The opening chapter of Summer’s End, Regan Ston Series book one, paints a picture of a road she and Lane travel that might look something like this photo. Check out chapter one.
Rule Number One: No gossiping.
Gossipers are lowly creatures that dish out half-truths and lies, trying to make themselves feel better about who they are.
Rule Number Two: No back-stabbing.
Back-stabbing could be construed as gossip, but we see it as one of the highest forms of betrayal.
Rule Number Three: No dating within the group.
This prevents hard feelings and broken hearts that just aren’t necessary.
It’s July, the hottest month of the year, the best time to indulge with my friends in the cool water of the quarry swimming hole, and we do so on a regular basis. I don’t have too many friends, on purpose. There are five of us that hang out together, but two are the closest friends I have—Lane Cary and Tobi Bridlow. I’m closer to Lane than anyone. His family and mine have spent every Sunday afternoon together after church for years.
Tobi and I have known each other since kindergarten and have been good friends since junior high. She likes science and her mind is constantly working, like mine. She’s much more impulsive than I am, though, and knows how to make me laugh.
In a little over an hour, the five of us are going for a morning swim at the cliffs. I’m picking up my room when the phone rings. By the third ring, I realize Mom isn’t going to answer.
“Hey, Cameron got his chores done early.” It’s Tobi. “We’re on our way.”
“Great, see you then.” I hang up, head to the kitchen, and slap together some PB and J sandwiches.
This group of five came about my freshman year when expectations came at us like a tsunami. School, parents, peers—they all have their demands. Lane and I were already best friends. He kind of took me under his wing. The five of us had the same expectations at home; good grades, good behavior, and no mistakes. We made a good fit. Peers, on the other hand, had a totally different set of expectations. There’s not much to do in a small town. We have to make our own fun. If you wanted to be popular or fit in, there were two major requirements: drinking and sex. Somehow Lane managed to fit in everywhere without having to give in. He’s laid back, a great baseball player, funny, good looking—all the ingredients to make it happen for him.
The five of us being friends isn’t without difficulty. There are three females with hormones and menstrual cycles and two boys with erratic intervals of surging testosterone. Sometimes we girls get grouchy when our uterus sheds it’s lining every month. They guys fly off the handle every once in a while. As embarrassed as I am to admit it, there’s also some beneath the surface flirting between the sexes. Which is why we have a few rules. The five of us together make a fun, parentally acceptable number of friends.
Mom comes in from the garden with her basket full of veggies. “Lane just pulled in.”
“’Good.” I put the sandwiches in the cooler without looking up.
“Regan,” Mom starts in her warning tone as she washes the tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden. “I know you’re a good swimmer, but you still need to be careful. And keep the others in line too.” She’s referring mostly to Tobi, who can sometimes be a little crazy.
I nod in agreement. Lane does his usual knock-knock and walks in. “Good morning!” He has an irresistible smile.
“It’s good to see you, Lane.” Mom adores him. “You look out for my little girl today.”
“Oh, yes ma’am.” Lane addresses adults with “ma’am” and “sir.” Parents love that stuff. He stands near the table with his hands behind his back, grasping his cap he removed when he walked in the door. I like the way his hair curls up where his cap rests in his hair.
“Let’s go. Bye, Mom.” I hand Lane the cooler on my way out.
We throw the floats in the back of my dad’s ATV and put my bag and cooler on top so they don’t fly away. Lane gets in, wearing his turquoise swim trunks, a ratty white T-shirt, sunglasses, and his ball cap with a country-boy rolled bill. I start the ATV and look over at him.
“What?” His sandy hair has grown out over the summer. It’s not fair guys can throw on ratty shirts and have messy hair and look so good. Of course, having such a bright smile with those dimples doesn’t hurt. There’s something about him, I’m not sure what it is yet, that’s changed since he graduated. I snort and shake my head as I back out of the shed and take off.
It’s only about a mile from my house to the cliffs. The ATV motor is too loud for carrying on a conversation, but we don’t mind. We take in nature around us. Rogue weeds and indigenous bluestem and cord grass line both sides of the ditches. Sprinkled within are yellow-and-black wild black-eyed Susans and delicate white Queen Anne’s lace. One spot on our way is brilliant with patches of orange lilies growing where once must have been a homestead. The only fragrances, though, are humidity and dirt.
