Hello everyone! This would be my first fic, and I would like to thank attica for inspiring me to write this! This story is basically what happened in her wonderful fic "Dreamcatcher", except it's told in Bryce's perspective, so it'd be a good idea to read her fic too! Please give me any suggestions or comments, or anything I can do to improve, thank you! :)
When he saw her name on the counselor sign-up sheet for Skylake, he immediately jotted down his own. Because this would be the last chance, for him, for them, to fix it. To fix everything between them; the awkward tangle of history, the odd but exciting tension, the almost childish hide-and-seek sort of game that has been going on since eighth grade. He couldn't afford to miss it.
Their last summer together.
When he got there, he greeted her with a "hey". They weren't really friends, now, with everything between them. Just acquaintances. She "hey"ed him back, but it was indifferent.
Of course, he was used to it, but that indifference still hurt him. He had to quickly remind himself that he was here to fix that distance between them, and that this was no time to be hurt by her. He was here to fix things, and he just had to wait for Skylake to give him the opportunity.
Opportunity did come. Because they were both away from home, away from that sycamore tree in her yard, away from everyone they knew—away from his broken-hearted mother and from Chet and from Mr. Baker with his autistic brother—he felt something between them change. They treated each other the same, but somewhere, he knew, there was this weird new opportunity that presented itself because they were both in such a foreign place.
But he didn't know how to go about things when Juli Baker was involved. Day after day, he told himself, tomorrow, tomorrow I'm gonna act and fix this whole thing. But he never did. Granted, it wasn't entirely his fault, because what discouraged him wasn't just his own cowardice, but also the countless attempts throughout high school that ended up in rebuff or rejection.
He knew that it shouldn't be any excuse, though. If he's learned anything from Juli, it was that he had to put his heart and soul into it and try.
Except, trying took courage—which, for him, had never been easy to muster. Oftentimes, when opportunity suddenly came, he would be scarcely ready, and would let the opportunity pass. Like that time when he'd driven both of them to the nearest SAT test center, two hours away, and he'd ended up spending the entire trip silent.
And that's not even the worst part. The worst part was that, in the few instances when he's finally found any semblance of courage to act or try to act on his feelings, he gets unmercifully rejected. An example of a rather recent attempt would be the time when he had spent an entire year doing spare jobs to repay her for two and a half years' worth of eggs, at triple the price she had sold them for. Of course he had meant it as a helpful gesture, because he's seen the way she frowned at school over financial aid forms, and he had wanted to help in whatever little way he can. He never did repay her for the eggs, after all, so he thought that it'd be a good excuse for him to help her.
The attempt hadn't gone well, because she had ended up getting offended, saying how she didn't need extra donations from rich boys who didn't know where their money came from. He had tried to explain that he'd made every single penny himself, but his temper ended up getting the better of him, and the situation turned into a full-blown argument. She then avoided him for a month afterwards, and he was forced to give the money to Mrs. Baker instead.
In between indecision and failed attempts like these, she slipped away. Then, before he knew it, it was prom and she was going with Jon Trulock (Jon Trulock! Eighth grade all over again!)—and he was left staring at her in her god-damned perfect green dress, not even pretending to listen to Cindy Frisch babble about whatever empty vacant girls babble about, and trying not to go up to them and throw Jon across the room.
He knew that, in two weeks, Skylake would end, they'd go back home, and then it was college. He knew that, if he wanted to hold on to Juli Baker, to stay in her life even as a friend, he had to act, fast. Or else he'd just go down in her memory as "that neighbor boy who I crushed on when I was a kid, and who has nothing to do with me now". He never expected anything more than friendship ever since that kiss and her rejection afterwards, but from time to time, he found himself hoping that, someday, he and Juli would sit down and really, finally, talk. Just talk—about them, about the world, about their lives. And he would go back to being her friend, because he was too imperfect to be anything more.
