Summer of ’95
Charlotte and Dwight Carson unloaded their three children at the Whitmans’ lakeside cabin like a courier with a cardboard package. Dwight shook hands with Harold Whitman, and Charlotte helped three-year-old Lily from her booster seat, depositing the little girl with the rosebud lips wrapped around her thumb onto the gravel driveway. She dragged reluctant six-year-old Lucas from his seat, prying his fingers one by one off the door latch while he hollered in her ear that he wanted to go home. Eight-year-old Olivia was the only one who willingly exited the car, inching the plastic thong on her flip-flops between her toes and shouldering her olive-green JanSport backpack. She was also the only one of her siblings smart enough to know that a summer at the lake with a family she barely knew would be a vast improvement over summers spent in day care and evenings with their parents, who, even to Olivia’s inexperienced eyes, didn’t love each other.
She was nervous, though. She’d never been away from home for six weeks. The longest she’d been without her parents were the four days Charlotte had her and Lucas stay with their neighbor Nancy Merriweather after Lily was born.
Gravel crunched under her flip-flops as she backed away from the car, looking up at the two-story A-frame cabin with the rustic wood siding that would be home for the next one and a half months. It looked tiny under the towering Jeffrey pines. But Rhonda Whitman assured Olivia the loft had enough room to comfortably sleep Olivia and her two younger siblings.
“Between you and me,” Mrs. Whitman conspiratorially whispered last weekend at Olivia’s parents’ annual summer luncheon, a catered affair with servers in black pants and starched white shirts, “there’s enough room to sleep ten kids. We’ll swim and play games. It’ll be your best summer ever,” she reassured when Olivia expressed her reluctance about being away from home for so long.
Olivia had smiled meekly, sipping the one glass of punch Charlotte allowed her before she’d be relegated to her room until the party ended. Dwight Carson was raising money for his congressional campaign, and the important people at the party, including the Whitmans, couldn’t be bothered with children underfoot. She wanted to believe Mrs. Whitman, but every summer Olivia experienced so far had been boring. Dwight always seemed to be running for an elected office. Summers were spent going door-to-door, distributing pamphlets, or attending rallies to raise funding for red, white, and blue lawn signs.
Lily sidled up to Olivia, her thumb lodged in her mouth. Olivia felt her little sister’s hand inside hers. She threaded their fingers, and Lily leaned into her like Mrs. Merriweather’s poodle when she scratched the dog in his favorite spot behind his ear.
Lily was nervous, too. So was Lucas. He wore his brave face but kept blowing out his cheeks and popping his lips. Olivia reached for Lucas’s sticky hand, and he surprisingly didn’t let go or shove her away. He had complained most of the drive from Seaside Cove, a planned, gated community on the coast just west of San Luis Obispo where they lived. He’d wanted his friend Tanner to come.
“Stop whining. You’ll make new friends,” Dwight had insisted before going back to his call on his brand-new wireless, scheduling client appointments for the upcoming week. Olivia didn’t know exactly what her dad did when he wasn’t campaigning, but she once overheard Charlotte explain to a neighbor that Dwight showed wineries how to operate. His job sounded distinguished to her.
Dwight kissed Olivia’s forehead. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you, too.”
“I’ll call you every day.”
A little smile peeked out like sunshine through a cloud as she wondered what she’d tell him tomorrow. They could talk about her new sketches. She’d been drawing The Lion King characters from scratch and they looked good to her. She was devouring the Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series. Maybe he’d want to hear about the book she’d been reading because she couldn’t picture what they’d be doing all day here other than sitting around.
“Be good, Princess.”
“I will, Daddy.”
He turned to Lucas. “Listen to the Whitmans. Do what they tell you.”
Lucas threw himself against Dwight. “Don’t leave.”
“Summer will be over before you know it. You won’t even notice I’m gone.” He hugged Lucas, then wrested his arms from around his waist.
Sniffling, Lucas grasped Olivia’s hand. She could tell he didn’t believe Dwight. From the moment their parents told them they were sending them away, he’d been sure it would be forever.
Dwight turned to leave.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Lily?”
Lily pressed closer to Olivia as if trying to disappear behind her.
Dwight scratched his clean-shaven chin and cleared his throat. His gaze shifted between Olivia and Lily. He stepped closer and patted Lily on the head like Olivia had seen him do with Mrs. Merriweather’s dog.
