The rest of Friday night and Saturday passed quickly. Michelle and Zach showed up Friday night. We feasted on mom’s famous chicken from the grill and stayed up late, talking under the stars until well past midnight. Saturday was more of the same. I relaxed in the back yard, working on my tan, reading, napping, and generally taking advantage of the lazy weekend. The only excitement -- at least for me, anyway -- was a call from Clark confirming our plans for the next day.
Sunday morning, Michelle and Zach were meeting some friends at the beach. They invited me to come, but I was happy to have plans of my own. I didn’t want to feel like a third wheel today, even though Michelle assured me there would be a lot of eligible single guys to chat up. I was briefly tempted. After all, I’d only been hanging out with Clark, and I saw my old band friends once every few weeks. That, plus the occasional call from Mike -- who, it seemed, still hadn’t given up -- meant my dating prospects were pretty slim. But, the thought of missing out on spending time with Clark, however platonic our relationship might be, kept me from accepting. Also, after my dinner with Michelle and Zach the weekend before, I was a little worried about Michelle’s definition of “eligible.”
I’d changed into a sun dress -- having decided it would be more appropriate attire for meeting Clark’s family than my original tank top and shorts -- when my mom called upstairs to say Clark had arrived. I took a last look in the mirror -- maybe I should have done something more with my hair -- before grabbing my beach bag. Clark had told me to pack a bathing suit. I hadn’t been able to decide on the sexy two-piece or the more conservative one-piece suit, so I’d stuffed both of them in the bag along with my sun hat and towel.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I saw Clark chatting with my dad in the living room. I tried to adopt an air of breezy casualness before walking over.
“Hey, there,” I said, interrupting them.
They turned to look at me, and the sight of Clark’s deep brown eyes sent a shiver up my spine. Damn it! I thought. There goes breezy! I worked on keeping myself composed.
“Hi, Kate,” Clark smiled.
“Did you have trouble finding the place?” I asked.
“Nope. Your directions were great. Ready to go?”
“Sure. Dad, are you sure you and Mom are okay with me going? I don’t want to abandon you or anything.”
“Nope, we’re just fine. The Petersons invited us down for a barbecue later, so we’ll be heading there in a little while. Your mom’s just in the kitchen now, whipping up a batch of her tabbouleh salad.” We eyed each other meaningfully. Ever since a neighbor had commented on my mom’s salad, it was all she ever brought to any potluck dinner we attended.
“Okay, then. Not sure how late I’ll be, so have fun.”
The drive to Clark’s house was a good forty minutes with all of the traffic. When we finally got to his neighborhood, my breath was taken away. The houses were huge and set far from the street. Most were surrounded by walls or fences, and they were all beautiful. Clark turned the car into a driveway, and we waited while the automatic gate opened.
Clark’s “house” turned out to be more of a mansion. We made our way along the drive and pulled up in front of something out of the aristocratic English country side. There was a fountain out front, and I could see tennis courts around the side of the house, with two people hitting balls back and forth to each other, a serious game in play. Clark stopped the car just beyond the front door, behind another car -- a convertible with its roof down. Looking at it, I could see it was a Mercedes Benz, a far cry from Clark’s more modest car.
“Well, let’s go,” Clark said, getting out of the car.
I got out of the car and grabbed my tote, a little nervous about what awaited. Clark led me through the entranceway into a huge marble foyer with a staircase winding itself up to the second floor. I saw a large dining room on the left, and what looked to be a formal living room on the right. Beyond that, on the right, was a hallway, presumably leading to the garage? A maid’s room? What? Standing in the entranceway, I suddenly had this feeling of déjà vu because I realized the house looked a little like the von Trapp’s house from The Sound of Music. I felt a little like Maria, coming into their home for the first time with my homespun dress that the poor didn’t want. I found myself self-consciously smoothing down my dress, feeling that any moment a gaggle of kids would appear singing a song.
“Come on in. It’s not that bad,” Clark assured me. “It’s only the six bedrooms, plus the guest house out back.”
Six bedrooms? Guest house?
