I don’t know how long I sat out on the beach crying. It could’ve been hours for all I know, but the sun had begun to set and a breeze had picked up, blowing pieces of my strawberry blonde hair free from my bun. I actually started shivering, and cold seeped through my bones, my heart beginning to pound.
Something came down around my shoulders and I jumped.
“Sorry, Hol,” Gabe, my brother’s best friend, says sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he tells me, gesturing towards the jacket he swept over my shoulders.
I stare at it blankly for a moment, unsure. Gabe is tall, dark, and handsome. Brooding and mysterious. If you’re into that type. He’s always been off limits, not that he’s ever showed any interest. We actually haven’t even spoken to each other very much. He’s always maintained a somewhat icy distance from me, avoiding interaction.
“Thank you,” I finally mumble, turning my gaze to the waves as they crash and retreat. I realize I don’t know how to talk to him, so I wait for him to lead the conversation.
He sits next to me silently, leaning back on his palms, his legs sprawled out in front of him. For a few moments the only sounds are the waves crashing and my sniffling.
“I needed to clear my head,” he says now, quietly. “I thought maybe if I just went on a walk, I could stop thinking about it.”
I look at him, meeting his eyes for the first time since he apologized for scaring me. We just stare at each other sadly, not wanting to acknowledge Brian’s absence.
“Are you okay?” He asks me. “I mean, obviously you’re not... but, you know what I mean.”
“I’ve been better,” I answer, my voice hoarse from crying. “Are you okay?”
He smiles at me sincerely. “I’ve been better,” he grins. It doesn’t reach his eyes. He looks down at his hands then. “I’m really sorry. What happened... it sucks.”
I nod, realizing my sniffles have completely stopped and my eyes are dry. “Yeah, it really does. I just can’t wrap my head around it. We’re never going to see him again.”
“It just doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t have been his time. He had all these plans...”
“We all have plans,” I say sadly. “We all have futures... and sometimes... sometimes we don’t get that far.”
“I guess you’re right about that.”
I look over at him, for the first time noticing what he’s wearing—the same white long-sleeved button down, black slacks, and Italian loafers from the funeral.
“You went walking dressed like that?” I wonder out loud.
He stares at me for a long second, seeming to deliberate about something. It’s really not a hard question... was I being too nosy?
“I didn’t get very far,” he finally says, like it’s some huge admission. “I noticed you out here when I pulled into my driveway and came to check on you.”
Oh. “Why’d you lie and say you were walking?” I ask, not to be ugly... just curious.
“We haven’t really talked much,” he says, shrugging. “I thought it might be weird if I said I came out here to check on you.”
“Not weird,” I tell him, a slight smile on my lips. “But you’re right, I think this might be our first real conversation... why is that?” I wonder out loud.
“The truth?” He asks, sounding far away. “Brian asked me to keep my distance.”
“Why?” I demand.
“He just figured it would be easier,” he shrugs. Easier than what? “He didn’t want his best friend trying to date his sister,” he adds, seeing my confusion. “He asked me to stay away from you, so he’d never have to worry about it.”
“Have you ever even had a girlfriend?” I ask him hollowly, the surprise fading away. “You have a new girl with you every week.”
He turns to look at me then, his whole body shifting towards me. The expression on his face is unreadable. My body turns towards him too without my permission. What’s going on? His hand reaches towards my face uncertainly and he catches a strand of hair between his fingers and tucks it behind my ear. When his fingers brush against my neck a bolt of electricity shoots through my body, every nerve ending on fire. My blood boils, my heart pounds, and the hair on my arms prick. A wave of emotions flow through me, confusion being the most dominant, but there’s also a very faint feeling of lust. My arm aches to reach towards him, to pull my fingers through his hair as well.
Time feels frozen. I have to hold my arm down, which feels like a huge amount of effort. Again, what is going on? He seems to be staring at me, no sign of confusion, but I can see the restraint in his eyes. We don’t even know each other. I feel like I’m fighting for control over my body, and I’m losing.
