Available September 13, 2016
When we were 16, we made a pact.
When we were 17, we decided to follow through.
When we were 18, we decided to spend our final summer together.
Because at the end of the summer, we would show them.
Our deaths would show the world- they can’t treat us this way any longer.
This is our SOS, our Summer of St. George.
Murphy and her cousin Poppy have been BFFs forever. They share everything- including a birthday.
When they make a pact to commit suicide after high school, they decide to have one last summer of fun with NO consequences and nothing holding them back.
As the Summer of St. George begins, things don’t go as planned. Murphy doesn’t expect to fall in love and she doesn’t expect to find a boy that makes her want to live. His name is Liam, and after spending two years in the Air Force living in Japan, he's trying to integrate back into American society. As a self-proclaimed "Jack-of-all-trades" he knows things about Murphy that she isn't quite ready to admit to herself. And he is determined to haunt her, peel back layer after layer of lies until she can't run from the truth anymore.
This is our SOS, this is our Summer of St. George.
(Note: This is a YA/NA dark romance/ suspense novel for ages 16 and up. It is loosely inspired by Pride and Prejudice, but is not a retelling of the original story.)
IT BEGINS AND ENDS WITH THE POP
Poppy Middlestone was one of those girls. Everyone wanted to be like her. In the third grade, when she bought a bright red bow and wore it like a tiara the next week everyone else bought the same bow and wore it the same way.
I bought a bow.
She turned heads. She made parents stop and comment with things like “I wish my daughter were as well behaved and polite as that Poppy.”
When Poppy decided to chop off her hair into a cute Peter Pan pixie cut, our entire sixth-grade class did the same.
I cut my hair, much to the grumbling of my mother.
I never felt like I lived in the shadows of my cousin. In fact, many times she took my hand and pulled me beside her. Our hands stayed clasped during big events like our first day of school and our first communion. Looking back, I realize we were each other’s strength. We’d grown accustomed to having the other near at all times. It’s hard to explain a bond like that, similar to a twin connection. From the moment we were born, we were like one. We shared a cradle sometimes, wrinkled hands clasped. Some say I even let Poppy suck my thumb when we were only hours old. I don't know if that's true or not, but I like to believe we were destined to be linked forever from an early age.
When Poppy’s parents got a divorce in the ninth grade, Poppy stopped being a leader. Instead, she started doing the opposite of what everyone told her. It was the biggest scandal of the town and fueled the rumor mill for weeks. She was caught in the middle of a multimillion-dollar custody battle that included two parents each trying to cause the other pain and using Poppy to do most of the dirty work. Her mother used her to spy on her father. In turn, her father tried to buy Poppy’s silence with lavish trips and gifts. He spent all his money on Poppy just to make sure his ex-wife didn’t get a penny. He even went all out and bought her a beach house. It was a beautiful lavish four-story home on the eastern side of St. George Island, just off the panhandle of Florida. He named it Poppy Manor, after his only daughter. We girls nicknamed it The Pop. That’s where my story begins and ends. The centrifuge of my life. If my life were a novel, The Pop would be the setting. The backdrop of my life.
Poppy took the present, but she emancipated herself. She took her trust fund and swore never to speak to them again. The court thought Poppy was an honor roll saint. They thought Poppy had a good head on her shoulders so it had been easy. Nobody knew her like I did. The real Poppy lived on the edge with her motorcycle driving boyfriends and taste for alcohol.
After that, Poppy spent most holidays with my family. We were happy, the four of us, and my parents loved her like their own. Sometimes it felt like they loved her more than me. She was the daughter they wished they had. Mother cooked dinner and father taught Poppy to drive and change a tire.
She was perfection. That’s why, when Poppy came to me the night before our eighteenth birthday, I listened to what she had to say.
“We made a pact last summer. Do you remember?”
I furrowed my brow, trying to recall that night. It was the night her boyfriend had left.
“You promised me that we'd always be together, and you'd always be with me no matter what.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“Let’s kill ourselves,” she begged me. “If I’m dead, maybe all this pain will stop.”
Poppy had a flair for being overly dramatic. “This isn’t funny, Poppy.”
Her wide-eyed stare told me she wasn’t kidding, so I tried to make it clear. “Don’t be silly. You're talking stupid.”
