CHAPTER ONE



ABBY FIXED THE COLLAR of her button-up blouse. She was running late for dinner at the country club with her parents and Ben. She hated that restaurant. It was always so busy and crowded.

“I owe you a chocolate bar,” Clarissa, her best friend, said. She came into the living room wearing a sexy, strapless black dress and five inch heels.

“Where are you going?” Abby asked, glancing her over.

“On a date,” Clarissa sang as she sprayed perfume all over her neck.

“With Mark?”

“No, Samuel.”

Abby shook her head. She couldn’t keep up with Clarissa’s dating life. “What happened to Mark?”

“He was boring.”

“Uh huh.” Abby looked at Clarissa in the mirror. “Why do you owe me a chocolate bar again?”

“Because I bet you that Ben was gay and now that he’s kissed you—”

“It was barely a peck on the lips.” Abby’s cheeks flushed.

“Did you enjoy it?” Clarissa leaned over her shoulder to apply yet another coat of mascara.

“I didn’t dislike it I guess.”

Clarissa stopped coating her eye lashes for a moment. “It’s been over a year of dating and he’s never asked you to have sex?”

“He’s busy, always working.”

“No guy is too busy for that.”

“I may have told him I want to wait until marriage,” Abby put on her shoes, turning away from Clarissa.

“Are you serious?”

Abby shrugged.

“But is it true? Will you try once you’re married?”

Abby walked around, searching for her keys and purse to leave.
“You know I can’t.”

“Abby…” Clarissa followed her. “You can’t avoid this forever.”

“Yes I can.”

“Soon you won’t be in your twenties anymore.”

“So?”

“So you can’t act like you’re still a teenager.”

Abby found her keys finally and went to the door. “Let’s not talk about this anymore.”

Clarissa gave her a sympathetic look. “I think with the right guy it will work. I really do. You don’t know unless—”

“Of course you think that,” Abby said under her breath, “it’s easy for you.” She opened the door but Clarissa stopped her, grabbing the door before it opened all the way.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said.

“Nothing,” Abby took a deep breath in. “Sorry. That’s not what I meant.”

“I just don’t want to see you sell yourself short. You’re just scared and you’ve waited way too long. I know this great gynaecologist—”

“No,” Abby shook her head. “No more doctors.”

“Your doctor is terrible, he’s not a gynaecologist. He’s just a creep.”

“It’s not him. It’s me. I’m defective.”

“You’re not. There’s nothing wrong with you. The doctor even said so.”

“I have to go.” Abby stepped out of the apartment, waving bye.

“Tell Ben!” Clarissa called after her. “If he loves you he’ll stick around to figure this out.”


CHAPTER TWO



ABBY RUSHED OVER to the table where Ben and her mother were having a lively conversation. Her dad was simply listening, nodding when necessary. Ben stopped talking when he saw her approach and smiled.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said, sitting down beside him. He was wearing his best suit, the one he only wore when dealing with important buyers. Her mother was also dressed nicely in her favourite peach dress suit with pin stripes.

“Hi daddy.” Abby scooted her chair closer to her father. The restaurant was even more busy than usual. The clatter of utensils and conversations floated around, making Abby claustrophobic. She focused her attention on her father. He had grey hair now but still looked young and healthy. She could tell something was up with this dinner, and she’d get it out of him. “So what’s going on?” she whispered.

He leaned back in his chair and patted her on the shoulder.

“Sit up straight Abby,” her mother said, tilting her head up as though demonstrating how it should be done. “Why are you late? And why are you wearing that?”

“No one mentioned this was a formal dinner,” Abby said, scooting back in her chair and arching her back more. She’d worn a simple white blouse with a little lace detail near the collar and a black skirt. “I went to the Pow Wow this afternoon and it was really hot outside, so I had to take a shower first before coming to dinner.”

“I don’t know why you go to those Pow Wows,” Ben said, taking a sip of his wine.
“What’s wrong with the Pow Wows?”

Ben avoided her gaze, glancing over at another table where a couple was seated.

“The dances are beautiful—” Abby started to say.

“Ben has a good point dear.” Her mom pointed a finger at Abby. “You shouldn’t be going out to those types of events alone.”

“What do you mean, those types of events?” Abby glared at her mother. Her dad placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. She leaned back. There was no point in arguing with her mother.

“Excuse me.” A waiter bowed down to talk with Abby, speaking softly. “I’m sorry but I’ll need to see some I.D.”

“Oh for goodness sake,” Abby’s mother said, setting her napkin down with some force onto the table. “We’ve been coming to this place for years.”

“Mom, it’s fine, seriously.” Abby dug through her purse. “They have to I.D. everyone.” Except for you.

Abby bit back a smile and handed her card to the waiter. He was obviously new here and hadn’t met her mother yet.

He glanced at the I.D. quickly, then raised his eyebrows. He looked like he was about to say something, but then seemed to change his mind and handed the card back.

“Sorry for the misunderstanding.” He nodded then walked away.

“If you’d just eat once in a while maybe you’d grow a little and not look so…” Her mother waved a hand in the air, apparently at a loss for words.

“It doesn’t matter how much I eat, I won’t get any taller mom.”

“I think Abby looks great,” Ben chimed in.

“Thanks Ben,” Abby said, sitting up taller in her seat. It was true that she was only five foot tall and weighed a mere 98 pounds, but that wasn’t her fault. In fact it wasn’t her parents’ either because they were both tall and big boned. She’d always suspected she was adopted, which would explain a lot.

“Well, I suppose the youthful look does run in the family,” her mother said, smoothing back her greying hair. Abby kept her comments to herself.

“Yes,” Ben smiled. “You both look wonderful.”
He seemed in an awfully chipper mood. Maybe it was the wine.

“How’s the job hunting going?” Abby’s dad asked.

“Fine.” Abby took a large bite of the salad in front of her, so she wouldn’t have to talk. There were buns and small bowls of salad on the table. Her mom probably already ordered for her.

“Your mother’s new office in the city needs a receptionist,” Abby’s dad said, resting his elbows onto the table and giving her his serious, businessman look.

“I don’t want to live in the city,” Abby said quietly. “There’s too many people and traffic.”

“You don’t want to live in the city?” Abby’s mom chimed in, pursing her lips. “Or you don’t want to work?”

Abby’s stomach clenched. This was why she never ate. Her mother made her lose her appetite every time she was around. “I do want to work,” Abby said.
“Just not with customers and people.” Her mother looked skyward but said nothing. She refused to believe that Abby had social anxiety, as though it would be some sort of embarrassment to the family.

Ben laughed, lightening the mood. “Abby won’t need to work,” he said. All heads turned to him. “My parents are giving me their shares in the business, instead of selling them.”

“Oh that’s marvelous!” Abby’s mom leaned across the table to hug Ben. “This will work out nicely… for all of us.”

“Am I missing something here?” Abby asked. She turned to her dad who looked deep in thought. Then she looked at Ben, who had a big smile on his face. He already had shares in her dad’s business. If he got his parents’ shares that would mean he’d become the majority shareholder.

“Can you even be majority shareholder?” Abby asked him.

Ben leaned back in his chair. “I can, if I get Canadian citizenship.”

Abby was about to ask how he was planning to do that, when he cleared his throat loudly.

“As you know,” he began, sitting up in his chair, “Abby and I have been dating for over a year now and…” He reached into his suit jacket pocket and pulled out a small box.

Abby’s mom gasped dramatically, drawing the attention of diners from the other tables. Ben opened the tiny box to reveal a shiny diamond ring.

“Wait…” Abby pushed her chair back, moving away from Ben. “I… we need to talk.” Everyone in the restaurant was looking at them now. Ben reached for her hand and she pulled it away.

“No, I…” She got up from her chair. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”

Then she ran out of the restaurant.


CHAPTER THREE




BEN FOLLOWED ABBY DOWN the hall to her apartment door. “Is there some kind of rule book on how to propose?” he yelled.

“Yes, there probably is,” Abby yelled back. “Did you even look?” She threw her apartment door open, flooding the living room with light. Clarissa and her latest boyfriend were on the couch, frozen like two deer caught in the headlights, his hand up her shirt and her hair tousled.

Abby groaned, tossing her keys and purse onto the side table near the entrance.
“Just go home, Ben,” she said, no longer shouting.

“I don’t understand,” Ben followed her into the apartment, ignoring the other two on the couch. They got up silently and snuck away to Clarissa’s bedroom. “I took you to a fancy restaurant, bought you and your parents a nice dinner—”

“Exactly, you brought my parents there.” Abby’s voice rose again. “You were proposing in front of my parents!”

“That’s what people do, they make an announcement about an engagement in front of the parents,” Ben yelled back.

“After they propose to the girl first and get a yes, not before!” Abby felt a headache coming on.

“I thought you were close to your parents and would want them included in the moment.”

“I’m obviously not as close to them as you are.”

“Is there something wrong with liking your parents? Isn’t that what every girl wants?”

Abby could only shake her head. Ben had no idea what she wanted. He didn’t know her at all. Part of that was her fault. She’d always held back, never spending too much time with him in case he’d try and get more intimate. Not that he ever tried. He was always working.

“Okay.” Ben reached into his suit pocket and pulled out the ring box. “Your parents aren’t here right now so…” He opened the box.

“Ben, don’t,” Abby said, stopping him before he got down on one knee.

“I thought this was what you wanted,” he said, his shoulders slumping.

“It is but…” Abby stopped, not sure how to bring up the real reason she couldn’t say yes.

“But what?”

“It’s just…” She went to the couch and sat down before continuing. Ben hesitated near the door a moment, then joined her.

Folding her hands neatly on her lap she continued. “I don’t know if I can have sex.”

Ben’s brows furrowed. “Why not?”

Abby shrugged, looking away. She wasn’t going to get into details with Ben about how she’d never been able to use a tampon or even get a physical done at the doctor’s office, although she’d tried many times. Her doctor wanted to put her on antidepressants to help calm her overactive nerves so that he’d have more success doing the physical exam. She never went back to see him again.

“I don’t understand,” Ben said, running his hands through what little hair he had left.

“I just don’t know if I can,” Abby looked away from him. “I thought you should know.”

“Is it a medical condition or something?”

“I don’t think so. The doctor says I’m fine but he hasn’t given me any solutions.” Abby played with her fingers. Why was it so hard to talk about this with Ben? They’d been dating a year already. “I think maybe it’s more psychological. I mean I’ve tried but—”

“You’ve tried to have sex?” Ben asked.

“No, not that.”

“Then how do you know you can’t?”

It was the same thing that Clarissa always said. Anger rose up suddenly inside of her. I don’t want to try and you can’t make me! She blinked, surprised at the resentment she felt.

“Listen, it doesn’t matter,” she said to Ben. “I just wanted you to know that if we got married… I can’t guarantee anything. I thought you should know before you decided to ask me to marry you.” Abby cringed at her words. It sounded so stupid. But Ben had to know.

If she didn’t have this ‘problem’ she would have seriously considered marrying him. Then she could finally move on to the next stage of her life. Everyone from high school and University were now married, except for her. She was years behind everyone her age and it wasn’t because she looked young, it was because she was scared. But she didn’t want to still be dating into her thirties or end up an old maid.

“So you’re one hundred percent sure that it will never happen between us?” Ben asked.

“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but at this point I’d say I’m quite sure.”

Ben stood up. “I should get back to work,” he said.

“It’s after nine.”

“You know how it is. There’s a meeting with the shareholders tomorrow and I have to be ready.”

“Okay.” Abby got up too. A lump was forming in her throat, making it hard to speak. “Should we talk about this tomorrow, or…?”

“I’ve got a lot on my plate, with all the changes going on in the company.” Ben walked to the door and Abby followed him. “Actually I’m going away on business for a few weeks.”

“But what about my parents’ anniversary party, you said—”

“I’ll see you around Abby,” Ben opened the door and left, without looking back.

Abby clenched her fists tight, holding back the tears that threatened to flow. She was hopeless. No man would love her if she didn’t have sex with them. Unable to hold back the sobs any longer, she ran to her room and slammed the door shut.


CHAPTER FOUR



ABBY TRIED NOT TO SLAM the door as she got into the driver’s seat of her mom’s company minivan. Clarissa was already asleep in the passenger seat. She was always up for an adventure, even when she was half asleep.

Abby rolled down the window to let the sweet scents of the morning in. It was 5 a.m. and they were leaving town, their destination yet to be decided. The roads were empty and the perfectly mowed neighbourhood was quiet. Ahead the sunrise grew brighter. There was hope and excitement in its orange and yellow rays, a promise of new possibilities. Abby’s hand shook as she started the ignition and put the van into drive.

“Quit thinking so hard, you’re giving me a headache,” Clarissa said, her eyes now open.

“Sorry.” Abby smiled at her. “I thought you were asleep. How are you feeling? I know early mornings aren’t your thing.”

Clarissa shrugged. “You’re finally rebelling. I couldn’t say no to that, or have you chicken out! No way. I have to see this happen first hand.”

“I’m not rebelling,” Abby said. She glanced into the rear view mirror, then side mirrors, then back at the rear view mirror again.

“Are you worried your parents sent the cops after you?”

“Hopefully they won’t even notice I’m gone, for a little while at least. They’re going on their 35th anniversary cruise.” Abby sighed heavily. “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, Clarissa.”

“We don’t have to leave town,” Clarissa said with gentleness in her voice. “We could just pig out on lactose-free ice cream and watch vampire movies all day instead.”

“No, I need to do this.” Abby frowned, concentrating on the road far more than necessary. Tears stung at her eyes. She likely had the worst case of separation anxiety known to any adult. But that was exactly why she had to do this, to separate herself from her parents. She never went on trips without them. She didn’t go out to the bar, take weekend trips to Vegas or rebelled in any way, because she was too scared. Scared of getting hurt, scared of life, scared of love and especially terrified of having sex.

In a few weeks she’d be turning thirty. THIRTY! She pushed down on the gas pedal. Forget Ben and her parents. She was leaving town and never looking back.

“Where are we going anyway? You never told me,” Clarissa asked.

“We’re going to chase after the sun until we catch it.”

“Always the poet,” Clarissa laughed. “Sounds good to me.”

She pulled off her jacket and set it over her face to block out the sun which was now coming over the horizon. “Well then I hope you brought your sunglasses.”


CHAPTER FIVE



BRIGHT STUDIO LIGHTS WARMED Abby’s face and shoulders like the sun as she looked out into the audience. She tried to see the people but they were just a dark sea of heads. She’d had dreams like this before; public speaking while naked or trapped in a crowd, but she’d never had one about a talk show before.

