Slowly, like, so slowly I think I could die, she drops her hands. Nothing could pull my eyes away from her. Charlotte. Star Girl. I can’t believe she trusts me with this. “See?” my voice creaks. “Perfect.”
Her eyes are watery. “Thank you.”
We stand there for a few minutes and I’m sure I’m supposed to do something, but I can’t. I’d seen Roxi without her shirt on but she wasn’t Charlotte. This is different.
“For the rest…how about we close our eyes and then run in the water.”
I laugh; glad she’s getting cold feet too. I don’t want to be the guy who freaks out.
“One,” she says.
“Two,” I reply and it reminds me of that time we decided to go for it in the paintball game. We weren’t afraid, we trusted each other to have our backs and we just went for it. This is Last Man Standing all over again.
“Three.” That voice is my head is back, telling me I’m stupid for closing my eyes, but she trusts me and I won’t do anything not to deserve it. I push my boxers down my legs and then go toward the water. I hear her next to me, but I’m not sure so I ask, “How do we know when we can open our eyes?”
“Umm…we’ll walk until our waist is covered. Mine is, now.”
I take a couple more steps and then say, “Me too.” We open our eyes and look at each other. I think she’s blushing, but can’t completely tell because of the light. Trying to lighten the mood, I splash her and she does the same. We play around in the water and pretty soon I forget I’m nak*d. Not her, I’ll never be able to forget she’s bare.
After a little while, we run out of the water, neither closing our eyes but not really looking either. I toss a towel at her and she wraps it around herself. Not wanting to get our clothes wet, I only put on my boxers and Charlotte her bra and panties before we sit on the blanket again. This time, I hold her between my legs with her back to my chest.
“Thank you,” she whispers after a few minutes.
“It was my pleasure. Believe me. You have absolutely nothing to thank me for.”
It’s a little cold so I pull the blanket up around my shoulders and wrap it around her. We sit like that for hours, sometimes talking and sometimes quiet.
Before we know it, the sun is a threat in the distance, warning us that we’ll soon be going our separate ways. Leaning forward, I put my mouth next to her ear, “We should probably get dressed.”
She nods and leaves my arms. I instantly miss her. She slips on her shorts and her shirt and then I do the same. I can’t believe it, but I’m shaking. Really shaking, and I don’t understand it. I pull her toward me and kiss her, before just holding her against my chest.
Charlotte cries there as I rest my chin on the top of her head. I squeeze her tightly, knowing soon we’ll have to let go. “I wasn’t joking when I said you’re beautiful…that you’re perfect,” I tell her.
“I don’t want you to go,” she mumbles into my chest.
“I know…” I don’t tell her it’ll be okay. Don’t say we’ll keep talking. Both are true, but neither are enough and we both know it.
“What do we do now?” That, I need to know. There’s a part of me who says we’ll do this. She can be my girlfriend and it will be enough because we’ll talk every day. But then, there’s the realist in me. The one who knows there are no promises. That we’re f**king young and she’s here with Alec and there’s a real possibility that maybe he’s better for her than I am.
“We keep living. There’s nothing we can do, Nathaniel. You’ll go back home and you’ll meet girls and you’ll play baseball and be happy and I’ll be here. I’ll work with my dad and hang out with Alec and life will just…keep going.”
“I hate it.” I kiss her forehead.
“I do, too.”
We stand there for as long as we can before heading back. She wipes her eyes a couple times and I wish I was doing it for her. Or kissing her tears away. When we get close to the cabins, I grab her hand and we stop. “I think…if things were different. If we were closer… You’d be it for me, Star Girl. Is that stupid to say? That I think I could love you?”
She shakes her head and she’s crying more now. I don’t like seeing the tears blur her green eyes. “No, it’s perfect.”
Charlotte pushes up on her toes and presses her lips to mine. Then, without a word, she walks away. I stand there, watching her go.
He met a girl in September, only a few weeks after school started. I could see it in his face while we Skyped. He didn’t have to tell me because I knew, but he did anyway. He’s honest like that. When he told me he wished it could be me, I believed him. When I went to Homecoming with Lance, Nathaniel told me I looked beautiful in my dress. When Dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Nathaniel called to comfort me. When Mom and Sadie left us, we stayed on the phone all night. Nathaniel’s girlfriend Hailey came and went, as did the next one, Monica. Lance and I went out for three months before it ended. Alec had a girlfriend for a while, too. I found our betta fish belly up one morning. The only thing that stayed the same that year was us—how I felt about Nathaniel.
“Thank you!” The bald man takes a key for the cabin he rented before walking out. I turn to Alec.
