Chapter 20: Feels Like Summer - Panama Wedding
I woke up spooning Iz the morning after my birthday. It was one of the rare occasions I was awake before her. She was snoring softly, despite her claims that she didn’t. She didn’t do it often, but it was still fun to tease her about it. There was something cute about how defensive she got. I smiled to myself at the thought. I kept my arm around her waist and placed a kiss on her shoulder.
I crept out of bed. I put on my glasses and headed over to my bathroom. After getting ready, I picked up my laptop and went to the couch. Ordering a pre-breakfast snack was my first order of business. My coffee and bagel arrived shortly after that. I had a substantial amount before retrieving my cellphone. I scrolled through my contacts and selected my Aunt Francesca’s name.
“Hello, Sweetie, you’re up early after a long night.” She greeted warmly.
I had always been close to my Aunt Fran. She consistently felt like family. It was easy to see she genuinely cared about people, instead of putting on the show our titles required.
“I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I have a number of things I want to accomplish today. That is also a first, especially for a Saturday.”
She chuckled lightly. “Your progression into adulthood is already happening. Your brain is registering your age quickly. That is a good sign.”
I smiled. “One can only hope.”
“Do you know Jacqueline’s last name? My father told me once, but I cannot recall it.” I added after taking a beat.
“Rosewood?” She immediately verified, not even needing a moment to think.
“Yes, that is the one.” I pinned my cellphone to my ear with my shoulder. I typed her name into an internet search engine. “Does he still love her?”
“I know my brother better than anyone. He is committed to leaving her alone and respecting the life she has built for herself.”
“But does he love her?”
“A part of him always will. He gave her a piece of himself; that is how love works. You can never really get it back. You simply remember, adapt, and move on. C’est la vie.”
“Maybe this time is different.”
“What are you up to?” She finally asked, airing her suspicion.
“I cannot disclose that at this time. Thank you for the help.” I quickly blurted and hung up.
I tossed my phone aside and dedicated my full attention to gathering more information about her. I went to the conservatory website. Beside her accomplishments, publications, and future project plans was a picture.
Her picture didn’t look like the forced professional photos that were placed on the other staff members’ pages. It appeared to be candid. She was looking off to the side, wearing a natural smile. Her eyes were a pale gray, but somehow managed to come off as warm. Her dark red hair was cropped, stopping just beneath her chin. Natural signs of aging were present on her sun-kissed skin. She didn’t attempt to buffer them out with injections and makeup, like the women I was used to encountering.
“What are you doing?” Iz placed her hands on my shoulders from behind.
I jumped because of the abruptness. She giggled.
“I didn’t mean to scare you. I only want to know about the lady with baker eyes.” She leaned forwards and placed a kiss on the side of my face.
“Baker eyes?” I chuckled.
“Yes, baker eyes. They are kind and warm. Something about them is making me want to give her a hug. I’m fairly certain she’s baked on a professional level.”
“Do you gaze into the eyes of bakers often enough to be able to distinguish them from others?” I looked back at her.
“My love of breakfast food runs deep. I get to coat their work in blankets of snow-like powdered sugar goodness. I’ve made it my business to know what baker eyes look like. They are the world’s true heroes.” She smiled.
“Forget teachers, doctors, and soldiers.” I joked.
“I’m glad you understand.” She played along, grinning from ear to ear.
She walked around to the front of the couch and sat down beside me. She was wearing my dress shirt.
“How did you sleep?”
“Well. Tell me who she is.”
“She was supposed to be my father’s wife. They were engaged.”
“So, what happened?”
“The palace, namely my grandparents, made things too difficult for her. Things are different now. I think he still loves her.”
“What’s her name?” She nodded to my computer screen.
She silently studied the numerous pictures that were on it. “She’s not married.”
“Really? How do you know?” I looked at them too, finally taking my eyes off of her.
“No wedding band. It’s not because of her line of work, either. Aud puts hers on a necklace and tucks it when she works in the lab. She could easily do the same.”