Fortunately, Juli Baker was unlike him—she wasn't someone who sat around and did nothing. She, too, must've sensed this new opportunity that Skylake afforded them—and Thursday night, by the bonfire, she made her move.
The note was very concise. Smart and no-nonsense, just like its author.
Meet me at the cook's cabin, Friday night. I need to see you.
We need to do something about us, and about whatever's between us.
His breath hitched when he felt her hand in his jacket pocket. She got up as if nothing had happened, and he slipped off to his room to read. And as he read, he felt his hope rekindle dangerously.
He wasn't able to sleep, Thursday night. He held on to the little note, tossing and turning in the dark, his sheets making faint rustles, his mind a torrent of confusion and expectation and hope and fear and longing. He felt as if he were back to being a boy, looking across the street at her. Waving. Innocent. Hopeful.
He let himself be carried away by his hopes that night. He conjured a future with his imagination, a future that would begin with the meeting tomorrow night. He imagined how the meeting would be—heartwarming, perfect, and very productive. He'd use the meeting to apologize and clear up everything that has happened in between them to form this complex barrier, and then they'd start to talk again.
He imagined that, from that meeting forth, she would open up. They would talk and have real conversations instead of vacant, emotionless exchanges. Just like they used to, in the brief but cherished months right after his planting the tree, up until when they'd shared their first kiss.
He couldn't stop himself from imagining. It was such a good future, something to look forward to with excitement. He'd always catch himself on time to remind himself that tomorrow was no guarantee, but he remained optimistic. Why else had Juli scheduled this meeting?
The next day passed by in a blur, and before he knew it, the lake party was underway. The whole time, his mind was on Juli, and so were his eyes. He couldn't get over how stunning she looked in the tank top, and when their gaze met before she walked off to the cabins, his heart lurched with such a powerful wanting that he quickly broke eye contact.
See, it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that he wanted her this badly, while she could calmly write a note, telling him to meet with her to talk about their weird relationship.
Twenty or so minutes after she had disappeared off into the woods, heart pumping at a furious pace, he opened the door to the cook's cabin, prepared to talk, really talk. Prepared to fix and mend everything that was wrong, and start over, once again.
The last thing he expected was her kiss.
He's always known that if he wanted anyone as his first, it would be Juli Baker. Hell, he's known that if he wanted anyone, ever, it would be Juli Baker. He could not, just could not, imagine himself having sex with anyone but her. Not when the girls at school were grinding themselves on him in parties, not when they whispered heated words in his ears. All he's ever thought then was that they were rather disgusting.
Being a teenager, sex was something that was constantly hinted at, in both subtle and overt ways. Guys talked about sites and videos, and they leafed through magazines together and commented on the models. He never joined the conversations, though, because even though he too owned a few magazines, it had never been the women in the magazines who'd aroused him.
It had always been the girl with a sycamore tree growing out of her front yard.
Of course, he was ashamed of that, because she was much too perfect for him, and wasn't someone who should be defiled by his dirty, hormonal, teenaged thoughts—but shame was not enough to keep him from fantasizing. All throughout high school, he fantasized about her, and only her, not even needing the magazines.
That was why all it took was a kiss to crumble all his defenses. He's fantasized about her, about kissing her, for so long, that he stood no chance. The kiss instantly robbed him of his sanity, and suddenly he could no longer think properly.
God, it felt so right. He was scarcely believing the turn of events as he gently undressed her, and raised his arms so she could slip off his shirt. The kiss blinded him, made him completely oblivious to what was about to come. At the moment, he was just reveling in her, in her apparent feelings for him. A sentence was parading in his head, daring him to think it, daring him to acknowledge it.
Juli Baker wants Bryce Loski.
The thought itself was so exhilarating that he couldn't resist. He said the sentence in his head again, and had to stop himself from laughing from the sudden explosion of joy.
Juli Baker wants Bryce Loski. Who would've thought! Not him!
