A/N: A couple months ago, I thought, "Ooh, I have the perfect idea for this cute little oneshot!" Then I sat down to type and gave birth to this monster. It clearly got a little out of my control, but it was always intended to be a oneshot so I decided to keep it that way. Enjoy!
The Garrity Girls and the Bowman Boys
© All Rights Reserved
The Garrity girls and the Bowman boys hate each other. It's just a cold, hard fact, like how the sun rises in the east or how water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen.
It's a rivalry on par with the Montagues and the Capulets, the Hatfields and the McCoys, Apple and Microsoft. War has been declared. Blood has been shed. Lives have been lost.
Well…okay. Not human lives, per se, but the villainous Bowman boys killed Cocoa Puff! When I was thirteen, my family went to Myrtle Beach for a week. The Bowmans were supposed to take care of our hamster, Cocoa Puff, while we were gone. At the end of the week, we returned, all tanned and laden with seashells collected on the shore, only to find that the moronic Bowman boys had let Cocoa Puff escape! Mrs. Bowman tried to buy another hamster and pass it off as her, but we knew right away. The parents still think that Cocoa Puff's escape was an "accident." Psh. You'd have to be completely oblivious (which both sets of parents are, unfortunately) to buy that story. I'm still convinced that they purposely let her out.
Hamsters don't survive on their own in the wild, people. There's no way poor little Cocoa Puff lasted more than a couple days out there on the mean streets.
Rest in peace, Cocoa Puff.
And blood has, in fact, been shed! Trust me, Joey and Dougie Bowman may be little, but they are violent. Dougie gave my sister Casey a black eye a couple months ago. And I can't even tell you how many scrapes and bruises I have from getting into fights with the Bowman boys over the years.
We've been in a war with each other since before I can remember. And over the years, it's only escalated, because here's the thing: even though we hate – no, loathe – each other, our parents are best friends. So we've been forced into joint playdates, vacations, and parties since we were little.
I don't even remember how the feud started; I just know that I've hated the Bowman boys since I was a kid. Whenever we go over their house, they build elaborate booby traps to prank and humiliate us. (Of course, we do the same to them when they come over ours – it's only fair!) The humiliation even carries over to school; for instance, when I was fifteen, Colin Bowman hung my bras all over my locker. They try to manipulate our parents so that my sisters and I get in trouble and they get off scot-free. Last year, the Bowmans actually broke their own Xbox and then said that we did it. We had to pay for it and buy them a newer version. Those sneaky bastards.
Well, I'm hardly one to take things lying down, so if my sisters and I have done a few slightly illegal things over the years to get back at them, who cares? Nothing those obnoxious Bowman boys didn't deserve.
There are four of them and only three of us, so we have to compensate for being outnumbered by being extra clever. Which is easy for us – we are the legendary Garrity girls, after all. I'm the oldest, and therefore the de facto leader of the clan. My sister Maggie is the sweetest one of the three of us – she's fifteen. And Casey's only ten, but she's tough. She even made Gavin Bowman cry once. It was the best day of my life.
Then there are the Bowmans: Colin, Gavin, Joey, and Dougie. Joey, twelve, and Dougie, eight, are basically wild animals that Mrs. Bowman must have found in the zoo and adopted. They are violent beyond belief and one or both of them will end up in prison within the coming decade, mark my words. Gavin is a freshman like Maggie, and he's the quietest Bowman. I've always thought he's the weakest link. But the thing about Gavin is that he's also a genius. He's pretty much the brains of the operation, the one who designs their evil, elaborate pranks on us.
And then there's Colin. Colin Bowman, bane of my existence, my Public Enemy Number One, the biggest asshole I have ever and will ever meet. Just hearing his name makes my blood boil. He's the ruthless, tyrannical dictator of his mob of brothers, and he is pure evil. We've made each other's lives a living hell since we were toddlers and he sliced all the heads off my dolls in the middle of my tea party in my backyard.
Colin Bowman has no heart. He will probably grow up to be a war criminal. Don't say I didn't warn you, world.
"Please tell me someone made brownies!" I hear my mother shriek from downstairs.
I roll my eyes. Too predictable. Mom is a cutthroat corporate lawyer who works long hours and hates cooking. Usually, Dad makes us dinner or Maggie and I try to whip something up. And when all else fails, we know the number of pretty much every takeout place in town.
"Don't worry, Mom, Maggie and I took care of it!" I yell down from my bedroom.
I smirk. Oh, we took care of it, all right. Yesterday, Maggie and I made a batch of brownies with a very special recipe. We basically poured every ingredient in our kitchen pantry into the bowl, along with some dirt from outside. Casey wandered in halfway through and spit in the batter.
Gross? Maybe, but you gotta play dirty when you're dealing with the disgusting Bowman boys.
"Okay, thanks girls. Now would everybody please get down here this instant? We were supposed to leave five minutes ago!" Mom screams in response.
That's how things work in the Garrity household. Yelling is the primary mode of communication. Hey, it works for us.
Ten minutes later, Maggie has finally parted with her beloved sketchbook and Casey and Dad have finished their game of catch in the backyard. We're all herded into the car by Mom and on our way to the ninth circle of hell – a.k.a. the Bowman household.
"Now, girls," Mom turns in the passenger seat to face us, and I groan inwardly when I see that she's got her signature lecture face on.
Rolling my eyes, I interrupt. "We know, we know. 'Be on your best behavior, and absolutely no fighting with the Bowman boys.' It's not like you haven't told us this millions of times before."
Maggie and Casey nod in agreement, but Mom sighs. "Well, Nora, I wouldn't have to tell you the same thing over and over if you would actually listen for once. You're the oldest, and as the oldest, I'd like to see you taking some responsibility and setting a good example for –"
"Do you realize how unfair you're being?" I interrupt. "Colin is the oldest of his brothers, and he's setting a thoroughly terrible example, if you ask me."
Dad chuckles. One of the most annoying aspects of my life is the fact that my father thinks Colin Bowman is just the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm pretty sure that Dad always wanted a son, and he got stuck with three girls instead. Casey, at least, is a tomboy, but Dad loves hanging out with the Bowman boys, talking about football and playing pick-up basketball and stuff. It's sickening. "Well, nobody asked you, Nora, now did they?"
"Dad!" I'm affronted. "How can you stick up for them? A traitor, in my own family!"
That just makes my parents laugh harder. I huff and turn to glare out the window at the passing houses. My parents have never understood the trials and tribulations their poor daughters have had to face at the hands of the dastardly Bowmans.
A couple minutes later, we pull into their driveway, and I instantly put my guard up. I shoot warning glances at Maggie and Casey to do the same. We have officially entered enemy territory.
My family goes up and rings the doorbell. A moment later, Mrs. Bowman answers and ushers us into the house. "Happy birthday, Nora!" she exclaims, sweeping me into a hug.
I smile and lean into the embrace. "Thanks, Mrs. B!" I will never understand how one of the sweetest women in the world could have possibly given birth to four demons. Mrs. Bowman is kind and gentle, kind of the opposite of my own overbearing mom even though they're best friends. She's been like a second mother to me my whole life.
It's kind of heartbreaking that someone as nice as her could have had a husband as shitty as Mr. Bowman. He ran off with a younger woman a few years ago and divorced her. I think he only sees his family occasionally now. Good riddance, in my opinion. Men are pigs.
"Where are the boys?" Mom asks.
"Oh, I think they're in the basement. Maggie, honey, could you run down and tell them to come up here?" Mrs. Bowman looks at my sister.
Maggie nods, and my parents and Mrs. Bowman head into the kitchen. Maggie walks over to the door that leads to the stairs down to the basement. She pulls it open and steps onto the staircase.
"Maggie, wait!" I yell, but I'm too late. My sister's too trusting for her own good. Sure enough, a few seconds later, we hear a loud crash and a screech, followed by uproarious laughter.
Casey and I look at each other in alarm before rushing over to peer down the stairs. We can hear the maniacal laughter of the Bowman boys from below.
"Which one of them did we get?" That's Dougie's voice, chortling with glee. How can a mere eight-year-old be so evil?
"I don't know, but I sure hope it's Nora!" comes Joey's response. "She's always the maddest."
I seethe with anger and am about to scream down the stairs at the little brat, but Casey grips my arm, reminding me to keep my cool. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
The two of us proceed hesitantly down the stairs. When we get to the bottom, I flick the light on, and we see Maggie, hands on her hips, completely drenched in water. Her clothes cling to her body, and the signature Garrity dark curly hair is plastered to her head.
"Oh, Maggie," I sigh.
She spits a mouthful of water out onto the ground. "They rigged a trip wire at the bottom of the staircase," she tells us angrily. "A bucket of water tipped over onto my head!"
Just then, like clockwork, the perpetrators come out of the various hiding spots behind furniture where they'd been lying in wait for whichever one of us had fallen into their trap.
"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in," comes a low voice from the other end of the room.
My eyes shoot to Colin, looking like a true villain, his face half in shadow, a smirk on his lips. His sandy brown hair is messy as always, falling over his forehead.
I open my mouth to retort, but Joey and Dougie are falling all over each other in laughter.
"IT WAS MAGGIE!" Dougie laughs.
"We figured you could use some refreshment," twelve-year-old Joey grins. "It's almost summer, after all."
Maggie glares at them. "This isn't funny! Gavin! Was this your idea?"
Gavin, always the quiet one, shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest. "Maybe," he replies.
"What a dummy!" exclaims Joey. "You walked right into that one, Maggie! But I guess you are just a dumb girl," he sneers.
"Hey!" yells Casey. "Don't be mean to my sister!"
Joey smirks at her. "Oh yeah? Who's gonna stop me?"
"Me!" Casey bellows, and then she rushes at Joey and head-butts him in the stomach.
"Hey!" Joey cries. The punches start flying between the two of them, and Dougie joins the fray to help defend his older brother.
Maggie and Gavin are arguing in the corner about the stupid water bucket prank, their voices getting louder and louder.
Sure, Gavin may have designed the trap, but we all know who the real culprit is here. These idiotic boys would be lost without their fearless leader. I advance toward Colin, a glare of hatred on my face, as he moves toward me. We meet in the center of the room.
"A trip wire and a bucket of water?" I question dryly, my eyebrow raised. "Real impressive, Colin. One would never guess that you're not all in second grade like Dougie."
He smirks at me, his blue eyes flashing. "Simple, yes, but highly effective, I think you'll agree."
I open my mouth to retort, but just then we hear Mrs. Bowman's voice from the top of the staircase. "Kids! Come on upstairs! It's time for cake!"
Colin and I shoot one last heated glare at each other, and then at the same time wordlessly break our eye contact in order to round up our respective younger siblings.
We trudge upstairs. Our idiotic parents buy Colin's fake story that Joey and Dougie accidentally tipped a bucket of water over onto Maggie, and none of the boys get in trouble. Typical. We all crowd into the dining room, and Colin and I are forced to sit next to each other at the table. We scoot our chairs as far away from each other as humanly possible, so that I end up practically sitting on Maggie's lap. Oh well. Better than letting any part of my skin come into contact with the radioactive alien waste that probably makes up Colin Bowman's body tissue.
Mrs. Bowman comes into the room carrying a massive chocolate cake with seventeen candles on it. She places it down in front of us and begins lighting the candles.
"Happy 17th birthday, Colin and Nora!" the cake reads.
I scowl darkly. Every year, our parents insist on celebrating our birthdays together, no matter how much we protest. "Colin is only a week and a half older than you, Nora," my mother scolds me every year. "It only makes sense to have a joint party." But I don't think it makes any sense at all. How fucked up is it that I can't even have my own birthday to myself?
"I can't believe how old you two are getting!" Mrs. Bowman exclaims as she rushes around to the other side of the table to set up her video camera. "It seems like just yesterday that the two of you were starting preschool together!"
Mom smiles. "Oh, Claire, do you remember how we bought them those matching blue lunchboxes? They were so adorable!"
She and Mrs. Bowman reminisce joyfully, but Colin and I just glower at our embarrassing mothers. Finally, Mrs. Bowman turns on the camera, and the singing begins.
"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Colin-and-Nora, happy birthday to you!"
When the song ends, Colin and I turn to look at each other for the first time since we've sat down. He's got a determined, competitive glint in his eyes, and his jaw is set stubbornly. But he should know by now who he's dealing with – Nora Garrity does not like to lose.
It seems kind of silly to still be doing this now that we're seventeen, but we've done it every year since before I can remember. Since our families insist on us sharing a cake, Colin and I have always competed to see who can blow out the most candles. It's kind of a tradition.
We both turn to the cake. "One," I mutter, glaring at him out of the corner of my eye.
"Two," he grits out through clenched teeth.
And then, instead of saying "three," I take a deep breath, lean forward, and blow out the candles.
When Colin sees what I've done, he springs to action. But he only ends up blowing out about three or four. As Mrs. Bowman whisks the cake away to begin cutting it, I lean back happily in my seat, feeling mighty pleased with myself.
"Hey!" Colin growls under his breath at me. The rest of our families have begun loud conversations, so no one else can hear our exchange.
I turn to face him, smirking. "What's the matter, Colin?" I ask innocently, my hazel eyes wide.
"You cheated," he hisses.
I grin. "Aw, you wanna go cry to Mommy about it?"
Satisfied, I watch him glare fiercely at me. We both know that there's nothing he can do. Ten years ago, he would have thrown a fit about this, but we've just turned seventeen, for God's sake! We can hardly let our families know that we're still just as competitive about something so trivial as we were when we were kids.
Colin lets out a frustrated huff of air. "Of course not. I don't even care."
And I actually believe him. I don't care either about who blows out more candles, not really. But it's the principle of the thing – we've been sworn rivals since before we could walk. Any chance to beat the other one in anything is very valuable.
I reach over and pat him on the shoulder. "Sure you don't," I smirk, and then I prance off into the kitchen to bring out the plate of brownies we brought over.