“Doesn’t rule out a serious relationship.”
“I guess you are right. We can only hope he reaches out to her now that he is single.”
“Do you think I should aid him?”
“As sweet as you are for wanting to, you should leave it to him. He might need time.” She put her hand on the side of my face.
I leaned in and kissed her.
“Your snoring woke me up this morning.”
“I don’t snore. Must’ve been someone else.”
“I don’t!” A slight blush colored her cheeks.
“You make it cute.” I fought off a smile.
She averted her gaze. “Hypothetically, I’m not saying I do, but really, if I did?” She returned her eyes to mine.
I grinned. “You are killing me.”
“In a good way?” She playfully raised an eyebrow.
I pressed my lips to hers. She placed her hand on the side of my face to keep me close. Our lips moved slowly.
“Of course.” I breathed against her lips.
She pecked me once more and pulled away. “I still don’t snore.”
I closed my laptop and put it on the coffee table. “What are we doing today?”
“It’s supposed to be really nice out today. We should consider going to the pool after brunch.” She proposed with a hopeful smile.
“We will. I can not bring myself to pass on seeing you in a swimsuit.”
She shook her head at me, fighting off a smile. “You have a problem.” She pecked me on the lips and stood up.
“Yes, you. I have no plans to rid myself of it.” I called over at her.
“How kind.” She played along, gathering her things.
“Need help?” I moved my laptop to the coffee table.
“I can handle a dress and shoes. Should I meet you here when I’m done?”
“I am heading to my dad’s office, actually. I will meet you at brunch. Where did we vote on again?”
“It was five to three – garden patio.” She looked around the room for her other shoe.
I found it beneath the couch. “Are you completely sure you do not want help?”
“Yeah, I – you have it, don’t you?” She looked over at me.
“Under the couch.” I offered it to her.
“Bizarre choice to start on the couch.”
“But a fun one.” I agreed.
“I’ll see you soon. Tell your dad I said ‘hello’.”
She walked by to get to the door. “Bye.”
“Love you.” I called from the couch.
“You’re okay, I guess.” She crept out.
I swapped out my shorts for swimming trunks. I continued on to my father’s office when I was done. I entered after knocking. It was one of the rare occasions he was alone. He was typing diligently at his computer when I walked in.
He paused and looked over at me. “I thought you would be preoccupied with your friends for the next couple of days.” He smiled.
“I will. Don’t worry. This is a minor yet major detour.” I approached his desk, placing my hands in my pockets.
“Strange, but I will listen. What is on your mind?” He clasped his hands together, giving me his full attention.
I sat down in one of the seats in front of his desk. “I wanted to thank you for inviting my friends. Yesterday was the best birthday I have ever had.”
He smiled. “I am happy you enjoyed yourself. Your friends are something else. Our online security was breached. The only thing hacked into was the sound system. Is it safe to assume Finn and Sami were the masterminds behind that?”
I grinned uncontrollably. “Yes.”
“Whom is the one that actually broke into the system?”
“Finn. His technical savvy is off the charts.”
“I see. I will make a point of asking him to speak with our head of security. They need to be aware of such holes.”
“This place will be an impenetrable fortress if he secures it.”
“However, he did mention his love of corruption last night. I am a bit apprehensive about his active involvement.”
I chuckled. “It is certainly a give and take with him. The same can be said about all of us.”
“I can see that. You have selected a good lot. They really seem to love you.”
“They are family. I will have trouble saying goodbye after graduation.”
“No one said you have to. You can find a way to remain close. Use this summer as an example. Have you grown apart since the end of the school year?”
“No. We see each other almost daily; we talk frequently.”
“That can certainly continue into adulthood. Good friends are hard to come by, especially in our position.”
“Thank you again for everything.”
I left him alone and headed to the garden. Everyone was seated at long, rectangular table. We might’ve been outside, but the staff was sure to set the table as if it were a five-star restaurant. There was a crisp white linen tablecloth, polished silverware, and fine china.
