Sneak Peeks

Here’s Another Sneak Peek of Meet Me At Midnight by Jessica Pennington!

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Happy April Fool’s Day, book nerds! We’re celebrating by sharing a second excerpt from Jessica Pennington’s upcoming YA rom-com, Meet Me At Midnighta charming story about two feuding pranksters who fall in love with each other over the course of a summer they spend together. 

About Meet Me at Midnight:

They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them.

Read the next two chapters of Meet Me at Midnightcoming April 7th. Missed the first excerpt? Read it here!

DAY 3

Sidney


The next morning, I am nearly unconscious. You would think, since I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn every other day of vacation for the last five years, it wouldn’t be an issue anymore— that my body would remember what’s happening and snap into gear—but when 6 a.m. rolls around it’s not familiar, it’s painful. So painful. Like my eyelids will need to be surgically separated if they’re ever going to function properly again. My room is dark and the hallway is dark, and I think maybe I’ve seen the light of day for the last time as I stumble toward the bathroom door. My eyelids are permanently closed. This is my life now.

I slink into the bathroom, opting for the dim light above the vanity, rather than the fluorescent box that hangs over the little shower stall. Stripping off my tank and shorts, I step into the shower, ready to be blasted awake by the cold. I could just wait to jump into the frigid lake, but I’d rather shake off the sleepiness before I start training. Especially for my first morning swim with Asher. Gah, even just thinking about it is miserable. He’ll probably try to run me down with the boat, so I need to be awake when I get out there, in case I need to go all action-movie mode and swim under the boat or something.

Head limp against the cream-colored tiles, I push the clear plastic knob up and to the right, mentally preparing for the onslaught. The strange smell hits me almost as quickly as the cold. It’s familiar, but so out of place—tangy, maybe. Almost citrus, but not quite. It smells like my childhood, somehow. Everything in this house has its own unique smell, but this one is a first, and it doesn’t fit. The cold sharpness against my skin distracts me, but as the pelting water numbs me and loses its bite, I relax and let my eyes slowly crack open.

What the hell?

Red streams everywhere. My first thought is that I’m bleeding, that I somehow, unconsciously, sliced my foot open. It looks like something out of a horror movie. Like there should be a bloody red handprint on the shower wall next to me. I’m tired, but I would have remembered severing my toe, I think. My eyes travel from the swirling red drain up my stained legs, and to my blotchy red stomach. Red. I’m red all over. My brain is still foggy and I feel a little like I’m in the last dregs of a nightmare.

I look up toward the showerhead, the water lightening in color now, and tentatively stick out my tongue as the smell finally registers. Cherry. It smells like my favorite Kool-Aid, the stuff I used to live off of every summer, back before I cared about how much sugar I drank.

Asher.” I say his name like a mumbled curse, deep in my throat, my teeth clenched so tight they squeak a little under the pressure.

When I  head out, my towel is stained from  rubbing, but I still couldn’t get all of the red off of my skin. It’s concentrated around my knees and elbows, and in patches across my stomach—thankfully covered by my swimsuit—and my face. My face, which is turned toward the dock, where my new safety buddy is now standing, waiting to trail me  across  the  lake. He’s lucky I’m too claustrophobic—and easily bored—to go to prison, or he’d need to be worried about being out on the open water with me.

“Mornin’,” he says, his face focused on the can of gas he’s dumping into the tank as I approach the little silver boat. My dad brings a small fishing boat to the lake every year, but for lake swims we always use the little silver rowboat that belongs to Five Pines, and ditch the oars for an outboard motor on the back. Asher reaches forward and I can see his suit sticking out from the waistband of his shorts. His phone is in a plastic bag sitting on the floor of the boat. Clearly he doesn’t trust me, either. Good. He shouldn’t.

I sit on the little bench that stretches across the front of the boat, my eyes fixed on the back of his head as he pours the gas. When he turns, he looks me right in the eyes. His travel from my face down to my splotchy wrists and linger on my knees, which are the reddest parts of my body. Note to self: moisturize your knees once in a while. I lift my little canteen to my mouth and take a casual sip. “Morning.”

The corner of his mouth twitches and I wait for the smile, but it doesn’t come. “You smell nice today,” he says, still on the brink of that smile. I’m not sure if I remember what Asher looks like smiling anymore. Smirking, yes. But smiling is as good as admitting guilt. And that is one of the three unspoken rules of this war we wage each summer.

