Title: Crushing Summer
Author: C.M. Stunich
Release Date: November 7, 2013
Genre: New Adult Romance
Hosted by: Love Between the Sheets
I'm a girl. I met a boy. Why can't it stay that simple? Here, in this town, summer doesn't just mean tiny bikinis and sunglasses, white toothed grins and lounging at the beach. It means pain. And loss. And false promises. It means liars pretending to be saints, friends pretending to be enemies, rivals pretending to be lovers. For me, it means being crushed. The Crush, actually. The one they all want simply because they were told to. It means being surrounded by beautiful faces and gorgeous bodies, sweet words and sizzling kisses. It means being wanted and despised. My name is Chloe Summer, and I'm afraid that if I'm not careful, this summer could be my last.
“Hey, what's your last name?” I asked suddenly, remembering the need I felt earlier to have it, like this would seem more real somehow if I got that information. “Alice,” he replied and then dug around in his pocket for a second. I thought he was going for a smoke, but when he pulled out his hand, he had a seashell lying in his palm. It was a small, pink conch, about the size of a dime. I'd never seen one that little before. When I reached out to touch it, Casper folded his fingers around the shell. I glanced up at him. “This is for you,” he told me. “But first, I want to hear your last name.” My pulse began to thunder in my head and my mouth went dry. I couldn't explain the feeling, but there it was again, that magnetic heat that was always between us, warming the cold evening air and lighting up the sky with fireworks. It felt exactly the way people always claimed first love will feel – wild, electric, uncontrollable. Now, I didn't exactly think I was in love, not yet, but there was the possibility of love, and it was as beautiful as the roiling sea. “Summer.” Casper grinned and opened his fingers, waiting with his palm outstretched and his eyes locked onto mine. “It suits you,” he said, and I smiled. My hand came up and the tips of my own fingers slid across his moist flesh, testing, teasing, learning. Each whorl of my fingertips felt like a ridge, crashing against the lines of Casper's hand until my heart was pumping so fast I thought it would burst from my chest. If I wasn't careful, I'd end up dropping dead and getting buried in one of the old graves. I put the shell in my lap and clasped my hands around it. “Casper,” I began, knowing I couldn't put this off any longer. I hated to break the moment, but I could hear the shouting and cheering coming from the drive-in and knew it was only a matter of time before he figured out there was something odd going on. “I know we just met and this might sound a little weird, but there's something you should know about this town.” His raised his thin brows and sat back, draping his arms over the back of the bench. “Do you sacrifice kittens on the full moon? Because if so, I'm totally out. I won't sacrifice kittens. Goats, maybe. But not kittens.” I tried to smile back at the joke, but thinking of The Assignment was akin to strapping weights on either side of my mouth. The corners of my lips pulled down into a frown. “Tonight is Assignment Night.” Casper remained still, listening, not at all nervous about what I was going to say. He didn't think it was going to be bad or that it was going to affect him, but I knew it would. Somehow, I just knew. “Like, for classes or something?” “Like, for the summer. All summer. Tonight, all the students, ages thirteen to eighteen, will be assigned a title. Most of them will stay Students, but a select lucky and unlucky few will be … Something else.” Casper gave me a look that said I was totally and completely nuts. Again, I attempted a smile, but this one fell even flatter than the first. I resorted to keeping my eyes on the sea and letting my fidgety hands spin the conch around in circles. “You know all the stereotypes people think about when they talk about high school? Jocks? Losers? Party boys? Goths?” Casper pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and slipped it between his lips. “Yeah, sure, okay.” “Well … on Assignment Night, tonight, people get nominated by their peers for certain … positions, and then they have to act them out until the Friday before Labor Day. Every day until that day, at midnight, they have to be who everyone wants them to be, for good or bad. And everyone else, the Students, they have to play along.” “Um, you're kidding right? Is this some kind of game?” My faux smiled turned into a grimace. “I wish it were. If it were just a game, it'd be fun, right? But it's not. I mean, I used to think it was, but not anymore. People get hurt playing this game.” I paused, not necessarily for dramatic effect, but there it was. “They get killed. Sometimes. By accident.” “You're serious?” Casper asked, sitting up, looking alarmed. “Why, how?” I nibbled my lower lip for a second, trying to decide how to explain this. “There are certain … roles you don't really want to play. Like Outcast. Or even Crush. Last year's Crush was killed in an accident … She couldn't handle the attention and she ran off in the middle of the night. They say she slipped on the edge of the cliff and … ” I didn't have to finish my sentence. Casper was smart; he'd figure it out. It was so clichéd, but still tragic. When Tatiana's body had washed up onshore, it had been barely recognizable. She had no eyes, no face at all really, and her hands … I shook the memory off. “Can you opt out or whatever?” I glanced over at Casper. His green eyes were wide and his cigarette remained unlit. “I guess. I mean, I am this year. We are. It's not normal, but if we're not there, we can't sign up.” I shrugged and watched as the shaking got worse. Casper's face blanched and his lips got tight. “My sister. Julie. Let's say, she went to the drive-in. I mean, let's just pretend for a second that she was sitting in my car.” I stared at Casper with a baffled expression my face. They wouldn't … would they? No. No, I knew better. They would. They most certainly would. That whole mob mentality thing is true. When everybody got together for The Assignment, they got weird. “If she were there,” I began, feeling afraid for a girl I'd never met. “Then she'd be in big trouble.”