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Old Patterns, New Threads

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Haley opened her front door softly, knowing that Emily had only been home for a few hours and would need her sleep. It was early morning, before dawn, and the absolute perfect conditions to capture a photo of an early spring sunrise.

There was a little bit of chill in the air, which was just right, because she wanted to get some more use out of her new pink coat with the faux fur lining. She pulled it a bit tighter around herself and tucked a blonde curl behind her ear. Her camera in hand, she set out towards the forest.

It was a clear crisp morning, still fairly dim, but she’d have to hurry to time it right. Sam’s house was dark and silent as she walked by, which she knew would only last until about 10 AM when he would start wailing on that insufferable guitar. She made her way past the lowing cows in Marnie’s yard and Leah’s quaint cottage by the river. She considered for a moment setting up by the small lake. She stopped and pondered her options.

Haley noted the path that led up to the old farm looked tidied. The new farmer must have been busy. 

She sighed. The farmer. What a disappointment.

Initially when she had heard about the farmer she had shared the same excitement as everyone else. Who would this person be? What would they add to their boring little town? Haley had let her mind wander. He would be strong, assertive, handsome. He’d be into his farming sure, but still cultured in the ways of the big city. He’d sweep her off her feet and maybe they’d live in the farmhouse for a short time, but in a few months they’d purchase their loft in Zuzu, and she’d have her studio and dark room, her walk-in closet.

Of course, none of that had happened. The farmer was a girl. Worse than that, she was a pretty girl. She may have been from the city, but she had zero interest in fashion or clothes. She was more or less useless to Haley, but the town had been just buzzing about her. The guys stared, the mothers gushed over her independence. It was all annoying and she was ready for it to pass. 

She was actually surprised Alex hadn’t said much about her, she was totally his type- athletic, outgoing, a big ass. Then again she had seen her hanging out with Abby and them so she was probably weird. Or maybe she was banging Sam. 

Haley noted a glimmer of pink in the sky. It was time. 

For the next hour or so she was completely in the zone, the scene was just perfect, the horizon awash with pinks and purples and blues.

Just as she was lining up her last shot she heard an odd noise. It was like a low grunt or a moan. She startled, looking around for an animal, and then gasped when she saw a man’s foot hanging out from the reeds by the river. Holy shit.

Haley scampered down to the bank by the water to see Shane, face down, covered in mud. There was puke beside him and more than a few beer cans. He looked pale.  “Ever-loving Yoba.” Haley shook her head.

She looked around. This was bad. He was so close to Marnie’s, and it wouldn’t be long before Jas would be leaving for school. It wasn’t hard to learn people’s schedules in this town.

She studied Shane’s face. She didn’t owe him anything. She barely knew him, really. She knew her sister liked talking to him at the Saloon and always defended him when people talked shit, but then again Emily was nice to everybody. She also knew he was a self-centered alcoholic who didn’t seem to want to connect with anyone, ever. She supposed that wasn’t entirely unrelatable.

Haley saw a light flick on at Marnie’s. She knew he did care about his goddaughter a lot, she could tell that from any festival she’d ever been to, and it didn’t seem right for Jas to see him like this. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed an arm and started to drag him away from the water’s edge. 

He let out another groan. Maybe he’d come to. Haley stooped down and stared him in the face, but his eyes were squeezed shut. “Shane?” 

He grunted again, but didn’t move.

“Shane, wake up.” She jostled him by the shoulder.

“Ugh…” he squeezed his eyes closed more tightly. 

Haley looked around, and then cupped some icy cool water from the river in her hands, dousing him. 

Shane coughed and sputtered, lifting his head just barely to look at her. “Yoba, what the..”

“You need to get up, Jas is going to be coming out of your front door any minute.” Haley tried to help prop him up but he was heavy and slumped over immediately. Her foot slipped a bit in the muddy embankment. 

He sighed and cursed some more, realizing his predicament. Haley looked up anxiously at his front door, hoping it remained still.

He leaned forward and staggered somewhat to his feet, but the effort made him queasy. She grimaced as he gagged. He held up a hand, pausing for the wave of nausea to pass. 

“.....I’m good.” He did a small swallow. 

“Let me help you.” Haley tried to prop herself underneath his heavy arm, knowing she was practically half his size and it was potentially futile.

“You don’t have to do this,” he grunted. 

“Just.. try to use your legs.”

He managed to lift himself unsteadily to his feet, leaning on her for support. They labored their way towards Marnie’s ranch, step after step. 

“The side,” Shane said. She steered him to the left of the building, by the silo. They were only just out of sight when the front door creaked open loudly. Haley and Shane pressed to the wall.

“And tell Ms. Penny I’ll be picking you up today!”

“O-kay!” an adorably sweet voice sing-songed back. Haley peeped around the corner to see Jas happily skipping down the path to the cobblestone road that lead into town, her lunch bag in hand. Haley sighed in relief.

“I’m a fucking dick.”

She looked back at Shane, his head resting against the brick wall of the ranch, his face pained. She wasn’t about to disagree. She adjusted her camera strap on her shoulder and straightened out her coat.

“Shit, look at you.” Shane was staring her up and down, and she followed his gaze to see her new coat was streaked with mud from the riverbank.

“It’s fine. I don’t care.” She didn’t actually care, for some reason. 

“Why did you do that for me?” She had never noticed that he was sort of handsome, when he wasn’t scowling. His eyes were a deep brown and he sort of had this rugged, mysterious vibe.

“Jas shouldn’t have to see you like that.” she said.

Shane’s face was sullen. “Yeah. I’m an asshole. I feel bad about your coat, it looks nice.”

“It’s seriously fine.” 

He looked like he didn’t believe her, but there was nothing left to say. “Thanks.”

Haley nodded. She started on her way, but for some reason spun back around. “You should take care of yourself, Shane.”

He looked at her baffled. She kept walking, the cows lowing behind her. Drunken asshole. 



***

 

Alex was standing outside of his house on an early spring day, elated to see the sunshine and the petals that swirled about promising warmer weather. He was tossing his gridball to himself absentmindedly, considering his plan for the day’s workout.

His brow furrowed when he noticed an unfamiliar figure approaching from west of town. Who…?

It wasn’t difficult to get to know people’s schedules in Pelican Town, to memorize their gaits, their silhouettes, their typical routes. He instantly knew he had never seen this person before in his life. 

As she got closer, he only got more curious. She had a large backpack and a purposeful walk. Muddy, brown boots that looked clunky and out of place on her slender legs and frame. Cut off jean shorts that he couldn’t help but revisit a few times. A long, thick ponytail of honey brown hair. 

He realized he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. She gave him brief, friendly eye contact and then headed into Pierre’s. 

It hit him then suddenly. That’s the new farmer?

Alex felt mild guilt for a moment, knowing Haley would have said he was sexist for assuming the farmer would be a dude. But that was just the image he had conjured up. A buff guy with a beard and overalls.

This was much more preferable, of course. He wondered if he should stick around and introduce himself.

His grandparents had mentioned being friendly with her grandfather many years back and how beautiful the farm had been at that time. Alex had really only known in its current state, overrun and abandoned. It would be an impressive feat to clean it up. 

Before he knew it, the bell on Pierre’s door dingled again and she was back out, a package in her arms. He figured he should go for it.

“Hey.” He strode up to her, tossing his gridball to himself once for show. “You’re the new farmer, huh? I’m Alex.”

She had a pretty smile with intense, ice blue eyes that were almost distracting.  “Hi Alex. I’m Petra.” She offered her free hand and they did a curt, polite handshake.  “Oh, were you a quarterback?” she asked, noting his letterman jacket. Or maybe the gridball.  Now he was wondering if that was a sarcastic question, but he pressed on. 

 “Yeah! An allstar one, actually.” He puffed up slightly, hoping she’d note the star on his jacket. 

She sort of raised her eyebrows in an amused way. She had to realize what a big deal that was. 

Her face suddenly flickered with recognition. “Oh..are you Evelyn’s grandson? I met her yesterday by the gardens.”

“Yeah, she’s my granny alright. She’s kind of the nicest woman ever.” He beamed.

“She is,” Petra smiled. “She gave me some cookies.”

He chuckled. “Sounds like her. They’re legendary.”

“I ate almost all of them in like, a day,” she confirmed with a laugh.  She seemed sort of distracted for a moment then, and glanced down the path towards the farm. “Well, I have a lot of land to get cleared, so I better get going.” She shifted her package to her other arm. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, farm girl,” he smirked. “I think we’re going to get along great.”

Her eyes lingered on him for a moment as if to assess him again, the amused expression still on her face. He really thought she was strikingly pretty. 

She turned and started off down the road. He felt himself staring at the cutoffs again, which had been alluring enough from the front, but were straight up mesmerizing from the back.  

He heard a throat clear and saw Shane meandering up the path towards Joja Mart, his usual scowl on his face. He had totally caught him ogling like a creep. 

“New farmer,” Alex shrugged.

Shane gave him an contemptuous look and kept walking. 

 

***

 

Petra shifted the heavy bag slung over her shoulder and tried not to think about how sore she still was. She had done the math, and she was pretty sure after selling these wild leeks she’d have enough to buy a few beers with Abby, Sebastian, and Sam tonight. Although it would have to be another bowl of ramen for dinner.

Petra had not originally expected to be fitting socializing into her schedule at all. Really, she was trying to focus on the farm, which had necessitated a lot more care and labor to get to a state that even allowed for planting then she had accounted for. After a few days she hadn’t cleared a huge space, but finally she had a respectable number of cauliflower germinating in the soil.  

 But then, Abby had texted her and she figured it wouldn’t hurt to blow off some steam on a Friday night. 

Petra set her bag on the fence near Marnie’s ranch for a moment, reassembling her long hair behind a tied bandana. Her arms were sore even doing that, she lamented. She hoisted the bag back up.

“Well it looks like I have some competition,” a warm voice observed from behind her.

Petra turned to see Leah, her intimidatingly beautiful neighbor she had seen out foraging a few times now. A bag was strung across her shoulder that was also full of freshly foraged items. 

“Oh! Hi Leah. I was just gathering these to sell... my cauliflower aren’t ready,” Petra bumbled, feeling guilty for some reason.

“I’m only teasing you,” Leah smiled, her enchanting green eyes distracting. “There’s plenty out here, if you know where to look.”

“Do you sell them to Pierre’s too?” Petra asked her.

She shook her head, her red braid gracefully draped over her shoulder. “No, I just typically forage for my own food, so I keep a supply of them.” 

“...Oh,” she answered. To say she was impressed was putting it lightly.   

“Mind if I join you into town?” she asked.

“Not at all.” 

The two strolled along past Marnie’s ranch and the pasture of grazing cows, the early spring breeze skittering petals along the cobblestone path. 

“So tell me, how has it been going on the farm? I know it’s not easy being new.”

Petra smiled, grateful for the attention. “So far, so good. I really enjoy the planting and growing, although clearing was tough.” She hoped she didn’t sound pitiful. It was understandable, but many of the townsfolk had told her she was “not what they expected.” If she didn’t look the part, she’d have to prove herself with her first harvest. She was sort of feeling the pressure.

 Leah’s voice was sweet. “I saw you hanging around with Abby the other day.”

Petra smiled. “Yeah, Abby’s been so nice to me, she reached out to me to hang out with her and Sam and Sebastian a few times.” Petra had been enamored with Abby from the start, her fun and mischievous energy, the purple hair and ripped jeans and piercings. Every time she came to Pierre’s she was always eager to chat with her and helpful too. By their third meeting, Abby had insisted they exchange numbers, and now she felt like a somewhat honorary addition to their trio.

“They’re a wild bunch.” Leah chuckled. Her expression dimmed slightly. “It’s one thing I do regret a little about my first year, it took me a long time to really reach out to other people. Elliot and I are friends now, but I kept to myself mostly at first. It got isolating.”

Petra nodded. She could see how it would be easy for herself to do that as well. If Abby hadn’t been so bold, she might not have really made any connections here at all yet. 

She felt curious for more of Leah’s story.  “If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to move here. Was it for your art?”

“Yes, mostly,” Leah answered. “And I had an ex-girlfriend I needed to get away from.” She looked pensive for a moment. “A few ex-boyfriends too, for that matter,” she laughed. Petra nodded as casually as possible, hoping her intrigue wasn’t apparent.

They were making their way past Sam’s house now, and they could see him out ahead grinding against his neighbor’s flower box with his skateboard. He gave them a wave and then went for a kickflip, which he landed, if a little shakily. 

“Did you see that!?”He called to them. They reacted dutifully, applauding and giving a thumbs up.

Petra had instantly hit it off with Sam, who was goofy and endlessly fun. His best friend Sebastian was a bit more of a mystery, sort of the dark, witty, brooding type that would take longer to get to know. She wasn’t sure if he liked her at all yet, but she also wasn’t positive of how she’d know if he did.

 “What about you, Petra? Are you running away from anything? A past life? A job?” Leah tilted her head with an alluring smile. “A girlfriend?” 

Petra felt her face flush. “A job, mostly.” She suddenly felt shy and had to find her voice again. “I worked for Joja Mart corporate, of all things. It paid well, but everything else about it was terrible.”

“Sounds soul-sucking,” Leah affirmed. 

“The city wasn’t really for me either. So this is my fresh start.” They waved back to Jodi and Caroline, who were gossiping in the town square. 

“Well.” Leah stopped as they closed in on Pierre’s.  “I’m actually headed down to Elliot’s cabin to say hi. But thanks for the walk, it was lovely.”

“Thanks Leah, it was great to see you.” Petra couldn’t help but feel a little crush simmer. 

“Hey, Farm Girl!” 

The two of them looked up to see Alex, gridball in hand, waving from the side of his house.

“Now, that one you better watch out for.” Leah flashed Petra a cautionary smile and walked on.

Leah didn’t have to tell her. Petra returned his wave cheerfully, but didn’t linger for conversation. Alex had a smile she couldn’t get enough of and a body that looked like it should be used in an ad campaign for protein powder. He also had an ego to match.  The other day he actually asked her to guess how many sit-ups he had done. Still, she sensed him to be a sweet guy underneath the arrogant front. She could see herself crushing on him if she wasn’t careful. 

Then again, she had seen him hanging around with Haley more than a few times, so she was pretty sure it wasn’t an issue anyway.

Petra made a small note in that moment that she should take Leah’s advice. She wanted to get to know people and make friends here in town, but there was no way she could focus on herself and her independence if she developed feelings for anyone. So that would be her plan. Reach out, charm the townsfolk, make friends. But no crushes, no romantic feelings. She almost laughed to herself. Great, what could go wrong.  

For such a small town, there was an unreasonably disproportionate number of young and attractive people here. That was not working in her favor, she mused. 

Petra turned to head into Pierre’s and almost walked directly into Shane, who was on his way out. He moved to the side to let her pass, barely looking her way. She hadn’t met him yet officially, although she had seen him around town and knew who he was from Marnie. He was sort of gruff and maybe handsome in a rugged way, although he seemed to always have the same displeased look on his face.

“Hi,” she said, thinking she could break the tension or spur an introduction at the very least.

“I don’t know you,” he said with more than a hint of annoyance. “Why are you talking to me?”

Petra blinked, speechless. She stood there a bit dumbstruck as he went on his way through the square. 

 “Oh,” she said to no one.

 

***

 

“There’s no way they’re banging,” Sebastian said, his dark hair obscuring his unconvinced expression.

“I’m telling you!” Sam insisted, leaning over the table. He dropped his voice slightly. “Penny told me she saw him all disheveled leaving Marnie’s this morning. You don’t think that’s a little suspicious?” Sam narrowed his eyes. “The man is a freak.”

Abby looked unconvinced. “You really think so?” She and Petra exchanged a nauseated glance. 

“I know it,” Sam persisted. He poured the last bit of beer from the pitcher into his glass.  They were more or less alone in the pool room, but the Saloon was busy tonight and the chatter from the room next door was still audible. Sam craned his neck to peer over at the pair in question, the rest of the table joining him cautiously.

“You know, I get some freaky vibes from him,” Petra offered in support, unable to keep her face very serious as she watched the mayor innocently sip his beer.

“Right?” Sam encouraged. “You have fresh eyes. We all know him as the old stick-up-his-ass mayor, but I think there’s more to the story.” 

“I bet there are an awful lot of secrets in this town,” Abby said, her eyes contemplative behind her glass as she took a sip. 

“Probably best if most of them stay that way,” Sebastian monotoned. 

Petra glanced back into the main bar area at the busy scene, wondering what gossip swirled throughout the many conversations. She noted Leah on the far side, sipping a glass of wine. They caught eyes for a moment and exchanged a friendly smile.

“It probably has to be a little shocking for you to live in such a small town after being in the city so long,” Abby asked her then.

Petra nodded. “It’s really different, but in a good way. It’s a lot more peaceful. The city had so much noise and it was so crowded.”

“There was probably some cool stuff to do though, right?” Sam asked.  “Concerts and clubs and stuff?” 

“That’s true, but I never had much time to enjoy it. I was just trapped in an office all the time.” She could almost hear the dismal sound of the copier whirring and the phones ringing, a haunting echo in her mind.

“I would hate that,” Abby mused. Sebastian nodded in agreement.

 “Maybe it's too early to say, but I think the small town farmer life suits me.” Petra felt warmed by how true that statement felt when she said it out loud, soreness and all.

Sam flashed her a sheepish grin, a hand rubbing the back of his neck. “Did you know that I totally thought you were going to be a dude?” 

Petra laughed. “What? Why?”

“Mayor Lewis only referred to you as the farm’s “new tenant” and Farmer Henry’s “grandchild” in his bulletin,” Abby explained with an amused shrug. “So I think some assumptions were made.”

“Sorry to be gender-stereotyping, or whatever,” Sam said with a flicker of worry.

“No, that makes sense.” Petra assured him. “A lot of people seemed surprised that I was....me. I don’t really look the part of a farmer,  I guess.” 

“You could at least put on some overalls,” Sebastian dead panned. “Or dangle a piece of hay from your mouth.”  

They all laughed but Sam almost snorted beer up at his nose. “Please start doing that!” he sputtered. 

 

A half hour later Sam and Sebastian were playing another round of pool, and Petra was trying her best to help Abby finally beat Journey of the Prairie King . It seemed simple in concept, but not in practice. They swatted furiously at the controls in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to keep the orcs at bay.

“This game is impossible!” Abby lamented as a giant GAME OVER flashed on the screen, the melodious digitized music mocking them again.

“There’s so many of them..” Petra almost whispered, still dazed. 

“Still haven’t beat it yet?” Sebastian asked from behind them, his tone insinuating that he had long ago completed this task. Sam collapsed on the couch to their right, also mourning in defeat.

“No,” Abby huffed. “We were close.”

“Sorry I couldn’t help you, Abby,” Petra sighed.

“That’s okay. One of these days…” her eyes narrowed at the screen for a moment. “You were actually pretty good for your first time. I didn’t think you’d know how to work a joystick so well.” She flashed Petra a playful look. “It seems you’re experienced.”

Petra chuckled. “It’s been awhile, but it comes right back to you.”

Sam bellowed from the couch as he filled up his glass.  “I think we need another pitcher so I can drown my sorrows.”

“I’ll get the next one,” Petra offered quickly.  They had already bought a few rounds. 

“You sure?” Abby asked her hesitantly.  Petra was fairly certain Abby knew from her dad that she wasn’t making much yet.

“No, I got it,” she assured her. “To be honest, Gus gave me that one last week for free. I think he feels for a struggling new farmer.” She shrugged with faux innocence. 

“No shame in that,” Abby grinned.  Petra noticed a silver glint in Abby’s ear as she turned that she hadn’t previously.  

“Hey, did you get another piercing?”

Abby tucked her purple hair behind her ear proudly. “This one I did myself. My parents are pissed though.”

“Wow.” Petra tilted her head to admire the series of small hoops and studs that traveled up her ear. “I really like it.”

“Yeah?” she said cheekily, arching an eyebrow. “That’s not all that’s pierced.”  

Petra blinked in surprise. Sebastian coughed.

She continued giving Abby an intrigued look as she grabbed the empty pitcher, taking a step back until she slowly turned towards the bar.  Has to be her nipples, right?

 

As she made her way into the other room she was surprised to see Alex standing with his back to her. He was talking with Emily at the bar, who was taking a paper bag from him appreciatively.  Maybe it was her shock to see him there or the few beers she had already downed, but her caution fell by the wayside. Petra strode up next to him and tapped his arm. 

“Farm girl!” He seemed surprised and amused to see her. “What are you doing here? Slugging down a few beers with Pam?” Emily chuckled and moved on to help Shane.

“I’m here with Abby and Seb and Sam. ” Petra motioned with her eyes over to the pool room.

Alex’s brow furrowed in what she couldn’t decide was confusion or amusement, or a mixture of both. “That crew? I don’t know if you want to hang out with those troublemakers.” His tone was light, but Petra wasn’t sure if there was a bit of sincerity behind his words.

“You never hang out with them?” she asked, wanting a fuller picture.

“Nah.. I mean, not really. Festivals and such. We went to high school together but they’re a year or two behind me, so we didn’t hang out much other than the bus ride in.”

“You haven’t hung out since then?”

“I guess not? I mean, they usually just keep to themselves.”

“Well, they’ve been really nice to me. You should join us!” she encouraged, not truly thinking through was she was offering. “It would be fun.”

Alex shook his head. “You go ahead Farm Girl”. He patted her shoulder and glanced over, noting that all three were now staring at them. “Hang out with your squad.” There was a touch of mockery in the word. 

Petra flashed him a look that was a bit more sultry than she intended, jutting her chin towards him. “At least they know my actual name.” 

Alex smirked. He suddenly was just close enough to her that she found her breath catching. His voice was low and hushed. “I know your name, Petra.” 

His eyes lingered on her. Petra’s cheeks flushed slightly. He turned back to the bar and the din of the room suddenly registered in her ears again. 

“Emily, can I get a pitcher?” He looked back at her. “ Tell them I’ll be over in a minute.” Petra did a small excited bounce and he returned her grin.

 

She felt a little dizzy as she walked back to the table, her heart beating quickly.

“Hey, where’s the pitcher?” Abby asked before she had fully snapped out of her trance.

“Alex is bringing it over.” Petra’s excitement dimmed as she glanced around at their stunned faces. “Is… that okay?” She suddenly felt regret building in her stomach.

“Uh. I mean... yeah sure,” Sam said, ever positive. He looked to Abby and Sebastian. “It’s just uh, we never really hang out with Alex?”

“He doesn’t really like us,” Sebastian clarified.

“To be fair, he’s actually been nice to me,” Abby said thoughtfully. “I mean, not that we ever hang out or talk. But remember he defended me from that asshole kid on the bus that time?“ Sebastian nodded.

“Yeah. He’s was cool to me in high school too, in front of other kids not from the Valley, he’d have my back and shit,” Sam said. “We just weren’t really friends. He wouldn’t like, come to our birthdays or anything.” 

“Did we ever invite him?” Sebastian posed.

Before the group could ponder that over, the sound of a chair scraping across tile broke the silence. 

“Hey.” Alex plopped a full pitcher and glasses in front of them, a little spilling over the sides. “So Farm Girl here convinced me to join you guys. I hope that’s okay.” 

Petra squeezed into the booth next to Sam as the others nodded and murmured affirmingly. Alex sat down in the chair he had pulled over, and an awkward silence fell over them. For a moment Petra wondered if she had more or less ruined the night for everyone. She bit her lip.

“I was surprised you were here, Alex,” Abby finally piped up. “I feel like you never come to the Saloon unless it’s after a festival day or something.” 

“Yeah, I’m really not a drinker. Haley asked me to bring Emily some food on my way home so I was just dropping it off. But I could have a beer or two.” The mood brightened and Petra felt herself exhale again.

Sam started pouring the beer from the pitcher into each glass. “Uh, well usually we play pool or something. But maybe with so many people we play something else?”

“Quarters?”

“Never have I ever.”

“Two truths and a lie?”

“Oh! Let me ask you this!” Abby said suddenly, her blue eyes lighting up mischievously as she pointed a commanding finger at Alex. “Do you think,” she paused for effect. “ Marnie and Mayor Lewis are boning?” 

Four heads swiveled to stare at him. Alex looked around at them, took a thoughtful swig of his beer, and then set it down on the table. “Um, fucking yes.” 

Sam let out a victorious whoop as Abby and Petra burst out laughing. Sebastian looked horrified but intrigued. 

Alex was grinning. He lowered his voice and leaned in and they followed suit. “I’ve seen Mayor Lewis coming back to his house from that side of town pretty late some nights, and I mean, just look.”  They glanced over to the other room where the pair were standing close together, Marnie mesmerized by whatever story he was telling.

“I don’t know,” Sebastian said, shaking his head. “ This town is so small, I think people just like to have something scandalous to say. I mean, Mayor Lewis?” his eyes narrowed in disbelief.

“I’m telling you man, the guy’s a freak.” Sam raised his eyebrows once emphatically. 

“We never get anyone else’s inputs on our theories,” Abby said, tapping her chin. She circled her finger. “What other town gossip do you subscribe to?”

“Well,” Alex’s brow furrowed in thought. “Clint is a hundred percent into Emily. She has no idea.”

The group murmured in agreement, except Petra who was shocked. “Really? He never says more than two words to anyone that I’ve ever seen!”

“You’ll see it. Wait for the first festival when they actually interact,” Abby told her.

“Meanwhile, I think she’s totally into Shane,” Alex offered. 

“Definitely,” Sam confirmed.

“Shane really doesn’t like me,” Petra said. “I’m not sure why..”

“That’s not because of you,” Alex assured her.

“Nah, Shane’s a dick to everybody,” Sam agreed. “Trust me, I work with the guy. He’s not all bad he just puts on an act. It took me like two months to try and bond with him over anything. He’s just kind of miserable.”

Petra glanced over to where he was brooding by the bar, an irritated expression on his face. “Maybe I should keep trying.”

Sebastian shook his head, his dark eyes morose. “People like that don’t deserve your niceness.”  Petra wondered if that was a sort of cryptic Sebastian compliment. She hoped so.

“I have another question,” Abby piped up. Her brows were furrowed. “Where does Gunther sleep ?”

 

A few minutes later the group had moved on to debate whether Marlon and Gil were an actual couple, when they were suddenly interrupted by Emily walking in with a new and needed pitcher.

“Incoming!” Sam said excitedly, moving a few empty glasses aside.

Emily’s blue eyes beamed as she set it down in front of them. “Petra, this is from Leah. She had it sent over before she left.” 

Petra’s could sense the rest of the eyes at the table settling on her. She blushed slightly.  “For me?”

“Well, for all of you. But she said to tell you specifically...” she paused for a beat to get it right. “She’s glad you’re following “half of her advice”.” 

Petra blinked, trying to process that. Emily nodded once cheerfully and went on her way.

“Uh?” Sam’s eyebrow arched, a delighted smile on his face. “What was that about?”

“Did something happen between you two?” Abby gasped. “Please tell me you’ve kissed! Or more? She is smoking hot. Totally my type, if I was into girls.” She gave the group a cheeky head shake and a smile that suggested she wasn’t so sure she wasn’t. 

Petra flushed. “No! Nothing happened. I mean. We’ve chatted. And we’ve foraged together..”

“Foraging? Is that what they call it?” Alex and Sam shared a chortle with a little too much bro energy.

Petra buried her face in her hands. “No! She just…” she suddenly realized the message.  “She was giving me advice about being new here, and she said she regretted not reaching out to people more when she was new. So I think it was a nice gesture to support me in doing that.”  

“That’s sweet..” Abby said softly.  The group murmured appreciatively.

There was a pause. “She is like, really hot though, right?” Petra asked.

“Devastatingly,” Abby mourned in agreement. 

Sebastian started filling up their cups with the new pitcher. “This night has taken some interesting turns.”

 

It was over an hour later and two more pitchers before Abby groaned. “I have to go home before my dad freaks out that I missed curfew. I’m already a few minutes late.”

“I’ll walk you,” Sebastian offered.

“I should go too,” Sam said. He looked at Alex.  “Thanks for the pitcher, man. I’m glad you joined us.”

“Me too. Maybe another Friday we’ll do it again. Although I think we went through every piece of town gossip there is.”

“Oh, there’s always more,” Abby assured him. She gave Petra a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Are you sticking around or are you headed home?”

“I could have one more if you’re down, Farm Girl,” Alex offered.

“Sure.” Petra smiled, ignoring the small voice in her head.

 Abby gave her a meaningful look. “I’ll text you tonight?” They squeezed hands and she turned to go. 

“Abby?”

Abby spun around, her eyes inquisitive.

Petra leaned in and whispered. “So, it’s your nipples right?”

Abby let out a shriek of laughter, giving her a playful shove. She was still cackling as she linked on to Sebastian and Sam’s arms and they headed towards the door, Sam pestering her to explain.

Suddenly alone in the room, Alex slid over from his chair to the booth across from her. “I’m glad you asked me to stay. I had a lot of fun tonight.” His face was genuine, and she savored a glimpse of him without his usual bravado.

“Me too,” Petra said. “It’s surprising to me you’ve never really hung out before, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves so much.”

“Well, nothing really unites us townies like good town gossip,”  Alex chuckled. “We’ve kind of always stayed in our groups since middle school.” He frowned then.  “I definitely could have been kinder to Seb back in the day. I was kind of a dick to him when he started wearing all black and grew his hair in 8th grade.”

“That was a long time ago,” Petra reasoned. “You were young.”

“Yeah, it was.” he looked thoughtful.  Suddenly he gave here a coy look. “So. Are you sure nothing happened with Leah?”

Petra blushed at the sudden question. “No!”

He laughed. “I won’t push you on it. But we heard a lot about everyone else’s gossip, I want to know about yours.”

Petra’s smile faded. “What do you mean?”

“Like, before you came here. I know you had a crazy job that you hated. But is that it? Parents? Friends? A boyfriend?”

Petra took a moment to summarize. “My parents moved out of the country. I see them only once a year now, maybe. We talk whenever we can and really, they waited till I was grown. But I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a lot of money and have a good job since they wouldn’t be here to support me much. I worked hard to keep getting promoted at Joja, but I just ended up miserable.”

Alex nodded, his eyes serious. Petra knew a little about his story, his mother’s death, his miserable father. She knew he understood feeling alone.

“I did have friends in the city, but it was hard to see them much with my job. And my most recent relationship didn’t have a great ending. I was the one to break it off, but it was a long few years of being manipulated. I thought I was really in love.” Petra could feel her eyes stinging at the corners. She hadn’t thought about this in awhile. Somehow saying it out loud to someone new made it fresh again. She blinked, “ Anyway, after we broke up I discovered he had been cheating with a friend of mine.”

Alex grimaced sympathetically. 

 “A lot of why I came here for a fresh start was just to..” she gathered her thoughts. “Focus on myself. Do things for myself. Be independent.”

Alex nodded. “I get that.” He thought for a moment. “How has it been going, your fresh start?”

“The farming I’m enjoying, but it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve got a good start and I’m working really hard. But I don’t know how long it’ll be before I am bringing in a viable income.”

“It’ll take some time,” Alex agreed. “But you’re putting in the work. I see it everyday.”

“Thanks,” she grinned. “I’m certainly enjoying my life a lot more now.”

His green eyes were soft. Petra felt something welling inside of her and started to resist, but the beer was making her brave. “What about you? How long have you been with Haley?”

Alex seemed a little surprised. “Haley?” He shook his head. “We’re not together. I mean, she’s my good friend, has been forever. But we haven’t really dated since high school.”

But you hook up?  Petra pressed down the thought quickly. 

“We were on again, off again. But we’ve been off for awhile.” Petra waited for him to go on. He seemed defensive in what he said next.  “ Not everyone gets her. She can come off a bit harsh.” he looked uneasy. “...Sorry if she’s been a little rude to you.”  

Petra shrugged and shook her head politely, even though she instantly pictured their first interaction where Haley asked why she was so dirty.

“Damn, farm girl, I gotta pee. I haven’t had this much to drink in awhile.”

“Me too, “ Petra said. She looked out across the bar. Most of the regulars were still there but it had emptied considerably. “What time is it?”

“Close to midnight, somehow.”

“Wow.”

The two got up and walked to the narrow hallway with the two gender specific restrooms. “I’ll race you,” he said jokingly. Petra giggled.

After washing her hands, Petra looked at herself in the mirror. Soft hairs were coming out of her braid but the makeup she almost never wore was still looking okay. She shook her head, as if to get out a fleeting thought. 

Exiting the bathroom, she suddenly remembered it was a race. There was no way he wasn’t going to gloat about the speed of his stream, and she felt a spark of drunken competitiveness. She quickened her pace and knocked the door directly into Alex’s unsuspecting forehead coming from the other side with a loud clonk.

 “Whoa! Easy!” He groaned, reaching up for his face.

 “I’m sorry!” She gushed, but in her drunken state couldn’t help but start laughing. “I wanted to win!”

“My beautiful face! ” 

Petra tugged at his hands. “Let me see.”

He spread a few fingers so an eye could peer out at her. “Is it bad?”

“You have to move your whole hand,” she giggled, tugging at his wrist. He slowly raised it from his forehead, revealing a red mark. 

“Oh, it’s bad alright,” she tutted.

“It is? Farm Girl. You brute.”

“It’s real bad. I don’t know if you’ll make it. I think we need to go see Dr. Harvey.”

“Yeah?” His tone changed, and he squared his shoulders to her now. Petra found herself suddenly incredibly aware of how close he was to her in this narrow space. She shied slightly, but then he put his finger under her chin to lift her back to his gaze. “Should you kiss it better?”

She felt her heartbeat quicken, staring into his green eyes and his handsome face, feeling the heat of his gaze and the dizziness of her tipsy state. She shoved a small flicker of fear back down.

Placing her hands on both of his cheeks, she kissed the spot tenderly. She moved down to the side of his face beside his eye and gave another slow and sweet kiss, then another on his chiseled jawline. He seemed to shiver. “How’s that?” she whispered.

“That’s helping.” He bowed his head so their lips were so close to touching she could feel their warmth. They stood like that frozen for a moment. He pulled back slightly, his green eyes concerned. “Is this okay?”

Petra could feel her insides burning and the earnest look on his face was only fueling her. She lifted her lips to his. It was a tender, sweet kiss at first. His lips were soft as they prodded hers and then suddenly her tongue was sneaking in between, and she felt his strong arm wrap around her lower back and pull her closer. Her legs felt weak beneath her as she held onto him, the world spinning around her.

They kissed hungrily now, like one of them might vanish. Petra felt a soft cry escape her as he moved his lips to her neck and began to pepper her with more kisses, sucking slightly. She ran her hands along his firm chest, overwhelmed by his toned physique and felt for a moment that she was certainly in a dream.

He reached down and grabbed a rough handful of her ass, letting out a ragged breath. “You’ve been teasing me in those shorts of yours for weeks,” he whispered. She smiled coyly, and nibbled his ear, relishing when his breath hitched for a moment at her touch. 

The hand that had been grabbing her suddenly lifted her up effortlessly. He spun her around and gently pressed her against the wall of the narrow hallway in one swift movement. She wrapped her legs around his middle and flinched when she felt the hard, full pressure of his groin pinned against her. He bowed his head, his nose against hers. “Is this too much?”

She shook her head earnestly, resisting the urge to grind against him right then and there. Instead she took his head in her hands and kissed him again, long and sweet. He dropped his hand to her breast and kneaded it gently. She whimpered at his touch. 

Now she couldn’t help but move her hips slightly, rhythmically, in a circle so that she was grinding against his large erection. He moaned softly. 

“You’re so fucking hot, Petra.”

Her cheeks burned and she felt herself getting incredibly wet for him. His left arm stayed supporting her and his right hand slid from her breasts to her hips, to her thigh. At the hemline of her skirt, he hesitated.

“It’s okay,” she breathed, tugging his hand closer to her black underwear. He rubbed her tentatively, and she leaned her head back savoring the building pressure. She felt the electric sensation increase as he rubbed more confidently. A finger strayed down to slip underneath, and she wondered if from just this pressure alone she could-

“Damn Mullner. You don’t waste time.”

Petra’s breath caught, stunned by the sudden intrusion of a familiar voice. Alex dropped her gently but quickly, leering at the figure looming in the hallway entrance. “Shane,” he nearly growled through gritted teeth.

“The bathroom hallway? Yoba. Mind taking this elsewhere so I can piss?”

Alex gave him a deathly glare. He grabbed her hand reassuringly. “Come on,” he said softly.

Petra hesitated, thinking of anything to say, but instead she took Alex’s hand and followed him with a cold look up at Shane’s scowling face.  

Out in the cold night air, she felt her mind spinning. It was a swirl of disappointment, and guilt, and the fuzziness of being too drunk.

“I should walk you home.” His hand was still holding hers.

Petra’s mind was set to fast forward, envisioning him in close quarters to her in her cozy farmhouse. She swallowed.

“Alex… I think I should go.”

“I can walk you,” he insisted.

“You’re sweet, but I’ll be fine. I think.. I should really go.”

His green eyes stared into hers, as if to read her mind. “Okay,” He let go of her hand slowly.

She looked up at him, his thick hair waving in the breeze. “I’m really glad you stayed tonight.”

“Me too. Petra. If.. if that was too much, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push it..”

“No-” she cut him off, putting two hands on his arm. He really was sweet. “It was.. I loved it. I thought you could tell.” Was he blushing? “It’s just that, I know I would easily get carried away, if you came home with me…and I shouldn’t.”

“Right.” his face relaxed. “Okay. I’m sorry, again, if that was a lot. I just. I find you irresistibly sexy. And gorgeous. And..” he was leaning in again, his eyes searching her face. 

Petra kissed him, earnestly.  “There’s nothing to worry about,” she assured him. 

“Text me, when you’re home?”

“Of course.” 

She started towards the town square, giving his hand one last drunken squeeze. She quickened her pace, her thoughts uncontrollable. Shit. Should I have let him walk me? No. That would not have ended well. I wouldn’t be able to resist. I can’t catch feelings here. Holy shit that was hot though. Fuck will Abby be mad? No. Why would she be? Ugh holy Yoba, Shane. Will he tell the entire town? Would I care? 

Petra gazed into the night sky, dappled with stars, the memory of his touch on her skin and his voice in her ear. “I know your name, Petra”.  She shivered.

 

Chapter Text

 

“He what!?” Abby was sitting cross legged in front of the cauliflower patch, her face stunned. “Outside of the bathroom?” 

“It just sort of started happening,” Petra shook her head in disbelief, pulling a weed haphazardly from the soil in front of her. “He had me against the wall, and we were kissing, until…”

Abby raised her eyebrows, tilting her head impatiently. “Until?”

“Shane walked in.”

Abby groaned and looked up at the sky for a brief moment. “What did he say?”

“I don’t know, that Alex didn’t “waste time”. Like he was a slut. Or I’m a slut?” Petra’s brow furrowed. “Anyway. He said he had to piss.”

“No one is a slut,” Abby clarified firmly.  “You were just kissing, first of all.”

“Well. It got a little handsy,” Petra said sheepishly.

Abby raised her eyebrows in mild delight. “Regardless, it’s none of his business. He’s just an ass.” She waved a dismissive hand. “ Was that it? Or did Alex go home with you? Was he there when you texted me goodnight!?” The pitch of her voice climbed with her excitement.

“No, he wanted to walk me home, but I said no. I just didn’t trust myself.” Her eyes squinted from the sun and from the dull ache of her hangover. She stood up and lifted her overfilled watering can. “I couldn’t even control myself at the bar, imagine if I was alone with him in my little farmhouse.” 

“What are you afraid of?” Abby asked sincerely, her voice gentle. “Would it be so bad if you hooked up? I mean, to a greater extent than you have?”

“I don’t know, Abby.” Petra finished sprinkling the bright green shoots and set the can down with a thunk. “I don’t really trust that I could go much further without starting to make it complicated. I haven’t really ever done the casual hook up thing before.”

“It’s not hard,” Abby said. “Sebastian and I have been doing it for years.”

“Really?” Petra couldn’t hide her surprise. “You have?”

“We hooked up last night.” Abby sat down again on the wooden edge of her crop bed and Petra joined her.  “It’s like, a thing. We don’t really talk openly about it unless it’s in the moment. Sam knows it happens but he doesn’t talk about it either.”

Petra took a moment to process this revelation. “I always thought Sebastian seemed...protective of you. I figured he had a crush. I didn’t realize it went beyond that.” A few moments flashed through her mind. “So… your curfew?”

“Wasn’t for another half hour,” she confessed, her cheeks slightly rosy. “Sorry to be dishonest.”

“That’s okay,” Petra soothed, “I just had no idea.”

“Yeah. We just aren’t officially girlfriend and boyfriend. You know? We have a good thing going.” She nodded with a serious face. “But it’s not for everyone. I can appreciate that you wouldn’t want to mess around outside of a committed relationship.”

Petra looked out across the sprawling farm, so much of it left to clear. “I just don’t need to fall for someone and get my heartbroken. Not here. Not during my fresh start.”

Abby nodded, following her gaze for a moment. She turned back to her suddenly, a bit of intrigue in her voice. “He is really into you, you know.”

Petra felt a little spark of hope that she instantly tried to suppress. “You think? Maybe he just wants something physical.”

“No, it’s more than that. Seb said so too when we were walking home. I mean, why else would he willingly hang out with us? That was probably the most time I’ve purposefully spent with him since I was like, eight.”

Petra considered that.  “For what it’s worth, he really seemed to genuinely enjoy being with you all. He seemed regretful he hadn’t in the past. He even said he felt bad for teasing Seb in middle school.”

That made Abby grin. “I mean, he did go goth really abruptly. We all gave him shit.” 

Petra giggled. “Thanks for coming over, I really needed to debrief this.” She rested her hand on Abby’s. “You’ve been such a good friend to me.”

“Of course babe.” She put her hand over top. “You make it easy.”

Petra’s phone buzzed, and then Abby’s a split second later. “The group text,” Abby confirmed.