“Don’t act like you’re happy with your mundane life. You're a plain Jane. You live in this tiny house with parents who can't stand to look at you. They even put you in the garage apartment just to lock you away. How could anyone be happy living in such filth?”
That was the first time Poppy had ever been mean to me. Before, she’d never looked down at me because she was rich and I was poor. My mom married a starving artist while hers married a CEO. That day, something changed in me. I don’t remember what. I can’t pinpoint it exactly. It’s like when you think back to how you learned to drive. You study, you practice, but one day it just comes to you naturally. You don’t have to think about it every time you buckle up. The fluency is there, and you don’t know for how long. That's what depression is.
The next few days are kind of hazy, like a distant memory. It feels like so long ago, and when those horrible days begin to replay in my head when we had spent our eighteenth birthday at The Pop, I clutch my temple and groan in agony because of the pain. It radiates through me as if to remind me not to remember. After taking a nasty fall down the tiled stairs at The Pop that evening, I had spent most of my eighteenth birthday in the ER. I don’t like to think about it, so I don’t.
I can only guess that I took a step back and realized maybe I wasn’t so happy after all. I didn’t have a car or a trust fund. I wasn’t going to any special college. I wasn’t smart or overly cute. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t really have anyone. My life was already a shambled mess, and the wall between my parents and me had grown substantially in the past few years. Poppy was the one everyone loved. In a cruel world, I was all alone. For no reason, in particular, that day I fell into an abyss of sadness. I’d always had those dark thoughts curl up from the depths of my mind, but mostly I’d been able to pull myself out of it. It was as if everything that used to be special about me had disappeared into nothing. In a moment of weakness, for some awful reason, I accepted Poppy’s deal. We shook on it, each spitting into our hands before clasping them together like we used to when we were in grade school. We would kill ourselves, rid ourselves of the evil and pain in this world. The world couldn't toss us aside.
“You can’t back out,” she insisted.
“You swear to it?”
“Bible,” I say, repeating the words we’d used as kids. Bible meant we couldn’t take it back. It was the highest of promises. Greater than swearing on your mother’s grave.
Poppy breathed a sigh of relief after we were done. “Good, I’m too afraid to do it by myself. I’m scared of being alone.”
“You’ll never be alone.” I promised her. Neither of us would be alone, not if we were together.
Here I am. Talking about that day like it is the end of my story like it was so long ago, but it’s only been a year.
Things today are pretty much the same. I still live at home, no job, no car, and no college. Just me and a thousand romance novels. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t hound me too much about not going to college. I explained to them that this was my gap year. My year off. Poppy is doing the same thing, halfway around the world.
I know, you’re wondering why I agreed to this pact. My job is to follow Poppy because, without her, I would be nothing. Then began the downfall of my very existence.
LIVE LIKE YOU’RE ON VACATION
There are three types of parents in this world. First off, there are the overachieving parents that are always inspiring and give up everything for their kids. Then there are the deadbeats, whose kids are better off without, and then there are the parents like mine. Parents that do the best they can with what they’ve been given. Not great, but not horrible. I don’t blame them. We live comfortably side by side, neither bothering the other.
This year they went on their first vacation since forever. I guess they’ve been saving up for a few years now, and the nonrefundable trip has been long booked and planned out. They’re spending a month on a cruise ship, stopping all over Eastern Europe. Mother tried to back out, but I wouldn’t let her. We aren’t that close anyway. I’ve lived in the apartment over our garage since I was fifteen, and I swear they pushed me into it. It was like they were happy to pretend they didn’t have a daughter. I’m such a disappointment to them. Yes, I just said that in a mocking voice. When I was younger, my mother could barely stand to drive me to school, but that’s a different story. What matters now is that she’ll get her wish, eventually.
“I’m going to the island,” I told her last week while packing. “I’ll be at The Pop all summer. I won’t be here, even if you decide to cancel. So just, go already. I’m 18. I can take care of myself.” I didn’t tell her Poppy was going to be there. Lately, she gets all upset every time I mention Poppy’s name, which I don’t understand because Poppy used to be like a second daughter to them. I suppose it’s because Poppy has become such a bad influence. I told her to stop acting so boy crazy. Boys are a huge waste of time. If they acted like they did in the movies or in books, things would be different.
