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"When are you going to hook up with a hottie?"
I spat out a gulp of Mocha Frappuccino in a movie-worthy spit take and gave my best friend, Coral, a censuring glare. She merely laughed and arched an insistent "answer me" eyebrow.
"Sheesh, Coral," I whined, wiping mocha off my bare legs. "Give a girl some warning before you ax her with a question like that."
She took an exaggerated slurp of iced green tea before saying, "Not a chance, Trinity. You're too smooth at avoidance and misdirection, so I have to catch you off guard. Besides"—she pointed to a spot of melting frap that I'd missed on my bare stomach—"the look on your face was priceless. I only wish I'd caught it on camera."
I rolled my eyes, just imagining her posting my blooper on YouTube. Like people didn't think I was enough of a freak already. Feeling dry, but sticky, I settled back into my lounge chair. We were chillin' out on SoBe in our new bikinis, mine a ruby red with crossbones, hers bubble-gum pink with lime-green polka dots. No doubt we looked luscious, but you couldn't call us your average sun worshippers. Not when we were reclining under an oversized umbrella to protect our skin. Me, because I don't do tan, and Coral, because her fair, freckled skin burns from the slightest rays.
I dug a hole in the sand and tucked my drink into it, then rooted around in my tattoo sling bag for my bottle of Midnight Marauder nail polish. Lavishing my toes with attention I painted them black and avoided Coral's persistent gaze. "What do you expect me to do?"
I asked her. "Pounce on the first guy who walks by?"
Coral gavean inelegant snort, stifling any follow-ups with her hand. I looked up to see what had caused her reaction and shuddered as a fleshy man in a too-tight Speedo strutted by with an impressive amount of confidence—no doubt, a Florida tourist. When we caught sight of his back we both squealed, "Ew!" simultaneously and collapsed onto each other in a fit of giggles. He glowered at us.
"Poor man," Coral whispered, once she regained her composure. "He really should get lasered."
"Imagine the smell of burnt hair," I said and twitched my nose.
"Ack, stop." She puffed out her cheeks like she had to vomit. "Now I'm twice as traumatized."
I grinned and wiggled my nearly dry toes, but just as I let my guard down she swooped in again.
"I'm not letting up on you." She swung her legs over the side of her chair, facing me. Her eyes were alight with her usual energy and exuberance. Admittedly, I loved her contagious enthusiasm, but not when she meant to back me into a corner.
I gave her my typical "here we go again" groan.
She responded by slapping my leg.
"This is our last summer before college," she said, ignoring my yelp. "We're supposed to live it up! Expand our personal boundaries. Be adventurous. Discover who we are."
She outstretched her arms and I held up a warning finger. "If you start singing 'Breaking Free,' there's going to be bloodshed."
Coral smirked. "Apropos—but I was going for 'Unwritten.'"
"A better choice," I conceded. Lord knows I'd take Natasha Bedingfield over High School Musical any day. "But save the solo. I get your point. Summer equals freedom."
"No!" Coral shouted. "It's more than that. Here it is, July seventh, and classes start on August twenty-seventh. It's going fast! This should be a summer of change. Of metamorphosis. Of transmogrification."
"Great, now you're going all Harry Potter on me," I mumbled. "I'm not morphing into a cat."
"That's not what I meant. We"—she waved a finger between the two of us—"can be whoever we want. We're not tied to the labels we were given in high school."
"You mean Goth Girl and Soccer Star?" I shot a glance from my piratical swimsuit to the soccer ball under her chair. "Gee, so much has changed," I sneered.
Coral blew out an exasperated breath. "I don't mean that. Will you listen?"
I folded my arms over my chest and locked my gaze on her. "Undivided attention."
"Thank you," she said. "I'm not talking about the core things that make us . . . well, us. Yes, you're Goth Girl and I'm Soccer Star, but we're more than that."
"Here it comes," I interrupted and then bit my lip when she motioned for me to zip my mouth.
"I'm klutzy and clueless," she admitted.
"You're comical and naïve," I defended.
She pointed to a bevy of bruises on her legs.
"Connect the dots, babe," she told me.
"Fine," I said, "so you're klutzy. It's part of your charm."
She smiled at me, grasping my hand. "I know you love me just the way I am, Trin. You're my best friend. But I would like to be a little more poised and I hate feeling like I'm always missing the punch line." She let go of me and shrugged. "I've always been too sheltered and you"—she gave me a sad smile, not a piteous one, but a compassionate one—"you've seen too much."
I opened my mouth to object, thinking she wasn't nearly as naïve as she believed, but she spoke before I could.
"There's a part of you I don't even know," she said softly.
I lowered my eyes, unable to deny it. Still, after all these years, unable to explain.
"It's okay," she said. "I know enough about you to be sure of one thing. You take too much of the world on your shoulders and you don't allow yourself to be."
Be? It sounded like such a simple word.
"You hold back, Trin. You hide. I don't know why, but you're like a turtle. Your shell protects you and keeps you hidden. When are you going to peek your head out?"
When indeed? I didn't know how to answer, couldn't . . .Sleepless. Copyright © by Terri Clark. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.