Authors: Tess Oliver
Mimi had made a comforting pot of apple tea, and I sat at the small kitchen table staring blankly out at the beach. The shadows of dusk grew on the white sand, and the swelling tide looked red in the late day sun. A tall figure jogged by, his face hidden by a hood. I stretched my neck up to get a better look. It took me only seconds to assure myself that it was not Jamison. I’d seen him handcuffed and placed into the back of the squad car, but I had no idea how long they’d keep him. Surely his father would have him out in hours.
Riley pressed his nose under my elbow nearly causing me to spill my tea. I put down my cup and rubbed his head. “You nearly got us both killed today, you silly animal. From now on, you’re on a leash when we’re near a road.”
He looked pleadingly at me with his dark brown eyes and whimpered softly as if he’d understood what I’d said. Riley walked away and flopped down in the corner of the kitchen just as Mimi walked in.
She pointed at him. “That’s right; you stay there and think about what you did today.” The tiny lines around her eyes crinkled as she looked at me. “Are you feeling better?”
I held out my hand. The tremble had gone, but the ache in my chest was more acute than ever. Mimi sat across from me and poured honey into her tea. “I don’t know how I let my guard down so easily, Mimi. It’s not like me.”
She lowered her cup to the table and placed her hand over mine. The dough from this afternoon’s batches was stuck under her nails, and her knuckles were red from hours of kneading. “It’s not that you let your guard down, Coco. It’s that you finally found someone you are truly fond of. Remember, he was not driving the truck. And he was incredibly angry at his brother.”
I smiled and nodded. “When I saw blood spray from that jerk’s nose, it was all I could do to keep from cheering. If I hadn’t been so shaken by the whole thing, I might have gone over and hugged Jamison.” Just talking about the incident made me feel better even if I’d vowed never to speak to Jamison again. “I knew he was not for me, Mimi.” I lifted my cup. “As they say, it wasn’t in the tea leaves.”
Mimi’s eyes sparkled, and her mouth turned up at the corners as she glanced out the window. It was that familiar, all-knowing expression that made me certain she could see into the future.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, my dear.” She faced me and her tiny grin floated into a smile. “It all depends on who’s reading the leaves.”
Reeve had called Dad, and I had called Matt to let him know where we were. He’d had a good laugh. And here I’d made sure to come along so that our little brother wouldn’t get into any trouble.
In Reeve’s usual state of not having a care in the world, he’d stretched out on the gross smelling cot to take a nap. The rickety bed creaked and groaned under his weight, but he slept soundly enough to work up a snore. The swelling of his nose made it extra loud and annoying.
I sat on the opposite cot, leaned back against the cold plaster wall, and shut my eyes trying to mentally transport myself back in time to earlier in the day when I’d been with Echo. She’d had me completely mesmerized, her scent, the sound of her voice, the way she constantly brushed strands of hair from her face, everything about her had consumed my senses. And now I’d never get near enough to touch or kiss her again.
For a second, I’d talked myself into thinking that she might not despise me, but then I relived the entire scene and reality sank in again. Even though Reeve had been behind the wheel, what had happened was unforgivable. She’d hated us all along and for good reason. At the moment, I hated us too.
My grim surroundings, the gnawing hunger in my stomach, and the dull ache in my chest darkened my thoughts, and I couldn’t remember feeling this low in a long time. Reeve’s loud snore rattled me, and I kicked his cot to wake him.
He opened his eyes, and it took him a moment to remember where he was. “Shit, for a minute there, I thought I’d passed out next to the toilet in our bathroom.”
“No, that was last weekend. This time you landed us both in jail. Now the bedroom and bathroom are conveniently located in the same place.”
He started to scrub his face with his hands only to remember too late that his nose was broken. He sat up. He had two black eyes and looked totally miserable. “Damn, that hurts.” He touched his nose lightly with his fingers. “It feels a little off center.”
I tilted my head as if I was assessing a strange piece of art. “Yeah, it’s definitely not in the same place it once was. You said chicks love a fighter’s nose. But I’ve got to tell you, you look pretty friggin’ ugly.”
