I’ll never forget the first time I saw Nathaniel Chase. I was fifteen-years-old and leaving cabin 3B with my best friend Alec, who up until that moment, I’d always figured was the boy for me. It wasn’t that Alec and I were in love with each other, but we still knew that was our future. Without ever talking about it, we accepted it. Everything changed when Nathaniel pulled up to our lake cabins for the summer. Now, I had another boy in my life. Another best friend, but this one only part-time. This one, I loved.
My legs hang over the dock, feet dancing in the water as they do every summer. It’s early June, but already sticky hot. Any time I can, I sneak away from Dad before he finds more work for me to do. The water is the only way to stay cool on days like this.
I make circles with my toes, watching tiny waves ripple out until they disappear and I wonder how long I’ll be able to avoid Dad. He seems to be immune to the heat. He’s spent all day every summer working outside at our lake cabins since he was a kid and Mom’s parents gave him a job. My grandparents are long gone now and the place belongs to him and Mom. I get the joy of working alongside him.
“Hey, Charlie Rae. I’ve been looking for you.” Glancing up, I shield the sun from my eyes to see my best friend Alec standing next to me in a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a red, sleeveless shirt showcasing the firm muscles that haven’t always been there, running the length of his arms. He smiles, showing me the little chip in his tooth he got when he fell off the tire swing when we were eight. Alec pushes a hand through his sun-bleached hair.
“Let me guess, my dad’s looking for me?” I groan.
“How do you know it’s not me who wanted to find you, huh?” He winks.
I shake my head. Alec is such a flirt. He playfully does it with all the girls, but he’s the only one who does it to me. Which, embarrassingly, makes my cheeks warm up a little bit. I know it doesn’t mean anything. Alec is just nice like that, but when he’s the only boy who’s nice to me like that, it makes it hard not to get girly. Even though he’s only my best friend and I know that’s all he’ll ever emotionally be.
When I go to stand, he holds out his hand, and I let him pull me up.
“So…your dad’s looking for you,” he says, making me roll my eyes.
“See! I told you, Captain Liar. Where is he?” Crossing my arms, I try not to pout. I’m not sure why I feel like it. Maybe because of his stupid teasing. Maybe because I’m annoyed that Mom and my sister, Sadie Ann, are sitting in our air-conditioned store right now and I’m the one who has to work outside with Dad. Not that I wouldn’t rather be with him than them. Dad and I have more in common, but it’s still not fair.
“Captain Liar?” Alec laughs. “You’re such a dork. I mean, a cool dork, but a dork all the same.” My face feels hot again, but for a different reason this time. Shoving past Alec I try to walk away, but he runs after me. “I’m kidding, Charlie. Wait up! Hey, what’s the problem?”
Actually, I don’t know what my problem is. Or maybe I do. I’m tired of being the “dork”. Tired of being teased and just plain old Charlie Rae. Never Charlotte. Charlie. “Just grumpy. And hot. Where’s Dad?” I pull my hair tie out before putting my long, dark hair into another ponytail. According to Sadie Ann, ponytails are “so out” but it works for me.
“He’s busy getting some boat rentals ready. He wanted me to tell you he needs you to make sure cabin 3B is ready. Got a family coming in. They’ll be here the whole summer.”
I don’t try to stifle my groan. Why would people choose to come here for a whole summer? They think it’s such a great place to spend time, when really it’s just because they don’t live here. I do. I know how much it sucks. Luckily, the people who come the rest of the year never stay very long. “What do we know about them?”
“Some rich family. Parents and two sons. They’re probably too afraid of getting dirty to end up in our way much, though.” We’ve seen it enough to know. Usually, we don’t pay much attention to the people our age who come here, and they’re the same to us.
“I hope so,” I say. “Okay, thanks for telling me. I’m going to go grab the key and get the cabin ready.” I wave at Alec, but he keeps going.
“I guess they’re going to be here earlier than your dad thought, so we gotta hurry. I’ll help you.”
I smile. What a sweetheart. These are the things Alec does that make him my best friend. He’s the only boy in Lakeland Village, Virginia that I can stand.
Really, there isn’t much to do in the cabin anyway. It’s already been cleaned, but we like to freshen the cabins up before people get here so they aren’t so musty from being closed up.
Our store’s a little white building with blue trim. It matches our house, which is off to the side and behind it. When people say, “one-stop shopping” this is what they mean. The building houses the limited products for purchase, the rentals, and the office.
Taking the back door, I run inside the office to grab the customer key so I don’t have to run into Mom or Sadie Ann out front. My blue baseball hat is sitting on the counter so I grab it to help keep the sun out of my eyes while I’m working today. After putting it on and pulling my ponytail through the hole, Alec and I are on our way to cabin 3B.
