Becca rolls her eyes. “Where’s your optimism, Paulina? Maybe he’ll be cute!” She winks at me from behind her computer screen.

I throw a pillow at her head. “Gross. He’s related to me, Bec.”

“Yeah, but like, not actually. I mean you didn’t even know he existed until today.”

“So what? He’s still my sibling. Siblings are not hot, by definition. That’s just…” I pull a face.

“Incest is best, put your sister to the test,” Becca sing-songs.

I throw my laptop bag over my shoulder. “I hate you,” I announce. “I’m going to the dining hall, want anything?”

“Oh, yes please. Bagel?”

“Bagel with a side of inbreeding, got it.”

“Hey, it worked for Cersei Lannister!” Becca shouts as I slam the dorm door between us.

Jokes aside, I have no plans to make my already-awkward summer even worse by going after my own step-brother. I just hope that we get along well enough that it won’t be awkward as hell to share a cabin—and a set of parents—with a complete stranger.

At least, if nothing else, I can wander off alone and lose myself in memories.

Because that sounds like a fun and totally not-pathetic summer break. I roll my eyes at my own ridiculousness and head off to get some food. If nothing else, I’ll head into this lonely summer well fed.


We don’t get to the cabin until nearly midnight. It took way longer than I expected to pack Dad’s van, and then there were all the dramatic goodbyes—hugging Becca and swearing to text her every day. Bidding farewell to our wider circle of friends, setting up group chats so that we can annoy one another with memes all summer long. Planning our next party at the start of fall semester, because oh my god, it’s going to be our senior year, and we are going to live it up!

For the first time in a while, I find myself not looking forward to summer. Not the way I was just a couple days ago, anyway, when I thought it would just be me and Dad. Back then I could daydream about finding some cute guy who lived in a nearby cabin and flirting with him all summer. Now, I have a whole bevy of new problems to worry about.

What’s Dad’s new wife like? Is she a crazy person? She’d have to be kind of nuts to race into a marriage this fast, wouldn’t she?

Is her son crazy too? Is he going to follow me around all summer driving me crazy? What if he’s a total weirdo, like obsessed with bugs or snake-collecting or something gross?

Dad keeps asking me questions about school, but I’m distracted, half-asleep. By the time we get to the cabins, I only want to pass out. Well, first use the bathroom, then pass out.

But when we pull up the drive, Dad clears his throat. “So, about the sleeping arrangements…”

My eyes widen. I didn’t even think about this. There are two cabins, connected—the big one Dad and I shared last time, with a big master room and the couch Dad usually slept on. And the little one with two separate single bedrooms. But of course, Dad needs the master now. He’s married.

“Wait. I’m sharing with this kid?”

“It’ll be fine, Pau, trust me.”

I glare at him. “You could’ve warned me,” I mutter as we pull up the driveway.

Despite my mood, though, the sight of the cabin sets off all kinds of nostalgic fireworks inside. There’s the tire swing that Josh and I used to take turns pushing each other on. He’d spin me around, faster and faster, until I screamed for mercy. Then he’d relent, help me off—mostly I liked the part where he’d catch me in his arms to help me slide out of the tire—and we’d trade places.

There’s the lake we dove in every day that summer. And the spot between the two big pine trees, the grassy hill above the lake, where we kissed that last night…

My chest aches.

I can’t tell if it’s nerves, heartburn, or just the old familiar nostalgic pain. Because I know where that kiss led—to a big fat nowhere.

It’s okay, I tell myself. I’ll have a better time this summer. I’ll make new memories. Better ones.

“Do you need help with your bags?” Dad asks as we park outside.

In response, I grab the overnight bags I packed separately and slam the car door.

“Don’t be mad!” he yells after me, but I’m already storming up the path toward the second cabin. The little cabin, the cabin I’ll be stuck in with some complete stranger.

I shove open the door. It’s dark, quiet inside. Good. At least we got here first, so I can claim the best room.

But first, priorities. I’ve had to use the bathroom pretty much since we got into Dad’s car three hours ago. I drop my bags in the little kitchenette/living room space, which is barely large enough to hold a single two-person loveseat and one table, and shove open the bathroom door. Copyright 2016 - 2023