My freckles were just getting worse. SPF 80 wasn’t even helping. Sure, my skin wasn’t red but my freckles were getting a tan. Not something I wanted. Even so, this was good therapy. Laying out here in my safe shaded area made me feel like I was hidden from the world. I was hidden from everyone who had the power to hurt me. Too bad it was a fleeting thing. I’d have to leave at the end of the month and head back to Alpharetta and my mother. I did not want to think about that. Facing her, after hiding away for over a month, would be difficult. But I was still checking in.
She kept trying to get me to talk about Sawyer. It always ended with me hanging up. I figured she’d eventually stop it. Maybe when we got the wedding invitation from Ashton in a few years she’d finally let go of her hopes that Sawyer Vincent was interested in me. My stomach rolled and I fought off the sick feeling that thought instigated.
“Lana?” A familiar voice interrupted my thoughts and I shifted around to see Ethan standing behind the chair where Jewel normally lounged. in She wasn’t here today. She’d taken off on a shoe-buying splurge.
“Ethan?” I replied in shock. I hadn’t expected to see him again.
“Hey, uh, sorry to just show up but you can’t exactly be reached by phone these days.”
Oh. He’d tried to call. That surprised me. “It’s okay. Do you want to sit down?”
He looked down at the chair beside me and thought about it a minute before he walked around and took a seat. He must intend to stay awhile.
“So, what’s this about? Is there something you wanted to tell me?”
Ethan didn’t lie back in the chair. He sat on the edge facing me with his elbows resting on his knees. His head was under the shade of the umbrella and the serious expression on his face worried me. If this was about Sawyer, I wasn’t ready for that.
“You, uh, enjoying yourself?” he asked
“Yes, but I have a feeling you didn’t just drive an hour and a half to ask me if I was enjoying myself.”
Ethan chuckled and shook his head, “No, I didn’t.”
“Didn’t think so. Spill it Ethan.”
“It’s about Sawyer—”
“Never mind. Shut it, Ethan. I retract that. I don’t want to know what you have to say,” I reached for my bag and started to stand up. “If you want to visit and talk about the weather and try one of Jewel’s tropical drinks you are more than welcome. But I will not talk about Sawyer.”
“Wait, please don’t go,” he begged, standing up with me.
“Are you going to ignore my wishes?” I asked.
His shoulders slumped and he shook his head. “No. I won’t bring him up.”
Sitting back down, I put my bag back beside me and reached inside to get a granola bar. I grabbed an extra one and handed it to Ethan who had also sat back down.
“Here, have a granola bar.”
He reached for it and gave me a weak smile, “Thanks.”
We sat in silence and ate our granola bars. Once I finished mine, I turned to look at him. His face was troubled and I almost asked him if Sawyer was okay. The fear that Sawyer could be hurt or sick battled with the fear Ethan would tell me something I couldn’t handle.
“So, when do you leave for college?” I asked, trying to think of anything other than Sawyer.
“Next month and you?”
I hated admitting this to anyone. Nevertheless, it was time I faced the facts. “Not sure. I’ve had a change of plans due to my dad’s sudden lack of money. So, I’ll be going to the local community college the next two years. I’ve got to figure out what to do after but I have time. Plenty of it.” The sourness from speaking the words aloud settled in my mouth.
“Wow, I’m sorry Lana. I always imagined you going to an Ivy league or something.”
“Nope, not me.” I’d been worried about things other than my education. Bad move.
“Have you talked to Ash?” he asked.
“Don’t want to talk about her either if you don’t mind. And the answer is no.”
He was determined to discuss Sawyer with me. Did he want to know if it was clear for him to ask me out? Surely, he didn’t want to give that train wreck another try. I’d been a horrible date.
“Beau didn’t cheat,” he blurted out quickly.
Why did that news hurt? Why the heck did I care that Sawyer had been dissed for Beau, yet again? If Beau hadn’t cheated then Ash was still with him. She was crazy in love with the guy. Why, why, why? I should not care that Sawyer was alone. I should not care that he got what was coming to him. I should not.