“See ya, kids.” He abruptly left and joined Charlotte at the car. Charlotte tossed her head back, laughing at something Mr. Whitman said. They worked at the same real estate firm, which was how the Carsons knew the Whitmans. Mr. Whitman touched Charlotte’s arm. He leaned close and whispered in her ear. Charlotte smiled, then folded into the driver’s seat, waving goodbye. Dwight got into the car and loudly shut his door. Charlotte drove off, kicking up pebbles and dust onto three pieces of luggage left in the gravel.
Olivia’s mouth turned down. Their parents left them in the driveway. UPS had the courtesy to leave packages on the porch and ring the doorbell.
Lily whimpered. Thinking she was sad because their dad didn’t kiss her goodbye, Olivia kissed her little sister’s forehead, just like Dwight did with her. “He didn’t mean to forget,” she said.
She spun around, tugging her siblings along like spinning passenger cars attached to the center pillar of an amusement park ride.
Mrs. Whitman smiled warmly and Olivia felt better already.
“Are you kids hungry? I made sandwiches. After, we can take the canoe out on the lake.”
In unison, three pairs of eyes looked at the lake. Beached on the shore was a colorful assortment of kayaks and canoes. A tire swing hung above the water. A paddleboarder glided across the surface. Mrs. Whitman waved.
Lucas’s hand slipped from Olivia’s. He scooted away, lured by the water.
“Wait until after lunch,” Mrs. Whitman said, and Lucas stopped, heeding the warning tone in her voice. The Carsons lived on oceanfront property. They had a dock with a small motorboat and kayaks, which Dwight took out every weekend. Olivia and Lucas learned to swim while still in diapers. Lily already knew the basics of swimming, enough to keep herself afloat if she fell into the water. But their parents forbade them to go near the shore. Dwight never took them kayaking or on his boat. He thought them too young, the water too choppy. They could fall out.
But this lake was flat and shimmery like the stained glass windows at church.
“Would you like to play in the water this afternoon?” Mrs. Whitman asked.
Lucas nodded, eyes wide, his brave face radiating with excitement.
“Yes,” Olivia agreed. Even Lily looked longingly at the lake, the murky water gently lapping the shore. Between two trees hung a hammock. Olivia wanted to sketch there and read her books.
“Wonderful.” Mrs. Whitman’s smile broadened. She looked over her shoulder. “Theo. Ty. Come help.”
Olivia looked up at the Whitmans’ kids, who’d been watching their arrival from the front deck slouched over the rail, chins propped on forearms. Both wore swim trunks, their torsos tanned from the high-altitude sunlight.
“Mom,” Theo complained, hiding his face.
Mrs. Whitman rolled her eyes. “He can’t stand it when I use his first name.” She grinned at Olivia.
Olivia smiled shyly. She knew Theo from school. He sat two rows over from her in Mrs. Foster’s class. She also knew he hated his first name and insisted everyone call him Blaze. What she didn’t know was why. Where did he come up with that nickname?
She liked Blaze. He’d always been nice to her.
“Ty, get Lily’s bag,” Mr. Whitman instructed. He’d already picked up Olivia’s and Lucas’s duffels, dusting them off. Tyler, tall for a five-year-old, dragged Lily’s My Little Pony roller up the deck steps. The little suitcase bumped along behind him. Lucas followed them inside, eager to eat and change into his swim shorts.
Mrs. Whitman held out her hand for Lily’s. “Do you like ice cream?”
Lily’s thumb popped from her mouth. “I love ice cream.”
“Will you show me your favorite flavor?”
Lily nodded and took Mrs. Whitman’s hand, leaving Olivia alone with Blaze. She wiped her palm, damp from Lily’s hand, on her light-blue jersey shorts.
“Hi,” Blaze said, his hair mussed and feet dirty.
“Hi,” she said quietly. She twisted her shirt hem.
He squeezed the back of his neck and nudged gravel with his toe. “Ty and I built a fort in the loft. Want to see?”
She followed him into the cabin with brown shag carpeting and faux wood paneling, and up a wide set of stairs to the loft. What Olivia saw could only be described as magical. Multicolored sheets were draped over ropes that crisscrossed the A-shape room that opened to the house below, creating five small tents. Each tent slept one person. Sleeping bags and pillows had already been laid out so that the head of each tent faced the center of the room. If she’d looked down at the tents from the ceiling, they’d form a five-pointed star. Crescent moon twinkle lights framed the openings of the boys’ tents and stars glittered on hers and Lily’s. She knew whose tent was whose because someone had taped hand-drawn name cards to each tent.
“You did this?” she asked, dazzled.
