My Life as a Country Album: A Coming-of-Age, Boy-Next-Door Romance
An emotional, small-town, first-love romance between a spirited athlete and her football hero neighbor.
Feisty, dive queen Cam Swayne refuses to give up on her destiny. For as long as she can remember, her heart has belonged to the dreamy boy next door. But despite their lifelong friendship, the three years separating them seems like an insurmountable hurdle to the relationship she really wants.
Until one summer night, when everything changes and Jake finally sees her for the woman she’s become.
Can Cam’s sheer determination keep them together when college, illness, and fate come calling? Or will she be left to pick up the pieces without him?
“You were my only wish. My only dream come true. But what if I couldn’t keep you?”
Inspired by Taylor Swift’s “Begin Again,” this heartbreaking story of love, resilience, and unexpected happily ever afters might just leave a permanent mark on your soul.
Warning: tears may fall…
Start the complete, interconnected series today.
Also available in the My Life as an Album series box set.
Release date: April 17, 2017
Publisher: LJ Evans Book
Print pages: 407
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Behind the book
When Taylor Swift's words inspired me to write this novel, I had no idea it would win awards, spawn an entire series, and draw people to me who saw themselves in the story with aching clarity.
It was just supposed to be a book about a girl who loved the boy next door with all her heart, lost him, and had to find her way in the world again.
I hope it moves you, as much as it moved me.
My Life as a Country Album: A Coming-of-Age, Boy-Next-Door Romance
Out of the Woods
“Are we out of the woods yet
Are we in the clear yet
- Swift & Antonoff
It happened when we were out and about looking at apartments that we couldn’t afford. It was a failed attempt to reclaim some of our Polaroid moments of color and passion that had disappeared months ago with your kidneys. The sun streamed through a set of picture windows and highlighted you in a halo of light that captured my breath. In that moment, caught in the shimmery white, you almost looked like the football god you once were and not the weaker version of yourself you’d become. You gave me your slow, heart-melting smile as you grabbed my hand and twirled me around in the empty space until I was held tight against your chest, feeling like the only girl in your world. You swayed me back and forth, slow and sensual, and for a second, we forgot it all. We forgot the realtor, the year of doubt, and the harsh reality of the future. I let out a breath into your neck and thought maybe, just maybe, we were in the clear. We’d held onto each other through it all. You tipped my chin up, and I was caught, as I’d always been, in the sparkle of your beautiful, green and gold mosaic eyes. The only eyes that ever made me feel alive.
You kissed me, reaching down to the depths of my heart where you’d forever claimed every last tile on the walls of my soul. The realtor cleared his throat, but we just ignored him like we’d ignored everyone for that picture-perfect six months we’d been away at college. You smiled against my lips, and I couldn’t help but smile back. You whirled me out of your arms and then dragged me up the stairs at a jog.
I was smiling, still caught in that precious moment, when you turned to me again and whispered, “Cami,” and I listened because I always listened when you said my name that way and not the short version, Cam, that we both preferred. And this time, my heart melted for a totally different reason when your mosaic eyes turned to me with an indescribable look. It was like a switch had been thrown from that brief second of life below until now. Then you said something that would tear at me for the rest of my life. You said, “I love you, Camdyn,” before you crumpled to the floor.
An ambulance ride later, we were at the hospital. Again. How many times had we been there this year? It didn’t actually matter because I already knew. I already knew that this time it was going to be different.
You see, it was the only time in our entire life you’d called me Camdyn.
The Beginning: Mary’s Song
(oh my, my, my)
“And our daddies used to joke about the two of us
Growing up and falling in love and our mamas smiled
And rolled their eyes.”
- Swift, Rose, Maher
People who don’t know us, people like the therapist I saw not long ago, they always ask me the most ridiculous question. They ask me how you and I met. And I know, it is only ridiculous to us because we obviously know the story, but my tolerance for stupidity and my quick mouth running ahead of my brain, always has me replying with an equally ridiculous answer. I respond with a cryptic, “’Mary’s Song’!” And when they look at me puzzled, I just wave a disgusted hand and say, “Just listen to that song, and then you’ll know.”
You’d be grinning and laughing that deep, skin-tingling, Jake laugh of yours if you ever heard me say that. You’d tousle my plain, brown hair and say something smart-ass about me comparing our life to a country song. Not that you minded country music. We live in Tennessee after all and have a great many country artists on our playlists. You’d just find it humorous that I was comparing us to any song. Especially knowing me; knowing that I’m not really a girly girl who gets all romantic and mushy expecting you to sing to me like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.
But I still can’t help it because it’s the only response I know to that moronic question. When I think of our beginning, those lyrics are the first thing that pops into my head. It has two kids who are a couple years apart living next to each other and playing in their tree house, inseparable. It has them growing up with stolen kisses and tangled hands in truck rides out to the creek… or the lake in our case. And you know it’s true that the essence of that song is the inexplicable connection between the two kids. And that definitely was us. Will always be us.
I think THE moment your parents remember most as cementing our childhood connection is the “tree house incident.” I’m almost certain that you’d agree. Do you remember the hushed tone they’d take when speaking about it, as if some alien spaceship had landed in the middle of Tennessee? It really wasn’t the beginning of us… but it was the moment that made your parents scratch their heads and wonder about the nature of the universe and God and what things were meant to be.
I know I shouldn’t remember it as clear as I do, seeing as I was only four while you were seven, but I guess the “tree house incident” isn’t something you forget, even if you are only four. If I close my eyes, I can almost relive it moment by moment in my head. I remember it was my nap time, and I hated nap time just like I pretty much hated anything that kept me from your side. So, what did I do? I sneaked out of my house and went searching for you in “our” backyard. And of course, people who don’t know us look at me puzzled again, because we didn’t live together in the same house, but we did share a backyard. That’s because it’s really two yards, but our daddies tore down the fence that separated them before we were ever born, so we’ve always had this one big rectangle of suburbia that our families share like we pretty much share everything.
Focus, Cam. That’s what you’d tell me. Because it’s one of my worst traits, the way my thoughts and actions lead me down a completely different path than the one I start on. I could claim a disability I’m sure, but my family isn’t really a making-excuses-for-your-actions kind of family. Anywho, that day—the day of the “incident”—there was a ladder propped up against the aging oak tree where our daddies had begun building a tree house for us. And like always, my body had clambered halfway up the ladder before my brain caught up. And when my brain did catch up, it was because my body was soaring through the sky. There was nothing holding me but the thick Southern summer air. And then… Then what? Then I was in your arms, all smiles.