Sam:  Last night was fun yall. 

Seb: Agreed

Sam: How are you doing P? Mullner take care of you?

Abby: I’d say so :P

“Abby!!” Petra protested. How had she typed that so fast? 

She giggled devilishly.

Sam: ???

Seb: clarification needed

Petra: I got home just fine thank you!

Abby: He made out with her against the wall of the bathrooms

Sam: shit

Abby: Shane saw them

Seb: shit

Sam: SHIT

Petra: I’ll give you the details later...

Sam: We’ll see you at the Egg Festival tomorrow right?

“What even is that?” Petra asked, looking up from her phone. “I don’t really get it.”

“You’ll see,” Abby smiled, her purple hair catching the breeze. “It’s one of my favorite festivals. Lots of good food, and I almost always win the egg hunt.”

That peaked Petra’s interest. “Is there a prize?”

“Yeah, usually money.” Abby raised her eyebrows with intrigue.

“I could use some money you know.”

“Sorry, I’m not taking it easy on you because we’re friends. There are 7 year olds I crush in this.”

Petra giggled. “Worth a try.” She turned to her phone.

Petra: Def, see you then

Seb: We’ll watch out for Shane.

Petra scrolled up to an earlier text message from the night before. An exchange she had already reread too many times.

Alex: Had fun tonight. You make it home okay farm girl?

Petra: Home safe. I’m really glad you stayed to hang out with us.

Alex: Me too. See you soon?

Petra: <3 definitely 

Was the heart too much? She chewed her lip. What have I started..

  Suddenly realization struck her. “Oh.”

“Hm?” Abby inquired, still scrolling through her phone.

“I just realized what Leah meant by following “half” of her advice when she sent that pitcher over.”

Abby tilted her head.

“She also warned me to stay clear of Alex...” Petra trailed. 

Abby laughed, giving her a sassy shrug.  “Oops.”

 

***

 

Haley was trying to loop an earring through in the front hall mirror when she heard a knock on the door. It was a weird time of day for a visitor. Emily had just left for the Saloon and Alex was definitely still at his house lifting. Who could that be?

She opened the door and was shocked to see Shane standing there in his Joja Mart uniform. Before she could say anything, he handed her a small bouquet of daffodils. Haley squealed in delight.

Shane almost shied at her reaction. “I..” he collected himself. “Uh, this is a thank you. You didn’t have to do that yesterday. It would have been shit if Jas or Marnie saw me, but especially Jas.”

“This is so sweet.” Haley was touched. She couldn’t remember the last time she had received a spontaneous gift. 

Shane seemed amused that she was so appreciative. “Yeah? Well.  Like I said. I’m grateful. And I'm sorry about your coat.”

“It’s not a big deal.” Haley studied him. “Are you sober right now?”

“Yeah?” Shane said.

“I could tell, your color is so much better.” She put a hand on his cheek for a brief moment. She knew she was being flirty, but something about the way his face went pink gave her a rush. He swallowed. 

“Do you want to come in?” She took a step back and gestured towards their tidy living room. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to offer it, or why she was genuinely interested in prolonging their conversation. She glided into the kitchen before he could respond, feeling a little dangerous.

 

 

As much time as Shane had spent with Emily at the Saloon, he had never been in Emily and Haley’s house before. Haley didn’t wait for an answer and went right into the kitchen, happily clutching the bouquet.  He had picked the flowers somewhat impulsively, and his plan had been to leave immediately, but now he felt obligated. He shuffled in and sort of stood awkwardly.

“You can sit down,” she said, raising her voice from the other room. She was fumbling under the sink for a vase. “Would you like something to drink? Non-alcoholic of course.” Her voice was teasing.

“Har har. Water’s great. ” Shane sat and peered at a framed picture on the side table of her and Emily and their parents. There was another beside it of Haley and Alex from last year at the flower dance, looking every bit like small town royalty. He arched an eyebrow.

She handed him a glass, ice cubes clinking inside, noticing the picture. “My dress is going to be a huge statement this year. Just wait.” She sat down across from him, holding a pink cup.

“I’m glad someone enjoys that festival,” he mumbled.

She blinked at him distastefully, her voice hurt. “You and Emily always have fun.”

“Sure, Emily’s great. It’s more the dancing. And those suits.” He sipped his water. “...and the dancing.” He had a moment of questioning whether this conversation was happening. It felt more like a weird dream than an actual unfolding situation in real time.

Haley crossed her arms. “What festival is your favorite then? Or are you this grumpy and negative about all of them?”

He hesitated. He did sound like a negative asshole. He pushed himself to think.  “I actually do like the Egg Festival.”

“Ew.” Haley leaned in as if she hadn’t heard right. “Why?”

“I spend a lot of time taking care of Marnie’s chickens. They’re kind of the stars of the show. And I like food.” 

She shook her head. “It’s boring.”

“I like Spirit’s Eve,” he offered.

“Too scary!” Haley huffed.

“The Luau’s alright...”

“It’s always so hot,” she countered.

There was a pause.

“The Feast of the Winter Star,” they said in unison. Shane couldn’t help but laugh at her excited gasp, her blue eyes lighting up with delight that they had agreed. 

“I mean, that’s a hard one not to like,” Shane qualified.

She tilted her head with excessive sass. “‘Cause of the rum punch?” 

Shane was about to reply with a heavy dose of sarcasm but her bedazzled phone suddenly vibrated noisily on the side table next to him. He could see a new message notification from “Alex<3” light up on the screen. He looked away quickly.

She grabbed it and tapped out a reply for a moment. “Oh, I have to go.” She stood up. “Thanks again for the flowers.”

“Sure.” Shane stood up hastily, suddenly very relieved that this was over. She opened the door for him and he stepped out on the porch.

“See you at the Egg Festival.” She sort of leaned playfully against the door frame. “I like your uniform.” 

He couldn’t tell from her smile if she was being earnest, or flirty, or just completely mocking him. It made his brain overload and so he just turned and high-tailed it towards home.He shoved his hands in his pocket. Damn, I need a drink.

 

***

Alex glanced over the seemingly endless tables of egg-related food, greedily filling up his plate with just about everything at arms length. Boiled eggs, deviled eggs, eggs benedict…

“Alex, dear! Leave some for the rest of the townsfolk!” Evelyn chided him. “My goodness.”

“I’m trying to bulk up, Granny!” he shrugged, stuffing part of an egg salad sandwich in his mouth. He chewed and glowered slightly as Shane walked by him, a large carton of eggs to be dyed in hand, seemingly unaware of his presence. Dick.

His mind flashed back to the night before. Alex had never expected he would have enjoyed himself so much with Abby and Sam and Sebastian. And he definitely had not expected his night to culminate with Petra in his arms, her legs wrapped around him, those icy blue eyes gazing into his lustfully, his hand up her skirt. He swallowed.

“Hey!” He startled as Haley was suddenly before him, her blonde curls bouncing impatiently. “What are you doing over here staring into space? I’ve been bored out of my mind.” 

“I’m just getting some food,” he managed through a mouthful of egg. 

Haley eyed him suspiciously. “Emily said you stayed late at the Saloon last night. Why didn’t you text me?”

“Because you hate the Saloon.”

Haley nodded, satisfied. “That’s true.”  

Alex chuckled. She hated to be excluded, but rarely accepted invites. “I actually had a fun time. It’s usually not my scene.” He thought she might ask for more details, but was somewhat relieved when she started fiddling with her camera instead. 

He wasn’t sure if he should tell her about what happened with Petra. He didn’t think she would be jealous, exactly, it wasn’t like he and Haley had been a real couple for some time. But she was competitive with other women and had never been particularly kind to anyone he had ever been interested in. Not that she was not particularly kind to most people at first. He didn’t think he should stack the odds any further for Petra to befriend her.  He’d wait, for now. 

He took a few more deviled eggs on his plate. Besides. Maybe it was a one time thing?

Alex and Haley posted up at their usual spot where they had a good view of the action so Haley could snap a few pictures. She was sort of the town’s unofficial photographer for most events. He didn’t have the best eye for that sort of thing, but he knew from other people’s reactions she was talented at it.

“Have you thought about our routine? The Flower Dance is coming up really soon and we need to nail it this year. I have my absolute best dress ever.” She looked up at him with intensity from where she was polishing the lens of her camera.

“You said that last year,” Alex teased her.

“That’s because it was true. Sorry I keep outdoing myself every year.” She tossed her hair with a smirk.

He looked around at the bustling scene around them. Caroline setting up plates, Gus stirring the punch, Maru and Penny chatting. Alex noted a flash of purple in the distance and saw Abigail hurrying across the square, basket in hand. He looked to where Abby was heading and smiled. 

Petra was buying something from Pierre’s stand, talking earnestly with him about whatever it was. Seeds he imagined. Her honey brown hair was loose and cascading down her shoulders, and she wore a lavender dress that he could not seem to stop looking at. She and Abby shared a quick hug and began chatting excitedly.

“Ugh,” Haley made a noise when she saw where he was looking. “Every year she’s obsessed with winning this. Like, give it up. This festival is lame anyway.” She paused for a moment and cocked her head. “Huh. I guess the farmer does have some real clothes.” She turned back to him. “Anyway, promise me you’ll have your head in the game in a few weeks so we can win this thing.”

“I promise. We’ll nail it.” He meant it, too. Alex liked to win, It didn’t matter what it was.

She smiled, focusing back on her camera. 

“Hey, you ever wonder where Gunther sleeps?”

Haley looked up at him quizzically. 

 

***

 

Petra was elated to fill up a well-earned plate with food after an arduous morning of harvesting. She had gathered almost as many egg-related dishes as Sam, who was loading up an impressive tower of goodies in front of her. Her mouth watered as she eyed all of the options on her plate.

Mayor Lewis appeared suddenly to her side. “Petra, my dear! Delighted to see you enjoying yourself. Glad you took some food, you’re looking thin!”

“Lewis!” Marine gasped. “Never comment on a woman’s weight! What are you thinking?”

“I- uh, I’m sorry!” Lewis flustered. “That isn’t a compliment anymore?” He despaired, seemingly to himself.

Petra laughed. “No offense taken, Mr. Mayor, I’ll be sure to help myself.”  Lewis and Marnie walked on, Marnie still shooting daggers at him.

Sam leaned towards her. “Totally boning,” he whispered, never taking his eyes off the pair. Petra stifled a laugh.

The two sat down to join Sebastian and Abby who were already housing plates of food. “My dad is thrilled you bought so many strawberry seeds,” Abby told her. “I think you’re officially his favorite customer.”

“I’m so excited to plant them!” Petra enthused, taking the packets out of her bag to show the group. “I can’t wait to make some jam..”

Sam looked around to be sure there was no one in earshot before he leaned in . “Are you going to spill the details of what happened with you and Alex, or what?”  Sebastian stopped chewing beside him in interest.

Petra glanced around. She could see Alex in his signature green letterman jacket across the way, chatting with Haley. She felt a little butterfly tickle her stomach.

She bit her lip. “Well...after you left, we were just chatting for awhile. You know, life in the city, my family, normal stuff. Then we went to the bathroom…”

“You banged in the bathroom?” Sam supplied.

“No, we didn’t bang. And it wasn’t in the bathroom. It was in the hallway. Uh, well,” she started over.  “I hit him in the face with the door.”

Abby nearly spit out her punch. “You left that part out.” 

“Well, yeah,” Petra rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. “ I clocked him pretty good. But then... he asked if I would kiss it better.”

Sam nodded knowingly. “Classic.”  Three sets of eyes focused on her, chewing.

“It just kind of escalated from there, we were making out a lot, and he picked me up and kind of..” she made a shoving motion.  “Pinned me against the wall.” They flinched in unison.

“Right when he was sliding his hand up my leg..” her audience tensed.  Abby looked flushed. 

“Shane walks in.” 

Sebastian shook his head and Sam groaned. “Seriously?”

“I know you guys said he acts annoyed with everyone, but I really think he actually despises me now.” She eyed him from where he was hovering by the punch. “He looked at us like we were... animals.”

“Dude was probably jealous,” Sam said. 

“And wasted,” Abby added.

“Either way, I think I should steer clear of him for awhile.”

“What about Alex?” Sebastian asked in a poignant way. 

“Yeah.. do you think it was a one time thing?” Sam asked.

Petra looked over to where he was chatting with his grandparents and Sam’s mom. “I don’t know. Part of me hopes it wasn’t, but I don’t think that part of me is my brain.” She blushed.

“I hear you,” Sam said. “I’ve gotten in quite a bit of trouble thinking with my crotch.” The group erupted in laughter. “I’m serious!"

 

***

 

Abby had won the egg hunt, of course. As she should have. But this meant that Petra still had a week before her cauliflower were ready to sell and longer than that for her potatoes and strawberries. Her foraging had been fairly successful, but she wanted to try her hand at some fishing.

She was sitting on the dock at the beach with her legs dangling, considering the fact that she might not have the temperament for this activity, seeing as it had been ten minutes and she was already bored out of her mind. She heard the creak of footsteps on the dock behind her.

“Hey, Farm Girl.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She spun part way around to see Alex standing behind her, shirtless and gleaming in the sun.  “Getting any bites?”

She looked up at him and tried without success not to stare at his chiseled abs. “Nothing so far, but it’s only been ten minutes.” She shrugged casually. “Were you running on the beach?”

“Yeah, sorry I’m not wearing a shirt,” he said in a way that didn’t seem very apologetic. “I’m sweaty now though. Want to come in for a dip with me?”

“In there?” Petra squeaked, realizing what an obvious question she was asking. It was a warm day for spring, but there was no way the ocean had lost its icy chill.  “It’s got to be freezing!”

“Nah, it’ll feel great! I do it all the time.” 

Petra just stared at him in disbelief. “I.. don’t have a swimsuit,” she managed.

“Don’t need one,” he assured her. “Here, we’ll keep your fishing line propped up in case you get any bites.” He turned the pole sideways against the pier post and moved her backpack against it.

Petra stared at him some more. “You’re really going in there?”

He gave her a smirk, took a few steps, and jumped. She gasped.

The splash of his cannonball hit her legs, and it was truly freezing. She jumped up from where she was sitting. 

“I’m not doing that!!” she squealed when he surfaced.

 He wiped water from his eyes. “Come on! You’re a farmer! You’re supposed to be tough!” 

“Well you definitely scared the fish away,” she muttered, pacing a few steps along the dock. Am I really doing this? 

“Come in! I’m used to it already. It’s really not bad.”  Alex leaned back in the water, floating casually to emphasize his point. 

Petra thought for a moment. She frowned, kicking off her boots. In a fluid motion, she whipped off her t-shirt, revealing a bright turquoise sports bra. Alex cocked his head with interest. 

She considered for a moment taking off the cotton shorts she was wearing, but thought better of it. It was early, but still possible that they could be seen by anyone.

“Yes! Come on, Farm Girl!”

She made a whimper and stutter stepped. “I’m totally regretting this already!!”

“Come in!” He begged, his arms outstretched. She focused on his green eyes, and jumped.

Her skin was aflame in the icy water and she kicked to the surface quickly, gasping for air and letting out a shriek. 

“You did it!” Alex cheered, swimming close to her as the water calmed. “It’s nice right?”

“This is awful!!!” She gulped. Petra struggled to find a rhythm treading water, her teeth chattering. “I want to get out..” She started to see if she could touch the bottom but she just barely couldn’t.

“No, no, it’ll get better.” He reached out for her arm. “C’mere”.

Petra looked up at him as he pulled her effortlessly toward him, wrapping her in his arms. “You’ll warm up in a second.”

Her legs relaxed, realizing she didn’t need to kick anymore. He could stand where they were. She looked up at him, still shivering. 

She felt his gaze shift from her face down to her chest. She suddenly felt a little self conscious, realizing her soaked cleavage was gleaming in the sun and her nipples sharp and pointing through the fabric of her bra. She let her body sink lower beneath the waves, looking away shyly. 

“Is it getting any better?” Alex sank lower now too, bending his knees so just their heads were out of the water, but he was still supporting her with an arm around her waist. She helped tread with her arms. 

“Yeah,” She admitted. She couldn’t help but drink in his muscled body, waves lapping against his collarbone and firm pecs.

“Do you still want to get out?” his forehead touched hers lightly. A wave splashed them in the chin.

“No…” Petra felt a butterfly in her stomach try to warn her, but it was too late, she was drawn to his warmth, to his lips, and she desperately wanted to feel them again against hers.

She made a glance at the shore, realizing the dock obscured them from anyone who might be standing on the beach. She put two fingers on his chin and kissed him sweetly, pausing for a moment, and then continued with a firmer press of her lips on his. He returned her kiss, running his fingers through her hair.

She closed her eyes as he started to kiss her neck. “I’ve been thinking about you,” he whispered into her ear.

“I’ve been thinking about you too,” she breathed. She wrapped her legs around him and found him hard and rigid, making her breath hitch. 

She was suddenly filled with the urge for him to touch her. She grabbed his free hand and brought it to her breast, her hard nipple still angry from the cold. He rubbed it eagerly and pinched softly, causing her to whimper.

Impulsively she tugged at the strap of her bra, revealing her round breast and her pink nipple. He tensed at the sight and boosted her higher, bowing his head to give it a soft suck as the waves lapped between them. The sensation was too much and she squirmed a bit, sinking down into the water. He scooped her up again so he could kiss her lips. With a hand on his cheek, she moved the other hand that had been on his side and slid it slowly down between her legs to reach the hard mass of his erection. He let out a low hum. 

“Is this okay?” She whispered. But she had already started to rhythmically stroke it over his shorts, her shoulder moving above the water.

“Petra..” his breath sped up and his eyes lost focus. “Fuck,” he winced.

She kissed him again and softly bit his lower lip, bringing her hand up to slide it down the front of his shorts. She hesitated, looking up to see his eyes lidded and pleading. She continued and wrapped her hand around his thick erection. She froze, processing how massive it felt in her hand.

They both tensed as they heard creaking footsteps on the dock. Alex motioned with his eyes and they quickly untangled from each other, swimming underneath it and huddling together. 

Petra looked up. “It’s probably Willy,” she whispered. They heard the creak of the door to his fish shop confirm her suspicion.

Alone again, they looked at each other sheepishly. Petra shivered.

“I have a towel on the beach,” Alex offered. Water was dripping off the end of his nose. She nodded.

Back on the warm sand, Alex unwrapped his oversized towel, taking a moment to stare at her toned body before he closed it around her. He gave her a devilish smile. 

She flashed back a sultry look as they turned towards the dock. A few seagulls flew off as they plodded back to her belongings scattered by her pole. “I can’t believe we did that.”

“Jumped in the ocean? Or..”

“Ahoy there!” Willy suddenly greeted them. “I thought you’d given up! Just went for a swim I see.”

“Yeah, it’s warm out!” she realized it still seemed questionable, but it was all she could say.

“Well, did you catch anything yet?”

“I had my hands on a big one, but it got away.” She gave him a sweet smile and a shrug. Alex sputtered out a cough. 

Willy thought for a moment. “Well, keep casting! You’ll reel it in one of these days.”

Petra relished Alex’s beet red face for a moment.

 

 

Chapter Text

Shane blinked, feeling the ever-present glare of Joja Mart’s fluorescent lighting and the whirring of oversized freezers and fans irritating his hangover. A feeling he knew too well indeed.

He was restocking a display of tissues by the cash register. It was officially spring, and Morris wanted them visible for the allergy sufferers as they made their way to the checkout line. That guy was always scheming on how to profit off of the misery of others. 

Shane was happy in the moment to just immerse himself in the tedious, mindless task of restocking. The past week had been weird, and he didn’t want to think about it anymore. It was an aberration, he was sure of it. Whatever had made her decide to throw some attention his way was surely boredom. Girls like her didn’t bother with depressed alcoholics like himself. 

He hadn’t really thought of her much before now. Sure, like anyone with a pulse he had checked her out more than a few times. Her bikini tended to make its way into his thoughts long after the Luau. But not in the sort of way that assumed he would ever have a real conversation with her beyond small talk. And he had never imagined she would actually think about him, that he could enter her world beyond that of a passing background figure who was friends with the sister she could barely relate to.

Down the aisle he could see Sam sweeping up, rocking out to some rock music blaring in his headphones. Morris usually yelled at him for this, but right now he was busy on the phone on the far side of the store. Sam was a good kid. They were cordial at work together, and sometimes they would hook each other up with weed. It had been awhile since that happened though, he mused with regret.

Shane felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. It was probably Marnie, asking him to pick something up on his way home. He glanced up to confirm that Morris was still busy and took a peek.

Shane blinked to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. It was a message from Haley. Before he could process this, his phone buzzed again and another message came in, with an attachment. His mouth went dry.

For a heart-pounding moment it was like he forgot how to work his phone. He clicked on the first message.

Haley: I wanted to send you a little preview. Don’t show anyone :P

Shane stared at the text in disbelief. He didn’t even remember ever exchanging numbers with her in his life. The attachment was torturously buffering, the little wheel spinning. He always had terrible service in this Yoba-forsaken shithole.

The picture loaded suddenly, and he crouched over to be sure no one could see what he was looking at, feeling every bit like some weird pervert.

 It was the top half of her Flower Dance dress, he was assuming, because it was white and embroidered. Her face wasn’t really in it, she was looking to the side somewhat demurely. But the straps were hanging loosely around her shoulders and the focus of the picture was undoubtedly her generous cleavage, spilling into the frame and daring his eyes to picture what would happen if the straps fell just a bit further.

“Holy fuck,” he whispered, shoving his phone into his pocket. He was dazed and now he was incredibly turned on. He could not stand up, not at the moment.  He wanted his brain to work again badly but nothing about that past minute was computing. 

He wasn’t sure how long he stared into the empty space of the shelf, but suddenly he was compelled to look again. There it was, still on his phone, actually there, her full bust beckoning to him, the little cheeky emoji. Don’t show anyone. He swallowed. It was just for him.  

“Shane!”

There was nothing quite as boner-shriveling as Morris’ voice cutting across the store. Shane stood up just enough to peep over the stand. “Aren’t you done yet? Finish up and go get the produce from the back!”

Shane stooped back down and took in a shaky breath. He felt like he had to respond to her. How the hell was he going to respond to her?

He finished stocking the rest of the tissues on autopilot and sped to the backroom. Think, Shane. 

Obviously, he wanted to show he was appreciative. Yoba, what if she sent more? He felt dizzy.

Shane: Damn

He frowned at his screen. It was a start at least.

Shane: I might just change my mind about this festival 

Playful. Fine. Should he say something else? His phone buzzed. 

Haley: :P i hope you do

He wasn’t sure why, but he went with straight honesty.

Shane: You’re gorgeous

Fuck, she probably heard that everyday. It was obvious. It was probably too much. He shoved his phone in his pocket.  

He finished the rest of his shift in an angry daze, too aware of how motionless his phone was in his pocket. He changed out of his uniform at work so he could get directly to drinking.

It was a Friday, so he knew the Saloon would be busy. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he also didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts. Posted up in his usual spot by the wall, he took a pained gulp of his beer.  Did he really think she was going to send more? Of course she wasn’t. He grimaced.

He couldn’t seem to move on though. How did she have his number? They barely talked. He glanced back down at his phone, curiosity getting the better of him. He scrolled up quickly so he couldn’t see the photo and get turned on again. He saw a text he had sent to her from over a year ago that he hadn’t even remembered.

Shane: It’s Shane. Emily forgot her phone at the Saloon, can you bring it? 

Haley: K

He shook his head. Damn

Just then the door opened and the new farmer walked in, a little more cleaned up than usual in a skirt and colorful sneakers.

He still was not over how much she strayed from the image he had first conjured up when Marnie had mentioned the old farm getting a new resident. She had spent her first few weeks incredibly busy, he knew she took the farming bit seriously.  She was pretty and magnanimous in a way that drew people of every sort to her. No one in town had a bad thing to say, it seemed, at least yet. 

Of course, Shane wanted nothing to do with her. She confirmed his fear early on, she actually wanted to get to know him. He had bristled instantly at each of her attempts, but so far she was not getting the message that small talk with strangers was his least favorite activity.

The farmer said hi to Emily and Gus cheerily before her eyes fell on him. He tried to give her his most disinterested look. Keep walking.

 She sort of half smiled, but then something got her attention to her right and her face lit up. “Hi!”

She and Abigail embraced and then they made their way into the pool room. Phew.

Shane’s mind was free to shift back to his bizarre predicament. He shouldn’t have responded to the texts. He should have acted like it was the wrong number and he had gotten a new phone.

“You need another, Shane?” Emily’s bright smile broke his trance.

“Sure.” Shane swirled the last swig and downed it. 

“Anything on your mind today?” She was endlessly sweet. He didn’t deserve it.

“Nah.” Just your sister’s tits.  She set another glass in front of him with a smile and went back to help Pierre on the other side of the bar.  

 

Another beer later, Alex walked in with a paper bag for Emily. 

“Oh thank you!” she gushed, “I didn’t have time to eat.” They started chatting.

Shane realized he must’ve brought something for her because he was on the way home from her and Haley’s house. That’s where he had just been. He felt a pang of jealousy. He had never liked Alex much, and he did even less now watching him with his cocky smirk, his broad shoulders and toned pecs under the lame ass jacket he was always wearing. Seriously, how long ago had his high school stardom days been? Hang it up already.

He had definitely noted Shane’s presence but neither one of them said hi. He didn’t know Alex well, truthfully. They had talked a handful of times and always about gridball. But he had known a million guys like him and they were always the same. He was the kind of guy who was an egotistical asshole, yet everyone loved him for it. Especially girls like Haley.

Shane knew that Alex and Haley spent a lot of time together. He didn’t think they were still a legitimate couple, but it was probable that they hooked up still. What sexy texts had she sent him? The thought made him stew.

 

After a few more beers, a chat with Gus, and a few more beers, the place was starting to empty. It was really just the regulars left now. Pam, Willy, Clint, himself. Then something caught his eye. There were two notably not-regulars in the pool room. 

Alex had stayed and it was clear why. He and the farmer were chatting in a booth, and he could hear her delighted laugh over the din of the jukebox. 

Shane muttered under his breath. He could barely look the new farmer in the eye, and here Alex had picked her out and cornered her like a weakened gazelle. She looked completely enthralled in whatever ridiculously exaggerated story he was undoubtedly telling her about himself. He could bang her tonight if he felt like it.

“Are you headed home soon, Shane?” Emily asked him. This was her polite way of suggesting to him that it was late and his beer was low and she didn’t really think he needed another refill.

“Yeah...I’m done.”

Emily handed him a glass of water. “Have this before you go. Oh, and this.” She grinned and slipped him something in a napkin. It was a jalapeno popper that she had probably sneaked from the back. 

“You’re an angel.” Shane scarfed it down gratefully, taking a chug of the water. His head felt fuzzy, in a good way. He would stagger home, pass out. Forget about Haley and her completely out of the blue sexting.

He just needed to take a quick piss. He turned the corner to the bathroom hallway too quickly to register the soft moaning. 

Alex had the farmer up against the wall, his mouth on hers and his hand up her skirt. Her legs were wrapped around him tightly.  Fucking unbelievable. They hadn’t even made it out of the bar.

“Damn, Mullner,” his words felt like acid coming out of his mouth. “You don’t waste time.”

The two untangled from each other instantly, Alex dropping her gently. “Shane,” his teeth were clenched and his eyes shot daggers towards him.

Shane could not feel less regretful to interrupt this makeout session. “The bathroom hallway? Yoba. Mind taking this elsewhere so I can piss?”

There was more tension in the narrow space than anyone was comfortable with. Alex stiffly led Petra by the hand past him.

Shane felt a brief flicker of guilt at the look she gave him as she passed, a mix of embarrassment and disdain. The guilt left with her out the door.

 

***

 

“I have spent exactly zero seconds ever thinking about Gunther, or where he sleeps,” Haley replied.  She surveyed the crowd around them, dying eggs, eating eggs. “I don’t talk to anyone but you in this stupid town.” That was certainly an exaggeration, but part of her meant it.

“Just wondering,” Alex said with his mouth full. He had probably had five plates full of food at this point. He was chewing loudly, staring over to where Abby was chatting with Sebastian and the new farmer, waiting for the egg hunt to begin.

“Do you think Abby cheats?” Haley asked him. She never understood why she took this festival so seriously.

“Maybe people let her win,” he said with a poignant smirk.

“Okay, you need to let 9th grade go.”

Alex laughed. The Egg Festival was the backdrop of one of their biggest fights back in 9th grade. That was when they were still dating and Haley still liked to participate in the egg hunt. Alex was too competitive to let her beat him, and even though they were both multiple eggs away from reaching Abby’s haul regardless, Haley had taken it personally and not talked to him for three days. She was pretty sure he had cried. She did kind of feel bad about that.

The memory made her feel reflective and a little nostalgic. She gazed at Alex subtly, taking in his handsome frame.  It had been well over a year since they had last hooked up- maybe it had been two years?- and forever since they had really dated. They stayed together longer than they should have as it was, mostly because other people always seemed to be so enamored with them as a couple and it felt like they were letting them down. They were still enamored, as shown by every Flower Dance. Although Haley always liked it then.

They were each other’s firsts, and there was something sweet to that, but what they had was always vanilla. Alex was very attractive, sure, but at some point she had realized that as a boyfriend, he was boring. He was always good to her, but she never got presents or surprises.  He never wanted to fight.

In high school she would break up with him just to stir things up. It was immature, and she knew that now. But it’s not like there was a shortage of girls ready to try and put his heart back together. He crushed easily and often but never really seemed to fully commit to other girls. His head was too full of gridball and wanting to be a star athlete. Her heart ached a little when she thought about it too hard, about how much he wanted to prove himself. She knew how his father had played into that insecurity. 

She did know that he always had her back, even when people in high school were dramatic, or thought she was mean when she was just telling them the hard truth. She didn’t know how she would have coped if she didn’t have him in this obnoxiously small town. 

Haley took out her camera again as the egg hunt participants gathered round. She couldn’t help but notice Shane watching her from behind the punch. She was still really touched by the daffodils. She hadn’t really thought he was capable of something thoughtful like that. Not that she had really thought about him at all until last week. 

And then last Friday she had been terribly bored and accidently got a little frisky taking selfies in her new Flower Dance dress… she blushed a little. It was impulsive, and thrilling, and she sort of wondered if she should regret it, but she just didn’t. It was her first time trying it on, and she was feeling herself, so, whatever. 

She bit her lip, wondering if she should go talk to him. 

“How many Egg Hunts do you think we’ve been to?” Alex asked her then.

“Too many,” she said. Haley thought about the types of weekend activities she would do when she lived in the city someday. Something different and exciting all the time. Something that wouldn’t center around eggs.

 

After the hunt and Abby’s inevitable victory, Haley was scrolling through the photos on her camera, trying to get a sense of how many she wanted to develop.  The cleanup had begun and the din was loud around her, so she almost didn’t hear the casual observation to her right.

“You take some pretty nice pictures.”

Haley looked up to see Shane skulking near her. He wasn’t facing her, just, near.

She realized, of course, what he was referring to. “I try,” she answered coyly, still swiping through her camera reel. “I’m glad you’re a fan of my work.”

He sort of half coughed, half cleared his throat. “Yeah.” 

Haley turned fully to him now. He was a little more polished today than usual, it being a festival day. He was almost clean shaven and he had shown some effort with his hair. That same blue hoodie, though, of course. 

His brow furrowed in mild discomfort that she was assessing him. “Quit looking at me.”

Haley gave him a measured smile. “Sorry.” She held his gaze to let him know she didn’t mean it. Fuck, this is fun. 

Shane stiffened, but she thought she could see a hint of blush on his cheeks. Haley gave him a little more lingering eye contact and then turned and left, trying to be sure her hair did an excessive bounce with her exit.

 

The next morning she had slept in a bit later than usual. She strolled out of her room to see Emily making what she really hoped was pink cake in the kitchen.

 “Good morning, birthday girl.”

Haley smiled. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot.”  Emily raised an amused eyebrow at her, because she mentioned the pink cake maybe twenty times yesterday alone.  

“An envelope came from Mom and Dad. And oh! These were on the doorstep for you.”

Haley looked up. Tulips. Beautiful deep pink ones. She couldn’t control her delighted gasp. “They’re beautiful!!” She saw they had been wrapped in paper, with a note. She lifted them off the counter like they were precious.

Haley, 

I thought it would be fun to send you a note for your birthday. I don’t really know what to write though.

I got these from that traveling cart. Okay, see you soon. 

Haley’s heart warmed. He really was sweeter than he seemed.

“Are those from Alex?” Emily’s question snapped Haley out of her trance. Her sister looked understandably confused. Alex was never great with birthday gifts, even when they were dating. 

“Yeah. I told him to do it.” Haley said. She could tell by Emily’s amused head shake that it was  believable statement. She wondered if maybe she should feel bad that it was believable, but anyway, she had bought it. 

Haley gazed at the gorgeous flowers. She’d have to show her appreciation someway special.

 

Chapter Text

 

Petra wasn’t sure what to expect as she made her way to the town square early that morning, the sun bright in the sky and a spring breeze in the air. It was definitely a perfect day for a festival, although what small town madness was about to unfold, she could only guess. 

Abby had rolled her eyes every time the Flower Dance was mentioned, but now she seemed all business, instructing Petra to meet her at 8 AM sharp in front of her dad’s store. Petra had woken up while it was still dark to get her crops watered beforehand and still be on time.

Petra could see Abby in the distance now, a white dress over one arm and a bag over her shoulder. 

“Are you ready for this? Abby asked, her expression grim.

“I really don’t think I am,” Petra laughed. “Let’s do it.”

They made their way down the square towards Haley and Emily’s house. Abby had explained that Emily’s talent in sewing and Haley’s arsenal of makeup was always in need, and so it had become an unofficial staging area for many of the girls to get ready. It didn't hurt that they served mimosas. “That’s the most important part to get through this,” Abby had assured her from her many years of Flower Dance experience.

Petra was shocked when they stepped inside at all of the hustle and bustle this early in the morning. Many of the girls were already positioned around the living room, curling their hair or making last minute alterations to their dresses. Jodi, Marnie, and Robin were also there, enjoying the scene and helping out where they could.

“Hi girls!” Emily beamed when she saw them, leaning over the sewing machine she had set on her coffee table. “Petra, Abby told me you need a dress.”

Petra was startled. “I do?”

“It’s kind of mandatory,” Abby conceded.

“I don’t really think I’m going to be dancing..?” Petra began. 

“That doesn’t matter. Haley will insist,” Maru confirmed from where she was applying lipstick in a handheld mirror.

“Don’t worry, we have a lot to choose from,” Emily assured her. She peered behind her towards the kitchen. “Haley!’ she bellowed. “The farmer needs a dress!”

Haley walked in with her hair half- curled, somehow still stunning in this state. “Oh, hi. What’s your name again? I always forget.”

Emily gave her sister an exasperated look. “It’s Petra, Haley. You’ve met her like three times now.”

“What? I’m bad with names,” Haley shot back. She turned back to Petra, taking on a business-like urgency. “Come with me.”

Abby and Petra fell in step behind her into her bedroom, which looked like it was made for a princess. A ginormous pink bed with more fluffy pillows then they could count loomed in front of a massive vanity, filled with every type of makeup and cream than Petra had ever seen in one place.

Haley whipped open her large closet and started fumbling through. “Okay. This was one I bought a few years ago and never ended up wearing, but I think it’ll be really cute on you.” She brought out a sleeveless white dress that cinched tight at the waist with small buttons going up the bodice and a flowy skirt. 

“It’s lovely,” Petra said, touching the fabric.

Haley held up the dress to Petra and looked her up and down. “This is definitely your style.” She pursed her lips in thought. “But you’ll never fill out the chest.”

Abby was about to fire back but Petra put her hand on her arm. “I’m sure I can make do with it. Thanks, Haley.” 

Haley smiled at her and headed back into the kitchen. Abby still looked incredulous. “Is she for real…?”

“In her defense, her boobs are huge,” Petra countered in a whisper.

Petra and Abby settled in a spot in the living room alongside Maru and Penny to finish beautifying for the day ahead. 

 Maru was trying to give her some background on the festival but she was still fairly confused.  “It’s based on some ancient fertility ritual,” she continued.

“It’s weird is what it is,” Abby rolled her eyes. She smirked. “Wait till you see the guys in their suits.” 

“Powder blue,” Maru laughed.

Petra gasped. “I can NOT wait to see Sebastian in a powder blue suit.”

“He hates this day.” Abby gave her a delighted grin.

“Who do you dance with, Penny?” Petra asked. Penny was always so soft-spoken and shy, she had been difficult to get to know so far. Petra was hoping to have some time to bond with her a bit today.

“Oh, I dance with Sam,” Penny said, a blush to her cheeks.

“How does he feel about the dance?”

“He’s pretty good-natured about the whole thing. But that’s Sam for you,” Abby said. 

“He’s always very sweet,” Penny agreed. She seemed a little dreamy in her response. Petra made a mental note to ask Abby later. Were they a thing? They’re a cute match.

“Alright, here’s my final look. What do you think?” Abby stood and spun. Her dress was feminine and sweet, like they all were, but she had added her trademark edge with some heavy makeup and a high pony. Her shoes were a flashy purple with a sharp heel. The girls oohed and ahhed.

Petra thought she was stunning. “You’re gorgeous,” she said.

Abby fluttered her eyelashes. “Well look at you, you’re the prettiest little farmer anyone ever saw,” she countered. 

Haley came in just then, looking about. “Has anyone seen my curling iron? Oh, there it is.” She looked over the group and smiled contentedly. “Well, it’s just about time, I’d say.”

“I really appreciate you letting me borrow this,” Petra thanked her as they collected their belongings. She felt a little turmoil in her heart, knowing Haley was someone Alex was so close with. She felt an urge to befriend her but felt nervous to engage her at the same time. 

“It’s nothing.” Haley waved a hand. “I have a million dresses. And don’t worry about everyone being partnered up, after the main dance you can have a dance with whoever you want. I’m sure my partner would dance with you.”  Haley paused. “Do you know Alex?”

Petra found herself unable to form a response for a second and could sense Abby holding her breath beside her.  “...We’ve met,” she managed finally.

“Great.” Haley picked up her hair curler cheerfully. “I’ll see you all soon! I always arrive fashionably late so don’t wait for me.”

 

Petra and Abby strolled down the path towards Marnie’s ranch, their shoes clopping against the cobblestones. Flowers were blossoming along the path and the birds were deafening.

 “We always seem to get really lucky with the weather for this festival. I swear it hasn’t rained on this day in years,” Abby thought aloud. 

Petra could see a mob of townsfolk ahead in the clearing, dappled among a beautiful spring backdrop. There was a large field that was undoubtedly for dancing, and tables with food all adorned with garlands and baskets of fresh spring flowers.

She gripped Abby’s arm. “WOW. Those suits!”

“I told you,” Abby laughed. Sebastian and Sam were standing together near the entrance, looking rather miserable and very dapper.  Both straightened and stared as the girls came closer. 

“Wow, you two clean up nice,” Sam said, a wide appreciative grin on his face. They smiled and did a few twirls playfully.

“You’re both beautiful,” Sebastian said with sincerity. Petra couldn’t help but melt a little at how his eyes were glued on Abby.

“You guys look handsome too,” Abby said, but the giggle in her voice betrayed her. “You really make that powder blue work.”

“These are the worst,” Sam groaned. Petra giggled. 

“Someone’s looking for you,” Abby said in a hushed voice, suddenly motioning behind her with her eyes. Petra turned and saw Alex headed their way, his ever confident grin on his face.

“How does that damn suit look good on him every year?” Sam muttered. 

“Come find me later,” Abby instructed, motioning to Sam and Sebastian to follow her towards the food. Petra had no time to emotionally prepare before a familiar voice sounded behind her.

“Hey, Farm Girl.”

Petra turned and took him in, wondering how he could get more handsome every time she saw him. Even in the ridiculous suit, his body was hard not to stare at.  “Hi.”

“You look gorgeous in that dress.” His eyes were devouring her. She felt her cheeks flush. “A little different than your usual farmer gear.” He caught himself. “ I like that too, though.”

“Thank you,” Petra smiled. She bit her lower lip. “It’s not mine, actually. Haley lent it to me.”

“Oh.” His expression clouded slightly. He looked like he wanted to say something, then thought better of it. “Cool.”

Petra looked at him inquisitively, hoping he’d continue. 

“Just so you know, I haven’t…” Alex looked around. “I haven’t told her that we..” he trailed off.

“I know,” Petra assured him. “She didn’t think we’d met.”

Alex scratched his head. “Maybe I should have? It doesn’t have to be a secret. I just wasn’t sure…?”

“It’s okay,” Petra said reassuringly. She wasn’t particularly interested in finding out Haley’s reaction just yet, herself. She added hesitantly, “Abby and them know. I hope that’s okay.”

Alex glanced over at where Abby, Sebastian, and Sam were blatantly gawking at them. They turned away quickly. “You don’t say,” he laughed.

She chuckled. “Well, today is a big day for you. I know you have a lot of pressure on you to be the next Flower Dance King.”

He took on an exaggerated energy. “My reign is at stake here, Farm Girl. I have to nail this.” He flexed his generous bicep as if it was a feat of strength he was preparing for.  “Wish me luck.”

Petra saw Haley arrive just then, looking like an absolute vision. Her golden hair was in soft curls and her dress fit just so. Even her gait seemed ethereal. There was an audible murmur from the crowd.  

“I should go,” Alex said. “I’ll see you later, right Farm Girl?”

She gave him her best happy nod. He hustled off towards Haley and the small mob of admirers around her. 

Petra only had a moment to feel a dull sadness in her stomach before a voice sounded to her right. “Why don't you look enchanting, Miss Petra.”

Petra turned to see Elliot, his long locks neatly combed and suit impeccable, holding a mimosa in hand, a smile on his classically handsome face. He actually did make the suit work.

