Busy Doing Nothing from Silver Publishing
Jake is overqualified for scooping ice cream, but what a better way to spend the summer before senior year than living at the beach with his best friends and working on the boardwalk? Plenty of sun and surf, not to mention Michael, the hot lifeguard who comes to the stand to flirt.
When he invites Jake to a party, Michael sparks a hot, playful fling that Jake almost can't believe is happening to him. But summer has to end, and Jake has a policy against long-distance relationships. He breaks up with Michael and heads back to college. Will Jake realize how special Michael is before he slips away for good?
Available at... [Silver Publishing]
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The house in Delaware that Natalie rented for them is small and cheap, but it's only three blocks from the beach. As Jake pulls into the narrow gravel driveway, he wonders if this is anywhere near the house she came to as a kid, and if maybe she can take them to see it later. The crunching of the tires wakes Natalie, and she picks her head up off the window and blinks sleepily at him.
"Morning, sunshine," Jake says, wrestling the little car into park. The grind and whine wakes Tony in the back seat, and then goes quiet. Jake turns it off, not bothering to roll up the window. This is the kind of town where everyone leaves their front doors unlocked and their valuables in plain sight; Natalie's muted blue 2001 hatchback isn't going to draw any kind of attention.
Jake's back cracks as he stretches his way out of the car, one hand on the roof and the other reaching into the air, and Tony bangs on the back of the seat until he leans in and pops it forwards.
"Nice place," Tony says, looking up at the house. Almost hidden in the shade of two huge holly trees that flank its front door, it has a little screened front porch, large front windows, and its coat of yellow paint is peeling in the humid, salty air.
Jake grabs two fistfuls of bags—luggage and food and Natalie's purse—and follows Natalie up the stairs onto the porch, where she is fumbling with the front door key. Tony is at his heels as they enter, and Jake drops the bags on the floor just inside the door so he can look around.
The kitchen is tiny and gleaming, and takes up one wall of the main room on the left. The fridge is empty, and Tony starts piling food in right away. There are two floral couches facing a little fireplace on Jake's right, and Natalie discovers the bathroom on the opposite side of the room.
"Dibs on this one," she shouts, opening the other door to the left of the bathroom. Jake peers in over her shoulder, scowling at the sight of a big double bed and broad, bright windows.
"There are beds upstairs, yeah?" Tony says, looking out over the fridge door, milk in one hand and vodka in the other.
Jake turns around and spots the loft, which is reached by a staircase that amounts to little more than a ladder. He clambers up and pokes his head above the level of the loft.
"Yeah," he calls, "two beds up here. Looks like we have to let her have the nice one, man."
Tony mutters a curse and Natalie elbows him in the side, making him yelp inelegantly.
Jake claims one bed by sitting down on it and bouncing, and then flops backwards flat on his back. There are skylights in the sloping ceiling above him, and he stares up at the sky drowsily, clouds drifting past slowly. The drive to Delaware was a long one, five hours from Natalie's parents' house in Pennsylvania where they'd stopped overnight on the trek from Northwestern University in Chicago, and Natalie had given up the wheel three hours in.
The job Jake has snagged for the summer certainly isn't the most glamorous one he's ever had, but at least it promises to be the most relaxing. He is way overqualified to be scooping ice cream. The summer before, he worked for a small physical therapy clinic near campus, which was fine, but when he called the office in January he realized the people he knew had been replaced, and they "didn't have room for him" that summer.
Bullshit, Jake had thought, tossing his pen down on his desk. His timing had been impeccable, though, because when Natalie ran into his dorm room with a plan in her hands, he realized he had been handed a perfect opportunity.
"My family used to go there every summer when I was a kid," she had said, brandishing the print-out of a rental agreement. "You, Tony and I can get jobs down there, and we'll rent this place all summer. Come on, Jake, please?"
He can't deny her much, and she knows how to wear him down with that face she made, the one where her lower lip poked out and her red hair hung in her eyes. He never says no to that face.
He wakes up to Tony dumping his stuff at his feet and kicking his shoes, and he sits up.
"Natalie wants to go to the beach," Tony says, grinning and stripping off his shirt. He's seriously built, obviously been working out, and out of courtesy Jake averts his eyes. Tony was one of the first friends at college who knew Jake was gay, and he's never been uncomfortable around Jake, but Jake figures he might as well give Tony a modicum of privacy.
"You coming?" Tony asks, and Jake nods, struggling out of his own sweat-soaked T-shirt.
Natalie is waiting for them at the door, dancing from foot to foot in her sparkly flip-flops. She's got a bag slung over her shoulder and her arms crossed over her bare stomach, and Jake can tell she's looking at him from behind her mirrored sunglasses.
"You look great," he says, and she swats him on the arm.
"I know," she says, feigning haughtiness, but she's smiling, quietly pleased.
"Come on, bitches," Tony rumbles, pushing them out the door, and Jake stumbles down the stairs with Natalie, laughing.
The beach is empty for two in the afternoon, it being barely the start of the season. Jake is due tomorrow at the Ice Cream Store, but for now he can lounge on the sand and make an attempt at getting a tan. Chicago winters are not kind to the naturally pale. Natalie sets down her bag and spreads out her towel and demands that they slather her in sunscreen. Tony looks vaguely pleased and amused to be putting his big hands on her delicate body, but Jake gives him a look and Tony schools his face into something approaching neutrality.
Tony's had the hots for Natalie for a long time, casually. They're too good friends, he says, for him to want to ruin it by hooking up with her, but he isn't going to turn down an opportunity to appreciate a beautiful woman.
