Like clockwork, he woke at six am. It didn’t matter that he’d hardly slept the previous night; at six, his eyes fluttered open and he rolled to the floor to begin his routine of crunches before he headed downstairs for a light breakfast. He paused in the hallway outside his bedroom door when his ab workout was finished, staring at the door of the guest bedroom.
She was probably asleep. She’d been through a lot the previous day, what with the road trip and meeting his entire family. But a part of him wondered if she had tossed and turned the same way he had; if she had stared at the ceiling and replayed their conversation over and over in her head and thought about the way her lips felt as they ghosted across his skin.
Probably not, he thought, shaking his head as he jogged down the stairs. Because more than likely, he was reading too much into it and she was just being friendly. That’s what they were after all. Friends.
Despite his less than normal amount of sleep, Tyler had never felt more energized. He paced the kitchen as he chowed down on a banana before running back up the stairs to pull on sweats and a hoodie and grab his gym bag. Whistling softly as he swung his car keys around his index finger, he was stopped on the bottom step on the way to the garage by his father’s deep morning voice.
“What’s got you in such a good mood?”
Turning, he lifted the corners of his lips into a smile at the sight of his father rubbing sleep out of his eyes with the palm of his hands.
“Nothing,” Tyler shrugged, trying to sound as casual as possible as Justin approached. “Just going to swimming. You’re up early.”
“Yeah,” Justin groaned, indicating that the fact that he was awake was not voluntary. He shoved his hands into the pockets of the navy hooded sweatshirt he had zipped over his bare chest atop his plaid pajama bottoms. “I don’t know how, though. I got a little bit wasted last night and your mum had to drive me home and…”
He stopped mid-sentence as he realized this probably wasn’t a conversation he should be having with his son, despite the fact that Tyler was now of legal drinking age. “Forget I said that.”
“Will do,” Tyler pressed his lips together to hold in a laugh. He actually liked the fact that his father often talked to him as though they were mates because it made it easier for Tyler to confess things that were on his mind.
“Jessa got in okay?” Justin changed the subject before he could do any more damage to his parental authority. “She texted me that she and her roommate went straight to Dan’s house. Did they have fun? What’s her roommate’s name again?”
“Cassie,” Tyler replied a little quickly, clearing his throat uncomfortably, despite the fact that Justin hadn’t seemed to notice his eagerness to say her name.
Nodding, Justin continued on. “Right. I think I talked to her on the phone once cause Jessa was in the shower or something and couldn’t pick up, so Cassie did–”
“Dad!” Tyler interrupted, sure he would like to hear the rest of the story, but knowing he didn’t have the time. “I appreciate the bonding time, but I gotta get to training.”
Coughing, Justin nodded, raising one hand in a wave. “Yeah, of course, get going. Swim hard. Good luck. Love you.”
Laughing softly, Tyler stepped forward to wrap one arm around his father’s shoulders in a quick hug before turning towards the door which led to the garage and calling out behind him, “Love you, too.”
Tyler smiled the entire drive to practice and hummed as he changed into his speedo in the locker room and pulled on his swimming cap and goggles. He was even singing to himself as he stood by the side of the pool and shook out his limbs to loosen his muscles. It wasn’t until he hopped into the water to get his body acclimated and do a few warm up laps that his focus kicked in.
Swimming was an escape for Tyler. When he was stressed, he loved dipping into the pool and taking long strokes and enjoying the soothing feel of the water as it rushed around him. But the competitive situation was a completely different story. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t love the hunger to win which built in his stomach from the moment he stepped on the diving block, but it wasn’t that want that made him so good.
The secret to his success was motivating thoughts. His technique – the strokes, the dive, the flip turn – were all so engrained in his body from so many years of swimming that he didn’t really think about them anymore. So his focus became how to do the laps as quickly as possible and what always helped him was thinking about something that would only happen after he got out of the pool. Sometimes, it was the idea of hanging out with friends later or a movie he really wanted to see or a meal at a restaurant that his parents had promised to take him to. Today, it was Cassie.
