The pestering feeling would not go away.
He was forgetting something.
Devon stared up at the ceiling. His head pounded in time with his heartbeat. He woke up at the edge of his bed. Half of his body was suspended in the air and off the mattress. A blanket covered the other half on the bed.
He was forgetting something, he was sure of it.
He sat up. His throat was so dry that he wanted to heave air. Standing carefully and getting his footing, he went into the bathroom.
Water rode down tired, sweaty skin.
Finish Literature homework
That was pretty obvious.
Go with Cristina to visit her grandmother.
Devon chuckled. Cristina hated visiting. Well, guess what Cristina? I hate visiting too. He would skip it, call, and make-up something.
Devon shampooed his hair. Of course, there was that party for Melissa’s birthday tonight. He planned to go there, dance until his feet were sore, and drink lokos until he puked. It was the weekend after all. School and responsibility for five days was enough.
I’m so glad the season is over. He no longer had reason for restraint.
Maybe he’d even take Cristina…oh, he couldn’t, no…not if he was going to lie about visiting bag lady.
He left out something. Out of the shower, he wrestled into the day’s clothes: a pair of denim pants he found on the floor and a shirt from his closet.
The doorbell rang.
Suddenly he knew what he’d forgotten.
The girl stood in the doorway, shifting her weight and pulling up a sliding bra strap.
“Hey,” she said her voice flat.
They were working on articles today. Devon ran a hand through his damp hair. “Come inside.”
Devon disappeared to the kitchen.
Paige sank into a plush chair in the living room.
Walls alternated between burgundy and beige. Ornate chairs and tables matched the home’s dark wood flooring. She saw they had a lot of artwork, but no family portraits. Every house has a smell to it, and this one wasn’t any different. The air had a faint scent of all-purpose cleaner, moth balls and wood polish.
A leather-bound, photo album rested on the side table next to her. Paige picked it up and opened it.
“What’s in the paper this week?” she called.
Kitchen cabinets opened and shut amid rattling sounds. “Lia’s got a piece on Stevens again. Greg did one on Bass Towers’ fiftieth anniversary. There’s some more, I forgot.”
There was a faded picture of a man in army fatigue with two children on his lap. Paige noted the man’s pointed nose, prominent cheekbones and azure eyes. He looked like Devon.
“Which one are we working on first?” she asked.
“That’s what I forgot to tell you. Cristina and I finished on Friday.”
She flipped to the next page. “Oh.”
“I was about to leave,” Devon shouted from the kitchen. “I guess that I could drop you home. Do you want anything to eat?”
She heard the beep of a microwave. “No thanks.”
There was a Polaroid, browned at the edges, of three children standing in front of a cabin. Paige pulled the picture out. Two girls and a boy. Devon and his sister were easiest to spot. The twins looked even more alike when they were younger, Lyn’s purple ribbons being the only distinguisher between the two.
Who was the other girl?
She was almost the same stature as the twins, but Paige could tell by her face that the girl was much older. And there was something else to her face; something off that Paige couldn’t place her finger on. The girl had striking green eyes and jet-black hair.
“Devon…do you have another sister?” Paige asked.
Devon stepped out of the kitchen.
He stopped when he saw what was in her hands.
Paige shoved the picture inside and snapped the album close. “I’m sorry.” She returned the book to its place. “I shouldn’t have. It’s none of my business.” She bit her lip. It was so dumb of her. She would be lucky if he ever let her in his house again.
Devon shook his head, frowning. “She was a family friend from Michigan.” His eyes fell to the floor. “She was sixteen when she died.”
Devon nodded, his eyes still glued to the ground. There was more than what he was saying, Paige was sure of it, but for some reason, he wasn’t ready to share it with her.
He looked up; meeting her eyes with that pulse-quickening smile she was fast learning was more practiced than not.
Paige threw her bag into the trunk. It landed with a dull thud.
“You have a lot of stuff in there,” Devon said. “You never broke your back?”
Funny. She slid in the car. “I have classes tomorrow at Oakdale.”
“The junior college?”
“I’ve picked up some extra classes to raise my GPA.” Paige reached for her seatbelt.
He backed out of the driveway. “Was something wrong with your grades before?”
