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  • Writer's pictureBritt Leigh

Finding Lily - Chapter 5

Lily’s stomach turned over for the third time, her brain trying and failing to bat away the thoughts that plagued her mind. Addy. She was trying to text Addy.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Lily scolded, slapping her steering wheel with each iteration. “Sorry, girl,” she muttered under her breath, patting her dashboard.

She cringed again, remembering the panic that consumed her when she realized her mistake. That she’d sent a message that said, “Met a really nice guy on the beach today. Not my type in the least, but at least it’s good conversation,” to ADAM and not ADDY.

“Idiot,” she scoffed to herself.

She tried to reassure herself that it wasn’t that bad as she walked back to her beach chair, but Adam was already standing when she got back. His arms hung loosely at his sides, his phone gripped tightly in one hand, his chair in the other.

“I’m going to head out,” Adam said quickly, not making any eye contact. “I just stuck around to make sure no one took your stuff.”

“You don’t have to go,” Lily said. Her eyes landed on Adam’s phone, and a fresh wave of guilt poured over her.

“I think I would rather.” Adam turned in the sand and walked a few steps away before turning back toward Lily. “Ya know, I was having a good conversation with you, too. I stopped because I found you attractive, yes, but I stayed because I liked talking to you. Not everything is about relational compatibility.”

Lily remained standing, stunned by Adam’s departure. It wasn’t until she could no longer make him out amongst the crowd on the boardwalk that she gathered her things and headed straight back to her hotel. Suddenly, Ocean City lost its luster, and she couldn’t get away fast enough.

As the dark took over its post in the night sky, Lily realized she wasn’t going to make it all the way to Virginia Beach. Exhaustion and frustration were making her both fatigued and jittery, a combination that would not make it another thirty minutes, let alone another 3 hours. Peaking out of the backseat was a brand-new tent she’d purchased just a few months before Shane’s admission of adultery. She was planning a road trip like the one for the two of them, stopping at parks and campgrounds and enjoying the beauty of the United States. It was one of the first things she packed when she moved out. She was going to take this road trip one way or another.

Adjusting her GPS, she made the short trip to Assateague and arrived as the last of the wild horses trotted lazily across the dirt-covered path to the campground. She stopped her car to watch them, amazed by their majestic presence. She envied them. Free to roam, free to stop and start and choose their own path.

“If reincarnation is a thing, hopefully, I can come back one day as something as beautiful and unchallenged as one of you,” Lily whispered into the air.

A dark brown horse paused in front of her car, its head tilted slightly toward Lily. There wasn’t any eye contact, but Lily sensed a connection of some kind. It was a validation of her feelings, encouragement to keep going and see what she found on the other end of this journey. It wouldn’t be a pot of gold or some fix-it-all-at-once pill, but if she could find something to work with, a piece of coal she could shine up into a diamond one day, that would be enough.

Her eyelids felt heavy as she finally pulled into her assigned lot on the campground. Two large suitcases acted like jaws, gripping her tent in their clenched, zippered teeth, refusing to let go. She dug her feet into the soil and pulled on the rectangular bag as hard as she could, flying backward in the process. Embarrassed, she quickly glanced around the lot for signs of unwanted stares, but the people in the camper next to her were busy fussing over their four young children, and no one else was close enough to see her fumble. At least, she hoped.

Dumping the contents of the tent bag onto the ground brought with it a fresh wave of embarrassment. The last, and only time, she went camping, Shane set up the tent while Lily started collecting wood for the fire. She thought it’d be pretty straightforward, but there were a lot more pieces than she expected.

“You need help, there?” the woman in the camper next door hollered.

“That obvious?” Lily asked, trying not to let her cheeks burn too red.

“That, and that tent you’ve got is one of them more complicated ones. I could never figure those damned things out,” the woman replied. “Lemme grab Mack for ya.”

Great, Lily thought. The last thing she needed was to be rescued by another man. Look how well that turned out today. She needed to be more independent. She’d graduated law school and got placed at one of the top law firms in Philadelphia. Surely, she could figure out how to get the tent together. Even if it took her all night.

