It's Not Summer Without You Page 2

But really, it all just made that one amazing night in December all the sweeter. Conrad and I went back to Cousins, just the two of us. Perfect nights come so rarely, but that one was. Perfect, I mean. It was the kind of night worth waiting for.

I’m glad we had that night.

Because by May, it was all over.

Chapter three

I left Marcy’s house early. I told Taylor it was so I could rest up for Justin’s party that night. It was partly true. I did want to rest, but I didn’t care about the party. As soon as I got home, I put on my big Cousins T-shirt, filled a water bottle with grape soda and crushed ice, and I watched TV until my head hurt.

It was peacefully, blissfully silent. Just the sounds of the TV and the air conditioning kicking off and on. I had the house to myself. Steven had a summer job at Best Buy. He was saving up for a fifty-inch flat screen he’d take to college with him in the fall. My mother was home, but she spent all day locked away in her office, catching up on work, she said.

I understood. If I were her, I’d want to be alone too.

Taylor came over around six, armed with her hot pink Victoria’s Secret makeup bag. She walked into the living room and saw me lying on the couch in my Cousins T-shirt and frowned. “Belly, you haven’t even showered yet?”

“I took a shower this morning,” I said, not getting up.

“Yeah, and you laid out in the sun all day.” She grabbed my arms and I let her lift me into a sitting position. “Hurry up and get into the shower.”

I followed her upstairs and she went to my bedroom while I went to the hall bathroom. I took the fastest shower of my life. Left to her own devices, Taylor was a big snoop and would poke around my room like it was hers.

When I came out Taylor was sitting on my floor in front of my mirror. Briskly, she blended bronzer onto her cheeks. “Want me to do your makeup too?”

“No thanks,” I told her. “Close your eyes while I put on my clothes, okay?”

She rolled her eyes and then closed them. “Belly, you’re such a prude.”

“I don’t care if I am,” I said, putting on my underwear and my bra. Then I put my Cousins T-shirt on again. “Okay, you can look.”

Taylor opened her eyes up superwide and she applied her mascara. “I could do your nails,” she offered. “I have three new colors.”

“Nah, there’s no point.” I held up my hands. My nails were bitten down to the quick.

Taylor grimaced. “Well, what are you wearing?”

“This,” I said, hiding my smile. I pointed down at my Cousins T-shirt. I’d worn it so many times it had tiny holes around the neck and it was soft as a blankie. I wished I could wear it to the party.

“Very funny,” she said, shimmying over to my closet on her knees. She stood up and started rifling around, pushing hangers over to the side, like she didn’t already know every article of clothing I owned by heart. Usually I didn’t mind, but today I felt sort of itchy and bothered by everything.

I told her, “Don’t worry about it. I’m just going to wear my cutoffs and a tank top.”

“Belly, people get dressed up for Justin’s parties. You’ve never been so you wouldn’t know, but you can’t just wear your old cutoffs.” Taylor pulled out my white sundress. The last time I’d worn it had been last summer, at that party with Cam. Susannah had told me the dress set me off like a picture frame.

I got up and took the dress from Taylor and put it back into my closet. “That’s stained,” I said. “I’ll find something else.”

Taylor sat back down in front of the mirror and said, “Well, then wear that black dress with the little flowers. It makes your boobs look amazing.”

“It’s uncomfortable; it’s too tight,” I told her.

“Pretty please?”

Sighing, I took it off the hanger and put it on. Sometimes it was easier to just give in with Taylor. We’d been friends, best friends, since we were little kids. We’d been best friends so long it was more like a habit, the kind of thing you didn’t really have a say in anymore.

“See, that looks hot.” She came over and zipped me up. “Now, let’s talk about our plan of action.”

“What plan of action?”

“I think you and Cory Wheeler should make out at the party.”

“Taylor—”

She lifted her hand. “Just hear me out. Cory’s supernice and he’s supercute. If he worked on his body and got a little definition, he could be, like, Abercrombie hot.”

I snorted. “Please.”