“Hi Elliot.” Petra was now accustomed to his typical double cheek kiss greeting and didn’t hesitate. “Wow, you look amazing!” 

“Thank you.” He gave her a grateful nod. “I suppose this tradition will seem a bit odd to you. It is rather strange, but especially so to newcomers.”

“It’s..a little different, but I’ve enjoyed it so far,” she smiled.  She glanced around. “Who do you usually dance with?”

“Ah, I’m lucky enough to be paired with the lovely Ms. Leah. She is a vision.” Elliot gestured over to where Leah was chatting with Willy and Gus.

“She is.” Petra realized she sounded a bit too in agreement as it came out. 

“Did you have much luck fishing the other day?”

Petra blinked, not sure if he meant what she thought he meant. His expression was kind, but unreadable.

“.... the other day?”

“Quite an interesting technique, plunging in like that..”

Her breath caught. His cabin was right there, for Yoba’s sake. Why hadn’t she thought of it? Horrified, she opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Her cheeks were burning.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself,” he smiled in amusement. “I only brought it up because I was happy to see how quickly you have...settled in. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” 

She relaxed a little, but still felt mortified. “Yoba...sorry to interrupt your peaceful day of writing like that.” 

“On the contrary, I was as entertained as I was inspired.” His eyes glimmered with intrigue. “Do you know I write a lot of romance?”

Before Petra could respond, Leah floated over to them and put a hand on Elliot’s shoulder. 

“Good to see you, Petra.” She leaned in and gave her a peck on the cheek. There were little white flowers cascading down her braid and she was even more stunning than usual. “Are you going to ask someone to dance?” Petra couldn’t be sure, but she thought Leah might have quickly glanced at Alex across the way. 

She shook her head politely. “No, I think I’m okay to watch for my first Flower Dance.”

“Well, don’t hesitate to change your mind. Sometimes it’s good to shake things up in these small town traditions, you know? The same thing year after year is a bore.” She held Petra’s gaze for a beat too long before turning to Elliot.  “We should get ready.”

“A pleasure, as always, Miss Petra.” Elliot bowed to her and gave her a wink.

The music started then, a happy playful rhythm. Petra looked around to see all of the couples pairing off and making their way to the grassy field. She turned when she heard her name and saw Jodi motioning her over to where she was standing on the side. 

 “Come watch with me, sweetie.” She handed Petra a mimosa.

Jodi seemed to exude nurturing mom energy. She was always checking on her to see if she needed a jacket, or handing her a snack from the cupboard when she was over at Sam’s. Every so often there was a moment when she seemed distant, and she knew she was across the sea, her mind with her husband. Petra was hoping for so many reasons she would meet him one day.

Jodi was already glassy-eyed at the scene. “Isn’t this precious?” she cooed. “ Sam and Penny look well together, I think,” she added softly.

“They do,” Petra agreed. Sam’s grin was wide and Penny was looking up at him like he was the only person there. They have to be something.

As if reading her mind, Jodi continued. “They’ve been sweet on each other since they were kids. Never made it official though,” she said with a furrowed brow. “Maybe time will tell.”

Petra couldn’t help but be distracted by another couple, swaying together in perfect time. 

Marnie shook her head wistfully beside her. “What a pair they make,” she marveled.  “They’re perfect together.” 

“They certainly are,” Petra said softly.

 

In the end, Haley was indeed crowned Flower Queen, and she was thrilled. She hugged everyone around her at arm’s reach. Even Shane got a big squeeze much to his shock. 

Alex got the biggest hug of all. He smiled proudly as Mayor Lewis crowned her ceremoniously before the dutifully applauding crowd.Petra tried to busy herself as they did their final winning dance by being helpful, gathering flowers from the table.

“Thank Yoba that’s done,” Abby said, grabbing Petra’s half-finished mimosa on the table beside her. “Do you mind?”

Petra motioned her on. Abby swigged it down and let out a satisfied sigh. “Luckily the fun part is tonight at the Saloon. Big party.”

Petra couldn’t help but feel a little pit in her stomach still. Abby caught on. “Are you alright?” She glanced over at Alex twirling Haley in the center of the field.

“Of course,” Petra confirmed, shaking her head like it was nothing. She forced a smile. She continued to gather flowers and looked around at the chatting couples, trying to distract herself. 

Clint was inching near Emily who seemed oblivious to him. Shane had somehow found a can of beer and was skulking now by the table. He actually did look handsome all dressed up, though, Petra thought. Sam was telling Penny a story on one of the benches, gesturing wildly. She giggled demurely, a hand in front of her mouth. 

“Hey,” she asked Abby. “What about Penny and Sam? What’s their deal?”

Abby did a half smile. “They’re always paired for this, and they hang out sometimes. But it never seems to go anywhere. She always puts up walls, from what I can tell. Like if they hang out too much or get too flirty, she avoids him for like a week.”

“Huh.” Petra thought that over. “How does Sam feel?”

“He’s always crushed on her,” Abby said. “But he doesn’t get his hopes up by now. He also tended to be a serial dater in high school so that was part of it. He’s never really struggled for female attention, I’ll tell you that.”

Petra nodded. Sam was so easy-going and confident, that made sense. She wondered what was holding Penny back. 

“I’m heading home and changing out of this ridiculous thing,” Abby said, giving her a quick squeeze. “See you at the after party? It usually gets going by 7, so we don’t have long.”

“See you then.” Petra was thankful she could take the alternate path to her farm, one that kept her from having to pass the newly crowned king and queen. She wasn’t quite feeling up to paying her respects.  



***

It seemed like almost all of the townsfolk had poured into the Saloon after the festival that night, with every table packed and a deafening din of chatter and music. She was in the pool room as usual, but currently it felt more like a club. The lights were off and someone had turned the music to some bass-heavy rap she hadn’t heard since leaving the city. Different colored lights flashed around the ceilings and walls, and most of the younger townspeople were crammed in, dancing and drinking together.

Petra was trying her best to have a conversation with Maru among the din, who was telling her about all of the materials she could find in the mines. 

“I am definitely interested in exploring there, but I think my next big goal is a chicken coop,” Petra shouted over the blaring bass.

“Oh! My mom will be thrilled. She’ll love having a new project.” Maru’s soft brown eyes sparkled.

“I think I’ve almost saved up enough money. It depends on how my second harvest goes,” Petra explained. She had been rather proud of how her first had turned out, all things considered. But she couldn’t wait to have fresh eggs to rely on.

Petra followed Maru’s gaze to Sebastian and Abby across the room. Abby was attempting to pull him from the couch to the dance floor. “She’ll never get him to dance,” Maru said, amused.

Petra smiled. “I don’t know, I feel like Abby can almost always get her way.”

As if on cue, Abby looked up at them and bounded over. “Come dance with me!” She pleaded. Petra looked out on the tiny dance floor where Emily, Sam, and Penny were all currently busting moves drunkenly. Shane and Elliot were on the outskirts observing, as was Sebastian on the couch. Petra had seen Alex and Haley earlier but hadn’t for awhile. She shoved the thought away before it could take root.

“Sure,” she said. She looked back at Maru. 

“All you,” Maru gestured with a smile. Petra let Abby lead her on.

Abby took both of her hands and leaned into her when they were at an acceptable dancing space, whispering with just a touch of tipsiness in her voice. “Help me rile him up.” She began gyrating seductively against her.

Petra glanced over at Sebastian and could tell instantly that he knew the game Abby was playing. He shook his head in irritation but she could see the hint of a smile on his face. Petra gave him an innocent shrug to convey that she was a helpless bystander in Abby’s scheme.  

She let Abby dance on her for a bit, but then Petra let her tipsiness drive her and grabbed Abby’s hips, pulling her close. The abruptness in the movement made Abby let out a little surprised gasp. Petra rolled her body against her slowly and rhythmically, causing a loud whoop from Sam behind them.

“You’re good at this,” Abby said, her blue eyes narrowing seductively. 

“Gotta help get you laid,” she grinned. Abby laughed.

“You know, I’m really glad you moved here,” Abby said. She clunked her head against hers. They were moving independent of the music now, almost like a slow dance.

“I am too, Abby.”  

“Want to really drive him crazy?” 

Petra knew what Abby was thinking. She didn’t really like the idea of kissing for the attention of men in principle, but in this moment, Abby’s lips so close and inviting, the music pounding, it seemed hard to resist.

They kissed sweetly for a moment or two, a few drunken whoops sounding around them. Her lips were so soft, Petra found herself comforted by them. It was affectionate more than sexual, but she doubted that was apparent from the outside.

Suddenly Sebastian was right by them. Petra pulled back, a little unsure of his reaction, but she could see the same smirk he had earlier. “Are you done putting on a show?” he asked Abby.

She looked over her shoulder flirtatiously, “What? You wouldn’t dance with me. I found someone better.” When she went to turn back to Petra, Sebastian suddenly spun her around by her hips and pulled her close to his chest. Her body eased and their arms wrapped around each other, her smile victorious.

Satisfied, Petra turned to find where she had left her drink. “You city girls are pretty wild,” Sam yelled over to her with a grin. Petra gave him a sheepish look and noted with regret that Penny appeared completely scandalized. Whoops…

She didn’t see her beer on the table she had been sitting at before, so she started towards the busy main bar for a new drink, only to notice Alex and Haley sitting close, laughing together.  Petra purposefully shifted her gaze away from them to the other side of the room, where Pam was eagerly slinging back an IPA.

Abby suddenly walked up behind her, her hand entwined with Sebastian’s. “I think we’re going to go now,” she stopped short when she saw Alex and Haley. She rested a hand on Petra’s sympathetically. 

“They really do look like the Homecoming King and Queen, don’t they,” Petra observed morosely.

“Yeah,” Abby paused awkwardly. “...they were, too.”

Petra nodded slowly. “...of course.”

Just then Alex looked up and caught their eye. Both she and Abby turned away to each other abruptly. 

“Be a little more obvious,” Sebastian admonished. The girls giggled.

“Well you two have fun, behave yourselves,” Petra said, kissing Abby on the cheek and giving Sebastian a hug. Sebastian’s body always went all rigid when she did, but she always did anyway.

“Are you okay to stay?” Abby asked.

“We can walk you on our way,” Sebastian offered.

“No, I’ll have one more and then head out. I’m kind of hoping something happens with Penny and Sam.” She clapped her hands together mischievously.

Abby and Sebastian exchanged a dubious look. “You text me if anything does,” Abby instructed her, although she didn’t seem hopeful. Sebastian gave her a head nod as they left.

Petra settled at the bar where Gus was working overtime to keep up with demand. He had let Emily have the night off to enjoy herself, so he was definitely stretched thin, but Petra knew he was loving the business. She would have to wait patiently. 

Petra suddenly saw Penny, her face perplexed and her red hair flowing, hustling across the room and out the front door. Uh oh..

“You know what you’d like, Petra?” 

“Actually Gus, I’ll be right back. Sorry.” Petra slid off her stool and headed back from the pool room. She found Sam sitting by himself dejectedly. 

“Sam?”

“Hey, P.”

“What happened?” She asked, a hand on his arm.

“I have no fucking idea,” he said sadly, his hand rifling through his blonde hair. She noted the dance floor was a bit sad and empty now, although Emily was still completely in the zone.

“Do you want to talk?” she asked. 

“Nah. I don’t know. Maybe.” He looked up at her and slid off his stool. “Let’s just get out of here, okay?”

Petra nodded, falling in step behind him. She was vaguely aware of Alex’s eyes watching her as they headed out, but forced herself not to look.



She settled with Sam on the front step of his house. They could hear the soothing sounds of the river trickling below them. They didn’t say anything for awhile. The crickets chirped noisily.

 She had never really seen Sam in any state that would even border on unenthused, with the exception of when he talked about his dad overseas. He was such a positive and fun-loving person, the abrupt change in his mood unsettled her. She put her hand on his shoulder softly.

“Is it because Abby and I were being too skanky?”

Sam let out a small breathy laugh. “Nah.” He stared at the cobblestones on the road in front of them. 

Petra waited a bit longer. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

He took in a big breath. “It’s just. I just don’t get it, P. I’m not trying to sound like an asshole, but I’ve never really had trouble…” he hesitated. “Getting girls.”

Petra had to hold in a laugh. “Oh.”

“I don’t mean! I’m not trying to “get” Penny, I’m not a creep. I just feel like she likes me, and things are good, but then suddenly they’re not. And I never know why.”

“She seemed so happy around you today,” Petra commiserated.

“I know! At the dance, and then tonight at the bar. She was laughing and was all over me dancing. For a minute I really thought she was going to kiss me.” Sam sighed heavily. “And then it was like a switch flipped.”

Petra tried to think back. “Did she say anything before she left?”

Sam frowned. “ Not really. Everything was fine, and then suddenly she kind of shrunk away all flustered, and said she had to go.”

Petra thought for a moment. “I obviously barely know her still. But she does seem really shy. Do you think she just got overwhelmed? It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you.”

Sam thought that over. “She is really shy,” he acknowledged. 

“Maybe she does have feelings and she’s just trying to sort them out. She could be scared to get her heartbroken.” Petra was suddenly feeling like this was very understandable. 

“I don’t know, P. I haven’t been that flirty with her, I’m seriously like a proper gentleman at all times.” His brown eyes were serious. “Her mom terrifies me. She thinks any guy around her daughter is up to no good. I don’t know how she could feel overwhelmed when I’m barely making a move.”

That sparked something. Petra sat up taller. “Do you think... she saw her mom in there?”

Sam looked at her. “Huh?”

“Maybe her mom saw you guys and was mad?”

Sam’s expression turned hopeful. “It could be. She also just gets really sad about her mom drinking in general. That’s why she’s almost never at the Saloon. Maybe it upset her to witness it firsthand, you know?”

“Maybe that’s it! Pam was really going to town on the IPAs.”

“That would make so much sense! P, you’re a genius!” Sam crushed her in a massive hug. 

They both looked up at the sound of a creaking door swinging open. Haley and Alex were on the front steps next door, Haley leading him inside with a cursory look their way. Petra couldn’t read Alex’s expression in the dark, but she could see him linger, watching them. Petra pulled her arms away from Sam as the door creaked slowly shut.

She felt paralyzed for a moment. The crickets were deafening. 

Sam shifted beside her before finally breaking the silence. “P..”

Petra blinked and stared at her shoes. “It’s fine. I know they’re close. They might even hook up still, I don’t really know.” Her voice was breezy to her ears, but then she had the sudden mortifying realization that tears were forming in her eyes.

Sam sounded horrified. “Shit, please don’t cry.” 

She swallowed hard and blinked. “I’m not.” She buried her head in her knees.

Sam wrapped his arm around her as she shuddered. “Aw, P… it’s okay. I don’t think they’re doing anything. He’s just walking her home and it was the festival..”

Petra lifted her head up, her face red. “It’s okay, Sam. We’re not anything. I just had a long day of holding this in and trying not to think about him. I did really well till now,” a fat tear squeezed out as she shut her eyes. 

Sam put an tentative hand on her back. They sat for awhile.

 “He was staring at you all day, you know.”

Petra patted his knee, her head bowed. “You don’t have to say that.”

“I’m serious.” Sam said. “Even Seb noticed it.”

Petra wiped her eyes and took in a shaky breath. “It’s honestly fine. I’m just tipsy and I think maybe getting my period or something..” she was babbling now. “ I should probably be going home.”

Sam followed suit when she stood up.  “I’m sorry about Penny, Sam. You’re the nicest, funniest, greatest guy. It’s not you. Who couldn’t like you?” She hugged him.

Sam squeezed her back. “Thanks, P.” She could sense he was uneasy. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

She nodded vigorously.

“Will you text when you get home?”

“Uh huh.”

They parted ways, Petra cutting through his yard to head up towards the square. She could see a small lamp on in Haley’s house, realizing it was probably her bedroom, and it made her stomach flip. It’s fine. I don’t care.

She felt another tear slip down her cheek. 

Chapter Text

 

Alex and Haley made their way to Haley’s house, her arm happily linked around his. He smiled at how giddy she seemed. Really she had been so happy the entire day. Mostly, of course, because they had won again.  But there was something else. She was laughing and actually gracious, something that didn’t happen often. She hugged multiple townsfolk, drunkenly kissed her sister’s cheek. They had happily socialized at the Saloon for hours and it was even later than he realized by the time they left.

“You know what the only bad part of today was?” Haley said, a little tipsiness to her voice. She was still wearing her crown.

“What’s that.” 

She did a little stumble on a loose rock from the cobblestone path, which could be a bit treacherous to navigate even without any alcohol in the system.  “It’s that I’m always so busy and involved in the dance, so I never get to take any of the pictures. I hope they don’t suck.”

“Nah,” Alex shook his head. “We looked too good for them to suck.” She giggled.

As they walked up her front steps he startled to see Sam and Petra, their arms around each other on Sam’s porch. It was dim, but they must have heard Haley open her door because they were looking their way. Alex felt his stomach do a weird flip flop, a pang of jealousy to see them together and then guilt for the situation he was in at the same time. It was all hard to process and then suddenly they were inside.

“I thought they might be fucking,” Haley said flippantly. 

Alex had to close his eyes for a moment to control his visceral reaction to that image, which seared in his mind. He knew responding would be suspicious, so he let it linger in the air, toxic as it felt.

She was fumbling for glasses in the kitchen. “Do you want a night cap? Or just water? We obviously need some snacks.”

“Just water,” he answered back. 

It was clearly a platonic hug. There was nothing to think about. Petra had to know he and Haley were just hanging out too, right?  Why was he being so weird?

“Why are you being so weird?” Haley suddenly demanded, turning to face him with a frown, the glasses in hand. She looked beautiful, even when she was angry. Which was good for her because she was angry a lot.

Alex thought for a moment but had nothing of substance to respond with. “What do you mean?”

“You’re all moody all the sudden. What’s your problem?”

“I’m not, I’m just tired. It’s late.” 

“We always watch a movie after the festival. It’s tradition.” She placed an indignant hand on her hip.

“I know, but this time we stayed out at the Saloon a long time. That’s not tradition.” Alex yawned, not even trying to make a point.

Haley took off her crown in a huff. “Fine, I guess today’s over.”

“Haley,” His shoulders slumped. She was always skilled at manipulating him. “What are you so upset about? I thought today was great.”

Her face softened. “It was. It’s just... it’s kind of like when the Feast of the Winter Star is over. You look forward to it for so long, and then, it’s just done.” She looked sadly at her crown.  “I just want it to last a little longer.” Her blue eyes pleaded with him. “One movie?”

Alex nodded. “One movie.” She beamed.

He couldn’t help but sneak a glance out of the window of Haley’s room as they sat together on her frilly pink bed. Were they still on the steps? Was Sam’s light on? His thoughts were interrupted as Haley cuddled into his chest. 

“You’re a really good friend to me, you know that?”

 

***

 

Abby’s phone vibrated. She let out a small groan, rolling over from where she was next to Sebastian in his bed. She felt a little tingle as she remembered their eventful last hour before falling asleep. I have to remember to tell Petra I stayed the night if Dad asks.

Sam: Have you checked on P

Abby sat up a little more now, feeling her headache pulse.

Abby: just woke up. why? she ok?

Sam:  dunno. she cried last night. we saw Alex and Haley going into her house.

“Yoba,” Abby groaned out loud.

“What’s going on?” Sebastian’s voice was scratchy, his eyes still shut.

Abby: shit. I’ll check on her.

Sam: BTW.. check out how many likes I got on my story.

Abby’s curiosity got the best of her and she tapped on the instapic app. The first post she saw was a video of her and Petra kissing on a loop, bass thumping and loud whooping coming through her phone. “Oh, YOBA.”  She noted the 262 views. 

Sebastian finally popped his head up and craned his neck to glance at her phone. “Oh, Yoba.” He laid back down. 

 

***

 

 

Abby:  You okay babe? Sam said you had an upsetting end to the night.

Petra had been lying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, sorting through her feelings. Last night she had been teary but now she was just annoyed. This was her fresh start, time to focus on herself. Why was she already crying over a guy?

Petra: yeah, Sam was just sad that Penny left.

Abby: that’s not what I meant, P...

Petra took in a steadying breath. Of course Sam had reached out. Guys were always weird about crying. 

Petra: I’m fine, really. it was beer tears

Abby: It wouldn’t be hard to understand you feeling upset about seeing them

Petra: I’m really okay. I promise.

Abby: ok <3

Abby: btw, I stayed at your house last night if anyone asks

Petra: of course. hope you had fun :P

Abby: um also, check Sam’s story.

Petra’s face flushed at the two of them kissing, the boomerang effect and glare of the multicolored lights giving the scene a seedy vibe. “Oh, Yoba.”

Petra glanced around her cabin, a bit worse for wear since last night. Her clothes were strewn about, and she had made a mess of her tiny kitchen making late night ramen. She peered at her reflection in the mirror over her dresser and saw a face with tear stains from her mascara and a rat’s nest of hair. “Yikes.”

She noticed a notification light up her phone. She picked it up from her bed quickly, her breath catching when she saw the name.

Alex: Did you have a fun flower dance farm girl

Petra’s mind spun.  He had to know yesterday was hard for her. But she had done such a good job of ignoring him for most of it, maybe it was best to keep up the charade. She thought back to seeing him heading into Haley’s and felt a little pang of hurt. She shoved the feeling away. Best play it cool. She stared at the blinking cursor for a moment.

Petra: It was certainly an experience haha. congrats on your victory 

The “haha” softened it, right? Did her congrats sound sarcastic? Mercifully his response came quickly. 

Alex:  my reign is secure again!

Alex:  ..congrats on going viral

Petra was terribly confused until she remembered Sam’s story. 

Petra: Yoba, You saw that

Alex: Hell yeah, I did :P

Petra gritted her teeth. “Awesome.” 

She took a moment to pull herself together and stepped out onto her front porch. She noted with guilt that her crops were looking thirsty in the late spring sun.

She opened her mailbox absentmindedly and was surprised to find a colorful envelope loaded with stamps.

Petra,

we’re so very proud of you. We know you’re working hard and don’t have much time to write, but we’d love another update soon. We enclosed a little something for you.

Love, Mom and Dad.

Petra’s mouth actually fell open at the 500 gold note she had in her hand. She could officially build her chicken coop. Her heart soared.

She looked lovingly at the handwriting. She would have to give them a longer update than last time. A lot had happened. She could tell them about her first harvest, the festivals, all about Abby, Sam, and Seb... 

Her mind went to Alex. She had to be careful. No more drunken tears. It was back to the original plan. This summer was going to be all about improving her farm. She shoved the gold note and the letter in her pocket and shut the mailbox authoritatively.  

 No crushes, no feelings.  Yoba, it was going to be a cruel summer.

 

***

 

Sebastian was laying half awake, trying to decide without exerting too much effort who his mother was talking to upstairs. Her tone had the kind of sweetness she usually reserved for Abby, but there was too much formality. 

He was almost ready to give up and roll over but a bright laugh sounded and gave it away.

What is Petra doing here? He laid there for a few more minutes and then his curiosity won out. He lumbered into the kitchen, his eyes barely open and his hair rumpled. Their chatter stopped abruptly. 

“Sebby, it’s 9:30! I didn’t expect to see you for hours!” Robin grinned. She turned to Petra. “He’s in his cave down there until at least noon most days.” 

Sebastian ignored his mother’s light teasing and sunk unceremoniously into a chair at the table, glancing at the plans sprawled out in front of them. She didn’t usually bring clients back here but he supposed Petra was different. He eyed the coffee they were drinking. “Can I have some of that?”

“Your mom’s building me a chicken coop,” Petra told him excitedly. Robin placed a mug in front of him. 

“It should only take me a few days,” Robin thought aloud, scanning over the papers in front of them, her mind running invisible calculations. “Let me go grab a few more blueprints from the shop and we’ll decide on a style.” She hurried out of the room. 

“That’s some real farming,” Sebastian said.

Petra smiled proudly. “It’s a big step for sure.” 

“You really should consider dangling that piece of hay out of your mouth like I suggested.”

Petra had the sort of melodious laugh that made any prior joke a bit more funny. Seb smiled briefly, but it faded when he remembered what Sam had shared. He considered not bringing it up, but he hadn’t had a lot of coffee yet and maybe wasn’t thinking completely rationally.  “Are you doing okay?”

She hesitated like she wasn’t sure what he meant, but he knew she did. 

“It must have been shit to see them all over each other all day. You don’t deserve that.”

“It’s okay.” She said it softly, but convincingly.  “I’m not sure why I got emotional. I don’t really have a right to be.”

“I don’t know about that.” Sebastian contemplated for a moment if he should say what he had told Sam. That he thought she needed to be honest with herself and with Alex, or it would get harder for her. Instead he said, “It’s a small town. It’s hard to ignore feelings.” 

She nodded slowly. They shared a moment in thought, staring into their coffees.

Robin came in then, her arms full of rolled up plans. “Petra, let’s head back to the shop. I have a few examples to show you, and then we’ll get started.” 

Petra stood up and gave him a smile. “See you Friday?”

“Of course.”

 

Sebastian was still staring into his coffee, considering going back to bed when he heard Maru come into the kitchen. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

Maru adjusted her glasses, a nervous habit. What was she preparing to ask him?

“What did you mean before? She didn’t deserve seeing who together?”

Sebastian bristled. “Why were you eavesdropping?”

“Are her and Sam….?” she trailed, her eyes intense.

“What?” Sebastian wasn’t sure if he was more angry at the absurdness of that idea or the fact that she still hadn’t acknowledged listening in on them. “No, they’re just friends.”

Maru looked satisfied, or relieved, he wasn’t sure. “I thought so.”

“Why?” 

“Penny was telling me she thought Sam and Petra were something at the Saloon the other night, after the Flower Dance. I mean, she did join your crew fairly quickly, but I told her I didn’t see anything romantic in it.” She paused to see if Sebastian would offer more. 

He didn’t want to get into gossip with her. They might be half-siblings, but he did not go out of his way to bond with her, ever. Guilt nipped at him slightly, as it often did, but he dismissed the feeling.  “Well, they’re not.”

“I don’t even think Penny believes they are, really,” Maru continued. “Harvey thinks she’s self-sabotaging. Finding ways to deny her feelings.” Sebastian always felt irked by the doctor and his borderline unprofessional friendship with Maru. She read the look on his face and changed the subject.  “So… who did you mean then?”

Sebastian hesitated. It wasn’t a secret, exactly, but it also didn’t feel like his news to tell. His mouth went in a line. 

Maru’s brow furrowed in thought as she pondered over the possible options. Her eyes widened suddenly. “Wait, Alex??” 

Sebastian raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement, sipping his coffee again.

 Maru looked intrigued. “Huh.”

“I think they’ve hooked up a few times. But it’s not an official thing.”

“Do you think Haley knows?”

Sebastian shrugged.  “I doubt it.”

“I mean, I know they’re not together, but.” Maru paused. 

Sebastian stood, realizing he was hitting his quota for socialization for the day well before noon.

“Wait, Seb?”

He looked over his shoulder.

“When Mom and Dad are gone for that forestry conference this weekend, I was thinking... maybe we could throw a party.”

“What?” he almost laughed. “A party? For who? Our four friends?”

“I don’t know, whoever wants to come,” she shrugged, smiling. “My birthday’s soon.”

“Demetrius would be pissed,” he countered.

“Dad won’t know.” Maru was younger than him and was still thrilled by the idea of alcohol and friends in a way he had adjusted to a while back. He did admittedly like the idea of being unencumbered by their mom and Demetrius, but he had something else in mind. Maybe a smoke out by the mountain, Abby could stay over..

“I don’t know.” He started to leave with his coffee, then glanced back over his shoulder. “Maybe.”

Maru smiled. 

 

***

 

Shane took a swig of his beer. The Saloon was empty enough tonight, probably because most of the town had been there the previous evening after the Flower Dance and things had been fairly debaucherous. Even the non-regulars were getting into it. Even Haley.

Shane shivered at the memory of how she had sat across from him at that very barstool he stared at now. He could remember it perfectly. She was drinking something fizzy through a straw and giving him that lingering eye contact as she sucked with her perfect full lips that made his throat go dry and his dick twitch. A moment later she was back on Alex’s arm, whispering something in his ear. 

They had been all over each other the entire day, of course, and he hated how much it stung. Alex beamed like a constant reminder of the kind of guy Haley should be with. He probably relished the attention from their win as much as she did, Shane thought bitterly.

Even before all that, just to tease him, Haley had given him this big, joyous hug after she was announced the winner. In front of everyone. Casual, like they were old friends. He had stiffened uncomfortably, but his cheeks had betrayed him and gone red. 

She was like an angel and a ghost haunting him all at once. He was thrilled whenever he saw her and absolutely dismayed at the same time. It was too small of a town not to run into each other, and he passed her house every Yoba-forsaken day. 

Shane set his empty glass down on the bar, staring into space. He had to resolve to himself that this was done. Whatever the fuck it was that “this” was, he had to have things go back to the way they were. When he could drink at the Saloon in peace. 

 

He left that night well before the bar closed, feeling angry and not drunk enough. He plodded down the cobblestone path to an unhappy beat, and then suddenly ahead of him, there she was.

Shane blinked once to be sure. Haley was standing out on the side of her house closest to the Saloon, almost like she had been waiting for him. She was never outside this time of night, ever. He came to a slow stop, his hands jammed in his pockets. 

“Hi,” she said softly. Her face was so pretty, it was cruel.

He just stared at her in disbelief. There was some fresh hell to be had, he was sure of it. “What do you want?” it was direct, emotionless.

“I was just waiting for Emily, she said she’d be walking home soon.”

His eyes narrowed. There was no way that was true. She was out here to mess with him. He thought about just walking on past her without another word, but for some reason he didn’t.

“Congrats on your win yesterday. Quite the accomplishment.” His voice was dripping with insincerity, more so than he had meant.

She tilted her head, a hand on her hip. “What’s your problem?”

“My problem?” He was whispering, but it felt like a yell. “What’s your problem? You can’t… text me that shit, and hug me in front of the whole fucking town, eye fuck me at the bar, and then go back to acting like I don’t exist when it’s convenient.”

She recoiled.  “What are you talking about?” Her voice was fragile.

He did not want to play that game. “Just stop, alright? I don’t want you looking at me, I don’t want you sending me your selfies, don’t talk to me at festivals. Just go back to pretending I’m not there like you used to.”

She looked angry now, but she also seemed unsettled, a bit guilty even. She took a moment to form her words. “You’re a drunk, selfish asshole,” she spat.

“Yeah?” he felt a sharp pang of frustration. “You’re a selfish asshole too, but instead of alcohol you’re a fucking attention addict. Same difference. I abuse beer, but at least I don’t use people.” 

His words hung heavy in the air.  She looked stunned at first, then her lips went into a line and her blue eyes were searing through him. He realized with a pang of worry that he had hit a sore spot.

“Go fuck yourself.” She turned on her heel.

He watched her disappear for a moment into the dark and felt his breath catch. Shit.

“Haley-” He rounded the corner of her house just in time to hear her front door slam. 

Shane sat there staring for a moment. He hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings, not really. He had just been pissed, and kind of confused, and fucking drunk per usual. He couldn’t leave things like this.  Do something you dumbass.

He looked around. The last thing he needed was a neighbor to see him. He stood awkwardly, not on her steps, but off to the side. Texting.

Shane: Come outside and talk to me.

He stared at the screen. A few dots appeared for a tantalizing second. Then nothing. He groaned silently.

Shane: Haley I know you saw this. 

Shane: Please come out

He tensed when he heard voices. Willy was parting ways with Clint at the Saloon’s entrance, and soon he would make his way down to the beach and he’d be in view. Shane turned quickly and slid behind the other side of Haley’s house, waiting. His heart was pounding. 

What the fuck am I doing? He shook his head. Shane wanted to go but his guilt was stopping him. Why couldn’t he have just said nothing to her and gone the fuck home?

The window he was next to was dark, but he could see a lamp was on in the one on the far right. He thought for a second. It couldn’t be Emily’s room, she wasn’t even home yet. 

He hadn’t thought it through but suddenly he was right next to it. He gave a soft knock.

All he could hear were the deafening crickets by this river. Then the window flew open so suddenly he startled.

“Get in here.” A hand grabbed his arm and he nearly whacked his head on the top of the window as he was being pulled in. He folded awkwardly, lifting his leg through and stumbling into a pink paradise. For a moment he was completely disoriented. His eyes came into focus and he saw Haley in front of him, her eyes stern. 

She shut the window behind him quickly. He stood there stunned. 

“Anyone could see you creeping out there,” she scolded. She was still angry, but not like before. 

He swallowed. “I know. Shit.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry I said that.”

 She folded her arms, looking away from him slightly.  

 “Really, Haley. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t respond for a moment. “You weren’t wrong.” There was a touch of sadness in her voice.

Shane raised his eyebrows. He was not ready for that response. 

“I know I’ve been confusing to you. And.. I do like attention,” she conceded with a small roll of her eyes, her arms still crossed.  “You fucking called me out. I should admit it.”

Shane was stunned. “Shit.” He almost chuckled.  He sat on her pink bed, rubbing his forehead, not exactly sure where to go from there. “Well. You called me out too. I’m definitely a selfish drunk asshole.”

“No you’re not.” She sat down next to him. “A selfish asshole doesn’t give someone flowers. Or tell them they’re gorgeous.” He felt his heart rate pick up. So she did like that.  

They sat in silence for a moment.

“You drive me kind of crazy, you know that?” he said. “I’m pretty sure you do.”

Haley bit her lip. He couldn’t help but stare at her delicate hands, her glittery nail polish.

She gazed up at him. “I’ll leave you alone, Shane. If that’s what you want.” She was so close to him now, her angelic face soft and sad. Her pink lips so tantalizingly close.

The words came out of him like someone else’s, low and harsh sounding. “You know what I want.”  

They stared into each other for a long second.

Suddenly her lips were on his in a harsh, needy kiss. Shane reached for her reflexively, one arm wrapping around her waist and his other hand grasping the back of her neck, pulling her close, her soft hair between his fingers. A soft moan escaped her that made him shiver. 

She was suddenly sliding onto his lap, facing him as they kissed. He darted his tongue between her full lips and relished the way she whimpered. He caressed her down the soft curve of her back to her hips, unsure if this was reality or some kind of fantastic fast-paced dream.  

She moved her kiss from his lips to his neck, sucking sharply, eliciting a deep moan from him.  It felt incredible, but he also realized she was really using force. “Haley,” he breathed. “Fuck, don’t give me a hickey.”

She pulled back for a moment, her blue eyes combative and an inch away from his. “You really want me to stop?” 

“No,” he almost whimpered. She went back to his neck and he tensed, his whole body feeling electric and sensitive, his mind spinning.

They were kissing forcefully, slowly moving backwards so that he was almost on his back. She was tugging at the bottom of his shirt and he helped her whip it off over his head. He reached for the straps of her dress, and she slid them down quickly, a hot pink pushup bra underneath that made his breath catch and his legs feel weak.

“Fuck, you’re hot,” he practically whispered. She smiled at him with that sultry look she always had.

She straddled him again, gripping the back of his neck as if to hold him in place. She began to slowly writhe on top of him, thrusting needily on his rock hard erection. He let out a moan from her teasing. 

Shane was overcome with wanting her, with how much he wanted to give her pleasure. He grabbed her full hips and pulled her to him roughly. If she wanted attention, he would give her as much as she could handle.

“Tell me what you want, Haley.”

“Take off your pants,” she commanded him. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Quit checking out the doctor,” Leah admonished, smiling coyly.

“I was doing nothing of the sort,” Elliot replied, his glass of wine close to his lips, the glimmer in his eyes betraying him.

Leah gazed over to where Harvey was standing at the bar, chatting with Gus. For a man of medicine, he certainly seemed to enjoy an IPA.  “Why don’t you talk to him?” she prodded, a bit of intrigue in her voice.

Elliot tutted. “The only thing I have to talk to that man about is my bad knee. I assure you we share nothing else in common to discuss. Least of all any romantic inclinations.”

Leah rested her head in her hand. “But his mustache.”

Elliot tilted his head, staring wistfully. “It is marvelous, I must say.” He perked up. “What’s this now?”

Leah followed his gaze to the farmer, who had just walked in with a bag on her shoulder, a white garment poking out of it. She handed it across the counter to Emily and they began chatting amicably.

“Returning the borrowed Flower Dance dress.” Elliot tapped his chin. “Now Leah, tell me why she would walk past Haley’s actual house, and opt instead to give this garment to her sister, another, say, five minute walk down the road?”

Leah raised an eyebrow. “Maybe she was coming from north of town.”

“But she wasn’t, was she.”

Leah took a sip of her wine. “No. She wasn’t.” They shared conspiratorial eye contact. 

“I was actually surprised, one might say... disappointed, at the lack of developments at the Flower Dance,” Elliot said ruefully. “I was promised a love triangle, and it was all so anticlimactic.”

“Maybe it’s over,” Leah replied with a touch of sadness, watching the farmer as she chatted with Emily at the bar. 

Elliot hummed. “I don’t think so. My heart tells me there will be more developments. Yoba, I hope we’re present for them.” He sipped his wine.

They returned the farmer’s friendly wave as she passed them, her boots leaving some mud as she strode across the floor. The door of the Saloon shut behind her.

“I just want the littlest bite of that ass,” Leah murmured under her breath.

Elliot gave her a look of amusement and mild judgement, but snapped to attention as Shane entered the bar. “Look sharp.”

Leah’s eyes narrowed slightly as she watched him pass their table, taking up his usual spot by the wall. “He’s late again.”

Elliot raised an eyebrow. “And clean shaven.” 

They watched him stoically for a few minutes. “He hasn’t even looked to order yet.” Leah whispered. “It’s like he’s not even here for the alcohol.”

They watched as he responded to a text on his phone, tapping out a reply. 

“Was that a smile?” Leah whispered. 

“That does it.”  Elliot made a small huff. “He is most definitely getting laid.”

Leah looked about. “But who is it?” She gritted her teeth. “This has seriously been driving me crazy.”

“You really don’t think it’s…?” Elliot started again.

“I told you, that’s a definite no.” Leah waved a hand dismissively.

“Alright well, there aren’t many other options. Let’s think.”  He began to rapid fire without much interest. “Maru. Penny. Abigail.”

“What if it’s totally unexpected. Like, he’s banging one of the moms,” Leah suggested. “It’s Pam.” 

“Certainly not,” Elliot scoffed.

“Maybe he’s on the other side of the spectrum? It’s Clint. It’s Willy.”

Elliot shook his head despondently.

“Maybe he’s in on the love triangle with Alex too. It’s a square.”

“As much as I appreciate the visual of Shane and Alex tangled together, I highly doubt that.”

 Leah sighed. “We’ll figure it out eventually.”

Elliot narrowed his eyes, studying Shane returning his phone to his pocket. “We always do.”

 

***

 

Haley leaned against the counter of the ice cream stand like she had most days of every summer since whenever it was that Alex had started this gig. Years ago, definitely.

She always liked it because it was the perfect spot for people watching and gossip, and he let her sit under the umbrella when it got hot and she had countless free samples of course. Not that she often chose any flavor other than Pink Cake.

Today she felt distracted though. Shane had come over again last night. Her heart fluttered a little at the memory. 

Their meetups had all been so spontaneous and intense and incredibly hot. He was harsh and sexy in the best way, and she found herself playing back scenes in her head, flushing from just the echo of his moans.

Haley picked at her nails, deep in thought. It was thrilling to hear that little rap on her window right around the time the Saloon closed, but before Emily was due home. She wondered if it would happen again tonight.

They courteously waved to Elliot, who was passing by on his way to the library.  

“How many books do you think he reads a week?” Alex asked her, his brow furrowed.

“Who knows.”

“He always has such a big stack of them.” She saw Alex check on his supply of pomegranate twist, which was Elliot’s favorite, and would most likely be requested on his return trip home. 

“Sometimes I wish I read more.”

Haley squinted at him. “Huh?”

“You know, I have all those books in my room. I don’t really read.”  His face was solemn. 

“You don’t need to read, you’re good-looking and athletic.” Haley went back to her nails. He seemed dissatisfied with this, but she went on. “What are you doing tonight?”

He started fumbling with the stacks of cones. “I don’t really know yet.”

“I want to do this new face mask,” she said absentmindedly. That wasn’t all she hoped to be doing. 

Haley imagined for a moment what Alex would say if she told him about Shane. She could drop it casually, perhaps. Like, “Hey, guess who I started screwing out of the blue.”

Alex didn’t get jealous very easily. That was one of his faults, for sure. When they would break up in high school she would tell him about new boys who were interested in her, and he would just shrug or be like, “okay” and then she’d pester him about it more and he’d be all, “why are you telling me that.” Like it was some mystery.

Of course now they had been just friends for awhile and she wasn’t after any reaction from him, so if she did mention going on date in Zuzu or seeing someone casually it was never a big deal. But this would be different. This was someone from town. Someone he actually knew and sort of hated.

It wouldn’t be jealousy really, but she pictured he’d be shocked, or judgmental, probably both. “ Shane!? What? He’s a drunk asshole.”

He was, too. She couldn’t stop thinking about him.

“You okay?”

Haley blinked. “Huh?”

“You were like, totally in a trance just now.” 

“Sorry. Thinking about shopping.” That sounded likely. She felt bad hiding this from him in a way, because he was her best friend. But she figured if she told him eventually, when she was ready, it was fine. She’d figure it out.

“I think it’s going to be a fun summer,” she told him.

Alex smiled back. “I do too.”

***

 

 

Sam: dude. It’s the first day of summer. 

Seb: yeah exciting

Sam: wait why are you online already it’s like 10am

Seb: I don’t know. It’s been a trend this week.

Sam: maybe because the start of summer is magical. I can feel it in the air

Seb: sure

Sam: if you’re up now does this mean you and Abby will come over for band practice early?

Seb: …

Seb: no

Sam: we’re still raging at your place Friday right

Seb: I will be here, and will have stuff. If that’s what you mean.

Sam: so yes!

