the summer we believed (Denim days #1)
Melody and Duncan are best friends who spend every summer vacationing at their families’ lake houses in the Northwoods of Minnesota. Their plan for this summer is to have as much fun in the sun as they can before they head off for their first year of college at the U in the fall.
Everything changes when Duncan’s father announces he’s been promoted and the family will be moving to Florida. Secretly, both Mel and Duncan are harboring feelings for each other, but both are holding back. With only one week before the life-long friends are separated by two thousand miles, can the budding romance find a way to blossom?
The Summer We Believed is the first installment of Denim Days, a new adult friends-to-lovers series.
If I told you true love was like your favorite pair of jeans, would you believe me? Three summers spent with Duncan convinced me of that. This is the story of our denim days.
DAY ONE -- Melody
"Melody, did Duncan arrive yet?" Mom unpacked a two-week supply of Greek yogurt and stacked them next to three cans of Deep Woods Off on the ugly Formica countertop. Dad gave me a sideways glance to see how I'd answer.
I shrugged, pretending to have no idea, but in fact Duncan arrived seven minutes ago, helped his family unpack the car, and since then has sent me two text messages. After graduation, in a moment of utter weakness, I'd leaked to Mom how I felt about Duncan. I was pretty sure she'd shared that news with Dad based on his inquiring look. It'd become incredibly awkward having a guy as your best friend when everyone kept watching to see if it would blossom into something more.
"I saw them pull in about five minutes ago." Dad inventoried his baking items. He usually made from scratch brownies, a pie or two, and cinnamon rolls when we were up here. I may have inherited my auburn hair and coloring from Mom, but I inherited my sweet tooth and pudge from Dad.
Seven. I peeked at my phone. Now, eight.
"Why don't you go see if they could use your help? Dad and I can manage."
I put the last bag of Sun Chips into the pantry. "After I finish dusting everything. You know how it grosses me out." For some reason I wanted to delay seeing him. I wasn't sure how I acted around him anymore.
Dusting provided a legit excuse.
Duncan knew only too well dust gave me the heebie-jeebies, ever since Mom dragged me to a pedicure party where the hostess was pimping lotions and sugar scrubs. The company rep said that ninety percent of dust was from dried skin cells, and that by using their lotions we'd have cleaner homes. It might have scarred me permanently.
I grabbed the Pledge and a few old rags and quickly worked my way around the den, dining room, and Mom and Dad's room. In the doorway to my room, armed with the weapons of dust destruction, waves of nostalgia washed over me. The old chenille bedspread that had been Nana's. Her old pine bureau, still topped with a Hummel dish she used for bobby pins. How many mornings up here had I climbed under those covers to snuggle up to her lilac powdery scent? How was it possible that this room, this place, felt more like home than home did?
I was more than half-way done when Duncan knocked on the backdoor. "Can Melody come out to play?" he joked with Mom. It was the same thing he'd asked since we were four.
"Of course she can, but you'll probably have to wait until she's done fixating on dust. Why don't you see if you can convince her?"
I heard the creak of the rusty screen-door hinges, the clomp of Duncan's footsteps across the worn oak floors, and him saying, "I got those Mr. B." Then his reflection appeared in my bureau mirror holding my suitcase and duffle. Since graduation, he'd played with different facial hair—today he was sporting longer sideburns and a soul patch. Other than that, Duncan's looks hadn't changed much since we were kids. His features had grown more angular, but he still had denim blue eyes and a long nose over full lips. I stared at those lips, which grinned at me in the mirror. One butterfly appeared in my stomach.
"Are you ignoring me?" he asked.
"Only until the dust is gone," I said without turning around. I was afraid if I faced him the butterfly might have babies. I was afraid he would know it. He knew me better than anyone.
The family lore is that my mom met Duncan's mom in a Lamaze class. They delivered within a day of each other, shared a bottle of wine when Duncan was finally weaned from breastfeeding, and signed up for Mommy and Me classes at the Y. Basically, Duncan and I have been together since before birth, but we've been playing together for almost seventeen years.
