Don't look back, don't think of the
Other places you should've been
It's a good thing that you came along with me

Gold in the air of summer
You'll shine like gold in the air of summer

Here it is, the sequel to Summer Skin! Meaning that if you haven't read the first one yet, you really have to before you read this one. ^^;

Ahh, gosh, I'm really happy to be starting this :D I'm not 100% satisfied with this first chapter, but I'm almost never happy with my beginnings. I've written beyond this chapter, though, and I think things get better when the story starts to pick up again. :) And a random side note--the title came from a Kings of Convenience song. It's a really mellow song, which I feel is misleading DX The story's going to be just as dramatic as before~

Oh yeah, and there's a poll about SS at my profile if anyone's interested :P I put it up for fun, just to get a gauge of what people think. Though unfortunately, I can't say it'll actually affect the storyline. XD;; sorry!

Anyways, please enjoy this chapter, and review if you can! I won't be able to update for another month as I will be on vacation. See you then :)

* * *

Chapter 1

You are cordially invited to

the wedding of

Zack and Lillia…

* * *

Same ferryboat, same dock, same beach. It was the same Mineral Town, and yet a year ago it had all seemed so different.

Popuri and Rick were there to on time to meet me this time. "Oh my gosh, Claire! We've got so much to talk about!" Popuri squealed the second I stepped off the boat. Rick immediately moved to take my bags and I smiled at him. He shook his head slightly at Popuri's zeal, obviously thinking she was a little over the top.

"It's good to see you again, too, Popuri," I answered, already overwhelmed by the force of her presence. We had become friends despite the difficulty of last summer, but that didn't stop her from seeming a little overpowering.

She started right in with her familiar chatter. "This summer is going to be great, with you here and my mom's wedding…" I just listened to her, letting her ramble on as we walked down the dock and across the beach.

The wedding had been one of the things I'd been worrying about. I got the invitation only a week before I was scheduled to leave and hadn't gotten the chance to discuss it with Popuri or Rick. Apparently Lillia had surprised them with it just a few days prior to mailing out the invitations. I had been unsure how they were going to take the news; I knew that their father was a touchy subject, and I could understand if they were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of their mother remarrying with the she'd been having an affair with in secret.

But if Popuri's excitement was any indication, she at least was taking it just fine.

"…and it'll be so fun to be bridesmaids with you!" she exclaimed happily as Chicken Lil's came into sight.

Right, I'm going to be a bridesmaid, I thought, not as happily. I was grateful that Lillia had wanted me to be part of the wedding, but standing in a frilly dress in front of a room full of people was not exactly my ideal way to spend time. But I knew Popuri would have my head if I had declined.

My mom had wanted me to accept, too, mostly because she was going to be there at the wedding. She said she wasn't going to stay the whole summer because she didn't want to "intrude," meaning that she at least knew how uncool it would be for me to have my mom there the entire time while I was hanging out with Popuri and Rick. But she was planning on taking the ferryboat over the day of the wedding and then leaving with me the next morning.

Also, she wanted me to be a bridesmaid so she could take pictures of me standing miserably in a frilly dress in front of a room full of people. Agh. Moms.

Our relationship had gotten a little bit better. It was less brittle now. There were certain topics that we didn't breach, and we still argued plenty, but the dark rain cloud that had been hovering over the two of us had finally dissipated. And I'd ditched my rebel friends and stopped sneaking out.

When we got inside, Rick went off upstairs to put my bags in Popuri's room. As he passed by, he let his arm brush against mine and I tried to hide my smile at the tiny happy jolt it gave me.

Lillia greeted me, and I let her hug me. She asked me how I was and I told her, and while we chatted I couldn't help but notice that she was different, in a good way. She'd started showing signs of becoming livelier towards the end of the previous summer, but now she was awash in a healthy, happy, pre-wedding glow. Her face was still pale, and her movements were still unsteady at times, but the chains of her illness seemed to have at least loosened a bit.

And I was happy for her. Though I'd at first been angry with her for cheating on her husband (my own experience with my father cheating was enough to make me perhaps overly sensitive to it) I respected that she had her reasons, and that she was clearly making the best decision for herself. From what Popuri and Rick told me, her husband Rod didn't have plans to come back from his search for a cure for Lillia's illness—rumor had it he might've settled down with someone else himself.

