Eventually, I’m going to have to look him in the eyes.
And eventually, it’s going to hurt like hell.
I’m not sure whom I’m really angry with. My dad for making the deal. Will Hollister for wanting to walk the same path as me. The universe for throwing us in the water together again. Robert Hollister for forgetting one small check in a series of thousands—a critical error that would doom his legacy.
It doesn’t matter, because I’m too far in now. I want to win. The competitor in me is back, with the hunger of a thousand dragons. And Will Hollister is just going to have to be okay with the line I need to draw between us. I can’t get close to him. We can’t be friends. There’s too much Evan there. It will only slow me down.
I move back to the small bench seat and let my forehead fall against the glass, ominously close to the hand print, and eventually the boring wait lulls me to sleep. The crack of a car door slamming shut startles me awake. Before my mind can catch up to reality and realize I’m not dreaming, my eyes see Evan standing in front of a black sedan, his arms stretched above his head, his hat pulled low, and his shirt rising enough I can see the bronzed muscles on his stomach. My arms tingle and my face rushes numb with a single blink.
“Ghosts,” I whisper to myself.
I watch Will walk to the back of the car with a white-haired older man. When they disappear behind the lifted trunk, I leave the window seat and the small attic office, pushing the door closed behind me. I can hear my parents in the lobby, so before anyone calls my name, I grab my keys, walk through the women’s locker room to the pool and leave through the gate on the side to where my car is parked along the alleyway. I crank the engine and look in my rearview mirror. The driveway is clear for me to back out, but I know I’ll have to pass them all as I leave unless I wait long enough for them to move inside. After five or six seconds, though, I decide that saving face isn’t as important as running away. I shift into reverse and back out without ever once looking to the side. When my wheels hit the gravel driveway, I turn hard to pull away. I’m not strong enough to avoid the mirror as I go, though, and I catch a final frame before I disappear through the thick trees around the road. They are all watching me, and everyone looks surprised to see me leave.
Everyone but Will.
Maybe it’s good the first time I’m seeing Maddy it’s the back of her head as she runs away. She is running away, too. Some things never change, and Maddy has never liked the twist that conflict does to her guts. She always outruns that feeling.
I only caught a glimpse of her profile before she ran her fingers through her dark hair and let it fall along her face, shielding her from us. That glimpse was enough, though. This thing I’m doing—it’s going to be harder than I thought it was. Being here…I don’t know if I can be here.
“Well, you sure travel light, Will,” Curtis Woodsen says, pushing the trunk closed and turning to face me, one of my two bags in his hand.
“I didn’t want to overpack…in case…” I pull my lips together tight for a flat smile, exhaling through my nose.
“Planning on washing out already? That’s not the Will I knew,” Curtis says, his eyes crinkled with the pull of his lips on one side, like he’s looking at me and evaluating what he has left to work with.
Not much, Curtis. There isn’t much here at all.
“I’ve just learned to keep my expectations out of the equation is all,” I say, hoisting the straps of my stuffed duffle on my shoulder and following Curtis through the familiar front doors of the Shore Swim Club. I reach my right hand up out of habit to tap the top of the doorway as we pass through. I used to have to jump to reach this spot.
“Expectations aren’t much different from goals, Will. And I know you’ve got goals. That’s why you’re here,” Curtis says over his shoulder. I barely hear him through the rush of memories that pound me with every blink of my eyes. This is definitely going to be harder than I thought.
“Goals?” His hand is flat on my chest, and I shake away the demons.
“Huh? Oh…yeah. I just keep them simple. Sorta part of my therapy—one minute at a time, one step forward, then another,” I say.
Curtis twists his lips and studies me for a few seconds before his mouth curves into a smile and his heavy hand pats my chest twice.
“Well, sounds to me like you’ve got hundreds of expectations then…maybe thousands. They’re just all lined up.” His chest lets out a raspy laugh as he turns and continues to the steps that lead up to the small apartment area and business office.