He came to stand over my shoulder, a full head taller than me, to watch me dust the old pine dresser. The butterfly returned with a few companions. Duncan inched forward, close, and rested the bottom of his chin on the top of my head. Such a flirt! It meant nothing for Duncan. "Do you think it's possible for dead skin to morph into a zombie? Like if all the skin cells fused together?" he teased while making his monster face in the mirror.
I turned around and whacked him with my dust rag, aware of how close we were. "Don't get weird. I just don't want to breathe this in while I'm sleeping. Bet you wouldn't either."
"Okay, okay." He held his hands up in surrender. "When you're done sterilizing want to go for a quick ride on the Jet Ski before dinner? Dad's grilling tonight. I think your mom already said yes, so you're stuck with me."
Being stuck with Duncan was the story of my life. So far it'd been a good story, even if hadn't been a fairy tale.
"I'll meet you at the dock in ten minutes."
I'd much rather kayak or even take the Sunfish out for a sail, but Duncan liked the speed of the Jet Ski and I'd take him any way I could get him. Besides, it was almost dinnertime, so the ride would be short. Thank God. Most of the ten minutes was spent debating between my old one-piece and the new two-piece. I'd been dieting since the graduation parties, so I went with the new suit and headed out the kitchen door.
Our two lake houses shared one long gravel driveway. The dock, while officially on our property, was used primarily by the Wilde's. They owned the Jet Ski, two kayaks, and the Sunfish. Our houses were set back into a little cove, not really part of the main lake. Look to the right, and the water opened onto the biggest part of the lake. Directly across from the dock was a stand of pine trees that gave me the feeling of wilderness. The cottage to the left of ours had been vacant for years. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the scent of pine lingered in the air. This cove felt like our private paradise. A bare-chested Duncan was hunched over the Jet Ski, making paradise all that much better.
"Cute suit." He eyed my sporty two-piece with boy shorts. "Ready?"
I blushed, secretly thrilled that he noticed. "Not too fast," I said, meaning the ride, and looked into his dark blue eyes.
Duncan's dad hauled the gas grill out of the shed and into the yard. "You better get going, Duncan, if you want to get a ride in before dinner."
Duncan's jaw pulsed as he gritted his teeth. What now? His relationship with his father was fragile at best, but his fuming expression told me there was a new kink. He might not tell me now, but he would, eventually.
He untied the last knot, straddled the Jet Ski, and said, "Hop on." I slipped my arms loosely around his waist and whoa! The feel of his bare skin. My chest to his back. My breath was caught in my chest. The butterflies from earlier decided to have a family reunion. I couldn't think straight. Maybe the Jet Ski wasn't such a bad idea.
At first, Duncan drove at a normal speed—one that I could stand—but when we rounded the point and got out of his Dad's sight, he told me hold on and took off.
"Slow down!" I yelled, unsure if he heard me or if the wind carried my words away from us. I clasped him tighter and peeked over his shoulder once or twice to keep an eye on where we were headed.
He raced alongside a bright yellow boat and waved his right arm in a circle. The old guy captaining it gave us a thumbs up. Duncan circled the ski around and headed straight for his huge wake.
We flew into the air. I laid my cheek against his back and braced for impact.
He did it three more times. Thud, thud, thud. Each time my heart leapt into my throat.
Finally—thank God—Duncan had his fill of scaring me to death and we putt-putted back to camp. Once I was on solid ground, I smacked him on the chest. "You jerk! You know I don't like to go fast." Tears welled in my eyes, and I looked at my shaky feet, feeling stupid for being afraid.
"Mel . . . I'm sorry." His blue eyes pulled me in and then his albatross arms pulled me into a warm, damp embrace until I stopped shaking. You're forgiven. "It's just . . . my dad . . . he's such an asshole," he whispered into my hair.
I was right. Something was up with the most combative father-son duo ever.
"We fought on the way here, and . . . there's something we need to talk about."
I leaned back without completely letting go and stared into those perfect, perfect eyes. "You and your dad?"
Duncan shook his head. "No. Me and you."
"Okay. So let's talk."
"Duncan! Melody!" His mom shouted. "Dinner. Two minutes."
Duncan rolled his eyes at me. "After dinner, okay?"