Not to mention even I couldn't deny Zack's kindness. I felt embarrassed just remembering how he'd taken me in when he'd found me alone on the beach in the rain last summer. He'd done it without complaint or judgment, even though he barely knew me. I was glad that Lillia had found someone so caring.

"Okay!" Popuri said, latching on to my arm as soon as my conversation with Lillia was over. "Let's go visit Karen!"

"Now?" I asked, already feeling the familiar irritation I'd always gotten with her, though it was a bit subtler now. I'd been hoping to spend at least three seconds alone with Rick, but apparently that was going to have to wait.

"Yes, why not?" she replied, as if she really couldn't think of any reason why I wouldn't be one hundred percent in favor of the plan.

Lillia chuckled at her daughter. "You could give her a moment to get settled, Popuri."

I shrugged, pushing my lingering annoyance away with a smile. "Oh, no, that's okay. Now's fine. But um…can we invite Rick?"

She rolled her eyes impatiently but smiled. "Okay, okay. But only because you asked."

I could feel myself blush a little and I elbowed her. "Thanks."

* * *

Popuri continued to fill me in on details of the wedding on our way to the supermarket. Or rather, the drama that was surrounding it. Rick piped in occasionally with his input, too.

The latest news was this: Sasha was chosen as the maid of honor, and apparently that sparked jealous among the other Mineral Town women, especially with Anna. She threw a big fuss about it even though she and Lillia weren't that close. Sasha visited Lillia at home weekly and the two were good friends, so it was only natural she'd be picked. Anna was allegedly very upset and was currently avoiding both Sasha and Lillia.

None of that actually mattered, of course, but it was the kind of petty gossip I was used to hearing from Popuri. And besides, it was mildly entertaining

The story lasted all the way to the supermarket, and when she was finished, Rick held the door open for us and asked, "Has Popuri told you about the new farmer? I think his name is Jack…"

"New farmer? Jack?" I answered, feeling a little curious. "No, I haven't heard—"

There was two muffled stomping noises, followed by Rick and I both saying, "Ow," at the same time. Popuri had just purposefully and unapologetically stepped on our toes before prancing over to where Karen was standing.

"What was that about?" I asked, confused about what was happening. My toes, exposed to the power of Popuri's heel in my flip-flops, throbbed painfully.

"Oh, he's here," Rick replied, by way of explanation. I followed his gaze over to Popuri and Karen and realized another person was standing with them. It was a boy about our age, wearing dirtied overalls and a baseball cap on backwards. His hair was crayon brown and stuck out from underneath his hat, like it was trying to escape from being suffocated.

And I couldn't help but noticing the fact that he was good-looking in the husky, outdoorsy kind of way, with tanned arms and understated muscles hidden beneath the folds of his t-shirt.

But unfortunately for Jack, however, I had a fetish for elongated limbs and long scraggly hair and oversized glasses.

Or maybe it's just because it's Rick, I corrected myself. And that was probably more accurate.

I was still a little puzzled as to why Popuri reacted so violently until I saw the way she was looking at him.

And more importantly, the way he was looking at her.

It was like Karen, in her long-legged, shiny-haired, sparkling green-eyed beauty, was merely an unimpressive distraction, a side salad to the full course meal of the one and only Popuri.

Okay, so the metaphor was a little strange. But even me, a cynic when it came to romance and just about everything else, could tell that this boy was definitely deep, deep in like with Popuri.

I gave Rick a look as he led me over to be introduced. He raised his eyebrows in reply, clearly just as aware of Jack's infatuation as I was.

"This is Claire, the one who's visiting us this summer!" Popuri said, immediately linking arms with me when I got to her side. I smiled, feeling a little silly to be just standing there.

"Hey," Jack said to me, momentarily looking away from Popuri to offer his hand. I used my free hand to shake his. "I'm Jack. Just moved here."

"Claire! You're here!" Karen cried, giving me a sideways hug. "It's so good to see you! Your tan has already faded, I see." She clucked her tongue in mock disapproval and I laughed.

"Well…I should probably be heading home," Jack said, raising the bag of seeds he was holding. "I only came by to get these."

"Aw, okay. But don't be a stranger," Karen told him, and he nodded as he headed for the door.

"Nice meeting you, Claire," he said, stopping with one hand on the doorknob. Even as he said it, I could tell he was focused on Popuri and seemed reluctant to go. "And um…I'll see you guys later, hopefully."

