Chapter 1

“I can’t believe it’s almost Labor Day already,” Jen said to Carrie as they sat on the deck, the soft, ocean breeze floating through the palm trees.

Jen had been dreading the end of summer since the day she’d arrived at her grandmother’s house in Newport—a Memorial Day tradition.

She’d spent every summer there since she could remember, beating the oppressive heat in the town she lived in with her family. And on one of those first summers, she’d met her best friend Carrie whose grandmother lived just a little up the boardwalk. They’d bumped into each other in the warm waves on their paddle boards and dissolved into laughter. And they’d been best friends ever since.

Carrie sighed and looked out toward the sunset. The beach house’s upstairs deck had a sweeping view of the coastline along the Newport peninsula, and this summer—the one between high school and college—they’d felt grown-up enough to ask Jen’s grandmother if they could sit out there on Friday nights. They always looked forward to their sodas and potato chips and lately, Jen had been getting a little fancy, trying out some different things. So far, their favorite had been potato chips and onion dip.

“It sure has gone fast. Between our sailing lessons and getting ready to head off to college, it seems like it’s only been a week.”

“We sure have done a lot,” Carrie said, helping herself to another chip. “And we still have a few more days.”

“Girls, supper’s ready,” Jen’s Nana called from downstairs. They quickly picked up their chips and drinks and headed down the narrow stairs toward the kitchen. Her grandmother smiled at them and gestured to the kitchen counter before she pulled a delicious-smelling pot of beans from the oven.

“Yum, my favorite,” Jen said, rubbing her hands together and asking if her grandmother needed help.

“No, everything’s ready,” she said. “Carrie, you’re staying, aren’t you?”

Carrie exchanged a glance with Jen and Jen nodded. Jen figured Carrie’s parents were out of town, but she asked anyway. “Your folks aren’t home?”

Carrie helped Jen’s grandmother with the plates and shook her head. “I don’t know, really. I don’t know where they are and they don’t know where I am and that’s the way I like it.”

Nana set a plate of butter and a loaf of homemade bread on the the counter between the two girls. “I’m sorry, Carrie.”

Carrie shrugged. “I don’t care. I like it here better, anyway.”

Jen buttered her bread and peered around her grandmother. “Didn’t you say that someone new moved into the house next door before I got here, Nana? Somebody’s been peeking at us through the curtains all summer. But I haven’t seen anybody. Have you?”

Jen’s grandmother turned and peered out the window. “No. I’ve noticed the same thing, though. Maybe next time I make muffins, I’ll take some over. Introduce myself. I know it’s a lady because I saw her when she moved in. But I haven’t seen her since.”

The three of them finished eating and Carrie and Jen hopped up to do the dishes. Jen made her grandmother a cup of tea before they did and gave her a big hug.

“I’m going to miss you, Nana. This summer’s gone by so fast. What happened?”

Her grandmother brushed back Jen’s hair and tucked it behind her ear. “I don’t know, sweetheart. I’ve said that about the last fifty years. Maybe longer. And every year seems like it goes by faster than the one before. Be sure to make the most of it.”

Carrie and Jen started the dishes and fell into their nightly pattern—Carrie washed and Jen dried and put the dishes away.

When they were finished, they sat down in the living room and Jen’s grandmother looked up from her book.

“Maybe tomorrow’s one of those days, Nana. Carrie and I get to pilot Joe’s dad’s boat. Finally, after all our lessons.”

Her grandmother’s eyebrows rose and she smiled. “Well, you must have learned all you need if Mr. Russo’s given the okay for that. He loves that boat.”

Jen nodded. “So I’ve heard. But we have been practicing all summer. Haven’t we Carrie? So there’s no way anything could go wrong.”

The girls plopped down in front of the TV to watch their favorite show—Nana’s was the Golden Girls but Carrie and Jen wanted to watch The Facts of Life, so they switched off.

Carrie reached for a pillow from the couch and shook her head. “Nope. No way anything could go wrong.”

