Thinking of Kona.
“I’m just hyped up, I guess,” I said in a more even tone. “With my birthday tomorrow and everything.”
Mark grasped the lifeline gratefully. “So, what do you think your dad’s going to get you this year? It’ll be hard to top the Brewer.”
“I don’t think he can top the Brewer—it’s the best present I’ve ever gotten.”
“Well, yeah. It’s totally wicked.”
That was one of the great things about having a boyfriend who was as obsessed with surfing as I was. Another guy might get bent out of shape that I liked my dad’s gift better than his, but Mark understood.
In the surfing world, not much could top a custom-designed Brewer—not even the brand-new iPod Mark had gotten me last year when I’d lost mine in the ocean days before my birthday. He’d loaded it with all my favorite songs, had even programmed special playlists into it for me. It had been a perfect gift for me and I loved it—just not as much as my board.
Mark started on his third piece of pizza, and I glanced around the parlor we’d been going to for as long as we’d been dating. Tonight it looked a little different—the red-and-white-checked tablecloths were a little fuzzy, while the pizza- and Coke-shaped neon lamps on the windows were so bright they hurt my eyes. And the familiar smells—garlic and tomatoes and Italian spices mixed with the briny scent of the ocean—had me feeling a little sick.
Was it just my mind playing tricks on me or was something going on with my senses? Was the change starting to happen?
“You ready to go?”
Mark was staring at me with an unusual exasperation, and when I looked at the table I realized why. He’d finished the pizza and paid the check, all while I was taking a little side trip to la-la land.
I grabbed his hand and let him pull me to my feet. “Sorry I haven’t been the best company lately,” I murmured lamely as he guided me out of the restaurant.
“I’m getting used to it,” came his cryptic reply.
“What does that mean?”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to argue, Tempest.”
“You could have fooled me.” I felt like a jerk even as I said the words, but I couldn’t pull them back. A part of me was spoiling for a fight and was really hoping that Mark would give it to me.
But he merely shook his head and started toward his bike, a tricked-out Ducati Streetfighter S that had been his seventeenth-birthday present. He loved the motorcycle, but I knew he’d trade it for my Brewer in a heartbeat.
“What movie do you want to see?” he asked.
“I picked last time.”
“Yeah, but it’s your birthday tomorrow. I figured I could be a gentleman and let you choose tonight.”
“And then you get to choose the next two times, right?”
“Three actually. The offer comes with interest attached.”
I laughed. “Of course it does.”
He drove too fast, as usual, and we got to the theater in record time. I ended up choosing an action movie that I knew Mark had been anxious to see. There was nothing I really wanted to watch and anyway, it wasn’t like I was going to be able to pay attention. It had taken all my effort to keep up my end of the conversation while we were in line.
As the movie raged around us with exploding buildings, car chases, and gunfights galore, I cuddled into Mark and simply concentrated on how good it felt to be curled up next to him, despite the prickles of pain caused by the brush of his hand on my bare skin. His arm was warm and comforting around my shoulders, his chest firm against the back of my shoulder. He smelled like pizza and the ocean and the cologne I had had made especially for him.
I never wanted the movie to end.
But the two hours flew when I wanted them to drag and after the mother of all fight scenes, the film ended with the good guys bloodied but victorious. If only things were as black and white in real life.
Mark drove us home slowly, and I tried to stay relaxed, but the closer we got to my house the more freaked out I got. It was eleven thirty. My birthday was less than one hour away.
Would I change, like Cinderella, as soon as the clock struck midnight? Or would it happen later, in the light of day?
Would I get a choice, like my mother had promised, or would the mermaid thing just happen?
“Tempest.” Mark’s voice was impatient and a little annoyed, and I realized we were parked in front of my house. He’d turned off his bike and was waiting for me to climb down. “Hello? Tempest?”
“You did it again—I swear, you were a million miles away.”
“Sorry.” I was beginning to sound like a broken record.
“Do you want to go in, or walk by the beach for a little while?”
For the first time that I could remember, I didn’t want to be near the water. The idea of walking on the sand and letting the ocean kiss my toes made me tremble—not now, not tonight. It had taken enough from me. The idea of it taking what might be my last moments with Mark was too much for me to handle—or accept.
“Let’s go inside.”
He seemed surprised by my answer, but he didn’t argue. Instead, he waited for me to get off the bike, then followed, his arm around my shoulders as we walked toward the front door.
The proprietary way he held on to me was suddenly annoying, though I wasn’t sure why. Usually I liked the way Mark was a total gentleman—he always held doors for me and let me go first, always made sure he was the closest to the curb when we were walking on the sidewalk. It made me feel good to know that he was thinking of me, but something about the way he was wrapped around me—like he was afraid I would run off—bothered me. The fact that his fears were justified only made the whole thing more irritating.
I wrenched my elbow from his grasp, then shouted “I’m home!” as soon as the door closed behind us. I had no doubt my dad was waiting up for me.
“Okay,” came my dad’s answer from his office at the top of the stairs. “Tempest—”
“Mark’s here.” I cut him off, not sure what he was going to say but certain it was about my birthday.
My dad poked out his head, still looking every bit the quintessential surf bum despite the fact that he was almost forty-five years old and the head of a very successful surfing gear and clothing line.
“Oh, all right then.” He gave me a meaningful look. “But come see me before you head up to bed.”
I turned back to Mark, strangely unsure of what to do with my hands. Despite my annoyance, I wanted to wrap them around him, to hold him to me as tightly as I could until the clock struck midnight and whatever was going to happen, happened.
I settled for shoving them in my back pockets.
“Do you want a soda or something?” I asked into the suddenly awkward silence.
“Nah, I’m good.” Mark stretched out on the sofa, like he usually did at my house, and I perched in the corner—as I usually did. I reached for the remote control, but he stopped me.
“Come here.” Mark’s eyes were heavy lidded, intense, and I felt an answering warmth start inside me. Scooting closer, I went willingly into his arms.
His breath was coming hard and fast as he skimmed his mouth over my forehead and down my cheeks to my mouth. “I love you, Tempest.” He said the words against my lips, but I felt them in every part of me. His voice was soft, yet it held a conviction I couldn’t hope to argue with.