Release date 8/20/14
Available for preorder on iBooks! https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/only-one/id906542226?mt=11&uo=4&at=1l3voVk
Sunlight streams through my window and offends the backs of my eyelids. I look over at the blond head that’s tucked against the pillow next to mine. Who the heck is that? I brush her hair from her face and groan inwardly. How the hell did Jack get in my bed? Her name is Jackie, and I’ve known her all my life. Sometimes I wake up, and she’s found her way into my bed. I don’t even remember inviting her into it last night, but that’s not always necessary in Jack’s world. She does what she wants, when she wants.
My guess is that things weren’t great at home and her dad started swinging again, so she came here. That part doesn’t bother me. Why she’s in my bed is a whole other topic. I let her sleep and roll out of bed.
I’m just glad I wore boxers when I went to bed. Not that Jack hasn’t seen me naked. I’ve seen all of her, and she’s seen all of me, but that’s just because she gets drunk often and I have to drag her naked ass home. We never have and never will have sex. Ever.
We’re best friends, with no jealousy. Our relationship is free and easy, and we’re not territorial when it comes to relationships with other people. That’s what’s so great about us. Sometimes the loneliness overtakes me and I cave in to the need to feel someone close to me. Jackie doesn’t mind. I’m a guy and I absolutely hate to be alone. Sometimes the quiet becomes more than I can bear.
I walk into the kitchen and find my roommate Malone with his hand in the cookie jar. Literally, elbows deep in my mom’s Winnie the Pooh container. He grins at me, a lock of his dark hair falling over his eye. “Morning,” he says, and then he crams a handful of cookies in his mouth.
When he’s done chewing, he looks at me and waggles his brows. “Jack find you last night?” he asks.
“Apparently,” I mutter. “Who let her in?”
“I couldn’t leave her outside,” he says.
“Why did she pick my bed?”
He shrugs. “She was wrecked.”
She always is. “Next time, put her on the couch, will you?”
He looks at me sheepishly. “I tried that last night, but she wanted you, man.”
Yeah, but I don’t want her. At least not permanently. Not for more than what we already have. “Did Marty come home last night?” I ask. I don’t know why I feel the need to check up on our last roommate. She doesn’t even sleep here every night. She’s older than we are – 21 compared to our 19. She’s like the mother we never wanted when she’s here, making us clean up behind ourselves and put the toilet seat down. But she pays her rent, and that’s all I need. I can’t afford this place by myself, no matter how many jobs I have.
I look around. It’s not much, but it’s mine. I remember when my parents bought it. They were so proud. It’s a trailer in a lot about the size of a postage stamp, but it’s on the coast and it’s valuable to me just because of the memories.
“Haven’t seen Marty,” Malone says. He goes and knocks softly on her door and then opens it and sticks his head in. “Nope,” he says. “Not here.” He scratches his bare stomach. “I think I’m going back to bed.”
“Did you eat all the cookies?” I lift Pooh’s head and look down. He left me some Oreo dust. “Jackass,” I mutter.
He laughs and goes into his room. The door closes behind him.
I sort through the mail on the counter and get excited when I see a letter from Patty Michaels. I open it up and look at the check. Mrs. Michaels pays me to keep up her yard when she’s not here. Usually, she just sends a check each month – a generous check – and I never hear from her otherwise, unless I need to meet the exterminator or something for her. But a note falls out of the envelope.
I’ll be arriving after graduation. Can you be sure the AC is serviced and tidy up the yard? We’ll see you in a week!
My heart drops all the way down to my toes. If the Michaels’ are coming to the beach, then that mean’s Carrie’s coming back to the beach. Carrie is their daughter. She hasn’t been here in at least three summers. Not since her parents separated.
Carrie is the one who got away. She was my first kiss. My first snuggle with a girl with boobs. My first boner in the arms of a girl. My first love. She was fourteen and I was fifteen the last time I saw her. Can you fall in love that young? My heart says you can.