About half an hour later, our visit is cut short when all the Garrity boys are throwing up in various toilets and garbage cans. My sisters and I had watched delightedly as they'd all greedily shoved our brownies into their mouths. Sure enough, our little concoction had upset their stomachs.
My Dad had eaten the brownies, too, and he spends the whole car ride home throwing up into a plastic bag. Oh, well. There's always collateral damage in any war.
"Hey, Ben! Wait up!" I call as I see a familiar head of blond hair at one end of the crowded school hallway.
Ben Vance whirls around, and his eyes widen when they fall on me.
I turn to my two best friends, Nat and Vic, and smile. "I'll see you later, 'kay?"
"Oh, sure, Nor, that's fine, just ditch your friends for your boy toy," Vic smirks.
I roll my eyes. "He's not my boy toy, for God's sake."
Nat grins. "Relax, we know. Now go!" She pushes me toward Ben, and I wave at them over my shoulder as I saunter over to the boy.
Ben is a cute blond in my Government class who's had a crush on me all year, I'm pretty sure. We'd been flirting a bit lately, and last week he asked me if I wanted to go to our junior prom with him. Of course I'd said yes, but oddly enough, I haven't heard from him at all since then.
"Ben!" I call again, when I see him start to walk the other way. I finally reach him and grin up at him. "What's up?"
"Oh, h-hey, Nora." He smiles back at me, but he looks kind of nervous. He keeps looking over his shoulder every other second. It's kind of weirding me out, but I don't call him out on it.
Aw, he must be nervous around me, I think fondly.
I figure I'm going to have to take charge of the situation. "So, what time are you picking me up before junior prom?" I ask.
"Oh, um, actually," Ben starts hesitantly. "About that. Um, I'm really sorry, but I can't go with you anymore."
I frown. "What?!" I exclaim. Is he serious? How unbelievably rude!
Ben has already started to back away from me. He's muttering some hurried explanation under his breath, but he's talking so quickly and nervously that I can barely make out what he's saying. "Sorry…can't…you…Colin Bowman…" Before I know it, Ben has vanished into the crowd of students.
But after hearing at least two of his words clearly, I'm seeing red. Of fucking course. Ben is far too nice to ever back out on our date on his own. Of course Colin had somehow had something to do with this.
I whirl around and storm through the hall, pushing aside the little freshmen and sophomores, my eyes scanning every face in search of Colin. That asshole has gone too far this time. Too. Damn. Far.
I find him by his locker, his head tipped back, a bottle of Gatorade held up to his mouth. After taking a drink, he moves the bottle from his mouth and licks his lips.
I clench my fingers into my palms and swallow. Then I take a deep breath and march up to him. "Hey, asshole!" I greet. Before he realizes what's happening, I knock the Gatorade bottle out of his hands.
Colin watches in dismay as the red liquid seeps onto the floor around his feet. "Dammit, Nora!" he exclaims. "What the hell did you have to go and do that for?"
I narrow my eyes at him. "Hmm, I don't know, Colin, can you think of anything you've done to me lately that might warrant an action such as this?"
I search his face. Nothing. Nothing but a vacant stare. He looks an awful lot like a dumb cow, actually.
I roll my eyes. "I know thinking's hard for you. It requires an at least marginally functioning brain, after all, so I get it if you –"
He sighs. "Listen, I know you love to hear the sound of your own voice, but not everyone shares the feeling. What are you even talking about?"
I'm so angry that I can't take it any longer. "Ben Vance!" I burst, my hands on my hips. "The junior prom! Ring any bells?"
At my words, realization floods into Colin's eyes.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" I shout. "What did you say to him to make him change his mind?"
Colin sneers. "Oh, please, Garrity, it wasn't exactly hard. No guy in his right mind would want to spend a whole night with you. All I did was help Vance see sense –"
I reach out and shove him backward, hard. "You're such an asshole! I hate you!"
He grabs each of my wrists with his hands so that I can't shove or hit him anymore, and he holds them to his chest. "Trust me," he smirks. "The feeling's mutual."
"Ugh!" I scream in frustration. "Will you let go of me, you pig?"
"Believe me, I hardly want to be touching you," he looks down at me in disgust. "But if I let go of you, how do I know you won't hit me again?"
"I won't!" I widen my eyes as far as they'll go and look up at Colin with my best innocent puppy-dog gaze. "I promise!" Just when I think he's seen right through me, I see his hard stare begin to soften.
"Well, all right," he says, as his hands release my wrists.
Right away, though, I swing my arm back and punch him in the shoulder. "Idiot!" I laugh.
"Hey!" he exclaims.
"You're even dumber than you look," I sneer, but I stop when I realize that Colin has stopped paying attention to me altogether. He's staring at something over my shoulder, and his face has gone completely pale.
I turn around to see what's got him looking so horrified, and I gasp when I see what it is.
My sister Maggie is standing by the water fountain, giggling and biting her lip as Gavin Bowman leans over to whisper something in her ear.
Maggie. My sister. And Gavin. Gavin Bowman.
"What the…" I breathe, barely believing my eyes. I would say I need a new contact prescription, but I just went to the optometrist last week.
"Fuck," Colin finishes for me, his voice solemn over my shoulder.
"Absolutely not!" I bellow, my hands on my hips. "I forbid you to go on a date with…with…that creature!"
It's official. The worst has come to pass. It's too horrible – I don't even know if I can say it.
Maggie is going on a date with Gavin.
That's Gavin Bowman. As in the Bowman boys. As in one of the four spawns of Satan.
Maggie rolls her eyes. "Would you calm down, Nor? It's just a movie, I'm not marrying him or anything."
Casey and I gasp in unison at the mere thought of nuptials ever occurring between a Garrity and a Bowman. As soon as we'd heard the terrible news about the upcoming date from Mom, we'd run up the stairs and barged into Maggie's bedroom to confront her. Of course, Mom had been ecstatic about the whole thing. I'm pretty sure she and Mrs. Bowman have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to trying to set up Colin and me, their eldest children, actually, but by now they have to have realized that that's nothing more than a pipe dream. They must have moved onto Gavin and Maggie now.
"I can't believe you!" Casey shouts. "You're disgusting!"
Maggie laughs. "What?"
"The Bowman boys are all gross!" Casey replies. "Duh! That's what you and Nora have been telling me my whole life! How can you just change your mind like this and go on a date with oneof them?"
"It's Gavin," Maggie explains, like that makes it any better. "He's always been the nicest one!"
"No, Maggie, not the 'nicest' one," I spit vehemently. "The weakest link, maybe, but not nice. None of the Bowmans are nice. DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THEY DID TO POOR COCOA PUFF?" I finish with a yell.
Maggie flinches. "Yes! But that was a long time ago! And I don't care what you say, Gavin is nice. He helps me with my Geometry homework and carries my books between classes. And he's actually really funny, you know, he –"
"I can't believe I'm hearing this!" I exclaim. "Case, can you believe this?"
Casey shakes her head emphatically. Good old Case. At least I can count on her.
At least one of my sisters is loyal.
"My own sister!" I declare. "My own flesh and blood! And yet you betray us for some boy?"
I know, I know, I can be a little melodramatic. I have to get the point across, okay?!
Maggie rolls her eyes. I'm not liking this newfound attitude of hers. "Come on, Nora, I'm not betraying you –"
"Yes you are!" I counter. "You're fraternizing with the enemy!"
"Well, too bad!" she retorts. "I'm going out with Gavin, whether you guys like it or not! Get out of my room if you're going to be so mean about it!"
There's nothing we can do. We've lost her.
Casey and I head for the door. "Benedict Arnold," I hiss over my shoulder at Maggie.
"Yeah!" Casey agrees, though I'm pretty sure she has no idea who Benedict Arnold even is.
Maggie slams the door behind us.
It's a Friday night and I'm in the local movie theater, wearing a blonde wig and huge sunglasses, with my ten-year-old sister.
All right, so it's not my finest hour. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
At 7 P.M., Mrs. Bowman arrived at our house, Gavin in tow, to pick up Maggie for their date. Maggie and Gavin are still only fifteen, so Gavin's mom had to drive them to the theater and drop them off.
At 7:10 P.M., Casey and I donned our disguises and got into my car. I'm wearing all black, a wig, and diva-style sunglasses. We only had one wig, so Casey's wearing a baseball cap and some Harry Potter costume glasses I found in the basement.
I honestly don't know which of us looks stranger.
I drove us to the movie theater and we sneakily went inside and bought tickets for the same movie as Maggie and Gavin. Now, I just have to find them and make sure that they don't see us.
Did you really think I was going to just hand my sister over to the enemy, just like that? What if this is all some sort of elaborate prank planned by the Bowmans to somehow humiliate Maggie? I'm not going to let that happen. So I decided that Casey and I need to be here to spy on them and see what's really going on.
"I want popcorn," Casey whines.
"Shh," I hiss. "No time for popcorn. Follow me," I order as I lead her over to the right theater. "And act casual. Try to blend."
Casey would make a horrible spy. She's already crashed into about a dozen poles, drawing unwanted attention to us, and her baseball cap's fallen off twice. I, on the other hand, will probably be recruited for the CIA in a couple years. What can I say? I'm just a natural, I guess.
When we get to the theater for the right movie, I have to take off my sunglasses because it's so dark. Casey and I walk in and scan the seats, searching for Maggie and Gavin.
"There they are!" Casey whispers. I follow her outstretched finger and spot them, sitting near the middle of the auditorium.
"Ugh." I feel sick to my stomach, seeing my sister sitting so close to a Bowman and looking so happy about it. "Come on, Case." We surreptitiously head up and sit a few rows behind the two lovebirds.
The movie starts. I barely pay any attention – my eyes are glued to the way Maggie and Gavin lean over to whisper something to the other every so often. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.
About five minutes into the movie, some people come up and try to get into our row. I normally hate when people come late and disrupt a movie, but tonight I'm too distracted by Maggie and Gavin to pay much attention to them.
"Ow!" Casey hisses from next to me. I glance over. Apparently one of the latecoming kids has just tripped over Casey's foot.
The boy behind him is apparently holding one of every single snack at the concession stand, because there are so many snacks piled in his arms that he loses his grip on his popcorn, which falls down on top of Casey and me.
"Hey!" Casey exclaims.
I groan under my breath. Great. Now I'm covered in greasy popcorn butter.
I start to brush the popcorn off my lap as I hear the boy whine to someone behind him, "Aw, I just spilled all my popcorn! Can you go get me a new one?"
Wait a second. I know that voice. I glance up, horrified, and realize that the boy who just spilled his popcorn on me is none other than Joey Bowman. I glance to my right and see that the boy who tripped over Casey had been Dougie. And then, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I look in the other direction and see Colin, glaring down at Joey.
"No!" Colin whispers. "I already had to buy you two enough snacks. Now shut up and go sit next to Dougie!"
I dig my fingers into Casey's arm in a death grip, wordlessly warning her not to say or do anything that might alert the Bowmans to our presence. They haven't noticed who we are yet, thanks to our disguises, and I'd like to keep it that way. Of fucking course, though, they'd decided to sit right next to us in the crowded theater.
Joey makes his way past us and sits next to Dougie. "Look!" Dougie mutters to his older brother. "I see Gavin! They're down there!"
I'm so distracted by the little Bowmans that I don't realize that Colin has leant down right in front of me, his face dangerously close to mine. "Excuse me, ma'am, I want to apologize for my little brother spilling his –"
My eyes fly up to meet his in surprise, and he stares at me in shock. "Nora?" he hisses.
My eyes widen. "Um, no, I don't know who –"
"What the hell are you wearing?" Colin whispers, looking confused. He glances next to me, down at Casey, who is trying to shrink back into her seat so that he won't see her. But she forgot that her stupid baseball cap doesn't stay on her head, and the cap falls off yet again, making Casey's dark curls tumble down over her shoulders. "Casey!" Colin realizes. He glares at me. "What are you guys doing here?"
I narrow my eyes at him. "I could –"
"Hey!" A bald man in the row in front of us turns around and glares at us. "Would you please keep it down? I'm trying to watch the movie, here!"
I nod. "Sorry, sir!"
Colin walks over and sits in the only empty seat left in the row, between Joey and me. Once he sits down, I lean over to hiss in his ear, "I could ask you the same question! Are you following us?"
He rolls his eyes. "Of course not! Like I have nothing better to do on a Friday night than follow around the Garrity girls. Please." He shakes his head. "No, we came to make sure this whole date situation," he spits out the words derisively, "isn't some kind of sick joke you girls cooked up."
I gasp, affronted. "How dare you?" We're both trying to avoid making the bald guy angry again, so our heads are leant so close together that the people behind us probably think we're a couple making out. Our faces, though, are glaring at each other. "I can't believe you'd accuse us of something like that!"
"Come on, Nora, it's not that far-fetched," Colin retorts. "You're always going on about how you think Gavin's the 'weakest link.' How do I know you didn't get Maggie to seduce him and –"
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" I interrupt. "You can't be serious. Maggie's hardly a seductress. And anyway, we came to see if this date was one of your evil pranks."
"Well, it's not!"
By this point, Joey and Dougie have realized who Casey and I are, and they're pelting Casey with Mike and Ikes or some kind of candy. They did buy the whole concession stand, after all, so they have a pretty limitless supply.
Casey always puts up a good fight, so she's retaliating by throwing pieces of the popcorn Joey had spilled on us back at them.
In an attempt to dodge the steady stream of food flying back and forth in front of us, Colin and I lean back in our seats and draw our heads even closer together. "You guys are absolutely horrible at spying," I whisper. "Buying all those snacks, coming in late, making a mess…those are amateur mistakes," I sneer.
Colin bites back a laugh. "Well, sorry, we don't have any wigs lying around at home for disguises! And those Harry Potter glasses," he smirks. "You do realize how ridiculous Casey looks in them, right?"
I smile in spite of myself. She does look pretty funny. "Hey, don't insult the HP glasses! If an orphaned little British wizard can pull them off, Case can too!"
