Jennifer Echols was born in Atlanta and grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama—a setting that has inspired many of her books. Her nine romantic novels for young adults have been published in seven languages and have won the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Aspen Gold Readers’ Choice Award, the Write Touch Readers’ Award, the Beacon, and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her novel Going Too Far was a finalist in the RITA and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and her son. Visit her at Jennifer-Echols.com.
Sean smiled down at me, his light brown hair glinting golden in the sunlight. He shouted over the noise of the boat motor and the wind, “Lori, when we’re old enough, I want you to be my girlfriend.” He didn’t even care the other boys could hear him.
“I’m there!” I exclaimed, because I was nothing if not coy. All the boys ate out of my hand, I tell you. “When will we be old enough?”
His blue eyes, lighter than the bright blue sky behind him, seemed to glow in his tanned face. He answered me, smiling. At least, I thought he answered me. His lips moved.
“I didn’t hear you. What’d you say?” I know how to draw out a romantic moment.
He spoke to me again. I still couldn’t hear him, though the boat motor and the wind hadn’t gotten any louder. Maybe he was just mouthing words, pretending to say something sweet I couldn’t catch. Boys were like that. He’d just been teasing me all along—
“You ass!” I sat straight up in my sweat-soaked bed, wiping away the strands of my hair stuck to my wet face. Then I realized what I’d said out loud. “Sorry, Mom,” I told her photo on my bedside table. But maybe she hadn’t heard me over my alarm clock blaring Christina Aguilera, “Ain’t No Other Man.”
Or maybe she’d understand. I’d just had a closer encounter with Sean! Even if it was only in my dreams.
Usually I didn’t remember my dreams. Whenever my brother, McGillicuddy, was home from college, he told Dad and me at breakfast what he’d dreamed about the night before. Lindsay Lohan kicking his butt on the sidewalk after he tried to take her picture (pure fantasy). Amanda Bynes dressed as the highway patrol, pulling him over to give him a traffic ticket. I was jealous. I didn’t want to dream about Lindsay Lohan or getting my butt kicked. However, if I was spending the night with Patrick Dempsey and didn’t even know it, I was missing out on a very worthy third of my life. I had once Googled “dreaming” and found out some people don’t remember their dreams if their bodies are used to getting up at the same hour every morning and have plenty of time to complete the dream cycle.
So why’d I remember my dream this morning? It was the first day of summer vacation, that’s why. To start work at the marina, I’d set my clock thirty minutes earlier than during the school year. Lo and behold, here was my dream. About Sean: check. Blowing me off, as usual: noooooooo! That might happen in my dreams, but it wasn’t going to happen in real life. Not again. Sean would be mine, starting today. I gave Mom on my beside table an okay sign—the wakeboarding signal for ready to go—before rolling out of bed.
My dad and my brother suspected nothing, ho ho. They didn’t even notice what I was wearing. Our conversation at breakfast was the same one we’d had every summer morning since my brother was eight years old and I was five.
Dad to brother: “You take care of your sister today.”
Brother, between bites of egg: “Roger that.”
Dad to me: “And you watch out around those boys next door.”
Me: (Eye roll.)
Brother: “I had this rockin’ dream about Anne Hathaway.”
Post-oatmeal, my brother and I trotted across our yard and the Vaders’ yard to the complex of showrooms, warehouses, and docks at Vader’s Marina. The morning air was already thick with the heat and humidity and the smell of cut grass that would last the entire Alabama summer. I didn’t mind. I liked the heat. And I quivered in my flipflops at the prospect of another whole summer with Sean. I’d been going through withdrawal.
In past years, any one of the three Vader boys, including Sean, might have shown up at my house at any time to throw the football or play video games with my brother. They might let me play too if they felt sorry for me, or if their mom had guilted them into it. And my brother might go to their house at any time. But I couldn’t go to their house. If I’d walked in, they would have stopped what they were doing, looked up, and wondered what I was doing there. They were my brother’s friends, not mine.
