The boys had baseball practice every day that week. They had already played a couple of endowment games, but the regular season didn’t start for a little over a week. Renee and I went to most of the practices and the spot on the wall became our spot on the wall. By the time Saturday rolled around, I had spent hours obsessing with Renee over Bear’s every word. We had debated endlessly over whether or not he was asking me out or just being friendly. (We carefully changed the subject whenever a boy wandered our way.)
But most importantly, we tried to brainstorm what I should wear.
“Well, I mean, just talk to Lawrie about it, figure out what the deal is,” she summarized as we stuffed baseball gloves into a bag Friday afternoon.
“Yeah, I guess,” I pouted. I mean, honestly, we had put way too much thought into this.
It’s just a simple lake party, Em, I reminded myself.
“Hey, you ready, babe?” Andy called out from across the field.
“Just a sec.” Renee turned to me. “Good luck. Let me know how it goes. You’ll be fine, Em,” she added with a smile.
I offered one back. “See you Monday.”
At that moment, Monday seemed an eternity away. I mean, by Monday, everything would be settled, one way or another.
I was laying beside my brother on his bed, my face mere inches from his, softly singing his name. I had jumped on top of him a couple of seconds ago, but all he had done was roll over.
He groaned, curling into a fetal position.
This time his eyes flickered, opening quickly. He groaned again and pushed me away, covering my face with his palm.
“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” I sung
“Get out of my face,” he mumbled almost incoherently.
“Get up, baby boy.”
He really wasn’t much of a baby. In fact, Lawrie was older than me, exactly ten months. His birthday was just after the cutoff date, so we had both been entered in kindergarten the same year.
“What time is it?” Lawrie yawned, rolling onto his back.
“What the hell? Get out of my room!” he demanded, his voice heavy with sleep.
“Lawrie, please. I need help!” I begged.
“In the afternoon!”
At least his eyes are open now, I thought as he glared at me.
“Get out of my room,” he muttered into his pillow, rolling away from me.
This was okay with me. I knew what to do in this situation. I lay there, silent, staring at him. And, I swear, not two minutes later, Lawrie threw off his covers and shuffled out of his room.
“You fucking bitch.”
I just grinned and followed him into the bathroom.
“So what are you gonna wear tonight?” I asked.
Lawrie mumbled an, “I dunno.”
“I dunno. A shirt and shorts?”
I sighed, exasperated. “Work with me.”
By the time Lane showed up 45 minutes later, I had decided on a cute black strapless dress with a bathing suit underneath.
“Down or half up?” I asked, playing with my hair in my mirror.
“Half up,” Lane answered, plopping onto my bed next to Lawrie.
“I agree,” Lawrie sighed.
“Are you sure? I mean, should it just be all up? Is it-“
“I’m sure,” Lawrie yelled, his patience breaking.
I pulled my wavy brown hair half up and looked at myself in the mirror, reminding myself it was just a party.
“Yay or nay?” I twirled for effect.
“Yay,” Lane said, unenthusiastically. Lawrie just stared at me, his eyes glazed over.
Once the boys had changed into polos and bathing suits (two hours later), we made our way downstairs. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table scrapbooking pictures from my sister Annabelle’s wedding last year.
“Where are you kids going again?” she asked, barely glancing up from her glue dots.
“Ben McKnight’s. On the lake,” Lawrie answered for all of us.
“Alright. Be back by eleven,” she said, sending an invitation through the sticker machine.
Lawrie made a face. “How’s twelve sound?”
Mom looked up at him, her eyebrows raised. “On the dot. Not one minute late.”
I rolled my eyes. This was all for show; Mom only pretended to care about curfew.
“You got it,” Lawrie said, grabbing a water out of the fridge. “See ya, Mom.”
We got to Ben’s at ten after seven.
“Whoa, we’re early,” Lane said as we stepped out of the car.
“Blame Emma Gray. She got me up, like, two years early,” Lawrie complained.