  1. Never admit guilt
  2. No serious injuries
  3. No snitching

Rule number one means we don’t smile, or laugh, or implicitly gloat. I’m not sure why—maybe because saying out loud that you filled someone’s drink with soy sauce or left earthworms in their bed just sounds mean. Rule number two ensures we never have to break rule number three. We haven’t snitched on each other since we were fifteen and Asher put marbles on the floor beside my bed. I’m not sure if he was actively trying to kill me, or just wasn’t thinking, but I lost my balance and cracked my head on the nightstand. I wouldn’t have ratted him out to my parents, but it was bleeding so much I was sure I was going to die, and I had to get six stitches. All in all it was only a one-inch cut. Asher apologized profusely—the only time either of  us has—and maybe the whole thing would have stopped at that point, if I hadn’t retaliated a few days later. Head wound or not, I wasn’t going to literally let him land the winning blow.

Asher starts up the engine and takes a seat across from me. We’re not ten feet from the dock when he reaches his silver mug toward me. “Coffee?”

I shake my canteen in front of me. “I’m good.”

“Right.” I can see that smirk about to break through. “You probably filled up on Kool-Aid this morning, huh?”

 

Asher

Sidney stands up so quickly, I have to cut the engine so she doesn’t topple over the side. Before it has even quieted, she’s climbing over, lowering herself into the water.

“What are you doing?”

“Swimming,” she says, walking through the shallow water that’s just up to her thighs. “Arms. Legs. Water.” She pulls her T-shirt over her head and tosses it in a crumpled pile into the boat in front of me. “An obnoxious boy following you in a boat. Sound familiar?” She keeps walking, and I keep the boat far enough to the side that I won’t bump into her accidentally. She’s wearing a plain suit—dark navy—but tight and shiny and cut high on her leg, like a team suit. As the water reaches her chest, she dips down into the water and pushes herself forward, a billowy cloud pluming up around her as her feet leave the sand.

Sidney disappears under the water and comes up about fifteen feet ahead. Her cheek dips down into the water, and then up, and down, as she swims steadily into the light chop of the lake. I start the motor back up and idle the boat to the side of her, giving her a few feet and keeping pace. I have the air horn Tom gave me in one hand, though a quick scan of the lake tells me there’s not a boat to be seen anywhere near us. The fishing boats are already settled into their spots for the morning, and the speedboats pulling skiers and tubers won’t hit the lake for hours, after the morning chill burns off. The only ones cutting across the lake at this hour are neurotic swimmers and the guys hell-bent enough on annoying them to ruin their own mornings. I look at the other side of the lake, imagining the little bay I know dips inland there, but it’s still too far to make out. This is going to take a while—Sid isn’t going for speed, she’s building endurance. Open-water swimming is so much harder than in the pool, where there aren’t waves and frigid temps and currents to deal with. I can’t remember the last time Sidney and I spent an hour straight alone together, unless you count the time we spend lying on the deck chairs in silence every morning, after we vie for that stupid padded lounge chair. The unicorn. I know she calls it that, though she never says it in front of me anymore. I laugh, because her head’s underwater and I can. I shake as I think about her diving toward that chair, and standing under a stream of cherry Kool-Aid. Thank you, family dinners.

Sidney’s head bobs up, and down, and up, and down. It’s quiet out here. The motor is barely running; the lake is only slightly choppy, yet to be churned up by a day’s worth of skiers, tubers, and Jet Skis. And Tom was right, I’m already bored. I glance at my phone, sitting on the bench next to me. It’s been ten whole minutes. Swimming in open water is so much slower than in a pool, even in a lake as calm as this one. And Sidney doesn’t seem to be in any rush—maybe this is all part of her plan.

“I’m bored,” I say toward Sidney’s bobbing head, but of course she doesn’t respond. She doesn’t even pause to tell me I’m being a baby. She can’t hear you. The thought frees something inside me.

“I can’t believe you do this every other day.” That’s a lie, though, because it’s totally something she would do. “Scratch that. I can totally believe you’d do this every other day. Because you’re the most obsessive person I’ve ever met. You can’t do anything halfway. That’s why I have to pack my bags for vacation like I’m going off to war.” I ramble on, to the open air. “You’re a worthy opponent, Sidney Walters. You’re neurotic, and have a stick up your ass the size of a small oak tree, but you’re worthy. No doubt.”