She turned to politely decline the offer, but the woman had disappeared back into the camper. Not that it mattered, she could have it in a good place by the time that Mack fellow came waltzing over to rescue her.

“Liza said you needed a hand,” a soft voice said.

Lily turned around to see the silhouette of a slender figure with a large bun on its head.

“Are you Mack?” Lily asked into the darkness. The only lights available came from her dim lantern and the camper that the figure was now blocking.

“Sorry about that,” the woman said, stepping intentionally into the light. A stunning young woman with long black hair pulled into a stylish, messy bun on the top of her head stood next to her lantern. Dark freckles scattered across her face like a galaxy of intricate stars, and her smile was warm and inviting. “That’s me. Mack is short for Mackenzie.”

“Oh. Well, that makes sense,” Lily said, trying to hide her surprise. Mack simultaneously looked like she belonged in the middle of a campground and a Vogue magazine. She wore her ripped jeans and cut-off tank top like they came off a designer rack instead of Target. “My name is Lily.”

“Nice to meet you, Lily. Would you like some help with that tent?”

“Uhm, yea, actually, that would be great.” Lily groaned inwardly. She’d really wanted to figure it out herself, but Mack looked like she knew what she was doing. Struggling for who knows how long just to prove a point no longer felt appealing.

Mack didn’t get to work, though. Instead, she pointed to the different pieces, explaining how they fit together so Lily could learn to do it herself.

Refreshing, Lily thought as she secured the final pieces to her tent. She stepped back toward Mack to admire her handiwork. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m so glad I know how to do that, now.” “It looks pretty good, too!” Mack replied. “I’d say it will hold up fine, and you barely broke a sweat getting it together.”

Lily snorted and quickly tried to cover it up with a cough. If Mack heard her, she pretended she hadn’t, and for that, Lily was grateful.

“I don’t want to waste any more of your time, but I’m really appreciative, again, for your help. Now I just need to set up the rest of my things and call it a night, I guess.”

“No problem,” Mack said. She lingered a few seconds, the light from Lily’s lantern dancing across her face. “Hey, do you want to come to a party tonight?”

“Party?” Lily asked. “Here?”

“Don’t sound so shocked.” Mack laughed, playfully pushing on Lily’s shoulder. “My friends and I come here every year. We buy out a section of the campground, so we don’t cause problems for the families staying here when we throw our parties. They aren’t your wild and crazy college parties, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are a lot of fun.”

A party wasn’t exactly at the top of Lily’s to-do list. The guilt she felt over Adam felt like a heavy weight that she hoped sleep would remove.

“I- I don’t know,” Lily said, looking back to her sad excuse for camping set up. The only thing that looked even remotely good was her tent.

“No problem,” Mack said. “If you change your mind, feel free to swing by. We have a few college flags waving, namely Penn State and UMD, so we’re easy to spot.”

After Mack left, Lily tried to fall asleep, but her anxious thoughts fought off her fatigue, leaving her feeling restless instead. She crawled back out of the sleeping back and emerged from her tent into the warm summer night. The humid air clung to her skin and caught the light breeze rolling across the landscape. It carried with it a distant bass beat that drifted across the campground.

When did I get so old? She thought to herself, consulting her phone to reveal the very early hour of 9:30 p.m. If she were still in college, she’d still be curling her hair or putting make-up on to get ready to start her night. Why does society do this to us? Why did I do this to myself?

It only took a few minutes before she saw the string lights dangling between the tents and campers that formed the barricade around Mack’s party. A loud cheer erupted through the night sky as a group of party-goers celebrated a flip cup victory. A smaller group huddled around the fire, turning marshmallows and taking turns with a hookah pipe. Her inner lawyer immediately rejected the sight, fighting with her free spirit to prevent her from approaching the group. But her inner spirit won, body slamming her inner attorney and pushing her toward the earthy aromas emanating from the fire.

“Hey! You made it!” Mack stepped in Lily’s path, her long hair now dripping in loose, wavy curls around her shoulders. She was still wearing her ripped jeans, but a long-sleeved shirt now hung where her cut-off tank top one lay. Regardless, she looked stunning. Lily flushed, realizing that she never even glanced in a mirror, let alone brushed her hair or checked on her make-up.