“Great. Dad’s going to be even more pissed at you since I let him know that you were the reason we got our asses thrown in jail.”
“Whatever. Now he can just add a couple more things to his Jamison disappointment list.”
“Damn right I’m disappointed.” Dad was wearing his usual expensive black suit, thousand dollar shoes, and stern scowl.
He was a big man and he used his massive size as an effective intimidation tool when dealing with other people. Whenever it seemed things weren’t going his way or when some poor sap tried to work against him, Dad always seemed to grown in height and width as if that were physically possible. Standing in a small meeting room with my father could make even the most savvy business person feel vulnerable. But he’d lost his intimidation edge with us when Reeve and I had grown to match his height and shoulder width by the time we’d each turned sixteen. Dad had boasted about how he was proud to have such massively built sons, but deep down, I think that he regretted that he couldn’t use his size against us anymore.
Dad took one look at Reeve’s face and turned on the unsuspecting officer. “Why the hell isn’t this boy in the hospital? It’s obvious he needs medical attention. My lawyer is at the front desk paying bail. Looks like I’ll be discussing a lawsuit with him next.”
The officer seemed to shrink down with each word but recovered impressively. He stretched up to his full height but barely reached Dad’s shoulder. “He received first aid, and it was determined that he did not need any more than what was administered.”
“So you people are trained physicians?” Dad barked.
Reeve stood and walked over to smirk down at the officer through the bars of the cell. “I’m definitely feeling in need of emergency care.”
Dad’s lawyer, Mr. Finch, walked through the door leading to the cell area. He was as small as my dad was big and always had this creepy expression on his face like he was hiding some horrid secret-- like a body buried beneath his house or something. Dad looked back at him.
“Finch, come see Reeve’s face. Looks like we’ve got a lawsuit pending.”
Finch put on his best expression of shock and outrage. I could see little money symbols floating through his eyes. Like a snake, his head twisted on his long, thin neck, and he hissed at the officer. “Did you do this?”
“I did it,” I said before the officer could even open his mouth to protest.
“But he never received proper medical attention,” Dad said sharply.
Finch returned his attention to the officer. “Release them,” Finch commanded. “Their fine is paid, and you’ll be hearing from me soon.”
As the officer unlocked the door, he glanced back at my dad and I had to give the guy points for bravery. “This young man nearly killed a woman with his reckless driving.”
“Reeve, you’d better watch yourself out there. I don’t want to have to pay out big bucks for a wrongful death settlement,” Dad said in a pathetic attempt to sound like a parent.
We stepped out of the cell, and I stopped in front of my dad with my fists closed tightly. There was the slightest flicker of fear in his expression.
“Seriously, Dad? A policeman tells you Reeve nearly killed someone, and you’re worried about a settlement?” The words came out low and angry, and I realized how badly I wanted to throw my fist at him like I’d done to Reeve. He seemed to read my thoughts, and he flinched as I stepped closer. The usual cold tension filled the space around us.
“Shut the hell up, Jamison, before I have them put you back behind bars.”
I pressed my wrists together and held them up. “Go ahead. Put me back in.”
“Let’s go before you cause even more embarrassment to this family with your behavior.” Dad turned away and walked toward the exit.
I tossed a short, angry laugh at his back. “Believe me, Dad, no one could put more black marks on this family’s reputation than you have already.”
His giant shoulders tensed and he stopped suddenly. I was sure he was going to spin around and confront me but he didn’t. “Jamison, I’ll deal with you later. Let’s get Reeve to a doctor.” He continued to the door, and we marched through the building and trudged down the front steps in frigid silence.
Reeve had nearly run down a girl in his truck, but I was the one that Dad was going to deal with. That job on the fishing boat couldn’t come soon enough.
