Never Too Hot
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Fifteen years old, her limbs long and slim and tanned in a sundress, Isabel waited on the curb at the corner ofMain Street and First.
She'd ridden her bike into town from her parents' cabin. Her friend Judy was supposed to meet her here, but eventhough she'd been standing on the curb outside the diner for a half hour, Judy hadn't shown up yet. But Isabelhadn't been upset with her friend, whose parents could be uptight about Judy riding into town by herself. Afterall, it was another perfect summer day, and she'd been wanting to go into the small general store on the corner andtry on some sandals she'd seen in the window.
Maybe, she thought with a smile, her parents would buy her a pair for her birthday, which was coming up in a fewweeks. As working musicians, they didn't have much money to spare, but she'd never felt like they were poor. Howcould they be, when they had an amazing cabin to come to every summer on Blue Mountain Lake? Her grandfather hadbuilt it in the teens and all of her five much older siblings — she was the baby of the family, a “wonderfulsurprise” was what her mother said — had spent their summers on the beach just outside the front door. The wholesummer stretched before her. No school. No lessons. Nothing but fun in the sun.
Smiling to herself, she left her bike propped up against the diner's brick wall and headed down the street. Inprevious years, she'd brought friends from the city up for a week or two at a time, but none of them everappreciated it as much as she did. They called Blue Mountain Lake “the middle of nowhere” and bemoaned the lack ofshops and boys.
But as far as Isabel was concerned, there were plenty of places to window-shop back in the city the other ninemonths of the year. June, July, and August were all about being outdoors, family time, and having fun.
And as for cute boys, there was only one that mattered to Isabel.
His name was Andrew. He lived next door. And he didn't seem to notice she was alive.
Seventeen years old, he was built more like a man than a boy, with broad shoulders and light brown hair thatpicked up the sunlight in blond streaks with every passing week of summer. She'd fallen in love with him when shewas ten. Five years of looking. Five years of dreaming. Five years of planning exactly what she'd say to impresshim the first time he talked to her.
Andrew was her Prince Charming, she was absolutely positive of it. One day he'd finally turn around and noticeher. One day he'd kiss her — she blushed just thinking about — and then when he realized he couldn't live withouther, they'd get married and live happily ever after.
Looking both ways before she ran across the street, Isabel was panting as she reached for the front door of thegeneral store. A two-story house that had been turned into a store when she was just a baby, it was the only placein town to go if you needed underwear or flip-flops or dishes.
Her hand still on the door, she stopped to read a sign that said, PART TIME CASHIER HELP WANTED. Ponderingwhether it might be fun to spend a few hours a week ringing up purchases, thereby earning a few more dollars formilkshakes and Popsicles on the beach with her friends, she was surprised when a strong, tanned arm reached aroundher and opened up the door.
Her breath caught in her throat as she looked up into Andrew's eyes. “Oh, sorry, I shouldn't be standing hereblocking traffic,” she babbled, her words tripping over one another to her increasing mortification.
But the boy she'd always loved from afar didn't seem the least bit impatient. Instead, he smiled, his green eyescrinkling up at the corners, his white teeth a beautiful contrast to his deeply tanned skin.
“Don't worry,” he said, his low voice sending shivers of excitement through her. “I'm not in any rush. Are you?”
Her cheeks felt so hot she was afraid her head was going to burst into flames.
“No,” she finally said, her voice sounding too loud, far too excited for their simple conversation. Realizing hewas still holding the door for her, she rushed inside, the cool air in the store a welcome change to the heatcoursing through her. Maybe by tonight, her heart would stop pounding like a snare drum. But instead of moving pasther, he simply stood beside her, the same smile on his lips.
His eyes scanned her face for a long moment and she forgot to breathe until he said, “We live next door, don'twe?”
Her ponytail bobbed up and down as she nodded. So many times she'd played out this moment. She'd planned onbeing alluring, yet coy, pleased that she had his attention, yet aloof enough to keep his interest.
Instead, she was acting like a little puppy, desperate for a pat on the head.
But even though she was inexperienced with the opposite sex — no kisses, no hand-holding, not even a trip to themovies — on the verge of becoming a woman, some inner voice she'd never heard before told her to slow down, to lethim make the first move.
Taking a deep breath, she found a small smile to mirror his. “Yes, we do. I'm Isabel.”
“Andrew,” he said, holding out his hand.
She loved how he said it, as if she didn't know his name, as if she hadn't been drooling over him for the pastfive years.
Using every spare ounce of willpower she possessed, she shook his hand, then said, “See you around,” and breezedpast him up the stairs to the women's clothing department.
Grabbing a random sweater off the nearest rack, she rushed into a changing room, pulled the door closed, and satdown on the floor, utterly dazed. Her heart was still racing and when she looked up into the mirror, she saw thather cheeks were flushed a bright pink. Thankfully, it wasn't an unflattering look, but she was certain that despiteher cool good-bye, Andrew knew exactly how big of a crush she had on him.
Which was why she was going to stay in this dressing room until she could be absolutely certain that he wasgone.
After several minutes had passed, a knock came at the door. “Excuse me, miss, are you all right in there?”
Isabel quickly stood up, ran her hands over her hair and opened the door. “Yes, thanks.” Holding up the sweater,she said, “I'm afraid this doesn't look quite right on me, however.”
Handing the sales clerk the sweater, Isabel saw for the first time that it was embroidered with eight leapingreindeers, Santa Claus beaming from the center. It was a sweater even her grandmother wouldn't be caught dead in.
Again, a quick exit seemed best. Deciding to try on the flip-flops another day, she left the store and wasrunning back across the street to get her bike when the first drops of rain started falling. A loud clap of thundercame next and she knew she'd better look for cover. Too embarrassed to go back into the store, she headed for thecovered boathouse at the end of the public dock. She'd wait out the storm there.