“Not exactly,” she said, uneasily. She knew where this was going.
She got tired of him staring at her like that, waiting.
Paige shook her head. “I need to raise it if I want to be valedictorian. There’s this guy from my Pre-Cal class and he has a higher GPA than mine. He’s also a four-year senior. But, they said if I pulled up my grades and participated more, I could make the cut.”
Devon turned on the radio. “Sounds crazy.”
“Crazy? Like how?”
“Like something a sane person wouldn’t do. You’ll die of exhaustion.”
Paige picked at the loose thread on her shirt. She had to keep distracted. She really didn’t want to yell at him.
“Paige, don’t you think—”
“I never asked for your opinion.” She sank in her seat.
“Well, if you’re doing something dumb…”
“Dumb? I guess you’ve been the valedictorian before, right?”
His lips creased into a line.
She stared at the road. Outside the sun reflected on the grass. They passed horses and cattle, and yet on the other side of the road was a super Wal-Mart. That was Lake County: caught between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and desperately trying to keep up.
Devon turned down the radio. “How was your weekend?”
Did he have to talk? Couldn’t they just listen to music?
Paige shrugged. “It was my birthday.”
“Really?” he said. “I didn’t know that. I would have got you something.” He pinched her arm.
“Ow!” she said and swatted his hand away and glared at him.
“Sweet sixteen. What did you do?”
Paige returned her focus to the road, alarmed at how disengaging his smile was. “Um…not much, had cake, got some money from my sister, and a phone call from my uncle.”
Devon chewed his bottom lip. “You want to do something now?” he asked.
“Really?” she asked.
“Sure. Why not? Consider it my gift to you.”
“But, I thought you had to go somewhere.” She raised an eyebrow, tone suspicious.
“I guess I can do that later.” Devon tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. “So do you want to?”
“Seriously?” She wasn’t one for spontaneity.
He let out a breath. “You need to kinda hurry up. We’re almost at your exit. You’re going home or nah?”
“Okay, okay!” she said. “No.”
He switched lanes. They passed by the exit sign marked: LEESBURG. Paige looked back at the sign as it grew smaller and smaller. Her laugh was uncertain. What was she doing?
“Where to?” He sat up in his seat.
“The beach” she blurted out. Paige blinked. Wait…why did I say that?
Devon raised an eyebrow. “Beach? I think I remember where that is.”
She looked at the blank screen above the dashboard. “Can’t you use this?” She tapped the GPS.
“That thing? You’ll circle a place twice before it leads you in the right direction.” He tapped on the screen and turned it on. But, hey, here’s for hope. If we get lost I guess we’ll just go on an adventure.”
“You’re scaring me,” she said.
He laughed and reached in his pocket. “Here, get directions.” He handed her his iPhone and turned up the sound on the radio.
They arrived in Daytona two in the afternoon. They passed the Daytona International Speedway. She couldn’t help but snap a picture with his phone. She felt like a tourist. Halfway into town, Devon cut off the car’s A.C.
He gestured. “Roll down your window,” he said.
She did. The breeze slapping against her face tasted like salt. The sun felt warm and sugary on her skin.
“Feels good, huh?” Devon asked his own window down.
“It’s wonderful,” she shouted above the whipping air.
Little beachside markets lined both sides of the road. Bottles were on wooden mounts and shirts hung on racks outside. There were outdoor restaurants with umbrellas over tables and flowered centered pieces. It was obviously a beach town, with all the people wandering around in bikinis, swim trunks and speedos.
The heady, fresh scent of the ocean hit her nostrils. Lying like a blue crystal beneath the horizon was the ocean. They were driving at a lower altitude. It looked like they were going to dip right down into the water.
Devon stopped and paid at the booth before he parked the car on the sand.
Paige pushed open the car door. No matter how often she went to the beach, the sight of the ocean always had the same effect: exhilarating. The water lapped white at the shore. Children ran alongside it, dragging kites behind them while couples made out and fondled under umbrellas.
Paige jerked off her shoes, threw them on the sand and ran out to the water. Surf tickled her toes. She stopped when the waters reached her knees.
“It’s nice out here.” She called out to Devon on the shore.
“Yeah,” he said, peeling off his shirt. She watched him; a wave nearly knocked her off her feet. She caught her balance and steadied.
