Tasting Summer

Chapter One- Thomas Do you ever think about that one particular time in your life when everything looks better? Okay, let me ask an easier question.

Do you ever find yourself wanting to come back to that time? To live in it again? To lay in it again? To breathe in it again?

Ever want to just taste it?

That's what I've wanted to do now, for a long time. Go back to this one summer. The summer that I could taste. The summer I laughed. The summer I broke a little rules. My eyes needed to be opened.

And I will forever remember the exact person who did it too.

I met her in a resort in Maryland. It was the summer of 2005 and I was fed up. Fed up with everything, I just wanted to get away. From everything and everyone.

Which is why I checked my name under, "Thomas Keys" and hoped no one would notice. I had already known that most of the people there were old. Very old. So I thought I would be safe from screaming girls, crying and asking for autographs.

As soon as Mr. Boaden, the owner, gave me keys to my room, I had gotten settled in. The room was nice. Pretty big. King size bed, TV with a VCR, complete with a mini refrigerator. Satisfied, I decided to take a walk on the shore. As I did so, I stared directly at my shoes, not paying attention to where I was going. I suddenly heard a drop in the water and looked up.

"Hi," a girl said, giving me a smile, right before bending down to pick up another rock, and skipping it again. She was very good.

To this day, I don't know what exactly was the first thing I noticed about her. It could have been the fact that she was good at skipping rocks. It could have been her thick, brown, curly hair that was the same light shade as her brown skin. It could have been her southern accent. It could have been her honey brown eyes that were filled with a carefree expression.

But I think, most of all, it was her smile. Her teeth were short and straight with the exception o two of her bottom teeth that were a little crooked. It gave her smile character.

"Hi," I finally said back. She bent down and picked up another rock.

"Your welcome to join me, if ya want," she said with the sweetest southern accent. Her accent was much heavier than mine.

"Okay," I said, I surprised myself. What was I doing?

The girl finally stopped and stared to get a good look at me, sizing me up. It had been a long time since I was sized up. There was a time when it happened all the time. But not anymore. I had proven myself. I was a star. Pretty high on the chain too. "Say was ya name?" she asked. I hesitated. "Thomas."

For some reason, amusement came into her eyes as she held out her hand for me to shake.

"Nice to meet ya Thomas, I'm Marie."

I shook her hand and her eyes stared me down, amusement still in them, but also looking like they knew something I didn't.

Her hand was soft, but her handshake was firm. She then let go of my hand and picked up more rocks to skip. Her eyes had left a weird effect on me and for some idiotic reason that I still can't understand, I found myself saying, "You know, my name really isn't Thomas." Completely blowing my cover.

She looked up and gave me a smile with all gum and just a hint of teeth. "I know, Aaron Hendricks, and my name's not Marie," she said and picked up another rock.

I was confused. I thought that since she didn't freak out when she saw me, she wasn't a fan, so I didn't expect her to know my name.

"What's your name?" I asked her.

She stared at me again, sizing me up once more and dropping her rocks. "Shian," she said finally.

"Since you know my last name, it's only fair that I know yours."

"Boaden. Owner of this place is my uncle."

"Ah. So where'd you get 'Marie' from?" I asked.

She smirked. "Where'd you get 'Thomas' from?" she mocked. Then, realizing that wasn't going to answer her question, she decided to answer mine. "It's my middle name." She looked out onto the bay as if she were deciding whether or not to continue skipping rocks or talking to me. She relented and spoke. "I got a feelin' that you're not gonna tell me why ya said your name was Thomas, so I'm not gonna ask. If you're wonderin' why I said my name was Marie, it's cause I knew you were lyin' and I just wanted to mess with ya. Just for kicks." She tilted her head sideways again before speaking. "I noticed that you have a slight accent. Not as heavy as mine, 'course. Where are ya originally from?"

"Misssissippi." I said, not knowing why I was telling her all this. "You?" I asked.

She broke into a grin and sang, "Sweet home Alabama!" We both laughed. "Carbon Hill to be exact. Right outside of Jasper." I nodded like I knew where that was. "I come up here every summer to visit my uncle. So how long are ya here for Thomas?" she asked, humor in her voice as she said my "name".

"You can call me Aaron and I'm staying for the rest of the summer," I answered.

She walked over and put her hand on my shoulder. "Well Aaron, considerin' that you're the closest person my age 'round here, it looks like we'll be spendin' a lot of time together." She then turned and continued skipping rocks, and I continued it too.

"So like, why are ya here?" Shian asked me. We were still skipping rocks.

"I'm on vacation," I said.

"Well, obviously, but I mean, shouldn't you be singing somewhere?"

"We got a couple of months off since we're not touring or anything." I tried to change the subject. "So you're down here with your uncle? Why not with your parents?"

She quickly picked up more rocks. "They're busy," she said flatly. "You know, it must be really nice to be a superstar. To have people who barely even speak English screaming your name. Everybody wanting you, loving-"

"So what do your parents do?" I asked her.

She blinked, obviously startled by my interruption, but understanding that I didn't want to talk about it. She looked up at the sky, as if she were thinking. "My dad's a professional wrestler," she said, her eyes still up at the sky.

"Really?" I asked surprised.

She smiled. "No. He's actually a TV producer."

"Really?" I asked again.

"No. But seriously, all jokes aside, he's a pilot. Travels 'round the world. Japan, Australia, ya know, places like that."

"Really?" I asked again.

She looked at me and giggled. "No.

I sighed. "Come on, what do your parents really do?"