Now here I am, in my car with one suitcase and the keys to The Pop dangling from my ignition. Poppy made me drive here alone. She arrived a few days ago, promising to get the place ready, but who knows what she’s done. I’ve hardly seen her since we graduated a year ago. She’s been off learning the ways of the world as she calls it, but she sends me postcards from all over.
Greetings from Africa
Aloha from Hawaii.
Morning, from China.
Gutentag from Germany.
All placed on my dresser by my mother at arrival. I hate it when my parents snoop through my mail, but they have become overbearingly nosy like that. Always snooping, always bothering. I’d move out on my own except that, I don’t really have anywhere to go. Getting myself dressed and out the door to find a job feels like a burden. The great thing about being lost in my own head, is that time flies by so fast.
In what feels like no time at all, I make it to the gated community. Ten houses, ten families, ten different summers that I hope will go better than mine. I punch in the secret code and drive to the last house on the right. Poppy has gone every summer since she was 15, and sometimes I would join her for a week or so, but not too often. My parents didn’t like me leaving the state on my own. The house isn’t wide, but stands so tall I have to crane my neck just to get a good look at the red roof. The whole island is quiet as if they knew us girls were coming. I can hear nothing but the distant caw of seagulls and the wind blowing in my ears. A moment of silence, a farewell, because this will be my last summer alive. All I have to do is breathe. Breathe and go inside.
“Is that you?” Poppy calls from the top of the stairs. I can’t see her, but I yell back.
“Put your bags in the elevator, but don’t get in. That thing is ancient. You may get stuck.”
I stare at my duffle bag from Junior High and my old red carpet bag. It belonged to my mother and her mother and so on. I carefully drop them into the narrow elevator, and the entire metal cage begins shaking. I shut the accordion door grateful I wouldn’t be able to fit inside with my bags anyway. There’s only enough room for one. It reminds me of the Barbie Dream House elevator I had as a kid, the one where you use a pulley to guide her up through the house. This thing looks just as unstable. There’s a button on the wall with numbers ranging from one to four. I press three, and the thing slowly starts moving up. She’s right, the whole thing looks like it’s hanging by a thread as it creaks up the shaft.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, but I don’t remember everything looking so…worn down. I make my way up the tiled steps. I slipped and fell down these stairs last summer, a memory I don't want to repeat. Even though the wound has long healed, it still throbs when I think about it. I suffered a minor concussion, but the ache is still there. It’s like those people who say they can feel it in their broken bone when it rain. I feel something in that spot on my head. I just don’t know what.
I climb carefully, two whole floors until I reach the open living area. Poppy is sitting on the kitchen counter eating something slimy out of a bowl. She looks different from the last time I saw her. Her skin is a pasty white that looks to be glued tightly across her thin bones. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled into a tight ballet bun on the top of her head, and she’s wearing a pale pink sundress. She looks sick, but she is. We both are. We don’t claim to have the greatest clarity. We’re just two girls trying to find a way to happiness.
“We should shoot ourselves,” Poppy says. I jump, almost forgetting that she’s here. A chill runs down my spine as my eyes dart to the tiled kitchen floor.
“We won’t shoot ourselves. That is like the most painful way to go,” I tell her, rummaging through the kitchen for some food. The entire pantry is empty except for a few old cans of soup and a half-empty bag of rice. Poppy promised to get the house ready, but the place doesn’t look livable. It looks bare. Sheets still drape the couch and chair, and a plastic film covers a brand new wooden table.
“You’ve redecorated a bit,” I say as I pull off the sheets and throw them in the corner of the room.
“Something like that.”
I attempt to change the subject, not really wanting to think about summer’s end. I open a few cupboards and stick my head inside the pantry.
“What have you been eating for the past few days? There’s nothing in here.”
She waves her hand at me like I’m overreacting. “Every morning, I go into town and buy a sack of oysters.”
“You’ve been living off of raw oysters for the past few days?” My stomach churns thinking about it. I open the fridge, wishing something sustainable would appear in front of me.
“Yes, and they were delicious.”
