A/N: I'll be straight up: if you want a lighthearted, easy read for shits and giggles, venture onward. If you're looking for lots of passion and heart-throbbing dramatics, well, bye :) I had this up round 3 years ago, and I'm editing it now.

The plot, characters, etc etc are all of my (id: 704308) own mind and I'd appreciate them staying that way. Translation: Don't steal, edit, copy, or distribute (without my permission) any of this. Thanks.

One

"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it." - Russel Baker

There were many things Lauren Connors disliked.

Airports, her mom, Florida, old people and tacky clothing were among that list.

Seeing as right now she was in M.I.A waiting for her mother to pick her up while balancing luggage in her arms, surrounded by retired folks in Hawaiian t-shirts, didn't do much to enhance her bitter mood.

The short girl stood awkwardly in the arrivals terminal, her dirty blonde hair gathered in a messy bun with strands of it falling into her too-pale-for-Miami face. She looked around nervously until she spotted a man dressed in a crisp suit, probably in his fifties, holding up a sign with her name written on it.

Of course her mother would send the driver to pick her up. It wasn't like she hadn't seen her only child in six months or anything. As she approached him, she tried to keep the annoyance from showing on her face.

"Miss Connors?"

Lauren nodded. "Yup."

He took the luggage out of her hands with a warm smile and led her outside towards a waiting black Cadillac SRX. "You may call me Harry."

Lauren had temporarily forgotten how hot Florida could be, especially considering the last time she'd been here was during winter break. Squinting at the brilliant sun, she dug into her tote bag to pull out a pair of D&G black-rimmed sunglasses. They were a gift from her mother, and the only brand name thing she owned – wore, actually, considering the many other gifts sitting in her closet. She'd only brought the sunglasses because for one, she hated the sun; and two, a very small part of her was hoping to please her mother.

The story with the Connors family was both common and strange at the same time.

Leila and Rey Connors had met in their freshman year of college, dated, and eventually gotten married at the ripe age of 25. No one could deny they loved each other; but Leila was never the type of woman who could just "settle down." That's why the second Lauren could take decent care of herself – at age twelve, to be exact – Leila decided to act upon an old high school dream of hers: to start her very own organic cosmetics company. Why Leila was so passionate about selling hippie make-up, Lauren never knew or bothered to ask. But since then, EcoPearl had evolved and Leila moved to Florida last December to expand the company.

Other than visiting for Christmas with her father, and Leila flying up to Kalamazoo, Michigan for Rey's birthday, Lauren hadn't seen much of her mother lately. And this was why she'd succumbed to living with her mom in Miami for the next two and a half months.

Miami, where she knew literally one person other than her mom, that being her driver. Miami, where it was either really, really hot or really, really wet. Miami, where there was nothing Lauren could do but go to the beach, or the pool. Neither of those being very appealing options.

Harry glanced at her through the rear-view mirror as he started the car. "Your mother's really excited to see you. Are you looking forward to the summer?"

No, actually, I'm positively dreading it. But there's nothing I can do about it now, is there? I've done my fair share of crying on the plane. It's not like I had any friends to miss back home. And I'm absolutely appalled at the thought of speaking to my mother. So no, Harry, I'm not looking forward to the summer. "I guess so."

Lauren pulled her feet up onto the car seat, ignoring the scuffs her shoes would leave on the expensive upholstery. She took to staring out the window. After getting off the highway they passed a few suburbs, a few shopping plazas, and an exceptionally fancy neighborhood until finally reaching Leila Connor's estate. It wasn't a ridiculously large mansion; but a modern, rectangular beach-house nonetheless. A cobblestone driveway led up to the front porch, which was dotted with yellow tulips. All the color and warmth was a big change from living in a boring apartment on the side of a busy Kalamazoo street.

Lauren got out of the car without waiting for Harry, figuring someone would bring up her suitcase, and made her way across the wide lawn.

"Darling!"

A tall woman with auburn hair and the same chocolate eyes as Lauren came clacking down the porch steps in black kitten heels and a beige pantsuit.

"Hey, Mom," Lauren offered a half-hearted smile.

After pulling away from a stiff hug, Leila stepped back to admire her daughter, dressed in a dark blue cotton tee and faded denim shorts. A frown crossed her features for the slightest second, but it didn't go unnoticed by Lauren, who, as always, never ceased to disappoint her mother.

"Come on in, dear." Leila smiled genuinely, supposing the lame attire was just to make for a more comfortable plane ride.

The foyer was open and cool, a fact much appreciated by Lauren, who'd started to sweat after only a few minutes in the blistering sun.

