Page 19


When I was in tenth grade, a guy offered to trade me a shitty aluminum boat with a sporadically working outboard motor after I found a working vintage Holley carburetor for his ’69 Boss 429 at a scrapyard in Corpus. I took the deal because that ugly-ass boat could maneuver the pass from the backside of town around to the channel between that bunch of tidal marshlands and sandbars—across from which the Frank house occupied a corner lot on a dead-end street.
I don’t know what I thought I was going to do from there—spy on her? Then I heard Dover talking her into having a party there the coming weekend when her parents would be out, and I knew trading a scavenged Mustang part for that leaky relic had been a stroke of luck. Or genius.
“I don’t know, Mel… if anyone reports it—”
“As long as we don’t invite too many people and don’t build a big fire, no one will see. It’ll be so cool. It’s my birthday. C’mon, Pearl—pleeeeease? Clark can get his dad’s boat that night and we’ll ferry everyone there and back.”
She blinked her lashes at Pearl like she always did at my best friend—who was a sucker for every damn cocktease move she made. If he’d just wanted a hookup, I wouldn’t have cared—anything that screwed over Clark Richards was good, including his girlfriend getting some on the side from my boy. But he was all in, and she knew it. She twisted him into knots every time he saw her and then left him that way to bounce back to that rich asshole.
Pearl sighed and agreed to the party. The last thing Maxfield needed was to witness Dover and her dickhole boyfriend making out, so when he slid onto his stool at our lab table a couple of minutes later, I didn’t tell him about it.
Come Friday night, I motored down the channel near Pearl’s place, alone, beaching the boat as soon as I saw the glowing fire pit and heard the music. There were about a dozen of them—all rich kids, no townie losers—drinking and dancing around the low flames. I pulled the boat up behind a clump of marsh grass and watched, feeling like some kind of lurker sociopath. Pearl was dancing with a guy who couldn’t keep his hands off her—a junior named Adam Yates. His parents were both dentists; when we were in second grade, they’d come to school to talk about teeth and pass out toothbrushes and business cards.
My jaw steeled, but I had no rights where she was concerned. She wasn’t mine. She’d never be mine. I wanted to leave, but for some reason I just sat right there like a masochistic jackass.
When the birthday girl passed out cold just before one a.m. from too many shots, Clark trundled her and several others into his boat, leaving behind the dick who’d been feeling Pearl up all night. Richards and Yates didn’t bother to disguise the thumbs-up signal between them, but no one was sober enough to witness it but me. The rest of the partiers left with PK Miller when he said he had to make curfew with his dad’s boat or his mom would chew his ass the rest of the weekend.
Pearl stumbled around, dousing the fire with sand and chucking cups and bottles into a trash bag, because of course she was preventing fire and picking up trash, even hammered. Yates trailed along behind her, trying to take the bag or get her to stop. I was too far away to hear them. My fists tightened when he slid his arms around her and kissed her neck, but I did no more than stand up from the rock I’d been parked on for two hours because she seemed willing enough. Until he turned her around and did something she didn’t like—too much tongue?—goddammit—and she gagged and shoved at his chest.
I abandoned my grass-hidden rock and ran. Before I reached her, he howled and went to the ground like a sack of hammers, and she yelped and staggered back.
When she saw me, she started and gasped. “Dammit, Boyce—you scared me to death! What are you—”
“Are you okay?” I demanded, grabbing her shoulders and turning her to me. I checked her face in the moonlight. Other than the fact that her eyes were so unnaturally wide that the white parts showed all the way around the brown and she was trembling, she looked all right.
She nodded, no idea how she’d scared the shit outta me. Yates hadn’t moved a muscle, and her voice went soft. “Is he… is he breathing?”
I knelt, feeling for a pulse and refrained from saying I hope not, because then she’d probably insist that one of us do mouth-to-mouth, and neither fucking option for that was acceptable.
“His head hit my knee on the way down,” she said.
Fingers at his throat (ignoring the urge to wrap my hands around it and squeeze), I found his pulse and struggled not to laugh. “I take it another part of him hit your knee just before that?” I stood. “He’s fine, by the way. Or at least he’s breathing.”
She breathed a relieved sigh. “Boyce, why—and how—are you here?”
Confession is good for the soul, they say, but it’s not so great for scoring points in a semi-stalking sort of situation. I couldn’t stare into her eyes and lie, though.
“I heard y’all talking about the party in bio.”
She frowned, more sober than I’d thought she was. “Then you must have heard it was a private party to celebrate Melody’s birthday. You weren’t invited.”
She took two steps away from me before going straight back down in the sand on her ass, gasping and holding her knee. “Dang that hurts. Adam’s head must be hard as a rock.”
I knelt next to her, fingers inspecting her bare kneecap, all too aware of her soft skin and short shorts and how she smelled like a handful of flowers. “You’ve got a pretty good lump going here.”
Her fingers slid between mine, testing the rapidly swelling spot. “Great. I should get some ice on it…” She frowned at Yates, who’d begun to snore, and then to the water’s edge. “Clark just left me here? How the hell was I supposed to get home?”
“Surprise, Pearl, Richards is an asswipe. He took off with Dover and a few other people. Probably giving Yates time to make his move.”
She glared—luckily at Yates. “Make his move?” Her gaze shifted back to me. “So how are you here?”
I shrugged. “I have a boat.”
Studying the shoreline for the second time, she asked, “Is it an invisible boat?”
“Ha-ha.” I pointed, chuckling. “It’s down the beach a ways.” I stood, swinging her up into my arms. “C’mon, bruiser, let’s get you home.”
Between the low drone of the bayside waves and the sensations crashing over me—her soft hair grazing my arm and my cheek, the feel of her body pressed against mine, the perfect weight of her—I almost didn’t hear her question.