There are three hundred acres of open holes, pits, and deep craters in the rock quarry. The expanse of these holes, filled by springs and rainwater, are equivalent to large ponds. They’re nestled between two decent-sized hills, for such a flat plain of geography. This piece of property was once a bustling and quite literally explosive rock quarry. Remnants of the 1930s oil boom are found sprinkled throughout. A few pump jacks, moving at a slow and steady pace, are still drawing black gold from the earth.
Now, it’s a ghost-town, home only to dust devils and frequented by visitors who fish and swim these holes of water. It’s also a hot spot for spontaneous summer night parties with teenagers and young adults concede to gratifying their senses. I usually stay away from the crowds.
Up ahead, in the quarry, a trail of dust flies in the air from the other entrance. Cameron. We come up the small hill and look down to see if anyone is at that pond. It’s clear. I look farther, relieved there are no cars at the cliffs. On the other side is a lower plateau, about a foot above the water. Between the water and the rock road, among the saplings and tall weeds, is a hidden spot where I like to park. A spot so that no one can tell when I’m there. Gossiping is a sport in this town. Those who play don’t seem to have anything better to do than to know everybody’s business. And if you get on their bad side, they won’t quit until they get their way. Those sharp-toothed weasels didn’t hesitate to destroy my cousin’s reputation. Their lies crushed her, and there’s no way I’m going to let them do the same thing to me. For this reason, for my privacy, I try to stay out of sight and out of mind.
The dust cloud is getting closer, so I hurry to the dirt path leading to the pond. Cameron pulls in right behind us, accelerating as he passes, drowning us in dust. I stop and simultaneously pull the neckline of my shirt up to cover my eyes, nose, and mouth and wait for the dust to settle. He skids to a stop and jumps out of the truck hee-hawing like he did something really funny.
“Regan?” Lane reaches over to put his hand on my shoulder. It feels cool against the heat burning under the surface of my skin. My fingernails dig into my palms through the fabric of my T-shirt. “He’s just playing around.”
“We came to swim; let’s go swim.” He tries to calm me with a soothing voice.
When I pull my face up out of my shirt, the smell of dust is overwhelming. Lane is covered from head to toe, the ATV is covered, and so, presumably, am I.
“Let’s,” escapes through my clenched teeth. Without another word, I ease forward into the hidden parking spot.
Tobi walks over with a somewhat apologetic smile on her face. She mouths, “Sorry,” and I shrug in an attempt to shake off Cameron’s insolence. Lane takes the floats to the edge of the water.
Haylee saunters over tossing a football in her hands. She looks up at me with her big brown doe eyes. “It’s only dust, Regan. It’s nothing the water won’t wash off. Come on, let’s get in.”
“Where have you two been?” Cameron says accusingly. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you did a little mud-wrestling last night and fell asleep before you washed off.” He’s already stripped to his shorts—standing at the water’s edge. His arms open as wide as his mischievous grin and taunting eyes.
Haylee intercedes with, “Catch, Cameron!”—throwing him the football.
Lane tears off his T-shirt, cap, and sunglasses tossing them on the tailgate of Cameron’s truck. “Throw it!” he calls, running toward the water. Cameron steps back and launches it. Lane catches the football in mid-air and plunges into the water inverted on his shoulder blades a good fifteen feet from the bank.
I stealthily run barefoot behind Cameron, lunge at him, and lock my arms around his torso, forcing him into the water. The look on his face when he comes up to meet me is priceless. A bit of payback at least. Haylee and Tobi join us for a splash-fest. We settle down to catch our breath, lying on our floats between the low bank and the cliffs in a circle joined by hands and feet.
Lying there in the stillness of the water and the warmth of the sun, all tension melts away. Our minds wander freely. Haylee and Cameron babble about a movie. Tobi adds her two cents. Lane chimes in occasionally, keeping eyes on me, as if he’s sharing a secret with me. Tiny beads of moisture are scattered across his skin, sparkling in the sunlight. Though it’s nearly ninety degrees already, I shiver.