Somewhere, though, back in the recesses of his mind, he must have realized that this were all a bit too sudden. Really—going from not talking, to kissing? From indifference to sudden, fiery passion? Something didn't add up, and he thought he'd ask about it. He really did.
But then Juli was naked and writhing and panting, and just as he was about to try to stop her just for a split second to ask about this whole situation and her unpredictable, seemingly spontaneous lust for him, her fingers slid across his naked torso and he felt her pinkie graze one of his nipples—and oh, oh fuck.
That was when he lost his train of thought, along with all intention to stop her and ask. Juli Baker wants him. He brushed away the unease he felt about this almost bipolar show of eagerness—sure, Juli had always been sort of cold to him, and sure, this turn of events was really suspicious, but he couldn't care less. Juli Baker wants him.
He got drunk on her body. He kissed every single inch of her that he could find, hoping to convey to her that emotion that had been pent up in his heart for the last four, five years. Their shapes melded seamlessly into each other, and that gave him a nervous thrill.
Suddenly, he was only in his underwear. Her hand reached beneath the thin fabric, and landed softly on the hard part of him, which made him draw a shuddery breath as he buried his head helplessly next to her neck.
They were heading into an unknown territory. At least, he was, since it was his first time. He found now that he didn't even care if it were her first time—just the fact of doing this with her was enough to make him dizzy.
Her hands were now exploring him between his legs, and that made it really, really hard to concentrate. Grabbing hold of him, she gently gave him a tug. That was all it took for him to buck shamelessly into her hands, groaning her name in soft whispers.
However, even in that cloud of lust, he knew that he had to check, for one last time, before everything happened and they couldn't go back. So he gently grabbed hold of her wrists, pulling her wandering hands out of his underwear, and looked down at her.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, she was perfect. So perfect, like a Greek goddess. He held her wrists, trying to squeeze out the words, "Are you sure?", but failed miserably and ended up staring into her clear brown eyes instead. Juli Baker's eyes were, and will probably always be, an enigma to him, but fuck, like everything else about her, they were beautiful. Perfect. Breathtaking.
Juli seemed to know what he was going to say, though, because she gave him her answer—not in the form of words.
But in the form of a kiss.
Bryce Loski's world pretty much shattered as Juli Baker's lips touched his. Shattered in a good, a great, a wonderfully wonderful way. His heart sort of did a weird lurch that made his body tingle, and wow. Just wow. He thought that, if they had the time, he wanted her to kiss him like this forever.
He felt as if he was unveiling something sacred when he slid down her underwear. The center of the fabric was moist, and he felt that giddy, ecstatic rush of happiness all over again when he noticed. It was evidence that she wanted him, that she loved him. The second one might be too audacious a thought, but surely she must feel something for him in her heart. Surely.
Not wanting to wait, or make her wait, he took off his own underwear, wriggling it to his ankles and stepping out of it. Then he was on top of her, and it was so, so wonderful. She was so wonderful that he kissed her again, softly.
It was a haze, a lovely, lovely haze. He was so happy and nervous that every part of him was tingling. She handed him a condom packet, and he tore it open and put it on. His thoughts were running away now, whispering things that he'd normally never allow himself to think. He didn't care though, because he was naked, in the same bed, with a naked Juli. That must mean something, right? Attraction, affection, love. Something.
God how he wanted her. Want took form in powerful waves of lust. He saw her look up at him, and was he imagining the smile at the corner of her lips? He couldn't think about anything else as he slowly, slowly inched his way inside of her. She hitched her breath, staring up at the ceiling.
For a brief moment, he focused on the feeling of being inside her. She was so weird. So, so weird. Being inside her was so weird. But so good. Dizzyingly good.
Then he noticed that her fingers were dug deep into his back, and immediately, he cursed himself. He knew enough about sex to worry that he'd hurt her.
"Are you okay?" he managed to ask, in a soft whisper.
"Yes," she gasped. She tightened slightly around him.