"I mean it. Right after dinner."
His look. Those eyes.
Duncan truly has the most incredible eyes. Not only is the color take-your-breath-away beautiful, but he has these thick upper and lower lashes like that freaky Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I'd always loved his eyes, and told him endlessly how I wished they were mine, but in the here and now, it had become difficult to hold his gaze. I think I stopped looking into them at prom.
I'd always avoided dances, but Duncan had gone to his first one in Kindergarten. Okay, so that's an exaggeration, but girls always asked him and he always went. This past year, he just wouldn't let me not go to prom. "It's your Senior year. It's a rite of passage." Blah, blah, blah.
"I don't have a date."
"Jackson is in love with you. He'd take you in a minute."
Duncan wasn't an option. The beautiful Carina McQueen had claimed him as her date in October. So, I buckled under his relentless pressure.
All night it felt like my heart was being squeezed in a vise. When she held his hand, or laughed at something he said, I literally felt the pain in my chest. The slow dances were a killer. Carina might have been feeling the same way. Duncan danced with practically every girl there. Heck, he'd practically dated every girl there.
"Is something wrong?" Duncan asked me when it was my turn near the end of the night.
I can't stand seeing you with her. Or anyone else. "Isn't this whole thing lame? We should've just binge-watched Breaking Bad."
"Yeah," he agreed with me, because that's what your best friend is supposed to do.
But I knew he loved prom. The prince of our Senior class. The time spent with Carina. Because best friends know how you feel, even when it hurts them.
Things fizzled with Carina pretty quickly after graduation. Duncan wasn't exactly heart broken. "She was boring," he told me.
"No kidding. I could've told you that in October when you agreed to go with her."
I'd been torn about wanting more than friendship with Duncan for a long, long time. But I knew he was a hit-and-run kind of guy. He would get infatuated, and then it'd be over. Carina, an exception, had lasted longer than most. The truth was, I wasn't even sure I was Duncan's type, which was thinner and more attractive than I was. If that wasn't enough to confuse me, he was my best friend. I relied on him for . . . well, everything.
Since the split from Carina, I'd spent a lot of days wondering if I should say anything. What if telling him how I felt ended our friendship? But, what if we could be something more? I still hadn't figured out the right answer.
All the way back to the house I wondered what was up. He'd said, we need to talk. What if he was feeling it too? In my room, I threw a cover-up over my swimsuit and almost ran over my mom while heading out the door.
"Wouldn't you be more comfortable in that cute sun dress?"
"Well don't go to dinner in your wet suit." The look on her face told me she meant business. "Once the sun goes down you're going to catch a chill."
She was right about that. I glanced out the front window and the sun was just above the tree line. "Okay, I'll be right back."
In my room, I gave the sundress the once over. It was cute, but would make me look like I was trying too hard. I pulled out my week-old Levi's, still stiff and not quite as faded as I'd like, but there was only one way to get truly, melded-to-your-form-comfortable in them—wear them. I stepped into my new jet blue denim. Should I tell Duncan how I'm feeling? If we're having a heart to heart? I pulled on my favorite white tee and grabbed my wubbie, a favorite well-worn sweater, so faded the red had grown pink.
"Better?" I asked as I headed out the door.
The picnic table was partially set with a stack of paper plates and a wire silverware holder that held plastic instead of metal spoons, forks and knives, so Duncan and I helped his mom bring out all the food that would support the main attraction—Mr. Morrison's burgers. We moved buns and ketchup and pickles and mustard and potato salad while Duncan's mom handed my Dad a bottle of red wine and a stack of red, plastic cups. Maybe I should wait and see what Duncan wants to talk about first. I struggled to stay focused on what I was doing
"No beer tonight?" Dad asked as he worked the corkscrew into the bottle wedged against his bulging belly.
"Oh you can have beer later, but Alex wanted to have a toast first," Duncan's mom said as Dad poured four glasses. "Pour two more," she added.
"But they're not twenty-one yet."
Duncan's mom put her hands on her hips. "Are you telling me you didn't drink alcohol at eighteen?"
Mom laughed. "Not in front of my parents."
"Well, I'd rather have them drink in front of me than behind my back."
