I admit, I didn’t think much of Charlie at first. She was rounder than the girls who usually caught my eye. Not my type. But when I saw her sitting in that booth alone, for the first time something in my mind or my instincts or my heart told me to join her.
She defied me.
She challenged me.
She gave me hope.
Before I knew it, moving forward was my only option.
I couldn’t tell you when it happened, but it had to have been a gradual change; I never moved too quickly.
If someone would have told me earlier that year what I was going to go through, I wouldn't have believed them.
Jesse was so different from anyone I’d met before. And everyone I’ve met since. He sucked all the life out of me, in the best—and worst—ways.
We don’t get strong overnight. For most of us it takes time. Strength isn’t measured by how high and fast our walls go up, but how easily we can watch them fall.
Warning: This book contains material that might be a trigger for some readers. Abuse and rape are implied, but not described in detail. Discretion is advised.
“Play the fucking game. It’s supposed to be fun. And you’re killing my buzz!”
I exhaled. “Fine. Dare.” I cringed, wishing I could take it back. But before I could say anything, she’d already spit it out.
“Take off all of your clothes and jump in the water.”
My jaw dropped and my eyes popped out of their sockets. “Fuck you. Nuh-uh.”
We sat in a stare-down for at least thirty seconds.
“Dude. You totally chose dare.” Angie snickered.
I waited for the shakes to come. I anticipated my fear getting the best of me, and that any minute my head would begin to spin.
But they didn’t come.
Karal winked at me and nudged her chin out toward the beach. “It’s dark. No one will see you. The closest house is too far and I haven’t heard them all weekend. I don’t even think they’re home.”
I swallowed and tugged on my lip. The night air suddenly chilled, and I rubbed my arms for warmth. Karal smiled and mouthed the words you’re beautiful, and I frowned at how ungrateful I was for the compliment.
Angie wouldn’t relent, I knew that. But I also knew that at any point I could just walk away from the fire and resign for the evening. I didn’t have to play their little game.
Or I could’ve just pulled up my big girl panties—errr, pulled them down—and had it over and done with in less than five minutes. I certainly had enough alcohol in my system to make the task bearable, so maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought.
“Fine,” I said, my stomach shuddering with turns and flips. I got to my feet and walked slowly to the beach, removing my shirt as I went. Then one by one, I unclasped each hook on the back of my bra. But by the time I removed it, I was out of their sight. I could barely see the sand under my feet, let alone thirty feet in front of me. From their vantage point, I doubt they could even make out my silhouette.
When I reached the edge of the water, I stripped off my jeans and underpants, letting them rest next to a large boulder so I’d know where to find them when I returned.
“You go girl!” Angie shouted, and I lowered myself into the shallow waters of Lake Mille Lacs, keeping my middle finger above my head in case she could see it.
The moon shone down on my pale skin. Even with the sun I’d gotten that afternoon, I still looked like a ghost. The reflections danced around me, my ears trying to pick up on any tiny sound or sudden movement in the trees.
It was lonely out there, and a little scary too. It had been more than ten years since anyone had seen my flesh, and I was surprised to see how well I handled it. The booze helped.
My belly held a large bulge, and my thighs weren’t even close to having a gap. I still felt my double chin every time I spoke, and I saw the way Jesse looked at me. I wasn’t even remotely on his radar. But I was moving forward, doing something about it. I could at least applaud myself for my efforts.
The stars began to sparkle, and I couldn’t help but stare. But the realization struck me:
I was drunk.
In a lake.
Smart. Really smart. Get your ass back to the fire.
I laughed and got up, gathering my clothes on the way back. By the time I got there, I’d managed to get my tee back on. I slipped on my panties just as Karal turned her head.
“Where’s Ang?” I asked, sliding one leg into my jeans.
“She had to pee. How was the water?”
“Surprisingly warm,” I said, trying to maneuver my bra underneath my T-shirt. The old high school locker room trick never failed. Under the shirt, clasp, twist, and slip the arms through. Piece of cake.
“Oooo. I might have to go for a swim!” Karal said.
I smiled and heard Angie rustling through the grass. “Charlie? Oh, Charlie?”
I turned to Angie’s voice, but I couldn’t see her yet. The glare from the fire was too harsh and Angie was back by the cabin where there was little light.
“You better be naked or in your swimsuit,” I shouted. “Because I’m dragging your ass to the lake and throwing you in!”
“Put your clothes on, Charlie. You’ve got company,” Angie sang.
My brow furrowed and I looked down to my shirt. “What are you talking about?” I laughed, remembering our conversation from the night prior. “Did you pick up the pizza delivery guy?”
Angie came into the light of the fire, her face twisted into a frown. “You could say that.”
“Oh yeah?” I opened the cooler and took out a beer.
“Yeah.” Angie’s voice sounded hoarse, and I looked up again just as she stepped aside.
Approaching the fire, the faces became clearer.
“Ladies, Jesse Anders has joined the party,” Angie snarled.
And I dropped my beer.
Amalie Silver resides in Minnesota with her husband, two toddlers, and German Short-haired Pointer, Saba. She consumes approximately three pots of coffee a day, and credits this for her survival over the past decade.
When not completely consumed in her writing, she can be found taking road trips to northern Minnesota, engaging in fierce Scrabble games, or reading a good book. She’s a sucker for all romance genres, literary fiction, and psychological fiction.