This does not matter. If not this time, there will be a next and a next and a next and each time Sawyer will go running back to her—hoping, waiting and breaking his heart and mine in the process.
“Let’s not talk about Beau either, okay. Actually let’s not talk about anyone in Grove, except you.” I replied with a stern tone that I felt guilty for using. Ethan was nothing but nice.
“Just thought you’d like to know,” he replied, shifting in his seat.
“Don’t care. I closed that door. Or rather it was slammed in my face and I walked away after adding a padlock.”
“You know, sometimes things aren’t what they seem,” he began and I held up my hand to stop him.
“Stop. I don’t know why you’re here. But if it’s because Sawyer put you up to it or Ashton, I’m asking you as a friend to please leave.”
Ethan let out a weary sigh, “No one knows where you are. I kept your secret. Just like I promised. I just thought maybe I could come explain some things for them.”
“Why? Why would you explain anything for them? If I’m not mistaken, you were interested in me and Sawyer came and swooped in and took me right out of your grasp. Am I wrong about that?”
Ethan let out a hard laugh and shook his head, “No, you got it right.”
“Okay, then why are you here trying to help Sawyer smooth things over?” “Because he’s my friend,” Ethan replied. “And so are you.”
He was such a nice guy. Bless his heart; he had no idea what he was mixed up in. This was not fixable.
“Well then, you need better friends,” I muttered.
“Sawyer had never poached on any girl he thought his friends might be interested in. When he acted the way he did with you, I didn’t like it but I knew something was different. You must’ve gotten to him in a way no one else did because he was not acting like himself.”
“I was a means to get back at Ashton,” I replied sourly.
“Maybe in the beginning you were, Lana. I thought that too at one point. I know now that it changed. It became something more.”
“Not enough. Whatever it became, it wasn’t enough. No one will be able to compete with her,” the tears clogging my throat just pissed me off. I was not going to cry again.
“There’s no competition,” he said softly and I refused to cry in front of him.
“Just go, Ethan. Please,” I turned my head away from him and closed my eyes. After a minute of silence, I heard him stand up and walk away.
Silent tears streamed down my face as the words, “There’s no competition” replayed over and over again in my head.
I hadn’t been home an hour when Beau called me. He asked me to meet him down at the bar for a game of pool. I’d tried to tell him I just wanted to take a hot shower, two Tylenol and get in bed. My body ached. How the heck did he not want to curl up and crash too? Besides, what about Ashton? Didn’t he want to go see her?
Pulling into the gravel parking lot, I looked around for Beau’s truck. I found it over by the far end of the building. Ethan’s Jeep was right beside it. I needed to apologize to him anyway. I stepped out of my truck and headed for the door.
It was a slow night but then not many people came to the bar on a Wednesday. Thursday through Sunday were the busy times here. I’d only been a few times with Beau but I’d passed the place several times. I knew which nights had a full parking lot.
“Well, if it ain’t my favorite nephew,” Aunt Honey called out from behind the bar.
I nodded my head in her direction, “Hey, Aunt Honey.”
“Want a beer? I can already tell you that you’re probably gonna need it.”
What the heck did that mean? I started to tell her no and then figured if I couldn’t have a hot shower and painkillers a beer was the next best thing. “Sure, thanks.”
“Go on over to the boys. They’re waiting on ya. I’ll bring ya a beer in just a sec.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.
“Told ya not to call me ma’am. Makes me sound like somebody’s mama,” she teased and shot me a wink.
She really was a piece-of-work.
I made my way over to Beau who leaned up against the edge of a pool table with his ankles crossed and a frosty mug of beer in his hand. It was the expression on his face that tipped me off that this wasn’t just a friendly gathering. I was here for a purpose. Slipping my hand into my pocket, I held Lana’s letter between my fingers. Remembering her words helped me deal. If this was bad news, I needed a reminder that she was out there and that she loved me.