Next to the hallway on the right was another smaller, less formal living room. In it, three guys were watching a game on a huge flatscreen television, which hung over the fireplace. Clark led us in to say hi and introduce me. One of the guys was Clark’s younger brother, Ryan, and he nodded his greeting before turning back to his game.
“Okay, this way, I think,” Clark said, leading me to the back of the house. The entire back of the house was a glass-walled sunroom that gave an impressive view of the back yard. Outside, there was a swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and a few tables. To the right was another smaller building. The guest house, I was guessing. Behind the pool, the backyard slowly dipped down until it reached a small fence. Beyond that, the beach beckoned, sunlight sparkling off of the ocean.
“Wow, Clark, this is some house.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” he admitted. “I don’t normally go in for all of this stuff, but it’s nice to get out of the city and come home every once in a while.
He led me out a side door and over to the pool, where a man and a woman were lying in lounge chairs. The woman was reading a magazine, and the man studied a newspaper though a pair of reading glasses.
“Mom, Dad,” Clark said, leading me over to them.
“Oh, hi. You’re back,” the woman, Clark’s mom, said.
“Yep. Traffic wasn’t the best, but we made it. This is Kate,” he said, turning to me.
“Hello, Kate,” his mom said, holding out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
I reached down and took her hand, feeling slightly uncomfortable, like I was on display, while his parents regarded me from their thrones. At least my parents would get out of their chair to greet a guest, I thought.
Clark’s dad set down his newspaper and stood up to greet me. “Forgive our casualness,” he apologized, shaking my hand. “It’s not often we get to take time out to just relax. We need to soak up every minute we can get.”
His easy manner relaxed me, and I thought perhaps my first impression was a little misguided.
“So, Kate,” Clark’s dad continued, “I’ve heard a lot about you from Clark. You’re the genius behind our upcoming ad campaign, I hear.”
“Oh, that’s right,” his mom said. “Clark told us all about you last week.”
I blushed. “Well, I wouldn’t say genius . . . ,” I started.
“I would,” Clark finished. “Would you like something to drink?” he asked, indicating an outdoor bar not too far away.
“Sure, what are you going to have?”
“Here, dear,” Clark’s mom said, holding out a glass to Clark, “Your dad just made some iced tea. Would you pour me a refill?”
“Yep,” he replied. “How about you?” he asked me. “How does a glass of iced tea sound?”
“That’s the spirit!” Clark’s dad laughed.
We got our drinks and then passed time around the pool with Clark’s parents, chatting and generally enjoying the day. I found his parents fairly easy to talk to, and I soon started to relax. At one point, Clark and his father started talking about the business, while his mom left to check on lunch. I started to feel a little left out and self-conscious, so I mumbled something about finding a bathroom. Clark pointed back toward the house, “a door on the right,” he said, and then continued the conversation with his dad. I went in the side door, meeting Clark’s mom on her way out.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“Just looking for the bathroom?”
“Oh, the powder room is right here.”
She led me beyond a huge kitchen to the “powder room,” which was bigger than my whole living room. Towels, soaps, and lotions were everywhere. I was afraid to touch anything for fear of messing it up. After I’d finished and stalled for what I thought was an acceptable amount of time, I gave myself one last critical look in the mirror before walking out. Clark stood outside of the door, waiting for me.
“Hey,” he said. “Want me to show you around?”
“Sure.” I felt like I was at a museum anyway. Might as well get the whole tour.
We started in the formal living room and made our way around the downstairs before Clark led me upstairs to the bedrooms. Each one was as impressive as the next, and it was interesting to see where Clark had spent his formative years. For someone who seemed to have it all, he definitely wasn’t very pretentious about it. I imagined his brownstone apartment in Manhattan was a far cry from this. He led me outside to the tennis courts, where he introduced me to his sister, Beth, and her boyfriend. Afterward, we walked along a path, through the expansive yard. He gave me a quick tour of the guest house before leading me back to the pool where everyone was gathering for lunch.