Everyone thought I should have been frightened, falling from a ladder like that at four. But I wasn’t. That moment of free falling filled my little body with electric energy as if I was a baby bird spiraling from its nest for the first time. What did scare me, however, was the look you gave me as I beamed up at you. It was the first time I remember you being angry with me. Definitely not the last. But the first. Your eyes turned this deep, deep lake green, and you yelled at me as much as you could with your seven-year-old voice and your adorable, dark, shaggy hair shaking about you.
“You could’ve been killed!” And even though you were furious and only a little kid yourself, you pulled me into a hug. At that point, I didn’t know better, so I squirmed away from your surprisingly strong arms just like I would my mama’s a minute later.
So? People would say. So, you caught me from falling. What’s so crazy about it that our parents call it the “tree house incident” in whispers? Well, it’s really about how you came to be in our yard, standing by that tree ready to catch me that gets everyone going.
Your mama, Marina, was two seconds behind you, and she hauled me to my house shaking like a kitten in a bath. She was babbling to my mama in that rapid-fire way of hers, “Jake and I were just eating lunch at the counter as always, when all of a sudden, he got this awful look on his face like he might throw up. He ran out the back door quick as a June bug, and I followed. And what do I see? Cami flying off of the ladder, and Jake catching her.”
“Oh my lord!” my mama exclaimed, pulling me and then you against her, to which, of course, we both objected and yanked ourselves away. “How on Earth did he know?”
Your mama and mine regarded us as if we were La Chupacabra itself because, as you well know, the golden granite bar in your kitchen has no view of our tree house. None at all. So, the question became: how on Earth had you known that I was out there? That I was climbing that ladder? That I needed saving? At that time, we didn’t care for the wild look in our mamas’ eyes, so we really did take off as quick as a couple of June bugs. And where did we go? Right back up the tree. To the place that became our little haven many times later in life.
People don’t believe me when I tell them that story. They don’t believe that I can remember it in such vivid detail when I was only four. They don’t believe that you took off from your house to save me without seeing me on the ladder. They think I made some kind of noise or something that you heard. Maybe. Maybe I did. All I know is that it wasn’t the last time we saved each other in crazy, unknown ways, was it? People can believe it or not. But it’s true. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a hundred needles in my eye.
That’s another thing, isn’t it? I never had to tell you I was telling the truth. You just knew. Just like I knew when you were telling the truth. It was the same whether we lied over stupid things like who ate the last MoonPie or more serious things like wounded hearts. No matter what, we just knew. I think that’s why you chose not to talk to me about some things later. So you wouldn’t have to pretend to lie, and I wouldn’t have to pretend not to know.
♫ ♫ ♫
The “tree house incident” is your parents’ favorite story about “us” from our childhood, but it’s not my mama’s. Did you know that? My mama’s story always starts before I was even born. Before you were even born. When I was little, she used to tell it to me daily over our breakfast cereal because I’d plead with her until she caved. I’d say, “Tell me how Jake made me,” and she’d grin.
Mama would say, “Well, Marina and I met in college. We were roommates and best of friends. That’s how it all really started.”
And I’d roll my eyes and say, “Mama, not that part.”
And she’d say, “Cami, the good things in life all have roots that start somewhere else.”
You know how hard it was for me to sit still when I was little. Even now, it still is. But I’d try my best because I knew the good part was coming. The part with you in it. I’d sit with my spoon waggling around and my foot going crazy kicking the table leg while Mama got all dreamy in her story-telling mode.
Mama would say, “When Marina and I met Jake and your daddies, it could have all gone south, but it didn’t. We all got along so well that it was just meant to be.” I didn’t get that when I was little, but I guess it could truly have gone haywire right then because sometimes couples just don’t get along, right? We certainly haven’t liked all of each other’s boyfriends and girlfriends. So, I guess it was meant to be that our daddies were as keen on each other as our mamas.
“Mama, tell me the part about Jake making me!” I’d demand, squirming in my seat, torn between wanting to hear the rest of the story and wanting to be done so that I could go find you. Mama would just smile her knowing smile at me.
“We were really lucky when we went to buy our first houses that there were these two beautiful places sitting right next to each other,” she’d start again.
“Because now Jake and I get to play together in one big yard,” I’d roll my eyes at her again, but she’d just smile. Making me be patient. That’s Mama. She never gave in to me. Still doesn’t.
“And it was just the kind of town we wanted to raise our children in. Enough country left to be part of Tennessee, but big enough for your daddies to make a living selling cars.” And I guess we were lucky that they’d put down roots in a place that allowed us to run wild in the country mud and then visit a mall all within the same fifteen minutes.
“As the first child to come along, Jake was a big deal, you know. Marina and Scott named him Jake Carter Phillips with the Carter being after your daddy.”
“Mama!” I’d kick the table leg harder and more incessantly.
“Sweet tea and stories both take time, Camdyn.”
In the home movies from that time, you were the hit of both families. You were this dark-haired beauty with kaleidoscope hazel eyes that were always more green than brown. I know, you’d razz me again for calling you a beauty, but you were. Even then. Like some gift that the gods laid down on Earth to torture us mere mortals with. You wouldn’t disagree with that, would you? You’d called yourself a god more than once in our life. Your mama even punished you once for it… focus, Cam. Save that story for later.
Back to Mama’s story… “Jake was a big deal for your daddies because as soon as he started throwing that football of his, it was always straight as an arrow and right on target. It was like some tall tale legend come to life, but Jake was a big deal for me because…”
“—he made me!” I’d interrupt, and mama would laugh.
“I was lying on the couch, that one right over there, sadder than I’d ever been,” she’d go on.
When she first started telling me this story, I’d stop her to ask why she was sad. Later, I knew it was because she’d lost a baby before me, so I didn’t even breathe a word because I didn’t want to hear about her or the lost baby. I wanted to hear about you.
“That dreamy little boy came over, laid his tiny hands on my tummy and said, ‘Drea. You be happy real soon.’ And he was right. It wasn’t even two weeks later that I found out I was pregnant with you. That Jake, he must have willed you into existence.”
And just like “Mary’s Song” gets stuck in my head, that picture of you gets stuck in my head too, because you’d always been like that: able to will things into existence like my mama swears you willed me into being. You were smooth as the lake on a still day even at two. So, how was any young girl ever going to keep from giving you their heart when you grew up into a muscled, dark-haired football hero with a sharp wit and a super-sized batch of kindness?
