“Fine.” He shrugs and begins to walk away from me.
I was hoping for a few words from him, he’s okay with advice sometimes. “Wait!” I call and he turns around. “You’re not going to ask me what it was?”
“You just said you don’t want to talk about it,” he replies.
“Yeah, but I . . . well.” I don’t know what to say, and he’s looking at me like I’ve grown two heads.
“Do you want me to ask you?” He looks pleased, but thankfully he’s not being too much of an asshole about it.
“I’m the reason . . .” I begin, but just then I see Karen and my dad starting to walk up the driveway.
“The reason what?” Landon asks, looking back at them.
“Nothing, never mind.” I sigh, running my fingers through my damp hair in frustration.
“Hey, Hardin! Where’s Tessa?” Karen asks.
Why does everyone always ask me that as if I can’t be more than five feet away from her?
The building ache in my chest reminds me of just that: I can’t.
“She’s inside, sleeping,” I lie and turn to Landon. “I’m going for a walk, can you make sure she’s okay?” He nods.
“Where are you going?” my father’s voice calls as I walk past them.
“Out,” I snap and walk faster.
BY THE TIME I reach a stop sign a few roads over, I realize I have no fucking idea where I’m going or even how to get back to where I came from. I just know I’ve been walking for a while, and that all of these roads are deceptively windy.
I officially hate this place.
It didn’t seem so bad while I was watching Tessa’s hair blow lightly in the wind, her eyes focused on the shining water, her lips turned up in a small, satisfied smile. She looked so relaxed, like the calm waves far from the shore, steady and undisturbed until our boat intruded on their peace. Now behind us, the water roars, whipping up onto the sides of our boat in an angry way. Soon they’ll go back to their resting state, until another boat comes along to disturb their ease.
A girl’s voice interrupts the image of Tessa’s sun-kissed skin. “Are you lost or something?”
When I turn around, I’m surprised to find a girl, around my age, I think. Her brown hair is as long as Tessa’s. She’s alone out here at night. I look around us. There’s nothing, only an empty gravel road and forest.
“Are you?” I reply, taking notice of her long skirt.
She smiles at me and walks closer. She must be lacking brain cells to be out here in the middle of nowhere asking a complete stranger that looks like me if he’s lost.
“No. I’m escaping,” she says, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“You’re running away? At, like, age twenty?” She better keep her ass moving down this street, then. The last thing I need is some angry father looking for his overdressed teenage daughter.
“No.” She laughs. “I’m home from college visiting my parents, and they were boring me to death.”
“Oh, good for you. I hope your freedom trail finds you at Shangri-la,” I reply and begin to walk away from her.
“You’re going the wrong way,” she calls out.
“Don’t care,” I say.
And then I groan when I hear her footsteps crunching against the gravel behind me.
I’m so exhausted, just plain tired of dealing with fight after fight with Hardin. I’m not sure what to do now, where to go from here. I’ve been following him down the path we’ve been on for months now, and I’m not sure we’re actually going anywhere. We’re both just as lost as we were at the start.
“Tessa?” Landon’s voice carries through the room and out to the balcony.
“Out here,” I reply, thankful that I put on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt. Hardin always teases me when I do that, but it’s comfortable at times like this, not too hot but not too cold.
“Hey,” he says, coming out and sitting in the chair next to mine.
“Hey.” I glance over at him before staring back at the water.
“Are you okay?”
I take a moment to think over his question: Am I okay? No. Will I be? Yes.
“Yeah, this time I think I am.” I bring my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. I don’t want to ruin the trip with all my drama. I’m fine, really.”
“Okay, just know if you want to talk, I’ll listen.”
“I know.” I look over at him, and he gives me a reassuring smile. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.
His eyes go wide, and he points over at something. “Are those . . . ?”
I look over to where he’s staring.
“Oh God!” I jump from my seat and grab the red panties that are floating in the hot tub and shove them into the front pocket of my sweatshirt.
Landon bites down on his bottom lip to stifle his laugh, but I can’t keep mine in. We both burst into laughter—his genuine, mine out of humiliation. But I’ll take this laughter with Landon over my usual postfight crying with Hardin any day.
I’m growing more and more sick of seeing nothing but gravel and trees while roaming around this small town. The strange girl is still following behind me, and my fight with Tess is still weighing down on me.
“Are you going to follow me around this entire town?” I ask the pestering girl.
“No, I’m going back to my parents’ cabin.”