Jason walked into the room and I smirked, remembering the car journey. "Do your shoes still smell like take out?" I ducked as he swiped at me. "Hey we have to show mom and dad we can be responsible!"
"They said no fighting Molly," he said and I shrieked as he picked me up, "they said nothing about swimming."
"Put me down Jason! Put me down right now!" I'd never seen our beach house from this angle before and it was a horizontal blur of seashells and beiges as he ran through the living room and out the back door. "No!" I yelled as the swimming pool came into view. The last thing I heard before I hit the cold blue water was the doorbell ringing and then the water muffled all sounds. I remerged coughing and spluttering. "You know I can't swim!" I shouted at Jason's back as he ran inside.
"The Millers are here!" Hailey yelled.
I climbed out of the pool and stomped into the living room, my shoes squelching at each step. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and sighed. My usually bouncy brown hair was plastered to my head, my red dress clung to me in all the wrong places and my mascara ran down my face. This was not how I wanted to look when I saw Ryan for the first time since last summer. I walked into the hallway where everyone was shouting and embracing and was immediately swept into Mrs. Miller's arms.
She hugged me tightly even though I was soaking, "Molly look how long your hair has gotten. It's lovely honey."
"Thanks," I felt bad about getting her clothes wet but she insisted she didn't mind and moved on to hug Jason and Hailey. Mr. Miller measured my head against his shoulder and we joked about the days when I only barley reached his waist.
My parents had been friends with the Miller's before I was born but we lived too far away from each other to visit more than once a year. So when I was three and Hailey and Jason were eight and ten we bought this beach house and they bought the one three houses down. That way we could spend every summer together.
I took a deep breath and searched the hallway for Ryan's brown eyes. But he wasn't there. My parents ran downstairs with their bags and my mom hugged us each a little too tightly until my dad pulled her away and said his goodbyes.
"Fred how can we leave them for two weeks? Hailey's been getting sick all morning and Molly decided to go swimming in her clothes! I can stay, really I can-" my mom began hugging Jason again.
"I fell in!" I protested crossly and Jason snorted.
"Honey we're gonna miss our flight!" My dad pleaded.
The Millers began loading their bags into their car. "Yeah and we need your parents to come to Rome with us. It won't be any fun without them," Mr. Miller chuckled.
My sister and I exchanged a look over Jason's head and Hailey pushed her towards the door. "Mom we'll be fine," I said.
"Yeah. It's just something I ate," She chipped in. "We're not kids anymore. Well Jason is still debatable but even your baby starting college in the fall. Don't worry about us." I stuck my tongue out at her and she crossed her eyes when my mom wasn't looking.
I laughed. Even though I was eighteen and Jason and Hailey were in their early twenties she still treated us like we were all under ten racing out of the house without sunscreen to see who would make it to the sea first.
My dad grabbed the suitcases from the bottom of the stairs. "If only it was that easy. Okay Jason you're in charge and I expect everyone to be on their best behavior. No fighting and no fires. With all the wicker furniture this place would go up in smoke. No parties, no smoking, no drinking and separate rooms. Extra money is in the hall upstairs under the statue of the fish and all our numbers are on the fridge if you need to-"
Jason pushed him towards the door. "Yeah okay dad got it. Now hurry or you'll miss your flight."
Mrs. Miller stopped in the doorway. "Oh Ryan will be here tomorrow with Ashley. I hope that's still okay Jen? God I wish you could see them. They're so cute together! She only left France a year ago so Ryan's helping her with her English."
"I bet he is," Jason muttered under his breath and Hailey kicked him.
"Yeah that's fine," my mom said. "I trust you guys will make Ashley feel at home."
"Well god knows Ryan will," Mr. Miller laughed. "He practically lived here last summer."
"Who-" I began to say but Jason interrupted me, ushering everyone out the front door.
"Okay great we're looking forward to seeing him. Safe journey. See you in two weeks. Bye. Bye love you. Bye," the door closed and Jason grinned. "Thought we'd never get rid of them. Well I don't know about you guys but I'm going surfing. See you later kiddo," he ruffled my wet hair and I glared at him already plotting my revenge.
Hailey turned to the stairs but I grabbed her elbow, "Who's Ashley?"
"Ryan's new girlfriend," she said matter of factly and suddenly put a hand over her mouth. "I really shouldn't have had that Chinese for breakfast!" She dashed upstairs and I heard the bathroom door slam shut.
I stood there for a minute, stunned, and then slowly climbed the stairs. My room had really changed since I first claimed it when I was three. The pink unicorn wallpaper was replaced with light blue paint to matched the cushions and comforter on my double bed. The pile of stuffed animals had been replaced with a lilac couch and curtains. It was very calming.
But the main reason it was my favorite room in the house was the balcony. The other bedrooms had balconies too but mine had the best view of the sea. When I was younger I used to camp out on it and try to stay up all night to see the sunrise on the beach. But I usually fell asleep counting the stars. I pulled on a pair of shorts and my favorite red oversized t-shirt and pulled my wet hair up into a messy ponytail. I couldn't believe Ryan had a girlfriend.