“Couldn’t sleep.” Lily shrugged, fussing with her hair and wiping at the inevitable bags under her eyes.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here!” Mack beamed. She shifted her body from side to side. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure,” Lily replied. “Just something light, though. I have a long drive in the morning.”

“We don’t really have a whole lot of hard stuff here,” Mack said. “Just Miller in the kegs.”

“That’s perfect,” Lily replied, following Mack as she made her way toward a small camper parked toward the center of the barricade.

“Two beers,” Mack said. A man who couldn’t have been more than a few years younger than Lily turned to face Mack. His dark, black hair was the perfect match to Mack’s, but it was his eyes that stopped her in her tracks. She’d read about the condition before. Hetero-something. One was a dark, chocolate brown that, again, seemed to be a perfect compliment to Mack’s. The other was a piercing blue. Like the ocean. Like frost.

“Who’s your friend?” the man asked, a genuine smile perched on his face at the sight of Mack.

“This is Lily. Liza met her earlier tonight and introduced the two of us,” Mack explained. Lily felt a sudden surge of gratitude for Mack’s convenient omission about her fight with the tent. “She seemed pretty harmless, so I thought I’d invite her over.”

“This is my brother, Patrick,” Mack introduced. “But don’t let him fool you. He’s not nearly as handy around a campsite as I am.”

“Noted,” Lily said. “Are you two pretty close in age?”

“About seven minutes,” Patrick replied. “She’s older. I used to hate admitting that, but I realized over the years that she’s the better of us. And so I spend my life trying to follow in her very large footsteps.”

There was a teasing tone in Patrick’s voice, but it was so clearly soaked in a deep love and admiration for his sister. Shane hated his sister. And for the same reasons that Patrick seemed to love his. Shane’s sister was talented and strong. She built herself a real estate empire from scratch while Shane struggled through business school. It wasn’t until Lily went to law school that he started to take himself more seriously. It was the fear of being second to a woman, yet again, that drove him to join the ranks of a corporate accounting firm. It was likely that same fear that drove him into the arms of another woman.

“Shut up, nerd.” Mack laughed and playfully pushed her brother’s arm, just like she’d done with Lily earlier.

“What do you both do?” Lily asked, sipping from her red solo cup.

“I’m studying to be a doctor,” Mack said, shrugging her shoulders. “I resisted for a long time, but I decided it was time to step into my true potential.”

“She’s being modest. She’s training to become a brain surgeon. And she’s already at the top of her class.” Patrick lifted his cup to his sister, acknowledging her full potential.

“And you?” Lily prompted.

“Well, I had to try to keep up with my sister, but I’m not a big fan of blood.”

“As in, he passes out at the sight of blood,” Mack chided.

“SO,” Patrick said louder, trying to drown out his sister’s playful jabs, “I decided to try my hand at law.”

“You’re in law school?” Lily asked, a wave of excitement crashing over her. “Which one?”

“I’m in my second year at Dickinson,” Patrick replied, a little perplexed by Lily’s sudden burst of energy.

“That’s amazing! I graduated two years ago from Penn Law,” Lily said. “What kind of law are you interested in pursuing?”

“There’s Jessie,” Mack cut in, pointing to a blond-haired woman across the party. “I’m going to run over and say hi. You to keep chatting.”

Mack weaved her way through a handful of throbbing bodies, pulsating to the beat of the latest Cardi B song. When she disappeared on the other side of the mob, Patrick returned his attention to Lily.

“I was thinking about corporate, but Dickinson has a new program where you can spend a semester in med school, you know, as sort of a dual enrollment kind of thing. It’s how a lot of good malpractice attorneys are made,” Patrick continued.

What are the odds? Lily thought. Patrick was everything Shane would never become. Watching his mouth move made her wonder what his lips would feel like on her skin. What would it feel like to stare into a hazy blue sky and dark brown abyss at the same time? She would never admit it out loud, but she was quickly filling her mind with the photos they’d splash all over social media. A photo of the two of them in power suits, standing at a function for her law firm. Another photo of her in a sparkling dress smiling into the camera, while Patrick stared longingly at her face. It wouldn’t surprise her if Shane would want her back then – seeing her successful and thriving. It would be too late, of course. Is too late. But she wouldn’t mind a rogue phone call or text just to hear him grovel.