He thought about that kiss and how it would feel against his lips instead of his cheek. He thought about how much he wanted to tangle his fingers into her soft chocolate curls and kiss that small, serious mouth. He thought about her laugh and how it had made him feel as though he had been struck by lightning and how he’d do anything to make sure he got to hear it again.
“Copeland!” He heard his coach call out his name as he was pulling himself out of the pool at the end of practice.
Pulling his swim cap and goggles off his head, he ran his free fingers through his slightly damp hair as he came to a stop in front of the stout man who yelled at him every morning between the hours of seven and ten. “Yeah, coach?”
“What’s gotten into you today? You shaved an entire second off your butterfly.”
In swimming terms, a second was momentous and a pretty great accomplishment, so he probably should have been paying attention, but truth be told, he hadn’t been checking his times as he swam. Still, he smiled widely as he responded. “I’m just in the zone today, I guess.”
“Well, keep it up,” the coach muttered as he turned away to yell at someone else.
Tyler couldn’t wipe the grin off his face as he headed towards the locker room to change, knowing that the reason his practice had been so great wasn’t the result of a ‘what’ but of a ‘who’.
Cassie woke feeling refreshed, as though she’d slept for about ten years. Grinning, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and skipped towards the bathroom to brush her teeth before heading downstairs to find the Copelands minus Tyler seated around the breakfast table.
They welcomed her warmly, Jessamine’s parents immediately pulling Cassie into hugs as though she were their own daughter and showing her the donut options and where the coffee was in the nearby pot.
She didn’t talk much during breakfast, preferring to observe them because what she saw was fascinating. They teased each other and bantered back and forth and she found it intriguing that Jessamine told her parents things that Cassie would never tell her own parents – like the details of the party they had taken Tyler to the previous weekend. Even more wondrous was the fact that Jessamine’s parents never seemed to judge her for her stories, more than likely appreciating the fact that their daughter was willing to be so open and honest.
By the time breakfast was finished and Cassie and Jessamine were walking back up the stairs to take their showers, Cassie couldn’t help but think that this was exactly the kind of family she’d always dreamed of having.
“Hold up,” Jessamine reached out to touch Cassie’s arm when they reached the top of the stairs, reading something on her phone. “I just got a text from Luce wondering if we want to come spend the day by their pool before the concert tonight. You up for it?”
“Sure,” Cassie shrugged, thinking it was a beautiful day and laying out in the sun sounded nice. “Right now?”
Jessamine nodded, replying to Lucy’s text before dropping her hand to the side. “Yeah, I guess Jamie and Kira are already there.”
“Oh, is it a family thing?” Cassie asked, though she soon realized what the response would be.
“Most things we do are,” Jessamine laughed. “This is the first time in ages that we’ve all been home at the same time, so we’re not gonna waste it apart.”
Looking down at her phone, Jessamine checked the time before speaking again. “Ok, so, Ty is probably on his way back from swim practice by now and my guess is Luce already texted him, so why don’t we change and wait for him to get back and do the same and then we can head over to the Saxton’s. Sound good?”
Nodding, Cassie smiled, trying not to let on that the mention of Tyler had caused her to momentarily stop breathing. This would be the first time she’d see him since she’d made her bold move the previous night and she was kind of glad she wouldn’t be alone because she honestly had no idea what she would say.
With a smile, Jessamine continued down the hall to her room and Cassie pushed open the door to the guest room, making a beeline to the duffel bag she’d packed to dig out her bikini. It was sky blue, with small baby pink zigzag detailing. She’d bought it on a whim a year ago because she thought it was pretty and hoped one day she’d have the confidence to wear it. Honestly, she’d only packed it because it was the only swimming attire she had at the apartment, but hadn’t expected that she’d have to put it to use. It seemed it was time for her to be brave.
She wasn’t sure she breathed as she pulled on the bottoms and twisted her torso in front of the bathroom mirror to tie the strings before tugging on a pair of cuffed denim shorts and pulling a loose t-shirt over her torso. After slipping into a pair of braided sandals and grabbing her purse, she pulled open the door to go wait in Jessamine’s room just as Tyler stepped onto the second floor.
“Hey,” she blinked once, instantly cursing herself for speaking because it was entirely possible he might not have noticed her standing in the open doorway if she hadn’t spoken.