We waited for a couple of cars to pass before crossing the street to Ben’s house. The house was huge; the driveway wasn’t. There were four cars lined up in front of the house, but I was surprised that there was only a couple on the street. Maybe we were early.
I could see the lake before I could see the people; the house was situated on a huge hill that sloped down towards the water. Lawrie led the way to an open gate in the fence encircling Ben’s backyard, and Lane and I followed. I could hear music playing and an occasional peal of laughter coming from the water. When I stepped through the gate, I was immediately shocked at the number of people there.
Including the three of us, I could count eleven.
“I didn’t think we were this early,” I whispered to Lawrie.
“Nah, we’re not. There’s only, like, a couple more kids coming.”
I almost stopped short.
I turned around to find Bear (gorgeous, sexy, charming Bear) coming out of the French doors at the rear of the house. With one hand he was holding a bag of chips, with the other he gave me a wave. A megawatt smile lit up his face.
“Hey, Emma. Lawrie, Laney.”
Lawrie and Laney mumbled appropriate hellos and headed off in the direction of the water.
“You got here just in time,” Bear was saying as he walked beside me. “We were just about to take Ben’s step-dad’s boat out.”
“That sounds perfect,” I said, following him onto the dock. My skin was probably bright red and my heart was beating on super speed, but I tried to play it cool as Bear took my hand and helped me onto the boat.
The speed boat was a hit.
There were seven of us on it: Ben, Bear, me, Lawrie and Laney, Kacie Rutherford from my math class, and a girl I only vaguely recognized.
Ben started out driving, going excessively fast and then whipping the boat around. Kacie wasn’t the only one guilty of shrieking.
“Hey, Bear. Get up and drive this thing and I’ll get out the wakeboard,” Ben called over the wind, slowing down slightly.
Bear turned and grinned at me. “C’mon,” he said, motioning with his head.
I followed him up to the front of the boat, leaning against the side while he took the wheel. Ben jumped into the water and situated himself before giving Bear a thumbs up. We took off again, Lawrie leaning over the edge of the boat yelling at the top of his lungs and Laney flirting madly with Kacie and Girl No. 2. Bear slowly turned the boat left and Ben caught a wave and flew gracefully up into the air. As the boat finished the turn, the sun hit just right for a second, completely silhouetting Bear in his shoulders-back-feet-apart stance.
He looked good driving the boat, and, in a moment of uncharacteristic spontaneity, I told him so. Bear just looked at me and laughed.
“My turn!” Lane yelled as Ben hit another wave and slammed into the water.
“Laney, have you ever wakeboarded before?” Lawrie laughed.
Lane shrugged. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Ben stayed in the water and taught him the basics. Lane didn’t last long in the water, though he was by far the most amusing. Lawrie was next, then finally it was Bear’s turn. By that point we had switched positions and I was at the back of the boat with the other two girls while Lawrie and Laney goofed off with Ben at the wheel.
“You know Rachel, don’t you?” Kacie asked, taking a seat next to me.
“Um, sort of,” I smiled.
“Emma Gray, right?” Rachel confirmed, brushing her super straight brown hair out of her face.
Rachel had taken her tanktop off and was wearing a super cute bandeau bathing suit with her shorts. Kacie was in just a bikini. I looked down at my dress a little self-consciously.
“God, your brother’s hot,” Kacie muttered, staring in that direction.
I almost choked on my drink laughing. “Lawrie?”
“Do you have another brother?” Kacie asked, only half kidding. I didn’t answer.
“Although, hey, Bear’s not half bad, either,” Rachel teased, nudging my shoulder. I smiled shyly.
“Yeah, what’s going on there? I’ve been dying to ask you all night.” Kacie and Rachel turned to me, giving me their full attention.
I shrugged my shoulders, blushing. “I don’t know. Nothing really.”
Kacie rolled her eyes. “Aw, come on. I want details!”
“There’s not much to tell.”