“Welcome back to the show!” Adam Whyte, the host of Abby’s favourite talk show, smiled into the cameras. He looked less attractive close up, his stage makeup noticeable at the neckline. Abby could smell his cologne from where she was seated opposite him, their chairs turned at an angle to face the audience.

“Today we have Abby Blosym with us. She is a twenty-nine year old virgin!”

The crowd erupted in shouts of disbelief and laughter. Abby’s stomach plummeted. She looked for an escape but was stuck to her chair, trapped in a nightmare that felt all too real. Knowing it was just a dream didn’t seem to help as she looked out at the audience.

“Tell us Abby,” Adam Whyte continued, his fake smile frightening. “How long have you and Ben been married?”

“Two years,” Abby said, her quiet voice amplified by the microphone on her lapel. She looked down, surprised to see that she wearing one of her mother’s dress suits, the peach coloured one with grey pin stripes. It fit big and the top was too open, showing more of her chest than she was comfortable with. She grasped the front with both her hands, pulling the suit jacket together.

“Two whole years…” Adam’s brows furrowed in an overacted display of concern. “Tell us Abby, why this loveless marriage?”

“My marriage isn’t loveless…”

“Do you like men?”

“Yes, of course!” Angry tears stung at Abby’s eyes. She wanted to defend herself, but didn’t know how.

“It looks like we have a question from the audience.”

An assistant took a microphone to a large man in the crowd who was wearing a construction worker’s vest and white tank top.

“If you come home with me sweetheart you won’t be a virgin anymore,” he said, his grin showcasing missing teeth in the front.

Hoots and hollers from the audience deepened the heat in Abby’s cheeks. Before she could reply, the assistant handed the mic to another audience member.

“Have you seen your doctor?” an elderly lady asked.

“There won’t be a need for that!” Adam announced, his hands motioning excitedly. “We’ve got world renowned gynecologists Larry Browne with us today! He will be doing an examination on Abby right here on the show!”

Abby woke with a start, heart pounding and body dripping with sweat. Her head still resonated with the sounds of the audience hollering and cheering at her expense. She sat up and wiped her tears with the back of her hand. 

The dark room gave no clue as to her where she was. According to the digital clock by the bed it was 11:45 PM. They’d arrived here around supper time, then basically collapsed onto the beds as soon as they got into the hotel room. Abby had driven for over eight hours, something she’d never done before in her life.

A sound, like the lapping of waves, drifted in from the open window. Along with it, laughter and the chattering of people. Had they reached the ocean? She hadn’t been paying attention to the road signs all that much. She was too upset by the text she’d gotten from Ben saying he’d be away on a business trip for a few weeks, his way of avoiding her.

Most of the drive had been a blur of mountains and trees before they finally decided to stop at the next town. Now they were at a beach-like destination but Abby had no idea where.

She got out of bed and walked to the window, then pulled the curtains aside. Cars drove to and fro on a beachfront road, their engine sounds were what had sounded like waves. Down below, groups of tanned tourists made their way leisurely down the sidewalks.

Abby tugged at her t-shirt which was stuck to her damp back. Strands of her long hair had escaped her braid and now clung to her cheek. She pulled the hair away, unaccustomed to such sticky humidity.

The large hotel sign outside the window lit up the room and Abby turned to see Clarissa sprawled out on the sheets, looking as overheated as Abby felt. The poor girl hadn’t slept a wink on the long drive today, despite getting no sleep the previous night. She’d come home late from a party, then packed to leave on this impromptu trip.

Abby went to her suitcase and looked for a change of clothes. She pulled out the only summer dress she owned, a light green t-shirt dress. After getting changed, she wrote Clarissa a note then quietly left the hotel room.

A gentle breeze of fresh air greeted her when she stepped outside. In it was the scent of newly cut grass after a recent rain. There was also the smell of lake water, coconut sunblock lotion and a smoky barbecue from a nearby restaurant.

The air was thick with moisture and Abby smiled. She’d lived her entire life in the prairies where the air was dry and smelled like cattle manure. This was like paradise.

Across the street, dark waters stretched out vast and motionless. Abby remembered lively waves earlier that day when they’d driven down the beachfront road, all the motor boat activity causing waves to lap the shore. Now the waters were still, as though resting for the night.

Fake palm trees lit up in red, green and yellow drew attention to a nearby pub with a pirate’s theme. There was a crowd waiting outside its front entrance where a podium was set up for taking reservations. Abby headed in the opposite direction to the nearest cross-walk, anxious to get to the other side where it was less crowded.

She stood straighter as she walked, throwing her shoulders back and gathering her courage. It had to be about midnight now. Her mother would have a heart attack if she knew that her daughter was out walking the streets at midnight.

Needing to prove to herself that she no longer had to worry about her mom’s opinions on her life and actions, Abby jumped down from the sidewalk onto the cool sand. The beach stretched out before it reached the water’s edge. She took off her sandals and walked towards the water.

When her toes touched the water Abby let out a small giggle. This place was magical, and she’d discovered it all on her own. No one back home knew where she was. She was free. For now.


CHAPTER SIX



THE SOUND OF LAUGHTER bounced off the smooth surface of the water. Abby could see the floating dock in the distance by the light of the full moon. Rowdy teenagers, or maybe college kids, were jumping into the water. What would it have been like to grow up in a place like this, coming to the beach every day in the summer?

The water looked black and menacing beneath the night sky. Abby reached down and dipped her fingers into it. It felt warm to her hands, but cold to her feet. Its black luster was simply an illusion; she could see her hand through the water which was clear.

“Are you coming in?”

Abby jumped up. “Who’s there?” she said, looking around.

A young guy, probably from the group out on the dock, approached from the water. He shook his wet hair, the drops reaching the bare skin on Abby’s arms.

“The Ogopogo,” he said.

“The what?”

He came closer.
“The monster that lives in this lake.”

“A monster lives in this lake?” Abby backed away.

He laughed and she turned to leave. She wasn’t going to talk with a stranger, no matter how attractive he was. He could drown her in the lake and no one would hear her screams. Abby sighed, disappointed. So this was a lake and she hadn’t reached the Ocean after all.

“Wait.” The boy rushed out of the water and caught up to her. “I’m not making fun of you or anything, I promise.”

Abby stopped and turned to face him. She liked the sound of his voice and was curious to get a closer look at him.

“There really is a legend of a lake monster,” he continued. Now that he was closer she could see his blue eyes, which glistened in the light of the street lamp. He stood only slightly taller than her and had a slim build with firm muscles. “Or a dinosaur of some sort maybe, or a large snake, no one’s sure exactly what it is. It’s called the Ogopogo.” He smiled. “All the gift shops have Ogopogo t-shirts and stuffed animals. How long have you been here?”

“I haven’t been in a gift shop yet,” Abby said, her body tensing under his gaze.

“What brings you to Penticton?” he asked, running a hand through his thick wavy hair to move it out of his eyes.

“I was…headed for the ocean.”

“Oh.” His smile brightened. “My name’s Jade.”

Abby nodded but didn’t offer her name, unable to shut out her mother’s warning voice playing in her head. Stranger danger.

“You’re not far from the ocean,” he said. “Another five or six hours west and you’d be there.”

“Well, then we almost made it.” Abby looked out over the waters again. To her right the lights of the beachside establishments along the shore reflected in the water as far as the eye could see. To her left the lake seemed to end at an old fashion cruise ship, covered in thousands of tiny lights.
“The ocean couldn’t be more beautiful than this anyway,” she said.

“It isn’t,” Jade said. “At least not to me. This is my favourite place in the world.” 

Abby smiled. The ship’s festive lighting made it seem like there was a party going on inside at that very moment. She wanted to be in there, dressed in a fancy 19th century gown and eating delicacies. ”It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

“That’s the S.S. Sicamous,” Jade said.

Abby headed to the water again. This time she didn’t stop at the water’s edge, but waded in. It felt warm to her feet, which had gotten wet previously, and cold to the rest of her. She heard splashes behind her as Jade followed in after her. When the hem of her summer dress touched the top of the water Abby stopped.

That’s far enough, her mother’s voice filled her thoughts. A memory long forgotten, now resurfaced. They’d taken a trip to a cabin at a lake, long ago when she was in grade one. You’ll get your dress wet. Stop acting childish. Grow up.

Closing her eyes Abby let herself fall forward into the lake. A small gasp escaped her at the sudden shock of cold. Jade was already in the water beside her.

“I like to pretend I fell overboard,” he nodded towards the S.S. Sicamous.

“Or, more likely, were forced to walk the plank,” Abby teased. Her tummy did a little flip when she realized how close Jade was to her in the water. She never joked around with guys, but with him it seemed easy. Maybe because he was younger than the men she’d been dating in the last five years. Before then, she hadn’t dated at all, not in high school or even college. She’d been too focused on her studies, and for what? Her two degrees basically made her over qualified and undesired by employers, unless she moved to a big city like Toronto and got a high stress job.

“Yes,” Jade said, coming in even closer.

“Yes what?” Abby blinked.

“I was forced to walk the plank,” he continued with a mischievous look in his eyes. “Thrown overboard by pirates, by my own crew actually. I was their captain.”

Abby evaded him and swam ahead, her tummy flips increasing by the second.
“Does the Sicamous ever get taken out onto the water?” she asked as she swam. Now that her body was used to the lake temperature it didn’t feel cold anymore but somewhat pleasant.

“No, it’s a museum now, permanently docked.”

“Oh that’s so cool!” Abby said. “I want to go. Is it open right now?”

“It’s past midnight. This isn’t exactly Vegas.” Jade winked at her and she swam faster, trying to put a little distance between them.

“All the lights are on, so, I just thought maybe it was open,” she said over her shoulder.

No matter how far they went, they never seemed to be getting any closer to the ship. Abby stopped to check if her feet could still touch the bottom. Her toes sunk into the soft sand and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Jade moved in close beside her.
“I was thinking of going to check it out tomorrow,” he said.

Abby swam ahead of him. Suddenly her feet touched something slimy and she screamed, kicking at it to get it off. She’d gotten tangled in weeds. The thought of the long underwater grass extending up from deep within the dark waters made her shiver. The more she kicked the more the weeds tangled her legs. All she could muster was a strangled cry.

“You okay?” Jade reached down into the water and pulled the weeds off her legs. The lake floor was suddenly much deeper here and Abby couldn’t reach. Jade grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back to the shallower water where there was sand and no weeds. His fingers had a good grasp on her hips and the heat from his hands seeped through her thin dress, spreading over her body.

Abby reached her toes down and they touched the sand. She was safe. With a shove she pushed Jade away from her. “Don’t touch me!”

Jade lifted his hands out of the water and put them up in surrender. “Sorry.”

“I…” She looked all around for a quick escape but was surrounded by a sea of black water. Jade had a worried expression on his face as he watched her. She turned away. It wasn’t the scary weeds that made her heart pound at the moment, but the feel of Jade’s hands on her waist as he’d pulled her out.

“There’s probably more weeds that way,” Jade said, pointing towards the S.S. Sicamous. He’d dropped his flirtatious manner and now seemed subdued, probably because she’d yelled at him when he was only trying to help.

“I have to go,” Abby said, heading for the shore. Her mind was suddenly overrun by illogical fears of sea creatures and dark whirlpools. Jade called after her but she kept swimming even faster. This time he wasn’t able to catch up. The adrenaline drove her forward. She had to get back to the hotel, away from the black lake and the dinosaur-sized monster that lived in it, and away from the boy who made her heat up with just one simple touch.


CHAPTER SEVEN




“COME ON ABBY, we’ve been here for hours!” Clarissa whined.

They’d been wandering the historic S.S. Sicamous ship all morning and had even gone up to the very top to look out over the lake.
Coming to the museum was the only thing Abby could think of to do to find Jade, since he mentioned going to see it today. She wanted to see him again and to apologize for the way she’d overreacted.
There was no sign of him anywhere.

If only she hadn’t freaked out and run away. Maybe this was for the best. He was too young for her anyway.
The museum had a relaxed atmosphere, with all the vacationers mulling about. It felt good to be away from home and her parents, and from Ben.

“Let’s go,” Clarissa said, pulling on Abby’s arm.

A group of children had gathered around the scale model of the Kettle Valley Railway. The little train ran along the winding tracks through the Kettle Valley, past the tiny towns with historic buildings and through tunnels in the small mountain.

Abby smiled, watching the kids follow the small train around in excitement. The idea that she had the ability to produce one of these lively little human beings was so amazing. But at the rate she was going in life she’d run out of time before she ever had one of her own.

Clarissa tugged at Abby’s sleeve again. “Come on…”

“I just have one more question for the tour guide,” Abby said.

“No more questions for the tour guide. Let’s go to that carnival place!” Clarissa dragged Abby out of the S.S. Sicamous and into the sun. “I want to go there.” She pointed to a theme park in the distance, with a large boat at the center.

Abby lifted her hand to block out the sun. “Looks loud and rowdy. We could just sit by the water—”

“So you can watch the museum doors?” Clarissa crossed her arms.

Abby shrugged. “No, but—“

“Did your horoscope say you’d be meeting a tall, dark and handsome stranger at a museum today or something?”

“No.”

“Do you have the hots for the tour guide?”

“No!” Abby laughed.

“Then come on! I’m starving. There’s got to be some food over there.” Clarissa linked arms with Abby and they headed for the amusement park.

* * *

The sign above the entrance read ADVENTURE PARK as Abby and Clarissa walked in. To the right, was a wooden pirate’s ship about the size of Abby’s minivan. It had cast-iron cannons and everything. A pond ran all the way around the concession area, where the tickets were sold for the rides. Clarissa got in line, silent as she looked around.

Abby searched the crowd for a head of dark, wavy hair. This was a popular place, maybe Jade was here somewhere.

“They’ve got hot dogs…” Clarissa said, looking at the menu above. Abby clung to her friend’s arm as more people joined the lineup, crowding around close.

“I don’t eat hot dogs,” she said, breathing deeply to control her heart rate. It’s just like the country club on a busy day, no big deal.

“Ice cream?” Clarissa asked.

“What? Oh, no thanks. You know I can’t have ice cream.”

“Nachos!” Clarissa clapped her hands together. “Yum!”

“I can’t have the cheese.”

“You have to eat something.”
It was their turn to order.

After getting food for herself, Clarissa found a shaded area while Abby checked out the pond. Its dark waters reminded her of the lake at night. Now, in the heat of the day, meeting Jade seemed like only a dream. Maybe she had dreamed it.

The sun beat down from above, making Abby long to be in the cool water again, preferably with Jade. He seemed permanently imbedded in her mind, even though she’d just met him once. There was something addicting about his easy going manner and charm. She admired that. And there was something else, an attraction that she couldn’t explain.

