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Authors: Robin Constantine

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BOOK: The Season of You & Me
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NINE
CASSIDY

“CASS, IT’S NINE—TIME TO GET UP,” HUNTER SAID.

I opened one eye to see him standing in the doorway, hands cupped around his mouth. It was a good thing I didn’t like to sleep naked.

“Do you know what knocking is?”

“I did knock. You were snoring.”

I rolled over to face the wall. “I don’t snore.”

“Yes, you do, like this,” he said, and as if I didn’t know what snoring was, he proceeded to demonstrate by snorting and huffing. Loud. I laughed and rolled over to face him.

“I do not sound like that.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Hunter, it’s Saturday. Don’t you like to sleep on Saturdays?”

“Sleep is boring.”

“You have so much to learn,” I said, pulling the blanket over my head.

“Dad sent me up. He made eggs. Scrambled. Your favorite, like me.”

I peeked out of the top of the blanket. “With cheese?”

He nodded.

“Did you help him?”

“Yep.”

There was a tiny flare in my gut, a momentary flash of whisking eggs with Dad. That had been
our
thing. It’s not like I wanted to do it now. That would just be odd. But I still thought about it as Hunter stared wide-eyed at me. Waiting. I’d been his age when Dad left. Seeing Hunter, I knew there was no way he could understand if Dad just up and walked out now. He’d be hurt. Confused. Just like I’d been—even if I couldn’t voice it at the time.

Dad wasn’t going anywhere in Hunter’s life.

I wondered what that felt like.

“Well, now you talked me into it,” I said, throwing back the blanket and getting out of bed.

“There’s also a box downstairs for you.”

“Really?” I grabbed my floral kimono and threw it over the leggings-and-cami ensemble I wore as pj’s. I followed him downstairs to the kitchen. There was something sweet baking—it seemed there was always something sweet baking, but it made the kitchen warm and cheerful. Easily my
favorite room in the house. Dad and Leslie were sitting at the table. He was chuckling at something she said. She got up and squeezed his shoulder as she grabbed the kettle off of the stove. I’d never say it out loud, but it was kind of sweet how they made a point of eating together. I don’t remember Mom eating breakfast with us on Saturdays. She wasn’t a fan of eggs.

“Morning,” I said. Dad looked up and smiled.

“Cass, sit, I’ll get you a plate,” Leslie said.

Everything was lined up on the counter and the stove. Even their personal breakfast time was organized.

“No, that’s okay, I’ll do it,” I said. I took a plate from the cabinet and spooned a generous portion of scrambled eggs on it. They were light and fluffy and I could practically hear Dad’s instructions as the steam tickled my nose.

You want to take them off the heat when they’re not quite done. They still cook when you take them off, but they won’t overcook. If you overcook them, they get too stiff.

He made them with milk, not water, a pinch of salt, and a dash of black pepper. Maybe he didn’t always send my birthday cards on time, or get me Christmas presents that weren’t practical, but there, on that plate, he had the dad thing down to perfection.

“So do I really have a package?” I asked.

Dad wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Yes, from your mother. It’s in the office.”

“Can I help open it?” Hunter asked.

I smiled. “Of course.”

“After breakfast,” Leslie said, sitting down again.

“Any plans today? Hunter and I were going to fish at the pier if you’re interested,” Dad said.

“I think I actually might be doing something.”

“Oh?” Leslie and Dad looked at each other.

“Yeah, nothing definite; I have to call,” I said, realizing I didn’t even have Bryan’s number. I thought I remembered seeing a contacts sheet in the handouts from Mr. Beckett though.

“Cassidy, come on, we want details,” Leslie said.

“There’s this scavenger hunt. A camp thing. Bryan Lakewood is my partner.”

“Bryan?! Can I come?”

“You’d be bored, Hunter,” I said. I hated how disappointed he looked when I turned him down for something, but I craved a bit of
me
time.

A chime pinged. Leslie put down her tea cup and got up from the table.

“Early check-in this morning. Jeff, could you make sure those sweet rolls . . .”

“I’m on it,” Dad said. Leslie ran her fingers through Hunter’s hair as she went out to the registration podium in the front hall.