They were a rowdy bunch, talking and chatting animatedly, and I found myself enjoying the atmosphere as well as the delicious food. After lunch, we decided to go to the beach for a game of volleyball. Clark’s mom opted to stay behind, saying she’d help with the cleanup and to take some more “me” time, as she called it. Clark showed me to a place in the guest house where I could change into my bathing suit. After some deliberation, I opted for the sexy two-piece but wore a cover up, too.
The game was fun and fast-paced. Clark’s dad was on our team, along with Clark’s sister, and they both turned out to be terrific players, running for every ball, and letting very few get past. It was a close game. In the end, we lost when the other team spiked a ball in my direction. I moved to get it, exactly the same time that Clark moved forward. We both tried hitting it at the same time, resulting in a comedy of errors in which we somehow got tangled up and fell. Before we hit the sand, Clark grabbed my arms and pulled me on top of him, cushioning the blow.
“Are you alright?” he asked me.
“Fine,” I laughed. “You?”
Before he could answer, Clark’s brother and the rest of the other team starting cheering and celebrating their victory, giving high fives all around. Beth ran over to us, helping me up.
“Are you okay?”
I laughed. “Fine. Nothing’s hurt, except my pride a little.”
“Way to go, guys!” Clark’s brother, Ryan, yelled. “Told you we’d win!”
“Hey!” Clark yelled back. “Give me a break! We only lost by two points. And, anyway, we had both of the girls.”
“And WHAT exactly is THAT supposed to mean?” challenged Beth. I had been about to say the same thing, and we both glared at him, hands on hips. He looked back, chagrined.
“Better watch out, Clark! She’s got a mean streak in her!” laughed his sister’s boyfriend.
His sister looked at her boyfriend with surprise. He held up his hands and backed away from the net.
“Don’t look at me,” he said. “You can be on my team any day.”
Mollified, Beth turned back to me. “Want to take a walk?” I nodded. “You,” she said, turning to Clark. “Scram!”
“I know when I’m not wanted,” he laughed. He picked up a Frisbee and ran after the others down the beach.
“A wise man knows when to take his exit,” Clark’s dad said. “And, for me, that time is now.” He walked up the stairs that led back to the house. Beth and I headed in the opposite direction down the beach, along the waterline.
“It sure is pretty here,” I commented.
“Yes, it’s really nice. We’re lucky. Of course, maybe luck doesn’t have a lot to do with it. I guess you could call it an accident of birth. I was born into it.”
“I guess I’d call that luck.”
“Yeah, I guess. Dad doesn’t let us get away with it, though. I mean, besides this house,” she said, gesturing behind her, “our cars, that sort of thing, Dad doesn’t let us get away with acting all important because we come from money. He makes us humble. I know that must sound weird. But, trust me. I’ve got friends whose parents own houses in the Hamptons, overseas, that sort of thing. They act like they are some sort of royalty. Dad won’t let us get away with that. Mom’s even worse, though you wouldn’t know it. She might come across all country club but underneath she’s very down to earth.”
“Uh-huh,” I nodded. “Your parents both seem very nice.”
“So, what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem very different than most of the girls Clark brings home.”
Geez, how many does he bring home? I wondered. “It’s not like that,” I said. “Clark and I are just friends. He lives down the street from me, actually.”
“Oh,” she replied. “That’s too bad. I kind of like you. You’re very easy going. You would have never caught Clark’s old girlfriend Camille playing volleyball.”
I tried to sound disinterested. “Oh. I thought he and Camille were still together.”
“Huh? Weird. He doesn’t talk about her much. I’ve only been hearing about you. Sorry. I guess I got the wrong impression. I hope I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable.”
“No,” I played it off. “I’m fine.” But, of course I wondered if Clark had broken up with Camille. It’s true he hadn’t really mentioned her. Was this whole weekend thing a sort of date? I mean, he cleaned his car, had lunch with me and my folks, invited me to meet his family. My thoughts spun wildly, and that little secret thrill crept back into my stomach.
