“I’m not telling you where I am, Mom,” I repeated for the fifth time.
“Lana Grace McDaniel! You are only eighteen years old. It’s dangerous for you to travel alone. I am your mother! I need to know where you are. Come home. Just, wherever you are, come home. Ashton has called three times and that Sawyer—”
“No. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. Just please, Mom, if you want to talk to me don’t bring him and Ashton up, okay?”
“I will hang up this phone and turn it off. Do you understand me?”
I heard my mother’s sharp intake of breath. I’d never spoken to her like that before but I was tired of it. She never listened to me. She tried to control me. No longer. I was eighteen years old but I felt so much older. I always had.
“Fine,” she snapped.
“Now, if there is nothing else you’d like to say, I need to go. I’ll call you again soon. Trust me when I tell you I am completely safe. That’s all you need to know.”
“If this is about your father—”
“No, Mom, it isn’t about him. Not anymore. My decisions are about me. From here on out what I do won’t take into account what you or Daddy do or say.”
My mother’s silence was so rare I wondered if she’d hung up on me. That would definitely be a first. Then, I heard a deep sigh.
“Okay,” she finally said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“I love you, Lana. You know that, don’t you?”
No, I didn’t know it. Not really. I wasn’t sure Mom understood the concept of loving someone else more than herself.
“Sure, Mom. Love you too,” I finally said. I’d done enough as far as honesty went for one conversation. I did love her and I wasn’t sure she could take any more of the truth.
Pressing end, I went ahead and turned off my phone before dropping it in my largest piece of luggage. Not that I thought my mom was smart enough to trace me or anything. I wasn’t sure she’d even think about that method of finding me. I figured if I kept it off, unless I was checking in, then I was safe. Maybe I should buy one of those disposable cell phones and use it for calls from now on. I remembered an episode of CSI where that method worked.
Shaking my head at my own scheming to keep hidden from my mom, I walked over to stand in front of the large window centered in the left wall. Jewel hadn’t been kidding about the view. I could see the pool to my left since we were on the bottom floor but straight ahead was nothing except white sandy beach and the Gulf of Mexico. I could stay here the rest of the summer. Figure things out. Heal. Then go back to Alpharetta and face my future. Maybe I could get a job or two that paid well. Save up for two years and then go to the University of Georgia. Not my first choice but it was better than staying at home and going to the community college. It would be more affordable to go to the state college than go off to Florida. Grimacing at my stupidity, I thought about all the things I’d sold on eBay once I heard the news Sawyer had signed with Florida. I figured, if I could save up enough money, my dad would help me. I’d applied, gotten accepted, and used the small scholarship I’d received from the local ladies’ club my mother was a part of to pay for my registration. I still needed so much more.
Not that it mattered. I’d have never been able to go through with it now. Maybe it was fate’s way of stepping in and fixing my stupid planning. It wasn’t meant for me to be at the University of Florida. I wasn’t meant to be with Sawyer.
“Hey, chica stop staring out at the gorgeous beach with that sad face and get your hot little pink bikini on and come soak up some sun with me.”
I turned around to see Jewel standing in the doorway. Her long blonde hair was pulled up in a high ponytail and she was wearing a lime green string bikini that made her tan seem even darker.
“What about your date? And what happened to you and Heath? I thought he was spending the summer here with you.” When she’d told me about her date with the lifeguard, I’d been so focused on breathing through my broken heart that I hadn’t processed her comment.
She waved a hand as if batting away a fly, “He caught me with this beach volleyball guy that, like, plays on a pro-team. So hot, Lana, I mean so hot. And soooo worth it. Heath flipped his lid and left. It was for the best. We had just about squeezed all the good out of that relationship. Time to move on.”
That was Jewel for you. She could jump from one guy to the next and never look back. Any guy who went into an exclusive relationship with her was just asking for trouble. Jewel couldn’t do it. However, she could be a friend. Maybe not the best one in the world but she’d been the only one I’d ever really had. Right now, she was a lifesaver.
“Let me get changed and I’ll meet you out there in a few minutes,” I told her.
She nodded and turned to walk away when I thought about my mom.
“Hey, Jewel,” I called out.
She turned back to look at me with that carefree expression she always wore like a crown. “Yeah?”
“Don’t tell my mom or dad I’m here if they call, okay?”
Jewel nodded, “No worries. I’d want to hide from those two if they were my ‘rents too.”
“And Ashton, if she calls… I don’t want her to know either.”
Jewel’s eyes went wide in surprise, “Wow, really? What’d the ever perfect cousin you love so much do? I can so, go pull her pretty blonde hair if I need to. She’s a little too prissy perfect for my taste anyway.”
Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but smile. Yep, Jewel might hit on the guy you like and dress slutty for confession in hopes of tempting the priest but she’d have your back in a fight if the chance ever arose. “Ashton did nothing to me. Still love her, just need some distance from Grove right now and everyone in it.”
Jewel puckered her lips as if wanting to ask more and trying to keep from it then finally nodded, “Got it. Don’t tell one f**king soul that inquires about you that I’ve seen you. Done. Now get your perky ass in a bikini and slather on some sunblock because God knows you don’t need any more freckles.”
