Home » , , , , , , , , , » EM BER S ( Pl a y i ng W i t h Fi r e # 1) By Lauren Barnholdt & Aaron Gorvine

EM BER S ( Pl a y i ng W i t h Fi r e # 1) By Lauren Barnholdt & Aaron Gorvine

EM BER S ( Pl a y i ng  W i t h  Fi r e  # 1)  By Lauren Barnholdt & Aaron Gorvine


Ch a p t e r On e


Em i l y


This vacation is not off to a good start. I’ve been in the backseat of my parents’ car for five hours, and my iPod died after the first two. Which means that for the past three hours, I’ve been subjected to listening to whatever my dad put on the car radio (read: 1940s jazz music, or political talk radio.)
EM BER S ( Pl a y i ng  W i t h  Fi r e  # 1)
EM BER S ( Pl a y i ng  W i t h  Fi r e  # 1)  By Lauren Barnholdt & Aaron Gorvine


After the first hour, I was getting antsy. I’d finished my book (ending = the destined-to-be couple got together, despite all odds), and it was getting hot in the backseat. By the third hour, I was so bored I was actually considering pulling out the travel Scrabble and playing a game. Against myself.
I know I shouldn’t be complaining. And normally, I wouldn’t be. Normally, I’d be super excited about going away to the Cape, spending the summer by the beach, relaxing, working on my tan, and forgetting about the stresses of home. But this summer isn’t normal.  This summer is completely different. This summer, I actually have someone to stay home for.
“We’re here,” my dad announces from the front seat. I look up from rereading the best parts of the book I just finished, and my jaw drops.

“This is the house we’re staying in?” I ask in disbelief. I was picturing a tiny cottage, with crumbling shutters and a ramshackle fence in need of some paint. But this house… this house is huge. It’s sprawling and new, with cream-colored siding, a neatly manicured lawn, and huge sparkling windows. Rose bushes line either side of the granite steps, and a neat white fence separates the back from the front.
“Yup,” my dad says, sounding proud of himself.  He slides the car into park. In the passenger seat, my mom pushes her sunglasses up on her forehead and peers through the windshield.
“It’s gorgeous,” she says. “I think we should all get in the pool and worry about unpacking later.”
“It has a pool?” I’m out of the car now, shielding my eyes from the sun as I stare up the driveway toward the house. “How the hell can we afford a place like this?” I demand. My parents are not rich. They’re not poor, either, but money has always been tight. In fact, this is the first family vacation I can remember us taking since I was a little kid. And even then we always stayed in cheap motels and ate most of our meals at Burger King.
My phone beeps with a text before I can get any explanation regarding our financial situation. I pull it out of my bag.
Gabe.

“miss u already”

I swallow around the lump in my throat. I don’t care about the pool anymore. Or the fact that the house we’re staying in is so big. I don’t care about anything except the fact that I just want to go home.



***




Once we’re inside, my parents immediately head upstairs to drop their bags off in the master bedroom, but I leave mine on the floor in the middle of the front hall. I’m hoping they get the message. The message being, “Oh, look, you brought me here and made me leave my boyfriend, so now I’m going to refuse to put my stuff away.” It’s ridiculous and childish and bratty and I kind of don’t care.
Once I’ve made my big statement, I don’t really know what else to do with myself, so I wander through the huge kitchen and into the backyard.
I’m getting myself all worked up, wondering how my parents could do this to me, and so at first, I don’t see him. The guy.  He’s cleaning the huge, inground pool, and he looks up when I come outside, his eyes meeting mine.
“Oh,” I say, “Sorry, I, um, I didn’t know anyone was going to be back here.” He’s wearing a pair of navy blue shorts, and no shirt, and he’s skimming the
water with a huge net. “No problem,” he says, grinning. “You must be the tenants.” “Yeah,” I say, “And you must be … “ I trail off, because I’m not sure exactly
what to say. Somehow saying ‘you must be the pool boy’ definitely doesn’t seem like it’s okay. Not that I would know for sure. We’ve never had a pool boy before. We’ve never even paid someone to cut our lawn.
“I’m Lucas,” he says. He pulls the net out of the pool and drops it on the concrete stones. He picks his shirt up off a lawn chair, and then tosses it over his head. “I live here.”

“You live here?”

“Don’t worry,” he says, seeing the look on my face. “Not for the summer.” He pushes by me and toward the other side of the pool. As he does, he pushes his arms through the sleeves of his shirt, and I swallow. Hard. His muscles bulge through the fabric. His arms are tan and strong, the kind of arms that have obviously spent a lot of time outside, working in the sun.
“You live here but not for the summer?” I ask. “That doesn’t make sense.” “My dad owns this house,” he says, “But in the summer, he rents it out.” He’s
bending down now, his hand in the water, messing around with the filter.

“Why would you rent out a house like this?” I ask, sitting down in one of the patio chairs. “It’s amazing.”
“My dad likes to stay closer to the beach in the summer,” he says, and shrugs. He finishes with the filter and wipes his hand on his shorts.
Suddenly, I’m aware of the fact that my hair is probably a mess from napping on it in the car, and I’m sure my makeup is dripping down my face because of the humidity. Not that I care what I look like. I mean, I have a boyfriend. Okay, that’s a lie. I kind of do care what I look like. Because Lucas is hot. The kind of hot that isn’t disputable. The kind of hot that, boyfriend or not, you can’t help but notice.
“Emily, did you – “ my mom starts, walking out onto the patio. “Oh,” she says when she sees Lucas. “I didn’t know someone else was out here.”
For a second, I think I see a look of anxiety, or maybe fear, flash across her face. But that doesn’t make any sense. Why would she be worried about a guy who’s cleaning our pool?

“Sorry,” Lucas says, giving her a grin. He reaches over and holds out his hand. “I’m Lucas Marshall. My dad owns this house.”
“Oh, of course!” my mom says, her eyes lighting up.  “Paul mentioned he had a boy just Emily’s age.”
“I was just cleaning the pool,” Lucas says. “It’s such a hot day, I figured you might want to have a swim.”
“That’s so nice of you,” my mom says. “That’s so nice of him, isn’t it, Emily?” “Yeah,” I say, “Very nice.” I stand up.  It’s time for me to go in the house. One,
because I need to call Gabe and two, because I know what’s about to happen.