"Yeah, yeah," Colin rolls his eyes. "Fine. I guess you girls did beat us in the disguise department."
My eyebrows raise. "Am I really hearing this? Are you actually admitting that I did better than you at something?" I can't keep a triumphant smirk from settling onto my face.
"Oh, calm down," he whispers back to me, "it's not like this was a costume contest or something."
It doesn't matter what he says. I smirk back at him smugly until I realize just how very close our faces have gotten. Our heads are leaned back against the backs of our seats and turned so that our faces are only a couple inches apart. My smirk fades, and I realize that I can feel his breath on my lips.
"You know, Nora," Colin murmurs under his breath. "I don't think I like you as a blonde."
"No?" I breathe, my eyes wide.
He shakes his head slowly. "No. I like your real hair –"
"LOOK, GUYS! GAVIN IS KISSING MAGGIE!"
"Dougie!" Colin hisses, reaching across Joey to whack the littlest Bowman on the arm.
I crane my neck, looking down. Sure enough, Gavin is pulling away from Maggie's face, looking awfully guilty. The two of them, along with the entire theater, whirl around in their seats to glare up at Dougie, who had yelled loud enough to drown out the sounds of the movie. (I still have no idea what this movie is about. I haven't been paying attention for any of it.)
Maggie spots us first and jumps up in her seat. She reaches down and yanks Gavin up with her, pointing at the five of us. Gavin looks incredibly embarrassed, but Maggie just looks livid. She pulls Gavin out of the row and storms out of the theater.
I turn to glare at the Bowmans. "Way to go, idiots, you just ruined our entire plan!"
"Hey!" Colin protests. "That was Dougie! It's not my fault that he doesn't know how to whisper!"
I roll my eyes and grab Casey. "C'mon, Case, let's go find Maggie."
We slide out of the row and down the stairs. The three Bowmans are, annoyingly, right behind us, following us out.
The five of us emerge from the theater and see Gavin and Maggie in the hallway. Maggie storms over to me. "I can't believe you, Nora!" she yells.
Joey and Dougie are laughing at their brother. Poor Gavin is flushed red as a tomato as the two youngest Bowmans chant, "Gavin and Maggie, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage! Hahaha!"
"Maggie, I can explain," I start.
"No!" she exclaims. "It's obvious what's going on here! You and Casey followed us here to spy on us! How could you?"
Meanwhile, Colin is trying to corral his younger brothers. "Would you two shut up?" he barks. "Come on, Gavin, I'm taking you home now," he orders, and he drags his brother down the hall, away from us.
"Bye, Maggie!" Gavin calls forlornly.
Maggie turns to watch him go. "Wait! Gavin!" But it's too late. Colin's already pulled him into the main lobby.
Maggie whirls around to glare even more fiercely at me. "Thanks a lot!"
I look at her in disbelief. "How is that my fault? You saw what just happened! As usual, the Bowman boys ruined everything! I'm telling you, Maggie, they're bad news!"
Next to me, Casey nods her agreement.
"I don't care what they did!" Maggie yells. "You're my big sister! You're supposed to be there for me, always! This was my first date ever, and instead of helping me get ready or giving me advice, all you did was yell at me about it and then follow me and embarrass me!"
Her words are like a punch in the stomach. My eyes widen and I look down at her with regret. I guess she's kinda right. I had been pretty mean to her and completely ignored the fact that this was her first ever date.
"I hate you!" Maggie screams, and then she runs out into the lobby, leaving Casey and I staring after her.
I don't know what to feel. Sadness at Maggie's declaration and anger at those horrible Bowman boys are battling inside of me. Anger finally wins, and I seethe when I think about the Bowmans. How dare they come between my sister and me like this?
"This looks like a good spot!" Dad declares. "Let's set up camp here!"
"Okay!" Mrs. Bowman agrees. "Colin, come help me with this tent."
Kill me. Kill me now, please.
It's summer vacation. School just ended a week ago, which means I am supposed to be free for a whole summer. I should be sleeping in until noon, lounging around by the pool, sipping lemonade, watching rerun marathons on TV… But no.
A few days ago, Mom had sprung the awful news on us at dinner. She and Mrs. Bowman had planned a camping trip for our families to take together. Wouldn't that be fun?
No. No, Mother, it would not be.
Of course, our parents think they're the most brilliant people to walk this planet, and none of them listened to their children when we protested that we did not, under any circumstances, want to go on this camping trip. So here we are, at a camping ground miles away from our town, forced to sleep in tents for the next four nights.
At least I don't have to share a tent with my whole family. Maggie and I have our own little tent, while Casey has to share with my parents. Case was not happy about that, believe me.
Things are still pretty tense between Maggie and me. She barely speaks to me these days after the whole Stalking Maggie and Gavin in the Movie Theater and Embarrassing Them Incident. (I still maintain that it was all Dougie's fault, but she won't listen.)
And yes, Maggie and Gavin are still dating. It's disgusting. Every time I see the two of them holding hands, giggling together, or doing anything else sickening and couple-y, I throw up a little in my mouth. Since my family is going to be living in the same clearing in the woods as the Bowmans for the next four days, I have a feeling I'm going to be getting very used to the taste of vomit.
"Nora, why don't you set up the tent for you and Maggie?" Mom calls over to me from where she's unloading supplies from the car.
I groan. "Can't Maggie do it?"
"She and Gavin are looking for sticks for the fire in the woods," Mom replies.
I roll my eyes. More like, she and Gavin have snuck off to go make out in a bush somewhere.
"Fine," I say reluctantly, trudging over to grab the box for the small tent and lugging it over to the other side of the clearing, as far away from my parents' and the Bowmans' tents as possible.
I take out all the parts of the tent and stare at it in confusion. What the hell is supposed to go where?
I grab the direction pamphlet, but it only has directions in Spanish and Chinese. Huh? How am I supposed to do this?
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Colin sauntering over to me, carrying another tent like it weighs nothing at all.
I scowl up at him from my position crouched on the ground. "What do you think you're doing?" I sneer.
He looks down at me, eyes wide in fake innocence. "Same thing you're doing," he replies. "I'm setting up a tent for Gavin and me."
"Not over here, you're not," I retort. "This is where Maggie and I are sleeping."
Colin lets out an exasperated breath. "Yes, Nora, but it's also the only spot in the clearing where our parents won't be able to hear every single thing we say," he explains slowly and impatiently, like he's talking to a five-year-old.
"I was here first! Find somewhere else."
"Too late," he smirks. I realize that during our exchange, he'd begun to set up his tent so that by now, he is already almost halfway done.
I gasp in indignation. Unfair! My tent is still lying in a jumble of random parts on the ground. "How'd you do that so fast?" I ask jealously.
"Aw, it's okay, Nora, you can't be good at everything," he smirks patronizingly.
I glower up at him. "You're so obnoxious, Colin." Then I spring to action, desperately trying to fit everything together so that I can beat him in setting up the tent.
I don't beat him, of course. He's unfairly good at it and it takes him only a couple minutes. The world is a cruel place. Of course, once Colin's done pitching the tent, it doesn't occur to him to be considerate and go help our parents with anything else. No, he stands over me, laughing at my attempts to construct the tent.
There's no fucking way I'm going to ask him for help. I'd never sink that low.
Suddenly, I hear laughing from the middle of the clearing. I glance over, my eyes narrowed. It's Casey, Joey, and Dougie, setting up the Bowmans' cornhole boards. Together. As in, they're working together, not fighting, not killing each other. They're actually laughing.
I can hardly believe my eyes. I blink twice, thinking I must be hallucinating due to some newly manifested allergic reaction to being too close to Colin for so long. But no – my little sister and the two youngest Bowmans are still there, getting along with each other perfectly well, acting like there isn't a years-old feud between our families.
Standing above me, Colin makes a horrified sort of strangled gasp. I glance up at him. He's staring in disbelief at Casey and his brothers talking to each other and laughing as they set up the game. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" he asks me slowly and incredulously.
I open my mouth but no sound comes out. This is all just too absurd. Sure, I expect to see Maggie fraternizing with the enemy, but Casey?!
I jump up from my spot on the ground, abandoning my tent, and storm over to Casey and the little Bowmans. Casey looks up guiltily when she sees me.
"Nora!" she exclaims, trying to back away from Joey and Dougie surreptitiously. She's not fooling anyone, though.
"Casey," I glare at her. "Et tu, Brute?" I spit.
Her eyebrows wrinkle. "Huh?" she asks in confusion.
I roll my eyes. All my great historical references to traitors – Benedict Arnold, Brutus – are utterly lost on Casey, the ignoramus.
Well, fine. She is only ten years old. I'll give her that.
"Never mind," I reply. "Come on," I say, grabbing her arm and yanking her away. "I need your help over here." I drag her away and put her to work setting up the tent.
She's even worse at it than I had been. It doesn't matter though – I'm willing to stay there setting up that tent for hours if that's what it takes to keep her away from being swindled into liking the Bowman boys.
Eventually, Mrs. Bowman calls us over to the picnic tables for dinner. Casey and I have made basically no progress on the tent. In fact, I think we actually broke part of it. We leave it abandoned on the ground and head over to start roasting hot dogs over the fire that Maggie and Gavin made.
It's only when the stars are peppering the sky and bedtime rolls around that I look over and realize that there are two tents on the far side of the clearing – Colin's and Gavin's, and mine and Maggie's. Apparently, ours had been set up while I hadn't been paying attention.
"Hey, Dad," I say as I help him put out the fire for the night. "Thanks for setting up the tent for me."
Dad looks at me in confusion. "What do you mean, honey?" he asks. "I didn't do that."
I wrinkle my eyebrows. "What? But I didn't –"
"No, Colin did it," Dad tells me.
I gape at him. "Colin?"
"Yeah, he said he'd take care of it for you girls," Dad replies, and then he goes off into the tent he's sharing with Mom and Casey.
I rush over to inspect my tent for any booby traps or hidden spiders that Colin may have put in there, but it's all clear.
The next day, we all head to the campground's lake for some beach time. Mrs. Bowman spends the whole time running back and forth between all four of her sons, practically dumping whole bottles of sunscreen over their heads.
I snicker to myself. Luckily, we Garrity girls are naturally tan and don't have to worry about burning, unlike those pale freaks of nature. Ha.
Mom and Dad spread out a blanket on the sand under our beach umbrella. Dad, of course, instantly falls asleep for a nap that will almost certainly last the entirety of the day. Mom seems to have snuck some of her files from a case at work on our family vacation, and she goes over them, drafting her arguments. Typical. She's such a workaholic.
I put my towel on the sand and take off my shirt and shorts, lying down in my bikini to soak up the sun's hot rays. Ah, finally. Some peace and quiet. This is what summer vacation's meant to be. Just me tanning on a beach in a bikini, working on my tan and not having to deal with any of the obnoxious, arrogant, repulsive, moronic –
"HEY, COLIN, COME IN THE WATER WITH US!"
Jesus fucking Christ. I swear to God, Dougie Bowman has the loudest, shrillest voice in the entire Northern Hemisphere.
I push my sunglasses onto the top of my head and squint across the beach. Sure enough, Dougie is all the way down by the edge of the lake, but I can hear his shouts loud and clear from my spot far away up the beach. He and his brothers are in their bathing suits, about to go for a swim. The only one that's missing is Colin, who's further up the beach like me but on the other side of our parents.
"Yeah, come on, Colin!" Joey calls. "We can play Marco Polo!"
"PLEASE!" Dougie wheedles.
I don't hear any response from Colin, so I glance over to his towel to see what he's doing. When I look over there, I literally forget how to breathe. Like I just can't seem to remember what inhaling and exhaling are at all.
Because Colin Bowman is standing over his towel, pulling his shirt off over his head and looking like some kind of fucking Calvin Klein ad.
Oh my God. OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod. What. Just…what.
There's a light breeze on the beach that's brushing through his sandy brown hair, making it all tousled and wind-blown and gah. He has a six-pack and his arms…his arms…his arms…
WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE INFORM ME WHEN EXACTLY COLIN BOWMAN STARTED LOOKING LIKE THAT?!
I watch, mesmerized, as Colin tosses his shirt haphazardly to the ground and takes off at a slow jog down to the shore to meet his brothers. The other three Bowmans break into a cheer but I hardly even notice them, not when Colin's back muscles are rippling like that.
The Bowman boys splash into the water, swimming out, laughing and shoving each other around in the waves. And believe me – a wet shirtless Colin is even better than a dry shirtless Colin.
Alert the press. I've officially gone insane. But I honestly can't make myself tear my eyes away from being glued to his body. Because Colin Bowman, bane of my existence, my Public Enemy Number One, the biggest asshole I have ever and will ever meet, is sexy.
Oh God. I can't believe I've just thought that.
But it's true. Dammit, it's true. Somehow, without my realizing it, Colin had grown up to be sexy as hell.
"Nora!" Casey calls, breaking into my thoughts. "Wanna come look for shells with us?"
I jump to my feet, eager for a distraction from the creepily pornographic turn my thoughts are taking, and hurry over to join Casey and Maggie in walking along the beach to collect seashells.
Later, I'm lying out on my towel again when I realize that my throat is completely parched. I head up to the snack pavilion overlooking the beach to buy a water bottle. When I get there, though, my eyes widen as I realize that Colin is there too, paying for a Gatorade. Thank God he's put his shirt back on, or I probably would have had an aneurysm.
After he gives the worker his money, he turns around and spots me right away. He scowls at me and walks over. "What do you want, Nora?" he asks rudely.
You, my mind thinks slavishly, before I mentally slap myself. I hurriedly paste a sneer onto my face. "It's a free country," I declare. "I'm thirsty."
"Well, stay away from my drink," Colin warns, holding the bottle far out of my reach. "I don't want a repeat of what happened the last time you got near my Gatorade bottle."
