“Emma. We’re going out to dinner tonight and you need to do something with your appearance.”
She looked at her mother and wanted to growl, then glanced down at her jean shorts, black Adidas slides on her feet with her multi-colored mismatching socks and Nike T-shirt with a swimmer on it. “What’s wrong with my appearance?”
She thought she looked the same as everyone else her age. Especially those that played sports. If she wasn’t swimming, then she was playing field hockey in the fall and running track in the spring. She was going into high school next year and working her butt off to get on the competitive teams to make her mother proud of her.
Thankfully her father had been paying for all the camps she’d been in. She’d wanted to do them for the past few summers, but her stepfather insisted they spend July and some of August in Mystic, Connecticut, where his sailboat was in the marina close to a house that his family owned.
“If it wasn’t for the long hair, most would think you were a boy,” her mother said with disdain in her voice. “You are going to high school next year and you need to start looking more like a woman.”
“I’m not a woman,” she said, getting sick of being told what she had to do or how she had to look. Especially from her mother who was on her second husband, but had a few boyfriends in between. Nothing was ever good enough for Janice Miller-Ellis-Cox.
With the amount of fighting that had been going on between her mother and husband number two, she figured that wasn’t going to last either. She was surprised they’d lasted three years.
“You’re going to be and no man wants to be with a woman that looks and acts like a man,” her mother said, lifting her nose in the air.
“Leave her alone, Mom,” her brother, James, said coming onto the boat. Richard’s family home wasn’t too far away, easy enough to walk back and forth to his boat. Every year now for three years, pulling her and James away from their friends, they had to spend time here.
“You’re no better,” her mother said to James. He looked fine to Emma. The two of them dressed about the same. They were on vacation during the summer and running around acting like kids. She didn’t get the big deal.
But everything was a big deal for her mother lately.
“Whatever,” James said. “Richard wanted me to tell you that he’s making reservations for seven tonight for dinner. He’s finishing a call and will be here within the hour to go on the water.”
“He was supposed to be here an hour ago,” her mother snapped. “He’s never on time for anything.”
“He’s working,” James said. “I’m the messenger and I’m going back.”
“You’re not going to go on the water with us?” her mother asked her brother.
“Nope. I don’t like it and you know it. I’m going to chill at the house,” James said.
Her older brother by two years walked off the bow of the boat and onto the dock, making his way back to the house where they’d be for another week. She couldn’t wait to get back home to Loudonville, New York, and see her friends again.
“I suppose you want to get out of going now too,” her mother said with her hands on her hips.
“Yep. If James doesn’t have to go, then neither do I,” she said, lifting her chin, some of it wobbling a little. She always found it hard to put her foot down with her mother.
The past few weeks had been short of hell in her mind. If her mother wasn’t complaining about the way she looked, then she was screaming at Richard in another room. She almost felt bad for the guy that she had no attachment to other than he was footing the bill for this vacation she hated.
“Fine,” her mother said. “This will give Richard and me time to talk.”
“Good for you,” Emma said, following the path her brother had taken.
She was at the end of the dock when she saw River Scarsdale. He worked at that marina and had last summer too. He was James’s age and they did hang out some. She’d tagged along because she had a wicked crush on the kid and thought he’d felt the same.
“Hi, River,” she said.
He dropped the rag into the bucket. He was cleaning a boat; that was part of his job. She knew his father was a mechanic here, working on the boats as needed.
“Hey, Emma. How are you today? Just saw James walk by.”
“I’m good. He went back to the house where I’m going too. Or I said I was.”
“You don’t look good to me,” River said, moving closer. “You look a combination of sad and annoyed.”
It was funny how he was always able to see that. Even when she tagged along with James when River was around, River would spend time with her.
She’d never told anyone that she’d sneak down here and talked to him while he worked either. She didn’t want him to get in trouble, so she’d hide where she wasn’t seen and keep him company.
It might be the only thing she didn’t hate about being forced on this summer vacation.
“Probably because I’m both,” she said, laughing.
He picked his bucket up and brought it back to the building where he got most of his supplies. She followed along. “Your mother again?” he asked.
She’d confided in him more than she probably should. She wasn’t one for airing out dirty laundry, but there was something about River that drew her young teen mind in and made her feel safe and comfortable.
“Of course. She says I need to start looking like a woman or no man would want me.”
She wasn’t about to tell River that she’d said she wasn’t a woman. She might be more on the athletic side, but she didn’t want him to think that of her. She wanted him to think of her more as a girl than a boy.
“That’s crazy,” River said. “You’re pretty. Who cares if someone wants you wearing a skirt and shoes over shorts and slides? Comfort means more.”
“See,” she said. “You get it.”
She moved closer to the wall where he was getting more cleaners. “I do,” he said. He walked over to her and stepped into her personal space. He’d done it a few times and it’d gotten her heart pumping and juices flowing in her body like she’d never experienced before.
A lot of her friends talked about kissing and who their first kiss was, but she’d yet to have that.
Maybe her mother was right. Boys didn’t look at her like anything other than one of them.
But as River said, who cares?
Only she did care. She cared what River thought.
“Would it bother you if your girlfriend dressed like me?” she asked.
He laughed. “I don’t have a girlfriend, but the answer to that is no. It wouldn’t bother me. I’m not so superficial that I care as much about those things.”
She figured as much. He talked about not coming from the right side of the area. He and his family worked for the rich, they didn’t mingle with them. She hated that he said it let alone felt that way.
He was mingling now though and she was fine with it.
She’d never considered herself rich. Her father had a good job as an engineer, but it wasn’t enough for her mother who was married to an investment broker now. Every boyfriend seemed to have more than the last and her mother stopped working when she married Richard.
“That’s why I like you,” she said, trying to get her flirt on. She hoped the heat in her face was from the sun and not embarrassment.
“I like you too,” River said, inching closer. His hand came up and she was wondering what he was planning on doing. She was frozen in time, their eyes locked. His hand came to her cheek and ran down it. “You’ve got some dirt there.”
She let out a little laugh. Figures. That’s probably part of what her mother was complaining about in saying she looked like a boy. “Thanks.”
So much for thinking he was going to kiss her.
She was ready to turn and get out of his way for him to go back to the boat, but this time he looked around. She followed his gaze. There was no one she could see, and his mouth landed on hers. It started out soft and sweet and then she opened her mouth hoping he’d get the hint she wanted a real kiss.
He did. His tongue sliding in. She wasn’t sure what to do and followed his lead. When they heard voices, he jumped back. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she said, smiling.
“River,” she heard shouted. “Are you in the shed?”
“I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later or tomorrow?” he asked.
“I’ll be here.”
Only she wasn’t. Her mother and Richard got into a huge fight and they all packed up and left the next morning, Emma never getting to say goodbye to the boy who gave her her first kiss.