Ten Years Ago
I kicked off the slippers and freed my feet to feel the grass between my toes.
A sigh of relief washed over me as I leaned against the ancient stone pine, its trunk bare, its branches high above me, stuffed with needles, and casting long shadows.
The shade offered a break from the afternoon sun burning the ground to a crisp. I’d ridden my bicycle for nearly fifteen minutes up the old dirt road to reach my little piece of heaven. It was the only place in the whole wide world where I found a little quiet.
I sat down on the root of the stone pine and pulled out a book from my backpack. It was Oliver Perry’s latest. It had been published just a week before Dad took me across the ocean to the summerhouse and I had fought him to stop by and get me a copy. If I couldn’t attend the signing, I could at least have the book with me over the summer break.
I opened the page where I’d stopped the night before and pulled out a pen from the small pocket of my backpack, then stuck it between my teeth. Oliver Perry had a way of hiding his clues so well that I’d just miss them all the time, so I never read his books without a pen near me.
It seemed stupid to my Father when had caught me scribbling my ideas on the margins of a hardcover I’d made him buy me for my birthday.
“Do you know how much it cost?” he’d asked me. “You’re ruining the book.”
“I’m not ruining it,” I’d said in protest. “It’s mine, anyway.”
“You’ll ask for another in a year,” he’d said as he left my bedroom, completely forgetting why he’d come to see me. “And I’ll think twice before paying.”
Yet when I solved the mystery by page sixty-four, and wrote a letter to Oliver Perry, my work had completely paid off. Sure, it took six months, but the great man sent me a signed hardcover of his next book, daring me to crack that one. I failed and didn’t write back.
That had been a year ago. And Oliver Perry published another book since. The one I was racing to solve now.
I’ll write to him as soon as I solve it, I promised to myself quietly.
There was something about his books that had always drawn me in. They were no ordinary mysteries, but puzzle-boxes. I’d once read an article that said Oliver Perry was the man who had single-handedly reinvented magical realism. That line made it all fit together perfectly — I’d already known what magical realism was, but I hadn’t realized it could also include murder scenes and endless red herrings and plot-twists that made my mind spin.
I’d cut out that article, and it was above my desk in the bedroom back home.
A branch snapped somewhere behind me just as Detective Roger Wilson tried sneaking into the black archive, seeking the answers to a superstitious hex he’d learned of, breaking all the rules once again, and my heart skipped a beat.
I turned to look and couldn’t hide my disappointment at the sight before me.
“There you are,” said Adam, and ran a hand through his hair. “I almost gave up looking.” The grin on his face didn’t hide that he was proud of finding my hiding place and disrupting my peace.
“What happened?” I asked, the chill in my voice cooling the temperature of the air between us.
“Nothing happened,” he said. “Why?”
“Then why were you looking for me?” I asked. Could I have been more direct? This had been the nicest way of saying don’t bother me, Adam.
“No reason,” he said with a big, dumb shrug. “Thought we could hang out.”
Now you want to hang out. A year ago when my Dad met your Mom and invited you two for dinner, when I met you, and when you showered me with smiles, and when I almost jumped over the dining table to kiss those smirks away from your stupid face, you made fun of me. You made fun of the books I was reading. You teased me senseless. And now, when I’m the only person your age for miles around, you want to hang out with me… “I’m busy,” I said.
“Busy, are you?” His voice was drenched in sarcasm. Summer break meant there was absolutely nothing to do as far as Adam was concerned. He sat down next to me. “Busy doing what?”
“I’m reading,” I said.
“No, you’re not,” he said and snatched the book out of my hands. He ran the pages between his fingers back and looked at my notes. “You’re not reading. What’s all this?” Are they fairy-tales, he’d asked a year ago. I’d almost slapped him in anger. Or kissed him. Had I had the courage to do anything, it could have gone either way. Instead, I’d done neither.
I clenched my fists. Punching a potential step-brother wasn’t a smart thing to do, but his dumb, pretty face was asking for it. I grabbed the book and pulled it back, only to have Adam raise his hands in surrender.
“It’s nothing,” I snapped. He’d think I was a fool, too. God, I could already imagine all the teasing. Adam and his Mom had become regular guests in our house. So much so that Dad had invited them to join us for the summer retreat.
I’d once heard him tell Mrs. Reynolds: “The boy needs another boy around. All he ever does is hang out with girls.”
“He’s eighteen. Girls are probably what he’s always thinking about,” she’d said.
“Your son’s a good young man,” Dad had said. “It’ll do good for Evan to be around him a little. Always those books…” I’d stopped listening then.
“Alright. Sorry I asked,” Adam said with a sigh. He was quiet for a while longer as I stared at the closed book in my hands. I couldn’t go on while he sat next to me. “Why don’t we go to the beach?”
“You can go,” I said briskly.
“It’s no fun to go alone,” he said. He ran a hand through his hair again, a lock persistently falling over his brow.
I couldn’t tell what I hated the most about Adam. Was it the fact that we were expected to get along? Was it that he was the popular kid, even though he was dumb and childish? Or because I’d thought he was so handsome when I first saw him, but he hardly ever noticed me except to make me the butt of the joke?
I hated his pretty lips and his long eyelashes and his nicely shaped body and all the feelings that he had stirred in me. And those smirks — I couldn’t take my eyes off those smirks. His face needed a good slap every once in a while.