It takes every ounce of power I have, but I force my eyes from his. There’s a ringing in my ears, and chills run up my spine. I tuck my arms tightly around myself, feeling out of control.
“That... was... weird,” Gabe says, letting me know that he felt it too.
“What was that?” I ask.
His eyes darken, full of secrets. He just shrugs, his mood seeming to shift. I don’t know how I can tell, but I know he’s keeping something from me.
“What are you hiding?” I hear myself ask, my mouth moving of it’s own volition.
“Why do you think I’m hiding something?” He demands.
“I don’t know.” I feel confused, and lightheaded. “I think I need to go to bed,” I tell him. “What time is it anyway?”
He pulls his phone from his pocket, clicking it on and off quickly.
“Almost midnight,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I’ve got to go to bed.” I remove his jacket and hand it to him, standing up and wiping the sand from the backs of my legs. He stands as well. “Thank you for checking on me.”
“Anytime,” he says, grinning at me, a genuine smile.
I make my way back to my house, feeling his eyes on me. It’s an odd feeling. As I open the back door I turn and glance back at him, confirming that he was watching me as my eyes meet his. He nods at me, his face serious, and then heads home.
Once I’m inside I collapse on the couch, exhausted.
Mom still isn’t home. I grudgingly make my way upstairs in search of my phone. I find it on my bed and call my mom. It goes straight to voicemail. I try again. Voicemail. I sigh and decide to hop in the shower.
I cut the water on as hot as it can go, hoping it will burn the remnants of today from my skin. The long shower doesn’t do much to calm my nerves, but it helps.
I just can’t shake the feeling I got when Gabe brushed his hand against my face. Electricity shot through my body, sparking feelings I can’t comprehend. I felt better in that moment, like my world wasn’t falling apart. I was terrified at the same time.
He’s hiding something.
I have no idea why I think that.
I just got this feeling tonight that he knows something I don’t know. Something important.
I get out of the shower, annoyed that I’ve worked myself up again.
I get dressed for bed, tossing on some thin cotton shorts and a matching tank top and clip my hair back. I check the time on my phone. It’s almost 2 AM.
Scrambling downstairs, I pause at Emma’s door, listening. It’s completely quiet. She’s not in there. When I reach the bottom of the stairs I can already see her, asleep on the couch with a bowl of melted ice cream dangling precariously from her hands. I smile and take it, careful not to wake her up. I dump it in the sink and pause there, rolling my shoulders in a pointless effort to de-stress. My entire body feels like a live wire.
Knowing I won’t be able to sleep tonight I start a pot of coffee and then go to peek in mom’s room. Empty. Where is she?
I grab the landline and call her again. Voicemail.
This time I dial in a different phone number and press the phone to my ear, worry creeping up on me.
“Hello?” She answers, sounding surprisingly awake.
“She’s not home yet!” I blurt.
“Holly?” Grace asks, sounding confused.
“Mom isn’t home yet. It’s after two in the morning and she isn’t home. Her cell goes straight to voicemail.”
“She’s probably just driving. Or staying the night at a hotel like last time she disappeared. You know how she gets, and she was really upset today, what with Brian’s funeral, and the confrontation about Lacey.”
I sigh knowing she’s probably right.
“Will you and Emma be alright tonight?” She asks.
I don’t really want to be alone tonight. With Emma asleep my thoughts would eat me alive.
“Can you stay the night?” I ask her, unsure. Even though I’ve tried, we just aren’t close. I’m not sure what she’ll say.
There was a pause before she answered. “Yeah,” she says breathlessly, stunned. I’m not sure why, but she sounds surprised nonetheless. “Yeah, sure. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Grace,” I say and then end the call.
I fix a cup of coffee, curl up by Emma’s feet on the couch, and search for something to watch on TV while I wait on Grace.
I don’t even notice when I start to drift off to sleep.