Authors: Elle Kennedy
Ever since we were dumb, barefoot kids racing each other up and down the dunes, churning up wake in front of million-dollar mansions, and running from the cops, we—the misfit, misspent youth of Avalon Bay—have had a tradition. The last Sunday of summer culminates in a bonfire blowout.
The one rule: locals only.
Tonight, my twin brother and I are hosting the shindig at our place. The two-story, low-country, cottage-style beach house has been in our family for three generations—and it shows. The rambling house is in disrepair and requires a ton of renos, but it makes up for its rough exterior with a hell of a lot of charm. Sort of like its inhabitants, I suppose. Although Evan is definitely the more charming of the two of us. I can be a moody fuck sometimes.
On the back deck, Heidi sidles up beside me, setting a flask on the wooden railing.
“We got liquor downstairs. Tons,” I tell her.
“That’s not the point of a flask.”
She puts her back to the railing, leaning on her elbows. Heidi has this way about her. There’s nothing in the world that can satisfy her, her interest so far beyond everyone and everything. When we were
kids, it was one of the first things that drew me to her. Heidi’s eyes were always looking farther. I wanted to see what she saw.
“Then what’s the point?” I ask.
“Feeling a little naughty. A flask is a secret.”
She looks over at me, a sly smile pulling at her lips. She’s done up tonight, at least as much as one does out here in the Bay. Hair curled. Dark red lipstick. She’s wearing my old Rancid T-shirt, which she’d cut into a tank top that now exposes a black lace bra. She put a lot of effort into her look, and yet it’s lost on me.
“Not much in the spirit, huh?” she says when I don’t take the bait.
I shrug. Because, yeah, I’m not in the mood for a party.
“We can get out of here.” Heidi straightens, nods toward
. “Go take a drive. Like when we used to steal your mom’s keys, remember? Winding up in Tennessee somewhere, spending the night sleeping in the bed of the truck.”
“Getting chased out of a national park by a furious ranger at four a.m.”
She laughs, nudging my arm. “I miss our adventures.”
I take a swig of her flask. “Sorta loses the appeal when you have your own keys and drinking is legal.”
“I promise you, there’s still all sorts of trouble we can make.”
That flirtatious spark in her eyes makes me sad. Because we used to have fun together, and now it feels strained. Awkward.
“Coop!” Down in the yard, my brother shouts at me. “It’s a party, dude. Get down here.”
Twin telepathy still works. I leave Heidi on the deck, head downstairs, and grab a beer on my way to the beach, where I meet Evan around the bonfire with some of our friends. I drink while they spend the next hour swapping the same stories we’ve been telling for ten years. Then our buddy Wyatt organizes a game of moonlight
football and most of the crowd drifts toward it, leaving only a handful of us by the fire. Evan’s in the Adirondack chair next to mine, laughing at something our friend Alana just said, but I can’t seem to enjoy myself tonight. There’s a bug under my skin. Burrowing. Chewing out holes in my flesh and laying eggs of anger and resentment.
“Dude.” Evan kicks my foot. “Snap out of it, man.”
“Yeah,” he says sarcastically, “I can tell.” He grabs the empty bottle of beer I’ve been absently holding and tosses me a new one from the cooler. “You’ve been a moody little bitch for two days. I get you’re pissed off, but it ain’t cute anymore. Get drunk, smoke some weed. Heidi’s here somewhere. Maybe she’ll hook up with you again if you ask nicely.”
I stifle a groan. There are no secrets in this group. When Heidi and I first slept together, we’d barely dug the crust out of our eyes the next morning before everyone else knew about it. Which is just more proof that it was a bad idea to go there. Hooking up with friends is only inviting trouble.
“Eat me, asshole.” Heidi throws a handful of sand at him from across the fire pit. She flashes him the bird.
“Oops,” he says, knowing full well she was sitting there. “My bad.”
“You know, it’s remarkable,” Heidi says in that flat tone that is a glaring warning she’s about to snip your balls off. “You two are identical twins, and yet I wouldn’t touch your dick, Evan, even with Cooper’s face.”
“Burn,” Alana shouts, laughing beside Heidi and Steph. The three of them have been the absolute torment of every boy in the Bay since we were in third grade. An unholy trinity of hotness and terror.
