~ Mallory ~
“You always look incredible, but more in a beach-laidback-natural-hottie kind of way,” Sunny says, smiling. My childhood friend has always been a great confidence booster. She pushes my long brown hair behind my shoulders, appraising and approving. “You’re going to knock your man’s flip flops off when he sees you all dressed up at the party tonight.”
I love my friends but the attention, although lovely, makes me feel self-conscious. I turn toward the mirror and pat the blush pink mini-dress fabric down over my stomach, which is noticeably flatter and toner under this fitted material. There’s no hiding in something so tight, but this dress has a sweet charm of innocence about it as well. It’s appropriate for meeting the parents and impressing the boyfriend equally.
Doing a turn to see the back of the dress, I realize I’ve been vacationing in paradise over a month now. Hawaii is more amazing than I expected and a bonus is that I’m much more active here than back at school, where I’m bogged down with schoolwork and part-time jobs. I’ve caught the Aloha spirit and I can already tell it’s going to be hard to board that plane back to Colorado in August.
“You make that dress look amazing, Mallory.” Evan’s sister, Kate, stands behind me and our eyes connect in the mirror’s reflection.
“No lie?” I say, needing to be reassured one more time.
“No lie,” she responds softly and smiles. “Evan is gonna love it on you.”
Feeling my cheeks heat, I look down, thinking of Evan. My boyfriend. My sexy surfer—the man I’ve fallen head over heels, hands, and common sense for since the moment I landed on the island. He’s the hottest guy I’ve ever seen and all that’s sexy—his hard, chiseled body, his sun-lightened messy hair, his brilliant mind, and his smooth-talking lines—yep, all mine. Although I shouldn’t admit it, I’m in way too deep with him and too happy and in love to care. Looking into the mirror again, I smile. This time because Sunny and Kate are right. Evan is going to love this dress.
“A toast is in order,” Kate says as she pours three glasses of champagne. “This is our only chance to look fancy in Hawaii.” She raises her glass into the air and we follow suit. “Here’s to Fourth of July parties, carefree summers, and our sexy men!”
We clink glasses and drink, downing more than half the champagne. Liquid courage is needed for me to show off this dress like it deserves.
As I put on my makeup, Kate sits next to me on the bed. Her bedroom at her parent’s Hawaiian mansion is where we decided to get ready for their annual Fourth of July party. Her room is spacious, spotless, and very feminine. Each of us sets up in a corner and we spread our stuff out. “You know, Evan’s told me how much he loves your eyes. He called them hopeful and infinite,” she says casually.
After spending half my summer getting to know Evan’s stunning sister, I’ve come to realize that Kate never says anything casual. She’s smart as a whip and usually two steps ahead with a plan or two that she’s plotting. I don’t doubt her sincerity when it comes to our friendship. I know she likes me and has been a big supporter of my relationship with her brother, which she’s had to defend. Deep down I feel their mother hates me for winning her golden boy’s heart.
“Really?” I ask, touched that Evan would confide in her like that.
“Yes, he found some sea glass down on the beach yesterday and said it reminded him of your pretty green eyes.” She leans over for a closer look. “You do have pretty eyes.”
“Thanks. You know, I always wanted blue like Evan’s when I was little.”
“So did I.” She bats her lashes at me and smirks. “Instead, I got my father’s brown eyes.”
I laugh and dig my mascara out of my bag. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, and please don’t feel pressured to tell me or anything, but I’ve been curious about Evan’s past.”
She takes the mascara from me and says, “I’ll do your lashes. Look up at the ceiling for me.”
Following her instructions, I look up as she coats my upper lashes, not sure if I really want to know about Evan’s mysterious past or not. Evan is amazing. I have no doubt that he loves me even though he hasn’t returned the verbal endearment yet. Something deep inside is keeping him from opening up the way I want, the way I’m ready for him to and I want to know what that is, so I prod. “Something happened to him and I think it’s why he had trouble at college.” I leave it at that to observe her reaction.
She stops and looks up at the ceiling, pondering what I’ve said. “Evan hasn’t told you what happened four years ago?”
“No,” I shake my head, my stomach twisting in anxiety.
A smile appears, soft and understanding. “I promised him a long time ago that I wouldn’t tell anyone. But you should know that although what he went through was painful for me and my parents, it changed who he is. It changed us all. That’s all I feel I can share without breaking my promise to him.”
