"The hardest part of life? Trying to get through it without the one person you need most"

The light breeze of the beach air was relaxing. The sound of the waves crashing around her, the laughter of all her friends just made her day much better. However, it didn't change it also made her think of all the people she missed. Things were better with her parents…well her mom. Her dad and her never hit a rough patch, but her mom had gotten better. She seemed to smile more. It wasn't every day and some days she saw the moment of sadness wash over her, but she was better. She talked to her more. Didn't stiffen up when she hugged her. That was her favorite part.

She missed Alex.

She was supposed to be here with her today. She was supposed to be the one sitting next to her on this beach and talking to her about their night plans. She loved her friends. She loved them for trying but she really didn't want to celebrate today because she just wanted her sister here.

"Why does birthday girl look so serious?" Jeri eased beside her friend who seemed to be spacing out. "You, ok?"

"Yeah," Collins answered her usual automatic response and forced a smile. She was so used to lying saying she was fine she had perfected it. The only person who really seemed to notice the lie was about twenty feet from her throwing a football with his friends. That again made her mind race with what she was doing. What she let her life turn into. She was weak when it came to him. She hated it but she was and this morning just proved that. "I was just thinking…"

"Mhmm." Jeri tossed a glance down the beach and then back at the young brunette beside her. "About Benry?"

"About everything…" Collins fell back onto the beach towel behind her and shrugged. "Just everything…"

"Would you tell me what happened if I asked?" Jeri copied her friend's move and collapsed beside her. "Did you sleep with him?" she pushed a step further instantly catching the blush and Collins chewing on her lip. "You know I won't judge you if you did."

"We didn't…" Collins breathed out and shook her head. "We did…stuff…but didn't fully sleep together," she confused and Jeri offered a nod. "God, what is wrong with me!?" her hands slapped over her face embarrassed.

"Cols, it's ok…"

"No, it's not, it's not ok," her head shook quick at that. "I just don't know what it is about him, Jeri. I'll promise myself I won't fall back in but then he smiles or his hand grazes mine or he just breathes around me and I crumble to everything. I'm so screwed up," Collins head sunk in the sand as she looked up at the sky. "He asked me if I still loved him…"

"What…what did you say?"

"I told him yes," Collins offered a shrug. "Because I do. I don't think I'll ever not love him. He asked if that's the case why can't we just forget everything else."

"There's a lot of hard stuff to forget…" Jeri pointed out and Collins nodded knowing that.

"When we're here it's easier. It's just us and the people I know care about me and don't judge me or think less of me. But when we're back at home…"

"Back at school…"

"I don't want to look stupid again, Jay. Like at the party. Everyone looking at me and talking about me and making fun of how dumb I was. I held a confidence in me that I had long lost and it mostly was because Benry cared about me. Somehow, little ole me got Benry Michaels to care and to know it was all a lie scares me to death."

"It wasn't a lie, Cols," Jeri offered a small sad smile and grabbed her hand. "It may have started out not in the best manner but it wasn't a lie. He loves you. It's written all over his face he loves you. He hates what he did to you. He hates he hurt you and he hates more than anything the one thing he cares about most doesn't believe that and he took that confidence away from you."


"And if you love him and are happy and want to be with him, then be with him and if someone dares to say shit to you are school, I'll handle it," Jeri looked eyes on Collins and Collins nodded. "Look down that beach. You have seven pretty scary people who love you and wouldn't let anyone hurt your feelings."

"Two of them are the cause my feelings got hurt," Collins looked at Benry and Andrew as she chewed her lip. "But I also know they feel bad about it."

"That they do, babe," Jeri gave her hand a squeeze, hating the battle she was going through. "Get it all out. Scream at him, hit him, cry, whatever you want but you need to get it all out, babe."

"He and I are going to do something after the beach. Think I may do it then. I just need to get out all the stuff I'm feeling. Think then I can move on either way."


"Hey!" Abby came bouncing down the beach with Taylor, frozen drinks in hand. "I love this place! Here," she shoved the drinks toward them excited. "It's peachy something."

"Abby has already had three," Taylor made a point to mention and eased by her friends. "What are we talking about?"

