Two boys, one boardwalk, and her sweetest summer ever
Jules Jarvis never asked to be a rags-to-riches cliché. Since moving from simple Sugarbush Island, Florida five years ago to elite Greenwich, Connecticut, she has done little but miss the life and the true friends she left behind, especially Adrian Ryker. With one touch of her knee against his, her then twelve-year-old heart was stolen and never returned.
Now seventeen and headed back to Sugarbush for the summer, Jules hopes to reconnect with her old life by working at the candy apple stand on the boardwalk and reuniting with the friends she left behind, particularly Adrian. The only problem is she ghosted them all five years ago when seeing their pictures and posts became unbearable. Now she’s back and ready to eat a big ole crow sandwich with an extra-large side of groveling. It’ll be worth it to follow the hope of discovering where that magical knee touch might lead.
But Heath Townsend, the irritating boy interning with her stepdad for the summer, won’t quit popping up at the exact wrong times, making it twice as hard to connect with Adrian. Jules is here to rebuild her life—not fall for a preppy, cocky, Yale-bound jerk, no matter how charming that quirky smile of his can be.
For fans of Jillian Dodd, Beth Reekles, Jenny Han, and anyone who loves a great YA love triangle romance!
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Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter One:
As the ferry plows toward the shore, my stomach rumbles in protest, my body physically rejecting the island…which is ironic, because we’re actually supposed to be here to make me feel better. When we left Sugarbush five years ago, my mom promised we’d visit often—every winter and summer break if we wanted. And we totally could have done that if I hadn’t messed everything up.
As the ferry docks, I swallow hard, doing a quick scan of the area for any of my friends…or former friends I should say. A group of kids about my age passes by and I turn my back to them instinctively.
My mom’s hand rests on my shoulder. “Are you going to avoid all the kids on the island all summer long?”
“Of course not,” I say like I have no idea what she’s talking about, but the look on her face tells me I’m busted.
A boy about my age gets out of a black SUV and smiles at my stepdad. Craig beams back at him. “Heath, my man.” The two do this handshake into a hug thing, and then Craig steps back, arm around him. “Ladies, I want you to meet Heath. He’s Bill Townsend’s boy.”
I love how Craig says this like I should know who the heck Bill Townsend is. But now that I consider it, I think that’s a man who Craig works closely with.
Heath holds out his hand to my mother. “Hello, Mrs. Marshall. I believe we met once at my parents’ house in Atlanta.”
“Yes, absolutely I remember you. Please call me Samantha.”
He nods and turns to me, holding out his hand. “You must be Jules.”
I shake his hand with a nod. “Hi.” He holds my hand for a beat longer than you typically shake a person’s hand, his gaze scanning mine with big dark eyes. He’s got a whole Penn Badgley thing going on…handsome coming and going. Geez.
His lip curls up just barely with a grin like he’s got something up his sleeve. “I hear you’re from here.”
“Yeah. I lived here till I was twelve.”
“Maybe you can show me around.”
“Maybe,” I say, knowing full well the answer should have been, “Of course,” but by the look in this guy’s eye, something tells me I need to throw up walls made of cinderblock. Not that he’s creepy or anything, because he’s definitely not that, but more like he’s relieved teams of girls of their virginities and if I’m not careful, I’ll be next. Not that I’m a virgin. I mean, I guess I am technically, but, anyway…
Craig pats Heath on the back. “You’ll be seeing a lot of him around. He’ll be apprenticing under Kara this summer.”
So he’s the one who took my spot. Well, it was never my spot, actually, but Craig has been strongly encouraging me to enter the apprentice program at his company. It’s a huge commitment. You start your senior year of high school, and you work for the company all through college. At the end, you’re guaranteed a job, and a really decent salary, but who wants to decide their future at seventeen? I can’t even decide if I want chocolate or vanilla.
Heath and Craig load in our bags while my mom and I get in the back seat and buckle up. She points, her finger hidden by the back seat and mouths, “He’s cute.”
I shake my head and give my phone my full attention.
She backhands me in the thigh with a knowing smile, and then checks her own phone. Of course he’s cute. Duh. But I’m here to reconcile with my friends, one in particular, and I don’t need any other distractions…especially ones with smiles like that.
The drive through town is like a blast through time. We pass the go kart track where I used to spend my week’s allowance racing my friends, the Dream Cream where Sophia and I once spent our afternoons while her mother made salted caramel peanut fudge ice cream and let us eat way too much of it, and the arcade where Blaire’s brother worked and would sneak us quarters. He made the deal with us so we’d keep quiet about all the times he snuck out of the house when he was supposed to be babysitting us.