Blaze’s cheeks pinkened. “Ty helped.”
She delicately touched her card. The letters, L-I-V-Y, had curlicues on the ends. Flowers bordered her nickname.
“I made yours,” he said. “Ty did Lily’s and Lucas’s.”
Her gaze lifted to the card on the tent beside hers. Blaze’s name was written in bold, block letters, the handwriting impatient, not nearly as crisp and lovely as hers.
She looked at their pillows, practically touching in the center. Hers was plain white. His was Mario Bros. She bit her lower lip, her stomach twitching. It felt like hummingbirds flying about, their delicate wings fluttering inside her. She had imagined it would be just her, Lucas, and Lily up there. But this was better, their tent star. Thinking about Blaze sleeping beside her, his head close to hers, made her nervous and shy. But she’d rather be near him than Lucas. Her brother tooted in his sleep. He’d pull her hair and plug her nose just to annoy her. But with Blaze, they could whisper about their favorite movies and books, giggle late into the night about the funny faces their teacher made when she wrote on the whiteboard.
“Kids, come eat,” Mrs. Whitman called from the bottom of the stairs.
Olivia smiled. “I like this,” she admitted, gliding her fingers across her name card. Mrs. Whitman was right. This would be the best summer ever.
Blaze was late. It’s why he forgot his phone. If he hadn’t, Olivia wouldn’t have discovered the photo. If she hadn’t seen that photo, she wouldn’t have spent the afternoon packing his belongings and dumping the boxes and loose articles on her front lawn. A lawn her gardener just finished mowing and edging. She spooked the poor man when a pile of Blaze’s Diesel jeans dropped in front of the mower and he almost shredded them. Olivia wishes he had. Then Blaze wouldn’t come out of this relationship unscathed like he did last time.
Sal quickly loaded his mower onto his truck and packed up his rake and blower. With a tenuous smile and half-hearted wave, he drove off as Blaze rode up on his Harley. Her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend now faces off with her, in her bedroom, defending himself as if the photo isn’t on his phone.
“It’s not mine!” Blaze raises his hands in full surrender.
Olivia doesn’t believe him. The proof is on his phone, the one he left behind this morning.
She wasn’t snooping, not intentionally. She respects his privacy because she expects the same in return. But she’s chasing a deadline and her next round of illustrations is due to her editor by midnight. She took a break, her first in seven hours today, because she’d skipped breakfast, missed lunch, and was starving. She needed to eat. While Olivia was munching on a handful of vegan cauliflower puffs in the kitchen, Blaze’s phone, forgotten on the counter, pinged with an incoming text. An image flashed, causing her to do a double take.
She brushed her hand on her jeans, wiping off dehydrated cauliflower dust, and unlocked his phone. She’d seen him tap the six-digit code numerous times. She unintentionally knows it by heart because he refuses to access his phone through facial recognition. She calls him paranoid. He calls it being cautious.
Blaze’s phone launched and up popped Macey Brown’s reaction to Blaze’s not-so-private privates: two fat exclamation points in a cartoon bubble.
Blaze had sent his ex-girlfriend a dick pic.
Apparently, while out last night at the bar with his friend Shane, Blaze spent twenty minutes sexting Macey. Their text exchange read like two high schoolers in heat, and Olivia skimmed the entire conversation while trying to stomach her minuscule snack. The texts nowhere near reflect the maturity level of the thirty-five-year-old man Olivia has been dating—again!—for almost a year.
Lesson obviously not learned when she dumped him the first time, their junior year in high school.
“Come on, Livy.” Blaze turns his wide, calloused palms up. His hands are beautiful in their roughness and wickedly talented in multiple areas. She’s going to miss the magic they wield in his metalworks studio and her bedroom.
Her cheeks flush with warmth and she scowls at her traitorous thoughts.
Blaze dares a step in her direction. He arches a brow. His gaze smolders. “You know it’s not mine, baby.”
“How would I . . .” She stops, exasperated over her own naivete.
A naughty smile frames his jaw.
“Oh, my god,” she says, appalled. He thinks she knows it’s not his because she’s seen his, and touched his, and . . . She is not going to let her mind go there.
Olivia stoops to pick up his PUMA high-top, one of the last items she hasn’t relocated to the front lawn. She gave him a drawer last year after he and his team finished the remodel on her house, and since then, he’s taken over half her closet. He doesn’t live here, not officially. Though he’s at her place all the time. He has his own house past the country club among the wineries, but she got lax and let him encroach on her space. Until an hour ago she liked having him in it. Who can blame her? The sex is phenomenal. He cooks a mean Bolognese. And maybe, just maybe, dating Blaze let her recapture some of the feelings she lost when summers at the lake house stopped.