See, the thing is, my mom really does not like the fact that I have a boyfriend. Which is totally ridiculous, since Gabe is exactly the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to be dating – straight A student, athletic, super polite, etc.
But it’s not about Gabe. My mom doesn’t think I should be serious with any guy right now.  She thinks when you’re sixteen you should be out partying and having fun. She’s constantly telling me to “be young while I can” and “explore my options.” It’s pretty ironic, actually. Most girls would kill for a mom who wants them to go out and party all the time. But all I want is for her to accept that I’m not into all that typical high school stuff.
“So, Luke,” my mom says, sidling closer to him. I wonder what he thinks about her calling him Luke, when he said his name was Lucas. It’s like when people call me
‘Em’ without asking. I hate that. People shouldn’t shorten your name unless they ask you first. Or unless they know you really well.

I sneak a glance at my phone to see if Gabe texted me again. I wonder if it would be rude to just walk into the house.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” my mom asks.

I look at her, not even trying to disguise the look of horror on my face. Would he like to stay for dinner? Is she crazy? You don’t just go around asking hot guys to stay for dinner.
“Oh, I can’t,” Lucas says. He’s still kneeling down by the pool, testing the chlorine levels. “I have plans. In fact, I’m already late.”
“Plans?” My mom looks interested. “What kind of plans?”

“One of my friends is having a party,” Lucas says. He packs up the chlorine testing kit and stands up.  “Pool’s all set.”
“A party sounds wonderful!” My mom turns to me and claps her hands. “Emily, wouldn’t you love to go to a party tonight?”
I feel my face turn hot. One of the curses of being a redhead is that I blush super easy. And everyone around me can usually tell. “No, Mom,” I say, “I wouldn’t.”
“I’m sure Emily wants to stay here and get settled in with her family,” Lucas says, sounding like he’s trying to be diplomatic.
My blush gets even deeper. Great. Now not only is my mom trying to dump me off on some guy I just met, but he doesn’t even want to take me to wherever he’s going. Not that I blame him. I wouldn’t want to take some stranger to hang out with me and my friends, either. But still. Hasn’t he heard of inviting someone just to be polite?
“Yes,” I say, nodding. “I have to stay here and get settled in. Plus I have to call my boyfriend.”

“Oh, nonsense,” my mom says, waving her hand in the air like what I’ve just said is completely ridiculous. “You should go to the party. Shouldn’t she, Lucas?”
“Um, sure,” Lucas says, giving me a polite smile. “You should come.” “I don’t want to.”
“Why not?” my mom asks.

“Yeah, why not?” Lucas asks. Now all of a sudden he wants me to go? Probably he’s not used to girls turning him down.
“I’d need time to get ready,” I say, trying once again to extricate myself from this situation. “And I’m not even unpacked.”
“All you’d have to do is change your clothes,” my mom says. “You look beautiful already. Doesn’t she, Luke?”
“Sure,” he says, his smile a little strained.

I can tell my mom isn’t going to let this go – she’ll keep pushing and pushing until I give in. I know exactly how she gets when she wants something. I think about it, trying to decide if it’s worth getting into a big fight with her. Maybe the party won’t be that bad.  And if I go, maybe I’ll be able to meet some friends here, instead of just having to sit inside all summer, hanging out with my parents and missing Gabe.
“Fine,” I say, sighing. “Just give me a sec to get ready.”




***




I lug my suitcase upstairs, and then pick a bedroom at random. I drop my bag onto the big, comfy looking queen-size bed that’s sitting in the middle of the room. It’s

covered with an aqua blue comforter, but I brought my own bedding from home, a pink and chocolate polka-dot spread. I thought it would be good to have at least some of my own stuff here.
I wonder which one of these rooms is Lucas’s. Probably not this one, since I’m sure he doesn’t sleep with an aqua blue comforter. Of course, it’s possible that they changed all the bedding and put all their stuff away before we got here. The thought of sleeping in Lucas’s bed starts to make me feel a little hot, so I push it out of my mind and quickly unzip my suitcase.
I rummage through the tangle of shorts, tank tops, and dresses, wondering what I should wear. What kind of party is this, anyway? Is it the kind you dress up for? Lucas didn’t say anything about dressing up.  But this is the Cape. People here are hoity-toity. Or at least some of them are. Doesn’t that one lady on the Food Network, Barefoot Contessa, live on the Cape? Or is that the Hamptons?
Either way, if Lucas lives in this house, his family must have money. Which probably means that his friends have money. Which probably means that it’s at least a little bit of a high-class party. The only problem is, I don’t really have anything high- class.
Finally, I take a navy blue strapless summer dress out of my suitcase and pull it over my head. I step into a pair of gold wedge sandals, run a brush through my hair, and then get to work fixing the disaster that’s my makeup. I reapply my foundation, line my lips with a pink gloss, and slap a couple of coats of mascara onto my eyelashes.
I’m just about to head downstairs, when I hear it.

Voices coming from downstairs. My parents. They’re talking in these slow, measured tones. The kind of tones they use when they’re fighting. My parents don’t fight like normal people. They don’t yell and scream and throw vases. They talk in tight,
quiet voices, so that I won’t hear.

“….have to be careful,” my dad’s saying. “…can’t just let her…” “…if they own the house…”
“….everyone….suspicious…”

I’m debating whether or not to creep down the stairs so I can hear them a little better and figure out exactly what it is they’re arguing about, when my mom starts to come upstairs.
I step back into my room, and quickly pull my compact out of my purse, pretending to study my makeup.
“Hey!” she says when she appears at the door, trying to infuse brightness into her voice.
“Hey,” I say, doing the same so that she doesn’t know I was eavesdropping.

“So, listen,” she says, sitting down on the bed. “Your father’s worried about you going out tonight.”
“Oh, God,” I say, rolling my eyes. I reach into my suitcase and pull out a small plastic jewelry case. Gabe gave it to me before I left. I open the box and pull out a thin gold chain, then fasten it around my neck. “What’s he so worried about?”
“He just wants you to be careful.” She looks at me, her eyes serious. “He’s not used to you… um, you know, being like this.” She gestures at my body.