"How hot those boys are," Jeri shrugged like it was nothing and took a sip of her drink. Abby being right. It was delicious. "I mean damn…"

"Yeah," Collins laughed as she sipped her drink. "Damn…"

"You seem to be in a weirdly good mood," Andrew commented on his friend as they threw the football down the beach.

"Why is me being in a good mood weird?" Benry questioned as he caught the ball. Nodding to the guys at the other end he was done throwing it.

"Because you haven't been in weeks," Andrew shrugged, slapping his friend's shoulder. "It's cool to see but just curious why?"

"Why we being so serious Andy?" Benry forced out a smile, not wanting anyone to know why he was having a good day. "I'm at the beach. The weather is nice. I have some good friends here…"

"Hot girls," they reach Art and Bradley to hear Art say. "Very hot girls," he repeated looking at the laughing girls just a few feet from them.

"They do look to be glowing all tan like," Bradley looked over at his girl, the sun already kissing her skin perfectly. He was convinced she could sit by a window and tan instantly. Must be in her bloodline or something.

"I'm going to speak on something and I beg no one hit me," Art stated and all three men lifted a brow at him unsure what he might say. "Has Collins always had that banging of a body?" he questioned and instantly Bradley's hand came flying up smacking him in the head. "Dude, I said don't hit me."

"And dude don't look at my cousin," Bradley's eyes rolled, Andrew laughed and Benry's eyes slanted into a glare.

"I was just making an observation," Art defended himself. "All I've seen her in is large t-shirts and jeans. I didn't know, that, was under it all. I wasn't being rude. Just saying little Hewitt is easy on the eyes."

"She's always been easy on the eyes," Benry finally spoke feeling stuff bubble in his stomach at someone looking at Collins. Especially when he knew he couldn't do anything about it. "You shouldn't have to see her body to realize that," he growled stepping away from the guys and toward the girls.

"You're a jackass," Bradley shook his head at his friend followed the annoyed looking boy.

"Oh Art, you so need to learn how to interact with dudes with sisters, and cousins and…ex-girlfriends…" Andrew's arm fell over his shoulder and laughed. "But yeah…her body is pretty banging…" he agreed, the first time he saw Collins in a swimsuit he had no clue her body was how it was.

"Thank you!" Art tossed his hand up. "They making it seem so weird."

"They both are always wound so damn tight," they both agreed and followed to the group. "Hello, ladies…"

"Hello boys," Jeri greeted with a wide smile as Andrew fell down beside her. "What are ya'll doing?"

"Just hanging out…Tay got your sister drunk."

"I did not!" Taylor objected to that statement. Yes, her and Abby went on a drink run a couple times, but wasn't her fault Abby got drunk quicker than anyone else.

"I'm not drunk," Abby fought shaking her head. "I just feel lovely," she sung and the whole group laughed. "I love these Andy, try it," she shoved her drink at her brother and he took a long sip. "You need one."

"Maybe, they are good," he agreed wiping the spill from his mouth. "But not sure you need another one if you're trying to go out later."

"Oh, Andy I'll nap," Abby jumped up grabbing his hand. "Come buy me another. We'll get everyone one!"

"I'm coming," Jeri stood up when her boyfriend's eyes pleaded not to make him go alone. "Come on guys, we'll need help. Collins will you watch our stuff?"

"Sure," Collins caught the knowing look Jeri was giving her.

"I'll stay with her," Benry spoke before Bradley could, yet Bradley still paused.

"Come on, babe," Taylor stood and grabbed his hand and gave it a tug. "We can also get some more snacks."

"Can you grab me a coke, Bubba?" Collins voice sugar sweet and with a slow nod Bradley agreed and started to follow after the group. "You can sit," Collins slapped her hand on the towel beside her and slowly Benry eased down beside her and they listened to the waves crash.

A silence falling over them a long moment as both stared forward. Neither not knowing what to say but knowing something had to be said. They shared a moment this morning. A very intimate moment then went on with the day like it never happened. Honestly, hadn't spoken much of anything to each other and it felt awkward.

"Am I making this weird?" Collins finally spoke. She knowing she was more of the awkward one then him. "Am I causing this awkward tension?"