I’m a bit disappointed, but not surprised by her words. My conversation with Ms. Chart the night I met her leads me to think the same. Whatever his secret is, he’s keeping it that way for a reason, but I can’t help my curiosity and hope he trusts me enough to tell me one day.
An hour later, we’re ready with our hair styled, our party dresses on, and feeling bubbly like the two bottles of champagne we polished off. We walk through the breakfast room and out the open doors that lead to the pool. The deck area is beautifully decorated, his mother’s attention to detail on full display. The party has begun and I see the first few guests ordering cocktails from the bar. Looking around, I don’t see Evan, so I follow the girls to the bar.
“Katie, you look beautiful.” I hear a male voice greet her from behind me.
“Hi, Daddy,” Kate says with a bright smile, her eyes lighting up and arms going out for a hug. “Let me introduce you to my friends. Hugh Ashford, this is Sunny Ladell and this is Mallory Wray.” She winks at me then looks back at her father. “Mallory is Evan’s girlfriend.”
“It’s very nice to meet you.” His eyes scan mine like he’s trying to understand something. It becomes obvious his wife has told him about me. He probably expected a three-headed monster after listening to her. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he says, and it makes me wonder if he means from Evan or his mother, but I don’t dare ask. “You’re very lovely.”
“Thank you,” I respond. “I’ve heard a lot about you too, Mr. Ashford.”
“That can’t be good, but I’m not afraid of a little hard work to prove all those rumors wrong. And please call me Hugh.” We laugh politely, and then he says, “I hope you ladies have a nice time tonight and please try not to send my guests to the hospital.” He leans closer. “Three beautiful women, lots of old men with weak hearts, you could do a lot of damage at this party.” He winks at us, leaving us giggling as he walks away to greet other guests.
He was not what I expected at all. How is he the husband of the Wicked Witch of the Upper East Side?
“I’ll call and find out what’s holding up the guys,” Kate says. “Make yourselves at home. Food is over there. The bar is behind you.”
“I should’ve used the bathroom before we came out. Want to come with me?” Sunny asks.
“Nah, go ahead,” I reply, “I’ll be here.” Walking over the large deck to the edge of the grass, I look out at the sunset and think about Evan. The girls made me promise to spend the day with them to prepare, which meant a day away from him. With only a month left on the island, every minute feels precious. My heart speeds up in anticipation of seeing him soon, and I turn to scan the crowd once more. I’m left disappointed and a little anxious he’s not here yet.
“Mallory, there you are.” Although I recognize this voice of evil, Evan’s mother doesn’t sound mean . She actually sounds… friendly. Maybe this is the turning point, and she has come to accept me. Or maybe I should brace myself. I’m undecided when I turn around.
Claire Ashford is walking toward me with wide open arms and a smile on her face so big it could outshine a movie star’s. She takes my hands in hers and holds them out to the side to look me over. “You look nice.” She glances behind her then leans in closer, her expression darkens minutely as she says, “There’s someone I want you to meet—a friend of Evan’s.”
Before she finishes her sentence, I see her and the name escapes me before I can stop it. “Kelly.” Stupid, pretty, blonde girl and goodbye kisses at the airport. My Evan. Jealousy and possessiveness grabs a hold of me as the memory comes back.
“Oh!” Mrs. Ashford exclaims, surprised I know the girl’s name. “I wasn’t aware you already knew each other.”
How could I forget it? The image of her, tears streaking down her tanned skin as she kissed Evan goodbye flashes through my mind. Even then I noticed that she is the opposite of me visually and that instantly turns my stomach inside out. She’s here for him, for my surfer, for my boyfriend, for my Evan. What if he prefers her? “Shit!” I say, the word blurting out uncontrolled as an ache in my heart overflows into my veins.
Mrs. Ashford drops my hands and looks aghast, gripping her hand against her chest, stunned.
“I’m sorry. I just…” I can’t finish. There’s no reason for her to be here. Is there?
“So you know Kelly or no you don’t?” Mrs. Ashford’s patience has thinned since her greeting.
“I, um… I don’t know her,” I stutter.
The girl stands tall in front of me, a beauty by everyone’s standards and oblivious to who I am or how truly awkward this situation really is.