Kacie exhaled loudly. “You’re killing me, Emma Gray.”
I felt a little uncomfortable. I mean, I barely knew these girls. I didn’t even know the details. I was being honest; I had no idea what was going on between me and Bear.
I let Kacie and Rachel ramble on until Ben interrupted us. “Any of you ladies want a turn?” he asked, helping Bear back into the boat.
“No way, Jose.”
“Emma?” Ben asked.
“No, thanks.” I shook my head.
“Come on, Em. Laney tried it,” Bear attempted.
“Yeah, and busted his ass,” Lawrie added in.
“No, thanks,” I repeated.
“Alright. What about tubing?” Bear tried another tactic.
“Give it up. Emma Gray doesn’t like lake water. It’s nasty,” Lane teased.
“That true?” Bear asked, sitting down next to me and pulling me into his wet body.
“Kind of,” I admitted.
“There ain’t nothing wrong with the lake water, is there, Ben?”
Ben sat down on my other side, a big grin on his face. “’Course not. I’ve been swimming in it all my life.”
As Ben and Bear’s arms tightened around me, I could suddenly see where this was going.
“No,” I begged, squirming, trying to break away. “No, don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Ben teased the second before they picked me up.
Next thing I knew, the three of us were flipping backwards off the boat and I was screaming like the little baby I was. I pulled myself out of the water as Laney and Lawrie cannonballed in. I pulled off my sopping dress, trying desperately not to think of myself in a bikini. The boys were all taking turns jumping off the edge of the boat, and Bear grabbed my hand and pulled me in with him.
By that point, the sun was setting and Ben steered the boat back towards his dock. We were shivering in the light breeze, so Ben handed out towels and we all made our way inside the house.
A few hours later, I found myself wrapped up in a blanket on Ben’s couch, my head resting against the arm.
“Hey,” Bear whispered, sitting down next to me. We were the only two left in the room.
“Hey,” I whispered back, opening my eyes.
“Tired?” He smiled.
I nodded, curling down farther in my blanket. Bear reached over and pulled me towards him, and I lay my head down in his lap.
“I had fun today,” I said as he ran his fingers through my still-damp hair.
Bear laughed quietly. “Me, too.”
I let my eyes close again, enjoying the feel of his warm body against mine. Slowly, I realized what exactly was happening and I forced myself not to freak out. I mean, I was laying in Bear Williams’s lap, late at night, at a party, alone in a room, with just a TV for light. I couldn’t wait to tell Renee. I was mentally relaxing my body, forcing myself to think in full sentences, when the French doors opened and Lawrie came in. For half a second, I debated whether I should jump up, but Bear didn’t move and I decided I didn’t care if Lawrie saw us. It wasn’t like we were doing anything wrong.
Lawrie walked over to us, a weird look on his face. “Hey, Em, you about ready?”
I glanced at the clock on the DVD player. 12:42.
I sighed pulling myself into sitting position. “Yeah.”
“Me and Laney’ll be in the car,” Lawrie said awkwardly.
Bear pulled me off the couch and the blanket fell away. He held me in a hug, my near naked body pressed against his bare chest. We stood that way for a long time, neither of us saying anything. Finally, we stepped away from each other and I blushed, not looking him in the eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Emma Gray,” Bear whispered, his voice husky.
“Wait,” I said. “Tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice still quiet. “Dinner and a movie. I’ll pick you up at 6:00?”
“Okay,” I stammered. “Do you, uh, do you know how to get to my house?”
Bear smiled softly. “Yeah. You do live with Lawrie, right?”
I blushed harder. “Oh, yeah.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Emma Gray,” he repeated, pulling me in close again.
I stumbled out the door, glancing back as I did so, and offered a clumsy wave. Bear waved back.
I crawled into the backseat of Lawrie’s car and spread out, resting my head on the seat.
“Went well, I take it,” Lawrie noted, pulling out.
“Yeah. It went well,” I said, a goofy grin sliding onto my face.