I always asked my mama the same question at this point. I asked, “And how’d you know I was a girl?”
Mama would wink at me and lean in real conspiratorial like, her brown eyes twinkling. “Well, that would be Jake again. One day he felt you kicking in my tummy, and he simply said, ‘That baby girl can’t wait to meet me,’ and so we all knew it was true. You were a girl.”
Swear to God that’s what my mama has always told me you said. My parents didn’t even come up with a boy name. I guess you were waiting for me then just like I had to wait for you later. And three years and two weeks after you were born, I came along. Camdyn Marina Swayne. My middle name, Marina, being after your mama.
From that moment in my mama’s stomach, when you said I was waiting to meet you, I was always waiting to meet you. Always waiting for your mosaic eyes to light upon me. It felt like that was the only time I ever was truly alive... when you were watching me.
Some kids do crazy stunts to get their parents’ attention, but the only person whose attention I ever wanted was yours. Did you realize that? Or did you just tolerate the crazy neighbor kid who couldn’t seem to leave your side? I don’t think you minded. I think we were always meant to be together. Remember, I could tell when you were lying.
Anyway, everything I did, from my very first memory, was in order to get you to look at me, laugh at me, or just sit next to me. The first time I actively remember using my wily ways to get your attention must have been right around the same time as the “tree house incident.” We were eating Popsicles out on the steps of your parents’ porch, licking the gooey sweetness faster than a dog at a water bowl, when I realized that you had your eyes on the boys playing football on the street. I knew that as soon as you were done, you were going to be off that step and on the street with them.
Even as young as you were, the boys in the neighborhood loved it when you threw the ball to them. You were destined to have a football in your hands at all times. And, even though later I would be an absolute tomboy, footballs and my hands were always like north poles of magnets trying to come together. That was one game that I just couldn’t ever really play.
At that moment, all I knew was that I didn’t want you out on the street with the boys. I wanted you with me. So, what did I do? Well, I just put my sticky little hand into yours and squeezed so hard that you exclaimed, “Cam!”
That drew our daddies’ attention. My daddy winked at yours and said, “Look at those two, stuck like glue. Someday we’ll be griping about the cost of a white wedding!”
Your daddy chuckled, but our mamas, swaying on the porch swing, looked down and saw two dirty, sticky messes and just rolled their eyes. “Don’t be wishing any such thing,” my mama scolded, but my daddy was still grinning.
You pulled me up and said with disgust, “Let’s get another Popsicle.”
But you know what? You didn’t drop my hand, not even though you were seven and grossed out by girls. Instead, you held it all the way into the house to the freezer where we stood for a long time cooling off before we raided it again with those sticky, dirty hands.
It wasn’t until after eighth grade, when your life changed, that you’d say to me, “I’m never getting married or having kids, Cami. I wouldn’t do this to another kid.” And I’d know that you were serious because you only called me Cami when you really wanted to make sure I was paying attention. And you never, ever called me Camdyn. Only that once. God… Did you realize that? Did you do it on purpose? I’m almost sure you didn’t. It doesn’t matter, I was always Cam. And I liked it that way because I fit in with the boys that way. Cami was a girl name. Cam… well that was just me. Me with you.
As we grew up, and even after your little sister came along two years after me, it was mostly you and I playing together. You didn’t seem as interested in her. Poor Mia. Mia Andrea Phillips with the Andrea after my mama. Mia was always such a good kid, and later, a good friend to me when you were away.
One of the reasons we were together so much was because your mama looked after me while my mama was working at the hospital and our daddies were at the car dealership. As a website designer, your mama could do her work and bake chocolate chip cookies all at the same time. Even then, your home was my home. Sometimes my memories are so blended together that I can’t remember whose house things happened in.
It didn’t matter to me whose house we were at as long as we were together; which is also probably why I hated school so much, especially before I started kindergarten, because you went away for the majority of the day. I think I was at my worst then. Well… maybe not. I can think of some times later when I was worse. Your poor mama! Only the good Lord knows how she put up with me as she did. I can remember her chasing me down the block on more than one occasion. When she’d catch me, she’d always say, “Where do you think you’re going young lady?”
I’d look at her as if she was an ogre, and I’d always say, “I’m goin’ with Jake.”
She’d laugh, and pick me up, kicking and screaming. “Someday, young lady, you’ll have another young man you’re following, and all I can say is, have mercy on his soul.”
It’s astounding that Marina and my mama didn’t agree to lock me in a closet during the day. I was bitter, grumpy, and mean. But once you came home, I was all sweet smiles.
We’d find ourselves on your bed tucked up liked two ‘possums. You’d read me whatever silly book that your first or second grade teacher would send home with you or I’d hold the flash cards up for you to practice your math facts. It didn’t matter to me what I was doing as long as I was doing it with you.
Once you were done with your homework, we’d be out on the street riding our bikes, playing tag, having mud fights, and, basically, finding anything and everything to get us dirty. Now that I’m grown up, and I think of all the wackos that live out there preying off young kids, I’m surprised our mamas let us take off like that. But our community felt safe. Our street felt safe. And when I was with you, I was always safe. Whenever I got hurt, there you were, with an arm around me and that heavenly scent of yours, like warm chocolate cookies and boy. Like home.
The boys on the block came along with us a lot. At least, that’s how I thought of it: them with us. I think they thought of it as some annoying little brat they had to drag with them. You didn’t. One time Paul Lambert found me tagging after you, and he said, “Cripes, Jake, did you have to bring the baby with you? We’re hunting ‘coons after all!”
And do you remember what you did? You punched him so hard in the gut that he landed in the mud of the creek bed.
Everyone just stared at him and you and me for a long time. Then you turned and headed down the creek, and I followed, but not before sticking my tongue out at Paul. No one ever complained about me again, at least not when I was around. Someday, you’d punch Paul over me again, but for a different reason. I promise, I’ll stay focused and save that story too.
When I finally did get to go to school, I didn’t hate it quite as much because at least we’d walk together and sometimes I’d see you at lunch… and I’d find other ways to be with you. But still, school was never my favorite place. My poor mama and daddy got called down to the school quite a bit because of my focus issues. And anger issues. Especially if I knew you were outside at recess, and I was still inside.
“Mrs. Morris, I have to go to the bathroom,” I’d say to my first-grade teacher, and she’d size up the desperate nature of my pee need. So, I’d squirm and hold my privates as if it was going to burst.
