Young Adult Mystery
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“A startling unique spin on Peter Pan with mystery and romance, and staying true to yourself.” – # 1 NY Times Bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout
“Real and honest, sweet and heartbreaking, WHAT IF is an excellent YA read.”- NY Times Bestselling author Monica Murphy
Sixteen-year-old Wendy Wyman is bereft over the death of her best friend, Peter Preiss, whose body has been found at the bottom of the town lake. She blames herself because she allowed him to go back to his family’s lakeside boathouse late at night where they had just made love for the first time. She wonders what she could have done differently to stop Pete from being killed, and thinks back to the beginning of the school year when her whole life changed forever.
Wendy will stop at nothing until she finds out the person responsible for killing Peter, who was bullied by most of the students in their junior class. She is in for even more of a shock when she finds out that not only did Pete keep dark secrets from her, but a few of her close friends are hiding ones as well. This also includes Dylan Mayone, the new popular boy at school, who wants her for his own, and may have had a hand in Pete’s death.
I fell to the floor with tears rolling down my face. I couldn’t catch my breath, and my heart rattled around in my chest. I banged the back of my head against the wall. What I did will haunt me for the rest of my life.
My best friend was dead. I’m the reason he died.
If only I’d gone with him to pick up his backpack he left at the boathouse. But he told me not to worry, to get ready for bed. He would return in less than twenty minutes.
“Wendy, nothing will happen to me. We live in one of the safest towns on the East Coast.” Pete caressed my cheek with the back of his hand, giving me a kiss that left me wanting more.
He climbed out my bedroom window, just like all the other times.
He waved as he turned the corner and again just before he ducked into his car to drive to the lake.
He left a few minutes after midnight. I did what he asked. I got ready for bed and waited for him to climb through my bedroom window again, where I’d lie in his arms all night long.
I fell asleep.
If I’d never fallen asleep, he might still be alive. He’d be in my arms, sharing kisses and dreams of his future.
Pete’s future was stamped out.
Twenty-four hours later, the police were at his house, explaining to his parents how they’d found his body at the bottom of the lake.
I was the last one to see him alive, to feel his touch, those warm lips of his against mine.
If only I’d made him forget about his backpack by kissing him, pulling him to bed, and continuing what we did at the lake.
My best friend, the one I loved most of all, was dead.
I had a tough decision to make. He would expect me to do the right thing.
I would walk out of my bedroom and down the steps to tell my parents what I knew. It would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I’d kept so many secrets from them already.
They would find out about last night and what we did together.
He’s gone, and it’s all my fault! If only….
No more if onlys. Now only, what if?
What if they were wrong and he was still alive?
What if I continued to lie?
What if I could go back in time to the end of the summer when things between me and Pete had changed forever.
Five months ago….
“Move your ass, Wonder Woman,” Pete shouted, flying by me on his cherry-red bicycle.
“You’re a dead man, Preiss,” I yelled, wiping the sweat off my forehead as I huffed up one of the biggest hills in Brookview Park. Just another hot and sticky Monday—Labor Day to be exact—as we enjoyed the last few days of freedom before we began our junior year of high school. We’d biked at Brookview forever and did every free chance available. Soon, we’d only be able to bike together on the weekends because of school and Pete’s part-time job.
He shot down the hill with his arms spread open like he was on a roller coaster. It frightened me. I didn’t want him breaking his leg like he did when he was twelve.
“Be careful, Mr. Daredevil.” I took my time coming down. There was no way my leg would be bound in a cast during my first semester of junior year, with me limping down the hallways open for anyone to tease or try to trip me.
He spun his bike and kicked his legs in the air. He could be such a show-off sometimes. He bowed, walking his bike over instead of riding it, and I rolled my eyes. He would be crushed if he knew my true feelings.
Biking wasn’t really my thing. My idea of fun was reading magazines and watching television.
Such a teeny, itsy, bitsy lie.
I hit him hard on the shoulder. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“Hey, that hurt.” He winced, rubbing his arm.
“Suck it up, Pee Pee.”
“You know how much I hate that nickname.”
I moved my sweat-drenched hair away from my forehead. I could feel a zit forming, rising under the skin. Great. Knowing my luck, I’d have a huge tumor right smack in the middle of my forehead for the first day of school.
“You call me Wonder Woman. I call you Pee Pee. Deal with it,” I teased.
He took off his sunglasses and wiped them off with the bottom of his damp white T-shirt. He sweated more than any person I knew.