“I need cooked food,” I tell her. I pull my bags out of the elevator and push it against the door to move it out of the way. Going out feels like a chore worse than doing laundry, but I need to do it.
“I’m going into town. I saw a small market back on the inland. You wanna come?”
She sits up and smooths out her pink dress. “No, thanks. I don’t really feel like going out today.”
I purse my lips together, mad that she's gonna make me go alone. “What the hell, Poppy? I thought we were gonna have fun this summer.”
She reaches out and squeezes my hand. “We will make memories, Murphy. I promise.”
When Poppy and I were twelve, we spent the entire summer perfecting the art of eyeliner so we could return to school with different faces. We spent one week at her house—remember, this was pre-divorce— and the following week at mine. We never left each other’s side. We were all innocence and laughter, laid bare for the world to see.
Poppy liked to be a risk taker, a game player. She loved to see how far she could push people. This particular year, Poppy decided to see how far her looks could take her. She pierced her nose, got a high school boyfriend, and began cursing.
Some things never change.
That’s how we came up with rule number one for our Summer of St. George.
#1: Take risks.
These rules will guide us to the end and make sure we follow the limitations we set. We need to do this the right way which ideally is quiet, alone, and as painless as possible. As if there really is a right way.
We've been on the island for a few days now, just long enough to catch up. We spend our days on the beach reading books and our nights watching TV. Poppy has spent the past twenty minutes telling me all about her adventures in Paris. As she drones on and on about the food and the fashion, I find myself a little jealous of her experiences. I always wanted to leave the country, but now it looks like I'll never have the chance. Rome, Greece, Ireland. These are all the places I wanted to go. Places I wanted to study the culture and food. Wanted. I’m not sure I want these things anymore.
“When did you first realize that the darkness was taking over?” I ask Poppy over dinner. Cooking is my favorite thing to do. It can be done for one, alone, and in the comfort of my own home, which has been the basis of my life for the past year. She pushes around her shrimp with her fork, but I notice she doesn’t take a bite. Maybe she’s on a diet. Her frame is already so thin and fragile. A diet is the last thing she needs. When was the last time she had a decent meal? Did she live off protein bars while abroad?
“When did you realize?” she shoots back. Her question takes me by surprise. It’s not something I can readily answer. It was a sort of slow descent. Maybe if I can understand what she's thinking, I can figure out what drove us into this dark hole. How did we get this far? Why does it feel too late to turn around?
“When did it become unbearable?” I probe. “Are you afraid?”
I’m afraid. So terrified, but I won’t admit it first. Sometimes I feel like backing out, but I can’t leave this fate to Poppy alone. I made a pact to be with her. I don’t want that agreement to break.
“I don’t know. I just woke up one morning and the pain was too much.” She drops her fork and looks up at me from underneath long dark lashes. Her face brightens into a rare smile. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Can we go do something fun?”
Fun sounds good. In our few days here, we haven't done much but lay out by the water.
I take both of our plates, mine empty, hers still full, to the kitchen sink and scrape the food into the garbage disposal.
“You could put your hand down there,” she whispers from behind me. “Just stick your hand in there and bleed out all on the floor.” Her breath is hot on my neck, sending a chill down my spine as I think about the pain.
“Jeez, why do you have to be so freaking morbid all the time? Can’t we just enjoy this summer?”
I’ve had doubts from the beginning, and she knows that, but she doesn’t know that sometimes they creep back up. The doubt clouded by fear. What if there is something or someone out there that could make this all go away? A solution better than killing ourselves? Is there another way to stop the loneliness? When I’m finished cleaning up, all alone, I might add, I plop down on the couch and stretch out my legs.
“Let’s take a jog down the shore,” Poppy says, tossing a magazine on the table and sighing in boredom. She pulls her shirt over her head and throws it against the kitchen tiles. “Naked.”
“Are you crazy?” I stretch out more on the couch, too tired to get back up.
“Yes. What are they gonna do? Cite us for a court appearance in 6 months? An appearance we will never make it to?” She removes her bra and pulls her hair up into a ponytail. When she turns around, I can see every bone protruding from her body. Vertebra over vertebrae stacked up neatly behind a wall of almost translucent skin. I look away.
