“What do you mean you can’t go?” Avery asked from beside me. We’d been laying out in our bikinis, trying to get a warm glow after an unusually long winter.
My dad’s house was one of the few in town with a pool. Well, one that was not above ground and did not get packed away in the winter. It was a touch over the top, and my friends and I took advantage of it as soon as the weather allowed.
“I mean exactly what I just said. I can’t go to Cancun this summer. My dad is making me work at Between The Pages instead.”
Avery snorted. When I shot her a look, she lifted her hands in defense. “I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine you in a bookstore.”
“It’s not like I have a choice. It was that or getting cut off altogether.”
She laughed again, and my eyes narrowed even more. “Aves. Can you stop?”
“I really am sorry, but I can’t help it. I keep picturing you sitting behind the counter with sexy librarian glasses. Your hair pulled back in a bun. Can I please buy you some button up blouses? Maybe some reading glasses you can wear as a necklace?” She barely got the words out through her giggling.
“I’m glad you’re amused,” I said, slamming back into my lounge chair and crossing my arms. I refused to look at my friend.
“Oh, don’t be mad, Michelle. Maybe your dad will let you start work after our trip. It’s a tradition.”
Avery was right, summer trips to Mexico were a tradition. One that started several years ago when we were still in high school. Our families thought a joint trip down to the Le Blanc resort in Cancun would be the perfect way to show everyone in town just how much better we were than the rest of them.
It was exclusive, it was expensive, and it was exactly the kind of thing most people in River Valley would only dream about doing. I had to admit there was a particular pleasure posting pictures of us posing in places many of our friends would never visit.
Last year, Avery and I had taken our first solo trip to Mexico to celebrate graduating from high school. Our hotel was slightly less chic than what we were used to. We didn’t have the funds to stay in the same caliber place as our parents, but we enjoyed the freedom.
And the lower drinking age, of course.
That first trip out of country together was life changing. I had needed it more than I realized at the time. The drama of my life had weighed me down in ways I hadn’t known. When we got back to Idaho, Avery and I agreed to make an annual thing until we graduated college.
So much for that.
“Remind him of how much fun we used to have when we used to go,” Avery suggested.
“I don’t think reminding him of our family trips to Cancun will work in my favor.”
“Probably not,” she said, her face scrunched up in concentration. “But I already booked the room.”
“I don’t know. We’ve only been dating a couple of months. I’m not sure a trip to a place like that is a very good idea.”
“Don’t trust him?”
“You know that’s not it.”
“Is it because he’s just the bass player in some garage band?”
“It’s not that either, and you know how much I hate it when you make fun of him.” She sighed dramatically before sitting up. “I didn’t tease you when you dated Julian.”
“Yeah, and we don’t talk about Julian.”
“Of course not.” Avery crossed her arms. “When you don’t want to talk about something, it's off limits. Too bad it doesn’t work the other way around.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Aves. I’m trying to help you figure out the reason why you don’t want your boyfriend to go on an amazing vacation with you.”
“No, you’re being a spoiled brat.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“Whatever, I’m getting in the pool,” she said, getting up and jumping into the water. I was sitting close enough that a few stray drops of water hit my legs.
I stayed in my chair. Avery was my best friend, and I didn’t usually talk to her like this. But I didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now. My perfect summer was ruined before it even began.
Instead of getting a tan in the sun, I’d be sitting under fluorescent lights. My sandy beaches would be replaced by shelves and shelves of books. Instead of gorgeous cabana boys, I’d be dealing with a bunch of nerds.
I slammed back in my chair a few more times, a growling noise escaping the back of my throat. I hated that my dad had this much power over me and I hated that I had no choice.
Avery looked so carefree in the water. Her blond hair was sticking to her neck and shoulders. It must be so nice to enjoy the summer and not have to worry about a summer job or missing our trip. I couldn’t stand it.
“Time to go home,” I said to Avery as soon she resurfaced from her latest underwater handstand.
“Not joking. I think you should go home.”
She didn’t get out immediately, treading water while looking at me. Her head was cocked like she was trying to figure out if I was serious or not. Of course, I was serious. Was she really that dense?
After a short staring match, she took the hint. “Fine. I’m going to listen to Carter and his band play anyway.”
I watched as she grabbed her towel and stormed inside. Avery didn’t say goodbye, and I didn’t follow her in. She’d been here enough times this was like a second home to her, and she knew where everything was.
