About the Author
Michelle Dalton is the author of Fifteenth Summer and Sixteenth Summer.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Sixteenth Summer June
The first time you lay eyes on someone who is going to become someone
someone—you’re supposed to feel the earth shift beneath your feet, right? Sparks will course through your fingertips and there’ll definitely be fireworks. There are always
But it doesn’t really happen that way. It’s messier than that—and much better.
Trust me, I know. I know how it feels to have a someone
To be in love.
But the day after my sophomore year ended, I didn’t know anything
. At least, that’s the way it feels now.
Let me clarify that. It’s not like I was a complete numbskull. I’d just gotten a report card full of A’s. And one B-minus. (What can I say. Geometry is my sworn enemy.)
And I knew just about everything there was to know about Dune Island. That’s the little sliver of sand, sea oats, and sno-cones off the coast of Georgia where I’ve lived for my entire sixteen-year existence.
I knew, for instance, where to get the spiciest low-country boil (The Swamp) and the sweetest oysters (Fiddlehead). Finding the most life-changing ice cream cone was an easy one. You went to The Scoop, which just happened to be owned by my parents.
While the “shoobees” who invaded the island every summer tiptoed around our famously delicate dunes (in their spotless, still-sporting-the-price-tag rubber shoes), I knew how to pick my way through the long, fuzzy grass without crushing a single blade.
And I definitely knew every boy in my high school. Most of us had known one another since we were all at the Little Sea Turtle Play School on the north end of the island. Which is to say, I’d seen most of them cry, throw up blue modeling clay, or stick Cheetos up their noses.
It’s hard to fall for a guy once you’ve seen him with a nostril full of snack food, even if he was only three at the time.
And here’s one other thing I knew as I pedaled my bike to the beach on that first night of my sixteenth summer. Or at least, I thought
I knew. I knew exactly what to expect of the season. It was going to be just like the summer before it, and the summer before that.
I’d spend my mornings on the North Peninsula, where tourists rarely venture. Probably because the sole retail establishment there is Angelo’s BeachMart. Angelo’s looks so salt-torn and shacky, you’d never know they make these incredible gourmet po’ boys at a counter in the back. It’s also about the only place on Dune Island where you can’t
find any fudge or commemorative T-shirts.
Then I’d ride my bike south to the boardwalk and spend my afternoon coning up ice cream and shaving ice for sno-cones at The Scoop.
Every night after dinner, Sam, Caroline, and I would call around to find out where everyone was hanging that night. We’d all land at the beach, the deck behind The Swamp, Angelo’s parking lot, or one of the other hideouts we’d claimed over the years.
Home by eleven.
Rinse salt water out of hair.
This was why I was trying hard not to yawn as I pedaled down Highway 80. I was headed for the bonfire on the South Shore.
That’s right, the annual
bonfire that kicked off the Dune Island summer, year after year after year.
One thing that kept me alert was the caravan of summer people driving their groaning vans and SUVs just a little too weavily down the highway. I don’t know if it was the blazing, so-gorgeous-it-hurt sunset that was distracting them or my gold beach cruiser with the giant bundle of sticks bungeed to the basket. Either way, I was relieved when I swooped off the road and onto the boardwalk.
I tapped my kickstand down and had just started to unhook my pack of firewood when I heard Caroline’s throaty voice coming at me from down the boardwalk. I turned with a smile.
But when I saw that Caroline was with Sam—and they were holding hands—I couldn’t help but feel shocked for a moment.
In the next instant, of course, I remembered—this was our new normal. Sam and Caroline were no longer just my best friends. They were each other’s soul mate.
As of two Saturdays earlier, that was.
I don’t know why I was still weirded out by the fact that Sam and Caroline had gotten together that night. Or why I cringed whenever they gazed into each other’s eyes or held hands. (Thankfully, I hadn’t seen them kissing. Yet.)
Because the Sam-and-Caroline thing? It was really no surprise at all. There’d always been this thing
between them ever since Sam moved to the island at age eight and settled into my and Caroline’s friendship as easily as a scoop of ice cream nests in a cone.
We even joked about it. When Sam made fun of Caroline’s raspy voice and she teased him about his gangly height; when she goosed him in the ribs and he pulled her long, white-blond ponytail, I’d roll my eyes and say, “Guys! Get a room.”
Both of them would recoil in horror.
“Oh gross, Anna!” Caroline would say, sputtering and laughing all at once.
Inevitably, Sam would respond with another ponytail tug, Caroline would retaliate with a tickle, and the whole song and dance of denial would start all over again.
