Read The boys of summer Online

Authors: C.J Duggan

The boys of summer (page 20)

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The sudden realisation hit me; this was it.This would be the last time I saw Toby, this would be the last timewe’d all be together like this at the Onslow.

And we were going to let it end likethis?

The tension between Sean and Toby, too, wasobvious as they cast each other wary glances. I wanted more thananything for things to be the way they were again. I was just agirl. I seriously wasn’t worth ending their friendship; they had toknow that, right?

All I knew was I had nothing to lose, becauseI had already lost him.

I strode across the poolroom, past the boys,straight to Toby. Beyond my better judgment and all the courage Ihad mustered up, I stood before him and stared him straight in theeye. There was a flicker of surprise and a new tension swept overus.

“So this is how it’s going to be?” he asked.“A showdown, here in front of everyone?”

My shoulders involuntarily slumped at hisquestion. “Is that what you think I’d do? Humiliate you, like somescreaming banshee?”

He looked at me pointedly, and then Iremembered Angela Vickers, the worst screaming banshee of themall.

To be honest, that kind of pissed me off. Notthe screaming banshee type of pissed, but to lump me in withAngela? I was the pretty fuckinginsultedtype ofpissed.

I sighed heavily. “I just wanted to saygoodbye, that’s all.

And …”oh God, this was so hard, “andgood luck!”

The tension in Toby’s shoulders melted, hiseyes darting across my face suspiciously, warily, like he waswaiting for the vindictive punchline. I met his gaze full on, and afamiliar song filled the speakers. Live’s ‘Lightning Crashes’. Itwas the very same song that played the night of the first discobehind the velvet curtain. What was he playing at?

I swallowed hard. “I haven’t had the chanceto talk to you …”

Okay, Tess, keep it together.

“… And I just wanted to say thank you.”

His frown deepened. “Thank you?”

Oh God, I was lame …

I glanced around, embarrassed, I edged to thecorner of the room for some semblance of privacy; Toby moved withme.

It took all my strength to meet his eyes.“For a brief moment, you made me believe that I was a somebody,that, above all, I wasn’t like the other girls. And I’m not.” Istepped forward, so he could hear me over the music. “I know itreally doesn’t seem that way. And it kills me that I let you down,that I did something so stupid because I jumped to the wrongconclusion. I don’t want you thinking I am anything other than whoI am, who you got to know this summer.”

Toby was so still, so unmoving, if it wasn’tfor the flex of his jaw muscles I would swear he had turned tostone.

“But you have to know, I’m really sorry. I’msorry that I didn’t tell you about Sean, but there would be days ofnot even seeing you, of not knowing if what was happening with uswas serious. I had no idea of knowing. When I saw her car in yourdriveway, I thought that you and her …” I bit my lip, the memory ofthat horrible, regret-filled night flooded back to me. “If youdon’t understand how sorry I am that I hurt you, that I never wouldhave done it intentionally, if you don’t get that, then you don’tget me.”

I couldn’t look at him anymore; I knew myeyes were a window straight into my heartbroken soul. But he was sosilent, I thought maybe he hadn’t heard what I’d said at all. Icouldn’t say it again. I couldn’t …

And then he spoke. His voice was low andraspy. “I get you.”

I looked up at him in surprise.

“The thing is, Tess, if you think I would bewith you one night, and then go back to Angela …” He shook hishead. “Thenyoudon’t getme.”

We stared at one another for the longesttime. I guess we didn’t really know each other. I finally brokeaway, knowing it would be the last time I would see Toby. My heartthreatened to break at the thought.

“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore, doesit?”

“I guess not.” Toby said coldly. It was as ifa knife was twisting in the pit of my stomach.

“Bye, Toby.” Before I realised it, I’d heldout my hand. I cursed myself as it hung between us. I had neverfelt like such a loser than in that moment.

A handshake, Tess? Seriously? Just walkaway, you idiot! Walk away!

Before I could inwardly scream at myself anymore, Toby took my hand, squeezing it in a firm but gentle shake.His eyes rested on my hand. It was reminiscent of the first time weshook hands in this very room; aside from the party, it was ourfirst real interaction, our first real hello, and now it was ourvery real end.

“Bye, Tess.”