After breakfast, Hunter and I went into Dad’s office to open my care package. The desktop was spare, except for a stapler, a basket with Ocean Whispers brochures, a flat-screen monitor, and a stone coaster with some inspirational saying
about walking confidently toward your dreams. I picked up the box and sat in Dad’s desk chair.

“Dad keeps the scissors in his top drawer,” Hunter said, sliding it open.

“Thanks.”

Hunter ripped off the brown paper. I used the scissors to slice through the packing tape that held the sides together. I’d barely finished cutting as Hunter pulled open the flaps, and we both rummaged through. His first find was a cellophane bag tied with a hot-pink ribbon.

“Boring,” he proclaimed, and put it aside.

“Boring? This stuff is the best!” I said, grabbing it. My favorite coconut body wash and a loofah. Hunter pulled out a bikini top and giggled. The box also contained a pretty sundress and a huge bottle of sunscreen, SPF a million. There was an envelope in the bottom of the box marked
Cass
. I ripped it open. Inside was a note and three twenties.

“Hunter, here—thanks for helping,” I said, giving him a twenty.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Daaaaad!” He ran out of the room with the bill in his hand. I read the note.

Cass,

We miss you! Hope you enjoy your goodies.

Don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen!

Talk soon!

xoxo,

Mom

PS Go buy yourself some lipstick and kiss someone silly! xo Nan

Kiss someone silly? Did she forget a comma? I laughed.

My father came in with the twenty I’d given to Hunter in his hand. “Cass, did you give this to him?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Are you sure?”

Hunter was by Dad’s legs looking a bit pouty.

“Yes, Nan sent it for him,” I lied.

“See, told you.”

Dad smiled and handed him back the bill. “Go put it in your bank.”

Hunter raced upstairs, the house practically shaking.

“That was very generous of you, thanks.”

“Well, maybe we can use it at the arcade or something. I feel a little bad telling him no.”

“Cass, stop. He’s happy with any time you give him. You’re here to have fun too. I’m glad you might do something with Bryan this afternoon. You should be getting out.”

“Hey, Dad, do you know the Lakewoods?”

“Yes, I work with Bryan’s mom.”

“Would you happen to have their number?”

“I can do better than that,” he said, coming around to his monitor. He clicked the mouse a few times and the screen came to life. “Bryan helped me in the lab last year; I’m pretty sure I have his number here somewhere.”

“Thanks,” I said, collecting my stuff.

“Here it is,” he said. He grabbed a small pad from his top drawer and scribbled down the number. He ripped it off and handed it to me.

“Do you know what happened to him?”

“What do you mean?”

“How he got hurt.”

My father shut down whatever file he’d been looking at and stood up, hands in pockets. “I’m not entirely sure—I know it happened in the Crescent Beach parking lot; the kids skateboard there. He fell somehow.”

“That sucks.”
Nothing that exciting
, he’d said. A fall? Something as simple as that and his life was altered forever. No wonder he didn’t want to talk about it.

“He has a great support system though, integrated well in school. He’s a good kid.”

I thought of him speeding down that road with his brother the night he saw me at Crescent Beach.
Good kid, ha, with a wild side
. “Thanks for the number, Dad.”

Upstairs, I flopped down, package and all, onto my bed. I took the note from Mom and Nan and pinned it to my
bulletin board, along with Bryan’s number. I reached for my phone. A message from Emma—
Pictures, gurl!! This is war!
Boobs, please!
I laughed, tapped in Bryan’s number. The call went to voice mail, and his message was so polite and serious, I had to smile. Most guys I knew barely said, “Yo, leave a message!” Meanwhile he was all, “You’ve reached Bryan Lakewood. I can’t make it to the phone right now . . .” Cute. I cleared my throat. “Hey, Bryan Lakewood, it’s Cass. Cassidy. Emmerich. From camp. Thought we could hook up to search out that scavenger-hunt clue. I’m desperate to get out of this place, but . . . oh . . . wait . . . I mean that in a good way, not like I’m desperate, or you’re desperate or anything, I just think it would be cool to hang out. Call me.”

I hung up and stared at the ceiling, surprised at how much I wanted him to call.

It would be nice to see the beach.

To be out in the sun and maybe start a base tan.

To see him with his shirt off.

Wait, what?