There had to be someone who’d seen him around. He was quite an attractive guy and would have turned a few heads. It was a longshot but Abby headed to the concession counter again. There was no longer a line up now that the crowd from earlier had passed through. 

“I have a silly question for you,” Abby said to the lively girl at the front counter.

“Yes?” she smiled. Her pony tail bobbed about as she kept busy.

“You wouldn’t happen to have seen a young guy, about nineteen or twenty, maybe older, with dark wavy hair and blue eyes would you?” Abby asked, fidgeting with her braid.

The girl thought about this for a moment. “How long ago was he here?”

“I’m not sure if he was here, exactly. I was just wondering…”

“What was he wearing?”

Abby blushed. Jade had been shirtless and wearing swim trunks when she’d last seen him. “I’m not sure.”

“There’s a church youth conference thing going on at the other beach,” the concession girl said. “My cousin is there. Lots of cute guys over there I’ve heard.”

Abby raised her eyebrows. ”There’s another beach?”

“Yes. On the other side of town. Lake Skaha.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Abby ran to get Clarissa, who was still eating at a table in the shade.

“We’re going to Lake Skaha!” Abby said, grabbing her arm.

“Where?” Clarissa asked. She shoved the last bit of hot dog into her mouth.

Abby didn’t answer but dragged her away. “Come on, apparently there’s a lot of cute guys there.”

Hearing this, Clarissa dropped her drink into the nearest garbage can and they hurried off together.



CHAPTER EIGHT




“WOW, YOU’VE GOT CURVES!” Clarissa looked at Abby in the change room mirror. She’d insisted they buy new swimsuits before going to the cute-boys-beach. Abby couldn’t find any full swimsuits she liked. The selection was few and picked over, but there were plenty of bikini options.

She was now standing in front of the change room mirror wearing a bikini Clarissa had picked out for her. She didn’t look half bad. Her waist was petite, her breasts small but firm, and a little belly showed above the bikini bottoms. All in all it didn’t look nearly as bad as she’d feared, in fact, she looked kind of sexy.

Clarissa shook her head. “So that’s what you’ve been hiding under those granny clothes you like to wear. What a waste.”

“Yes, well, they’re my curves,” Abby said to her. “And I have no intention of sharing them with anyone.”

Clarissa gave Abby a curious look. ”Who said anything about sharing them?”

Abby’s cheeks flared. “I didn’t.”

“With whom would you be sharing them?”

“No one.”

“Well, you know what?” Clarissa whispered, leaning in as though sharing a big secret. “I saw a little two year old on the beach today in a bikini. If a toddler can wear one, then I’m pretty sure you can handle wearing one.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “I guess it does look better than my old swimsuit.”

“That wasn’t a swimsuit. That was armor.”

* * *

Lake Skaha Beach was bigger and felt hotter than Okanagan Beach, even though they were only a ten minute drive from each other. Every inch of sand was covered in beach towels with swimsuit clad tourists tanning in the sun. Abby’s heart sank when she saw how many people there were. She’d never find Jade amongst all these people.

Clarissa had gone to the washroom nearby to fix her hair so Abby walked over to a colourful vendor tent by the concession area, needing to get out of the sun. The tent had all the typical beach accessories for sale: sunglasses, hats, friendship bracelets and anklets. Abby stopped to look at the jewelry.

Shell necklaces swayed in the breeze coming off the water, clinking together melodiously. She took a white shell in her hand and inspected it. It had a brown swirl at the center and felt cool and smooth to touch. It was beautiful.

“Did you want to buy that necklace?” someone said from behind her.

“No, thank you, I don’t have any cash with…” Abby’s swim bag slipped from her grasp and landed by her feet when she turned to see who it was. Jade leaned over and picked up the bag for her. Just when she’d given up looking, he was here, and once again he was shirtless and wore only swim shorts.

“I wasn’t sure I’d see you again,” he said, “after you ran off last night. You never told me your name.”

Before she could reply, Clarissa appeared, looking angry. She snatched the bag from Jade’s grasp. “Is this kid bothering you, Abby?” she said, glaring at him.

Jade stepped back in surprise.

“No,” Abby said quickly, then couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Jade looked from Abby to Clarissa then back again. “It was nice to meet you… Abby. Maybe I’ll see you around.” He gave her a little salute, then turned and walked away.

She wanted to call him back, but what would she say? 

“What was he doing with your bag?” Clarissa asked. “Was he bothering you? You look freaked out or something.”

“No, I just dropped it.”

“Stay away from those college kids, they’re bad news.”

* * *

“I put the SPF sixty sunblock on you Abby, quit worrying,” Clarissa mumbled into her towel.

It was half an hour later and they were on the beach sun tanning. Clarissa turned her head to the side to look at Abby, who was also laying on a towel in her new bikini. “Just turn onto your back, it’s been a half hour.”

“I can’t, it’s too embarrassing.”

Clarissa sighed and got up. “You seriously need to lighten up girl. I’m going into the water.”  

Abby’s heart sank as she watched her friend walk off. Why am I always disappointing everyone? Including myself. Why can’t I just let go?

She was an adult now and could do whatever she wanted, so why couldn’t she just relax?

Abby forced herself to get up, exposing her bikini clad body to the world. 

Nobody is looking at you. This isn’t small town Alberta. Bikinis are okay here. My body is okay, it’s not embarrassing. She repeated the last line over in her mind until she relaxed and a smile formed on her lips. She’d come here to enjoy herself and that’s exactly what she would do. Her skin tingled beneath the warm sun and she looked out across the water.

If only Clarissa hadn’t been so rude to Jade. She didn’t like younger guys. Every guy she’d set Abby up with had been at least ten years older.

Abby walked towards the water. The hot sand burned her feet and she quickly ran to the water’s edge, maneuvering between the towels and sunbathers. She spotted Clarissa sitting on the dock, showcasing her model figure to the guys who were in the water talking to her.

Then she spotted Jade down the beach and her breath caught. Why did she become instantly nervous whenever she saw him? He was playing Frisbee with a group of friends. One of the girls giggled when she missed catching the Frisbee.

Abby’s chest tightened as she watched Jade. Why was she so taken by him? It wasn’t like her. The girls tried to get his attention by acting dramatic and being loud, but Jade ignored their antics, tossing the Frisbee to another guy. Abby smiled.

If she were a different person she’d run over and join them, but she couldn’t. She was plain and boring Abby, always cautious and slightly socially inept.

Frowning, she headed back to her towel to cover up and get back into her clothes.


CHAPTER NINE




“NO, I TOLD YOU I was coming here with Abby,” Clarissa yelled into her cell phone.

They were back at the hotel room and it was evening now.

“It’s not my fault you were too drunk to understand… What? I did text you... When? I was SLEEPING. Yes, we went to bed before supper because we were so tired from the drive. Why would I lie?”

Abby waited patiently, pretending to busy herself with her own cell phone. It was getting late. Too hungry to wait any longer, she typed the words going for supper into a text box, then showed her phone to Clarissa. Clarissa stopped pacing long enough to read it and nod.

“My fault?” she yelled into the phone. “I never asked you to follow me here! That’s what stalkers do… Yes, that’s exactly it, Matt.” Her tone became sarcastic. “I didn’t want you to see me flirting with all the guys on the beach. It’s not like I’m here to be a good friend to Abby… WHAT? Who told you that?”

Abby quietly snuck out of the room and closed the door behind her. She breathed sigh of relief. The evening air was warm and welcoming. Poor Clarissa. She always ended up arguing with her boyfriends.
Abby headed down the sidewalk past the pirate themed restaurant and pub. It was too lively for her. Maybe there was a simple diner or sandwich place somewhere down the road.

A neon sign caught her attention. The words BEACH STORE shone bright above the doors. People came in and out holding ice cream cones and snacks. Abby headed in that direction.

There wasn’t much for food in the Beach Store, other than ice-cream. She walked down the aisles, stopping to look at the T-shirts and sundresses. Even with all the money her parents had, she never got to buy frivolous things while on vacation, or any other time.

She ran her fingers along the light fabrics of the sundresses, wondering how they would feel to wear.
They were so pretty and fun. Getting material gifts from her parents wouldn’t have made her feel more loved, would it? Yet there was something special about receiving a gift for no reason, just as a show of affection.

Come to think of it, Ben had never bought her anything, not even lunch, in their entire year of dating. He assumed she had lots of money because her parents were rich. She didn’t bother to tell him that, other than a small living allowance, she refused to take her parents’ money. 

Abby let go of the soft fabric of the dress she’d been looking at and went down the next aisle. She stopped at a display of Ogopogo stuffed toys and picked one up. They looked like a cross between a snake and a dragon. She took two of them and continued on through the store, picking up things that interested her.
When she reached the front counter her arms were full.

“How will you be paying?” the cashier asked as she began to ring in the items.
Abby hesitated. The words ‘with my parents’ money’ came to her mind.

“I’m sorry, I just realized I don’t have my bank card with me,” Abby lied, feeling sheepish.

“No problem.” The lady scooped up the pile, pulling it off the counter. Abby frowned.

“Wait.” She grabbed one of the Ogopogos. “I have some change for this one.”

It was just a small gift to herself but it made her feel happy.

The sky was dark when Abby stepped out of the store. She headed to the beach with her Ogopogo plush in hand. A warm breeze blew off the water, smelling like rain. She took off her sandals and walked along the shore. The cool sand between her toes was becoming a familiar feeling now. She could live here for the rest of her life and be happy. But that wasn’t going to happen. At some point she’d have to head back home and figure her life out.

She stopped to look out over the water. A gentle breeze lifted her hair, freeing her neck and cooling her. Why hadn’t she joined Jade in his Frisbee game on the beach? Or at least run over to ask for his number so they could meet up for lunch sometime? Her mother wasn’t here now, stopping her from doing anything, and yet she still couldn’t do something as simple as approach an attractive guy to ask for his number.

Abby’s shoulders slumped. How would she ever work full time, get married, have kids and care for her own home if something as simple as getting a guy’s phone number terrified her so much?

“Abby?”

Looking up, she saw Jade coming towards her and she almost dropped her Ogopogo plush toy.

“I thought you might show up here eventually,” he said when he got closer. The pleased look in his eyes made Abby’s heart skip. No one had ever looked so pleased to see her before.

“Were you waiting for me?” she asked, hugging her Ogopogo tight. “How’d you know I’d be here?”

“This is where we first met.” Jade shrugged. He was wearing a black t-shirt with the name of some rock band on it and a light zip-up hoodie with black and red stripes.

“I hadn’t even noticed it was the same spot,” Abby said. Or had she? Wasn’t she going to get supper? And yet she’d ended up here.
Jade looked down at the sand, putting his hands into his pockets.

“But I’m glad you’re here.” Abby added quickly, “I wanted to come say hi at the beach but you were playing Frisbee with some girls.”

“It was a group with girls and guys,” Jade said, a glint of humour in his eyes.

“Well, yes.” Abby grinned. It was the girls that she’d noticed with him, because she was jealous that she wasn’t one of them.

“Are you staying on this beach?” Jade asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m staying at the other beach, with my parents.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, I wish I was here on my own and not with my parents.”

“I mean it’s too bad that you’re not staying on this beach.”

“That too,” Jade took his hands out of his pockets and moved in a bit closer.

“I can understand not wanting your parents around,” Abby said.

“You came with your friend, the red haired girl?”

“Clarissa? Yes. She came with me actually. I was the one running away.”

Jade smiled at this. “That’s kind of what I’m doing right now.” Abby gave him a worried look and he added, “I mean sneaking away from camp to come look for you.”

“Oh,” Abby said. “I’m glad you did.”

He glanced down at her lips and a sudden warmth stirred inside of her. “Um,” she cleared her throat. “Sorry about Clarissa. She doesn’t like college boys.”

“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in college.”

Abby was about to ask how old he was when he put his hands onto her shoulders and turned her around to face to water. His touch was warm. “Close your eyes,” he said.

“What? Why?”

“Just close your eyes.”

Abby tensed but closed her eyes anyway, holding her Ogopogo tight.

Jade slipped something around her neck. The smooth object felt cool on her chest.

She opened her eyes and looked down. It was the shell necklace she’d been eyeing earlier that day at the vender tent.

She turned to Jade. “You bought it?”

He was closer than she expected when she turned so quickly and it caught her off guard. She stepped back and tripped on the uneven sand. Jade reached out to grab her.

“I’m okay,” Abby insisted, catching her footing. She placed one hand on Jade’s chest to keep him at arm’s length, his light t-shirt warm against her hand. He picked up her Ogopogo stuffie which had fallen onto the sand.

“You found the gift shop Ogopogo toys,” he said, dusting off the sand from the plush. 

“Yes.” Abby grabbed for it, but Jade lifted it away from her.

“I’m just looking at it,” he said, a mischievous look in his eyes. Abby crossed her arms and waited as he inspected her special gift to herself.

“Can I have it back now?” she said, reaching for it again. She couldn’t help but worry that he’d steal it from her, or wreck it somehow, which was silly but he did have a playful grin on his face as he backed away, holding the Ogopogo out of reach. Abby jumped for it and missed and then he ran away from her.

“Give it back!” Abby yelled, running after him. She almost caught the plush a few times, but he teased her with it and snatched it away at the last second each time. 

Done with the game, she scooped her foot under Jade’s legs and tripped him. He fell backward onto the sand, finally dropping the Ogopogo toy. Abby grabbed it and ran. 
She would have ran back to the hotel if Jade hadn’t caught her first. He was a faster runner than she was. She screamed when he caught up to her and laughed, a carefree laughter that didn’t even sound like her. “Stop it,” she said breathlessly. “It’s mine.”

Jade wrapped his arms around her to try and get the Ogopogo out of her hands but she leaned forward and he fell over her, then she ran again. This time he cornered her into the lake. Water splashed up around them, soaking the new sundress she’d bought along with the bikini that day.

At waist deep, Abby slowed down and so did Jade. He began coughing and she waited for him to catch his breath.

“Do you have a cold?” she asked.

“Something like that,” he said. Then he splashed her.
 
“Stop,” she laughed. “He’ll get wet.” She held her Ogopogo tight. Jade was suddenly close. His eyes caught the moonlight that glistened off the water. Abby wanted to be kissed, right at that moment, a real kiss like she’d seen in the movies, not a polite peck on the lips or a quick kiss followed by a pat on the shoulder, the way Ben had done. Clarissa kissed on first dates all the time. But this wasn’t technically even a date. They’d just met.