“Always late.” Ryan teased as I sat down beside Iz.
“At least it is consistent.” I made myself comfortable..
“What are we doing today?” Elle inquired in her usual upbeat manner as our drinks were brought out.
“How are you still you? I’m positive you were the drunkest last night.” Finn asked, glancing over at her.
“Instead of hungover, I wake up residually intoxicated. I’m still riding it out – not drunk, barely tipsy. Everything feels cheery and bright.”
“Unfair.” Nick groaned, bringing his mug of coffee to his lips.
“Not quite. It’s easy to get paranoid and self-conscious. Everyone else is sober, so you have to try your best to make them believe you are too. –“ Sami pushed her jet black sunglasses further up her nose and turned to Elle. “You have my sympathy.”
She giggled. “Thank you.”
“How are you hungover?” I asked Sams.
“Sleep deprived. I wake up in the late afternoon. I haven’t experienced noon in months. I’ve done it three days in a row.”
“You poor little thing.” Ryan teased, shaking his head with a smirk.
“You’re lucky I have no food to throw at you.” I couldn’t see her eyes, but I could still feel her glaring at him.
“What are we doing?” Elle brought us back on track.
“We are going to the pool. We would go to the beach, but my grandmother has business to attend to nearby and I rather not run into her right now.”
“Ahhh. The Iz thing.” Elle nodded in understanding.
“What Iz thing?” Ryan questioned.
“She offered me a large sum of money to break up with Milo and leave him alone for good.” Iz answered.
“For real? How much?”
Nick and I looked over at him incredulously.
“For mutual anger purposes.” He held up his hands in surrender.
“A cool 2.5 mill.” Sami answered, prior to taking a sip of her drink.
“Way to intimidate the elderly, Iz.” He raised his glass of juice to her.
“I do what I can.” She shrugged with a smile.
We enjoyed brunch and headed to the pool directly after. It was located on the palace’s south lawn. It was a freshwater pool, instead of chlorine. It was better for the environment and much easier on hair and skin. The layout of the pool area coincided with the water’s naturalistic approach. It had a curved in shape. There was a waterslide in a rock formation and a grotto beneath a waterfall. Towels were draped on the lounge chairs.
“Wait, nobody get in the pool! Iz needs to prove she won’t drown before we fully commit to this activity.” Ryan announced as all of us were prepping to get in.
“I can swim. Milo taught me at Aud and Ev’s this summer.” Iz placed her hands on her hips.
“I still put a life vest on her when we sail, but she can do it.” I vouched for her.
“You need to demonstrate your skills, Babydoll. Safety first.” Elle agreed, standing at Ry’s side.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Swim a lap solo. You do it, we’ll join you.” Sami proposed.
“Do I have to jump in?”
“No. Just swim.” Sami answered.
Iz flickered her eyes to the pool. “What constitutes a lap?”
“Your decision to stall is alarming.” Finn noted objectively.
“It’s not a rectangle. I can see why she’d question it.” Nick mused.
“Thanks, Nick.” She smiled at him.
“From the shallow end to the second curve.” Morgan finalized the instructions.
“I’m going to do it. It’s weird with all of you watching me. Be gentle with your critiques. I just learned.” She pointed to all of us.
She made way down the stairs. She waded through the water until it was waist high. She fully committed to swimming forward when it was less awkward to do so. She swam to the second curve. She immediately went back, not wanting to lose her momentum. The moment she was back on the shallow end, she stood up.
“Did it!” She threw her hands into the air.
We took a moment to applaud. The seven of us devised different ways to enter. Sami pushed Finn in, laughed, and jumped in. Morgan and Elle took the stairs. Ryan, Nick, and I went up to the water slide built into a rock formation. Iz was standing in a portion of the pool where her chest was comfortably above water, talking to Elle and Morgan. Deeming her as safe, I swam beneath the water and grabbed her hand. She squealed and yanked it away.
