If you could crawl out of the pages and help me manage not to embarrass myself this weekend, I would greatly appreciate it. I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. My sincerest appreciation, Mira
I’ve loved Jaxson Marshall most of my life. Before you assume I’m exaggerating, just listen. Our mums are best friends. There are pictures of Jaxson and me in the tub together when we’re like, one and two. The story goes (and goes and goes—I swear it’s been told every time our families are together) that we were happily playing in there until someone pooped in the tub. Okay, it was me. I know, so embarrassing. But it gets worse.
When I was in year 8 and Jaxson was in year 9, his family moved from England to California. His mum and mine couldn’t stand being apart and we followed six months later.
We were best friends too, until he moved to the States. That’s when everything got weird. There have been snapshots of “us” over the years, but every time we’ve started to get close again, something happens to ruin it.
He was my first kiss…I’ll have to get to that later. It’s hard for me to think about without dying a little more inside. He became the slut of high school, while I was the one hiding behind my glasses, book, and a donut. It was just as pitiful as it sounds.
After an extremely humiliating experience at our senior prom, in which I came to the conclusion that I will never love, or even like, Jaxson again, I’ve tried to disappear whenever he comes home from school. At first it didn’t work, but I’ve managed to not see him for two years now.
But now he’s graduated from Berklee and is apparently home for good.
And my mum is forcing me to see him…tonight, at his welcome home party.
The old me would have hidden and said, “I hate my life!” but the new me is ready to show Jaxson what he’s been missing. Not that I want him or anything. Just…aw, bloody hell, I hate my life.
My mum stands in the doorway, watching me finish my makeup. “You look so pretty, babe.”
“I’m thinking about changing into jeans…”
“No! Your dress is perfect for the beach. Please don’t change, your legs go on for miles. Jaxson won’t know what hit him.”
“I’m not dressing for Jaxson, Mum.” I roll my eyes.
Okay, maybe I’m kinda dressing for Jaxson. But, not in that way. I just want to look my best. That’s all.
“I know. Just…don’t forget a light jacket,” she says.
I grin. She says that every single time I go out the door.
“You ready? Dave is waiting on us.”
“Oh, I thought I told you—Chad’s picking me up.” I turn to look at her and see the disappointment on her face.
Until I am pronounced someone else’s wife, she will be plotting for me to end up with Jaxson. My mum and I used to plot together, and she can’t understand why I ever stopped. I shake my head. I have to stop thinking about all that. Jaxson does not have any control over me anymore.
“You’re bringing Chad?” Her face scrunches up. “This just seems like a—I don’t know—more of a family thing, I guess…”
“Chad’s my boyfriend, Mum. I wish you’d at least try to like him.”
“He’s fine, he’s just not…”
“Don’t say it,” I warn her.
“I wish you’d just tell me why you and Jaxson stopped being friends,” she says. “I thought we talked about everything.” Her eyes well up with tears and I panic. If she cries, I’ll cry.
“Please don’t cry. I just finished. Look,” I point to my eyes, “perfect smokey eye, please don’t let me mess it up.” I pat her on the shoulder and walk to the closet to get a light jacket. I hold it up for her and she smiles. And sniffles.
“And we do talk about mostly everything.” I mutter under my breath, “Just not that.” I kiss her cheek. “You better go, Dave’s waiting.”
She sighs. “Okay, but don’t be too late. Anne’s bringing the food out right away. You won’t want to miss the shrimp,” she says on her way out the door.
I used to have an issue with food. As in, I ate it whenever I felt sad, mad, depressed, lonely, or embarrassed. So, in other words, all the time. That pretty much describes my high school experience.
My dad left not long after we got to California, so with him leaving and the huge culture shock, I was a mess. Thankfully, I had a late growth spurt at 16 and shot up four inches. At 5’1” there hadn’t been much room for the tons of junk food I ingested. Those extra four inches helped a lot. But it wasn’t until I met my best friend and roomie at UCSD, Maddie, that I started trying to get fit. She’s a yoga instructor and hopelessly optimistic. It’s hard to be sad around her. I’ve forced myself to exercise until I finally like it. I try to go to the healthy stuff when I’m down, instead of Reese’s peanut butter cups or salt & vinegar potato chips. I still indulge plenty, but I’m way more balanced than I used to be.
When my stomach feels the way it does tonight, though, all nervous and jumpy and nauseated, the last thing I want to think about is shrimp.
The doorbell rings and Chad is smiling when I open the door. He whistles when he sees me, taking my hand and twirling me around to see every angle.
“You look hot.”
He’s a man of few words, but he looks so good, it doesn’t matter. I take in his sun-kissed face and biceps and thank God for surfers. He fits the profile perfectly.
“You do too.” I step outside and walk to his jeep.
Is it okay to admit that I really hate his jeep? It’s falling apart. Everyone and their brother can hear us coming. He keeps it all open, so my hair never stands a chance. I try to hold as much of it down as I can, but my hair is long and thick, so it still flies everywhere.