Well, Adam was my friend. He was probably more my friend than my brother’s. Even though we were the same age, I didn’t have any classes with him at school, so you’d think he’d walk a hundred yards over to my house for a visit every once in a while. But he didn’t. And if I’d gone to visit him, it would have been obvious I was looking for Sean out the corner of my eye the whole time.
For the past nine months, with my brother off at college, my last tie to Sean had been severed. He was two years older than me, so I didn’t have any classes with him, either. I wasn’t even in the same wing of the high school. I saw him once at a football game, and once in front of the movie theater when I’d ridden around with Tammy for a few minutes after a tennis match. But I never approached him. He was always flirting with Holly Chambliss or Beige Dupree or whatever glamorous girl he was with at the moment. I was too young for him, and he never even thought of hooking up with me. On the very rare occasion when he took the garbage to the road at the same time I walked to the mailbox, he gave me the usual beaming smile and a big hug and acted like I was his best friend ever… for thirty heavenly seconds.
It had been a long winter. Finally we were back to the summer. The Vaders always needed extra help at the marina during the busy season from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Just like last year, I had a job there—and an excuse to make Sean my captive audience. I sped up my trek across the pine needles between the trees and found myself in a footrace against my brother. It was totally unfair because I was carrying my backpack and he was wearing sneakers, but I beat him to the warehouse by half a length anyway.
The Vader boys had gotten there before us and claimed the good jobs, so I wouldn’t have a chance to work side by side with Sean. Cameron was helping the full-time workers take boats out of storage. He wanted my brother to work with him so they could catch up on their lives at two different colleges. Sean and Adam were already gone, delivering the boats to customers up and down the lake for Memorial Day weekend. Sean wasn’t around to see my outfit. I was so desperate to get going on this “new me” thing, I would have settled for a double take from Adam or Cameron.
All I got was Mrs. Vader. Come to think of it, she was a good person to run the outfit by. She wore stylish clothes, as far as I could tell. Her blonde pinstriped hair was cut to flip up in the back. She looked exactly like you’d want your mom to look so as not to embarrass you in public. I found her in the office and hopped onto a stool behind her. Looking over her shoulder as she typed on the computer, I asked, “Notice anything different?”
She tucked her pinstriped hair behind her ear and squinted at the screen. “I’m using the wrong font?”
“Notice anything different about my boobs?”
That got her attention. She whirled around in her chair and peered at my chest. “You changed your boobs?”
“I’m showing my boobs,” I said proudly, moving my palm in front of them like presenting them on a TV commercial. All this can be yours! Or, rather, your son’s.
My usual summer uniform was the outgrown clothes Adam had given me over the years: jeans, which I cut off into shorts and wore with a wide belt to hold up the waist, and T-shirts from his football team. Under that, for wakeboarding in the afternoon, I used to wear a one-piece sports bathing suit with full coverage that reached all the way up to my neck. Early in the boob-emerging years, I had no boobs, and I was touchy about it. Remember in middle school algebra class, you’d type 55378008 on your calculator, turn it upside down, and hand it to the flat-chested girl across the aisle? I was that girl, you bi-yotch. I would have died twice if any of the boys had mentioned my booblets.
Last year, I thought my boobs had progressed quite nicely. And I progressed from the one-piece into a tankini. But I wasn’t quite ready for any more exposure. I didn’t want the boys to treat me like a girl.
Now I did. So today I’d worn a cute little bikini. Over that, I still wore Adam’s cutoff jeans. Amazingly, they looked sexy, riding low on my hips, when I traded the football T-shirt for a pink tank that ended above my belly button and hugged my figure. I even had a little cleavage. I was so proud. Sean was going to love it.
Mrs. Vader stared at my chest, perplexed. Finally she said, “Oh, I get it. You’re trying to look hot.”
“Thank you!” Mission accomplished.
“Here’s a hint. Close your legs.”
I snapped my thighs together on the stool. People always scolded me for sitting like a boy. Then I slid off the stool and stomped to the door in a huff. “Where do you want me?”
She’d turned back to the computer. “You’ve got gas.”
Oh, goody. I headed out the office door, toward the front dock to man the gas pumps. This meant at some point during the day, one of the boys would look around the marina office and ask, “Who has gas?” and another boy would answer, “Lori has gas.” If I were really lucky, Sean would be in on the joke.