“You are so mean to me!” She swatted me on the arm as soon as I resurfaced.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Nu uh.” She pulled back a little and smirked up at me.
“Because you don’t snore.”
She swatted me on the chest as soon as she realized what I said.
“You’re a meanie, Princey.”
I shook my head. “You are the one leaving me in a week.”
“Because we have to get ready for school. The magical place where we are all together, all the time.” She mused with a smile, rearranging my hair.
“It’s going to be different this year. They’ll know who we are.” I reminded her gently.
She looked down at herself for a moment. “The people that matter will see us the right way.” She looked into my eyes. I could see how much she needed that statement to be true.
I sat down on the inner ledge of the pool. She sat down beside me, draping her legs over my lap. I put my arms around her. Both of us were still submerged in the water.
“Elllllieeee, I neeeeed you!!” Ryan called over to her in a singsong voice.
She looked in his direction. “For what?”
“Finn and Sami challenged me to a game of chicken. I need you to be my partner.” He poked out his bottom lip and started to pout playfully.
“We won’t win. Their ratio is more dynamic. She’s short; he’s tall. We’re both tall. She’ll be much more in control of her body up there on his shoulders. I’ll be at a higher vantage point, flailing about, trying not to fall. I won’t even get into her aggressive nature.” She attempted to reason.
“Fine. You/me versus Iz and Miles.”
“Also unfair. They do lifts all the time for dance. It’s essentially the same thing, only easier because the water counteracts gravity.”
“We would be good.” I looked over at Iz.
“Until you hurt yourself and/or me in a bizarre freak accident.” She teased with a cheeky smile.
“And you call me mean.”
She giggled and placed a kiss on my cheek.
“I can take Sams. You can go with Ry. It’d be pretty even.” Morgan offered Elle.
“Game on.” Elle agreed.
“YES! Thanks, Mom!” Ry cheered.
“Nicky refs it. Finn has a freaky twin link to Sams. Iz and Miles won’t pay attention hard enough.” Ryan continued making arrangements.
“By that you mean not enforcing the rules you make up on the spot to force a win.” I retorted.
“False!” He pointed to me.
Izzie giggled. We swam to sit near Finn and Nick to be by the action.
“Who are you going for?” Finn asked.
“It’s hard to say at this point. Three of them REALLY love winning.” I replied.
“Morgan won’t be an aggressive base. Ryan will walk right up to them to get a better angle. She’ll stay back. Sams will have to work much harder.” He explained.
“You’re voting against Sams?” A huge smile crept onto Iz’s face.
“Not voting against, realistically wagering.” He corrected.
“Right.” She giggled, nodding.
“Rules, Watson, state ’em!” Sami called over to him.
“No intentional splashing. Bases aren’t allowed to take their hands off of the top’s legs. Bases aren’t allowed to kick a fellow base to make them unstable. Time outs can’t be called when the tops are locked and it looks like one is about to win. No hits to the face. Points are awarded each time a top makes the opposing top fall into the water. The best 2 out of 3 wins. And no mid-game rule changes, unless it clearly improves the quality of the game.“ He announced.
“I feel targeted.” Ryan replied.
“Because you always cheat!” Sami cried.
“Slanderous, Samilla! I win with a strategy!” He rebutted.
“Yes, one that always you to change rules at the last minute to disqualify the other team.”
“Let’s settle this. Let’s go!” He challenged, placing his hands on Elle’s legs.
Sami looked to Nick from the top of Morgan’s shoulders.
“As I’ll ever be. On the count of three, 1 – 2- 3- Go!”
Sami and Elle wrestled, trying to make each other fall. It was a surprisingly even fight. Sami and Morgan won the first round. Elle and Ry took the second. They both fell on the third. We called it a draw to keep from enduring an endless slew of rematches. Iz and tried our hand it. We were undefeated for a while. We were promptly taken down by Finn and Sami. Elle was smart to refuse to battle them. We stayed outside most of the afternoon, enjoying our final scraps of summer vacation as a group.