“Wendy, I can’t help it that your first and last name begins with the letter W. Think of Wonder Woman as a compliment. My nickname, on the other hand, is humiliating.”
He frowned, turning away from me. It was bad enough the jerks at our school made fun of him. Among the more derogatory names used were Pity Pete or Patchy because of the bad case of acne he suffered from. Most times he looked like he had a constant case of sunburn. His face was a curse. I could hear the sing-song phrase in my head, “It’s such a pity Petey Pee-Pee is a monkey”.
At least they’d stopped calling him Jew Boy.
“Sorry,” I grumbled. He’d been calling me Wonder Woman for as long as I could remember.
“It sure is hot out here.” He lifted his shirt, wiping his face with it. I was about to tell him how gross that was, but then I noticed his stomach. Wow. His abs weren’t all that bad.
“You’ve been working out?” I patted his stomach, hiding a grimace as his sweat moistened my palm. Before I could wipe it away, he grabbed my arm and twisted me around until he held me in a head lock. We grappled like that until I almost slipped out of his grip, but he was just too strong.
“Do you surrender?”
“Never!” I decided to do something very low. I tickled him.
He released me, and I raised my arms in victory. Leaning against his bike, he rolled his eyes.
“Seriously, you have some major guns there.” I stretched my arms above my head.
“And your boobs are so big, now, they can crush soda cans. What are you now, a triple D?”
Only he could get away with saying something like that.
“Yeah, thanks for noticing. No push-up bra needed here.” I pushed my chest out for emphasis.
Suddenly, a silver convertible drove by with two guys.
“Hey, Patchy, where’s your bananas?” the driver shouted, and roared down the street with his radio blasting some air-splitting rock song.
I clenched my fists, wishing they would crash into a tree. “Pete—”
He fiddled with the handle bars of his bike. “I’m pretty wiped out. I should head home and shower before dinner.”
I glimpsed at my watch, surprised by the time. “Okay.”
He strode away with his bike. I came up beside him, bumping my shoulder into his. He did the same to me.
“Ignore that jerk. He’s jealous you’re with a big-boobed girl and he isn’t.”
He gave me a small smile but didn’t say anything. We walked in silence until we reached my house.
“Eleven’s okay?” he asked.
“Same time as always.”
He leaned over to give me a hug but ruffled my hair instead.
“Preiss,” I yelled.
He jumped on his bike and drove straight inside his garage, chuckling all the way. I felt too winded to chase after him.
I’d get him back. I always made sure I got the last laugh.
“Wendy, come help set the table,” Mom called from the kitchen. I sat on the couch in the living room, reading one of the entertainment magazines after I’d finished taking a shower.
I went to the kitchen. Mom grabbed plates out of the cabinet.
“Is Dad working late tonight?” I asked.
“No. He stopped at a store to get some doo-hickey for the lawn mower.”
My father had a strange obsession with our lawn. He would’ve been a better gardener than an insurance claims adjuster.
“Can I mash?” I asked as I took the milk and butter out of the refrigerator for the potatoes. I loved mashing potatoes. Yup, I was strange that way.
She pushed the ends of her strawberry-blonde hair behind her ears. “Thank you, pumpkin.” She squeezed my shoulder and handed over the items as she went to the oven to take out her homemade special meat loaf. What made it special, I couldn’t say. It was a brick of meat that stayed in your stomach long after you ate it.
“I’m no longer four. You need to stop calling me that.”
“You’ll never be too old to be my pumpkin head. Remember the Halloween you were five?”
“You made me dress up like a pumpkin. Oh, yeah. To this day I still get called, The Great Pumpkin.” I mashed the potatoes into pulp.
“You were so adorable. I had a blast making that costume.”
“A blast? Really, Marie?”
“Yes, a blast, Wendy Margaret. I try to keep up with the teen lingo.”
I covered a laugh and finished mashing. “Sure, Mom, sure. You’re one hip chick.”
She poured soda into a glass. “Like mother, like daughter. Why can’t I call you a cute nickname? You don’t seem to mind when Pete calls you one.”
I set the bowl of potatoes on the table. “Don’t remind me. It’s perfectly okay for him to call me some cutesy name, but whenever I try to call him something, he gets upset.” I scooped up some potatoes with a finger and slipped it into my mouth.
She gave me her I’m-not-amused mom look. “He calls you by a nickname because he likes you.”
“It’s because I’m his only friend.” I winced, wanting to kick myself for what I just said.