Of course, she would have been wrong in that assumption, because at this point, Tyler was pretty sure he’d be able to pick Cassie out of a crowd of thousands from a mile away.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he smiled widely, stopping outside her door and sticking his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants. The flirtation was a defense mechanism because he felt a bit out of his element. “Ready for some pool time?”
“Yeah.” She wasn’t entirely sure how she got that word out when she wasn’t even breathing, but she figured that now that they had acknowledged each other, it would be rude not to continue the conversation. “Though, I guess you’ve already had some. Good practice?”
“One of my better ones,” he nodded, wondering if he should tell her that she was the cause of his success in the pool that morning.
“Ty!” Jessamine called out from down the hallway, where she was stepping out of her room, wearing a floor length floral cover up over her string bikini, which was undoubtedly floral as well. “Hurry the hell up and get changed so we can go.”
Holding in a laugh, he nodded once, turning towards his bedroom and closing the door, but not before flashing Cassie a smile as it shut, leaving her fighting back a blush in the hallway. Three minutes later, he reemerged, wearing the same bright red trunks he’d had on when Cassie had watched him swim in the pool at their apartment complex and a plain white t-shirt on top.
Jessamine held most of the conversation as they headed downstairs, the Copeland siblings kissing both their parents on the cheeks before waving goodbye and Tyler offering to drive. Cassie slid into the back seat of his midnight blue SUV, figuring sitting next to him would make her too antsy, but it turned out the back wasn’t much better because they made eye contact in the rearview mirror exactly four times during the five minute drive to the Saxton house.
Cassie breathed a little easier once they walked into the Saxton’s backyard. Despite the fact that she’d only known the extended family for a few hours, she already felt comfortable around them and her heart leaped in excitement when Kira squealed at the sight of her and stretched her arms for a hug.
“Hey, girl,” Kira grinned brightly when she let Cassie go, reaching up to rake back her dark waves to the crown of her head so they wouldn’t get in the way when she retied the strings of her deep purple bikini. “I’m so glad we’re doing this. One dinner with just the kids isn’t nearly enough hang out time.”
“Yeah,” Cassie’s smile widened, glancing behind Kira briefly to watch Tyler pull a zebra printed one-piece clad Lucy into a hug before doing the same with Jamie. “Plus, getting some sun is a good thing, right?”
“Right,” Kira agreed happily, waving Cassie over to a nearby pool chair. “Come lay out by me.”
Following instructions, Cassie dropped her bag to the ground and kicked off her sandals before crossing her arms as she reached down and pulled off her t-shirt. Being in a bikini was nerve wrecking enough, but the fact that Tyler was standing just a few feet away, watching her despite the fact that he was having a conversation with Lucy, wasn’t helping. She wasn’t particularly expecting any sort of reaction, so when she looked up to find Kira grinning from ear to ear, she was a bit taken aback.
“Did that hurt like hell?” Kira asked, nodding towards the tattoo of two intertwined pink lilies which ran up Cassie’s right side. “Cause mine did and they’re not nearly that big.”
Cassie glanced down to see Kira running a finger along what looked to be three separate tattoos, each consisting of one letter, stacked on top of each other vertically down the edge of her ribcage.
“Yeah,” Cassie admitted, smiling sheepishly as she wriggled out of her shorts and folded them, along with her shirt, and laid them on top of her sandals. “I’m pretty sure I passed out.”
“I totally would have too,” Kira agreed, perching herself on the edge of the pool chair next to Cassie. “That’s why I went small.” She pointed to the block letter ‘x’ that was at the top of the stack. “This one’s for my dad, cause he always has xs on his guitars. The ‘l’ is for Lucy and the ‘j’ is for Jamie. Does yours mean anything?”
Cassie shrugged as she stretched out her legs on the pool chair and leaned back, watching Kira follow suit. “Not really. I just thought it was pretty.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Of course she thought it was aesthetically pleasing, but it actually meant about five different things that she didn’t particularly want to discuss at the moment. Like how flowers always reminded her of home, or at least, the home she hoped to have one day.