I smirk as I remember knocking his Gatorade out of his hands in the hallway at school so that it spilled all over his feet. Then I remember why I'd done it, after I'd found out that Colin had convinced Ben Vance not to go to junior prom with me, and I glare up at the asshole. Sure, he may look good without a shirt on, but that doesn't change the fact that his personality is atrocious.
I glower at him and force myself not to remember what he looks like under that shirt. "I hate you, Colin," I tell him vehemently, trying to reaffirm the notion to myself perhaps even more than to him.
He looks at me in confusion. "What did I do this time?"
"Well…" I sputter, scrambling for an explanation that's not "You took your shirt off and made me drool over your abs," "You exist!"
Colin sighs. "Very mature, Nora," he replies sardonically.
I roll my eyes and turn to look down at the beach. Colin does the same. Then I feel the familiar taste of vomit begin to come on when I spot Maggie and Gavin, strolling together near the water, hand in hand. They're looking into each other's eyes like disgusting lovesick freaks.
"God," I say in disgust, "seeing a Garrity and Bowman get along so well should be a crime."
"Tell me about it," Colin replies. "And to think that just a couple months ago, he gave her a black eye."
My head snaps over to look at Colin in confusion. "What?" I ask. "Gavin never did that to Maggie!"
He wrinkles his eyebrows. "Uh, no," he explains slowly. "I meant Dougie and Casey."
"Remember?" Colin's staring at me like I'm an idiot. "Dougie punched Casey?" At my blank look, he goes on. "And now they're building a sandcastle together like nothing ever happened."
"What?!" I exclaim. I glance over and see that he's right – Casey and Dougie are crouched together on the sand, smiling as they work together to build a sandcastle. Just then, Joey comes over and starts to help them. Casey looks up at him and laughs at something he says. "Oh my God," I gasp. "What has the world come to? This is a disaster!"
Colin nods but doesn't say anything. We both stare in disbelief at the terrible scene playing out below us. Maggie and Gavin being all lovey-dovey, Casey, Joey, and Dougie playing together like they're all best friends…
What happened to the fierce and bitter war we've been waging since before I can remember? What happened to good vs. evil, to justice vs. injustice, to Garrity girls vs. the Bowman boys forever?
DON'T MY SISTERS REMEMBER WHAT THOSE BOYS DID TO COCOA PUFF?!
"Pass me a marshmallow, will you, Nora?" Mom asks.
I hand over the bag. It's our third day at the campground, and I'm slowly losing what's left of my sanity. Spending so much time in such close quarters with the Bowmans is wearing on my nerves. Not to mention the fact that my little sisters are completely betraying our longstanding tradition of solidarity and actually…dare I say it…getting along with the Bowman boys.
I'm being forced to sit around a campfire with the Bowmans and my family to make s'mores. Honestly, I'm just counting down the minutes until we can go to bed and I'll have about eight hours free of seeing any of the faces of the obnoxious boys.
And speaking of obnoxious…somehow, I've ended up sitting on a lawn chair right next to Colin. The idiot keeps purposely setting his marshmallows on fire.
"Could you not?" I snap at him. We've both been on edge lately, even more so than usual. I think seeing our younger siblings getting along so well is bothering him, too. And I also have the teensy little problem now of knowing exactly what he's hiding under those T-shirts of his. I try not to think about it, but every time I see him, my thoughts spiral out of my control and I can't stop myself from mentally undressing him.
It's kind of distracting when you're trying to think of the best way to insult your sworn enemy and instead all you can think of are his stupid broad shoulders.
Colin smirks over at me. "They taste better this way," he declares, withdrawing a flaming marshmallow from the fire and blowing the flame out. "I'm serious. Try it!" He pulls the blackened marshmallow off its stick and holds it out to me.
I wrinkle my nose in disgust. "Ew," I reply. "That's disgusting."
He raises his eyebrows. "Afraid of a little marshmallow, Nora?" he mocks.
I grumble under my breath. I've never been able to stand it when Colin teases me about being afraid of things. It's led me to do some pretty ridiculous things in the past. "No," I retort dismissively. "All right, fine. I'll eat it."
He smirks, satisfied. "Here you go." He holds his hand out to my mouth. The marshmallow actually looks incredibly disgusting, with weird black stuff flaking all over it, and I don't want to touch it and get my hands all messy. So I lean my face forward and open my mouth to eat the marshmallow right out of his hand.
At first, it tastes rough and kind of gross, but when I get to the gooey inside, I realize that he's right – it's actually delicious. "Mmm," I murmur, closing my eyes in delight as I lean forward to lick up all the gooey remains.
It isn't until Colin makes a strangled sound that I realize that I've just sucked on his fingers. My eyes widen and I sit up, startled, swallowing the marshmallow. I glance over at Colin, who looks incredibly flustered.
"Um," I start, because really, what do you say to the bane of your existence after you've just licked gooey marshmallow insides off his hand? "Sorry about…that," I mutter.
He coughs. "Don't worry about it," he says hoarsely, and then he hurriedly turns away to talk to Gavin.
Eventually, the fire starts to die down, though not after Casey, Dougie, and Joey have burnt nearly every flammable thing they could find lying around our campsite. I swear, they're all pyromaniacs. I'm staring blankly at the fire when I notice Maggie and Gavin get up from their seats surreptitiously and start to edge away from the fire. They've got shifty looks in their eyes and they're clearly hoping no one will notice them.
Our parents certainly don't. God, they are so oblivious. Clearly, Maggie and Gavin are sneaking away to make out!
I feel physically ill at the thought of my little sister hooking up with a Bowman boy, so I stand up, ready to follow them and put an end to their little rendezvous in the woods.
I've taken a couple steps away from the fire when I feel a strong hand grasp my arm. I turn to look over my shoulder. It's Colin.
I narrow my eyes at him and try to wrench my arm out of his grasp, but his grip is too tight. I glare at him and my breath catches in my throat when I notice the way the flames are flickering in his blue eyes. His gaze is intense.
I open my mouth to tell him to let go of me, but he beats me to it. "Let it go, Nor," he tells me.
Any comebacks I might have had die on my lips. Did Colin just call me Nor?
I'm so taken aback by his unprecedented use of my nickname that I forget all about my plans to follow Maggie and Gavin. As I try to figure out whether or not I'd heard Colin wrong, I slowly walk back to take my seat next to him once again.
We put out the fire, and everyone heads to their respective tents for bed. I think Maggie's starting to warm up to me, finally, after ignoring me for ages ever since the whole Incident in the movie theater.
We both change into our pajamas and get ready for bed inside our unfairly miniscule tent. It's a swelteringly hot night, not helped at all by the close quarters, so I just put on an oversized T-shirt.
I yawn and stretch out on top of my sleeping bag. I figure that since Maggie's been acting a little less hostile to me lately, I might as well make an attempt at conversation. "So, have you noticed that Casey's been hanging around the younger Bowman boys an awful lot lately?"
Maggie nods. "Yeah," she replies, "and I've also noticed you hanging around the oldest Bowman boy an awful lot lately," she tells me with a smirk.
I gape at her in shock. "What…but…that's only because you guys have abandoned me! You're always with Gavin, and Casey's always with Joey and Dougie!" My brat of a sister is still grinning mischievously at me, and I huff in exasperation. "Colin and I can't stand each other!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever you say," Maggie smirks. "Anyway, Nor, I've gotta go. See ya in the morning!"
She gets up and heads toward the entrance of the tent, unzipping the flap to leave. Wait a sec. What? I sit up abruptly. "Huh? Where are you going?" I question, baffled.
"I'm going to go hang out with Gavin in his tent," Maggie explains to me. She narrows her hazel eyes at me. "And you can't tell Mom or Dad, okay?"
"Are you kidding me?" I burst. "No way! Are you crazy? There's no way I'm letting you do that!"
Maggie rolls her eyes. "Well, too bad, 'cause I'm doing it anyway." She climbs out of our small tent and sends a warning look back at me. "Relax, Nora. It'll be fine." With that, she disappears into the darkness.
When exactly did my sweet little sister become such a badass? What the hell? I sit on my sleeping bag, still reeling from the shock of Maggie, of all people, sneaking out to hang out with her boyfriend in the middle of the night.
And then I realize something. Wait a minute…if Maggie is going to be in Gavin's tent all night…that means…
"Nora!" I hear my name being whispered from outside the tent.
I groan. "Go away, Colin!" I hiss.
I hear Colin sigh. "Come on, let me in!"
"No chance in hell!" I reply. I sigh with frustration. Maggie and Gavin really are manipulative little sneaks. Maggie must had figured that if she stayed in Gavin's tent tonight, I wouldn't be able to yell at her for apparently inviting Colin Bowman to stay in our tent with me. I mean, the kid is my mortal enemy. I know they say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but there is such a thing as too close, you know. "There's no way you're staying in here tonight."
"But Maggie's sleeping in my tent!" he argues. "Come on, Nora, please! There's so many fucking mosquitoes out here. I'm getting bitten by a new one every second!"
"I don't care!" I retort.
"I'm not going to leave you alone until you let me in," Colin replies. "I'm serious. I'll stand out here all night talking to you and you'll never fall asleep."
I groan. He'll do it, too, I know him. I take a minute to weigh my options and eventually realize that this can really only end badly, no matter which way things go. "Fine," I grumble my reluctant acquiescence, and I get up from my sleeping bag to unzip the flap for him. Is it a bad decision? Probably. Definitely.
Colin squeezes into the tent and zips it up behind him. "Damn mosquitoes," he mutters. Then he turns around and takes in my appearance – my messy hair, and my, ahem, lack of any pajama bottoms.
"Nice PJs," he smirks, as he crawls over to sit on Maggie's sleeping bag.
I flush self-consciously. "It's hot!" I explain.
He glances over at me and smirks as his eyes rake over my bare legs. "Hey, I'm not complaining," he replies, and then I really flush. I thank God that it's dark enough inside the tent that he won't be able to see my red face.
We lie down on top of our sleeping bags, because it's far too hot to sleep inside of them. I make sure to scoot mine as far away as possible from his, although that's difficult, considering how small the tent is.
Aside from the fact that I loathe him with every fiber of my being, there's also the teensy problem that ever since seeing Colin shirtless at the beach, I've started to react in unusual and strange ways whenever he gets too close to me. For seventeen years now, my reaction upon seeing Colin Bowman has always been blood boiling and utter hatred and anger. I still feel the hatred, but now unfortunately I also have to contend with my heart rate picking up and my palms getting itchy. Trust me, I don't like it at all. But I can't help it if my body betrays me!
Don't get me wrong, I still hate the boy. But I also kind of want to lick gooey roasted marshmallows off his chiseled abs.
OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?
I force myself to snap out of it, horrified at my own thoughts. I lie on my back and stare up at the top of the tent, all too conscious of Colin's breathing in the dark next to me. "Are you honestly okay with this?" I ask him disbelievingly. "Our fifteen-year-old siblings could be having sex right now in your tent!"
At this, Colin bursts out laughing. "Don't be ridiculous, Nora," he tells me. "Trust me, I know my little brother. They are not having sex."
I guess he's right. I highly doubt Maggie and Gavin are ready for that step. "Still," I say. "This is such a bad idea. I can't believe they've gotten us to play along." I look over at him pointedly.
He shrugs. "I don't deny that it's a bad idea. I don't want my brother dating your sister any more than you do. But we can't really stop them," he pauses to send me a wry look that conveys, Even though we've both certainly tried, "so we might as well get used to it."
I frown at him. "I don't want to get used to it!" I protest somewhat childishly.
In the darkness of the tent, Colin's eyes stand out amidst the shadowed planes of his face. I can almost feel them piercing into me. He's staring at me now with a funny look in his eyes, one that I can't quite place. I don't like not being able to figure things out, so I focus instead on the half-smile forming on his lips that looks almost…affectionate? "They're not babies anymore, Nora," he tells me. "They can make their own decisions."
The way he's looking at me right now is freaking me out, not least because of the weird feelings it's giving me in my stomach. I'm used to dealing with an irate and evil Colin, not this relaxed and amicable one.
"Besides," Colin goes on, "what kind of a shit brother would I be if I cock-blocked Gavin right now?"
My eyes fly to his and I see that his trademark smirk has resurfaced on his face. I gasp in indignation and reach over to shove him and hit him repeatedly on the torso. "Hey!" I protest. "I thought you said they weren't having sex!"
He's laughing at my anger, his blue eyes twinkling. "Jesus, Nora, take it easy," he laughs, even though he doesn't try to stop my assault or fight back. "I'm kidding!"
I glare at him, disgruntled. "That's not very funny."
The left corner of his mouth twitches up, and a grin settles onto his lips as I finally stop hitting him. "Well, you have to admit, it is kind of funny when you get so angry like that."
My eyes widen. "What?" I ask, insulted.
"You're always so dramatic," he explains. "And your temper…" he smiles. "The smallest things always set you off."
I draw my eyebrows together and glare over at him. "Well, excuse me if I don't find that funny," I sneer. "Maybe the reason you think I get angry so often is because you're the one who always makes me angry."
I expect him to argue with me, but surprisingly, Colin simply shrugs. "Maybe you're right," he replies, and all I can do is gape at him. When has Colin ever conceded to me before?
I smirk. "Wow, Colin," I declare in sardonic glee. "Am I losing my hearing or did you just say the words 'You're right' to me?"
He rolls his eyes. "Oh, God, you're never going to let me forget this, are you?"
I grin back at him. "Not a chance," I reply smugly. "I have a very good memory."
Colin chuckles. "Trust me, I know," he says. "I was there that time a couple years ago when you went on a rant to our parents about everything I'd ever done to you since we were two years old."
I smile at the memory. "I did give a pretty comprehensive list, huh?"
"Well, there's comprehensive, and then there's OCD…" Colin starts teasingly, then laughs when I scowl at him. "Please don't add that to the list!" he begs in mock fear.
I grin at him. "I suppose I can let that one slide," I tell him jokingly. "Just this once, though."
"Glad to hear it," murmurs Colin.
