Every time Skye thought about breaking up with him, her throat seemed to close.
She couldn’t seem to get the words out and remained standing in silence, becoming more and more distressed. She had succeeded in stuttering out a few words, but Josh hadn’t heard her so it had all been in vain.
He noticed that she was quieter than usual, of course, but each time he asked if she was okay she could only squeak “i’m fine” automatically before her brain could catch up with her mouth and realise that was the opportunity to bring it up.
She was going to break up with him. She wanted to do it. She needed to do it! It wasn’t fair to either of them, after all.
But every time she looked at his sweet face and kind smile and eyes that lit up when he saw her, the words died in her throat.
The garden was so warm it was almost uncomfortable; there seemed to be no difference between the air temperature and her skin, and without a breath of wind the heat was stifling. Luckily it had been too dry for the midgies to arrive, but it wouldn’t be long before they did. This date had a time limit.
“I really liked when your hair was down the other day,” Joshua said shyly, reaching up to brush a couple of strands out of her face. His fingers intertwined with hers by their side. She felt her heart sink and stared at the ground to their left where a beetle scurried between the grass blades, which shined bright green under the sun.
“Um, thank you,” Skye muttered. It was unusual for Josh to give her compliments, and after sharing this with Summer, the writer had wisely said it was probably because of his conservative parents. He did always seem embarrassed when he initiated these sorts of things.
That was why it was all the more surprising when she felt his lips brush against her forehead, an infinitely sweet gesture that had her heart swelling rather than sinking.
Maybe she was just complicating things by overthinking them. Maybe this was fine.
When he placed his hand on her cheek – somewhat clammy, though he could hardly be blamed – her heart quickened. This was the sort of contact she had been yearning for for months. He traced her lips with his thumb, eyes lowered to the ground until they suddenly flicked up to meet her gaze, a question in them. “Is this okay?” he whispered.
“Y-yes,” Skye said, reaching up to place her hand over his wrist, holding him there. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and she felt that her smile was wider than ever.
Skye closed the distance between them.
There was no conscious decision to do this; in fact, she felt like her body had taken on a mind of its own and before her brain could catch up she was kissing him like she had read in those romance books – passionately, deeply, and with all the other -ly words that would be appropriate. Almost every inch of her was pressed tightly against him and the warmth was uncomfortable but somehow still comforting, and the best part was he was kissing her back with all the desire that she felt for him.
It was clumsy, like their other kisses had been, but they remained kissing until they were breathless and too-warm and by the end of it had picked up some sort of rhythm that made up for their lack of practice.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was nice, and Skye felt herself grinning like a love-struck idiot every time she thought about it for days afterwards.
The local library was a relatively new building with large windows spanning an entire floor, allowing the users to look out upon the community going about its day and, in the background, the sparkling blue ocean. It wasn’t large but managed to cram thousands of books into its limited space, which gave it a somewhat cramped feel, but the first floor was far more open and was furnished with several out of date computers which wheezed whenever they were glanced at.
Summer had started coming here on the weekends to write; home was loud and busy and after Faye had snooped through her writing, using their shared laptop was no longer so appealing. Summer had barely spoken two words to her sister since then, though Faye hadn’t noticed and remained in her own world where no one could be affected by her actions. More and more, her attitude was getting to Summer. It was strange to think they had been so close as children.
The stairs creaked as she climbed, breathing in the smell of old books and a subtle fruity scent – perfume, perhaps, and one that was somewhat familiar. Her heart sped up.
Summer felt a flush throughout her entire body when she saw Uma. This was the first time she had seen the girl in casual clothes – only ever running into her during school or at her work – and Summer stood in silence as she took in the sight. Uma was beautiful, her face was gorgeous and her legs – God, her legs… Her breath caught in her throat and the sound must have alerted the girl; she turned to look over her shoulder, ponytail whipping around. Her hand, curled around her coffee cup, paused by her mouth.
It took a few seconds for Summer’s brain to catch up. “…? Oh! In your writing piece?”
“Yes! All thanks to you. I owe you a book, you know. You should come and claim it next weekend.”
“Oh, um, I -” Get a grip, Summer told herself fiercely. Uma would never want to talk to her again if she could only stammer pathetically. “Sure, that would be nice.”
Uma beamed, and it was beautiful.
“Have you enjoyed your summer so far?” Uma’s voice was sweet as ever, yet Summer couldn’t really understand why she cared enough to ask. Uma was lovely and amazing and friendly but she was still a popular girl, and they didn’t tend to ask about things unless they wanted to tease you about it later.
But Uma had to be different. Faye hadn’t said a word about Uma since she’d seen the writing, so maybe Uma hadn’t mentioned that they had spoken. Maybe she deserved more trust than Summer was giving her.
“Writing.” Sum gave a little laugh. “I tried to enter in a couple of competitions, but…” she shrugged and cast her gaze to the window, watching a couple giggling as they left a shop. A child skipped past them, dutifully following an older brother on a skateboard.
“Not great enough,” she mumbled.
“There’s always room to improve,” Uma smiled. The expression made her eyes sparkle… or maybe that was just Summer’s imagination.
Uma stood, her sandals thudding onto the floor. The chair rolled back until it hit the desk. One of the wheels was stuck at an awkward angle. Summer made sure to keep her gaze firmly on Uma’s face, and not lower.
“You’ll win one someday. Just keep trying. Persistence is they key.” Uma slid her hands into the pockets of her incredibly short (and very distracting) denim shorts. “Are you here to write?”