“I saw that,” Devon called.
“Have I told you yet how random this is?” she said. Seagulls cawed above and the swell of the sea was behind her. Around her was the light scent of vegetation and salt.
“It was your idea.”
“Yeah.” Paige stared down at her tank and Capri pants. Perhaps she should have thought this through?
She sat down on the sand with him and shared his sunscreen. She smeared and re-smeared the lotion on her arms, legs, and face.
“I burn easily,” she explained to his bewildered expression. With that, he disappeared and returned with a cap. He pushed it over her hair.
Paige wrinkled her nose. She must have looked like a piece of work.
They piled up mounds and mounds of sand building castles, the weak February sun warmed their backs. Paige rushed to the water’s edge and patted the sand in place with her damp hands.
She stole a few glances at him as they worked. The roll of the ocean mixed with his excited chatter.
How many friends had she made at Bass? Two? Other than Matthew, there was Amber, a girl Paige didn’t talk to outside of the lunchroom. And besides biking with Robyn, Paige’s weekends were spent studying.
Devon had come a long way from when they’d met at Germaine’s Books. Her theft of his binder of stories forced their re-meeting at school a few days later. He agreed to help her cheat on the writing contest for the return of The Collection. An admitted thief, he’d barely tolerated her before. Now, at last, it seemed like he was finally warming up to her.
A wide receiver hadn’t been what she expected. Still, it was nice to have a friend.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Hhm?” The sun glared tan on his back.
“I always thought you were kinda harsh in journalism.” At school he was the austere editor, or worse yet, the unapproachable athlete.
“I am. But I’m just doing my job. If something is wrong with the paper Mr. Ferguson complains to me, not you guys.”
“I understand,” she said, smoothing off the side of the castle. “We don’t talk much during school,” she continued.
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“I never thought you were interested in talking. When I first met you I thought you were a loner or something.”
Her mouth fell open. “What?” She threw a fist full of sand at him. He laughed and wiped the sand off his chest. His hair began to show highlights in the sun.
“You always looked upset.” Devon said. “Like you were pissed off about something.”
“I never knew I gave off that impression.” Her face was red. First impressions were never the best. I look angry all the time?
“Not so much anymore, I guess because I know you.”
“Well, I thought you were a dumb jock,” she said, and that someone else wrote your stories. She had a feeling if she admitted that, Devon would snap.
His face wrinkled as his eyes squinted against the afternoon’s rays. A flash of anger crossed his gaze, and then it was gone.
“Y’know what? I hate labels. Why don’t you just be Paige and I’ll be Devon,” he said, nose scrunched.
“Sounds fair enough.”
She patted down her side of the castle. She didn’t have to look at him to know he was fuming. The silence stifled her. She searched the corners of her mind for something to break the tension.
Finally, he sighed. “I’ll be back.” He stood up, shaking the sand off his legs and shorts.
Paige nodded and watched him leave.
I don’t care if he thinks I’m obnoxious. She kept saying that over and over again to herself. A tight knot lingered in her stomach. Oh, why did she talk so much?
Startled, she jumped back, but raised her hands in time and caught the ball.
She looked at the pigskin in her hands, and then up at Devon.
“Come here a second?” he said.
He hadn’t told her what to ‘come here’ for, and if she’d known she would have refused.
He introduced her to a boy and three girls. Paige barely caught the names, she could only blink and nod at the greetings of hello.
Devon stood in the middle of the group, the football under his arm. “Okay! Now that we have an even number, here’s how we’re going to do it.”
He modified the rules to fit their environment. A row of beach chairs would serve as one goalpost, and a pole sticking out of the ground would be the other team’s scoring line. Devon elected himself as scorekeeper.
The guy with dreads shouted. “What do we get if we win?” Paige looked at him. He smiled and winked.
“Well, we’ll have to see when the game’s over,” Devon said.
Nothing. Why don’t you just say it? Paige shifted on her feet.
They split up in groups. The two girls went giggling over to Devon’s side. The brunette linked arms with him. Devon laughed good-naturedly.
“Our team!” she declared, showing off her pearly, white teeth.
Paige was left with the couple, who she found out wasn’t a couple at all.