Suddenly, the reality of the situation hits me. We're both lying on our sides on our sleeping bags, and somehow, over the course of our conversation, we've moved closer to each other, so that we're both near the center of the small tent. Our faces are mere inches apart, close enough that I can see the startling blue of his eyes despite the darkness. The smile on his face is wide and genuine and I'm sure it must mirror the one on mine.
I gulp. These sorts of moments have been happening all too frequently with Colin and me lately. And then there's the memory of his body in his bathing suit, and of course I can't forget about how he'd called me Nor and looked at me like that earlier by the fire…
"Good night," I tell Colin decisively. I ignore the confused look in his eyes at my abrupt words and quickly roll over onto my other side, so that I'm facing the wall of the tent.
There's a tense pause, and then I hear him sigh beside me. For some reason, the sound of his breath so close to me in the cramped test makes me clench my fingernails into my palms. "Good night, Nora," he finally replies, and then I hear a rustling as he, too, turns away.
I wake up groggily and reluctantly to the cacophonic sound of what seems to be an army of birds outside my tent. I groan at the noise and snuggle further into the warm recesses of my sleeping bag. It's just so warm and comfy and…wait a minute…
My sleeping bag is soft and fluffy, and the warmth into which I am currently snuggling is most decidedly not. I gasp when I remember that I hadn't slept inside my sleeping bag last night at all since it had been so hot.
My brain usually takes a while to kick into gear after I first wake up, but now my mind starts racing as I process what this could possibly mean. It doesn't take long for me to figure it out. I feel an arm draped over my waist, and my legs are entwined with someone else's. My head is burrowed into his chest, and I can feel his hot breath ghosting over the top of my head.
I open my eyes slowly and warily. Sure enough, when I do, I get a primo view of the gray fabric of Colin's T-shirt.
Oh. My. God. I am literally sleeping in the arms of Colin fucking Bowman right now. My legs are fucking tangled with his. His arms are fucking encircling me. My face is fucking pressed against his chest.
I want to shriek with panic, but not for the reason you might think. Okay, yes, I know, I should be freaking out at the fact that I'm basically cuddling with my mortal enemy. And trust me, I will be in a minute. But right now, all I can think about is how utterly amazing his arms feel around me.
And that's the most panic-inducing fact of all.
As I start to wake up more, my intrinsic comfort at being held against his body is quickly overshadowed by the realization that this is Colin. Sure, fine, I'll admit it: he's attractive. I like his muscles. Whatever. But that doesn't change the fact that we've sworn to hate each other for the rest of time.
And when you've sworn to hate someone for the rest of time, waking up in his arms is not in the picture, no matter how nice his muscles are.
"Colin!" I hiss, desperate to wake him up too. I try to slip out of his grasp, but his hold around my waist is strong. "Colin! Wake up!"
I reach up and shake his shoulders. Thankfully, I feel him start to stir, and then I hear a muffled groan as he wakes. "Mmmm," he sighs, burying his face in my mess of curls.
I sigh in annoyance. "Colin! Get up!" I order. I squirm against him, trying to get him to release me.
But his arm over my waist only tightens around me, and he draws me closer into his body. My eyes widen at the feeling, and I ignore the voice in the back of my mind that tells me to just cooperate and snuggle even closer to his chest. "Stop!" I tell him. "Wake up!"
He sighs into my hair. "Too early," he murmurs sleepily. "Go back to sleep, Nora."
"What?" I exclaim. "No!" I can hear the panic starting to creep into my voice. Whether it's from being so close to my mortal enemy or from the fact that my mortal enemy is so damn sexy when he wakes up in the morning, I'm not sure.
How the hell did we even end up like this? I'd fallen asleep last night soon after I'd abruptly ended our conversation and said good night to Colin. We must have shifted positions over the course of the night, no thanks to the small tent. As soon as I get out of here, I'm going to demand that my parents invest in a bigger tent for Maggie and me. This is just unacceptable.
Oh God…my parents! And Mrs. Bowman! If they find Colin and me like this, they will flip. Well, actually, our moms would probably be beside themselves with joy at the prospect of their two oldest children getting together. But that's beside the point.
"Colin! Get off me!" I begin kicking at his legs as hard as I can.
He groans. "Jesus Christ, Nora!" Slowly, he begins to regain full consciousness. When he does, his hold on me loosens a bit, and I'm able to pull my head away from his chest to look up at his face.
Shit. Shit shit shit. No one ever told me that a freshly woken Colin would be the most adorable thing on the planet. His hair is all tousled and messy, and his eyes are droopy and sleepy and pretty much pure sex.
Okay. No. Bad Nora. Focus.
I force myself to glare fiercely at him. "What the hell?" I exclaim. "Why won't you let go of me?"
He wrinkles his eyebrows. "I…" He looks down and seems to finally register that his arm is draped over my waist. "Oh."
I raise my eyebrows, waiting for him to apologize for holding me captive for so long, but the apology doesn't come. "Well?" I say expectantly. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
He blinks and reaches his other hand up to rub his eyes. I can tell that he's still not fully awake. "Um…you smell nice," he replies groggily.
Fuck. Why the hell does my stomach have to flip-flop like that when he says such stupid shit? "Ugh, for God's sake, Colin," I say disgustedly. I take advantage of his disorientation to finally push him off me and slip out of his grasp. He tries to pull me back to him, but I'm too quick. "Get up!" I order. "You need to get out of here and back to your own tent before anyone sees that you're in here or that Maggie's in your tent."
I hurriedly unzip the tent flap and jump out. I plan on storming over to Colin and Gavin's tent and dragging Maggie back to ours, but I stop in my tracks when I see Maggie and Gavin sitting over by the campfire. Huh. Apparently they'd woken before us.
I narrow my eyes at them and storm over. Never mind the fact that I'm still only wearing my oversized T-shirt that I slept in. I'm too pissed at Maggie and Gavin for putting me through last night with the asshole to put on shorts right now.
"Thanks a lot for last night, Maggie!" I snap when I arrive at the fire. I scowl at how peaceful they both look, sitting there, nibbling on some granola bars. Suddenly, remembering our families, I glance over at our parents' tents. "Wait, are the others awake yet?"
Maggie shakes her head. "No, Gavin and I were the first ones to get up." She looks up at me then and smirks, a devilish look in her hazel eyes. "I actually went over to our tent to wake up you and Colin, but you two looked pretty cozy, so I decided to let you sleep."
She and Gavin glance at each other and snicker. My hands form into fists and I glare daggers at them. Brats.
"That was not what it looked like," I hiss.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Colin making his way toward us across the clearing. Apparently he'd finally woken up enough to emerge from my tent. I huff with frustration at all of them – Maggie with her stupid little smirk, Gavin with that stupid superior look in his eyes, and Colin with his stupid sexy bedhead.
I turn on my heels and storm away from the campfire. When I pass Colin, he looks at me and opens his mouth to speak. "Nora –" he starts, but I cut him off.
"Leave me alone," I snap at him, and then I brush past him and zip myself back into my tent, furious at the world.
Finally, after four excruciating days in the wilderness, the last night of our camping trip arrives. Dad builds yet another fire to roast marshmallows around, but I've learned my lesson from the last time. Me + campfires + marshmallows + Colin = dangerous. So I fake exhaustion (and it's hardly a lie, I actually am extremely tired from spending the last couple days running from Colin whenever I saw him and hiding from him behind bushes) and retire early to my tent.
I'm texting Nat and Vic, making plans for tomorrow when I finally return home from this vacation from hell, when Maggie suddenly bursts into the tent. "Nora!" she exclaims, her eyes wild.
She sounds panicked. "What is it? Is everything okay?" I ask.
Maggie shakes her head. "No! Dougie's missing! Come on!" Then she reaches out, grabs onto my arm, and unceremoniously yanks me out of the tent.
I run to try to keep up with Maggie's hurried pace as she makes her way over to the parents' tents, where everyone else is standing around.
I quickly take stock of the scene. Mrs. Bowman is really worked up, practically in tears, and my mom has her arm around her, trying to soothe her. Dad, Casey, and the Bowman boys are standing there looking anxious.
I wrinkle my eyebrows. "What's going on?"
"No one's seen Dougie for hours," Dad replies, looking somber.
"Yeah, the last time I saw him was at dinner," Joey adds.
Mrs. Bowman wails, "I can't believe I didn't notice he wasn't here!"
Mom shakes her head. "It's not your fault, Claire. You know Dougie. He's so energetic. He probably just ran off and lost track of time."
"But where could he be?" Mrs. Bowman sobs. "These woods are so big, and it's so dark! Oh, my poor baby!"
"It's all right, Claire," Dad reassures her. "We'll find him." He turns to look at everyone. "Okay, we'll split up and go search the woods to find Dougie. Here, everyone take a flashlight. If anyone finds him, call my cell phone and I'll let everyone else know. I don't want any of you kids wandering off on your own, though, you hear? The last thing we need is someone else getting lost."
"Gavin and I will look over here," Maggie declares, and the two of them head over to one section of the woods.
"Claire, let's head over by the lake, maybe he went over there," Mom says, and she and Mrs. Bowman head off.
Dad looks at me. "Okay, Nora, you and Colin can go search the other side of the woods. I'll stay with Casey and Joey near our campsite in case Dougie turns up here."
I open my mouth to protest, but Colin has already nodded is agreement and is striding over to the far side of the clearing.
Dad raises his eyebrows at me. "What are you waiting for?" he questions. "Go! Hurry!"
I sigh. Trying to protest being paired with Colin right now would just make me look like an immature brat, especially with everyone so worried about finding Dougie. So I begrudgingly turn around and hurry to catch up with Colin.
It's hard to muster up the energy to get really worried about Dougie, because let's face it – the kid's crazy. This whole thing is probably some elaborate joke cooked up by the Bowman boys to mess with our parents' heads. The boys will probably try to turn the situation around somehow so that the end result will be my sisters and me getting in trouble, as it so often is. They're so predictable.
I try to walk as far away from Colin as possible as we make our way through the woods. I let him take the lead, which is fine by me, as it gives me a nice view of his butt.
Oh God. I did not just think that.
"Dougie!" Colin calls. "Dougie!"
He begins to walk even faster, and I roll my eyes. He has the flashlight, so I can barely see the ground and the roots on which I'm tripping. Colin turns to look back at me. "Nora, come on, could you walk a little faster, please?"
I sigh with exasperation but try to acquiesce.
"Dougie! Dougie, can you hear me?" Colin calls. After a few minutes, he whirls around to look at me again. "You know, you're not being very helpful here."
I glare at him. "Well, you're walking so fast I can barely keep up!" But I call out a half-hearted, "Dougie!" anyway.
We continue that way for a while, calling out Dougie's name and searching with the flashlight. After a while, our voices start to get hoarse, and Colin's frenzied pace, thankfully, slows a bit. We don't make conversation with each other, though. Colin seems to have caught on that I've been avoiding him ever we woke up together, and he's starting to ignore me, too.
We're trudging tiredly through some trees when all of a sudden, I feel a drop of water fall on my skin. I look up, and sure enough, the raindrops begin to fall faster and faster until before I know it, we're in the middle of a bona fide thunderstorm.
"Ugh!" I groan. "Great! Just what I need." I hold my hands over my head to try to shield my hair from the water, but it's pouring, so it's no use. "My hair is going to be a frizzy mess without a blow dryer here!"
Colin stops in his tracks and whirls around to face me. I stop, too, startled by his sudden halt. "Are you fucking kidding me, Nora?" he yells in disbelief.
I wrinkle my eyebrows in confusion.
"How self-centered can you get?" he goes on, and I gasp, affronted.
"What?" I retort. "I'm not –"
"My eight-year-old brother is lost in the woods during a thunderstorm, and all you can think about is your hair?" Colin yells. Shit. It's actually not fair how attractive he looks when he's angry, his chest heaving and all. And the rain is plastering his hair to his forehead, reminding me of that day at the lake when he'd gone swimming…
But I force myself to keep my cool and glare back at him. "Oh, come on, Colin, how stupid do you think I am? Do you honestly expect me to believe that you and your brothers didn't set this whole thing up as a prank?"
Colin gapes at me in shock. "What are you –"
"It's so obvious," I go on. "This is just typical Bowman boys bullshit, I don't know why our parents still fall for it after all these –"
"Are you insane?" Colin interrupts. "This isn't a fucking prank!"
I raise my eyebrows and put my hands on my hips, unconvinced.
"Why the hell would we do this on purpose?" he asks me. "You saw my mom! She was practically hysterical! This is hardly funny."
"You guys do shit like this all the time!" I retort. "You create some elaborate scenario and then somehow blame my sisters and me for it!"
Colin takes a step toward me, his eyes flashing with anger. "Not like this!" he protests. "Never like this. I'd never do this to my mom." He shakes his head at me. "I can't believe you, Nora. You're so goddamn immature."
I scoff at him. The rain is pounding down on us now, but I don't give it a second thought, not when Colin is being so infuriating. The boy may look good with his shirt clinging to his torso from the rain, but every time he opens his mouth he reminds me why I hate him so much. "Immature?" I echo disbelievingly. "You're twelve days older than I am. That hardly makes you a wise old man."
"Exactly," Colin snaps. "You're only twelve days younger than me but you act like a child sometimes. Grow up already."
"Excuse me!" I yell, advancing toward him in anger. "You have no right to be so patronizing to me. You think you're soooo much better than everyone else, don't you? 'Look at me, I'm Colin Bowman, look how amazingly smart and wonderful and perfect I am!'" I pause for breath, running a hand through my now soaked hair to get it off my face. "Well, I have news for you – you're not all that great. In fact, I think you're kind of a horrible person," I spit at him.
He clenches his jaw. "That doesn't bother me at all, considering how much I value your opinion." We glare at each other, both of our chests heaving. "What, exactly, is it that makes me so horrible?" he asks after a pause. "Just out of curiosity."
I roll my eyes. "God, how long do you have?" I reply nastily. "Let's see…you're arrogant, you're pretentious…"
He narrows his blue eyes. "Go on," he dares me.
