I shook my head.
He waited a second. "Uh . . . anything I can help with?" I nodded.
He half smiled, more genuinely this time. "You might have to tell me what it is."
I took several rapid breaths, trying to ease the tightness in my chest. I felt like I might either float off the ground, buoyed by the moment's surreality, or be crushed into pieces by its immense weight. Finally, I blurted: "Can I show you something?"
I started quickly walking back toward the words.
"Shira!" A pained expression crossed his perfect face when I looked back at him, and he pushed back his hair, which was, if possible, even 'more' golden after a month of constant sun. "We have to go somewhere?"
"Not far! It's super close."
He glanced back at his friends—who, thank god, didn't include Noah today. Even so, a few watched us, grinning widely. "Have fun, Nelson!" one of them called, and Tyler—hand low, where he probably thought I couldn't see—flipped him off.
Then he turned back to me. "As long as it's quick."
I nodded several times, heart pounding. This was happening. I had taken my fate into my hands; I had made the decision to bare it all. I felt powerful and horrible.
I scurried onward, several feet in front of Tyler, down the beach and past Olivia. She gave me a salute and walked off to give us privacy. I thought I heard Tyler sigh. But it could have been the wind.
We reached the words made of stones and seashells.
I turned around. This was it. I'd been waiting for this moment for years. I'd dreamed up ten thousand different ways it could go, this moment that launched the rest of my life. Tyler and I would become a couple. The moment settled into me, and I knew it would be a perfect, golden memory: the smell of the sea, the caw of seagulls and crashing of waves, the sun on my skin. My mouth split into a huge grin.
But instead of looking at me with a matching blooming smile, he stared at the words with something akin to horror. Then he managed a queasy smile. "Aw, Shir, no."
My stomach swooped. I tried to say something, but nothing came out. How could he say no? I felt 'so strongly' for him. It was impossible that such a strong feeling could only go one way.
He scratched his neck, tried for another smile, and started walking away.
This couldn't be it. I could save this—save me, him, us. My hands curled, and I shouted words at him, magic words, a spell to start our future. "I love you!"
He froze. Then he looked at me and laughed.
I'd heard his laugh a hundred times. It was so dear to me, the first thing I'd ever noticed about him. This time it cut through my core like he'd carved me up with jagged glass. "You don't love me."
"I do. I love you—I love you more than Juliet loved Romeo."
"Jesus Christ, I hope not. Look, you don't even know me."
"I do too!" I said, shrill and terrified.
"You're a little kid." He was too far away for me to make out the blue of his eyes, but I didn't need to be closer to hear his irritation. "What do you want, for us to hold hands and kiss on the cheek? Come on, Shir. Be real."
"I—no. I want to do—whatever you want to do!"
He laughed again. "I doubt it. Which you'll figure out soon, so I'm gonna put a cap on this."
And this time, he really did walk away.
He just . . . walked away.
I sank into a crouch on the sand, shocked. What had happened? We were supposed to be together. We were supposed to be perfect. I was fourteen and he was sixteen, and we were supposed to be in love.
Humiliated, I avoided Tyler for the rest of the summer. I tried not to notice all the other girls he flirted with and kissed. A hot, tight feeling squeezed me whenever I saw him. He, on the other hand, seemed unfazed. And like he wanted every girl but me.
By the next summer, I'd patched over my hurt with pride and used it to keep my chin up. We only interacted once, near the end, at a chaotic party thrown by Olivia's older sister. I ducked into a guest room to try to find a moment of peace. Instead—
"Oh my god."
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin he book YOUR NEW PLAYLIST by Jon Acuff.