“Trin! You coming?” Hale calls.
Even over the steady hum of the ocean, his deep voice cuts through the small opening of our lifeguard station.
“I need five more seconds,” I yell back, my thick southern accent drawing out each of my words.
“That’s what you said nine minutes ago,” he complains.
“But I didn’t mean it last time,” I holler back.
I grin because even though I can’t see or hear him, I know he’s chuckling, no matter how much he’s trying to hold it in. I hurry and finish writing the schedule on the white board and cap the dry erase marker, before tossing it in the small cup holder to join the rest.
No sooner do I reach for my beach bag and throw the sandy thing over my shoulder then the office phone rings.
Most people would run away, ignoring it. It’s seven thirty and way after closing. But I’ve always been one of those goody-goody responsible types. You know the ones the teachers assign as classroom monitor and who always turned in their library books a day early? What can I say, I’m all about a good time.
I lift the receiver before it finishes ringing. “Magenta Groves Beach Resort, lifeguard station seven, this is Trinity speaking. How may I help you?”
“Trin. Screw the whiteboard and get in the damn car!” Hale yells through the receiver. I whip around as his voice echoes behind me, as well as through the phone. He hops up the steps as he disconnects, laughing like that was the best prank ever.
“Why did you do that?” I ask.
“Because I knew you’d stop to answer the phone, even though the rest of us have been waiting on you.”
I pretend to scowl, but don’t quite manage. Life’s too short to wrap your mind around everything that’s wrong with it. So I grin, because that’s something I can do and do well.
“You think you’re so smart. Don’t you?” I ask, placing the phone back on the charger.
“You forgot good-looking,” he says. “But I’ll let it slide, since I’m modest, too.”
I laugh, but don’t argue—at least about the good-looking part. We’ve only been back at Kiawah for a week, but already Hale’s wavy blond hair has bleached significantly and his skin tone deepened to a light bronze. His steps are slow and purposeful as he crosses the small space separating us and stops in front of me.
“Let’s go, Trin,” he says, hauling me along. “You’ve done enough for the day.”
I readjust my bag over my shoulder, and follow him out of the office, the usual bounce to my walk kicking in despite my heavy bag.
“Here. I’ll take that,” Hale offers, reaching for my bag.
I step just out of reach, knowing he has his own stuff to carry. “I’ve got it, big guy,” I tell him.
“You sure?” he slams the door behind us. I stare out to the beach where a young couple is chasing after their toddler as Hale fumbles with the lock.
“I’m sure,” I reply, my attention staying on the young family. “Hey, Hale, you know how I always mind my own business?”
“Nope,” he says, leading me forward.
“Well, this time I can’t,” I continue, ignoring his comment. “For your own good, I have to tell you that this maybe your last chance to do something about Becca. The summer hasn’t quite started, but it won’t be long before it’s gone.”
“Yeah. I know,” he mumbles.
“And?” I ask, turning back to him.
He tugs on my long ponytail. Unlike Becca, my best friend in the world, I’m neither tall, blond, nor leggy. My hair is as black as midnight in winter, and I’m just barely five feet three. And where her eyes are light and striking, mine are a dull brown. But I do have something Becca doesn’t have. Freckles. Y’all feel free to envy me at any time.
“Well?” I press. “You going to do something about that girl or aren’t you?”
He shoves his key into the pocket of his long red lifeguard shorts and glides the sunglasses perched on top of his head back onto his face. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
His smirk widens into that grin of his—the one capable of sizzling panties like coals over a fire. I shake my head. “Boy, between that smile of yours and that face it’s a wonder Becca’s not running to you rather than away.”
He flings his arm around my shoulders as our feet dig through the sand. “Now, sugar, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” he says, holding his grin in a way that tells me he’s lying.
“Come on. You can have anyone you want. If it’s Becca, you need to act fast before those girls slapping each other just to spread their beach blankets near your post lead you astray and down a long dark path of sin, sex, and STDs.”
“Is that so?” he asks.
“I’m just watching out for you,” I say, stepping with him onto the gray weathered steps leading to the lot. “It’s the kind of friend I am. You know, the kind who likes to pretend you’re still a virgin and not the manwhore you’ve become.”
He laughs hard enough to shake us both as we reach the edge of the pier. Ahead of us in the sandy lot, Sean, Mason, and Becca look up from where they’ve been waiting for us.
Mason’s dark skin glistens with sweat, likely from having dragged all the heavy equipment we weren’t using back into the shed. But he’s got the muscle and the stocky build for it. Poor Sean has the endurance to swim a few miles and back, but his long-limbed body is better suited for reaching things the rest of us can’t. And his personality is best for those who don’t mind the occasional dip in the gutter and who can appreciate his not-always brilliant remarks.
But, of course, it’s Becca that Hale hones in on.
I can’t blame him. Becca is leaning against the Jeep, posed like Miss America and as alluring as Miss Universe.
“What the fuck’s taking y’all so long?” she yells.
But that mouth of hers makes her all Becca, so does that smile that pulls Hale closer.
“You know how she gets,” Hale hollers, hooking his thumb my way. “Had to get the floors waxed, the office dusted, and mend that sea gull’s broken wing before setting it free.”
