The last time I stayed in Paradise Beach, I spent the entire time swimming in the pool with my little cousin, Cassandra. She was ten and I was fourteen. There wasn't much to do since our parents were either out having dinner in some swanky restaurants, or sipping cocktails in swanky bars along the coast.
I think Cassandra and I watched every bad horror movie that was available on cable. We painted each others toenails, and talked about boys. Sadly, despite our four years age difference, Cassandra and I had about equal amounts of experience with guys.
At least, that's how I let on.
The truth is; last summer was more experimental than I'd ever admit to anyone.
Ross was the lifeguard who hung around the dock by our hotel. The beach access was linked to the pool, and when the pool got boring, or too many old ladies decided to float around, getting their bronzed skin even more leathery with tans, we'd hang out on the beach.
Cassandra noticed Ross first.
"How old do you think he is?" she asked, swiping the wet strand of red hair from her eyes. Her pale skin freckled more in the sun, and she vigorously applied sunblock, just as her mother had instructed her.
"Sixteen?" I shrugged, pretending not to be interested. He was gorgeous, though. His skin was brown and slick from suntan lotion, and his red swim trunks hung low on his hips. The salty air swept through his hair, making him appear sexy and natural.
Cassandra giggled and turned back and forth between me, the water, and Ross's lifeguard stand.
"Stop," I hissed, playfully. "He'll know you're staring at him."
"I'm not though," Cassandra protested, but continued to giggle so much that she drew attention to us immediately.
"Oh my God," I muttered. "He waved at us."
"Go talk to him," Cassandra urged, nudging me with her shoulder. Her pink bathing suit was smudged in spots where the sand had caked in the ruffles.
"I can't," I insisted. My heart was starting to beat a million times a second, and I wanted to run back into the hotel and pretend the encounter never happened.
"Of course you can," she said, then lowered her tone from joyous to serious. "You're old enough for him, at least."
I gave Cassandra a compassionate once over. Her red hair was tangled at the ends and her body was still stick thin and pale. Mine, on the other hand, was already sporting curves that embarrassed me sometimes.
I decided that this is what a normal girl my age would do. I would have a story about a hot lifeguard and a summer crush to focus my attention on instead of the boring humdrum routine of pool, beach, movie, bed.
"Hi there," he said as I approached the lifeguard chair.
"Hey," I tried to sound casual. "Are you the lifeguard every day?" I felt idiotic before the words got out of my mouth, but I hated not having something to say to people.
"Yeah," he said, smiling and showing off a beautiful set of straight, white teeth. "I'm Ross, by the way." He reached out his hand and when I took it to shake it, he pulled me up towards him.
I was confused at first, but he told me to step on the wood planks to help myself up. Soon, I was sitting next to him, feeling the heat from his body next to mine. It was the single most thrilling experience I'd ever had in my whole fourteen years of existence.
"What's your name?" he asked as I watched Cassandra sitting along on the beach, her back toward us now.
"Um ... Emma." I had to think for a moment. I suddenly felt incredibly sad for Cassandra and saw how lonely she looked there, next to the shore.
The whole reason our cousinship worked as a friendship was because we were both dumped off by our parents. We both new it sucked to sit around a hotel day in and day out, waiting for something to happen, when you knew it never would.
I could have politely told Ross then and there that it was nice meeting him, jumped off the chair, and ran back to Cassandra. But I didn't.
The rest of the summer was spent with me sleeping during most of the morning, then going down to the beach at night to meet up with Ross. I never invited Cassandra. I had considered it, but when I brought up the idea, Ross asked why I'd want to hang out with a kid.
I lied to Cassandra though - I told her one night she'd be able to go with me. One night after I got more comfortable with Ross and his friends. But the nights on the beach with me and Ross became less and less about anything other than me and Ross.
We'd spend hours kissing under the pier, and holding hands, walking down the beach. Sometimes we'd go into the convenient stores, or the hotel lobbies, just to see what was going on. I was totally in love with this boy and Cassandra was spending time alone, doing nothing but waiting on me, just like we did with our parents.
On the night before summer was over, I was afraid I'd never see Ross again, so I snuck him up to my room. It was late and no one would be back until late, so I asked Cassandra to warn me if anyone called to let us know they were on their way back.
"Why should I?" Cassandra asked, her arms folded. "I could tell on you right now and you'd be grounded until Christmas."
I was furious. "Don't threaten me," I barked at her. "It's not my fault that I was forced to hang out with some stupid little girl all summer instead of hanging out with my friends. You're just jealous that I have a life and you don't."
I slammed the door behind me and started crying into the pillow on my bed. Soon Ross was beside me, stroking my hair, and whispering to me that everything was okay.
"We'll see each other again," he promised, sliding next to me on the bed. "I promise."
My heart started to flutter as I stared into his dark eyes, his body close to me, our being very much alone.
I wasn't sure if he wanted to do more than kiss me, but that's all that I let happen that night.
That was the story I told Cassandra the next
morning when I apologized.
We stayed entangled in each others arms, wrapped up in a wonderful moment of bliss. Before the sun came up, Ross left the hotel and went back to his parents' condo. We told each other we'd write. We told each other we'd see one another again at Christmas or New Year's. We'd have next summer and the summer after that.
He left and I went back home with my family
the next morning.
I kept my secrets at Paradise Beach for another time.