“That pump jack resembles a mechanical bull, maybe a buckin’ bronc,” Tobi ponders aloud to me. There are two oil pump jacks in sight from where we’re floating on opposite sides of the pond.
“Agreed. I’ve thought about climbing up and riding one a few times,” I quietly admit.
Lane adjusts his feet on my raft, keeping us connected. The movement draws my eyes back to him. He’s still in good shape from his spring baseball workouts. He’s not bulky, he’s … perfect. When I graduate college, and get some experience in marine science, I’ll finally be ready to find a guy like Lane. Someone I can share everything with, and I do mean everything.
My eyes scroll up to Lane’s face and I see his crooked grin. He’s trying to hide it. I flush with total embarrassment. He can’t hear my thoughts, chill.
“Hey.” Tobi pulls my hair. Her head’s close to mine.
“Yeah?” My voice is scratchy and I try to swallow the lump in my throat as I furiously blink away the trance I was in.
“I was talking to you.”
“Sorry. What did you say?” I chance a glance at Lane and he’s biting his lip trying not to laugh out loud at me. I can’t be daydreaming about my future guy like that.
Tobi repeats her comments to me. “I ran into your cousin, Susanna, at Glamour Farms yesterday.”
“Sometimes it slips my mind, Regan, that you’re a style-challenged slob.”
“Hey!” I reach my hand back and splash water on her.
“You are,” she giggles. “Anyway, it’s my hidden gem with super cute clothes.”
“KA-BOOM!” Cameron booms and smacks his hands on the surface of the water nearby causing me to nearly fall off my raft. I can only assume he’s giving scene-by-scene descriptions of the latest action movie he’s seen. Lane and Haylee laugh as Cameron continues with his animation.
Tobi picks up where she left off. “She was with her mom. Susanna looks fantastic. You can’t even tell she was ever pregnant. You two look a lot alike.”
Tobi continues talking, but my mind tunes out as soon as the weight on my chest makes an appearance. Susanna had so much going for her. She had her life all planned out. A full ride to play volleyball at the University of Illinois. All it takes is one boy, one stupid boy, to screw up your whole freakin’ life.
“Abby is so cute toddling around.”
get angry every time I think about it. This stupid town made her out to be a lying slut.
“She said for you to call her some time. She’d like to see you.”
“Okay.” I lie there and desperately try not to show my feelings. Truthfully, I’m not sure what they are at this moment. I know it’s more than anger, but whatever they are, they’re causing tears to fill my eyes. I dump myself off the raft and under the water to hide any semblance of crying. The cool water knocks some sense into me and I climb back up on my raft on my belly. Avoiding any eye contact, I listen to Cameron prattle and trying to get my brain to think about something else.
A few more minutes of slothfulness and Tobi bolts up, straddling her raft and announcing, “To the Cliffs!” Energy replenished, it’s a free-for-all race to climb up the cliff. At some point in the cliff’s existence, a thick rope was secured around a tree. It appeared as an anonymous gift, allowing swimmers to scale the side of the cliff. Another ambitious benefactor dug steps into the earth, zigzagging up the face of the cliff not far from the rope. Of course, when a heavy rain comes, they have to be re-chiseled.
The race continues to the top. Haylee stays in the water. She’s appointed judge of the dives, jumps, belly flops, face plants, and races. The winner chooses who jumps first.
Cameron wins. The winner gets to choose who jumps first. “Regan, of course.” Cameron can be an arrogant jerk sometimes. Today it’s on full display.
“Shoving you in didn’t come close to making us even for the dusting you gave us,” I chide as I walk to the edge to gauge the depth of the cliff. It looks to be about thirty feet. My heart always speeds up when I consider jumping off. Every time.
It doesn’t take long for Tobi to grow tired of jumping. She decides to float on her raft alongside Haylee. Lane joins them after his beautiful swan dive. The three of them are tucked into the side of the wall out of sight of passersby. Cameron and I are at the top of the cliff. He wants me to get on his back so we can jump off together. I refuse. He proceeds to be pushy and pick me up. I finally get him to put me down.