Hoping the warm breeze would help dry me off, I stepped out onto the balcony. You could see for miles around and I leant up against the wooden railing and rested my head in my hands. I'd spent all year thinking of what I'd say when I saw him but now my mind was suddenly blank.
I could see the Miller's beach house three houses down. I could also see Jason jogging along the beach with his surfboard and hear Hailey retching from the open bathroom window next to the balcony.
"Are you okay?" I yelled and got a muffled reply.
Like everywhere in this house the hallway was covered with shells, glossy wooden walls and photos. Pictures of us from past summers flashed before my eyes as I ran to the end of the hallway and pushed open the bathroom door.
Hailey was sitting beside the toilet surrounded by little white objects. As I entered the bathroom she pushed her dark hair back from her face and looked up at me with red bloodshot eyes. It was obvious she had been crying. She was holding something in her hands and as her fingers unfurled around the object more tears spilled from her eyes. It was another little white object and, like the others, it had that tiny but unmistakable blue line.
"I'm pregnant," she whispered.
A car horn beeped outside disrupting my shocked silence. I caught a glimpse of a passing car that looked a lot like Ryan's through the window as I knelt to the ground to wrap my arms around my sister. I still couldn't believe he had a girlfriend. Especially after what happened last summer.
* * *
I woke up late and hungry. My stomach growled angrily at me as I brushed my teeth and pulled on a yellow t-shirt over my jeans. My mind was still foggy but I tried my best to process yesterday's information. Ryan had a girlfriend and Hailey was pregnant. She didn't want to talk about it until she'd had a good night sleep but we'd agreed not to tell anyone until her boyfriend Harry got here next week. She didn't want him finding out from someone else and we knew that if Jason found out he would kill him. If there was one thing we could agree on it was that Jason was too overprotective of his sisters for his own good. When I went into high school it took months for a guy to even talk to me because I was Jason Reynolds's little sister and they were afraid of getting beaten up.
I trudged sleepily down the stairs and into the kitchen and froze. Ryan, Jason and Hailey were all sitting around the kitchen table talking and laughing. But my eyes were drawn to the corner of the kitchen where a girl in a short white dress with long blonde hair and striking features was humming and dancing cooking pancakes. I knew she'd be beautiful but it seemed like beautiful didn't quite fit the description. Flawless was more like it. Her blonde hair shimmered in the sunlight streaming in through the windows, her eyes were as blue and as clear as the sky outside and her lips were annoyingly perfectly pink.
She danced over to me, spatula in hand, and kissed me daintily on both cheeks. I stood there stunned. "Molly! I'm Ashley Dubois. Ryan he has told me so much about you! You are so nice to let me stay in your home. It's beautiful. I'll try to keep out of your way, I promise," she said with a singsong accent. Worst of all she was French.
"Are you kidding?" Hailey said, sipping her orange juice, "It'll be great to outnumber the guys for once. We can finally stop watching Die Hard every evening. And I brought all the Channing Tatum movies!" This brought a collective groan from the boys and Hailey laughed. "Ashley is making us pancakes to thank us for our hospitality Molly."
Ashley blushed, "Ryan taught me that word." He grinned up at her and wrapped his arm around her waist. It was obvious, by the way he looked at her, that he was completely and utterly in love with her. I couldn't help gasping a little, as if he'd hit me. "I hope everyone likes pancakes?"
Hailey pulled me into the seat beside her as everyone assured her they did. "What's up with you?" She whispered in my ear and suddenly I felt her nails dig into my shoulder. Her face had taken on a green tinge as she bolted from the room and dashed up the stairs.
"She doesn't like pancakes?" Ashley asked looking confused as she placed plates of pancakes before us.
"No," Jason grinned. "She hasn't been feeling well but she usually gets better as the day goes on. She'll be down in a minute. Well everyone bon appétit!"
We all took a bite of our pancakes at the same time and we all spat it out at the same time. "Ugh!" I couldn't help but groan as I took gulps of Hailey's orange juice to wash away the horrible taste.
"What did you make them with?" Jason wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Ashley looked upset and Ryan squeezed her hand comfortingly. "Eggs, flour, milk-"
"Milk? The milk that we left here last summer?" Jason cried and there was a screeching of chairs as we all scraped our chairs back from the table, looking as green as Hailey.
"Sorry!" Ashley cried and Jason began helping her gather up the plates again.
"It's okay Ash you didn't know. I'm going out for some fresh air," Ryan said and left the room. I recognized the phrase and ran out after him.
He was standing outside the front door. "You're smoking again?" I cried, forgetting I'd told myself last night I wouldn't talk to him.
He lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. After a minute he sighed heavily. "I did try to give it up but I went to Paris with Ashley last month and everyone was smoking so…" he shrugged and I glared at the back of Ashley's head through the window. Last year I'd finally convinced him to give up and he was doing really well too. This was her fault. All of this was her fault.