Jake sits on his towel with his toes in the sand and gazes at the ocean. There isn't a whole lot of ocean out in Colorado where he grew up, and the East Coast is new and appealing. The Atlantic is a dark rolling blue; Jake can see the whitecaps that the wind on his back makes on the water. It's still too cold to swim in late May, and the lifeguard stand sits pre-season empty, but Jake crosses his fingers for a hot lifeguard he can ogle while they're here.
No harm in it, he thinks, smiling to himself and sinking back on his elbows. If I can't look at cute beach boys, I shouldn't even be here.
The sun is warm on his bare chest and legs, and the air is filled with the clean smell of the ocean. After a week and a half in the library, and then fifteen hours in the car, Jake imagines the salty breeze bringing him back to life. A few gusts from the direction of the boardwalk bring the scent of pizza and caramel corn, and it smells like freedom. The breeze is cool, and Jake figures if they stay out too long they'll get burned without knowing it. Natalie is asleep on one side, and on the other Tony has his iPod out and is listening to music that Jake can hear faintly through his headphones.
It's kind of perfect.
Jake reads six chapters of a trashy novel he brought, and Natalie wakes up long enough to turn over before she roasts and to make fun of him for the dollar he spent on it in the thrift store in Indiana. Tony gives him a blank look, and then Jake catches him checking out Natalie's ass, and he ignores them both in favor of an action sequence on motorcycles.
Around four, Jake's stomach growls, and Natalie lifts her head and pushes her sunglasses back. She squints against the sun and tries to focus on his face, and he can see the lines of white where her bathing suit shifts.
"Y'all want dinner?" Jake asks, nudging Tony. "I said, dinner, dude. You hungry?"
"Yeah all right," Tony agrees, tucking his music away and standing up. He brushes sand off directly into Jake's book, and Jake turns it upside down to try to get the grains out. Tony doesn't look remorseful. Natalie ruffles Jake's hair, the gelled spikes long gone soft over the course of the day, but he ducks out of the way on reflex.
"I want pizza," she announces. "There's this place on the boardwalk."
The boardwalk is raised a few feet above the sand, and runs for a mile along the ocean with hotels from end to end. Every couple hundred feet a street branches off, and these are lined with more rental houses and hotels, until it reaches Main Street in the middle, where the houses give way to shops and restaurants. The boardwalk has two paths in it where the wood has been worn smooth by hundreds of people, walking day in and day out, keeping to their side like traffic. Jake, Natalie, and Tony weave in and out of families and couples, parents with kids, and old folks out for a walk. There are moms with strollers and groups of high-school kids, and Jake thinks he can pick out the college students from the high schoolers, but he wouldn't put money on it.
Natalie leads them down the boardwalk, pausing every so often and exclaiming at things that are missing or things that are new, but it all looks the same to Jake. Tony has an equally bemused, tolerant look on his face, and Jake grins. His face feels hot from the sun, and he can feel it stretch with his smile, and he thinks, I could get used to this.
The pizza place is nestled between a game arcade and a candy shop, balloons strung all along its little patio railing, and the pizza is big and hot and cheesy. It might be the best Jake has ever had, barring that freak accident in an airport one time when the pizza actually made him reconsider getting on his flight just so he could have another slice. The whole place is thick with the smell of melting cheese and hot grease, and the kids at the next table over drown out their parents' conversation with their shouting.
Tony flirts with the waitress and she brings him free refills on his soda, and Jake catches a gleam of something hostile in Natalie's eyes. She's glaring the girl down from behind, and says, "Damn, her skirt is short. That's kind of skanky, for a restaurant."
"I like that in a woman," Tony says, sucking noisily at the ice in the bottom of his empty cup.
"Skanky?" Natalie demands, fixing her gaze on him now. He doesn't notice, busy pushing his long hair away from his face and winking at the waitress.
"Bold," he says.
Jake fumbles frantically for something to say to break this conversation, and ends up saying, "I'm getting a balloon." It works, but they give him identical confused looks, so he points. "The blue one."
"You're a child," Natalie says after dinner, as they leave the pizza place. Jake has a blue balloon emblazoned with the restaurant's name tied securely around his wrist.
"Yes I am," Jake agrees. "Fortunately, I have you two to look after me."
They stop by The Ice Cream Store, where Jake is supposed to show his face in the morning, and Jake introduces himself to the manager while Tony holds his balloon. The manager, Maggie, is a tall woman with a mass of curly brown hair and sparkling eyes, and she shakes Jake's hand firmly.
"I'm so glad you're joining us," she says sincerely. "I'm excited to get you all trained up this week, and I think you'll have a really good time with us."
"Yes, ma'am," Jake says, sliding into what his mama calls proper Western manners without thinking. "I expect to. I liked the sound of this place from the minute I heard of it."
Maggie winks at him. "Good," she says. "Now, have a cone on the house tonight, same for your friends, but don't expect too much of that. Can't have my stock disappearing too quickly, you know. We need to make it past June."
"Yes ma'am," Jake says again.
On the walk home, Tony puts his arm around Natalie's shoulders as they all lick at their ice cream, and she frowns for a moment before relaxing into it. Jake can see their hookup a mile off, and wonders how long it will take them to catch on. He puts his money, privately, on six weeks, because they are slow to catch on to something so obvious.
There is no television in the rented house, so they pour themselves glasses of wine (Tony snags a beer and waves away the bottle) and sit in the tiny living room, Jake reading his book, Tony and Natalie sitting close together and teasing and talking.
The ceiling fan pushes the air around half-heartedly, and wine makes Jake sleepy, so he bids his friends goodnight and leaves them to themselves. He can still hear them as he drifts off, talking softly, the low murmur of their voices pleasant and familiar.