The sight of the turquoise house two down from the end of the strip ties my stomach in a knot. I’m such an idiot. How silly of a girl am I to seriously be getting butterflies over one, ridiculous knee touch. Exactly one.
But it was an epic touch. All of us sat in a circle with the lights out except for that stupid flashlight that Mateo was shining on his face while he told us that tired, old ghost story about the hook. At first, I thought Adrian had just wiggled and his knee had accidentally landed there. I kept waiting for him to move it, and I was so tempted to move mine because I didn’t want him to think I was being weird or anything, but then he looked at me. It was quick, and if I’d have blinked, I’d have missed it, but it was this little hint of a smile that said our knees were not accidentally resting there together.
“This doesn’t look too bad, I guess,” Craig says in reference to the perfectly fine and quite large house he’s rented us for the summer. “What do you think, girls?”
I give my mom a look as she says, “It’s great. It’s more than great. It’s awesome.”
Craig kind of scrunches up his face rocking his head from side to side like he’s not sold. My mom gives me an eye roll with a smile that tells me she knows what I’m thinking and she totally agrees with me, but she loves him anyway.
My mom and I have never gotten used to going from dirt poor and scraping by to make ends meet our whole lives on Sugarbush Island to living like queens in Greenwich, Connecticut, literally overnight. We are both constantly having to rein Craig in, especially my mom as she attempts to strike a balance between smiling, young trophy wife and keeping true to her redneck roots.
My struggle with adjusting to my not-so-new-anymore life is actually a little bit of why we’re here. Okay, a lot of why we’re here. Let’s just get this out of the way. I was not going to kill myself. I would never do that. I was on a new anxiety medication that you’re not supposed to drink with alcohol. But I’d had a particularly bad day, and that pitcher of Sangria was just sitting there, and I swear the stuff tasted like Kool-Aid, but the vodka after that did not. Whatever. It was just a series of unfortunate decisions, and here we are.
“Was this house here when we were still living here?” I ask, opening the car door.
“No, this whole row of houses is somewhat new,” Craig says. “That’s why it’s not along the oceanfront.”
Heath gets out of the driver’s side and shuts my door behind me. “Pool in the back’s pretty sick, though.”
I eye him as he makes his way past me to help Craig unload the trunk. I want to ask him what he’s been doing in our pool, but I keep my mouth shut.
My mom and Craig get their own suitcases while Heath grabs mine. I’m not sure he knew it was mine, but probably the pale pink color of it clued him in. Heath lets us in the front door, punching in a code, and I really want to know why he’s so familiar with our home and why Craig seems so okay with it.
“I think the master’s down.” Craig nods toward the stairs. “Whole upstairs is yours, kiddo.” He grins and then heads down the hall with my mom, sneaking a pinch of her butt which has her bumping her hip against his with a grin. Eww.
They head into the master bedroom, and the door closes behind them. I shake my head in disgust. I really don’t need to be disgusted. I know this, obviously. Craig makes my mom super happy. And he’s a good man. He’s so wonderful to both of us. Like way off the charts. But I swear, it’s been five years and they’re still in honeymoon mode. I try not to think about it.
“Your mom’s really young, isn’t she?” Heath says.
“Yeah. She had me when she was sixteen.”
“She looks like she could be your sister.”
“Yep,” I say, that being exactly the eighteen hundredth time I’ve heard that.
I reach for my suitcase, but he lifts it and heads up the stairs. “I’ll take it up for you.”
I hesitate before following him. Craig would sooner gouge his eyes out than have something happen to me on his watch, so he must trust this guy implicitly. But that’s not to say I do.
Heath stops at the top of the stairs and scoots to the side. “Lead the way.” I poke my head into each of the rooms, Heath doing the same. “This one looks out on the pool and it’s got its own bathroom,” he says.
I had already pretty much settled on that one, so I shrug and head in there.
He points to the window on the far wall. “It’s got a view of my room, too.”
I lift my eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
He hefts my suitcase onto a bed and then points again. “My family’s in that one.” He squints one eye. “My room’s right there. The blinds are pulled right now, but I’ll be sure and lift them, especially when I get out of the shower.”
I peer at him, starting to seriously question Craig’s judgment.
“I’m kidding. One of us had to break the ice. You’ve been looking at me like I’m a serial killer since before you got in the car. I don’t bite…unless you want me to.” He waggles his eyebrows and then picks up a decorative shell and inspects it.
