On the drive, I fidget around pulling my shorts trying to keep the back of my thighs from sticking to the leather seats. New York might be hot, but North Carolina is like the gates to hell. The neighborhood that we went to was full of cookie cutter houses. Her friend’s house was no different than the rest. It’s a huge dark colored brick home with three BMWs in the driveway. Isn’t that pretentious, I think to myself.
“Don’t let all the flash and flare fool you. These are really good people and very down to earth,” she says as if she can hear my thoughts.
The door opens before we rang the bell. “Gayle, so you were able to come out and play tonight,” the man that opened the door said. “Jessie, you’ve grown up since the last time I saw you. It had to have been right before we moved to Virginia, that was three years ago.” He held the door open, guiding us in. The foyer opened up to a great room with enormous vaulted ceilings.
“Jessie, this is Gabe Baldwin. His son is Caleb, he came over a few times with his mom and went to the beach with us. His mom passed away last summer.” Grandma reached over to pat Gabe’s shoulder.
Gabe doesn’t look familiar to me, but I remember his dorky son Caleb. He wanted to hold my hand or touch me all of the time. Great, just what I need, a clingy teenage boy to drive me crazy. One more thing to add to my list of why North Carolina sucks. I plaster on my best fake smile and shake my head yes. “I remember Caleb; he went to the beach with us a few times.”
“Someone say my name?” A voice from behind Gabe said. I mentally kept my jaw from hitting the floor as I look up at the six foot plus former dorky boy. Long gone was the headgear wearing string bean, and in his place is a tall, tanned, muscle bound guy. He looked like he came straight off a CW television show. His chiseled cheekbones are framed by perfectly trimmed sideburns. His straight black hair was begging for me to run my hands through it. Calm down girl, I think to myself.
Shut-up, I mentally scream at my stomach as it rumbles from dinner. Now who’s the dork? I am, that’s who. His big brown eyes brighten as he sees my grandma.
“Ms. Gayle, hi, I wasn’t sure if you’d make it over tonight,” Caleb says and winks at grandma. He turns and notices me for the first time. “Jessie? Ms. Gayle said she was bringing you, but I didn’t believe her. You’ve grown up. How have you been?” He looked me up and down, sizing me up.
I hold my hand out to shake his, not expecting that he’d grab my hand and pull me in for an awkward hug. I swear the moment his hand touches mine, warmth flowed through our skin to skin contact. I feel his arms around me, but my hand is still buzzing with the warmth of his. Everything starts spinning for a brief moment. I pulled away too fast, trying to hide my embarrassment. A part of me wants to grab his hand and pull him to me in for another hug. Would my hand tingle and recreate the sibilation that happened moments ago? Talk Jessie or he’s going to think you’re rude. I don’t mean to be rude, I can’t help it. My tongue is twisted in my mouth that is void of saliva. Crap! Say something! “Ah, ah yeah, you did come at beach, from around,” I jabbered. You have three full seconds before these people throw you out of their house, SAY SOMETHING NORMAL. Deep breath. “Hi Caleb, sorry about that, I was trying to say I remember you from the beach.” I giggle at the absurdity of the last sixty seconds.
His big brown eyes lock with mine, my heart skipped two full beats. “Oh yeah, we did go to the beach when you were here didn’t we? I almost forgot,” he lied. How I know that, is beyond me. “Dad, are we going to let them in or keep them in the foyer?”
How did that dorky boy with the pasty skin turn into tall, dark and gorgeous? Maybe he’ll forget the fact that I practically drowned and he pulled me out of the water. Ugh, I hope he doesn’t remember that I threw up ocean water all over him. I think I barfed up my lunch in middle of Dairy Queen too. I mentally smack my head thinking about who the dork is now. Oh I hate that feeling.
“Caleb, why don’t you and Jessie go up to the FROG and pick out a movie to watch. I popped some popcorn in that big movie theater popcorn machine, not even ten minutes ago.” Gabe said and led Gayle the opposite direction.
They are leaving me alone? What the H? I don’t do well with hot guys. What if he does remember everything? “FROG?”
Caleb’s smile brightened up the hallway he led me down. “It’s an acronym for finished room over garage. In other places they call it a bonus room.”
“Oh, clever,” I say. We walk over to what looks like a closet door, and to my surprise there is a set of stairs.
“Do you want me to close this door behind me?” I ask.
“You can leave it open.”
My knees creak as I walk up the steep stairs. I’d have amazing glutes if I had to run up and down them all of the time, I thought to myself.
I hear Caleb snicker slightly.
“Are you laughing at the noises my knees are making? It’s from playing tennis the last eight years of my life. My mom is convinced I’m going to be the next Martina Hingis or Anna Kournikova.”
“Tennis huh? I play a little, we’ll have to go over to the club and play a couple of matches.”
My stomach flipped at the thought of him and I playing tennis together. Did he just ask me on a date? No, he’s only being a Southern Gentleman, I tell myself. Where did the dorky boy go? I should have put on more than lip gloss. Stop with the commentary! I can do this. He’s just another guy. Another guy that is ridiculously gorgeous. Or as my word of the day was last week, pulchritudinous, which means beautiful. Oh, for the love all things sacred, he didn’t ask me out. Did he?
“What kind of movie do you want to watch? I can check and see what’s on Netflix.”