 

Sam was deep in thought as he pushed himself along on his skateboard, grinding the occasional railing, not really practicing so much as he was trying to clear his mind. He was thinking about seeing Penny again.

He had been content for a while to assume that she had been upset the night of the Flower Dance from seeing her mom drinking, but now he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something else, something having to do with him. He didn’t know what it was, but he was eager for the chance to make it right.  

This had sort of been their cycle for a long time. He and Penny always had a connection, and sometimes they would hang out alone together and it would even feel a little like a date. He’d walk her home, she’d hang on to his arm. They’d share heated eye contact. But they had never admitted their feelings, never kissed. He could think of a handful of times it had felt imminent. He thought back to the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies last year, or even the Saloon the other night. 

Sam felt an urgency well within him. He was pretty sure everyone who goes to any party ever has a secret hope about something unfolding. Friday was his chance to finally put it out there.

His thoughts were interrupted when he realized Haley was making her way down the path to her front door. He stopped his skateboard abruptly, hoping he hadn’t been visible when he was grinding his skateboard on the side of her house. Haley was equal parts hot as she was terrifying. He never tried to piss her off, but he succeeded a lot. 

To his surprise she gave him a smile. “Hi Sam. It’s finally summer, aren’t you so glad?”

“Uh, hey. Yeah! It’s awesome,” he replied. 

She started up her steps but then paused, turning his way. “I don’t care if you skateboard on the flower boxes, you know.”

“You don’t?” He blurted. “Not that I was,” he added quickly.

“Maybe I’m just feeling nice because you didn’t wake me up with that fucking guitar for once.” She had her hand on her hip but she looked amused. She turned and went inside with a flash of blonde curls.

Sam stood in a bit of shock. What’s got her in such a good mood?

He hopped back on his skateboard and pushed off again, letting his mind drift back to Penny. He hoped she was going to accept Maru’s invite. Maybe he should follow up, or would that seem pushy?

“Sam!”

Sam turned to see Petra making her way down the path from west of town. The last time he saw her she had been in tears on his front step. It had gutted him. He was relieved to see her usual carefree expression on her face.

He rolled up to her with an abrupt stop, kicking his skateboard up to catch it. “Hi, P!” They shared a hug. “How are you doing?” He dropped his voice lower. “I hated seeing you cry.” 

“I’m fine, thanks for being so nice to me. I seriously was just tipsy and in my feelings,” she shrugged, but he thought he could see a flicker of pain in her eyes. “I'm over it.”

He didn’t really believe that, but he didn’t get the chance to protest before she started pulling out a mason jar from her backpack with a red lid. He gasped.  “Puh-LEASE tell me that’s more strawberry jam!!” 

Petra beamed proudly. “Give this to your mom, okay?” She handed him the jar.

Sam had polished off the last one in less than two days. His mom had been pissed. Samson! That was for the whole family!  Maybe he could hide this one? “This stuff is so good. Shit, I don’t have any gold though,” he patted his pockets. “Let me go inside-”

“No, it’s a gift!” She insisted, cutting him off. “I’m going to sell the rest to Pierre’s, but that one’s for you.”

“Thanks, P. You sure?” He grinned when she nodded. “Damn, it pays to know a farmer.”

“Have you heard from Penny at all?” Petra asked hesitantly, her light blue eyes concerned.  

Sam let out a small sigh. “Yeah, she came by this morning to pick up Vincent, and she seemed totally normal and sweet. Like nothing happened.” He shrugged.  “I never know, that’s just how she is. Hot and cold.”

Petra nodded sadly. That reminded Sam of her own turmoil from that night.  “Have you seen Alex since the Flower Dance?” he asked.

Petra shook her head. “We’ve texted a little, but that’s all.” She adjusted her backpack on her shoulders and changed the subject quickly.  “Anyway, I have a lot to do. It’s the first day of summer, you know. Very busy time for a farmer.” She smiled and brushed her long ponytail behind her playfully. 

“We’ll still see you at Seb’s rager, right?” He asked. Farming was serious business, sure, but he needed her there. It was going to be a big night.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” she grinned, matching the mischief in his tone.

Sam blinked as a genius idea sparked suddenly. “Oh hey. The first day of summer.” Haley had gone home already, too. He gave Petra a serious look. “You know what, you should go towards the library.”

Petra furrowed her brow, clearly confused.

“You’ll like it. It’s a summer thing.” Sam let his skateboard drop to the cobblestone path. “Just trust me!” He flashed her a smile, pushing off and zooming away before she could question him.

 

***

 

Petra had so much to do, but her curiosity got the better of her.  She was just crossing the bridge when she saw him.

Alex was perched behind a small stand with an umbrella by the river. It had been there during the spring as well, she was sure of it, but now it had a much more official look. 

She felt a flutter that danced from her stomach up to her throat, watching him lean back casually on his stool, his muscular arm bracing the counter so he didn’t tip, his handsome face gazing out thoughtfully over the river. 

The last time she had seen him was when he had been heading into Haley’s house. The memory of seeing them arm in arm still stung. She had to once again stop her thoughts from circling around what had happened between them that night. It doesn’t matter. He can do what he wants. I don’t care.  

She saw Alex straighten as the library door opened and Jas and Vincent bolted towards the stand, Penny power-walking after them. She could hear their excited chatter as they peered over the counter, pointing to different flavors on their tiptoes. 

Penny saw her first, looking up at her with a bright smile. “Hi, Petra.” Petra hadn’t seen Penny since she had left the Saloon the other night completely distraught.  Whatever the reason, she seemed totally at ease now. She turned to Vincent and Jas sweetly. “Say hi, children.”

“Hi Miss Petra!” They chorused, visibly elated for the treat that awaited them. Alex was handing Vincent a large cone of what appeared to be grape ice cream, and Vincent’s eyes were as big as dinner plates in anticipation.

“Hi, farm girl.” Alex flashed her that intoxicating smile of his. She was trying not to pay attention to how his muscles filled out his t-shirt, silently cursing Sam for knowing exactly what he was doing in sending her here. 

“Wow, I had no idea Pelican Town had an ice cream stand. This could be dangerous.”

“It’s special for summer!” Jas squealed as Alex handed her what looked like a big scoop of gem berry swirl.  

“I figured they deserved a treat on the first day of the season,” Penny shrugged, taking a slurp of her own cone. “And me too, I guess.” Petra smiled.

Alex gestured to the impressive list. “Do you have a favorite? I try to keep everybody’s memorized.” She felt a wave of affection at how seriously he took his part-time profession. 

Petra bit her lip in thought for a moment. “Strawberry.”

He tapped a finger to his forehead as if physically committing it to memory. He pulled out a cone and put a generous scoop on top. 

Petra took it from him reverently. “Thanks...Yoba, this looks good.” Her first taste confirmed her suspicion.

“Vince, Jas, why don’t you two go eat your ice cream over on the bench?” Penny encouraged them sweetly. “Take some napkins!” she added quickly.  

Once they had scampered out of earshot, Penny turned back to Petra, a little of her typical shyness in her voice, a blush to her cheeks. “So, I’m sure you heard about Maru and Seb’s on Friday?”

Alex arched an eyebrow inquisitively from where he was forcing a lid back on an ice cream tub.

Petra nodded from behind her cone. “Seb sold it to me more as a chance for him and Sam to smoke by the mines. But I’ll be there,” she grinned. She couldn’t help but steal a quick glance at Alex to gauge his interest. They definitely had his attention. 

“Demetrius and Robin are away at a conference this weekend,” Penny explained to him. She smiled sweetly. “If you’re around you should come. Maru wanted me to spread the word.” 

Petra forced herself to keep her expression neutral and pleasant, when in reality she felt a weird mix of nerves and glee that he had just gotten the invite.

Alex looked contemplative, stealing a quick unreadable glance her way.  “Uh..yeah, cool. I might stop by.” 

“Great.” Penny smiled. She did some mental math for a moment and then handed Alex some coins from her purse. “I’m sure we’ll be back again sometime this week. I keep them on a pretty easy schedule during the summer.”

“Miss Penny!” Vincent interrupted loudly from the bench. Petra noted that both children had nearly finished their ice cream already and were now digging in the soil. “We found a worm and it’s GIANT!”

Penny looked less than amused. “Do not touch that Vince!” She ordered. She smiled at them again, a little fatigue showing through. “Nice to see you both.”

“Good luck,” Alex laughed. She accepted his offering of a few more napkins gratefully.

“See you Friday,” Petra smiled.  They waved as the trio headed back to the library.

It was just the two of them at the stand now. Alex’s eyes settled on her. “Didn’t know I was a successful part-time ice cream scooper, did you?” Petra couldn’t help but laugh at how he was leaning on the counter like a proud business owner, his eyebrow arched. 

“You’re full of surprises,” she replied playfully.

“The mayor asked me to do it a few summers back. It doesn’t exactly rake in the gold, but it has helped me get some savings going, you know, for when I go pro.” He pushed some auburn hair away from his eyes.

“Of course.” She felt annoyed with herself for finding his confidence so endearing. That reminded her. “Oh, how much do I owe you?”

“First one’s always free,” he assured her with a hand wave, his smile insinuating that he had totally made that up. “So a house party, huh?”

“That’s what I heard,” she shrugged, hoping she seemed nonchalant. “ I don’t know how many people you need before it qualifies as a true party, though.”

“In this town? Anything over three,” he quipped.

She let out an amused hum. She noted the time on the little digital clock by the register, feeling a pang of guilt for how behind she was in the day’s schedule already. “I better get back to work. The start of a new season is always really busy. Oh!" How had she not mentioned it yet? " And I’m almost ready for my next big farming project.” She paused for effect. “Chickens.”

“Chickens!” Alex let out an amused chuckle. “Damn, you’re making some serious farming moves.”

She nodded excitedly. “I just chatted with Marnie this morning. As soon as the coop is done I can pick up the baby chicks. Maybe even tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow, huh.” Alex was leaning a bit towards her, his hand on the counter. She couldn’t help but feel the affection in his eyes.  “Maybe I can see them sometime.” 

“I’d like that,” she almost purred, completely unintentionally. Shit, stop flirting with him. She shifted back to her heels, pretending she was interested in noticing Shane walking across the far bridge on his way to work, taking a slurp of her cone.

 

Petra made her exit and left the stand as blithely as she could with her heart racing in her chest.  When she was a ways away, she sent Sam a quick text. 

Petra: you’re very sneaky.

Her phone vibrated almost immediately.  

Sam: :P 

Sam: So is he coming, or what?

She half smiled. 

Petra. We’ll find out Friday..

Petra took in a breath as she neared Pierre’s. She was not going to fixate on whether Alex would show up to the party, she resolved to herself, munching the last bit of her cone. She’d have a great time with her friends, regardless.

Her brow furrowed. She was going to need a serious outfit, just in case.

 

***

 

Robin finished the coop the next morning, earlier than expected, and Abby had helped her paint it red with little white doors. It was officially ready and now it was time to fill it with new baby chicks. Her very first animals for the farm. 

Petra was plodding down to Marnie’s ranch at top speed. She had been thinking about names all night and couldn’t stop imagining herself spreading feed in the mornings in the sunshine, her baby chicks peeping happily. She let out an accomplished sigh.

Petra turned the corner by the silo and could see a few young cows grazing contentedly in their pasture. She skipped up the steps and knocked enthusiastically on the door.

Petra’s mind started to wander as she waited. It had been more than a few minutes. She knocked again. It wasn’t that early. Should she have called first?

Suddenly, the door opened abruptly, and an angry Shane was there glowering at her. Petra startled.

“What do you want?”

“Oh. Um, hi Shane. Is Marnie here?”

“She’s not.” He looked more than in a hurry to be rid of her.

Petra’s face fell. “Oh, I see.”

“What do you want?” he repeated. She could see the stubble on his face and the plaid pajama pants he hadn’t changed out of.

“I was just... supposed to be getting chickens today. Baby chicks.” 

To her surprise, his look softened slightly. “You built a coop?” his eyes studied her.

“Yeah.  It’s only just ready today. I mentioned getting chickens soon to Marnie, but I didn’t give her an exact time. Maybe I should have called first?” she shifted uneasily.

“Nah, not your fault. She’s never really reliably in her shop. I never know when she’s home.” he actually opened the door a bit wider, leaning against the door frame. Petra was speechless from his sudden attitude shift. “What are you thinking? White chickens? Brown?”

“I was just going to see whatever she had,” Petra said, wondering if she sounded ignorant or unprepared. “Maybe both, if I could pick?”

“Is the coop nice? I hope you’ll be giving them a lot of free space to roam out there. They’re good chickens and they deserve to be happy.” His face was stern.

“Oh definitely… lots of room.” Petra had no idea he was so serious about chickens.  She had never actually had a real conversation with him at all, before this. And of course there was the debacle at the Saloon.

He looked thoughtful. “She’ll be home later today. I’ll bring the chicks myself, if you trust me to pick them.” 

“Sure!” Petra was happy. “If you don’t mind, I mean.” She smiled. “Thanks Shane.”

As she was turning to leave, he suddenly called out. “Hey.” She spun back around.

“Do you grow sunflowers?”

Petra hesitated. “Um, no, not yet. They’re a summer and fall crop. Summer seeds just came out, but I was thinking of growing some.”

“Never mind.” He looked uncomfortable. “The chickens… like the seeds.”

“Oh.” she said. “Cool.” She had the awkward realization that Alex said that a lot to almost anything, and now she was doing it.

The door shut abruptly without a goodbye. 

 

***

 

Haley was paging through some prints from the Flower Dance when her phone buzzed beside her. She set down the photo she was looking at on her desk and smiled when she saw the name. 

Sometimes Shane sent her selfies, over the top, dramatically unattractive ones, where he gave himself multiple chins or was posing with a chicken. They made her crack up, and she had even reciprocated with a few back that would be more embarrassing if they got leaked than her semi-nude ones. Much more embarrassing, actually.

This was just a message though.

Shane: If I went to a party later, would you want to stop by

Haley blinked. A party? He had to be talking about somewhere in the city. She felt a little twinge of excitement, but then also fatigue when she thought about trying to get there. It was a whole thing. She bit her lip and tapped out a response.

Haley: IDK maybe. Where is it?

Shane: Just up the mountain

Haley’s brow furrowed. Did he mean the mines? She and Alex used to drink up there before they were 21 a few times but that seemed weird. Either that or..

Shane: Demetrius and Robin are away

Ah. That meant Sebastian was hosting people, or maybe Maru, probably both. She wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out with that crew ever. Sebastian was always gloomy and weird and she always felt like Abby was judging her. Sam was loud. Probably the farmer would be there then, who she still didn’t really know well but seemed nice enough, a fashion travesty though she was.

Her sister would probably be going, she realized. Emily always wanted her to do more things with people from town. And with her.

Haley: Not sure. Text me when you go

Best to be noncommittal. She’d keep it open, but she probably wouldn’t go.

Haley frowned, taking a glance towards her closet. She was going to need to plan a serious outfit, just in case. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sam: tonight at 7. epic rager at Seb’s

Sam: are you guys in?

Abby: I don’t think Petra can tear herself away from her new chickens

Petra: She’s right, I love them

Sam: P, you’re coming

Petra:  I have to protect them from the bears

Sam: There are no bears, get your ass over here

Petra: I’ll be there Sam

Seb: There are totally bears

Abby: Who else is actually coming? Like is this just Friday night at the Saloon but in Seb’s basement

Sam: No!

Seb: That’s incredibly likely.

Sam: Maru, and I think Penny is coming. I asked Shane at work and he was gonna ask Emily. 

Sam: P you have to text Mullner.

Petra: oh yoba

Abby: don’t worry. I’ll help you craft something perfect

Sam: work your magic Abs

Seb: oh yoba

Petra: Abby will you come over before?

Abby: practically there already  

Sam: wait P you probably have Leah’s number too right :P

Petra: lol

Abby and Petra made their way down Sebastian’s basement steps, carrying a bottle of liquor and a stack of plastic cups. They had spent way too long chatting and getting ready at Petra’s farmhouse, which was one of Abby’s favorite places to be now. They had gotten more than a few texts from Sam urging them to hurry up.

Abby had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at the scene in Sebastian’s room. Sebastian and Sam were both bustling about, cleaning and preparing for the night like busy chefs in a kitchen. 

“You’re here!” Sam said excitedly. He gave the table that was usually reserved for the Solarion Chronicles one last squirt of cleaner and rubbed it furiously in a circle. “Everything’s almost ready.”

Abby shared an amused look with Petra. Both of them have been fairly sure the night could easily just be the four of them and maybe Maru. This level of preparation seemed excessive.

“Should I bring the snacks down here, or keep them in the kitchen?” Sebastian fretted under his breath. This time Abby couldn’t stifle her laugh. 

“You’re being such cute hosts,” Petra cooed.

“We haven’t thrown a party since that time we got busted by Demetrius in like, 10th grade. I can’t even remember the last time I played beer pong,” Sam said. He looked lost in thought for a moment. “Oh!” Suddenly he shoved his phone into Abby’s face, too close for her to read. “Look at this, Abs.” Abby pulled his phone back to a viewable distance.

Sam: hey will I see you tonight at Sebs?
Penny: definitely <3

“Ooo!” She gave his arm a congratulatory squeeze.

“Did you see the emoji?” Sam said excitedly. He turned the phone for Petra to see.

“Aw, Sam,” she put a hand on her heart emphatically.

“Did you text Alex?” he asked her, shoving his phone back in his pocket. 

Petra looked hesitant. “Not yet. I know he knows about the party already. I didn’t want to be… smothering.” She looked pained by the idea.

“I can help you when it’s time,” Abby assured her. Petra gave her an appreciative smile. 

Abby hadn’t voiced this to her best friend yet, but she was totally shipping her and Alex as a more serious couple and this night seemed rife with opportunity. The Flower Dance had ended in tears... but tonight? She had another bodily fluid in mind. 

“Why do you have that creepy look on your face?” 

Abby startled. Sebastian had a way of skulking by without detection. 

“I’m scheming,” Abby replied. She looked across the room to where Petra was helping Sam set up beer pong, surveying her work with pride. She had styled her friend impeccably, if she said so herself. Tight skirt, edgy makeup, sleek, straight hair. “She looks fucking hot, right?”

Sebastian hummed. “Sure, if you’re into a non-alternative kind of vibe.” 

Abby gave him a sultry look, dropping her voice lower. “Oh. Alternative. Is that what you're into?”

“Maybe.”

“You trying to corner someone in your basement tonight?” she bit her lip playfully.

“Have to see my prospects.” He brushed his dark hair out of his eyes. “Someone’s already in the running though.” She savored the look on his face. 

Suddenly they heard the muffled ding of Robin’s carpentry shop door and Maru excitedly greet someone upstairs. Abby shared a smile with Sam. “Penny’s here.”

 

An hour or so later Emily and Shane had showed up with a bunch of beer that had been somewhat forgotten about in the storage room at the Saloon. It had questionable expiration, but it was free. They had music on loud and the beer pong table was heating up.

Abby and Petra were spectating against the wall, trying to craft a text to Alex.  “Alright, let’s do this. We need something cheeky, but not desperate,” Abby said, confronting the blinking cursor.  

“Hey, Alex!” Sam sang in an unnaturally high octave, appearing out of nowhere. “Come to the party and I’ll show you my chickens!”  

“You’re not helpful!” Abby scolded him with an amused shove, making beer slosh out of his red cup. “And quit trying to make farming sexual!” 

Petra laughed, but the joy on her face faded quickly. “I don’t know, Abby. I don’t think I can do this.” She bit her lip nervously.

“What do you mean?”

They ducked as a beer-soaked ball ricocheted off the wall above them. “I don’t want to ask him to come, if he doesn’t want to come.”

“Oh, he wants to come , alright!”  

“SAM!”

Petra continued after Abby had efficiently body-checked Sam out of their vicinity. “You know what I was saying earlier, about not wanting to fixate on whether he shows up tonight?”

Abby nodded. It made sense. “You don’t want his answer to make or break your night,” she reasoned.

“Right,” Petra nodded. “I figure, if I don’t text him, I don’t need to wait for an answer. I can just go about my business, and not think about it.” 

Abby tried to hide her smile. Denial was only going to work so long. “I get how you don’t want to admit having feelings for him, Petra. I do. I ignored how I felt about Sebastian for years.” They glanced across to where he was standing by the beer pong table. He caught them looking and raised his eyebrows with nervous curiosity. Abby turned back to her.  “Would it really be so bad to acknowledge it?” 

Her face hardened. “Yes. It would. I’d be completely and totally...”  she searched for the word.

“Fucked,” Abby finished for her.

Petra sighed. “Yeah. Fucked.”

“Like literally, fucked.” Abby snickered.

Petra flushed pink.

Abby cleared her throat. “Sorry.” Although she noted Petra didn’t exactly counter the statement. ”So, to be clear, we’re not texting him?”

Petra shook her head, taking one last glance at her phone and then pocketing it.  “No. We’re not.” She looked determined. “If he comes, that’s fine. But I’ll be fine if he doesn’t come. That’s why I don’t need to text him.”

“Okay.” Abby nodded. “Confusing, but okay.”

Petra took a resolute sip of her beer.

Abby smiled when she saw who was coming down the stairs. “But, if he did come, you’re fine, right?”

Petra looked confused, then hopeful, and spun around just as Alex came through the doorway behind her. He was surveying the scene with interest, and then his green eyes lit up when he saw her.

For how quick it was, Abby marveled at how much sexual tension lingered in their hug hello. She caught Sebastian’s eye from where he was standing at the table and they shared a knowing look.

Petra took a moment as Alex was being received by the guests to turn to her and mutter under her breath, “Yeah, I’m fucked.”

 

***

 

“You will NEVER make this.” Abby was waving her hands over the final remaining cup like she was doing a weird spell.

Sam clenched his teeth. He and Alex were playing Sebastian and Abby in a triple overtime. Even though he hadn’t played drinking games in ages, he had made some solid shots and a few key ones when it counted. Alex was competitive and serious about their play, and they had notched a series of victories thus far. Seb and Abby had proven to be worthy opponents, but they weren't about to give up their dynasty on the table yet. 

“Dude, this is your shot,” Alex coached him as Sam lined up and closed one eye. “This is all you.” 

Sam let the momentousness sink in for a minute. This might just be what the epicness of the party hinged on. Sinking this shot. The audience braced, every set of eyes on him. He glanced at Penny for a brief second from where she was perched on the edge of Sebastian’s bed, her expression hopeful.

He took a breath, and released. 

Sam had barely processed the satisfying plink into the final cup before the onlookers were erupting into cheers and he was being shoved victoriously. 

“You fucking did it!!” Alex had him in a rather painful headlock but Sam was too elated to mind. Abby and Sebastian looked reluctantly bemused as they shared a drink of the last cup. 

Sam raised his arms victoriously and let out a loud victory whoop. He caught Penny’s eye from where she and Maru were spectating and grinned. 

Alex slapped his back. “Nice man.” He hiccuped. Sam noticed his eyes follow Petra, who was headed upstairs with Abby now. “ Want to take a break? I doubt anyone else would dare to take us on anyway.” 

“Yeah, sure.” Sebastian gave him a look that Sam knew meant it was a good time to head outside for a smoke. 

Sam hesitated. He motioned him on with a chin raise to let him know he’d meet him up there later. Sebastian nodded, shifting his eyes quickly over to Penny. It was one of those moments Sam was grateful they had been friends long enough to have a full conversation solely with body language.

Sam took in a breath. His stomach churned a little, but this was his time. He knew it.

“Hey, Penny.” Sam collected himself for a beat. “Maybe we can chat outside?”

Maru straightened beside her, her eyes darting to catch a quick glance at her friend. Penny seemed a little nervous, but nodded.  “Of course, Sam.” 

 

They went out to the front door of the house and sat on the front step, where a light was attracting mosquitoes. He noticed a bat flitting above them briefly and then disappear into the darkness.

Sam hadn’t thought this would be so difficult. But everything with Penny was higher stakes. He had to get this right.

“You uh...having a good night?” 

“Yes, for sure.” Her voice was soft. She had kept her hair down tonight, something she rarely did. He liked it. 

“I just wanted you to know that,” he took in a breath. Shit, just say it Sam . “I’ve been meaning to say..” He forced himself to look her in the eye. 

It came spilling out.  “I really like you. I’ve always really liked you. And if I did anything to upset you the other night after the Flower Dance, I’m really sorry, and-”

“Sam.” 

Sam looked up as she put her hands on his arm.  “I really like you too. And you shouldn’t be apologizing to me. I should be saying sorry to you.” Her face was stricken with guilt.

“Huh?” he responded, for no other reason other than he really wanted her to elaborate.

He couldn’t help but notice how cute her freckles were.  “I shouldn’t have left you that night so suddenly without an explanation.”

Sam figured he should just put it out there. “Was it because of your mom?”

“Not exactly.” Her green eyes looked out towards the woods as she framed her thinking. “I didn’t like that my mom was there, sure. But I also convinced myself that you and Petra had something.” She looked back up at him, her expression uneasy.

“Petra?” He said her name like he had never heard of her in his life. At least he tried to. He hadn’t considered that to be the reason for even a second, and now he was reeling. “We’re totally just friends.”  Sam’s throat felt tight. It suddenly dawned on him that he had shot that video of her and Abby right in front of Penny, which at the time had been an impulsive reaction to something hot and now felt totally incriminating. Thinking with my damn crotch again...

“I know you don’t, Sam. It’s okay. I just felt nervous because she seemed to get close with you so quickly.” Her brow furrowed. “You and I have known each other for so long, and we’ve never… “ she trailed. “She was just in your inner circle so fast. I guess I was jealous.”

“Oh.” Sam felt his cheeks flush. “Penny, you’ve been my friend forever. I mean, Petra’s a sweetheart, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not...you.” The relief in Penny’s expression nearly melted him. 

“I know, it was silly. And then Maru told me about her and Alex, and I realized I was just really reading into things.” She smiled. Sam felt relief wash over him. 

They sat in poignant silence for a moment.

“I was really sad you left,” he said.

“You were?” Penny looked up at him.

“Yeah.” He wasn’t sure if it was a risky move, but he leaned a little closer.

“Sam...” Her green eyes studied him for a moment. “I always hoped you felt the same, but I wasn’t sure,” she said softly.

Sam put his hand through her hair and pulled her into a kiss. His heart raced to experience a moment he had thought about so many times, her soft lips even sweeter than he had imagined.

They pulled back for a moment, smiling. Sam looked to his left. “Come with me.”

 

***

 

Petra was waiting for her next turn on the table now that Emily and Maru had become the team to beat. She had made her way into the kitchen to see if she could find another opener, since the bottles from the Saloon weren’t twist-off.  She was surprised to see Shane standing there, filling his own cup.

“Hey, it’s the farmer. How are your chickens?” he asked with a brief glance her way.

She smiled, thinking back to when he had arrived with them a few days earlier in a little mesh hutch, the little fluffy chicks spastically peeping inside. Shane had been perfectly pleasant then, conversational even. She was hoping to build on that good will a bit tonight. “They’re doing great, so far. They’ve gotten so much bigger already.”  

He nodded. “They’ll be laying eggs before you know it.”

Petra’s mind fumbled for a way to keep the positive vibes going. Her go to for charming people here was gifts, always gifts. “I’m growing some sunflowers now,” she offered, a bit too eagerly. “They’ll take a little while to be ready, but I’m happy to bring some over for your chickens.” She ignored the lingering thought that her wallet would benefit from fewer unsolicited gifts to the townsfolk. 

“Yeah, that’d be great,” he confirmed. He had an expression on his face that was almost close to a smile. Petra felt a victorious tingle in her heart. 

“Farm Girl!” Alex’s voice suddenly bellowed from down the hall. “You’re up!”

Shane’s amiability morphed into a judgmental look. “Don’t tell me you’re still clogging up hallways with that guy.” 

Petra hesitated, unable to think of a response that wouldn’t be a straight out lie or certain to piss him off.

He knew already. “Unbelievable,” he muttered under his breath.

She felt a spark of anger.  “Why do you care? Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Oh, right,” he jeered. “You straddle him in the middle of the Saloon, but it’s no one’s business.”

She sucked in a small breath, incredulous at his gumption. “How-”

“It pisses me off,” his voice was suddenly low and harsh, his dark eyes peering into hers, “that guys like that don’t have to try. He’s a cocky prick, and you eat it up.”

Petra let out a short offended breath. She wasn’t sure if she was more insulted for Alex, or herself, and the worst part was that any decent comeback she could think of probably wouldn’t form for another few hours, she was sure of it. 

“You don’t know him,” she mustered, her tone as venomous as she could make it.

“Yeah?” he was suddenly very close to her. “Do you ?” 

"Everything cool in here?” Alex’s defensive expression made it evident that he was sure that it was not, in fact, cool. 

Petra broke Shane’s gaze and grabbed Alex’s arm.  “Everything’s great.” She tugged him towards the doorway.

Shane scowled. Alex huffed and loomed like he wanted to continue the conversation but settled for a threatening stare down as they left the kitchen.

Petra hurried down the hallway, her heart racing. What the fuck is his problem?

“What the fuck is his problem?” Alex asked her. “Are you good?”

“I’m fine,” she glanced over her shoulder to be sure he was no longer in earshot. “I thought I was making progress with him, with the chickens. But he’s just..”

“An asshole,” Alex finished. “I don’t like how he was looking at you.” 

Petra’s anger thawed slightly. Was he jealous? “He’s just drunk. And mean.”

 “Be careful around him, okay?” His expression was gruff. They had stopped by the entrance of Demetrius’ lab now. He put a protective hand on the small of her back. Some muffled cheers sounded from downstairs.

“He really does have something against you,” she puzzled aloud.

“He doesn’t even know me,” Alex protested.

“Well.” Petra bit her lip, letting a small smile slip. “He did say that you’re a cocky prick.”

Alex let out a small huff, softening.  “Well, then he knows me a little bit.”

Petra felt an affection for him simmer that she couldn't suppress. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he gazed down at her. “He also said that I…” she paused for effect. “Eat it up”.”

Alex was full on smirking now, his eyes lidded. “Is that right?”

“Uh huh.” She leaned towards him and his lips met hers. They kissed earnestly as he squeezed her tightly. 

The front door to Robin’s carpentry shop down the hall suddenly opened with a happy chime, and a familiar voice sounded that made both of them go rigid. They shared shocked eye contact for a split second until Alex looked to his right and pulled her into Demetrius’ lab in an instant.

They shut the door, both of them tense.

 Alex looked at his phone, confused. “She didn’t text me. And I didn’t text her. I don’t even know how she knew about this.”

“Maybe Emily told her?” Petra whispered. She felt weird being in the dark lab, the equipment looming around them, but now she felt even weirder about the prospect of going back into the party.

“Maybe..? But she still would’ve texted me, at least.” His face was puzzled.

Petra knew she never did anything social without him. Everything about seeing her was going to be uncomfortable. Did she know about them? “We could leave out of the garage,” Petra offered.

Alex hesitated. “Are you sure you’re ready to go?”

Petra thought for a moment. It was late anyway, and she couldn’t see anything positive unfolding if she stayed. She’d text Abby.  “I’m sure. If you are.”

Alex nodded. “I don’t know what I would even say to her. I’m sure.”

They snuck through the lab, out the side door, and into the dark garage where Sebastian’s motorcycle was gleaming in the moonlight streaming in from outside. Alex flicked on the light and they heard a shriek, which made them both scream. 

Penny and Sam were tangled together by a metal storage shelf, Sam shirtless and Penny’s top visibly unbuttoned. Her hands jolted away from Sam to cover herself. 

“Oh Yoba, Sam, you scared me!” Petra gasped. “Sorry, Penny. Sorry you guys,” she fumbled over her words, wrestling with a very confusing mixture of excitement for Sam and embarrassment. Penny was somewhat in shock, still covering her chest. Sam was just beaming them a content, drunken smile. 

“Don't mind us, we're just on our way out," Alex assured them, clearly also in support of what was happening. 

Sam looked like he was about to ask why they were going, but Petra caught his gaze and mouthed “Ha-ley”, jutting her thumb back towards the party. Sam’s brow furrowed in surprise. “Shit. Yeah no worries guys, doors that way. See you,”

Penny smiled shyly. “Yeah, see you.” She turned back to Sam’s gaze. Petra felt her heart warm. 

They slipped out into the dark night.



***

 

“You fucking came.”  Shane looked like he was in disbelief, staring at her. Haley couldn’t help but feel warmed through. The nerves that had been firing on her walk up had vanished.  

“You asked me to,” she offered casually. He walked over to her and pulled her into a brief hug.

“You look…” he looked her up and down. Haley had put on too many outfits not to feel confident in the end result, a tight tank top and flowy skirt. “Fucking hot.” 

She smiled.

“Uh. I’m kind of drunk,” Shane admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I figured,” she said.

“And high.”

“Is that so?” Haley laughed.

 Footsteps sounded in the hall behind them. They moved apart subtly.

“Haley!?” her sister’s voice was stunned and delighted. “What are you doing here?”

“You invited me didn’t you?” Haley couldn’t help but sound a little combative when she had meant to sound casual.

“Sure, I just. You never come to anything!” She smiled, looking at Shane to back her up. He did a sort of noncommittal shrug. 

Emily grabbed a few beers from the fridge. “Everyone kind of scattered all over, but I was going to bring these out to the campfire if you want to join.” Haley felt some guilt simmer that her sister must think she was mainly there for her.

They followed Emily down the hallway back outside to where people were circled around a campfire by Linus’ tent of all places. Haley stopped in her tracks. “What the…?”

“It’s cool,” Emily told her. “He actually smoked with us before. Now he’s passed out in there.” She giggled.

Haley shook her head. This is why she didn’t go to parties in this town. 

Maru, Abby, and Sebastian were there chatting. “Oh! Hi Haley!” Maru greeted her excitedly. Her eyes had sort of that happy drunk glaze to them.

Sebastian and Abby both stopped talking abruptly to look at her. Haley felt a sting of annoyance. She didn’t come to things a lot, and maybe they weren’t friends, but she had been invited. They don’t have to be fucking weird about it.

“Did you want one?” Shane asked, handing her a beer as they sat down.

Haley didn’t like beer very much, but this night was already unconventional. She took one from him and cracked it openly loudly.

Shane almost laughed. “That’s a girl.”

She took a swig. “This tastes like watery piss.” 

“No, it’s Watery Piss Light . A fraction of the calories.”  Haley hated herself for laughing. 

Sam and Penny walked up at that moment, saying something about the lake and seeing frogs. Haley took a moment to take in the stars and the shadows dancing against the rocks from the campfire. She always loved the campfire they had on the beach after the Luau. It had never really occurred to her that there could be a spontaneous, non-festival one. 

“Not that many people for a party,” she said to Emily.

“Some people left already. You came pretty late,” she reasoned.

This was true. Partly she had wanted to make a late entrance, but also it had taken her forever to choose an outfit and then emotionally commit to going. She had been very close to turning back home at several points, especially when she walked by Alex’s house and felt nervous he might look out at that exact moment.  She felt a small pang of guilt. 

“You missed Alex,” Shane said casually.

 Haley’s stomach dropped at his name, as if he had read her thoughts. “What?”

“I think he left already.” 

Haley’s mind whirred to make sense of what he was saying. “Alex was here?”

“Didn’t he tell you? I thought you were BFFs.” Shane couldn’t hide the slight mockery in the word.

Haley felt like everything was in slow motion for a second. Alex went to this party without her? Without even letting her know? Who the hell was he hanging out with, fucking Seb?

She didn’t want to let on that she was having a small freak out.  She focused on a singular stick burning in the fire. She took a big chug of her beer.

Shane and Emily had moved on in conversation, but she was in a trance, trying to imagine Alex deciding purposefully not to tell her about this party. They had texted earlier about something or other and he hadn’t said a word about tonight.  

Of course, she had done the same. But that was different. She was going to tell him, eventually. Her stomach felt like it was in a knot. She took another swig. 

“Easy there, tiger. I don’t think you have the stamina for that speed of drinking,” Shane teased her. 

Haley thought for a second. “Want to go walk by the lake?”

Shane blinked. “Uh, sure.”

They grabbed two fresh beers and headed for the gravelly path that lead to the mountain lake. The moon was bright but it was still fairly dark. Once they were far enough away to be obscured, she touched Shane’s arm.

“Are you trying to get me alone?” he teased.

“I forgot I hate parties.”

“It’s not so bad, is it? Have a drink.”

Haley took a sip of the can he offered her. She coughed.  “You know, this watery piss is growing on me.”

Shane chuckled. “Quit trying to butter me up.”

Haley looked at his rugged face, obscured in the dark. She leaned in, and kissed him. He tasted like the beer, but somehow she liked that. Shane let out a small hum. She slipped in a tongue for good measure.

He wrapped his arms around her. Part of her was ready to go full on makeout with him, but in the back of her mind something was buzzing. He had to be wrong before.

She pulled back. “Are you sure Alex was actually here?”

Shane looked completely confused. “What?”

“It’s just bothering me, he didn’t tell me he was coming. I don’t think he would have randomly showed up at this party.” She pulled away from him slightly.

“What do you mean? You did.”

Haley frowned. She could tell Shane was irritated and even maybe a little hurt that she had stopped kissing him to discuss this, but she was stuck on it. “I don’t think he would have showed up here without letting me know.”

Shane sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you, he was here. I saw him with my own eyes.” Haley must have looked unsatisfied with that, because he offered a casual suspicion. “He’s probably still after the fucking farmer.”

Haley blinked.

“Just text him and ask,” Shane continued, completely unaware she was spiraling. “I thought you were like, super tight with him.”

“After who?” Haley’s heart was in her throat.

“What?” Shane seemed daunted by the tone of her voice.

“What’d you say about the farmer?”

“He probably showed up for her.” Shane said again, cautiously.

Haley felt like she couldn’t breathe. “Wait. What the fuck are you talking about?”

Shane’s brow furrowed in what seemed like a mixture of disbelief and confusion. “He’s been after her for like a month. I’ve seen them all over each other at the Saloon.” He hesitated at her reaction. “And I’m pretty sure they left together tonight.” 

Haley tried to let this process. A month? Before the Flower Dance? Right around the time… She shook her head. “That’s not possible.” 

“Look, I don’t know why he wouldn’t say anything, but I’m telling you they’ve been hooking up.”

 She felt furious, and worse, she felt stupid.

“I know you think he’s this perfect guy, but he’s like every other asshole jock and follows his dick around. It’s not surprising.”

Haley’s beer suddenly dropped to the ground with a thud, its contents spilling out onto the grass. She turned and sped towards the path that led into town, her blond hair whipping behind her.

“Haley!”

She couldn’t talk about it anymore. Her only friend in this town had been completely lying to her for a month. If he wanted to bang the farmer, fine, whatever. What, did he not think she could handle that? She was seething.

It didn’t help that she had been lying to Alex too. She knew that. But this thing with Shane was different.  Was it different?

Shit.  Haley realized she was starting to cry. As she got near the path that led to town, she heard Emily’s voice behind her. 

“Haley! What’s wrong? Are you leaving already?”

Haley whirled around, her voice fiery. “Did you know?”

Emily stopped in her tracks, her face confused. 

“Did you know about Alex and…... fuck!” Haley cursed. “What the fuck is her name!?”

Emily’s voice was soft and serious. “Petra.”

Haley’s eyes narrowed. “You knew.”

“I didn’t know if it was my place to say anything, Haley. You aren’t together, it’s not like he was cheating.”

“But you just let me walk around in the dark? Like some fucking asshole? He’s my best friend!”

Emily looked pained. She took in a breath and looked away for a brief moment like she was deciding if she should say something. Her voice was harsh when she spoke. 

“So you told him about Shane, then?”

Haley’s breath caught and her cheeks burned. She couldn’t form a word looking at her sister’s judgmental expression.

“I thought so.” Emily turned back towards the mountain.  

 

***

 

Petra and Alex were half walking, half running along the dark path through the mountains towards her farmhouse, feeling a rush of adrenaline. 

“It’s so dark and creepy, do you come this way at night a lot?” Alex asked. 

“Honestly,” Petra huffed, “No. I always get so tired from farming, I go to bed absurdly early, like almost before dark sometimes. It does get pretty scary around here at night.” She thought about her first few nights when she had been so freaked out to be in the farmhouse alone she had slept with all the lights on and Living off the Land playing on repeat.

They both let out a scream as a huge owl suddenly flapped above their heads, freezing in their tracks and ducking. 

 “Sweet Yoba!” Alex exclaimed. Petra laughed but he was clinging to her, horrified.

Their shoes were noisy on the wooden steps. Petra turned to look at him before she opened the door, her face a little hesitant. “Do you want to come in?”

Alex almost laughed at the absurdness of that question. “Yeah, I do.” She felt her heart flutter.

She led him into her farmhouse by the hand, flicking on the light. “Sorry it’s sort of messy..” She knew there were the remnants of cocktails she and Abby were making earlier in the kitchen, some clothes piled on the couch.

He was much too engrossed in staring at her, his hands pulling her to him by her hips. She felt her body ignite at his touch. She pressed her lips to his, her mind already spinning over what was about to unfold.  

They stumbled over to her couch tangled together, still kissing, her top coming off somewhere in the process. Her body was on fire for him and her mind was racing. Here in her farmhouse, there would be no interruptions this time. She knew what she wanted, and what she was ready for. She had known the second he had come down those steps. 

Alex must have sensed it too, because he stopped suddenly, breathing heavily as he hovered over her on the couch. “Petra.. Is it alright to..” he was struggling with how to ask. “I don’t have to stay,” he said finally. 

She gazed up at him, feeling a wave of affection for how sweet and compassionate he was underneath all of his posturing. “I want you to stay.” She put a hand on his chest. She found she no longer had the willpower to try to seem unaffected. “I was going crazy hoping you would show up tonight.”

His brow furrowed, surprised. “I wasn’t going to miss a chance to see you.” He pressed his forehead to hers. “I can’t get enough of you.”