As soon as she relented, I’d be out the door and on the playground finding you. You were usually on the field, throwing a football, or, less frequently, on the basketball court. I’d jump right into the middle of whatever you were doing, and all the fourth-grade boys would roll their eyes, but no one would say anything derogatory. Not after you’d punched your best friend over me.
“Jake, your little friend is here again.” You’d look at me and smile, and I’d feel like I was home.
“What’d you say this time?” you’d ask me, eyes flashing with as much of a smile as your lips.
You’d rub my hair and put your arm around my neck and drag me back to class. Sometimes, you’d even grab my hand even with the boys looking on. When you got to my class, you’d look at my pretty first-grade teacher and say with your feather smoothing smile, “So sorry, ma’am. I promise it won’t happen again.”
But Mrs. Morris knew better. I swear sometimes she let me go because she knew I wouldn’t stop until I’d seen you. She may be the only teacher who ever understood that, so, “Thanks, Mrs. Morris, wherever you are!”
After school, I always went to your house. Some kids remember their mama or daddy helping them to write their name, but for me, it was you. Sometimes I wonder why you didn’t ever put up a stink about it. Why’d you help the five-year-old neighbor kid long after your own homework should have been done? It’s still an unsolved mystery to me.
Am I painting you like some sort of angelic savior? Probably. But to a kid three years younger than you, you pretty much were. I know. I know. If you were reading this, you’d probably toss something at me—probably a football— and call me a liar because you weren’t perfect. There were lots of times, especially as we got older, that it seemed you were downright mean to me. Cruel. But I know you didn’t intend it to be that way. It was just more difficult later. There were more expectations of how we should be together. Or not be together.
You’d probably also remind me that I was always the first one to criticize you, the first one to spot your weaknesses and imperfections. I could always tell when your throws were off, or when you’d missed an opening that cost a touchdown, and I’d tell you to your face. Just like I’d tell you, bluntly, that you’d strung the fishing pole wrong or that your hair was too long. I was never afraid to tell you that you were wrong. Or an idiot. Which you could be sometimes.
You hated math facts. You’d get so frustrated while memorizing them that you’d throw the flash cards at me. And what would I do? I’d just pick them up, shove them in your face and say, “Go ahead, be a butthead, doesn’t bother me.” And I’d just wait for you to say the math fact. So, no, you weren’t perfect, but you were mine. At least, that’s how I considered it when we were little.
And even though I hated it when you’d play football because it was a game I didn’t play, I was an unremitting coach and referee when you did play. Do you remember the first time you and Wade, a boy two years older than you, got into it about whether a catch had been made in bounds? You were right in each other’s faces and were a breath away from going to blows when I slammed the ball out of your hands, which wasn’t an easy thing to do, and said, “It was out of bounds, idiot. Third down.”
Wade smirked because I’d called in his favor. Your mosaic eyes regarded me as if you wanted to toss me into the creek, but I cut you off.
“One word, and I’ll kick your ass out of the game,” and I put my hands on my hips daring you to argue with me.
That made you grin, and you ruffled my hair as you walked away, calling back, “Don’t swear!” After that, everyone always listened to the six-year-old referee. I was the official game caller because everyone knew I’d call it fair… even if it was against you.
So, I guess instead of responding with “Mary’s Song,” I could tell people all of this. But who would want to listen to all of that when it’s so much easier to listen to that Taylor Swift song and know just exactly how we knew each other? It doesn’t say it all, but it gets close. And maybe it would have stayed even closer to that if you hadn’t gone ahead and got hormones before I did. In any event, for a long while, we went to school together, did homework together, played together, often ate together, and many, many nights my parents had to come pick me up off your bed where we’d fallen asleep together.
You know that other country song by Tim McGraw, the one about the boy asking the daddy not to take the girl? Well, I guess that could have been us too.
I'm Only Me When I'm With You
“And sometimes we don't say a thing;
just listen to the crickets sing.
Everything I need is right here by my side.”
-Swift, Orrall, Angelo
So, once people realize we’ve known each other since we were babies, the next question is usually something like, “But when did the two of you really, you know, hook up?” And that is a much harder question to answer because whether we were out at the lake listening to crickets, or in the tree house counting stars, we were always together. All I ever needed was you. You at my side. Even when you drove me crazy, like you were prone to do, I never wanted to be without you. It always felt like I wasn’t quite myself until somehow our day brought us right next to each other again.
I guess the easier question to answer goes something like this, “When weren’t you together?” That question I can answer with one godforsaken word. Hormones. That’s when we weren’t together. When hormones kicked in, wouldn’t you agree? Your hormones first. Mine later. I swear those pesky little things are both the best and worst of people.
I first noticed yours on the way home from the creek one spring day. You and Paul were sniggering about balls. You both were having laughing fits over it, and the worms we’d just spent the afternoon catching were spilling out of our pails like escapees from the apple basket. I didn’t like you messing with the bait we’d just spent hours collecting, so I punched you hard in the arm.
“Geez, Cam. That hurt.” But you didn’t punch back. You never did.
Paul sniggered again, “At least it wasn’t in the balls.”
And you were both in fits of boy laughter all over, worms escaping over the sides of the cans and all.
That night, as Mama came in to say goodnight and tuck me in the best I’d let her, I asked, “Mama, what the heck is wrong with Jake these days? He keeps talking about balls and nuts and looking at girls all funny.”
My mama stared at me like I had four heads. And because she did that a lot, I didn’t really think anything about it. She started to say something. Stopped. Started again. It was like she was the catfish we’d caught that night, trying to breathe air when it never knew how.
Finally, Mama burst out with that one word. “Hormones!” and when I looked puzzled, mama just kept on going. “All that’s wrong with Jake is a good, old-fashioned case of adolescent hormones!”
With Mama working at the hospital, I thought hormones were a disease. “How do we fix it?” I asked calmly. This gave my mama a good chuckle. She never answered me, just shook her head and left the room. It took me a while before I realized what she’d meant. But, come to find out, part of your problem was a disease, we just didn’t know that right away, did we? So, I guess for now, we’ll blame it all on the hormones.
Those annoying little critters were definitely in the air the summer before you entered eighth grade. That was the summer the pool at the high school had been finished, and it was the new place to hang out if you were under fourteen. That first day we rode our bikes there, my mama loaded up that stupid pink backpack my grandmother bought me with water, snacks, sun screen, blah-blah, and made me take it with me! A PINK backpack! I still shiver at the thought.