She placed a hand on my shoulder. “Pete’s such a sweet kid. I don’t understand why the other kids in your class can’t see the same thing we see.”
“They’re all stupid. But I don’t care. He’s my peep.”
“Hmm…what smells good?” Dad came in carrying a brown paper bag and reached for Mom, pressing his nose into the side of her neck.
She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. It didn’t bother me my parents were lovey dovey. They’d always been like that. It was pretty cool they still were affectionate after so many years of marriage.
“Hey, Dad.” I poured my own drink and then his.
“Hey, pumpkin.” He gave me a hug.
“Now, Greg, Wendy doesn’t want to be called that anymore.” Mom sat down at the table.
Dad pinched my cheek. “Why not? It takes me back to that Halloween—”
I sat down, rolling my eyes. “Been there, done that. The Great Pumpkin label will haunt me to the grave.”
He laughed and sat down across from me, winking.
When Dad started to say grace, Mom mouthed the word, pumpkin, and we burst out laughing. Dad shook his head and made me say the prayer instead.
I glanced over at my alarm clock. 10:50 p.m. Ten minutes until show time.
I lay on my back, watching the glow-in-the-dark star stickers on my ceiling and rubbing my stomach while it cramped. The meatloaf, as always, didn’t sit well. I’d pretended to enjoy eating it so as not to hurt Mom’s feelings. I lied. Parents lied to their children all the time. Why not their offspring? I still hadn’t forgiven my parents for fibbing about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. At least I’d kept the Tooth Fairy thing going until I was thirteen.
The whirl of the ceiling fan made me sleepy. I didn’t want Pete coming in while I dozed. I liked it better when we fell asleep together.
I turned on my side with my palm pressed against my stomach and continued rubbing it. Glancing at the window, I waited for him to make an appearance. My window was unlatched and opened halfway for him to climb in without any problem.
There was a scraping noise. Waving, Pete popped up in front of my window. I met him, giving him my hand to help him inside. He hopped down and set his backpack on the floor.
I opened my bedroom door and peeked down the hall. My parents’ bedroom door was closed—a good sign they were in bed. But I’d noticed the looks they gave each other at dinner, which led me to believe they weren’t going to sleep right away.
I shut my door and turned to see Pete lying on my bed with his arms behind his head. He wore black cotton boxers and a T-shirt with a faded picture of Spiderman on the front.
“I think my parents are having sex.” I sat next to him.
“Duh. It’s pretty much a given parents have sex.”
“I mean like now. They were making gooey faces with one another at dinner.” I lay down.
He cringed, and I covered a smile. “Please, can we not talk about your parents having sex? That’s just…gross.”
Turning on my side, I faced him. “Sometimes you can be such a girl.”
He rolled his head toward me. “You want me to tell you about the time I found my parents—”
I covered his mouth. “Let’s not go there.” I tried to get comfortable but couldn’t. My stomach wouldn’t stop bubbling.
Pete linked out fingers together. “What’s wrong?’
“Mom’s meatloaf.” I clutched my stomach and winced in pain.
“Oh.” He knew all too well about Mom’s killer meatloaf. He’d eaten it one too many times himself. “Come here. I’ll make you feel better.”
He moved his big, warm hand beneath mine. He was the only boy to ever touch me this way—skin to skin.
I yawned, the motion of his palm lulling me to sleep. “I can’t believe tomorrow is our last day of summer vacation.”
“Yeah. I can’t wait.” He sounded less than thrilled.
I rested my other fingers on top of his. “Don’t worry. We’re no longer the low men on the totem pole. Things will be better, you’ll see.”
I couldn’t see his expression in the dark. “I bet Brookeside High can’t wait for monkey boy. I wonder how many bananas I’ll find in my locker the first day.”
I lifted my palm to Pete’s face. He might look like a monkey with his big mouth, squashed, wide nose, and ears too big for his head, but none of that mattered. I found him to be perfect in every way. He was my best friend, and I loved him.
“You have me for backup. If anyone tries to mess with you, I’ll kick their ass.”
“With your humongous boobs as weapons?” he joked.
I flicked his nose with my finger. “Are boobs all you ever think about?”
He nestled me against his side and settled his palm on my stomach again. “I’m a guy. What do expect?”
“At least I know you’re not gay.”
He patted my head then kissed my forehead, and I began to drift off. “You don’t have to worry. I’m not gay.”
“Really, how?” I yawned loudly and closed my eyes.
“I dream of your boobs.”
I chuckled and kissed his collarbone. Soon after, I drifted off to sleep.
