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Its Not Summer Without You Chapter 8: I can pinpoint the exact moment everything changed. It was last summer. Con and I were sitting on the porch, and I was trying to talk to him about what a dick the new assistant football coach was.
“Just stick it out,” he said.
Easy for him to say. He’d quit. “You don’t get it, this guy’s crazy,” I started to tell him, but he wasn’t listening anymore. Their car had just pulled into the driveway. Steven got out first, then Laurel. She asked where my mom was and gave me a big hug. She hugged Conrad next and I started to say, “Hey, where’s the Bel y Button?” And there she was.
Conrad saw her first. He was looking over Laurel’s shoulder. At her. She walked toward us. Her hair was swinging around all over the place and her legs looked miles long. She was wearing cutoffs and dirty sneakers. Her bra strap was sticking out of her tank top. I swear I never noticed her bra strap before. She had a funny look on her face, a look I didn’t recognize. Like shy and nervous, but proud at the same time.
Observing Conrad embrace her, I patiently awaited my opportunity. Curiosity piqued, I longed to inquire about her thoughts and the enigmatic expression she wore. However, I refrained from doing so. Instead, I sidestepped Conrad and enveloped her in a hug, blurting out some senseless remark. It made her laugh, and then she was just Bely again. And that was a relief because I didn’t want her to be anything but just Bel y.
I’d known her my whole life. I’d never thought of her as a girl. She was one of us. She was my friend. Seeing her in a different way, even just for a second, it shook me up.
My dad used to say that with everything in life, there’s a game-changing moment. The one moment everything else hinges upon, but you hardly ever know it at the time. The three-pointer early on in the second quarter changes up the whole tempo of the game. Wakes people up, and brings them back to life. It all goes back to that one moment.
I might have forgotten about it, that moment when their car drove up and this girl walked out, a girl I barely recognized. It could have just been one of those things. You know, it’s that moment when someone catches your eye, like a whiff of perfume on a stroll through the city. As you continue walking, the memory starts to fade. Eventually, I might have even forgotten it entirely.
Things might have gone back to the way they were before. But then came the game-changing moment.
It was nighttime, maybe a week into the summer. Bely and I were hanging out by the pool, and she was cracking up over something I said, I don’t remember what. I loved that I could make her laugh. Even though she laughed a lot and it wasn’t some kind of feat, it felt great. She said, “Jere, you’re, like, the funniest person I know.”
It was one of the best compliments of my life. But that wasn’t the game-changing moment.
That happened next. I was really on a roll, doing an impersonation of Conrad when he wakes up in the mornings. A whole Frankenstein sort of thing. Then Conrad came out and sat next to her on the deck chair. He puled on her ponytail and said, “What’s so funny?”
Bely looked up at him, and she was actually blushing. Her face was all flushed, and her eyes were shining. “I don’t remember,” she said.
My gut just twisted. I felt like somebody had drop-kicked me in the stomach. I was jealous, crazy jealous. Of Conrad. And when she got up a little while later to get a soda, I watched him watch her walk away and I felt sick inside.
That was when I knew things would never be the same.
I wanted to tell Conrad that he had no right. He’d ignored her all these years and couldn’t just decide to take her just because he felt like it.
She was all of ours. My mom adored her. She called Bel y her secret daughter.
She looked forward to seeing her all year. Steven, even though he gave her a hard time, he was really protective of her. Everyone took care of Bel y, she just didn’t know it. She was too busy looking at Conrad. For as long as any of us could remember, she had loved Conrad.
All I knew was, I wanted her to look at me like that. After that day, I was done for. I liked her, as more than a friend. I maybe even loved her.
There have been other girls. But they weren’t her.
I didn’t want to call Bel y for help. I was pissed at her. It wasn’t just that she’d picked Conrad. That was old news. She was always going to pick Conrad. But we were friends too. How many times had she called me since my mom died? Twice?
A few texts and emails?
But sitting in the car next to her, smelling her Bel y Conklin smell (Ivory soap and coconuts and sugar), the way her nose wrinkled up as she thought, her nervous smile and chewed-up fingernails. The way she said my name.
When she leaned forward to mess with the AC vents, her hair brushed against my leg and it was really soft. It brought back memories all over again. Trying to stay angry and maintain the distance I had intended was proving to be quite challenging. In fact, it felt nearly impossible. When I was near her, I just wanted to grab, hold, and kiss the shit out of her. Maybe then she’d finally forget about my asshole of a brother.
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