We passed the rest of the walk collecting shells and learning a little more about each other. I told Clark’s sister all about the ad campaign I was working on. It turns out that she knew a lot about her dad’s company -- “Dad made us all work there. For free! Can you imagine?” -- so she asked a lot of intelligent questions. She told me about herself. She’d declined -- at least for now -- working in the family business and was following more in her mother’s steps. She had majored in art and had become an art buyer -- a career she loved. Her boyfriend worked on Wall Street. He wanted her to stay home after they were married, but she had disagreed.
“Maybe once I start having kids,” she mused.
They were getting married in a year and had started looking around for places in Manhattan to buy. It pretty much sounded like her ideal life, and I felt a slight pang of jealousy at this person who seemed to have it all figured out.
Our walk was interrupted when Clark’s dad reappeared near the top of the stairs, yelling something about dessert.
“Oh,” she said, putting a hand on my arm. “You don’t want to miss my mom’s chocolate cake. I even made the ice cream!”
“Wow! I’m impressed.”
“Oh, it’s nothing!” she smiled. “We’ve got one of those machines that does it all for you. Anyway, I’m practicing for the day when I get to stay at home and live a life of luxury,” she kidded.
I laughed and followed her back to the stairs, where we greeted the others and headed to fill our bellies once again.
Later that night, Clark’s parents retired indoors to watch a movie, leaving the party to the “kids.” The rest of us lit a fire in the fire pit and sat talking for what seemed like hours. The sound of the waves in the darkness against the soothing light from the fire lulled me into a sort of dreamlike state from which I was content to never awake. After a while, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Want to take a walk?”
I looked over to see Clark leaning toward me as he whispered his question. I nodded, and he stood and reached out his hand to help me up. Not sure how to react, I grabbed his hand and let him help me. His hand was warm from the fire, and it felt good in mine. Once I stood, he released my hand and turned toward the stairs leading to the beach. I followed him, my fingers still tingling from the touch of his hand.
The light from the moon shone brightly, helping to light our path as we walked down the stairs. The quiet sounds of the people above drifted down, mixing with the sound of the waves. At the bottom of the stairs, I kicked off my sandals and put them near the steps, preferring to walk barefoot in the sand. Clark followed suit and then turned to walk down to the water. I followed a few footsteps behind. He stopped at the water’s edge, just beyond the reach of the waves, looking up at the moon.
“Beautiful night,” I said when I’d caught up to him.
He turned and smiled at me. “Yes, it is. I love a night like this,” he said, looking up at the moon. “Want to go this way?” he asked, gesturing with his head.
We turned and walked down the beach, the quiet sounds of the waves drowning out any signs of the party above. It felt like something out of a dream, like I was a million miles away from my real life rather than just hours down the road.
“This is so peaceful,” I commented.
“Yeah, I love coming down to the beach at night. It was one of the best things about this place growing up. It wasn’t like it was a separate part of who I was, you know? Like our vacation home. This was our home. Correction, IS our home. Well, it’s still my parents’ home anyway. I’m just lucky enough to get to visit.”
“When I was a kid, we used to take strolls on the beach at night. It was the one time when we were truly all together. My dad wasn’t working, my mom wasn’t away at some function. We didn’t have to put on any kind of show for anyone. We were just here, together, in the dark, at the beach. It was a good time.”
“Did you get to do it a lot?”
“We were luckier than most families. My dad worked a lot -- stayed at the apartment in the city during the week mostly. But, he always made a point of coming home on Fridays and not leaving until Monday, so we got to spend weekends with him. Sure, my parents had things to go to in the city, so us kids were left with the nanny or babysitter sometimes. But, they were good about bringing us into the city, too. We were together a lot. My dad also made a point of taking a lot of time off in the summer. We went on vacations sometimes -- I told you about France -- but mostly we’d just spend time here on the beach.”
“It’s really great here. It must have been fun.” A sudden breeze from the water caught me, and I shivered.
“Cold?” Clark asked.
“A little,” I admitted.
“Let’s turn back. I don’t want you to freeze.”
Disappointed, but not wanting to admit it, I agreed and we headed back in the direction of his house. When we got near the stairs, Clark stopped.
“How about if I run up and get you a jacket or something really quick? I’m not quite ready for our walk to be over. Do you mind?”
“No. That would be great.”
“Great,” he smiled. “I’ll be right back.”