The sun poured through the window, hitting me in my face. I groaned and rolled to the side, expecting to feel Pete up against my back. I lifted my head. My clock said nine fifty. He had left. Poor guy would work his last day of vacation until six tonight.
I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and climbed out of bed, yawning while I made my way to the bathroom. Before I could get there, the phone rang. The need to pee wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been, so I hurried downstairs and picked up the phone.
“I’m hungry. Let’s get some breakfast.” My other best friend, Pamela, whined for food.
“I could eat.” A sudden craving for pancakes hit me. “I need to buy school stuff for tomorrow.” I scratched my arm. Damn. I had a huge, ugly red mosquito bite on the inside of my elbow. That reminded me about my forehead. Damn again. I could feel a pimple growing there. “Shit.”
“What’s the matter? Must be something serious for you to say shit.”
“It’s life threatening. I have mosquito bites all over me and a zit that looks like a second head’s growing out of my forehead.”
“If you washed your face with more than just the cheap, generic crap, you wouldn’t have a problem.”
“You can be such a bitch.”
“You better believe it. Hurry up and get ready. Slap on some makeup, and do something presentable with your hair that won’t make me embarrassed to be seen with you. I’ll pick you up in less than thirty.”
“Okay. Later.” I hung up the phone and spotted a twenty-dollar bill poking out from under a piece of paper on the dining room table.
Here’s money for your school supplies.
I snatched the cash and ran upstairs to take a quick shower. I took off my clothes in the bathroom and stuck my tongue out at my reflection in the mirror. The monster red zit had popped out of my forehead.
It was going to be one of those days.
I gobbled down the last of my blueberry pancakes and finished my orange juice. Pam patted her mouth with a napkin like she was at some fancy restaurant instead of the local IHOP.
“Aw, you finished it all.” She pouted, eyeing my plate as if another pancake would suddenly appear.
“You’re always hungry. I don’t understand how you can eat like you do and not gain any weight.” I patted my full stomach.
“Must be the genes, baby. I’ll pay this time.” She gave me an air kiss.
Glancing outside the window, I expected to see steam rising up from the pavement. It was grosser than yesterday and would probably hit the upper nineties before noon.
“I hope the heat isn’t as muggy and hot tomorrow as it is today. I really hate this weather.” I fished an ice cube out of my water glass and sucked on it. Even in my light pink cami and khaki skirt I felt overheated.
Pam didn’t seem to mind the humidity in her white linen, sleeveless summer dress.
“The sexy weather guy on The Weather Channel said the heat should break by the weekend. We can always go for a dip in the lake.”
“You and your obsession with the weather. You really do want to be a meteorologist? I thought you just watched for the cute weather guys.”
She took out a few bills from her purse. “I watch for both.” She smiled and finished her coffee.
We stood. I stretched, feeling drowsy. She noticed my yawn and crossed her arms. “You just woke up! Come on, none of that. Let’s go to the bookstore.”
“We were just there last week.”
“Yeah, so? I want to visit Toby.”
“All right.” I scraped my feet across the faded-blue carpet.
She dragged me up to the front. After we paid the bill, we put on our sunglasses and strolled down the street. Quaint shops filled the center of Brookeside, as well as big brand name retailers and Williams’ Foods, the supermarket where Pete worked. There was a movie theater, a few other independent clothing stores, and the bookstore we planned on hitting up.
“I feel so gross from this heat,” I complained while we strolled toward the center of town.
“This is perfect to tan in.” She smiled up at the sweltering sun.
“That’s your opinion. More likely I’d melt into a pile of goo on the sidewalk.” We passed the supermarket, and I peered inside to see if I could spot Pete.
Pam touched my arm. “Can’t you go a day without seeing Pity?”
I stopped. “Don’t call him that. I hate when you do it.”
“Everyone does. It’s just a nickname.”
“It’s not just a nickname. It’s mean.”
She made a show of sighing loudly. “I really don’t see what’s great about Peter Preiss. I know you two have been best buds since you were kids, but he really ruins your mojo.”
“Mojo?” I asked when we stopped at the light.
“Yeah. Your mojo with the boys. The entire school thinks you two are an item.”
“We’re just friends. Like you and I are. But he doesn’t go out for pancakes with me. I make sure that’s our special thing.”
She grinned. “If I was a lesbo, I’d so be in love with you.”
I snapped my fingers. “Shucks. Too bad we aren’t.”
We giggled and crossed the street.