He was about to ask her if he could move. But once again, she answered his question before he even asked. She bucked her hips into him, grinding against him and urging him on.
For a second time that night, Bryce Loski's world shattered into a million wonderful pieces.
Since his orgasm was strong, it took him a few moments to recover. And then, once feeling returned to his fingers, he just laid there and listened to everything, too overcome with happiness to speak. He felt Juli besides him, her presence warm and comforting. He listened to their panting, focusing on hers. For a brief few seconds, he was the most ecstatic boy on the planet.
Now they would talk, he thought. Finally, they would talk. Talk about what they just did, and what it meant to both of them. He was so happy, and anxious. Happily anxious.
That was when a rustle grabbed his attention, and he looked over.
She was putting on her clothes. He felt a moment of fear, thinking that she was going to go, but then he convinced himself not to worry. Obviously, she was preparing for their talk, because Julianna Baker was not the kind of girl who talked about a relationship while naked and undignified. Because he respected that, and because he didn't want to be naked and undignified either, he started to slip on his shorts. He looked at her expectantly in the dark, waiting.
But then, when she didn't express any intention of staying, he started to really panic. He didn't know what was on her mind, as usual. He loved her so much that it was almost absurd, but sometimes she was still a mystery. He just knew that they both needed this talk.
"Juli…" he called out as she was putting on her shoes. His voice sounded weak and uncertain even to himself. Pleading, almost.
She hesitated before she turned around.
He looked at her, hopeful and hoping she'd understand. Now that they've had sex, it was as if a sort of flimsy bridge had opened between them, and they had to grab this opportunity and talk about it. He had spent the last thirty minutes convincing himself that she had made love to him because she had some sort of feelings for him, maybe even loved him, and now, afterwards, he needed some confirmation.
Juli averted her gaze. Her brown eyes dimmed.
"We don't have to talk about it," she said. "Really, Bryce."
His own answer was a bit slow, for he was still digesting her words.
"We don't have to," he said. "But don't you think we should?"
Not only should, he wanted to add. Needed to. Surely, surely Juli knew that.
"No, I don't," was her answer, reinforced by the shaking of her head. Her face was so adamant that it chilled him even in the heat of the summer night.
Suddenly, the sex felt like centuries ago.
She wore this small smile as she turned to go, and suddenly it struck him—she had never written the note with an intention of talking. She had wanted him, yes, but not as a person; she had wanted him as a partner.
He watched as she walked to the door.
The sex hadn't been a bridge after all. It had been another, added barrier.
"So, that's it, then?" He managed to say as she reached the door. He didn't trust his voice. It was beginning to feel shaky. Everything was tumbling down around him.
She didn't even turn back this time.
"Yeah. That's it."
He sat there long after her footsteps faded. For how long exactly, he didn't know.
He tried to remember the feeling. The feeling of her warmth, her wetness, her tightness, her softness. Her sheer closeness. He tried to remember them all, every single detail, but found that—even just ten, twenty minutes after the act—the details were slipping.
Which left her words and that resolute shake of her head, echoing over and over again in the warm and slightly musty air of the small cabin.
Of course, as was the case with anything, the more you hoped for, the harder the fall to reality was. He thought he'd already learned his lesson long ago, but apparently not.
For a very short thirty minutes, she had fooled him into thinking that she had real feelings for him—and he had still allowed himself to be fooled, allowed himself to hope. Now, he was paying the price.
Because, in the end, it was all sex. Nothing else.
Had he not felt so hollow and confused, had he not just made love to the girl he's loved for the past four years, he would've probably cried. He hasn't cried ever since his mother held on to him as she filed for divorce, and he had promised her that he never would, but damn, he was close now. Sex! With Juli! He found the idea almost ridiculous now.
He laid back down on the bed. His naked torso was starting to cool, and the sweat from earlier started to cling to him, becoming an uncomfortable and clammy sheet of stickiness. He closed his eyes, and tried to think about anything except for what just happened. It was no use—the used condom soaked with his disgusting seed laid silently in the waste bin, a wordless yet constant reminder.
