I imagine his dimples when he writes LOL and his backward hat.
Even being busy with school, we still write. I tell him that Alec invited me to Homecoming and he says he hopes I have a good time.
I do, but I still wish it was him.
After that, our emails become less frequent.
In December the emails from him stop. I write a few times, but he doesn’t reply and I know this must be the end. He’s moved on. It was destined to happen anyway.
He’s changed since last year. He’s sadder. I guess I’ve changed, too. I’m more wary of him, scared to get too close. I’ve had my first boyfriend since he was here last. I’ve taken to helping Dad more often. He seems to struggle sometimes and I don’t know why. Nathaniel looks at me differently when he doesn’t know I’m watching, and even though I can tell he’s in pain, we still have our nights. And they’re even more magical than they were before. ~Charlotte
I sit in the backseat with my headphones in. My iPod hasn’t been turned off once since we got in the car for Lakeland Village. Not that I keep it off much these days anyway. Makes it harder for people to talk to you when you don’t feel like talking.
It’s crazy because I don’t know how I feel coming back here. When we came last year, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was supposed to be a one-time thing because Dad is always busy. But then we went and I met her, and she made it okay. No, she made it fun and I started to really f**king like her.
Charlotte is cool. Different. She would talk to me half the night, and as lame as it sounds it was almost like I was the only person she ever talked to. Like she would burst open and everything would spill if she didn’t get those words out and that made me feel good. I wanted to be that person for her and I liked listening to her talk. But, hell, what could we have had besides a summer friendship? One that meant more to me than I really thought it would because I missed her when I left and I looked forward to her emails, but we also live a thousand miles away from either other.
It hurt more than I thought when I wasn’t sure if I would ever seen her again.
But then everything in my life crashed in on me. I screwed it all up; people got hurt because of me and I stopped talking to everyone—even her.
Right as the song switches, Dad says, “Almost there!” from the front seat. It’s the pseudo-happy voice he uses with me all the time now.
I click the power off on my iPod to hear Mom add, “This is just what we need. Another family summer like last year so we can spend quality time together.”
Brandon huffs from beside me and I nod at him. Yeah, like we spent that much time together last summer. He was always with Alec or Sadie and I spent my time with Charlotte.
Mom and Dad get lost in their own little world together and I look at my brother. “I’m sure you’re stoked to see Sadie again.” I want the words to sound teasing, but they’re rough and serious like everything I say nowadays.
“Eh. Not really. She was too prissy. I’m hoping she’s got someone else so I don’t have to deal with her.”
That surprises me. Though it’s not like the past six months haven’t been hard on Brandon, too. We had to deal with half the town being against us, and then we had the trial too. Brandon had to leave our school with an awesome football team, to one with only an okay team. He was pissed. Once we moved, he met friends because that’s Brandon; he’s always talking to someone about something but he hadn’t screwed around with any girls. Hell, I don’t even remember him messing with anyone since last year. I teased him about getting his heart broken by Sadie, but I never really thought that was true.
In a low voice, so our parents don’t hear, he says, “What about you and the sister? Don’t tell me you didn’t touch her last year.”
A little flash of our kiss from that last night climbs into my head. I haven’t thought about that in a long time and it makes me want to smile. She was so nervous. How she’d never even kissed someone, I don’t know, but she’d been good. I liked it way too much. Was glad I was the one who got to do it. I shake those thoughts from my head.
Without realizing it, Brandon helps with that when he says, “Nah, it don’t matter anyway. She’s probably hooked up with Alec by now.”
I groan internally, a strange sort of ache taking root in my chest. I should be used to feeling like shit by now, but I’m not. Not when it comes to Charlotte. She deserves way better than Alec. She deserves her stars.
Without answering, I turn the iPod back on and hit play, and turn to face the window. When my brother shuffles next to me, I glance over to see he’s doing the same thing.
We’re getting the same cabin as we had last summer even though we booked last minute. It doesn’t surprise me. Dad has a way of getting what he wants, which I guess is why it pissed him off so bad when everyone turned their back on us after everything went down this year.
Mom leans back and pats my leg. “We’re here!” she says with cheeriness. A weight lands in my stomach. I want to see Charlotte, but don’t. I’m scared as hell she’ll be different. After all the other changes, I need her to be the same. Maybe that’s not what I should be worried about at all, though. It’s not like I don’t know I’ve changed. What if that makes things different with us? I didn’t realize it until we pulled in how important it is to me that things be the same, though after the way I treated her, I’m not sure how they can be.
