“Are you having a hearing problem today?” I stepped in front of the box office door. “Yes. Betty.”

“What’s her last name?”

“Crocker. She’s new to the beach, so I’m going to show her around after I get off.”

“Okay, Ari.” His lips curved into a sexy smirk. “Meet me at The Book Bar at six. Bring your friend Betty Crocker with you if she actually exists…”

At The Book Bar, neither of us spoke. The waitress must’ve assumed we were mad at each other, or not talking for a reason because she didn’t bother greeting us. She simply set down two waters on our table and gave us her notepad and pen, letting us write down our own orders.

“So…” I managed, sipping my water.

“So?” Carter reached over the table and tilted my chin up with his fingertips. “So, what?”

“Nothing…Um…How was your night?”

“The same as yours, I believe.” He smirked.

I looked away from him and blushed—quickly focusing my attention on my water again.

I definitely wasn’t going to be able to look at him with a straight face today. I was hoping we could just get through this little rendezvous and I could go home and regain my sense of self in private.

I stuffed a few complimentary tortilla chips into my mouth and started to count the ones that were left. Then I noticed Carter getting up from his side of the table and sitting next to me.

“What time do you get out of your night class today?” he asked.

“It was actually cancelled…” My eyes met his. “I got an email from my teacher when we first got here.”

“Anywhere else you need to go today?”

“No…” I swallowed. “But I don’t want to go home yet. Unless you have something you have to do, that is.”

He looked over at me and stared into my eyes for a while. “I don’t.”

“So…We should hang out.”

“We should.”

Silence hung in the air between us—so unfamiliar and strange, and the newfound attraction between us was electric, palpable. I wondered if either of us would start listing suggestions like we usually did, if those few rounds of sex had already ruined our ability to be just friends, because I was honestly unable to speak right now. My brain couldn’t function properly when his lips were so close to mine.

“How about Marina Cove?” Carter finally shattered our silence. “Epsilon Chi is throwing a get-together there today.”

“Sounds good.”

“One of your beach bags is in my trunk. Do you need to go home and get anything else?”

I shook my head and he left a twenty on the table. Standing, he grabbed my hands and pulled me up, leading me to his car. He even opened the door for me.

I slipped inside and he cranked the engine—starting the one hour drive to a private cove that was near the shore. The waves lapping against each other to our left were the only sounds between us, and I tried to pretend like our hands weren’t entwined behind the gear shift—like his fingers weren’t caressing my knuckles at every stoplight.

As he veered the car onto the expressway, I put on my shades and stole glances of him every now and then. How the boy with itchy hair and gangly height from fourth grade had grown into the dominant and sexy man sitting next to me, I’d never know…

When we pulled up to the cove, our hands disentangled as we parked.

Several familiar faces from the EPIC party were setting up volleyball nets and grills, and Josh was yelling our names and walking over.

“Hey!” He looked surprised to see us. “You two decided to come after all, huh? Do you now have a change of heart about Epsilon Pi?”

“Hell no,” we said in unison, laughing together.

“Then why are you here?” Josh crossed his arms.

“Looking for something to do,” I said. “The beaches are cluttered with tourists and there’s a big wedding at the pier, so we figured crashing your party and making you feel somewhat important would be a much better way to spend our day.”

“Once again…” Josh said. “Out of all the girls in your elementary school, this is the one you chose to befriend?”

“You’re just jealous it wasn’t me and you,” I said.

“I hate to break it to you, Ari,” he said, “but it would’ve never been me and you because I would’ve hit it a long ass time ago.”

“Never.” I opened Carter’s trunk, taking out my beach bag. “I’m going to go change and lay out near the rocks. Whenever you guys start grilling, let me know and I’ll help.” I walked away and headed toward the restroom villa, hoping the brand new tension between me and Carter wasn’t obvious.

I pulled my hair into a bun and found a perfect spot to rest. I lay against the rocks and took a short nap as the sun warmed my skin.

Josh called me over to help marinate some of the chicken just as I flipped over, and for once, we actually managed to be together for more than ten minutes without arguing.

With each hour that passed, more and more people pulled up to the marina—beach towels and beers in tow, and even though everyone was genuinely nice and friendly, the only thing I really wanted to do right now was lay against Carter again.

At sunset, a familiar hand grabbed mine and pulled me along the shore.

“Careful,” I said, letting go of his hand. “People might actually think we’ve had sex.”