“Well, he’s at least as cute as C-word.” She never called him by his name anymore. Now he was just “you-know-who,” or “C-word.”

“Taylor, quit pushing me. I can’t be over him just because you want me to.”

“Can’t you at least try?” she wheedled. “Cory could be your rebound. He wouldn’t mind.”

“If you bring up Cory one more time, I’m not going to the party,” I told her, and I meant it. In fact, I kind of hoped she would bring him up again so I’d have an excuse not to go.

Her eyes widened. “Okay, okay. Sorry. My lips are sealed.”

Then she grabbed her makeup bag and sat down on the edge of my bed, and I sat down at her feet. She pulled out a comb and sectioned off my hair. She braided quickly, with fast and sure fingers, and when she was done, she pinned the braid over the crown of my head, to the side. Neither of us spoke while she worked until she said, “I love your hair like this. You look sort of Native American, like a Cherokee princess or something.”

I started to laugh, but then I stopped myself. Taylor caught my eye in the mirror and said, “It’s okay to laugh, you know. It’s okay for you to have fun.”

“I know,” I said, but I didn’t.

Before we left I stopped by my mother’s office. She was sitting at her desk with folders and stacks of papers. Susannah had made my mother executor of her will, and there was a lot of paperwork involved with that, I guessed. My mother was on the phone with Susannah’s lawyer a lot, going over things. She wanted it to go perfect, Beck’s last wishes.

Susannah had left both Steven and me some college money. She’d also left me jewelry. A sapphire tennis bracelet I couldn’t picture myself ever wearing. A diamond necklace for my wedding day—she’d written that specifically. Opal earrings and an opal ring. Those were my favorite.

“Mom?”

She looked up at me. “Yes?”

“Have you had dinner?” I knew she hadn’t. She hadn’t left her office since I’d been home.

“I’m not hungry,” she said. “If there isn’t any food in the fridge, you can call for a pizza if you want.”

“I can fix you a sandwich,” I offered. I’d gone to the store earlier that week. Steven and I had been taking turns. I doubted she even knew it was Fourth of July weekend.

“No, that’s all right. I’ll come down and fix myself something later.”

“Okay.” I hesitated. “Taylor and I are going to a party. I won’t be home too late.”

Part of me hoped she’d tell me to stay home. Part of me wanted to offer to stay and keep her company, to see if she maybe wanted to see what was on Turner Classic Movies, pop some popcorn.

She’d already gone back to her paperwork. She was chewing on her ballpoint pen. “Sounds good,” she said. “Be careful.”

I closed the door behind me.

Taylor was waiting for me in the kitchen, texting on her phone. “Let’s hurry up and go already.”

“Hold on, I just have to do one last thing.” I went over to the fridge and pulled out stuff for a turkey sandwich. Mustard, cheese, white bread.

“Belly, there’s gonna be food at the party. Don’t eat that now.”

“It’s for my mom,” I said.

I made the sandwich, put it on a plate, covered it with plastic wrap, and left it on the counter where she’d see it.

Justin’s party was everything Taylor said it would be. Half our class was there, and Justin’s parents were nowhere in sight. Tiki lamps lined the yard, and his speakers were practically vibrating, the music was so loud. Girls were dancing already.

There was a big keg and a big red cooler. Justin was manning the grill, flipping steaks and bratwurst. He had a Kiss the Chef apron on.

“As if anybody would make out with him.” Taylor sniffed. Taylor had made a play for Justin at the beginning of the year, before she’d settled on her boyfriend, Davis. She and Justin had gone out a few times before he’d blown her off for a senior.

I’d forgotten to put on bug spray, and the mosquitoes were eating me for dinner. I kept bending down to scratch my legs, and I was glad to do it. Glad to have something to do. I was afraid of accidentally making eye contact with Cory. He was hanging out by the pool.

People were drinking beer out of red plastic cups. Taylor got us both wine coolers. Mine was Fuzzy Navel. It was syrupy and it tasted like chemicals. I took two sips before I threw it away.