“You did all that shit?” Sean asks, moving forward. “Man, and here I was thinking you were just working on the schedule.”
Mason, who tends to be the most serious among us, just shakes his head and laughs, because that’s what we all do around Sean.
Becca backs away toward the driver’s side, keeping her grin as she points to our men. “Alex Pettyfer, Nathan Owens, Channing Tatum, y’all got the back,” she tells them. She grabs my bag and tosses it onto the floor of the passenger side. “You get to ride with me, cutie.”
I almost ask to switch with Alex Pettyfer, aka Hale. But I’ve known Becca long enough to know something’s up. So I hop in the front, barely snapping my seatbelt before she shifts into gear and tears out of the lot.
We catch the road leading out of the resort. Mason, tugs on my hair just like Hale had, just to say, “Hi.” Like most men I meet, he thinks I’m cute. As in, a kid sister or a BFF cute. Not cute as in, “Hey. How about you let me rip off your thong with my teeth?” You know what I mean? The kind of “cute” that really matters.
I’ve pretty much resolved myself to BFF status, even though I wish I could be more.
Hale, whether because of what I said, or because he realizes time is running out for him to make a move, leans in between the seats, his attention fixed on Becca. Unlike me, that’s not sand filling out the cups of her swimsuit.
“Hey, Becks, how about we catch dinner Tuesday after work? Maybe even a movie?”
Becca’s wild hair—highlighted in alternating shades of blond and blonder—slaps around her gorgeous features as she grins. “I don’t know. The boss may not like me dating a co-worker.” She looks at me then. “Isn’t that right, Boss?”
I crack up. My lifeguards can do whatever they want during their time off. But these four in particular? These four have been my friends since before we learned to read, swim, or cuss. I know they’re a good bunch. I know they have my back. For all we joke, the minute their toes dig into that smooth white sand, it’s on.
I perch my legs on the dash and cross my arms behind my head. “As your fearless leader, I hereby let that be your call, ma’am.”
Okay. Maybe I’m not so fearless. And “leader” is a pretty loose title considering all I do is run a few drills each day and make sure everyone has a shift.
“I’ll think about it,” is all Becca tells him.
Hale is a good guy. Good enough to slink back and give her space. Like all my male besties, he’s had a crush on Becca since he hit puberty and his male parts saluted her in celebration. Capable of stirring erections with a single glance is Becca’s super power. Mine is the ability to make people snort drinks through their noses at my jokes. I adjust my head beneath my hand after another glance at my beautiful friend. We all have our gifts. If mine includes making others smile, I can’t complain.
Her grin widens as she takes the road that leads to Your Mother’s Coconuts, better known to the locals as “Your Mother’s.” Once off the resort, we’re no longer lifeguards expected to abide by the rules. We’re just fresh college grads ready to run amuck, do some skinny-dipping, and partake in all the fun our young selves demand.
In less than a minute, Becca is screeching to a halt at the far end of the half-filled lot. It is a quarter to eight on a Friday and our work week is done. With a hoot and a few hollers, our buddies jump out the back, rousing the other lifeguards who beat us here to do the same.
“Where the hell have y’all been?” the new girl calls out. “I’m thirsty.”
Sean holds his hands out. “Then what’re you newbies waiting for? Order up the first round.”
“Us?” she asks, looking at her friend. “We have to pay?”
“Damn straight, yeah,” Sean says like it’s obvious. “Everyone knows virgins always buy the first round. Ain’t that right, boys?”
The rest of my team, even those loitering on the outside deck, start chanting “virgins, virgins, virgins,” pumping their fists in the air.
“Aw, hell,” her friend says. “Come on. Let’s go get our cherries popped.”
They walk in, but we don’t follow. Becca’s made no move to slip out. I know she means to talk. “What’s up?” I ask, smiling softly.
She looks to the ocean, where the waves sweep in to bathe the sand with all its salty heaven. But I doubt she really sees it, even though like me, Kiawah is a part of her. She crinkles her nose and then takes my hand. “Last summer,” she says.
“Yeah, last one,” I answer quietly. I know how she feels. I’m feeling it, too. “Time to grow up, right?” I squeeze her hand, my tone mirroring all the emotions fluttering inside me.
“I wish we didn’t have to,” she mumbles, keeping her gaze on the sea as if trying to gather some strength from it. “You still serious about applying to the Peace Corps?”
I was hoping we didn’t have to have this conversation any time soon, but I’ve kept things from her long enough. “I applied over winter break, Becks.”
Her mouth slowly falls open. “I told you to wait—to not do something drastic just because of what those doucheheads did to you.”
The “doucheheads” she’s referring to are Hunter, my ex-boyfriend, and Blakeney, my ex-friend. They once held my heart, until I caught them in bed and they ripped it from my chest.
Her words chip away at me. Not because I’m not over Hunter or Blakeney. I am. I’m just not over their betrayal. I could never hurt anyone I claimed to love or called a friend. But they didn’t feel the same.
I try to smile, knowing Becca needs my reassurance. But I can’t quite manage this time. “You know I’ve always talked about going and serving. Ever since I was little.”