* * *

The afternoon sun was bright on the day that Carrie and Jen had been looking forward to all summer, not a cloud in the sky. They’d taken their sailing lessons from their friends, Allen and Joe, and they had finally earned the opportunity to captain Joe’s dad’s boat on their own. They were anxious to finally show the boys what they could do so they’d quit their merciless teasing.

Carrie pulled up in her new, orange Volkswagen Beetle that her parents had given her for a graduation gift, waving for Jen to hop in. They took a quick ride to the pier where Joe’s dad docked his boat and hopped out. Carrie popped the trunk—Jen thought it was so weird it was in the front—and reached in.

After a minute, Carrie pulled her hat on and twisted the cap back onto the bottle of sunscreen. She held it out toward Jen.

“You really should wear a hat,” she said. “And try some of this new stuff. It’s supposed to keep you from getting sunburned.”

Jen rolled her eyes and held her nose. “Not a chance. That stuff stinks. I’m sticking with the tried and true baby oil. It’s our last week and I need the best tan I can get before I head to college.”

The two teenagers grabbed their towels and headed toward the dock on the bay side of the Newport Peninsula.

“Suit yourself. Don’t cry to me when you’re all red and peeling.”

“I won’t,” Jen said, smiling at her summer partner in crime since she’d been able to spend the whole time at her grandmother’s house at the beach. “It sounds weird to be going to college, don’t you think?”

Carrie nodded as she held the gate to the dock open for Jen. “Yeah.” She shielded her eyes and looked up toward the sun. “But I think it’ll be fun to get out of the state for a little bit.”

“I think that’s a pretty safe bet since you’re headed far away. Rains a lot there, I’ve heard.”

“I’m counting on it,” Carrie said, returning Allen's and Joe’s waves. They were already on the boat and it looked like they had everything set up, just like they had all summer. It had been a summer of sailing lessons, with Joe and Allen as their teachers. And today was the final class. Joe and Allen had promised to let Carrie and Jen pilot the boat and they would remain hands-off. The goal was for Jen and Carrie to pilot to the buoy and back, and they were both confident they could do it.

Carrie scrambled into the boat as Joe raised the sail and Allen stopped what he was doing to extend a hand to Jen. Carrie rolled her eyes even though nobody saw her. She’d been suppressing her groans for weeks now as Allen’s crush on Jen had become more and more apparent—to her, anyway. She’d mentioned it to Jen once and Jen had looked at her like she was from another planet. “That’s ridiculous,” she’d said, but the flirting was so blatant even Jen would have to admit it. It was almost comical, but Carrie was able to ignore it.

The crisp afternoon air—summer was coming to a close—was a refreshing relief from the heat. Joe, Allen, Jen and Carrie had spent the summer together in Newport, hanging out at the beach and the Fun Zone. When Joe and Allen weren’t working at Joe’s family’s gondola company, that is. It was mostly just like summers before it, but this one was somehow a little bittersweet, with them all going off to college.

But they’d decided to make the most of it. Joe and Allen had been teaching Jen and Carrie how to sail, and on this day, they were finally given the opportunity to captain the boat on their own.

Joe and Allen maneuvered the sailboat out onto the bay. Jen had argued that she and Carrie were perfectly capable of doing that themselves, but it didn’t work.

“I promised my dad we’d get you away from land, or docks or anything solid before we handed over the rudder,” Joe said with a laugh.

Carrie couldn’t argue as it was Joe’s dad’s boat, and she didn’t say it out loud but she wasn’t exactly sure she was cut out to be a boat captain. She didn’t like being out in the sun all that much and it was usually so windy that her hat didn’t stay on. Needless to say, she wasn’t completely sad that this would be their last outing. At least the first and last one where she and Jen had anything to do with its ultimate success or failure.

Jen was thoroughly confident in her abilities. She eagerly sat down by the rudder, and nodded when Allen told her to head toward the buoy toward the jetty.