“Seriously though, you’re awesome, and everyone I know thinks so, but if you spend our whole junior year with Pity-Pete, you may find yourself ignored or not invited to any parties. You’ll never have a date for prom and end up staying at home like a loser.”
My temperature rose. It wasn’t because I was hot and cranky. “Pam, the whole being a part of the ‘in crowd’ doesn’t interest me at all. If I have to deal with assholes like Anthony Varela and Conner Bryce, I’m fine with the way things are.”
We reached the store, and I held open the door for her. Pam rooted through her purse. “What do you have against those two? They can be immature, but they’re cute. They’re always nice to me when they’re at Toby’s house playing video games.”
I waited inside the entrance for Pam to fix her face with blush and lipstick. I really didn’t want to get into it with her. “You know why. Those two jerks are the reason Pete’s treated like he has the plague or something.”
She finished beautifying herself and fluffed her hair. “You never did tell me—”
“Pammy,” Toby called out from behind the coffee counter.
Her whole face brightened, and she skipped over to her boyfriend. He welcomed her with a huge grin on his face. He stopped refilling the straws to give Pam a hug. No one stared. Except for a few tables with customers reading or typing away on laptops while they drank coffee or ate some cake or cookies, the café was nearly empty.
He gave me a wave. “Hey, Wendy. You’re going for the beach bunny look?”
I wondered if I should be insulted or not. Based on his snicker, I took it as so and stuck my tongue out at him. He responded by rubbing his cheek and giving me the finger.
“Oh, baby, you’re so funny.” Pam giggled and kissed his cheek.
Sometimes these two laid it on a bit thick.
“My break is in ten minutes. Can you wait?” he asked her.
She nodded. Great. It would be another half hour before I could get the things I needed for school.
“I’m gonna walk around.”
“Sure,” she said over her shoulder. She only had eyes for Toby.
I held back a gag and made my way over to the magazine racks. That killed about ten minutes. I then strolled over to the teen section to see if anything caught my eye. I picked up a current release about troubled teens at a boarding school, reading the description on the inside of the jacket cover and went over to a chair. Because my nose was literally in the book, I crashed into someone. I jerked away, and the book landed on the floor. The person bent down to pick up the book, giving me a smile that made me blink in stunned silence.
The guy, near my own age, held out the novel. “Are you okay?” He eyeballed the cover. “You’re into cheesy teenage soap opera?” Turning it over, he scanned the back cover. “Love triangle? Sounds pretty corny.”
His opinion of my reading material made me want to grind my teeth. Is he making fun of me or is this his lame attempt at flirting? I wish I could come up with a witty comeback, but my mind went blank. At least he was nice to look at. He reminded me of those Hollister models in the fashion magazines I read. He had a great muscular build, gorgeous blue eyes, and blond hair with natural highlights.
“Um, yeah, big fan here of corny teen drama.” I took the book from him. Oh God, I was probably blushing. My face seemed on fire.
He nodded and smiled. His teeth were also perfect. He kept staring at me, and I became even more frazzled. Oh no. What if he notices my volcanic zit?
I touched my forehead, releasing a small groan at feeling the very noticeable blemish sticking out from under my skin for the world to see.
“Is something wrong?” He took a step closer. I caught a whiff of his woodsy, yet subtle, musky-smelling cologne.
“Ah, no. It’s just, um…are you wearing cologne?” I wanted to die.
The cute boy laughed. “Yeah. Calvin Klein.”
I bet he wore Calvin Klein underwear. No, better yet, boxer briefs. “Sorry, I’m such a dork. Blame it on the heat.”
“I can understand. It’s pretty hot out there but probably worse in Manhattan.” He pushed his hands into the back pockets of his tan-colored shorts. He wore dark-brown leather flip-flops. Even his feet were great.
“Manhattan?” I asked, confused.
The cutie flicked a few bangs away from his forehead. “That’s where I’m from. I used to live in the city.”
“Oh? You’re visiting here?”
“No, I’m the new member of the Brookeside population. Actually, my cousin works here.”
Toby and Pam approached us with their arms around one another.
“Here he comes now.” The cute boy glanced over at them and then back at me. He couldn’t stop staring—or maybe I tricked myself into thinking that.
“Hey, bro.” Toby and the hottie slapped hands.
Pam noticed the book and grimaced. “You are not getting that, are you?”
“Shut up,” I whispered.
The boys both turned, and I smiled at them.
“I see you’ve met my cousin,” Toby said.