A premature heat wave gripped Angel Beach for several days. I’d fought a terrible urge to grab my fins and take the long trek down to my favorite part of the water. Unfortunately, it was the section of Angel Beach that stretched directly in front of the house where Jamison lived. Other than a short text asking how I was, which I never answered, I hadn’t seen or heard from him since the fight in the street. In fact, all seemed quiet and peaceful in town as if they’d all left for good. I’d spent a ridiculous amount of time glancing up at the front window wondering if Jamison might decide to step in line for a cinnamon roll, but there was no sign of him or his arrogant brothers.
I sat on the back porch with my very disgruntled dog. Riley had refused to wear a leash and was therefore banned from the sidewalk in front of the shop. I hugged my knees to my chest. Tiny beads of sweat dripped down my back, and I looked longingly at the refreshing water. The waves were smooth, round, and consistent-- perfect for body surfing.
Next weekend the lifeguard towers would be occupied, and the rush of summer tourists would begin. It looked as if the Freely brothers would miss the excitement. It seemed that they had put an abrupt end to their Angel Beach sabotage scheme. The thought should have brought me relief, but Jamison Freely had left a small, dark hole in my heart and nothing seemed to fill it.
Mimi poked her head out the back screen door. “Coco, it’s hotter than Hades outside. Take your fins and that depressed dog of yours and go for a swim.”
“But the best swimming beach is down by the Saunders house.”
“You know darn well why I don’t want to walk down there. I don’t want to see him, Mimi. I can’t see him.”
She stepped onto the porch, and the door snapped shut behind her. “Do you mean to tell me you’re going to spend the entire summer sitting on this back step because of some boy? Seems like the Freelys have driven you off Angel Beach after all.” She turned and headed back inside.
I sat there a moment longer and stared down the beach to the place where the curve of the shore created the best waves. A young dad was wading out with his little boy perched high on his shoulders. The boy screamed with excitement every time a wave rolled toward them.
Mimi was right. I’d stopped swimming, and it was all because of the Freely brothers. I stood, brushed the sand off my bottom, and went inside to change into my swimsuit.
More and more beachgoers dotted the sands of Angel Beach. Soon there would be more towels than sand, and the waves would be crowded with swimmers.
The cool water felt heavenly after three days of high temperatures outside and inside our tiny bake shop. Riley was busy begging for potato chips from a family who’d brought a huge barbecue, and seemingly the entire contents of their kitchen, for an elaborate beach picnic. I bobbed in the water and whistled to the dog, but he was too focused on the bag of chips.
That was when I noticed Jamison sitting behind the family. Even from the distance, I could see that his lip was still swollen. He was wearing dark sunglasses, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was looking straight at me. We stared at each other for a moment then I turned and swam farther out. His presence had flustered me enough that my enjoyable swim now seemed a chore.
I couldn’t catch a wave. Finally, a decent curl came my way, but I pushed off too late. I got caught under the lip, and the wave forced me to the bottom. My arms and legs flailed against the weight of the water and I couldn’t get my bearings. I was almost out of breath when the tide finally released me, and I shot through the surface gasping for air. Jamison was standing near the edge of the water with a look of concern on his face. It was a face I hadn’t seen in several days, but it still had the same impact on me, swollen lip and all.
“Are you all right?” he called, and I realized that even the familiar sound of his voice affected me.
I waved back. “I’m fine, just drank some sea water is all.” I floated toward shore realizing it was time to hit dry land. I took my time drifting in, half hoping Jamison would leave and half hoping he would stay. He turned away at first but then stopped and stood on shore watching me swim in. His hands were deep in his pockets, and even with his battered face, he was still breathtaking.
A nervous flutter erupted in my stomach before I’d even reached the shore. Jamison moved closer to the water’s edge.
We smiled awkwardly at each other as if we were strangers who’d just met. I pulled my hair into one long piece and gave it a good wringing. “Does it hurt much?” I asked.
He looked puzzled for a minute. “Oh, you mean this?” He pointed to his face and shook his head. “Hardly notice it.” He stared down at the sand for a minute then lifted his gaze to mine. It looked as if he wanted to say something, but instead he swallowed back his words.
“I thought you might have left after . . .” Now it was my turn to hesitate.