How am I going to explain to her why I disappeared? She sent three emails that went unanswered. I like that about her. That she’s caring and was worried, but also that she’s strong enough that she didn’t dick around when I treated her in a way she didn’t deserve.
We pull up in front of our cabin and Dad kills the engine.
“Looks just how I remembered,” he says and I want to tell him no shit. It’s not like they were doing a big remodel or something.
We get out of the car and head for the trunk to grab our things. “Nate, why don’t you go to the office and grab the keys?” Mom asks. Nate. That’s a new thing too.
I’m caught between telling her yes and trying to get out of it. If I go to the office, I’ll probably run into Charlotte and, it might make me a wuss, but I’m not sure I should see her yet.
“I have your keys for you already, Mr. and Mrs. Chase.”
I look over to see Alec standing on the porch. My eyes immediately scan for Charlotte. He’s always where she is.
“Thank you!” Dad calls to him. Alec takes the stairs to help us with our stuff. I’m still looking around for Charlotte, but she doesn’t come out of the cabin and I don’t see her anywhere.
When Alec gets to us he gives my brother a quick nod and he returns it, before Alec’s eyes cut to me. And damned if I don’t see the anger there. It’s not like we were ever buddies anyway, but he’s pissed and I can pretty much guarantee I know why.
“You guys are welcome to go inside. I can help Nathaniel with the bags,” he says.
“I didn’t realize I’d offered my help,” I toss back at him.
“Nate!” Mom screeches.
Alec doesn’t take his eyes off me and I stare him down, too. I get it. I really do, but whatever went down is between Charlotte and me. I’m not going to let him push his way in the middle of it.
“I was kidding, Mom. We got this.”
“Why don’t you help, too, Brandon?”
My brother nods, but as soon as my parents start to walk away, he grabs the smallest, closest bag he can find and goes inside with them.
“I knew it. One look at you last year and I f**king knew you’d hurt her.” He steps closer to me, but I don’t back down. He’s gotten bigger since last year, but so have I.
It really sucks that I don’t know exactly what he’s talking about. Does he know I kissed her? Did that hurt her? That was the last thing I’d wanted, but she’d been standing so close and her lips looked so good and I couldn’t let myself leave without having kissed her. Maybe it was a mistake, but I can’t regret it because…hell, I don’t know why. She’s Charlotte, my friend, and she’s cute and funny and maybe I’m a prick for being the one to want her first kiss. But I did and I’m glad.
“Whatever went down between Charlotte and me isn’t your business.” After I say it, I realize it might really be his business. What if Brandon was right? They might be together now.
“Charlie’s my best friend. If she’s hurt, it’s my business.”
“She’s my best friend, too, and in case you didn’t notice, she’s strong enough to take care of herself. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s ever hurt her.” But it still feels like a knife to the gut. Out of everyone in my life, she’s the last one I would ever want to cause pain.
He balls his hand in a fist and even though my parents will freak, I’m not about to let him hit me. I’ve been in enough fights this year to promise I can come out on top.
We both freeze at the sound of her voice. I turn toward the office and she’s standing on the porch. For a second I feel like someone has knocked the breath out of me. Her hair is longer. It’s kind of whipping around her head in the breeze. She looks a little curvier. Not big or anything, but last year she looked even younger than she was. Now? Not so much.
The first thing I wonder is if she’s still wearing the necklace. If she has the star that matches the one in my pocket. It got ripped off in a fight this year and it took me forever to get a new clasp on it, but it’s there now and even though I don’t wear it, I keep it.
The second thing is she dresses the same and it’s almost like some of the weight slides off my chest. She’s still in cut-off shorts. Still wearing a tank top and it reminds me of our nights last year when everything was easier.
“Alec!” she calls again, but doesn’t look at me. She crosses her arms and I smirk. Damn, I missed her.
“Go ahead. I got this,” I tell Alec, but my eyes don’t leave Charlotte. Alec doesn’t need to be told twice. He jogs off toward Charlotte who waits for him. I watch them, tightness taking hold of my chest. All the shit that I’ve been through this year, I didn’t realize it, but somehow I thought things would get better when I got here.
Look at me. I feel like such a p**sy for silently begging her to turn back, but I need someone to see me and not the one whose family had to uproot their lives for, or the guy who would have gotten himself in that kind of situation in the first place, the nark who ratted out his friends when they were just having a good time.
Alec gets to her on the porch and wraps an arm around her shoulder. The tightness in me spreads and I tell myself it’s just because she’s my friend and I think he’ll hold her back.
Alec turns her so her back is to me and they start to walk away. It’s not until they get to the far side of the building, just about to go around the corner, that she glances over her shoulder and her eyes find mine.