And even though she doesn’t say it, I know what she means. My dad’s not used to be me being skinny. Because up until about a year ago, I was fat. Not overweight. Not chubby. Fat. Very fat. And now I’m not.
“Mom,” I say, rolling my eyes and hoping we don’t have to get into a whole big conversation about this. I always get a little uncomfortable talking about my weight. Even though I’m not fat anymore, I don’t like talking about body size, or dress size, or the number on the scale. I think it’s a holdover from when I was fat – I always went out of my way to avoid talking about that stuff, and now it’s ingrained into me.
“I lost weight. That doesn’t mean I became stupid. I’m not suddenly going to start drinking or doing drugs or anything crazy like that.”
“No, that’s not….” she trails off, moving her gaze until she’s staring out the window. Her eyes, which were just happy and vibrant while we were outside by the pool, now seem tired and a little vacant. “I’m not talking about drugs.”
“Then what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about….being careful. About who you trust.”

“Mom! I’m not going to just go home with some random person or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.” I want to ask her why she basically threw me at that Lucas kid, if she’s so nervous about me trusting strangers. But I don’t want to get into it, and besides, I already know the answer. She wants me to be able to have fun and go out. My dad doesn’t. He still sees me as his little girl.
She gets up and stands next to me, pushes my hair back from my face. “I know you won’t.” She kisses me on my forehead. “You look beautiful.”

“Thanks,” I say. I thread a pair of chunky gold hoops through my ears. “So I’ll text you when I get there?”
“Call me when you get there.” “Okay.”
“Let me give you some money,” she says, “Just in case.”

“It’s okay,” I say, sliding my purse over my shoulder. “I have my debit card.” She shakes her head. “Don’t use the debit card.”
“Why not?”

“Because.” I see that weird look flash through her eyes, the same look she got when she first saw Lucas in the backyard. “In fact,” she says, “Why don’t you give the debit card to me?”
“What’s going on?” I ask, rummaging through my bag for my wallet. “Are we having money problems?”
I knew we couldn’t afford this house.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. She gives me a smile. “It’s just that we’re getting new cards, and I don’t want you using the old one by mistake.”
She’s obviously lying. She doesn’t want me using the old one by mistake? I mean, that’s not even a good excuse. Does she think I’m some kind of idiot? “Mom,” I say, holding the card out of her reach. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing.”

“Mom, I’m not stupid.”

“There’s nothing going on!” she says. She’s trying to sound like she can’t believe I’m getting all worked up, but it’s a little too forced, a sure sign that she’s not telling the truth.
“Mom, you can tell me whatever – ”

“Emily,” she says warningly, and holds her hand out.

I sigh. I don’t have time to think about why she’s acting so crazy. And so I hand her the card, deciding I’ll have to worry about it later. I smooth my dress down one more time. And then I head down the stairs to go meet Lucas for my first party on the Cape.









Ch a p t e r  T wo





Lu c a s




I told my dad I didn’t want to do the stupid pool today, but he gave me attitude and said he wanted the place to look good for the summer tenants.
And now look what’s happened. I’m stuck babysitting this chick because I opened my big mouth about Davis’s party. And I have to follow through on it now because my dad would be upset if I didn’t. He’s always talking about how the best way to get repeat summer rentals is by showing the “tourists” a good time.
While I wait for Emily, I decide to do some extra cleaning of the patio furniture, making sure everything is tidy for our new guests. But even after I’ve put the cushions on the deck chairs and arranged everything, she’s still not outside. Which isn’t that surprising. Whenever chicks say they’re “just going to change” it takes them about three hours.
I wonder if I can think up an excuse to bail without seeming like too much of an asshole. I scan through my mental rolodex .  Suddenly came down with the flu? Too unbelievable. Injured my hand? No visual evidence and I’m not quite ready to break my own finger just to get out of this.

I check my phone and there’s a new text from Davis asking where I am. I text him back that I’ll be there soon.  And that I’m bringing a girl.
He’ll love that. Davis is all about the ladies.

Me, on the other hand—well, I’m still trying to forget about Julia. Even the mention of her name is enough to send me into a little bit of a depression. It’s been three weeks since we broke up, but I still keep thinking about her. I’m torn between hoping she’s at the party tonight so I can see her, and hoping she’s not so that I don’t have to
deal with it.

“Sorry it took me so long,” Emily says from behind me.

I turn around, startled. “No worries. Ready to go?” I twirl my keys around my finger.
“Sure.” She tries to smile.

This is awkward. I mean, she’s a really cute girl. Redheads aren’t usually my thing, but this girl’s got that Lindsay Lohan vibe going on.  She’s hot, no doubt about it. But ever since Julia I can’t really look at another girl. It’s kind of like she’s ruined me.
We walk out to my truck and I open the passenger door for her, all gentlemanly. “Thanks.” She gets in the cab and if I check out her ass, it’s just instinct, not
because I’m interested.

I get in the driver’s side and start the car. The engine rumbling to life and the cab vibrates as we idle for a moment.
Emily glances at me. “I’m really sorry about this.” She smoothes her dress down over her legs and gives me a nervous smile. “My mom is absolutely mortifying sometimes.”

“Parents,” I say, rolling my eyes.

She sighs. “Parents.” But her tone sounds more worried than exasperated. “Well, it’s really not a problem,” I say, as I start backing the car out of the
driveway. “I mean, I’ve never had a little sister. I’ll show you the ropes around Hyannis. Could be fun.”
“Little sister?” Her eyes narrow. “How old are you?” “I’m seventeen.”
“So you’re my age.”

“Right. I just meant— ” I shrug.  I was trying to put her at ease, let her know that I have no interest in her romantically, so that she doesn’t have to worry.  But obviously she didn’t appreciate the comment. Whatever. If she’s going to be all bratty, hopefully I can ditch her when we get to Davis’s house.
We pull onto the main road. I’ve got the windows down and the warm Cape breeze is blowing through the car. I never get tired of that saltwater sea smell that rolls off the ocean. There’s nothing else quite like it. That and a little music would make the drive almost perfect. Well, except for the fact that there’s a scowling chick in my truck.
Two out of three ain’t bad, anyway. I turn up the volume on my new Kanye West

CD and tap my fingers on the steering wheel to the heavy beat.

It’s only a minute or two later that Emily’s yelling at me. “Excuse me!” I look over at her as we speed along route 6.
“What’s up?” I shout back.

That red hair is blowing all in her face. “Could you roll the windows up?”

