I Wanna Text You Up (Page 30)
“Come on, let’s be all romantic and shit.”
“You can’t say things like ‘and shit’ and expect to still come off as romantic,” I chide as I cozy into the spot between his legs.
“It got you down here, didn’t it?”
“The promise of a warm blanket got me down here. Nice try though.”
Caleb wraps his arms around me as I settle into his embrace, his lips finding my neck in no time. He nuzzles against me and I sigh, resting back into him more.
The sun begins its ascension over the horizon, setting the purple haze of the clouds on fire with orange and yellow rays of light. The sight is beautiful, and I’m reminded how no sunrise is ever like the last, the colors always playing off one another differently.
I’ve sat on this very beach watching the sun come up so many times, but somehow, sitting here with Caleb for the first time, it feels different. The colors of the sky are a little brighter, the air crisper, the waves more bold and beautiful.
It feels new and fresh, just like how we feel, and it was worth waking up for, that’s for certain.
“This was a good idea,” I say aloud.
“Just think, you hated me not fifteen minutes ago.”
“Hate is a strong word. Let’s just say I wasn’t your biggest fan.”
“You’re okay, or at least you will be when you buy me breakfast.”
He nuzzles my neck again, the contact sending a chill through me. “Thank you for coming out here with me. I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s breathtaking.”
“Told you there was nothing like it. I’m glad you cajoled me out of bed to see it.”
“That’s fancy talk for coaxed.”
He laughs, his mouth vibrating against my skin. “I know what cajoled means, Zoe.”
“Hey, just checking. I know I don’t brain well when I haven’t had my coffee.”
“Are you saying you want to get breakfast now?”
I push off the ground in a rush and grab at the blanket he has wrapped around him. “I mean, if you’re offering…”
He takes the hint and stands, shaking the sand off the other blanket as best he can then folding it.
“Back to the house then?”
“Oh no. We’re going to That Pancake Joint. It’s only about half a mile up the road.”
“You sure you don’t want to go back and change first?”
I glance down at what I’m wearing. “Why? You embarrassed to be seen with me?”
“Not at all.”
“Uh huh. So what you’re saying is I’m looking buttass ugly right now and need to go change.”
“But you think I think I look that way?”
He shakes his head back and forth, eyes wide. “I’m so confused right now, and a little scared of saying anything.”
Laughing, I pat his shoulder as I walk by. “Shit, Caleb. I’m giving you shit. Come on, we don’t want to hit the breakfast rush.”
“Rosco! My man!”
I high-five the guy standing behind the counter at That Pancake Joint.
“Zoe! How the hell ya been?”
“Pretty good. Been busy as hell with school, but you know how that goes. You almost finished with your degree?”
He smiles broadly. “I graduate at the end of the summer.”
“When you bringing that pretty friend of yours back here? I miss her.”
“And I told you last time, you old snake, she’s taken now.”
“Watch it, kid. I’m not that old.” He nods toward Caleb. “Who’s the pretty boy? Your next victim?”
“She kidnapped me, sir. I was wandering the beach, just trying to find my way home, and she stole me away, demanding I buy her breakfast.”
Rosco grins. “Yeah, that sounds like her.”
“Rosco, this my new boyfriend Caleb. Be nice to him.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The guys shake hands. “Nice to meet you, and I’m really sorry you’re caught up with the likes of her.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.”
“Asses,” I mutter. “Can we get a table for two, please?”
“Like you have to ask,” Rosco says. “Go grab your table. I’ll be over in a minute.”
I lead Caleb over to my favorite spot, a booth in the back that faces the ocean.
“I take it you’ve been here a few times?” he asks as we slide into the bench seats.
“Every time I visit, multiple times. It’s my second favorite place here.”
“The first being the beach, right?”
“Is that how you met Rosco?”
“Nah.” I grab the sugar holder and pull out three packets before pushing it back to its spot. “I met him on the beach. He was out there selling these horrid t-shirts that said, I got crabs in Outer Banks. On the back, From your mom. I had to buy the guy a slice of pie after that.”