He turned and trotted up the stairs. Smiling to myself, I turned and headed back down to the water, thrilled that our walk would continue. I found a dry patch of sand away from the water and sat down. In the distance, I could see the lights of a boat, probably people on a nighttime cruise. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be on that boat, what they would be doing, what their lives were like. I wondered what it would be like to be able to just step off your backyard and down to the beach whenever you wanted, to enjoy the peace of a night on the beach. I got so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Clark return. I jumped and let out a little yelp when he placed a jacket around my shoulders.
“Sorry,” he said, sitting down next to me. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, sorry. It was my fault. I zoned out for a little bit there.”
“The beach sort of does that to you, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. I can’t remember the last time I was this relaxed.” Even as I said those words, I realized that it was partly untrue. I was comfortable, sure. But, I felt this tension, this thrill of being here, sitting so close to Clark. I had to admit that I liked it. There was just no denying it. I liked him. Was what his sister said true? Had he broken up with Camille? Was this weekend, him inviting me over, more than just a friend thing?
The side of my body that was next to him was practically burning from the heat I could feel radiating off of his body. If we sat here long enough, I’d probably not need the jacket anymore.
As if he could read my thoughts, Clark asked, “Are you still cold?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks for getting this.”
“Did you have fun today?”
I nodded. “It was great day. Your family is so fun. I really had a good time.”
“Good, I’m glad. They seemed to really like you.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess,” I laughed. “I’d hate to think they just put up with me the whole time. But, I’m sure they go out of their way to make all of your friends welcome.” I made sure to emphasize the word “friends” to see what sort of reaction I’d get.
“Well, yes,” he said, hesitating. “They would.”
Damn, I thought. Not the reaction I was hoping for. In fact, I had to admit I couldn’t tell what sort of reaction it was. Did that mean we were just friends? Was he being nice? Why couldn’t he give me a clue either way? Maybe he was shy. Maybe he didn’t know how to come out and say it. Or, maybe he didn’t feel that way about me at all and was just trying to be nice.
I made a split second decision to keep things light. “Did YOU have a good time?” I asked, teasing. “Or, maybe you were just putting up with me the whole time.”
He laughed. “Well, someone has to do it.”
“Creep,” I said, pushing at his shoulder with my hand.
He laughed even harder. “It’s so easy to get a rise out of you,” he smiled, pushing back. Suddenly, he reached around and grabbed my hand with his. “But, seriously,” he said, no longer laughing but giving me one of his killer smiles. “I’d have to say it was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.”
I swallowed, my heart beating in my throat. “Well, good,” I said when I could find my voice. “I’d hate to think you wasted your day with me.” We sat there for a few seconds, staring at each other, before I got embarrassed and looked down. Clark released my hand and turned away, looking at the ocean.
Wondering if the moment had passed, I straightened the jacket on my shoulders and shifted my position on the sand.
“You know what I think?” Clark asked suddenly.
“I think . . .”
“Clark? Are you down there?” a voice called through the darkness.
“Damn,” Clark whispered under his voice. Louder, he shouted. “Yes, Mom. I’m down here with Kate.”
“Okay, honey. It’s getting late, and I was heading off to bed. I just wanted to say goodnight. Are you coming up soon?”
Clark looked over at me. “Ready to head back up? I guess I should be getting you home anyway.”
We made our way back up the stairs, where I said goodnight to Clark’s parents. After more goodbyes to everyone else, Clark led me through the house to his car. Once inside, he turned on the radio, adjusting the stations until he apparently found one that he liked. He made no attempt to continue our conversation from the beach. I wondered if he’d just forgotten about it or decided not to say anything. I figured it was probably the former. As much as I wanted him to admit to being madly in love with me, he was probably just going to say something about the weather. Or, the ocean. Or, the party. Something really mundane. I decided I was reading too much into it. I snuck a sideways glance at him. He was singing the song on the radio under his breath, and he seemed a million miles away from where we had been earlier on the beach.
“Um, thanks again for today,” I said, hoping to break into his thoughts. “I feel bad that you have to drive me all of the way home. I should have just taken my parent’s car.”