“Are you okay?” Jade asked, reaching up to move her hair out of her face. “Sorry I splashed you.”

“It’s fine.” Abby held her breath as Jade moved closer.

“Let’s go put Oggy somewhere safe,” he said, putting his arm around her and squeezing her shoulders in a friendly way. “Then would you like to go to the Fun Zone?”
His embrace warmed her and she leaned into him.

“Okay, that would be fun.”

* * *

Abby set Oggy on the bed and quickly went to get changed. Clarissa wasn’t in the hotel room so she stopped to text her that she was going to the Fun Zone.

Her suitcase was open in the middle of the floor, clothes thrown everywhere. Clarissa had been rummaging through her stuff, looking for clothes to borrow. Abby dug through the pile near her suitcase. There wasn’t much to choose from. Why hadn’t she brought nicer clothes? Deciding on a simple black tank-top and jean shorts, she got changed quickly and went back outside.

Jade was still there, leaning against the banister and looking more attractive than ever, with his hair still wet and eyes bright.

He walked over and linked arms with her.
“Ready?”

“Yes.” She hugged his arm tight. “Let’s go.”



CHAPTER TEN




JADE HELD ABBY’S HAND as they waited in line to get tickets at the Fun Zone Amusement Park. She couldn’t keep up with his touches, there were too many to constantly reject, and his confidence made it impossible to say no, so she let him hold her hand. His fingers were interlaced with hers.

The Fun Zone was even more magical in the evening than in the day. Many lights filled the night with bright colours and Tropical looking plants gave the place an island paradise feel to it. The smell of rain hung in the air and thunder rolled in the distance.

Jade paid for their tickets when it was their turn and then they headed into the park, passing by the mini golf area. Abby almost suggested they play a round, but Jade was already heading for the rides.

“Where to first?” he asked.
His thumb made slow circles on the back of Abby’s hand.

“I don’t know,” Abby blinked, feeling dazed. She looked around at all the rides. “When do they close?”

“Eleven. So we don’t have too much time.” Jade’s expression became serious.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. How about… the bumper boats?”

Abby turned to where Jade was looking. A group of kids that had just finished their turn on the boats were now climbing out, soaking wet.
“I don’t want to get wet again, I just got changed.”

“What about those?” Jade pointed to a bungee apparatus that was bouncing kids high into the air while they were strapped into a harness.

“No thanks,” Abby said.

“The Aerial Park then?” Jade pointed up.

Abby shook her head. “I’m terrified of heights.”

“You can’t be scared of everything.”

Abby tensed but didn’t reply.

“Come on, you only live once.”

“Okay.” Abby nodded. “You’re right, let’s try… that.” She nodded to the aerial park above them.

“Awesome.” Jade winked at her and let go of her hand to go get in line.

Abby avoided looking down as she climbed the wooden steps of the Aerial Park, an obstacle course high up in the air. Jade was somewhere above. It had taken her a lot longer to get into the harness and make her way up the steps than it had him. She had no idea where he was now and was too scared to look up. She definitely wouldn’t be going up to the third level, which was the highest. The first level was scary enough.

A kid moved in front of her when she reached the intersection to the first level obstacles. He budded in to get to the rope bridge first. Abby almost lost her balance and tightened her hold on the safety rope.

The rope bridge seemed the safest obstacle. It had ropes on either side to hold onto. She stepped out and the bridge wobbled. Her stomach tightened but she continued forward.

At the middle of bridge Abby looked down, which was a mistake. Her foot slipped and her body swung out to the side. Screaming, she grasped her safety rope with both hands so tight that her knuckles were white. Why hadn’t Jade waited for her so they could go together?

“Abby?” She heard him calling from somewhere high above, but she couldn’t look up. It was just as terrifying as looking down.

The rope bridge wobbled again and she shut her eyes tight. Someone was on it with her now, hopefully a staff member coming to take her down. A moment later she felt arms wrap around her waist.

“Jade?” Abby turned and was suddenly in Jade’s arms.

“You look terrified,” he said.

“I am.” She relaxed a little, feeling safer with his arms around her.

“Look,” Jade whispered, close to her ear. He turned her slowly and she looked out over the horizon. The lights of the S.S. Sicamous twinkled down below and the lake spread out behind it.

A flash of lightning lit up the dark clouds above the waters. The view was breathtaking. Abby settled into Jade’s embrace and he tightened his arms around her.

“Hey, you guys need to come down!” a staff member called up to them. “It’s going to rain. We’re closing the Aerial Park.”

Jade turned Abby around and held her hand as they made their way back across the rope bridge and down the wooden steps. Though it had been terrifying, Abby would do it all again to feel Jade’s arms around her once more.

A light rain fell as they walked away from the Fun Zone, hand in hand.
“How about we do mini golf next time,” Jade said.

“Okay.” Abby slowed her pace. Jade was falling behind. The drizzle was turning into a downpour as they made their way through the parking lot. People ran to their vehicles for cover, but Jade walked slowly.

“Are you okay?” Abby asked, remembering that he’d been coughing earlier.

“Just tired,” he said.

The wind blew large rain drops against Abby’s face and it was hard to hear Jade over the splash of rain on the concrete.

“Are you in a hurry to take cover?” he asked.

“No,” Abby said. They walked on towards the beach, the rain soaking them through. The downpour settled into a gentle rain again, but the beach was now deserted. Lightning flashed above and thunder rolled. Abby shivered.

“Do you want to get out of the rain?” Jade asked.

“No. I love it. My mom would always rush me inside if we ever got caught in the rain. I wanted to stay and let it pour over me, even if I was freezing cold. But she never let me. She’d say, ‘you’ll catch your death’. That scared me when I was little. Then when I was seven or eight I finally realized she wasn’t being literal.”

“We can stay in the rain as long as you like,” Jade said, pulling Abby closer to his side.

“Wow, look at the waves.” Abby snuggled in close and Jade put his arm around her.

“It’s almost scary,” he said.
The waves crashed to the shore then spread out across the sand, reaching to their feet.

“Let’s go in!” Abby clapped her hands together.

“What?” Jade gave her a questioning look. “Are you serious?”

“Yes!” She freed herself from his arms and took off her sandals. She was finally starting to let go and be spontaneous, why stop now? She’d climbed up on a scary aerial park, let herself get drenched in a downpour, swam in a lake and let Jade hold her hand when she’d only just met him.

Abby left her sandals behind and ran towards the water. The wave retreated back to the lake and then the next wave came.

“Abby!” Jade ran after her, his voice barely audible in the wind.

For a second, fear gripped her chest, then the next moment water was all around her and she was free. It wasn’t even cold. The rain that had drenched her was much colder. A wave lifted her up and she laughed out loud at the thrill of it. Jade was in the water now too, but each time a wave rose up she lost sight of him.

A clap of thunder split the air and Abby screamed.
“Jade?” she called out.
An oncoming wave caught her by surprise and went over her head. She surfaced, sputtering.

Jade appeared at her side. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she coughed.

“Let’s get out of the water.”

“No, I love this!”

“It’s dangerous.” Jade pulled her close.

“Now who’s being a scaredy cat?” Abby pushed him into the water and he let himself be dunked. Surfacing, he grabbed her around the waist.

“Come on Abby. You’ll catch your death.”

“Very funny.” Abby pushed against him to free herself but he held her tight, lifting her up into the next wave. It knocked them both over and their bodies collided.

“We should go,” Jade said, moving away from her. “Or I might be the one to catch my death in this cold.”
Another wave washed them closer to shore and Abby got out of the water.

Back at the hotel, under the cover of the overhead balcony, Abby stood in front of her door, waiting. Jade looked distracted. He strummed his fingers on the banister that he was leaning against.

“Do you need a ride?” Abby asked. Why wasn’t he leaving?

“No.” His blue eyes studied her for a moment. “I have car. I can drive.”

Abby nodded. A slight breeze blew over her and she shivered.

“How old are you anyway, twenty-four, twenty-five?” Jade asked.

“Me?” Abby laughed. “No.”

“Twenty-three?”

“Don’t try and flatter me.” Abby crossed her arms.

“Twenty-One?” Jade asked.

“Stop it.”

“Sorry.” He put his hands up in surrender. “My older sister is twenty-six and you look younger than her so I was just wondering.”

“How old are you?” Abby asked.

Jade shrugged. “Old enough.”

“Well I know you’re younger than me.”

“How do you know? I could be twenty-five.”

Abby laughed, but then stopped when she saw his hurt expression. “I just mean most guys my age are pretty boring and focused on their careers,” she said. “But you’re fun and energetic.”

“So are you.”
Jade stopped strumming the banister with his fingers and clasped it tight instead.

“So…” Abby hugged her arms around herself. “Your parents must have noticed that you’re missing by now.

“Probably.” Jade looked out at the beach on the other side of the street. “But I’m starting to get tired of always doing everything my dad tells me to. And of all the rules. They just don’t seem to matter now.”

Abby nodded. “My mom is so controlling too.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It doesn’t end when you’re older, they still try and control your life.”

“That sucks.” Jade pushed away from the banister and came closer. “So is your controlling mom okay with your coming on this vacation?”

“She doesn’t even know I’m here. She’d flip out.”

Jade looked down at her as though trying to decide something. Another breeze blew over her wet clothes and she shivered again.

“You should get inside,” Jade said, looking down at her lips. Abby took a half step back. He reached out and grasped a handful of her hair, squeezing some water out of it. “I wish I wasn’t camping all the way at Skaha.”

“Yeah.”

“Can I see you again tomorrow?”

Abby nodded.

Jade slipped his hand behind her neck and leaned in to kiss her. She drew back and he stopped, letting his hand drop.

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay.” Abby cleared her throat, confused. Why had she pulled away? True she’d only known Jade for one day but she would have really enjoyed that kiss. Now he’d probably never try again.

Jade ran his fingers through his hair, lifting it out of his face.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. Then he left.


CHAPTER ELEVEN




THE SHRILL OF HER CELL PHONE ringing woke Abby from a sound sleep, disrupting the peaceful rhythm of the rain drumming against the hotel window. It was open slightly and the fresh smell of rain drifted into the room.

Abby grabbed her phone and looked at it. The call display said ‘Mom.’ Were they back from their anniversary cruise already? There was no point in ignoring the call, her mom would just keep calling back.

Abby swiped the phone screen.

“Hello?”

“You know how I disapprove of sleeping in. I don’t see why you can’t be up early, as a habit,” her mother said. It wasn’t the best greeting to wake up to.

“Hi Mom, how was the cruise?”

“You’ll need to be getting up early once you’re married, making Ben’s breakfast before he heads off to work. Unless he hires a live-in maid. But I don’t recommend it in your first year of marriage.”

Abby rubbed her forehead. A headache was coming on.

“I think it should be a fall wedding,” her mom continued. “Of this year. I was thinking, when the children come, a nice private school would be best for them. I always regretted putting you through the public system. I suppose we weren’t as wealthy back then, and now your father owns half the town. Did Ben talk to you about the shareholders meeting—?”

“Mom, slow down!”

“Well, I called to tell you to wear your nice dress suit to the party.”

“What par—?”

“Your father’s inviting everyone. It will be a great business mingling opportunity. The relatives are coming too of course, except your Cousin Rodney and Uncle Cassey, thank goodness. They always make a scene.”

“Oh, you’re 35th Anniversary Party.” Abby sighed. She’d completely forgotten.

“Of course, what party did you think I was talking about?”

“Mom, if so many people are coming to your party then I’m sure you won’t really miss me if I don’t come, right?”

Her mom laughed. “Of course I would! We both missed you very much while we were away on this dreadful cruise. I know this is the first time we’ve been away from you for so long, but your father insisted.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“Anyway, I haven’t been able to get a hold of Ben. Busy with his paperwork I suppose. But with everyone coming to the party your father and I think it would be the perfect time to announce your engagement.”

“What? Ben and I aren’t—”

“Now don’t interrupt me, Abby, I know what you’re going to say. You’re worried that your engagement announcement will overshadow your father and my 35th anniversary ceremony. But don’t worry, it will only add to the celebration.”

Abby put her mother on speaker phone, turning the volume down as low as it would go. She checked her text messages. Nothing from Ben, two from Clarissa.

She wrote Ben first, letting her mother go on and on about the party.

'Text my mom and tell her we’re not actually engaged or getting married. Thanks.'

Then she read Clarissa’s texts,
'I’m heading back to AB. I tried 2 call u. Matt showed up to take me back. A waitress quit so he needs me 2 take extra shifts this weekend. Sorry. He’s a jealous freak. Keep me updated.'

Then another message, sent hours later.
'We stopped at a BnB, too much driving. So romantic here! Hope u r ok.'

Abby replied,
'I’m fine. Parents’ 35th anniversary party this weekend. I don’t want to go.'

“Abby? Are you listening?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Good, then don’t forget. And I need the van back. Your father and I have decided to buy you an SUV, as a wedding gift. We’re going tomorrow to pick it up… Where are you dear? I’m driving by your apartment and I don’t see the van parked out front.”

“I left…with Clarissa.”

“I hope she’s paying you for all the gas you use driving her around all the time. I don’t see why one of her boyfriends can’t give her rides. Oh I have to go dear, there’s a police car up ahead. I will see you on Saturday.”

Abby hung up the phone and dragged herself out of bed. She packed her bags slowly, in no rush to leave. But it was time to go home.

After checking out of the hotel and having breakfast at a small diner, she drove down the Okanagan beachside road, taking in all the sights, not wanting to forget any part of this magical place.

The way home was in the direction of Skaha Lake, so she took a little detour to the beach there. Sun bathers were already setting out their umbrellas for the day. New venders were setting up their tents and bouncy castles lay on the grassy field in the park, across from the beach. Was there some kind of festival this weekend?

Abby pulled into a parking spot near the park. She couldn’t spare too much time if she wanted to be back to Alberta by tomorrow night, but she could stop for a few minutes. Who knew when she’d see this place again, if ever. 

The sun was warm on Abby’s shoulders when she stepped out of the van. It would be another hot day.
The smell of the beach was now becoming familiar to her and she already missed the place. But she couldn’t run away from home forever and pretend her parents didn’t exist. As long as she was alive, she’d have a responsibility to them.

Abby headed for the beach, walking across the park. Kids were swarming the bouncy castles and a DJ at the beer gardens was spinning loud club music. Abby passed by the stage at the center of the park where a folk band was doing a sound check.

This would be a fun weekend for those who got to stay here. Abby frowned and reached up to touch the shell necklace that Jade had bought for her. Then, by some strange act of fate, she saw him.