I grin. Oops.  So I roll both our windows up and turn on the AC. Then I turn the music down a little bit. “You must be from the city.”
“Boston,” she says, turning down the visor and looking at herself in the mirror, trying to fix her hair.
“Yeah, I can tell.”

“What’s the supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re not used to life on the Cape. But you’ll get there eventually.” “Has anyone ever told you that you’re kind of arrogant?” She flips the visor back
up.

I shrug.  “Maybe once or twice.” “Why am I not surprised?”
“People mistake my confidence for arrogance.”

“Confident people don’t need to talk themselves up all the time.” “What are you, the confidence police?”
She rolls her eyes. “This should be a really great party, if everyone there is as welcoming as you.”
“Hey, I’m very welcoming,” I say. In fact—“ But just as I’m about to throw a good zinger her way, I’m distracted by the car I see in the parking lot of Tesco’s Pharmacy.
“In fact what?” she asks.

But I don’t answer. Instead I slow way down and check the license plate. Yup.  It’s him, all right. Ronaldo Maya.

“Sorry,” I say, “I just realized I need to make a quick pit stop for…ah…allergy medicine.”
“Allergy medicine?”

“Yeah, my sinuses are acting up.”

“Then shouldn’t you be getting sinus medicine?”

“You know what I mean,” I tell her, as we turn into the pharmacy parking lot. I drive all the way around the other side, away from Ronaldo’s black Camaro, then slide my car into park. “Be out in two seconds.”
I have one foot out the door when she says, “I’ll come with you.” “No,” I say. “It’s fine. I’ll just be a second.”
“But I want some gum.”

Oh, Jesus Christ. “I’ll buy it for you.  What kind?”

She glares at me. “I don’t want you to buy it for me, I want to go in and pick out my own stupid gum.”
I smile. “Sure, “ I say, “Just thought I’d be nice and get it for you.”

After she gets out, I find my mini dv camera under the seat and shove it in my pocket.
Once we’re inside, I immediately set about trying to locate the target. If I can get some decent video of him, it will really be something. For two months now, I’ve been trying to nab this guy, and so far, I’ve got nothing. But I know he’s dirty. I can feel it in my bones. Not to mention the guy’s got a rap sheet a mile long – petty theft, suspended license, a few minor drug convictions, that kind of thing.

Emily leaves me alone and goes off for gum or whatever the hell it is she’s buying. I circle the store until I finally spot Ronaldo in the household items isle. He’s looking at garbage bags or some shit.
I pretend to look at mops. I wish I had a hat or something, but I’m almost certain he’s never noticed me in all the time I’ve been following him. I’ve been in my car for most of the tails, so it would have been pretty hard for him to get a look at me.
Ronaldo is fat, with a big potbelly and week-old beard stubble. He’s wearing a Red Sox cap and jeans that will undoubtedly show the crack of his ass if he bends down to pick something up.  But I’m not interested in him because of his bad fashion sense and poor hygiene. The reason I’m following him has to do with the fact that he’s claiming
workman’s comp for a supposed back injury he suffered on the job at a warehouse in East

Sandwich.

If I can get video of him doing something that shows his back is actually fine, then he’ll be fired and won’t collect another dime from the insurance company. That’s who hired me — well, hired my dad’s PI company — to follow him.
But right now all Ronaldo is doing is looking at trash bags. Since I started this case all he’s done is sit around his house watching TV, or sit outside drinking Miller High Life. Occasionally he’ll make it really interesting and drive to a friend’s house so he can drink beer somewhere else.
If he wasn’t such a lazy guy I’m pretty sure I’d have nailed him by now.

Emily comes up from behind me and taps my shoulder. “Why aren’t you in the sinus and allergies section?” she asks, one eyebrow rising. It’s kind of cute, in an annoying way.

“Because I also need mops.” I grab her by the elbow and quickly guide her away before Ronaldo can notice us.
“Hey, let go of me,” she says, as I hustle her around the corner of the aisle. “Listen,” I tell her, keeping my voice low. “You need to chill.”
“You need to let go of me!”

I do.  “Sorry, it’s just that I recognized someone in the store. Someone who I

don’t want to see me at the moment.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh,” she says, sounding smug. “So not only are you arrogant, you’re also shady.”
“Listen, you don’t know me.” “I know your type though.” “Do you?”
She smirks.

“Whatever,” I say. I’m about to tell her to get lost for a minute so I can finish watching Ronaldo, but then I get a brilliant idea. A smile comes over my face, a smile of sheer joy at my own genius. I really am pretty smart. “I need to ask you to do me a big, big favor,” I say.
“No.”

“You haven’t even heard what it is yet.”

“I don’t care. Shady guy asks me for a favor, I say no.  It’s one of my rules.”

I want to ask her how many shady guys she’s been hanging around with if she’s had to come up with some kind of rule for them, but I’m pretty sure she’s talking

metaphorically. “Listen, I’ll owe you,” I tell her. “You don’t know me. But if you did, you’d realize I’m a pretty good guy to have on your side.”
She stares at me for a long moment as if deciding which phrasing she wants to use to tell me to go fuck myself. But then a look of resignation comes over her face, and she sighs. “What’s the favor?”
“All I need you to do is go ask that fat guy in the households aisle to help you get a vacuum cleaner down from the top shelf.”
“What?”

“Just do it, and don’t worry about why.  I’ll explain later.”

She shakes her head like I’m obviously crazy, but then she starts walking slowly to back toward the aisle where Ronaldo’s still lurking around the garbage bags.
Okay, I think, so Emily’s cute and she’s obviously pretty smart, but her attitude sucks. She’s not nearly as hot as she seems to think she is. Even if she does look a lot like Lindsay Lohan, back when Lindsay was still in top form.
And even if she’s probably got a pretty amazing body when she’s in a bathing suit. And she’s sure to be in one soon, laying out by the pool at my house.
I shake my head. Focus, Lucas. Focus. I get my camera out and press record. When I round the corner to the household section, Emily’s talking to Ronaldo. He
looks amazed and happy, like he just won the lottery. I’ve never seen the dude smile, but right now he’s grinning from ear to ear.
Emily’s pointing up to the top shelf, at one of the big, expensive vacuum cleaners. “You want me to get it for you?” Ronaldo’s saying. “Sure, honey. Let me handle
it. Wouldn’t want you to hurt your pretty little self lifting a heavy old box!  I do that for a