“Are all the cabins clean?” I ask. “We need to make sure we double check all the empty ones and replace linens for current guests, oh, and what time does your mom have to leave today?” Maggie helps out a lot now that Mom and Sadie are gone. His dad once in a while too, but it’s harder for Randy because he has a fulltime job. Plus, him and Alec aren’t getting along as well as they used to. I’m not sure why.
Alec grabs my arm as I turn to pick up the piece of paper that’s hung in the office where Alec’s mom writes down the hours she can help.
“Charlie. Chill out. You’re running around like you’re on crack or something.”
“I am.” The words bite out of my mouth. “Did I forget to tell you I picked up the habit?”
He frowns and I immediately feel guilty. I don’t know why I’m freaking out. Actually, I do know why, and it makes absolutely no sense. And even if it does, I shouldn’t be taking it out on Alec. It’s not his fault Nathaniel is coming today and I can’t seem to get my head straight about it.
“I’m sorry,” I say at the same time Alec asks, “What’s wrong with you?”
Then the light bulb goes off in his head. “Oh, yeah. Lover boy comes today.”
Now I have a reason to be annoyed with him. He’s not my lover boy…though I do wish he was. “It has nothing to do with Nathaniel. It’s the fact that we’re busy.”
Alec shakes his head as if to say, ‘yeah right’.
“Why do you hate him so much?” I ask. “He’s never done anything to you.”
“I don’t hate him.” Crossing his arms, Alec leans against the counter.
“Sure you don’t.”
“I hate the way you look at him. The way you treat him like he’s perfect or something.” He turns to leave, but this time it’s me who grabs his arm. I don’t have time to reply because he’s speaking again. “You’re different with him, and you know it. I just don’t want you to get hurt. What do you think is gonna happen? You guys live totally different lives. He uses you while he’s here. When he’s home, he’s going out with girls and—”
“How do you know that? It’s not like you talk to him. Plus, why shouldn’t he? We’re not together. You didn’t seem to care when I went out with Lance!”
Alec sighs, a strange sort of sadness changing his facial features. “Because Lance wouldn’t hurt you. He wouldn’t leave you. This is it for you and me, Charlie. We both know it. Especially since…”
I hold up my hand and Alec stops talking. We both know what he was going to say. Especially since Dad was diagnosed. How could he ever do it on his own? It sends an ache deep into my bones.
I open my mouth to reply, but a bell dings and Dad comes through the door. He does good most days and today is one of them. He gives Alec and I a huge smile, which I know he doesn’t really feel. Not since mom left and his body stopped working the way it used to.
“What are you guys up to?”
Alec recovers first. “Deciding on a schedule for the cabins.”
Another fake smile from Dad. “I don’t know what I would do without you two. You make a good team.”
Dad winks at me and then walks away.
I’m nervous all day. It’s so different talking to Nathaniel than it will be seeing him again. Nine months of talking, of Skyping, but that’s safe, because I have no idea how to act or what to do in person. Our second summer, we held hands and he kissed me and he told me I was perfect, but nine months is a long time. There have been girls for him and, well, a boy for me, so what the heck do I expect?
Alec’s out on a boat tour right now, and his mom’s in the store. Dad had to run to town, so it’s just me working on getting the cabins ready. I keep checking the time on my new cell phone. It’s important that I have one now, Dad says. That way we can keep in touch, which means he needs to be able to contact me if he needs me.
Every few minutes that pass, my gut churns more and more. They’re late. What if something happened? What if they changed their minds and don’t come?
Why can’t I ever stop thinking about Nathaniel?
Once the cabins are done, I go in to check on Maggie. She’s fine to stay until the shop closes at five, she tells me. We close early the night of the welcome party.
Alec and I start to decorate, and soon Dad is home helping, too. I watch him to make sure he’s not struggling. There are days his hands don’t work right or one of his legs goes weak. You can tell he’s in pain, but he tries to hide it and as horrible as it makes me feel, I try to pretend I don’t notice. Drawing attention to it only upsets him. Plus, I’m not really sure how to deal with it.
“What time were they supposed to check in?” Alec stands on stepladder, hanging the lights. The back of his blond head is to me and though there isn’t any sarcasm in his voice, I still don’t want to talk to him about Nathaniel.
“Why do you care?”
“Awesome. Because I never care about anything that has to do with you. You’re not my best friend or anything, Charlie.”
Guilt hangs like a weight from my heart. “I’m sorry. You know I love you, Alec. Its just…there’s a lot.”
Alec climbs from the ladder, steps up to me, and grabs my hand. “I’m sorry, Charlie. You know that. About your dad and your mom…you know I’m always here for you. I’ll always be here.”
My eyes feel wet all of a sudden and I squeeze his hand. I know that. I do, but it makes me kind of sad. Then I feel like a bitch for even thinking it. “Thanks, Alec.” And it’s true. Alec is Alec and Nathaniel is Nathaniel. They each hold different places in my heart and life.