I raise my voice a little and imagine Sidney can hear me. I like the idea that she’s forced to listen to whatever I say,  each  of us captive to the other. “Did I ever tell you about the time I tried pranking my best friend Todd?” I laugh. “Of course I didn’t. Well, it was last year, a week after I got home, and I was still wired from the summer. From our . . . whatever this is. The crap we do to each other. Todd had come over to my house and stolen my favorite pair of headphones—he’d wanted them forever, and I forgot to bring them to the lake, so when they were gone, I knew who took them.” Just saying this out loud sounds like I’m completely unhinged. Saying it to someone’s back is a whole new level. “So I got into his car, and I put glitter in all of his air vents. I had to use a little dropper, to get the glitter to    sit on the edge of the plastic vents. Todd’s air-conditioning has been broken since he got that car, but he always breaks down    at some point and turns on the air. Like he thinks it’s magically going to fix itself at some point, or that the air coming in will somehow be cooler than the air outside. So he was good and sweaty by the time he got blasted.” I laugh just thinking about it again. “Man, he was pissed. Because it turns out he had texted me about grabbing the headphones for a trip he was going on. My mom gave them to him and everything. I missed the text. It took him a million showers to get the glitter off, and I swear it’s still in his car, wedged into all the little cracks.” When I shake my head I’m not sure if it’s at myself or at Sidney. Maybe it’s at what she does to me. “You mess my head up,” I say to the water.

 

Sidney

Asher goes on and on until we finally reach the little bay on the opposite side of the lake. Telling me about how his friend Todd didn’t talk to him for two days. Apparently it’s my fault that Asher was a jerk to his friend? If he’s trying to make me feel guilty, it isn’t working. But if he’s trying to annoy me, then he’s nailing it. Because him talking to me while I swim is a lot like when the dentist has your jaw jacked open and asks you how school’s going. Have you been flossing? Are you still swimming? If bus A leaves Cincinnati on Tuesday and bus B leaves Detroit on Wednesday, what is the square root of pi? It’s a special kind of torture, when you can’t respond. But acknowledging that I hear him would just help his cause, so instead I just push myself as hard as I possibly can, until my arms and legs feel like limp noodles.

When the water starts to lighten and I can make out the bottom—he can’t claim I didn’t make it to the other side, I’m clearly in the bay—I wave Asher over to me. He cuts the engine and lets the boat drift until it’s sidling up beside me. Even though it’s just one of the little rowboats, I know I can’t get in myself. Not unless we let the boat drift in another hundred feet to the really shallow water. And I’m too tired for that.

I try anyway. I put both hands on the edge and try to pull myself up, but I can’t get any traction when the boat dips. The metal digs against my palms. I haven’t done an open-water swim in ten months, and my entire body feels spent. If my dad had come, I would have swum a half today, just to ease myself into it. Asher scoots to the edge of his seat and reaches his arm out with a smirk. And as I grab it, all I can think of is how he called me neurotic, and said I had a stick up my ass. No, a tree up my ass. I brace myself against the boat with one arm and give a   tug. And when he loses his balance, I give one more, until he splashes into the water.

“Your turn,” I say cheerily, still hanging from the side of the boat with one arm.

“Brilliant.” Asher shakes his head in the water.  “Now neither of us is in the boat.”

“You’re swimming back,” I say, giving him the sugary-sweet smile I usually reserve for when our parents are around. There’s no hiding my guilt now anyway. Asher is already stripping his T-shirt up over his head, kicking his legs to propel himself up out of the water. The edge of the wet cotton slaps me in the face as he throws it into the boat.

“Gross,” I mutter.

“It’s lake water. You’re covered in it,” he says, rolling his eyes. He holds his breath and sinks down into the water, coming up with his shorts in his hands. As the fabric sails over me and into the boat, I’m suddenly aware of the fact that he’s now effectively in only his underwear a few feet away from me. I spend at least fifteen hours a week around guys dressed in no more than Asher, so I don’t know why I feel heat creeping up my neck now. Maybe because it’s weird to be near your nemesis while he’s naked. Almost naked.

“Well, there you go,” he says. “You got what you wanted.” I raise my eyebrows, unsure what he’s referring to.

“I’m practically naked over here.”

My nemesis is not only naked, but also a mind reader, and I want to scream at him to get out of my head, but all I can manage is: “Ugh.”

“Whatever, Sidney. Next time you want me to take my clothes off, you can just ask.” He dips down into the water and surfaces a foot away from me. “Quite frankly, I’m tired of you objectifying me like this. I’m not just a pretty guy in a Speedo. I’m a person.

“Hardly,” I say, but my eyes catch on the sharp angles where his neck meets his shoulders, and suddenly my eyes are drifting lower, to the planes of his chest.