She has a point and that was the whole point of this trip. To do whatever we wanted with no consequences. This is our summer. This is our time. Our final goodbye. Before I talk myself out of it, I pull off my sundress and walk to the back door and pull it open. The beach is pitch black, no lights are present on this side of the island. We island dwellers are real humanitarians. We turn them off for the sea turtles. I feel my way down the long stairs, careful not to miss a step and fall and break my neck. Because wouldn’t that be sad? To fall and die on accident when this entire summer has been carefully thought and planned out?
We run to the shore, sand kicking up against our bare legs, and stop as the rough waves lick against our skin.
“It’s cold!” I scream to Poppy as I jump backward.
“Really? I don’t feel a thing.” She puts her hands out to her sides like she’s daring the sea to take her and lifts her face to the sky. “Can you see it? Where the sky meets the sea. Do you think we can find that middle ground?”
The sky is dark, lit only by the pale moonlight, but I can make out the jagged line in the distance. It’s the way we've decided to go. We will jump in the rough waters of the gulf bay and swim and swim until our arms and legs give out from exhaustion. Until we can’t go any further, and then sink into the dark abyss of nothing where we will never be alone. I’ve been too afraid to learn about drowning, but it’s the easiest way to go. Maybe our bodies will be discovered, perhaps they won’t. But there won’t be blood, and that’s what I’m going for.
“Race you to the edge of the island,” Poppy calls out. She begins running so fast that I can’t keep up. No one is outside at this time of night, and we race against our shadows on the beach. No matter how fast my legs move, I can’t keep up with her. Soon, her silhouette disappears into the darkness and I’m suddenly afraid. I don’t like being alone.
Without Poppy was never part of the plan, even from birth. Our mothers are twins, did I ever tell you that? They planned our pregnancies and inductions to coincide at the same time. The doctors told my mom I wasn’t ready to come out, but they both insisted that we would both be born on the exact same day. The two sisters had grown up so close, and they wanted us to have the same experience. It’s sweet if you think about it, but just a tiny bit obsessive. I mean, who in their right mind does that? They hardly talk anymore. Not since my mom helped Poppy get emancipated.
Poppy was born screaming at a healthy 9lbs and 4 oz. I was barely 6lbs. Jaundice from being born so early, I had to spend my initial days by the window as the sunlight healed my yellowed skin. Even as babies, I could never keep up with Poppy. She was always taller, smarter, and prettier. It was always Poppy and Murphy, never Murphy and Poppy. Poppy came first.
Poppy comes first.
I stop running and take a moment to look around and catch my breath. Until this very moment, I hadn’t been afraid of someone catching us, but as that fear folds over me, I hide my breasts with my hands. I feel eyes on me. I can’t see anyone, but I know they’re there.
“Did you forget something?” a voice calls from the darkness. “I was quite enjoying the view.”
I squat on the ground, silently cursing Poppy for leaving me all alone out here, and hoping the shadows will cover the intimate parts of me.
“Who’s there?” I call out. Still nothing but the waves crashing against the sand. “Who is there?”
“Here.” A blanket drops out from the darkness. I scramble for it, not caring where it came from. Next, a tall figure appears beside me. I can’t meet his eyes so I yell at him while staring at the green pattern on the blanket around me
“What in the hell are you doing hiding in the darkness and scaring me like that?”
“Why in the hell are you running through a public beach stark naked?”
“I asked first.” I pull the blanket around me tighter and dare to look up into his eyes. Dark eyes that don’t hold any amusement at all for this situation. His jaw tightens before it loosens into what I can only imagine is sympathy for me. His hair is medium length around his ears like it’s in that shaggy stage where he’s trying to grow it out, but it’s not quite long enough to do anything yet. It’s swooped to the side in a deep part which makes it look like he spent way too much time combing it this morning. That’s all I can really see, his lovely hair and eyes. The rest is a contrast of light and dark shadows. He holds his hands out to the sand before speaking.
“I was watching the crabs.”
“The crabs?” I stare at the sand and for the first time, I notice the little things scurrying across the sand. “Oh.”
“Now are you gonna answer my question?” he asks.
I lift my chin and take a deep breath. What I do is none of his business so I decide to tell him the half-truth. “I’m telling consequences to go dillywig themselves.”