The pink backpack was my grandmother’s lame attempt to make me into a girly girl. I bet you’d think that was funny now. Someone trying to turn Cam into a girl. Well. Maybe you wouldn’t laugh now. But, going into eighth grade, the thought of me being a girly girl would have made you pee your pants. Somehow my grandmother had gotten the idea that because I was going into fifth grade, I would suddenly have a desire for skirts, fancy shoes, and boobs. I didn’t want any of that. I didn’t want anything that was going to slow me down from keeping up with you. And at that point, that was tennis shoes, shorts, t-shirts, and messy brown ponytails.
So, what did I do when Mama handed me that pink backpack full of supplies? Well, I stomped my foot and threw this huge tantrum. “I’ll just take my old backpack!”
“That revolting, wet-rat smelling thing with holes? I threw it away,” Mama responded calmly.
“Well, I’m not taking that P-I-N-K one!” I stomped again with my hands on my hips. She met my furious look with a tranquil one of her own. She was used to my fits of anger, but she had her hands on her hips too, so I knew she meant business as much as I did.
“If you don’t take it, you don’t go,” she replied, leaving it on the floor by my feet. She knew I’d take it because she knew there was no way I was letting you go to the pool without me.
I sighed deeply, grabbed it, and headed out the door where I promptly got a little of my normal Cam revenge by dragging it through the dirt down our driveway. I knew that when we came home, my mama was going to be as mad as a hive of bees that’s been poked at, but I didn’t care. At least this way it had lost some of its pink sheen. My poor mama… I really wasn’t an easy child, was I?
Where was I? Oh yeah, pool. I met you at your porch and was ready to punch you if you said something about the P-I-N-K backpack, but you didn’t really notice. Instead, we grabbed our bikes, rode to the pool, paid our two dollars, and entered a brand new world. There were kids from our school all over the place. Most, parent free, like us.
“No Blake. No Wade,” I said in disgust. And you didn’t disagree. We knew where they were. They were at the lake. The new high school pool might entice wannabe teenagers, but all the cool high school kids still hung out at the lake. And that’s where we really wanted to be.
You shrugged and tousled my hair, “At least it’s somewhere wet. And… no parents.”
And you were right. It was hot, sticky, and basically a normal summer in Tennessee, so we’d rather be at some sort of water than nowhere. We set up with your friends, Paul and Craig, in between the diving boards and the snack bar. My friend Wynn, who was basically the only girl at school who would put up with my craziness, came with her sister, Kayla. What a mistake that turned out to be! But when I first saw Wynn, I didn’t know that. I was just super glad to see her.
Wynn wasn’t quite the tomboy I was, and she was starting to get boobs and thought that was the beginning and end, but she’d still play chicken and Marco Polo and splash the boys, so it was okay. She had pretty strawberry blonde hair and pale blue eyes with this pale white skin that made me think of cupcakes, but it also meant she got sunburnt really easily, so she always smelled of sunscreen, almost year-round.
That first day at the pool, we let out all our craziness. We jumped and dove, hit balls, threw Frisbees, and basically acted like monkeys escaped from the zoo. The lifeguards yelled at us probably a million times, but never kicked us out. We splashed everyone. Not on purpose, but we were always intense and competitive when it came to any game we played, weren’t we? The few grown-ups who had braved the pool with their little ones frowned and pulled their toddlers away. But we didn’t care. The pool was our new kingdom, and we were set to rule it with panache.
The best thing about the pool for me ended up being the diving boards. They had two; one at five meters and another at seven and a half meters. They didn’t want “little kids” like me on the high board, but I slipped up there anyway. I did all kinds of wild stunts off the boards. Paul and Craig thought I was insane, and sometimes you did too, but I think you thought the diving board was safer than anything else I’d frequently jump from.
After my first flight from the tree house, I’d been addicted to that feeling of free falling. I would do anything to just get a moment of air time. It drove you nuts. You were always saving me from jumping off the roofs of cars, beds of trucks, the shed, a tire swing, whatever would give me a few seconds of that floating feeling. You must have thought I was a pain in the ass more than once, but you never showed it to me back then. Not when we were little.
The lifeguards must have realized I could handle it too because after the first few times of screaming at me, they’d just shrug and let me go. That moment, me on the diving board, was life changing. It started something really good which probably kept me sane during our teenage years and the angst I went through over you… the angst that started, ironically enough, also at the pool.
I had just gotten out of the water after one particularly kick-ass stunt, and Paul and Craig were clapping me on the back when I noticed you weren’t there to critique me. It seemed you hadn’t watched my dive at all. I thought maybe you’d gone to the bathroom or to the snack bar, but you hadn’t. You were still there, you just weren’t watching me. And, of course, that made my stomach turn as if I’d eaten bad sushi.
Who were you watching? You were watching Kayla. Well, really you were watching her boobs. No way, you’d say, right? But you’d grin, like you always did when you knew I was razzing you about something true. Let’s face it, boobs were still pretty much all eighth-grade boys could think about, and Kayla’s very tan pair were barely covered by her teeny tiny pink bikini. P-I-N-K! Pink! Ugh! I already hated pink, so you can imagine how I felt about the color after that.
Kayla did not have Wynn’s strawberry complexion because they weren’t really related at all, completely different parents who’d wound up marrying each other. Kayla was all gorgeous, bikini-model-like blonde, and she knew it, and you’d just discovered it. You were eyeing her bikini like it was the last MoonPie and you couldn’t wait to dig in.
Kayla worked that bikini well. She had her perfectly manicured hand on your arm, with her hip stuck out just so, and she was giggling at something you said while tossing back her shiny hair. And you smiled. You smiled at her so beautifully. The smile that I thought was just for me and could smooth the ruffles on the angriest wild cat… meaning me. Your smile kept dropping down to her chest which was moving as she laughed and was barely staying inside that stupid-colored bikini.
Wynn, Paul, and Craig were taunting me to go back and try my backflip off the board again because they didn’t think I could repeat its greatness, but I was lost in that moment with you staring at Wynn’s stunning sister while I was left on the side of the pool, wet as a seal, in board shorts and a one piece. With no boobs. And no shiny blonde hair. Mine was dark brown. Kind of mousy, but after the summer, it would have enough reddish highlights to be classified as chestnut, but no way was it the blonde perfection of Kayla’s. And my gray eyes? Well, they paled into insignificance against her bright, clear sky blue ones.
