Considering we were supposed to be friends, I shouldn’t have hated him, not as much as I did. Sure, he was obnoxious, got everything he wanted, always one-upped me, and would do anything in his power to be the center of attention, but we were chill with each other…outside of the mutual sarcasm and my secret dislike of him.
I could still hear the music thumping as we got farther away from the house. The driveway would have been dark if not for the new lights Wyatt’s family had put in. Too much artificial lighting in the middle of the woods was so fucking strange to me. It took away the nature in nature, if that made sense.
When we got to Paulina’s car, she opened the passenger door, and I helped Shannon inside. As I bent over to click her seat belt into place, her mouth moved in close to my ear. “My parents are gone… You could come home with me. I know we’re not together anymore, but…just one more time?”
My muscles tensed up. “You’re drunk, Shan. I’m not going home with you when you’re drunk.” I wouldn’t go home with her anyway. It would just confuse an already fucked-up situation. But I knew I probably should want to go home with her, even if it wasn’t to have sex with her. Oh, and I probably should have enjoyed having sex with her more than I had. She was beautiful, smart, kind…and staying in Fever Falls like me.
Staying… I was staying. My gut clenched.
“Good night, Shan.” I kissed her forehead and pulled back. Once I had the door closed, I asked, “Are you guys staying with her? I don’t think she should be alone tonight.”
“Yeah, we’re sleeping over,” Holly replied. “Thanks for the help.”
I watched the three of them drive away. As I walked back to the house, I realized the party was the last place I wanted to be. Still, I had friends with me and couldn’t bail on them. They’d give me shit about being a spoilsport, not acknowledging they all had stuff to celebrate and I didn’t. Not really. My high school diploma didn’t mean as much when my future was right there in town, living in the same house with my mom and my little brother, Kenny.
Stopping by my car, I grabbed a flashlight. Instead of going into the house, I walked around back to the path leading to the lake. It was darker back there, the lake out of view of the house. The dock belonged to Wyatt’s family. We’d taken the boat from it numerous times, so I knew the way.
The wood creaked beneath my feet until I reached the edge of the dock, where I sat down. I could still hear the light thump of music in the distance, but it was nice to be away, to breathe for a minute.
This fucking sucked. I’d graduated high school today, but I was pouting by the lake instead of partying with my friends…because I didn’t feel like celebrating…because my dream wasn’t coming true.
“Playing hide-and-seek by yourself?”
I startled at the sound of Ash’s voice behind me. Because of course Ash would show up. Why wouldn’t he? I’d obviously pissed off the karma gods.
“Well, I’ll play with you, and look, I found you. Freeze.” Ash touched my shoulder.
“You mixed up hide-and-seek and freeze tag.”
“I’m too drunk to care about details.” He sat down beside me. I could smell the slight tinge of sweat on his skin from the dancing, mixed with something else I couldn’t name…and wasn’t sure why I wanted to.
“You know, you’re entirely too serious for your own good, Beau. Loosen up and live a little. We graduated high school today!” He put an arm around me and shook me. “Ugh. I stink. Sorry.”
Damn him for almost making me grin. “Yeah, you do.”
“You’re always so cheery. Such a fun guy to be around. Bubbly Beau, that’s what I should call you.”
“Gee, thanks, Ash.”
“Seriously, Cranky Campbell, what gives?”
Which was it? Bubbly Beau, or Cranky Campbell, which was the name he typically called me.
“I hate it when you call me that, and I’m only pissy when you’re around.” Kind of…most of the time. Ugh. Why did Ash get to me so much?
“I guess that makes sense. It must be hard being around someone as kick-ass as me.”
I rolled my eyes. The thing was, I thought he was probably serious. Ash didn’t lack confidence in the least, which I respected and despised at the same time. “You’re not helping.”
“Dude, seriously. Be happy. You’re as close to perfection as you can get.”
Because I was always number two? “And you’re perfection, right?”
Ash winked at me. “Obviously.”
I turned away from him and looked out at the lake—the reflection of the moon on the water and how the shadows from the trees danced against it. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to be as happy as Ash was, wanted something to celebrate like he had.