Evan makes a lewd gesture in response because comebacks are not really in his wheelhouse. Then he turns back to me. “I still say
we wait till that clone leaves his house and we jump his ass. Word gets around, Coop. People start hearing you let that shit stand, and suddenly they’re thinking anyone can mess with us.”
“Cooper’s lucky that prick didn’t press charges,” Steph points out. “But if you turn this into a war, he could change his mind.”
She’s right. There’s no good reason why I haven’t spent the last two days in a jail cell, other than that Preston guy was satisfied in humiliating me. While I’d never admit defeat, I’m still hot about getting fired. Evan’s right—Hartleys can’t let that shit stand. We have a reputation in this town. People smell weakness, they start getting ideas. Even when you have nothing, someone’s always trying to take it.
“Who was he, anyway?” Heidi asks.
“Preston Kincaid,” Steph supplies. “His family owns that massive estate down the coast where they ripped out those two-hundred-year-old oaks last month to put in a third tennis court.”
“Ugh, I know that guy,” Alana says, her bright red hair glowing in the firelight. “Maddy was running her dad’s parasailing boat a few weeks ago, and she took him out on it with some chick. He was trying to talk some game to Maddy right in front of his date. Dude actually asked her out. When she made some excuse, right, because she’s still trying to get a tip, he tries to persuade her into a threesome right there on the boat. Maddy said she damn near tossed him overboard.”
Steph makes a face. “He’s such a creep.”
“There you go.” Evan pops the cap on a fresh beer and takes a swig. “He’s got it coming. We’d be doing a community service to bust him down a peg.”
I eye my brother, curious.
“Revenge, dude. He took a pound of flesh from you. We take two from him.”
Have to admit, I’m aching for payback. For two days, this chunk of seething anger has sat in my gut, burning. Bartending wasn’t my
sole source of income, but I needed that money. Everything I’ve been working toward got a lot farther away when that jackass got me fired.
I think it over. “Can’t beat his face in or I’ll wind up in jail. Can’t take his job because, come on, who are we kidding, dude doesn’t have one. He was born with a silver spoon up his ass. So what else is there?”
“Oh, this poor, dumb girl,” Alana suddenly says, coming around to our side of the fire to show us her phone. “Just peeped his social media. He’s got a girlfriend.”
I narrow my eyes at the screen. Interesting. Kincaid posted a story earlier today about moving his girlfriend into her dorm at Garnet. The post includes heart emojis and all the performative, saccharine bullshit that are the telltale signs of a cheater overcompensating.
“Damn,” Evan remarks, taking the phone. He flicks through photos of them on Kincaid’s obnoxious yacht. “Chick’s actually hot.”
He’s right. The picture Evan zooms in on shows a tall, dark-haired girl with green eyes and tanned skin. She’s wearing a white cropped T-shirt that’s falling off one shoulder, revealing the strap of a blue bathing suit beneath, and for some reason, that thin strip of fabric is hotter than any pornographic image I’ve ever seen. It’s a tease. An invitation.
A terrible idea forms in the worst part of my mind.
“Take her,” Evan says, because for all the ways we’re completely different, we’re exactly the same.
Alana’s eyes light with mischief. “Do it.”
“What, steal his girlfriend?” Heidi demands, incredulous. “She’s not a toy. That’s—”
“A great idea,” Evan interjects. “Snipe that clone’s girl, rub it in his face, then dump her rich ass.”
“Gross, Evan.” Heidi gets up and snatches Alana’s phone from him as they continue to bicker. “She’s a person, you know.”
“No, she’s a clone.”
“You want her to dump Kincaid, right? So why can’t we just catch him cheating on her, and send her the proof so she dumps him? Same end result,” Heidi points out.
“Not the same,” my brother argues.
“How is that not the same thing?”
“Because it isn’t.” Evan points the mouth of his bottle at Heidi. “It isn’t enough for Kincaid to lose. He has to know who beat him. We have to make it hurt.”
“Cooper doesn’t have to trick her into falling in love with him,” Alana tells her. “Seduce her enough that she dumps her boyfriend. A few dates, tops.”
“Seduce her? You mean fuck her, then,” Heidi says, revealing the real reason she hates this plan. “Again, gross.”
Any other day, I might have agreed with her. But not tonight. Tonight, I’m angry and bitter and itching for blood. Besides, I’d be doing this chick a favor rescuing her from Kincaid. Sparing her a life of misery with a cheating bastard who’d only treat her nice enough to get 2.5 kids outta her before shifting all his attention to his mistresses.