Three chairs away, Tyler was having a hard time paying attention to what Lucy was saying because his eyes kept drifting to Cassie. He, of course, enjoyed seeing girls wearing minimal clothing because the female body should be appreciated and worshipped in all forms, so his mouth had gone a little dry when Cassie took off her shirt. But he found her tattoo even more wonderful, perhaps because he never in a million years would have pegged her as someone who would permanently ink her skin. Making a mental note stop jumping to conclusions about people, he decided he would ask her the real reason she got it the next time they were alone, thinking that if he could bare his soul, then surely she could do the same.
Ten minutes later, Caroline, Brody, and Piper had arrived, making the family gathering complete. Cassie enjoyed how easy it was to feel accepted and how despite the fact that all of them had known each other since they were born, she never once felt like an outsider. They played volleyball over the net in the pool and splashed each other mercilessly and got on each other’s backs and tried to push each other off and included Cassie in all of it. And when she asked where she could get something cold to drink an hour later, Lucy gave her directions to the kitchen and allowed her to find it on her own because she didn’t need to be shown around: she was part of the family.
She took a long sip from a water bottle she’d found in the fridge to alleviate the dry throat she’d gotten as a result of all the laughing she’d done over the past hour as she slowly wandered out of the kitchen, but froze in the hallway which led to the backyard door when Tyler stepped inside. He had seen her leave and thought perhaps this was the perfect time to discuss the events of the previous night.
“Having a good time?” he asked, crossing his arms over his bare chest when he came to a stop in front of her, knowing he needed to ease in to the conversation.
“I’m having an amazing time!” She took another sip of water, her throat now dry for an entirely different reason. “You?”
Nodding, he studied her, wondering how to best slip in the question he was dying to ask. “Yeah, it’s great how seamlessly you fit in: it’s like you’re already part of the family.”
It made her happy that she wasn’t the only one who felt that way and her smile widened. “I know! We’re like siblings.”
She wasn’t entirely sure why she said that last sentence, especially because it wasn’t at all true, but as soon as the words left her lips, she felt like something had changed. Tyler’s expression flashed with disappointment before his eyes flooded with determination. Lowering his arms from his chest, he reached out with one hand to stroke her cheek with his thumb before trailing his fingers downwards and feeling her steadily increasing pulse at her neck and smirking happily as he realized what that meant.
“I don’t think we’re like siblings at all,” he murmured, keeping his eyes locked on hers.
This was a defining moment, she knew. Every nerve end in her body was telling her that it was now or never: she needed to react or the relationship between her and Tyler would never progress past its current state. And lord knew she wanted it to.
Keeping with her streak of boldness, she screwed on the cap of her water bottle, took one step forward, stood up on her tip toes, and pressed her lips firmly to Tyler’s.
It took him five quickened heartbeats to react because he wasn’t entirely sure what was happening. One second he was trying to prove to Cassie that their relationship was not sibling like in the slightest and the next thing he knew, she was kissing him.
Once he realized he wasn’t just dreaming, his reflexes were as swift as ever. His hands cupped her cheeks as he returned the pressure before sliding down her neck and shoulders and dropping to squeeze her hips and pull her close, his thumbs dipping beneath the strings of her bikini bottoms to rub circles into her hips.
There was no planning involved in Cassie’s actions: she had just wanted to do something, but she hadn’t expected the kiss to become so heated. She thought it would be short and sweet and lovely, but she should have known that Tyler Copeland did nothing half assed because before she could force herself to pull away, she was pressed against the length of his body and his lips were pushing against hers feverishly. Deciding that she might as well enjoy the moment, she melted against him as well. Her hands, which had balled into fists against his chest on instinct, straightened out, causing her plastic water bottle to drop to the floor as she moved them upwards to link her fingers together at the base of his neck.
He leaned into her, pushing her back onto her heels and walking her backwards until her back hit the hallway wall. She gasped against his mouth, feeling his lips curve into a smile before he puckered out again and she allowed herself to fall seamlessly against him.