Not being able to use my phone sucked. I needed something to read while I lay on the beach. My phone had my Kindle app on it. I didn’t have an actual book with me and all Jewel had were magazines that I wasn’t in the mood to read. I already knew those “How To” articles did not work. I’d tried most of them.
Lana waved happily when she glanced up at me through her hot pink aviator sunglasses. She had a great setup out here. Two lounge chairs and large beach umbrella already tilted to shade the entire empty chair. She was bathed in the sun’s rays with a magazine in her lap and a large hurricane glass in her hand.
“You look smoking, Lana banana,” she called out then whistled.
I was beyond getting embarrassed by Jewel’s comments.
I sat down in the shaded chair, leaned my head back, and sighed. This was nice. The breeze, the sound of the ocean…
“Here take a sip. It’s got orange juice, pineapple juice, ginger ale, and vodka. It’s amazing.”
I started to shake my head but instead reached for the cup and thought, what the hell.
Taking a sip of the tropical flavored concoction, I realized it was really good. I could easily drink the whole thing. But I didn’t. I needed my sense about me right now. Drinking away my problems was a weak thing to do.
I handed the drink back to Jewel, “Yum. Thanks.”
Jewel started to stand up, “You keep it. I’ll go make another.”
“No thanks. I don’t want to drink. Not now anyway.”
Jewel frowned and took the glass before settling back in her chair.
“You gonna tell me what happened?”
No, probably not.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” I replied.
Jewel sighed, “Okay, fine. Be warned, I’m only going to let that answer fly for a little while. Eventually you are going to tell me what happened in Grove.”
Fair enough. She had supplied me with an escape and she was keeping shut about it. When I was ready, she deserved an explanation.
The phone in her lap began singing Circus by Britney Spears. It was Jewel’s theme song.
She glanced down at the phone, and then up at me, “It’s your mom.”
I’d been prepared for this. “Answer it. Act like you haven’t got a clue.”
Jewel grinned. She loved the idea of getting to lie. It was ridiculous but she liked the feeling it gave her.
She was quiet a moment. My mom was probably talking a mile a minute.
“So, wait… she’s just missing? Have you talked to her?” Jewel winked at me. She was good at this.
“Oh, wow. No, she hasn’t called or anything. Should I try calling her? I can see if she answers my phone call and tells me where she’s gone off to.”
She was really good. Heck, I almost believed she didn’t know I’d left Grove.
“Off? Ouch. Who pissed in her Wheaties?” I covered my mouth in shock. She’d just said pissed while talking to my mother.
“Weird, Mrs. Mac, but no, she hasn’t called me. I was hoping she would but I haven’t heard anything yet. I’ll let you know if I do.”
My mother hated it when Jewel called her Mrs. Mac. Actually, my mother just hated Jewel. This phone call had to be annoying her to no end.
“I gotta go, Mrs. Mac. Sorry, but my lifeguard is here and he is one yummy number, ya know? I’ll call if I hear anything,” she cooed and then hung up her phone. She double-checked to make sure it was disconnected before grinning up at me. “Go ahead and say it. I rocked that phone call.”
If I wasn’t completely numb inside, I’d have laughed. “Yes, you were amazing. I’ll never be sure if you’re telling the truth again because that was completely believable. I’m almost convinced you haven’t seen or heard from me.”
Jewel giggled and leaned back in her chair, “Whatev, you’re the only person on earth who can read through my lies. I prefer to think of it as acting. I so, think I need to move to Hollywood. I’d be brilliant on the big screen. Or maybe just a CW show…ooooooh. I could be on Vampire Diaries and lure Damon away from his infatuation from Elena. Then I could do one of those nak*d scenes he likes to do so much.”
I closed my eyes as she went on and on about a nak*d Damon and how amazing she’d look on television.
Three days and nothing. Not even her mother could find her. I was empty. Nothing mattered anymore. I didn’t want to get out of bed. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that maybe today she’d call. Maybe today, I’d find her.
I couldn’t sleep. Each night, I lay awake in my bed staring at the ceiling and going over all the thoughtless things I’d done to her. She’d been so damn sweet, too. I hadn’t deserved her but she’d wanted me. Me. No one else. Even after I called her a distraction she’d forgiven me. When she’d needed someone to hold her and listen to her, I’d pushed her away to comfort Ashton while she threw up. She’d forgiven me for that one too. Hell, all she’d done this month was forgive me for my stupidity. I wasn’t sure I could focus enough next week when I had to go to Florida for the first week of practice. How did I just leave Grove and not know Lana was okay, not get the chance to hold her and tell her how sorry I was? How could I go without being able to tell her that I was in love with her?
Picking up the nearest thing I could get my hands on, a random picture frame, I hurled it across the room and roared in frustration. Anything to release the fear, pain, and suffocating feeling of loss churning inside me.
“You put a hole in the sheetrock. Your mama ain’t gonna be real happy about that one I’m guessing,” Beau drawled and I jerked my gaze toward the door to see him standing there watching me.