Everything went perfectly still, like when you’re under the water. The sounds were muffled and things were in slow motion as I walked towards the two of you. You didn’t raise your eyes from her chest to me. You didn’t even register I was there. You hadn’t seen my backflip. You didn’t know how great it had been. My insides twisted faster and faster. So, without thinking, which is what always got me into trouble, I stuck out my hand and pushed Kayla into the pool as I walked by.
You started laughing. You were, after all, a teenage boy. You weren’t even mad. But after one little glance in my direction, you turned back to the pool to where Kayla had emerged from underneath the water. She was mad enough for both of you. Her hair was flattened to her head, and she had mascara running down her face, but you held out your hand to her and easily lifted her up with all your muscled boy-ness. I wanted to scream. I crossed my hands over my non-existent chest and just watched, realizing my mistake as soon as her pink-toenailed feet hit the sidewalk because now you couldn’t keep your eyes off her pale pink bikini top or bottom because they were both very, very see-through.
“Oh my God, you are such a freak!” Kayla yelled at me. She pushed my shoulder, and you didn’t come to my defense like you normally would. You were mesmerized by the sight of the dark hair through her bikini bottom.
Wynn had hurried up to the two of us, and she realized just as I had why your eyes were basically popping out of your head. I looked Kayla up and down as best I could even though I was a good couple inches shorter than her and replied snottily, “At least I’m not showing everything I own to the entire town.”
“Jesus, Cami!” Wynn breathed out in a frustrated voice. Kayla looked down at herself and turned about five different shades of red. Wynn shoved Kayla’s matching pink cover-up at her. She scrambled into it and couldn’t look at you again which made me happy. For the moment.
“We’re leaving, Wynn,” Kayla said in a haughty tone that only big sisters and mamas seem to be able to perfect. “You can thank your mutant friend for spoiling our day.”
Kayla stomped over to pick up the rest of her things and shoved them in her designer bag before storming out of the pool area. Wynn wasn’t happy. So, I was already feeling contrite. My only girl friend was really pissed off at me.
“I’m sorry, Wynn.”
“I just don’t understand you sometimes,” was all she said as she followed Kayla out. It wasn’t the last time Wynn would say that to me. Truth was, sometimes I didn’t understand me either. I couldn’t tell you why I did the spontaneous stuff I did. It was just my body working faster than my brain.
When I turned to you, I thought you’d be just as angry at me as Wynn was, but you were still beaming like you’d made a touchdown. You put your arm around me and rubbed my hair in that way that always sent tingles from my scalp to my toes. “Thanks for that, Cam. I owe you big time.”
And that’s when I found out quick enough that the pool was my enemy, at least, where you were concerned. That was the first day you found out that your godlike status had moved from the football-boy world to the girl world.
Ugh! See! Hormones. On the bike ride home, all you, Paul, and Craig could talk about was Kayla Nichols in her see-through bikini. I’d just given you the gift of porn and didn’t know it. What I did know was that we had to get out of that stupid pool and into the lake, but I just didn’t know how to make it happen. It took care of itself after just a few weeks, but I didn’t know that, that day.
I refused to go with you to your house when we got there. It didn’t register to you why. You still had Paul and Craig with you and probably needed to go lock yourselves in the bathroom in your house. Who knew? I didn’t want to think about it. I heard you all talk about stuff you shouldn’t be talking about in front of me, but I didn’t really want to imagine any of it. Made me a little nauseous, really, at the age of ten.
That was the first day that I really started to look at myself not just as a kid, but as a GIRL. I went home and stood staring into my mirrored closet door. And what I saw was a tomboy in a one-piece bathing suit with buds for breasts. They were there, coming in, but they weren’t the mounds that Kayla had. And I’d started to get hair in places I didn’t want to think about and kind of grossed me out, but even if I’d worn Kayla’s bikini, there wouldn’t have been anything to see when it got wet. At the moment, all I knew was that I hated Kayla for being able to keep your attention. Not that I wanted a pale pink bikini. It wouldn’t have withstood the dives that I wanted to do from the seven-meter platform, but I realized then that you liked girls and for the first time I realized that you wanted girls in a way you didn’t want me.
I pounded my pillow so hard that night that it burst on one end, showering my room with downy feathers that felt like my reality coming apart. I didn’t know how to fit into that new world you were suddenly fascinated with like a cat is to a laser. I thought of my grandma and her pink backpack she’d given me. I could start right then being a girly girl if I wanted, but I knew that would exclude me from another part of your life. The part you still lived in more: the boy part. The riding bikes, fishing, hiking, football-playing part that I was much more comfortable being in.
The next day, I was quiet on our way to the pool. You still didn’t notice. You, Paul, and Craig were wondering what kind of bathing suit Kayla would be in today. Still snickering and all boy talk. When we got off our bikes, I punched your shoulder like I always did when it was difficult to get your attention.
“What the hell, Cam?”
“If you’d get your head away from your jockstrap for five minutes, you’d realize that I’m still beating you two to one at the 100 butterfly. Don’t you think that’s a hell of a lot more important than a bikini?”
“Jesus, Cam. Don’t talk like that,” you said and then just stared at me.
I crossed my arms over my non-existent chest. Cussing was a big thing with you and your boys now that you were in middle school. It was like you’d crossed some invisible line into what you thought manhood was all about. But if I cussed or repeated any of your gross boy comments, you hated it.
“So, you’re wussing out on me? I can declare myself swim champ this year? Sounds awesome! Guess you’ll be the one shoveling poop for a month, because that was our bet. Winner gets a month off poop duty. And remember, my dog’s twice the size of yours, so there’s a lot of it in our yard.”
You narrowed your eyes at me. I’d caught your attention. “No way in hell am I on poop duty.” Your voice was deep and challenging. My spine tingled. I’d gotten you back even if it was for just a few seconds.
It didn’t last long. I lost you again when we went inside. The three of you were surrounded by pretty faces. Kayla, her equally blonde friend, Brittney, and their horde of girly friends flocked to you. They liked to ooh and ahh and toss their hair at the three gorgeous boys of summer. Especially you. You were a tanned summer god who could play football, flex strong muscles, and show off washboard abs that you didn’t even have to work at getting. Paul and Craig were pretty too. But everyone knew you were the real god.
You stood about two inches taller than Craig and had a smile that lit up a room. And your eyes! Those mosaics that flashed and laughed and made a girl feel like they were the only one that mattered. And you were nice. Paul and Craig were pretty crass. You were smooth like ice cream. You’d always been. You’d practiced on my mama.