living. Work in the warehouse,” he says, trying to puff his chest out but mostly just puffing out his already big belly.
Then he stretches until his arms are fully extended and his shirt’s pulling up. His pants are sagging, and just as I figured, he’s rocking the plumber’s butt right in Emily’s face. I’m impressed to see that she doesn’t appear at all phased by this grotesque sight.
I’m getting it all on video. Ronaldo even goes up on his tippy toes at one point, finally capturing the box in his hands and holding it aloft like it’s the Stanley Cup or something.
Emily sees me with the camera and her mouth makes a big “O.” I grin and shrug, put a finger to my lips.
Ronaldo hands her the box.  “Here you go, little lady.” “Thanks so much,” she says.
I quickly pocket my camera and move away from them, down the aisle. I go outside and wait for her to come out.
She comes out of the pharmacy about two minutes later and I can tell she’s totally pissed. I’m in the truck, listening to music and checking the playback. It’s all there in beautiful high definition. Ronaldo has a back injury about as much as I do.  In fact, his back is probably stronger than mine, since I tweaked it playing basketball a couple of
days ago.

When Emily gets in the cab, she folds her arms over her chest and begins tapping her foot like a mile a minute.
I’m about to say something, but then I decide it’s kind of fun watching her get all riled up.  She blows her hair out of her face. “What. A.  Jerk.”

“Ronaldo?” I say. “I know.  But guys like him are a dime a dozen around here.” I rewind the footage so I can watch it again. My dad’s going to be psyched.
“Not…whatever his name is!  You!  You’re the jerk.” She points her finger at me, stabbing it into the air.
“Me? Why?”

“Because! You tricked me. I didn’t realize you were videotaping the poor guy!” “That poor guy is pretty much a criminal, Emily.”
“Don’t call me Emily! Don’t even talk to me.”

“Listen,” I laugh, “Calm down for a second. Let me explain.” “I want to go home,” she says. “Please.”
“Are you serious?”

“Yes. I’m ready to go back to my….your…the house I’m staying in.” She makes a face of disgust and then turns to look out the window. And then I start to feel bad. Because it really wasn’t fair of me to get her involved in this.
“Look,” I say, “I’m really sorry I tricked you.  But it was for a good cause. I didn’t have time to give you the explanation. But you did a great job. I was impressed as hell.”
“Like I care if I impressed you.” Another eye roll. “I’m a PI.”
“I don’t care what you are.”

“Do you know what that even means? It means Private Investigator. My dad owns a company that investigates fraud. Insurance fraud being one of the biggest types of investigations we do.  That poor man that you’re busy feeling sorry for was lying

about a back injury, and you helped me catch him just now.  Not to mention he’s been involved in all sorts of illegal stuff. Drugs, and --- ”
She turns toward me and looks me right in the eye. “I. Don’t. Care. Take me home. Right. Now.”









Ch a p t e r T h r e e





Em i l y




Okay, so it turns out that Lucas is nuts. Like, completely and totally off-the- reservation nuts. I mean, bringing a video camera into a pharmacy to videotape some random guy? Because he’s a private investigator? Ha! He’s only seventeen. How can he be a private investigator? It’s more likely that he carries that camera around so he can use it to take videos of unsuspecting girls after somehow conning them into taking their clothes off.
“Take me home,” I say again. I pull my phone out and text Gabe. Wait until he hears about this. I wonder if he’ll beat Lucas up for me when he comes to visit. Or at least threaten him a little.
“Hey,” Lucas says. He leans back in his seat and then looks over at me and sighs. “Look, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have gotten you involved in that whole thing. It was
wrong of me.”

“You’re apologizing?” I’m shocked. Guys like him don’t usually apologize. “Well, yeah,” he says, running his hand along the steering wheel. “Don’t get me
wrong, I don’t want to apologize. But when I’m wrong, I’m wrong.  And besides, you shouldn’t let my ridiculousness stop you from going to the party.”

I start to open my mouth, but he cuts me off.

“Listen, if you want to go home, I’ll take you,” he says, “But seriously, there will be a lot of people there, a lot of people you could be friends with. People besides me.”
He gives me a grin, like he knows he’s been acting like a shit.

I think about it. It would be nice to meet some friends. I mean, I don’t want to have to spend the whole summer stuck at home with my parents, texting with Gabe and thinking about how much I miss him. On the other hand, if the people at this party are people who hang out with Lucas, like, voluntarily, I’m not sure they’re the kind of people I’d want to be friends with anyway.
“Fine,” I say, “I’ll go.” I’m going to add ‘but don’t talk to me’, but then I remind myself that he did apologize. So I should probably cut him at least a little slack. But
then I catch sight of the little smirk that plays on his lips as he starts up the car, and just like that, I know the real reason he said he was sorry.
“You only apologized because you’re worried about your dad finding out that you were mean to his tenants!” I say. Unbelievable! He doesn’t give a crap about me being at the party. He just wants to make sure he doesn’t get in trouble.
“No, I’m not,” he says, rolling his eyes like I’m being paranoid. He reaches over and turns the music on, and the sound of Kanye West fills the car. Doesn’t he know no one listens to Kanye anymore after that whole Taylor Swift debacle? It’s, like, un- American or something. Ugh.  I decide that I’m officially ignoring Lucas. Once I get to the party, hopefully I’ll be able to ditch him pretty easily.
I spend the rest of the ride texting with Gabe, telling him what just happened. He seems a little amused by the fact that I was unknowingly part of some crazy sting

operation, and if he’s jealous that I’m hanging out with another guy, he doesn’t say anything. I wonder if I should be worried about this, but then I decide probably not. Gabe isn’t the jealous type. He’s totally uncomplicated, the kind of boyfriend you don’t have to worry about getting all emotional and needy. Unlike Lucas. I’ll bet he flies off the handle at every little thing, making it impossible for whatever unsuspecting girl he’s lured into his clutches to have any kind of normal, healthy relationship with him.
After a few minutes, we pull up in front of a little white house that looks exactly like the kind of house I thought we’d be staying in when I found out we were going to the Cape for the summer. It’s one-story, and kind of old-looking, but tidy, with a small front yard and a couple of pretty flower bushes on either side of the front door.
I don’t wait for Lucas to say anything before I open my door and step out of the car.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he calls after me as I start marching up the front path.
“This is the party, right?” There’s the sound of music coming from the backyard, and the smell of charcoal and smoke, like someone’s having a bonfire or cooking out.
“Yeah,” he says, quickening his pace so he can move in front of me. “But you can’t just go in without me.”
“Why not?” I’m bluffing, of course. No way I want to go into a party where I don’t know anyone. But I don’t want him to think that I need him, either. So I keep walking.
“Because they don’t take kindly to the summer people,” he says.