Asher laughs, and it catches me off guard, the way it barrels out of him. And as if he realizes his mistake, he dunks down, cutting the sound off with a torrent of water. When he comes  up, it’s slow and dramatic, like when a creature emerges in a scary movie. Water drips down his face in shimmering streams. And he’s right in front of me, so close that the water churned up by his legs is brushing against mine. I could count the droplets of water clinging to his dark lashes.

Asher slings an arm up over the boat, facing me. His feet graze mine in the water as they lazily flutter there. Hair wet and glistening, the last little rivulets of water drip down his tanned face, sliding from his chin down to his chest. When he braces himself against the boat all of his muscles tighten, and something in my chest does the same.

“What are you doing?” I don’t mean it to sound so breathless, so alarmed.

Asher leans forward, his mouth next to my ear, his warm breath a stark contrast to the cold lake. Under the water, his hand rests on my calf, and a little shiver that I hope he doesn’t notice runs through me. Every inch of me vibrates at the touch. “Sidney?” His voice is whisper soft, so close his breath tickles my ear. I should move away, should find some sort of inhuman strength to hurl myself into this boat, but I can’t. For the first time in forever, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to swim.

The water is chilly this far out, but I don’t feel the cold at all now—my entire body feels like it’s on fire. “Yeah?”

His hand slides down the length of my calf to my foot, and he leaves it there, softly cradling my arch in his palm. “I’m helping you into the boat.” There’s a hint of a laugh in his voice.

I find that inhuman strength I wished for when I push my foot roughly against his hand and propel myself up and into the boat. Unfortunately, it isn’t graceful, sexy, or defiant. I flop into the boat much like my heart is flopping in my chest. And when I take the seat next to the motor and start it up, I think I hear his laugh mixed with the roar of the engine coming to life.


DAY 5

Sidney

My dad has this thing for vacation jerky. We call it that, because literally the only time Dad wants to eat jerky is when we’re at the lake. Some vacationers gorge themselves on tropical drinks with little umbrellas, or all-you-can-eat buffets. My dad stuffs himself with teriyaki beef sticks until it starts to feel like his summertime cologne, and everyone in a two-house radius judges.

In his defense, they are pretty tasty. They sell them at the  big store in town, and Dad doesn’t like to put them on Mom’s shopping list (because the judgment starts in our house) so he usually sends me. Here’s twenty bucks, run to the store and get yourself something fun. Maybe grab something for me while you’re there? As if I’m going to find anything fun at the grocery store. Dad thinks he’s being slick, but Mom always snags me before I leave and gives me her own list of things she needs.

I’m just about to pull out of the driveway when Asher comes dashing toward the car. He pulls at the handle just as I slip the car into drive, but I don’t unlock it. I swear I still feel a phantom tingle where his hand was on my leg, and it makes me want to floor it. He cocks his head to the side and palms a piece of paper against the window. Two taps on the glass, and I roll it down. “I have to grab some stuff for my mom.”

“Ugh.” I let out a disgruntled sigh, because while I can say no to Asher all day, Sylvie is a different story. “Fine.” It’s not the car’s fault, but I press the button to unlock the door more aggressively than is necessary anyway. Asher climbs into the passenger side and immediately skips to the next song on my playlist. “You have a car, you know.”

“My mom sent me over to see if your mom needed anything. And your mom insisted we didn’t need to drive two cars. She practically shoved me out the door so I wouldn’t miss you.”

I can already feel it—Mom’s current obsession with her carbon footprint is going to be the death of my sanity this summer. I turn out of the driveway, and we’re halfway to the store before either of us breaks the silence.

“Jerky run?” Asher asks, sounding almost sympathetic. “You know it.”

We park the car and silently head into the store, both of us turning toward the deli. Asher grabs my list, and I’m  trying to get  it back from him, my hands reaching around and behind him, when I hear my name.

“Sidney?” It comes from behind me, an aisle or so down. Standing next to a display of marshmallows, his red River Depot shirt now swapped for a soft gray T-shirt, is the dreamy ice cream guy. Right here in my grocery store.

I grab the list from Asher, who is momentarily stunned motionless, and compose myself, straightening a little. “Hey, Caleb.”

He closes the gap between us and sticks his hand out to Asher. I take a deep breath and let it out loudly. “This is Asher.” I introduce them as they shake hands next to the little case of jerky sticks that got me here. I grab a pack and put them in my basket.