But now it had actually happened. Sam and Caroline had become a Couple. And I was realizing that I’d kind of liked
Now I felt like I was hovering outside a magical bubble—a shiny, blissed-out world that I just didn’t get. Sam and Caroline were inside the bubble. Together.
Soon after they’d first kissed, both of them had assured me that nothing would change in our friendship, which, of course, had changed everything.
Still, Sam and Caroline were sweetly worried about my third-wheel self. And they were clearly giddy over their fresh-hatched love. So I was trying to be supportive. Which meant quickly hoisting my smile back up at the sight of them looking all cute and coupley on the boardwalk.
I eyed their empty hands (the ones that weren’t clasped tightly together, that was) and raised one eyebrow.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t bring firewood,” I complained. “I hate being the only one who did her homework.”
“Naw,” Sam said in his slow surfer-boy drawl. “We already piled it on the beach. The fire’s going to be huge this year!”
“We were collecting wood all afternoon,” Caroline said sunnily.
I couldn’t help it, my smile faded a bit. I guess this is how it’s going to be
, I thought. Sam and Caroline collecting firewood is now Sam and Caroline On a Date—third wheel not invited.
Caroline caught my disappointment. Of course she did. Ever since The Kiss, she’d been giving me lots of long, searching looks to make sure I was okay with everything. I was starting to feel like a fish in a bowl.
“We would have called you,” she stammered, “but didn’t you have sib duty today?”
She was right. I did have to go to my little sister’s end-of-the-year ballet recital.
So why did I feel this little twinge of hurt? I’d had countless sleepovers with Caroline that didn’t, obviously, include Sam. And Sam and I had a regular ritual of going to The Swamp for giant buckets of crawfish that were strictly boycotted by Caroline. The girl pretty much lived on fruit, nuts and seeds, and supersweet iced tea.
But ever since Sam and Caroline had gotten together, a kernel of insecurity had been burrowing into the back of my head. All I wanted to do was shake it off. But like an especially stubborn sandbur, it wasn’t budging. This is stupid
, I scolded myself. All that matters is that Sam and Caroline still love me and I love them
. Just not
, the whiny voice in my head couldn’t help adding, the mysterious way they love each other
I sighed the tiniest of sighs. But then my friends released each other’s hands and Sam plucked the firewood bundle out of my arms. He hopped lightly from the boardwalk onto the sand and headed south. Caroline hooked her arm through mine and we followed him. I ordered myself to stop obsessing and just be normal; just be with my friends.
“Cyrus is already so
drunk,” Caroline said with a hearty laugh and an eye roll. “We have a pool going on how early he’s going to pass out in the dune grass.”
I pulled back in alarm.
“There’s beer here?” I asked. “That’s, um, not good.”
The bonfire was not more than a quarter mile down the beach from The Scoop, where my mom was working the postdinner rush. And when you make the most to-die-for ice cream on a small island, everybody’s your best friend. Which meant, if there was a keg at this party, it would take approximately seventeen seconds for the information to get to my mom.
Luckily, Caroline shook her head.
“No, the party’s dry,” she assured me. “Cyrus raided his dad’s beer cooler before he got here. What an idiot.”
Down the beach, just about everybody from our tiny high school was tossing sticks and bits of driftwood onto a steadily growing pyramid. By now, the sun had been swallowed up by the horizon, leaving an indigo sky with brushstrokes of fire around its edges. Against the deep blue glow, my friends looked like Chinese shadow puppets. All I could see were the shapes of skinny, shirtless boys loping about and girls with long hair fanning out as they spun to music that played, distant and tinny, from a small speaker.
But even in silhouette I could recognize many of the people. I spotted Eve Sachman’s sproingy halo of curls and Jackson Tate’s hammy football player’s arms. It was easy to spot impossibly tall Sam. He tossed my firewood on top of the pyre, then waved off the laughter that erupted when most of the sticks tumbled right back down into the sand.
I laughed too, and expected the same from Caroline. She was one of those girls who laughed—no, guffawed
But now she was silent. So silent, I could swear she was holding her breath. And even in the dusky light, I could see that her heart-shaped face was lit up. Her eyes literally danced and her lips seemed to be wavering between a pucker and a secret smile.
I looked away quickly and gazed at the waves. The moon was getting brighter now, its reflection shimmering in each wave as it curled and crashed. I zoned out for a moment on the sizzle of the surf and the ocean’s calming inhale and exhale.
But before I could get really zen, I felt an umph
in my middle, and then I was airborne.