I turn around and look at him. “They don’t take kindly to the summer people?”

“Yeah.” He stops and looks at me. “They’re all locals. And they don’t like the summer people.”
“So let me get this straight,” I say, folding my arms across my chest. “This is a party full of locals, and they all hate the summer people.”
“Right.”

“Even though you said I could make friends here.” “Right.”
“So you lied to me, why, exactly?”

“I’m not the one who wanted you to come,” he says, giving me that same infuriating grin. “Remember?”
“You know what,” I say, “You’re right.” I turn on my heel and start to walk back toward the street. I don’t really want to give him the satisfaction, but if he’s going to be a complete jerk about it, then I don’t care. Besides, what’s the point of going to this stupid party if everyone there is going to hate me?
I pull my phone out of my bag so that I can call my mom to come and pick me up. She’ll probably be annoyed, but maybe now she’ll see that it’s never a good idea to send your daughter away with some random guy.  Wait until she hears about him filming that poor man in the drugstore. Wait until my dad hears about it! He definitely won’t like it one bit.
But before I can dial, Lucas appears by my side and takes the phone out of my hand.
“Hey!” I say, reaching for it. “Give it back!” “Listen,” he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Right. Just like you were sorry last time?”

“No,” he says. “This time I really mean it.” I wait for him to say something else, but he doesn’t.
“That’s it?” I ask. “That’s your big speech to convince me?”

“That’s it,” he says, shrugging. “I’m sorry.  I’m being a dick. But I still think you should come to the party. No one’s going to be mean to you.  I just said that to piss you off.”
He holds my phone out to me, and I take it, my hand brushing against his. “Fine,” I say, turning back toward the house. “But I don’t forgive you.” “Of course not.”
“And this doesn’t mean we’re friends or anything.” “Wouldn’t expect it to,” he says.
And then we walk through the side yard and into the backyard.




***




Davis, the kid who’s throwing the party, turns out to be even crazier than Lucas. As soon as we walk into the backyard, he comes over to greet us.  He’s wearing a chef’s hat and an apron that says, “I have your low carb diet right here” with an arrow pointing down.  How disgusting.
“LUCAS!” he yells when he sees us.  He’s holding a big fork with a sausage on the end of it. “My man! Glad you could make it!” He claps Lucas on the back, and the sausage drops to the ground a few inches from my foot.

“Ooops,” Davis says, and forks the sausage back up.  He brushes it off with his finger and then takes a bite. “Still good,” he says, sounding relieved. He holds it out to me. “You want a bite of sausage, Lucas’s new girlfriend?”
“I’m not his new girlfriend,” I say.

“And she doesn’t want a bite of sausage,” Lucas says. “Don’t tell me what I want,” I say.
“So you do want a bite of sausage?” Lucas shoots back.

“Yes,” I say. And before I can let myself think about whatever kind of disgusting bacteria are lurking on it, I reach out and take a bite. It’s surprisingly good for a piece of meat that’s been on the ground and prepared by a stranger wearing a totally inappropriate apron.
“So you’re not Lucas’s new girlfriend?” Davis is asking. He’s kind of looking at me in awe after I ate that sausage.
“No,” I say.

“Then who are you?” he wants to know.

“I’m the girl who’s renting his house,” I say.

“Wow,” Davis says. “Hot! You want to come and help me cook?”

“No,” Lucas says, shaking his head. “She does not want to come and help you cook.”
“Why not?” I ask. “And stop answering for me.” “Yeah, why not?” Davis asks.
“Because,” Lucas says. “She wants to enjoy the party. She doesn’t want to be stuck standing next to you in front of some hot grill all night.”

I look at Davis. Besides the apron, he seems harmless enough. Kind of fun, even. And at least he’s being friendly.
“I don’t mind standing next to you,” I say.

“See?” Davis grins and puffs his chest out. “She doesn’t mind.” He links his free arm through mine and starts leading me over to the grill. But before we’ve even taken a couple of steps, a blonde girl pushes her way through the crowd and heads toward us.
“Oh, God,” Davis says, wrinkling up his nose. “Lucas’s New Girlfriend, meet

Lucas’s Old Girlfriend.”

“My name’s Emily,” I correct him. “And I’m not Lucas’s new girlfriend, remember?”
“Emily’s a hot name,” Davis says, staring at me in wonder. “And you have hot red hair.”
“You’re here with Lucas?” the blonde girl asks. She’s next to us now, and wearing a super short red and white summer dress. She has that look on her face that beautiful girls always have – the kind of look that makes it seem like she’s way too cool to be at this party, and that everyone here should just be thankful she decided to show up.
“No,” I say quickly. “I mean, not really.”

Lucas doesn’t say anything. The conceited smile is gone from his face, and he looks uncomfortable.
The blonde girl runs her eyes up and down my body, making me instantly self- conscious. “Not really? Then who invited you?”
“What do you want, Julia?” Lucas asks. But he doesn’t sound like he wants her to go away. In fact, he sounds like he desperately wants her to stay.

“Nothing.” She shrugs.  “Just wanted to come over and say hi.” She’s holding a pink-colored drink in a clear plastic cup, and she takes a long sip of it through a curly blue straw.
“Julia is Lucas’s ex-girlfriend,” Davis whispers into my ear. He takes another bite of sausage and chews it nervously. “He still loves her.”
“Her?” I ask before I can stop myself. Not that I care. It’s just not who I’d expect

Lucas to pick. She’s so… I don’t know.  Shiny and polished. “Yeah,” Davis says. “And she has a new boyfriend.”
“Wow.” Who knew there was so much drama going on here?