His first time. He'd just lost his virginity to a girl he loved, to the only girl he'd ever loved. A girl who he loved so much, that loving her hurt. He'd put his heart and soul into loving her, and just now, into making love to her—while she'd merely put in her body and her kiss. To her, he'd been nothing, except a fuck-able, boy-sized doll that happened to look like her neighbor. To her, she hadn't slept with Bryce. Rather, she had slept with the body of Bryce.
He started to laugh. It was a hollow chuckle, with no joy or any other emotion. It got instantly absorbed by the hot and humid cabin air, and that scared him a bit.
While he was thrusting inside her, he'd actually thought that things were going to be better, after the sex. He'd actually thought that Juli would want to talk about them, talk about what's between them. Talk about their friendship, ask about his feelings for her, tell him her feelings for him. Talk about this new step in their relationship, this newly established bond of bodily contact. He had thought that them having sex would've meant the same to her as it did to him—it was something almost sacred, something to be treasured. Something that can pave the way to great things in the future.
He could not hate her. How he hated that he could not hate her. Because she was so perfect, even after she'd hurt him.
Juli, who'd sat on the peak of the tallest, most beautiful and gnarly and majestic sycamore tree, being kissed by the gentle wind, holding his kite. Juli, who he'd caught watching through her reading room window, as he'd wrestled with the sycamore sapling and the shovel and the dirt. Juli, who had sang to her hens, and Juli, who had watched her father paint. Juli, who he had sat together with, on the couch in his living room with his grandfather besides them. That same Juli who had laughed at his jokes, and whose eyes had twinkled, and who had dazzled him with her dark pupils because, for a split second, he could've sworn that he'd just seen in them all the constellations of the summer night.
Thinking of those treasured moments made he want to cry all over again. Why was his life like this? Juli. Juli, Juli, Juli Baker. It was half an hour since she left, and still he scarcely believed what had just happened. The excitement he had felt when he had first read her note now felt as if it had never existed in the first place. Now, everything was wrong and ruined.
He stood up. With a slow, unfamiliar motion, he slipped on his T-shirt. He put on his socks. And then his shoes.
He took out the little note that she had written him, and read it again. Now he knew what she meant. "Do something about whatever's between us" hadn't meant talking. While he had thought that she'd wanted to talk about it, she merely wanted to fuck him.
And he had let it happen. Her kiss had blinded him, robbing him of the ability to think. Before he knew it, he was thrusting in and out of her, moaning her name into her hair.
What a disgrace.
He crumpled the note, and threw it in the waste bin—next to his filthy, used condom. He didn't even bother to cover it up.
Garrett had been right. Juli was smart. She was way too smart to involve herself with him. He should have long since known, that she didn't care about what he thought about her, or what she thought about him. She didn't care about fixing their relationship. When had she ever cared? Whenever he'd made the first step, like planting that tree, he just ended up getting rebuffed anyways. He was tired of getting hurt. He was tired of trying. Why did he have to love her? Why? He had previously thought that he was more, even much more, to Juli than someone to have sex with, but apparently he was not. And that hurt.
The gravel crunched under his sneakers as he stepped out of the cook's cabin. The moon was as bright and full as ever, carelessly throwing her silver light onto anything and everything in a faintly promiscuous manner. His watch told him that he had only a bit of time before electricity and water heating shut off.
He knew that he'd been used, for his body, for sex, for Juli Baker's pleasure, the last summer before they both went off to college and she'd forever lose that chance to fuck the boy-across-the-street who's life was so entangled with hers that they were inseparable; because after college, he'd be too guarded, and it'd be too awkward. He knew that he'd been used the moment she shook her head, maybe even before that. He was like something for a one-time purpose: afterwards, she just threw him away.