I eye him. “Who are you?”
His lip quirks up in a smile, his gaze still focused on the shell. “Such disdain already. I must be doing something right.”
“You want me to dislike you?”
“Oh no. That’s impossible. I’m far too charming for that.”
I try to make out if he’s being irreverent or if he’s a cocky A-hole. I can’t tell yet. I plop down on the bed. “So, you’re starting the apprentice program, huh?”
“For the summer, yeah.”
I frown. “You mean you’re not doing the full five-year plan? The high school to college to real life program?”
“Nah. Just the summer. Just to occupy my time and keep me out of my parents’ house. What about you? What’s your gig this summer?”
“I’m working at the boardwalk. My uncle manages the place.”
He nods, picking up a turtle knick-knack from a bookshelf and then setting it back down. “Sounds fun,” he says with sort of a sigh, and again, I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or serious. “What’s there to do around here?” he asks peering out the window at the pool.
“Have you never been here before?”
“Nope. Just got here yesterday. Spent last night right out there.”
I rest my hands on my hips. “Why are you so familiar with this house? Don’t you live at the one next door?”
He shoots me a dry look. “My family’s over there.”
I nod, like I get it, but I really don’t. I’ve got a great family. I’ve got two of them actually. Craig and my mom are always including me in everything they do, and when my dad is in town, we do all kinds of stuff together. I guess I never went through that whole my family sucks phase. Because my family’s kind of awesome, even after what I’ve put them through the past five years.
He drops his hands down to his sides. “Well, it’s been stimulating.” He goes to head out of my room.
“Hey,” I say, at my limit with trying to figure this guy out. “Are you an asshole or are you just hard to read?”
He huffs a little laugh and then looks me up and down. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
He leaves, and I follow him to the doorway, my frustration level rising. “I wouldn’t actually.”
He stops at the end of the hall, hand on the banister. “Oh, you so would.” There goes that smile again.
As he heads down the stairs, I stand there, my legs deciding if they are going to chase after him and tell him just how annoying he is, when he stops and turns around, walking back up the stairs. My heartrate speeds up a little as he approaches me.
“I almost forgot,” he says, hand in his pocket. He steps right up to me, invading my personal space, but I don’t step back. I’m not kowtowing to this asshole. He dangles a set of keys in my face. “All yours, princess.”
I cringe at the BMW logo on the keychain. I love Craig to death, but why couldn’t he have gotten me some old beat-up car, anything that wouldn’t make me look like a privileged, rich snob.
“I suppose these go to that red convertible I saw in the driveway when we pulled up?”
“You suppose correctly. Craig had me get it detailed for you this morning.”
I take the keys from him. “Thank you.”
He steps away. “Maybe you can give me a ride in it sometime. Show me your town.”
I realize I might have the upper hand here, or at least the illusion of it. He knows nothing of Sugarbush, and I know a lot. I grasp the keys and head back toward my room. “If you’re lucky.” I close the door, reveling in getting the last word with him. Since when is that important to me? I’m used to asshole guys. There’s lots of them in the town where I’m from. But I never play their games, so why am I doing it now?
I collapse on the bed and pull out my phone to text my friend Dylan back home. I’d love to say she’s my best friend, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t call me that. She’s someone who’s friends with everybody. She’s not a girl who needs a best friend to recap date night or analyze in detail whether we think someone likes us or not. She’s into sports. She does cross country in the fall with me, soccer in the winter, and softball in the spring. She’d play way more than that if the ones she wanted to play didn’t overlap one another. She’s also a lesbian, so too much boy talk gets on her nerves. She would never admit that, and she indulges me plenty, but I know when I need to shut the heck up.
I’m pretty sure if I were to just float away from Dylan at some point, she wouldn’t even notice. She may look around in a few months and say, “Hey, anyone seen Jules?” When everyone shook their heads, she’d shrug and say, “Oh well. Who wants a smoothie?”
So I text her to make sure she knows I’m still alive. She texts back and tells me to Facetime her so she can see my new digs.
Her smiley face comes on my screen. “Hey, Juju. Look at you. How’s the hometown?”
I smile back. “It’s still standing. Everything looks exactly the same except for this row of houses we’re staying in. Other than that, it’s like stepping back in time five years.”
“When do you start your job? Damn, I’m jealous. Working at an arcade. I’d spend my whole paycheck on Pacman.”
“I may not be at the arcade. My uncle may put me at one of the shops or food places.”