“Yes,” Summer squeaked. “No.” She shook her head quickly. What if Uma asked to see her writing? What if she saw the name of the love interest! “Um, I mean, I’m going to try to write another competition piece. Not work on what I already have.”
Uma’s face cleared of confusion and she nodded. “That sounds lovely. I hope you have fun! My boss asked me to come in so I have to go and get changed and go to work.” She rolled her eyes with a sigh. “I’ll see you next weekend?”
“Y-yes, of course.”
Uma’s white teeth flashed as she smiled. She passed Summer with a wave and a light touch on her arm, which remained warm for the rest of the day.
“Ah, fuck,” he grunted, hopping on his good foot for a moment and picking up the extension just outside the bedroom before ducking back in and closing the door. He was far too sleepy to be out in the kitchen right now. “Hello?”
James found himself grinning. It was always great to hear his son’s voice. He’d phoned twice a week since leaving to live with his grandfather and now the summer was coming to a close. “Good morning, Liam. Have you decided which weekend you want to come back, yet?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.
“I kind of want to stay here for longer.”
His son’s voice was muffled and hesitant. James stared at the poster in front of him – they hadn’t decorated this bedroom since they moved in. It really could have used a face lift, but their extra time and money had so far been spent on the kids’ rooms as they grew up and inevitably grew out of their various embarrassing phases.
“Granddad said I could if you were alright with it!” he blurted. “I could enroll in the local high school and -”
“Liam,” James said, putting up his hand as if Liam could see the universal ‘stop’ sign. He left the silence hanging for a few moments, trying to digest that his son was so happy there (and so unhappy here) that he would rather live away from his parents and childhood home for an entire school year. And what if he never wanted to come back? Would it be better for him to stay with his grandfather, or be closer to his parents?
James’ gut reaction was to say no, absolutely not, because he would miss Liam far too much. Even the summer had been hard. He bit his tongue. His son would resent them if they told him no. James had to think about what would be in the best interest for Liam.
But how could he really know that?
“Come home next weekend, Liam. We can talk about it then. It’s not something we should talk about over the phone, and your mum needs to be here too. Okay?”
“Okay.” Liam sounded somewhat disheartened and James sighed. It was hard to know if this was just a childish whim or if it was something Liam had seriously thought about it.
“Can I speak to granddad?”
Liam mumbled an affirmative and the phone fell silent once more. Sam came onto the line moments later, his deep rumbling voice strangely soothing as James always found it was. Sam was a very reasonable and down to earth man. “Hang on,” he said, and James could hear him ask Liam to take the washing in from outside. When he left, Sam returned. “He’s been talking about it for a couple of weeks now. Sorry to launch this on you. He was too excited to wait.”
“Oh,” James said, feeling the corners of his lips turn down. Liam was rarely excited about things – at least back at home. “What do you think?”
Sam took a deep breath. “Well,” he began slowly, “Liam has really opened up since coming here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed when he’s been home.”
James found himself nodding. Liam had been more talkative and assertive, but the change hadn’t been that dramatic. Maybe it was easy to fall back into the old Liam when coming home?
“He’s made a couple of friends along the street and they seem to get along well. Together they’ve been doing odd jobs for people. It’s mostly full of old fogies like me, so we appreciate it.” Sam laughed, though James remained silent. He frowned deeper. “I don’t think staying here is such a bad idea for him.”
“But-” James spluttered. “He’ll be away from Jess and I for so long. That can’t be good for him, right?”
“Maybe this is a generational thing, but it doesn’t seem so bad to me,” Sam hummed over the phone. “But it’s hardly like you won’t see him. Anyway, I understand why you’re upset about the idea. It’s going to be a hard decision no matter which way you choose. Maybe you should come here next weekend to talk to him about it, and that way you can see how he is away from home.”
It was a reasonable idea, James supposed. He reluctantly agreed to it, on the condition that Jessica was free too. He dreaded bringing this up with her.
Jessica was out until the evening, and when she came home she seemed spacey and preoccupied. James approached her as she finished putting shopping away, half squishing the loaf of bread as she forced it into the bread bin. “Sweetheart?” James called, watching her shoulders sink as she deflated with a sigh. She turned around, leaning against the counter, and hugged herself.
“Your dad called?” James guessed. She nodded, eyes cast down and away. “Liam called me this morning.”
“I can’t believe he wants to stay,” Jessica mumbled, her voice small and dejected.
He closed some of the distance between them and reached out to squeeze her arm. Her skin was warm – it must have been hotter outside than he had thought. Faint freckles had begun to appear over her cheeks, a sure sign that summer was coming to a close, as she only seemed to get them after months of sunshine.
“We can’t think about how we feel about this. We need to decide if this is what’s best for Liam.”
“I know,” she whispered, but her voice cracked. She sniffed. “But how could we have been so bad that he wants to leave? For an entire year, if not longer!”
James wished he had the answer for both of them. Rationally, he knew that they had done their best. He knew that they were, at the very least, decent parents. “We’re not bad. Your dad’s house just suits him better.”
“How are you always so… logical? Put together?”
James chuckled and reached out to tilt her chin up so that she would finally meet his gaze. Jessica’s eyes were filled with unshed tears. He cupped her cheek, thumb stroking over the line of freckles across her cheekbone. “Because you’re the hot mess in this relationship.”
“Hey,” Jessica protested.
“I did say you were hot. That makes it a compliment. Anyway, we’ll go to see Liam next Saturday and talk to him then, okay?”
She mumbled something that sounded like agreement, rocking forward so that she leaned against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and they stood like that until it was time for James to make dinner.