Safe. Bryan was safe. Seeing someone.

He didn’t flirt like Wade, or leer like his brother.

I could talk to him.

I liked it.

More than I wanted to admit.

TEN
BRYAN

“DAD, HAVE YOU SEEN MY SURFBOARD?”

I’d been up since eight, helping my father plant red, white, and blue annuals in raised beds around the perimeter of the patio in preparation for our Fourth of July barbecue the following week. Not the raddest form of Saturday entertainment, but it was already eleven and I felt accomplished. Matt was still asleep. We were taking a break, Dad tinkering with his home-brew kit in the garage.

“What?”

“My red board, the quad fish—it’s usually up on the pegs in the shed, but it’s gone.”

He took off his Lakewood Landscaping baseball cap and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “Dunno . . . I didn’t touch it. Matty might know.”

“Matty might know what?”

We both turned to see Matt, wearing boxer briefs and nothing else, standing in the doorway that connected the mudroom to the garage. He had lines from his pillow across his cheek. My phone was in his hand.

“My fish, what did you do with it?”

He frowned, absentmindedly scratching his abs. “I didn’t do anything with it.”

“Liar.”

He stepped into the garage and closed the door behind him.

“Fine. I didn’t think you’d care if I used it.”

“Matty,” Dad said.

“It’s still my board,” I said, pushing back so I faced him.

“The surf was mushy last week; the fish rides better in the small waves. Sorry, I should have asked, I just . . . didn’t want to make you feel left out.”

The truth was appreciated, but still hurt. “Where is it now?”

“You missed a call,” he said, tossing me the phone.

I caught it, but ignored the message, pinning Matt down with my eyes. “Where’s the board?”

He looked at Dad, then down at the floor. “Over at the Matsons’. I ended up crashing there the other night and Dad picked me up in the morning for work, and I knew I’d be with the guys later anyway, so you know, I just left it
there. And, well . . . yeah.”

“Left it there?”

“What do you think Jake’s doing with it?” he asked, defensive, like I was the one who was being unreasonable.

“I don’t care, all I know is that it’s mine, and it’s gone, and you should have asked. You’ll probably ding it up.”

“It’s not like you’re—”

“Hey, stop,” Dad said.

“No, say what you were going to say, Matt,” I said. He looked at the floor again.
It’s not like you’re even using it.
I knew that, but I liked to see the board, run my fingers across the smooth glassed surface, close my eyes, and remember what it was like. Imagine what it might be like again. I’d paid for it with my own money. It was
mine
.

“Bry, I’m sorry.”

“Just get it back,” I said.

“Hey, Matty, think you could put on some pants and help me with the mulch? Bryan did the bulk of your share this morning with the zinnias.”

Matt groaned. “I thought the weekend meant rest.”

“Come on, it’ll go quick with the two of us—then I’ll let you taste the latest home brew.”

“That’s incentive? The wild blueberry beer kind of sucked, Dad, no offense.”

“Trial and error, kid. Come on, I’m working on a stout for the Fourth, could use some taste testers. Game, Bry?” It
wasn’t like we sat with Dad in the garage and got shitfaced, but he let us taste test now and then. Matt was right, the blueberry beer had sucked.

“Uh, maybe,” I said, tapping to check my voice mail. I held the phone to my ear and suddenly Cass’s voice filled my head.

“What are you grinning at?” Matt asked.

I shook my head, played the message again. And again. Studying the way her voice went up and down, the slight laugh after she’d said the word
desperate
. I kind of figured she was blowing off meeting up, that she’d just been making plans to be polite, but she called me. That’s what made me grin.

“Matty, the mulch?” Dad said.

“Yeah, I’ll help with the mulch, but I need some Frosted Flakes first,” he said, heading back inside.

“And pants,” Dad called after him. He looked at me. “Are you up to helping this afternoon?”

“I think I might have plans,” I said. I wheeled to the driveway for more privacy and pressed the call button, my pulse pounding in my ear. She picked up immediately. Hearing her voice made me grin again.

“Desperate, huh?”