“But you said Kelly?” Mrs. Ashford questions.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m Kelly. It’s nice to meet you and you are?” The girl that I can’t look in the eyes asks while offering her hand to shake.
“I’m Evan’s girlfriend.” The words flow from my mouth, insecurities instantly developing. I know it’s immature to stake claim to him, but now I know why he did that big display of a kiss in front of Noah at the restaurant the other day. If he was here, I’d be doing my own public display of affection, marking him as mine right now.
Her tone is clear, with a slight high-pitched tinkering to it when she speaks. “Oh, I didn’t know he had one. He never told me about you.”
“Why are you here?” They probably think something is wrong with me considering the way I’m blurting things out, but I’m confused to why she’s here. And she thinks she can show up like this. Does Evan know she’s here? Is she showing up unannounced? Unless… A thought dawns on me and I stand more upright. My face contorting, hurt and doubt clouding my vision as my gaze lands on Mrs. Ashford who seems to be relishing in the moment with a pleased-as-punch smile and sparkle to her eyes.
“I wanted to surprise him,” Kelly says, disregarding what I just said.
“Evan?” I ask as if I expect her to say someone else this time while still praying she means someone else.
“Yes,” she answers, annoyed.
“Does he know you’re here?”
“Noooo, I said ‘surprise’ him, but I guess we’ve all been surprised, haven’t we?”
“The more the merrier, dear,” Mrs. Ashford says, comforting Kelly by rubbing her arm.
I blink rapidly, hoping this nightmare goes away. It’s all too much and I need out of this situation. “I’ll let him know you came by. It was, um….yeah.” That was my weak attempt at getting rid of her, and unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
“Sorry for the confusion, Mallory, but Kelly is staying for the party. Isn’t that fantastic news?” Mrs. Ashford purrs in victory. “I know Evan will be so happy to see her again.”
“Mallory?” Kate appears at my side, stopping my escape. “What’s going on?”
She sees my eyes flicker to the stupid, pretty blonde imposter and without missing a beat, Kate introduces herself. After a brief introduction and breakdown of the events, Kate lays it all out like only she can. “So, let me get this straight. You ‘hooked up’ with Evan back in May and now you’re visiting him, uninvited I might add, this weekend? Just showing up out of the blue?”
Kelly glowers at us, but keeps calm, knowing Mother Ashford is on her side. She turns to Kate, and says, “Yes, it’s a surprise visit, but I know he’ll be happy to see me. We have a special connection.”
“You’re really going to stand here and say that in front of his girlfriend?” Kate puts her hands on her h*ps and tilts her head waiting for an answer.
“Kelly’s been invited to stay for the party… by your mother,” I add, further fueling Kate’s fire.
I glance over at Mrs. Ashford who shifts and looks over her shoulder to avoid eye contact.
“When I arrived this afternoon,” Kelly starts to say, “I discovered that—”
“Mmmhmm, I’m listening. Go on,” Kate says, interrupting Kelly with her sarcasm. I love having her on my side.
“I discovered that Evan wasn’t home, so I knocked on the main house and Claire invited me in. After hearing my plight, she also offered me a place to stay. We had tea together and I told her all about my brief, but meaningful, relationship with Evan and gladly accepted the offer from your mother,” Kelly says, crossing her arms and twisting the metaphorical knife deeper into my heart.
“Of course, you would. And plight? Really?” Kate rolls her eyes, “Mother, may I speak with you?”
“No. I have guests to tend to. Excuse me, ladies,” Mrs. Ashford says, avoiding Kate altogether and walking away from us.
Kate turns to me and says, “Kelly and I need to have a tete-a-tete privately, if you don’t mind?”
Kelly’s eyes widen and if I’m not mistaken, I spy fear behind her blues.
Quirking my eyebrows in curiosity, I look at her, but she silently tells me to go, and go I do. “Go right ahead.” I narrow my eyes at Kelly one more time and see the stubbornness in her stance, ready for a showdown.
After rushing into the house, I run down the corridor, and into the safety of the bathroom. Out of breath, I fall back against the door as tears fall from my eyes. All my fears are being realized as his past comes back to haunt us. I lean against the counter, my palms flat on the cold marble, staring down into the empty sink. I take several deep breaths and try to calm myself, wishing Evan would just get here already.