“So, you’re telling me if he’d stayed faithful and been a real man instead of a little bitch—if you’d agreed to marry him like he kept talking about—that you still would have signed up to join the Corps? Come on, Trin. Finding him fucking Blakeney was like a pen being slapped in your hand, forcing you to sign on that dotted line.”
“No, it wasn’t,” I insist.
I don’t want tonight to be about the bad things of the past. Not with the five of us together after too many months apart. But here we are, focusing on things I’ve tried hard to forget. “Becks, as much as I thought I loved Hunter, and as much as I believed that he wanted to marry me, I realize now we never would have worked out. I’m going into the Peace Corps, exactly like I’ve always planned. But knowing who he is—who he really is—he wouldn’t have waited for me, and he sure as anything wouldn’t have joined up just to be with me.”
Even through her sunglasses, I can tell Becca’s eyes are narrowing. “He’s still a douchehead and so is she.”
“I won’t argue with you about that,” I tell her. My head falls against the seat rest. Do you want to know something about Becca? She’s sweeter than maple syrup and about as kind as people get. Until you hurt someone she loves. I’m among the lucky few she loves. It’s because she loves me that she reacts the way she does.
She pushes her sunglasses up to her head, pegging me with enough disappointment to make me ache. “When do you leave?” she asks.
“September. But I won’t know my placement for another few weeks.” I answer so softly, I’m not sure if she hears, but her tensing posture assures me she does. “Daddy used his connections at the U.N. and arranged it so I’d have time to take my boards and have one last summer here with all of you.”
“So from Princeton to the Peace Corps. From rich kid to just another volunteer risking her life.” She sighs in that way she does when she’s trying not to cry. “Nice,” she says, not that she means it.
My attention falls to our hands and to how hard she’s holding me. “It’s the right thing to do, Becks,” I tell her.
“Helping people is the right thing to do. Signing up for twenty-five months with no way out, that’s above and beyond.” She shakes her head. “Hunter and Blakeney are assholes for what they did to you.”
They are. But she needs to know that’s not why I applied. “Becks, it’s time to grow up and move forward, and to do the things we’ve always planned.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Her voice splinters and tears glisten her eyes. “What if none of us do? I don’t want life to go on without the five of us together—you, me, Sean, Mason, and Hale—especially you, Trin.”
Like me, she wishes she could stop time and that somehow things could be different. But some things can’t be helped and this is one of them.
Her parents and mine had offered to send us backpacking across Europe, but we chose to come back here. Back home to spend one last summer doing what we loved and to pretend to be forever young, forever free of life’s demands, forever friends. As I look to my pseudo sister, I swallow hard and hope that the latter stays true.
Tears trickle down her cheeks, causing my eyes to sting. But Becks doesn’t need me crying with her. Right now, she needs my strength and maybe a little of my humor.
“Trin, Becks!” Sean hollers from the deck. “What the hell? We’ve got shots waiting and horny women who can’t wait to have a piece of me.”
“Sorry!” I yell, hopping out of the jeep. “Becca dared me to spell my name across her belly with my tongue and I couldn’t refuse.”
Instead of taking it for the joke it is, Sean freezes. “No shit,” he says.
Becca doubles over, practically falling out of the driver’s side seat. I hurry around to steady her and lead her forward. Sean continues to stare at us, his eyes clouded with whatever dirty thoughts are swimming through his mind as we stumble into Your Mother’s.
My laughter fades as I look to where the rustic blue double doors open up to the rear deck. But I’m not staring at Hale as he points to his raised shot glass filled to the rim, or at Mason who’s smiling politely at the women admiring his muscles. I also barely notice Sean shooting past us.
I’m too busy gaping at the smoking hot bartender with the Army Ranger tat inked on an arm as thick as my thigh.
Holy Baby Jesus in a manger sleeping on a bed of hay.
“Hmm,” Becca says, practically purring. She leans close to whisper in my ear. “Who do we have here?”
Brown strands of wavy hair spill around his strong features and startling light eyes, and a thin beard lines a jaw I could probably pound horseshoes on. If I knew anything about horseshoes. Or horses. Or, pardon me, what was my name again?
Not to be rude, or inappropriate. I do have morals, after all. But that tight blue shirt stretching across his broad chest is one pec flex shy of ripping in half. Or of me ripping it in half when I straddle him.
“You want to straddle him?” Becca asks, a delighted gleam on her face.
I look at her, realizing I spoke out loud. “No?”
She bursts out laughing. This time, she’s the one dragging me forward. “Come on, Trin. Time to have fun.”
We stroll toward the hot guy. Or as I call him, ‘my future baby daddy,’ because for the first time in too long I’m looking—we’re talking full-out gawking—at a man. He has my attention and whether he means to or not, he’s not letting go.
I smile his way, not because of what he looks like, but because I can’t seem to help myself. I think maybe Becca smiles at him, too. But “sex in a tight T-shirt” isn’t impressed by her charm, and he sure isn’t captivated by mine. He scowls—as in scowls—which of course earns him a wink from me.
Hey, sticks and stones, or whatever, I’m going to get this guy to smile. Even if it’s clear he doesn’t want to smile at me.
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