I quirk a corner of my mouth up, meeting his eyes. "Oh, I could go on all night," I smirk. "You're ruthless, you're stubborn –"
"Ha!" Colin exclaims, cutting me off. When he notices my quizzical look, he says, "Oh, come on, Nora. You calling me stubborn? You've gotta be kidding. You're the most stubborn person I've ever met!"
"Yeah," Colin nods. "And while we're explaining why we think the other is a horrible person, I should probably add that you're competitive to an unhealthy level, you're bossy…"
In our heated conversation, we've drawn so close to each other that I can see every detail of his face. His hair, made dark by the rain, clinging to his forehead…the drops of water beading on his skin…the couple freckles that dust his nose. His eyes are passionate and intense, and I can't help but shiver a little, whether from the cold brought on by the storm or from the look in his eyes, I can't tell.
My pulse is racing and my blood is boiling, I can feel it. I don't think anyone else in the world could possibly make me as livid as Colin does. I feel an inexplicable urge to reach out and slap him across the face, maybe kick him a few times in the shins, too, for good measure. Luckily, I restrain myself, choosing instead to reply, "You're unbelievably rude –"
"You're incredibly melodramatic –"
"You're so full of yourself –"
"You're the most self-centered person ever –"
"You're an asshole –"
"You're a bitch –"
"Agh!" I scream, all my frustration with Colin finally bubbling over. "I hate you!"
He takes another step forward, and this is definitely the final one, because there's scarcely any space left between us at all anymore. If I reached out ever so slightly I could feel the wet fabric of his T-shirt beneath my fingertips. "I hate you too!"
"No," I reply, "I mean I really hate you! Like I loathe everything about you, with every fiber of my being! I can't stand the sight of you! You are a disgusting, revolting human being and I don't –"
"Dammit, Nora!" Colin exclaims. "Will you ever just shut up?"
"No!" I respond. And then I go on. I could do this for hours, really. "I don't know how anyone can possibly stand to be around you. Every time I see you, I just want to punch you because you're so –"
And then Colin reaches out, grabs my face between his hands, and brings his head down to meet my lips with his.
At first, I reel from the shock. He's tried countless ways to get me to shut up in the past, but never actually kissing me to get me to be quiet.
The shock wears off after a few moments and I register that he's still kissing me. And then I register how it feels.
For those who have never experienced it (most of you, I'd hope), let me try to explain how it feels to be kissed by Colin Bowman: fucking amazing. His large, rough hands are cradling my face, and his lips moving over mine are eliciting responses from nerves I never even knew I had.
Before I even realize it, I'm kissing him back, our mouths opening and our tongues exploring each other. When he feels me react, he responds eagerly, bringing a hand down from my face to wrap an arm around me and pull me closer into his body. My hands fly to his chest, gripping the wet fabric of his shirt desperately. His hand still on my face tangles into my wet curls, and his other hand slides up under my shirt to stroke patterns into my bare skin.
"Mm," I make an involuntary contented sound as his lips trail from my mouth down to my neck. I lean my head back as he begins to press kisses into the soft skin of my neck, pausing to suck on especially sensitive points. I reach up to run a hand through his hair, and he lifts his head for a moment before leaning back in to recapture my lips.
"Nora," he pants into my mouth as his hand snakes further up my shirt.
Just then, I hear a faint voice in the distance. "Hello?" it calls.
I pull away from Colin, needing to regain my senses so I can listen for it better. Colin reaches out to try to pull me back to him, but I stop him and put a hand to his lips. "Shh," I whisper.
"Hello?" the voice calls again. "Is someone there?"
Colin's eyes widen with recognition. "It's Dougie!" he tells me. He grabs my hand and starts running to the source of the voice. "Dougie!" he calls. "Dougie, where are you?"
"Colin?" Dougie calls. "Is that you?"
"Dougie!" Finally, we spot him, making his way toward us through a thick grove of trees. We run up to him, and Colin grabs his little brother in his arms, scooping him off the ground. "Where the hell have you been?" Colin exclaims.
Dougie blinks. "I was looking for sticks and then I fell asleep under a tree," he explains groggily. "When it started raining, I woke up. But it's dark now so I didn't know how to get back to the campsite."
"Everyone's out looking for you!" Colin tells him. "We were worried." He looks over at me. "Nora, call your parents and my mom," he tells me. "Tell them we found him."
I nod and take out my phone, making the calls as we make our way back to camp. We finally arrive, and soon after, everyone else returns from their searches. Mrs. Bowman bursts into tears when she sees Dougie, hugging him for a good five minutes, and then she starts screaming at him for making her worry so much.
The rest of the night is a bustling blur of packing to go home and recounting tales from everyone's separate adventures when we had split up to look for Dougie. Needless to say, Colin and I are both very quiet on the subject, awkwardly avoiding each other's eyes, neither of us eager to share with our entire families the fact that we'd been passionately making out in the woods less than an hour ago. As I begin to process what happened, I start to panic more and more. Colin, I think, feels the same, and we both studiously avoid each other for the rest of the trip.
We leave the next morning, and I spend the car ride home trying not to think about the fact that my life has basically fallen apart ever since the second Colin touched his lips to mine.
"You're being suspiciously quiet, Nora," Mom says from the front seat.
I wrench my gaze away from the trees I'd been scowling at out the window and try to muster up a half-hearted smile for her. "Just tired, I guess," I lie.
On the outside, I'm calm, but inside my heart is beating a steady refrain of Shit shit shit shit shit shit Nora what the hell have you done?
"I have a venti cappuccino for Phoebe and a grande caramel macchiato for Nora."
"That's us!" Mom exclaims as she grabs our drinks from the barista. Just as she hands me my caramel macchiato, her cell phone rings from her purse. She sighs impatiently. "Here, can you hold this, honey?" she asks distractedly, handing me her cappuccino as well as she digs through her purse. "Hello, Claire," she greets her best friend happily when she answers.
As we stroll slowly through the crowded Starbucks, I watch as Mom's face rapidly grows concerned. I wrinkle my eyebrows in confusion when she says, "Oh my God, that's terrible. Oh, Claire, I'm so sorry."
She listens to Mrs. Bowman some more, and then she says, "I'm just out shopping with Nora. Don't worry, we'll be over right away. It's all going to be okay."
Mom hangs up and then turns to me. "Come on, we're going to the Bowmans'."
She starts walking toward our car at a breakneck speed, and I have to hurry to keep up without spilling our drinks. "What? Why? What happened?"
"Apparently," Mom tells me as we get in the car, "Mr. Bowman showed up unexpectedly at the house today. He made Claire and the kids really upset. She just called me all worked up about it."
"Oh no," I reply. I feel awful for Mrs. Bowman. She honestly is the sweetest woman ever, and her asshole of an ex-husband should really, in my opinion, just stay away and keep from causing her any more trouble than he already has. Ever since running off with a younger woman a few years ago, he's hardly been a good dad to the boys.
It doesn't take long for us to drive over to the Bowmans' house. When we get there, Mom and I hop out of the car and it's only then that it hits me where exactly we are and who exactly lives here.
It's been a week since our camping trip, and I haven't seen Colin since then. I've been trying to push thoughts of him out of my mind all week, but I haven't been doing a very good job of it. It doesn't help that Gavin's over all the time, hanging out with Maggie, serving as a constant reminder of his older brother.
Mom and I get to the front door and Mrs. Bowman opens it, her eyes red and watery. "Thank you for coming," she says, her voice hitching.
"Oh, Claire," Mom sighs, and she envelops her friend in a hug.
Mrs. Bowman starts crying, and she and Mom go upstairs to her bedroom to talk. "Go check on the boys, will you, Nora?" Mrs. Bowman calls to me as they're making their way up the stairs. "I think they're in the living room."
I gulp. A part of me wants to turn around, run right back out the front door, get in the car, and drive home as fast as I can. Just knowing that I'm in the same house as Colin right now is doing weird things to me – my palms are getting itchy and I feel a layer of sweat on my neck. I don't know how to feel about him, about what happened between us, and that makes me uneasy. I always know how to feel, especially about Colin Bowman. For my whole life, my feelings toward him have been simple – pure and utter hate. But now…now…
I can hardly say no to a tearful Mrs. Bowman, so I force myself to nod. "Okay," I reply, and then I slowly start off toward the living room, walking as if to my doom.
I pause at the threshold to the room, quickly scanning to locate Colin. But my breath catches when I don't see him – there's Gavin, seated on an armchair, and there are Joey and Dougie, on the couch, but there's no sign of the oldest Bowman boy.
Where the hell is he? I wonder, and then I decide I should just be thankful that I don't have to deal with the disaster that is our current relationship just yet.
"Uh, hi," I say hesitantly to his three younger brothers, cautiously making my way into the room. I stand awkwardly in the center of the carpet, gauging their expressions for their reactions. None of them have ever made any secret of disliking me, which I suppose is only fair since I've never exactly been very nice to them. But to greet them with my usual insults and mocking just feels wrong today. I can't do that, not after their scumbag dad just showed up out of the blue.
Gavin seems pretty calm, but then again he always does. I swear the kid is like the next Dalai Lama or something. Joey and Dougie, though, look pretty upset. Joey's eyes are downcast, and Dougie, for once, is perfectly silent.
"Hey, Nora," Gavin replies. "So I assume you've heard about our dad coming over."
I nod slowly. "My mom told me," I respond. "Are you – are you guys okay?"
Gavin shrugs and opens his mouth to reply, but Dougie beats him to it. "Dad and Colin got into a big fight!" he exclaims. He looks over at me and I see that his face is tear-stained. "It was really scary," whimpers Dougie.
Oh God. Who would have ever thought that I'd be moved by the sight of a tearful little Dougie Bowman? But I can't help it, especially not when those big, sad eyes of his are the exact same shade as Colin's. I make my way over to him and sit between him and Joey on the couch, wrapping a hesitant arm around the youngest Bowman. "Aw, it's all right, Dougie," I console him. "Don't cry. It's all going to be okay."
Dougie buries his face in my side, and I blanche for a moment before tentatively reaching out to stroke his hair.
"What happened?" I ask the brothers.
Joey finally raises his eyes to look at me. I've never seen him look so subdued before. "Colin asked Dad why he even bothered to come, after all this time, then Dad said Colin shouldn't be so disrespectful, then Colin told Dad that he didn't deserve our respect, not after how he treated Mom, then Dad yelled at Colin a lot, then Colin yelled at Dad a lot and told him to stay away, and Mom was crying –" Here Joey has to pause to take a gulp of air after his breathless and fast-paced explanation.
"It was pretty bad," supplies Gavin.
"Oh," I say, because I don't really know what I can say to make things better. And then I finally lose my battle with myself and ask what I've been wanting to know since the moment I stepped into the room. "Where's Colin?" I try for nonchalant and blasé, but I swear I see the hint of a knowing smirk on Gavin's face.
"He stormed into the backyard when Dad left," Gavin replies. "None of us have seen him since."
"Oh," I say again.
"Actually," Gavin muses, "someone should probably go check on him."
He's right. I know how conflicted Colin's feelings about his dad are, and I can only imagine what he's going through after today. I wait for Gavin to get up and go outside to check on his older brother, but he just stares at me with eyebrows raised.
"Well?" Joey demands of Gavin expectantly. "Are you gonna go find him, or what?"
Gavin's still staring at me like a freak. "Yeah, Gavin," I say, "are you gonna go, or what?"
"I think Colin would prefer it if you find him, Nora," he replies, that annoying superior look in his eyes that he always has. There's a hint of something in his voice I do not care for at all.
I stare back at Gavin challengingly. "Don't be ridiculous," I scoff, trying to keep the panic out of my tone. Shit, I think worriedly. Could Gavin know about what happened between Colin and me last week? "Why would he want that?" I ask defiantly.
But Gavin just stares back at me with a smug, maddening expression.
I can only last so long before I feel the overpowering urge to wipe that smirk off his face. But violence is not a particularly good solution, I know, so I turn to the only other available course of action. "Fine!" I almost shout, jumping up off the couch. "I will go check on Colin." It's mostly to get myself out of the room so I don't have to deal with Gavin's annoying looks. "Happy?" I hiss at Gavin on my way out.
"I'm sure he will be," Gavin mutters under his breath in response.
My hands form into fists and it's all I can do not to punch the bratty little fifteen-year-old in the face. But for some reason, my sister actually cares about the kid, so I restrain myself.
I make my way through their house to the back door, and I slip outside, letting my eyes adjust to the afternoon sunlight. The Bowmans' deck is empty, so I cross it and step down into the grass, scanning the yard for Colin. I finally spot him near the edge, throwing a baseball repeatedly as hard as he can against a tree. He is visibly frustrated, his cheeks flushed with anger. I feel my body react to the sensation of finally seeing Colin in person after a week's separation. It feels like every nerve is more alert, more alive, now that I'm in his presence.
I take a deep breath and make my way over to him. When he spots me in his peripheral vision, the baseball falls from his hand to the ground. Apparently, I startled him.
He turns to face me. "Nora," he says in a low voice. The last time I'd heard him say my name, he was gasping it into my mouth as he kissed me, and the memory of us in the woods springs to my mind, unbidden. I feel my face burn. "What…are you doing here?" he asks, his eyebrows drawn in confusion.
My palms start to itch and my heart rate increases. "Your mom called mine," I reply after an awkward, too-long pause. "They're upstairs now, talking. Your…" I swallow, feeling overwhelmed by the weight of his gaze on my face. "Your brothers told me you were back here."
Colin's eyes flicker with something I can't name. There is another pregnant pause. "Oh," he finally replies. "Did they…tell you about…"
"What happened with your dad?" I supply in a desperate attempt to make the situation less tense.
He nods slowly.
"Yes," I confess. I rack my brain for something I can say to comfort him, but Colin abruptly starts walking, breezing past me.