The cabins? They’re much cuter than our house or the office, each one decorated in a theme or color. They’re actual cozy log cabins. I can see why people would want to come here. It’s the living here year ‘round I’m still a little lost on. But what can I say? I know this place is going to be my future.
The area of land isn’t huge. There’s a small pond off to one side. We have ten cabins, some on the lake and some a little farther out. 3B is one of the nicest.
“You don’t have to help, Alec. I’m sure you want to go home and enjoy your summer or whatever.”
Just because I have to be stuck here doesn’t mean he should have to be, but because he’s a nice guy, Alec says, “Nope. Plus, I need the money. Your dad’s letting me help out this year.”
Alec is a year-rounder like us, though he doesn’t live at The Village, which is the name of our “dream getaway”. He lives up the street. Our parents are best friends, too.
He doesn’t realize how lucky he is not to have to work here, but I don’t say that. “Thanks.”
We do a quick sweep of the place. I freshen the potpourri, make sure the rooms are spider-web free, and all sorts of stupid things. Just as we’re walking out and I’m locking up, car doors slam behind me.
Great. I had hoped to make it out and put the keys back before they got here so Mom or Sadie Ann would have to be the ones to talk to them. They’re much better with people than I am.
As soon as I turn around, everything changes. My heart speeds up. I feel hotter, almost like I can’t breathe. I swear I’m not one of those annoying girls who pine for their stupid dream boy at fifteen-years-old. I’ve never even had a boyfriend. Or wanted a boyfriend. I’ve looked at tons of boys though: Alec, boys at my school who used to call me “flatty-Rae” instead of Charlie Rae because God obviously decided he could only give boobs to one Gates sister and chose Sadie Ann.
I’ve seen how boys look at my sister, but when I’ve looked at them, I’ve never felt…well almost like I have the flu, to be honest, but I’ve never looked at a boy and felt this.
I can’t see his eye color from this far. His hair is bark-brown, with streaks of gold when the sun hits it. One look at him says he’s so different than me. I shouldn’t be staring, but my eyes won’t move away.
I believe everyone has certain key moments in their lives they’ll never forget. Moments marking the beginning or end of something. Moments that will always own a little piece of you. You can track decisions you make or paths your life follows and they always lead back to one of these defining moments.
This is one of them.
I’m not stupid enough to think I understand it. I don’t believe in love at first sight or anything like that. I don’t even know this boy, much less feel anything, but he… This is one of my moments. I know it like my body knows it has to breathe to survive.
Mom, Dad, Sadie Ann, or probably anyone else would think I’m crazy, and maybe I am crazy because I’m sitting here thinking tons of thoughts that have no business in my head. Thoughts I’d laugh at if anyone else had them. I know who boys like him are. They’re stuck up, rude, think they’re better than us, and everyone here knows they always, always leave, but still…this summer boy just gave me my first moment. A piece of my life I will never forget.
“Hello? Earth to Charlie.” Alec grabs my shoulder. Immediately I feel the blush crawl over my whole body.
“Um… Sorry. I’m not feeling too well.”
The family is walking toward us. The dad is in crisp, new jeans, but with a button up shirt that looks like it goes with a suit. The mom is wearing a bright red summer dress, heels and a big red hat. The other boy looks exactly like my summer boy, but somehow…different. His hair is a little darker. He’s maybe an inch taller. They’re dressed like only summer boys are in expensive tennis shoes and ironed shorts. But still, I can’t stop looking. There’s an ease about him I don’t usually see in summer boys. A laid back expression that doesn’t completely fit what I’m used to.
“Hello! We stopped by the office, finished filling out the paperwork, and they said you’d have the keys?” The dad walks up to us, a perfect smile on his perfect face.
“Umm…yeah. Here. They’re right here.” I try to hand them to him, but they slip through my fingers and fall to the ground. My moment boy has reached us, and he bends to pick them up at the same time Alec and I do. All three hands zoom toward one destination. Mine touches his. It’s not one of those “electric” sensations books and movies always talk about. Maybe I wish it is or maybe I just feel silly touching him, but I jerk my hand back. In my rush not to look like I’m trying to hold hands with him, I lose my balance a little. The more I try to catch myself, the more I stumble until I’m on my butt. On the porch. And I’m dying.
“Charlie? Are you okay?” Alec abandons his quest for the keys and reaches for me instead.
“Charlie?” moment boy asks. Yes, I want to tell him. Yes, I have a stupid boy’s name! And no boobs, and I just fell in front of you! But of course, I don’t.
“I’m fine. I think I’m getting sick, or something. I need to go home and lie down.” And die!
“Okay…okay. I’ll help you.” Alec pulls me to my feet, putting his arm around me. Then to the summer family, he says, “Sorry about this. Everything you guys need should be in there. If not, call the office. I better get her home.”
“Definitely. I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well, dear,” the mom says.