Summer in the cabin means a whole new set of opportunities. It means a vast supply of watermelons from the farmer's market. It means a clean slate, a chance to reinvent my washed-up self. The return to the cabin means its set of promises is renewed entirely for me. When Dad cuts the engine and our Volkswagen settles in the gravel, I know what awaits me as soon as I hop out. Without a hint of hesitation, I break into a sprint passing one, two, and three houses until I reach the red door with the peonies surrounding the doorstep. I pound on the door four times before he swings it open. And of course, it's him.
"Took you long enough," He says.
"Hey, killer," I say.
As I shuffle inside, the weight of his gaze is on me. When the door clicks shut, it takes him no time to pull me in for his 'welcome home' hug. The relief, as always, runs through me like the blood in my veins.
I've been staying three houses down from the Rossi's since I was 9. Dad has a thing for the outdoors. And since we so conveniently live 3 hours and 18 minutes from Lake Tahoe, he felt that renting a cabin here was the perfect escape to the city monotony. I met Vincent on the fateful autumn day Dad drove us up here to tour the place. While he was chatting up the real estate agent, I chose to take matters into my own hands and explore every corner of the cabin. Caving to my curious ways, I wound up in the basement. Vincent seemed to be right at home: curled up on the futon, some gory film playing on the TV.
"I thought I was the only one here," I said.
With a nonchalant glance at me, he said, "Heard you come in. These walls are made of cardboard."
If he was even slightly perturbed by my arrival, he didn't show it.
"You shouldn't be here," I said.
That's when his face broke into that mischievous smirk. I didn't know it then, but that smirk alone would drive me to insanity. "I'll show you my secret passage if you don't turn me in."
I was dying to know his name. But I was chased upstairs when Dad began to call for me.
This summer is nothing like the summer of 2013. This is the last summer before college. My last window of shenanigans, sunburns, and sleepovers at the Rossi's. The first thing I say to Vincent after we climb up the stairs to his room is, "I want to swim across the lake this summer."
His eyes peel right open. "You haven't done that in years, Jules."
I give an unnerving shake of my head, dead set on my decision. "I'm swimming across the lake this summer," I say, this time with finality.
Vince and I spend the following three weeks training for the big race, catching up on our beloved vinyl collection, and helping Vince's mom, Paula, make her renowned homemade shrimp Gnocchi. After having swum halfway the distance and absolutely losing my breath, Vince pulls me onto the canoe and rows us back to the dock. My skin buzzes everywhere it touches his. The water drips down his forearms in rivulets. I can’t help being so aware of every detail about him. When we reach the dock, he deflates with one long exhale and fixes his stare on me.
"You seem so much older this summer," He says.
I snicker helplessly. "It'd be really weird if I wasn't," I say.
"I can't believe we're going to college," He adds, his tone brimming with wistfulness.
"We better make it count, then."
My insides are squirming on the morning of the race. I'm shuffling towards the lake while Dad, Paula, and Vincent's dad, Keith, camp outside the Rossi home to cheer me on. Vince has my towel hanging around his neck. As we near the water, he whispers, "Do they know you haven't swum the entire lake in, like, five summers?"
I turn my head to emphasize my words. "You better not blow my cover, Rossi."
Vince shoots me a final thumbs-up before I swipe down my goggles and kick forward. A boost of confidence runs through me at the start. The nostalgia comes and goes in waves as I slice through the tepid water, and I remember how at home I feel doing this. Though the pain begins to settle in my limbs, I manage to push through and find peace with each breath. When I'm almost at what I believe to be the halfway mark, I can't seem to find the air I need. It only takes Vince one look to decipher we must abort the mission, and that he needs to pull me back up.
Hours later, after receiving several pitiful smiles from my audience, Vince and I are holed up in his room, drowning our defeat in Radiohead.
"Those old bones of yours aren't what they used to be," He croaks.
I don't hesitate to hurl the nearest pillow at him. "Shut it. I just wanted to make this summer memorable."
He catches it with ease and plops down beside me, our backs to his twin-sized bed. "There's no way it won't be memorable. You failed miserably."
I let out something between a laugh and a gasp. "You got quite a mouth on you, Vincent Rossi."
That familiar electricity comes shocking me again, right in the spot where our thighs are grazing. We're still in our bathing suits, and I can't help feeling extremely exposed.
"I missed seeing you so flustered, Jules," He says.
The hours drag by as the record player lulls through Incubus, Bob Dylan, and Nirvana. As the beginning of "Heart-Shaped Box" reverberates off the walls, Vince closes the distance between us and kisses me.
The summer slips away from me. I eat far too much Gnocchi, awkwardly dive off the dock while Vince ridicules my attempts, and indulge in the remaining rental-video store left in town. I drag Vince to watch The Goonies with me several times. He pretends he despises it, but I know deep down he enjoys himself.
I force myself to suppress the tears on the afternoon of our departure. While Dad loads up the trunk and shoots me wary looks, I trod over to where Vince stands, a grim look on his face as he leans on the doorframe.
“You better not dodge my calls while you’re with all those nerds at school,” He says.
There’s that smirk again. “You really think so low of me?” I say.
He picks up a stray strand of my hair, twiddles with it. I hold his gaze, feeling his absence before I’m even gone.
My heart shrivels up.
“You’ll come back on Thanksgiving?” He asks.
“How about you come visit me for a change?”
He tugs me closer, his palm settling on my hip.
“I’ll miss you, Jailbait.”
I groan. “I’m in dire need of a new nickname. ‘Jailbait’ is too trashy, even for me,” I say.
And with that, a toothy grin etches itself on his lips, his other hand wraps around the nape of my neck, and he lowers his lips to mine.
On the drive back, as we pass the ridges and mountains preceding the city, I find a sheet of paper Vince surreptitiously slipped into my duffel bag. I unfold it anxiously, devouring his words.
Hey there, Jailbait.
Don't go around saying I call you that. People might get the wrong idea. Last summer. I swear I just blinked, and now we're off to college. I got a kick out of watching you try to swim across the lake. You might hate me for saying that, but you would've laughed had the roles been reversed. Now, I have some things I need you to do while you're with all those smart-asses in Tulane:
-Pick up some great books so you can tell me all about them when you come back to the cabin
-Write me letters (only for the first month, though, because mail is expensive) and then emails
-Listen to Radiohead and Nirvana
-Pick up the phone and call me
And live your life, Jules.
The fact that you mustered up the courage to swim across that lake after having stopped for years makes you a winner in my eyes. I will never say that out loud, though.
Tulane is so damn lucky to have you.
Also: hope you're not kissing other people. I won't be.
It was the perfect end to our last summer.