Carrie was different from anyone I ever met. She could make me laugh and make me cry all in the same breath. One glance from her and I knew what I wanted for the rest of my life.
I’d seen the example of what love could be in my parents, so I felt like I knew it when I found it. Then she left and never came back. Life went on, but it hasn’t been the life I wanted. Or at least not after my parents died.
I jerk myself from my memories and look at Mrs. Michaels’s note again. Carrie’s coming back to the beach. I whistle as I go back into my room. Jack snuggles into my pillow, and I realize she’s not wearing anything but her panties. The covers are pushed down around her feet and she’s on her stomach, her arms tucked down at her sides.
I sit down on the side of the bed and brush her hair back. She mumbles something I can’t understand.
“Jack,” I whisper.
She doesn’t stir.
“Jack,” I say a little louder.
She moans into my pillow but doesn’t open her eyes.
“Jack!” I shout. She opens her eyes and looks at me, squinting against the sunlight. I trace a little circle against her back. “Hey, pretty girl,” I say. She smiles into the pillow, but she still doesn’t move. “You have to get out of here.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” she asks.
“I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay in my bed.” I mean it. She can’t, because Carrie is coming back. I’m not sure what day, but I sure as hell don’t want her to find Jack in my bed when she does get here. “Where are your clothes?” I ask.
“Did you have clothes on when you got here?”
She sits up, clutching my sheets against her chest. “I don’t remember,” she admits.
“You have to stop doing that,” I warn.
“I know.” She flops back down against my pillow.
I ruck one of my shirts up in my hands and slip it over her head. She sticks her arms in the holes and tries to close her eyes again. “Out!” I say. I pull her legs over the side of the bed and tug on the shirt she’s wearing until she sits up. “Now.” She stands up, tilting on her wobbly legs like a newborn colt. She walks toward the door. “Hey, Jack,” I say softly. She looks back at me, her eyes mere slits.
“What?” she asks.
“You have to stop doing this to yourself, okay?” I say.
“I know.” She doesn’t say more than that. She just walks out of my room in my shirt and her panties. I watch her, because I don’t want her to leave looking like this. But I have a feeling I know where she’s going. Just like I thought, she goes to Malone’s room and pushes his door open. I hear her say something to him, and then the bedsprings squeak.
I follow her and peek inside the room. She’s under the covers and his arms are wrapped around her. I don’t know why she didn’t just start out in his room. I very softly close his door. He’ll take care of her.
I have to get ready for Carrie. What if she has a boyfriend? What if she doesn’t remember me? What if she’s no longer the person I remember? Why didn’t she send a card or condolences when my parents died? Why didn’t she come back? Ever?
I have a lot to do to get ready. So I start by changing my sheets. Then I have to get the AC serviced at Carrie’s house. I still have a picture on my dresser that we took in a photo booth three years ago. It’s a strip of four photos. Carrie has her tongue out in one, her lips pursed in a kiss in another, and one with her lips pressed to my cheek. The last one is her looking into the camera lens while I stare at her. I wonder if she’s changed. And how much.
I cover the mouthpiece and try not to breathe heavy enough for them to hear me. “I already made arrangements to have the beach house opened and everything. Just let me have her this summer,” my mom pleads. Her voice breaks over the line.
Please don’t let her have me this summer, I think to myself. I don’t want to go.
I haven’t seen my mother in four years. Not since she decided to leave our family. She met a man she loved more than us and one day, she just left. It was sort of like she never existed once my dad got over his temper-fit. He threw all of her things, or at least what she left in the house, onto the fire pit in the backyard and sang Living on a Prayer at the top of his lungs until nothing was left but a hangover and ashes.
Dad groans. “Where are you taking her?”
Her voice is quiet. “I thought we’d go to the beach.”