She swings her arm back, aiming to toss him the shoe. If he gets anywhere within arm’s reach, he’ll kiss her, distract her, and before she knows it they’ll be on the bed messing up her sheets because she’s a sex-crazed monster. She has no willpower when it comes to Blaze’s charm, which is why she ended up back in his arms after she’d sworn off men when the last guy she dated back when she lived in San Francisco keyed her Mercedes. Big mistake.
Every time she’s opened her heart to someone, even a little, they’ve betrayed her. Yet again, she’s been hoodwinked.
Blaze points a warning finger. “Don’t do it. You’ll break something.”
She underhands the shoe. He doesn’t even duck or try to grab for it, her aim is that far off. They both watch the shoe arc across the room like a puma leaping over a narrow river and connect soundly with the bureau top, shattering her favorite bottle of Jimmy Choo.
“No!” She sulks. She loves that perfume, and it’s not cheap.
Blaze starts to pick up the glass shards.
“Leave it,” she barks, more upset with herself than with him. How could she have been so gullible? He cheated on her with Macey Brown, of all people.
If it weren’t for Macey, Olivia wouldn’t have broken up with Blaze. She wouldn’t have met Ethan.
And Lily wouldn’t have run away.
“Whoa, Liv. Chill.” He holds up a hand. “Just getting my shoe.” He slowly bends over, his gaze locked on Olivia as if she’s a wild animal ready to pounce. He picks up the PUMA and tucks the shoe under his arm.
“Let me explain,” he begs not for the first time, standing to his full height.
“Please don’t.” She retreats into the walk-in closet. The other shoe has to be in here somewhere. She nudges her own shoes with her foot and pulls designer handbags off the shelf, leaving them in a heap on the floor. There isn’t any logic behind her search, but right now she isn’t thinking logically. She wants him to leave, and he won’t go anywhere until she finds the cherished mate to his favorite pair of sneakers. But the shoe, like its namesake, remains elusive.
“Liv . . . Liv . . . Olivia.”
“I’m looking. Damn.” She moves aside the laundry basket and returns to the room. “I can’t find—”
Blaze holds up the second shoe. “It was under the bed. Hey, baby.” He crosses the room to her. “I—”
“Don’t ‘baby’ me.” She wags a finger. “Macey Brown? Really?” When Macey’s name flashed on Blaze’s phone, Olivia felt like she’d been tackled from behind while at a full sprint. It knocked the wind from her, leaving her gasping as decades of old hurt and sorrow flooded her lungs.
“It wasn’t me. It was Shane.”
Does he take her for a fool?
“Not buying it. We are over.”
“The hell, Liv.” He looks thoroughly bewildered.
She leaves the room that’s starting to smell like a perfumery—and memories of another relationship that soured long before its expiration date. Ethan had gifted her a bottle of Jimmy Choo her first birthday after they started dating. She’s been attached to the scent ever since, unable to let it go, like the memory of the way they parted.
Blaze follows her into the hallway toward the front of the house, his step heavy and purposeful behind her. “Shane borrowed my phone last night. How was I supposed to know the asshole would stuff it down his pants?”
Ew. Her face twists. Spare her the visual.
“Not one text mentions they came from Shane. Macey thinks they came from you, that it’s you in the photo. From where I’m standing, you sent Macey a picture of your—”
“It’s. Not. Mine. Shane borrowed my phone to make a call. And text his dick.” He grumbles the last bit.
“Then you should have told Shane to make it clear it wasn’t yours.” And she shouldn’t have thought dating Blaze again would be anything less than complicated, not when they had too much history. What’s the saying, evade the flame else you’ll get singed? She avoids entanglements for a reason. They hurt. No, they burn.
“I didn’t know about it until you called me.”
“Why is Macey even a contact on your phone?”
“It’s from eons ago.”
An object in the front room catches her eye. She veers into the room, her attention on the entertainment system. Blaze dogs her heels.
“She plugged her info in at our ten-year reunion. I never deleted it. I should have. I’m sorry.”
Olivia missed that event. She can blame work or living out of the area. She was in San Francisco at the time. But the truth is, she didn’t want to run into Ethan. To see him and Blaze in the same room? It would be like holding up a mirror to her past mistakes. If she hadn’t allowed Ethan into her life, her little sister would still be in it.
Later she learned that he, too, was a reunion no-show.