Joe and Allen seemed a little nervous at first, but as Jen maneuvered and let Carrie know when to do her thing, they seemed to settle down a little bit. Jen and Carrie smiled at each other, confidently turning perfectly toward the buoy. By the time they’d reached it and needed to turn to head back, both Allen and Joe were lying down on the benches, their hats covering their faces while they soaked up the sun.

Jen let Carrie know that it was time, and Carrie was ready. Somehow, though, things didn’t go as planned. Before Carrie knew what was happening, the boat had lurched in the water and the sail was too taut. She struggled with the change and, as she did, she saw that Jen had let go of the rudder to try to help her but the boat lurched hard.

So hard, in fact, that Jen lost her footing and fell overboard with a loud screech.

“Drop the sail,” Joe yelled to Carrie, and at least she’d practiced that enough times that she got it down fast.

Before she knew what was happening, both Joe and Allen leapt off the back of the boat to get to Jen. They swam as fast as they could, and Allen wrapped his arms around Jen when he reached her first.

“It’s okay,” Allen said, his voice soft. “I got you.” He held her close as they both treaded water, and although Joe hesitated a moment, he headed back toward the boat. 

Carrie had done her best not to panic—after all, Jen was a strong swimmer, but still—but she wasn’t sure exactly what to do. Her lessons hadn’t covered the captain falling overboard and all hands on deck jumping in the water.

She helped Joe in when he got close, and followed his instructions as he got things situated to turn and maneuver closer to Jen and Allen, who by this time had begun to swim closer toward the boat.

Carrie and Joe helped Jen in, and Allen followed shortly behind. Jen hugged Carrie, and although Carrie wasn’t wild about getting wet, she was relieved that her friend was safe.

“That was embarrassing,” Jen said as she dried herself off with a towel.

“It’s not exactly every captain that gets dunked on their maiden voyage, but it does happen,” Joe said with a laugh as he took the rudder and Allen gave Jen a big hug.

Carrie noticed that Allen’s hug lingered a lot longer than hers and Jen’s did but chalked it up to the scare.

On the return trip, it was Jen and Carrie’s turn to relax. They offered to captain the boat back, and Carrie laughed when Joe and Allen both said ‘no’ at the same time, then exchanged glances and laughed.

“You guys just enjoy the sun,” Joe said.

Chapter 2

Carrie couldn’t stop herself from chuckling when she and Jen had reached the orange car.

“Are you laughing because you’ve realized you’ll never, ever lose your car in any parking lot in the universe?” Jen asked, laughing herself.

Carrie flashed her a dirty look. She loved her car and nothing anybody said could change that. It was her favorite color, after all, and one of the only things she’d ever liked that her parents had given her.

“You know they both have a crush on you, right?” Carrie said, pulling her hair into a ponytail and grabbing her hat.

“What? Who?” Jen asked with a frown.

Carrie looked up and shook her head. How could people be so entirely dense and oblivious to what Carrie saw as plain as day.

“They both do. Joe and Allen. Allen and Joe. Both. Both of them.” She held up two fingers and waved them in front of Jen’s face.

Jen smiled and glanced toward the dock where both Joe and Allen were still getting the boat situated.

“I might be able to see that with Allen maybe a little bit, but not Joe. He’s never even flirted or anything.”

Carrie shook her head. “I disagree. He’s just different. A little quieter. More thoughtful. His flirting isn’t as noticeable.”

Jen frowned. “What do you mean? We’ve all been friends forever. All four of us.”

Carrie thought for a minute, trying to make sure she made this as clear as possible. “Okay. Whenever you’re talking, he just keeps staring at you, like he doesn’t want to look away.”

Jen frowned. “That’s silly. I haven’t noticed that.”

Carrie rolled her eyes. “And haven’t you noticed those shells that mysteriously turn up on your beach towel when we’re all swimming? It’s Joe. I’ve seen him?”

“That’s—that’s not a thing, Carrie.”

“It is too a thing,” Carrie said, feeling a little frustrated. “Oh, and they both jumped in the water to save you. Both of them.”