She got that far away look and tossed a rock into the bay, looking out. Finally, she turned to me. "I'll make ya a deal. I won't ask about Flavor if ya don't ask 'bout my parents, or anythin' else I don't want to answer. Alright?" she held out her hand for me to shake.

"There you are Shi!" a voice said behind us.

Shian turned around and smiled again. "Hey there, Ms. Shires," she said as she gave a plump old lady with glasses, a hug. She pointed to me. "This is my new friend, Thomas. Thomas."

"Keys," I finished and shook her hand.

"It's nice to meet you Thomas." She turned to Shian. It's nice to see you have someone your age to talk to around here."

Shian nodded. "It sure is. Now, what can I do for ya?"

"Well I was going to ask if you would keep my sister company, but I see now that you are occupied-"

Shian held up her hand. "Nonsense. Both of us would be glad to help."

Great, she didn't even ask me and I really didn't want to go.

"Thanks so very much. I think I'll take a walk on the beach. See the scenery a bit more."

"Uh-huh. You've been comin' up here for years and ya want to "see the scenery a bit more"? I just think you want to see Mr. Walker a bit more."

Ms. Shires laughed and threw up her hands in surrender. "You caught me!" she said and walked past.

"Why did you do that?" I demanded when Ms. Shires was out of earshot.

"What?" she asked, confused.

"Why'd you say I would go with you?"

She rolled her eyes and put her arm around my shoulder. "'Cause we're buddies now, and we haflta hang. Besides, Mrs. Donavan isn't all that bad. She's just lonely and talks 'bout her past a lot. It's all good though 'cause she makes, like, these frozen, fruit snacks."

I shook my head as we continued to walk back to the building and passed the mini-golf course and a thought occurred to me. "How old are you?" I asked.

She mad a face. "Nineteen. I won't be twenty until September."

"You're lying," I declared.

"Not uh! I swear!"

"You look younger."

"I know, it's a curse. So how old are you?"

"Twenty-two."

"Really? You look older."

I smiled. "I know, it's a curse."

"Ya know, you should do that more often."

"What?" I asked.

"Smile. Ya should laugh more too."

"And why is that?"

"'Cause every time ya laugh, you burn 3.5 calories."

"How do you know all that?" I asked skeptically.

She shrugged. "I read a lot."

We didn't have time to finish our conversation because we reached Mrs. Donavan's room. Shian knocked on the door and a woman who looked exactly like Ms. Shires opened it, which brought me to the conclusion that she was her twin.

Mrs. Donavan liked to talk. A lot. It turns out that she was born in Russia and moved to America when she was four, right after the great depression. She had had three husbands who had all died and her grandfather fought in a war. Soon, she got us these fruit things that were sort of like really thick smoothies. As Mrs. Donavan left to go get pictures, I was almost done and Shain was barely halfway through. She would take a spoonful into her mouth and I swear she held it in there for, like, thirty seconds and then swallowed half of it, the other half ten seconds later and licked her lips, rocking back and forth on the legs of her chair, humming softly to a song I did not recognize.

"Why are you eating so slow?" I asked.

She glanced up. "Why ya eating so fast?" she asked back, and then sighed. "You should enjoy everything you eat, to the fullest. Decide if it's sweet or sour, hot or cold. If it's sweet, how would it taste vice versa, and would it taste the same if you reversed hot or cold?"

I rolled my eyes. "You're just like Charles. A huge philosopher, writing songs about the things you wonder."

"Hmm. I don't know about songs, but I could probably write a poem about what I was wondering."

"Okays, so do it." I challenged.

She closed her eyes in deep thought for a long time. "Come on, your killing me with suspense here. What are you thinking about?"

She opened her eyes and revealed an intense stare. "I'm wondering how your eyes got so blue."

Her statement gave me chills and before I could say anything, she began to speak.

"Your eyes have a deep blue shade Laughter comes and quickly fades Like the oceans deepest blue Like heaven came in and fell through Darker than the sky above As gentle as a morning dove But so sad and filled with mystery I wish I knew your history Then I could make you smile Put all your problems into one big pile Burn them, flames rising to the skies The skies, that are blue But not as blue as your eyes"

She quickly blushed as she finished and slapped herself on the forehead. "Gosh, I'm an idiot. I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that." She shook her head and spooned her desert. "But still not bad being right off the top of my head?" she gave a nervous smile as we both laughed and Mrs. Donavan came back with pictures.

I don't know who invented the first camera. I wish I did. I would like to know how the person did it and if he knew it was going to have such a huge effect on people's lives. My mom keeps lots of pictures. Just like Mrs. Donavan. She has pictures of me when I was a baby, and pictures of when I won the school talent shows and pictures of me when I got into TV. Pictures are so you remember important things. So you don't forget the little details.

I have a picture I keep of all of us, meaning Flavor, in my wallet. We aren't standing next to an award or anything either. In fact, we were at my house, playing video games. Just having fun. My mom told us to smile for the camera, and we did. Jared harder than the rest of us. Charles's smile was a little wary since we had woken him up. If you read the many magazine articles on us, you know that Charles loves to sleep.

It was a picture that made me first realize it. The fact that the photographer told me to step up to the front. As in, in front of my band mates. My brothers. My friends. The other four-fifths of the group. I saw it more when the photographer said that everyone else was finished, but I had to stay behind and take some more shots. It was crystal clear when the magazine finally came out and I was on the cover. Just me. That's all.

The guys never got upset. "We're just glad it's not us," they would say in the interviews when it arose in the questions. "We wouldn't be able to handle all the pressure. Aaron is made to be out in front. There's just something about him."

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