The guy clamoring over a prize earlier was Marshall. His sister was a petite afro-latina with bleach blonde hair.
Thus, commenced the kick-off. They spent a sweaty afternoon running after a ball. The only working member of his team, Devon managed to get the ball to the opposing team’s line five times. Paige was laughing and sweating by the time they took a time-out.
Marshall dragged out his cooler and the group stopped for drinks. Dragon tattoos circled around his muscled and powerful arms. Paige gawked, and she didn’t think she hid it well.
Devon rested his arm against a beach chair. He looked at Paige decidedly before he took another sip of water. “Okay, so we have five points and you guys have three.”
He looked back at his groupies team, “I guess we’re ahead.” The brunette girl let out a whoop and her friend clapped her hands.
“No, wait a minute. Remember Marshall scored?” Paige said.
Devon’s eyebrows knocked together. “No.”
“Yes.” She nodded empathetically. The argument continued until the members of her own group (Marshall specifically) joined in and corrected Devon.
Devon held up his hands against the shouts. “Okay, so you guys have four points. My mistake.”
Mistake, huh? “Sure—cheater.” Paige teased.
Devon ran a hand through his hair, obviously bothered by the title, but didn’t say anything.
After refreshments, the teams split up again for yet another kick-off. Devon’s team maintained their lead.
One point behind, Marshall managed to get the ball down to Devon’s side of the beach. He was only a few yards away from the goal when the two girls tackled him down. With Devon’s defense in place, he snatched the ball from Marshall’s hand and started to the other goal. He ran away laughing. No one made a move to stop him.
Paige watched him run pass and it only took a second before she decided what she would do.
She ran after him.
She tracked sand behind her and, yard by yard, found she was closing on him. If only Gran could see me now! Paige thought of their Sunday morning jogs. Oh, Ms. Langley would be proud of her slothful offspring!
She was falling behind. What to do, what to do? She could see their goalpost in the distance. The benches.
TACKLE. Her mind screamed.
TACKLE HIM YOU FOOL!
And so she jumped. Would there ever be a greater moment in history? She was going to sack Devon Jayden Connors. She would win the game, and maybe rub it in his face afterward.
He didn’t stop.
Devon staggered, regained his footing, and pressed forward. Her eyes had been closed the whole time, and now she opened them. He—they— were charging down the beach! She realized how ridiculous she looked, her legs wrapped around his middle and her arms thrown over his shoulders. Like an infant marsupial on its mother’s back.
“Stop!” she shouted, but it sounded like a croak. Her throat was dry.
A glance behind showed her ‘teammates’ had abandoned her on the other side of the beach to smoke pot. She was slipping. She clenched her arms tighter around his neck. If he could be stubborn, then so could she. Legs giving out, she clawed frantically at his back and held on.
His knees buckled. She screamed as they made impact with the ground. Hot sand kissed the side of her cheek. They were few yards off from her team’s goalpost.
Devon rolled over and sat up.
He rubbed his neck. “You were strangling me.” His blue eyes were angrier than she’d ever seen them.
Seeing the ball idle in the sand, Paige didn’t take the time to whisper an apology. She grabbed it and fled back up the beach.
Paige dodged passed all her teammates and threw the ball right into the opposing teams marker.
By the time Devon caught up, her teammates were already celebrating.
Paige stopped when she saw him.
“I made a goal.”
He scratched his head. A touchdown. Devon thought face sour. He could count all her teeth as wide as she was grinning. She was happier than a kid who learned to potty.
He felt a blush crawl up his neck, but then again, his entire face was hot. “Good job,” Devon said.
Marshall searched the ground. “Hey guys, where’s the ball?”
The brunette, Sophie, who from the look on her face was quite bitter herself, spoke up. “I think I saw it in the ocean.”
“In the ocean?” Devon said. The inflection in his voice rose. “And you didn’t get it?”
Sophie stepped back. “She threw it in there.” She glared at Paige “And they were too busy dancing and…”
Devon’s face paled.
Bobbing over the waves, a great distance into the ocean was a football.
“So I guess we won?” Marshall asked.
“Maybe it’s in Cuba.”
“Marshall, shut-up,” his sister chastised.
