Leo rolled over and turned off his alarm clock two minutes before the alarm would have buzzed, 5:03am. He was about to get up, but then he realized that he shouldn’t run this morning, just in case. Two dizzy spells yesterday were more than enough to convince him to take it easy for a couple of days. Leo slung his arm over his eyes and relaxed. No running meant he didn’t need to get up and into the shower for at least another half hour. He let his mind wander over the events of the previous day. A lot happened. His morning run ended with a dizzy spell, then the fight with Matt and Charlie rescuing him. Then, Charlie taking care of him at the lighthouse, the panic attack at the mall, and finally meeting up with Charlie again. He thought they were about to kiss, just for a moment, but then it didn’t happen. Maybe next time!
Today was the first day of senior year. He supposed that he should hunt down Jasper and talk with him about Matt once he was at school. Leo really didn’t want to talk with Jazz, but the harassment and fights had to stop. He also thought about the possibility of trying out for track and pushing Kameron into trying out, too. Most of all, Leo was just thinking about getting through the school day, getting back home, and hanging out with Charlie.
All of this replayed in Leo’s mind as he lay there in bed. He glanced at the clock again, 5:42. Time to get up and get ready for school, or as his best friend Brandon called it, prison.
Leo looked at the lock screen on his phone as he left Starbucks, 6:52. He still had plenty of time to catch the bus. He peered over at Kam. “You ready for your first day of high school, little bro?”
“Yeah. For sure. I mean, maybe a little nervous, but excited too. Are we still trying out for cross country or track or whatever?”
“Yeah. I think Brandon knows someone on the team. I’ll find out about tryouts and text you.”
The two brothers strolled up to the bus stop and joined the small group of kids from their neighborhood. Leo spotted the new boy he met last night and waved. He was about to go over and say hi, but the bus pulled up. Then, the boy was lost in the crowd of kids. Leo sat down on the bus next to his brother and looked around for the new boy, but he didn’t see him. Kam arched an eyebrow at his brother. “Who is he? Obviously not your tourist friend since he’s on the school bus.”
“No. Just a guy I met on the beach last night. He was lost and asking for directions. He lives on Spruce Street. I guess he just moved here.”
Kam smirked. “Maybe you should rethink your tourist crush. Why bother with someone who’s only gonna be here a few days when you got a new cutie to set your sights on.”
Leo sighed. “I know Charlie is only here for a few days, but I really like him, Kam. I don’t know anything about this other guy other than the fact that he just moved here. He’s probably straight. Who knows.”
“I just don’t want to see you get your heart broken again so soon after Jazz. Be careful, bro.”
“Totally. I will. We’re here. I’ll text you after I talk to Brandon. Have fun.”
Leo spotted Brandon in the parking lot as soon as he got off the bus. He jogged over to catch up to his friend before he reached the building. “Hey, buddy, what’s up? Didn’t see much of ya this summer. How’re things with Brett?”
Brandon clapped Leo on the back. “Great, my friend, just great. Sucks he’s going to school so far away, but I’ll still see him on weekends. The perils of dating a college boy, I guess! Now we need to find you a boyfriend.” Brandon smirked.
Leo chuckled. “I’m kinda working on that myself.” He blushed and smiled.
“Really?” Brandon turned and looked at his friend. “Whoa! What the hell happened to you?” He said, seeing the bruises for the first time.
“Matt,” Leo said with a grimace. “I’ll tell you all about it in between classes. There’s a lot to the story. Good things and bad.”
“He needs a good ass whipping. Want me to sic Brett on him?” Brandon asked.
“No. Matt already got his ass whipped. That’s part of my story.” Leo grinned.
“You beat up Matt?” Brandon asked, surprised.
“No. Not me. My guardian angel did.” Leo grinned.
“Now, I’m interested! You better tell me the whole story! I want juicy details!” Brandon laughed. “See you at lunch.”
Leo grabbed his lunch tray and piled some food on it. Lost in thought, he wandered up to pay for his food. He heard a familiar voice behind him say, “What’s safe to eat around here? Everything at my old school tasted like salted cardboard.”
Leo turned his head and saw the boy from last night. “Ah. We meet again. Reese? Right? They have pizza almost every day, and it’s edible. I’ve got the spaghetti today. I’m hoping it’s as good as it was last year. Overall the food isn’t great, but it’s ok.”
“Yeah, I’m Reese. Thanks for the directions last night and the culinary suggestions today. I promise that I won’t only talk to you when I’m in dire need of help.” Reese grinned.
“That’s quite alright. You can talk to me anytime. Do you want to sit with my friend and me? He’s waiting for me over there.” Leo pointed to where Brandon was sitting.
“I would, but there’s this girl that I’m supposed to be meeting up with.”
“A girl? I suppose that is more important. Have fun.”
