After a quick run for fish tacos, we spend the rest of the afternoon on the deck, sun soaking and people watching. I'm sore in the best kind of way and so high on Mase it's almost awkward. It's never been an issue for me in the past—when things progress physically—but everything's different with Mase. My feelings for him quadrupled in the span of a few hours, and now I'm even more love-struck dumb than I already was.
Despite Mase's attempts at subtlety, his family's not stupid; they know what we did while they were away. They've hardly dropped their bags that afternoon when Lizzie scrunches her nose.
"Ew, Mase, gross."
He looks confused, the taco in his hand teetering dangerously. "What?"
"You're all"—she waves a hand in the air—"smug."
She nudges Allie, and the two of them pin us with teasing grins.
There's a strong chance I've never been this embarrassed in my life. I look at my plate, my nails, the sky…anything but the little sister who has us all figured out.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Mase tucks back into his meal, ignoring their giggles. "And we're eating, so…bye."
"How'd you work up such an appetite?" she sing-songs.
Mase's mom interrupts her daughter's interrogation, joining us on the deck with a margarita in one hand and a plate of tacos in the other. "I wish you'd been there today." She smiles wistfully, snagging the chair beside mine. "Coronado was beautiful. You two really missed out."
"I doubt that," Mase mumbles, squeezing my thigh.
"Ew!" Lizze screeches. "I heard that!"
The mortification only gets worse. Later that night, when we're huddled around the beachside chiminea, I remember the promise I made my dad. "I should go call my parents," I mutter, pulling myself from the warmth of Mase's side. "I swore I'd check in."
"Tell them we said hello." Mase's dad's smile is friendly and genuine. It's easy to see where his son gets his kindness.
"You wanna walk down the beach?" Mase asks. "While you call?"
I throw a hoodie on over my bathing suit and run upstairs to grab my phone. There are several text alerts from Rose, but the feeling of dread that bubbles up in my stomach tells me I'm not ready for all that yet.
"All good?" Mase grabs my hand and leads us through the side gate. The sand is cool against my bare feet, and the moon shines its face on the ocean in ripples. After all the ways we touched today, feeling weepy about the weight of Mase's hand in mine seems crazy. He's right beside me…yet I want him even closer. I'm lovesick and impulsive and all the things I said I'd never be.
"You're quiet." He pulls me against his side. "Everything okay?"
"Just nervous about calling my parents." It's a half-truth, but I don't want to give him the full story: that I'm clingy and needy and in way over my head. That I love the way I fit beside him and a college life without him feels desperately unfair.
His eyebrows slide up. "Nervous? Why?"
"I'm afraid they're going to know."
"What we did." My cheeks burn. "Today."
He smirks. "Which time?"
"Ugh." I shove his chest. "You're no help."
Laughing, he twists out of my reach. "Just call them. It'll be fine."
We walk a bit farther while I gather up my courage, stopping eventually when the shoreline becomes too rocky to continue. Mase reclines against a boulder, tugging me between his legs.
I groan and slide my thumb across the screen. "I guess."
My mom answers, which feels like a tiny victory. I'm not sure I can handle an interrogation from my dad.
"Heyyy, Mom." I'm overeager and awkward, and behind me, Mase's chest shakes with laughter.
We've barely said our hellos when she abruptly cuts me off. "Hold on a second, baby. Daddy wants to talk. Let me get him—
"Oh, no, that's okay. I—"
"CHARLIE, PICK UP. BELLA'S ON THE PHONE!"
Defeated already, I drop my head in my hand.
I sigh. "Hi, Dad."
"Still here, Mom."
"Can you hear us?"
"Yes," I mutter. "I hear you both."
They talk over each other until my mom's voice wins. "So how's the beach?"
"Perfect." I slide my fingers through Mase's and smile a secret smile.
"What did you do today?"
"You know…just beach stuff."
"Yeah. Like…swimming," I lie. "And making sand castles. Big ones. Using buckets and shovels."
Mase nudges me, his eyes wide with you've-gone-too-far caution.
"Right." My mom drags the word out, unconvinced. "Is…everything okay?"
"Are you sleeping well?"
I cough and sputter and choke on air.
"I'm here, Mom. Sorry."
"Okay." She pauses for a long time, and my stomach twists and turns nervously. "Well…have fun."
I swallow hard. "I will."
Before I have time to think about the implications of her words, my dad's in my ear.
"You still have that folding money?"
I roll my eyes. "Nobody under ninety calls it that, Dad. It's cash."
"Don't spend it all in one place."
"What about sunscreen? You wearing that?"
I snort. "Uh...yeah. I'm good."
"Skin cancer's no joke, Bella."
"Nobody's laughing about cancer, Dad. Stop being a weirdo."
Naturally, this leads to a story about his fishing buddy's great aunt's brother who had cancer so bad he lost his leg.
I interrupt as soon as I'm able. "I've gotta run, but I'll call soon, okay?"
"Tomorrow. That was the deal, remember?"
"I remember," I mutter.
"Stay out of the sun."
"Dad, I'm at the beach."
I can almost hear him grin. "Don't get smart with me."
I laugh. "You're the strangest person I've ever known."
"Love you, Bella girl."
"Love you, too, Daddy."
Mase and I take our time walking back to the house. The beach is surprisingly active this time of night with runners and bikers and other couples strolling. We pass a small marina where sailboats bob and knock against each other to the cadence of the waves.
"I officially love it here."
Mase laughs. "Me too. When I was little I thought I'd move here."
The thought of him as a beach boy makes me smile. "Yeah? What happened?"
He shrugs. "I dunno. My Dad went to Duke so…it kind of became a thing."
"Duke's a big accomplishment," I remind him softly. "You should be proud."
"Yeah," he mutters. "I guess."
We're silent for a bit after that. He seems conflicted, and I'm annoyed that fear for our future has overshadowed the happiness I felt earlier today. I meant what I said: Mase worked hard, and he deserves success. I would never do anything to interfere with his goals.
"I just have to try, you know?" He blurts eventually, dropping my hand to run his fingers through his hair. "I can't not try."
The calm and cool boy I'm used to seems uncharacteristically frustrated and tense. I don't want to be the cause of his stress. Not after the day we've had. Not ever.
I wrap my arms around his waist and squeeze. "I know," I say truthfully. "I love that about you."
And I do. Even if it breaks my heart.
To Shell, whom I adore. Hope this week's been brighter. XO