Downstairs, I found Mom in the kitchen. Papers were spread out in front of her, some loose and others stapled. Her blond hair was pulled up in a high ponytail and she had reading glasses on, perched at the end of her nose.
“Whatcha doing?” I asked as I stopped in front of the chair beside her.
“Looking over the new underwriting laws.” Mom looked up. “Basically spending my Saturday in the most boring way possible. What about you? You’re not working this weekend, right?”
“Nope.” I smoothed my palms over the back of the chair. “I was thinking about going to a barbecue with Sebastian.”
“That sounds fun.” Mom rested her chin in her palm as she stared up at me. “Kind of sounds like a date.”
“Mom,” I warned.
“What?” She widened her eyes. “I would a hundred percent support that—”
“Oh my God,” I groaned, throwing my hands up as I glanced toward the stairs, praying that Sebastian would decide to make himself known. “It’s not like that. You know that.”
“A mother can hope and dream,” she replied. “He’s a good boy, Lena.”
“Abbi and Megan will probably be there. So will other people.” I pushed away from the chair. “Sorry to ruin your dream.”
“Damn.” She sighed pitifully. “I was thinking about knitting little baby booties for your and Sebastian’s first child.”
“Oh my God.” I gaped at her, horrified but not surprised. My mom wasn’t right sometimes. “You’re ridiculous and I’m surrounded by ridiculous people.”
“Why be surrounded by anyone else?” She grinned as she fixed her gaze on the mass of papers in front of her, and I shook my head. “When do you think you’ll be home?”
“Not before dinner. Maybe this evening?”
“Sounds good to me. At least I don’t have to make dinner tonight.” That was Mom, always looking on the bright side of things, even when it was impossible. “By the way,” she said, looking up again, pinning me with that mom look I only ever saw when she was going to say something she knew I didn’t want to hear.
I knew it had to be about Dad.
“You need to start answering your phone, Lena. This has been going on too long.”
Folding my arms across my chest, I inhaled through my nose. “Not nearly long enough.”
“Lena,” she warned. “You are beautiful, loyal to a fault, but what happened between your—”
“Mom, I promise I’ll answer the phone. Okay?” I so did not want to have this conversation right now. “But I have to get going. Sebastian is waiting for me.”
She looked like she wanted to say more but tipped her head back. “Okay. Have fun, but be careful.”
Bending over, I kissed her forehead. “Always.”
* * *
“All I’m saying is that it’s a double standard.” My feet were on the warm dashboard of Sebastian’s Jeep. The air conditioner was cranked on high, but it was barely beating the heat out of the interior. “You can drive around shirtless, but if a girl drove around wearing a bikini top and no shirt, people would lose their ever-loving mind.”
“And all I’m saying is that I would a hundred percent support the idea of girls driving around in bikinis,” he replied, one hand resting on the steering wheel, the other thrown over the back of my seat. The baseball cap was turned forward, blocking the sun, and he was still shirtless in his swim trunks and Nike sandals.
Behind my sunglasses, my eyes rolled. “Of course.”
“Look, guys don’t care about that kind of stuff. We would not be against equal-opportunity nudity. Ever.” He slowed as we neared the exit off the interstate. “That’s girls hating on girls.”
I turned my head slowly in his direction, but he was focused on the road.
“I could easily see a girl calling another girl a slut for driving their car wearing a bikini top and then telling a guy who’s doing it shirtless that he’s hot.”
Sebastian had a point, but hell would freeze over before I admitted that. I pulled my feet off the dashboard and shifted in my seat as I watched the trees blur past. Abbi and Megan were coming out, catching a ride with Megan’s cousin Chris, who played football with Sebastian.
I had a feeling the little barbecue was going to turn into a massive party before the night was over. Wouldn’t be the first or last one to go from a small get-together to a gloriously out-of-control rager within hours. Especially when it involved Keith.
Sunlight filtered through the trees crowding the narrow, curvy back road. Whoever built this road must’ve followed a snake or something.
Leaning my head back against the seat, I watched the taller maples and ferns give way to apple orchards. They went on as far as the eye could see, lined up in rows, on every hill, and Keith’s family owned most of them.
I’d been down this road so many times with Sebastian and with my friends, and it struck me then that this would be the last Saturday before our last year of school. I wouldn’t have another Saturday like this ever again, and in a year, Sebastian and I wouldn’t be riding down this familiar road in his Jeep. He wouldn’t be randomly appearing on the balcony, and Dary wouldn’t be popping into Joanna’s to rub my bad life choices in my face.
I sucked in a shaky breath as my chest burned.
Oh God, I suddenly wanted to cry like a baby. And I shouldn’t cry now, because everything that was about to change was good. I would go off on my own, and if I was lucky, Megan and I would both be accepted at UVA, and she would still remind me every Friday that I was going to grow old alone, surrounded by cats, eating cheap canned tuna. Dary would point out all my future terrible choices through FaceTime. Abbi would be going to a college not too far away and we’d be able to see each other on the weekends.
Sebastian would go to whatever college offered him a full ride to play ball if he stuck with football, and let’s be honest, he would. And we’d stay in touch. We’d call each other and those calls would eventually give way to texts, and those messages would become more sporadic until we talked only when we were both home for the holidays.
We would grow up and grow apart, and that was terrifying, but for right now, right this second, we had tomorrow. We had next week. We had the whole year. Practically forever, I told myself.
I didn’t have to face the inevitable yet.
Sebastian tapped his fingers off my knee, surprising me. I looked at him.
“You doing okay over there?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said hoarsely. I cleared my throat.
A concerned expression settled over his features. “What were you thinking about?”
I shrugged. “I was just thinking about how this time next year we’ll both be at college. That this is the last summer before school, you know?”
Sebastian didn’t respond. He was staring at the road, his jaw a hard line. It got like that when he was mad or had something to say that he was keeping quiet about.
I started to ask him what he was thinking about, but he said, “You’re always going to be a part of my life—you know that, right?”
Not expecting that statement, I didn’t know how to respond.
“Even if we end up at different colleges,” he continued like there was a chance that we’d be at the same place in a year. “We’re not going to become strangers.” It was almost like he could read my mind. But he just knew me so well. Too well. “That’s never going to happen to us.”
I wanted to tell him that happened to everyone no matter their best intentions. My sister swore she’d stay in contact with all her friends who went to different colleges, but she was now a junior and had all new friends and a new boyfriend.
When people left you and they didn’t see you every day, they stopped wanting to see you. I, more than anyone, knew that was the truth.
Even if they said they loved you.
“We’re always going to be friends.” His eyes briefly searched my face. “No matter what.”
Holy crap, was I just friend-zoned?
Yep. That was what it sounded like.