SEVEN YEARS AGO
I know, I’ve been a terrible friend, not emailing in two weeks! I’ve been busy helping my dad do some redecorating at his B&B, and, as it turns out, I’m pretty good at it. Yeah, I still hate this town. No clubs or tall buildings or city buzz. No noise! I cannot sleep at night without horns honking and the hum of traffic. There are only crickets and the soft and steady wash of the waves from across the street. I’m happy to spend time with my dad and all, but he’s way stricter than my mom.
Finally something really interesting happened! It’s good AND bad. I met this girl named Emily, who’s totally not as cool as you, but I guess she’s okay. I can tell she’s part of the popular crowd, a crowd I’ve never fit into and don’t want to. But there’s no one else like me here, no Misfits Posse. You know how in NYC we try to look, you know, “experienced”? Yeah, it’s not like that here. But she did tell me about these races the kids do for fun. My dad used to race, but I don’t think he’d be cool with me being out at midnight when even watching is apparently against the law. But I deserve some FUN. So I sneak out, Emily picks me up, and we go.
It’s crazy, all these cars parked alongside this abandoned strip of highway, the rumble as two racers get into position, their brake lights bright in the night. I’m kinda into it, though. Then Emily runs off to gossip, so I’m standing there alone feeling awkward.
My gaze goes across the street to this guy, like a frickin’ magnet. He’s wearing camo cargo pants that ride low on his hips. But he’s not skinny, just lean and muscular. I can see those muscles because he’s shirtless, contorting himself to reach something beneath the open hood of his car. His dark blond hair’s all windblown, and he has an oil smudge on his arm. Totally not my type, right? I mean, I don’t think I’ve even seen this type before. Like a beach-boy redneck. But I felt this ZOOM in my chest. And then, as though he senses me totally gawking at him, he looks right at me! It would have been embarrassing, except we have this eye-lock-OMG moment, and then he SMILES. Lord God Almighty, that smile rocks my soul. And propels me to walk over.
Guess what I say? “Nice ride.” I’m running my fingers along the roof of his car, but I’m not looking at the car…duh. Which kinda sounded bad, right? I did mean the car, but I couldn’t stop looking at him. He must have thought I was a slut. He gets this spark in his eyes, gorgeous green, BTW, but not in an “I want to screw you” way. Like he’s enjoying the attention. And I realize I kinda did mean it that way: HE looks like a nice ride. He says, “Maybe I could take you for a spin sometime.” “Maybe,” I say, hearing it come out husky and flirty. Oh, God, I am a slut! But can I be a slut and a virgin at the same time????
His smile is even more intriguing up close, and it’s REAL, easy, and so is his laugh. Oh, and he has DIMPLES! And his name is Pax, short for Paxton. I ask him about his car, and he’s so into it, it was cute, talking about engine stuff I have NO idea about.
Pax is nothing like Cam or Billy Dee. He doesn’t have an aloof air, a nose ring, or any kind of piercing or tattoo. But I sense a restlessness in him that speaks to my rebel soul as he talks about the high of going fast and flying free. Of letting go of all life’s constraints to simply experience the moment.
He lets me sit in the driver’s seat and places my hands on the leather steering wheel. His face is really close, and he smells like clean sweat and deodorant, and I want to lean across those two inches and kiss him. Our eyes lock again, and I’m pretty sure he wants to do the same. We are held in this moment of suspension, and my heart’s racing faster than that car can go, I bet. His fingers are still wrapped over mine on the wheel. I’ve never kissed a guy within minutes of meeting him. Or even hours. But I want to kiss him bad. He looks a little surprised by the chemistry, too, and he says, “Damn, d’ya feel that?” in the cutest southern accent.
I start to nod. Then someone yells his name, and he jerks back so fast that he hits his head on the roof of the car. It’s his turn to race. When I get out, Emily’s waving at me. As I watch Pax’s Corvette pull into position next to another car, she’s all, like, “Girl, what was going on in that car? Like, everybody could see you just about making out with him.” And I was, like, “We weren’t making out. He was just letting me sit in his car. Doesn’t he do that with all the girls?” And she was, like, “No, he never lets anyone sit in his precious driver’s seat. Don’t get involved with HIM. He’s always in trouble. He even stole his dad’s cop car. Plus he’s a junior, and a senior doesn’t date a junior.”
A part of me doesn’t care, the part that responds to him so frickin’ strong. I didn’t want to make out just because I’m bored or high, like I did with Cam or Billy Dee. I was high, all right…on Pax. But another part wants to make this second chance work. I overheard my parents talking about sending me to a boarding school if I can’t straighten up. I mean, we put ourselves into some seriously F’d-up sitches, if you think about it. Sneaking into nightclubs, getting into cars with men we didn’t know. Drinking, smoking a little pot. It felt fun and rebellious at the time, but, looking back, it was kinda stupid.
I’m still thinking about Pax, but I didn’t go to the races the following weekend. And good thing—there was a terrible accident involving a couple who were parked next to Pax the week before. The girl was burned really bad. Her boyfriend was arrested for illegal racing. It made my decision. I’m playing it safe. No bad boy for me. In fact, I’m going to tone down my look, fit in. And I’m going to find a nice, wholesome boyfriend.
“Well, Harley, that was damned romantic, wasn’t it?” Paxton Sullivan glanced over at his pit-bull mix sitting in the passenger seat of his truck. Even though it had come out a bit cynical, Pax was smiling. He’d just helped his best friend orchestrate a sweet proposal. And damn if he hadn’t felt a well of emotion at Raleigh’s happiness when Mia said yes.
Harley tilted his head and made a whining sound.
“I’m not jealous. Hell, I’m happy for Raleigh. Thrilled. Over the moon.” Pax settled back in the seat, his hand draped over the steering wheel. “After what the two of them went through, they deserve it. ’Sides, I don’t have time for a relationship.”