Then Taylor spotted Davis over by the beer pong table and she put her finger to her lips and grabbed my hand. We walked up behind him and Taylor slipped her arms around his back. “Gotcha!” she said.

He turned around and they kissed like they hadn’t just seen each other a few hours ago. I stood there for a minute, awkwardly holding on to my purse, looking everywhere but at them. His name was actually Ben Davis, but everyone called him Davis. Davis was really cute; he had dimples and green eyes like sea glass. And he was short, which at first Taylor said was a dealbreaker but now claimed not to mind so much. I hated riding to school with them because they held hands the entire time while I sat in the back like the kid. They broke up at least once a month, and they’d only been dating since April. During one breakup, he’d called her, crying, trying to get back together, and Taylor had put him on speaker. I’d felt guilty for listening but at the same time envious and sort of awestruck that he cared that much, enough to cry.

“Pete’s gonna go take a piss,” Davis said, hooking his arm around Taylor’s waist. “Will you stay and be my partner until he comes back?”

She looked over at me and shook her head. She stepped out of his grasp. “I can’t leave Belly.”

I shot her a look. “Taylor, you don’t need to babysit me. You should play.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure.”

I walked away before she could argue with me. I said hi to Marcy, to Frankie who I used to ride the bus with in middle school, to Alice who was my best friend in kindergarten, to Simon who I was on yearbook with. I’d known most of these kids my whole life and yet I’d never felt more homesick for Cousins.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Taylor chatting it up with Cory, and I made a run for it before she could call me over. I grabbed a soda and I made my way over to the trampoline. There was no one on it yet so I kicked off my flip-flops and climbed on. I laid down right in the middle, careful to hold my skirt close to me. The stars were out, little bright diamond flecks in the sky. I gulped down my Coke, burped a few times, looked around to see if anyone had heard me. But no, everyone was back by the house. Then I tried to count stars, which is pretty much as silly as trying to count grains of sand, but I did it anyway because it was something to do. I wondered when I’d be able to sneak away and go back home. We’d taken my car, and Taylor could get a ride home with Davis. Then I wondered if it would look weird if I wrapped up a few hot dogs to take with me for later.

I hadn’t thought about Susannah in two hours, at least. Maybe Taylor was right, maybe this was where I was supposed to be. If I kept wishing for Cousins, kept looking back, I would be doomed forever.

As I was thinking this over, Cory Wheeler climbed up onto the trampoline and made his way to the middle, to where I was. He laid down right next to me and said, “Hey, Conklin.”

Since when were Cory and I on a last-name basis? Since never.

And then I went ahead and said, “Hey, Wheeler.” I tried not to look at him. I tried to concentrate on counting stars and not on how close he was to me.

Cory propped himself up on one elbow and said, “Having fun?”

“Sure.” My stomach was starting to hurt. Running away from Cory was giving me an ulcer.

“Seen any shooting stars yet?”

“Not yet.”

Cory smelled like cologne and beer and sweat, and oddly enough, it wasn’t a bad combination. The crickets were so loud and the party seemed really far away.

“So, Conklin.”

“Yeah?”

“Are you still seeing that guy you brought to prom? The one with the unibrow?”

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. “Conrad doesn’t have a unibrow. And no. We, um, broke up.”

“Cool,” he said, and the word hung in the air.

This was one of those fork-in-the-road kind of moments. The night could go either way. If I leaned in just a little to my left, I could kiss him. I could close my eyes and let myself get lost in Cory Wheeler. I could go right on forgetting. Pretending.

But even though Cory was cute, and he was nice, he was no Conrad. Not even close. Cory was simple, he was like a crew cut, all clean lines and everything going in the same direction. Not Conrad. Conrad could turn my insides out with one look, one smile.

Cory reached over and flicked my arm playfully. “So, Conklin . . . maybe we—”

I sat up. I said the first thing I could think of. “Shoot, I’ve gotta pee. I’ll see you later, Cory!”

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