“Give me some slack here, Livy. That was years ago. You and I weren’t even dating.”
“You’re the one coming up with excuses,” Blaze counters. For the first time since his arrival, he sounds more bitter than confused. “You’re looking for a reason to end us. You’ve been looking since the day we hooked up again.”
“We never should have gotten back together.” But he’d just completed her remodel, and he’d been generous about paying attention to details, making sure there weren’t any mistakes and that she was pleased with his craftsmanship. Then on that last night, when he brought over the job completion order for her to sign, he stood in the middle of her brand-new kitchen and shyly asked her out to dinner. For a guy who wasn’t the least bit timid, she could tell he’d been working up the nerve to ask her, afraid she’d say no. He’d smiled, and Olivia saw the boy she remembered from all those summers ago. She felt safe. Accepting his invitation felt right, because once upon a lifetime ago they’d fit.
“See? That’s your problem,” he argues. “You assume the worst of people. You don’t trust anyone, so everything you touch or do blows up.” He mimes his head exploding.
“Not true,” she bristles. Not everything. She was enormously successful as an illustrator at an upstart high-tech company that went public. Thanks to that venture, she “retired” two years ago at thirty-three and moved to San Luis Obispo and into the house her dad sold to her for one dollar as a college graduation present. Dwight had owned the house for years and used it as a rental until she came of age. The place was a dump from several decades of tenants rotating through. But she has since remodeled the house and pursued her dream project: to write and illustrate her own graphic novel series. She’s proud of her accomplishments.
Relationships, though? Hers never end well, so best to end this one before it dives further south than it already is.
“Everything’s about you,” he accuses. “What about me? You’re kicking me out, for Chrissake. At least hear me out.”
“Come on, Livy. Just last night you were begging me—”
“Shut up!” He doesn’t need to remind her how wonderful he makes her feel, not when she’s trying to end them, as he so eloquently put it, before he can do any more damage. Her scars already run deeper than the lake they used to swim, holding hands while they floated on their backs, squinting into the sun. She yanks the cord to Blaze’s McIntosh turntable from her receiver.
“No! No, no, no.” He drops his PUMAs and shoves her aside. “Don’t touch my MTI.” He carefully lifts the turntable off the shelf and balances the component in his arms before turning to her. “Grab those.” He gestures with his chin toward the milk crate of vinyls on the floor.
Olivia heaves up the records and follows him out the front door, her gaze on his backside. He does have a nice ass. She’s going to miss looking at that, and him. Too bad she can’t trust the man, or anyone for that matter. She’s tired of being betrayed. It’s like she’s walking through life with a neon sign on her forehead: Screw Me Over. Picking up the pieces after they break her is exhausting. A part of her is left missing every time. She hasn’t felt whole since she broke up with Blaze in high school.
Correction. She hasn’t felt whole since her brother, Lucas, ruined their summers at the Whitmans’.
“Don’t throw my collection,” Blaze tosses over his shoulder.
“I won’t.” She isn’t that much of a bitch.
“Oh, hey, Amber,” he says when he walks past Olivia’s best friend. Amber lounges on the porch steps, making her way through a bottle of pinot noir.
“Thanks for coming,” Olivia says to her friend.
“Ah, well, I guess the end was inevitable.” As it always is with Olivia’s relationships.
Olivia cringes, embarrassed she’s such a failure in this area.
Amber smirks. “For the record, I was holding out hope for you guys. But since it’s come to this, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
This isn’t Amber’s first Olivia breakup rodeo. Olivia called Amber right after she’d hung up on Blaze. After that incident several years back that left her with a fat lip and keyed car, she never kicked out a boyfriend without a friend on-site. One day she’ll learn to stop inviting men to make themselves at home.
Blaze sets down his turntable on the walkway and Olivia drops the crate alongside. “Careful,” he snaps, pulling out his phone. He approaches Amber. “You slept with Shane. Tell Liv this isn’t me.” He enlarges the photo on his 11 Pro Max.
“Good god. Put that thing away.” Amber covers her eyes.
“Screw you, Amber.”
“No, thanks. Already got Mike for that.” Amber drinks her wine like she’s washing down the taste the photo left behind.
Blaze shoves his phone away and turns to Olivia. “What’ll it take to convince you there’s nothing between me and Macey?”
She glances away. She can’t go through this again with him.
“This is it then.” Blaze shuffles his feet. His boot heels scrape on concrete.