I’ve encountered guys like Preston Kincaid my entire life. One of my earliest memories is of my five-year-old self down at the pier with my father and brother, confused why all those fancy-dressed people were speaking to Dad like he was a piece of dog shit mashed under their deck shoes. Hell, chances are Kincaid’s girl is even worse than he is.
Steph brings up a potential snag. “But if he’s already cheating on her, then how much does he really care about this girl? Maybe getting dumped won’t faze him.”
I glance at Evan. “She’s got a point.”
“I don’t know …” A contemplative Alana reaches over Heidi’s shoulder to look at the phone. “Scrolling through, I think they’ve
been together for a few years. My money’s on this one being endgame for him.”
The longer the idea tumbles around in my head, the more I’m into it. Mostly for the look on Kincaid’s face when he realizes I’ve won. But also because even if I didn’t know she was Kincaid’s girlfriend, I’d still try to date her.
“Let’s make it interesting,” Steph says. She shares a look with Alana, coming around to the possibilities of this idea. “You can’t lie. You can’t pretend to be all in love with her, or sleep with her unless she initiates it. Kissing is allowed. And you can’t tell her to break up with him. It has to be her idea. Otherwise what’s the point? We might as well go with Heidi’s plan.”
“Deal.” It’s almost unfair how easy this’ll be.
“Omissions are lies.” Heidi stands in a huff. “What makes you think one of them would step down from their cloud for you anyway?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. Just storms toward the house.
“Ignore her,” Alana says. “I love this plan.”
Evan, meanwhile, gives me a hard look, then nods in the direction Heidi went. “You’ve got to do something about that.”
Yeah, maybe I do. After a handful of hookups, Heidi and I reverted back to platonic and were cool all summer. But then somewhere the tide shifted and suddenly she’s bent out of shape more often than not, and it’s apparently all my fault.
“She’s a big girl,” I tell him.
Maybe Heidi’s feeling a little territorial, but she’ll get over it. We’ve been friends since first grade. She can’t stay mad at me forever.
“Anyway. Final answer about the clone?” Evan eyes me expectantly.
I tip the beer bottle to my lips, taking a quick swig. Then I shrug and say, “I’m in.”
On Saturday night, our first week of freshman year behind us, Bonnie pulls me out on the town.
To get the lay of the land
, as she puts it.
So far, we’re getting along great as roommates. Better than I expected, actually. I’m an only child and never lived anywhere but my parents’ house, so I was a bit wary of the politics of sharing a space with a complete stranger. But Bonnie’s easy to live with. She cleans up after herself, and makes me laugh with her endless supply of Southern sass. She’s like the little sister I never knew I wanted.
For the past hour since we left campus, she’s only reinforced my theory that she’s some kind of sorceress. This girl possesses powers a mere mortal could only dream of. The moment we stepped up to the bar in this rowdy hole-in-the-wall place with panties hanging from the rafters and license plates on the wall, three guys practically bulldozed their way through the crowd to buy our drinks. All to get Bonnie to smile at them. Since then, I’ve watched her charm one guy after the other without even lifting a pinkie. She simply bats her eyelashes at men, gives them a little giggle, a hair twirl, and they’re ready to harvest their own mothers for organs.
“You new in town?” One of our latest suitors, a jock-looking type wearing a too-tight T-shirt and too much body spray, shouts in my ear over the blaring music. Even as he chats me up, his eyes drift
toward Bonnie as she talks animatedly. I can’t imagine any of them can hear her, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
“Yeah,” I answer, my face glued to the glow of my phone screen as I text with Pres. He’s at a friend’s place tonight for a poker game.
While I pay the least possible attention to this dude, whose job is to entertain the “friend,” his two buddies eat out of Bonnie’s hand all the way to the dance floor. I occasionally nod and glance up from my phone as he valiantly attempts conversation that we both must know is useless against the band’s set list blasting at full volume.
About forty minutes after the wingman has crept away, an arm catches mine. “I’m bored. Let’s ditch these guys,” Bonnie says in my ear.
“Yes.” I nod emphatically. “Please.”
She mimes some excuse to the two guys still clinging to her heels like ducklings, and then we pick up our drinks and take a circuitous route to the stairs. On the second floor, looking down at the live band on the stage, we find a table with a little more breathing room. It’s quieter up here. Enough that we can carry on a conversation without shouting or resorting to rudimentary sign language.
