“Is that right, Colton?” Alexis asks, looking the boy she’s holding in the eyes.
He nods. “You never come see us.”
Something flickers in her eyes, but before I can identify it, she puts the boy down and says, “Let me put some sunscreen on, then I’ll come play in the water. We can look for shells or hunt for baby clams!”
Seeing this affectionate side of her has my heart pounding, and I almost hope she’ll ask me to help with her sunscreen. Instead, she removes her cover to reveal an evergreen one-piece that goes high on her legs and has strings that cross in the back, and Tammy stands to start covering her difficult-to-reach places with as much sunscreen as possible while Alexis efficiently does the front.
“Do you need help with yours?” Alexis asks.
I wish I did, because I want nothing more than to get closer to her right now. Instead, I tell the truth. “I did mine before I left my place.” If I’d known that I had the option of feeling Alexis’s hands on me, even in such a platonic manner, I wouldn’t have done so.
She smiles. “Well, it’s good you have it. Don’t want to burn!”
“Or get skin cancer,” Hector mumbles. When I look at him, he seems to be joking, but there’s enough pain in his eyes that I recognize it as gallows humor. Was skin cancer the type that killed his dad?
“Do you need some?” Alexis asks.
His pain disappears from his face, and his grin widens. “Nah, I did mine at home, too.”
When Alexis is covered, she leads the little boys down to the water. I’m not sure if I should follow or hang out here, and I’m relieved when Tammy says, “Go ahead and sit.” She opens a cooler and hands me a bottle of water that’s dripping from the ice it had been sitting in. “Tell me about yourselves, boys.”
“Well,” Hector starts, his voice lined with humor, “James here is an international crime syndicate, and he tried to rob us on our way here.”
I half wonder what Tammy and the guys are talking about up the beach, but I force myself to focus on the young boys instead.
“Look, a crab!” Sam shrieks over the shushing ocean waves. I look to where he’s pointing, and, sure enough, a crab is burying itself in the dryer sand a few feet up.
“Don’t bother it,” I warn, “Otherwise it might get you with its pincers!” I use my hands to imitate a crab, lightly pinching him on his arm so he giggles.
After a while of tromping through the surf, I drag the boys back up to the umbrellas so they can hydrate and get a refresher on their sunscreen. Kids burn so easily, and if they don’t get more now, they might not later.
Colton excitedly tells James and Hector about the adventure down by the water, all the strange and exciting animals the boys saw. Sam grabs a handful of shells out of the pocket of his shorts, dumping them on James’ lap before anyone can stop him. Tammy looks horrified, but James just smiles and inspects each shell before putting them safely on the beach mat beside his chair.
Maybe I was far harsher with him than I needed to be. He’s so gentle with the kids and kind to me, and I’ve yelled at him several times now. My heart pangs with regret, although he doesn’t seem to be holding any sort of grudge.
“Water?” Hector offers, and I take it and drink as much as I can in one go. I’m not sure how long I was out in the sun, but I could definitely use a proper swim in that crystal-clear ocean to cool down right about now.
“Do you need to go somewhere with AC?” James asks, looking at me with the same concern he had when we went out to dinner together. I flush, thankful that I’m already a bit warm so he won’t see how his basic kindness is affecting me.
“I’m good,” I say. “A swim should help.”
“It definitely will,” Hector says, jolting out of his chair, ripping his shirt off, and sprinting toward the water. When he’s waist-deep, he dives into the waves, disappearing for a moment before reappearing a bit further down.
James follows, and I call, “I’ll catch up!”
I take one of the now empty chairs in the shade to finish my water, and Tammy tilts her sunglasses down, raising her brows at me.
“What?” I ask, defensive all of a sudden.
Her lips form a smile. “You like him, don’t you?”
I know exactly who she’s talking about, and I have to look away. Unfortunately, that leaves me looking at the water, my eyes finding James in an instant. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lie, the true meaning clear.
“Lexi has a crush,” Colton says, drawing out the last word. He’s currently digging a massive hole with one of Hector’s beach shovels. At this rate, he’ll make it through the crust of the Earth in no time.