Dad heaves a sigh. “Patty,” he says on a breath. I can imagine him squeezing the spot between his eyes at the top of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“We had a lot of good memories at the beach,” she says, her voice soft and so familiar that it makes my gut ache. But she’s not my mother any more. She’s that woman who left. She’s that woman who never came back. “You could go with us, if you’re worried,” she says. Her voice sounds… hopeful? I don’t even know how to describe it.
“You know I can’t do that,” he says.
“Would your girlfriend mind?” she asks.
Dad doesn’t have a girlfriend. He never did after she left, but I get the feeling he told her differently. “She wouldn’t approve,” he says.
“Oh,” Mom breathes. “But I could still get Carrie? For the summer? This is the last time I’ll ask. I won’t be able to darken your doorstep after this.”
What does that mean?
“You’ll never have to deal with me again. Just let me have this last season. Please?” Her voice breaks.
“Patty,” Dad breathes. And I hear his bedsprings squeak through the phone. I can almost imagine his knees going weak, because that’s what she does to him.
“John, please?” she begs.
“Okay,” he says on a heavy exhalation. “Fine. You can have her for the summer. If… things weren’t… like they are… I would never allow it. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” she says quietly. “I know that. And I understand why.”
“I have one condition,” he says.
“What is it?”
“You have to tell her about your diagnosis before you two leave. And you have to promise to send her home the minute you’re too sick to take care of her.”
What? What’s he talking about?
“I’ll tell her.”
“We’ll tell her together.”
I step into Dad’s bedroom doorway, the phone still clutched to my ear. He’s sitting exactly like I imagined, with his index finger and thumb pressed against the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed. “You’re going to tell me what?” I ask.
“Carrie!” Mom gasps.
Dad jumps to his feet. “How long have you been listening?”
I let the cordless phone drop down to my side. “Long enough,” I say.
I can hear my mother calling my name from down by my knee.
“We didn’t want you to find out this way,” Dad says, rushing toward me.
“Find out what?” I grit out, punctuating the words with clenches of my jaw.
Dad speaks to the phone and not to me. “You should come over, Patty. Now.”
He nods and mumbles, turning away from me to talk quietly with her for a minute. Then he turns back.
“She’s on her way.” He tosses the phone onto his covers.
“What’s going on, Dad?” I ask. My heart is thumping like a crazy woodpecker lives inside my chest.
“She’s on her way, and she should be the one to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” I finally yell. He stops and looks at me. His eyes are kind. They’re always kind. Dad wears glasses and has sandy blond hair. He has a bit of a potbelly that he can’t get rid of, no matter his diet, so he doesn’t worry about it. Right now, his face is bright red and he looks like he just ran a mile.
“Your mom has cancer, Carrie,” he says and he winces as the words come out of his mouth. He opens his arms and I fall into them. He catches me, just like he always does. All I can think as I sob into his shoulder is that I’m glad he told me before she gets here, because if she knew I cared if she lives or dies, she would have power over me again. Dad holds me close and lets me get it all out. When I’m done, I stand back and wipe my eyes.
“Is she dying?” I ask. I bite the inside of my cheek, calmed by the metallic taste of blood when I bite too hard.
He nods. “Yes, this will be her last summer.”
“Are you sure?” I wait. The clock on the wall ticks. One. Two. Three. Four.
He nods. “I’m sure.”
“Good,” I bite out.
“You don’t mean that,” he scolds.
“Yes, I do.”
I go into my room to compose myself. My mother is on her way over to tell me she’s dying and I have to spend her last summer with her. But my mother died in my heart three years ago when she left. I refuse to mourn her twice.
I have almost enough time to fix my hair and my makeup before she arrives. I hear the knock on the front door, but I refuse to go out until they make me. Mom and Dad talk softly in the kitchen and I can smell coffee brewing. My mom is a coffee fanatic, but my dad hates it.
A knock sounds on my door. “Hey, Carrie,” Dad calls. I don’t answer, so he cracks the door and sticks his head inside. “Your mom wants to see you,” he says. He shoots me a glare when he sees that I’m in my jammies under the covers.