“Oh, they were just both being responsible. They’d have done it if it was you, too.”

Carrie laughed, and wanted to laugh much harder, but stopped herself. “Um, okay, maybe. But certainly not as quickly or as super hero-ish. Or race to get to me first, like they did for you.”

Jen looked down at her hands. “I don’t agree with you. I think the four of us are friends, and that’s all there is to it.”

Jen was getting uncomfortable, and that’s not what Carrie had intended. She decided to let it drop. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and they’d all just have to see what that was. And when. But she knew it would be something, and it would be soon.Chapter 3

Joe wound up the rope as both he and Allen watched the girls walk back up the ramp from the dock and slip through the gate. Jen turned to wave before they got out of view and both Joe and Allen eagerly waved back. Allen’s back was to Joe, and Joe dropped the rope in one of the hatches as Allen stared at the gate although Carrie and Jen were no longer in sight.

“That was a surprise,” Allen said as began to help with the ropes. “I thought she might really be hurt.”

Joe had been thinking the exact same thing but was surprised to hear his friend say it.

“I thought so, too. Good thing we were close by and there wasn’t as much wind as usual.” Truth be told, he’d been thinking more and more about Jen as the summer had gone on. The four of them had been inseparable, and he couldn’t shake the thought that it felt weird to maybe ask Jen out with the four of them together all the time. But they’d all soon be leaving for college, and he was pretty sure that the time was now—or never. And he wasn’t okay with never.

Allen nodded slowly and reached down under the seat. Jen had dropped her towel. He carefully folded it and said, “I’ll take this to her on the way home. She might need it.”

Joe glanced at the towel. “I can take it. It’s on my way.” He wasn’t at all sorry that he had an excuse to see Jen again. Over the summer his feelings toward her had changed, and he was beginning to feel like he ought to say something since they’d all be going their separate ways soon and he didn’t want to lose touch with her. In fact, he wanted more than that.

Allen shrugged him off. “No problem. I have time. I’m not on the schedule for gondoliering tonight. And I wouldn’t mind seeing her again, if you know what I mean. I’ve been wanting to ask her out for a long time. Maybe tonight’s the night.”

Allen winked at Joe and suddenly everything changed. Joe felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. He stopped winding the rope and sat down hard on the boat cushion.

How could he have missed this? That he and his best friend—since they’d been in kindergarten—had been falling for the same girl?

He had no idea what he was going to do now. He’d been planning himself to ask her if she’d like to watch the sunset with him. Or maybe a gondola ride. Or a movie.

But now? Not a chance. He somehow mustered a smile for his buddy, but it took everything he had.

“Oh, okay. Good luck,” he finally got out.

Allen turned to look at Joe and frowned. “What’s the matter, bud? You look a little green? You seasick?”

Joe looked out over the water. He’d never been seasick in his life, and he wasn’t now. It was something deeper. Bigger. And something he’d never felt before.

“Yeah. Maybe that’s it. I’d better head home. I gotta work the gondolas tonight.”

“Oh, right,” Allen said, patting him on the back. “I’ll finish up here. You go ahead. Besides, I’m going to stop at Jen’s on the way back. Hope you feel better.”

Joe stood on the dock, and took a deep breath. “Okay. Good luck,” he said as he headed up the ramp and slipped through the gate. He looked toward Jen’s house and back at Allen, gave him a wave and turned down the street, in the opposite direction from Jen’s house. And he didn’t look back.

* * *

Carrie was so annoyed that Jen didn’t believe her that she decided to stop by Joe’s on the way home. She walked right past it anyway, so why not? Besides, his mother always gave her a cookie or two when she did. And Mrs. Russo made the best.

She’d stayed for dinner—as usual—and she’d gladly taken a couple extra pieces of pie from Jen’s Nana to take to Mr. and Mrs. Russo. She’d known them all since she was a little kid, and while Mrs. Russo made the best cookies, Jen’s grandmother made the best apple pie. Carrie’s mom couldn’t cook to save her life so Carrie had scoped out the best places to eat very early on.

