It Started in summer


© 2020 Melissa Padgett (M. J. Padgett)


All Rights Reserved.


No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. This work may not be translated except by permission of the author.


This is a work of fiction. The names, occupations, events, incidents, and businesses are products of the author’s imagination.

 

I pulled my cardigan tighter around my shoulders as I wandered like a vagabond down the shore, headed nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The waves teased me, tickling my feet every few seconds, washing the sand away with each swipe. Oh, if they could only wipe away the memories as easily… but then, if my memory disappeared, so would he.


The sun settled, taking another piece of my heart with it as one more day without him ended. It was suffocating, really, to think of the last time I’d walked the shore at sunset. Life had been a game back then, our hearts fresh and clean without all the bruising and scars brought by time and experience.


I closed my eyes and let my mind drift back… one year… two years… three… all the way back to graduation.


***


The party, that was where it all began. I carried a case of water toward the refreshment table, but between the sand and my inability to coordinate my feet with the rest of my body, I was a ticking time bomb just waiting to faceplant, possibly humiliating myself in the process. And trip I did…


“Whoa, it’s okay. I’ve got you,” he said. Casey Reardon, also known as that mysterious guy no one could quite pin down but was nice to stare at in class when the teacher droned on like an automaton.


I righted myself while he gripped my elbow with one hand and his own bags of who knew what in the other. “Thanks. That would have been the total devastation of what remains of my popularity.”


Casey chuckled and released my elbow before hoisting the case of water onto his shoulder. “Eh, high school is over, and college is a new beginning, so I think you’d have survived.”


“Maybe, but thanks to you, I won’t spend my summer tending to wounded pride and a lacerated face.” My face flushed as his blue eyes bored into mine. Were they always that pretty?


He smiled and dropped the case on the table, then dumped the bags he’d brought—an array of snack foods to satisfy any craving, including an entire box of chocolate that I eyed like a starved monkey tossed into a pit of bananas.


“Want one?” he asked, scooting the box closer. “If memory serves, they are your favorite, right?”


“How did you—never mind. Yes, they are my favorite,” I said and ripped into the box.


Casey leaned against the table, his devil-may-care attitude on display as usual. The salt air toyed with his hair, cementing a few strands to his forehead as his eyes absorbed his surroundings. The party had only just begun, a little before sunset as usual. I opened the candy, stuck it in my mouth, and then pulled a hair tie from my pocket to tie back my unruly waves. Too much beach time and not enough time with a good conditioner made it a little sticky and difficult to manage.


“So,” he said as he pushed off the table, “where are you headed after the summer break?”


“Me?” I asked, still a tad confused as to why we were even speaking. It was, after all, the first time he’d said more to me than please pass the papers. The guy sat behind me in three classes all senior year, but those four words were all he’d ever said, and usually to the back of my head.


“No, the other girl standing here conversing with me,” he said. A grin spread across his face, dipped into a set of dimples I did not know he had, and forced a sparkle into those ridiculously pretty eyes.


Once more, blush took my face and crept through my cheeks. Thankful it was getting dark, I stuttered a bit then said, “I’m not going to college or anything.”


“What? Rylee Baker is not going to college? How is that possible?”


“Because Rylee Baker would rather leap off a cliff than subject herself to four more years of stuffing her face in textbooks.”


Casey’s eyes widened, and his back straightened. I settled in for the lecture, the one everyone seemed to think was necessary, and prepared my customary explanation. He studied me for a moment, his gaze flittering over my face as if he were committing each freckle, each curve, each detail to memory. He pushed off the table and glanced around. More people arrived by the carload, dropping food and drinks off before joining the crowd near the DJ.


“Wanna get out of here?”


“What?” I asked. “We just got here.”


“Yeah, but… I mean, do you really want to hang out with all the same people, or do you want to do something fun and spontaneous?” Casey’s smile spread wider.


A chill crept over me, forcing goosebumps to cover my legs and arms. Casey shirked his jacket and handed it to me, but the chill was not from the cooling ocean air. The scent of barbecue permeated my senses, and the party jumped into action. The DJ pumped up the music, eliminating any chance Casey and I had of carrying on our conversation, which I discovered I was far too deep in to back out. Only a few innocuous sentences, but there was a certain charge between us, something I thought he felt too.


“Rylee?”


“Uh… sure. What did you have in mind?”


He offered his hand and said, “Walk with me? Tell me about the mystery that is Rylee Baker.”


“Are you teasing me?” I asked and took his hand.


He raised his eyebrows and dropped his mouth open. “Me? Tease someone? I’d never.”


I ignored his feigned offense and walked alongside him with no destination in mind. His jacket clung to my shoulders, a warm embrace as we neared the water, but the smell… I couldn’t quite catalog the mix of scents that pleased my senses with each breath. First, it smelled of woodsmoke and pine, cinnamon and apples, and then a hint of mint-like toothpaste. Still more hit me with each inhale—all the scents of Casey Reardon.


“So, what are you doing if college is off the table?” he asked, his hand still firmly grasping mine.


“I’m hopping a plane to Alaska first. My sister is a marine biologist, and she works for this amazing nonprofit that documents the migrations of…” There I went again, rambling on about my sister’s work. It drove my parents bonkers, mostly because they couldn’t understand how I could be so excited about something yet have no desire to follow in her footsteps and become a biologist.


“What? Migrations of what?”


“It’s not important,” I said. “What about you?”


“What about me?”


I nudged his shoulder. He lost his balance and toppled, but I did not escape the consequences of my playful actions. Casey gasped my arm as he fell, dragging me along. The water was warmer than I’d expected, but still a shock when it rumbled over me in angry waves. Casey laughed and slung sand at me when I managed to wiggle free, initiating a sand fight. One thing led to another, and before long, we were both covered with scratchy, wet sand. I was sure there was sand in places it most certainly should not be but hanging out with Casey was too fun to care.


He shook his hair out like a wet dog. “That was fun. I did not expect to have at this party,” he said.


“I wasn’t expecting to get messy at this party.” I wrung my hair out, but it was a futile action given the state of my attire.


“Life is messy, Rylee. I prefer to make it messier, to play by my own rules like you.” The strands of hair that had been cemented to his hair now dripped with saltwater. He licked his lips and made a disgusted face. “Salty.”


I chuckled. “You think?”


He tossed another handful of wet sand at me, but it was a halfhearted throw at best and landed at my feet. I started wandering again with no destination in mind, only that I escape the sounds of the party before my best friend found me and dragged me away from Casey.


“I don’t really play by my own rules either,” I added. “I just… bend the rules. I do what I have to do, then I tease things a little until they bend in my favor.”


“So devious. Tell me more about your plans.”


“What about yours?”


“Nah uh, no distracting me. I really want to know.”