“And Lucas doesn’t know.” Davis is still whispering, but now he sounds fearful. He looks over his shoulder, and watches as a guy starts moving his way through the crowd over toward Julia. The guy’s wearing silver sunglasses and a black t-shirt, and he doesn’t look happy.
“Hey,” he says, when he gets close to us.  He slings his arm across Julia’s shoulders. “Why the fuck are you talking to him?”
“Uh oh,” Davis says. He holds the sausage out to me and I take another bite wordlessly.
“I wasn’t,” Julia says, rolling her eyes, like she’s so over having hot guys fight over her. “I was just meeting his new girlfriend.”
“I’m not his new girlfriend,” I say again.

“She’s not,” Davis says, nodding. “She’s with me.”

Julia’s new boyfriend ignores us, and turns back to Julia. “I told you not to talk to him,” he says.

“Hey Bo,” Lucas says, “Since when do you decide who Julia’s allowed to talk

to?”

The guy grins. “Since I’m her boyfriend.” “You’re her boyfriend?” Lucas seems stunned.
“Yeah,” the guy says. “And I told her she’s forbidden from speaking to you.” “Forbidden from speaking to me?”
“Yeah,” the guy says. “What are you, a fucking parrot?”

And before I even know what’s happening, Lucas punches him in the face.









Ch a p t e r F o u r





Lu c a s




I punch Bo without even thinking.

It’s like a reflex. After all, I’ve always hated Bo and he’s always hated me. We’ve managed to stay out of each other’s way until now, but him hooking up with Julia is enough to break that streak. When I hit him, he falls back and knocks over a table of food.  A bunch of shit goes flying -- sausages, hotdogs, hamburgers, buns, everything.
Emily screams. Davis screams. Julia rolls her eyes.

I stand there looking at Bo on the ground a few feet away. He’s blinking fast, and his eyes look a little foggy.  One of his elbows is planted into a big clump of raw ground beef, and something about that makes me start to laugh.
But Bo recovers his senses quickly, and when he does, he jumps to his feet, lunging at me.  Next thing I know, we’re both on the ground and Bo is punching me and I’m scrambling to try and stand up.  Bo’s got me pinned down – he’s been all state wrestling a few years in a row, but whatever. Wrestling’s for jerk offs who are too soft to play a real sport like football. I feel hands on my back, pulling me up -- a few of the guys at the party are breaking up the fight before it has a chance to escalate.

Davis and a couple of other guys are holding Bo back, but he’s still freaking. “What’s the matter, Lucas? You too big of a pussy to fight fair? You have to sucker punch me?” He’s really pissed, and spit is flying out of his mouth as he talks.
“Kind of like how you sucker punched Phil Duncan two years ago?” I ask. “That wasn’t a sucker punch. Fuck you, Lucas! And fuck you, too Davis. Get
off me,” Bo says, jerking his arms from side to side, desperately trying to throw the boys off him. But there’s too many for him to get free.
“This is my party and Lucas is my friend, so you need to get the fuck out of here,” Davis says. Him and Graham Terrino start to escort Bo forcefully out of the backyard, like bouncers at a club who are dealing with an unruly drunk.
“Damn.” I look down at my right hand. It’s already swelling up.

The backyard is a complete mess and everyone’s standing around staring at us. “Real classy, Lucas. Now I remember why I dumped you,” Julia says. She takes
another sip of her drink and rolls her eyes. She looks completely bored by the whole scene, like guys fighting over her is a nightly occurrence.
“Bo?” I ask. “Really Julia?”

“Bo’s a man,” she says. “Not a little boy.”

I wonder what she’s basing that assessment on.  I look over and see Bo still squirming and yelling threats as my buddies drag him to the street.
“I’m going to fuck you up, Lucas!” he screams. “You better watch your back!” “Yeah, he’s real mature,” I agree.
“You punched him, Lucas,” Julia says, “I think he has the right to be a little angry.”

Emily kneels down while we’re arguing and starts picking the buns and sausages up off the ground.  Julia looks at her and wrinkles her nose in disgust. Then she chuckles softly to herself, like she can’t believe she’s degraded herself to hanging out at this silly little party. Finally, she turns on her heel and follows Bo toward the car.
I kneel down beside Emily and start helping her pick up the food.  But she isn’t having any of it. “Really, Lucas?” she says.
“I know,” I say, sighing. “But you don’t understand. Me and Bo – ” “Please,” she says, “Spare me your reasons for acting like an asshole.” She
shoves a handful of hamburger buns back into their plastic bag. I notice a few of the buns have blades of grass stuck to them but I don’t say anything. She leans back on her heels. “Do you realize that since I’ve met you – which was less than an hour ago, by the way -- you’ve already been rude to me numerous times, tricked me into being caught on film with a criminal, and taken me to a party where you punched someone? Not to mention your ex-girlfriend hates me.”
I try and bend the fingers of my right hand and they barely move, causing me to wince. “Julia doesn’t hate you.” Emily’s eyes widen like she can’t believe I’m still coming up with excuses, so I quickly add, “But you’re right, that is a lot of bad stuff. I can understand why you’re pissed.” She doesn’t say anything. “What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Stop talking to me. Pretend you don’t even know me,” she says, her blue eyes blazing.
“Whatever.”

I walk over to the grill and get Scotty Norris to help me set it back upright again. There’s charcoal all over the place.
A few minutes later, Davis comes back, drinking a beer and shaking his head. “Classic Luke,” he says, chuckling. “You sure do know how to make a party interesting.”
“I do my best,” I say, and I can’t help but notice the look of contempt that passes over Emily’s face.
“So, new girl, you having fun in Hyannis yet?” Davis says. He takes another sip of his drink.
She smiles at him. “It’s’ been…interesting.”

“Damn straight,” Davis says. “You witnessed your first backyard brawl. I think you can be considered an honorary townie now.”
“Really?” she deadpans. “I’m so excited.”

