A dark blue van pulls up behind me and parks in a space marked for the surf shop. But it’s not Porter’s van. And it’s not Porter driving—or riding, for that matter. Two people jump out, both eying me with great curiosity. The first is Mr. Roth, wearing a lightweight yellow Windbreaker, one sleeve sewed up, and the second is someone I recognize from photographs as Porter’s sister, Lana. They are both slightly damp, and, I assume from the droplets of water on the boards strapped to the van, have just come from the beach.
“Hi,” Lana says, chewing gum, super friendly and open. “You’re Porter’s girl.”
Am I? This makes my chest feel funny. “I work with Porter,” I say as she saunters around the van. God, she moves just like him, slinky, like a cat. And she’s wearing skintight long sleeves and shorts—whatever she’s put on after getting out of her wet suit, I guess, but she’s built like Porter too. Not model-thin, but muscular. Solid and shapely.
“Lana,” she says, joyfully chew-chewing her gum.
“Bailey,” I answer.
“Bai-ley. Yeah, I remember now,” she says, slowly grinning. She’s young and pretty, no makeup, long curly hair. Very laid-back. Open, like Porter. “He’s yapped and yapped about you. Hey, Pops, this is the scooter Davy jacked.”
Mr. Roth, who has completely ignored me up to this point, already has his hand on the back door to the shop. He looks at the scooter, then gives me a critical once-over. “You messing around with Davy?” he says brusquely. Not Porter. Davy.
Shock washes over me. “N-no. God no.”
“Because the last one was, and why did Davy steal this if there isn’t something going on?” He gives me a look like I think he’s an idiot. “You expect me to believe my son comes home with his face banged up for no reason? Like he’s just some hoodlum, fighting in the streets? I raised him better than that.”
“Dad,” Lana says, sounding almost as humiliated as I feel. “He was defending her honor.”
“Why did it need defending?” Now Mr. Roth is waving his arm at me, angry. “Why did Davy steal this?”
“I don’t know,” I bark back at him, surprised at myself. “Maybe because he’s a scumbag who thought he could make some quick cash. But I didn’t encourage it. I don’t even know him.”
The door to the shop swings open. Porter rushes out, breathless. He looks . . . awful. The cut on his cheek is dark red and swollen. The bump on his temple is now an ugly shade of blue and brown. His usually perfectly groomed scruff is darker and thicker.
“Pops,” he says. “This is Bailey Rydell. Remember, I told you about fixing the scooter seat last night? Like that one you fixed before, Mr. Stanley’s.”
Right now I’m wondering how a one-armed man is going to fix anything—and frankly, with his crummy attitude, I don’t think I want him to bother.
His father doesn’t say anything for several seconds. Then he looks at me. “I don’t know any Rydells. Who’re your parents?”
Before I can answer, Porter says, “I told you already. Her dad lives in the old McAffee place. He’s an accountant. He’s seeing Wanda Mendoza. Bailey moved here in May, from the East Coast.”
“Oh, yeah. Sergeant Mendoza. She’s all right,” his dad says, still gruff, but a little softer, like he only half believes Porter, but maybe he’s thinking about considering believing him one day soon. And—poof!—just like that, the interrogation is over. “Get inside and help your mom,” he tells Lana before turning to Porter. “Go get the green toolbox out of the van. I’ll also need the keys to her seat.”
Mr. Roth isn’t addressing me. I am dismissed. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Pretty lousy, I think. Porter used to think I was too fancy for him, but now his dad thinks I’m not good enough to date his son? And what was all that business about him assuming I was seeing Davy because “the last one” did? Is this the Chloe girl Porter and Davy were arguing about outside the vintage clothing shop on the boardwalk? Man. This guy is a piece of work. When Porter described him as a drill sergeant, he wasn’t kidding. I think Porter dropping Wanda’s name was the only thing that gave me a pass.
Coming here was definitely a huge mistake. I’m regretting it so hard and wishing I could leave somehow, but I can’t see a way out of it.
When I give Porter my scooter keys, he mouths, Sorry, to me and squeezes my hand, and just this tiny bit of skin-on-skin contact feels like when you wake up on the weekend and smell breakfast cooking: completely unexpected and delightful. One crummy kiss (okay, two—okay, AMAZING KISSES), and my body doesn’t even care that Porter’s dad hates my guts and I’m seconds away from a panic attack; it’s too busy enjoying all the actual, real, live tingles being generated by surfer-boy touch. Not good. I’m so terrified his dad will see me react, all I do is drop his hand like a hot potato.
Coward that I am, I’m about five seconds away from turning heel and running down the alley, never to return again, so when Lana nods her head toward the shop, I’m already in such a state of confusion, I just follow her inside. Better than staying outside with the drill sergeant. Or Porter—who I might swoon over in front of his dad. I can’t trust myself anymore. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?
“Pops doesn’t mean to come off like that,” Lana says as we head through a storeroom filled with shelves of boxes. “He’s just grumpy. I think he’s in pain twenty-four-seven, but he’ll die before he admits it. You ever hear about the whole phantom-limb thing?”
“Yeah,” I say. Vaguely. Amputees come back from war and still feel their missing limbs.
“I’ve heard him tell Mom that he still feels pain in the arm, even though it’s not there. He has a lot of nightmares and stuff. He won’t take pills or go see a doctor because he’s scared of getting addicted. Our grandpa was an alcoholic. Pops doesn’t want to turn into him.”
I don’t have time to process any of this before she pushes open another door and we’re blinking into the sunlit windows of the surf shop. Redwood and brightly colored boards surround the walls; music plays from speakers hanging from the ceiling. It’s not busy, but a few people mingle, looking at boards and wet suits, chatting around displays of gear.
Funny, but this is one of the places that was closed for lunch every time I came by to mark it off my Alex map; either that or I got distracted, because my favorite churro cart is outside—I can see it from here, along with the waves slamming against the pier—and it’s that churro cinnamon scent I smell now, mixed with Porter’s coconut wax. It’s a heavenly combination, almost erotic. Definitely not something I want to think about when I’m meeting his family.
Lana serpentines around the displays, cheerfully greeting customers, and heads to the back of the store. She leans over the counter and tugs on the arm of a bronze-skinned middle-aged woman with generous curves and a massive cloud of frizzy ebony hair. Lana pulls her away from a conversation, whispering in her ear. The woman is definitely Polynesian, and definitely their mother. Like, whoa, crazy familial resemblance. Mother and daughter look in my direction. Both of them smile.
“Hello,” the mother calls out, coming around the counter to meet me. She’s dressed in jeans and a loose top. Unlike the rest of the family, she’s not muscular and fit, but more on the soft and plump side. Her big cloud of hair is pulled behind one ear and hangs to her hips. “I’m Porter and Lana’s mom. You can call me Mrs. Roth or just Meli. Everyone does.”