The heat of the afternoon was fading into evening. The sweat on Devon’s brow started to dry. Everyone huddled around a small fire—well, almost everyone.
Devon rubbed his chin.
Marshall’s sister lit his cigarette, and he took a drag. He let the smoke out his nostrils.
He nodded toward the ocean. “You think she’s looking for it?” Chuckles went around the group. Paige walked up and down the water’s edge.
Devon shrugged. He’d given up trying to understand her a long time ago.
Marshall shook the ash from his cigarette. “She’s cute.”
The statement caught Devon off-guard. “Yeah,” he agreed. He looked uncomfortable.
Marshall stared at Paige again. He took a drag from his cigarette, closing his eyes and letting it out his nostrils. He bit his lip. The perverted twist in his smile was unmistakable.
Devon bristled. He knew Marshall was making Paige the object of some sick fantasy.
The group cooked hotdogs over the fire. Devon’s caught flame. He shook the cooking stick until the fire burned out.
“Whoa,” Sophie said next to him. “Don’t burn it.”
Devon had forgotten about the girl next to him. She sat crisscross, her hair flowing in long waves that went down her back.
“Better burnt than under cooked,” he joked. He touched the seared meat and winced. It was still hot.
“Is she your girlfriend?”
He shook his head. “No.”
Sophie smiled. “I thought so. She doesn’t seem like your type.”
“Oh?” You’ve known me for a day and you know my type? He glanced pass her at the lost waif who roamed the shore.
Sophie scooted closer. “I’m sorry about your football.” She said, redirecting his attention.
“You know, she could have said sorry. She didn’t even apologize.” Sophie rested a hand on his leg.
“She doesn’t have to. I know.” She didn’t need to pay penance for it. To Paige ‘sorry’ was either doing a bunch of things to make it up to him…or avoiding him. The girl worked in opposites.
“Have you known each other for long?” Sophie said.
“Just this year. We’re friends.”
“Must be very good friends. Taking her out to the beach and all.”
“Yeah,” he said. He rolled up his pant legs and stood. “Excuse me.”
Strands of red hair whipped in Paige’s face. The wind picked up again, nearly knocking her backwards. She bent over and picked up a seashell, this one was even prettier than the last!
“What are you doing?” Devon called.
Paige stopped her trek around the beach and stared Devon. Water gathered around his ankles and his stare was intent.
“I’m just splashing around.” Seawater and grains of sand sloshed between her toes. “It feels nice.”
There it was again. It was the that-poor-dork smile, patronizing in nature, benign in simplicity, and covert in its cruelty.
He knew why she was out here, of course he knew.
She bit her lip. I’m not sure if I could be myself around you. Paige stared at the space of water between them.
“You don’t like being around new people, do you?” he asked.
“Devon, I tried.”
He stepped closer. “No, it’s okay,” he said. “Can I join you?” She was a little surprised at the request, but agreed, why not?
On the shore, a man played music from his truck. He sat on his truck’s bed and chewed tobacco.
Devon’s head turned at the crack of thunder in the distance. The sky was a deep orange, the sun already beneath the horizon.
Paige picked up a seashell and wiped the sand off with the end of her Capri pants. She stuffed it in her already bulging pocket.
Devon cleared his throat. “Her name was Olivia.”
Paige stopped and looked at him. “Who?”
“The girl in the picture from this morning.” His heart pounded loudly.
Paige nodded, not saying anything.
“Sorry how I reacted. It just caught me off guard seeing it.”
Paige walked closer to him. “Were you very close to her?”
Shrugging, his lips turned up in a boyish grin. “Sort of. She was my first crush.”
A seagull clawed above them. “Really?”
Devon avoided looking at Paige, focusing instead at the embers of bonfire back on shore. He simply nodded. Wisps of smoke from the embers climbed into the sky, the smell a pungent ash, forcing his mind places he tried for years to forget.
Next to him, Paige cleared her throat and made a humming sound through her mouth. He knew the unvoiced question without looking at her: what happened to Olivia? He swallowed heavily, looking out past the foams of ocean to where the horizon lay. It wasn’t something he was comfortable admitting to anyone, not even himself. He was the last one to see Olivia’s eyes close in death because he’d shut them.