“Come on, Regan. Loosen up,” he gripes. I purse my lips and give him the evil eye. He clamps his hand over mine and takes off running. I gasp and run with him so I don’t fall on my face and get dragged off the edge. I hear the rumble of a truck as we jump off in unison. Success! No body parts collide. He’s still a jerk.
We are resting again when Haylee asks Lane if he’s ready to head off to college.
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t really want to see this summer end,” he says, looking my way.
Tobi asks, “Are you going to get a teaching degree?” My heart drops.
“I guess. That’s what my dad thinks I should do.”
I hold my tongue, but my blood starts to simmer.
He asks Tobi, “Have you decided what you’re going to do?”
“I’ll probably stay on the farm.”
I grind my teeth and try so very hard to keep my mouth shut. This is more than a simmer, I’m boilin’ now.
Cameron confesses, “Yeah, me too.”
I can’t take it anymore! “Why are you all resigned to follow a path you don’t want to go down? It’s your life, your decision.”
Tobi reacts, “It’s easier for you, Regan. Your parents haven’t forced you to choose a different career.”
I draw in a slow breath and try to steady myself. “Tobi, if medical research is your passion you need to go for it. You’re such a computer geek, Cameron.” He looks away from me. “Your dad wants you to take over the farm, but you love computers. “Lane,” I openly plead. He won’t look at me either. “Conservation officer has been your passion for as long as I can remember.”
“My parents will not support any path that doesn’t keep me on the farm. And I do like the work.” Cameron sounds angry, but his face is tortured with a mix of emotions.
“But that isn’t what you love. When you’re working on your tech stuff and all of a sudden you look at the clock, and it’s two in the morning,” I pause hoping he grasps my support. “You know that’s what you should do. And it’s the same thing for you, Tobi. You want to make a difference in human lives—”
“Look, Regan,” Lane interrupts. “This is reality. There comes a time when we have to put childish ways behind us.”
“How can doing what you love be childish?” I ask him and everyone else.
“It’s not that easy,” Lane snaps. “Not everybody is as stubborn as you.”
Okay, that tipped the scales. Lane just launched a personal assault.
“Maybe we’re okay with the second choice.” His voice a bit softer now. They all respond in agreement.
“You shouldn’t settle. It’s still your choice. Don’t listen to the small-minded SOB’s in this town who tell you your dreams don’t matter. It’s your life. Are you really willing to give into second best, third choice, or even something you don’t want at all because you aren’t willing to stick up for what you want?”
Haylee the diplomat pipes up. “Regan, your parents support your dream. You will make it, but if some of us stay here, it’s okay.” She smiles softly, trying to ease the harshness of it all.
“As long as it’s your choice and not the gossips telling you you’ll never make because they didn’t.” They don’t say anything. “Tobi, you encourage me all the time not to give up, but you won’t take your own advice. Don’t give up on your future. Don’t let this black hole of a town absorb the light of who you are.”
Cameron’s eyes tighten and his volume goes up a notch. “Look, dreaming about what you want to be when you grow up is fine when you’re a little kid. Let’s face it, there’s no room for romantic ideas or fairy tales in the reality of becoming an adult.”
I jab back at him. “That’s B.S. and you know it. They didn’t do anything with their lives and now they don’t want you to succeed so they don’t feel so bad about themselves.
“Tobi and I both have family responsibilities we can’t run from. So, stop trying to force us to hang on to—”
My voice is higher and louder. “I’m not forcing you to do anything. I’m trying—”
“Dreaming and scheming is fun to talk about when we hang out, but when time is finished standing still, we have to step back into reality, Regan. I can’t afford to be a dreamer.” Cameron’s voice booms and finishes me off.
So that’s what he thinks about me. He’s joined the rank and file of all the other weasels and no lifers and now I’m a threat for not giving up I’m out of here. Paddling furiously back to shore, I ignore Tobi and Haylee’s calls to e. I climb up out of the water and throw everything into the ATV while I try to put my I’m fine mask on.
I do my best to suck up the hurt. “Look, I’m sorry, guys. I’m going to head out. Catch you later, okay?”
“You don’t have to go, Regan. Come on.” Tobi tries to plead with me.
