“Why don’t we watch the races tonight?” My dad rounds in front of me, stopping me in my tracks. I think he’s been babbling on about something, walking beside me.
Dad is referring to the Wednesday Night Sailboat Races in Annapolis Harbor, which start in the middle of April and occur every Wednesday evening over the summer until the last Wednesday before Labor Day. It’s a weekly regatta where over a hundred sailboats sail out from the mouth of Spa Creek, out around marks on the Chesapeake Bay, and finishing near the Annapolis Yacht Club. As it is with many people, watching the races each week is a long-standing tradition of small picnics or blowout parties, depending on the people you’re watching the races with. In my case, Adam Beckett. No fun anticipated.
“Uh…” Perching my hands on my hips, I look around, trying to come up with some kind of excuse, but I’m struggling for one. I don’t have anywhere else to be. He knows Rio won’t be down here on a weekday and that Dash is helping his mommy organize her tassels.
When all I’m left to look at is his hopeful mug, he crookedly smiles, which reminds me of my sister’s. “Come on. Can’t you spend some quality time with your old man?”
I testily scowl. “I am. Here. Every day.”
He shakes his head as his hazel gaze studies my face. “We barely say two words to each other while working.”
“Well, we don’t have to work…”
Crossing my arms, I inhale deeply, losing my patience with him. In contrast, he patiently waits for an answer. We stare each other down until he heaves a sad sigh. This time, I do roll my eyes in his face. “Fine.”
He proudly grins. “It’ll be fun. We’ll grab some pizza and hang out at the Yacht Club, like you, Hadley, and I used to.” He pats my back, and as he walks around the back of his truck, I pull the trigger on my finger-gun pointed at my head. I’d rather be drenched in glue and rolled in glitter than spend quality time with my father.
When we get home, we both grab showers. As I’m drying off, I get a text from Duquesne. So, is it death by hanging or firing squad for me?
I smile, knowing he’d cave first. He’s so predictable. I like beheading.
Nice. Just make sure Douche doesn’t have me sucking my dick in my casket.
I won’t make any promises. Grinning, I toss my phone onto the bed and get dressed. As I put on my watch, my phone rings. Leaning over, I notice Dash had taken a picture of himself, giving me the middle finger and made it his number ID.
I snatch up my phone. “Where have you been, Calder?”
“Helping my mom! I told you that.”
Twisting to look into the mirror, running my hand through my hair, I say, “Yeah, I heard her stripper pole was rusty and needed to be replaced.”
“Hardy, har-har. I hear you were kicked out of doing charity work because they asked for a screwdriver, and you mixed a drink.”
“No, I was kicked out because when someone talked about studs, I thought they were referring to you, so I got into a fistfight over their lack of taste.”
“Fuuuuuny, Jericho. So, I guess you need me there tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but tonight, you’re going to the races with me.”
“Ugh, I don’t know.”
“We’re bringing pizza.”
“Meet at our usual spot?”
“I’m on it.”
Shaking my head, I grin at my reflection. Calder’s predictable, too.
Setting the box of pizza on the truck bed, I hoist myself up onto the black tailgate, and my dad does the same. Our view of the race from this small parking lot isn’t the greatest, but it’s a good place to eat.
The races just aren’t about, well, racing. They’re more of a weekly social event with a nod here and there at the boats. Some people really get into them as if their lives depended on it. Dash and I used to meet up to escape our parents when we were old enough to venture out somewhat on our own. Afterward, we’d all go out for ice cream, and Dash and I usually got in trouble for flicking something at each other, be it the nuts on our sundaes, wadded straw wrappers, napkins, salt packets, or the contents of Hadley’s purse. We always found a way to get into trouble.
Dad asks, “So, how are you doing?” As I adjust my blue cap on my head, I glance over to see him suspiciously watching me.
“Huh?” I frown as I reach back to grab some pizza.
He shrugs and looks out to the marina. “We haven’t really talked since you got here. Actually, we haven’t really talked… ever.”
My frown intensifies. “We talk.”
“We’re talking now.”
He sighs and looks at me. “Are you nervous, moving to Philadelphia, and starting a new job?”
I take a bite and slowly chew it before mumbling, “Nervous?” I laugh. “No.” Yes.
“Will you miss Baltimore?”
“What about Rio?”
“What about him?” Perturbed, I fleetingly glance at him and then down at the pavement below my dangling legs. I take another bite, hoping he’s done with his questions, but he hits me with another.
“Will you miss him?” Yes.
I indifferently shrug and glower at the gathering boats. “He’s so far up his new girlfriend’s ass that it’ll take surgery to remove him. He won’t even know I’m gone.”
“That’s not true. You won’t be that far from him. You’ll still be able to do things together.”
