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“You went shopping in New York? Lucky!” Melody said. “Mama and I go shopping in Houston every spring break, but that’s not even the same.”
I shrugged, unsure what to say to a girl I’d wanted to punch in the nose for years, who was now regarding me with jealous admiration. We exited the bathroom together minutes later, and had been friends ever since.
Me:  Melody told me about your dad. I would say I’m sorry…
Boyce:  Yeah, don’t waste your sympathy.
Boyce:  See you around while you’re home?
I stared at his question, harmlessly asked—another behind it. Mama’s words rose up: You’ve never been afraid of any challenge—never in your life. Untrue. So untrue.
I’d confided in one person when I received that acceptance e-mail over winter break. Not my boyfriend. Not Melody or my sorority sisters. Not my university peers—the ones applying for and in many cases not being accepted into leading graduate programs. Not my parents.
But I’d told Boyce without hesitation. I’d told him in the voice of someone who wasn’t planning to follow that dream and disillusion everyone she knew in the process.
He’d taken one look at me and gotten straight to the heart of everything. “When are you going to stop being afraid to live your life, Pearl?”
No one ever asked me that. No one knew it. I was the valedictorian of our high school class. I’d gone away to college and worked my ass off, graduating with highest honors. I’d been accepted into more than one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country. I looked like I had life by the scruff of the neck, but that was an illusion. Because I was scared to death of who I really was and what I really wanted. And somehow he knew. He’d always known.
Me:  Yes. I’ll be here all summer.
Chapter Five
I wasn’t sure when Pearl would leave for medical school, or even where she’d decided to go, but she said she’d be around all summer. Which meant her boyfriend might come around again. He’d been here for a week last year, chatting up her parents and making douchebag cracks about the place we’d grown up. I’d only been around him twice, but it had taken a shit-ton of self-control to keep my fist from bashing all the jabs about our hometown right back into his mouth. He’d paraded his intelligence like it gave him the excuse to be a superior fuck to her too.
After he finally vamoosed, Pearl and I met up at our spot along the beach—an alcove cut into the dunes where one of the island’s hotel monstrosities had built a private boardwalk to the public beach. Not many people came and went through the locked gate once it was dark, and the dunes—full of cactus and wild vegetation and the occasional snake—screened the beachside portion of the boardwalk from the lit patios and balconies of the hotel’s occupants.
When I got there, she’d looked up from one of the wide, sandy steps and asked what I thought of him.
“He’s a prick,” I said, lowering myself next to her.
“Wow. Tell me what you really think.”
I shrugged. “You asked, so I assumed you wanted the truth.” She nodded, so I went one step further. “I don’t like how he talks to you. I think he could hurt you, and it had better go no further than emotional damage or I’ll have to end him.”
She’d rocked back, head angling to the side like it did whenever she was trying to work out something complicated. Funny, considering I’ve always been anything but. Boyce Wynn: what you see is what you get.
“Jesus, Boyce. What did he say to make you think that?”
“It’s not what he says so much as how he says it.”
She frowned. My answer wasn’t good enough for a girl who lived and breathed hard facts.
“Are you… jealous? I know Mitchell had access to opportunities you didn’t have, and his family is supportive of his academic ambitions. But they aren’t rich or anything.”
She thought I was jealous of her boyfriend’s awesome childhood or his fancy education? Fuck me. “Nothing to do with money or opportunities I wouldn’t want even if they were offered. He’s smart. I get it. And he makes damned sure everybody knows it.”
I didn’t know how to tell her that his bluster reminded me of my father, who’d terrorized everyone who could have cared about him because he’d known that he was a gutless coward, too scared to quit the bottle. His bullying hid his weakness. Her boyfriend was the opposite of my dad on the surface, but he was hiding something. Whatever it was, that motherfucker had concealed it well enough to fool her.
“So you don’t like him because he’s smart?”
Hell, she was clueless sometimes. “Yeah, that’s it. Good thing Maxfield isn’t a fucking brain, or I’d have had to hate his ass. Oh, wait.”
She rolled her big brown eyes. “He’s different.”
If I hated people for being smart, I’d have been screwed day one. Pearl was the smartest person I’d ever known, and my best buddy from high school was right behind her—graduating from the same giant university, about to head north to some sort of bioengineering job in Ohio. “Yeah. Maxfield is different. He’s not an asshole.”
“Well, y’all have been friends forever—”
I laughed. “Not forever. We beat the shit out of each other in ninth grade.” Right after the worst summer of my life, when we got the news that Brent had been killed in Iraq two months before he was eligible to get out. I’d expected to escape my father but instead found myself the sole target of his untempered rages. For some reason, Maxfield was the guy I took it all out on. Maybe because he was the only one brave (or idiotic) enough to call me on my shit.
I’d been on an unswerving path to become my father, and I hadn’t even seen it.
“Melody told me about that fight, but I thought she was exaggerating.”
“No exaggeration. I got this from it.” I pointed to the small scar near my right eye and grinned. “No worries. He’s got one too. We were opposite ends of a fuckup stick for a while there.”
A smile touched her mouth and she shook her head, turning to stare out into the dark, arranging her thoughts before she spoke, as she always had. I stared at her, waiting for it. The moon was only a sliver over the water, softening the contours of her face, and starlight flickered in her eyes. The collapse and retreat of waves on the sand echoed the familiar soundtrack of our lives.
“I don’t expect you to be friends with Mitchell,” she said. “That would be awkward.”