It was just a thought.
“I’m not going,” I said.
Adam sighed again. It almost made me sorry for him for a moment. Almost. He tapped his knees and got up. “Alright, suit yourself.” He walked a few steps away, and I opened the book again. Then his steps halted, and he turned. “I get that you hate me, Evan. I get why. But look at this place. We’re in Italy, for God’s sake. Is there anywhere in the world as beautiful as here?”
I stared at him, saying nothing at all, waiting.
“Live a little, Evan,” he said. “And… Give me a chance. I might be fun to hang out with. You wouldn’t know it, though, always reading those books, never really out there…”
I jumped onto my feet. He crossed the line again. He’d crossed it so many times that I couldn’t even tell where the line was anymore. “Just because my Dad likes your Mom or whatever, we’re now supposed to like each other? Give me a break. I’m doing what I like, and so should you, somewhere far away where I can’t hear you or see you.” I clutched the book harder. “You just miss your buddies now and I’m good enough to hang out with. Well, screw you, Adam. It’s too late. Be lonely now.”
“What are you talking about?” His mouth dropped open, and I glanced at his full, red lips. “What do my friends have to do with you? You’ve got your friends, too.”
“Oh, well, my friends don’t go around calling you names,” I spat out.
“Are my friends teasing you?” He asked, his tone dead serious. “I’ll put a stop to…”
“Don’t,” I snapped. “Forget I said anything.”
He sighed. “Look,” he said. “When my Mom ditched the last guy she was seeing, I had to leave everyone behind. And it’s not the first time I have to leave all my friends and start over. She does this all the time.”
I didn’t want to hear his sob-story. Feeling sorry for Adam would just be too weird. He was the happy one; I was the sulky one — we’d had an unspoken agreement about it.
“If they get serious, and honestly, I doubt it,” he said flatly. “It’ll be easier for you. You’ll give up a little fridge space.”
Damn it, I didn’t want them to get serious. That would make Adam my step-brother, and my gut turned at the idea. Not only because he was so annoying and dumb, but because I couldn’t stand looking at those pretty lips all the time.
He’d be a million percent off limits then.
“And you weren’t that interested in being a friend…”
Friend? No. I wasn’t. But I couldn’t have what I wanted.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s impossible either way.” He looked away, a hand shooting to fix his hair, then grabbing the other hand to keep it still. His eyes darted to me, then back to nothing.
My lips parted a little. I took a shallow breath of air. “Impossible?”
“Too late now, anyway,” he said and turned around.
I took a step toward him, only two feet of grass between us. “Too late for what?”
“Why do you care?”
Was he manipulating me into something? Teasing my curiosity with this mystery of his, leading me onto something, just to get a vacation buddy he can throw away once we were home again?
“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t care.” Dad would soon make some terrible mistake again, and whatever was going on between the two would end, anyway. That much I was certain of.
Adam turned and looked into my eyes, anger finally reaching to his eyes. “See why nobody likes you?”
I clutched the book harder because otherwise I would have flung it at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That sounded worse… It’s not true, though.” He clutched his fists hard and stared at me.
Those deep green eyes, anger in them melting into regret… What would I give to see those eyes look at me lovingly instead of all this hatred? Everything. Except I couldn’t. Plus, he was annoying as fuck. All his smirks and grins, all his jokes, his cockiness, his carelessness — I hated it. Didn’t I?
“What’s too late?” I asked as I regained my cool.
His tongue touched his lips for a split moment, just enough to distract me. My heart pounded as I stared at him. Then his hands shot up and grabbed my T-shirt, pulled me in. My heart skipped a beat as I nearly ducked a head-slam, but his pretty lips pressed against mine, and the entire hill spun around us.
Adam tasted of mint.
His lips were soft and wet.
He gripped my T-shirt with all his strength.
And I just stood there, my eyes wide open, a faint scent of sweet summer sweat crawling into my nostrils, my lips not moving a bit.
If somebody caught us… My Dad… Wait.
My arms finally shot up and pushed him away. He didn’t resist, simply stepped back suddenly, and looked at me. My frown deepened, but his face was all guilt.
“Sorry,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have… It’s just… When you’re angry…” He turned and grabbed the back of his head, scratched it hard, and looked at the ground. “You’re just red and… Cute…”
“You should go to the beach,” I whispered, short of breath.
“Uh-huh,” he said briefly and went between the trees and hedges toward the dirt road.
I dropped back under the old stone pine, the book still in my left hand, and stared at the thick, puffy clouds dragging their way across the sky.
I should have told him never to do this again. We weren’t supposed to kiss each other, no matter how handsome I thought he was. What if our parents got married? Oh shit, what if they got happily married?
The bitter taste stayed on my lips as I licked them and realized that I was hard and sweat was breaking out on my brow. I realized I had to go home soon and see Adam returning from the beach, probably shirtless, and pretend I didn’t drool after him.
Because I did.
And I had to find a way to stop.
I packed the book into my backpack, fully aware there was no way I could read anything for the rest of the day, and closed my eyes. The moment my eyelids were down, I saw him again. I saw the way he’d clutched his fists and grabbed my T-shirt; I saw the fear and guilt in his eyes once I’d pushed him back, and I tasted the mint again.
But this was wrong.
One More Summer will release soon.