The office door squeaked open behind me. “Lori,” Mrs. Vader called. “Did you want to talk?”
Noooooooo. Nothing like that. I’d only gone into her office and tried to start a conversation. Mrs. Vader had three sons. She didn’t know how to talk to a girl. My mother had died in a boating accident alone on the lake when I was four. I didn’t know how to talk to a woman. Any convo between Mrs. Vader and me was doomed from the start.
“No, why?” I asked without turning around. I’d been galloping down the wooden steps, but now I stepped very carefully, looking down, as if I needed to examine every footfall so I wouldn’t trip.
“Watch out around the boys,” she warned me.
I raised my hand and wiggled my fingers, toodle-dee-doo, dismissing her. Those boys were harmless. Those boys had better watch out for me.
Really, aside from the specter of the boys discussing my intestinal problems, I enjoyed having gas. I got to sit on the dock with my feet in the water and watch the kingfishers and the herons glide low over the surface. Later I’d swim on the side of the dock upriver from the gasoline. Not now, before Sean saw me for the first time that summer. I would be in and out of the lake and windy boats all day, and my hair would look like hell. That was understood. But I wanted to have clean, dry, styled hair at least the first time he saw me, and I would hope he kept the memory alive. I might go swimming after he saw me, while I waited around for people to drive up to the gas pumps in their boats.
The richer they were, the more seldom they made it down from Birmingham to their million-dollar vacation homes on the lake, and the more likely they were complete dumbasses when it came to docking their boats and finding their gas caps. If I covered for their dumbassedness in front of their families in the boats by giggling and saying things like, “Oh sir, I’m so sorry, I’m supposed to be helping you!” while I helped them, they tipped me beyond belief.
I was just folding a twenty into my back pocket when Sean and Adam came zipping across the water in the boat emblazoned with VADER’S MARINA down the side, blasting Nickelback from the speakers. They turned hard at the edge of the idle zone. Three-foot swells shook the floating dock violently and would have shaken me off into the water if I hadn’t held on to the rail. Then the bow of the boat eased against the padding on the dock. Adam must be the one driving. Sean would have driven all the way to the warehouse, closer to where they’d pick up the next boat for delivery.
In fact, as Sean threw me the rope to tie the stern and Adam cut the engine, I could hear them arguing about this. Sean and Adam argued pretty much 24/7. I was used to it. But I would rather not have heard Sean complaining that they were going to have to walk a whole extra fifty yards and up the stairs just so Adam could say hi to me.
Sean jumped off the boat. His weight rocked the floating dock again as he tied up the bow. He was big, maybe six feet tall, with a deep tan from working all spring at the marina, and a hard, muscled chest and arms from competing with Adam the last five years over who could lift more poundage on the dumbbell in their garage (Sean and Adam were like this). Then he straightened and smiled his beautiful smile at me, and I forgave him everything.
© 2010 Jennifer Echols
I thought these two books were really good. They had that fun summer feel, which I love, and how can you go wrong with a love triangle, some jealousy.... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Book Chick
Review of The Boys Next Door:
I started this book highly suspicious of it. I've heard numerous wonderful praise for Echols and her writing, and the covers look nice... Read more
This was an awesome set of books. Definitely one of my all-time favorites. Great character development and setting.Published 9 months ago by Kari
Jennifer Echols’ books have never been on my radar but after reading Perfect Couple, due out in March 2015, I am a fan (review to come in 2015). Read morePublished 11 months ago by adrienne N. tange
These books are so fun and easy to read. I can't even begin to tell how many times I have read them!Published 15 months ago by Liz Franklin
This is an awesome book! I loved it, I wish it didn't end. If you want a great summer time book this is it!Published 16 months ago by D. Williams
I loved this book. It was frustrating at time but shows the struggle of teen love. There were obstacles they had to face together and found the consequence of not working together. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Jennifer Glenn
OMG What a great book! The characters were done SO well and the story was really sweet. It was also so funny I had to stop numerous times to try and control my laughter! Read morePublished 16 months ago by ecole