Her stomach did a flip. She kissed him, saving the moment in her mind.

His hands started sliding up from her hips, to her middle, to her round full breasts in the black pushup bra she had chosen in the hopes he might see it. He let out a breath as he cupped her breasts in his hands, leaning down to kiss her.

She started moving her hands up his chiseled abs. They were incredible to touch and feel, and she slid up his shirt revealing them bit by bit. He helped to tug his shirt all the way off his shoulders. She took in his broad, muscled frame, her heart rate spiking.

His hands reached for her skirt now, undoing the top button. She helped him to shimmy it down over her hips. His eyes were fixed on her lower half for a moment. She did a small needy roll of her body and he lowered himself down on top of her. He let out a delighted moan when he slid his hands behind her to feel nothing but her thong. She latched on to his neck, sucking lightly, letting him squeeze her ass.

She could feel his erection now, and it was tantalizing as it pressed into her. He started rocking against her as they kissed, and an electric sensation began building in her lower half with each movement, a small whimper escaping her.

“Alex,”she breathed, feeling urgency well inside of her. “I want you..” They made intense eye contact.

He motioned with his eyes to her bed. She nodded eagerly.

He lifted her effortlessly, throwing her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, a small squeal escaping her. He placed her down gently on the sheets, and she scooted back slightly, facing him, eyeing the impressive bulge she could see in his black boxer briefs, feeling an electric desire pulse between her legs.

They kissed some more as he pushed her back towards the pillow, and then he started kissing a trail down her neck to her breasts, reaching behind her to fiddle with the clasp of her bra.

She arched her back as it broke apart, slipping down her front. He tossed it to the side and latched on to one of her nipples, making her cry out. He moved his mouth to her other breast, squeezing them both together. She writhed in pleasure, moaning some more.

“You’re gorgeous,” he breathed, continuing his journey down her body, kissing her above her belly button, then below, reaching the band of her underwear. He paused, looking up at her for permission.

She nodded eagerly, her breath catching in anticipation. He slid them down and positioned himself, starting with the softest, sweetest kiss that was so gentle and tantalizing she actually shivered with pleasure. He used his tongue then, caressing her soft folds and letting out a pleased hum at how wet she was.

Fuck , Alex,” she breathed. She cried out as he added a prodding finger, slipping inside her gently.

He looked up at her lustfully, his green eyes holding her gaze. He returned his tongue to her and started licking and sucking at her clit as he fingered her. She cried out and gripped his hair in her hand, her knees locking. He continued on and sped up his pace. Petra squeezed her eyes shut, it was almost too much pleasure to take. 

Her mind filled with all of the times she had wanted him, thought of his touch, rubbed herself as she pictured his sculpted body hovering over her, wanting her, and here he was now, in her bed, worshiping her with his tongue.

He had a relentless rhythm and suddenly her lower half was igniting, a pulse of electricity that stuttered down through her core to where his mouth was, causing her to throw her head back and gasp. He slowed his pace as she shuddered, until finally she was weak and listless in his arms, her lower half still a dull throb and a whimper escaping from her throat. 

He moved back up towards the pillow, kissing her neck and cheeks. She sighed, almost laughing. “Holy shit,” she whispered. 

She looked up at him, feeling a sense of urgency, a bit of life returning to her limbs. She pulled him down towards her and they kissed hungrily again. 

“These need to come off,” she rasped, pulling at his underwear. He helped her eagerly. He was positioned over her now, straddling her on his knees. 

Her breath caught. She had imagined what it would look like many times, ever since the Saloon but definitely since she had wrapped her hand around it that time in the ocean. She had never felt one so big and to see it was just as impressive, it mesmerized her for a moment, angry and assertive as it was in front of her. Her hands went to it reflexively, and he moaned a little at her touch. 

She stroked him as she kissed his lips, rubbing a thumb over the tip that was already wet with precum.  The idea of having it inside her was intimidating and breathtaking all at once, and her hips moved rhythmically with lust. His breathing was ragged as she stroked him, their foreheads pressed together.

There was a sudden general messy mumbling, how it had been a long time, him too, how much they wanted to, was it okay, was she okay, was he okay, she had an IUD, it was definitely okay, they were gasping and kissing and the moment was escalating fast. 

Petra tightened her grip around him and brought him to her entrance, rubbing him tantalizingly around her opening until they were both writhing.

 “Fuck, Petra,” he pleaded.  “I can’t take it..”

She positioned him so his tip was right there. Her voice was desperate. “Please, Alex,” she begged. 

His hand was behind her neck cradling her, and he pushed forward then meaningfully, and she was consumed with the incredible feeling of his thick dick pushing inside her. A dagger of pain shot through her but mostly just the intense, incredibly satisfying, filling sensation of having him. She cried out as he moaned.

Slowly, rhythmically, their bodies writhed into each other, every movement was purposeful and incredibly electric. He bottomed out deeply inside her and she moaned as he pulled almost all the way out and then back in again. 

“Fuck, you feel so good,” he winced, his breathing ragged.

He started thrusting into her then, finding a rhythm. She was letting out sharp, soft moans with each thrust without meaning to, she could feel the pressure building again as she watched his muscular body rut against her. 

Her fingers clung and dug into his skin, her bed creaking angrily beneath them, every part of her body was aflame. His pace sped up and she could tell he was trying hard not to lose it, his eyes were glazed and his breathing was erratic. 

 “Petra,” he breathed, “I’m-”

“Come for me,” she gasped.

He quaked and moaned, pulling from her quickly, and she felt the despair of the physical loss of him and then the shock and victory of a warm stream up her stomach, and then another, and another. She grabbed his arm as he collapsed next to her. 

They lay there panting, exhausted. He sort of leaned his head over so their foreheads clunked together, still huffing.

She was increasingly aware of the moonlight streaming in the window, the muffled chirping of the crickets outside. The soreness of her lower half. Their clothes strewn about. 

Moments or minutes later, she wasn’t sure, his hand was on her cheek, and they kissed, softly. “Are you okay?” he whispered.

“Yes,” she said dreamily. “Are you?”

“Yeah,” he sighed, pulling her towards his chest. She nuzzled into his neck.

They cleaned up. There was a shared glass of water, face washing, heavy smiles. She put on a new tank top. They nestled back into her bed together, holding each other close. 

Petra felt herself slipping into sleep, his arms around her, his breathing soft. She tried to hang on to consciousness, anything for this reality to continue, even if just for a moment longer.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Alex woke up in a foggy state, sunshine streaming in from the windows and birds chirping softly outside. It took him a moment to remember where he was. Petra was sleeping soundly beside him, nestled against him as a little spoon. He wrapped his arms around her, feeling blissful. She let out a small contented hum.

He studied her sweet sleeping face. He had known for awhile this had gone way beyond his usual crush. He had completely fallen for her.

He closed his eyes again, letting his thoughts retrace the events of last night.  It all came in a flurry of vignettes. The epic pong victory, the altercation with Shane, the dark walk to her farmhouse.

He almost shivered from the flashes he had of their night together, how Petra had looked at him, the sound of her moans, the taste and feel of her. He felt himself getting hard again. It was difficult to control himself around her sometimes.

Petra stirred. She turned to him as he pulled her closer, nuzzling into his neck. He kissed the top of her head, savoring the moment while everything felt impossibly perfect. 

“I need to go feed the chickens,” she whispered after a few minutes, her eyes still closed.

“They’re still sleeping,” he whispered back, squeezing her tighter. She let out a muffled giggle. “They probably aren’t hungry yet.” 

“They’re always hungry.” She gave him a kiss and slipped out of the bed, his limp arm flopping sadly to the spot she left behind.

He groaned at the eyeful he got of her lacy underwear and bra-less tank top. “You better hurry back.”

She flashed him a playful look as she slipped on her shorts.  The front door creaked shut behind her. Alex put his hands behind his head, gazing up at the ceiling.

Another, more unwelcome memory came to his mind then. He frowned. Why in Yoba's name would Haley have come to a party at Sebastian’s house of all places without telling him? It didn’t make sense. And then there was the major issue of the fact that he had done the same thing to her. 

Haley was his oldest and most loyal friend. Suddenly it was like he had no idea what was going on with her.  Worse, how did he address it without admitting that he had been purposely hiding his relationship with Petra? 

Alex let out a resigned sigh. He knew that wasn’t possible. He needed to explain everything. She would be upset, he knew that. But he was done lying by omission.

He heard the door creak open and the sound of boots by the door. Alex turned over to see Petra wriggling her shorts off. He grinned and lifted the blanket.

“They were thrilled to see me,” she said as she nestled in.

“Not as thrilled as me,” he said, rolling on top of her. She squeaked in delight.

 

***

 

Abby was kissing Sebastian’s neck and cheeks with little pecks, trying to get him to open his eyes. His room was in some kind of state from the party, but tucked in his bed together, everything was just right.

“Mmm,” he groaned. “Let me recover from that epic rager.”

Abby giggled. “I have to admit, it was kind of a crazy night.” They lay facing each other.

“Penny and Sam,” he said simply.

“We smoked with Linus ,” Abby laughed. “That guy’s actually so chill.”

“Fucking Haley showed up,” Sebastian marveled, still in disbelief.

“Fuck.” Abby let the memory simmer. “What was that about?”

She reached for her phone, wondering if Petra had texted her anything further, hoping for some clarity. Nothing yet.

She skimmed their last conversation.

Petra: so sorry, we have to go

Petra: Haley is here

Abby: omy we just saw her! wtf

Abby: you good?

Petra: um yes going to my house now…!

Abby: babe! text me tomorrow <3 

Petra: :P <3

“She hasn’t texted me this morning yet,” Abby said.

“Probably still busy,” Sebastian mused. They shared some salacious eye contact.

“Did you have fun?” Abby asked him.

“I really did.” He pulled her on top of him, making her giggle. “The last part was my favorite, though.” 

She kissed him, nibbling his lower lip. He reciprocated and started to work in some tongue. She could tell he was wanting to go again, but she wasn’t quite ready to move on. “There’s something odd, though,” she said, pulling away abruptly. 

Sebastian frowned. “Hm?”

Abby brushed a lock of dark hair from his eyes. “Haley obviously wasn’t there to see us. Do you think she found out about them?” She had imagined Haley’s reaction a few times, and she had decided it would be somewhere on the spectrum of irritated possessiveness to unbridled rage.

Sebastian looked only mildly interested. “Possibly.” He started kissing her neck.

“I don’t like it.” Abby frowned, leaning into his kisses. She let him continue for a moment and then thought aloud, “I think they need to go public with it.”

Sebastian stopped then, his eyes dark and brooding as ever.  “Do they?”

Abby slipped off of him, resting on her side. “When they first kissed at the Saloon, she told me she was nervous to take it further because she didn’t want something complicated.” She frowned. “Navigating a love triangle with Haley is definitely complicated.”  

“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” he reasoned. “As long as Alex and Petra are on the same page. Haley can feel however she wants.” Sebastian always had a clear and direct way of thinking about these sorts of situations. Sometimes to a fault. 

“You always think it’s so simple,” she told him.

“It is simple,” he said. “It’s no one else’s business.”

“That works for us..” Abby trailed. “But you don’t have a hostile, sexy blonde ex lurking about in the background.” She winced. It was meant to be a joke, but the thought actually made her feel ill. And uncomfortably possessive. 

Sebastian looked amused. “Maybe I do.”

Abby let out a snort, rolling her eyes.  “Like your emo ass would go for a blonde.” 

Sebastian did a throaty chuckle. Her favorite laugh of his.

She turned back to her phone, her mind wandering back to Petra, her smile fading.  “I just don’t want her to get hurt.” 

“Be careful with this Abs.” Abby looked up at him. He almost never used that pet name. “I know you care about her, but I don’t know if you should get too involved.”

She studied him for a moment, unsure if he was just fatigued by the drama or genuinely worried she may overstep her bounds. “What do you mean?”

“This could get messy. You don’t want to jeopardize your friendship.” He paused for a moment, his voice sounding almost shy. “You’ve been really happy since she’s been here. I like it.”  

He was the only person she knew who could say he liked something while his face looked that sullen. He really melted her, sometimes. 

“You don’t have to worry about the drama, Sebastian. Or me and Petra,” Abby assured him. She set her phone down, making a mental note to send a text later. He stared at her with dark eyes, still a little sleepiness in them.

She tucked her hair behind her ear, leaning over him again.. “For the record….” She gave him a sweet kiss that slowly morphed into something more needy. “...I was pretty happy before, too.”

Sebastian ran his fingers through her hair, and gently pushed her towards the pillow on to her back.  He gave her an intense flash of his dark eyes and started moving down lower. 

Abby relaxed, gazing up to the ceiling, her hand in his hair. 



***

 

 

“So that’s Blanche, and that’s June...” Petra was struggling to point to the peeping, fluffy chicks that were skittering around their feet. “Oh, no- that’s June. Then that’s Greta, and that’s Louise.”

“Good morning, ladies.” She laughed as Alex tipped an imaginary hat to them, watching the feathered madness in amusement. “They’ll be champion egg layers in no time.” He took a minute to survey the sprawling farm. “This place is sure looking a lot different these days. You’ve done some great work.”

“Thanks,” she beamed. “There is a lot more to do, but I’m making progress.” She stood up, sensing he was antsy. They had spent an awful lot of the morning lazing about together. And doing a few other activities as well.

He frowned. “You’re sure you don’t want me to help you out before I go?”

“I’m telling you, I got this,” Petra assured him again.

He ran his fingers through his hair. “I guess I really should get back. Granny’s going to start wondering where I am.”  He sort of glanced down the road, and then squared to her with a bit of purpose in his stance. His voice changed. “I’m uh, going to try and talk to Haley today.” 

“Sure.”  For some reason this was all that would come out, although her mind screamed for more details. 

“I don’t know why she showed up last night, but I just need to tell her what’s going on.” He rubbed his neck. “I should have just told her about us from the beginning. I’m not sure how she’ll react, but it’s probably worse that I waited.”

Petra gave him a brave face. “She might be upset you didn’t tell her at first, but she’ll understand eventually. You’ve been friends for so long.”  She meant every word she said, but she was also itching to know more of how he felt, how he would phrase it. 

If she was honest, some other thoughts were swirling around in her mind as well. Was he worried about their friendship.. or something else?

“I think you’re right. I’ll talk with her, and everything will be good.” 

“It will be. ” Do you still have feelings for her?

He pulled her in for a long hug. “I had a great night, farm girl.”

Petra breathed him in, her eyes closed. “Me too.”

They kissed. “I’ll text you.”

Petra watched his tall frame disappear into the distance towards town, her stomach sinking with each step.

 

***

 

Haley had been lying awake in her bed for over an hour. She was still stewing, but now it was mixed with all sorts of guilt. She hadn’t seen the point in getting up.

She sighed. All night she was hoping to hear that knock on her window. It never came.

She couldn’t really blame him. She had actually flipped out and left him at the party for something that wasn’t his fault. She had just been so stunned. She felt another flicker of hurt thinking about Alex keeping things from her, not inviting her places, sneaking around.

Fuck. She literally was describing her own pattern of behavior since this thing with Shane had started. How had this happened?

Haley heard the door to Emily’s room creak open and then the front door close shortly after. 

Ugh, Emily. Her stomach wrenched when she remembered the other person she had let down last night. She had known about them, somehow. Haley had thought they were so careful.

Her phone vibrated. Her heart leapt in her throat.

Alex: hey, can we talk today?

She grimaced. What did he want to talk to her about? Did he want to tell her about the farmer? She felt her anger simmer again. Well I already fucking know.  She set her phone back down, poised to ignore it for a bit, but then another message came through.

Alex: are you coming to the ice cream stand later

She chewed her lip. On a typical day, that would be her plan. She’d shoot the shit with him awhile, see who passed by, gossip. But she just couldn’t face him today. She didn’t want to hear his excuses for not telling her before. She was mad, and-

She sat up. 

If Emily knew about Shane...did Alex know too? Was that what this was about? Maybe he didn’t want to confess about seeing the farmer at all, he wanted to confront her about hiding her secret from him all this time.

For a moment she considered how he’d react. Would he be angry? Hurt? If he knew what had happened, how could she even be mad he kept her in the dark about the farmer?  All of her leverage would be gone. Unwelcome guilt mixed in with the panic.

 She could not do this. Not today. Not yet. Not till she knew what he knew.

Haley:  idk pretty busy today

She hoped he didn’t ask her what she was up to. She was never actually busy.

Alex: ok.  If not maybe we can chat later?

Haley frowned. Damn, he really wants to talk.

Haley: yeah I’ll text you

Hopefully that would keep him at bay for a little while. Until she figured out what to do. 

Haley checked the clock. It was nearing noon, somehow. Alex would be at the ice cream stand until 5.

 She needed to find Shane.

 

***

 

Shane struggled to open his eyes. His vision was blurry, and all he could see was white, piercingly bright lights.

He was vaguely aware that his head felt like it weighed 100 pounds and his throat was parched. Shit. This isn’t good.

“Doctor, he’s waking up.”

“Shane?”

Harvey’s mustached face came into view slowly, his eyes squinting with concern behind his glasses. “Shane, how do you feel?”

“Fucking fantastic, doc,” he croaked, sitting up slowly with his hand on his forehead. He squinted his eyes, feeling a wave of nausea. “Just perfect.”

“We found you laying in the bushes early this morning by the town square,” Harvey said. 

Shane sighed. He had no memory of that, but he was pretty sure he knew where he had been trying to go.

“We gave you some fluids, which should help you feel a lot better. We didn’t need to pump your stomach this time, thankfully.” Shane noted the bandage on his arm. Harvey’s voice took on a sterner tone. “I understand there was a bit of a shindig last night, but you really need to be more careful.”

He grunted in guilty affirmation. This wasn’t the first time he had ended up at Harvey’s clinic, of course. But it was the first time he had blacked out in awhile. He had not missed the shame or the self-loathing.

“So. Did you call my aunt?” he braced himself slightly.

“We didn’t,” Maru offered eagerly.  Shane realized how strange it was, seeing her now in her uniform after they had been drinking together just last night. “We didn’t deem it necessary.”

“Great.” At least there was that.

“Before we discharge you, I do want to give you one more quick look over. You got a few lacerations from the bushes.” Harvey eyed a red scrape down his arm, and another near his cheek. He kept scanning. His voice took on a tone of curiosity as he lightly lifted his shirt collar. “Hmm. I do see a few contusions here, by your collarbone and neck..” Shane winced.

Maru cleared her throat pointedly. “Doctor?” she said it softly, but with a tone.

Harvey looked back at her, and then stiffened.

“Right. An old wound.” The doctor clapped once awkwardly. “Well! I think you’re pretty much ready to go when you feel fit?” he stood up. 

“Thanks Doc,” Shane mumbled. 

“I’ll get the discharge papers ready,” Maru said. “Rest as long as you need to.” The two of them shuffled out of the room.

Yoba. Shane laid back down on the stiff bed. He tried to retrace his steps, piece together what he remembered. 

The night had started out like everything he had hoped for. The beer was cold, he had a good smoke, and then, Haley. She was there, perfect and sassy and chugging a beer by his side like it was nothing.

And then everything had gone to shit. 

He was sure she was pissed about Alex and the farmer, but she was mostly pissed that she hadn’t known about it, and that Alex had been there without telling her. Her secret night out was already his. She had stormed off.

 And he kept drinking. 

Shane suddenly felt for his pockets, which were empty. He was relieved to see his phone and wallet beside him on the stand. His phone was dead. He wondered if she had texted, and then cursed himself for wondering.

Once again, she had brought him nothing but trouble. He sighed.

Shane scribbled his signature on the discharge papers, knowing that this little visit was some additional hard-earned Joja Mart money gone. Maru gave him a sympathetic look from behind the counter.

“I’m sorry Shane. I hope you feel better.” Her eyes were sincere.

He wasn’t exactly sure what she was specifically sorry about, or for.  But he also supposed the whole situation was just shit. “Yeah, thanks. And uh, thanks for not calling Marnie.” He noted there was a sports drink and a coconut water by her station.  It had been quite the party. She must be feeling pretty rough too.

Shane meandered out into the town square, his eyes squinting in the summer sun. It was Saturday, and he could already see a few of the townsfolk bustling about and starting their errands. He hastened his step towards home.

When he got back, Jas and Marnie were mercifully already out for the day. He brushed his teeth, rinsed off, chugged a water, plugged in his phone, and passed out.

It was hours later when his phone vibrating on his side table broke him out of his sleep. Shane groaned and reached for it, feeling around with his hand, looking at the screen with one eye open.

It was a text from Haley, with an attachment. He popped his head up.

It was a picture of the small lake and the dock, from the other side near the forest. Her shoes were in it. It looked like a beautiful day.

Shane looked around his dark room. Go back to sleep. Don’t answer. And absolutely do not fucking go out there to find her.

He closed his eyes with resolve but then his phone vibrated again in his hand.

Haley: Come meet me? 

Shane sighed. Everloving Yoba. He got out of bed. 

 

***

 

Haley sat on a stump in the forest, so deep in that she worried there might be slimes. She felt nervous, and couldn’t help fiddling with her grandmother’s bracelet around her wrist, pulling it in short circles.

She didn’t know if he’d show up. Part of her was certain he wouldn’t, and she was going to have to walk back to her house, feeling the shame of rejection and knowing that she really did mess everything up last night at the party.

He hadn’t responded to her texts. She had tried to calculate in her mind the time it would take for him to see her messages and get here from his house, and she was fairly sure he was overdue, which probably meant he wasn’t coming.

A butterfly landed nearby. She watched its pink wings for a moment. There were a lot of people who were upset with her right now. For some reason, this was her priority, and she didn’t want to think too hard about what that meant.

She suddenly heard footsteps approaching, the unmistakable snap of twigs and rustling of grass. 

She was ready with her camera in case it was someone else, an excuse she had thought made sense but now was praying she didn’t have to use.

She caught a glimpse of a blue hoodie and relaxed. “Shane.”  Her voice had a smile.

His eyes set on her as he entered the small clearing, stopping a foot inside, a leaf in his hair from the thick brush he had waded through.

 He did one big sigh. “I don’t fucking know why I’m here.”

She slid off the stump cautiously, noting how pale he looked. And sweaty. “You look awful.”

He bristled. “Well, yeah, no shit. I had a rough night.”

Haley chewed her lip, knowing that probably meant he blacked out. “Where did you end up?” She was picturing the riverbank again.

He looked sort of embarrassed. “I woke up at Harvey’s,” he said quietly.

“The clinic?” she felt a pang of guilt. 

“I’m fine. I just got fluids, they didn’t even tell Marnie..” he trailed as she stepped towards him and picked the leaf out of his hair. 

She grasped for one of his hands. “Shane.” She made her voice as stern as she could. “You can’t do that.”

“Okay, no.” He dropped his hand from her reach. “You can’t seriously ditch me last night throwing a fit, and begin this conversation with how I messed up.”

Haley knew he was right. She didn’t like that he had blacked out, but his drinking wasn’t the issue at hand. She looked at her shoes. She could sense he was annoyed, but still waiting for her to say something. 

“Can I apologize?”

His eyes studied her, his mouth in a line. 

She gently took one of his rough hands in hers again, noting a scratch on his wrist. “I’m sorry I flipped out on you. You didn’t deserve it.”

Shane sort of huffed, watching their hands.

“I was really shocked that Alex would be there without telling me, and to hide that from me...I just felt sort of betrayed. The truth is I’m doing the same thing to him, and I guess I have no right to be mad.”

Shane looked like he was processing that, although his face was still stoic.

“Honestly..” she traced a finger up the back of his hand. “I thought this morning I would wake up and all I would want to do is talk to him and set it all straight.” She looked up at him. “But. All I could think about was seeing you.” 

His eyes were staring into her, but she thought she could see his expression soften the slightest bit.

“I was hoping..” she looked back down at his hand, threading her fingers through his sensually. “I would hear a knock on the window last night.”

His voice was low. “I don’t remember.. But that's where I think I was headed before I passed out.”

“Yeah?” She looked up at him.

He nodded softly.

She took his hand and put it hesitantly behind her on the small of her back, gazing up at him with as much hopefulness as she could relay in one look. She knew he was irritated, but also wanting her. His hand rested there heavily on her lower back for a moment.

Haley’s heart skipped a beat when he suddenly put his other hand on her cheek. He lifted her face towards his slightly.  “You really want to make it up to me?” 

She felt a sharp pang of lust. She nodded, and some deeply erotic instinct made her lick her tongue once over her teeth.

He made a guttural noise at that, and his hand went from her cheek to the back of her head, pulling her into a rough kiss. She found she had missed his lips, the scratch of his beard. They were kissing needily. She raked her fingers through his hair and tugged a little, making him hum. 

His hand went under her skirt then, grabbing at her ass. One of the straps of her top had fallen off her shoulder and he broke the kiss finally to nuzzle his face in her cleavage, both of them letting out soft moans.

She impulsively pulled down her top and bra somewhat together in the front so that her full breasts were spilling out, a nipple visible. He took her nipple in his mouth and sucked so sharply that it almost hurt, but she liked it. 

Haley glanced around as he continued to suck at her breasts, trying to do a quick assessment of how deep they were in the woods really. She felt a nip of a tooth that made her whimper.

“Come over here.” She shoved him towards the large stump and sat him down, lifting the skirt of her dress to straddle him. They continued kissing hungrily until she pushed him back with a firm hand on his chest. He set his hands behind him on the stump to balance himself as she started riding sensual circles on his lap, feeling the hard mass growing beneath her.

He could only tolerate that teasing so long, and he started reaching under her skirt. She fumbled with the fly of his pants to give some relief to his throbbing erection, which greeted her eagerly as she unzipped. She freed it from the constraints of his boxers and took a moment to stroke its thick shaft with her hand.

“I want you now,” he breathed, tugging her underwear to the side. 

Haley knew she was wet and ready for him. She positioned herself so she was hovering above his angry cock. She paused, making him wait while holding his gaze. 

He let out a tortured whimper. “Haley..”

She savored his anguish for another moment before easing herself down his mass while holding steady eye contact with him, a harsh breath escaping her. His eyes glazed over with pleasure. “Fuck..”

His dick was not overly long but wonderfully thick. She closed her eyes and felt it push inside of her as she rode him, relishing the full feeling and little flickers of pain. He was moaning.

Shane wrapped an arm around the small of her back then, leaning forward so he could start thrusting into her. She slightly dipped backwards, her blonde hair draping down as he plied into her.

His pace was picking up and she was so enraptured by his relentless thrusting that she didn’t even care when he leaned her down so far he toppled on top of her on to the soft grass. She dug her nails into his back, relishing that he was free to fully thrust into her.  She was dimly aware of the sunshine above them, grass tickling her cheeks, but mostly it was just the fiery building of pressure in her lower half.

Her mind reeled as she realized she was truly being fucked on the floor of the forest. She felt overwhelmed by the urgency of it, the rawness.  

“Shane,” she gasped, realizing she was about to lose it. She tightened around him, a jolt of electricity spasming through her core, her body shuddering.

“Oh fuck ,” he cursed, withdrawing from her, quaking, his mess shooting on to the grass and the dirt.

Haley let out a heavy, satisfied breath, the sunshine scattering through the leaves in the sky above her. Her limbs felt heavy. 

Shane was sort of sprawled out like a starfish to her right, panting.

She closed her eyes for a peaceful moment. “Fuck..”

“FUCK!” Shane suddenly yelled, snapping her out of her dreamy state. She startled and saw an angry green slime, shooting towards his shoe. She screamed.

They tore out of the clearing, their clothes in various states of disarray, sort of half laughing, half panicking. 

“What the hell!” he yelled. “I hate those fucking shits!”

“Did it follow us!?” she squealed, looking behind her, clutching her camera.

“Just keep going!”

They stopped once they got close to the edge of the woods, getting dangerously near the main path. They were huffing, and muddy.

Shane rested his hands on his knees. “This is not good for my hangover,” he gasped.

Haley was struggling to catch her breath too. “Yoba, that was crazy.”

They collected themselves for a moment. Haley tried to get the leaves out of her hair and grass off her dress. 

“You alright?” he asked her, still doubled over.

“I’m okay.” She looked down and noticed just a hint of green sludge on his sneaker. That had been close.

“Well, that was fun.” Shane was gazing at her.

She nodded and bit her lip.

“Should we… leave.. separately?” he asked, looking awkwardly towards the path that led to town. She thought she could sense some reluctance in his tone.

“Probably.” Haley agreed. She felt a little pang of sadness and maybe guilt. “I’m glad you came and met me.”

“Me too.” His eyes were steady on her, unreadable. He looked guilty as his eyes shifted down to her muddy dress. “I keep getting your clothes ruined..” 

She leaned up to kiss his lips once, somewhere between a peck and a true kiss. “It was worth it this time too.” She gave him one last look over her shoulder and left quickly for home. 




Chapter Text

 

“So. Sounds like you didn’t get a lot of sleep.” Abby raised her eyebrows once.

Petra smiled bashfully. “Nope.”

Abby and Petra sat on her front step together, gazing out over her freshly watered crops. Her blueberries were harvested and the baby chicks were still peeping and scampering about in the afternoon sun. They both had an iced tea in hand, reminiscing about the previous night.

“I really hoped you two would leave together. And that was just one of the couples I was scheming on.” Abby twiddled her fingertips mischievously. 

“Sam and Penny!” Petra gasped happily, the memory hitting her like a spark. “We walked in on them in the garage.”

Abby looked thrilled. “Sam was texting with Sebastian this morning. I think he’s over the moon.” 

Petra wondered if it was weird that she wanted the details. Abby read her mind. “All make out, some feeling each other up,” she reported. Her eyes glistened. “A huge step.”

Petra grinned contentedly. “They are so cute.”

Abby’s voice changed to a hesitant, gentle tone. “Did Alex say anything about Haley?” Petra’s stomach dropped hearing her name. “Do we know why she was there?”

Petra frowned, taking a sip of her tea. “He has no clue. It was definitely bothering him this morning.”

Abby nodded slowly.

“He’s going to talk to her today, and tell her everything.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“...how are you feeling about that?” Abby prompted.

Petra chewed her lip. “I think it’s good that he’s going to talk to her. But, I wish I knew what he was going to say. And how he was going to say it….” she took in a breath. “And what she’ll say back. ” She dropped her head. “This is actually the worst.”

Abby tutted in agreement. “What would you want him to say?” she asked.

Petra hugged her knees. “I guess.. I would want him to tell her that...we’re together?” her teeth clenched at the weight of that statement. “Oh, Yoba.” 

Abby patted her back sympathetically. “Yeah, you’re in it now, babe.”

“Fucked,” Petra agreed.

“The good news is, I don’t think you have to worry about that part.”

Petra arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“I think he’s in love with you.”

The words made her flush. She didn’t challenge it, but looked to Abby hopefully. They shared a heavy smile.

Petra hesitated. “...What should I be worried about?”

Abby frowned. “I just don’t know about Haley. Her showing up last night was weird. I’m wondering if she found out about you two, or if she was looking for Alex. Just knowing their history, I could see her being possessive of him.”

Petra stared at the laces of her boots.  “Alex said they hadn’t dated since high school…” she wasn’t really sure if that mattered or not, but she was holding on to it.

“They haven’t,” Abby assured her. “But if I’m honest…” She looked unsure if she should go on for a second. “Haley was always sort of in control. She would always break them up and then get them back together. And we don’t know…” she trailed.

Petra looked out over the field. “...when they last hooked up,” she finished the thought. 

They listened to the summer buzz for a minute, letting that sit.

“I don’t imagine you asked him,” Abby commiserated.

“No.” It was a hollow, sad answer. “Yoba, Abby. I feel so stupid. I was trying to keep my feelings under control by acting like I didn’t care about him or what he did with Haley. But none of that is true.” Petra could feel her throat tighten. She reminded herself that the night before during their heated exchange he had echoed her in saying it had been a long time. But what was a long time to him? She pictured him with Haley on her front step after the Flower Dance. It stung worse than ever. Even if they only kissed, she knew that she undeniably cared.

Abby’s hand was on her leg sympathetically. Petra went on. “I guess I thought I was protecting myself, but now I’ve fallen for him and I genuinely don’t know if he still has lingering feelings for someone else.”  For a moment, Shane’s hostile question from their altercation at the party replayed in her ears. Did she know him? 

“It’s understandable how you feel babe. It’s complicated and you’re just sorting everything out. But I think you’re right.. If you do care about him, you need to ask him about where he stands with her.” She paused. “What’s most important is that you and Alex are on the same page.”

Petra was suddenly struck with an intense urge to see him, to ask him everything. “I wanted to ask him so many questions this morning. But I was too afraid.”

“It’s not easy to do,” Abby comforted her. “But it’s not too late.” 

 

***

 

 

Alex: hey, can we talk today?

Alex: are you coming to the ice cream stand later

Haley:  idk pretty busy today

Alex: ok.  If not maybe we can chat later?

Haley: yeah I’ll text you

Alex stared at their conversation again, his phone lying face up on his kitchen counter. That was this morning. It was close to 6 pm and he hadn’t heard anything since. She was usually pretty direct over text, but not that business-like. And when was Haley ever truly busy? Something was definitely up.

He was so ready to clear his chest, just tell her and move on. He thought about going over there, just knocking on the door and leaving her with it. Hey, I think I’m in love with the farmer. Sorry I never mentioned it for a month, it escalated quickly and I was worried you would intimidate her. 

That would go over well, right? Alex dropped his forehead to the counter. 

“Alex, dear. What’s got you troubled.” He felt Granny give his arm a soft pat. “Or should I say who?”

He lifted his head to see her gentle, knowing smile. “I messed up, Granny.” His brow furrowed. “How do you tell someone something you should have told them a long time ago? Something they might not like to hear.” He frowned.

She made a thoughtful hum. “That is tricky. The “how” will have to be up to you. But the “when” is simple.”

Alex lifted an inquisitive eyebrow.

 “As soon as possible.” She seemed amused as she took a dish from the drying rack.

Alex sighed. “That’s part of the problem, she won’t talk to me.”

“It’s Petra then, hm?” Granny gave him an affectionate look as she stopped drying the plate she was holding. “Haley will understand, dear.”

Alex blinked, trying to decide if he had heard her correctly. “Uh.. what?” 

Granny chuckled at his stunned expression. “Alex, you think I haven’t noticed how you’ve been happy as a hummingbird flitting about a garden since the new farmer arrived? Your grandfather called it before I did. Isn’t that right, George?”

Alex was incredulous. He glanced over to the living room where his grandpa gave them the side eye and a dismissive hand wave for interrupting his show.

“I...uh..how..” Alex was still trying to reboot his brain. When did she know? How much did she know? Damn, she was a clever old broad. 

Granny put her hand on top of his, and he knew he was in for some sage advice.  “You know I think Haley is a lovely girl. She’s been a good friend to you. But I sense both of your hearts lie elsewhere.” Her eyes held him for a moment. “However and whenever you tell her, sweetheart, do tell her.”

Alex took in a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be fun, or easy. “I will, Granny.” She gave his hand one last pat and returned to the sink.

He looked back to his phone, feeling emboldened. If Haley didn’t text him back tonight, then he would go over there and tell her tomorrow. He tried to mentally prepare himself for what it would be like to stand on her doorstep, considering his opening line. She might already know, but she might not. He wasn’t sure which scenario was preferable, really.

He was so deep in thought it barely registered that Granny was greeting someone at the door. He perked up. 

“Oh these look lovely, dear! You really don’t have to shower us with gifts every time you visit!” Alex knew she didn’t mean that. He also knew who it was.

He scurried to the front hall, grinning.  “Hi, Petra.” 

He noticed her light brown hair had gained some more sun-kissed highlights since the summer started, a little pink sunburn on her cheeks. She gave him a sweet, almost sad smile.

“Hi, Alex.” Her expression was wistful.  Something’s wrong.

“Uh hey, want to come talk in my room?” He gestured down the hall and glanced quickly at Granny, who was happily taking the container of blueberries to the kitchen, and was either purposely not objecting to him bringing her back there or hadn’t heard him ask.

Petra did the same quick glance and then shuffled quickly behind him. They walked past his grandpa’s blaring TV set and down the carpeted hallway.

 He shut the door behind them. He felt a pang of regret that he hadn’t picked up his room in a while.

“Is everything oka-”

Petra hugged him so tightly around the middle it knocked the air out of him for a second. “Hey..” He put his arms around her before sitting her down on his bed. “What’s going on? Are you alright?”

When she looked up at him her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were watery. “Alex..” she took a shuddering breath. “I don’t know how to ask this, but I just need to know.”

He felt a steely resolve form inside of him. This morning he had hesitated, worried he’d sound overly defensive bringing it up himself. But now he just needed to say it.

“I don’t love Haley.”

She blinked. “What?”

It came spilling out of him. “I haven’t hooked up with her in almost two years. We didn’t do anything after the Flower Dance, I swear. I have no idea why she came last night, and this must be shit for you because it is a really complicated long term friendship, but I promise-”

“Alex,” she put her hand on his chest, and he stopped.

“I trust you. I do.” She was visibly relieved. “I felt like I had to hear it from you, but Yoba, I hated asking.” 

Alex felt himself relax. “It’s understandable. I guess we have been pretty casual about all of this and it’s not...uncomplicated.” 

“I wanted to ask you this morning, I don’t know why I didn’t.” Her light eyes held his gaze. “Were you able to talk with her today?”

He shook his head. “She never really responded to me. I don’t know if she’s avoiding me because she knows about us or what.” He squared his shoulders to her purposefully. “But whatever drama unfolds, I need you to know that she’s just my friend, and that’s it.”

They shared warm eye contact for a moment. She nodded, reaching for his hand.  “Okay.”

A part of him really wanted to leave it there, but when else was this going to happen? His window might close. He realized she was watching him, recognizing he wanted to say something. “So..you...uh. You never..” Shit, this does suck . “Did you and-”

“Sam?”

He held in a breath. 

“Yoba, no,” she shook her head. “He’s practically like a brother to me at this point. He was just sad about Penny, that night you saw us.”

Alex was surprised at just how good it felt for her to confirm what he had suspected. He let out a small breath. “Cool.”

Petra leaned into his chest. “I’m really happy I came here. I feel so much better.”

He put an arm around her. “I’m happy you came too. I should’ve said all of that this morning.”

Petra leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss. It stayed sweet for a moment, but the feel of her soft lips rekindled his heated memories from last night, and he felt a sharp pang of lust. He cupped her cheek and his arm wrapped around her, pulling her into a harsher kiss. He pushed his tongue in roughly and she let out a small needy whimper that made him ache. She slid her hand up his chest and he moved his hand lower, squeezing her ass, still kissing her hungrily. They paused, right on the edge of not being able to stop, huffing. 

Alex shot from the bed to lock the door handle and returned to her side quickly.  “We just have to be a little quiet,” he whispered. She let out a small excited huff.

They both sat up on their knees. She immediately started fumbling with his pants as he tugged down her shorts. His dick was already hard and ready, flopping out from his boxer briefs as she pulled them down. She began stroking him eagerly. He latched on to her neck.

She pulled away suddenly and gave him an intensely passionate stare, her ice blue eyes making him pause. His breath hitched as she lowered herself down off the bed, her hand still gripping him purposefully. She angled his tip to her mouth, licking the head sensually while holding his gaze. His whole body tensed, and he let out a small croak, trying to stay quiet.

“Is this okay?” she whispered, her pink lips a millimeter away from the tip of his throbbing erection.

Alex nodded eagerly, stupidly, his eyes wide. She continued and began to suck down the length of his shaft, still piercing him through with her stare. Her lips pressed down his length until he could feel the incredible sensation of his tip hitting the back wall of her throat, and then somehow sliding impossibly further. “ Fuck ,” he hissed. 

She started working his shaft then, his mind spinning around how this erotic scene could have so suddenly unfolded in his own bedroom. He gripped the sheets as she stroked and sucked, his legs going numb, wondering how long he could possibly last if she kept up this relentless pace.

A melodious knock suddenly sounded at the door. Petra whipped her head up. They were both deer in headlights.

“Alex? Honey? Does Petra want to stay for dinner?” Granny’s voice was muffled and sweet.

They looked at each other. “Uh, sure Granny! Thanks!” he called, his voice unnatural to his own ears. 

“Alright, it’ll be ready in fifteen minutes!”

Petra let out a silent sigh of relief as they heard her footsteps creak back down the hall. 

He grinned. “Fifteen minutes is all we need.” He scooped her up and lifted her towards the pillow, her back to him. She tossed him a heated glance over her shoulder and positioned herself with her elbows supporting her, her generous ass in tiny pink underwear teasing him. She did an inviting little shake that lit him on fire.

He grabbed her hips and kissed her neck, positioning himself on top of her, feeling up her ass roughly with his free hand. She whimpered impatiently as he tugged down her thong past her thighs. His throbbing dick was prodding her eagerly, and she wriggled to help get him into position.  

She arched her back once slowly, her full cheeks rubbing against his erection, peering over her shoulder. “Hurry,” she pleaded, her voice a harsh whisper. He pulsed with longing.

He held on to her hips and pushed inside of her, finding her wet and impossibly tight. He exhaled in pleasure and she muffled her moan in his pillow. He was already so hard and riled up from earlier that he found he couldn’t start slow. He reached a steady pace quickly, the pressure building and their breathing ragged. He watched how her ass shook with each firm thrust and suppressed a moan. 

“Alex,” she gasped. He relished hearing her say his name. 

Her cries were growing louder as he plied into her. “Shhh..they’re right outside,” he breathed, knowing full well he wasn’t doing anything to assist her in being quiet. She turned her head from the pillow and found his hand, latching on to one of his fingers with her mouth and sucking it harshly to silence herself, which he found unreasonably erotic.

He reached his other hand down towards her clit, rubbing her as he continued to pound her from behind, eliciting an elated whimper from her. He hoped for a moment that the blaring TV was enough to drown out the rhythmic creaking of his bed. 