I got in the pool, and Wynn was quickly at my side. I’d called last night to apologize. She’d said, “I know you think Jake’s yours, but what eighth grader is going to pick a fifth grader to be his girlfriend?” I hadn’t argued. I didn’t tell Wynn that I didn’t want to be your girlfriend. The thought of kissing you at that point made me want to eat a lightning bug. But I also knew that I didn’t want you kissing Kayla Nichols.
“Hey, pretty boy, you ever gonna get in the pool or shall I just race undefeated?” I shouted out at you.
You dove in so fast it splashed all the girls. They screamed their high-pitched girly screams, but couldn’t stop smiling at you anyway. It was like a herd of boy band fans. When you reached me, you dunked me under the water. I couldn’t really put up much of a fight. You were bigger and stronger than me. I didn’t really want to fight. You were mine again, if only for the length of the pool.
I came up spurting but grinning just in time to hear you tell Wynn to call start. I barely had time to catch a breath and get into position before she screamed go. I raced alongside you. You were bigger and stronger, but the water and I had a certain relationship that you didn’t. The water seemed to move me forward like a surfer on top of the waves. You had to fight it. In the end, you still won that match.
When we got back to the start, we had parents screaming at us because we’d knocked little kids out of the way and the lifeguard came and told us to take it easy. But you were grinning at me. At me! So, everything was right in my world. They could have told me that we were banned for life, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Your gaze didn’t stay with me for long though. Every time you came up for air, the girls surrounded you. That’s when I gave them their name. The gaggle of geese. Flocking around you like birds to seed. Stupid, white, pretty birds. Mean. But pretty. Geese are mean. You ever noticed that? They’ll chase after you and bite you even if you’re feeding them. Plus, the sound was just like a gaggle. Loud, obnoxious, and never shut up.
That day, Paul and Craig didn’t even bother joining our races. They usually did even though neither of them could kick either of our asses. Maybe that’s why. Paul nor Craig wanted to get shown up by a little girl in front of the gaggle. Plus, let’s face it, they loved the girl attention.
That night on the bike ride home, I brought the whole pool issue up.
“We’re never going to finish our races at the pool. The lifeguards are yelling at us constantly, the parents are whiny, and the girls won’t stop touching you.”
You grinned at me. You were enjoying your newfound super power. Football may still be number one, smooth talking number two, but now girl magnet was number three. “I know. I’m a king among men, what can I say?”
I reached out and pushed your shoulder causing you to nearly swerve your bike into the fence. You just laughed at me.
“We need to go to the lake to get some peace and quiet.”
You turned serious. Probably because you knew that once I got a burr up my derriere, I never let it go until I got what I wanted. “Our parents will kill us if they find out we’ve gone to the lake,” you reminded me.
“Who’s gonna tell? At least we won’t be bothered by your gaggle of geese in their itty-bitty bikinis.”
You were all smiles again. It had really gone to your head. Admit it. That summer you were all ego. Well, not just that summer, for several summers!
“They’ll get used to seeing me in all my suntanned glory and back off,” you said. I probably could have reached out and touched your ego that day.
I shrugged, doubting that they’d ever leave you alone. Geese didn’t leave the bread sitting there. They tore it to shreds. They fought over it viciously and the winner got the remains. I wasn’t sure I liked the thought of you being the remains. And I certainly didn’t want to be left with the crumbs of you.
Over the next couple weeks, it was more of the same. We hardly got to swim, we were behind on our racing goal for the summer, and I was in the lead in the poop bet. Finally— thankfully— you grew a little tired of the attention. I mean, it was good to be flirted with and touched, but they were also a little light in the conversational category. They talked shoes and TV dramas and who had kissed who. You wanted to talk football and NASCAR and, well, the who had kissed who was okay. So, we hatched a plan with Paul and Craig to go to the lake instead of the pool.
Our parents would have skinned us alive and hung us out to dry if they’d known what we were doing. Unsupervised lake? With the teenagers there partying and whooping it up? Well, it wasn’t exactly a parent’s dream come true, was it?
For me, that first day at the lake was magical. The high school kids didn’t hit the lake till later in the day. Maybe they were sleeping off their hangovers or making plans for that night, who knows, but they weren’t there till the afternoon. And the lake wasn’t really big enough to attract serious boaters or water-skiers. So, all in all, it was pretty quiet.
We were a lot farther from town and our houses, but it was all good. We had your cell phone in case of emergencies, but we’d almost die before we used it and have our parents find out. We didn’t want to ruin a good thing.
The lake had a warm breeze and the smell of the trees and flowers. One hundred and ten percent better than the chlorine, suntan lotion, and hot dog stench at the pool. We measured the distance across at the short end and had our new racing grounds. We didn’t have Wynn. I missed that a little. Just a little. But there was no way I wanted Wynn to know where we were and bring the flock of gaggling girl geese with her. Plus, Wynn would probably say something to her mama, and it would all be over because then my mama would know. Wynn wasn’t the best secret keeper in the world back then.
We raced all day. Hardly used sunscreen. Ate lunch on the shore. And we didn’t have to fight with babies, parents, or lifeguards. It was a little piece of heaven. You beat me every single race that day, and yet I was still smiling. I told you that it was because you weren’t distracted by boobs. You laughed and ruffled my hair, but didn’t disagree.
We were both starving by the time we left at almost six o’clock. We’d eaten everything we’d brought with us by about one. When we were at the pool, you were constantly back and forth to the snack bar, so we’d never really gone hungry. That day you acted cranky and a little disoriented on the way home. I had to keep you from making a couple wrong turns down the dirt roads, and you growled at me like my dog, Sparky, when the cable guy came to our house.
When we got home, dinner was waiting on your table, and we scarfed it down like we hadn’t eaten in a week. As soon as you had food, you perked right back up. When I made a couple wisecracks about your GPS failing you, you looked at me funny like you didn’t even know what I was talking about. Even in my stupid ten-year-old brain, that seemed strange.
So, I just started packing lots of extra food. Energy bars, bananas, extra sandwiches, and Gatorades. I don’t think I really realized that anything serious was wrong with you. I just thought you’d been super hungry. My mama thought I was trying to save money and was all smiles. If she’d known I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the money, that I just wanted to keep you from being cranky with me, she might have been a little more hesitant to send me off with such a pile.