“Oh shit.” Caleb chokes back a laugh. “I don’t know if that’s ballsy or just really stupid.”
“A little of both, I think. Anyway, next time I came in, he was working here. I’ve stopped by to see him every time since.”
“That’s kind of awesome. And he’s in school?”
“Yep. Just finishing up his bachelor’s degree. He’s a really great guy, but don’t tell him I said that.”
“Too late. He heard ya.” Rosco slides up to the end of the table. “What’ll you two have? Your usual, Zoe?”
“Please? Get that for Caleb too. I know he’ll like it.”
“You got it.” He taps the table twice. “I’ll be back with your coffees.”
“What’d you order me?” Caleb asks when Rosco leaves.
“It better not be anything weird.”
“I never eat anything weird.”
“Not true,” he argues. “I once rinsed out a bowl that had three different kinds of cereal and orange juice in it.”
“Hey, don’t knock it till you try it.”
“Is she on about the orange juice and cereal again?” Rosco says, setting two cups of steaming hot coffee on the table.
“It’s not that weird,” I tell them.
Rosco makes a disgusted face at Caleb and points my way. “Please tell me you notice something’s wrong with her.”
“Asses!” I say loudly, nearly yelling.
Rosco walks away cackling, and Caleb dodges the sugar packet I throw his way.
“I think I might like it here,” Caleb comments.
“Because you have someone else to back you up and join in while you pick on me?”
“Pfft, obviously.” He takes a sip of his coffee. “That, and everyone seems so…jovial, so free.”
“You’ve met like one person other than my parents.”
“Hey, those people on the beach waved at seven in the morning.”
“That’s a fair point.”
“But really, it’s not bad so far. I’m not hating it, so that’s a plus.”
“You thought you’d hate it?” I ask, surprised.
“Not like hate it, more like I wasn’t sure. Outer Banks is a nice place. You always hear about people vacationing or retiring here. It’s the ‘it’ place, you know?” He folds his hands around his mug, staring down into the dark liquid. “I come from the opposite side of the tracks, like way far away from any of this. I’m always afraid people can tell I’m a huge fake.”
I peel open the sugar packets and dump all three into my coffee before adding a heavy dose of creamer, taking in what Caleb just said.
This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned coming from an unsavory neighborhood, so that part doesn’t surprise me.
What does is that he’s so down on himself for where he came from, like that’s his fault.
Does he not see how far he’s risen above it? How much better he’s made his life in just four years away from there? Sure, he’s still attached to it in some way, but that’s not him anymore. That place isn’t who he is. He got out. He’s making a better life for himself.
Can’t he see that?
“I don’t think you’re a fake, Caleb. Where you’re from? That’s not you. Your dreams, your goals, those aspirations you hold so dear to your heart? Those are you. The rest of it only defines you as much as you let it.”
He finally looks up from his coffee, meeting my eyes. “Is that how you see me? Full of dreams and goals?”
“I see you in so many different ways. I see those sad, unsure parts of you. I know there’s a string tethering you to your old life that you can’t seem to break, but I also see the dreamer, the boy next door. I see the third baseman, the nice guy, the amazing friend and supportive shoulder to lean on.” I pause and lick my lips, hoping what I want to say next doesn’t offend him. “Can I tell you something?”
“When I first met you, I had you pegged for the average meathead jock. Then you started dating Delia and I knew that couldn’t be true because that was so not her type. So, I just moved you into the nice guy category, and I won’t lie, you stayed firmly planted there for some time. Then when everything went down last year with the photo and you were right there on the battlefield with us, I started to see other sides of you.” I brush a stray hair out of my face and tuck it behind my ear, blowing out a breath. “That’s, uh, when you piqued my interest…popped up on my radar, so to speak. You were kind and fierce and loyal and so…there, you know? You dropped everything. You raced to the rescue, and not just because you felt you had to, because you wanted to. You stepped up and got dirty when you needed to. I really respected and admired that.”