Second Chance StepbrotherBy: Penny Wylder
“If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?”
I turn my head to look at the boy beside me. Josh Anston, the quintessential boy next door. Except in real life, he and his mom live an hour away from us—way too far, if you ask me. We see each other now and then, whenever my dad hosts his wine-tasting nights or when Josh’s mom gets her friends together for big cookouts on their apartment rooftop. But those visits are few and far between.
Until this summer. Until Josh’s mom Susan complained to Dad about cabin prices up here in the Poconos, and Dad came up with the most brilliant solution of all time—to share one.
It was just for a month. Going into it, a month felt like eternity. More than enough time for all my wildest fantasies to come true.
In reality, it’s almost over, and I feel like I’ve hardly blinked. Tomorrow we pile back into my dad’s car and drive back down the dirt road to reality. To our separate lives, to our separate schools, to the world where Josh isn’t my boy-next-door. He isn’t my anything. Just a summer crush, probably unreciprocated.
But right now, for one more night, I can imagine. I gaze into those perfect gray-blue eyes of his, the color of the summer sky right before a storm rolls in, and I can trick myself into believing this moment will never end.
“Anywhere in the world?” I repeat softly.
He nods. “Anywhere. Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Italy, just, anywhere you can think of. Where would you go, Pau?”
The nickname stirs a flurry of sparks in my stomach. He and Susan are the only ones besides Dad who call me that. At school, I’m Paulina, prim and proper. The straight-A student, the well-behaved girl, the girl who’s got it all. All except for a social life or a boyfriend or anyone worth catching feelings for.
In reality, that’s because I’m already stuck. Stuck on Josh, with those eyes boring into me like he sees straight through to my soul. Stuck on his perfect cheekbones, the curve of his jaw, the way his lips part just a little as he watches me, like maybe he’s thinking the same thing I am. Maybe he’s thinking about kissing me, too. About the way those lips would feel against mine or how it would be to wrap my arms around him, feel his strong arms hold me close, his muscular body pressed against me…
“If I could go anywhere…” I answer slowly, eyes still locked on his. All around us, the night weaves on. The stars sparkle overhead, millions of them, more than I could ever see back home near Philly, where the city lights flood the sky. Crickets and frogs sing along the shores of the lake, and the grass we’re lying in is getting dewy as evening settles in. But I don’t mind. It’s still warm this late in August, and I could lie here forever watching him watch me. “I’d stay right here,” I finish, my voice so soft I can barely get the words out. I’m glad it’s dark because my cheeks flush, and I’m worried if there were any more light out here besides the distant half-moon and those same stars, he might be able to see the way my pulse jumps in my throat, my hands quiver a little against the grass. I press my palms flat onto the ground and pray that I seem normal. Pray that he understands what I just said, that he feels it too.
Those gray-blue eyes of his never waver. His lips curve upward, the barest hint of a smile. But his eyes still seem sad. Distant almost. “I know what you mean,” he whispers, and now I really can’t control my racing heart. It crashes like the surf in my ears, an echo of the lakeshore down below which sloshes faintly, stirred by the late summer breeze.
“Do we have to go back tomorrow?” I bite my lip. Notice the way his eyes drop to my mouth now, tracking me the same way I track him. But I must be imagining it. I have to be. He hasn’t made a move all summer and we’ve had an entire month of this—the torturous almost-kisses, a million midnight conversations that could’ve turned into something at any moment. He could’ve kissed me a hundred times and I would’ve lost myself in it. But he never does. “What if we just stayed here?”
Josh grins sideways, a lopsided smile that I see every night when I close my eyes, burned into my memories. “We could live in the little cabin,” he says, meaning the one my dad and I are currently sharing, attached by an outdoor porch to the smaller one Josh and Susan took. “I bet the owner wouldn’t notice. There’s two whole bedrooms in there, we could make one our living room, share the other one.”
My cheeks flush brighter at the thought of sharing one of those tiny rooms with him. The single bed would barely fit us both. We’d need to cuddle together, wrap our arms around each other to keep from falling out of bed.
I’d be fine with that.
I grin at him. “We could steal snacks from the kitchen whenever she was out, maybe fish for dinner if we’re really hungry.”
“You’d have to get better at building fires if we’re going to be living off of fish we catch ourselves,” he points out.
I punch his shoulder lightly. “You’re the one who let it go out last night. You put a wet log right on top of it.”