“Not doing it for you?” I ask, referring to her latest victims.
“I can get those meatheads a dime a dozen at home. Can’t throw a rock without hitting a college football player.”
I grin over the rim of my glass. The fruity cocktail isn’t exactly my jam, but it’s what Bonnie asked her suitors to buy for us. “So what’s your type, then?”
“Tattoos. Tall, dark, and damaged. The more emotionally unavailable, the better.” She beams. “If he’s got a juvenile rap sheet and motorcycle, I’m open for business.”
I almost choke on my tongue laughing. Fascinating. She doesn’t seem like that kind of girl. “Maybe we ought to go find a bar with more Harleys outside. I’m not sure we’re going to find what you’re looking for in here.”
From what I can tell, it’s slim pickings. Mostly Garnet students, which skew toward country club types or frat bros, and a few beach rat townies in tank tops. None of whom approach Bonnie’s leather-and-studs daydreams.
“Oh, I done my research,” she says proudly. “Rumor has it, Avalon Bay’s got exactly what I need. The Hartley Twins.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Twins, huh?”
“Locals,” she says, nodding. “But I’m not greedy. One’ll do fine. Figure my odds are improved with a spare.”
“And these Hartley twins tick all of your bad boy boxes?”
“Oh yeah. I heard about their exploits from some girls on campus.” She licks her lips. “I wanna be one of those exploits tonight.”
Humor bubbles in my throat. This girl. “You don’t even know these guys. What if they’re hideous?”
“They aren’t. Their names wouldn’t be comin’ outta every girl’s mouth if they were.” She sighs happily. “Besides, that girl down the hall from us—Nina? Dina? Whatever her name is. She showed me a picture of ’em and don’t you worry, Miss Mac, they are
My laughter spills over. “Alright. Got it. I’ll keep my eye out for a pair of bad boy clones.”
“Thank you. Now, what about you?”
“I’m not in the market for a bad boy, no.” My phone lights up again with a text from Preston telling me his next game is about to start.
Another thing I appreciate about Pres is routine, predictability. I prefer things that act within expected parameters. I’m a planner. An organizer. A boyfriend that’s running all over town at all hours wouldn’t fit in my life. Then again, I don’t get the impression that Bonnie is in the market for a long-term investment. Maybe something more like a microtransaction.
“I’m just sayin’.” Bonnie winks. “This is a circle of trust. I’d never snitch on a roomie if she wanted to entertain a little on the side.”
“I appreciate it, but I’m good. Pres and I are loyal to each other.” I wouldn’t have done the whole long-distance thing if I wasn’t confident we could be faithful. Now that we’re both at Garnet, cheating would be even more pointless.
She looks at me a little cross-eyed then smiles in a way that’s a bit patronizing, though I know she doesn’t mean it. “So you’re really the relationship type?”
“Yeah.” I’ve only been with Preston, but even if it were someone else, monogamy is my thing. “I don’t understand the point of cheating. If you want to be with other people, be single. Don’t drag someone else along for the ride.”
“Well, cheers to knowin’ what we want and goin’ after it.” Bonnie raises her glass. We toast, then suck our cocktails dry. “Come on,” she says, “let’s get outta here. I got twins to hunt.”
She’s not joking. For the next two hours, I find myself trailing behind Bonnie as if I’ve got a dick-sniffing bloodhound on a leash. She drags me from one bar to the next in search of her elusive twins, leaving countless mesmerized victims in her wake. One poor loser after another throwing himself at her feet, slayed by her dimples. I’ve never had trouble attracting attention from guys, but standing next to Bonnie May Beauchamp, I might as well be a broken barstool. Good thing I have a boyfriend, or else I’d develop a complex.
As much as I want to help Bonnie in her crusade to locate and destroy her townie bad boy, the sidekick routine gets tedious as the night wears on. If she doesn’t tire herself out soon, there’s a chance I’ll need to club her over the head.
“Last one,” I warn as we cross the threshold of yet another boardwalk bar. This one’s called the Rip Tide. “If your twins aren’t here, you’ll have to settle for any old bad boy.”
“Last one,” she promises. Then she bats her eyelashes and, like
every guy we’ve encountered tonight, I find myself melting in her presence. It’s impossible to stay annoyed with her.
She links her arm through mine and pulls me deeper into the Rip Tide. “C’mon, girl, let’s do this. I got a good feeling about this one.”