His eyes scrunch up at my word usage. Alone, the word dillywig wouldn’t mean anything. It’s useless word vomit. I mean, it sounds like it could be a Pokémon, but in my phrase he must understand what I mean. After a minute, his brows scrunch up as he makes sense of my answer. “And how do you do that?”
“By doing whatever I want and not caring about what the world thinks.”
“Beautiful.” He doesn’t say much after that, and I’m unsure as to what he is calling beautiful. Surely he’s not talking about me. It must have been what I said. I walk away, but before I'm out of earshot he calls after me.
“Hey, can I have my blanket back?”
“No,” I call out. “You’re a serial pervert.”
“Hey, I was just sitting here minding my own business. I can’t help it that you ran by. I was just trying to be a gentleman.”
Little does he know, a gentleman doesn't actually exist.
I should warn Poppy about the guy on the beach, but she still hasn’t shown back up. I jog back to our house and throw the plaid blanket on the porch. My heart's still racing from my encounter with the guy on the beach. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something about him that interested me. Why was he watching crabs all alone in the dark? Why were his eyes trained so intensely on mine? What was he thinking about sitting there? Why was he on the island? Not too many people live on the island, so he must be visiting, but from where? I push the thoughts from my head. I have no business even thinking about him. I’m here for one reason only, and I don’t need him as a distraction.
I’m upstairs washing off the sand when Poppy shows back up.
“Where have you been?” she yells out like I’m the one who disappeared.
I let the warm water run over my hair, washing away the anger. I don’t have time to be mad. “You left, and some guy caught me on the beach. I waited for you to turn back around and you never showed back up. Where were you?”
“I was at the edge of the island like we agreed on.” She gives an annoyed huff and waits for me to get out of the shower. She hands me a towel before jumping in herself.
“So back up just a second and tell me about this guy on the beach.”
“There’s nothing to say,” I tell her. “I didn’t even get a good look at him. He gave me a blanket and said he was watching the crabs.”
“Sure, he was watching the crabs all right. That’s what they all say. Speaking of naked guys seeing you. You do realize you’re going to die a virgin right?”
I stick my head behind the shower curtain and stick my tongue out at her. She responds by trying to splash some water on me.
“We could change that, you know. Of course, we’d have to make sure he was really ugly or old so you wouldn’t be tempted to fall in love with him.”
“You’re disgusting, you know that?”
“Just making you aware of your options.”
I’m well aware of my lack of sexual experience, but sleeping with some stranger for the fun of it doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. She gets out and stands in the mirror next to me. Through the steam that has accumulated, I can make out our different forms. Hers, tall and blonde. Mine, shorter with brown hair and a curvier build. My hair was lighter as a kid, more like hers. It darkened with age.
“I wish I had your boobs.” Poppy sighs.
“I wish I had your thin model legs.”
It’s a game we’ve played since the eighth grade. A sort of screwed up way of complimenting each other.
Poppy perks up like she’s just gotten the greatest idea ever. “Hey, you want to go fishing tomorrow?”
“Fishing?” My toothbrush is sticking out of my mouth as I stare up at her in confusion.
“Yeah, you ever been fishing?”
My father always went fishing. Every weekend since I can remember, but he never invited me. I think it was his time to be alone with his thoughts. When I was younger, I used to hover around his fishing poles and drop hints about how I wanted to learn or how cool it would be to catch something. No matter how hard I pressed, he never invited me, and I never asked to go. It’s not like I can blame him for not wanting to be around me. Maybe he thought fishing was a boy thing. I can see that now. Even grownups need alone time.
“Nope, but always wanted to try.”
Two peas in a pod. Me and Poppy. “Yup, how hard could it be?”
“I saw a fishing pole and gear in the garage downstairs. Let’s get up early and catch food for tomorrow.”
“Early?” I pull on my PJs and look at the time. It’s almost midnight. We had a late start today. I’m not sure I can get up that early.
“I think I read somewhere that fish bite best in the mornings.”
“In the sea? Are you sure?”
“In the sea. I’m positive.” She begins combing her hair and ignoring me.
