes them. That kind of fairy tale just doesn’t happen for me. Even after I called things off with him, Park and I stayed friends at his insistence. For months afterward, he called me every day just to say hello and ask how my day was going. He took every chance he got off work to come down to Texas and hang out with me under the guise of being here to hang out with Jace. Those first few months is when all the making out happened. I’m not going to say those nights were mistakes, but they were what cracked me. Those experiences, the cuddling up to Park in the privacy of my room when my parents were asleep, or sneaking moments alone in his truck before going to the restaurant with Jace and Bayleigh, those were the times he managed to slip into my heart. Those five glorious times we made out after I technically broke up with him, those were the worst.
Those hurt me.
When Park is back home in California, doing whatever it is that famous motocross racers do, I can easily forget about him. He becomes a memory, a mirage of someone who used to be here but isn’t anymore. I can swallow myself up in real life and the things that are in front of me here in Texas, and I can get over him. In fact, it’s almost easy.
That is until he comes back. Then I fall apart at the seams. The spring semester of college sucked for most part, because instead of having any art classes that are actually interesting, I had to take a full course load of core classes. I used the excuse of too much school work to distance myself from Park the last few times he visited. I haven’t seen him in over a month and we haven’t texted each other in two and a half days. And I’m so pathetically not over him that I can’t even pretend that I’m not counting the days.
Trust me, two and a half days without so much as a “Good morning, beautiful” text really does a number to a girl’s self-esteem. And I know it’s all my fault because I told him we couldn’t be together. So in a way, it’s not Park that has my heart catching in my throat at the mere sight of him. It’s me. It’s all my fault.
If I were a little bit more reckless with my decisions, I might have stayed with him and allowed myself to date a man who I know would most likely cheat on me. There is no way a small town Texas girl is in any way better than a gorgeous California girl.
When I left class, I had been heading to the parking lot, but now after dredging up all the memories of Park from last year and allowing myself to dwell just a little too long on the fact that he hasn’t texted me at all in nearly three days, I make a U-turn and head toward the college café. I need something to soothe my aching heart and a cold caramel mocha from the coffee cart will be a good start to healing my reopened emotional wounds.
Like an idiot, I pull out my phone while waiting in line and check for any new messages. There are none. I mean, duh. God, you’d think a girl who is smart enough to Just Say No To Hot Dangerous Boys would be smart enough to get the hell over them after a year.
I stare at the text messages on my phone, staring with Bayleigh and then my mom. Park’s name is fifth down on the list. The last thing he said to me was “Sounds like a blast.” It was Netflix binge-watching night for me after a weekend of pretending to study. I had told him I was popping a bag of popcorn and planned on eating it all by myself while watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. until I passed out. I guess you could say it’s all on me because I didn’t reply to his last text, but that’s never been something he cared about before. He double texts me all the time. At least, he used to.
Maybe he’s still upset about the conversation we’d had before I mentioned Netflix binge-watching. I had been complaining about school and how all of the basic required courses are absolutely stupid and have nothing to do with my dream career of doing some kind of art for a living. This had prompted him to once again suggest that I start selling my mixed media artwork online and try to turn it into a real job.
Every time he mentions this stupid idea, I get upset. I guess he’s just trying to be helpful and encouraging but all it does is discourage me. He hasn’t even seen my art in real life; he’s only seen pictures I’ve sent him. I love my art, but it’s really not that great. I’m not sure anyone would really like it but me.
When I took Patricia St. Claire’s mixed media class in my first semester, I had started using my favorite quotes as inspiration for my art. Instead of writing quotes in dry erase marker on the glass picture frame on my wall, I’d written them on loose canvases, using various forms of paint, glitter, paper and decorations. I have a few dozen of them rolled up against the walls in my bedroom now. Crafting them is a stress reliever for me. It’s a way to step outside of my regular life and focus on creating something beautiful.
Park swears I could sell them. I’m not so sure he’s right. It’s easy to be an optimist when you’re a famous and fairly rich professional racer.
So that night before I had brought up the Netflix thing, when he’d mentioned his stupid idea again, I had made sure to shut it down by stating that there was no logical way for me to ship my canvases because a box would be too big and envelopes aren’t big enough, and even if they were, they’d probably destroy my art in transit. Then, just to really prove my point, I mentioned that the only digital camera I owned was attached to my cell phone and that thing doesn’t exactly take the best pictures. He didn’t even bother to argue that point.
I won. He lost.
And then I guess I lost in the end, because now he’s not talking to me.
Shoving back the twinge of pain from my heart, I step forward in the coffee line, awaiting my turn behind a girl who appears to be studying from her textbook while she’s ordering coffee. She reaches into her oversized shoulder bag, takes out an empty coffee cup and tosses it into the trash. Finals week really makes people crazy. I’m so glad I finished all of mine already.
When it’s my turn in line, I place my order and hear someone make a judgmental exhalation from behind me.
“Another caramel mocha?” The voice is familiar. I hand the cashier my debit card and turn around, lifting my eyebrow in an equally judgmental way.
“What’s it to you?” I say with a smile.
Mark Crisp shrugs back at me, hooking his thumbs under the straps of his backpack. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all,” he says with a grin. “With all the coffee you drink, one of these days you’re gonna turn into a caramel mocha.”
“Then I would be the most delicious person on earth,” I snap, heading toward the other side of the kiosk where my freshly made coffee awaits. “How was your final?” I ask.
Mark had three classes with me this semester. He was homeschooled for most of his life so he came to college not knowing anyone else here. I guess you could say we’re friends, although our friendship consists of him following me around from class to class, making fun of my coffee drinking. Bayleigh swears he likes me, and she’s probably right, so I’ve been keeping my distance for the most part, making sure I don’t do anything to lead him on. Mark is a nice guy and he’s always happy to share his notes if I had to miss class, but he’s never someone I could like in a romantic way.
He’s cute. A little short for a guy, but still cute with tanned skin and dark shaggy hair. But he’s hugely obsessed with things that I have no interest in (model trains and professional tennis) and for that reason alone, I know I’d never be able to date someone like him.
“I think I passed,” he says, falling into step with me as we walk to the parking lot. “The Delray Beach Open was on last night and I had to root for my man Donald Young, so I didn’t study as much as I should have, but I think I did okay. What about you?”
I take a long sip of my coffee. “I’d rather not talk about my final. If I passed, it’ll be a miracle.”
“Aww, I’m sure you did fine,” he says. “Where are you parked?”
“I’m near the trees,” I say, looking across the parking lot toward the row of oak trees that line the edge of the lot. I lift my hand to point in the direction of my car, but stop when my heart catches in my throat. Although my car is still parked where I left it this morning, there is a new addition to the old Corolla.
Park. Leaning against the trunk of my car, hands shoved in his pockets, and a smirk on his face that’s the size of Texas.