I slid my hand from his lingering clasp and,without meeting his gaze, walked through the crowd to Ellie.

I swallowed down the tears enough to hold ittogether. “Can we go now?” I said in a quiet, trembling voice.

“Of course, let’s go.”

Chapter Forty-Five

I rounded the corner of the locker room,trying to get my head around the new Year Twelve layout and fallback into the routine of school.

On the first day back, I knew I was out ofsorts because, of all things, I was happy to be back at school. Sowrong, I know.

With a sigh, I opened my new locker andgathered my bag. Irritating laughter bounced off the metal lockersand echoed around the room. A few lockers up from me, Carlaunlocked her locker and cast me a smug smile.

“How was your summer, Tess?”

I narrowed my eyes. Before I could reply,another voice interrupted me.

“Shut up, Carla!” Scott opened his locker onthe other side of her.

Carla’s gaze flew to him in uttersurprise.

He stared her down. “Leave Tess alone.”

At a loss for anything intelligent to say ordo, Carla just scoffed. “Whatever.” She slammed her door with abang and made sure she cast me a murderous look on the way out.

Scott gave me an awkward smile as he gatheredhis books and walked away.

Had he actually called me Tess?

Adam and Ellie walked around the corner andspotted me.

“There you are? You ready?” Ellie smiled.

We made our way out through the gates andunder the ‘Onslow High’ arch. The grounds were swarming witheveryone’s excitement of surviving their first day back.

“Chris is picking me up, you ladies need alift?” asked Adam.

“No, I’m right,” Ellie said. “Stan should behere somewhere.” She eagerly looked out over the road at the longline of parked cars, biting her lip in anticipation. Her eyessearched down the road when she suddenly froze.


Adam and I were equally confused until wefollowed her gaze, and that’s when I saw him.

Toby leaned against the driver’s door of hisute, arms crossed, his gaze unreadable, and fixed on me.

“Tess, are you okay? Do want us to wait?”

Ellie and Adam were just as rigid with shockas I was. It took me a moment to offer any kind ofacknowledgment.

“It’s okay.” I took a deep breath. “I’m surethis won’t take long.”

Adam grabbed my bag. “We’ll wait.”

“Okay,” I said, but I doubt it was evenaudible. I willed my legs to move, and after a moment, they carriedme across the road, my hands fisted at my sides to disguise thetremor.

Just breathe, Tess. Just. Breathe.

As I stopped in front of him, hestraightened, pushing his hands deep into his jean pockets.

What was I supposed to say? Hey? How’s itgoing? Instead, we just stood there. God, this was horrible. Whatdid he want me to say? Oh God, what if he wasn’t here for me? Whatif –

“You didn’t come to my farewell party atStan’s?”

Was he for real? I had said my goodbyes.

Toby shifted, but his seriousness remained.“Shame. It was a good party.”

He was bummed I’d missed a good party acouple of weeks ago? I didn’t understand. Everything about ourexchange was so wooden, so unnatural. It hurt.

I hadn’t seen him in weeks, and yet as Ispotted him across the school, my heart spiked its betrayal like italways did. I would never get over this boy; saying goodbye was thehardest thing I had done. I’d known he was still in town untiltoday and, for some reason, knowing he was still in Onslow hadappeased me, because he was still near. But now with his departurelooming over me, over us, of him really leaving, of him standing infront of me, he was killing me all over again.

His head tilted slightly, his lips twitched.“Don’t make me say it.”

I paused. “Say what?”

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“Oh.” I smiled weakly.

Awkward silence wedged its ugly way betweenus.

“So, you’re leaving?”

His fleeting moment of humour sobered as henodded.

I was drowning inside. I dug my nails into mypalms. I had faked being okay for so long, that now I needed to bestronger than ever, and I could feel my façade crumbling.

I was about to say, “Good luck” and scurryaway when he stepped forward. “I head off in about twelve months’time.”


What did he just say?

A smile broke out on his lips.

“Iamgoing, Tess, just nottoday.”

Was he taunting me? Was he trying to punishme by giving me false hope, only to rip it from underneath me? Hecould have been, but I didn’t believe it, because Ididknowhim, and he wouldn’t do that.