“Mack’s school is one of our partners,” Patrick said as Lily pulled herself from her daydream. “So, it would be nice to get to spend more time with her.”

“That’s a great idea!” Lily said, trying to make sure she’d gotten all of the most important pieces. “Where does Mack go to med school?”

“Penn State, actually. Hence the Penn State flags.” Patrick pointed up toward the large blue and white banner that billowed through the cool breeze blowing in from the bay. Lily shivered, making a mental note to pull a sweater from her suitcase for tonight.

“That makes sense since Penn State owns Dickinson,” Lily replied. “They’re both really good schools. I actually had a friend who did something similar at Temple. She had a lot of success with it, and I’d be happy to put you in touch with her. I’m sure she’d love to give you some pointers about the process.”

As if they couldn’t get more captivating, Patrick’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. “That’d be great!”

“What would be great?” Mack asked, pulling up a chair to sit next to Lily.

“Lily knows someone who did the dual training at a law school at Temple. She said she’s going to put me in touch with her,” Patrick explained.

“That’s really sweet of you, Lily.” Mack reached out and placed her hand on Lily’s shoulder. “He’s been talking about this for months, so It would be great for him to get a little more direction.”

“Of course!” Lily smiled at the twins, happy to help in any way that she could. Especially if it meant more time with Patrick. “Why don’t I take your number, and then I can have her reach out to you.”

“Was everything okay with Jessie?” Patrick asked as he typed his number into Lily’s phone.

“Yea, she just wanted to know if we needed anything else before she heads to bed,” Mack replied. “When you’re free, you should probably go say goodnight.”

“Does she work here?” Lily asked. Patrick gave Lily’s phone back to her. Just seeing his name in there meant infinite possibilities. She didn’t listen for the answer to her question. Instead, she sent Patrick a text message.

Now you have mine too. Feel free to call anytime... even if it has nothing to do with law school.

His phone dinged in his pocket while Mack was mid-sentence. She looked up at Lily, her phone still in her hand, a flirtatious smile glittering in the corners of her eyes, and at Patrick’s face as he pulled out his phone to check the message, a look of dread tugging at his lips. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

“Of course.” Mack’s eyes drifted to the dirt between the trio. Patrick’s eyes looked anywhere but Mack or his phone. Lily didn’t know what to look at. It was like an unspoken language between the twins that only they could decipher. Mack stood quickly and disappeared to the other side of the party.

“I am so confused,” Lily said, looking at Patrick, whose expression was full of guilt and disbelief. “Was it something I said?”

“I think Mack feels a little confused too,” Patrick said. “Let’s just say, she was the one hoping to walk away with your number.”

The guilt that Lily had left behind in Ocean City found her again, clawing its way back into her stomach. “I – I didn’t realize that…” Her mind flashed back to a moment in college, her hand brushing the back of another, soft and dainty like her own. Alcohol coursed through her body as the rogue hand drew circles on her back.

“It’s okay,” Patrick said, tugging Lily out of her mind. “She’ll get over it. This isn’t the first time this has happened, that’s all.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lily said, sitting back down on the chair next to the keg. She propped her elbows on her knees and buried her face in her hands. Were the signs there? Had she been completely oblivious, or did she just straight-out ignore them?

“I’ll go check on her,” Patrick said. And then, with baited hesitation, “I have to go say goodnight to my wife and son, anyway. I’ll be right back.”

Jessie. The answer she didn’t wait to listen to – the answer that had been interrupted by her flirty text message to Mack’s brother – a married man.

Lily didn’t wait for Patrick to come back. She marched back to her campsite, grateful to Mack for showing her exactly how to put the tent together. Now, she’d know exactly how to take it down and quickly. She couldn’t stand a scenario where she might run into them in the morning, and what really was three hours on a guilt-ridden adrenaline rush?

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