For the convenience of people who used the pier to fish, the restaurant had designated a restroom for their use with an outdoor restaurant right behind the bar. Valerie loved to fish, but she didn’t love the fishy smell that clung to her hands after handling bait and fish all day. After washing her hands, she used a travel-size bottle of hand cream in her backpack, warm vanilla scent, that she’d picked up at the mall, before checking her cell phone.
One missed call from Kylie, a text from Mom—Have fun, my love! Tell me about it when u get home, k? It was cute to her, how her mother had mastered short cuts on texts as well as any teenager.
The second text message had come from Zed. Reading it brought an exasperated sigh from Valerie.
so whos the fisherman? I no we said we were taking this slow and could see other people but wow that was quick. we just got back together and u didnt say a word bout it either. alright not a big deal just kinda sneaky of you but ok.
“Sneaky? Really, Zed?” she mumbled to herself as she jammed the phone back into her shorts pocket.
This was coming from the same guy who had done his share of “sneakiness,” and not only when they were younger, either. The very last time she’d been his on-again girlfriend, he’d secreted away a side-dish girlfriend, someone from Lodi who’d been visiting Wildwood with a few of her friends. Valerie had found out from the grapevine, because Zed would have kept the little game going for as long as he could if he hadn’t gotten caught, that they had continued to see each other for months. All the times he’d said he was going to New York on business, he’d really been driving up to Lodi to visit his little redheaded secret.
Could it be that Kylie was right? She tried to avoid the subject whenever her best friend and her mother were in the same room, because those two agreed with each other when it came to Zed. But Kylie had said something that had stuck with Valerie.
Zed was your first love. I don’t believe he was ever really the person your heart made him out to be, but you haven’t stopped believing the dreams of the teenager you used to be. That’s why you keep holding on, because you think your love is going to make him into something he’s never been and never going to be.
Valerie smiled, walking back along the long pier, past others who were dropping their lines into the water below. She remembered how she’d teased Kylie about behaving like an amateur psychologist.
And yet…it rang true. Her best friend was like that sometimes, very insightful and, Valerie would say, even wise. Maybe Kylie sometimes seemed to just know her better than she knew herself.
Up ahead stood Josh, checking her line. He had paused and was watching her approach, standing with his long, slim legs spread apart. His tan was deepening from the time they’d already spent out in the sun that day, and there was something oh-so-hunky about the way his complexion went so well with his wind-tossed, sandy brown hair. His sunglasses concealed his eyes, and she mused how he reminded her more of some handsome secret agent rather than a beach-going local.
Awesome guy, she thought.
She found it funny how she’d gotten his choice of drink right on the money. He hadn’t even waited until they’d broken out the sandwiches, either. Josh had whipped out the chocolate milk container and had begun to sip it.
Chocolate milk, an occasional soda, and iced tea. He told her that morning that he never drank except when he was younger, and that he’d done that only to be part of the crowd. Now, he said, he felt no such peer pressure. He claimed not to like the taste of beer, wine or liquor, and that he wasn’t into drugs, either.
Then maybe April was mistaken about…that other matter? Josh hadn’t mentioned a word about it. In fairness, though, that wasn’t something a person offered to bring up, especially while out on a first date.
Please,let it not be true, Lord, she prayed. I don’t know—can I pray that? I guess not. You can do anything, I know. You’re God. But the past is there; it is what it is. It can’t be changed. Please let him be honest with me. I’ve had enough of a man keeping secrets from me, Lord. I’d rather he not disrespect me with a lie. That he be honest with me.
Josh was wiping his hands on a small towel he’d brought with him when she made it back to their spot on the pier.
“You missed it,” he announced.
“What? Oh, man—I wasn’t even gone that long!” she moaned.
“Yep. Feast your eyes on this baby…”
He opened his cooler, which they’d used to store any fish they’d caught—if any were, in fact, caught. Fishing was often a gamble, but a fun one. Inside the cooler, resting on a bed of ice, was a fish big enough to produce two suitable fillets.
“Oh, that’s one gorgeous fish,” she said reverently.
“Yeah, ain’t he good-lookin’? He’ll look even better on a dish with lemon and tartar sauce.”
“Next to some of those yummy, little fingerling potatoes. Roasted fingerlings.”
“And corn on the cob.”
With all that talk of food making him hungry, Josh licked his lips. That made her think of kissing. The thought of kissing him made her have to catch her breath.
“That menu sounds perfect,” he declared.
“And we forgot biscuits. I know how to make really good ones from scratch, like the ones you get at Red Lobster, with some shredded cheddar and rosemary and garlic spice.”
He cleared his throat. “You think you’d like to…have that for dinner tonight? Or…You’re busy after your volunteer work?”
One date…to be continued. Tonight.