“Look at this one.” Under his nose, a white, spiral shaped shell sat in the palm of Paige’s hands. He met her eyes. She understood. She wouldn’t push him to talk.
Devon helped Paige collect seashells. They walked alongside each other, talking in tones softer than the sea breeze. She told him about her first crush, Mr. Redman, her first grade teacher. When she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always said his wife. She drew red crayoned hearts on all of her assignments to him.
“I threw up the day that his wife showed up in class,” she admitted. “She was there to teach us addition. I didn’t want to learn from that bitch.”
She leapt ahead of Devon, and walked backward, facing the sun. She spoke with wide gestures, shouting over the ocean waves, moving her arms, hands, and head to illustrate the story.
Instead, that day she wrote a story called MRS. REDMAN LOOKS LIKE A WHALE, complete with crayoned picture of the woman’s face imposed on the body of the animal. The end of the story, where the whale got harpooned by Captain Ahab, nearly got Paige expelled.
The flap of her shirt snapped and waved in the breeze, she struggled to keep it down. He laughed at her antics. She smirked and asked him if he thought it would be better if she just took it off.
“I wouldn’t mind it,” he said, without missing a beat.
She laughed, her gaze dropping suddenly and cheeks flushing pink, yanking down her shirt even more.
He talked about his family living in their van for two months before moving to a housing project in Detroit. Six years later, they’d moved to Florida where he struggled to make friends before he met Cristina and took his place with the athletes.
“I don’t think I said two sentences to anyone that first month. I used to sneak food from the café into the library to eat and read,” he said. “I mean, I was on the team but I didn’t really fit in with those guys. I was a pretty straight-laced kid. It wasn’t until I helped win a game mid-season that first year that I got invited anywhere.”
“It wasn’t the lunch room for me, but you know those trees out front next to the pavilion?”
“There? Where that weird guy with the guitar always sits?”
She slapped his arm. “He’s not weird.” Devon chuckled. “Seriously, he’s really sweet. He shared his lunch with me one time.”
“That’s all it takes Paige?”
She shoved him. He laughed, stumbling two steps before he steadied. Scooping both hands into the ocean, she hurled water at his face. “You got problems.”
He grabbed her hands. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Her face was red. He reached behind her knees and picked her up. Paige kicked and flailed and screamed and punched. He took three steps into the ocean before dumping her into the waves.
“I got problems? I wasn’t the one threatening to kill my first grade teacher’s wife.” She wiped her hair from her eyes, huffed and slid her foot against his leg. Devon flailed for a moment before stumbling on his side.
They wrestled in the sand and water. Sand got in her ears and salt stung her eyes. Her chest felt like it would heave with laughter. She managed to throw him off of her.
She coughed up water. “Jerk.”
He helped her up. She blinked ferociously. He felt a drop of water hit his shoulder and looked up. The sky was in swirls of red and grey, interspaced by thick, black clouds. To the west, the sun burned orange slipping behind the beach houses and racing to the horizon. Another raindrop hit his chest. It was starting to drizzle. The air nipped like ice against his body.
Paige leaned on her knees and they both stared back at the beach. People packed their things to leave. Several people stared at them Paige coughed, sucking deep breaths in. “I…I feel…stupid.”
Devon caught his breath, nostrils flaring. “But you had fun.”
“Yeah.” She stared blinkingly up at him in the rain.
A clap of thunder ricocheted across the beach. The rain began to come down in fat drops. Lightning flashed. They scampered out of the water and made a dash for shore. He grabbed her hand and led the way.
They were safe in the car before he let himself relax.
He shook off his hair. “All right, let’s get out of here.” He brushed the hair from his face and started the engine.
“Devon, I’m freezing.”
“Wait a second.” He turned in his seat and looked behind him. The backseats were little more than restaurant cups scattered on the floor, papers and novels with the spine bent back until the seaming torn. His team jacket was in the corner, on the seat just above the backpack he brought to school every day. He grabbed it, discretely sniffed it, and satisfied pulled it out to show Paige.
Paige adjusted her seat and laid back. Devon stuffed his team jacket under her chin and over her shoulders. She burrowed into it, drawing it closer around her shoulders.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
She nodded enthusiastically, biting her lip against her wide smile.