I reel from the suddenness. "Colin!" I shout when I've recovered from my surprise. "Wait!" I run to catch up to him, and when I do, I place a hand on his arm. "Wait," I say again softly.
He stares down at my hand like he's never seen a human hand before. I know I should remove it from his arm, but his bare skin is so warm and my fingers are tingling where they are in contact with him; I find that I can't bring myself to let go just yet.
We stand there staring at each other, silent except for the sounds of our breathing. Finally, Colin speaks. "I'm sorry," he tells me. "I just…I'm in kind of a strange mood right now. Seeing my dad, it just…fucked with me, you know?"
I nod, even though I don't know, not really. How could I understand what Colin's going through with his father when I'm lucky enough to have two stable, supportive parents? I take my hand off of his arm, and Colin stares down at it for a moment before starting to walk again, slowly this time. We stroll in the direction of the house as Colin resumes speaking.
"I mean, I've gotten so used to hating him for what he's done to my mom, to my brothers. He really fucked up our lives, and he didn't even give enough of a damn to stick around afterward to clean up his mess," Colin says bitterly.
We reach the deck and Colin sits down on the steps, with me following suit a few inches away from him.
He continues. "And then he thinks he can just show up, after all this time? Just crash back into our lives like it's nothing? I mean," Colin shakes his head, "for God's sake, Dougie barely even remembers him. It's not fair!" he bursts. "Not fair to Dougie, or to Gavin and Joey, and definitely not fair to my mom. She's already been through enough, she doesn't need to deal with any more of his shit."
I make a soothing sound, and he goes on, turning to look me in the eye. "I'm not proud of it, Nora, but…I got into a fight with him."
I nod. "I know. Gavin says it was 'pretty bad.'"
Colin snorts. "Understatement of the year," he mutters.
"Joey gave me a very detailed play-by-play," I tell him, trying to coax a laugh from him. It doesn't work, but at least he smiles for a second.
"Then you know I told my dad to stay the hell away from us from now on," he replies solemnly. "I mean, I know that it's better that way. We're better off if we can just move on without him turning up out of nowhere to stir things up. He's so unreliable. "But," he shakes his head. "I don't know – was I too rash? Did I make things worse?"
I bite my lip when I realize he's asking me for advice. Colin Bowman is having a serious conversation with Nora Garrity. The world might just be ending.
"You said yourself that it's better this way," I tell him, looking up into his troubled blue eyes. "And I think you're right. If he pops up unexpectedly, he'll only cause trouble. At least this way, you guys will have some sense of stability, and things will settle down."
He nods, mulling over my words. "Yeah," he agrees. "But fuck," he exclaims, burying his head in his hands. "I can't believe I made my mom cry by fighting with him and everything."
"It's okay," I say hesitantly, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu for a few minutes earlier, when I'd been similarly consoling Dougie.
Colin runs his hands through his hair in frustration. "I feel like shit, though. What kind of a son am I?"
"Are you kidding me?" I exclaim. "You're a great son, Colin. You care about your mom a lot. I mean, obviously," I say. "You wouldn't feel so bad about her crying if you didn't."
He slowly lifts his head to look over at me.
"And you've tried to be there for her ever since your dad left," I go on. "I've seen it, over the past few years. You're, like, the model child." I roll my eyes. "Trust me, I would know, my parents are always going on about how much better of an example you set than I do."
Colin chuckles. "Thanks," he says seriously. Then he frowns. "I hope my brothers are all right. I think today was hard on them."
I sigh. "Yeah," I agree. "It was. They'll be fine, though," I tell him with confidence. I swallow, looking up at him. "You'll be fine, too. It's going to be okay," I conclude tremulously. And then, because I want so badly to make him feel at least a little better, I assert again, passionately, "It's all going to be okay."
He stares down at me, his face a mess of emotions, and I almost feel like crying because it's heartbreaking to see him like this. I just want to make him feel better, I think. And then Colin breaks into a faint smile, and that look he sometimes gets in his eyes, the affectionate one, is back.
"C'mere, Nora," he says, and he reaches out and pulls me into a hug.
I'm surprised at first, but I quickly settle against his torso, leaning into his warm embrace. His muscular arms are wrapped around me, and one of his hands is tracing calming patterns onto my back. I lean my head into the juncture of his shoulder and neck and breathe in his comforting scent, the scent I've known since before I can remember.
It's strange but I feel more at home in Colin's arms than I ever have anywhere else.
It's a hot, hot day. Sweat is trickling down my back. It doesn't help that it's just after noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, and my sisters and I are trudging down the sidewalk.
We should be in an air-conditioned house right now, like all sane people are, but Mom went on this weird rant this morning about how Maggie's been spending too much time with Gavin and I've been spending too much time with Nat and Vic and Casey's been spending too much time with her friends and we haven't been spending enough time together as a family and blah blah blah. I'll be honest, I kind of tuned out after a while. Anyway, the end result was that my sisters and I ended up walking to the ice cream shop as some kind of "sisterly bonding" activity.
Don't get me wrong, I love both ice cream and my sisters, but I would prefer to enjoy them when I'm not at high risk for heat stroke.
"Finally, we're here," Casey groans, wiping the sweat off her brow as the ice cream shop comes into sight. We trudge over to the small building, exhausted from the walk in the heat. Plus, Maggie had kept bugging us to hurry up, making the walk even more tiring.
"Wait a second," I say, narrowing my eyes when I see four familiar figures seated at a picnic table in front of the shop. "Look who it is."
Casey gasps when she sees them, too. "The Bowmans!" she exclaims.
Maggie seems suspiciously unsurprised, but I don't have time to interrogate her because we've arrived in front of the Bowman boys' picnic table. All four of them are seated around it, clearly just finishing up their ice creams.
Gavin gets up and goes over to hug Maggie. I avert my eyes from the nauseating couple out of habit.
"Hey!" Casey says. "What are you guys doing here?"
"Eating ice cream," Colin replies with a smirk. "What else would we be doing at an ice cream shop?"
"I got a triple-chocolate Superman sundae with extra extra sprinkles," Dougie brags, gesturing to the massive bowl in front of him that's already almost empty. Damn, that kid eats a lot.
Casey's hazel eyes widen with jealousy. "I want that!" she whispers to me.
"It's hot out here," Joey whines. "I wanna go home and play Xbox." I bristle at the memory of having to pay for that very Xbox.
"In a minute," Gavin tells him. "The girls just got here; we can't be rude and leave right away."
Joey rolls his eyes, and Colin and I meet each other's gaze, both of us smirking at Gavin's transparent attempt to spend more time with Maggie. I feel my heart start to pound when Colin stares at me, his expression intense.
"I want ice cream!" Casey declares, tugging on my arm.
"Okay," I reply. "Come on, Maggie, let's go inside and order."
As I say this, the Bowmans slowly start to get up and prepare to leave, throwing their cups and spoons away. Maggie, Casey, and I make our way into the tiny shop.
"Well, hello there, girls, what can I get for you?" greets the man behind the counter.
"I'll have mint chocolate chip in a cup, please," I tell him.
"Could I please have a small strawberry cone?" says Maggie.
"I want," Casey takes a deep breath, "a triple-chocolate Superman sundae with extra extra sprinkles!"
"Sure thing!" the man replies, and then he starts to make our orders.
Of course, Maggie and Casey run back outside to say goodbye to the Bowmans, leaving me alone inside the shop to wait for all of our ice creams. That's what you get when you're the oldest.
"Here you go, sweetheart." The ice cream man hands me my cone. "I'm just going to have to go in the back to get some more sprinkles for that sundae the little one ordered." He wrinkles his eyebrows in bewilderment. "It's very popular today, for some reason." He totters off to the back room.
I lean back against the wall, licking my ice cream and trying to be patient.
Suddenly, I look up and see Colin walking toward me. "I thought you'd left," I say, surprised to see him. I set my cup of ice cream down on a table next to me.
He smirks. "Gavin and Maggie are taking a while to say their goodbyes." He advances toward me until he's standing right in front of me.
I laugh. "You know, I'm pretty sure they set this whole thing up so they could see each other without my mom knowing. I got the feeling that Maggie knew you'd be here and that Gavin knew we were coming."
"Oh, you're right," Colin replies. "Very clever, Nora." He takes a step forward and leans down so that our faces are almost touching. "But I knew you were coming as well," he murmurs.
"You…you did?" I ask, trying for casual, but my voice comes out in a heady sigh as my body reacts to his proximity.
"Of course," he grins. "Why else would I have walked all the way here in this heat?" One of his hands slides up my arm to rest on my shoulder, while the other twirls a lock of my hair. "I don't like ice cream that much."
"Oh," I gasp at his touch, my eyelids fluttering shut.
"Though I do like mint chocolate chip," he whispers, and then, before I know it, he's leaning down to lick a drop of my ice cream from my lip.
Clearly neither of us are excelling at self-control at the moment, so that turns into a slow, sensual kiss, Colin pressing me into the wall as I sigh into his mouth.
All too soon, he's pulling away. "I have to go," he murmurs. "My brothers are waiting."
I'm too dazed from the kiss to respond, so he tenderly brushes some hair out of my face and then exits the shop, leaving me breathless against the wall.
Just then, the ice cream man comes back. "Found 'em!" he declares. He makes Maggie and Casey's ice creams and I pay him, still reeling from what just happened with Colin. I go back outside and find my sisters sitting at the picnic table where the Bowmans had been previously.
"The Bowman boys left," Casey tells me once I give her her massive sundae. "Joey really wanted to play Xbox."
"Oh," I reply, glancing down at the wooden surface of the table and trying my best to act like I hadn't just been thoroughly kissed by my mortal enemy.
"Phoebe!" Dad bellows from his stance in front of the grill. "Where's the spatula?"
"How should I know?" Mom yells from inside the house.
I roll my eyes. "I'll get it!" I shout, joining in the use of my family's go-to method of communication (screaming at the top of our lungs). I run inside the house to grab the spatula and then back out to the backyard, handing it to Dad.
"Thanks, honey," he says, before using it to flip over the burgers on the grill.
Every summer, the Bowmans come over our house for our annual barbeque. In the past, it's been the center of many a gruesome battle, with both sides pulling out all the stops right under our parents' noses in our constant war for domination.
This year, though, there's a decidedly more relaxed tone to the barbeque. Casey, Joey, and Dougie are playing whiffle ball together, and Maggie and Gavin are being all lovey-dovey on the patio. It's crazy how much can change in a year. At last summer's barbeque, my sisters and I released a container of fire ants that we'd bought on eBay into all of the Bowman boys' shoes. It was hilarious (well, my parents apparently didn't think so, since I was grounded for the rest of the summer, but that's another story).
I wander over to our old swingset, sit on a swing, and smile, full of nostalgia for the good old days of total warfare between the Garritys and the Bowmans.
Just then, I feel a sharp shove from behind and, taken aback, I tumble forward off the swing and onto the ground below. "Hey!" I yell, whirling around to see who the culprit was. My hazel eyes widen when I take in the sight of Colin, standing over me and laughing. "What the hell was that for?"
He shrugs. "Old time's sake," he replies nonchalantly. And then he stares down at me intently. "And for ignoring me all afternoon," he adds in a low voice.
I sigh. Oh, all right, so I've been kind of avoiding Colin all day, ever since the Bowmans arrived at our house. But can you blame me? I mean, think about our track record as of late. I can't have him just grab me and start making out with me in front of both of our families!
Hmm. Actually, that doesn't sound too bad right now, I muse as I gaze up at his lips. Then I snap out of it. "You asshole! That doesn't mean you can just push me off a swing!" I huff angrily, slowly getting back up to sit on my swing once more. "Ow, my knee hurts," I whine.
Colin walks around to stand facing me, a smirk on my face. "I'm sorry, Nor," he tells me, and then he kneels down on the ground before me. "Let me see?"
I'm wearing denim shorts, so my tanned legs are bare, making the very faint bruise on my knee plainly visible. He leans down and gently traces the bruise with his fingertips. I shudder involuntarily. Then Colin lowers his head and brushes my knee ever so softly with his lips. I watch, breathless, as he reverently kisses it better.
He gazes up at me. "I won't do it again," he swears. "So, what do you say? Don't you think it's about time we called a truce between our families?"
I breathe in sharply in surprise, and he smiles. "Want to end this long, brutal, bloody war?" he goes on.
I stare back at him inscrutably. "A truce," I echo, mulling the words over in my mind.
It's a preposterous, ludicrous, completely radical idea. I can't even remember a time when we weren't actively working to sabotage the Bowmans at every opportunity. Do we even know how to be at peace with each other? What the hell would we do with all the free time that would open up if we don't have to spend every spare moment plotting and scheming and fighting?
I gaze at Colin with a guarded expression. "I guess you do have a point. After all, our siblings certainly seem to be getting along." I gesture toward my backyard, where Casey is still playing with Joey and Dougie and Maggie and Gavin are still being nauseating.
He nods. "So. Truce?"
I smirk. "Truce," I affirm, reaching out to shake his hand. He grins up at me then, still kneeling on the grass in front of my swing, and damn if Colin's grin isn't the sexiest thing I've ever seen.
We're called over to eat the burgers and hot dogs Dad's finally finished grilling then. After we eat, I sit on my patio, waiting somewhat impatiently for all the Bowman boys to finish their food. Eventually, they do, and they start up a game of catch on the grass. Mrs. Bowman and my parents go inside the house to chat or whatever, and I feel a satisfied grin creep onto my face.
I turn to my sisters, who are sitting with me at the table on our patio. "It's time," I whisper, and then I motion for them to follow me as we sneak off the patio and around the side of the house. We reach the garage, and quickly we get to work, lugging the massive plastic tub Casey and I had hidden there earlier today out into the driveway. Maggie had labeled the tub "Old Barbie dolls" so that our dad wouldn't get curious and open it.
"Come on!" I hiss. "You push, Maggie; I'll pull." The two of us slowly but surely move the heavy tub through the grass on the side of our house toward the backyard. "Case," I whisper, "go be our lookout. Make sure all the boys are distracted."