She chatted a bit with Mr. and Mrs. Russo while they enjoyed their pie, and then she and Joe went outside to sit on the porch. The sun set late during the summer and it was still just getting to be twilight.

They sat down on the porch swing and were silent for a bit until Carrie said, “That was quite a water rescue you made today.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Joe said, clearly miles away. “Kind of came out of nowhere.”

“I guess so,” Carrie said, taking a peek at him out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t quite know why it was so important for her to get Joe to admit he liked Jen and wanted to ask her out. They had all four been friends forever, and she really didn’t have a horse in this race. But he seemed so quiet that she didn’t want to see him let an opportunity go by. Let the best man win, was her motto.

“It sure did. And you two could have set an Olympic record getting to Jen in a flash. Both of you. In a flash.”

She looked at him questioningly.

“Right. That’s what we’re trained to do in Junior Lifeguards.”

Carrie nodded. “Oh, right. Training.” They were quiet for a while before she said, “Seemed to me you were a little bummed that Allen had gotten there first. You know, the whole ‘I got you’ thing and all.”

Joe looked at her and it seemed maybe she’d hit a nerve. He looked uncomfortable.

“No, why would I care about that? I just wanted her to be safe. That’s all."

“Oh, good grief. Not you, too?” Carrie said, her mouth agape as she turned to Joe.

“What? What do you mean?”

“You guys are something else,” Carrie said, standing with her hands on her hips. “It’s obvious you’ve both fallen for Jen. The least you could do is admit it.”

Carrie realized maybe she’d gone a little too far as Joe’s eyes colluded and he frowned. He hung his head and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I’m sorry, Joe. What is it?”

His expression betrayed an inner debate for a few minutes before he spoke. “Maybe, but you’re right about Allen. And I don’t want to get in the way.”

“Get in the way?” Carrie asked as she sat back down beside him. “Get in the way of what? He hasn’t asked her out. It’s an open field.”

He shook his head and met Carrie’s eyes. “Remember when we were in third grade? And Allen’s mom picked up and left?”

Carrie stood again. “Yikes. How could I forget. It was awful. He cried for days.”

“Yeah, well, we were little then. I’d have cried too.” Joe said.

“Oh, yeah, I know. I was just remembering.”

“He’d been my best friend since kindergarten. I didn’t know what to do. I tried all the usual things—bike riding, boogie boarding. Everything. And I couldn’t get him to smile.”

“Aw, Joe, that wasn’t your job.”

He nodded. “Maybe not, but I remember making a decision that I’d do whatever I could to help out. To see him smile.”

“Okay, but what does that have to do with this?”

Joe turned to her and smiled. Or at least tried to. “You see the way he smiles, don’t you? When he looks at her?”

Carrie’s breath hitched and she nodded. He was right about that. “Yes. He smiles. Always.”

He nodded again. “Yes, he does. And she does, too. And I’m not going to get in the way of that, even if I could.”

Carrie suddenly realized that it wasn’t an even playing field. Couldn’t have been. And that there was no way Joe could win this one, no matter how much he cared for Jen.

She hugged him and told him she was sorry. As she reached the bottom of the steps and opened the gate to the boardwalk, he called her back for a minute.

“Carrie, promise me you’ll never tell her. Or anybody. Never.”

“Oh, Joe...” she began, her heart in her throat. She’d read a few romance novels and this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, as far as she could tell with her limited experience. But it wasn’t her choice. And his intentions were honorable, even if she didn’t want it to be this way.

“Promise, Carrie. Please.”

She sighed and nodded. “Okay. But I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

He mustered a smile again and waved before he turned back toward his parent' house, and the screen door snapped closed behind him.

* * *

Thanks for reading. It was a bit painful to write, to be honest. I wanted to bonk Jen on the head—but Joe did get the girl after 30 years. And that makes me happy! And I wonder if Carrie ever tells Jen—we'll have to wait to find out. Myself included!