“No… uh… not like that.” Reese blushed. “I need to find out the details for cheer tryouts. I was on the cheer squad at my last school, and it was fun. I wanted to try and do that here too.”
“A cheerleader. I would have guessed you for a lacrosse star.”
“I tried that, but I like cheerleading better. I also play baseball in the spring.”
Leo heard Brandon calling his name. “Sounds fun. I gotta go before my friend starts chewing on the table.” Leo laughed. “The cheerleaders usually sit over there.” He pointed across the cafeteria. “See you later, Reese.”
Reese smiled and headed in the direction that Leo had pointed, and Leo walked over and sat by Brandon.
“It’s about time you got here! That’s the last time I wait for you for food.” Brandon reached over and took one of the trays from Leo. “Now spill the tea. Who was that hottie you were talking to, and was he the guardian angel you hinted at this morning?”
“ He is Reese. I met him last night on the beach. He’s not my angel. He’s just a new boy. Sounds like he’s trying out for the cheer squad. My angel’s name is Charlie, and he and his mom rented the cabin by the old lighthouse while they are exploring our glorious little town. That’s why he happened to be on the beach yesterday.”
“Wait? Exploring? Please tell me that you didn’t fall for a tourist, Leo!”
“Yes, he is a tourist, but you didn’t see him. You didn’t talk to him. Bran, I haven’t even thought about anyone else since the whole thing with Jazz. I planned to just get through this year and maybe start over in college, but when I looked up into Charlie’s brown eyes, I fell.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Maybe he’s hot. Maybe he’s fun. But how long is he staying, Leo? You’re just going to get hurt again.”
“He’s staying until the end of the week, I think. Who knows what can happen between now and then. Maybe he’ll stay longer. Maybe we can do a long-distance thing. I felt a strong connection, Bran. I know he did, too.”
“We’re not done with this discussion. Spill the rest of the story. The fight with Matt and this angel saving you.” Brandon said, eating his lunch and waiting for his best friend’s story.
In between bites of his lunch, Leo relayed to his friend all the previous day’s events. The run with his brother, the argument and fight with Matt, and finally, the rescue by Charlie. He even confided in him about the second dizzy spell at the mall. He finished up by telling him about the second meeting with Charlie and the near-kiss.
“Wow. That was quite a day. I don’t think that much happened to me all summer! First off, how are you feeling today? Any dizziness or headaches. That sounds serious, bro. You gotta tell Kam or me every time it happens, even if you don’t want to tell your mom yet, tell us.” He reached over, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Ok. Ok. I promised Kam already. I promise to tell you, too. And I will tell my mom if it keeps happening. I’m not an idiot.” Leo rolled his eyes at Brandon.
Brandon smirked. “Now on to the good stuff. When are you going to see your hot little tourist again?”
“Today after school. He wasn’t sure what his mom had planned. I figure if he’s not busy, I’ll meet up with him and give him the grand tour. Maybe show him the Village and get some junk food for dinner.” Leo laughed. “Mystic Village fried dough should win him over.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “With all the running you’ve been doing, I don’t know why you continue to put that crap in your body.”
Leo laughed. “It’s the best! It is my biggest weakness, diet-wise. I’ll just run an extra mile tomorrow. That reminds me. Aren’t you friends with Max? From the track team? Kam wants to try out, and I was thinking of joining him.”
Brandon looked at his phone. “We have to get to class. I’ll talk to Max and find out about tryouts, then I’ll text you the details. If I don’t see you later, have fun and wish Kam good luck for me!”
The two boys put away their lunch trays and headed towards their next class.
The first day of senior year finally behind him, Leo walked towards the gym to meet up with his brother and look for Max. According to the multiple texts from Brandon, cross country tryouts were today. Now Leo was glad he skipped the morning run. Brandon said that Max would meet Leo and Kam at the track. Leo got to the gym and found Kam waiting for him. The two boys headed toward the track to look for Max. Leo spotted Max waving to him from the infield of the track. It looked like Max and a bunch of other boys were doing some pre-run stretching. Leo and Kam walked over and joined them.
“Hey, Leo! I was surprised when Bran told me that you were interested in running this year. Aren’t you a senior? And is this your brother?”
“Yeah, I’m a senior. I just started running this past summer, mostly as a way of burning off anger issues.” Leo chuckled. “This is my brother Kameron. He’s a freshman, and he’s the one who suggested trying out for the team. I’m kinda along as support.”
Max stuck his hand out to both brothers. “Nice to meet both of you.” He glanced at Leo. “Running is an excellent choice for a mood enhancer, and it looks to me like you have the body of a runner already.” Max grinned. “Brandon mentioned track. You guys know that we’re trying out for Cross Country today, right? Indoor Track will start in November and Outdoor Track in late March.”