Two hours later I pulled the Charger into a spot along Beach Avenue, right in front of the promenade. I unfolded my chair, popped my wheels in lightning fast, and made my way toward the access ramp. Cass’s bike was chained to the rack. She was
waiting on the promenade, wearing the blue bikini top and white shorts. She leaned against a bench, her hair loose, blowing across her face in the breeze. As I got closer, she brushed it back and smiled. All I kept thinking was,
She’s there for me. For me.
I made a conscious effort to slow down. My heart pounded with the effort.

“Wow, you’re pretty dangerous in that car.”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“You practically screeched into the spot.”

“Did I? I like to drive. Can kind of forget myself there.”

“Yes, I think I’ve witnessed you forgetting yourself before.”

The South Ferry Road incident. “Will you ever let me live that down? I told you, I was protecting you from my brother.”

“Maybe if you give me a ride someday.”

Cass in my car? Yes, please
. I laughed. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“So, did you read the first clue?”

Clue?

I didn’t want to tell her that once she called, the prospect of spending time with her had knocked any rational thought out of my head. I had no idea what the first clue was, and she saw it in my eyes.

“Hmm, is that how it’s gonna be, Lakewood? Lucky for us I downloaded it from the website,” she said, scrolling through her phone. She crouched down next to me, our arms touching. The wind blew her hair into my face.

“Ugh, sorry,” she said. “Hold this, please.” She handed me
her phone, gathered up her hair, and took a purple band from around her wrist. In a few quick moves it was up in some twisty way that reminded me of the top of a pineapple. The strings of her bikini were tied in a bow at the nape of her neck. Two delicate little strings I could untie with my teeth. How would I ever focus on a scavenger hunt?

“Okay,” she said, all business. “Here’s the clue.
At the foot of this street, stripes the color of banana—you’ll be made in the shade, in a private cabana.
So it sounds like some specific spot on the beach—where cabanas are? I guess if we find that, then we’ll find the street.”

“Makes sense,” I said, but thought
bikini top
. She widened her eyes at me.

“You’re the local—where are the cabanas?”

“In front of the Lexington Hotel—that’s a bit of a walk that way,” I said, pointing down the promenade.

“Then I guess we better get going,” she said.

Crest Haven didn’t have the kind of boardwalk tourists visited for fun, but it was still heavy with foot traffic. There were no rides, just a long stretch of walkway that ran along most of the beach. The main section had a few restaurants and a conference hall for events, a store for beach clothes and towels, a small arcade, and another shop with fifty different flavors of saltwater taffy and fudge. Navigating the crowd was a little challenging—by the time people saw me they were usually ready to trip over me—but once we passed the last restaurant, it thinned out.

“All right, what’s the deal with the fudge shops? Do people hit the beach and suddenly think, you know what, I’ve done Crossfit and quit carbs all winter to fit into this bikini, but screw it, I’m craving fudge, where can I get some?”

“You’ve never tried rocky road.”

“Should I get us a sample? May as well have the full Crest Haven experience.” She jogged back toward Croft’s. The girl out front with the samples tray smiled as Cass took some fudge and came back. She held one out for me.

“No rocky road, but she said this white-chocolate cookie dough is insane.” We popped it into our mouths at the same time. “Wow, that’s like a carnival in your mouth,” Cass said. “And to think I could have been working there.”

“You could have been a Croft’s girl?”

“You make it sound like something I should have considered.”

“Nah, just . . . they have a rep for hiring hot girls.”

“So do you think I would have fit in?”

Was she flirting with me?
Yesssssssss.

“What if I just said I’m glad you chose Camp Manatee, corny mascot and all?”

“I guess I’ll take it,” she said.

We continued down the promenade and finally made it to the Lexington Hotel. Cass looked at the street name.

“Cartwright Street?” she asked. “Or do you think it’s the one on the other side?”

“Maybe you should take down both names and when we
have all the clues, we’ll know which one it is because it will fit in with the rest of them.”

“So you
are
thinking about this,” she said.

“I’m very competitive. We need to win,” I said.

“I think this discovery deserves a celebration.”

“What did you have in mind?”

She pointed across the street to a retro-looking silver cart with a bright-red umbrella. A stand-up sign next to it read “Shore Pops—Five fresh flavors! Different every day!”

“C’mon, my treat. I’ll go get them,” she said.

“Okay.”

She walked toward the stairs that led to the street, then turned before heading down. “Flavor?”

