I get halfway to my room when I hear Mom. “Charlie Rae! You’re tracking water all over the house!”
“Crap,” I groan as I grab the kitchen towel off the counter. “I’ll clean it up.”
I’m sopping up the water—which is ridiculous, I might add, since I’m still wet and just making more of a mess—when she walks in.
“What were you doing out there?” She leans against the counter in her pretty summer dress.
“Washin’ the boats.”
“Your sister’s going out with those Chase boys tonight. She and the older one, Brandon, seem to be getting along well.” Mom smiles. She would love Sadie to end up with a boy like Brandon who would take her away from here. I know she wishes she had a man more like their dad rather than mine. That makes me sad, because he loves her so much. Because no matter what, he’s the best man I know. I’m sure she loves him too, but maybe not in love with him. I think her hatred of being here changed her feelings for him.
“They’re leaving at the end of the summer,” I remind her.
Mom sighs. “I know. They always leave us behind, don’t they?” She looks sad. Part of me wants to tell her they don’t have to leave us behind. We could go. All of us. For once I want her to know I want to leave, too. It’s one of the only things we have in common, but I can’t do it. It would feel like stabbing Dad in the back.
I don’t think she would get it anyway. Not my wanting to leave. It’s something she shares with Sadie because their reasons are different from mine.
“I’m going with them tonight, too,” I say.
Mom smiles and I can tell she’s not trying to be mean when she says, “That’s nice of them to let you tag along.”
It doesn’t stop the words from hurting though.
I don’t want to be the one who’s tagging along.
There’s a spot way off to the far right side of the drive-in movies where we like to hang out. Not many other people come here because the view isn’t the best. But I guess when most of us come, it’s more to hang out and not watch the movies anyway.
Alec was able to borrow his parents’ truck, which Sadie wanted him to bring so we’d have the back. Of course she still brought her car, I’m assuming so she could have more time with Brandon, which means it’s Nathaniel and I riding with Alec. Talk about awkward. They both talk to me, but neither of them talks to each other. Alec keeps calling me Charlie and Nathaniel, Charlotte, which always gets a snort from Alec. It totally sucks.
Alec jaw is tight and he keeps squeezing the steering wheel. I’m not sure why he doesn’t like Nathaniel. Maybe because no boys are interested in me and we spend so much time together, he just sort of considers me his. He’s never had to share me, even with another friend. But he’s friends with someone who stayed at The Village for the first time too.
I’m not anyone’s. Not Alec’s, and I’m definitely not Nathaniel’s.
Nathaniel leans forward from the small cab in the truck. “Do we even know what’s playing?”
“No one watches the movies anyway,” Alec replies.
“So I’m not allowed to watch the movie? Shit. You guys should have told me.” There’s laughter in Nathaniel’s voice and I can’t help but smile.
Alec shakes his head from the driver’s seat, but then as we pull in, he says, “Your brother and Sadie are getting awful close.”
Nathaniel just shrugs like he doesn’t care and leans back again. My head whips toward Alec. “Why do you care? Don’t tell me you’re worried about Sadie Ann.”
It’s selfish of me, I know, but Alec is the only thing I’ve ever had that Sadie could never take away from me, even if she wanted to. Everyone else loves her more and I’ve been okay with that because I had Alec. His statement hurts me more than it should.
“You know that’s not how it is, Charlie.” Then he reaches over and puts his hand on my knee. It’s a comforting move because he knows I’m insecure when it comes to my sister. He’s been around long enough to know that and I both want to squeeze his hand back as a thank you, and also feel strange about it being there, too.
Nathaniel clears his throat. Without looking back, I know he’s smiling. His eyes are dancing with laughter and saying, I told you so, because he sees more between Alec and me than there really is. I ignore him.
We drive to our private spot under the trees. Sadie’s car is already there as well as a bunch of other people we know. All in all there’s about six vehicles parked. As soon as Alec kills the engine, we all three climb out.
Everyone gets busy making beds in the backs of the trucks and setting up camp chairs. My chair is stuck. As I fight to get it open, I see a few girls from school looking over at Nathaniel and smiling. My stomach sinks. The stupid chair becomes even more annoying as I struggle with it.
“You’re going to pulverize that thing. Let me do it.” Nathaniel grabs the chair from me and pulls, trying to open it.
I can tell he thought it would open easy so I laugh when he fights with the thing as hard as I did.
“You’re trying to put a dent in my masculinity, aren’t you?” He grunts like he’s struggling even more than he is.
“I don’t think I have to. The chair is doing a good enough job,” I laugh. Nathaniel looks up. He’s bent over messing with the chair, but his eyes are on me. There’s a teasing playfulness to them and then half his mouth lifts in a smile. His dimple shows and I don’t know how I’m able to read that look, but I turn and run.
