“You used to be able to hold your breath a lot longer than that,” he murmurs into my hair, smirking as he kisses the nape of my neck quickly, fast enough that no one will notice. “Last time we were here, you could swim the whole length of the lake without taking a breath, remember?”
I tense against him. Because of course I remember—I remember every moment of that summer. He’s the one who never seems to. Who never talks about it, never even hints that we have a past. Even when I dance up to the subject, he avoids it, dodges any mention of what happened all those years ago.
Now it’s me who wants to dodge it, because what he just said brings up all kinds of unpleasant memories. I remember the months after that summer, all that time I spent wishing he’d reach out, wishing he’d write or call or even just explain what went wrong. Why he didn’t want to talk to me anymore.
I squirm out of his grip and swim across the lake, toward the distant dock and the canoes we fucked in at least a dozen times this summer. It’s not far enough away—right now, for once, I wish I could disappear from this lake altogether. But it will have to be far enough for now.
I pull myself onto the dock and wrap my arms around my knees, huddled there. Across the water, our parents are standing, Dad with the margarita glasses in hand, Susan picking up the card game they were playing. They’re probably going to refill their drinks, or maybe make some dinner. Dad’s gotten really into campfire cooking, and Susan plays his assistant, keeping the fire stoked, chatting with him while he cooks.
I watch them walk away, and my heart sinks even lower in my chest. Because I know they’re a good match. They have the same sense of humor, like all the same things. I know Dad is happy, finally, and I can’t take that from him. No matter how much it kills me to let go of what I really want.
Josh pads along the dock behind me. I should’ve known he wouldn’t let me just run away.
I feel him more than see him sit down beside me, his swimming trunks back on. For once, the sight of his glistening wet, muscular body doesn’t distract me. Not enough to pull me out of this funk.
I rest my chin on my knees and gaze across the lake, lost in thought.
“You okay?” he finally ventures, after a long, fraught silence.
“Not really,” I admit.
He touches my shoulder gently, but when I don’t react, he lets his hand drop. “What’s wrong?”
“This is.” I gesture between us. Keeping my eyes fixed on the cabin, on our parents’ home. “All of this. It’s wrong, and it’s weird, and it makes me worry I’ll hurt my dad, and it’s messing with me, because…” I shake my head. Rest my forehead on my knees instead so he won’t see the way my eyes glisten with unshed tears. “Because this is what I wanted all those years ago. When we were younger. I wanted to have this with you, and I never thought we would, and now, suddenly, we do, but as soon as this summer ends, we’ll have to stop, we’ll have to go back to being… Family, I guess.” The word sticks in my throat, tastes all wrong. “I just… I don’t understand why we never did this all those years ago. Back when it was still possible. Back when we had all the time in the world, and this could’ve been something.” I inhale deeply. Make myself lift my head and face him. I need to look into his eyes when I say this. I need to know his answer. “Why did you run?” I whisper, eyes locked on his. “After I kissed you, you vanished. I never heard from you again. Why?”
He looks back at me, silent. There’s a sharp look in his eye, a thoughtful one, like he’s considering what I’m saying. But he doesn’t reply. He doesn’t say anything, and after a long, terrible moment, I realize I can’t wait around for him anymore. I can’t wait to hear this reply. What could it possibly fix now, anyway? What does it matter?
I push myself to my feet.
Josh catches my hand. Winds his fingers through mine, until I finally give up and sink cross-legged back onto the dock beside him.
“Pau…” To my surprise, I notice his eyes seem over-bright too. There are unshed tears in his eyes too, feelings he’s trying to suppress. But what?
“I knew about the move,” he finally says, and it’s not what I was expecting to hear. It’s so confusing that I blink a few times and tilt my head to one side, brow furrowed as I wait for him to continue. “Mom’s new job,” he adds. “The one she got in Georgia. I knew going into that summer that it would be the last time our families would get together, maybe ever. I tried to fight what I felt for you, but the more we hung out that summer, the more time we spent together, the harder it got… I was going to just leave without every admitting it, without ever finding out if you felt the same. But then, that last night, you kissed me, and I realized you were feeling just as much as I was.” He pauses, his voice going low and fraught with emotion. He clears his throat once, hard. “Resisting was easy until… Until that. Until you kissed me. You were my first kiss, Paulina, and…” He closes his eyes. “I knew if I saw you again after that, if I had to say goodbye, I’d break in two. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t say goodbye to you, and I knew a relationship could never work with me leaving, so I figured… I figured just vanishing would be easier. I figured that way you’d move on faster, forget all about me, and we could both just… go our separate ways.”