Lane is nearly to shore. He threw me some verbal punches, too. He should stay. “Stay, Lane. I’m sure Cameron will give you a ride to your truck.”
“Yeah, it’s no problem, Lane.” Cameron sounds eager for Lane to stay. He didn’t ask me to stay. My stomach sinks and I wrap an arm around myself to keep upright. Not that I would.
Lane pulls himself out of the water, my chin trembles and I do a one-eighty away from him. “Thanks, man. I have some things to do and should get going, anyway. You playing basketball this week?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure what nights, though. I’ll text you.”
“Cool, later then. Miss Haylee, Miss Tobi.” Lane gives some kind of bow, removing the cap that he just put on. I usually find it hard not to at least smile when he does this, but my blood’s still boilin’ and I can’t stop thinking about Cameron’s assessment of me.
I snatch up the rest of my things and start the engine when Lane slides in. Conversation on the way home is impossible with the roar of the engine. I’m grateful for that. I don’t want to rehash the same conversation I left the cliffs over. The only problem is I’m still having it out in my mind. White knuckles protrude under my skin and make my fingers look deformed as I grip the steering wheel. My friends’ words hurt more than any of the poison Stacey spits on a regular basis. The reasons not to date seem to get bigger. My own self-imposed rule, thanks to Susanna, is that it’s not worth the risk. If I fall in love or give in to temptation and make a mistake I’ll fail God and my parents, or worse; I’ll never get out of this town—never follow my dreams. According to the vicious gossips of this town, spearheaded by the Faniger family, I’m a slut if because I’m Susanna’s cousin. Guilt by association. Not that I’ve come across any boys who would be worth spending time with, other than Lane. We have rules against that and he’s my best friend anyway. Or, he was. I’m not sure about anything right now after what just happened.
As soon as I cut the engine, Lane starts— “I don’t want to talk about it,” I blurt out, interrupting him as I step out to get my things out of the back. I hope that shuts him up or at least changes the subject. The key—I almost forgot it. With my things in tow, I move back to the front to pull the key out of the ignition. Lane comes up behind me as I straighten. There’s nowhere to move. “Lane.” I struggle to turn around and look at him. He turns his cap around and leans in, grasping the roll bars on each side of me. His eyes…. What the hell is he doing? Refusing to look away, I stare right back at him. He has such pretty skin, all tan in the summer. And his eyes are … none compare. Not even movie stars.
“What?” I hurl. The anger I’d felt has subsided to hurt, but whatever he’s doing is changing things. I’m a little lightheaded, so I lean against the bars and swallow trying to ease feeling.
“You are so stubborn,” he breathes in a low voice. His crystalline blue eyes slowly disappear behind his thick curly eyelashes. I have this strange urge to lean into him. He stands like this, eyes closed, hands gripping the bars on either side of me, head bent down as if he’s aligning his height to mine. It’s so warm in this shed, I’m a little breathless. This is becoming uncomfortable.
“Lane, are you okay? Are you feeling sick?” I ask, concerned there’s something wrong with him.
He sighs and slowly opens his eyes as he straightens up, looking over my head. “No. I’m fine.” His voice is cold. “I need to go.” And as quickly as that, he’s in his truck, cranking the engine. I walk toward him, but he acts like he doesn’t even see me and pulls out onto the road.
My body threatens to crumble to the earth as if gravity has turned into a black hole. I close my eyes and suck in a deep breath, stiffening my spine, and inflating my will. Lane’s upset. At me. For being a real friend. Whatever. I’m not going to lick my wounds, crawl to him, and ask forgiveness. I won’t apologize to my friends when I did nothing wrong. They’re giving up on their dreams and they’re mad at me for telling them not to. Cameron thinks I’m nothing but a dreamer. Lane thinks I’m childish and stubborn, and there’s something about him—I can’t put my finger on it. On top of that, I can’t stop thinking about Susanna. Argh! This day didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.
I make my way inside the house and drop everything by the door. Okay, Lane. You’re right. I’m stubborn. But only about things that matter.
If you like what you read, check out the rest on Amazon, Nook, iTunes, or Kobo. All the links are on the BOOKS page of my website here.
Swoon Reading …