I regretted talking to her the way I did, not that I would admit it. At least not right now. I was too upset. We were as close as sisters. We fought, and then we got over it. If I didn’t hear from her in the next day or two, I would tell her I was sorry. Otherwise, I’d see her the next time she wanted to use the pool or wanted to see some romantic comedy at the movie theater.
I stayed out on the back patio and waited until I heard her car drive away.
Once Avery left, I let out a deep breath, leaned back in my chair, and closed my eyes.
I hadn’t meant to fall asleep. I don’t think I’d ever done it before. I looked down at my legs. They were bright red. Crap. How long had I been out here? I grabbed my phone off the small table and looked at the screen. 3:27, which meant I’d been laying out in the sun for… I honestly didn’t know. I wasn’t paying attention to the time when Avery left. It could have been five minutes, or it could have been five hours. Although, if the color of my legs were any indication, it was more likely the latter. A glance at my arms confirmed they were as red as my legs. I guessed my face probably looked like a ripe tomato.
I went inside and took a shower which alternated between too hot and too cold. Neither temperature felt good on my skin. I was thoroughly burnt to a crisp. Avery would have a field day after what happened earlier. She’d argue it was payback.
I pulled out the aloe from the cabinet in my bathroom and started applying it to my entire body. It was the first time in my life I wished I owned a frumpy one-piece that covered entirely too much skin. But because I tended to sport string bikinis, everything hurt. Thankfully the gel dulled some of the sting. I started to head back downstairs for some pain reliever when I heard the telltale beep from our alarm system signaling someone opening the front door.
My dad was home.
I raced down the last couple steps to tell him exactly what I thought of his bookstore and where he could shove my summer job. This whole thing was his fault. If I were still going to Cancun, I wouldn’t have fought with Avery. If I didn’t fight would Avery, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep. And if I hadn’t fallen asleep, my entire body wouldn’t feel like I spent some time in a fire pit.
I watched as he set his briefcase down, and grabbed a drink from the refrigerator. There was no doubt I was his daughter. He and I both were both just under six feet tall, and both had dark hair, although he had slight grey patches near both of his temples. We also shared our deep, olive skin. When I wasn’t the shade of fruit punch at least.
When my dad spotted me, he started laughing. “Oh, Princess, what happened?”
I kept my features blank and raised a single brow. I wasn’t amused. My dad shouldn’t be amused. “What do you think?”
“I think it’s a good thing you’re not going to Mexico. If you can’t handle the sun in River Valley, there’s no way you could survive down there.”
“It’s not like I’ve never been. I’ve done it a million times.”
“Four hardly counts as a million.”
“Ugh, you know what I mean. It’s not fair I have to stay here while Avery goes.”
“A little responsibility won’t kill you, Michelle. You’ve had everything handed to you your entire life. I’m learning that might not have been the best thing. Just look at your mother.”
“I don’t want to talk about her right now. Besides, the beach doesn’t have anything to do with her.”
It was his turn to raise his brows at me.
“Fine. But I’m not Mom, and I don’t think I deserve to be punished for her choices.”
“You’re absolutely right, and I don’t hold you accountable. That said, I gave you my conditions and I stand by them.”
“Twenty-five hours a week until school starts back up,” I recited. It had originally started out at forty hours a week, but even my dad could see how unfair it was to make me work the entire summer. It made an international trip impossible, but maybe I could still find a way to take a couple of days to go to the beach in California.
“I’ll even let you keep the money,” my dad said with a wink.
“It would be illegal if you didn’t.”
“Not if you were a minor. Family business and all.”
“Lucky for me, I’m nineteen then.”
“And lucky for me, I only have to pay you minimum wage.”
The man was infuriating. Paying me something decent wasn’t going to put a dent in his overall profits. For some reason, people still bought books from his shop, though I was baffled why. It cost more to buy a book from Between The Pages than Amazon. Not only that, you had to drive and go pick it up. I preferred to do my shopping from my phone, and my reading was limited to my horoscope, and whatever was on my social media feeds.
I couldn’t be less suited for this job.
“Anything else?” I asked impatiently.
“Actually, yes. Jenny called in sick for her shift tomorrow, which means you get to start work sooner than we thought,” he said with a smile.
Time to get the best summer ever started.