He smiled over at me. “It’s no bother, really.” He turned back to his driving and continued to hum the tune that was on the radio.
“Well, can you thank your parents for me, again?” I said, again trying to get us back to where we were before. “And, your sister, too. Her ice cream was amazing.”
“I’ll tell her you thought so.” He offered nothing more, and I wondered where to go from there. Apparently, the moment was gone -- if there even had been what you would call “a moment.” I started to kick myself for getting my hopes up. I felt like a complete idiot. I could actually start to feel tears forming in my eyes, but I turned my head to look out the window and willed them away. Before I knew it, we were at my house, pulling into my driveway.
I grabbed my bag from the floor and turned to him. “So, tomorrow? Five o’clock?” We’d planned to drive back in the late afternoon, even though we knew the traffic would be a nightmare. We both wanted to spend as much time out of the city as possible.
“Yep. I’ll be here then.”
“Okay, bye, then.”
I started to open the car door when I felt Clark’s hand on my arm. I stopped, turning back to see what he wanted.
“Kate,” he said. “I just wanted you to know that I never feel like I’m wasting my time with you. I’m really glad I moved into your neighborhood and that I met you.”
My stomach did a flip. “Thanks,” I breathed. “I . . . I feel the same way.”
He moved his hand from my arm and brushed my cheek with the back of his hand. My face tingled with white, hot fire.
“Good,” he said, nodding. “Good.”
He hesitated, and I wondered if he was going to lean in to kiss me. My heart thudded, and I braced myself, knowing it would be as good and nice and perfect as I’d imagined. A second passed. Just as sudden, the moment was gone. He dropped his hand and sat back.
“Okay, then. I’ll see you in the afternoon.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. Okay.” My face was red, I could tell. Luckily, it was too dark for him to see. “Well,” I continued. “Have fun tomorrow.”
“You, too,” he smiled back.
I got out of the car, and my knees were shaking a little bit. I felt confused but happy, and I wondered if something important had just happened. I leaned down and peered into the car window, waving goodbye one last time. Clark smiled and waved before putting the car in reverse and backing down the driveway. I walked to the front door and let myself in quietly.
“Kate,” my dad called from the den. “Is that you?”
“Hi. Yes, it’s me.” I walked in to find my parents curled up on the couch, watching a movie on the television. My mom sat up when she saw me. I plopped into a chair opposite from them.
“Did you have fun?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, still slightly dazed. “It was a lot of fun. Clark’s family was really nice.”
“Oh, that’s great. Your sister and Zach are still out, but I expect them to be back any time now. Do you want to stay up and watch the rest of the movie with us?”
What I wanted had just driven away in his car, back to his parent’s very nice home on the beach. “No, I think I’ll just head to bed. I’m kind of tired. Lots of swimming and sun, you know.”
My mom eyed me critically for a moment before responding. “Okay. If you’re sure. We’ll see you at breakfast then. You’re still planning on going back later, right?”
I nodded. She looked at my dad, who looked pretty tired himself, before continuing.
“Maybe we’ll all sleep in, and I’ll make it brunch instead. How does that sound?” she asked.
“Sounds great,” I said, getting up. “I’ll see you guys in the morning, then.” I walked over and hugged my mom and gave my dad a kiss on the forehead.
“Night, honey,” my dad said.
“Night, dad.” I walked up the stairs to my room and dropped my beach bag on the floor. After changing into my PJ’s and brushing my teeth, I crawled into bed and stared into space. If I couldn’t have Clark there, the next best thing was to get lost in my thoughts, replaying the day. Maybe there was hope there. Maybe he did like me. I mean, he must, right? We’d had a great day. He’d laughed at my jokes. We got along so well. Ever since I’d met Clark, my life had been different, better.
I touched my face where Clark’s hand had brushed my cheek and smiled. I pictured Clark’s face in the car when he told me he was glad he’d met me. I snuggled deeper into my pillow and drifted off to sleep as I imagined a different end to our night. One where, instead of pulling back, Clark had leaned forward into a long, slow, perfect kiss.