He was playing with a little girl of about ten. Her dark hair and features suggested that they were probably related. He chased after her in a game of tag. Abby didn’t want to interrupt them. It was enough to see Jade one last time. She smiled and closed her eyes a moment, capturing the image of his playful expression in her mind.

“Abby!” She heard his voice and opened her eyes. He waved and ran over. The dark haired girl ran off with two other girls her age to one of the bouncy castles.

“You found me!” Jade called as he hurried over. He stopped when he reached Abby, putting his hand to his chest, catching his breath. 

“I did.” Abby said. “Are you camping with your family?”

“Yes,” he looked back at the bouncy castles. “Well, I’m not camping with them. I’m with a group. That’s my little cousin.” Jade pointed behind him. “She’s visiting for the Peach Festival and staying with my parents at the campground. Want to try the bouncy castles?” Jade took her hand.

“No, I can’t stay,” Abby pulled back.

“Stay, please,” Jade said, pulling her close.

“We don’t have to do the festival stuff. I’m actually too tired for it anyway.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” Abby said, keeping him at arm’s length.

“Sure you can,” Jade put his hands on her waist.

“I’m serious,” Abby frowned.

“I’m serious too, spend the day with me.”

“What about your family, or your group?”

“They won’t miss me,” Jade said. “Come, let me buy you a snow cone.”

“Okay,” Abby gave in. “But just for a little bit.”

Jade put his arm around her and led her to the vender tents. They passed the kids’ karaoke corner, which was bustling with tweens. Jade stopped to listen to the two girls singing on the stage. He cheered when they finished their song.

“Wait here,” he said, letting go of Abby’s hand. He made his way through the crowd and had a word with the sound technician, who nodded in agreement.

Jumping up on stage, he grabbed the microphone and removed it from its stand.

“This song goes out to the beautiful Abby,” he said, pointing her out in the crowd.

All heads turned in Abby’s direction and for a moment a familiar dread, of being stared at in a crowd of people, gripped her. But when she looked back to Jade on the stage, the other faces faded away. He winked at her, then nodded to the sound guy, who then started the music.

At the very first note a chorus of squeals rose up from the tween girls in the crowd. Abby recognized the song too, which had been playing on the radio all summer.

“Baby let me take you out tonight,” Jade sang. “We can go anywhere that you’d like…”

Abby laughed, then covered her mouth with her hand. It was so sweet. No one had ever serenaded her before. Jade danced along to the song, riling up the crowd of young girls.

“Tell me where you want to go, we’ll take it slow, I’ll give you anything that you want, I’ll give you every part of my heart, baby don’t say no, don’t say no.”

Jade looked right at her and Abby’s cheeks flushed. He had a great singing voice but couldn’t hit the high notes, which made the performance all the more endearing.

“Please tell me you…” he struggled to reach the high note, which set off a cheer from the girls. “Tell me that you want me too. And if you do. Can I kiss you?” Jade jumped off the stage. He made his way to Abby. “Tell me you, you want me too. And if you do. Can I kiss you? Can I kiss you?” 

Abby’s cheeks were ablaze. She fought the urge to run away and hide as Jade got closer. He took her hand in his, then leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. He was about to hug her when something caught his attention in the distance. Abby turned to see where he was looking but she couldn’t tell.

Jade went back to the stage and passed the mic to a group of young girls who continued singing the chorus of the song. Then he returned to Abby, embracing her in a spinning hug that lifted her feet off the ground. She laughed out loud at the wonderful sensation of being swept up into his arms.

“I have to go,” he said in her ear, “meet me at the Sicamous later.” 

“Jade I can’t…” Abby said. But he was already gone, hurrying through the crowd before she could catch him. She wanted to say a proper goodbye, but in the end, there was no use in dragging it out. They’d never be together. And there couldn’t have been a more perfect way to remember Jade.

Abby closed her eyes, wrapped her arms around herself, savouring the moment. When she opened her eyes, she knew it was time to go home.


CHAPTER TWELVE




“ABBY’S STOMACH TURNED, threatening to upheave the bland icing of her parents’ anniversary cake. All evening it had been the same discussion with every friend of her parents, with every cousin and aunt. They wanted to know what she was ‘doing’ now, if she was married or travelling or working, what her plans were for the future. She’d avoided any direct answers and simply smiled, avoiding the reality that she was, in fact, doing nothing with her life at the moment.

Now, finally, the mandatory greetings and small-talk were over with and she was enjoying a brief moment of peace at the dessert table. It lasted about all but thirty seconds.

“Can’t decide?” someone asked from beside her.
Abby looked up at the tall, thirty-something man with brown hair, wearing a nice suit. Yet another person she did not know at this party. He had a confident stance and kind eyes. Judging by his expensive suit, Abby guessed he was a business associate of her father’s, high up in the commercial real estate business.
He offered his hand in a handshake. “Charles.”

“Abby,” she said, taking his hand. She waited for him to ask her what she did for a living that made her worthy of inhabiting this planet, but he didn’t ask.

“Try the Nanaimo bars,” he said instead. “Can’t go wrong with those.”

“Oh, I couldn’t eat another bite after that cake,” Abby said. “I was just standing here trying to figure out if I can still fit under this table.”

Charles laughed.

“I used to climb under the dessert table,” Abby continued, “when my parents had dinner parties, and eat desserts with my imaginary friend.” Why was she opening up to a stranger? Had she become more social since meeting Jade? Or was it because Charles didn’t seem to have an agenda for being here, like everyone else did.

“You look like you could use an imaginary friend right about now,” Charles said, grabbing a Nanaimo bar. Abby smiled, a real smile for the first time tonight. She could use a friend at the moment, a real one.

Before she could reply, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Ben stood behind her, looking chipper.

“Ben? I thought you were in Ontario,” she said.

Charles nodded politely at them, taking his leave without a word. Abby felt a twinge of disappointment.

“I took an early flight back,” Ben said. “It didn’t seem right to miss your parents’ anniversary party.”

Abby narrowed her eyes at him. He was up to something.
“You got my text right?” she asked him.

“I did and I’ve been thinking,” Ben looked around then lowered his voice, “I’ll agree to your condition for getting married.”

Abby was too dumbstruck to reply.

“Listen, I can’t be the majority shareholder in your father’s company without Canadian Citizenship and my parents won’t hand over their shares until I’m married,” Ben continued.
“But… my father is majority shareholder.”
“It’s either me or these other guys offering to buy the whole thing and if they do, your parents lose everything. At least with me we can keep it all in the family.”

Abby swallowed hard. What was he trying to say? “My mom still has the cleaning business.”

“Well it definitely won’t afford her current lifestyle, or yours.”

“I don’t live a lavish lifestyle.” Abby’s hands formed into fists at her sides.

“You don’t work either,” Ben continued on before she could give an angry reply. “Just think about it, okay?”

“So you’d agree to my terms,” Abby asked, “just to get the company?”

“Yes, as long as you agree to let me work out a solution for myself.”

“Solution?” Abby’s brows furrowed. “What kind of solution? I don’t understand.”

“Did you hear? My dad bought a chain of McDonald’s restaurants.” Ben was no longer whispering but talking loudly, smiling and looking around the room.

“What?” Before Abby could say any more Ben pulled her to the microphone nearby that was set up for the speeches during supper.
He tilted the mic to his mouth and spoke into it.

“Excuse me everyone, if I could have your attention, please.”

The chatter in the room died down to a soft lull.

“Ben, don’t,” Abby said in a loud whisper, but he ignored her. She spotted her parents at the back of the room. Her mom gave her a tiny wave. A sea of faces stared back at her as she looked out over the crowd.

Her vision spun for a moment, then her ears began to ring, so loudly that she couldn’t hear what Ben was saying into the microphone. What was he doing? He knew she felt trapped and disoriented in crowds.

Ben got down on one knee and slipped a ring onto her shaky finger. Applause erupted around the room.

People moved in close, pulling Abby into a hug, one after another. A pounding in her ears drowned out their words. No, I don’t want this.

She began counting in her head, something that she’d learned to do to cope in stressful situations. One to ten then start at one again. Somewhere in the back of her mind she pictured the lights of the Sicamous, reflecting off the dark waters of the Okanagan Lake at night. And she imagined herself swimming in the cool waves, away from everything and everyone. Everyone but Jade.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN




“I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND why you didn’t just say no and walk out of there,” Clarissa said around a mouthful of donut. They were drowning their sorrows in coffee and pastries at a donut shop. Clarissa had broken up with Matt after she’d caught him looking through all of her text messages while she was in the shower.

“I had a bit of a panic attack I think. I don’t know. That hasn’t happened in years,” Abby said, playing with the colourful sprinkles on her plate. “I’m just glad I didn’t faint or something.”

“I should have come to the party,” Clarissa sighed. “I should have been there for you. Then this would have never happened.”

“I was up all night thinking about it. This engagement could be my chance to grow up. No one else is ever going to agree to… to what I asked Ben to agree to. I could finally get married, and start my life.”

“You don’t know that there isn’t someone else out there who—”

“You said it yourself.” Abby looked at her friend. “No man would agree to marry me on the condition that we’d never have sex.”

“So why did Ben agree then?”

To get Canadian Citizenship. But she couldn’t tell Clarissa that. She already knew what Clarissa would say, and it wouldn’t be very lady-like.

Abby frowned down at her uneaten sprinkle donut. Would her father really lose his company if Ben didn’t buy out the shares from his parents and become majority shareholder? Or was Ben just being dramatic.

“I don’t know,” Abby finally said.

Clarissa set down her pastry. “What did he say again? About agreeing to your condition of marriage if you agreed to his condition?”

“Solution. He said as long as I agree to let him work out his own solution.”

“That sounds fishy to me.”

“But it doesn’t matter anyway. Don’t you see? In two months I could be married, have a new house and my own car, and no longer be living off my parents.” And my dad’s company would still be in the family.

“No, but you’d be living off Ben,” Clarissa said.

“I give up.” Abby’s voice rose as she fought back tears. She pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Wait,” Clarissa said, standing up as well. “I’m sorry I said that.”

“What am I supposed to do Clarissa?” Abby said, her tears threatening to fall. “I’m never going to get an offer like this again and, as you’ve probably noticed, I’m not exactly capable of being independent.”

“I think you are.”

Abby let out a sigh and sat back down. “Ben isn’t all bad. He’s a bit immature.” She shook her head. “Imagine me being the one to say that he’s immature. He’s got a job and knows how to socialize—”

“That doesn’t make him mature.” Clarissa sat down too, this time she took the chair next to Abby rather than the one across the table. She put a hand on Abby’s shoulder. “It’s up to you. I know girls who have settled for much worse.”

Abby laughed. “Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better.”

“I also know girls who chased after true love and were miserable in the end anyway. Life is complicated and nobody ever said it would be easy. There’s no shame in catching a break once in a while. I just think you should do what makes you happy.”

“It would make my parents happy.”

“Yes. But would it make you happy?”

Abby thought about this for a moment. “Before the engagement announcement, I was having a horrible time at the party. Everyone was asking me what I’m doing these days, and I felt like I’ve been on pause, done nothing at all. Then after Ben proposed in front of everyone, it’s like they were all proud of me, congratulating me and—”

“But would marrying Ben make you happy?”

“…and it made me happy. I felt better about myself, like I could belong, and fit in with everyone else.” Abby looked down at the diamond ring on her finger. “Making other people happy, like my parents and you and…” she almost said ‘Jade’ but then stopped herself, “Making others happy, is what makes me happy.”

Clarissa gave her a hug then got up. “Then I will support you in whatever you decide. So does this mean we’ll get to go wedding dress shopping together?”

“Possibly?” Abby smiled. She felt a twinge of excitement at the thought. “Seeing as I’m engaged and all.” She held up her hand with the diamond ring.

“So then, no more running away?”

“Nope. I’m finally ready to move forward,” Abby said with a certainty that she didn’t feel. 

“Well, you’re better off with Ben than I am with my hundredth break-up, and counting.”

“No one’s got it easy, do they?”

Clarissa grabbed the last bite of Abby’s donut and ate it. “Nope.”


CHAPTER FOURTEEN




ABBY GATHERED UP HER piles of sketch paper on her drawing desk. The hours and years of work they represented was depressing. At one time in her life she used to look at her comic pages and feel like they were destined for great things.

She imagined she would fulfill her dream of becoming a graphic artist and having her own comic series. But now all she saw was what her mother saw; a complete waste of time and energy.

She piled the papers carefully together and slipped them into a box. One benefit of being a home-maker to a husband who could support her was that she could continue working on things like her drawing. Yet the thought didn’t cheer her up for some reason.

She was about to close the box when she noticed a comic strip she’d drawn the previous year. The girl superhero she had created could command the lakes and rivers, the clouds and the rain. The boy in the comic, who wasn’t a superhero yet had hidden powers of his own, looked a lot like Jade.

Abby smiled at the coincidence. It was the hair. If she changed a few details she could make him look just like Jade.

“Abby,” Clarissa whispered, poking her head into the room. “Red Alert!”

Abby closed the box and a second later her mother came in.

“I see you’re almost done. Good. I’d like to have you moved in by tonight. We’re having some friends over and I don’t want boxes sitting out in front of the house. Why don’t we put all this stuff into the garage instead?”

For a second Abby thought her mom had said the ‘garbage’ instead of the ‘garage’. Either way it would have made her feel the same, like her stuff didn’t matter, like she didn’t matter. She pushed the thought aside. Her mom just wanted what was best. There was no denying that she cared for Abby, and her future. Maybe she cared a little too much.

“It will be moved into your new house with Ben in a few months anyway.” Her mom smiled. Then she seemed to remember something and pulled out an envelope from her purse. “I was just at the office checking in with Sharon and she gave me this.” She handed Abby the envelope. “It’s addressed to you. It came to the cleaning office.”

Abby looked at the return address. Skaha Lake Campground.

“Thanks.” She quickly tucked the letter away.

“Someone you know?” her mother asked.

“Well, I do have a friend camping in B.C. right now.” Abby turned back to her box. “I should get more packing done though, if you want me moved in before supper.”

“Do you need any help? I can call one of the maids from the office.”

“No, it’s okay. Clarissa’s helping me.”

Abby’s mom leaned into the room, her brows furrowed. “She’s moving in with that man, and they’re not even married.” She shook her head. “Maybe you should talk to her.”

“Mom, Clarissa knows what she’s doing.” Abby spotted Clarissa in the hallway behind her mom, rolling her eyes and making faces. She held back a chuckle.
Clarissa had gotten back together with Matt in the past few days and they were now moving in together. Whether or not it was a good idea was Clarissa’s business. “Don’t worry about her, Mom,” Abby said. “You do enough worrying about me.”