“Yup. But we haven’t exchanged names,” I responded.
“Only our love for books,” Hottie said, shoving his hands in his pockets again.
I would nip this in the bud. I held out my hand for him to shake. “I’m Wendy Wyman.”
Hottie took mine in his and shook it. “I’m Dylan Mayone. Nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” I smiled. He did the same and didn’t let go until someone cleared his throat.
I pulled my hand out of Dylan’s first. I would’ve sworn it tingled.
Pam and I sat together at a table in the café. She drank a frozen coffee while I sipped a soda. We didn’t have to pay for a thing. Dylan did. Score one for us!
He talked to Toby at the counter. Again, his hands were in his pockets. Every so often, he would turn our way and smile.
“Isn’t Dylan a sweetie?” Pam sucked down her drink.
“I’d say he’s more than that. Do all the boys look like that in New York? ‘Cause we don’t have any of those here.”
She bumped my arm. “You’re just not paying attention to the local eye-candy. But, you’re right. He’s different from the guys in Brookeside.”
She gazed at Dylan and sighed.
I rolled my eyes and finished my soda. “Okay, give me the details. Who is he, and why did he move here?”
“Dylan’s dad is some big television producer. His parents are divorced. His mom lives in Los Angeles. I think she’s some important vice president at some hot shot music label. He comes from big money.” She rubbed her fingers together.
“Brookeside is filled with big money. You’re the perfect example.”
She sniffed. “Think more, a lot more. Toby told me when he and Dylan were younger, his uncle would take them to Hollywood movie premieres and after-parties.”
I checked out Dylan again. He talked to one of the girls behind the counter. They both laughed, and the girl leaned forward, showing off a chest that was more impressive than mine.
“Someone is jealous,” Pam said in a teasing voice. “You should go talk to him.”
I didn’t correct her, although I wasn’t necessarily jealous, more like bothered over my reaction to Dylan. “Other than him making fun of my reading material, he doesn’t act too stuck up or like some rich daddy’s boy. It’s nice of him to buy us our drinks.”
“I think it’s great to have a new face around. If we’re cool with Dylan, and he counts us as his friends, we’ll be the most popular girls in the whole school.”
“Pammy, you’re already popular.”
“Then you will be too.” She patted my hand and finished her drink.
“Why do you think he moved to boring Brookeside when he was in the middle of all the excitement in LA or New York City?”
She shrugged. “Who cares? It’s our gain.”
Dylan stared right at me. I peeked at my watch. Shoot. It was past twelve thirty, and I still had to go buy my school supplies and see Pete.
I loved visiting Pete at work and keeping him company on his break. But a part of me wanted to hang here and keep my eye on Dylan, a.k.a. the hottie. I liked mysteries, and he was one I wanted to crack.
Pam had left me and stood up front talking to the two boys. I went over to the garbage can, threw out my empty cup, and made my way over to the trio, catching the tail end of the conversation.
“…the fun begins at three o’clock. Bring your bathing suits and whatever else you want. We’ll have a barbeque to welcome in the school year.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Pam hopped up and down. I think she had too much caffeine. “Dylan’s having a barbeque on Saturday afternoon. We’re all invited.”
“Really? Sounds like fun.” I hoped it wouldn’t be too hot.
“You’ll come?” Dylan rubbed my arm.
“Y-yes.” I pushed my bangs away from my eyes. Whoa, he’s the touchy-feely type.
“Great.” He gave me another one of those adorable smiles that showed off his dimples.
“We should go. I need to get some things for school.” I sent Pam a let’s go look.
“Yeah, before we forget.” She scuffed her foot against the floor. “I wish summer wasn’t over.”
Toby leaned over the counter. “Junior year is going to be awesome. Now with my man Dylan around, we’re going to have the time of our lives.”
Dylan snorted. He still had his hand on my arm. I moved away.
“Let’s get going. Great to see you, Toby.” I nodded at him and then at Dylan. “It’s nice to meet you, Dylan. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”
“It’s a promise.” He winked at me.
My face grew hot. I pulled Pam away before we ended up staying and talking with Dylan some more.
“Bye, guys!” She waved and followed me out the front doors.
As we passed the huge window, I peeked inside. Dylan had his hands in his back pockets again. He bit his lip as if he held back a laugh. I groaned. He made a boo-boo lip look hot.
“What?” Pam asked.
“Nothing.” I hurried down the sidewalk.