She wasn’t sure how long they kissed, but she did know that when they pulled apart, she couldn’t remember her name or where she was and she felt wonderfully dizzy. Her eyes fluttered open slowly to find his were already gazing at her because he had been watching her, attempting to memorize the position of each freckle sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. Her lips were already parted in shock, so she barely had to move them to speak, but before she could get a word out, she heard a cough coming from down the hallway.
Turning her head, her eyes widened in horror at the sight of Caroline standing just inside the glass door which led to the backyard, looking a mixture of awed and uncomfortable for having interrupted an intimate moment. Reacting quickly, Cassie flattened her palm against Tyler’s chest to push him away, which ended up being a lot easier than she thought it would be because he was still in shock as he attempted to process all of the events of the past few minutes.
“Caroline,” Cassie breathed out, adjusting her bikini top before reaching down to grab the water bottle that had fallen to the floor. “How long have you been there?”
“Not long,” Caroline replied when she regained her ability to speak, not wanting them to think she had been watching. She had stepped inside to find a spare bottle of sunscreen, but found herself frozen with curiosity at the sight of Tyler pressing Cassie against a wall as they kissed furiously.
Cassie flashed her an uneasy smile before taking a step towards the door and away from Tyler. “I was just coming back out.”
Before Tyler could protest, Cassie was out the door, hoping that no one would notice her swollen lips and flushed cheeks.
Tyler racked his brain for an excuse to leave as well, but was stopped short by Caroline’s icy glare as she nodded towards the kitchen and whispered. “We need to talk.”
Knowing this wasn’t a battle he was going to win, he hung his head as he turned back towards the kitchen, leaning back against the counter as he waited for Caroline to begin the conversation. It actually started with a swift punch to his right bicep.
“What the hell, man?” Caroline called out, crossing her arms over her chest once she was done swinging and frowning deeply. “She’s Jess’s roommate.”
“Ow,” Tyler whined, impressed by how much it hurt before he sighed deeply. “I know. Nothing’s going on.”
“Right,” Caroline rolled her eyes. “I always make out in empty hallways with people I’m just friends with. But you need to shut it down. You don’t need to make life more difficult for Jessamine just because you can’t keep it in your pants.”
“Oh, please,” Tyler scoffed, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “It’s not like this was one sided. She kissed me.”
That was actually surprising. Caroline had known Cassie for less than twenty four hours and although she thought the girl was sweet and the kind of person you could tell anything to and receive zero judgment in return, Caroline wouldn’t have thought of her as the type to make the first move.
And actually, this information just made the entire situation more complicated. Kira had told Caroline about her suspicions that something was happening between Cassie and Tyler the previous night, but Caroline had shrugged it off. Tyler was a flirt; everyone knew it. He had been making people melt with words and glances practically since he realized he could have romantic feelings for others.
So him hitting on Cassie was pretty par for the course and if that had been the extent of it, then maybe they would have hooked up a couple times and then parted ways with no hard feelings. But Caroline had seen the way they’d looked at each other after they kissed and nothing about that gaze had been casual.
“Shit,” Caroline whispered, dropping her arms and leaning back against the counter across from Tyler, knowing there was no way for this to end well.
“You’re telling me,” Tyler remarked, bringing a hand up to his mouth and massaging his lips because he could still feel Cassie pressed against them.
“Ok, but was this a one time thing?”
The question caught Tyler off guard and he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Huh.”
“Look,” Caroline sighed. “Kira and Piper told me last night that they thought something was happening between the two of you and my guess is that it was only a matter of time before Jamie and Brody found out as well. Which means, that as of right now, your sister is the only one who is completely oblivious to this entire situation. So, if you tell me that this was just a one off occurrence and there was tension that you just needed to get out of your system and both of you are gonna move on and live happily ever after, then Jessamine never has to find out.”
Truth be told, Tyler hadn’t thought that far ahead. He had been so caught up in wanting to kiss Cassie that he hadn’t considered anything past their lips meeting.
“But,” Caroline continued before he could answer. “If you really like her and you want to see if there’s more than just good makeout sessions, then you have to tell your sister because this is bigger than just you.”
Pushing herself off the counter, she reached out to squeeze his arm supportively before exiting the kitchen, leaving Tyler alone, wide eyed and completely confused.