“Who’s this party for again?” he yells.
“Jaxson. We grew up together.” I look out the window and swipe my sweaty palms on the seats. My hands pick up some crumbs, so I spend the rest of the ride trying to get that off.
I wish I’d gone with my mum and Dave.
When we finally stop in front of Jaxson’s house, I hop out and stand in front of a tree (that Jaxson and I used to always climb) and try to salvage my hair.
Chad puts his arm around my waist and nuzzles into my neck. Mmm, never mind, I’m glad I rode with Chad.
“How long are we staying?” he whispers in my ear and then kisses back down my neck.
I shiver. “Not long,” I promise.
“Good.” He pulls me against him and puts his hands on my bum. I’m about to reach back to pull them up before someone sees us, when I hear my name. Or, rather, the name he calls me.
I jump back from Chad and turn around. Jaxson is leaning against the gate, arms folded, and looking me up and down. And back up. And down again. You get the point. It’s a long pause and awkward. I can’t tell if he’s pleased with what he sees or angry with me.
“Hi,” I say quietly.
He stands tall. “You gonna feel each other up out here all night or you comin’ to my party, Mirabelle?”
My heart drops out and I’m pretty sure I go red.
He walks until he’s standing right in front of me.
“Well, when you put it that way, we might be out here a while, Jaxson,” I say, standing as tall as I can. I’ve never been so glad to be wearing three-inch heels.
At first he just stares at me, jaw ticking. And then he wraps me up in a huge bear hug.
“I’ve been waiting—I heard you were coming.” He leans back and pushes my hair off one shoulder. “I was afraid you’d talk yourself out of coming in…”
I forget how well he knows me.
“You look so beautiful,” he whispers.
My heart skips a few beats ahead and I step back.
“This is my boyfriend, Chad.” I move my hands back and forth. “Jaxson, Chad. Chad, Jaxson.”
Jaxson nods and stretches out his hand. “Hey, man.” They do a guy shake.
“Hey,” Chad says.
This might be the first time I’ve wished for Chad to be…talkative. Or something just…more. Jaxson stands an inch or two taller than Chad, but besides their similar height, they couldn’t look more different from each other. Jaxson has curly, dark hair with green eyes and a constant smile. Chad has straight, blonde hair with brown eyes and it takes a lot to make him smile.
Jaxson holds his hand out to me. “You don’t mind if I walk her in, do you, man?” He threads his fingers through mine and I think my ovaries just melted. “I haven’t seen her in so long.”
Chad shrugs. “Sure.”
I’m so gonna let him have it later.
Jaxson holds my hand up to his chest and smiles down at me. “Boyfriend, huh?”
I glare at him and try to take my hand away, but he grips it tighter.
“I’ve got you now, Bells, you’re not escaping this time.” He laughs his charming, perfect laugh, and I grit my teeth.
We walk along the sand to the back of the house, tiki lamps leading the way. We go down a few steps and then reach the gorgeous beachfront. Their backyard has always been my favorite view. The party is underway.
“Wow,” I tell him. “Quite the party.”
“You know my mum. She goes all out,” he groans.
It feels as if everyone sees us at once and freezes. Then my mum and Anne rush toward us, excited, but trying not to act too excited so they don’t jinx it. Anne is just as guilty as my mum in their “Mira & Jaxson forever” fantasies. They’ve plotted our wedding since their pregnancies, when they found out what they were having.
“Oh, you look gorgeous, Mira. Doesn’t she look absolutely gorgeous, Jaxson?” Anne never takes her eyes off me.
“Her boyfriend and I have both told her how gorgeous she is, in our own way,” Jaxson says. He then has the nerve to kiss the back of my hand.
I want to pop the smirk off his face.
Anne’s smile widens and then drops a little when she sees Chad. She quickly props the smile back on. “Hi, you must be Chad. Vanessa was just telling me all about you.” She looks at my mum and back to Chad. “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll introduce you to everyone?”
I know what she’s up to and am sick of it. I let go of Jaxson’s hand and grab Chad’s arm. “That’s okay, I’ll make sure he gets around.”
I walk a few feet away with Chad and hear Jaxson behind me.
“I’m sure he already does,” he mutters.
I turn around so fast, my hair flies into my eyes. I toss it back and walk toward him, so close that only he can hear.
“Just because you’ve slept with the entire state of California does not mean my boyfriend has. Take your opinions and shove them up your ass.”
“That’s arse to you, Bells!” He laughs his stupid adorable laugh.
I walk without even thinking about where I’m going and end up in front of Chad’s jeep. I don’t hate it so much at the moment.
“Mira? We’re leaving?” Chad looks confused.
“Yes, please.” I get in, shut the door, and try to figure out how to avoid seeing Jaxson the rest of the summer.