Casey nods and scurries ahead of us. She crouches down on the ground and peeks around the corner of the house. Then she turns around and gives us a thumbs-up, indicating that the Bowman boys are presumably too wrapped up in their game to notice us.
Maggie and I smirk at each other over the plastic tub. Contrary to its label, the tub does not, in fact, contain old Barbie dolls. Rather, it is full of dozens of paint balloons – kind of like water balloons but filled with paint instead of water – which the three of us had made last night.
Ha! You didn't think I was serious earlier, when I agreed to that truce with Colin, did you? Please. He should have known better than to trust a Garrity girl. Then again, boys are idiots.
I told you I'd be recruited for the CIA in a few years. I really am an excellent liar.
My sisters and I have been planning this prank for days. Sure, we mostly get along with the Bowman boys much better these days (and Maggie and Casey still don't even know about Colin and me), but launching an attack on the boys at our annual barbeque is tradition! Maggie may be dating the smug little know-it-all and Casey may be friends with the future criminals (and, fine, I may be a little too fond of the ruthless dictator), but that doesn't mean we're just going to surrender after all these years of battle. We're the Garrity girls, and winning is in our blood. We're obviously going to keep up the good fight.
Maggie and I catch up to Casey and pry the lid off the plastic tub. All three of us grin down at the sight of our meticulously prepared paint balloons. We begin quickly and quietly loading up with armfuls of them.
"Ready?" I whisper.
"Ready," Maggie grins.
"Ready," echoes Casey with a slightly disturbingly maniacal look in her eyes.
"Okay, we'll charge 'em on three. One…two…three!"
We spring around the corner into the backyard with wild cries, catching the boys completely off guard and bombarding them with balloons.
Splat! I land an excellent shot of pink paint in the center of Colin's chest. Splat! Ooh, that was another good shot, I hit Joey right on the neck!
The boys start screaming at us. "What the hell is this?" shouts Colin.
"STOP IT!" bellows Dougie, looking hilarious with purple glitter paint in his hair.
"Hey!" cries Gavin. "No fair!"
"I'm gonna get you girls for this, just you wait and see!" screams Joey, his face turning bright red with anger to match the paint dripping down his arms.
Colin glares at me. "What happened to our truce, Nora? Why are you doing this?" he demands.
I smirk back at him and shrug. "Old time's sake," I reply teasingly, parroting back his words to me from earlier today.
Maggie, Casey, and I can't stop laughing. This prank is one of our most fun yet. Finally, we run out of balloons and collapse against the side of the house, giggling hysterically. We exchange a round of high-fives.
"That was awesome," Casey sighs.
I nod happily.
"Garrity girls forever," grins Maggie, and Casey and I tackle her in a hug. Sure, she may still be dating a Bowman, but she'll always be a Garrity girl deep down.
Eventually, the Bowman boys find us, and they're predictably livid. Maggie sets up our sprinkler to try to calm them down, and Dougie and Joey quickly get over their anger as they run through the sprinkler to wash away the paint. Casey soon joins them, even though she doesn't have any paint on her.
Colin storms over to me, and I have to bite back a laugh at the pink paint splattered onto his face. "This isn't funny, Nora," he growls.
I raise my eyebrows. "Well…it is kinda," I reply.
"You'd think someone who's about to be a high school senior would understand the meaning of the word 'truce,'" he gripes, trying to wipe some paint off his arm but only succeeding in spreading it around.
Rolling my eyes, I respond, "Oh, stop your grumbling. Come on, I'll help you wash it off inside." I grab his arm and lead him to the laundry room, with Colin muttering under his breath the whole way. I shut the door behind us and start to run the sink. I grab a towel and run it under the water, then hop up onto the dryer and gesture to Colin to come closer.
But my eyes widen when I see that he is peeling his paint-drenched shirt off. I quickly try to collect myself and remain calm, even though inside my mind is a steady, incoherent loop of gah arms six-pack chest shoulders mmm.
"Come closer," I tell Colin, beckoning to him. "I'll wash it off for you."
He takes two cautious steps until he's standing in front of the dryer, facing me. From my perch I lean over and grasp his face, gently scrubbing at the paint with the wet towel. This close to him, it's all I can do not to lean a couple inches closer and capture his lips with mine. Kissing Colin has got to be one of the best hobbies ever. But I'm a mature adult (almost) with more self-control than that (barely), so I restrain myself and stick to wiping away the paint.
"I still can't believe you girls did that," Colin shakes his head, though his expression has lightened a bit, probably because I'm being so gentle with my scrubbing at his skin. The Nora of the past would've just poured a bucket of water over his head and been done with it. (Actually, the Nora of the past wouldn't have helped him wash the paint off at all, so we're making real progress here, people!)
I roll my eyes. "I don't know why you're complaining so much, Colin. We've done way worse things to you in the past." It's true – it's pretty absurd for him to get so upset over a little paint when compared with some of the other pranks we've pulled on the boys.
Glad that he's calmed down a bit, I start to run my fingers along his skin, pulling him closer to me so maybe we can finally make out like I've secretly been wanting to all afternoon. I lean closer to him and press my lips to his bare shoulder. He lets out a low moan before stopping abruptly and pulling away.
Uh-oh. I probably shouldn't have reminded him of those other things my sisters and I have done. His eyes narrow and he glares down at me. "Hey, actually, you're right. Like last summer, when you released fucking fire ants in our shoes," he reminds me, his voice laced with anger.
I sigh and lean back on the dryer. So much for the much anticipated make out session.
"That was completely psychotic, Nora!" Colin exclaims. "Not to mention, I'm pretty sure you obtained those fire ants illegally."
I roll my eyes and wave my hand dismissively. "So we broke a couple little laws. Who cares?"
He snorts. "I don't recall your mom having the same attitude," he replies. True, Mom hadn't seen it the way I had, but hey, that's what you get when your mom's a lawyer.
"Whatever," I respond. "I think you're forgetting that we only resorted to the ants in retaliation for what you guys did the week before that! I can't believe you and your brothers broke your own Xbox and then said we did it!"
Colin shrugs. "We wanted the newest version."
I huff in indignation. "Yeah, and we had to pay for it! That was so unfair."
"Oh, calm down," he tells me. "It's not like you girls haven't done sneaky shit in the past. I seem to recall you making fake report cards for all of us and sending them to my mom."
Oh, yeah. I can still Mrs. Bowman freaking out when all four of her sons seemed to have gotten straight C's, D's, and F's. They were in so much trouble for a couple days.
I glare at him. "Nothing you didn't deserve!" I retort. "You boys told my dad you wanted to repaint our bedrooms as a nice 'surprise' for us. And then you just painted a mural about how great you were and wrote 'Girls are stupid' all over our walls!"
Colin starts laughing before I silence him with a scowl. "Come on, Nor, you have to admit that was funny."
"No way!" I exclaim. "You completely ruined my bedroom. I'm still mad about that." True, Mrs. Bowman made the boys repaint our walls when she found out, but still. It's the principle of the matter.
"Oh yeah?" Colin asks. "You know what I'm still mad about? Coming downstairs on Christmas morning a few years ago only to find that all of our presents were just boxes full of Casey's dirty socks!"
Ha! That one was a classic. I smile fondly at the memory of how my sisters and I had switched out all the Bowmans' Christmas presents with Casey's disgusting, stinky socks.
"Hmm," I reply. "And speaking of articles of clothing, who was it again who hung my bras all over my locker at school back in sophomore year? Oh, wait, that was you, Colin!"
He sputters indignantly. "The only reason I did that is because you started that column in our school newspaper! Remember? 'Reasons Why Colin Bowman Is an Undateable Freak of Nature,' by Nora Garrity, with a new column every month?"
When he brings that up, I can't help but start chuckling. "Oh yeah! I remember that!" I smile. "God, we really did do some ridiculous things to each other."
Despite himself, Colin grins. Have I mentioned that his grin is sexy? Because it is. Extremely so. "Yeah," he agrees. "I guess you're right. At least all the things you and I did to each other at school have stopped being so out-of-hand."
"Yeah –" I start to say, and then I stop myself short. I've just remembered what had had me so furious at Colin this May. "Wait a second! No! Just this year you convinced Ben Vance not to take me to the junior prom!" I punch him in the chest again for good measure, even though I'd already done so back when I found out about it. "That was a pretty mean thing to do, even for you. I can't believe you'd go through all that trouble just to mess with me."
Colin bites his lip, and even though I'm mad at him I can't help but sigh inside at how hot it is. "Uh…about that…" he casts his eyes around shiftily.
I narrow my eyes. "What?"
"Well…" Colin says hesitantly, finally meeting my gaze. "I kind of did that because…" Then he mutters something completely unintelligible.
"What was that?" I demand.
He mumbles something again.
He swallows. "Because I was jealous that you were going with him," he tells me.
Colin sees my flabbergasted expression and continues. "I actually wished I could ask you to the dance myself. But," he laughs, "that obviously would have been a disaster, considering you still hated the mere sight of me at the time. And I couldn't stand the thought of you going with Vance." He shakes his head. "You deserve way better than that guy, Nor. So I might have threatened him a bit…intimidated him into turning you down," he admits remorsefully. "But, yeah, you're right, it was shitty of me to do. I'm sorry."
"I don't understand," I tell him.
"Don't you?" Colin steps closer to me and reaches for me, one hand settling onto my hip to pull me closer to the edge of the dryer and one hand going up to cradle my face. He stares at me intently. "I've liked you for months, Nor. Years, maybe, I don't know. I tried to fight it, but I couldn't help it. I don't know exactly how long it's been, but one day I just realized that I spend practically all my time thinking of you, whether it's ways to prank you, or just wishing I could be around you." His blue eyes are earnest. "You're the biggest part of my life, Nor."
I'd think this was all a dream if it weren't for his hands on my body, proving that he's real.
"I had to keep on pretending to hate you because I knew you couldn't stand me at all. But lately, you've been different…and with everything that's happened…I wondered…" He leans down and presses feather-light kisses to my chest, my neck, my jaw, my ear, my cheek.
I'm still slightly in shock, so I sit there on the dryer, motionless. And then I realize what a complete idiot I'm being. Earth to Nora – there is a very sexy, very willing, and very shirtless Colin Bowman standing right in front of you! What the hell are you waiting for?
I break into a grin. "What did you wonder?" I murmur, reaching a hand up to lightly run through his hair.
"Do you still hate me?" he asks in a low voice, his lips moving against my skin.
"No," I smile, pulling him closer to me.
"Do you still loathe everything about me, with every fiber of your being?"
"No," I laugh.
"Do you still think I'm a disgusting, revolting human –"
"No, Colin!" I exclaim, laughing at his weirdly accurate memory of what I'd been screaming at him right before he kissed me to shut me up, back in the woods on our camping trip. "But I might start, if you don't shut up and kiss me."
Clearly needing no further encouragement, Colin pulls me flush against his body and meets my lips with his. It's even better than I remembered, and I sigh into his mouth at how glorious it feels.
But then, because I'm too damn analytical for my own good, I remember our conversation just minutes before about past wrongs we'd done to each other and something jolts into my memory. "Wait!" I gasp, pulling away from him. "What about Cocoa Puff?!"
Colin curses under his breath and rests his forehead against mine. "Dammit, Nora, are you still on about that hamster?"
Hey! Just because Cocoa Puff's "escape" was four years ago doesn't mean she's not as near and dear to my heart today as she always was.
"Yes!" I exclaim defiantly. "She wasn't just any hamster. And you and your brothers let her escape on purpose! I know you did! Do you know how heartbroken my sisters and I were? We even had a funeral for poor Cocoa Puff!"
Colin rolls his eyes. "I know," he tells me exasperatedly. "I was there, giving a eulogy that you forced me to do."
"Oh yeah," I say. "Still! What do you have to say for yourself? Because this is one offense I can't just forgive and forget!"
He sighs. "Okay, Jesus, Nor. You want to know what really happened? Apparently, Joey wanted to see what would happen if he took Cocoa Puff outside for a walk. Obviously, the hamster got away from him. He was only seven or eight at the time! He was terrified of what you girls would do to him when you found out he'd lost your precious hamster. So we all agreed that we'd share the blame, so you couldn't go after him directly, and we said it was an accident." He looks at me. "I'm sorry I never told you. Can you forgive me?"
I take a deep breath. It feels so strange to finally know the truth about what happened to poor Cocoa Puff, after all these years. I feel a twinge of sadness for my dearly departed furry friend, but when I look at Colin's face, I can't stay mad for too long. "Well, all right," I accede. "I suppose so."
"Good," he grins. "I promise that I'll make it up to you. Cocoa Puff will not have died in vain," he smirks.
"May she rest in peace," I say solemnly, but then I can't help but smile at him.
He pulls me back into him and leans down to kiss me once again. Is it possible for him to become even better at kissing every second of every day? Because I feel like he does. I wrap my legs around him and he groans, his hand sliding up under my tank top. One of my hands glides up and down his torso, finally getting to touch his infamous six-pack that I've been obsessing over. He tastes like cherry popsicles, which we'd all eaten earlier, and his bare skin on mine feels burning hot to the touch. I tangle my fingers into his tousled brown hair, breathe in deeply, and then smile into his mouth. He smells like something I've always known, ever since before I can remember, but only just now realized how much I adore. He smells like Colin.
His lips are burning into mine when all of a sudden, I hear the laundry room door open.
"LOOK, GUYS! COLIN IS KISSING NORA!"
Dougie Bowman, I'm gonna kill you.
t h e e n d
A/N: Congrats! You made it! I hope the long read was worth your time. This took me a while to write, so please leave a review and let me know what you thought. I will love you as much as Colin loves Nora, as much as Maggie loves Gavin, as Nora loves winning, as Casey loves ice cream, as Gavin loves smirking, as Joey loves Xbox, and as Dougie loves yelling. *deep breath* That's a lot of love!