“Your . . .” His eyes swing from Asher to me. “. . . brother?”

Asher and I say no at the same time. He sounds absolutely disgusted by the prospect of having to be related to me.

“Our families vacation together,” I say, realizing too late that it sounds sort of weird. “Our moms were college roommates, and we come up here every year. We have houses next to each other over at Five Pines.” I point to the doors like an idiot, as if the houses are right outside. “Almost identical houses, actually. It’s a—”

Asher puts his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t think he needs our family histories.” I shrug his hand away, but at least he shut me up.

“I actually have to go find some apples,” I say, taking a step away, toward Caleb.

He smiles. “What a coincidence. I love apples.” I head toward the far corner of the store and he falls into step beside me. I don’t look at Asher, but I hear his footsteps behind us, getting softer, not louder, thankfully.

“I bet there’s a name for this,” I say, when we’ve rounded the aisles that separate the fresh food from everything else.

He looks at me questioningly. “Shopping?”

“No.” I laugh and it feels good to be able to. “The phenomenon where you’ve never seen someone before, and then suddenly they’re everywhere.”

He smiles. “I don’t know that I’m everywhere.

“I’m just glad I was here first,” I say, a teasing lilt to my voice. “You’re following me.

He smiles and shrugs. “Fair enough.”

I walk toward the little fruit section and he follows me. “I’m just picking up some stuff for my mom.” I pull a plastic bag off of the carousel and grab two apples from the edge of the shelf.

I’m not sure why I feel the need to explain why I’m at the grocery store—I suppose I don’t want him thinking this is what I do for fun. I did make it sound like I was lonely and pathetic, and would be lurking around River Depot whenever possible.

Caleb reaches into my bag and takes the apples out. “Take these,” he says, handing me two of the same apples, but from a different row.

“O-kay.” I’m not sure what just happened. It felt like the shopping version of mansplaining. Was I just produce-judged? I don’t know how to pick out apples? I may not be a culinary wizard, but had it mushed into applesauce in my hand I would have put it back myself.

I make my way through the produce section and Caleb picks out a watermelon for me, switches out three of the four peaches I picked up, and advises me not to buy the raspberries that are  on sale, because they won’t last more than a day. I know he’s really spooked me with his produce pickiness when I find myself peering behind me, wondering where Asher is, in a desperate way I don’t know how to feel about.

I must be looking at Caleb with as much apprehension as   I’m feeling, because he finally stops touching my food, like it’s been electrified. I’m not sure it shouldn’t be—maybe that would teach him to keep his hands out of someone else’s basket.

“I’m sorry,” he says, putting his hands up in surrender. “My dad owns this grocery store.”

I let out a long whoosh of air and my shoulders feel like they drop about three feet. “Thank god.” Suddenly my personal shopper experience is making a lot more sense. “I was starting to worry you were just overly aggressive about produce.”

“Guilty,” he says with a smile. “Sorry, I can see how that was probably weird. Apparently I get aggressively helpful when I’m nervous.”

And I ramble.

He sounds nervous now, and it makes something flutter in my stomach, so I try to switch the subject. “How have I never seen you around here before? Sometimes I feel like my family’s designated grocery-getter.”

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his shorts and looks over at me. “Maybe you weren’t looking?”

I’ve been to this grocery store a million times. “Maybe,” I say, my voice skeptical.

Caleb smiles and his eyes crinkle in amusement. He’s smiling at me. “I usually spend summers with my mom in Tennessee.”

“Ah. It’s not nice to make people feel crazy.”

“Noted,” he says, taking a loaf of bread out of my basket and replacing it with another heavier loaf as we pass the bakery area. He holds his hands up like I have a gun pointed at him. “Last time, I swear.”

I’m still staring at his hands, which are now on my shopping basket—the only thing separating us—when Asher comes around the corner. “Hey, Sid—” Caleb looks at the same moment I do, and I can tell just from the obnoxious tone of Asher’s voice that this isn’t going to be good. “Are these the right ones?” Asher holds up a bright blue box of tampons, and looks past Caleb to me.

I bite my lip to keep from screaming, but if he thinks he’s embarrassing me with tampons, he’s seriously delusional. “Yeah, I think those are going to work for you, Ash. Though you should get a bigger box, because I hear they work great for nosebleeds. You know, in case someone were to punch you in the face at some point.” I pause dramatically. “Or something.”

I give him a sugary-sweet smile and Caleb chokes back a laugh. “Not unless provoked,” I say in my most demure tone, looking at him as innocently as I can muster, “of course.”