Landon Smith had thrown his arms around my waist, scooped me up, and was now running toward the waves.
If I hadn’t been so busy kicking and screaming, I would have shaken my head and sighed.
This is what happens when you’re five feet one inch with, as my grandma puts it, “the bones of a sparrow.” People are always patting you on the head, marveling at your size 5 feet, and hoisting you up in the air. My mom, who is all of five feet two and a half, says I might grow a little more, but I’m not betting on it.
Landon stopped short of tossing me full-on into the surf. He just plunked me knee-deep into the waves. Since I was wearing short denim cutoffs and (of course) no shoes, this was a bit of an anticlimax. I looked around awkwardly. Was I supposed to shriek and slap at Landon in that cute, flirty way that so many girls do? I hoped not, because that wasn’t going to happen. After a lifetime of tininess, I was allergic to being cute.
I’m not saying I cut my hair with a bowl or anything. I’d actually taken a little extra care with my look for the bonfire. Over my favorite dark cutoffs, I was wearing a white camisole with a spray of fluttery gauze flowers at the neckline. I’d blown out my long, blond-streaked brown hair instead of letting it go wavy and wild the way I usually did. I’d put dark brown mascara on my sun-bleached lashes. And instead of my plain old gold hoop earrings, I was wearing delicate aqua glass dangles that brightened up my slate-blue eyes. (Or so my sister Sophie had told me. She’s fourteen and reads fashion sites like some people read the Bible, searching for the answers to all of life’s problems.)
While Landon laughed and galloped doggily back onto the dry sand, I said, “Har, har.”
But instead of sounding light and breezy, as I’d intended, it came out hard and humorless. Maybe because I was just realizing that Landon’s shoulder had gouged me beneath the ribs, leaving a throbbing, bruised feeling. And because everyone was staring at me, their smiles fading just a bit.
I felt heat rush to my face. I wanted to turn back toward the ocean, to breathe in the cloudy, dark blue scent of it and let salt mist my cheeks.
But that would only make everyone think I was really
annoyed, or worse, fighting back tears.
Which I wasn’t
What I was feeling was tired. Not literally. That afternoon I’d downed half a pint of my latest invention, dark chocolate ice cream with espresso beans and creamless Oreo cookies. (I might
have eaten the cream from the cookies as well.) My brain was buzzing with caffeine and sugar.
But my soul? It was sighing at the prospect of another familiar bonfire. Another same old summer. A whole new round of nothing new. Except for this restlessness
, I thought with a frown.
new. I was almost sure I hadn’t felt this way the previous summer. I remembered being giddy about getting my learner’s permit. I dreamed up my very first ice cream flavors, and some of them were even pretty tasty. I graduated from an A cup to a B cup. (I’m pretty sure all growth in that area has halted as well.) And I was thrilled to have three months to bum around with Sam and Caroline. The things we’d always done—hunting for ghost crabs and digging up clams with our toes, eating shaved ice until our lips turned blue, seeing how many people could nap in one hammock at once—had still felt fresh.
But this summer already felt like day-old bread.
I shook my head again and remembered one of those first ice cream flavors: Rummy Bread Pudding.
If I’d turned stale bread into magic once, I could do it again, right?
It was this bit of inner chipperness that finally made me laugh out loud.
Because me channeling Mary Poppins was about as realistic as Caroline singing opera. And life was not ice cream.
Who was I kidding? Nothing was going to change. Not for the next three months, anyway. On Dune Island, summer was the only season that mattered, and this summer, just like all the others, I wasn’t going anywhere.
After the bonfire was lit, I rallied, of course. It’s hard to be too moody when people are skewering anything from turkey legs to Twinkies and roasting them on a fire the size of a truck.
I’d already toasted up a large handful of marshmallows and was contemplating the wisdom of a fire-roasted Snickers bar when Caroline trotted up to me. Sam was right behind her, of course. Since Caroline didn’t like anything that tasted of smoke, she was just drinking this year’s Official Bonfire Cocktail: a blueberry-pomegranate slushie garnished with burgundy cherries.
“This was a terrible idea,” Caroline said, taking a giant sip of her drink. “Everybody’s teeth are turning purple. But mmmm
, it’s so yummy, I can’t stop.”
She slurped noisily on her straw.
“Real attractive, Caroline,” Sam joked. But from the uncharacteristic lilt in his monotone, I could tell he wasn’t joking. He really was
Caroline responded by taking another slurp of her slushie, this one so loud it almost drowned ...
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