We let out a chorus of byes as he left, and as soon as the door was shut, I said, "Who was that?"

"You heard him. He's Jack," Popuri responded airily, not looking at me, and I could tell by her voice that she was probably going to fill me in on the details later. Still, for the moment I wanted a little more.

"So…he's a farmer?"

Karen answered me this time. "Yeah, he just moved in on some land down the road from Chicken Lil's. He's a young guy, about eighteen or so. He's using his grandpa's inheritance to start his own farm."

"Wow," I said, impressed. I didn't think I'd have the guts to do anything like that.

"Yeah," Karen said, and we all got quiet for a moment, taking in Jack's ambitiousness.

Then Popuri asked, "Are your parents around, Karen?"

"Nope. Dad's at the clinic and Mom's off ordering something for the wedding, I think." Her mother, incidentally, was Sasha.

"Good," Popuri answered, sounding satisfied. "Because I have some juicy new stuff about the thing with the wedding and Anna."

* * *

Finally, finally, finally Rick and I got a few moments to ourselves.

We'd spent most of the afternoon at the supermarket before Popuri dragged me around to a few other places. However, we didn't go to the beach, and we didn't run into Kai.

Then we went home and had dinner, and afterwards Rick announced, "I'm going to go put the chickens back in the coop now."

And then I announced, "I'm going to go help Rick put the chickens back in the coop now."

"Have fun," Lillia told us, seemingly oblivious to anything going on between us.

"You know, you don't actually have to help me now," he pointed out once we were outside, crossing the yard to the chickens. "It's not like it's part of a punishment anymore."

"Hmm, I guess you're right," I said, pretending to mull it over. "Well, I suppose I'll just sit back and watch you then."

So I sat on the fence and watched as he herded in the chickens. As he worked, he told me stories of what had happened in my absence. A couple I'd heard before—they were ones he'd told me when we'd spoken on the phone—but they still made me laugh. I liked just hearing him talk, and even more to see him talk, to see his animated expressions and gestures in person. And he brought me up to date on the chickens, which wasn't exactly an enthralling topic of conversation, but it was nice. The chickens had grown on me more than I wanted to admit.

Once that branch of the discussion had run its course, he walked over to where I was sitting. I thought he was going to sit down, but instead he stood in front of me.

"But, anyway, I'm sure you're tired of hearing about the chickens."

"Nonsense! I could talk about them forever!" I joked, grinning at him.

"Well, we'll take a break from talking about them for now."




"I missed you," he said, with such seriousness it made my cynical unromantic heart flutter.

"I missed you, too."


"Yes, really. Of course."

"Can I kiss you?" His question was abrupt but it was sweet and it was what I wanted.

"Yes," I said, and for a second we both hesitated, and in the moment before he leaned forward, my brain decided to remind me of the one thing I'd been trying to not remember all day.

In that moment, I remembered the last person who'd kissed me, and what he'd said.

Just because I know when to admit defeat, and how to bow out gracefully—doesn't mean I want to. Or that I will.

That was what Kai had said right before he'd kissed me on the cheek when I was about to get on the boat to go home last summer. I could see it in my head, playing like a film clip on repeat.

I looked down quickly, reflexively, and Rick's chin knocked against my forehead.



That was embarrassing.

When I slowly lifted my head and saw his bewildered expression, I figured I owed him an explanation.

"Uh—um—sorry," I spluttered, not explaining myself very well. "It's just that—I guess—I guess I wasn't ready. I—I was surprised."

"That's okay," he said, looking as mortified as I felt. I could see the questions on his face: Why weren't you ready? How were you surprised? Didn't you just say yes?

But of course, I couldn't tell him it was because I was thinking of Kai kissing me while he was trying to kiss me.

I wanted to pummel myself into the ground. I would have, in fact, if only it was physically possible. How could I be that stupid? I was twisted, thinking about that when I was doing this, the thing I'd been waiting the past year for.

"Um, you can go back inside," I told him, my face burning with shame. "I'm gonna stay out here for a little longer. You know, thinking about those chickens." A shaky laugh escaped me, but he only managed a pained smile.

"Alright. See you later." He hopped over the fence and headed back inside. As soon as I heard the door shut, I buried my face in my hands and let out the aggravated, embarrassed, self-loathing groan I'd been holding in.

It was going to be a long summer.

* * *