When I wake up Emma is gone, but I can hear her moving around upstairs. Grace is still asleep in dad’s recliner, snoring softly.
Light is peeking through the blinds and I force myself to get up, stretching my arms above my head and yawning.
The oversized clock on the wall says it’s 9 AM. Well, I didn’t sleep very long. I can already feel a headache coming on. I grab my favorite coffee mug and pop it under my Kuerig.
It smells amazing. Instant relief.
Go on a walk.
I’m out on the back deck with my coffee in my hand before I even know what I’m doing. I pull my hair out of the clip and it falls around my shoulders in shiny waves. I shake my head, clearing my thoughts, but I can’t remember making a conscious decision to come outside. I wander idlessly onto the beach.
The salty air and the sound of waves crashing relaxes me, my muscles loosening. I didn’t realize how tightly wound up I was. After my conversation with Grace last night, it felt like I had let go of a lot of my stress. Especially the stress of that creepy dream.
Grace? She’s not for ME. YOU are mine.
I can’t help but ponder over the inflection, like he’s implying Grace is for someone else in particular, but I—specifically—am his.
It’s just a dream, I chide myself. Forget about it.
I feel it coming towards the back of my head and quickly step to the side as a frisbee flies past my head.
How did I know the frisbee was coming? I couldn’t see it.
“Wow,” someone says as a German Shepherd races past me to retrieve the errant dog toy. “You either got really lucky, or you’re psychic.”
Is this guy as attractive as he sounds?
I turn, receiving my answer in the form of my heart racing and my mouth going dry.
What did he say?
He’s hot. I’m entranced by his bulging muscles, exposed by his tight t-shirt. My eyes trace their way up to his chiseled jaw, over his kissable lips, up to his bright blue eyes, his shaggy sandy blonde hair somewhat obstructing my view of them. What would it feel like to be pressed against that chest? I wonder.
Snap out of it.
I’ve seen hot guys before. This one is no different. Geez, get a grip.
I clear my throat. “Just lucky, I guess,” I say, awkwardly, as I realize I’ve wandered out onto the beach in my pajamas. Embarrassing.
“You’re Holly, right?” He asks as his dog returns the frisbee. He throws it again for it.
“Yeah, I am. Do I know you?” I ask, watching his dog in an effort to avoid his probing eyes. I’m sure he’s about to ask if I’m the girl whose brother died. I mean, I can’t dodge this situation forever.
“No, we never met. I’m Gabe’s older brother, Auggie,” he tells me, reaching out his hand.
I shake it, smiling despite my body telling my mouth not to. “Auggie?” I ask, trying hard not to offend him, but for some reason it just seems comical to me. I’ve never met an Auggie before.
He smiles back easily, unoffended. “August,” he corrects himself. “We never met because when my parents bought the house next door I left for college in Australia. I picked up the nickname there.”
“Australia? That’s an interesting place to go to school.”
He nods, seeming to be laughing at himself. “Ah, yes. I followed a girl there when her parents relocated for work. Didn’t work out with the girl, but I fell in love with country.”
“So, worth it in the end, I guess?”
“Definitely,” he answers me, grinning.
“So what are you doing back? If that’s not too personal.”
It’s his turn to clear his throat awkwardly. “Uh, my parents are out of town and they wanted me to stay with Gabe and make sure he’s alright...” he pauses, looking at me sadly and I freeze. “And to make sure Max gets fed,” he continues, speaking of his younger brother. I haven’t seen much of Max, but I know he goes to school with Emma. She’s not particularly fond of him.
There’s an awkward silence and I don’t know how to fill it. I’m the girl whose brother died.
“I’m sorry,” he finally says, breaking the barrier he’d accidentally built. “I know you’re probably tired of hearing that by now.”
I look up at him, smiling softly. “A little,” I tease. “But thank you.”
He smiles back softly too. I could stare into those baby blues forever.
“You a Braves fan?” He asks out of nowhere.
“Huh?” I ask, still a little lost in his eyes.
“Your mug,” he says, pointing at my coffee cup.
“Oh,” I laugh. “Yeah, I used to go to the games with my dad when I was younger.”
“So you’re a sports girl?”
“Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s just baseball... and only the Braves.”
“No football?” He teases, mock offended.
“No, sorry. I’ve never seen a football game.”
Now he seems genuinely surprised. “You’ve never seen a football game?” I shake my head. “You never went to a highschool football game?” He asks, unbelieving.
“Of course I did,” I reply. “To socialize.”
He rolls his eyes, laughing at me. “What a shame. I’ve got to say, I’m a little disappointed to know there’s someone in the world who has never seen a football game.”
I roll my eyes in return and then look out at the waves, where his dog has taken to playing, running after and away from the waves.
“This may be a little forward,” he says now, and I glance up to see him somewhat nervously running a hand through his hair. “But I happen to have tickets to IWU’s game tomorrow night. Maybe we could fix your lack of sports education... if you want?” He offers, smiling.
I smile back.
“August,” Someone says, coming up behind me. “You have a phone call,” Gabe tells him, standing next to me now.
Gabe and Auggie are opposites. Where Auggie is light, Gabe is dark.
Auggie nods at him in acknowledgment but he’s still looking at me.
“So, tomorrow... what do you think?” He asks. “You in?”
My heart is pounding in my chest and I can practically feel heat radiating from Gabe at my side. My body feels like it’s being pulled towards his, but my mind is telling me I want to go to the football game with his handsome older brother.
“Sure,” I say, blushing.
“Great,” he grins. “I’ll pick you up at 4,” he says, jogging past Gabe and I, whistling for his dog to follow him.
“Are you going on a date with him?” Gabe demands once his brother is out of earshot. He almost sounds mad.
“No,” I snap, feeling as though I need to defend myself. “It’s just a football game.”
“Well, it sounded like a date,” he counters, taking a step towards me, his face inches from mine, and my body being engulfed by his heat.
“If it was, it’s none of your business,” I tell him, spinning on my heel, ready to get away from him.
He grabs my arm to stop me and his heat turns to ice and my breathing slows. Time stands still as I gaze into his eyes. It’s as though, for a moment, we’re the only people in the world. My hand moved to rest on his chest on its own accord and his hand grabs my wrist in response. I want to touch you, I think, my breaths shallowing. His other hand wraps around my waist and pulls me against him. I’m freezing, shivering uncontrollably. There’s an electric current flowing through me. Every inch of my skin is tingling. He’s breathing hard, staring into my eyes as though he can see straight through to my soul. I feel as though the life is being sucked out of me. I also feel like I’ve never been more alive.
This isn’t right.
I suddenly pull away, snapping out of whatever trance I was in.
I know one thing for certain—Grace is wrong.
This is not just stress.