“Like I give a shit,” I replied with an angry snarl.
Beau shrugged, “Just sayin’ you might want to go back to pounding your fist on brick since you can’t break that. Then again, you need those hands in working order for next week. Florida’s gonna need their golden boy draft pick if they want any chance at taking down the Tide anytime in the next four years.”
I knew he was trying to get my mind off Lana but it was pointless. I wasn’t in the mood to argue SEC football with him. At the moment, I didn’t give a shit who won what. I just wanted Lana back. I dropped down to sit on the sofa behind me and let my head fall back on the black leather.
“I gotta find her Beau,” the desperate sound in my voice wasn’t lost on me.
“We will. Just takes some time. The girl doesn’t want to be found. She’s smart. She covered all her tracks.”
She couldn’t have covered everything. Someone had to have helped her. But who?
“She couldn’t just disappear like that. It isn’t like Grove has any damn taxis she can hail. Heck, she can’t even call one because they don’t exist. It’s at least thirty miles to the nearest bus station. SOMEONE had to have helped her. That’s my missing clue.”
Beau sat down on the sofa across from me. “Her mama called that friend of hers at the beach, right?”
I nodded, closing my eyes. I’d met Jewel. There was no way she just dropped everything and hauled ass that quickly to Grove to pick up Lana. No possible way. Even if she’d wanted to, she couldn’t have pulled that off.
“She hadn’t heard from her. Lana’s mom said she was positive. She’d talked to Jewel herself and the girl didn’t have a clue. Nor was she really worried about it.”
Beau frowned, “Her friend didn’t care that she was missing?”
“You haven’t met Jewel. She’s interested in partying and guys. That’s the extent of her concerns. I spent an entire meal trying to keep her hand off my dick. Trust me. The girl is shallow.”
“Just because she’s a party girl doesn’t mean she isn’t loyal to her friends. You spent what, one meal with her? I don’t think that’s enough time to decide about a person’s loyalties. She annoyed you but Lana doesn’t seem like a girl who’d put up with someone who had no good qualities. She’s pretty damn guarded. If she calls Jewel a friend then there is something about Jewel you don’t know.”
Beau had a point.
“You know, you’re right.” I stood up and reached for my phone. I now had Lana’s mother’s number on my speed dial.
“Who you calling?” Beau asked, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees.
“Lana’s mom. I need Jewel’s number.”
Beau nodded, “Now, you’re thinking.”
After getting Jewel’s phone number and assuring Lana’s mom I’d call her if I found out anything, I quickly hung up and dialed the number she’d give me.
“Hello?” A bright chipper voice said after the third ring.
“Jewel? This is Sawyer Vincent,” I replied.
“Oooooh, well, isn’t this a surprise? I don’t recall giving you my phone number, Sawyer Vincent. Did you miss me so much you went to the trouble of hunting it down?” she cooed into the phone. Beau was wrong about this. I was already cringing. Now the chick had my number and the ability to annoy the shit out of me.
“Uh, yeah, well, I’m hoping you can help me out—”
“Anything you want, I’m sure I can accommodate. I’m very talented with my hands… and mouth.”
She didn’t know how to take a hint. That much I was sure of.
“Have you spoken to Lana recently? Has she called you? I know her mom has called you and you didn’t know anything but I’m desperate. I need to find her. If there is anything you know please, please tell me. I need her. Please.” I stopped begging and prayed silently this phone call wasn’t in vain.
“Uh, wow. Um, what the heck happened with you two? I mean her mom called and was worried and I thought maybe Lana had taken off because of her dad or something. I’ve been expecting her to call me but she hasn’t yet. Is this your fault? Did you hurt her?”
The small ray of hope I’d had was extinguished. I’d known better than to think Lana had run off to Jewel. Besides, it was impossible. Who would have taken her to Jewel? This girl really didn’t have a clue.
“I need to speak with her. I need to see her. If she calls you or you have any idea where she could be, would you please call me? I’ll pay you for your trouble; just please let me know if you can think of anything. I’m not looking for her for her mother’s sake. This is for me. Just me.”
“Ooookay Sawyer Vincent. I’ll be sure to let you know if anything comes up. But dang, I’m curious now. Did little Lana Banana snag herself a guy finally? I hope so, ‘cause the girl is way past due.”
Gripping my phone tighter, I worked on controlling the need to tell the bitch off. The sole reason being that I couldn’t burn this bridge.
“Just call me if you hear anything, okay?” I repeated.
“Sure, sexy. In the meantime, you could come visit me. I’d make you real happy. I’m staying at Kiva Dunes condos on West Beach. Unit 103. My room is on the far corner looking straight at the water instead of the windows facing the pool.” I tuned her out as she drawled on. The girl didn’t have a clue.
“No thanks, just, if you hear anything. Thanks.” I pressed end before she could tell me how happy she could make me.
“Well?” Beau asked
“She knows nothing. Your guess about her having some winning qualities was way off course.”
“Huh,” was his only reply.