“That’s true.” Her mom straightened up and smiled. “Well, I’m off to see your father. It will be nice to have you back in the house again, even if it is just for a little while.”

“Okay, bye.” Abby waved her off, anxious to get at the envelope she held behind her back. She strummed her fingers on it as she waited to hear the front door close. When it finally did, she ripped open the envelope. The letter was from Jade. It read,

Abby, The Tiki Shores Resort said you checked out. I remembered the company name on your van and called the Alberta office. They wouldn’t give me your number but I hope this letter reaches you. (Hope you don’t mind). Call me?

At the bottom of the letter was a phone number.

“Abby?” Clarissa looked into the room. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” Abby tucked the letter under her pillow. “I’m fine.”

“You look like you’re about to cry.”

“No, I was just… Everything is changing kind of fast, that’s all.”

“Tell me about it!” Clarissa sighed, coming into the room to sit on Abby’s bed. “Sorry that you have to move out. Like I said, I can continue paying the other half of the rent, even if I’m living with Matt now. I don’t mind.”

“No,” Abby shook her head. “That wouldn’t be fair. And it’s okay. I don’t mind going home. It’s only for a short while.”

“This is what you wanted, right? To be engaged before you turned thirty? Are you going to have an engagement party?”

“Oh… I’m not sure.” Abby got up and pulled clothes out of her closet. “I’ve got a lot of packing to do, so…”

“I can tell something’s wrong.” Clarissa crossed her arms. “I’m your best friend, remember?”

Abby didn’t reply. She pulled a red dress off of its hanger and her diamond engagement ring caught on the sheer lining, ripping it.

“Shit,” Abby said under her breath.

Clarissa’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear.” She gave Abby a concerned look but didn’t ask any more questions. “I’ll leave you to it then. But let me know if you need any help, I don’t have a deadline to be all packed up by supper time, like you do. My stuff can wait.”

Abby nodded, then turned away. “Thanks Clarissa, but I think I just need to be alone right now.”


CHAPTER FIFTEEN




ABBY DREAMED OF THE OKANAGAN, its waters raging with waves in a storm. Rain fell in a downpour. Jade was waiting for her outside the S.S. Sicamous museum doors but she couldn’t get to him. She called to him from across the road but the downpour had caused a large river to form on the street between them and he couldn’t hear her call to him.
He continued to wait, but there was no getting across. Then he checked his watch, waved goodbye and left.

“No, wait! Jade!” Abby woke with a start, drenched in a cold sweat as though she actually had been out in a rainstorm. The clock on the bedside table said 3:11 AM. Her childhood bedroom felt smaller than ever, the four walls seemed to close in on her. The shelves of stuffed animals and teddy-bears were still there; gifts from friends, back when she still had birthday parties, before she was seven.

Abby got out of bed. She wouldn’t get back to sleep now, not with the stuffed animals all staring at her, reminding her that she wasn’t any better off in life than she’d been at age seven. She grabbed some clothes from her suitcase, then went to take a shower.

The full moon shined brightly, through the frosted glass window in the bathroom. It made Abby wish she was someone else, living in a world where magic and true romance existed. She showered quickly, not wanting to wake anyone. She would have enjoyed a longer shower but the brief one was enough to make her feel better.

Outside on the back patio the moon greeted her again, brightening the backyard. Abby stepped out with a cup of tea and her cell phone in hand. Jade’s letter stuck out of her sweater pocket.

The air was crisp, but not too cold. She pulled her sweater closed at the front then sat down on a chair with a plush cushion. The grass smelled freshly cut this early in the morning. Its rich scent calmed her nerves. 

Was it a bad idea to call Jade at this hour? She wouldn’t get a chance to during the day, not with her mother in the house and Clarissa taking her dress shopping in the afternoon. 

Abby turned on her cell phone and called Jade’s number, dialing quickly before she could get too nervous and change her mind. It would bother her all day if she ignored the letter and didn’t call him, at least to explain that she was engaged now and would not be returning to Penticton.

The phone rang only once before Jade picked it up. “Abby?” he said, his voice sounding rough with sleep.
Abby smiled. “How did you know it was me?”

“Wishful thinking I guess,” Jade said. He sounded so close, like he was answering the call here in town and not many hours away.

Abby looked up at the moon, wondering if Jade could see it too from where he was.
“I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Penticton,” she said softly.

There was a pause, before Jade replied. “I’d like to hang out with you again.”

Abby’s smile grew even though she felt sad. “That’s not really possible, because I’m in Alberta.”

“If you tell me where in Alberta, I’ll come to you.”

“Jade… I’m engaged to be married.”

There was another pause.
Abby pulled her knees up close to her chest and hugged them.

“When’s the wedding?” Jade asked.

“In a month, maybe two.”

“Then we have four weeks, maybe more, to hang out.”

Abby laughed softly but didn’t reply.

“Unless you postpone the wedding,” Jade continued, “until…like ten years from now?”

“I’ll look into doing that,” Abby said, playing with her hair.

“Seriously though, I want to come see you.”

The fluttering in Abby’s stomach was becoming more intense.

“Will you spend one more day with me?” Jade asked.

Abby rubbed her face with one hand, trying to think. Surely he was just flirting now and not serious. How would they manage the distance between them, just to spend one day together? She decided to play along.

“Sure,” she said.

“I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Abby gripped her phone tighter. Was he just half asleep or something?
“Are you sure you want to drive all the way here just for a day?”

“I’d do it even for an hour with you.”

Abby laughed. “Your parents won’t be happy about it.”

“I’m tired of doing what they want.”

Me too. Abby closed her eyes. But I’m not strong enough to take my life into my own hands. “I’ll be here,” she said, her desire to see Jade growing with every minute she talked to him.

“Okay, should I meet you...at the Calgary Tower then?”

“That might not work. I’ll be two hours south of the Calgary Tower, dress shopping with Clarissa most of the day. Sorry Jade.” Abby’s chest hurt. She wouldn’t tell him where she lived. It didn’t make sense for him to drive so far just to see her for one day. “It’s late… It was nice to talk to you again.”

“Okay. Thanks for calling,” Jade said softly. 

“Okay, bye.”

“Goodbye Abby.”


CHAPTER SIXTEEN




“WHY DON’T YOU COME OUT and we can have a look in the three-way mirror?” the saleswoman said over the changing stall. She had been assigned solely for Abby, which was rather unnecessary, since Clarissa was there to help.

“It’s too big,” Abby grumbled.

“All the dresses can be adjusted,” the sales lady said in a chipper voice that sounded fake.

“It’s really pretty.” Clarissa finished tying the laces at the back of the dress and turned Abby around to look at her. “They can adjust the bust.”

“Or I can stuff my bra.” Abby stuck out her tongue at her friend.

Clarissa laughed then opened the change room door.

Abby walked out and stepped up onto the raised platform in front of the large three-way mirror. Her breath caught when she saw her reflection.

She looked beautiful in the dress. Her neck was long and elegant, her waist tiny and her bust a soft olive colour against the lacy white bodice. The folds of the gown billowed out around her. 

“Would you like to try another one?” the sales-lady asked.

Abby was too distracted to reply. Seeing herself in this fairytale dress made her dare to believe in happy endings. Would she be sacrificing her own happy ending if she married Ben? Did it matter? She could hardly be picky, not with her unrealistic conditions for marriage. Ben was more than sufficient for her, considering he was willing to agree to marry her.

Abby looked at Clarissa, standing quietly by her side. “Do you think I’m ready for this?”

“No one’s ever ready for these big life steps,” Clarissa said softly. “You just have to decide to do it, then jump in and hope for the best.”

The saleslady left to go find another dress. Abby watched her in the mirror, then her eyes stopped on an unexpected sight. It was Jade, dressed in jeans and a white dress shirt. He wore a silver suit jacket rolled up at the sleeves and unbuttoned at the front.

Abby shut her eyes tight and shook her head. She’d been up since three in the morning and now she was seeing things in mirrors.

“Abby,” Clarissa whispered, pulling on her arm. “Isn’t that the guy from the beach?”

Abby opened her eyes again, afraid to look. He was still there, leaning back against a mock pillar, arms crossed, admiring her in the mirror. She turned quickly, stepping off the platform and tripping on her dress in her eagerness to get to Jade. Clarissa caught her, looking from Jade to Abby then back again. 
Abby freed herself and shuffled over to Jade as quickly as she could manage.

“Jade! What are you doing here? How did you find me?” She stopped in front of him, placing a hand against her chest to cover up the opening at the top of the bodice.

Jade took her free hand in his. The silver of his suit jacket brought out the blue in his eyes, and his dark hair looked midnight black compared to the white of his dress shirt.

“I found the city two hours south of Calgary and went to each bridal shop until I got to this one,” Jade said. “You look amazing.” His eyes travelled down over her. 

Clarissa came up to them and took Abby’s hand away from Jade’s, then she pulled her back into the change room and closed the door.

“Is there something going on that you haven’t told me about?” she whispered. “With him?”

“Not exactly,” Abby said.

Clarissa crossed her arms. “Did you kiss him?”

Abby shook her head no.

“Did you do more?”

“What? NO! Why would I skip the kissing part and jump straight to more?”

“Then why is he here?”

“He wanted to spend one last day with me.”

“Or one last night more likely.”

Abby put her hands on her hips.
“What do you mean? Do you think he’d only come if I gave him… something?”

“No, but…” Clarissa sighed. “You should just tell him to leave.”

For once Abby didn’t want to hear Clarissa’s advice. She began to take off the dress. “Can you help me out of this dress?” 

Clarissa helped and Abby changed back into her short sleeved blouse and khaki shorts.

“Do you want me to tell him to go?” Clarissa asked, handing Abby her shoes.

“No.” Abby took the shoes and put them on. An irrational feeling gripped her; that Jade would disappear any second if she didn’t hurry up.

Grabbing her cell phone off a chair, Abby ran out of the change room, then took Jade by the hand, leaving Clarissa and the elegantly carpeted store behind.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Jade said once they were outside. “I can hang out while you try on dresses.”

Abby slowed down as they put some distance between themselves and the bridal shop. “It’s okay,” she shrugged. “Those dresses are too beautiful for my wedding anyway.”

Jade’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“How long were you driving for?” Abby said, changing the subject.

The sun warmed her bare arms and she was glad to be out of the air conditioning.

“About nine hours I think, and the time it took to visit the two other Bridal shops in town.”

Abby stopped walking. “You’ve been driving since we got off the phone at three in the morning?” Just then her cell phone rang. She glanced at the screen. It was her mother. “Sorry. I have to take this.” She held back a sigh and answered the call. “Hello?”

“Sweetheart! I meant to be there today, I truly did,” her mother said over the phone.

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay. Don’t pick a dress today. I want to be there when you pick a dress.”

“Okay, I won’t pick a dress today.”

“Oh good,” her mom sighed theatrically. “I need you to go to the house right away. You can browse dresses later. I was in such a rush this morning and your father’s out of town, and Sofia isn’t in to clean until later. I was in such a rush I forgot to feed Bailey. Poor girl, she’s so sensitive in her old age, I’m afraid she will get depressed, having missed her breakfast, and with all the activity around the house lately. Those depression medications are so expensive.”

“Mom, she’s just a dog. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Abby! You know how I feel about you calling Bailey ‘just a dog.’”

“We’ll go feed her right now.” Abby glanced at Jade who winked at her.

“Oh good,” her mom said. “I’ll talk to you again soon then.” She hung up the phone.

“So we’re going to your house to feed your dog?” Jade asked.

“My mom’s dog,” Abby corrected.

Jade put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. ”Sounds like fun. What’s her name?”

“Her name is Bailey and she’s spoiled rotten.” Abby stopped, realizing that she’d come in Clarissa’s car. “Can we take your car?”

“Sure.” Jade gave her a little squeeze and then turned them around to head back in the other direction.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN



ABBY HAD NEVER BROUGHT a boy home before. Ben didn’t really count. He came as a friend of her parents, not as her boyfriend. In fact he came over to chat with her dad more than to see her. 

Abby unlocked the front door to the house, her hands clammy as she turned the door knob. Taking a deep breath she opened the door and let Jade in.

He smiled as he walked past then looked up at the tall ceiling in the front entrance. “Nice,” he said.

“Thanks.” Abby went to attend to Bailey right away, who was resting on the floor in a patch of sunlight.

The small dog raised her little head for a moment when Jade walked by, then lowered it again and went back to her nap. She did not seem at all concerned with having missed her breakfast.

“So,” Jade said, “this is your childhood home.”

Abby’s insides fluttered. What did he think of her home? She looked around at the perfectly clean kitchen and the adjoining large living room, trying to see it as Jade would. The house looked like a show home. It was a show home once and, with the help of her mother’s maid, it still looked like one.

“When I see it through your eyes it does seem weird that I grew up here,” Abby said.
She finished changing Bailey’s water then rinsed her hands in the kitchen sink.
“I’ll show you where I actually grew up.”

Abby led Jade upstairs and down the hall to her modest sized bedroom. She opened the curtains to let in more sunlight. Her arms felt heavy, like she was too weak to use them. Having Jade in her room made her that nervous. She never brought Ben up here. When he visited, they all talked in the living room or the dining room. He’d never asked to see her bedroom and she’d never offered to show him.

Jade stepped into the room and Abby braced herself for him to make a joke about the stuffed animals or the pink wallpaper, but he didn’t. The first thing he noticed was the shell necklace on her dresser.
He walked over and picked it up. “You kept it.”

“Of course.” Abby took the necklace from him to put it on. “I’ve been wearing it every day since you gave it to me. But today I didn’t want to snag it on a high collared dress or something at the bridal store.”

Jade stepped behind her to help fasten the clip attached to the leather chord. His fingertips brushed the back of Abby’s neck, sending warm shivers down her spine. When he was done he set his hands lightly onto her shoulders and looked at her in the dresser mirror.
“You always look so beautiful,” he said softly.

Abby turned to face him, and then found herself in his arms. He smelled of suntan lotion and the familiar scents of the beach. It made her long to return there again and feel the hot sun on her shoulders. Jade pulled her into a hug.

“Isn’t your family going to worry about you?” she asked.

“I don’t think it’s possible for them to worry any more than they already do.” Jade’s answer seemed packed with meaning. Why were they so worried about him? She was about to ask, but then he pulled away and walked over to the computer desk. He picked up one of her drawings, the one with the character that looked like him.

“Where’d you buy this?” he asked, inspecting it. “It’s really good. Looks like an original. I love Anime art.” Jade looked at her. “Did you get this at a comic convention?”

“It’s mine.” Abby walked over to him to take the drawing.