“Got it, Slugger,” Asher says, and I can tell he wants to smile, but he turns his face from mine to Caleb’s, and then he lets it loose—a toothy, blindingly white smile. “Careful with this one,” he says, and if I could growl, I would. Not that I would ever actually hit Asher, but right now I’m seriously considering if I could leave him here, or make him chase my car.

Asher retreats back into the aisle he came from, and Caleb shakes his head, like he’s been in an Asher-induced fog, and can’t quite break out of it. He raises his eyebrows like he wants me to explain, and I just shrug. There is no explaining me and Asher.

“Kara said you’re coming to the party tomorrow night,” he says.

“Did she?” I’m still flustered, and I feel like I’ve lost some of my flirting mojo. Asher strikes again.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I’m . . . debating.” I walk toward the checkouts, hoping he follows. When he does, that flutter is back, tickling my ribs.

I’ll be there,” he says, as he grabs a plastic bag from my basket and sets it on the black conveyor belt we’re now standing beside. I do the same, and piece by piece we unload the basket together. “You know, if you need something to throw into the pro column of your list.”

“How do you know I have a list?” I smile and he shrugs. There’s a moment of silence as the cashier hands me my bags and I take a step toward the doors. I give him a quick glance back. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

 

Asher

When we got back from our shopping trip, my dad and Tom drove to the marina to get a new sensor for Tom’s boat, so I’m sitting on my deck, avoiding the girls-only rock-painting party that’s happening on the deck next door.

Sidney paints rocks. Literally, rocks you find on the ground. She collects them at the beach—I’ve never figured out a rhyme or reason to which ones she picks out, because they’re all different—but she sifts through the sand like she knows exactly what she’s looking for. And then she spends hours sitting on the deck or a blanket in the grass, painting them with little designs. Again, no rhyme or reason I can decipher. There are rocks with words on them, some with colorful flowers. One had a skull on it. It’s the only art I’ve ever seen Sidney do, and it’s so random I can’t help but be intrigued.

She can easily paint four or five in a day. Ten if they’re really simple and she’s committed to avoiding me the entire day. By the end of each summer she has to have painted at least a hundred, if not more. My mom always leaves with some, but  are there just buckets and buckets of these things sitting in her room somewhere? Does she give them to her friends at home?   I shouldn’t care about something so stupid, but I can’t help but wonder: What is she doing with all of these rocks?

Last summer, her mom started painting them  sometimes, too, which means my mom also got involved, and now it’s like  a little rock-painting sweatshop when the three of them go  at it, like they are right now. My phone buzzes with a text and my eyes dart from the painting party next door to where my phone is lying on top of my book on the railing of our deck.

Yes. That’s the truth, but it’s not what I start to type. Because even though Sidney’s known Lindsay even longer than I have, she’s always sort of weird when she comes around. Lindsay is Nadine’s daughter, but I haven’t seen her around much the last few years. The first summer I was here, Lindsay seemed to be an almost permanent fixture on the beach. Her mom or dad would drop her off and she’d spend the day lying on the dock or on a towel spread across the grass on the hill. But after that first summer she didn’t come around as much. And last summer I didn’t see her once, despite the fact that her family built a house right behind ours. But still, radio silence. I’m debating what to say when I hear footsteps behind me, and turn to find Lindsay standing on my deck.

“Hey.” I try not to sound startled, but I’m pretty sure I do.

Because I am.

“I’m sorry, is it totally weird that I just showed up?” She looks embarrassed. “I was in the house and I saw you right after I texted, so I just . . .”

“No, it’s fine.” I stand up and give her a hug, and the smile returns to her face. I nod toward the white plastic chair next to mine. “You wanna hang out?”

“Yeah. Cool.” She sits and kicks her feet up on the wooden railing of the deck. Lindsay looks like a stereotypical lake girl . . . deeply tanned skin, long hair down the middle of her back that looks like she just spent a day at the beach, and shorts that look like she lives in them. There’s a light outline in the denim where her phone is stuck into her pocket.

We sit and talk about my senior year and her first year of college. I tell her about going to Oakwood in the fall, and she tells me about the sorority she pledged. How she’s  moving into the house in the fall. She’s soft and sweet, and the longer we talk, the harder it is to think of a single thing that could make Sidney dislike her. But when she leaves—giving me another hug before she hops off of the deck, and promising to see me around—Sidney is most definitely watching her walk away. I want to ask her what the deal is, but we aren’t those people. We aren’t friends.

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