The whole house had a breezy, nautical feel to it. White walls, light wood flooring, a few bright paintings of Greek coastlines on the walls, and lots of rectangular windows displaying the beach dominated the scene. The living room held a wide bookcase full of novels expressing the importance of self-empowerment and oneness with nature. The furniture was minimalistic and contemporary.

Despite her unhappiness at staying here, Lauren couldn't deny the fact that she loved the place. It fit her.

Ignoring Leila, who was asking about plans for the mall later, Lauren ascended the staircase. The second floor had been under construction during her last visit, and she had stayed in the guest room downstairs. But now, situated between a closet and another guest room was her very own abode.

A queen-sized bed covered with a white duvet and navy blue pillows stood in the middle of the room, overlooking a clear glass wall which led out onto a wrought-iron balcony. Lauren opened the sliding door with ease and looked at her surroundings in awe.

The balcony was in full view of the beach, and, eyeing the rope ladder that descended to the patio below, Lauren decided to adventure.

It was blazing outside, and as much as she wouldn't have minded going back in to the air-conditioned house and downing a glass of water, Lauren felt more comfortable away from the keen eyes of her mother.

She wandered aimlessly down the beach, passing girls in promiscuous bikinis, hyperactive toddlers, and elderly women in floral muumuus. As she headed farther down the beach, however, the occupants started to look less like tourists. She found herself in a small crowd, full of occasionally screaming teenagers. Squeezing her way through, she accidentally bumped into someone.

"Oof, sorry," Lauren mumbled, stepping away from the head of black hair in her face.

"No problem." Her assailant turned around with a grin. She looked some type of Asian, and there were a couple hot pink streaks in her hair.

Lauren realized she'd made it to the front of the group and saw what all the commotion was about. A soccer game. It clearly wasn't official, if the shirts versus skins didn't tell her that much, some of the guys weren't even wearing shoes.

"Wow, there are a lot of people here for just a soccer game," She wondered aloud.

The same girl turned towards her, eyes wide. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"Uh, no, I just moved in for the summer." Lauren gestured to the houses behind them.

"Well don't let anyone else here you say that," The girl laughed, "For some of these guys, soccer's, like, religious. I'm Esther, by the way."

"Lauren."

She turned her attention back to the game. She'd played some soccer back home, nothing big or important though, and so she had enough knowledge of it to stay interested.

A shirtless brunette kicked the ball passed an empty beer bottle and a piece of driftwood – which Lauren assumed served as goal posts – and the crowd roared. He grinned, showing off a set of teeth that glittered against his tan complexion and Lauren's heartbeat involuntarily quickened.

"Don't they have fields here?" Lauren asked Esther.

"What?" She looked confused; her eyes had been fixated on an extremely sweaty blonde guy. "Oh, yeah, but most of the fields are for the country clubs. Y'know, the rich snobs. So we just play for free on the beach. It's more fun, too."

She nodded, deciding it'd be best if she hadn't told anyone her mother happened to be a "rich snob" and Lauren, unfortunately, too.

Esther suddenly jumped to the side as the ball flew into the crowd, hitting Lauren in the leg. She was startled, and stared at the ball as if it would suddenly grow claws and eat her.

She looked back up to see the very same brunette who'd scored earlier yelling at her. "Well, kick it back!"

Silently pleading to God a year of fourth grade soccer would be of some use to her, Lauren curled it under her foot and punted, feeling the others' gaze on her. The ball barely flew past 4 feet and the guy let out a laugh as he jogged over to get it. A few snickers sounded behind her and Lauren felt her face redden.

If there was one thing Lauren couldn't tolerate, it was publicity. Speaking in public, performing in public–oh and her favorite, humiliating herself in public.

The game swiftly picked up again but Lauren – being the overtly sensitive girl she was – couldn't handle standing there a second longer without her skin crawling uncomfortably. Digging her heel into the sand, she turned back from the direction she came in, walking until she could see muumuus once again.

Going back home wasn't an option either, so she decided on the boardwalk.

Small shops and tourist traps lined the side of the large wooden pier. It was quaint and gave Lauren an odd sense of nostalgia. She was yearning for something, she just couldn't remember what exactly.

Shaking the feelings aside, she kept walking. She spotted a small diner nestled between a boutique and record store. It was only 2:30; she'd have enough time to get a soda. She almost snorted at the cliché restaurant, stereotypically named Mel's. It was fairly large, with black-and-white checkered tiles and red cushion booths lining the wall. Cute.

Lauren took a seat at a stool by the counter and gazed up at the menu. Ignoring the irrational side of her that desperately craved a greasy cheeseburger; she ordered a vanilla milkshake, knowing she could do without the extra pounds but still offer to treat herself. Though she originally planned on hanging out there to drink it – less Leila time, after all – she started feeling unusually lonely all by herself, so she asked for her shake to go.