"What about Cody?" Dad asked.
Cody was Duncan's younger brother who would be starting high school next year. He looked like a miniature version of Duncan, a good six inches shorter, but other than that, exactly like I remember Duncan looking four years ago.
Mrs. Morrison shrugged and held her fingers a half an inch apart.
"All right!" Cody said.
My mom made a disapproving face and Mrs. Morrison shrugged again. "What?" she said to my mom. "It's a special occasion."
I glanced at Duncan to see what was going on, but he wouldn't meet my eyes as he took a half-filled cup from my dad, stared at its contents, and then took a sip.
Mr. Morrison set a platter of burgers on the table, Dad handed me my wine, and we all took our places at the table, the parents at one end, Duncan, Cody and I at the other. Mr. Morrison raised his glass and we all followed his lead. Cody raised his cup so high he was practically standing. "You all have been our closest friends for eighteen years and that's why we wanted you to be the first to know."
The first to know what? Oh my, God, were they having another baby? Is that what the big talk was going to be about?
"Alex's been promoted," Duncan's mom blurts. "To Executive Veep of Operations."
Thank you, Lord. That's much better news.
"That's wonderful. Congratulations, Alex," Mom said, then sipped her wine.
"Thanks, it's a big step up and one I've wanted for years, but that's not all the news. They're moving me to the corporate office. It couldn't come at a better time with Cody starting high school and Duncan starting college."
Mom's face screwed up like she was about to cry. She took a big gulp of her wine. "I can't believe you didn't say anything," she whispered to Duncan's mom.
As Duncan's mom mouthed, "I'm sorry," Dad asked, "Isn't the corporate office in Florida?"
Florida—that's so far away. This must be what Duncan wants to talk about. Cody chugged his half-inch of wine and Duncan's jaw clenched, his eyes locked on his empty plate. This was horrible news for my mom. She was losing her best friend. Plus, it sucked big time for Cody. Starting at a new high school where he wouldn't know one soul. He and Duncan were so close, and with Duncan at the U they would hardly ever see each other.
"Palm Beach. They've given us use of a corporate condo until we can find our dream house."
The sun had sunk below the line of their roof and the breeze off the lake kicked up. I was happy I'd brought my wubbie and slipped it on.
"When are you moving?" Mom whispered, then seemed to remember her manners. "I'll help you pack. It's such a big job."
"We're using the second half of our vacation."
Oh, no. They were leaving early. This is what he wanted to talk about. "Can't Duncan stay with us?" I asked. "I mean, we'll be heading to the U in September." The lake house had a spare room that we never used. I'd dust it for him. And we had a guest room at home that rarely got used.
Duncan looked over at me, his eyes completely empty. His thick lashes almost made him look like he had sad, dark circles from a lack of sleep.
"Duncan's going to have to come with us," his mom said. "FAU starts a week after we get there."
Duncan's face turned red and his mom said, "Only for a semester or two until he can get into one of the bigger Florida colleges."
What she was saying did not compute. It sounded like Duncan wouldn't be going to the U with me, but I knew that couldn't be. We'd planned this since elementary. He'd even joked about trying out to be mascot, so that he could dress up as a gopher for all the football games. His bedspread was maroon and gold. He owned seven Gopher T-shirts. He would never go along with that. Would he? "Duncan?"
"We need to talk, Mel."
My throat clamped shut and my world tilted. And I hadn't even taken a sip of the red wine. Get out of here before you lose it. I banged my ankle on the bench trying to free myself from the picnic table and ran for our back door.
"Melody!" my mom yelled.
"Leave her," my dad said.
This was the talk. I can't talk to him. I heard my dad say, "Not right now, Duncan." Is he following me? A part of me hoped so, and the other part didn't.
The door banged shut behind me and the inside of the lake house had already darkened. I didn't bother turning on any lights, but headed straight for my room and slowly curled up on the bed like my body was horribly bruised. In a way, it was. But my heart was the only part of me that had been pummeled. The ache in my chest swelled and I pulled my pillow to my stomach and let the first sob escape. Hot tears came fast.
How could I live without my best friend? Would I ever have the chance totell him how I felt?