“Surely you’ll have your pick. Of all the stuff down there, where do you hope he puts you?”
I think about it. “I don’t know. Maybe a T-shirt shop.”
“Ooh, you could be one of those airbrush artists.”
“Nobody wants me drawing on their T-shirts. Trust me.”
“So when do you start?”
“As soon as I go see my uncle, which may be sooner rather than later. Craig and mom are in honeymoon mode.”
Dylan smiles. “That’s sweet. You’re lucky, you know. Parents who have sex are happy parents.”
I purse my lips at her. “I know.”
“I can’t believe you’re gonna miss tennis camp this summer. Who’s going to stay up late with me watching those same four DVD’s of eighties movies in the no-WiFi-having common room?”
I point at her. “Remember to bring your own this time.”
“You know I won’t,” she says. Her expression turns serious. “So, you doing okay?”
I inhale a deep breath. This is what I get for scaring everyone. I don’t know how to make it clearer that I was not intentionally trying to hurt myself. But I guess it was weird that I was drinking alone, and a lot. It’s just sometimes I feel so isolated that I don’t even want to feel anything anymore.
My phone signals another call. Saved by the call waiting.
“That’s my dad,” I say.
“Tell him hello. And call me back when you get placed somewhere. I want to hear about it.”
Okay, so maybe she’d notice if I were missing after all. I smile at her. “I’ll do it.” I switch over to the other call. “Hey, Dad.”
“Did you make it?”
I get comfortable on the bed. “Yep.”
“How is it?”
I glance around the room. “Nice house, of course.”
“Of course,” my dad says, matter of fact. He’s become as used to Craig’s lavish lifestyle as my mom and I have.
“What about you? Where are you?” I ask.
I smile. “You had to think about it?”
“After a while the cities just blend together.”
“So are you still planning on being here in two weeks?” I ask.
“Yep. I think Uncle Mike would come get my ass if I took any longer than that. He’s ready to start on that deck. So are you gonna try to hook up with your old gang?”
A wave of nausea floats through my stomach. This question is a gimme. I’m pretty sure the whole reason we’re here for the summer is so that I can hook up with my old squad. I guess my parents think being here and seeing my old friends will help me snap out of it. And maybe it will. Who knows? The anxiety didn’t start until I moved to Greenwich, so anything’s possible. But what my mom and dad don’t know is that my old squad pretty much hates me.
“I’m sure I’ll bump into them at the boardwalk,” I say. “Kind of hard not to in a town this size.” A guy’s voice yells my dad’s name in the background, and so I decide to end the call before he can so he won’t feel guilty. “I need to get unpacked.”
“Okay, sweetie. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Love you, too.”
I hang up with my dad, my usual guilt settling in. Since I was twelve, I’ve felt like I was holding my dad hostage. When my mom broke the news to him that we were leaving Sugarbush, he put up no argument at all, which made me feel like crap at the time. But now that I’m older and I’ve seen what his life has looked like these past five years, I get it.
My dad was a local musician begging to break out of Sugarbush, but chained there because of me. Our move away from the island broke him free of those chains and enabled him to move about the country with his best friend who toured with Zero Grade, where he became a guitar tech, then a fill-in bass player, then a permanent bass player.
He has an apartment in Connecticut fairly close to where we live, but I know he’d never choose to live there if I weren’t there. So the two of us pretty much live in a constant state of guilt when it comes to one another. He feels guilty when he leaves for a tour, and I feel guilty when he has to be home in a strange place where he fits in even less than I do.
But I think we can both relax and cool it with the guilt a little this summer. He hasn’t visited here much at all these past five years. He’s on the road so much that when he’s not working, he wants to be spending time with me. I guess it’s hard for him to justify more time away. I know Uncle Mike is going to be thrilled to get him. They’ve got this big construction project they’re going to be working on, pimping out Mike’s backyard. Guy stuff. But I know my dad. He’ll be itching to get back on the road by mid-July.
I pull open my suitcase and start to unpack. When I get a layer down, I find a frame with a picture of my Sugarbush friends and me, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, goofy looks on our twelve-year-old faces. There’s a sticky note in my mom’s handwriting affixed to the bottom that says Go find your friends.
I scratch my forehead. My mom is sweet for trying, or maybe she and Craig just want me out of their hair this summer. Either way, I should probably leave the house. Though every fiber of my being is screaming to pull out my book and read from now until the summer is over. Because as much as I want to patch things up with my friends, I’m terrified of the impending rejection.