ONLY FISHERMAN CAN DO IT
I can’t seem to find a comfortable position to sleep in, so I toss in bed for what feels like hours. As soon as I drift into a deep sleep, I’m certain my alarm goes off.
Poppy moans from beside me and hits me on the back with her hand. We’ve always shared a bed, just a habit we’ve had since we were kids.
“You get up first. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Fine, whatever,” I groan. I can’t go back to sleep now anyway. I roll out of bed and throw on a thick sweater and leggings. I put some coffee in a travel cup that I find in the kitchen and head downstairs. Just as Poppy mentioned, there’s a huge fishing pole and a tackle box by the door.
I make my way down the short path to the ocean and sit down on the ground to try and figure out what I’m doing. In between sips of horrible black coffee and pushing my wind-blown hair out of my eyes, I somehow manage to get the line through the pole loops. Fishing is something new, and that is rule number two:
#2: Do all the things you never had time to do.
Fishing turns out to be harder than I expected. There’s this stupid hook and a dozen different ways it can be tied onto the string. The tackle box is filled with a million different knobs and rubber bait looking things. I’m still trying to figure out how to cast the stupid thing when I notice a man a few hundred yards down the beach. I can’t see him clearly, but he looks to be about my age. He’s standing knee deep in the water with a pole in his hand. He casts the line out into the sea with ease. When I try and follow his moves, the wind wisps the line back at me. I dodge the hook and let it fall into the waves. The way he holds it, it looks like he knows what he's doing. Maybe I can ask him, as long as I don’t break rule number three:
#3 Don’t make friends.
I wade out towards him and try to gather up the courage to say something. I typically don’t make the first move to talk to guys, but this is different. It’s not like I’m trying to flirt with him. I’m just a girl asking a guy for some fishing advice. When I’m a few yards away, he turns around and slow blinks at me. He returns to his fishing, but a second later gives me a double take. Neither of us says anything, and it's like he's waiting to see what I will do.
“Hi,” I say shyly. I’m almost afraid to look him in the eyes. Now that I’m up close, I’m noticing how beautiful he is. He’s wearing a white shirt, the sleeves cut off, with patterns of ink that swirl up his arm. It's too far away to tell what they are, but they are bold and bright. His skin is a deep, freckled brown like he’s already achieved that base tan, and his black hair blows carelessly in the wind. He’s cute, all right, but not exactly approachable.
“Hi,” he repeats.
Ugh, this is so lame. I nod toward his stick. “Um, you look like you know what you’re doing with that fishing pole. Do you have any pointers? I’m having some issues.”
He looks at my tangled heap on the beach and gives a long sigh. For a moment, I’m not sure he’s gonna help me. He turns back to his pole and starts reeling it in.
“Here's a pointer. There's a fish truck that sells freshly caught seafood from six to noon Monday through Friday. Do yourself a favor and buy, don't catch.”
How dare he assume I can’t do it. There’s nothing like a guy too cocky to believe that a girl can do anything a guy can do to. “But what if I want to fish? What if I want to cook something I caught myself?”
“You know, most people go fishing to be at one with nature, not to get hit on by some girl.”
My jaw drops and my face heats as I attempt to speak. “I didn’t— I never! I mean…”
He raises one eyebrow. “Don’t hurt yourself, jeez. Fine. Come on. I’ll help.” He tucks the hook of his line away and motions toward the beach.
“This was my cousin’s idea,” I explain. “She’s insistent that we catch our own food for today.”
“If it was her idea, how come you’re the one who’s out here doing all the work?” He raises a hand to shield his eyes from the rising sun.
“That’s an excellent question.” I give him a small laugh, but it’s not all that funny. Why is Poppy still in bed when it was her idea to do this in the first place? His face relaxes a bit and for the first time, he smiles.
“I’m Liam,” he holds out a hand. It’s rough against my skin, calloused over from years of hard work. I like how firm it is, how sparks run up my arm the longer we touch. It’s been a long time since I’ve let anyone get this close. I pull out of his grasp, afraid that he might be able to read my thoughts.
“Murphy,” I tell him.
“Ah, like the law.”
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” I say with a frown. If he only knew how true that was, how cursed I was. He might run from me. He isn’t running now, though.
“You live here?” he asks while still looking me over. I self-consciously pull my long sweater across my chest. Why is he staring at me like that?