“You drew this?” Jade’s eyes widened. “This is amazing.” 

“It was a while ago.” She took the drawing and set it into the box with the others, face down.
“I don’t draw anymore.”

“Why not?” Jade picked out other pages from the box and looked through them. “You drew all of these?”

He stopped to look more closely at a detailed drawing of two characters fighting. “Wow.” 

“Lots of people draw.” Abby watched him inspect her artwork. Each time he touched a page it felt like he was touching her. No one but Clarissa had seen these drawings.

“Abby,” Jade looked at her with intense blue eyes. “These are really good. Have you published anything yet?”

“No,” She looked away. “It’s just a hobby.”

“Are you kidding?” Jade pulled out a few more drawings. “You could go to the Comicon in Vancouver with these. Your work is way better than a lot of the artists that go.”

“I couldn’t just go, I’m not famous.”

“Sure you can. You just pay for a table at the artists booths.”

Abby shook her head no. 

“Why not?” Jade asked. “You’re very talented.”

Abby was too choked up to respond. Why was Jade stirring up her childhood dreams, the ones that she’d long ago given up on? She couldn’t start believing in them again, not now that she was grown up and knew those types of dreams didn’t come true for average people.

“Have you eaten?” Abby asked.

Jade set the pages he was holding back into the box.
“I could eat,” he said. “Maybe I can take you to the Comicon in Vancouver next year.”
He stopped, as though remembering something, then frowned.
“I could definitely eat something.”


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN




JADE SEEMED SUBDUED during their lunch downstairs. The spark in his eyes was gone. 
Finally, after they’d cleaned up, he came out of his slump.

“Let’s go line dancing tonight!” he said, spinning Abby in his arms.

She laughed. “Line dancing? Where?”

“I don’t know, this is Cowboy Country isn’t it? I sure passed by a lot of cows in fields on my way here.”

Abby laughed again. “So you think we can just show up at some barn outside of town and we’ll find cowboys wrapping up their daily chores and beginning their evening barn dance?”

“Maybe.” Jade grabbed her sides to tickle her.

“Stop, I’m ticklish.” She squealed and ran away.

Bailey perked up and chased after them, barking at Jade.

Abby evaded Jade, determined not to get caught and be tickled further. What if he tried to kiss her?

But her laughing slowed her down and Jade caught her. He pinned her against the wall near the front entrance of the house.

“Line dancing in a barn,” he said, catching his breath, “happens to be on my bucket list okay?”

Abby squirmed but he held onto her wrists and she couldn’t get away.
“Have you ever been kissed?” he asked.

When she didn’t answer right away he released his grasp, placing his palms against hers and slowly slipping his fingers between hers.

“I’ve been kissed,” Abby said, her heart racing. She clasped his fingers tightly. “But only…politely.”

Jade laughed at this, his chest moving against hers.
“Well then, can I kiss you politely, too?”

He looked down at her lips and Abby’s belly did a little flip, like she’d just dropped on a roller coaster. She didn’t know how to kiss! Not in any real way at least. He was waiting for her answer.

Abby nodded, clasping his hands even tighter. He leaned forward, brushing his lips over hers. Her back arched in response and his grip on her hands tightened. He hesitated a moment then pulled back and let go of her.
Her shoulders relaxed. Just a polite kiss, that’s all it was.

Jade slipped a hand behind her neck, fingers tangled in her hair, and the other behind the small of her back. A heat flowed through her, from head to toe. He was going to kiss her for real this time.

“Jade wait...” Abby set her palms against his chest, resisting his embrace.
What could she say? I’m scared?

He tucked her hair behind her ear, running his thumb along her cheek, then over her bottom lip. “Can I kiss you again?” he asked, his voice husky. Their bodies moved against each other as they breathed and he waited for Abby’s response. She licked her dry lips, accidentally licking Jade’s thumb as well.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, then kissed her again. This time her lips parted and their tongues touched.
Abby’s toes curled and she slipped her arms around Jade’s neck, pushing herself against him, wanting more.

The click of the front door being unlocked cut through their sighs.

Abby stifled a groan of disappointment as Jade separated himself from her, leaving a cold emptiness where his body had been.
The door opened and Sofia, her parents’ Spanish cleaning lady, stepped in holding a bucket of supplies.

“Oh! Miss Abby!” she said, pushing her hand to her chest. “I’m sorry.” She took in the sight before her. “I have forgotten that you are home now again. And you have a male company. I am sorry. I came too early.”

“No, it’s okay. Come in.”
Abby opened the door wider, helping the older lady with her vacuum.
“We were just leaving.”

“Thank you,” Sofia nodded.
Abby let out the breath she’d been holding. “Sofia, this is my…friend, Jade.”
Jade stepped forward and offered his hand.

“Very nice to meet you,” Sofia said, shaking his hand.
Abby was grateful to the lady. She’d come just in time before things got too heated.

Never had Abby felt so out of control and hungry for more, rather than afraid of it.
Her knees were still weak. But there was nowhere it could lead, since she couldn’t have sex.

She sighed. “I need some fresh air.”


CHAPTER NINETEEN




ABBY THREW HER KEYS down as she entered her apartment. They landed on the hardwood floor with a loud clatter.

“Whoops,” she said. “There used to be a side table there.”
She removed her shoes and Jade did the same.
“Well,” she put her hands on her hips, surveying the room. “This is it, my old apartment.” Her voice echoed in the open space.

Jade ran to the middle of the empty living room and slid across the hardwood floors in his socks, then fell onto the couch.

“I love empty apartments,” he said, lying on his back and closing his eyes.

Abby joined him, sitting at the opposite end by his feet. The living room was mostly empty, only the couch remained because it was too heavy for her and Clarissa to lift themselves.
“Why do you love empty apartments?” Abby asked. She loved seeing Jade so relaxed.

He put his hands behind his head and opened his eyes to meet hers.
“I always wanted to move into my own apartment.”

“You still live with your parents then?”

“Yeah, but not because I want to.”

“They won’t let you move out?”

“My mom is worried…” Jade sat up and rubbed his forehead. “I’m more tired than I thought.”

Abby got up to give him room to lie down comfortably.

“Of course you’re tired. I’m sorry. You drove for nine hours. You should sleep for a bit.”

“Where are you going?”
Jade grabbed Abby around the waist with both hands and pulled her on top of him.
“Rest with me.”

“You need to sleep,” Abby said, holding back a smile.
“I’ve had sleep.”

Jade hugged her closer. She lay her head onto his chest and settled into the couch beside him, draping one leg over his stomach.

“One sec.” Jade sat up and took off his suit jacket, throwing it onto the ground. He lay back down and pulled Abby close again. She rested her hand on his white dress shirt where she could feel his heartbeat. Her nervous energy that had been with her all day began to melt away as she relaxed into his embrace. She’d just rest for a little while, then…

Then what? Then she’d tell Jade he had to go home? He’d driven all this way to spend just one more day with her. And they hadn’t even spent a full day together yet. It was only about two in the afternoon.

Abby blinked at the sun shining onto them through the glass balcony doors. Its heat warmed her cheek and arm that rested on Jade. She’d never felt so comfortable in her life.

Abby’s arm was cold and the apartment lay in darkness. Why was she asleep on the couch? Jade moved beneath her and she remembered, her insides fluttering.

“Hi,” he said, his hand running down her back. The fluttering in her tummy sprung to life and she remembered Jade’s lips on hers when they’d kissed that morning. She didn’t want to move from his arms. Could he feel her heart racing against his side?

Abby’s arm that she’d been laying on had fallen asleep and her bladder was full. She got up.

The street lamp outside lit the living room floor in a soft glow but the rest of the room was dark with shadows.

Jade’s fingers brushed Abby’s side, making their way down her arm and leaving goose bumps on her skin. He sat up too, seeming reluctant to let her go.

“We slept for a while,” he said in a raspy voice.

“Yeah…” Abby got off the couch and went to switch on the light. “I’m surprised my mom didn’t call a million times.” She flipped the switch but the lights didn’t come on. She flipped it a few more times. “There’s no power?”

“Is that your phone ringing?” Jade asked.
A white glow from the floor lit up the ceiling. Her phone was on silent and there was an incoming call. She picked it up off the floor. It was Ben calling.

“I’ll just be a minute,” she said to Jade.

“Washroom?” he asked, pointing down the hall.

Abby nodded with a thumbs up then turned her back to him, to answer the call.
“Hello?”

“Hi, Abby. Is this a good time?” Ben sounded business-like, as usual.

Abby stepped out of the apartment into the bright lights of the hallway.
“What’s up?” she asked, closing the door behind her. Ben usually just sent texts instead of calling, unless it was important.

“Did I catch you at dinner?”

“No, I haven’t had dinner yet.”

“Good. I was hoping we could go for dinner and talk.”

“I thought my parents were in Calgary,” Abby couldn’t resist saying. “Or do you mean just with me?”

“They’re on their way back right now actually. But I did mean just us. How about we go to The Mix Lounge?”

Abby groaned. “They always I.D. me there, and one time someone called me your daughter, remember?” She laughed but Ben didn’t. “I can’t tonight anyway. Tomorrow sometime?”

“I have meetings all day tomorrow,” Ben said. Abby rolled her eyes as she paced the hall, eager to get off the phone.

“Listen Abby, I know I never gave you the chance to really say yes to the engagement. I was worried you’d say no.”

Abby didn’t reply. It wasn’t often that Ben dropped his businessman demeanour and actually said something real.

“I’m not a very emotional person,” Ben continued, “so I’m not good at…expressing myself.”

Abby sighed. Despite all his faults, Ben was an okay guy. He’d stuck with her for a long time and was the only long term boyfriend she’d ever really had, even if their year of dating consisted of very few actual dates.

“I just need a little time to figure things out,” Abby said, looking behind her at the door.

Ben didn’t respond.

“Can we talk over supper tomorrow night?” she asked.

“I have a dinner meeting tomorrow night and then—” Ben paused. “Actually, never mind. I’ll cancel that. It’s not that important. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“At the Mix?”

“We can go to a fast food place if you’d like.”

Abby stopped pacing. This really wasn’t like Ben. He hated fast food.
“My favourite one downtown?”

“Sure. I’ll text you.”

Ben was already talking to someone else before the phone call disconnected.

Abby stared at her phone for a moment. She almost preferred the emotionally distant version of Ben. This one might prove difficult to keep emotionally distant from.

A sudden chill ran through her and she hugged her arms around her body. What if Ben began to open up and want to become closer, emotionally? Physically? No, it wouldn’t happen. He must want something from her and this was his way of trying to get it, by acting more vulnerable and agreeing to eat at a fast food restaurant.

With a sigh, Abby opened her apartment door and went back in. Jade was lying on the couch, the light of his cell phone shining down on him as he pressed the buttons on the screen. He glanced over at her and she smiled back.

She pointed down the hall. “I’ll be right back.”

In the washroom she flipped on the light switch but the lights weren’t working. She took out her phone to use as a flashlight.

There were two missed calls from her mother and one text from Clarissa,
'I came back to the apt. Found u and J wrapped up together like a pretzel. Not sure what’s going on or if you’ve resolved your ‘problem’ ;) Call me.'

Abby set the phone down and went to the washroom, then washed her hands quickly and brushed her fingers through her hair to tame the wild curls. She couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror well enough to tell if she looked good or not. If only she still had some of her make-up here and a hair brush. Then again, she never wore any make-up at the beach and that’s how Jade had always seen her. She grabbed her phone to reply to Clarissa’s text.

'Nothing’s going on.'
Or was there?

Back in the living room Jade was sitting on the couch, flipping his cell phone in the air and catching it again. He smiled when he saw her.

“Everything okay on your end?” she asked, sitting down beside him.

“The parents are crazy mad at me right now. But they don’t know where I am exactly so they can’t hunt me down.”

“That’s not good,” Abby frowned.

“Don’t worry. I told them I’m fine and that I’m going back tomorrow.”

Jade’s words hung in the air between them.

Abby’s shoulders slumped. She looked down at the dark shadows of her hands in her lap, not sure what to say.

“So, Ben called?” Jade asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah… You hungry?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a Chinese restaurant nearby.”

“How about Japanese?” Jade put his arm around her.

“Japanese sounds great.”


CHAPTER TWENTY




ABBY STRUGGLED TO PICK up the California Maki with her chop sticks. Jade sat in front of her in the middle of the floor. They’d picked up some candles, matches and marshmallows from a grocery store near the Japanese Restaurant on the way home.

The smell of burnt matches hung in the air, mixed with the warm scents of the pumpkin spice candles that were lit around them. Abby looked down at the guitar on the floor beside Jade. She’d seen it in the back seat of his car and brought it up.

“I’m not really any good at it you know,” Jade said, nodding to the guitar. “But I suppose I’m better at it than you are at using chopsticks.”

Abby stabbed her Maki down the middle and lifted it to her mouth, but it fell apart before she could close her lips around it. Jade picked up the mangled pieces from her plate with one scoop of his chopsticks and offered it to her.

“Want me to feed you?” he teased, looking down at her lips.

“I can manage,” Abby said. She grabbed the Maki off of Jade’s chopsticks with her fingers and shoved the whole thing into her mouth.

“You’re not used to eating with chopsticks?” Jade asked.

“No,” Abby said, her cheeks flushing. “We only eat Japanese food once a year, on Christmas Day.”

“On Christmas Day? No Turkey with all the trimmings?”

“My mom hosts a big Christmas party every year, with Turkey and all that, in the beginning of December. On Christmas Day everyone is with their own families so it’s just me and my mom and dad. It’s the only time I ever see my mom in sweatpants and a t-shirt.”

Abby looked at Jade to see if he was bored, but he seemed interested so she continued. “All the stores are closed on Christmas Day so we stay at home, watch Rudolf and eat reheated Japanese food from the day before.”

Jade smiled, then ate another Maki. Abby waited for him to say something about his family Christmases, but he didn’t. He never said much about his family or himself it seemed.

He poked around in the take out containers with his chopsticks, his eyes catching the candlelight, his hair curling up at the ends. He was like a Christmas present, one she’d always wanted but never thought she’d get.

“What are you thinking about?” Jade asked, looking up and catching her staring.

“Thinking about?” Abby scooted away from him, knocking over a candle that was behind her. He quickly grabbed for it, leaning forward and catching it just in time, then setting it straight again. His shoulder brushed hers and she stiffened. He pulled back, giving her some room, but staying close.

“Come with me,” he said, reaching up to touch her cheek.

Abby held her breath. He was so close. She wanted him to kiss her again, even if all the strong emotions it awakened scared her. But he didn’t kiss her. He was waiting for her to answer.