“If he’s allowed to.”
“You two have always been close. You’ll figure it out.” I don’t respond because I don’t know what will happen. Furthermore, I don’t want to give my dad more incentive to keep talking about it. However, that’s a mistake on my part. “You should worry more about being farther from Dashiell than Rio.”
Finally, looking at him full-on, I scowl. “I think it’ll be a good thing to be farther away from him.” We both laugh, but when I realize that we are, I shift my gaze to the marina and bite my lip to hinder it.
He asks, “Well, what about you? You’ve never mentioned if you have someone special in your life.” I should’ve just stayed on the subject of Duquesne and Calder.
Lowering my pizza, I turn to him and disbelievingly scoff, “Really, Dad?”
“What? You never have any girlfriends that I know about.” He shrugs and props his left hand on his thigh. “Well, that you’ve told me about.”
I irritably sigh, nearly shredding my napkin, wiping my hands. “There’s nothing to tell you.”
“I doubt that.”
Turning my head away, I roll my eyes. Where in the hell did I go wrong to fall into this shithole interrogation?
Impulsively, I turn back to him. “What about you? How come you never have someone to introduce to Hadley and me? Don’t you ever date? You’ve been single for twenty-seven years!”
Appearing surprised I asked, he uneasily shifts away, clearing his throat. “I date.”
“Why have we never heard about them?”
Avoiding my glare, my dad anxiously threads one hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, and with the other, he rubs his shoulder, looking the most uncomfortable I’ve ever seen him. He quietly admits, “Because nothing’s ever panned out, I guess.”
“In twenty-seven years?”
He shrugs, dropping his hands to tightly grip the tailgate. “Yeah. Maybe that’s why your mother left me. Maybe I am just that unlovable.”
I’m genuinely speechless. I did not expect that.
As I’m left gaping at my father, a black Subaru Impreza WRX STI pulls in beside us. Dash and I went car shopping two weeks ago. After looking at his list of potential cars, I anticipated a long and drawn-out experience, but once he got behind the wheel of this car, it was the first and last car he test drove. The high-boost 305-hp turbocharged/intercooled Boxter engine is what sold me, but apparently, he liked the wing spoiler, “wide and low” body, and the gas mileage. How unexciting.
His grin and sucker practically exit the car before he does. He pulls on the stick, yanking the red candy out of his mouth. “Hey, Jericho. Mr. Beckett.”
“Dashiell.” Dad glances at me, looking slightly aggravated, yet somewhat relieved that we’re not continuing our conversation. I’m sure he wanted to continue dissecting my life but didn’t seem to like my prying into his.
I see Dash’s arrival as a reprieve, and I relax, grabbing another slice of pizza and nodding at the box as he walks over. Tossing his sucker onto the cardboard lid, he grabs a piece and leans against the tailgate in between my dad and me.
I ask, “You done counting pasties?”
He shakes his head with a slanted grin. “You just wish you lived my rock-star life.”
“Only if I can take your place, gluing them onto your mom.”
My dad actually laughs, which surprises me. “Tell me something, Dashiell. Did Jared ever have any girlfriends in school?”
Dash’s mouth sags open, but it’s only a momentary lapse. “A few. A couple of space cadets, and one psycho who only spoke Spanish when she was upset. She wasn’t even Hispanic.”
Dad asks, “Is that right?”
I clarify, “That was Anya, and she was speaking Russian.”
Dash probes, “Was her family Russian?”
“Hell if I know.” I take a drink of my root beer, wishing it were a real beer. Many real beers.
My dad states, “I never knew about any of his girlfriends. I thought you’d tell me a huge roster.”
“Oh, well, that’s his list of official girlfriends. He flirted a lot with most of the school’s female population.”
“That’s a lie.”
Dash laughs. “You’re right.” He says to my dad, “Let’s just say that Jared came off as cool and a lady’s man, but he was far from either.”
“Shut up, Calder. I flirted some.”
“Not that I ever saw. I did see you hanging around one girl a lot. What was it, junior or senior year? I can’t remember. I was never close enough to see who she was, and you’d never talk about her.”
“Like I’m not now.” Ever.
“I think I’m hitting a nerve.” His eyes light up, sparking my dad’s interest in it.
“You wish,” I lie, wanting to close the subject. I pose to him, “What about you, Calder? I saw you flirting with quite the crowd. You even had some regulars that hung onto you in between classes or at lunch.”
“Regulars? You make me sound like an old waitress or a hooker.”
“Yep.” I shove his shoulder. “You were way too friendly with those eighth-graders.”
Unfazed by my teasing, he replies, “I can’t help that I’m a people person.” True. Dash knows everyone and is always highly regarded when I hear him mentioned until his choice of a best friend comes into question. He looks at me pensively. “You’re… complicated.”
