"See you then." He walked toward the curb.
I enjoyed basking in the afterglow of his attention-for about one second. My ecstasy was over the instant I recognized one of the friends he was probably meeting at the beach. I heard her before I saw her. Grace had a piercing, staccato laugh, like a birdcall that sounded quirky on a nature walk and excruciating outside a bedroom window at dawn. Boys had been making fun of her laugh to her face forever-but Grace was so pretty and flirty that they only teased her as a way in.
She stopped laughing to say, "Sorry I missed your race, Brody! You know me. I just rolled out of bed."
The crowd parted. Now I could see her better. Just rolled out of bed, my ass. She stood casually in a teeny bikini top. At least she'd had the decency to pull gym shorts over her bikini bottoms so she didn't give the elderly snowbirds a heart attack. But her hair and makeup didn't go with her beach look. Grace's long blond hair rolled across her shoulders in big, sprayed curls, the kind that took me half an hour with a curling iron and a coat of hairspray. Her locks were held back from her pretty face by her sunglasses, which sat on top of her head. Her eyes were model-smoky with liner and shadow and mascara. She was ready for an island castaway prom.
"Did you win?" she asked Brody.
He chuckled. "No."
She led him away by the hand. And that was that.
I watched him go. I needed to watch him walking away with his girlfriend, so I could get it through my thick skull that he was taken. Brody and I had exchanged some friendly jokes and agreed to fulfill a school obligation-at a gathering we'd both already planned to attend. He'd seen his girlfriend and forgotten about me. I didn't even get a good-bye, not that I should have expected one. The "Never Was" part of our title was a lot more important than the "Perfect Couple" part.
Then he looked over his shoulder at me. Straight at me-no mistaking it. His green eyes were bright.
My heart stopped.
Still walking after Grace, he gave me a little wave.
I waved back.
He tripped over an uneven brick in the sidewalk but regained his balance before he fell. He disappeared into the crowd.
"That was smooth," Tia said at my shoulder.
Kneeling to pick up my camera bag, I grumbled, "Shut up."
"Does this mean you're going on a real date or a fake date?" she asked. "It wasn't clear from where I was eavesdropping."
I gave her the bag to hold while I snapped the lens off my camera and stuffed the components inside. "I don't know."
"Does this mean Brody's previous plan and your previous plan to go to the beach are actually the date in question, or is there another fake or real date after that?"
Exasperated, I gave her a warning look.
"Sorry," Tia said
. "I know. I shouldn't be criticizing your romantic life. Before Will, my dating scene pretty much began and ended with giving Sawyer hand jobs behind the Crab Lab." Several elderly men walking past turned to stare at her as she said this. She winked at them.
"I'm too polite to bring that up," I said.
"Do you want me to get Will to ask Brody, then report back . . . to . . . you?" Her words slowed as my expression grew darker.
"Thanks but no thanks," I said. "This is already embarrassing enough. No reason to take us back to the fifth grade."
Her mouth twisted sideways in a grimace as she handed the camera bag back to me. Tia clearly wanted to help but didn't know what to say. There was nothing to say, because my situation was so hopeless.
"It's okay," I assured her. "I have a boyfriend. This is just a yearbook picture. I'll see you at the beach."
"Later," she said, but she looked uncertain as she wound her way up the street toward the antiques store where she and her sister worked.
Tia was tall. It took a few minutes for me to lose the back of her shining auburn hair on the sidewalk now crowded with shoppers. I should have turned for home, e-mailed Noah and Will for permission to send my shot of them to the newspaper, and started uploading my race photos.
But now that Tia was gone and Brody was gone and I stood alone in the middle of the street, I was aware of the happiness all around me for the first time that day. The rock band had launched into another song. Families stood in line outside the ice cream parlor, even though it was nine a.m., because regular meal times meant nothing and calories didn't count on holidays. Kids giggled as they tumbled out the door of an inflatable bouncy castle. I pulled my camera out of my bag again, attached the telephoto lens, and snapped a few shots of the kids' flip-flops and sandals lined up on the street.
I glanced down at my own kitten heels with their shiny, black-patent pointed toes.
In the midst of all this carefree joy, I looked like a mutant. A mutant on a job interview.
I thought ahead to my meeting with Brody at the beach. He would be shirtless, again, and irresistible, again. I would be wearing my 1950s-style, high-necked, one-piece maillot. If an item of clothing had a French name, it probably wouldn't leave much of an impression on a Florida jock. At least, not the impression I wanted.
Last spring I'd been ecstatic to find a bathing suit made specifically for my retro style. Kaye and Tia had told me it was adorable. But next to Grace, I would look like I was wearing a hazmat suit.
Ten minutes later, I found myself in the dressing room at a surf shop, staring at myself in the mirror, guessing what Brody would think when he saw me in a red bikini.