"It's not awkward tension," Benry's eyes shift to hers and instantly her lip slid between her teeth. "I love you, Collins, but you just always think too much," he joked, her eyes dropping to the sand at his words but his eyes just stayed locked on her. "Why would it be awkward?"

"Because of what we did this morning…"

"Wasn't something we haven't done a hundred times before and never once was it awkward after."

"Those times were different, Benry…so different…" Collins watched her foot dig into the sand over and over.


"Because we were together Benry...we aren't…not anymore," she finally pulled her eyes to his and saw all the pain in his face. "I'm sorry but we're not."

"But we could be…" he pushed and her eyes closed. "Collins, I know I hurt you. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Greg and I'm so sorry for what happened to Alex, but you forgave everyone else. You let everyone back in," he pointed out and she released a dry laugh shaking her head. "Everyone knew. Everyone knew about Greg and told me not to bring it up to you. I did what everyone said!"

"You think that's why we aren't together?" anger rose in her as his brows pulled confused. "I'm not stupid, Benry. Was it a shock about Greg? Yes, but I know it was an accident."

"Then what, Collins? What?"

"I was a bet to you, Benry!" she screamed and his eyes closed. With everything she had said to him that night at the party, that one he forgot came out. She never mentioned that one to him. "I was a game you came up with to get back at Bradley. That's all I was too you," a tear slipped out as she stood and started to move back down the beach. She need air. She needed to breathe.

"Collins…" Benry chased after her, grabbing her wrist but she yanked it back running her hands over her face. "Collins…"

"Do you know how that felt?" tears continued to run and, in that moment, Benry was positive his entire heart shattered. He never meant to hurt her. "Do you have any clue what it was like standing in a room full of people, people I thought were my friends and hear that the person you loved didn't care at all? That you legit meant nothing to them!"

"You mean everything to me…" Benry whispered out, nervously taking his hands to touch her, praying she didn't slug him. "Collins…"

"You broke me, Benry…you completely broke me in half and I after everything that has happened to me, I didn't know there was anything left to break but you found it."

"I never wanted to hurt you, Collins. I wish there was something I could say. I wish I could go back to that day and never made that stupid bet, but I did and if we're doing complete honesty I don't…I don't know if I would…" he told her and her eyes squinted confused. "Collins, I was a complete asshole back then. I was cold and shallow and a complete dick. Yes, I went after you because I hated Bradley, but it changed so fast. My feelings changed so quick and it scared the hell out of me."


"I don't make that bet I don't get to know you. And I know that's terrible, but because of that stupid bet I got you. You took time to get to know me. You chose to care about me and know me, the real me. No one knows me like you. No one has loved me for me like you. And I need you to hear me, if you never believe another word, I ever say believe me when I tell you we…" he paused looking down so nervous about what he may say or if he may say it wrong.

"We what? We what Benry?"

"It wasn't because the bet," he mumbled confusing her more. "Sleeping together…anything we did together… it wasn't for a bet."

"What does that mean? I don't understand."

"My feelings for you started so quick Collins. I tried to fight them, I tried like hell to ignore them, but I think I was a couple weeks in and you had completely incased my thoughts. We called it off. I was going to call it off, Andrew beat me too it. Neither of us wanted to hurt you. And then I was going to tell you but then we slept together and I thought only he and I knew so no one would ever find out."

"People found out Benry. Everyone found out."

"I know, I know baby. I know," his hands framed her face, Benry wiping the tears he hated he caused. "That night of the party I was going to tell you everything. I was going to go home and tell you and let you decide from there. I wanted you to know. I was just so scared of losing you. I was so scared I was going to lose you."

"And in the end, you did anyway," her lip quivered as the tears continued to fall. "Benry, I don't know if I can do this…"


"Benry…" Collins grabbed his hands pulling them from her. "This morning was nice. The last two days of falling back into old habits have been nice, but it doesn't change what happened."

"Collins, I love you I do, but I can't keep doing this back and forth with you. I can't have one moment of you wanting this and the next you don't. I told you everything. You know everything."

"And so does everyone else," Collins reminded and his eyes closed. "So, what we get a week of nice times and then go back home to hell? To school. To everyone looking and laughing and judging me and making me look like the biggest idiot that has ever stepped foot in that town?"