“What?” I ask, throwing my hands up.
“Get up,” he says. He’s suddenly that dad. He’s one that has a sharp tone and a never-say-die attitude. When he’s that dad, I have to listen. I throw my book down and toss the covers back. I stomp past him, just because I can. “Carrie,” he says softly.
“What?” I ask when he grabs my arm to stop me.
“Never mind,” he says. He shakes his head. He motions for me to proceed. “You don’t have to make this difficult, you know?” he asks my back as he follows me down the hallway.
“I’m not the one who made it difficult,” I hiss back over my shoulder.
Then I see her.
She’s sitting at the table with a mug of coffee cupped in her hands. She looks up at me, and there are already tears in her eyes.
“Hi, Carrie,” she says quietly. She doesn’t get up or move toward me or reach out for me in any way.
“Hi, Patty,” I toss back. I go to the fridge and get a bottle of water.
Dad winces but Mom chuckles. I didn’t expect that.
The last time I saw my mom, she was pleasantly plump. She wore Spanx and loose-fitting shirts and pants with elastic waistbands.
Now she’s not her.
She’s someone else.
She’s someone skinny with short, patchy blond hair that sticks out at odd angles. She raises her hand and absently strokes across the top of her head when she sees me staring at it. I step closer to Dad. I want him to touch me. I want him to ground me. I want him to make it all right. But he just hitches his hip on the counter.
Mom clears her throat. “So, about the summer,” she says. She swallows so loudly that I can hear it.
“About the summer,” I parrot. I don’t know what else to do or say. I lift my water bottle to my lips and take a drink.
“So, you don’t want to go with me, do you?” she asks. She looks hopefully up at me.
“You’re eighteen. I can’t force you.” She shrugs.
“I can,” Dad murmurs. I look up at him and he glares back at me. I want to stick my tongue out at him, but he’s that dad right now.
“We can go sailing,” she sings. “We can fly kites. You always did like to fly kites.”
“When I was eight.”
“We can take long walks on the beach. You used to love to look for sea shells.”
“When I was five.”
“Some of your friends still live there.”
“Which ones?” I ask, before I remember that I’m supposed to remain aloof.
“Amber and Rose.” She looks up at me from lash-less eyelids. “And that boy you used to like.”
“When I was fourteen.”
“We could leave right after graduation. I’ll pick you up, and we can all go to dinner to celebrate, and then we can go to the beach.”
I look up at Dad. “Are you going, too?” I ask.
He shakes his head and pretends to sort through the mail. “Not this time.”
But isn’t this supposed to be the last time?
“So, it’s settled,” Mom sings again. She swipes a hand beneath her nose and sniffles. “We’re going to the beach.”
“Yay,” I say, deadpan.
“Carrie,” Dad growls.
I force the corners of my lips to turn up. “Yay,” I sing, pumping my fist in the air. “We’re going to the beach!” I look up at Dad. “Can I go back to my room now?” I ask.
He glances toward at my mother and she just shrugs. He leans over and kisses my forehead. He smells like woodchips and aftershave.
I start toward the hallway, and my mom’s voice calls to me.
“Carrie,” she says. I look back toward her. “I think I’m supposed to tell you that I’m dying and that this will be my last hurrah and that I want you to share it with me. But I’m just going to tell you that I want to spend the summer with you, even if you act like this the whole time, because I’ll take what I can get.”
Tears start to burn my eyes and I blink them back furiously. “I’ll go,” I whisper.
Dad puts his hands on my shoulders from behind and squeezes. “But she vows not to enjoy a single minute of it.”
Mom laughs. But it’s a sound with no joy in it at all. “I’ll take it.”
I nod and run toward my room. I go inside it and lean heavily against the wall. I leave my door cracked so I can hear what they’re talking about. But they’re so quiet that I can’t hear a thing. I do know, however, that my mom doesn’t leave until the early hours of the morning.