Just when he thought he might lose it, she buried her face in the pillow with a muffled cry and her body shook. Feeling her tighten around his dick and knowing he had made her come pushed him over then too, and he spasmed and pulled out quickly, making a mess on her ass and his sheets.

He rolled over on his back beside her, the two of them panting and spent. He reached for her hand and their fingertips intertwined.

He chuckled softly. “Yoba.”

“It’s ready, dears!”

 

***

 

It had been two days since the party now, and Haley still hadn’t confronted Alex. Or her sister. Instead, she distracted herself by making a big trip into the city for the day, keeping herself busy with the task of choosing some new outfits, a bathing suit, another purse. She had been sufficiently preoccupied all day. Now she looked at the new items she had laid out over her bed, and could feel the satisfaction slowly fade and the dull guilty ache settle back in. 

“Haley?”

Haley eyed her closed door. She knew this would come eventually. Emily was always the bigger person.

“What is it,” she responded, without an inflection.

“Will you come out and talk to me?” Her voice was patient.

Haley huffed. In truth, she felt nervous. She opened the door.

Emily gestured to the couch, and they sat down together on opposite sides. For a moment the clock ticking on the wall was the only sound.

Haley stared at her shoes. She wanted to apologize for flipping out on her at the party, and for avoiding her since, but the words were struggling to form.

“You made a mess of that new dress you bought. How’d it get so muddy?”

Haley hadn’t expected that question. She probably should have, seeing as Emily did most of the laundry and it was unusual for Haley not to take impeccable care of her clothes. She hesitated.

“It was from the woods.”

Emily’s blue eyes were ever patient, but serious. “...Ah.”

“I was taking pictures.”

“In the mud,” she finished.

“It got… messy, yes.” Haley glanced at her once with a bit of irritation.

Emily waited for a beat before turning to face her more directly.  “Alex came by earlier.”

Haley looked up, a pang of worry shooting up her spine. “He did?”

Emily nodded slowly.  “Have you talked to him at all?”

Haley looked back down at her shoes. “No.”

“When is the last time you two went more than a day without talking? Never?”

Haley shrugged without looking at her.

“Alright.” she sighed. “Do you want to tell me what’s going on here? I’m your sister, Haley. I’m here for you, and I have your back. But I can’t help feeling like things are spinning a little out of control.”

Haley felt a bit whiplashed from the statement. She bit her lip. 

“Are you in love with Shane?” she asked bluntly.

Haley whipped her head up. “No!”

Emily raised her eyebrows in an expectant way. 

“I don’t.. I.” Haley felt her insides burning.  She shifted to the question that had been plaguing her since the party. “How did you even know we were...seeing each other?”

Emily let out a breath. “You’re two are probably the people I know the best in this town, and the ones I spend the most time with. When you both started acting increasingly... odd. I connected the dots.”

Haley’s brow furrowed.

“I also heard you one night.”

She flushed.

 “Listen,” Emily said, putting a hand closer to her on the couch. “You know that I don’t care about Shane that way. I think you’re the only one who knows.” She did a small amused eye roll.  “But I do really care about him as a friend. He has a lot of pain he deals with already. Are you being good to him?”

“What? Yes. I’m...good to him. What does that even mean?” Haley asked, irritated.

“I mean, like, are you two being honest with each other. Are there really no feelings involved here? Just the physical?” Her blue eyes could be so captivating sometimes, they bore right through her. 

Haley didn’t answer at first, just held her sister’s gaze, her eyes worried.  “I don’t know,” she said.

Emily looked sympathetic. “How long do you think you can keep this a secret?”

Haley bristled at that. “Oh, so only some of us can keep secrets? That seems a bit odd coming from you.”

Emily blinked once, her expression clouding. “That’s different.”

“I don’t think it is.”

“You know Sandy isn’t out to her family.”

“So?”

“That’s not a comparison,” Emily stated firmly. “I have to respect her process.” 

Haley still felt a bit justified in what she had said, but she didn’t want to upset Emily further. She dropped it. Her next question was more hesitant. “Do you think Alex knows?” 

Emily thought for a moment. “I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it’s just me.” Haley felt herself relax a little, considering what that meant. “Are you going to tell him?” Emily pressed.

No. Haley sat stoically.  “I don’t know.”

Emily patted her knee. “I’m already too involved. But in my experience, honesty is always the best path, even though it's rarely the easiest.” She smiled. “Even if you missed it the first time through.”

Haley watched as she got up to start dinner. “Emily.”

She turned, looking slightly surprised.

“I’m sorry I left the party. I did want to hang out with you.”

Emily smiled. “That’s nice to hear. I was sorry too.”  

She was about halfway into the kitchen when she paused and turned around. “I’m sorry to ask this,” she prefaced, clearly uncomfortable. “But you’re still on the pill-”

“Of course!” Haley snapped. 

Emily put her hands up in submission. “Sisterly duty.”



Haley made her way back into her room, sitting down on her bed beside all of her new clothes. She glanced down at her phone, letting out a small breath. So, Alex didn’t know about Shane. And she knew about the farmer. It was actually the ideal scenario. Why was she so worked up over what to say to him?

She did need to confront him sometime. And if she was honest, as annoyed as she was at him for not telling her, she missed Alex. It was weird not talking to him.

Haley: Emily said you stopped by before. sorry I missed you

Alex: hey yeah. where have you been?

Haley: can we talk at the Luau tomorrow.

Alex: sure 

She chewed her lip, her thoughts swirling over what tomorrow’s festival would bring. She felt nervous. She felt irritated. She noticed her new bikini out of the corner of her eye.

She felt like texting Shane.



***

 

 

Shane was making his way to Joja Mart relatively on time that morning, trying his best not to think about how slowly the next 8 hours were going to go. At least tomorrow was a festival day and he didn’t have to work, he reminded himself. Thank Yoba.

He also had to feel thankful that he didn’t have a hangover for once. He had woken up early without having to pry himself out of bed. He made some eggs for him and Jas, chatted with Marnie. It was odd. 

He supposed he had been a pretty good fucking mood since he met up with Haley in the woods the other day. He was pretty sure he could have an on-demand boner for the rest of his life just picturing her gazing up at him lustfully from the grass. He shook his head, trying to shelve the image in his mind before he got too worked up. 

He continued on his way and was just passing the Saloon, feeling mildly proud of himself for his recent stretch of sobriety, when he turned the corner almost directly into Alex. It was too sudden, too blatant to ignore each other's presence, so they both defaulted to the standard greeting of a chin raise and grunt of acknowledgement.

Shane grimaced. He much preferred to act as though Alex didn’t exist, and he was pretty sure Alex felt the same way. They had both managed that rather successfully at the house party, at least until he had flexed his way into the kitchen, all defensive of the farmer.

Shane trudged on, irritated by the surprise encounter.  He took a quick glance back to see that Alex was headed towards Willow Lane. Probably to Haley’s house, he realized with a sinking feeling. 

He wasn’t sure if Haley was upset with Alex still for lying to her, or if they had talked it over by now. He had kind of been happy to assume they hadn’t, but now he found himself peering over his shoulder again, just to be sure that Alex wasn’t actually going to the beach, or something.

He wasn’t. He could just catch the last glimpse of his broad shoulders disappearing towards Haley and Emily’s. 

Shane wondered, for a self-indulgent minute, if maybe Haley was irritated enough to refuse to see him. She had been pretty pissed at the party.  He thought back to what she had told him in the woods. “All I could think about was seeing you. ” The thought nestled inside him and warmed him through, even as he entered the sliding doors into Joja Mart’s frigid AC. 

Summer inside Joja Mart was extra torturous, Shane always thought. He could see the sunshine outside, close but so far away, and the whirring monotony of the freezers was now harmonized by the roaring of air conditioning units. The incessant buzz really got to him more than ever. 



It was much later in his shift when he was shelving ramen noodles, stacking row after row of hard crumbly packages, that it suddenly dawned on him that he was being a naive dumbass.

Haley had wanted to see him after the party, sure. But Haley and Alex had been friends for years. Of course Alex probably showed up this morning and she had invited him right in. Of course they’d make up. He felt a sharp pang of jealousy when he found himself wondering how they’d make up.

He sighed. It was shit to admit to himself, but Shane truly had no idea if Alex and Haley still had feelings for each other, regardless of what was going down on the side with the farmer, and with him.

He felt a pit of dread. What was the long term plan with this, anyway? What was he really expecting to happen with her? She was going to tire of him eventually. She’d come to her senses and realize that she was way too good for him, in every way possible.

He was startled out of his thoughts by his phone vibrating in his pocket. He took a quick glance around and subtly placed it in the box he was unloading from, feeling a spark of surprise and excitement to see her name.

Haley: So I got a new bikini today.

Shane smirked. He liked where this was going.

Shane: Is that so?

Haley: Uh huh. I went shopping in the city

Shane hoped that might mean she and Alex hadn’t actually crossed paths. Either way, she had chosen to text him about this bikini, and he was good with that.

Shane: that sounds like something I’d like to see

Haley: You’ll have to be patient :P

She was such a fucking tease.

Shane: how am I supposed to wait until the Luau

Haley: it’s tomorrow!

Shane: your point?

Haley: sorry. no previews this time 

Shane:  damn

Shane hesitated, but then thought, why not.

Shane: maybe there’s something else you want to show me?

His phone was silent for a long time. He might have pushed it. He was just starting to feel the dull throb of disappointment when another text came in.

Haley: but I don’t have anything else.

Yoba, she was good at taking pictures. It was a mirror selfie. She was perched artfully on the edge of her bathtub with her back to the camera, peering over her shoulder. She was nude, but her blond hair was cascading down and covering just about everything, except for the delicious curves of her sweet bare ass.

Haley: see? 

Shane: oh I see alright

Shane glanced around, praying Morris was still in his office. 

Shane: shit

Shane: how am I supposed to go back to work now

Haley: hehe 

Shane blinked in surprise at her next text, feeling the color drain out of his face.

Haley: maybe you have something to show me?

He swallowed. She had requested a selfie from him before, but not like this. It was usually a joke, and he’d send the most outrageous photo he could. Buck teeth and dead eyes, a bunch of chins. He always enjoyed feeling like he could hear her laugh through the phone.

But this was different. She was after something else, he could tell. He had never done anything like that before, let alone in a Joja Mart.

Shane: uh. I don’t have anything that looks as good as that

Haley: I think you do..

Shane glanced around the mercifully empty store, his cheeks burning. He was in complete disbelief that she would want a picture of that. Did girls even like that? Maybe it was a power move… but then again, maybe it wasn’t. He pondered the idea of her liking it. Blushing from it. Biting her full lips. Touching herself while she looked at it..

Well now he was at half mast. 

Shane snuck quickly into the back where there was an employee bathroom, feeling ridiculous but also an intense urgency. He was beyond grateful that Sam wasn’t working today.  

He opened up the door of the cramped space, not sure if it was the poor lighting was in his favor or not. He opened the camera on his phone with gritted teeth. This would not be artful, but it was solicited, so he figured that was better than most of the dick pics floating around out there.

He took another long look at her selfie to get fully hard, which was not difficult. He pulled down his pants and boxers, trying to find an angle that did him a favor. He put one leg on the toilet seat, bit his lip, and snapped a few,  wondering how it was that he could seemingly go from utter despair to an absurd fucking situation like this on any whim she happened to have. She had a way of making him live in the present. And he supposed he needed that. 

He arched an eyebrow at the result. Nothing to scoff at. He hit send.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Abby: hey babe..

Abby: I keep thinking about our chat on the porch. I feel like an asshole

Abby: like you had this amazing night and then I came over and was like a raincloud on everything

Abby: Sebastian warned me not to get overly involved, and i totally am, and now I’m thinking I’m like a shit friend?

Abby: also who texts someone this many times before they respond idk

Petra: omy I’m sorry I didn’t see this till now!

Petra: Abby.

Petra: you’re an amazing friend, first of all

Petra: and you weren’t being a raincloud you were… shining some light on the situation

Abby: lol ok

Petra: no but really. I just got home from his house. we talked.

Petra: and uh. did some other things :P

Abby: !!!

Petra: I barely had to ask. He told me he’s not in love with her, they haven’t hooked up in years

Abby:  thank YOBA

Petra: meanwhile he was worried about me and Sam? 

Abby: lol what?

Petra: we clearly really needed to talk to each other.

Petra: I feel so much better about everything.

Abby: I’m so relieved!!

Petra: you and me both

Petra: you’re sweet to text me

Abby: we can chat more tomorrow at the Luau <3 

Abby: btw what are you bringing?

Petra: oh fuck

 

 

Petra felt a pinch of regret as she made her way down the path towards the beach. As a farmer she had to expect there’d be a fair amount of pressure on her Luau contribution, but her best crops so far this season were blueberries and hot peppers, and neither of those seemed quite right for a communal soup. She did have a few potatoes left from the spring that had been particularly good, so she hoped that would do the trick. Still she supposed she should’ve thought harder about it, sooner. 

She had thought pretty hard about everything else. 

Like Alex. Everything with him had been like a dream she was desperate not to wake up from. She blushed then, thinking of the wholesome family dinner she had shared with him and his grandparents the previous night, chit-chatting about her late grandfather over pot roast, all while she and Alex exchanged heated eye contact over the fact that he had been thrusting into her from behind just minutes before. The memory made her feel overheated, and it was already a hot day. 

One person she wasn’t so ready to see was Haley. She had no idea what that would be like.

Haley had essentially been giving Alex the cold shoulder. It had been a few days since the party, and she had still been avoiding him. Alex wasn’t sure if she had found out he was there without telling her, or if she knew about them and was mad, or both, or if it was something else entirely, but either way he had seemed rather unsure of how today’s festival would go. 

Petra could hear muffled commotion as she got closer to the beach. As her feet hit the sand, tiki pillars flanking two large tables of food came into view. There was a small dance floor with tropical music blaring. Marnie was stirring a massive pot of soup in the center, and Gus was roasting something delicious looking to the side. The Mayor and a looming, well-dressed figure who she knew must be the Governor were standing and looking very official overseeing it all. 

Petra did a quick survey of the scene. Many of the townspeople had arrived already and were setting up, but she didn’t see Abby yet. Or Alex. She felt a little relief that she didn’t see Haley either.

“Ah! Petra. Say hi to the Governor.” Mayor Lewis looked particularly dapper and a bit nervous. He leaned towards her, his mustache twitching. “You’ve brought something delicious for the soup, I take it?” 

“Uh, yes! Hi,” she said, shaking the Governor’s hand.

He was smiling jovially. “I always look forward to visiting the Valley.” Petra returned his smile but made no attempt at small talk, worried he’d ask what she had brought. 

Petra handed the potato to Marnie with a dubious expression. “Well that’s a solid choice for a soup!” she said appreciatively. Petra wasn’t positive if she meant it, but she was relieved to move on.

“Hey, P!”

Sam was yelling to her from where he and Penny and Vincent were splashing around in the waves near Elliot’s cabin. She smiled. 

As she got closer, she saw that Penny had on a frilly, yellow bikini on. Her typical outfits tended to be demure and Petra had never seen the extent of her curves like this before. She had to keep herself from staring. Her first instinct was to say something complimentary, but she didn’t think there was any way to tell someone they looked good in their swimsuit without sounding a little creepy, no matter how well-meaning. 

“Hey,” Sam said, giving her a one armed hug. “Glad you’re here.” He added lower in a excited whisper, “Penny’s a fucking babe, right?”

Petra laughed, but nodded genuinely. She felt confident Sam had let Penny know just how good she looked.

Abby and Sebastian showed up minutes later, Sebastian somehow still in dark clothes and long sleeves. Abby had on a purple cover up with a black bikini underneath. “I can’t take this off though,” she explained. “ My parents will see my belly button piercing.” she rolled her eyes.

Petra knew from the last time they were at the beach together that her nipple piercings were more of a concern. The metal bars were totally visible in the thin fabric of her swimsuit. It was hard not to look at and surprisingly hot. She still felt proud of herself for calling that way back in the spring.  

 Abby took in the crowd at the beach. “So.. no Haley yet?”

“Not yet,” She answered, her stomach souring. 

“Come on, guys!” Sam yelled to them with a dramatic arm gesture, Vincent and Penny splashing along beside him.

Sebastian blinked his dark brooding eyes with disinterest. “Be right in, Sam.”

Petra was already feeling a bit overheated from the sun. She took off the sundress she had pulled on over her swimsuit and set it by her flip flops.

Abby let out a whistle. “Damn. I think you caught whatever Alex has. Look at your bod’.”

Petra gave her a bashful look. She knew she was nowhere near Alex’s level of fitness, but she was definitely more toned than when she first arrived. Hours of lifting watering cans and swinging her hoe and pickaxe would do that, she supposed.  She had gone with a more athletic style of a two piece swimsuit for a family event, but she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t hopeful Alex would approve.

“Are you coming in?” she asked Abby.

“Nah, you go ahead. We’re going to sit under the umbrella for a bit.” She looked to Sebastian, who was glaring at Harvey dutifully rubbing sunscreen on Maru’s shoulders. 

Petra waded in to join Penny and Sam, the water lapping at her thighs feeling cool and refreshing. 

“Miss Petra! Look what I found!” Vincent shouted excitedly, holding up a ribbed shell high in the air, the water up to his collarbone. Petra oohed with fascination.

“Not too deep, little man,” Sam cautioned. “Mom said only where you can stand.”

“Do you remember what we call small sea creatures that live in shells?” Penny asked, her voice taking on a bright, teacher-like flair, which Petra thought made an erotic juxtaposition to the sight of her full cleavage.

“Mollusks!” he exclaimed happily.

“That’s right!” she gushed.

“Kid’s smarter than me,” Sam muttered with a laugh. Penny smiled.

Vincent suddenly looked excitedly towards the shore. “Mr. Alex! Throw it!” he shouted, his hands outstretched. 

Petra turned to see Alex, shirtless and tanned at the water’s edge, his gridball in hand. Her breath caught at the sight of him. He paused and made a calculated soft lob for Vincent to catch.

The ball hit off Vincent's hands initially, but he pulled it back in with a dramatic collapse into the water that wasn’t truly necessary.  They cheered raucously, as did a few onlookers from the beach.

Petra felt her heart skip a beat as Alex waded in towards them, toned and tan in his swim trunks. “Hey.” He reached out to hug her, his skin soft and warm from the sun. She felt his eyes dance along her body for a moment. She thought back to the last time they were together in the ocean and wondered if he was doing the same.

Vincent splashed between them with the gridball outstretched. “Mr. Alex did you see that??”

“Yeah, big man! What a catch!” he took the gridball in his hand. 

A loud bellow from Pam sounded suddenly,  instructing in no uncertain terms that they should assemble for the soup-tasting that would commence in ten minutes. 

“Yes!” Sam cheered. “Food time.” He and Penny ushered Vincent towards the shore.

Alex gave her a hopeful smile, clutching the gridball in his strong hand. “Maybe after we eat, we throw this around?”

“Sure,” Petra grinned. Gridball hadn’t been her top sport in high school, but she had a pretty solid spiral. 

They made their way towards the sand. Petra picked up a shiny blue shell from the surf that was a lot like the one Vincent had found. “There are always such pretty shells on this beach. I love them.”

Alex grinned a bit wistfully. “The beach is one of my favorite places in the Valley.” 

They took in the scene for a moment of the townspeople slowly gathering towards the buffet. She noticed Haley standing by her sister near the punch. She knew Alex did too.

“Has she tried to talk with you yet?” she asked him hesitantly, their eyes still following her.

“Not yet.” Alex frowned. “I’m not gonna worry about it. She’ll come talk to me when she’s ready.” He shrugged a little too casually. Alex had been eager to just get it all out there before, but it seemed to her like his resolve had worn down with Haley’s stalling. 

Petra wondered why a small part of her felt bad. Selfishly she should be glad to see them apart. As much as she had been relieved to know that his feelings weren’t romantic, she knew Haley was his closest friend since childhood and had been there for him through a lot of pain in his life. Petra couldn’t help but feel like she was the main reason for this rift between them now, and it was an uncomfortable thought.  

Petra’s face must have conveyed her dissatisfaction with his response, because he continued. “It’s just, this is my favorite festival day. I love the beach and just want to enjoy it, you know?” 

She smiled. “It’s going to be a great day,” she assured him, although she almost immediately started to consider where she should sit to strategically avoid Haley.

“Do you have to put that back on?” Alex teased her when she grabbed her cover up.

“We can’t all walk around half-naked all the time,” she chided him with a playful grin.

Alex’s gaze shifted then towards the bridge, and she could see Evelyn and George slowly making their way towards the beach from town. “I better go help them.” His hand brushed hers ever so slightly, but unquestionably, his eyes affectionate. “I'll see you later?” 

“Of course.” She was blushing. He flashed her a smile and trotted off. She wasn’t sure how the slightest touch from him could drive her so crazy.

 

The Governor made his proclamation, and the soup was merely “pleasant”. Mayor Lewis was slightly pouting on the side, but Abby had assured her that it was a much better outcome than many years past. Especially the year of Sam’s anchovy incident.

The ceremony now over, there was a mad convergence on the food. Petra had been chatting with Marnie about her chickens and they continued as they walked towards the buffet. “You know, Petra, those chickens of yours are so happy I bet they wouldn’t mind a cow friend, sometime soon?” Marnie’s eyes sparkled. 

“A cow?” Petra’s jaw almost dropped at the idea. Of course she didn’t nearly have enough money or supplies for a barn yet. But just the idea of it made her heart swell. “Someday, Marnie. That would be so amazing.” 

Petra was in such a gleeful stupor thinking about owning a baby cow that she grabbed a plate absentmindedly from the start of the buffet line, not noticing that Haley was just a few feet in front of her.

Petra froze with the empty plate stupidly in her hand, realizing she now had to either make an awkward excuse and noticeably exit the line to avoid being directly next to her, or worse, get in line directly next to her. She could sense Marnie’s polite confusion behind her at her refusal to budge.

“Petra,” a sweet voice sounded to her left. She wheeled around.

Leah was standing in front of her, stunning in a colorful bikini top with a flowy sarong tied around her hips. “I just wanted to ask you something.” She put a gentle hand on her arm and looked expectantly to Marnie.

“Oh of course, excuse me,” Petra nodded to Marnie with a smile, so grateful she could burst.

Leah guided her gently a few feet from the table. “I had some of the blueberries you gave me in a summer salad yesterday. They were delicious.”

“Thank you,” Petra said gratefully, not referring at all to the blueberries.  

Leah sort of hovered close to her for a moment, her hand still on Petra’s arm as if to hold her in place. It was only for a few seconds, but Petra felt flushed at how close she was. She smelled lovely, like freesias. She only half-processed that Leah had yet to actually ask her something.

Leah flicked her eyes once quickly towards the buffet, and then returned to holding Petra’s gaze. Petra swallowed. 

“Alright, then.” Leah smiled, releasing her. 

Petra looked back to see the line had continued progressing and Haley was now a safe distance down the table. She turned back to thank her again, but Leah had already floated away to join Elliot. 

“If I had a dick, it would be so hard right now.”

Petra grabbed Abby’s arm as if to anchor herself. “Here you are.” She gazed over to where Leah was standing with Elliot. “She just saved me from an awkward run in with Haley, I think.”

“Do you think she knows..?” Abby asked.

They both looked over to where Elliot and Leah were chatting. They paused their conversation once to glance back their way, smiling knowingly, and Petra sensed they knew a lot about her predicament. Leah had just intervened like some sort of patron saint of preventing uncomfortable social encounters. 

“She must,” Petra reasoned. Elliot would have mentioned seeing them in the ocean, she was sure. She remembered that Leah seemed to insinuate her dancing with Alex during the Flower Dance too. Petra had an uneasy realization in the pit of her stomach as she glanced around. “Maybe everyone does.”

“I hate to say it, but if they don’t, they probably will soon.” Abby surveyed the line of townspeople in front of them, clambering to fill up their plates. “I think we’ve learned by now that secrets don’t last long in this town.”

“How have you and Sebastian managed all this time?” Petra asked earnestly as they filed in the back of the buffet line. She noted with regret how far it stretched from the food now.  

“I’m sure a few people know, or suspect at least.” She glanced over to where Robin was dancing with Demetrius.  “His mom totally knows and never says anything, but we think she’s a fan.” Abby’s smile faded. “It’s my dad we’re worried about.”

Petra’s face fell. “Yeah.. I could see that.” Petra knew that Pierre was not the biggest fan of Sam or Sebastian, and supposedly it had been that way ever since they started hanging out the three of them in middle school.  

“It’s gotten a lot easier to see each other with you here, though. He never questions me if I say I’m hanging out with you. His star customer.” Abby smirked.

Petra grinned. “I’m happy to facilitate your late night ..” she hesitated, trying to find a less lame word than “shenanigans.” Who was she, Mayor Lewis?

“Dick appointments?” Abby offered. They both mulled it over briefly and ultimately went with it. “Anyway, the key to staying secret is we just don’t do any PDA beyond what I’d do with Sam, or any other friend. Ever.” Petra wasn’t sure, but she thought she could detect just a hint of sadness in Abby’s voice.

“Hm.” Petra thought about the little hand graze from earlier that had set her into a tizzy. She wondered then if Alex would ever want to go public with their relationship. Once Haley knew, which she might already, would anything else hold him back?

The thought made her a bit dizzy herself, thinking of being an openly together couple with him.  It felt soon, and scary, and somehow not soon enough at the same time. She shelved the worry for now. Let’s just get through the Luau without any drama, shall we?

She took in a breath, giving Abby a smile as they finally reached the food. Shouldn’t be a problem.

 

***

 

Haley was sitting by a table with her plate, noting that Jodi and Caroline were already consolidating some of the various dishes that had been ravaged by the feasting villagers. Usually she enjoyed eating at this festival. There was always a variety of dishes to choose from and Lewis really put the pressure on everyone to impress the Governor with something delicious. But right now she didn’t feel like eating a thing. She had grabbed a plate and had only picked at it halfheartedly.

She couldn’t stop watching Alex throw his gridball back and forth with Petra. The two of them were thigh deep in the water, acting like this repetitive, inane activity was the most fun they could have in the world. 

They were supposed to talk today, but so far Alex hadn’t even glanced her way. It was believable that he was just distracted because he loved the beach and here was someone willing to indulge his gridball obsession. But she knew him too well.  She was sure that mostly, he was nervous to talk with her and trying to procrastinate. He probably knew she knew that too. 

Haley sighed. Her plan had been to confront him today, here. Her resolve was fading a little bit. The truth was that Petra was a good match for him. She was sweet, energetic, fun. He looked happy. 

“Hey.”

Haley turned her head from the beach to see Shane beside her, a drink in his hand. Her heart fluttered for a moment, thinking of the last time she saw him in the forest and the pictures they were sending back and forth last night. She was still feeling a little scandalous, having that saved on her phone. 

Shane had on a white t-shirt and swim trunks with palm trees on them that should have been a horrid fashion choice, but somehow just looked right and sort of adorable. 

She smiled. “Oh, hi.”

“You’re not going to eat?”

Haley looked down at her neglected plate. “Not hungry,” she answered.  “It’s hot. And loud.” She glanced over at the dance floor, where Emily was in a trance. She thought for a moment. “Want to lay out for a little with me?”

He pondered that, and then shrugged. “As long as I can have my rum punch.”

They settled a bit closer to the water, but on the far edge from where people were swimming and away from a certain couple putting on a gridball clinic. She noted that Leah and Elliot were observing them from where they were chatting under an umbrella, but she didn’t think they were being too suspicious.

Haley slipped off her sundress to reveal her light blue bikini, a choice she had spent hours deciding on in Zuzu the other day.  She made a show of laying out her towel just so. She could tell from the whites of Shane’s eyes she had made a good choice. 

She stretched out on her large towel, one leg lightly crossed over the other. Shane plunked down next to her in the sand, not too close. 

“Well it was worth the wait.”

“Hm?” She asked innocently, fully knowing he meant the bikini.

He shook his head. 

“Do you need any sunscreen?” she asked with a hint of flirtation.

“Uh.. no. I’m good.” She could feel his eyes on her. “Do...you?”

“I applied beforehand.”

“Good.” He relaxed. “I don’t want to get a boner in front of Mayor Lewis.”

Haley giggled. “Or the Governor.”

“Nah, he can have a peek.”

She let out a full laugh. It felt good.

Haley glanced to her left when she heard the distinct sound of liquid being poured into a cup. Shane had taken out a fifth of whiskey from his pocket and was spiking his punch, which was already alcoholic. Haley gave him a judgmental look from behind her sunglasses, tilting them down. “Is that really necessary?”

He twisted the cap back on with a look at her that wasn’t guilty enough for her liking. “Just adding a little something. It’s a party, after all.”

“I better not be finding you by a riverbank tomorrow.”

“I always bring a little extra. ” He looked contemplative. “It’s just kind of a habit. I don’t really need to, I guess.” He said it like this concept was just dawning on him.

“You don’t,” she assured him. “What if something happens later that you want to remember?” She shrugged her shoulders playfully.

His deep brown eyes studied her, crinkling just slightly at her teasing. She kept her expression purposefully mysterious and looked back out to the ocean.

Most of the food dishes were starting to be cleaned up from the buffet now, which usually meant s'mores would be coming out soon. She noticed that many of the younger townsfolk were gradually starting to gather around the campfire by Elliot’s cabin. Haley wondered if they should join them, eventually. Would it be weirder if they did or weirder if they didn’t?

Petra and Alex had come in from the water then. She noticed Alex pick something up from the sand and rinse it in the waves a few times. 

Haley peeked over the rim of her sunglasses, trying to tell what it was. Alex jaunted over to where Petra was standing, presenting it to her with a flattened hand. Haley could hear her coo in delight even from this far down the beach.

Haley’s mouth nearly dropped open. Was that… a gift?

She sat up now, eyeing them. Had Alex, Alex Mullner, actually just thought to give the farmer a shell? A small, spontaneous gesture. Out of the blue.

Haley felt herself simmer. In all the years she had dated him… he literally had to be coached on how to be doting. And now suddenly it was like second nature to him. Was that for fucking real?

Petra was still admiring it. It was brief, but she caught the hand Alex placed on her lower back for a moment before they walked towards the campfire. 

It took her a moment to realize Shane had been saying something to her. 

“Hey? You good?”

Haley adjusted her focus to him, happy her sunglasses had been obscuring her gaze. “Sorry. What?”

He glanced down the beach. “You seem a bit distracted.”

“Yeah..” She considered making an excuse, but then thought she should just lay it out there.  She set her sunglasses on her towel. “I’m just supposed to talk to Alex. I told him I would today and now I regret it.”

“Oh..  you haven’t talked with him yet?” There was an edge to his voice, like he was surprised. 

“No, not yet. I’m sure he’s going to confess he’s been sneaking around with Petra, and I’m just still annoyed at him and don’t feel like hearing his excuses.”

Shane blinked, a perturbed expression on his face. “I mean.. He’s not really confessing anything.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not like he needs your permission.” 

She felt some anger creep into her tone. “No, of course not. But he completely hid it from me.” Did he really not get why that would hurt her?

Shane persisted. “Well sure, and I get confronting him now that you know. But do you really have the right to be mad? You don’t own him.” 

Haley let out an offended huff.  “I know I don’t own him, but he’s my friend. He should have told me.” Why was he being a dick about this?

“I’d say that’s pretty hypocritical.”

Haley felt her eyes narrow. They stared at each other for a moment.

Shane sat up further. “You told me...” his voice lowered slightly, “in the woods, that you were essentially doing the same thing to him. You said you had no right to be mad.”

Oh, so now he was going to quote herself back to her? She controlled her volume but she made sure her voice quality was rife with disdain. “Okay, why do you even care? Other than the fact that you’re jealous of him, in like, every way possible. ” She knew it was a low blow, but he was being a dick.

Shane went red. “I’m not jealous of that prick. And this isn’t about him. It’s about you. You really think what you’re doing with me is different than what he’s doing with Petra?” 

It’s not.  “It is different,” Haley huffed. “I think he actually likes her.” 

She regretted it the moment it left her lips. Her words hung in the air, and she was somehow incapable of thinking of anything to say to make it better. There was a tense pause. She felt a small panic.

“Right,” Shane said finally, his tone bitter. “That is different.”

“I didn't mean it that way,” she said finally, a little too defensively.

Shane took a large swig of his drink. “No, I get it.”  

“Shane.”

“I don’t give a shit, Haley.” He dropped his voice much lower. His eyes met hers, and it was the sincerity in his tone that crushed her, that stole her breath for a moment. “I never had feelings for you beyond a good fuck either, alright?”

She stared at him, speechless. Shane grabbed his plastic cup and headed back towards the beach.

Haley turned back to face the waves, feeling his words like a physical blow. Her lip wanted to quiver but she absolutely willed it not to. 

She realized in a moment of self pity that she was very alone. Hurt and confusion washed over her, and then were quickly replaced by a simmering, seething anger. 

Really, Shane? You’re not jealous of him? You don’t have feelings for me?

She glared down the beach to the campfire. She thought for a moment about putting her cover up on for this, but then realized it would be better if she didn’t. 

She left her towel behind in the sand, her blond hair whipping behind her.

 

***

 

Demetrius shuffled over to Gus, who was stirring up the rum punch. The two of them surveyed the scene of young people splashing in the water, chatting, roasting marshmallows. He chewed on his kebab thoughtfully for a moment, and then sighed.

“Alright, can you set this straight for me? I know you have some insight on this. They’re switching partners faster than I can keep up.”

Gus looked taken aback, but soon a few other townsfolk started scooting closer, their heads tilted to listen. 

“Are Haley and Alex together, or not?” Demetrius continued.

“Well,” Gus looked hesitant. “It’s not my place.” His eyes darted around before lowering his voice. “But It’s Alex and the farmer, these days.” The crowd oohed with intrigue.

“I thought the farmer and Sam had a thing?” Marnie cut in.

“Oh no,” Harvey piped up, also more privy than most to town gossip. “Pure rumor. It’s Sam and Penny, finally,” he confirmed, making sure Pam was out of earshot. They murmured delightedly.

“Well, I heard that Shane was recently seen sneaking out of Emily’s,” Caroline divulged, her voice full of scandal. She eyed Marnie guiltily. “Er, sorry Marnie.” 

“He’s a grown man,” she assured them with a wave of her hand. She tilted her head. “Good for him,” she mused.

“I can’t keep any of this straight,” Demetrius said, shaking his head. 

“They don’t make it easy, do they?” Gus said, raising an eyebrow as Haley made her way to the group, standing in front of Alex. The crowd hummed in agreement.

 

***

 

Petra glanced at the smooth, conical shell in her palm, painted with flecks of blues and grays and whites. It was so pretty.  “You said you like shells,” he had offered with a shrug and a blink of his green eyes.  

Petra watched him from where he was sitting next to her, roasting a skewer overloaded with marshmallows contentedly. They still weren’t quite public, maybe. But he had barely left her side all day.

Abby was giving her affectionate eye contact from across the campfire that seemed to suggest she was noticing the same trend. Petra smiled. 

Maru and Penny were cracking up about something dorky Harvey had said earlier. Sam and Sebastian were in an intense debate about a scenario in the Solarion Chronicles. She hadn’t noticed that Shane had also joined them at some point, heavily focused on his rum punch. Elliot was standing and handing out skewers, and Leah was beside him organizing the supplies, tearing open a bag of marshmallows. It was a busy scene,  so it was noticeable when a gradual hush fell over the group.

Petra’s breath caught. Haley was suddenly standing in front of them, looking like a work of art with her full curvy hips, tiny waist, and bikini top that was struggling to contain her ample bust. Her expression was one of determination, and there was something intimidating about it. Petra found herself anxious, like she was caught doing something wrong. 

“Hey Alex, can I talk to you.” Her voice was measured.

Alex hesitated as every eye fell on him. “Uh. Yeah, sure.”

He stood up, brushing the sand off his legs. Haley turned and walked towards the water. Alex gave a meaningful look back at Petra that was both apologetic and uncertain. She nodded back, attempting to wordlessly convey her support.

Petra could feel more than a few eyes on her as they headed off. She tried to keep her expression as neutral as possible even though her insides were churning. 

Mercilessly, Vincent came tearing up to them a second later, breaking the tension. “Sam! I want to roast MY marshmallow!” he wailed.

The rest of the group sort of fell back into conversation gradually, but Abby’s eyes were still set on her. They shared wordless angst. 

Petra glanced down at her shell, rolling it between her fingers. Abby came and took Alex’s seat. “You okay?” she whispered.

“Yeah, no, I’m fine,” she responded. “It’s good they’re finally talking. It needed to happen.”

Abby looked unconvinced. She leaned over and grabbed a skewer.  “I’ll make you a big one.”

“Thanks.”

Petra glanced back up at them, walking slowly down the beach. They stopped now, facing each other, a painfully attractive pair even from this far away.

She reminded herself that it was unreasonable to expect someone she had fallen for not to have a history, not to have other important relationships. Not that it made it easier to watch them together, or to see his hand go to her arm for a moment. Or not wonder what they could be talking about. 

She knew she had to trust him. Jealousy was not becoming of anyone. He deserved the chance to set this straight with her, to figure things out. Maybe he was telling her right now, about everything, about them. This was good.

She thought he saw them look her way. Petra averted her gaze. When she looked back up, sound seemed to fade and everything around her lost focus except for the searing image in front of her. 

Haley was leaning in and pressing a kiss to his lips, the silhouette of them together burning into her eyes. She blinked but it was still there, the two of them. Kissing. She felt the air escape her lungs.

Abby followed her eyes and let out a pained gasp. Sebastian muttered a low curse beside her.

Petra didn’t remember deciding to leave, but all of the sudden her bare feet were moving fast across the sand, Abby’s muffled voice calling from behind her.

I don’t know him. I don’t know him. He still loves her.

“Petra!” Abby finally caught her arm, spinning her around. They were almost to the bridge, mercifully out of sight for the most part, because Petra could feel her resolve melting as she huffed. 

“Abby you were right,” she croaked. “I don’t know him, I-” she felt like she couldn’t breathe. “I just need to get out of here.”

Abby looked desperate. “It’s okay, It’s a misunderstanding! Stop, I’m coming with you!” Her comforts were scattered and anxious and out of breath. 

Petra tugged from her. “No Abby, please. I just need to go. Stay with Seb and Sam-” Petra looked up and saw that Alex was in the distance, coming fast across the beach toward them. 

Abby saw where she was looking. “Talk to him,” she pleaded.

Petra felt a mix of hurt and anger and oddly, fear about how much she wanted to burst into tears. “I have to go. Tell him I don’t want to talk,” she gave Abby her sternest look. “Please.”

Abby hesitated but nodded firmly, her eyes morose. “Okay.”

Petra tore away, her heart in her throat.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Alex hesitantly fell into step with Haley by the water. He had felt more than a little awkward to be singled out from the group like that, but at least this conversation could finally happen. Admittedly, he should have been the bigger person by now and just confronted Haley himself, but after another attempt to talk with her yesterday had failed, he was feeling resentful to have it looming over his favorite festival day. 

There was no waiting any longer though. It was time. He felt a flicker of worry for Petra, hoping she didn’t feel too uncomfortable with this. He glanced back at her as he left the campfire, and felt some relief when she gave him an encouraging nod. 

Haley’s arms were crossed as they padded along the sand. Alex figured he should just start. “Okay, look, I don’t know what’s been going on, but -”

“I know exactly what’s been going on.” Haley was looking down at their feet as she walked, her face stern.

Alex had a bad feeling he knew what she was going to say. He felt his stomach wrench. 

“Did you have fun at Sebastian’s the other night?” she asked, still not looking at him.

Alex frowned. “Did you?” 

Haley stopped walking then, her eyes searing through him. “When were you planning on telling me that you’re fucking Petra?”

Alex inhaled.  “Haley..”

“I don’t understand, we’re supposed to be best friends, and I have to find out from...” her voice trailed, her eyes looking out over the water.  He was used to seeing her angry, but she looked hurt. Alex felt guilt settle in his stomach.

“I’m sorry, Haley. I should have told you.” He put a hand on her arm but she shrunk away. “It happened kind of suddenly, and at first I thought it was just a crush or a one time thing. It wasn’t all that... physical until recently.” His thoughts were scattered. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the last few days.” 

“Did you think I couldn’t handle it? That I’d be jealous ?” Her eyes narrowed at the word. “We haven’t dated in ages, Alex.”

Alex flashed a brief look behind him to gauge how far away they were talking from everyone else. He was fairly confident they were no longer in earshot of the campfire, but they were definitely visible.

“I know that. I didn’t think you’d be jealous,” he hesitated. “But I guess I didn’t think you’d be happy, either. I don’t know what I thought really..” his voice trailed guiltily.

“Are you dating? Exclusive?” Her arms were crossed.

He faltered. He wasn’t sure. “We- we haven’t established anything yet. It’s still sort of new.”

“Well, it’s not that new. It was going on during the Flower Dance and you didn’t say anything to me.”

Alex winced. He was so incredibly uncomfortable being called out like this. “I thought about telling you that day, it just didn’t seem like the right time at all.”

“Honestly, it’s not a big deal. I don’t tell you everything either.” Her anger was back now. She tossed her head.

Alex wondered what she was getting at, but his guilt was still biting at him worse than his curiosity. “I don’t want to keep secrets from each other, Haley. I want to be open with you. I can tell you everything.” He paused. “You’re my best friend.”

Haley was staring intently down the beach at the campfire. He looked as well, trying to gauge who or what she was staring at. The scene was too busy to pick out anything specific. 

Suddenly her hand was on his cheek, her eyes looking up at him intensely.  Her expression took on something odd, something he couldn’t read. He froze in confusion. “And you’re my best friend.” She kissed him.

It was a firm, meaningful kiss, one that stole his breath and ability to think for a moment. He had not kissed her in ages, and yet it was familiar, and almost normal, but then as the time ticked he realized with escalating anxiety how wrong and terrible it was that it was happening, and happening still. He pulled back from her abruptly with a guttural sound from his throat, her face just an inch away. 