“Yup,” Davis says, obviously missing her sarcasm. “Look, you even get an honorary townie hat.” He takes his chef’s hat off and plunks it on her head. “Now let’s get back to having some damn fun around here!” he yells, and the rest of the partygoers hoot and holler in return.
I spend the next few hours icing my hand using various beer cans as ice packs, and chatting with my buddies while I keep an eye on Emily. I keep asking myself why
I’m watching her the whole time. Maybe it’s because she’s totally ignoring me now.  I’m not sure, but now that she’s not paying attention to me, I kind of want her to.
She’s making conversation with everyone, laughing and having a good time. Davis especially seems to absolutely love her. He’s constantly asking her what she

needs, bringing her drinks, telling everyone how well she handled the big mess with me and Bo and Julia.
The fight story is already becoming hot gossip as people retell it and make it crazier than it even was. By the time we’re ready to head home, I hear Zeke telling someone who just got there about how I karate chopped Bo in the neck and then tried to stuff raw hamburger in his mouth.
At around eleven, I’ve had enough. My hand is throbbing, I’m annoyed with the exaggerated fight stories, and Emily seems like she’s a little fuzzy from the two drinks she’s had. I’ve made sure to keep my distance up ‘til now, but I want to leave, and I have to drive her back.
“Hey, we should probably get you home,” I tell her as she and Davis huddle next to the newly made fire pit.
“What?” Davis says, standing up and holding his drink into the air. “We’re only just getting warmed up.  We got the fire pit going!”
“Yeah, but it’s her first night and her folks aren’t going to like it if we keep her out all night,” I say.
“Davis can drive me home,” Emily says. She glares at me. It’s a ridiculous statement, since she knows Davis is drunk.  She’s just saying it to piss me off.
“Davis has been drinking all day,” I say, “Not only can’t he drive, but he’s probably going to need a liver transplant.”
“It’s true,” Davis agrees happily, chugging the rest of his Budweiser. “I don’t think I can drive.”
Emily glares some more. “Then I’ll stay over.”

“No you won’t,” I tell her, even though we both know she’s still just trying to make this difficult. “Your parents will kill me if I just leave you here.”
“Don’t you mean your parents will kill you?” she says, and I realize she’s not as tipsy as I thought she was. She’s still sharp enough to see through my bullshit.
“Whatever. It’s time to hit the road.” “Fine.” She stands up, still looking pissed.
We say our goodbyes and head out to my truck, Emily trailing behind me by a good three or four feet. I decide I just need get her home safely, and then do my best to avoid her for the rest of her time here.
Sure, she’s cute and all, and her personality isn’t bad either. But I’ve totally

blown whatever chance I had to make any kind of decent impression on her by acting like a jackass. Time to cut my losses.









Ch a p t e r F i v e





E mi l y




“You want to stop for coffee or something on the way home?” Lucas asks once we’re in his car.
I look at him incredulously. “You know, as much as I would love to prolong the wonderfulness that was this evening, I really think I should be getting home.” I check the clock on his dashboard. It’s only a little after eleven. “It’s very late.”
“I just meant that maybe you’d want to get some coffee before you got home and had to talk to your parents.” He looks at me pointedly.
“I’m not drunk,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I had, like, half a drink.” “Doesn’t take much if you can’t hold your liquor.”
“What are you, the sober police?”

“Yeah, just like you’re the confidence police.” “What?”
“Remember earlier? I asked you if you were the confidence police. You were using my sarcastic comeback and trying to pass it off as your own.”
“Whatever.” I lean back in my seat and put my feet up on the dashboard. Lucas pulls the car onto the street, and we start making our way back toward my house. There’s

actually a fair amount of traffic on the road, which I guess makes sense. Since it’s the Cape, and since it’s summer, I guess everyone’s been out at parties or barbeques. I hope they had a better time than I did.
I pull my phone out of my bag and check to see if I have any new texts from

Gabe.

“Who have you been texting with all night?” Lucas asks. “No one.”
“Doesn’t seem like no one,” he says, “Boyfriend back home?” “None of your business,” I say.
“Wow, sorry for trying to make conversation,” he says. “And sorry I asked you about your boyfriend.” The tone in his voice makes it sound like he thinks I’m being ridiculous and childish, not wanting to talk about my boyfriend. “You know, I told myself when I got in the car that I was going to stop trying to be nice to you.  And then for some reason – “
“Okay,” I say, pulling my feet down and turning toward him in my seat. “Tell me about Julia.”
His expression instantly changes from arrogant and irritated to serious and a little angry. “Julia’s nothing,” he says.
“Which is why you punched the guy she’s dating,” I say.  “Makes sense.” I kick my flip-flops onto the floor and lean the seat back, letting my bare feet hang out the window. It’s one of those beautiful summer nights, where the air is warm and the sky is clear. I inhale the smell of the ocean. It’s so different from the nights spent in Boston, where all you can smell is exhaust and all you can hear is the honking of horns.

“I didn’t punch Bo because he’s Julia’s boyfriend,” Lucas says. “I punched Bo because he’s Bo, and Bo’s a complete tool.”
“Oh, okay,” I say. “Oh, okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I shrug.  “I believe you.”

He looks at me out of the corner of his eye, like he wants to say something else.

He knows I don’t believe him. But if he questions me on it, he’s just going to be bringing up Julia again.
But he can’t help himself.

“I don’t still like Julia,” he says.

“Then why are we still talking about her?” “You brought her up.”
“Well, forget I did.” “Fine.”
“Fine.”

We drive for a few minutes in silence. I hope my parents are asleep when I get home, so that I don’t have to answer a bunch of questions about how the night went. I would never admit to my mom that I didn’t have a good time. I wouldn’t want to disappoint her, and besides, the last thing I want is for her to get all worried about me. I’m so caught up thinking about this, that at first, I don’t realize that Lucas is slowing the car down.
“Why are you....Oh, HELL NO.” I pull my feet down from the window. The traffic has pretty much died down now, since we’ve moved off the main highways and

away from the water. And on the deserted road, ahead of us, is the man from the pharmacy. The one Lucas got on tape. He’s walking hunched over, his hands shoved into the pockets of a yellow windbreaker. “We are not doing this again,” I say.
“Shhh,” Lucas says.

“No,” I say, “I’m not going to –“

But then I break off.  Because as Lucas pulls over to the side of the road, and cuts the engine, I can see the guy from the pharmacy—the one Lucas claims is a deadbeat criminal--heading for a car that’s parked a few feet ahead of us, in a little indentation where the trees don’t quite meet the pavement. He gets in the passenger seat, and the car pulls out onto the main road. It takes off, speeding away ahead of us.
“Aren’t you going to follow him?” I ask.

Lucas just shakes his head. “Nope. Thanks to you, we already got everything we need back at the store.”
“You don’t understand,” I tell him, trying to control my voice, which is suddenly shaking. “I want you to follow that car.”
“Why?” he asks.

“Because,” I say. And then I take a deep breath. “That car he just got into? It’s my dad’s.”

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