“Yep. We’ll try our hand at Cross Country first. I think I’ll prefer the long-distance stuff better anyway. Little bro is the one who is looking forward to the shorter, faster events in track.”
“Ah-ha! So, Kameron is our speed demon, then?”
“Yep!” Kam laughed. “I outrun Leo all the time short distances. I’ll need to build up my endurance to run the longer races. I’ve only just started putting any effort into running.” As Kam was speaking, other boys started showing up at the track. Some were stretching, others jogging around the track to warm up before the tryouts began. Leo, Kam, and Max started running a warm-up lap. By the time they completed one lap, the coach had arrived, and everyone gathered around to listen to him speak.
Coach Stevens spoke loudly and paced back and forth in front of the boys. He was a middle-aged man but tall and incredibly fit. The coach could easily pass for forty instead of his fifty-two years. He spoke of past championships and future goals. He welcomed back current runners and thanks to new boys for showing up at tryouts. After his speech, Coach separated the boys into two groups. One group ran laps around the track, and the other group ran around a small modified cross country track. After each group finished, they swapped until both groups had run on both tracks.
Everything went well for Kam all through the tryout, except for one thing. Kam decided to run a little too fast on the cross country track, which was a failure. An epic failure, to be honest. The kind of fail that could have gone viral if only it had been caught on camera. Kam turned a corner and failed to see a giant mud puddle. By the time he finished sliding through the mud on his belly, he was covered head to toe. Kam glanced over to the bleachers and saw that Tommy had arrived and was laughing hysterically. He also saw the new boy. The guy that Leo said he met last night. The boy was sitting near the top of the bleachers, by himself, watching the tryouts.
After the tryouts, the coach pulled Kam aside and told him that he would be on the JV team. He patted Kam on the back and said to him that he expected him to do well if he trained hard and showed the speed that he showed today. He also encouraged Kam to try out for the indoor track season in November.
Kam ran over to the bleachers to fill Leo and Tommy in on what the coach said, then they all walked back over to Max. Max made team captain, as expected. Kam made JV, and Leo made varsity. Max’s girlfriend joined the four boys as they left the track field. As they walked across the field, Leo turned back and saw Reese still sitting in the bleachers. He raised a hand and waved. Reese smiled and waved back, then Leo turned and continued walking off the field.
“Becca, you remember Leo, right? This is his brother, Kameron, and,” Max trailed off, looking at Tommy.
Kam spoke up. “This is my bestie, Tommy. Nice to meet you, Becca.”
Becca walked with Leo as they headed for the school parking lot. “Leo, are you still going out with Jasper Anderson?”
“No. We broke up last year.”
“You’re better off without him, in my opinion. He’s a jerk and a stoner. You’re the one that dumped him, I hope.”
“Yes. He was the biggest mistake of my life, and I’ve moved on from all that.”
Becca looked Leo up and down. “You’re hot. I know three or four boys and half a dozen girls who would fight to go out with you. Forget that asshole. Anyway, do you guys want to go with Max and me? We’re going to go to get ice cream to celebrate.”
Kam answered for all three. “Definitely!”
They got to the ice cream shop, and all got their cones. Leo and Max shared stories about Brandon and wondered how all three of them had never hung out together. Leo noticed that Kam and Tommy were off in a corner booth, whispering. He thought it was a little strange but put it out of his head. Leo himself was distracted thinking about meeting up with Charlie later.
Becca noticed Leo keep looking at his phone.
“Hot date later, Leo?” Becca smirked.
“Um, no. Well, sort of.” Leo blushed.
Kam yelled over. “Don’t let him fool ya. It’s a date. Loverboy can’t stop gushing about the guy.”
“Shut up, Kam.” Leo rolled his eyes at his brother.
Becca leaned towards Leo. “Tell me more. Is he cute?”
Leo sighed. “He’s not just cute. He’s totally dreamy. I met him out on the beach yesterday. I told him I’d text him after the cross-country tryout.” Leo said, while looking at his phone again.
Becca stood up. “Well, let’s get you home then. Come on, Max, let’s go.” Becca led the way out of the shop, and they all followed. Max dropped Leo, Kam, and Tommy off and continued towards his own home.
Leo was out of the car and sprinting towards the house almost before the car even stopped. He took the stairs two at a time, rushed into his room, and quickly picked out a change of clothes. He darted out of his room and into the bathroom. Leo jumped into the shower before Kam was even in the house. After the quickest shower of his life, Leo got dressed and texted Charlie to find out where he was. Leo started blow-drying his hair, and did his best to make his hair as presentable as possible in as short a time as possible, then ran out of the house. Glancing down to check for a reply from Charlie. He ran towards the fence but then thought better of it. His body was still too sore for jumping. He turned and went around the fence and onto the beach.
