“I never did,” I say, my voice hard. “I never forgot you.”
“I know.” His hand tightens around mine. “I never forgot you either, Pau. I know this is a shitty situation, and it’s messed-up, and maybe you’re right, maybe it’s too late, maybe we can’t make this work, but… I have to try. I have to make up for lost time. I was a coward back then, I ran away, and I refuse to run again. Even if…” He bites his lip.
“Even if what?” I ask, angry now. “Even if it ruins our parents’ lives? Even if we screw up their one chance at happiness?”
“Or maybe it’s just easier now because you know we can never have anything real,” I point out. “Just like last time. We were just teenagers, it was just a summer fling. So is this. It can’t ever be more.”
He cups my chin. Turns my face to his. When I meet his eyes again, I’m surprised by the heat of the fire burning in them. The passion so intense it threatens to burn anything that stands between us. Passion that hot could burn me in the process, too. Could burn both of us, from the wanting.
He kisses me anyway. It’s different from our other kisses. Sharper. Fiercer. There’s a desperation in it, and I give in, kiss him back, let him feel the desperate ache that echoes in my veins too. This time, when we break apart, he rests his forehead against mine, those eyes still sharp and hot and burning holes through mine.
“No,” he says. “We can be more. We can make this more.”
Without another word, he stands up. Breaks away from me, and my whole body aches at the sudden absence where he used to be. I stare up at him, dumbstruck, and he shakes his head, turning away.
“This time you’re the one who’s running, Paulina.”
He leaves me there, alone on the dock, and I watch him walk all the way back to the cabin before I finally find the strength to make myself stand again.
I’ve spent a lot of the last few days out here by the lake. Just watching the water, thinking. Wishing for what could have been. Knowing that it’s too late now, too impossible a task to surmount. Josh thinks we can make this work somehow, but he doesn’t know my dad. Doesn’t know how long it took Dad to find real happiness, lasting happiness. There’s no way I can take that from him. Not after everything Dad sacrificed for me, raising me all on his own, giving me every advantage in life.
Two days before we’re supposed to leave, Dad finds me like that. Perched on the end of the dock, legs hanging over the side, staring out at the water. He takes the seat beside me in silence for a while, glass of lemonade in hand. For a moment, I just pretend that nothing has changed. That it’s still that summer 6 years ago when we first came here, and I didn’t know I even had a shot with Josh yet, let alone how horribly taking that shot would go. Everything is still ahead of us—anything could happen.
That’s what I’m busy pretending when Dad reaches over and chucks me on the bottom of the chin. The way he used to when I was little, and moping.
I clear my throat.
“Everything okay there, Pau?”
“Yeah. Great.” I force a smile. I’m going to have to lie better than that, I know. “Just a bit sad the summer’s coming to an end, that’s all. It’s been a great one, hasn’t it?”
Dad smiles back at me. He seems happy enough, though weirdly, that smile doesn’t seem to quite reach his eyes. He turns to gaze across the water again, and takes a long sip of his drink.
“It really has,” he finally agrees.
I smile. “You’re happy here?”
“I am.” He sighs. “And I’m happy to have all of you here. You and Josh and Susan. It feels right, doesn’t it? The four of us.”
My throat sticks. I force it open with a sharp inhale of air. “Yeah. It really does.”
“Like old times.” He’s smiling for real now, the nostalgia sharp in his expression.
“So you made the right choice, huh?” I smirk. “Marrying that old flame?”
He laughs. “Oh, there wasn’t a flame back then. But it surprises you, what can crop up over time.”
Don’t I know it.
Dad’s looking at me again though, a little too closely, so I turn away to study the grass behind us instead, pretending I’m checking on the sun.
“How about you, though, Pau?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, far too quickly, my voice too high-pitched. Dammit.
“You’ve been quiet the past few days. Haven’t seen you and Josh out romping around. Haven’t seen you doing much of anything, to be honest.”