“Lemon.”

“Very nice, and if they don’t have that?”

“Surprise me.”

I pushed my chair over toward the railing on the beach side. Typical Saturday at the shore. No open spots of sand. An army of brightly colored umbrellas standing at attention. The surf was mushy, slow flat waves, barely any white water, like Matt had mentioned. It still looked perfect to me. Translucent, green, the sun reflecting off the surface. I closed my eyes. Could almost imagine it washing over me.

“Okay, good news or bad news?” Cass was back, cellophane-wrapped ice pops in each hand.

“How can there be bad news about ice pops?”

“Well, they had lemon, so yay, but it’s artisanal lemon infused with lavender and mint. Think you can handle it?”

“I love lavender. Very calming,” I said.

She laughed and handed me the wrapped ice pop.

“Hey, would you mind taking a picture of me?” she asked, fumbling with her phone. She opened the camera function and handed it to me. I placed the pop and the phone between my leg and side guard and reversed away from the railing. She climbed on the bench, sitting on top of the part where people usually put their backs.

“Okay, move over that way, your face is sort of in shadow,” I said, motioning for her to move to her right. She slid across, sat up straight, and arched her back.
Damn.

“With the ice pop or without?” she asked so seriously I had to laugh.

“What’s this for?”

“Um . . . to show someone on StalkMe I’m having the best time in the world without them.”

“With, then,” I said. She ripped open the pop and stuffed the wrapper into her front pocket, then resumed the arched-back sex-bomb pose, this time with the ice pop. I snapped a few before she said, “Oh, wait,” and pulled her hair down, running a hand through it and letting it trail down her back.

“I would like to have this ice pop before it melts,” I said, even though I wouldn’t have cared if it were melting all over
my chair pad and attracting bees. Having an excuse to stare at Cassidy was sweet.

“Just a few more,” she said, grinning.

“Work it, baby,” I joked. She burst out laughing and hopped off the bench.

“Let me see.”

I handed her the phone and finally unwrapped the ice. It was already dripping in the heat. She scrolled through the photos, smiling.

“So I look like I’m having fun?”

“Totally,” I said.

“Okay, your turn, cameraman.”

“With the ice or without?” I teased.

“With, of course.”

I mugged for the camera and put the ice pop in my mouth. My taste buds were expecting lemon but what I got was much more than that. I winced at the unexpected soapy flavor of lavender. Cass continued taking my picture and laughing.

“No fair,” I said.

“Okay, now both of us,” she said, crouching down and getting closer to me. Once our faces were framed on the phone screen, she took a few more shots.

“Bryan?”

We both looked up. Standing a couple of feet away from us was Shay and her douche-canoe college-guy boyfriend.

“Shay, hey, what’s up?”

Cass stood up and slipped her phone into her back pocket, holding the pop in her mouth as she twisted up her hair again in the elastic. I took smug satisfaction in the way both Shay and douche canoe looked Cass up and down.
Yes, we’re together
. It didn’t even matter we weren’t
together
together.

“You remember Tyler, right?”

Tyler, aka douche canoe, aka guy she’d been with since she broke up with me? Of course I remembered him.

“Yeah. Stockton?”

“Yep, just finished up my second year.”

“This is Cassidy,” I said. “We work at camp together.”

“Oh,” Shay said, “did you just move here?”

“Only for the summer.”

“Cool.”

“Her dad’s Mr. Emmerich.”

“I had him for chem,” Tyler said.

“Nice,” Cass answered.

“How do you like it here?” Shay asked.

“It’s been fun, better since Bry has been showing me around.”

I could have kissed her.

“Oh, great,” Shay said, looking to me.

After more convo about the beautiful day and the surge of bennies for the Fourth, Tyler put his arm around Shay and said they had to get back to their beach blanket.

“Guess we’ll be seeing you around, then,” Shay said.

“Yeah, bye,” I said.

Cassidy and I made our way back to where we’d met up. She waited until we finished our ice pops to grill me.

“Back there—friends of yours, I guess?”

“Something like that.”

“They seemed nice.”

“Not that nice. That was my ex-girlfriend,” I confessed.

“I did sort of get that vibe,” she said.

BOOK: The Season of You & Me
12.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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