After I totally made an ass of myself in front of Briar and her boyfriend, Etoile glared at me then ran off. I hurried down the steps after her, but she wouldn't stop. "Etoile! Please. What's wrong?"
Sniffing, she said, "It's not worth this."
"What's not worth this?" I had no clue what she was so upset about. But she wasn't answering. "Come on. Help me out here. I don't understand why you're upset."
"Are you in love with Briar?" she asked. The question slapped me in the face.
Instinctively, I lied. "No."
"Do you mean it? Or are you telling me what I want to hear?"
She could see straight through me. But I couldn't have Briar. What was I supposed to do? I still liked Etoile very much. But...I wasn't in love with her. I'd never really loved anyone. And with Briar, it was as if we had a string attached between us, connecting us. No one could snip it off. Not even Daniel. I knew she felt it, too. I'd see her staring at me when I was at my locker sometimes. When I'd look up, catching her, she'd blush and quickly jerk her head away. But I saw.
Damn it. She wouldn't break up with her boyfriend for me either. So, I had no choice but to move on.
I didn't want to break up with Etoile though. She actually helped me deal with these emotions I had for Briar. I guessed that was kind of like using her. It wasn't fair to her.
Reaching for her, I said, "Hey...I-I'm sorry...but...I guess I've never gotten over my feelings for Briar. I still want to go out with you, though, because I really like you. I do. It's just...going to take some time."
She shivered out of my grasp and said, "I won't compete with another girl."
Spinning her around, I said, "You're not competing. I just..."
"If you're still thinking about her, then I am competing. I've seen how you look at her, August. I have eyes. And I've tried to turn your head and fill you with me but it's not working. I realize that now. I'm just done."
"Don't say that, Etoile. Come on."
"It's over," she whispered.
She turned and scampered over the sand away from me.
But I didn't run after her. I couldn't.
"Fuck," I groaned, watching her cry into Amber's arms as Amber scowled at me like I was every cuss word she'd ever spit at me.
Ethan made his way over and asked, "What happened, dude?"
"I don't know...Etoile thinks I'm in love with Briar and doesn't want to compete. I told Etoile that didn't matter. That I really liked her, but she wouldn't listen."
He arched an eyebrow and said, "You don't really try to hide your feelings, you know. I can't blame her."
Looking away in shame, I said, "Yeah...well, I'm fucked then. If Briar hadn't been fighting with her boyfriend, none of this would have happened. What the hell were Briar and Daniel doing here anyway? Do you know?"
"Wilder got off early and he's bringing Daniel with him. Guess they're here if you saw him. I don't know about Briar."
"Well, Briar said she was meeting up with her friends here which made Daniel mad for some reason." Something was very fishy about that, and I had to think Amber was the mastermind of disrupting our fun weekend.
Glancing toward Amber and Etoile, I saw Briar coming over to them, patting Etoile on the back. But then Etoile hissed something at her and stormed away. "Shit," I breathed. "There goes that friendship. I bet Amber did this on purpose, hoping something like this would happen. She's always hated me."
"Dude. I doubt Amber had some diabolical scheme up her sleeve. She's not like that."
"Well, she screwed everything up."
"Hey, dude, look. There's Wilder and Daniel now. The party's just revving up. No girlfriend drama now. Okay, August?"
I cursed under my breath because I didn't want to see Daniel right now. Turning around, I braced myself for another round.
"Hello, gentleman," Ethan said. "Glad you could make it."
"Well, if it isn't Briar's knight," Daniel scoffed. "Don't tell me I have to deal with this asshole all weekend."
"Good God, Daniel. Don't be rude," Wilder said under his breath. Nodding, he waved his beer. "What's up, Ethan? August?"
I decided to bury the hatchet. If we were going to have any fun this weekend, Daniel and I couldn't keep throwing insults at each other. Putting out my hand, I said, "Hey, listen, dude, I'm sorry. I was out of line back there. I misunderstood what was going on with you and Briar. My bad."
He grabbed my hand and shook. I could tell he was giving me a threat with the strength of his grip and the coolness of his eyes. Staring straight at me, he said, "No problem. Just as long as you know Briar's my concern. Not yours."
"Daniel, you've got August here all wrong," Wilder said, gesturing toward me. "He's smitten over a silver haired dove. You've got nothing to worry about there, mate. Right, August?" He winked at me.
That took me back to when I first met Wilder as I was feeling up Etoile, and a twinge of sadness blanketed me. "Yeah, right." I didn't want to confess I'd just broken up with her, though.
We all walked over to the fire and Wilder and Daniel greeted everyone. Pointing at the blaze, Ethan said, "Dudes, the sun is bright out. Might want to contain the fire now. It's too hot today."
I laughed. "You're never going to get Manuel to put it out. He lives for fire."