As she headed towards the door, her phone buzzed in her pocket. A text from Leila: Lunch's ready, I have a surprise for you!

It all happened quickly then.

Lauren was reaching out to pull the door open, still looking down at her phone, while a group of people, including Esther, were pushing it open from the other side. The door bumped into her side rather painfully, the milkshake's top popped open and flung itself right down the front of her shirt.

Oh shit.

Laughter broke out amongst the group amidst some rushed apologies. Lauren looked up, afraid of meeting anyone's eyes, but not wanting the hot tears she felt pricking to spill before she could get out of there.

Surprisingly, the same brunette who'd laughed at her lame attempt to punt the soccer ball wasn't laughing this time, despite the slightly amused smile on his face. He stood holding the door open while his friends walked past her and the sticky mess on the floor to sit at a table.

"Aiden, c'mon!"

"One sec!" He reverted his gaze back to rest on hers. "You alright?"

Lauren looked up at him, her insides clenching painfully at the sound of his voice. It had a lazy drawl to it, but she could still detect a note of concern. His eyes were brown, like her own, but with flecks of gold. His hair, though a bit shaggy, was sweaty and stuck to his forehead. The only thing hindering his perfection was a thick scar running from under his jaw to end at his earlobe. And, if anything, that only made him appear rugged. He was even better looking up close, Lauren thought bitterly. And still shirtless.

It was only after a grin started stretching across his face that she realized she'd been very openly checking him out. Without another word, and blushing furiously, Lauren roughly pushed past him and nearly ran down the boardwalk.

"Sorry!" He called out.

Lauren flung the half-empty cup into a trash can outside, and pulled her top over her head. She was wearing a swimsuit top underneath, and it was the beach, after all. In spite of being extremely self-conscious, she just couldn't take the sticky discomfort any longer.

Finally reaching her house, she burst through the front door, and paused in the foyer. Doubling over, she waited to catch her breath before heading for the stairs, wanting nothing more than a nice cold shower.

To her immense surprise and embarrassment, another woman and a young man were seated in the living room with Leila. Cups of tea in hand and postures stiff as wood.

"Lauren, darling, there's someone I want you to…" Leila trailed off as she examined her daughter's appearance, "Uh, why don't you go change into…something, and meet us down here for lunch."

Lauren nodded, groaning inwardly.

Upstairs, in the third room on the left – which she refused to call her room – Lauren took a quick shower, threw on a green hooded shirt and light-washed jeans before coming downstairs. She stood at the last step, gripping the banister until her knuckles were white.

"Lauren, this is my good friend, Amelia, and her son, Nate. They're absolute darlings, come say hello." Leila placed a hand on her daughter's arm and led her towards the guests.

Amelia flashed a plastic smile, but Nate's looked authentic.

"Hello Lauren," He shook Lauren's hand and she tried to hide her surprise. His hands were softer than her own!

"Well, come on, lunch has been ready for quite some time now," Leila said, washing a fresh wave of guilt over Lauren once again.

The dining room wasn't some fancy, banquet sort of place. There was a reasonably sized mahogany table, with enough room for eight; a large vase filled with white roses served as a centerpiece, with a chandelier hanging in the center. Leila's chef had served fresh turkey with steamed vegetables and key lime pie.

"So, Lauren, seeing as how you got into a little bit of troubles your first time out—"

"I spilled a milkshake," Lauren corrected, trying desperately to keep the anger out of her voice.

"—I was thinking Nate could show you around?" Leila went on as if Lauren hadn't even spoken.

Nate was eager to agree, "Sure, that'd be great."

Before Lauren could even voice her opinion, Nate was out of his seat and dragging Lauren to a shiny black Audi parked in the drive.

"So how do you like Florida?"

Lauren barely stifled her glare, instead replying with a curt "fine."

If it weren't was bad enough being stuck here for her whole freaking summer, now she had to go gallivanting around with some preppy enthusiast.

As he started the car, she took advantage of this time to inspect him. He was dressed in jeans and a navy blue button down, suspiciously dressy for a casual lunch at his mom's friend's place. Not only that, it was ninety degrees outside! He was handsome, she decided. His jet-black hair was combed smoothly to one side, not a single strand out of place, and complimented his eyes – a piercing blue – nicely. A bit too nicely.

"Let's go to the country club," Nate grinned, sliding a pair of sunglasses on as he turned out of the drive.

Lauren just nodded, pressing her palms hard against her knees and forcing a smile.

"Sounds like fun."