He brushed the hair away from her face. “What?”
“This was fun.”
Paige’s face flushed. She looked down, pulling her hands away from his. He hadn’t even realized they’d been holding them. She turned completely away from him, on her side, and looked out window. Torrents of rain came down, mix among claps of thunder.
“Um, thanks,” she said.
Devon’s face paled with embarrassment. He pushed away the hair from his face again, tying it back with the band on his wrist. The heat was turned to her freezing body before he drove off.
They made it to State Road 44. It wouldn’t be long until home, Devon mused. Of course, he’d have to stop in Leesburg first. Traffic was stagnant. Rain dropped down thick like bullets on his windshield.
Next to him Paige was on her side, knees drawn up to her chest. Asleep.
He was used to seeing a head of blonde hair there. He was used to long spaces of silence and tense sighs.
Paige’s hair was damp and curly under the cap she wore. Red as ever.
Still, there was nothing unusual about her being there. The place welcomed her with familiarity, as if it never belonged to another. It was as if it were her spot. Paige’s place.
He stopped. What am I thinking? There was still Cristina, and he loved her, or he thought he did, until today.
Devon touched her forehead. It burned against his palm. Frowning, he stared back over the road. He wouldn’t forgive himself if she got sick.
I wish you would wake up so I could talk to you. He let out a breath. What would he say? He wasn’t sure. Not for the first time in his life, he was speechless. He brushed a hand against her cheek.
Sweetheart. This complicated things.
They were so different.
Devon teased her awkwardness and poked fun at some of her social peculiarities. She was a constant source of frustration for him in Journalism. She lost the first football he’d ever purchased. She demanded until she got her way.
With all her faults, he respected her, and he couldn’t say that for most people. He admired her.
He loved their time at the beach together.
He never enjoyed himself more.
Paige’s eyes fluttered open at a nudge at her side.
“You’re here,” Devon said.
A little green and white, ranch style house sat in front of them. Home. Paige struggled to open her eyes fully. Had she really slept through those two hours? Her head ached.
She mumbled thanks before grabbing the umbrella at her feet, pushing open the door, and stepping out.
Devon blew his horn twice. Paige tripped on her porch-steps. She leaned on the railing for support. Disoriented, she searched for her keys in her pocket. She stopped, realizing it was in her bag…in Devon’s trunk.
His cars lights were still on and the wipers were going. He ran up to the porch clutching an object to his chest.
He held it out to her. He was soaked.
Devon eyed her wearily. “Why’d you run off like that?” She looked away from him.
“I kinda need my umbrella back.”
“Oh.” It was sprawled on the wooden planks of the porch, where she’d dropped it in her haste to get inside. She picked it up and handed it to him.
“I’m a regular thief.” Paige went about that slower. She lifted the cap softly, knowing that her hair was a bird’s nest underneath. She took it off, shook the sand out and shoved it in his hands.
“Or you can just keep it,” Devon said, staring at her head.
She snatched the cap back and pushed it in place. “Fine.”
He chuckled. She couldn’t stop the giggle coming from her lips. She threw her arms around him.
“Thanks so much,” she said. “It was amazing.” Her voice muffed into his chest. Devon held her stiffly before he relaxed and leaned into her embrace.
“Maybe we should do it more often, huh?” He rested his chin on top of her head.
Paige pulled away.
“Happy Birthday,” he said.
His gaze drifted beyond the porch to the yard next door. “Um, I know it’s a day late.”
Paige looked down at the wooden planks of her porch, ears hot. Rain pelted the roof above and the windshield wipers of his car were still going in the background.
She bit her lip. Please say something. Because she didn’t think she could. The way he looked at her was making her nervous and shivery and unsure about everything.
Devon stepped closer. Lifting her cap, he pressed a kiss on her head. Her breath caught in her throat.
“You’re still so hot.” He brushed hair off her forehead. “Try to get some sleep.”
The next kiss was just as soft as the last; a cool spot on her burning skin. He pulled away. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She nodded, swallowing against the tightness in her throat.
They exchanged goodbyes before Devon, opening his umbrella, stepped off the porch and headed back to his car.
Paige paused at the door, offering one last glance and wave as his car backed out of the driveway.