I hear Nathaniel drop the chair behind me and know he’s right on my tail. I don’t get far before his arms wrap around my waist. My back is lined up with the front of his body, his mouth right next to my ear.
“Think you’re tough, do you, Star Girl,” he whispers. Shivers flow in wave after wave down my body. It’s only the second time he’s called me that, but I like it.
“Maybe not tougher than that chair.” I try to keep my voice calm, but then a laugh jumps out of my mouth when Nathaniel starts to tickle me. His hands play at my sides and I can’t stop the giggles that fall out of my mouth.
I feel the eyes of everyone else on us. They’re probably all wondering what the heck is going on. I don’t play around with boys like this. Sadie does. Other girls do, but not Flatty Rae.
I’m laughing and trying to get out of Nathaniel’s arms, but he doesn’t loosen his grip. He’s strong. I wish I could melt into his hold and that he would never let go. Still I pretend to try and break free as he keeps tickling. Then my foot gets caught in something and I start to go down. I don’t know how he does it, but Nathaniel turns us before we fall to the ground so it’s him that hits the dirt first. I land on top of him, gasping as I realize how I’m laying on him.
I pause, stare.
Nathaniel pauses, then smiles.
And we both bust up laughing again. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as I do at this moment. He doesn’t push me off and I don’t move just yet. We just lay there in the dirt, my body resting on top of Nathaniel’s, his hands on my h*ps as we laugh.
All too soon, we’re quieting and Alec is walking over, holding out his hand to help me up. I let him and then Nathaniel gets up behind me and he’s dirty and I know I’m dirty and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
Nathaniel dusts himself off, but then looks over at me from under his lashes. He’s facing to the side of me and not head on so it’s just this side look and this half smile and I can’t stop from returning it. It feels like there are secrets in this look. Like there’s knowledge and fact, and I wonder if it was written in the stars.
I know then, I will never, ever forget this moment. I hope he won’t either.
They always play two movies at the drive in. When the first one is over, all the girls decide that we need to take a group trip to the bathroom. Makes no sense to me, but I go anyway. I don’t want to be that girl who stays behind with the guys because that’s the easy way of them seeing you as one of the boys.
There are eight of us in the dirty bathroom where no one really pees, but fixes their hair and touches up their make up and does girl talk.
“Brandon is so hot,” Cissy tells Sadie.
“I know, right?” my sister replies. “And seriously, such a good kisser!” Everyone laughs. I’m probably the only one who hasn’t kissed a boy so I keep my mouth shut.
“His brother is hot, too!” Danielle adds and they all agree. I grab a paper towel from the dispenser and pretend to wipe my hands. The last thing I want is to listen to them talk about how hot he is.
“Eh, he’s okay,” Sadie replies. “A little young for me.”
Yeah, because a year is so much younger than she is.
As awkward as it was sitting between Nathaniel and Alec for the first movie, it was better than being a part of this boy-talk cluster in the bathroom.
“If I didn’t know better, I would think Charlie had two boys fighting over her!” Sadie laughs, which everyone follows and starts to do the same. My gut clenches, but I try not to show my discomfort. Try to laugh it off, but really, I’m wishing it wasn’t so hard to believe. Not that I want boys fighting over me, because I don’t, but…why does it have to sound so impossible?
“For sure,” Bridgett says. “Everyone knows Charlie and Alec are going to be one of those couples who just end up together and then they’ll get married and that will be that.”
“Alec isn’t my boyfriend,” I grit out.
Bridget replies, “I know. You guys make that painfully obvious, but we know you will be one day. Which is a shame because Alec is hot, too. Since he’s not yours yet, you should tell him it’s okay to spread the love around a little.”
Everyone laughs again. I want to throw up. I toss the paper towel in the trash, planning to walk out, but Sadie’s voice stops me. “They might not admit it, but her and Alec have been together since they were born. It’s ridiculous. Plus, it’s not like she could have Nathaniel. Brandon told me he has a girlfriend back home.”
It feels like she just punched me in the stomach. I try to ignore the pain. “I’m not interested in him, anyway.” But I am. I know it and Nathaniel knows it and I think even Alec knows it. Why didn’t he tell me he had a girlfriend?
He didn’t have to tell me. It’s not my business.
“We need to hurry. I want to get back to Brandon!” My sister winks at the girls. They’re all giddy and giggling and my chest hurts so bad I feel like I can’t breathe. They’ve just reached into my chest and wrapped a fist around my lungs, my heart, and they’re squeezing the life out of me.
My brain keeps trying to tell me nothing has changed. I always knew Nathaniel would never be mine. He’ll leave in a few weeks and then probably be out of my life forever. My heart doesn’t get it, though.
Just a couple of hours ago, I knew I would remember this night forever. Now I know I’ll remember it for all the wrong reasons.