“Echo, I’m so sorry. My brother’s an ass, but you already knew that. And I’m an ass too. Deep down I knew you were too good for me, but I didn’t want to accept it. You were so incredible, and I was sure we could--” He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
We walked over to my towel and sat down. Riley raced over and flopped down next to Jamison.
“I guess he’s finally found someone he likes better than potato chips,” I said.
Jamison stroked the dog’s head.
“How long were you in jail?”
“Not long. My dad’s in town.”
I smiled. “Ahh, that would explain why it’s, as Mimi put it so eloquently, as hot as Hades out here.”
He smiled too but it looked slightly painful. “That’s a good one. Yeah, he’s extra pissed at me for breaking Reeve’s nose. He took him to the city to see a plastic surgeon. They’ll be back today . . . unfortunately.”
“You definitely throw a mean punch.”
He rested his forearms on the top of his knees and stared out at the water. “I was so pissed at him, I couldn’t stop myself.” He swallowed hard again. “I was sure you would never talk to me again.”
“I had every intention of not speaking to you again. But then I saw you standing there looking worried when the wave took me under--”
He faced me now and his nearness made me realize that my feelings for him were as strong as ever.
“You know, Echo,” he said quietly, “these last few days have been torture.”
“Because your dad’s been here?”
“No. Because you haven’t been. I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
I knew guys well enough to know when one was handing me a line, but the expression on his face, the intensity in his gaze and the set of his jaw made it clear that this was no line.
“I confess that you’ve crossed my mind a few times in these past few days as well.”
He smiled faintly. “A few times? I guess that’s better than never.”
“Well, maybe more than a few.” I dug my feet into the hot sand and hugged my knees. “Do you think the arrest has soured your dad’s desire to own this town?”
He shook his head. “If anything, it has strengthened his resolve. Now he’s determined to replace the police department too.”
“And just when I thought there could be no one more horrid than your brother.”
“Yeah, my dad makes Reeve look like Peter Pan.”
My heart sank as it dawned on me that this relationship was more than ill-fated, it was impossible. “It feels like we’re on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence, and no matter how badly we want to be together, the wire stops us.”
“I’m pretty good at jumping fences.” He reached up and trailed his fingers down my cheek and across my lips. My eyes drifted shut as I absorbed the sweet sensation of his caress. Then a throat cleared behind us breaking the spell.
Reeve had three pieces of surgical tape across his nose, and his blue eyes peered out from black rings. I made no attempt to hold back a smile.
“Go ahead and smile, Sweetie. We’ll see what happens to that smile when Dad razes this strip of ancient houses to the ground.” He turned his attention to Jamison. “Hate to interrupt this touching scene but Dad wants to see you. Now.” He continued to stand over us, managing to glower even through the swelling and bandages.
Jamison stared up at him. “You can go. I know how to get there from here.”
, I guess I’m just anxious to watch Dad annihilate you. I’ve never seen him so pissed.”
“That’s because you only see his good side. You are, after all, the
I did not need to be touching Jamison to feel his muscles tensing.
“You’ll have your fun soon enough. Now get out of here,” he said tersely.
Reeve turned hard on his heels and managed to kick up a cloud of sand as he left. We sat there for a moment watching the water.
“Annihilate is a strong word,” I said quietly. “Is your dad a violent man?”
Jamison continued to look out at the ocean. “Nah. Especially not now that I’m bigger than him. He always threatens to disown me. Maybe this time my wish will come true.”
It was hard to tell if he truly meant it, but there was no sadness in his tone when he spoke of being disowned. I knew first hand that being dumped by a parent was a harsh life lesson that no one should have to endure.
“Does he really think Reeve is the good son?”
“Reeve is just like him, vain, ruthless, and lacking a conscience. Dad’s proud of that. I guess I should go.” He took hold of my hand, lifted it, and pressed his mouth to my palm. “I wish things weren’t so damn complicated. I wish we were out on that fishing boat together.” Then he pushed to his feet and walked back home.