“This is it,” she concurs, ignoring the inkling of remorse churning inside her stomach. She fooled herself into believing they could keep their relationship light, firmly seated on the fun level. She’ll miss him like family because at one time, he was family. But she doesn’t plead for him to stay. She bites her bottom lip hard so she won’t apologize and admit she might be making a mistake.
Amber quirks a brow. “You sure you want him to go?”
She shrugs. “Thought I’d check while there’s still time to fix this.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“For a guy with a man bun, I kind of like him. And he didn’t key your Mercedes.”
“Blaze wouldn’t have done that. Present fuckup aside, he’s too nice.”
“Then why am I here? And why are you breaking up with him?”
Olivia quirks a brow. “Seriously?” she asks while at the same time thinking Blaze may be 100 percent accurate. She’s been looking for an excuse to break up and Macey handed one to her in the shape of Shane’s—
Okay, she’s stopping right there.
Either way, a picture is worth a thousand words.
They watch Blaze throw a leg over his bike and the pang of regret in her chest sharpens, though not enough to invite him back or admit she’s wrong.
“You forgot your stuff.” Amber yells the obvious.
“Sure. I’ll pile everything on.” He gestures roughly at his ride and straps on his helmet. “I’ll be back later with my truck. Don’t touch my things.” He flicks down the visor and revs the cycle loud enough to scare off a cluster of blackbirds in the enormous pine across the street. He then flips Olivia his own bird and blows out of there.
Olivia exhales loudly. He’s gone. And she’s free.
She finger combs her hair back, holding the long, cinnamon-brown locks off her forehead, and turns to her friend. Their eyes meet. Amber’s brows lift.
“What?” Olivia barks.
Amber fixes her messy bun and refills her wineglass. She makes a contemplative sound deep in her throat.
“You think he was telling the truth,” Olivia presumes.
Her friend since college freshman orientation sips her wine. “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
Olivia settles beside Amber on the porch steps. “He was telling the truth.”
She extends a skinny jean–clad leg and pulls out the single Marlboro and lighter she’d tucked in her front pocket before Blaze showed up. She knew she’d need a smoke after he left, a nasty habit she’d picked up in San Francisco when she worked seventy-plus-hour weeks. Something to take the edge off when exercise and sex couldn’t. The other side of her California king will be cold tonight and exercise isn’t on the agenda. She has too much work to do before she turns into a pumpkin. And that damn recurring nightmare is back. Good thing sleep isn’t a priority.
She lights up and inhales. Sensing Amber’s hesitation, she exhales a long stream of smoke before muttering, “Out with it.”
Amber sighs. “You know Shane’s an idiot—whoa.” She perks up. “Check out that car.”
Olivia looks across the lawn. A pristine, two-door Lincoln Continental pulls up to the curb and rolls to a stop within a hairbreadth of Amber’s red Tesla. The driver, an elderly woman with her nose in the air to peer over the dash and her seat pulled forward enough to kiss the steering wheel, shifts the car into park, leaving the engine to idle.
Amber whistles. “Wow. That car’s mint. ’77 or ’78?”
“Something like that,” Olivia says absently, watching the people inside the metallic blue antique. There’s a kid in the front passenger seat. He can’t be older than fourteen. Probably the woman’s grandson. They stare blatantly at Olivia and Amber through the open passenger window.
“Are you having a yard sale?” the woman asks.
Laughter bubbles from Amber. “Take the lot of it. It’s yours,” she says for Olivia’s ears only.
Olivia’s heart pounds wildly. There’s something familiar about the boy. She nudges Amber’s thigh, a warning to behave. “No, sorry. Cleaning house.”
The woman nods, then murmurs a few words to her passenger. The boy gets out of the car, slides on a backpack, and shuts the door. The woman waves and, after backing up, pulls away from the curb.
“Where’s she going?” Olivia asks, alarmed.
The car crawls to the end of the street and turns the corner.
“Did she just leave that kid?”
“Maybe he’s a neighbor,” Amber says.
Maybe, but doubtful. Olivia hasn’t seen him around here.
The boy turns, thumbs tucked under the shoulder straps, and looks up at them on the porch. His chin quivers and Olivia swears his legs tremble.
She inhales sharply. He isn’t a neighbor. The brown hair under the flat-billed Padres cap, the almond shape of his eyes, and the slope of his nose, even the hesitant tilt of his head and body stance, tell her exactly who he is. This boy is identical to her baby sister, Lily, when she was his age. A sister Olivia hasn’t seen in fourteen years.
© 2021 Kerry Lonsdale Inc. All Rights Reserved.