Slowly, as the summer got hotter, the lake got busier earlier in the day. More teenagers came bringing their music and beer. Most of them left us alone because, even as middle schoolers, you and your boys seemed like kids to them. But a few of them, Wade and Blake especially, because they were the ones who played football with you on our block, began to watch our races. And even participate. It became a new adventure. They hated being beaten by a “little” girl. But I was quick as lightning in the water. I didn’t always win, but I came close, and sometimes I did win.
Unfortunately, they also brought their girlfriends with them. That was a distraction for you again because these girls had more curves than the wannabes at the pool had. They were also a lot more experienced, and better at flirting, and you were the god you were even at thirteen. The only good thing is that the lionesses weren’t really interested in a man-cub, even though you were the god you were.
But you were interested. Or rather, your hormones were. One day, while you were particularly distracted by the music wafting from Wade’s car and the teenage girls in their short-shorts and bikini tops dancing around full of alcohol, I was left alone longer than I could stand. I got angrier than a bull stabbed in its… well… that would be more boy humor. I’d gone from competing with a gaggle of geese to a group of lionesses. And if the geese outshone me, the lionesses might as well have eaten me alive, the little grasshopper I was.
So, that day, while you were honing in on your flirtation skills, I was alone, with no kaleidoscope eyes watching me. And I only felt alive with you or when I was in the air. So… that left me eye-balling the cliff hanging over the lake. It seemed to be a little higher than the seven and half meter board at the pool, but to me, that just added to the challenge and excitement. It would mean I’d be in the air for longer.
I left you on the beach, found my way barefooted through the trees, up the cliffside and out onto the edge. I looked down into the water and could feel the breeze on me already. It was a hot, sticky breeze, but I knew it would lift me up and away, and for three seconds I’d feel as if you were watching mie whether you were or not.
I closed my eyes and pictured the dive. I just wanted a forward pike with a twist. At that point, I didn’t know what the move was called. I just could picture in my head what I wanted my body to do.
I pushed off the edge, and just as I felt my feet leave the ground, I heard you. That inner sense of yours had tuned in at the last minute, and you screamed, “Cami! Nooooo!”
But it was too late. I was already rotating through the air, feeling alive and feeling the breeze. I unfolded, arms first into the water. I took my time coming up to the surface, and when I did, you had swum out to me. You grabbed my shoulders and shook me so hard my eyeballs rattled.
“What the hell were you thinking?!”
“You’re hurting me,” I said as you pushed your fingers harder into my arms and continued to shake.
“You God damn fool!”
I looked up at you feeling alive from my dive. Alive from your eyes on me. I’m sure I was all smiles. I felt right down to my bones that it had been a damn good dive. But you weren’t interested in critiquing my dive at all. You were all rant and no rave.
“You can’t dive here at the lake! You don’t know how low it is or what the hell is under the water. You could have broken your neck. You could be dead!”
You were raging, and your fingers were still digging into me, and I still didn’t care.
Blake swam out to join us. “She okay?”
“I’m fine!” I said with a grin the size of Texas on my face.
You were still glaring at me, and Blake noticed the whiteness of your fingers pressed into my skin. He reached out and tore your fingers from my arms.
“Dude. You’re gonna leave a mark. Let her go. She’s okay. She’s Super Girl.”
You released me, but then you brought me up against your chest and hugged me so tight, like you had when you’d caught me flying from the tree house ladder. Your chin rested on top of my head. This time, I definitely didn’t push you away. Instead, I let my hands wrap around you as you held onto me like you’d never let me go. And I was lost. That was the only place I could ever call home. Ever.
We stayed late at the lake that night. Wade and Blake had brought their tiny barbeque out with them and cooked burgers, and we’d even gotten permission to stay out with them. Well…our parents thought we were “going to the lake with them,” not “staying at the lake with them.” Paul and Craig had to go home. Gee, darn. So, it was just you and I and the rest of the teenagers.
After we’d eaten, Blake brought out his guitar and started dazzling the ladies with his country rock music, which didn’t sound too bad, but what did I know? I couldn’t carry a tune any more than I could throw a football. Anyway, the lionesses were otherwise engaged, and you and I went over to our favorite tree. The one that looked like it was holding its arms up to the sky in a victory dance. We lay down on the grass below it. The sun went down, and the lightning bugs came out. The air smelled like summer. But all I could smell was you. The sweaty boy smell that somehow didn’t disgust me at all. It smelled like grass and earth and summer and cookies.
You put your hands behind your head, and I laid my head on your inner arm. We stared at the stars as they started to sprinkle the sky almost as if the lightning bugs buzzing through the grass had been caught up in the great beyond. We were quiet for a long, long time. Finally, you broke our silence.
“You have to promise me, you won’t do that again, Cami.” You said it in your voice that had changed to its deep, deep ember over the summer. I knew you were serious because you called me Cami. So, I just nodded, my heart in my throat.
“I mean it. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.” I couldn’t have responded if I wanted to because, at ten, I didn’t even begin to understand the flood of emotion those words gave to my body just beginning its own hormone overdrive.
“Let me hear you say it,” you said while never looking at me, just looking at the sky as it turned from gray to midnight blue.
“I promise I won’t dive off the cliff again,” I said quietly. Solemnly. And you knew I was telling the truth because I never broke promises to you. And right then, I had no intention of breaking that promise. But later on, that was a different story. And I guess that story is for later.
Blake ruined the moment when he called out to us, “Come on lovebirds, time to pack it in.”
“You’re perverted, Blake,” you hollered back as you pulled me to my feet. And I guess to you, at thirteen, that did seem perverted. As if you’d think twice about a ten-year-old whose boobs had barely started to form.
But I took off so fast towards Blake that you started teasing me on the ride home in the back of his pickup truck about having a crush on him. And sure, Blake’s shaggy blonde hair and baby face was on top of a really built body, but I wasn’t interested in him. There was only one boy I’d ever be interested in. And right then, his mosaic eyes were looking at me with laughter. What more could a girl want?
At our houses, Blake stopped long enough for you to lift me off the tailgate and holler, “Adios, Super Girl,” before tearing off the down the street. I winced as your hands touched my bruised arms from earlier, and the wince didn’t escape your notice even though I tried to play it off.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” you said with emotion in your voice.
“I’m sorry you did too,” I said back. You hugged me one more time. Just a one armed, sideways hug before letting me go and ruffling my hair. We headed to our respective porches. I stopped with my hand on the doorknob when your voice called out to me.
“It was a really beautiful dive.”
I was all smiles when I walked through the door because I knew that, no matter what happened, you would always understand what drove me.
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