He looked up and down the beach and then spotted Charlie down at the water’s edge. Leo walked up and stood next to the other boy, not saying anything for a minute or two. Then Leo looked over at him. “Sorry I took so long. A guy from the team took my brother and me out for ice cream to celebrate. We both made the team. I made varsity, and Kam made JV.”
Charlie turned towards Leo and reached out and grabbed both his hands. “That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you both!” He leaned in and hugged Leo.
Leo hugged him back before saying, “Thanks, Charlie. I’m happy that Kam and I are doing something together. I think running will be perfect for both of us.” Leo put his hand against Charlie’s face. “You’re so gorgeous, Charlie.” He smiled shyly.
Leo begrudgingly pulled his hand away from Charlie. “We better stop now, or I may decide to try for more,”
Charlie smiled. “You can try, but I’m not sure how far I’d let you get.” He winked.
Leo cleared his throat. “Anyway, what did you do today? I wouldn’t want to suggest doing the same things you already did.” Leo asked.
“We went out on a boat from the aquarium down the street and went on a whale watch. That took up a few hours. It was pretty out on the water, and we did see a few whales. Then mom went shopping, and I walked around town for a while and then came down here.” Charlie took out his phone and showed it to Leo. “Here are the pics of the whales.”
“Let’s walk this way.” Leo held out one hand until Charlie took it. Then he started walking up the beach, away from the direction of the lighthouse. “There’s a small carnival up here. It’s only here in the summer. This is the last week that it will be here until next May. There’s a Ferris wheel, a few other rides, carnival games, and junk food! You want to go? Have you eaten yet?”
“That sounds fun! No, I haven’t had dinner, and carnival food sounds perfect! Let’s go.” Charlie squeezed Leo’s hand even tighter, looked over at him, and smiled a huge smile as they walked up the beach towards the carnival.
By the time they had been at the carnival twenty minutes, Leo was clutching a giant stuffed panda bear that was almost as big as he was.
“I can never win at these carnival games. Thanks for winning this for me, Charlie. I love him. I’m going to name him Charlie. Charlie the Panda.” Leo laughed, leaned over, and kissed Charlie on the cheek. “Let’s go ride the Ferris wheel before it gets too dark, so I can show you my town from up high.”
The Ferris wheel line was short, and the boys were in a seat in just a few minutes. They waited as the worker made sure they were buckled in, and then he locked the safety bar in place. The ride began to slowly turn, stopping and starting at first while other passengers got on or off. When the Ferris wheel neared the top, Leo pointed out some of his favorite spots in town.
“One of the things I love the most is that we’re at the ocean, but just a couple miles away, we can swim and fish in the river.” He pointed off to their left. “Just past where the coastline bends in is the little spot where the town gets its name, Pebble Cove. Named that way because the beach there has more pebbles than sand. The cove is pretty, the water is great, but the beach itself is terrible.” Each time the Ferris wheel went up, Leo pointed out something different to Charlie. He showed him the Seaport Village, where they had the old tall wooden ships on display. He showed him the shops that were set up to resemble a colonial village, and he showed him many other sights.
Charlie grabbed Leo’s hand. “You really love your town, don’t you?’
Leo turned his head to face Charlie. “I do. I mean, I get annoyed by the crowds in tourist season. Most tourists are jerks who don’t care about anything but themselves. They leave trash everywhere. They drink. They fight. I hate that part. But the actual town I do love.”
“So, you hate tourists, huh?” Charlie huffed out a laugh.
Leo blushed. “Cute tourists with hot Australian accents are the exception to my rule.” Leo turned in the seat so that he was facing Charlie, and he leaned in. Charlie was so nervous that he was nearly shaking, but he went for it. Eighteen years was long enough to wait for his first kiss. He wasn’t about to wait one minute longer. Charlie grabbed the front of Leo’s shirt with both hands and pulled him close. Their lips met, tentatively at first. Charlie’s lips parted, and Leo’s tongue darted inside. Leo leaned back against the side of the Ferris wheel car, pulling Charlie down on top of him. The seat strap dug into Charlie’s chest, so he ducked under it, freeing himself. Leo ran his hands up and down Charlie’s broad, muscular back. Charlie had one hand braced against the seat to stop himself from falling, and his other hand on the back of Leo’s neck, pulling him even closer as the kiss deepened.
Clang! A loud metal bang rang in both boys’ ears, and they looked up, eyes wide. The ride had stopped. Their car was at the bottom, the metal bar swung open. The carnival worker was looking at them with a look that was half scowl and half smirk.
“Get off my Ferris wheel, you two! Take that somewhere else.” He waved off in a direction away from the ride. “And you,” he pointed at Charlie. “If I ever see you on my ride again without the safety strap in place, I’ll kick you off permanent!”
Charlie mumbled. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Then he grabbed Leo’s hand, and the two boys ran off as fast as they could away from the Ferris wheel and the line of people that had been standing there and watching the entire thing.