"You won't be the biggest idiot…"


"No!" he snapped at that statement. "You can't be the biggest idiot when I am. I took that crown when Greg died. So why not walk into that school and do it together."

"Benry…" more tears fell and she pulled in a weak broken breath.

"Don't say no to us because of other people," he begged and her eyes closed. "Don't be with me because you don't love me. Don't be with me because you don't want to be with me, but don't not be with me because you care what everyone else thinks. Screw them. Screw all of them. All that matters at the end of the day is you and me. That's all that matters, baby. That's all that matters."

"It's not that easy, Benry…it's not. It can't be that easy."

"Yes, it can. We love each other. I know we love each other. That's a start," he reasoned. "I look at my life sometimes and I look at all the stupid shit I've done. I've always took the easy way out and ran when it got hard or I couldn't handle it. I can't run from you. I can't give you up without fighting."

"Why? Why do you need this to work so bad?"

"Because you're the only person in my whole life that knows me. Good, bad and the ugly you know me and it never scared you. You never listened to what people said about me and took it to heart. You defended me…you loved me. Scars and all."

"That's because you've never judged mine," her small hand reached to lay on his chest with a shrug. "You never coddled me Benry. You never treated me as broken. You just were here for me. You let me cry. You let me laugh. You didn't make every conversation I have be about how I was. You fought with me. You challenged me. You treated me like a person."

"Because you're not broken," he shrugged. "Well until I broke you."

"Maybe we can fix it," she whispered out so low she wasn't sure he even heard it. Just kept running her fingers over his heart. "We just…start over."

"Start over?"

"My name is Collins Hewitt," she outstretched her hand and he laughed. "I am indeed Bradley's cousin and I am a little emotional screwed up. But I'm working on it."

"Benry Michaels," he took her hand that she kept thrusting at him. "Glad you have a cousin. Love to meet the guy," he teased and she let out a laugh. "But should warn you I'm hopeless in love with you Collins Hewitt. I hope that doesn't come on to strong."

"A little, but we'll see how it goes," she laughed, going to pull her hand away, but Benry just laced his fingers through his. Staring at it a long moment he brushed his lips across it and smiled. "What?"

"I want to take you to dinner. I know you have something you wanted to do today and every wants to take you out tonight, but I want to take you to dinner tomorrow if you're free," he asked and felt his heart race as she paused way to long for her liking.

"How about the thing I want to do we do tomorrow then go to dinner?" she finally offered and he let out a sigh of relief. "But until then in front of everyone maybe we not be so touchy. Let's figure us out before we say anything else to anyone."

"Ok," Benry finally agreed, looking over his shoulder to see if their friends are coming back yet. "But while I have a minute," he faced her and slammed his mouth into hers catching her off guard. Stumbling back a step, his hand latched onto her wrist pulling her back into him and loved the sign of relief that escaped her delicate lips. God, he missed kissing her.

Pulling back panting, Collins head dropped to his chest as she heard his heart race. Benry ran his hands through her hair as he kissed the top of her head and breathed her in. He didn't want to let her go yet. He wasn't ready to let her go yet. Every time he did, he feared she would freak out and run from him. No matter how any of their talks went he was always scared.

"I'm not going to let anyone say anything to you," Benry whispered on the top of her head. "When we get back home. No one will say shit to you. I'll destroy anyone who tries," he told her and felt her nod into his chest. "Let's get your birthday going right. Don't want you being all sad on your birthday."

"Ok," she pulled back. She locked her eyes on his and he offered a half-broken smile. Tucking a curl that was going nuts in the wind she pushed out a smile and he winked. "Let's go sit back down before everyone gets back."

"Ok," he dropped his hands from her body and they both walked back to the beach towels. Collins pulled in a deep breath as she heard the laughter of her friends as the moved closer toward them. She didn't want to be sad on her birthday. She didn't want to be sad at all anymore. Yet, the one person she wanted to talk to most today she couldn't. She tilted her head up at the sky and pulled in a long breath really wishing she could get a small sign that showed her that today, today of all days, her sister was somehow there.