“Go with you? Where would we go?” Abby said, pulling away from his touch to clear her head.

“You’re right.” Jade sat back and picked up the candle nearest him, inspecting the flame. “I still live with my parents.”

“And I still live with mine.” Abby sighed. “Don’t you just wish you could get away from them? Be totally free, as though they didn’t even exist?”

“Yes.” Jade set down the candle. His shoulders slumped. “But it’s not that simple. They do exist and I can’t just ignore them.”

Abby nodded. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Do your parents worry about you too?”

“Yes, but it’s not just that. I don’t know if I’d get too far without them and I think they know that.” Abby’s cheeks heated up. She didn’t want Jade to know how dependent she was, and yet he seemed to understand.

“I wouldn’t either actually,” he said. “Not for long anyway.”

“What do you mean?” Abby studied Jade’s face, hoping to get a clue as to what he meant. Was something holding him back from being on his own? For her it was her fears and anxieties more than anything, but Jade didn’t seem the type of person that would have such issues.

“Want me to play you a song?” he asked, picking up his guitar.

“Okay,” Abby smiled. She could tell he didn’t want to open up, and she wouldn’t push him.

He took out the guitar pick that was set between the strings at the guitar neck and strummed a chord. “I always wanted to be in a band,” he said as he tuned the guitar.

“Maybe you will be one day.” Abby clasped her hands together and prepared to listen to his song.

“I won’t. There’s not enough time for stuff like that.”

“For what? Being in a band?”

He ignored her question and strummed another note, then another, humming along and changing the chord until he was satisfied.

“Let’s write our song together,” Jade began. His singing voice had a rough and breathy sound to it. Abby closed her eyes and listened.

“And send secret letters, in another world that will last forever, where we have more than just this moment. Because there’s nothing I can do.” Jade stopped, clearing his voice and changing the chord again. 

“I’ve already lost, and you’ll just get hurt, there’s nothing I can do, I know this can’t work. But there might just be something real, here, between me and you, something true, but we’ll never know, because there’s nothing I can do, nothing I can do, to stay here, beside you, nothing I can do, to give you, all you deserve, as I should, as I wish I could, There’s only a moment, only this moment I have with you.”

He strummed the last note and the apartment lay in silence.

Abby opened her eyes, finding it hard to swallow. She wasn’t sure if he’d written the song for her but it made her sad. He set down his guitar and bowed his head. Her heart clenched.

This whole time that she’d been trying to figure out how she felt, about Ben and Jade, and her future. Yet she’d never considered how Jade felt.

He looked up at her, his eyes full of emotion. “I’ve made you sad,” he said, getting up. “If this is my last night with you then let’s do something fun and not be sad.”

Abby got up too. “Like what? It’s getting late.”

“When’s the last time you stayed up all night?”

“Willingly?” Abby thought for a moment. “I think never.”

Jade laughed. “I’m not about to sleep away my last night with you. Let’s start by roasting those marshmallows.”

Jade went to the counter to grab the bag of marshmallows and Abby jumped up to get to them first. She swiped them out of his hands and he tackled her onto the couch.

“Hey, you’ll squish the marshmallows,” she said.

“Sorry.” He got up and offered his hand to help her up. She took it, secretly wishing he’d continued wrestling with her on the couch.
He snatched the bag away from her.

“Hey!” Abby yelled, chasing after him.

* * *

“I think I’m just charring the outside,” Abby said, inspecting the brown and black spotted marshmallow at the end of her chopstick. “It hasn’t puffed up at all.”

Jade set his own marshmallow down on the lid of a take-out container.
“Let me see.” He took Abby’s marshmallow off of her stick with his fingers.

“Hey, that’s mine!” Abby grabbed for it but Jade quickly bit it in half.

“See it’s soft in the middle,” he said, showing her the sticky marshmallow. He offered her the other half.

Abby took a hold of his hand to steady it, then ate the rest of the marshmallow from his fingertips, not wanting to dirty her own hands. She wrapped her lips around his finger, trying to get a sticky part off.

“Abby…stop.” Jade moved his hand away and quickly got up.

“What's wrong?” Abby asked, but Jade had already disappeared into the darkness that lay outside of the candlelight. “I’ll just wash my hands,” she heard him say, followed by the sound of the water running in the sink.

She took another marshmallow from the bag and stuck it onto the end of her chopstick, deciding to roast another one. The half marshmallow she’d eaten from Jade’s fingers had tasted really good and she wanted another one.

“Hypothetical question,” Jade said, returning to their candlelit area. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbows and the top buttons of his dress shirt were now undone.
He sat down beside Abby. “Would you still marry Ben, if you only had one year left to live?”

“No,” Abby said without hesitation.

“You didn’t take a lot of time to think about that,” Jade said, watching her.

“If I just had a year left I’d spend the time with my parents and Clarissa…and you.”

Jade nodded, thinking. His hair was disheveled and hung into his eyes.
“Have you ever made a bucket list?” he asked after a moment.

“No. Have you?”

“I’ve got one in my head.”

Abby abandoned her marshmallow and pulled out her cell phone. ”I’m going to write one now.”

Jade took out his cell phone too. “Text your list to me and I’ll text you mine,” he said, laying back onto the hardwood floor. He held his phone up in front of him and began typing away.

Abby pulled her legs up to her chest and set her phone onto her knees, close to her face, like she was typing a secret message.
She had to think for a moment. She’d never put any thought into a bucket list before. Jade, on the other hand, didn’t seem to need any time to think over his.

Less than a minute later Abby’s notification bar showed a new text message from Jade.
She looked over at him. “Give me a minute, I’m still thinking.”

“No rush.” He winked at her, then went back to his phone.

Abby thought about what she’d want to do before she died. She’d always wanted a dog, not a small one like her mom’s dog but a big one that would roam on a farm. She lived in a province with lots of farmers but had never been on a farm herself. Living on one wouldn’t be on her bucket list though. She wasn’t sturdy enough to be a farm girl. Then there was the whole marriage and family thing that she had to start getting around to doing soon.

Finally, after some thought, Abby came up with the following list:

-Go to Disneyland
-Have sex (maybe)
-Get a dog
-Get a tattoo
-Have a Baby
-Become financially independent
-Publish my comic books
-Go to a Rock Concert
-Visit Grandparents in Ontario one day
-Go to Hawaii
-Hear the Four Seasons live at the Symphony

She sent the list to Jade and his phone vibrated.
He opened the text and laughed.

“Are you planning to do these things in this order?”

“No.” Abby gave Jade a look then opened his text.

-Go line dancing
-Crash my car
-Have a baby
-Climb a mountain
-Fall in love
-Go bungee jumping
-Get drunk
-Get a tattoo
-Watch LOTR and The Hobbit
-Go Carolling
-Go caving
-Join the SETI League

“Interesting list,” Abby chuckled. “What’s SETI?”

“Searching for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence.”

Abby laughed. “Nice. Well I might add get drunk to my list too I think,” she said.

“You’ve never been drunk?”

“No. I’ve never drank before. Well, other than sips of wine.”

Jade sat up and looked at her.
“Are you religious?”

“No, just scared to drink or get drunk. Knowing my luck I’d have an allergic reaction and die.”

“But you’re not scared anymore?” His eyes searched hers.

“I don’t know, maybe. I’ll just get drunk when I’m 80, then if I die at least I’ll have lived most of my life already. What about you? You’ve never drank?”

“My dad’s a pastor,” Jade said, looking at his cell phone again. “Hey, we both have get a tattoo on our lists.”

“And have a baby,” Abby added. “But I don’t see how you can have one Jade, since you’re a guy.”

“You know what I mean,” he smiled, still looking at his phone. “You have publish my comic books.”

“I’m waiting until I’m almost dead for that too. Then I’ll publish them and my chances of being famous will increase with my death, because people will feel they owe it to me as a tribute to my life to buy them.” Abby giggled but Jade simply ignored the comment.

“You’ve never been to a rock concert?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“My favourite rock band is doing a concert in Vancouver in September. Do you want me to take you?”
 
“Isn’t Vancouver a little far?”

“I live there.”

Abby nodded, looking at Jade’s list again. “You don’t have a lot of crazy things on your list,” she said. “Like bridge jumping or cliff diving. Or even going to Hawaii or Australia.”

“Travelling is too time consuming. Don’t you already have a dog?”

“That’s my Mom’s dog. And it’s small. I want to have a big, slobbery dog that knocks over wine glasses left on coffee tables and bangs into people and eats slippers for breakfast.”

Jade laughed. “Okay I’m adding big, slobbery dog to my bucket list then too.”

Abby watched him paste his old list into a new message and add big slobbery dog to it.

“Here’s the updated version,” he said. “Oh and I have something on my list that I can take off now cuz I’ve already done it.”

“I hope it’s line dancing, because I’m not going, sorry.”

Abby’s phone vibrated with Jade’s new list. She scrolled between the two messages to see what he’d taken off, but an incoming text from Clarissa interrupted her.

'Are you okay?'
Abby texted back right away,
'Yes I’m fine :) '
A few seconds later she got a reply.
'What are you doing? Are you busy?'

Abby stared at the text for a moment, not sure how to respond. She didn’t want to be one of those girls that forgot about her best friend when a guy came along. But Clarissa had been disappointed to see Jade at the bridal shop earlier so she’d be even more disappointed to find out Abby was with him right now.

“Do you have a black pen?” Jade asked, pulling her out of her thoughts.

“In my purse.” She set her phone down, deciding not to answer Clarissa’s text for now.

“Can you draw your anime character on my back? Like a tattoo?” Jade asked, starting to unbutton his shirt.

Abby’s pulse sped up. She shrugged in response, pulling her knees up to her chest again and hugging them tight.

“Please?” Jade moved in closer.

“Why?” Abby’s cheeks grew warm as he undid a few more buttons.

“It’s the closest thing I’m ever going to get to a real tattoo.”

“You can get a real one can’t you?”

Jade stopped unbuttoning his shirt and got up.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said.
He began clearing away their food containers and gathering them all into the large paper bag they’d come in.

“It would just wash off anyway,” Abby said, feeling guilty that she was too shy to do something like draw on a guy’s back.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jade said, giving her a quick smile, then continuing with his cleaning. 

Abby stood up and got her purse from the front entrance. There was a pen in there somewhere.

“Jade?” She put her hand on his arm to stop him from cleaning. “Which character do you want me to draw?”


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE




GATHERING THE CANDLES AROUND them for better light, Abby knelt down behind Jade.

He slid his shirt off and threw it onto the couch. Her fingers hovered over his back. She wouldn’t be able to draw without resting her palm on his bare skin, but the idea seemed so intimate. Too intimate.
The room was much too warm from the candles.

Abby got up and went to open the balcony doors to let in the night air. It wasn’t much cooler outside than inside, but at least there was some air movement now.

The candles flickered in the slight breeze. Abby returned to her spot where Jade waited patiently. She let out the breath she’d been holding and set her left hand onto his shoulder to steady herself. His skin was warm and his muscles relaxed beneath her touch.

She ran her fingers over his back, studying her canvas as she planned out her drawing. “How big do you want it?”

“Whatever takes the longest time to draw,” Jade said.

Abby smiled. “I’m just going to do something basic.”

“We’ve got all night.” He turned to look at her over his shoulder.

“Don’t move,” Abby said, turning him back.

Then she began to draw.

She’d keep the drawing small and just on his right shoulder.

Soon she was lost in her work, adding details and retreating into her own world.

When she was finally done she sat back to admire her work. It was fantastic.

“Too bad it’s not permanent,” she said to herself.

Jade turned to face her and suddenly he was only inches from her. The pen dropped from her hand.

It was the middle of the night and Jade was shirtless, by candlelight, looking down at her lips.

“It’s your turn,” he whispered. His breath tickled her cheek. He picked up the pen and sat back.

“Me?” Abby blinked.

“Yes, you.” Jade said. “You have, get a tattoo, on your bucket list too, don’t you?”

“Yes, but a real tattoo, not a pen version.”

Jade gave her playful grin. “Don’t you want to see how it looks on you first, before you get a real one?”

Abby nodded. “I guess.”

“What would you get, if you got a real tattoo?”

“Three birds, ravens, like in a movie I saw once.”

“Good choice.” Jade grabbed his phone and searched for an image online. Abby got into a cross-legged position, her heart settling down a bit as she waited.

“Like this?” Jade held the phone out for her to see. The picture was of a girl with three black ravens tattooed onto her chest, near the collar bone at her right shoulder. Abby’s hand went up to the collar of her blouse. He’d be drawing on her there?

Jade set his phone down on the floor beside her, with the image displayed.
“I think I can draw it.” Sliding towards her, he moved as close as he could, until their knees touched.
“Do you want it in the same place as she has it?” He asked, reaching up and touching her neck. His touch sent a trail of electricity down Abby’s back.

“Here?” Jade moved the collar of her blouse to the side and her head tilted in the opposite direction, allowing him more access to her neck.

“I think it’s lower,” she whispered, her pulse racing beneath his fingertips. With unsteady fingers she unbuttoned the top of her blouse. Jade slid his hand beneath the light fabric, sliding it off her shoulder. He started to move her bra strap down then stopped. Their eyes met.

There was a question in his eyes as he waited for her permission. Abby answered with a smile. He slid the bra strap the rest of the way off her shoulder and she closed her eyes. Her chest rose as she took in a slow breath, meeting his warm palm. He rested his hand down and she felt the tip of the ink pen begin to glide over her skin as he drew. It rolled in cool, smooth strokes.

“Two,” Abby whispered.

“Two?” Jade asked, his voice thick with emotion.

“Yes. Just two birds, please.”

“Okay.” He continued drawing. Each pen stroke, each movement of his fingers, sent shivers through Abby. What would his lips feel like caressing the same places that the pen traveled along her skin?
Jade’s breath tickled her neck as he worked in silent concentration.

Then suddenly he moved away. “All done,” he said, setting her blouse back onto her shoulder. The unbuttoned front fell forward, opening up and exposing her bra. His eyes trailed down and then back up again to meet hers.

He leaned towards her, his hand reaching up behind her head, fingers tangling in her hair. Abby moved closer, eager for his kiss.

The click of the front door lock echoed through the room and they jumped apart. Abby quickly buttoned her shirt and stood up to go to the door.

Jade grabbed his own shirt off the couch and put it on.

Only one person had the key to this apartment and it was Clarissa.
Abby sighed in frustration. The girl had the worst timing.

---------------------------

For the rest of the story please visit Amazon or Indigo/ Chapters for the Virgin Diaries ebook or paperback!

© Bianca Rowena

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