Page 34 of For Lila, Forever

I lie beside her, resting on my elbow and leaning in to taste her mouth. The sweetness of the strawberries she just ate lingers and the warmth of the sun bakes our skin.

Everything about this moment is perfect.

Over the last couple of weeks, she’s really opened up. She’s not as pessimistic, not as closed off. She answers every question I ask, no matter how intrusive, and she tells me things she’s never told anyone else before. Sometimes they’re painful memories, other times they’re nostalgic stories of her childhood that make her eyes water. She even opened up about her mother’s death, and I let her cry in my arms.

I knew Lila was multi-faceted. I knew she had layers and depth that would take time to peel back, but everything’s happening so quickly, so naturally. Nothing in my life has ever felt so right.

The sunlight kisses her with its warmth.

And I kiss her again.

I’d live in this moment with Lila forever if I could.

Chapter 24


“Oh, Lila. There you are.” Grandma shoves an empty punch bowl in my arms. “Get started on this, will you? The ingredients are on the counter along with the ratios. When you’re done with that, you can help your grandfather set up the tents by the dock.”

The way everyone is acting, you’d think the president is coming to visit, but nope. It’s just Bertram’s annual Fourth of July Extravaganza.

I head to the counter and find a handwritten recipe on an index card, and then I begin dumping two-liters of soda and frozen sherbet and fruit cocktail and seltzer water into a giant punch bowl.

From what I’ve been told, neighbors from all the surrounding islands boat in for this party, and Bertram hires a professional to put on a fireworks show from the edge of the dock. Supposedly it’s the best one in the area, beating out all the local shows put on by mainland townships, and not only that, but it’s invitation only.

“We’re expecting at least fifty people,” Grandma says, flitting around the kitchen. “And they’re going to start arriving in about two hours.” She digs around in a utensil drawer. “It’s a lot of work, but Mr. Bertram throws the best party around. You’ll see.”

More like his staff throws the party and he takes all the credit …

When the punch is done, I head outside to help Granddad set up the tents, only to find Thayer and Westley also helping. I have to fight like hell to keep the smile from claiming my face when I see Thayer, and my insides are going insane … all butterflies and tingles.

Things with him are getting better by the day, if that’s even possible. For six weeks now, we’ve managed to sneak around and not a single person has caught onto us.

We’ve had a few scares and a couple of close calls, but nothing major. It helps that everyone’s so caught up in their own little world out here. No one’s on edge. No one’s watching for anything out of the ordinary. Every day is a vacation for them and they go about their time without a care in the world. I’ve yet to see Tippi or Lorelai without a glass of pinot or rose in their hands and Ari and Mitchum are connected at the hip, always fishing or enjoying an afternoon sail with Mr. Bertram. By the end of each day, everyone’s so sun-worn and exhausted, they crash early, and with the island being so dark at night and the sound of the ocean drowning out excess noise, sneaking around is ridiculously easy.

“Can I help?” I ask, sliding my hands in my back pockets.

Thayer avoids looking at me, though I can tell he’s fighting a smile just like me. He’s better at this than I am, at acting cool and casual and not showing all his cards—which is funny because you think it’d be the other way around.

“I think we’re about done, kiddo,” my granddad says. “Thank you though.”

Westley and Thayer finish up the last tent and on their way back to the main house, Thayer slips a folded piece of paper in my hand.

Meet me at the cottage at 9 tonight.

Is he insane?

He’s gone before I have a chance to ask him.

There are going to be tons of people here tonight. What if someone sees us? What if he gets stuck in a conversation and can’t get away?

I cross my fingers and hope it works out. And I’m sure it will. Seems like when it comes to Thayer, everything always works out.

I sit on the sofa in the cottage living room, waiting for Thayer. It’s a quarter past nine and I’ve decided to give him twenty more minutes before heading out. If he got caught up in conversation or can’t come for whatever reason, it is what it is. I really want to watch the fireworks with him tonight, but ultimately that’s beyond my control.