“What is it, Beau?” I demanded the moment I was close enough.
“I got some answers for you that you’re gonna want. But you need to remain calm while you get those answers.”
My heart sped up and I froze, “Lana?”
Beau nodded, “Yep. Lana.”
“You know where she is?”
“Yeah, I do. But it ain’t my story to tell,” Beau turned his head and I followed his gaze to Ethan standing a few feet away from us. “Go ahead E, before he loses it.”
Ethan shifted his gaze from me to Beau and I could see the fear in his eyes.
“What do you know?” I started toward him, ready to shake him until he told me what he knew.
Beau’s hand clamped down on my shoulder and stopped me. “You won’t get your answers if you hurt him.” He turned to Ethan. “Ethan, tell him. I told you, I won’t let him rip your balls off.”
My heart started racing and the blood boiled in my veins. The idea that Ethan had somehow had a hand in Lana’s disappearance was making it hard for me to take calm steady breaths.
“You better do this quick E, cause he’s gonna blow in a second and I’m sore as shit from this week. I really don’t want to have to stop this,” Beau urged.
“Okay, yeah. Um, well, you see Sawyer. I got a call from Lana—”
“Why the hell is she calling you?” I demanded, taking another step toward Ethan who backed up a step.
“Get the f**k on with this E,” Beau growled as his hand tightened on my shoulder.
“No. Before. She called me before. The day Ash thought Beau cheated. She called me that day and told me she needed a favor. She said she couldn’t stay here anymore and needed my help. I picked her up and—”
“WHERE IS SHE?” I roared, taking another step his way. Both Beau’s hands clamped down on my shoulders.
“Easy bro,” he warned.
“Lord have mercy boy. Drink this beer and chill out. The girl is safe and if you’ll let the kid talk you’ll find out where she’s at,” Aunt Honey stood in front of me shoving a mug of beer into my hand. “Here, hold this. That way you can only hit him with one fist.”
“Go on, Mama. I got this,” Beau said behind me.
“Hmph, don’t look like it. But I hope you’re right. I ain’t payin’ for no repairs if he goes bat shit in here,” she replied.
Setting the beer down on the edge of the pool table, I didn’t take my eyes off Ethan. He knew where she was. He KNEW where she was.
“I took her to her friend’s condo at the beach.”
She wasn’t there. I’d called Jewel… wait. He’d taken her there?
“Did you see Jewel? Did she actually go into a condo?” I asked, hoping that I’d been played by that crazy ass friend of hers.
“Yeah, I carried her bags to the door. Jewel came outside squealing and all happy to see her. Then I went back,” Ethan began.
The words that he went back sent off a possessive blaze of fury. I shrugged off Beau’s grasp and stalked over to tower above Ethan, “What does that mean? You went back?”
“Not so fast. He ain’t finished. Don’t f**k him up now,” Beau growled, hooking his arms in both of mine from behind and pulling me back.
Ethan wiped at his forehead nervously and gulped. “Listen man, I didn’t know. I thought you’d moved on. I didn’t know how you felt about Lana. When I came to your house Saturday to talk to you about Lana that was the first time I realized that I’d made a huge mistake helping her run away. So, I went back. I was going to fix it. She wouldn’t listen to me. Hell, I couldn’t even say your name.”
“She was there? When did you go?” I was backing up. I needed to know. I had to get to her.
“She’s there. At the condo. Condo unit 103. Kiva Dunes,” he called out and I started running for the door.
Then the words from the phone conversation with Jewel came back to me, “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.” The crazy bitch wasn’t so crazy after all. I’d bet my ass the room was Lana’s. Jewel was trying to tell me without ratting out Lana. Beau was right. Lana was careful with who she let get close. Jewel was one helluva liar though. I’d completely believed her. The dumb blonde thing she had going really threw me off.
I reached for my truck door and realized my hands were shaking. I knew where Lana was. And I was going to get her back.