It didn’t take me long to get what I needed at the drugstore. Pam went crazy buying makeup. She had a basketful while my own wasn’t even half filled. My mind kept wandering to Dylan. I couldn’t understand why I’d had such a strong reaction to him. He was cute and all, but there was something too perfect about him that irked me. Or maybe I made excuses because those dimples of his were to die for.
Shrugging the thought aside, I bought what I needed and headed down the sidewalk. Nearing Williams’ Foods, I slowed down. “I want to run in here for a second.”
She gave me a pout. “Can’t you do this later? I’m hot. I want to go to the lake.”
“Oh, come on! I want to say hi to Pete. It will only take a minute.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you see him enough as it is? I mean, you live across the street from the guy. Besides, it’s the perfect time of day to get some color,” she coaxed. “You need it more than I do.”
“Why, thanks.” I frowned, feeling insulted.
“You know what I mean.” She started to complain again but then someone covered my eyes.
“Hey, Pete,” I said, and his hands dropped.
“How’d you know it’s me?” He wore black pants and a white polo shirt with the market’s logo on the left pocket.
“She can smell you,” Pam said.
“Pam.” I gave her a warning and glanced over at Pete. “She’s just cranky because she’s hot.”
“It’s brutal out here.” He wiped his forehead. He had really bad sweat stains under his arms.
She gave me a grossed-out look. “I’m going to the car and turn on the air. You have five minutes, Wendy.” She marched off, swinging her hips.
“Miss Cheerleader U.S.A. not in her usually peppy mood?”
“Don’t go there.”
“Sorry.” He rubbed my arm. It was the same one Dylan had touched at the bookstore. This time no tingles, just a soothing touch.
“Eh, don’t be. Blame the sun. Pam and I are going to the lake for a swim.” I gave him a light punch on the shoulder. “You should join us if you get out early.”
He’d probably say no. He wasn’t a fan of swimming, especially in big crowds. We stopped going to the lake a few years ago after his father decided he was too busy to boat or fish with Pete like he used to when he was younger.
“I’m stuck here till six. I better get back in. I just wanted to say hi since I saw you standing out here.” He gave me a goofy smile.
“You’re such a good guy, Pee—” I winced, catching my mistake a bit too late.
He patted me on the shoulder before I could apologize. “Go swim. Show off your hot bod to all the horny thirteen-year-olds. I’ll see you later tonight.” He headed toward the store.
“Eleven?” I shouted.
“Same bat time.”
“Same bat channel,” I finished, and he gave me a wave.
I walked to Pam’s car, but I realized I’d forgotten to tell him about Dylan and the party on Saturday.
A sudden summer storm helped alleviate the heat. Instead of turning on the central air, I opened all my windows. A nice breeze whipped around my bedroom while I brushed my hair. My arms and legs were still on fire—when Pam and I sunned at the lake, I’d forgotten to bring sunscreen. Stupid me didn’t think I’d get burned. I’d been wrong and now paid for it. Instead of having a nice tan, my face, arms, and legs were blotchy and red. My back was worse. I would look like a freak for the first day of school tomorrow.
I inspected my reflection in the closet door mirror. Yep. A freak. I stuck my tongue out and glanced over my shoulder as Pete climbed through my window.
“You’re early. I didn’t expect you for another thirty minutes.” I finished brushing my hair.
He dropped his backpack on the floor and toed off his flip-flops. “I had to get out of my house. Mom and Dad were arguing.”
His parents argued over something every week. “What’s it about this time?” I sat on the bed and bit my lip to stop from moaning out loud.
“What do you think it’s about? Not having enough money. Same old crap.” He sighed and sat down next to me. He stroked a finger down my arm. “Wow, you did a number on your skin.”
“Yeah. You could probably fry an egg on it. I’m so stupid. Just ‘cause Pam turns a nice golden brown, I think I can, too.”
He shook his head. “Did you put anything on to help with the burn?”
I grabbed the bottle of aloe from the bedside table. “I’d planned on covering myself with this gunk before you arrived.”
He held out his hand for the bottle. “Lie on your stomach. I’ll do your back.”
“It’s a good thing I wore a one piece. Can you imagine my burn if I’d worn a bikini?” I lay down, placing my head on my arms, and turned to check my clock. It was barely ten thirty, and already I felt beat.
Pete squeezed out the gel. He lifted my loose-fitting, gray tank top until it came under my chest and circled a finger in the middle of my back. He didn’t drop a huge puddle of aloe on my skin that would make me cringe from the cold. I could count on him being considerate like that.