“I’ll vouch for that one,” Dad offers.
Abruptly, I laugh, smacking Calder’s arm. “Remember the girl with a limp you dated for a while?”
“Her name was Carolyn, and we only were together for two months.”
“What happened?” Dad asks between bites.
Dash’s smile hits the skids. “She left me for her cousin’s boyfriend.”
I facetiously smirk. “Did he have a limp, too?”
“No. She limped because she had an ingrown toenail that was removed wrong or something.”
I recoil, letting my pizza hang limply. “That’s fricking disgusting.”
“I never saw her feet!”
“I doubt you saw anything else, either. Not that she was makeout material. She talked like an auctioneer, making you sound like you had shit in your mouth.” I laugh but hear my dad’s chagrin swirling in his sigh.
Dash rolls his eyes. “I’m pretty sure you had more girlfriends, but you hid them.”
I try smiling but fail. “Nope.” There was only one I wanted. My gaze slides to the patch of grass across the parking lot, frantically trying to forget, but I never can. I’m constantly battling my memories. And those eyes of hers.
Dad and Dash both give me a strange look. I don’t see it, but I feel it in the silence that follows, which is unsettling. Without looking at them, I edgily ask, “What?”
“I think you’re not telling us something,” my dad accuses. Tired of this shit, I push off the tailgate. Dad asks, “Where’re you going?”
I hear whispering and then quick footsteps behind me. “Wait, Jericho.” Dash catches up with me. “Why do you shut down like that? It’s just your dad and me.”
“And you just answered your own question.”
“I know you have issues with your dad, but don’t you trust me, at least?” I honestly don’t know how to answer that, so I just keep walking. “Jared, something is going on with you. You and Rio never fight like you did the other night. Why does Liberty bother you so much? You’d find she’s hilarious and nice if you took the time to get to know her.”
“Like you do?” I glare at him. The wind blows through his blond hair, messing it up, which he hates.
“More than you do,” he challengingly retorts as we cross the street. I shake my head, walking onto the Spa Creek Drawbridge, sliding past people waiting for the race to start. “Are you afraid he won’t want to be friends with us anymore?”
“Just put a sock in it, Dash.”
He punches my arm, which hurts, surprisingly. “There you go again. Shoving everyone away.”
I shoot him a dirty look. Anyone besides Rio and Dash touching me like that would’ve been on their ass right now. “Watch it, or I’ll be shoving you off this bridge.”
Amongst the crowd, we find an open spot on the other end of the drawbridge, next to an old man. It could go either way. Old people are unpredictable. Some try to talk to me while others leave me alone.
Leaning over the pinkish top rail, I prop my foot on the bottom one and look out to the plethora of boats ready to start. On the other side of me, Dash talks to people around us, which is a given when we go anywhere. I yank on the bill of my cap and hope he doesn’t try to pull me into his banal chatter.
Is there something to what Dash and Rio have said? I’ve always been closed off to people, for the most part. Dash and Rio do know more about me than anyone else, so I don’t get why Dash is bitching about me shoving everyone away.
“No way! Look at you!” I hear him laughingly say to someone. I roll my eyes at the water below. How can he be so into people in general? Even strangers love him. He’s revoltingly bubbly. We’re nothing alike. How in the fuck have I stayed friends with him for twenty-two years?
Suddenly, Dash smacks my arm. “Hey, I want you to meet someone.”
Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.
I grit my teeth. I just want to stand here and watch the boats. He knows I hate these tedious introductions. I’m not good at feigning interest, even with people I do know. I don’t need to meet one of Dash’s million followers, and someone that I’ll never see again.
Silently promising to shove Calder off the bridge later, I stiffly turn from the railing and force some semblance of a smile. However, the smile slips when I see purple-striped hair, those unreal, dark blue eyes, and a bright smile.
Dash nods sideways at me. “Kat, this’s my best friend, Jared Beckett.” Her smile widens as my impatience grows. She has the gall to smile after what she pulled on me this morning?
Licking my lips, I glower at her before I spread the adoration to Calder, guaranteeing he will meet his demise shortly. Ignoring my ire with his own grin, he says, “Jericho, this’s Kat Merrick.”
The bridge may as well have crashed into the harbor beneath us, taking my stomach first. I wouldn’t have noticed.
As my jaw hangs open at Dash, Kat complacently says, “We know each other.”
I really wish I had brought my sunglasses because there’s no way I can hide my shock in any way.
She looks unbelievably different, but my instincts were right.
It is her.
She’s the one that got away in high school.
She’s the one who repeatedly rejected me.
She’s the one I still dream about.
Fuck me. Fuck me.