“I’m pretty easy with movies, except foreign films, I’m not really into subtitles.”
We spend the next two hours watching a Batman movie. I’d seen it about a dozen times with my mom. She loves her some George Clooney and all of his movies, we would watch them when dad was asleep. I can’t help but wonder why Gayle brought us over here and pawned me off on Caleb.
“So, what do you want to do now?” Caleb asked.
“I don’t know. We can just talk, unless you don’t want to talk,” I suggest as I turned sideways on the drab green couch, tucking my leg under me. I was sure that if an outsider were looking in, we’d look like two enemies. I on one end of the couch practically smashed against the armrest and he on the other end calm and collected facing the television.
He turns to face me, mirroring me as he tucked his leg under him. Both of us have long legs, but his aren’t scrawny looking. No, his legs are perfectly tanned and slightly hairy but not in a nasty Neanderthal caveman way. His crimson colored polo hugs him across his biceps and chest. I want nothing more than to touch his biceps. Shut up brain, stop thinking about all the ways you want to be closer to him. Remember he is the scrawny kid that saved your life at the beach.
“Good, I’m movie’d out. All I know about you is you’re from New York, you play tennis, you have the coolest grandma on the planet, and I make you nervous,” he says with a broad grin.
Whoa, did he just call me out? “Nervous? Who me, nervous? Not really. I mean, well yeah maybe a little bit. I’m not accustomed to going over to a strangers home and randomly made to watch a movie with a stranger. So, if that is nervous, then yes, I am a little.”
He holds his hands up in surrender. “No, I don’t mean that way. I’m sorry. I say dumb things sometimes. Can I get a do over? Jessie, I’d like to know more about you and I’m sorry if I make you uncomfortable in any way. Are you staying in New Bern for the school year?” He rambles out.
“Yeah, I’m not going to the public school though. I’m going to the private school on the outskirts of town, it starts with a P. I don’t remember the name, but Gayle knows someone that knows someone that got me in for this fall semester. I guess they have a waiting list or something and we bypassed it.” I reach in my purse and pull out a thing of breath mints. “Want one?” I hold the box out to him, he takes two.
“Very cool, I go to Parca Academy too. We’ll have to hang out before school starts; I can give you the low down on everything.” When he smiles big, it shows off his deep inset dimple in his left cheek. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking about driving down to Emerald Isle on Sunday. Would you like to go with me? We can grab breakfast and walk along the boardwalk.”
I silenced the gulp that I felt was about to escape my mouth. That’s a date, isn’t it? Be cool. “Yeah, I’d like that. What is Emerald Isle, is it the place we would go with Gayle and fish off that giant pier?”
“Very good memory you have Jessie, it’s one and the same. Let’s go check up on adults and see what they’re up to.”
Thankfully my knees are quieter going down the stairs. I follow Caleb through the house, we passed through an enormous high tech kitchen and through a set of French doors. The enclosed patio was huge, and decorated very fancy for a patio.
I hear the slight murmur of voices; Gabe is telling grandma a story about when he was in the Navy. Gabe looked up at Caleb, for a brief moment I caught tension between Caleb and his dad. What was that all about, I wonder?
“Come on; let me show you the backyard. Dad’s stories can go on for awhile.” Caleb grabs my hand, and his hand shocks me. “Sorry,” he said but didn’t let go of my hand.
There it is again, but this time he actually shocked me. It was one of those zaps like I got in the winter, when it’s dry in the house from the heat being on. I’ve never been shocked in the middle of the summer, especially in the humid weather like New Bern has. The vibration radiates through my hand, is it from the shock?
“Over here we have a Moon Flower plant, they only bloom at night,” Caleb said. He reaches over and gently plucks one of the little white flowers. “See the center? It’s a perfect star. Every night at six they start to bloom, it only takes about a minute and a half. Some say they absorb the powers of the moon.” He lets go of my hand, but I still feel the warmth of his hand in mine. “Moths are attracted to them and will flutter softly around them. My mom would tell me that the moths were night faeries and the faerie would absorb all the moon powers. That is why the bloom falls off dead every morning.” His eyes brighten as he talks about his mom.
One moment the pathway was lit and the next we are darkness. Caleb pulls a penlight out of his pocket and shines it on the path. “Sorry, about that, there must be a short in the lights,” Caleb says nervously running his other hand in his hair. “Let’s get back, if they’re still talking, we’ll get some tea and hang out on the front porch.” As we walk, his arm brushed against my elbow, and I feel nothing. No tinge of heat or vibration. Okay, maybe I am crazy.
Gabe and Gayle are standing just outside the sunroom, watching us. Gabe’s arms were crossed in front of him, reminding me of the way the football coaches on TV watch their team.
“Hey, are we ready to go?” I ask Gayle.
“Yeah, more importantly, are you ready?” She asks.
Awkward…I think to myself. “Um, yeah,” I said. “Here, give me your cell phone and I’ll put in my number,” I say as I take the phone he hands to me. “We’re still on for Sunday right?”
“Of course, I’ll pick you up at nine; we’ll go have breakfast before we go,” Caleb says and winks at me.
My heart officially skipped three beats and a stupid grin creeps up on my face. Stop with the grin, I tell myself. Gayle looks at me with a smirk. Oh, she planned this! She is so going to hear from me on the way home.