"Man, I'm roasting." Chase squinted at the sun. "I shouldn't have worn this sweatshirt."
"We brought our suits," Beau offered. "Let's swim."
"Brilliant idea, mate," Wilder agreed. "What do you say, August? Want to try out the waterslide?"
He didn't have to ask twice. In seconds, all of us were tossing off our shirts and heading upstairs, whooping as we went. It was one of the hottest fall days I could remember for a while.
"August!" Ethan shouted. "Show off your ninja skills for us."
Laughing, I challenged, "What'll you give me if I do?"
"I won't kick your ass in beer pong."
"Aw, c'mon. You can do better than that."
Throwing me a sarcastic serious face, he said, "I'll chug two beers if you impress me and everyone else."
"You're on!" Running and jumping, I tried to do a front flip, but the slide was too slippery, and I landed on my ass. But I recovered, hoping he wouldn't catch on that I didn't mean to end up like that.
"What do you think now, Ethan? You'll have to chug two beers for my amazing mad skills."
"You totally flipped on your ass, August," Beau said, laughing at me.
"And you call yourself my best friend," I said, playfully glaring at him.
"Wasn't too horrible." Ethan shrugged. "I'll help you out then. Arm wrestling. Double or nothing."
Piece of cake. My arm length alone gave me the advantage.
I smirked at him and nodded.
The cool breeze whipped over our bodies and my skin erupted in goose pimples. We decided to get dressed then have the match. You'd think it was straight out of the octagon with the way everyone was all fired up about it.
Clenching Ethan's hand, I braced myself for an easy win.
"We want a clean fight," Beau ordered, acting like the announcer of an official boxing match. "Hands behind your back. Ready...set...GO!"
Chase hooted, "Go, August! Take down the champ!"
But I'd miscalculated how strong Ethan might be. The guy didn't play a sport, never said how much he worked out, but I quickly found out he was tougher than he looked. As my muscles burned, trying to keep him from jerking my hand down, I grunted.
Calmly, Ethan said, "You know you can't win. I'm just playing with you here."
Grimacing, I gazed at his smug face. "Huh?"
Instantly, he smashed my hand down to the table.
"The win goes to Ethan the Invincible!" Beau cheered, raising his arms then giving Ethan a high five.
And that's how I got shit-faced before 6 PM that night.
"August, you need to watch it or you'll fall," Beau warned.
Head swimming, I thought I could balance on the side of the fountain, but I was drunker than I felt. "No, I'm okay...I'm..."
"Ahh!" Almost in slow motion, I fell backward.
And tumbled into Ethan and Chase. Thankfully, they both caught me so I didn't have to change clothes. "I think I'll switch to water now."
As the night wore on, my friends kept drinking while I sobered up. By 2 AM most of them passed out while it was just me and Ethan alone, chatting next to the snoring drunks.
"I can't believe I fucked up so badly today," I said, still hurting from earlier that day. I tried to text Etoile a dozen times but she wouldn't answer me. "What should I do?"
Shaking his head, Ethan said, "I'd just leave it. She would have left you sooner or later anyway."
"Why would you say that?"
"Because, dude, that's what she does."
His tone sounded like he knew more about Etoile than what he let on. "How do you know so much about her? Did you go out with her?" Neither Ethan nor Etoile ever said anything about that and I figured they would since Ethan and I hung out all the time.
He shook his head. "No, but...well, I've been close with Amber and where Amber is, Etoile isn't far behind. I've watched as she either smothers the guys she's with or she disposes of them after a while. I guess it was your time, dude. Looked like a lame excuse to dump your ass, anyway. Sure, you obviously have it bad for Briar, but if she'd waited, maybe you would have moved on, you know?"
"Yeah...I guess you're right," I said, sighing. "I need to stop thinking about it."
"What about Amber?" Ethan asked. "I think she likes you."
I waved my hand at him. "Are you freaking nuts? She hates my guts. You must be on something if you think Amber likes me."
Ethan looked down. "I'm not nuts. To be honest, I went for Amber myself, but whenever I tried to ask her out, she'd always go off about you. It's like she's obsessed or something."
I shook my head. "No way, dude. I honestly would never chase Amber anyway. She's Etoile's best friend. And I really want Etoile back. I just wish she would forgive me." I kicked myself for not running after her earlier.
"Maybe she will," Ethan said. "You should give her time."
"Listen, we should all go out. You ask Amber and I'll ask Etoile. We should go to the circus or down to the docks for a night. What do you think?"
Ethan snorted. "Trouble is, neither one of them wants anything to do with us. Sounds like wishful thinking."
"Well, we both can try, can't we?"
He shrugged. "I guess it can't hurt. And if they both say no, Wilder can set us up. How about that?"
"Sounds like a plan, brother." I slapped his hand and patted his back, hoping once Etoile cooled down, she'd give me another chance.