He gently rubbed the aloe into my skin. I sighed in relief. “This feels nice. You give the best back rubs.”
He snorted. “Too bad you’re the only girl I’ve ever given a back rub to.”
“You could always become a masseuse. Then you can touch all the girls you want.”
“Knowing my luck, I’ll get all the fat, hairy old men.”
I let out a small laugh and closed my eyes. He moved down my arms. He straddled my butt as he slid his palms over my swollen, inflamed skin.
“Imagine if my mom or dad walked in right now. They would have a heart attack.”
He leaned down. “Your father would throw me out the window and then tell my parents,” he whispered in my ear. “Mom would make me join the synagogue and become a rabbi.”
“Rabbi Peter Preiss has a nice ring to it.”
He poked me in the side. “Behave.”
“Yes, sir,” I grumbled, and he continued his work.
He made his way down to my legs. When he dug his fingers deeply into my thighs, I covered a groan.
“You like this?” His voice sounded deeper. He moved down to my knee and my leg twitched. I was very ticklish there. He swiped his thumbs under my shorts, near my butt. I moaned. He stopped rubbing and coughed. His thumbs circled the inside of my thigh.
Um, this feels different. “I think I’m good now.”
Before he could continue, I rolled up and sat across from him. He rubbed his palms together and acted too involved in what he was doing.
“You okay?” I asked, clearing my voice when it came out higher than usual. He seemed off about something.
He started to wipe off his hands on his faded olive-colored T-shirt when I stopped him. “Don’t even think of it. Let me get a towel.”
I got up from my bed and limped over to my closet, grabbing one from the shelf. Pete leaned against my headboard. I gave him the towel, and he cleaned his hands. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
I sat next to him and poked him in the chest. “Hey, what’s the problem? You’re too quiet.”
He threw the towel on the floor. “Just worried about tomorrow. One of the reasons my parents fought is because of me. Dad wants me to try out for some sports. If I join football or soccer, I won’t be such a loser. He thinks me writing all the time alone in my room isn’t a good thing. I guess I’m too antisocial.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! You’ve won more creative writing awards than any other person in our class. You’re going to be a great novelist someday.” I grinned and ran my finger up his arm. “Unless you become a world-renowned massage therapist first.”
I waggled my finger in front of his face. He captured my finger and pretended to bite it. I tried pulling away, but he kept my hand in his.
“Don’t worry what anyone says. You don’t need to be some dumb jock to be accepted. You have your writing, work, and…me.”
“Those are the three most important things I have in the world. You do know you are the most important thing in my life?” He tapped my chin with his thumb.
“Even more than your writing?” I joked.
He lifted our combined hands and rubbed his cheek against them. “Of course.”
The way he gazed at me made my stomach tighten. I let out a fake yawn and took my hand back. This moment we shared together had more going on than I wanted to admit.
“I’m beat. You probably are, too, with working all day and lifting those heavy boxes.” I shut off my lamp before stretching out on the bed. The glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling shone brightly, capturing my attention.
Shifting to his side, he hooked his arm around my waist. I pressed my shoulder against his.
“Are you busy after school?” he whispered in my ear.
“Nope. I have nothing planned.”
“Let’s go biking in the park.”
I groaned. “If I can move tomorrow. I have a feeling my burnt legs won’t let me do much exercise.”
He laid his other hand over my leg. A tingle ran up and down where his finger brushed softly.
“Hey, keep your hand to yourself. You’re giving me ideas.” I let out a real yawn this time.
He snuggled against me, and I kissed his cheek.
“I don’t want things to change between us,” he murmured.
“Why would things change? We don’t have to worry until senior year for anything like that.”
“I just have a bad feeling this year’s going to be worse than last year.”
I patted his arm in reassurance. “Nothing bad is going to happen. You’re not some new kid the upperclassmen jerks can throw into a locker.”
He snorted. “That hasn’t happened since seventh grade.”
“See, you worry too much. I promise you this year will be our best yet.”
He pressed his cheek against mine and let out a loud yawn. His breath smelled of mint. He always made sure to brush his teeth before he came over.
“I hope you don’t become too popular for me.”
“Peter, shut up and go to sleep. If that happens, I give you permission to smack me.”
“I’ll do more than that.”
I twisted my head and gave him a pointed look. “What would that be, Preiss?”
He didn’t respond and started to snore. I couldn’t tell whether he pretended or he really slept. I shrugged and snuggled deeper into his embrace and closed my eyes. I always slept well in his arms.