“I don’t care about what happened with Sean…” He took in a deep breath. “Okay, I do care. But not enough. Notenough to walk away.”

“But your job …”

“It can wait.”

I could feel myself falling, the walls werecrumbling with a fear to hope, to believe.

“So you’re not leaving?” I whispered.

Toby reached for me, took my hands, squeezingthem. “How can I? Ya see, there’s this girl, and I’m kind of crazyabout her.”

My heart pounded against my chest.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking; all I know is Ishould have told you that ages ago.” He pushed a wayward strand ofhair from my brow.

I glanced around. “Did you want to talk aboutthis somewhere else?” I asked.

“Oh, I think right here is perfect for what Ineed to do.”

Toby smiled his perfect, wicked smile, thevery one that melted me. I thought my heart might stop as he edgedcloser, tilting my chin up with his hand.

“What do you need to do?” I whispered.

“This.” He captured my lips in a long,lingering kiss. My walls came crumbling down as I melted againsthim, his arms encircled me, and I was lost to the feel, the memory,of all that was Toby.

Lost in the happiness as I folded my armsaround Toby’s neck, we both flinched at the blast of a horn as acar pulled up beside us. Chris, Sean and Adam looked on from theirseats with big, goofy grins.

Chris shook his head. “Settle down you two,there are children present.”

Adam held up his hands. “Seriously, why lookat me when you say that?”

Sean ignored the brotherly sparring as hegrinned at us, bobbing his head in approval. “’Bout bloodytime.”

A second horn sounded from behind; Stan wavedhis arm out the window. “Come on, people, move along, nothing tosee here.”

Ellie sucker punched him from her passengerseat.

“Where we headed?” asked Toby, taking my handin his.

“Well, nowhere too extravagant, it is aschool night,” Sean teased.

Toby flipped him the finger and everyonelaughed.

“Follow us,” Chris said.

Toby and I slipped into the ute, and hestarted the engine.

I slid over to the middle to belt in and leanagainst his side.

“We’re going to do this? For real?”

Toby frowned. “What, follow Chris? Well…”

“No, I mean us, you and me?”

A smile lit up his face. “Yes, ma’am!”

My heart swelled at the way his warm eyesrested on me for the longest moment before he turned the wheel tofall in line behind Stan.

“Then there’s one thing I need to know,” Isaid, in all seriousness. And there was. One thing I had wonderedabout above all others.

Toby frowned with uncertainty, his eyesflicking to me and back to the road.

“What’s that?”

I leaned into him, smiling through my wordsas I whispered, “What does the ‘E’ stand for?”

Toby broke out in a fit of deep, richlaughter. Shaking his head, he said, “Ernest … My middle name isErnest.”

Ernest. It made me love him all themore.

Epilogue6 months later

The place was deserted.

And why wouldn’t it be? Toby and I sat in themain bar of the Onslow Hotel on a Tuesday night.

Toby grimaced. “I’m sorry this isn’t much ofa way to spend your birthday.”

I clasped my necklace for probably thehundredth time, admiring the beautiful chain and gold disc pendantthat had an italic ‘T’ engraved on it.

A ‘T’ for Tess, a ‘T’ for Toby.

“It’s perfect!” I leaned over to show him howperfect.

“Keep it PG guys, I’m still here.” Chrislooked on in distaste, as he had a tendency to do whenever we werearound.

“What are you doing hanging in a bar midweek,anyway?” Chris posed.

I straightened on my stool. “Hey, I’meighteen now! I’m completely legal, so rack ’em up, bar-keep.” Islammed my hand on the bar way too hard.

Chris looked on with a ‘kill me now’expression; he poured a glass of the house white and placed it infront of me.

“On the house, Birthday Girl.”

“Thanks.” I smiled.

Even though I was secretly miffed that I hadto remind Chris that it was my birthday (I mean, I had remindedeveryone I had ever met for the past month that I was turningeighteen), it wasn’t just Chris that disappointed me. My ownparents, my flesh and blood, had sung me a rather quick,halfhearted version of ‘Happy Birthday’ before they ducked to work,with promises that come the weekend they would make it up to me. Ihad received a rather animated text from Ellie saying ‘HappyBirthday’ and ‘call you later’. At least Adam had come over, evenif he hadn’t stayed long.

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