But already he was starting to forgive her. What a hopeless romantic he was.
He spotted his lodging under the moonlight. His colleagues were probably already back, stinking of cheap beer and reeking of the female counselors' perfume. He wondered if any of them got fucked tonight, then chuckled darkly. Not that it mattered. Their sex would be called mating. No emotions exchanged, just pure, intense pleasure. But his, his was a different story. His would be called making love, because he loved his partner; he'd poured his heart and soul into the act.
Juli, though, was like the rest of them. To her, it had been mating, too. The thought stabbed him so viciously and suddenly that he winced, before forcing himself to think about something else.
His gaze shifted over some distance away, onto the female counselors' lodging. He wondered what Juli was doing, and what she was thinking. What did the words "Bryce Loski" mean to her, when she said it to herself? Acquaintance? Neighbor? Friend? Classmate? Confident? Boyfriend? Childhood crush? Friend with benefits? Or even an amalgamation of all the above?
He was so tired. He was tired of this endless game that Juli had forced him into playing. Or more accurately, the game that his heart had forced him into playing. He fumbled for his keys, and opened the door to the darkened interior of the male counselors' lodging. He'd have to find his room in the dark, since the electricity—and the hallway lights—were off. It took him some time, but he wasn't in a hurry. It's not as if he could fall asleep like this, anyway.
He really wanted to stop loving her. He really, really did. As he slipped out of his T-shirt and shorts, and walked around his snoring roommates who smelled of alcohol, and climbed silently into bed, he sort of felt this weird heaviness behind his eyes, and a sudden yank at his heart. His chest felt tight. His throat felt tight.
It was hopeless, he knew. He couldn't control his heart, no matter how hard he tried—being with other girls, kissing them, touching them. But nothing worked, and he kept loving Juli.
He thought back to earlier, and saw her walk away from him, looking as stunning as ever, out of the cabin and into the forest. No longer able to resist, he buried his face in his pillow with a quiet, almost unnoticeable gasp. It might even have been a sob, he wasn't quite sure.
Fuck, it hurt.
Since the water was out already, he couldn't take a shower. He smelled of sweat, of soap, of bug spray, of sunscreen, of cheap detergent, but most of all: of Julianna's perfume and bodywash. He seemed to still remember her burning touch on his bare skin as he slowly recalled the events of the evening, and imagining her fingers made him shudder beneath his thin blanket. It was much too hot at Skylake to need a blanket, but after what happened tonight, he needed the extra sense of protection. He drew the rarely used piece of fabric to his chin and curled up, as if doing so would block out all the pain.
He thought about how easy it'd be if he were just a strange boy from some other state, coming to Skylake for the summer. He and Juli would have a heated summer fling, with nothing to think about and enjoy except for the sex. And when it was time to leave, he'd just go back home, taking nothing with him except the memory of her warmth and their shared pleasure; leaving nothing behind.
It would be easy, if that were true.
He wondered if she would finally disappear from his life after this summer. Or if he would disappear from hers. He wondered if he even had a choice in the matter. As long as they stayed at camp Skylake, they'd be fellow counselors, and at least there'd be that one bond tying them together, albeit loosely and awkwardly. But after Skylake, back home, they'd be back to neighbors. And if he remembered correctly, just a month after Skylake was the beginning of college.
It would just be an hour's drive from UCLA to Stanford. Compared to all his classmates and their girlfriends or boyfriends, his school and her school were almost absurdly close. Their parents have said that it was really lucky, too, because they would always be close to a face from home.
For a moment, a surge of hope rose in his heart again. Maybe, he'd be able to fix things. Maybe, if he visited her often, or tried to talk to her more, or helped her when she needed it… maybe then, he'd be accepted back into her life. They would be so close together, after all…
But no. Who was he kidding, really? How could he manage things with an hour by car in between them?
After all, he had already screwed it up—screwed it up, when all they had between them were two doors, a street, and a stupid sycamore tree.