Suddenly Ryan turned to me and his expression softened, "Molly I-" he started to say but I could already feel a lump forming in my throat so I shook my head quickly and smiled brightly at him.
"It's fine," I lied, "really you don't-" the rest of my words were lost as I gasped. A shower of cold water had fallen on Ryan and splashed onto me. His cigarette now extinguished beyond doubt, he glared up above him and I followed his gaze. Hailey was standing on the balcony above us shrieking with laughter as she pored the remainder of water in the bucket down on him.
"No smoking!" She yelled and I couldn't help laughing. Ryan gritted his teeth in annoyance as she disappeared inside still giggling. Jason came out of the house, stopped and then shook his head.
"I'm not even going to ask," he grinned and clapped his hands together. "Go get dried off guys. We're going grocery shopping."
Within ten minutes we were all in the car on our way to the supermarket. Every time Ryan's hair dripped the car exploded in laughter. "I tell him to give it up," Ashley was saying, "but all he says is 'everyone else is doing it.' I don't see this obsession with trying to be like everyone else."
"So Ryan any news?" Jason asked pulling into the supermarket.
"Any news? Well we got a new puppy in September. He's is staying with my uncle till we get back."
"Chein?" Ashley asked hesitantly and Ryan nodded. "Ah il est tres mignon!" She cooed.
"Non tu est tres mignon," Ryan kissed her on both cheeks and her laughter was like music. Jason finally parked and I hopped out of the car. I felt like I was going to be tres sick. The cool conditioned supermarket was a welcome change to the still heat of outside. Hailey and I grabbed a shopping cart and Jason addressed us like he was our tour guide.
"Okay we're by ourselves for two weeks. We have money. So everyone spread out and get whatever you want!"
"It's sad how excited you are for this" Ryan muttered under his breath but everyone ran in separate directions. Hailey and I wheeled the shopping cart into the frozen section. She began tossing frozen pizzas into the cart and I put myself in charge of the ice cream.
"So…" I said slowly and she launched into her speech knowing exactly what I meant.
"I was scared last night but I've decided it's gonna be okay. Yeah mom and dad will kill me and Jason will kill Harry. And Harry will probably pass out when I tell him but you know what Molly? When we first slept together I did what my home ec teacher told us to do and I asked myself do I want this guy to be the father of my children? And I do. Whenever I try to picture my future I don't see myself with anyone else but Harry. Okay now isn't the ideal time to have a kid and we're not married yet but at least we're both twenty three and we're out of college." We walked down the next aisle and she began throwing prenatal vitamins into the cart.
"Yeah," I agreed. I know this isn't what either of them would have wanted right now but like she said, they're not teenagers anymore. She's been dating Harry since they were sixteen and after eight years they're still together. They're still so in love that it makes me feel nauseous whenever I'm with them too long. If anybody can make it through this they can.
"Plus," she grinned, "we weren't going to tell anyone till after the holidays but Harry got a job in that law firm in New York and we're getting an apartment there in the fall."
I hugged her excitedly. "Really? Wow Hailey I'm so happy for you," I said excitedly and she nodded laughing. "And I'm going to be an aunty!"
Jason dashed over to us, barley able to see over the mountain of food in his arms, and dumped it all into the cart. Then he was off again and I surveyed the cart warily. Ashley and Ryan strolled up hand in hand and put fewer and more sensible items in the cart.
"Ashley is an amazing cook," Ryan said proudly and Ashley waved his praise away. "Really! Let her cook for you tonight?"
"Okay," Hailey said cheerfully and I knew she was glad as long as she wasn't asked to cook.
"Come on lets get some more ingredients," they raced off together giggling happily and suddenly Hailey turned pale.
"Molly I can't cook! I'm going to be someone's mom and all I can make is pasta!" She wailed and I squeezed her reassuringly.
"It's fine Hailey. You have nine months, plenty of time to learn."
"Okay," she sighed, calming down. We wheeled the cart into the fruit and vegetable section and began loading it up. "So what's going on with you and Ryan?"
I suddenly became very interested in checking the expiry date of the bag of apples I was holding. "What do you mean?"
"Oh come on Molly! Usually you'd be best friends or at each other's throats by now. You've hardly said two words to each other all morning. I thought you were out of your awkward stages. I mean last year you were best friends! So what is it? Is it Ashley?"
I stiffened, "Why do you say that?"
"Are you being quiet because she's new? Because you don't need to be. She's lovely, really she is!"
"No…it's- it's not that," I said hesitantly. I tossed a lemon from hand to hand before putting it in the cart. "Promise you won't tell anyone?"
"I pinky swear!" She said solemnly and I wrapped my finger around hers.
"Okay," even though there was nobody around to overhear us I pulled her behind a shelf of fresh fruit, "last summer-"
"Yeah?" She said eagerly.
"Last summer Ryan and I slept together."