“No, I’m staying at that house over there.” I point to The Pop behind me, a few hundred yards away from the shore.
He stares at the house for a long moment and opens his mouth like he’s gonna say something, but nothing comes out. A thousand different emotions seem to take over his face, none of them very friendly.
With a miraculous twist, his face lifts into a smile, and he leans in. I can smell the fish on his clothes and saltwater in his rugged hair. “How about we ditch your cousin and go get some food of our own? The boats should be docking soon. We might be able to get the first pick. We can pretend that you caught it.”
I look back at the house, hoping to see Poppy strolling from it, but the entire place is dark and empty. I need her to come out and be my strength and stop me from going with him. I find myself wanting to go. I want to hang out with this beautiful stranger.
“Are you trying to get out of helping me fish?”
“I suck at the whole teacher thing.”
“I think you’re just lazy.” I tease with a bold flirt I didn’t even know I had in me.
“That’s it, I’m lazy. Now how about that? I'm not taking no for an answer though, you may as well agree.” He moves his pole toward a tent and cooler by the dunes. There’s a small blue beach chair and in the chair sits a paperback copy of one of my favorite books.
“You don’t take me as the classical reader,” I say, picking up the tattered book. It’s Pride and Prejudice.
He shrugs but keeps packing up his stuff.
I turn the copy over in my hands and run my fingers down the worn spine. “I have like ten copies of this book. I keep them everywhere.
“Is that so?”
Something in his voice is a little sharp, and I find myself becoming defensive.
When I don’t answer, he turns back to me and pulls the book from my hand.
“It’s a typical Cinderella story where the poor girl falls for the unobtainable rich guy.”
“What? It’s a beautiful romance story about not judging characters before you get to know someone.”
He runs his hands through his hair and looks up at me. “Research says you’ll learn everything you need to know about someone in the first ten minutes.”
“Is that so? Well, what have you learned about me?”
His eyes run over me, and I feel him making assumptions. “You’re shy. You’re hiding something. You’re beautiful.”
This makes me scowl. “I’m not beautiful.”
He tries to reach out and touch my cheek, but I step backward.
“Guys are suckers for dimples.” His eyes light as he says it.
I roll mine at the bull coming from his mouth. “Obviously.”
He seems to take the hint that I’m not falling for his game and tones it down.
“I’m sorry. I’m coming on too strong. Let’s just go.”
His impromptu apology lightens the mood.
“Let me go put all this stuff up,” I say motioning toward the tackle box and fishing pole. He helps by grabbing it for me, and we walk up the sand to the stairs and toward the back door. I point to a chair where he can set the stuff down and walk inside to grab my purse. I find myself mildly relieved when Poppy doesn’t come out of the room. I can spend a little bit of time with Liam. It’s not like Poppy controls my love life, but I know she will be pissed off that I’m spending any time with anyone besides her. I’m back outside when Liam grabs the plaid blanket that the pervert crab watcher gave me last night and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Hey, you still have my blanket. Thanks.”
My jaw drops, practically scraping the ground cartoon style. “You’re the crab watcher?”
He shrugs as if it’s no big surprise and he figured it out ages ago. “And you’re the nudie runner. So?”
My face turns a dark shade of red as I struggle to compose my feelings. Anger, shock, embarrassment, I go through everything before finally sitting down on the plastic chair on the porch. I can’t hang out with him now. There’s no way. He’s seen me naked.
“Are you okay? No reason to get so upset. It wasn’t like I actually saw anything last night…just your boobs, but it’s not like I haven’t seen boobs before.”
“Gross,” I say, glancing up at him with a mean look.
“I was breastfed until I was two. Boobs are natural, and everyone has nipples. Look who’s the pervert now.”
Why him? Why did this cute guy who just offered to take me to get food have to be the guy from last night? I suppose it was my own fault for running around stark naked for the hell of it, but still shame creeps up on me, and I bury my face in my hands. “I’m not hungry anymore,” I tell him.
“Murphy,” he demands, his voice thick with amusement. “Life happens, get over it.”
He says it so nonchalantly, that I can’t help but do as he says. Get over it. If only everything in life was that easy. Just get over it.