“What are you doing?” he rasped. 

She just stared at him, unshaken. She glanced back towards the beach.

Alex had the sudden, crippling realization that anyone could have seen them. Petra..

He whipped his head towards where she had been sitting at the campfire. His breath caught. She was no longer there, she was..

Leaving fast. 

Fuck ,” he cursed quietly. Then louder. “What the fuck, Haley!?”

“I thought you weren’t anything,” she said, her voice odd and cold. Her face was almost expressionless.

He didn’t have time to process what was wrong with her, what could have possibly possessed her to do that in front of the whole town, what twisted plot she had orchestrated. He had to get to Petra and set this right. She had seen everything, he knew it.

He tore across the beach, ignoring the many stares he was getting from the buffet and then the campfire. He caught eyes with Sam, who was sitting with Sebastian holding a marshmallow spit. He gestured quickly towards town with his skewer, his expression sympathetic.

Alex shot up towards the path to find Abby standing at the bridge, her eyes set on him. He felt his stomach sink as he braced for the absolute tongue-lashing he was about to get. That he deserved. 

He knew there was no point in explaining himself, but he was going to try, although he was barely slowing down. “Abby, It’s not what it-” 

To his surprise, she sort of latched on to his arm, her face worried. “Hurry, okay? She’s fast.” 

Alex blinked, stunned.

Go ,” she ordered, practically shoving him. He took off towards the farmhouse. 

His mind was a blur of apologies and frustration but really he was just desperate to see her, to hold her. He hadn’t grabbed his shoes so his bare feet were pounding across the town square, past the clinic, past the bus stop, as fast as they could go.

 

***

 

For a few minutes there was nothing but the crackle of the campfire, the crashing of waves, and the muffled din of townsfolk chatting over at the buffet. Sam and Sebastian exchanged a heavy look.

No one had really seen the dramatic ending to the night coming. Elliot and Leah had headed back to his cabin, probably displeased with all the drama, Sam figured. Shane had gone too at some point. Now it was just him, Sebastian, Maru, and Penny, sitting silent and subdued, staring into the flames. Sam was holding a marshmallow into the fire, letting it burn black. 

The sun was really setting now, so it was hard to make out Abby until she flopped back down onto her spot. “Yoba.” She put her head in her hands.

“Is she alright?” Sebastian asked, in a way that assumed the obvious answer.

“I don’t know. Fuck,” she cursed softly. She lifted her head up. “I knew something like this was going to happen. I was so worried she’d get hurt.”

“Poor Petra.” Sam said, shaking his head. He thought back to her tears on his front step after the Flower Dance. Now she had to witness them kissing? It was shit.

Sam saw Abby’s eyes go from concern to a searing hatred in an instant as Haley made her way to the bridge in the distance. It was too far to really make out her expression, but Sam could see that she was looking their way. 

“Alex didn’t seem compliant in that kiss,” Penny asserted, her face stern as she watched Haley disappear towards town.

“He wasn’t,” Sebastian affirmed in a low voice. In different circumstances Sam might have been amused that Seb had come to Alex’s defense so readily, but it wasn't the time.

“I really hope he can convince her of that.” Abby’s eyes were solemn as they stared into the flames. 

 

After a short while it seemed clear that the only thing left to do was to help schlep some of the boxes and supplies back towards the Saloon. They shuffled across the bridge into town slowly, burdened with folding chairs and boxes of leftover supplies. Usually they would have stayed at the beach longer, or even had a round at the Saloon. But it all felt a bit melancholy. They dropped off the items in Gus’ storeroom and more or less called it a night.

Abby and Sebastian headed off together, with a promise to text if they heard from Petra. Sam found himself standing with Penny outside of the Saloon’s heavy wooden door, neither one of them really wanting the night to end yet, but unsure of where to go.

“Well, it started out really fun,” Sam offered.

Penny smiled. “It did.”  They stood silent for a moment. She looked up at the sky and he followed her gaze. “The stars are so pretty tonight. It’s so clear out.”

“What a nice night.” He looked back to her pretty green eyes. If only there was somewhere they could go to be alone. Not even the beach was safe right now, too many lingering townsfolk cleaning up. He felt a little bit of lovesick anguish, watching the red wisps of hair that fell down by the curve of her neck.

“You know,” Penny said, a bit of intrigue in her voice. “I was talking with Maru. We have a theory about the kiss.” She raised an eyebrow.

Sam’s curiosity piqued. “Oh yeah?”

“Penny!” Pam’s harsh voice cut across from the yard outside their trailer. Sam flinched and Penny whirled around.  “You headed home? Er what?” 

“I’m coming, mother!” She turned back to him with an apologetic, anguished look. “I should go.”

He didn’t dare lean in for a kiss or even touch her arm. “Can I see you tomorrow?”

She nodded, her mouth twitching into a soft smile before hurrying off towards Pam, who Sam could only vaguely make out in the dark. She had her hands on her hips and looked poised to start yelling again. 

“I was just helping clean up…” he could hear Penny’s eager excuses fade as they turned towards their trailer.

Sam turned for home, his hands shoved in his pockets. He kicked a rock. Fuckin’ Haley, cock-blocking everybody.

 

 

***

 

The farmhouse had never seemed so far. Alex had been sprinting but he made himself do a final push, thankful for the stamina from all those morning runs on the beach. He wondered if she had locked her door, if she’d let him explain, if he could explain what the hell had just happened. He just needed to get to her.

Alex could finally see the farmhouse in the distance, a light on in the window. As he was sprinting up her steps, his mind spinning of what to say, her door suddenly opened forcefully. Alex stopped in his tracks. She was moving fast but halted immediately as she saw him, stricken at the sight of him.

A foot apart, Alex stared back at her, his chest heaving, unable to say a word.

In an instant, they grabbed for each other. Alex pulled her body to him and Petra wrapped her arms around his neck. They kissed each other desperately until he lifted her up in his arms, her legs wrapping around his middle. They paused, their foreheads pressed together, both huffing.

“I was coming back to find you,” Petra whispered. He could tell she had been crying.

“I found you first.” With a decisive movement, he kicked her door open wider and strode inside, carrying her in his arms.

The bed was too far. They pressed against the wall by her fireplace kissing feverishly.  “I’m so sorry,” he gasped in between kisses. “It wasn’t- I don’t know why-”

“I know-” she was huffing as they devoured each other. “It’s okay.” She pulled away. He could see the tear track down her cheek.  “I know you, Alex. I know you wouldn’t.”

His heart swelled as they kept kissing. He had so much more to say, and his mind was reeling, but mostly he just needed to show her what she meant to him, and he needed her right now.

He pushed her more firmly against the wall, his erection pressing into her, making her whimper. He sucked at her neck eagerly, relishing the moan that escaped her lips. His hands darted underneath the cover up that was over her bikini, caressing her toned middle and gliding up to her full breasts. She started fumbling with his tank top, pulling it up over his head. 

He tore the cover up off next, and grabbed the string tying her bikini in the back. She grabbed his wrist and yanked so it came spooling off of her. He shuddered as he cupped and rubbed her breasts. She threw her head back in pleasure. 

He kissed along her neck some more and continued to rub her erect nipples. He slid his hands down her middle to her bikini bottoms and linked a finger over the edge.  Her hands grabbed his wrists and helped him slide it down to her ankles. He placed a few fingers gently between her legs, rubbing softly. She whimpered hungrily.

His hand slipped lower, and he felt his breath hitch as he realized how wet she was already. She grabbed his shorts roughly and tugged them down, freeing his angry erection that bobbed in front of her. Her hands went to it, stroking.

“Petra,” he breathed, still aching. He needed her to know. “You’re the only one I want. Just you.”

“Alex,” she gasped. He lifted her up against the wall, flooded with the memory of the first time he had kissed her at the Saloon. His cock was rigid, lined up against her, her legs around him. She did a few small, needy thrusts with her hips.

He positioned himself in front of her, teasing her entrance with the head of his throbbing erection.

“Alex,” she pleaded again in a whimper. “Please, I need you.” Her eyes were begging for him.

“You’re all mine,” he told her, pushing inside her roughly. She cried out.

He started rutting into her at a fevered pace, one arm planted against the wall, another underneath her trying to absorb some of the shock from the force. He felt himself fueled by the angst of earlier and the desperate need for her. He could see her full breasts bounce from each thrust, her throaty cries filling the small cabin. Last time they had to stay quiet, but now he didn’t care if they could be heard all the way down to the beach.

He felt an powerful desire for this to be infinite, for the pleasure to keep even as he was building towards a finale. His pace was getting faster and he was savoring the incredible pressure building in between them. His only thought was on her, on them, on feeling her tightness around him.

He was nearing his end.  “Don’t pull out,” she begged him suddenly, breathy and desperate.

The thought sent a shiver through his whole body and pushed him closer. “Are you sure,” he managed to rasp. He knew it was okay from a contraceptive standpoint, but it was intimate and intense and he hoped that was why she asked.

“I want it,” she gasped.  His mind was racing that she was his, all his, and she wanted him just as badly. He sped up his pace.

“Oh fuck...fuck…Petra.. ” His release was imminent. He gripped the wall and her body to him, pressing into her as he pulsed. Petra gasped with pleasure and gripped his hair as he emptied inside her.

His legs were weak as he steadied himself against the wall, breathing heavily, letting her slip ever so slightly from his grip so that her toes slowly reached the floor. She was peppering his cheek and neck with kisses, still huffing.

They were tangled in a panting mess, holding each other against the wall.

“Fun festival,” she breathed. Alex laughed, burying his face in her neck.



***

 

Shane took the fifth of whiskey out of his pocket and did a needy chug, letting it thud back down on his kitchen counter. Fuck .

When he closed his eyes, all he could see was Haley and Alex kissing. He couldn’t get the burning image out of his head, and all he wanted to do was pass out and forget it. Forget everything.

She did it on purpose, to fuck with him. Or, she didn’t do it with him in mind at all, which might even be worse. Either way, it was complete shit. 

Shane had been fortunate that the other witnesses had been focused on the distraught farmer, and he made a subtle and fast exit among the chaos. Petra had looked absolutely crushed, but Shane couldn’t feel too much sympathy. What had she really expected getting involved with him?

He wasn’t fucking surprised by any of it. 

He had known this would happen all along. He had called it from the start. And still, somehow, it had exploded in front of him like a train wreck, and he was caught right in the middle, staring and stupid.

He took another swig, unable to stop himself from ruminating over their fight on the beach. Haley had been insistent that Alex owed her an apology and he hadn’t been able to let it go.  The idea that she felt so entitled to holding his supposed betrayal over him was under his skin, clawing at him. 

Shane cringed. And then of course she had accused him of being jealous, which was fucked, because it was undeniably true, and then tried to act like Alex and Petra sneaking around was somehow different from their situation.  

That was when it had really gotten out of hand.

He winced. “Nothing more than a good fuck”. Had he really said that to her? He could still see her shocked expression, the hurt on her face. Yoba, he could be such a dick.

Shane felt a familiar darkness curl around him. He had to have known this was going to be short-lived. It was a matter of time before he drove her away, and inevitably she would go back to a guy like Alex. He slumped in his chair. Had she ever really been away from him?

None of this emotional turmoil was sustainable for him. He made a vow to himself. He was not going to reach out to Haley. And this time, if she apologized, he wasn’t giving in. 

He felt an overwhelming sadness creep up his throat with that commitment to that decision, something that felt a little too much like loss. 

“Uncle Shane?”

Shane startled, even though the voice was soft and nervous.

Jas was standing in the doorway, holding her stuffed bear in her pajamas.. “Hey, kid. Why are you awake? It’s late.” He turned to her, subtly nudging the whiskey bottle away from him. 

She stood there blinking at him for a moment. “Did you not like the Luau party?”

“What do you mean?” His voice sounded low and gruff. He cleared his throat.

“You slammed the door when you came home really loud.”

“Oh, uh.” Shane thought back and realized he had been like a bear tromping through a campground when he got home. “Sorry. I guess I was pretty noisy. I’m okay, Jas.”

“Are you mad at someone?”

“Hm?” Damn, kids can be intuitive. It was sort of creepy. “I’m not mad at anyone.”

Jas walked over and sat next to him on the stool, pulling herself up and setting her bear on the tabletop. “You can talk to me, if you want Uncle Shane. I can help.”

“I’m alright.” His heart thawed a little bit at her offer. “Unless you know how to time travel,” he added, unable to keep some bitterness out of his voice. He would go back and make sure he was nowhere near the riverbank that day.

She furrowed her brow in thought for a long moment. Finally she just shook her head. “No, I don’t know how.”

He patted her knee. “That’s alright.”

“Miss Penny says when we’re mad, we should cool off first. Then we talk it out.”

“Yeah, well. That’s what I’m doing. Cooling off.” It would be some time before that could occur, he grieved.

Jas looked like she was going to say something poignant, her big eyes gazing up at him. “Can I have some water?”

“Yeah, sure. But then it’s back to bed.” Shane got up and his head felt light. He poured a cup for himself as well. 

She took the glass in two hands and took a big sip. Shane took a sip as well, and they sat there for a minute in silence, the two of them slurping.

Jas eyed him. “Are you almost better now?”

He half smiled. “Yeah, I feel better. Thanks, kid.” 

Satisfied, Jas set the cup down and grabbed her bear, hopping down from the stool.  She paused for a minute and turned back around. He was about to admonish her for stalling again, but a soft voice came out.

“I like when you’re happy, Uncle Shane.”

He gave her a pained smile. “Sweet dreams, Jas.”

“Goodnight, sleep tight,” she sing-songed back.

Shane watched her toddle back to her bedroom, waiting for her door to shut. He let his forehead fall to the counter top.

 

 

***

 

Petra awoke with a start at the knock on her door. She sat up drearily, realizing Alex was snoozing intently beside her, and she was nude. Sunshine was streaming in the windows. What time is it?

She looked about her in confusion, the knock sounding again and a familiar, worried voice calling her on the other side. “Petra?”

Abby. Petra gathered her blanket around herself and hurried to the door. She didn’t even want to know what her hair might look like.

She creaked the door open slowly. Abby’s face lit up with shock and relief and then faded into confusion. “Thank Yoba, are you okay!? I’ve been texting-” she reached out a hand like she wanted to hug or touch her but was so taken aback by Petra’s state it just sort of floated there awkwardly. She noted the blanket around Petra’s bare shoulders like some sort of sorry gown.  “Are- are you fucking naked under there?”

Petra blinked, still completely in a daze. Abby opened the door slightly wider and peered into the farmhouse. Alex was sitting up in her bed now, rubbing his eyes and trying to get his bearings. Abby laughed. “Well I guess you’re more than okay.” 

Petra smiled sleepily, shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah.”

“I was so worried,” Abby hugged her, pulling back a bit quickly when she remembered there was nothing but a blanket in between them. 

“What time is it?” Alex sounded behind them, his voice hoarse.

“It’s past noon,” Abby supplied.

“Yoba,” Petra and Alex said at the same time.

“Shit, the ice cream stand..”

“My crops...”

Abby shook her head, amused. “Okay, you two, I’ll let you get it together.” She leaned in to Petra, dropping her voice. “I have to get to the store, but come over later? I need details.” Her eyes meant business. “Sam and Seb were worried too. We couldn’t reach you.”

“I will. Shit, I’m sorry, I don’t even know where my phone is,” Petra rubbed at her face. Yoba, it wasn’t on the beach was it? “I kind of lost track of...everything.”

“I’m just glad everything’s okay with you two.” Her face turned serious. “Oh, and I want you to know, I’m going to kick Haley’s ass.”

Petra almost laughed, shrugging the blanket.  “Everything’s okay,” she assured her. “Really. Thanks for checking on me.” 

She noticed Abby’s eyes widen, focusing behind her. Petra glanced over her shoulder to see Alex’s muscular ass from the doorway of the bathroom, prominently on display as he took a disoriented nude leak.  

“He probably should have shut that door,” she managed.

Abby took in the view thoughtfully, tilting her head. “I’ll forgive him.”



Chapter Text

 

Haley sat alone on the beach, watching the sunrise through a thin veil of clouds. She hadn’t been able to sleep. After hours of tossing and turning, something had drawn her out here. Now she was faced with it. 

She was the villain. 

She was wallowing in a deserved guilt that had settled over her in a thick fog. She could almost see the contempt for her resonating from the town itself. In her heart, she didn’t truly think she was the only person to deserve some blame in this situation, but she knew that didn’t matter.

She raked some of the sand between her fingers, still cool from the night before. The incriminating moment had happened not far from this spot. Just over there, by the water’s edge. That’s where she had made an impulsive decision that might have lost her a best friend and the respect of nearly everyone else. It had backfired beautifully, if she was honest. 

She had been thinking about Shane, of course. She wanted him to watch it, wanted him to see how easily she and Alex could slip back to what they had, if she just willed it.  How simple and familiar it was to give him a kiss and be with someone else instead of him. Then he’d rethink what he’d said to her. 

If she was honest, she wanted Alex to know it was easy too. And Petra. 

But the problem was this time there was no slipping back. There was no spark in his eyes, not even that torn expression he had after some festivals years back when they’d had some to drink and she had thought , fuck it, why not, even though it wasn’t easy after. 

He didn’t look that way.  He looked stunned. He looked angry. And then he went to look for her.

Haley felt a small shiver remembering the way their eyes glared at her from the campfire. Except the one set of eyes she was hoping would set on her. Shane had vanished.

Emily had come home later, unaware of what was probably the gossip in most households that night. She knocked on her door, asking why she was in bed so early, why she had left. Haley couldn’t say a word.

And now here she was. Alone.

Sometimes in high school she would do stupid stuff like this. Impulsive and selfish things. The same fog would settle over her. The only difference was Alex would be at her side. He always defended her, even if she didn’t deserve it. Sometimes he’d tell her she should apologize, or make amends, or just admit she was wrong, but he never stopped liking her or wanting to be around her. He still always had her back.

Haley’s lip trembled. This time though, she had gone too far.

She remembered what Shane had said to her that night before he had first come to her room. “ At least I don’t use people. ”  It had hurt because she knew at times it was true. Was there any chance of repairing this?

She felt a tear sting her eye.

A wooden creak of an old door snapped her out of her trance. Haley looked down at her toes, hoping that maybe she could be invisible, or just give enough ”fuck off” vibes to be left alone.

She heard footsteps in the sand move closer, and then pause. Then closer again.

Elliot quietly seated himself beside her at a respectful distance, but close enough to still have a conversation. She peered at him from the side of her eye and realized he was holding out a goblet of some beverage towards her. 

“I thought you might need this.”

Haley scrunched her brow. “Is that wine?”

“It is.”

Haley stared for a moment. “It’s like...7 in the morning.”

“It is.”

She leaned over to take it from him. “Thanks.”

He sipped from the glass he had for himself.  After a moment, he said, “I imagine you saw this as a good place to do some thinking.”

Haley took a sip, wondering why she hadn’t thought of drinking wine in the morning before. “I just couldn’t sleep. This seemed better than staring at my ceiling. At least there’s a view.”

“Ah.” 

Elliot was always well-dressed, witty, handsome, charming. She had always enjoyed the times they had gotten to chat, which wasn’t often admittedly. She felt a bit of gratitude that he had come out to sit with her, social leper though she was. 

He continued. “You’re feeling troubled, then.” 

Haley was sure he knew about the previous night, seeing as he had kindly brought her the wine, but she wondered if he had actually witnessed it.  “You could say that.” Her voice came out soft and sad.

Elliot’s gaze was focused on the seagulls in the distance, calling and circling out past the dock.  “Sometimes our mind is rash at night, when the hope of dawn is far away. Then when morning comes, we tend to see our actions in a harsh brightness.” His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “But that too will fade.” 

Haley shrugged a shoulder. It was poetic, but not true. “I don’t think this is going to fade, Elliot. I fucked up the only real friendship I had here. And all for…” she had almost just said it straight out. “...nothing.” She took a pained gulp of her wine.

“A misguided kiss surely can’t destroy a friendship as tenured as the one you and Alex have,” he comforted. 

He had seen it. Haley looked away from his gaze, feeling shameful. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Let’s tease this out, then.” Elliot turned slightly to face her a bit more, his legs crossed in the sand. “I imagine you were thinking quite a bit before the offense occurred.”

Haley’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Was it truly a split second decision? Or did it build?”

“It...built,” she supposed.  

“When did you first feel your tensions escalate.”

“What are you, a therapist?” 

“No, I’m a writer. I have to know the innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations of really any character I could come up with. Or meet.” He had this way of being able to smile with just his eyes. 

Haley considered it. Emily knew. Why not? She sighed in preparation for her big reveal.

“It was Shane, then?”

Haley felt her mouth open slightly, a stunned breath getting caught in her throat. Elliot’s eyes were all-knowing. “How did you..”

“I noticed how he seemed after your conversation by the water. He was bothered, to say the least.”

Haley nodded. “We...have a history.” She could feel her cheeks dust pink. “Not a long one, but..”

“An impassioned one, I gather?” His eyebrow was arched.

“Yes.” That was accurate.

“Alright, so you first felt bothered after that conversation. You don’t have to give me the details, but-”

“That’s not actually true,” Haley realized.

“Hm?”

“I had been bothered. For days.” Really, holding in her frustration was what was so hard, and Shane’s cruel comment had just pushed her over the edge. She looked back to Elliot, a bit of curiosity in her tone. “Do you know about Alex and the farmer?”

Elliot hesitated before nodding. “Yes, I believe I do.”

Haley let out an exasperated breath. “I was literally the last to know. Alex didn’t tell me a thing.”  She could tell Elliot was hanging on to her every word. He may be an intellectual, but he still seemed to enjoy knowing the dirt. “I found out from Shane, and I was so mad Alex had kept it from me. We’ve been best friends forever, right? But I didn’t want to confront him because... I had my own secrets.”

“You weren’t ready to share either.”

“Right. Alex actually didn't know, but at the time, I didn’t know that he didn’t know. You know?”

Elliot’s eyes narrowed in thoughtful understanding. “I do know.”

“So anyway, I was mad, but I really didn’t snap until he gave her that shell.”  Haley could feel that tingle of hypocrisy again. She had to clarify first. She huffed. “I really am not jealous that he likes her. Like, she’s nice, she’s fine, whatever. I don’t even know her that well. But what pissed me off is how he treats her.” Haley gestured wildly towards the ocean. “ I look up and he’s giving her this spontaneous gift, a little shell from the sand. She’s loving it. ”

She had more to say but paused to gauge his reaction. Elliot’s handsome face was calm and attentive. She went on.  “Do you know how hard I had to coach him to try and get gifts when we were dating? It was painful. And now he’s with the farmer, and suddenly he’s romantic gesturing all over the place.”

Elliot hummed in interest, taking another sip. 

“You know what else?” She was on a roll now, too riled up to slow down. “I’m annoyed that she can actually catch that stupid gridball. And I’m even more annoyed that she wants to. I’m annoyed…” she trailed. “I’m annoyed that someone new actually moves here, and they were like, a perfect person for him, and not me.” She paused, feeling nervous. “That’s a really fucking selfish thing to say, isn’t it?”

Elliot pondered that a moment. “It’s honest, and normal. But I believe what you’re regretting now is how you acted on those sentiments, and how you let them affect you.”

The seagulls called in the distance. She dropped her head. “Yeah.” 

She waited for his judgment, but none came. “What else is annoying you? Best get it all out.”

Haley looked up at his serene expression. This actually did feel rather cathartic. She took in a breath, finding her emotions shifting. “I’m annoyed that I like Shane.”

“Why is that?” Elliot encouraged gently.

“For years he was just the local asshole alcoholic, but then I found out that’s not really him. He’s funny, and interesting, and even when he’s mean, he’s usually right. He calls me out on my shit.”

Elliot nodded.

“He really did give me gifts. Thoughtful gifts. He’s actually sweeter than you’d ever think,” she told him.  She almost sighed. “And his…” she stopped herself just in time.

Elliot didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll assume it’s.. worthy.”

“Really worthy.” She nodded. “Anyway, nothing about him is boring.”

“Is boring the worst thing?” 

Haley felt like she was being interviewed to be the next character in his novel. She thought for a moment, leaning into her role. “Boring has been the only thing, almost. About this town anyway.” 

Elliot rubbed his chin. “There are quite a few competing emotions going on here. Anger, jealousy, irritation..” he trailed. “But it seems there is another sentiment as well. A connection that may have gone unnoticed, however strong. If not for...well. How did you two even start this?” His voice resonated with curiosity.

“I found him passed out by the river one day.”

Elliot frowned. “Oh.”

Haley shrugged. “Well. That’s how it started. He was thankful, brought me some daffodils, I sent him a few pictures of my tits.” She laughed and flung a hand in a casual manner.

Elliot chuckled.   “Ah, of course. The natural escalation of romance.” 

Haley’s smile faded. “But I think that’s over now. He told me he doesn’t have real feelings for me. I wanted him to be jealous, but I’m pretty sure I just ruined everything.”

“It was a brash moment. But I hardly think it was unforgivable, my dear.” His blue eyes were soft.

Haley felt a bit needy for his kindness, even if she wasn’t sure she believed him. She looked up at him hopefully.

“Time always heals, as they say. But I think an apology might go a long way. For friends and lovers. And even farmers, if you’re so inclined.”

Haley thought about that. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Do you write letters?”

She considered that. “Sometimes, I guess.”

“It can be easier in a letter to say it right.” Elliot looked wistful. “I’ve composed my share of apology letters. Haven’t we all?”

Haley took the final sip of her wine, feeling a shaky bit of hope, mixed with a twinge of fear. Maybe she didn’t have to be the villain forever, but it wasn’t going to be a painless transformation. “Thanks, Elliot.”

He stood up. “Stay there, I’ll fetch the bottle. Best polish it off, I switch to red by noon.”

Haley smiled, not entirely convinced he was joking. 



***

 

Abby: So our girl’s just fine

Sam: shit you finally hear from her?

Abby: I went over there close to noon 

Abby: let’s just say Alex was still there, and she answered the door in only a blanket.

Sam: haha damn

Seb: sounds like they really talked things out

Sam: get it P!

Abby: so yeah they’re good :P

Sam: we’ll get the details tonight. saloon?

Seb: yep

Abby: see you then

Abby: btw, you would not believe the buns of steel on Alex

Seb: ...??

Sam: lol the fuck

 

Alex was sweating by the time he got to the ice cream stand. Sprinting here in the sun a half hour after it was supposed to open was not the ideal way to arrive at work. It wasn’t like Lewis was often checking up on him, but the stand was right next door to the mayor’s house, and he couldn’t risk losing his sweet summer gig by appearing irresponsible.

Alex let out a huff when he got behind the counter, wiping his forehead. He wasn’t sure how it was so late in the day already. He smiled a little to himself.  Well, that wasn’t entirely true. 

Last night they had been at it several times. When he first got there of course, and it was desperate and intense. And then a few hours and a snooze later, slow and sweet and loving. And then there was the shower this morning, and then somehow he had her over the kitchen table after that, and then they must've fallen asleep until Abby finally came to check on her. 

So much had happened at the Luau, it was hard to process. He was this weird mix of over the moon happy about the ending of the night and baffled and angry about the build up. 

He sat on his stool and looked around at the quiet scene around him, the town sleepy in the hot midday sun. It looked like he’d have some time to think about it, anyway. 

Alex paused when he noticed an envelope taped to the counter. He lifted it and instantly recognized the familiar handwriting that spelled out his name. He stared at it for a moment feeling a mixture of surprise, bitterness, and uncertainty. He took a glance around and opened it swiftly.

 

Alex,


I understand if you don’t want to talk for awhile or you need some space. I just wanted to tell you I’m so sorry, I completely messed up. I was being incredibly selfish. I can’t really explain yet, but I will. I hope you’ll forgive me eventually, and I hope you know I will always care about you. 

Please tell Petra I’m sorry too. I’m happy for you.

 

Haley

 

Alex folded the note. It didn’t offer any clarification, but he was fairly stunned at the apology and her taking ownership. That was a pretty big step for her. She didn’t often think about the ripple effects of her actions, and so he was surprised she had mentioned Petra too.

He was still livid she could have done that to him and put him in that position, but a small part of him wondered how she was feeling. It didn’t seem like it, because she got herself into these situations often, but she actually hated feeling like she had hurt people. She took it hard and it was complicated by the fact that she had trouble admitting it and getting her apologies out. At least, that was usually the case. He glanced at the letter.

He felt a little pang of guilt that she was on her own. He shoved it away. She had brought this on herself. 

Alex started setting up the cups and cones systematically, his mind still whirring. He knew the kiss was some sort of calculated move on Haley’s part. He didn’t think it was really for him. Maybe she wanted to send a message to Petra, but even that seemed unlikely. She was definitely mad he had lied to her, but to try and sabotage his new relationship just because of that? She was self-centered, and skillfully manipulative, but not cruel.  It was some sort of other reason that went beyond the two of them, he just didn’t know what.

He knew he had to be grateful that Petra saw the kiss for what it was too. If she hadn’t trusted him, he could have lost her last night. The idea made him feel sick. 

He found himself wishing he had just been honest about them from the start. It wouldn’t have been easy, but they could have avoided a lot of this. Maybe then Petra and Haley could have even been friends at some point. He grimaced. That seemed out of the realm of possibility now. It was a shame, because they actually would get along, he thought. 

He was sort of staring down the river in a daze, overheated and tired, when he looked up and saw Penny and Sam headed his way. He straightened on his stool.

Alex wasn’t used to being the center of town gossip. It was uncomfortable to feel like everyone was talking about him, maybe even blaming him for the Luau drama. In that brief moment as he watched them approach, he realized it might even have appeared like he was playing two girls at once. He prepared himself, suddenly feeling very much the part of a complete asshole.

“Hey, man.” To his surprise Sam looked sympathetic. “How are you doing?”

“Hey. I’m alright. A lot of drama last night, huh?” Alex sort of shrugged weakly.

“We know you weren’t the cause of anything,” Penny assured him. He wasn’t sure if he had earned that blind devotion from her, but he greatly appreciated it nonetheless.

“You and P are good though, right?” Sam followed up. He could tell by his tone he had it on good authority that they were.

“Yeah, we are.” Thank Yoba he could say that.

“Good.” Penny smiled back.  Alex wondered in that moment with a touch of guilt if he had really talked with Penny much since senior year when she tutored him in calculus. She was really the only reason his grades were good enough to play that semester.  Unsurprisingly, it was Haley who had been pretty keen on the arrangement ending as soon as the season was done. They hadn’t interacted much since.

“How was the end of the night?” Alex asked.  He pointed to the cones as an aside. “The usual?” They both nodded.

“Yeah, man, thanks. Everyone sort of dispersed after that,” Sam explained. “It was a weird scene.”

“It was.” Alex drove the metal scoop into the tub of cactus fruit. “I guess every festival has some kind of drama, I’m just not really used to being the center of it. It’s not... great. Hopefully it blows over soon.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah. It will eventually. Took a while, but people forgot all about the anchovy incident.” He looked wistful.

Alex and Penny shared a look. “Yeah, no one’s forgotten about that at all,” Penny laughed. 

“What do you mean? Yeah they have! ” Sam protested. 

Alex smirked. “I heard Gus mention it like, three times in an hour yesterday.”

“Wasn’t it referenced in the Governor’s welcome speech?” Penny asked. "I mean, it's literally referred to as "THE" anchovy incident."

“Okay, okay, maybe not,” Sam admitted. “But I’m sure people will forget about this whole situation in no time.” He grinned uneasily at Alex. Penny shook her head.

 

Penny and Sam walked off with their cones shortly after, waving as they headed up the river together. Alex felt better. He was sure he would be the target of a few stares and whispers for some time, but he had the support of friends, and most importantly, he had Petra. He leaned back on his stool, taking out his phone. 

Alex: so I already miss you.

Her response came quickly.

Petra: oh yeah? i was thinking you might be sick of me after last night :P

Alex: not even a little bit

Alex: hey you found your phone

Petra: it was on the floor by the wall.. in a pile of my clothes

Petra: not sure how that happened 

Alex:  a mystery.. 

Petra: I’m almost done over here, then I’ll come see you. 

Alex:  I’ll save you some strawberry?

Petra:  yes please!! <3

 

Alex looked at the folded letter. He’d see what Petra thought about it when she got here.  He didn’t feel much urgency to respond to it yet either way. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to forgive Haley. He did, eventually. But he certainly felt entitled to not being in any sort of rush.

 

 

***

 

Penny and Sam were sitting on the bridge closest to Joja Mart, finishing up the last of their ice cream and savoring every minute before Sam’s shift. He was eating his cactus fruit cone as slowly as he could, hoping it would somehow extend the little time he had left before he had to go into the fluorescent hell hole that was Joja Mart. 

“You know,” he munched thoughtfully, thinking of all the summers he had ordered his ice cream and left after a bit of bland small talk, “it’s funny to feel like I’m kind of friends with Alex now. Not that we weren’t cool before, or anything. Just that now we actually hang out.”

Penny nodded. “He’s been my neighbor for so long, but I wouldn’t say I really knew him well. Since he and Petra have been together, it’s like… a thread stitching patches into a completed quilt.” She smiled.

Sam thought she sounded like a poet sometimes. She was right, though. He thought back to the aftermath of the Luau incident, how even Seb had come to Alex’s defense, declaring him innocent of the kiss. At the time he had been too wrapped up in the drama to really think about it, but now the memory amused him. 

Sam turned to share the anecdote with Penny, but she was deep in thought as she licked her cone, her eyes staring off into space. She was really working her tongue around the side in a focused trance, and he realized he shouldn’t be staring at her mouth like that.  He blinked and averted his gaze out over the river, trying to quell the heat in his groin. 

“I’ve been thinking about something a lot.”

“Hm?” Sam flushed.

“About Haley.”

“Oh.” He breathed out.

“I think she has a secret.” Penny’s eyes were narrowed in thought. “I was starting to tell you last night about the theory Maru and I have, remember?” She turned to him purposefully.

“Oh yeah.. What was that about?” he asked, taking a slurp of his cone.

Penny’s voice took a meaningful tone. “We think that kiss was calculated, and forced. Someone was meant to see it. And it wasn’t Petra.”

Sam furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?” 

“I watched her, after. Petra had run off, and Alex went after her, but Haley was still looking back towards us. Like she was looking for someone’s reaction.”

“Huh. Interesting.” Sam tried to think back. “Who all was even there? It’s hard to remember.”

Penny paused as she pictured the campfire. “You, me, Abby, Sebastian, Maru, Shane, Leah, Elliot…was Harvey there?” 

Sam frowned. “For a little I think? I don’t remember if he was there for the kiss or not.”

Penny frowned. “I don’t really see her crushing on anyone out of that list.” She eyed him playfully. “Haley hasn’t come on to you lately, has she?” 

He let out a hearty chuckle. “Yeah, no. Haley has never been my biggest fan.” He thought for a second. “Although? She was actually like, unusually nice to me the other day. She said I could grind on her flower box.”

Penny almost spit out her cone. “Is that supposed to be some kind of euphemism?”

“Uh, no?” Sam bumbled. “Depending on... what’s a euphemism?”

“Never mind,” Penny did a hard blink and shook her head as if to reset her train of thought. She took the final bite of her cone and dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “We’re going to have to do some detective work.”

Sam felt a bit of excitement. “What do we do?”

Penny’s eyes lit up. “Do you ever read any mysteries?”

Sam struggled to remember the last time he had read anything. “Uh...no.”

“We need to look out for clues. Talk to sources. Keep our eyes open for suspicious activity.” She slapped a balled fist into her palm with purpose.

“You’d look really cute in a trench coat.”

She blinked. “Huh?”

Sam couldn’t resist making her blush, it was so easy. “Isn’t that what detectives wear? A trench coat? With like, a magnifying glass up to their eye?” He mimed holding one up to his face.

Penny giggled. “I don’t own one, but regardless it’d be silly to wear it now in summer, don’t you think? We need to be covert.”

Sam blinked.

“Not obvious.”

“Right,” he agreed. 

They sat thoughtfully for a minute. Sam realized with a sting of sadness that his shift was starting soon. “I guess I can start looking for clues in Joja Mart,” he groaned.

Penny slumped her shoulders sadly. “Thanks for the ice cream.”  She gazed up at him affectionately.

Sam took a brief look around at their surroundings. He dropped his voice. “I accept payment in kisses.”

Penny grinned and double-checked that they were alone. She gave him a sweet, lingering kiss on the lips. “Text me later.”

“Will do, Sherlock.” Sam winked at her before heading off in the direction of the giant white eyesore looming across the river.

 


***

 

“Well,” Leah said. “We were there for it.”

“Thank Yoba,” Elliot sighed. “It didn’t disappoint either, from the perspective of drama.” His fingers tapped idly on his glass, his brow furrowing.  “I do feel for them all.”

“The heartbreak on the poor farmer’s face,” Leah sighed sadly.

“The poor farmer,” Elliot echoed. He frowned. “Truly, Haley was torn up by her actions, and Shane’s harsh words. I’ve never really seen her so reflective, or sad.”

“There were a lot of hurt feelings,” Leah agreed. She looked towards the empty spot on the Saloon wall. “Has anyone even seen Shane? I worry he’s on a bender.”

“As much intrigue has unfolded before us as innocent parties, perhaps we shouldn’t take such joy in their pain,” Elliot mused sadly.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Leah agreed. 

They sat in a guilty silence for a moment.

“She really didn’t think you knew?” Leah blurted finally.

“She didn’t!” Elliot cackled. “It was adorable.”

“I mean really, one can’t leave the woods with the back of their dress muddy without some questions.”

“And just the way they sat together on the beach. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.” Elliot motioned with his eyes to where Abigail, Sebastian and Sam were in the pool room. “I can’t decide if the rest of Pelican Town’s darlings have unraveled this mystery yet.” 

“If not yet, certainly soon,” Leah thought aloud. 

They looked over as the farmer walked in, as did every other person in the place after the drama of the previous night. She made a beeline for the safety of the pool room. They heard Sam greet her with an enthusiastic, “There she is!” 

“So we think she forgave Alex?” Leah posed.

“He came into town today, rather late, from the path that leads from the farm,” Elliot confirmed.  He raised his eyebrows once with intrigue. “He looked tired and sweaty.”

“It is summer,” Leah reminded him with a smile.

“Don’t be bitter because you won’t get the chance to bite that ass after all,” Elliot teased.

Leah laughed. “A shame. But truthfully, I’m here for it,” she admitted. “You saw them together with that gridball on the beach. They’re adorable.”

“Precious,” Elliot echoed.

She arched an eyebrow with sass. “Although, I haven’t seen a bouquet, have you?  Alex better hope I don’t get bored one of these nights.”

“He wouldn’t stand a chance,” Elliot patted her hand.

Leah smiled smugly. “You flatter me, but I assure you he wouldn’t.”

They looked up as Shane sauntered in, his hands shoved in his pockets. He went right to the bar, speaking briefly with Emily. 

Elliot sipped his wine. “There’s the man.”

Leah frowned. “I’m not sure if it’s good that he’s here, or not.”

“Back to his usual routine.. might be a positive?” Elliot offered. “But I suppose not when his usual routine is binge drinking.” 

Shane’s expression was listless as he leaned against the wall, his shoulders hunched. There was no hint of a smile, no checking his texts.

“I don’t see him being the type to acknowledge his wrongdoings quickly,” Leah thought aloud.

“I have to concur.” Elliot pursed his lips in thought. “Haley is set to apologize. We can only wait and see how he reacts.” 

“Do you think they’ll bounce back?”

“I honestly don’t know.” Elliot frowned. “But it doesn’t seem like either of them are willing to admit there are feelings at play.”

“Thus the trouble,” Leah said thoughtfully.

Elliot nodded. “Thus the trouble.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The waves were particularly slow and lazy that day, which made it even more soothing to sit on the beach and listen to them crash on the shore. It was still early enough for the sun not to be too aggressively hot. Petra was grateful for all of this, because it felt like they could sit there together for eternity.

Alex was holding the little music box in his hands. She didn’t have to look up at him to know there were a few tears escaping his eyes, because she could feel one run from his cheek to hers, they were pressed so close together. 

It made so much sense to her now knowing that the anniversary of his mother’s death was so close to his birthday. Of course he never wanted to make it a big celebration. Petra was stroking his hair softly with her fingertips, replaying his story in her mind, feeling her own tears sting her eyes. 

“I’ll always be here for you, if you get lonely,” she told him.

“Thanks, Petra.” He wiped at his eye with his hand. “I’m so grateful to have you.” 

She contemplated how strong he had been even after all of the grief and loss in his life. She had found it hard to have parents so far away, but they were still there, still calling and writing letters, still loving her from afar. She supposed so was Alex’s mother, in a different way, but wondered how to say that.

They sat for a while before he pulled back from her a little. “I’ve been wanting to tell you I’m sorry, for how I was when we first met.”

Petra blinked. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Irresistibly attractive?”

He let out a short laugh. “No. Egotistical and just, sort of obnoxious.” He looked uneasy as he stared at the sand. “It’s not that I don’t want to play professional gridball, but I don’t know. Sometimes I think it was more of a way to boost myself up than a real honest pursuit.”

Petra sat with that statement, moved at how self-reflective and candid it was. 

He half-smiled, continuing. “I guess I’m grateful I didn’t scare you off.” 

She put a hand on his arm. “You never made it that hard to see who you really were, Alex. Sweet, hardworking, a devoted grandson.” She smiled. “She’d be proud of you, you know.” 

Alex glanced up at her gratefully.  His hand reached for hers. She wasn’t sure how long it was after that they watched the waves, time felt suspended.

“Well.” He looked down at the little music box and did a definitive last sniff. “That’s enough sniveling. We should head back into town.” 

They had just started up the sand when he paused. “Petra..”  She looked back at him.

“You’re not going to tell Abby and them I was crying, right?” He looked fairly nervous.

Petra giggled, continuing up the beach.

“Hey!”

