She offered a smile, shifting nervously in her seat. “Thank you. I’m glad you came. It’s nice to see Thomas happy again. It’s nice to see Thomas at all.” She smiled and sighed, content. “Promise me you’ll have your wedding here, so I have an excuse to come back.”
“It’s still new with Thomas and you, right? And he brought you to a wedding. That’s a very non-Maddox thing for him to do if he’s not head over heels, which I’m willing to bet that he is.” She turned to watch the dance floor, satisfied. “And I never lose a bet.”
“He didn’t want to be the only one without a date.”
“Bullshit. You two are as thick as thieves. You’ve got it bad. I can tell,” she said with a mischievous grin. She was trying to make me squirm and enjoying the hell out of it.
“Is this your version of an initiation?” I asked.
She laughed and leaned over, touching her bare shoulder to mine. “You caught me.”
“What are you doing, bitches?” America said, shimmying over to us. “This is a fucking party! We’re dancing!”
She tugged on Abby’s hand and then mine. We joined the mob on the dance floor. Thomas grabbed my hand, twirled me around, pulled me until my back was against him, and then folded his arms across my middle.
We danced until my feet hurt, and then I noticed Abby and America hugging America’s parents good night. Then, Jack and Deana left, and we all hugged Jim before he left for his room.
Travis and Abby were eager to be alone, so they thanked us all for coming, and Travis carried her away into the night.
We said our good-byes, and then Thomas pulled me along the dimly lit curved sidewalk until we were at the beach.
“Hammock,” he said, pointing to a dark form twenty yards from the water.
I pulled off my shoes, and Thomas did the same before we strolled through the white sand. Thomas sat down on the woven ropes first, and then I joined him. It rocked as we struggled to navigate the hammock without falling out.
“This should be easier for us,” Thomas teased.
The hammock jerked. We held on to each other and froze, our eyes wide. Then, we both burst into laughter.
As soon as we were settled, a drop of rain hit my cheek.
More drops fell, and Thomas wiped his eye. “You have got to be kidding me.”
The rain began to fall in big warm drops, tapping at the sand and the water.
“I’m not moving,” he said, squeezing me in his thick arms.
“Then, neither am I,” I said, nuzzling my cheek against his chest. “Why did Toto’s babysitter and Camille both call you T.J.?”
“It was how they talked about me without letting anyone know it was me.”
“Thomas James,” I said. “Clever. Is the other girl an ex, too?”
He chuckled. “No. She was Camille’s roommate.”
Thomas anchored his foot on the sand and then pushed off, rocking us a bit.
“This is incredible. I could definitely retire here. It feels so…I can’t even describe it.”
He kissed my temple. “This feels a lot like falling in love.”
The rain clouds had snuffed out the moon, making the sky pitch-black. The muffled music still playing at Sails sounded a mile away, and hotel guests were running to get out of the rain. We might as well have been on a secluded island, away from everyone else, lying together in our small but quiet section of the beach.
I squeezed him, and he took in a deep breath through his nose.
“I hate myself for saying this, but we should probably turn in. We’ve got an early morning.”
I looked up at him. “It’s going to be okay, you know. Travis will be fine. We’ll get rid of Grove. It’s all going to work out.”
“I just want to think about you tonight. Tomorrow is going to be tough.”
“I’ll do my best to keep your attention.” I wiggled out of the hammock and got to my feet. I helped him out, and I pulled his lips down to meet mine, sucking his bottom lip as I drew back.
He hummed. “I have no doubt. You’ve been an impeccable distraction.”
“What?” he asked, seeing the hurt in my eyes.
“Why don’t you just admit it? Just say it out loud. You’re using me to stop thinking about her. That’s not closure. It’s stalling.”
His face fell. “That’s not what I meant.”
“This isn’t falling in love, Thomas. You said it perfectly. I’m running interference.”
Above us, motion caught my eyes, and Thomas looked up, too. Trenton was twirling Camille on the balcony of Sails, and then he brought her into his arms. She squealed in delight, they both laughed, and then they disappeared from our view.
Thomas looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. His eyebrows pulled in. “Being with her was a mistake. Trenton has loved her since they were kids, but I didn’t think he was serious enough about her. I was wrong.”
“Then, why can’t you just let her go?”
“Using me to do it doesn’t count.”
He breathed out a laugh. “I’m running out of ways to explain this to you.”
“Then, stop. I need a different answer, and you don’t have one.”
“You act as is loving someone can just be flipped off like a light switch. We’ve had this conversation a dozen times. I want you. I’m with you.”
“While you’re missing her, wishing you were with her. And you want me to change everything I trust for that?”
He shook his head in disbelief. “This is an impossible situation. I thought we were perfect because we’re the same, but maybe we’re too alike. Maybe you’re my payback instead of my redemption.”
“Your payback? You’ve made me believe all weekend that you were falling for me!”
“I am! I have! Jesus Christ, Camille, how can I get that through your head?”
I froze, and once Thomas realized his mistake, he did, too.
“Goddamn it. I am so sorry,” he said, reaching out for me.
I shook my head, and my eyes burned. “I am so…stupid.”
Thomas let his hands fall to his thighs. “No, you’re not. That’s why you’ve held back. Even from the first night, you knew to keep your distance. You’re right. I can’t love you the way you need me to. I don’t even love myself.” His voice broke on the last sentence.
My lips pressed into a hard line. “I can’t redeem you, Thomas. You’ll have to come to terms with what you did to Trent on your own.”
Thomas nodded and then turned toward the sidewalk. I stayed behind, watching the dark ocean roll onto the sand, with the sky crying on my shoulders.
“YOU LOOK NERVOUS,” I SAID. “He’s going to smell you from a mile away if you don’t man up.”
Thomas glanced at me, but instead of shooting me the dirty look I had expected, he used amazing restraint, simply looking away.
A knock on the door jolted us both to the matter at hand, and I went to the door, opening it.
“Good morning, Liis,” Travis said, a euphoric glow on his face.
“Come on in, Travis.” I stepped to the side, letting him pass, as I tried to keep the heavy guilt I felt from weighing down my Oscar-worthy smile. “How was your night? I don’t need details. I’m just being polite.”