 

***

 

“I missed you..”

Shane’s hands were running over her body, his lips were on hers. She was in a fog of pleasure and lust as he enveloped her. 

“Shane..”

His hands were raking through her hair and wrapping around the small of her back. Everything was in a haze, but she could sense he was happy as he kissed her, there was a raw feeling of desire between them, he wanted her. 

Haley’s mind slowly began to betray her with questions. How did this happen? Why was he here? Wasn’t he supposed to be mad at her? 

She realized the sensation of kissing him was fading as her thoughts poked holes in the narrative. Shit! No, wait.. . She tried to pull him closer, stay there in that fantasy, but it was slipping from her grasp. She no longer wanted to rationalize why he was there, she just desperately wanted him to stay. 

Her eyes opened, the touch of him fully evaporating from her limbs. 

It was morning. She was alone. Her blankets were a mess, and she was sad and horny. An awful combination.

Haley sighed as she sat up, letting her head drop pitifully.  

She had gone back to sleep after waking up initially from pure unwillingness to tackle the day. That dream had certainly not improved her mindset or her motivation.

She glanced over to her desk. There were several crumpled up pieces of paper there from her failed attempts to write him a letter last night. 

She swung her legs out of bed and trudged over, taking a seat. Maybe she could try again.

Shane,

I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean

She stopped, crumpling the letter. She did mean to kiss Alex. She couldn’t deny that. She just hadn’t really thought it through. 

She set out a new piece of paper. She rewrote the intro, adding:

I never should have kissed him. 

Better. Accurate.

I was really hurt by what you said and wanted to make you jealous.

She stared at that, frowning. First of all, “hurt” was an understatement, it had been eating away at her from the inside since. She didn’t think he meant it. He couldn’t have meant it. Did he?

And even if he didn’t mean it, which he might have, how could he say it? 

She looked back to her letter. There was that,  “wanted to make you jealous” line. It was beyond true but so fucking hard to admit. She sounded so petty and awful. Which she was.

“Fuck.” 

Haley crumpled up the paper and threw it across the room. She dropped her head to her desk.

It had been so easy with Alex. She had actually written his letter in one attempt. She knew exactly what to say. Then again, she had been fairly drunk. She and Elliot had polished off two bottles of wine on the beach, and Emily had not been entertained when she came busting in the front door at 10 AM, demanding stationery. 

Alex hadn’t, of course, actually responded yet. She was disappointed, although not entirely surprised. She had found some comfort in at least knowing her apology was out there. It had been delivered.

She thought for a minute. Maybe she just wrote better drunk? Should she have some more morning wine?

No, that wasn’t the problem. Shane’s letter was not coming easily because it was Shane. Nothing was ever simple with him.

She glanced at her phone. She had gotten her hopes up for a little while that maybe he would even reach out to her. Her stomach sank. There was no way.

Haley sighed. Maybe she just needed some more time, or some more distance from it. It would get easier if she wasn’t still so affected by it all. She wasn't sure if that was actually true, but it was her only move at the moment.

Haley looked at herself in the mirror of her vanity.  This is the shit you have to deal with when you act like a selfish asshole.  She rubbed sadly at the mascara that had smudged itself under her eye from the night before. 

She had told herself it would take time to even begin to fix all of this, but maybe there was something she could still do, even if she couldn’t write the letter to Shane yet. Another stop on her apology tour. 

One thing was clear to her. Trying to be a better person sucked. 

 

***

 

“Do you think if I gave Alex a beer, it would suffice as a birthday present?” Abby asked her from her perch on the porch step. She frowned as she picked a fly out of her iced tea.

Petra smiled. “That’d be really nice, of course.” She was inspecting a hot pepper from the patch growing nearest to the house. “Honestly, he’s not the kind of person that expects much for his birthday. I asked him what he wanted, and he said “a complete breakfast’. Really, that’s all he wants.” She smiled picturing how excited he had been suggesting it. Something she would have done from him any old day. She felt a wave of affection for him that almost hurt.

“Last year on his birthday, I wonder if I even said hi,” Abby marveled aloud. “I know him so much better now. It’s nice.” They shared a smile.

“Oh, I don’t think I told you,” Petra realized, her voice lowering as if someone could be listening. She straightened up, releasing the pepper in her hand.  “Haley wrote him a note.”

Abby set down her tea, her eyes wide. “The fuck did she have to say for herself?”

Petra dusted some dirt from her hands onto her shorts. “He gave it to me to read. She didn’t explain herself really, but she did own it and was really apologetic. She said she was sorry to me, too.” 

Abby narrowed her eyes, unconvinced. “No way she thinks she can just pen a letter and then, what? We all just forget about it?” She huffed.  Petra noted with amusement that Abby included herself in the list of the victimized. “What did Alex say?”

“He said he’s still not ready to talk to her, which kind of surprised me,” Petra admitted.

“Makes sense to me,” Abby countered. “I think he was pretty terrified he might lose you over that.”

“Well.” Petra watched a butterfly pass them for a moment. “He doesn’t have to worry.” She had no doubts, when it came to Alex.  

“You haven’t run into Haley since, have you?” Abby looked pained by the idea.

“No,” Petra shook her head. “Luckily. Not looking forward to when it happens.” She didn’t feel hostility for Haley really, just kind of a righteous bitterness. Still, seeing her would be awkward for her, for Haley, for any witnesses. She’d rather not for some time. 

“I’m sure she’ll avoid you for a while,” Abby assured her. Petra nodded in agreement. 

“I would still like to know what the hell she was trying to do,” Abby stewed, looking irritated as she picked up her tea. “I might still kick her ass, you know.” 

Petra hummed a laugh, and then entertained a brief fantasy of who would win in a fight between them. It was hard to say, but it would definitely be a savage contest. Was she also mildly turned on?

“Oh, that reminds me.” Abby’s eyes lit up. “ I have something to ask you.”

Petra perked up. She had a feeling from Abby’s demeanor that she had something mischievous in mind, something fun. “You want to go peek around the wizard’s tower again?”

“No… well. Yes, always, but no,” she clarified. She leaned in for dramatic effect, her blue eyes vibrant.  “Do you want to explore the mines with me?”

Petra hesitated. She had always wanted to see what materials were hiding in the mines. She knew from Maru and others that there were some valuable stores of ore, and she could save a ton of money from what she’d otherwise spend at Clint’s upgrading her tools. If she ever wanted cows, she needed to work towards some bigger savings. 

But she also knew the mines were notoriously dangerous. And she wasn’t the biggest fan of cramped, dark spaces. Or aggressive wild creatures. 

“I don’t know Abby. I’ve always wanted to see if I can get some ore, but isn’t it dangerous? We’d need some protection.” She shrugged.

Abby looked delighted that she had brought that up. “So. that’s the thing,” she beamed. “I have a sword. And I know where you can get one too.” 

 

***

 

Sam tensed in his computer chair. 

Two quick knocks, a pause, three taps, another knock.

The code.

He wasn’t exactly sure why they needed a secret code. Who else would be at his window at midnight? But Penny had been really into this detective stuff lately.

Sam hustled to his window and lifted it as quietly as he could. Penny was there hidden under the hood of a zip up sweatshirt. He had to keep himself from laughing at seeing her in something so casual. 

“What’s the password,” he whispered in a low voice.

“Sam, let me in,” she giggled.  He gave her a hand and helped pull her inside.

They started kissing immediately. It had been the longest day ever waiting to see her here alone. Sam drew her over to the edge of his bed and she straddled his lap. He was trying his best to get his tongue down her throat when she suddenly pulled back.

“Wait,” she panted. Her eyes glimmered. “I have a surprise.”

Sam’s brow furrowed as she reached for the zipper of her hoodie. She pulled it down slowly, and he was mesmerized to see nothing but skin underneath. All. The way. Down. 

As difficult as it was, he forced himself to look back up at her face. She nodded approvingly.

Sam reached into the open hoodie with both hands to find her generous, perky breasts waiting for him, letting out a shuddering sigh of approval. “Yoba .”

“Shh…” she admonished him softly as he started massaging them. He had to imagine that was the same shush she used while teaching, and that was only turning him on more. 

Sam knew they did need to be quiet. His mom had actually come in the first time he had tried to sneak her in his room, and she had to dive under his comforter while he bumbled some weird excuse about doing push ups. Since then their meetings had been later, quieter, and most importantly, Sam hadn’t been a dumbass and had actually thought to lock his door.

It wasn’t ideal to still be hiding girls in his room at this age. But these were desperate times. They had no safe space to really be together.  Penny’s place was a definite no. Sam never got a warm reception from Pam in his life, and would definitely not be welcome in their small trailer after daylight hours, or really ever.

Penny was wary of what his mother might think of their relationship since she was Vincent’s school teacher. Sam was fairly confident his mom adored Penny and wouldn’t at all be opposed, but Penny was mortified by the “lack of professionalism” as she put it. So, this was how they were coping. 

They had to be mindful of the hour. Pam usually shut down the Saloon, but just to be careful Penny left a pretty big window to beat her home. 

After making out for some time they were laying face to face in Sam’s bed, both shirtless, taking a breather to catch up.

“I haven’t found any clues yet,” she told him with regret.

“Me either,” Sam lamented, propping himself up on his elbow. “I actually haven’t seen Haley around much at all, now that I think of it.”

“That’s sort of understandable,” Penny reasoned, playing with a lock of his blonde hair. “Something will turn up. It’s a matter of time.” She bit her lip, and Sam could tell she was no longer thinking about Haley. Something was on her mind.

“Is everything okay?” He asked her.

She smiled weakly, but he could sense her shyness coming over her. “Sam. I was just thinking. I’m so happy that we finally admitted how we feel, and this has been wonderful. ” He began to involuntarily absorb some of her nervousness. “I just. I’m hoping that, it’s okay...well, that you’re okay, that we haven’t…” she trailed, looking into his eyes meaningfully.

Sam hesitated. He knew exactly what she meant, but saying it might seem like he had been fixating on it.  Don’t think with your crotch. Don’t think with your crotch. “We haven't done a lot of things," he agreed, his voice cracking slightly. "Rowed a boat, dined in the city, had a picnic.."

“I mean sex.”

“Right,” he bowed his head, nodding furiously.

She was stifling her giggle, giving him a sideways glance. “You knew what I meant.”

“I did.” He gave her a sheepish grin.

She raised her eyebrows expectantly, her worried expression resurfacing.

“Of course I’m okay, Penny. That doesn’t matter to me.” He hesitated. “I mean, I want to, of course. But not till you’re comfortable..” he fretted internally, hoping it was coming out right.

She touched his hand for a moment. “I appreciate that Sam. I just felt like I should say something, because I know this might seem like we’re moving really slowly. I don’t want you to think it’s because I don’t care about you or I’m not serious about us.” Her eyes held his for a moment. “It’s quite the opposite, really.”

He felt his heartbeat thudding in his chest. “I care about you too, Penny,” he managed. 

She took in a little breath, averting her gaze from him. “It's also just...I never have, before.”

Sam was taken aback for a moment. He hadn’t expected that. She had a semi serious boyfriend junior year of high school, a super smart mathlete that he had been crazy jealous of.  Her prom date was a popular hockey player. He had just figured... “Oh.”

“I’m not waiting until marriage or anything.  I just take it really seriously and want it to be the right person.” She looked fragile, playing with her own hair now.

“No, of course. That’s good. I mean, I think that’s great,” Sam bumbled earnestly. “We don’t need to rush anything.”

Penny seemed slightly soothed, but pressed on.  “I just know that’s not...your experience. So, if waiting a while isn’t something you’d want, I wanted to be honest with you.” Her pretty green eyes gazed up at him hesitantly.

Sam flushed. He was typically a huge slut, it was true. But his feelings for Penny were so far beyond a sex thing, it wasn’t even funny. How could he explain this?  “Penny. I would choose holding hands with you over sex with anyone else.” 

He wasn’t sure if that explained it well, but it had certainly made her smile, and blush.  “Seriously,” he continued. “I care about you, and I’ve been wanting to be with you for so long. It doesn’t have to be like that until you’re ready.” He realized something else then, something he was truly grateful for. “And if and when you are ready, it’ll be amazing, and so worth the wait.”

She beamed, and then pulled him towards her in a grateful kiss. He felt his nerves settle. She got it.

He felt the urge to tease her when she pulled away. “Maybe I’m not ready? You ever think of that?”  

“Oh, how presumptuous of me,” she giggled. “Next time I’ll wear a shirt under my hoodie.”

He lowered his voice. “That was fucking hot .”

“You know..” she told him. “I’m not totally inexperienced.”  She gave him a sultry look that paralyzed him. 

She traced a finger down his bare chest.  “There’s something I thought we should try.”

Sam blinked stupidly, his mind racing. “Please tell me you’re not talking about a picnic,” he croaked. 

She bit her lip, reaching for the fly of his jeans.

 

***

 

Shane woke up drearily, his eyelids heavy and his headache a persistent needling at his forehead. It was all pretty fuzzy, but he was fairly positive he had closed down the Saloon last night. 

He had a vague idea that Emily had helped him part of the way home and physically pointed him in the right direction of his house. The several texts he had woken up to confirmed that she had not been confident he’d make it back.

He plunked himself down at the kitchen counter, armed with milk and a box of pizza puff cereal that he poured aggressively into a bowl. 

Marnie came in then, a box of what looked like sheep shears in her arms and her phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder. She broke her focus on her conversation briefly to give him a hand wave good morning.

“Oh, you’d have to be blind not to notice,” she was saying. Shane could hear the other voice buzzing back excitedly.  “Gus confirmed it, Jodi…. I know! …..It’s about time….. good for Sam.” 

Shane raised an eyebrow. He was fairly sure Marnie spent the majority of her Tuesday workout classes gossiping, based on how much she always had to share when she returned, but clearly Tuesday was not soon enough for her to debrief the latest town dirt and this overly loud phone session was necessitated. He was both irritated at the volume and slightly curious about the topic. 

“Well love is in the air,” Marnie continued. She set the box down and started scribbling something on an order form. “Oh I know…. I know! ” She switched the phone to the other ear, leaning against the counter.

Shane chewed with his mouth open, starting to lose interest again.

“You knew Haley would have something to say about that .”

Shane nearly choked on his pizza puffs, letting out a hoarse cough.

“She really just went and marked her territory right there on the beach,” Marnie tutted. 

Shane swallowed painfully. He could get no fucking peace.

“Who do you think he goes for?..... high school sweethearts…. well, yes …..oh he’s smitten with the farmer, for sure….. oh, STOP! You are bad!” Marnie let out a cackle. 

Shane gruffly got up from his stool. He chucked the half full bowl into the sink.

“Shane?” Marnie clasped a hand to her phone. “Don’t forget about the chickens.”

With a pitiful sigh, he trudged out back towards the coop, still fuming from the conversation he had no wish to be present for. 

He opened the creaky door and the hens scurried to him excitedly, which he couldn’t help but be amused by. They always amused him. He let out a steadying breath. “Morning, y’all.”

Shane came back into the kitchen a while later, feeling more calm. Marnie was seated at the counter still, her phone conversation apparently over. She looked up from the sheet she had been scribbling on.  “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

Her brow furrowed a little, eyeing the bowl of half-finished pizza puffs in the sink. “Unlike you not to finish your breakfast. ‘You feeling alright?”

“Trying to watch my hour glass.”

She rolled her eyes, but he had gotten her to smile. “Shane.” Her demeanor changed slightly, and he wondered if he was going to get a lecture about something. “Forgive my asking. But might there be any chance how your feeling is due to... a certain someone?”

Shane felt his throat go dry. The fuck? Did she know? He wondered if he could somehow transport himself to another planet if he thought hard enough.

Marnie seemed thwarted by his expression. “I know, it’s not my business. But I heard… are things…” she paused. “How is Emily?”

She recoiled in surprise at the sharp laugh he let out. He rolled his eyes. “Sorry, but you got some bad intel.” 

Marnie looked miffed, like she could tell she was wrong but also confused why she was wrong. “Well, you know. People talk, and I thought I heard something about the two of you..”

“People say a lot of shit. We’re just friends.”  He opened the fridge, hoping he could postpone his want for a beer with some orange juice.

“Alright, well.” She went back to her sheet. She had to just toss it out there. “She is a lovely girl.”

Yeah, a lovely girl with zero interest in men. Part of him wanted to voice it, but it wasn’t his place to say it and he wouldn’t want to add to the gossip mill anyway.

Shane knew his aunt meant well, but it was no wonder half the relationships in this town operated in semi secret, the way people talked. 

He thought for a moment as he shuffled back to his room how the fitness class would have reacted if they had heard about him and Haley together. Would they have even believed that? He had to seem like a poor match for her, compared to Alex. Compared to pretty much anyone. 

With a stab of pain in his heart he remembered that it was over, anyway. They’d never have to find out.  He and Haley had no need to be in the same sentence of anyone's conversation. And that was for the best.

 

 

***

 

Petra walked slowly along the rows of melons, still green, inspecting them. They were coming along nicely, but there hadn’t been much rain yet this summer. She had been watering them like crazy trying to keep up with the heat.

She made her way down the rows of crops to the chicken coop to check on the hens. They were growing fast and they too had been going through water quickly.  She was lost in thought and humming to herself as she spread feed along the ground, one of the chickens in her arms, when she heard footsteps behind her. She had the happy notion that maybe Abby had changed her mind about working on her online class for the afternoon.

She turned around cheerfully and nearly dropped poor Blanche.

“Hi, Petra.”

Petra stared in shock, unable to think of an appropriate greeting, or even utter a word at all. She desperately wished she wasn’t covered in dirt and holding a chicken.

Haley gazed back at her with her deep blue eyes, a serious expression on her face. “Can we talk?”



 

Chapter Text

 

“Hi, Petra.”

The farmer’s face was absolutely shocked. She had a white chicken in one arm and had been sprinkling feed with the other, and she stood there frozen, a few grains still spilling from her hand.

“Can we talk?” Haley hadn’t expected her to be speechless. She had been assuming she’d be cold to her, or maybe even hostile. This was potentially just as uncomfortable.

Petra set the chicken down on the ground without breaking eye contact, as if she was still uncertain she was real. “Um, sure.” She looked around and dusted off her hands as the chicken skittered away. She hesitated. “Do you like iced tea?”

 

Haley took in the panorama of farmland in front of her from her seat on the front porch, a patchwork of colorful crops, a border of trees, and the red and white chicken coop. The farmer hadn’t cleared even a third of the sprawling property yet, but what she had done was nicely manicured and clearly well taken care of. The sun was just starting to set now, casting a golden light over everything.  It was beyond picturesque. She found herself considering the types of photo shoots she could have there and felt overwhelmed by ideas. That wasn't the point of this visit though. 

She took in a breath as the door creaked open. Petra walked out with two glasses of tea, ice cubes clinking melodiously. “It’s not flavored, I hope that’s okay,” she said.

“That’s great.” Haley would’ve preferred some sugar, but whatever. She took a sip and found it was actually rather refreshing. 

Petra sat down next to her on the other end of the porch step. Haley tried not to stare at how muddy her shoes were. “Your farm is really lovely,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her voice was hesitant.

Haley turned to her and took her in for a moment. She was very pretty, actually.  She just needed a hairbrush. And some mascara. And some clean clothes. Haley realized then that she had been giving the farmer a makeover in her mind for the past minute without saying anything, and now she was looking super uncomfortable at her staring.

“So.” Haley knew she just had to be honest. “I came here to say that what I did was really shitty. Whether you two were technically official is besides the point, I shouldn’t have done it. I kissed him for a stupid reason, and I just wanted you to know it wasn’t to spite you.”

Petra’s face seemed to be processing all of that, and it was hard to tell if she was receptive to what she was hearing or not. 

Haley pressed on. “I was being really selfish. And, I’m sorry.” The words were getting a little caught in her throat, her volume dropping. She was relieved in that moment that they were facing outwards towards her crops. She wasn’t so hopeful to think Petra would accept the apology instantly. She had just wanted to say it out loud. 

Haley let the apology sit there for a beat, and then continued, feeling more confident in what she said next. “More importantly, If what I did made you doubt Alex or question how he feels about you, I want you to know that you shouldn’t,” she affirmed. “I’ve known him forever.  He’s never been this happy with anyone before.”

Petra’s face softened then, and she could see a pink dusting on her cheeks. Haley took another sip of the tea.

“I appreciate you saying all of that,” Petra said finally. 

Haley waited for her to pivot. How much she had hurt her, how selfish she was, how she had endangered her and Alex’s relationship. She braced a little.

“It took a lot of balls to come here.” It wasn’t a hostile statement. She sounded impressed.

“I couldn’t picture just seeing you in town without getting some of this off my chest.” She shrugged her shoulders with a sigh. “Not that I wasn’t tempted to just send you a text.”

Petra nodded. “I don’t blame you.” Her eye color was really striking. It would be so much more noticeable with a little eyeliner, Haley mourned.

Haley thought to Alex. “I don’t know when Alex might be ready to talk with me... If ever.  So, I hope you can look out for him.” She felt a wave of sadness. “Especially with his birthday. He’s stupid about birthdays and doesn’t know how to celebrate, he never even wants any gifts.”

Petra nodded, looking thoughtful. “I will. But I’m sure he’ll be ready to talk with you soon.”

Haley appreciated the sentiment, but she wasn't so convinced. She felt a little pit in her stomach from missing her oldest friend. “He’s a really sweet person, I think you know that.”

“He is.” 

The sun was really setting now, sitting sideways in the sky and hot on her skin. Haley set the tea down beside her. “I should probably get going now. Thanks for hearing me out.”

“Thanks for coming over.”

Haley stood up and smoothed out her skirt. She stopped when she noticed a patch of sunflowers she hadn’t seen on her way in by the side of the farmhouse. “Oh, those are beautiful. They’re my favorite flower.” 

Petra gave her a small smile. “They’ll be ready soon, I can remember that.” Haley returned her smile appreciatively. 

Haley made her way back to the path that led to town, feeling lighter. It was by no means water under the bridge, but she was fairly sure they both felt better about everything, and there wouldn’t be so much uncertainty and animosity to run into each other moving forward. She was grateful the farmer was as understanding and as sweet as people said.

Now as she looked ahead towards town, she couldn’t help but feel a little dread. There were some big conversations still to have. And still a lot of hurt to acknowledge.

Even so, she was making progress. Maybe she was getting the hang of this apology thing.



***

 

“I hope you told her to fuck right off.”

Sebastian looked up from where he was lining up his shot, the fire in Abby’s voice catching him off guard and breaking his focus. He and Sam exchanged a mutually confused glance from across the pool table.

Abby and Petra were standing together by the pool room’s entrance, and it was clear from Petra’s unsettled expression that she hadn’t told anyone to fuck right anywhere. 

Abby gave her a mixed look of affection and fatigue. “Babe. Don’t tell me you just gave her an iced tea and said it was fine.”

“I didn’t...say it was fine,” Petra managed.

Sam was giving him a what the hell are they talking about look. Sebastian tilted his head to insinuate they should pause to listen in. Sam set his pool cue on the table.

Abby shook her head. “You are way too forgiving. She needs to know how messed up that was.” She noticed Sam and Sebastian had stopped their game and invited them to agree with a perplexed raise of her hand. Sam and Sebastian shared a quick glance, unsure of whether or how to contribute.

“She does know it was messed up,” Petra assured her. “Maybe I should have been harsher... but she really seemed genuine with her apology.” 

Sebastian knew what Abby thought about Haley’s genuineness. She had mentioned wanting to slug her in the face more than a few times since the Luau. Abby sighed, unconvinced.

“She didn’t have to come talk to me,” Petra added.

“You didn’t have to offer her tea, either.” Abby’s lips pursed. 

Petra seemed to be replaying the moment in her mind. “I honestly had no idea what to do. I was so shocked I almost dropped my chicken.”

Sam laughed. “Let’s make that a saying.”  

Abby didn’t take the opportunity to lighten the mood. “Well, I haven't forgiven her.” Her eyes were fierce.  “If she has any inclination to mess with you or Alex again, she’ll have me to answer to.”

“Yeah. You have a sword now,” Sebastian quipped. Abby glanced back at him, unamused. He would probably pay for that comment later.

“It’s okay, Abby, really.” Petra took Abby's hand affectionately. “I appreciate it, but you don’t have to stick up for me.” She looked contemplative for a moment, as if the realization was just hitting her. “Honestly, everything with Alex is great ...and...I just want to move on from it.”

Abby seemed to wrestle with that internally. She looked to both of them for input. Sebastian tilted his head in gentle encouragement. Sam nodded enthusiastically, never one for conflict.

Abby let out a sigh, relaxing slightly.  “You should mention the sword to her.” Petra smiled.

 

A few minutes later, Sebastian took an opportunity to follow Abby as she went to get the next round, leaving Sam and Petra in the pool room, happy to move on to lighter topics of conversation.

He was a little surprised by Abby’s reaction. Sebastian had never thought of himself as particularly kind, and truthfully he sometimes envied people who were secure enough that they seemed to show it naturally, like their default setting. People like Sam, and Petra. He wasn’t sure if he would forgive Haley if he was in Petra’s position, but he still respected her choice.

Abby was a fierce and loyal friend and he loved that about her. But he had a suspicion that there was another mix of emotions contributing to her disapproval.

He settled beside her at the bar, watching Gus pour their beers.

“She’s too easy-going for her own good,” Abby muttered without looking at him. 

“Are you being protective, or jealous?” he asked her. He tried to make his tone gentle.

Abby’s eyes flashed a confused look at him. “What is there to be jealous of?” 

“Tea on the front porch. Isn’t that your thing?”

Abby seemed to reluctantly process that for a moment. “I doubt I’m getting demoted any time soon,” she said, a little defensively.

Sebastian watched her. “I don’t disagree.”

“It bothers me that Haley even thinks that she deserves forgiveness for that.” Abby’s pretty blue eyes narrowed in irritation, unfocused.

Sebastian nodded slowly. “I get it. You don’t have to forgive her. But I don’t think you need to overthink Petra’s forgiveness, either.”  

“Thanks, Gus,” Abby said politely as he set down their beers, her smile instantly fading to irritation the second she looked back at Sebastian. “You really don’t think she had the right to tear Haley a new asshole?” 

Gus blinked, subtly back-stepping away from their conversation. 

Sebastian took two beers from the table to carry. “She probably had the right to. But not everyone likes to hold grudges. She wants to move on.”

Abby glanced over to where Sam and Petra were setting up the pool rack in the other room. “There’s a fine line between moving on, and enabling a skank ass bitch.”

Sebastian smirked. “We should make that a saying too.” 

Abby’s lips twitched slightly, but she didn’t quite smile.  “I’m not jealous,” she reiterated. “I just don’t think she deserves forgiveness. Not yet. I don’t trust her.”

They looked up as a figure loomed in front of them. 

“Need some help with those?” 

Alex looked like he had jogged there, a fresh pink glow to his cheeks. He seemed to jog everywhere, Sebastian realized then.

It was almost stunning the way Abby’s sweet former self effortlessly emerged.  “No, but you can tell me what you'd like. My treat for your birthday eve,” she offered.

“Oh. Shit. You don’t have to do anything for that.” His brow furrowed, but Sebastian could tell Alex was touched by the gesture.  He blinked when Abby continued to stare at him. “A beer is great.”

“Of course.” She smiled. Her tone shifted as she handed him the drink, placing her newly freed hand on her hip. “You might want to go talk to your little farmer in there, by the way. I don’t know if you heard, but she’s besties with Haley now.” 

Alex looked like he was about to short circuit in confusion. “What?”

Sebastian felt implicated to soften her statement.  “That’s a bit of an exaggeration.”

Petra and Sam appeared in the doorway of the pool room then, both with their ever-positive expressions questioning what was taking so long. He saw Petra note Abby and Alex’s proximity and watched her happy expression fade to knowing culpability. 

Abby looked up at Alex defiantly. “Do you know I have a sword?”

 

While Petra filled Alex in on her surprise encounter, Sebastian and Sam began their next round of pool. Abby was channeling her aggression on Return of the Prairie King .

“You want to hear something weird, dude?” Sam asked him.

“What’s that,” Sebastian asked without looking up from his pool cue.

“Penny has a theory that Haley was trying to make someone jealous with that kiss. Like someone she’s crushing on.”

“Huh.” Sebastian considered that. It wasn’t that it was a bad theory in terms of what had gone down, but there was an obvious, and major flaw. “Like who?”

Sam frowned. “I don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. I’m supposed to look for clues.” His eyes began scanning across the bar. His voice dropped a bit. “Hey, all the girls think Leah's hot…”

“The girls?” he challenged.

“Yeah, everyone thinks Leah's hot,” he corrected himself with an amused snort. “Petra’s chickens think Leah's hot. Maybe it’s her.” He leaned slightly to watch her and Elliot having a cheers with their wine by the bar.

“It’s possible.” Sebastian mulled it over as he sunk his first solid. “Not sure how you’ll prove it though.” He moved to the other side and the green ball he had his eye on. He thought for a minute, about the idea of Haley having another motive. The part of him that craved logic had to admit it was a satisfying explanation. Or maybe she just really was that petty.

“You ever wonder what Elliot and Leah talk about?” Sam posed thoughtfully. “I bet it’s all literature and art and stuff. I probably wouldn’t be able to follow a conversation of theirs for a second.”

“You’re probably right.” Sebastian sunk another ball in the far corner. “I’m sure they have more sophisticated conversations than we do, anyway.”  

He noted Alex eyeing their game of pool from where his conversation had paused with Petra. Sebastian had been getting a feeling that Alex wanted to take him on the past few times they'd hung out. He was hoping he would. It’s not that he’d try to show off, but he had a pretty good feeling Alex would overestimate his chances. Sebastian was not a very merciful victor, either. 

And if he had to humble a former star quarterback, well. He would.

“Dude, is Abby okay?” Sam asked, looking disturbed. 

Sebastian didn’t need to glance over, the noises emanating from the arcade were enough. “A few more games, she’ll tire herself out.”



***

 

“So.. she just.. showed up?” 

“Yeah,” Petra shrugged affably. “She was...nice.” 

“She was?” Alex was still having trouble computing this. None of that sounded like Haley.  “What did she say?” He felt protective for a second. “Were you okay?” 

“I was scared shitless at first,” Petra admitted with an amused huff.  She thought for a moment, summarizing. “She said she was sorry, and that she didn’t do it to spite me.” She looked up at him with a hint of shyness. “And that.. I shouldn’t doubt your feelings.”

Alex was stunned. “Wow.”

“Honest and real. Isn't that how you described her?” Petra reminded him.

He nodded. She was brave too. Although knowing Petra, she had made it easy for her, and had been sweet and receptive. He smirked. “So I take it you kicked her right off your property?”

Petra smiled, knowing he was teasing. “We had iced tea,” she said sheepishly. 

Very receptive. That must be why Abby was so pissed. And currently close to breaking the controls of Return of the Prairie King

Petra looked contemplative. “She didn’t offer an explanation really, just like your letter. I was tempted to press her on it, but I guess I realized that it doesn’t even matter, in the end.”  She gazed up at him with a look of devotion. “I know how you feel about it, and that’s all that’s important to me.”

Alex felt a little bittersweet ache, some remaining guilt that the kiss had ever happened, and a relief that it hadn’t affected them in the end. He wrapped his arm around the small of Petra’s back, easing her just a bit closer to him, not sure if he should kiss her or just hold her like that for a moment. She rested her hands on his forearms, meeting his gaze. 

“You’re supposed to be knocking some sense into her, not eye fucking her, Alex!” Abby yelled to them from where she was putting another coin into the machine. They laughed, pulling apart slightly. 

Petra’s smile faded, and he knew she was back to thinking about her surprise encounter. “Haley talked about you a lot, honestly. Do you think you’ll respond to her letter soon?” 

He frowned. “No. I’m still not ready.” He purposely ignored how childish he sounded. He would do it, eventually. When it didn’t still sting to think about. “She could’ve really fucked things up with what she did. Accepting her apology just isn’t my priority right now.”

Petra nodded. He watched how her lips pursed together, and focused on them a little too long.

She noticed. “What..?”

He shook his head. “You’re just..really pretty.”

She was giving him that look she gave him sometimes that drove him crazy. Like she knew what she wanted to do to him and was processing whether she should just go for it. 

“HOW did you make that!?” Sam's proclamation of angst snapped them out of the moment. They looked over to see Sebastian coolly setting down his pool cue, having notched another win. 

Alex watched Sam pout his way to the couch. This might be his opportunity.

“Do you think I could beat Sebastian in pool?” he asked Petra, stroking his chin with narrowed eyes. He couldn’t hide his interest anymore.

Petra flashed him a precious smile. “Do you really want to get embarrassed on your birthday?” 

Alex cracked up. She wasn’t always so sweet. “You don’t believe in me?”

She shrugged, highly skeptical. “I mean, you can try, but Sebastian is seriously so good. ” 

Alex rolled up some imaginary sleeves. “Well you haven’t seen me in action yet.”  It certainly seemed like Sebastian knew what he was doing, and granted Alex hadn’t played much before, but he still thought he had a chance. He always thought he had a chance.

He locked eyes with Sebastian from across the table, who seemed to read Alex’s intentions. They shared a competitive smirk. 

Alex headed for the pool cues on the wall. It was pool. How hard could it be? 

 

 

***

 

When Haley first started thinking of Shane differently, there had been an excitement to pass by him in town. It was like a little challenge, a spark of intrigue. She liked to talk with him or say hi and see if his cheeks would go red. Their texts would give her a rush.

Then came a time when she felt an urge to see him, a need. It made her dizzy. Every day and especially the nighttime would be a little focused on that knock and wondering if he would come by.

Now, there was a constant, dull ache. An absence of him, a quiet darkness. All of that had gone out like a flame.

After all, what had he said to her? She was nothing to him but a “good fuck”.

Moving about town was like a strange art form. She knew when he went to Joja mart, when he came home, when he was usually at the Saloon. She didn’t want him to see her, but desperately wished she could see him, as if she could somehow glean whether he was sad, or missing her from the way he was walking or leaning by the bar.  

 

Finally her pride eroded enough that she asked Emily one night when she got home from the Saloon.

“What are you doing up?” She had asked, surprised to see Haley laying on the couch.

Haley shrugged and mumbled incoherently.

“I’m going to have some herbal tea, do you want some?”

“Sure.”

Emily set her bag down on the coffee table and headed into the kitchen.

“Em.”

“Yeah?” She could hear the teapot clanging in the kitchen.

“Was Shane there?”

The kitchen went silent for a brief moment. She came back in, an interested, calm expression on her face.  “Why do you ask?”

Haley let out a breath. “You know why I ask,” she said sullenly.

Emily looked sympathetic. “He was. He’s been drinking a lot lately. Even for him.”

Haley felt pins and needles in her stomach. She had to feel a little like she might be the cause. “How did he...seem?”

“Honestly, he hasn’t been talking to me much, since the Luau. Ordering drinks. But that’s about it. His energy is totally off.”  She looked concerned. “Have you tried to reach out to him at all?” It was a gentle and hopeful question.

Haley shook her head, barely looking up at her. “A text feels so...childish, after what I did. And then Elliot said I should write a letter. It sounded like a good idea, I just can’t do it.”

“It can help to work out your feelings through writing,” Emily agreed. She looked thoughtful. “But maybe the way your...situation is, it would be better just to go talk to him. Sober,” she specified. 

“I wouldn’t take a bunch of shots before or something,” Haley protested.

“No. I mean, for him.”

“Oh.” Haley blinked. She frowned.  “That might be tough.”

Emily thought for a second. “Usually I wouldn’t suggest something like this. But what if you approached him at work?”

“Like...go to Joja mart?” Haley asked.

“Yeah. Just, go and let him know that you’d like to talk to him after his shift.” Emily’s eyes looked thoughtful. “In a way, it would ensure a few things. One, that he’d be sober. Well, one would certainly hope, at least. And two, that he wouldn’t make a scene or get too upset, because he’s in public.”

Haley thought that over. She had only been in that place a few times. It was massive and ugly. She and Emily never shopped there. Well, Emily didn’t anyway, seeing as she did almost all of the grocery shopping.

Her mind started whirring. It would be easy to talk to him, hide behind an aisle, let her intentions known, make her exit subtly. She bit her lip. What do you wear to confront your ex-fling in a Joja Mart?

“Are you thinking about what you’re going to say, or your outfit?” Emily teased. Damn, she knew her well. 

“They’re equally important,” Haley retorted. She softened for a minute. “Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe.. I’ll do it.”

Emily nodded, pleased. “Let me know how it goes. The talk, and the outfit.” She went into the kitchen to continue making the tea.

Haley thought for a moment. He’d be there tomorrow afternoon. She could try and time it for when the store was least busy. 

She pictured confronting Shane, standing in front of him, saying the words, and felt her stomach flip. The idea of finally ending their long silence was so appealing she almost wanted to ignore the possibility that it could go terribly. At least they wouldn’t be in this purgatory of not speaking anymore. 

There was no guessing how he would react to seeing her, but she was finally ready to find out.

 

 

***

 

 

This was truly not the plan.

Petra was gripping the sheets, her back arched and her eyes unfocused towards the ceiling while Alex was lapping greedily between her legs. This was not what she had intended. Not that she was terribly upset, in fact, she felt like she was on the verge of something amazing.

The lingerie was supposed to be a sexy birthday surprise that kicked off a marathon of her pleasuring him in every way imaginable. But somehow, the lingerie was in a discarded pile of black lace on the floor now, and she was the one on the verge of orgasm five minutes in.

“Alex,” she breathed, barely able to speak. “This was supposed to be-” she let out a sharp cry as he flicked her clit with his tongue pointedly. “.. for your birthday..”

He lifted his head up, licking his lips with a devilish grin. “I know. This is what I want.” She moaned as he continued, his strong hands gripping her hips and holding her to him. 

She puzzled on how every movement of his tongue was somehow impossibly soft and overpowering at the same time. He was rhythmic and relentless, and though he mostly focused on sucking and teasing her clit, he would occasionally slide his tongue lower and slip inside her, making her whine. 

She gave in, letting her mind fixate on how good it felt, how he wasn’t going to stop, on Alex between her legs. She bit her lip and pressed herself to his mouth, letting him work. She was breathing faster, teetering on the edge.

It was the type of orgasm that felt like fits and starts and was almost physically overwhelming if it wasn’t such an incredible release. She laid her head back on the pillow, whimpering.

Alex moved up to her side, patiently waiting for her to recover a bit more to open her eyes. He started kissing her neck. 

“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” she protested weakly, but clearly still basking in a post-orgasmic glow.  

He gave her an innocent smirk. “I thought the birthday boy got to choose.”

Petra took another few seconds to catch her breath. She was able to tame her smile, holding his gaze. “Not anymore.”

Petra rose to her knees in front of him, pushing him back towards the pillow with her hand on his chest. His green eyes lit up with anticipation.

He had diverted from the plan, but she could get back on track. She wanted to tease him, mercilessly, and she had an idea.

She faced away from him, lifting her leg to straddle him reverse, her hands around his thick erection. She tossed a heated glance over her shoulder. The mixture of awe and excitement on his face confirmed that he was rather pleased with the position and the view.

She stroked him a few times with her hand, making a show of arching her back and giving him a little twerk of her round ass. He let out a tortured breath. 

She kept working his shaft with her hand, rubbing her thumb over the tip that was starting to leak. He reached for her ass, squeezing it longingly.

“Do you want it?” She asked him, peering back over her shoulder, impressed by how sultry her voice sounded. She was still teasing him with light, slow strokes.

Yes ,” he begged. She felt his dick pulse in her hand.  

She rose up and settled on him slowly and firmly, thankful she was still so wet from before with how rigid and thick he felt pushing inside of her. He made a guttural sound from his throat as she squeezed around him. She managed to hold in the moan she wanted to let out, wanting to seem in control. 

She turned ever so slightly to gaze back at him, sitting up straight and shifting side to side like she was finding a comfortable spot. 

“Petra,” he whined at her teasing.

“Mm hm?” She slid a hand sensually down her lower back and rubbed her ass temptingly.

He looked pained.  “You’re trying to kill me.”

She did one more little shake and tossed her long hair behind her, feeling it tickle her bare back. Finally she began to ride him in sensual, slow circles, making a point to pop her ass up towards him at each new revolution. She resisted the urge to go faster, liking how his toes were curling and his heels were digging into the mattress.

“Baby…”

Petra flushed red at the pet name he had never used before, grateful her back was to him. It felt intimate, impossibly sweet. She was burning to hear it again.

She continued to circle her hips, feeling her own breathing starting to get faster. She still wanted to tease him more. She leaned forward, pulling her body up his length with care, then sinking slowly back down on to him, savoring the tortured moan she heard behind her. She wondered how much of her he could see as she leaned forward. She repeated the move, this time allowing herself to let out a contented whimper on the way down. 

She was ready to begin in earnest now, starting to build a little momentum and ride him fully. She had just begun really grinding into him when he suddenly let out a pained sigh of finality.

Petra blinked.

She glanced over her shoulder. His face was flushed, his eyes squeezed shut. 

“Oh... honey..did you..?”

“Yeah,” he half-laughed, half-sighed. “Yoba, you really fucked my shit up.”

She felt terrible that she was almost laughing. “I wasn’t even… I hadn’t even gotten started!”  They both cracked up then.

She slid off of him and he pulled her towards him. “You’re too good,” he moaned. “I couldn’t take that view!”

Petra kissed him, tasting an echo of herself on his lips. She was enamored with how he was laying sort of helpless, a contented smile on his face. 

“Just a little nap, then I’ll ravage you all night. You better....watch out...” Alex’s voice was weak, his eyes already closing.

She giggled. “I’ll prepare myself.” 

“Such a good birthday...” he was beyond pleased and ready to fall asleep at any moment, still smiling with a hand on his chest.

Petra nestled in beside him, wanting a moment before she cleaned up. This was so much better than the plan. He was so much better than anything she could have planned. She held him, their hands clasped together over his chest.