Adam Parrish sits rigid in his seat at the top of the lifeguard stand, eyes constantly patrolling the water of Cabeswater Lake. It’s scorching hot and the air drips with humidity, as it tends to do in Virginia in the summer. Adam usually doesn’t mind the heat. On a day like today, though, even he would much rather be in the water, but the first of his many summer jobs calls for him to just sit under the merciless sun and watch other people keep cool. At least he has a nice tan, which is vanity, really, for all he is the only one that seems to notice.
His partner-in-crime, Blue Sargent, lounges dramatically in the seat next to him, one short leg thrown over the side of the stand, hiding under the shade of a polka dot umbrella and big pink sunglasses that clash with her red bathing suit. Her current lazy posture is a product of the excessive heat, not a lack of lifeguarding ability. Adam had seen her in training. She is no stranger to hard work. Though she be but little, she is fierce , Adam thinks, with a sigh. He hates summer. He misses school.
“I can’t believe this. Three weeks into the summer and not a single interesting person has stepped foot on this beach. What are we doing this for again?” Blue asks, not even bothering to turn her head in his direction.
“Money,” Adam replies. Unlike Blue, Adam has no interest in a summer fling. He just wants to get in, get paid and get out. He’ll think about romance on the other side. Maybe.
“Oh yeah,” Blue agrees, as if the idea has just occurred to her.
Adam watches a group of teenage boys horsing around on the diving platform in the water out beyond the ropes, where only the older kids and adults are allowed to go. That same group had tried to float a small cooler out there about an hour ago, but Adam had stopped them and told them they could take their chances getting caught with cheap beer once their feet were firmly planted back on the sand. He is just a lifeguard afterall, not a park ranger, though he might tip them off when he takes his next break.
An alarm on Blue’s phone goes off and she groans. “Safety check.”
It’s the worst part of the job. Every two hours they have to make everyone get out of the water for a fifteen minute break and everyone yells at them for it. Adam has a feeling it’s really not going to go over well with the boys out on the platform.
Blue signals the other lifeguards and then blows her whistle. Adam climbs down from the stand and waves in the swimmers, ready for the onslaught of irate parents and kids.
“It’s more dangerous for them to be out of the water than in it when it’s hot like this,” one mother shrieks.
“It’s a safety regulation, ma’am,” Adam explains, knowing she’s probably just mad that she has to stop reading her smutty romance novel and actually watch her kids.
“Well, that’s stupid,” she says, as if that would change Adam’s mind.
As predicted, the teen boys have not moved from the platform. Adam walks through the crowd trudging up the sand to the edge of the water and blows his whistle as loud as he can.
“SAFETY CHECK. GET OUT OF THE WATER,” he yells.
“FUCK YOU!” One of the boys yells back and several others raise their middle fingers in the air.
“IF YOU DON’T GET YOUR BUTTS BACK UP ON THIS BEACH IN 30 SECONDS I’M CALLING THE PARK RANGER,” Blue screams into a megaphone from her perch atop the lifeguard stand. A couple of old women clutch their pearls.
Suddenly scared for their beer, the boys jump into the water and begin swimming back. The better swimmers make it to shore fairly quickly, but there’s one boy who is lagging behind the others. Adam watches him carefully, looking for signs of struggle. He’s halfway to shore when he just stops swimming altogether. By the time his head slips below the surface, Adam is running full speed back to his chair.
“ADAM!!!” Blue shrieks and tosses him his flotation device. He pivots and runs back toward the water. He dives and swims as fast as he can to the spot where the boy went under. He reaches him quickly and pushes him back up to the surface. The boy sputters and takes a huge breath of air.
“Hold onto this,” Adam instructs, pushing the flotation device to the boy. He grasps it clumsily as he tries to keep his head above water. Once he gets his arms around it, though, he floats easily on the surface, his face overcome with relief.
“I’m going to pull you back to the shore now,” Adam says, slipping the strap of the device around his own torso. “Hang on, ok? Do you understand me?”
The boy nods vigorously, but doesn’t speak. His blond curls are plastered to his forehead.
Adam swims furiously, hauling the boy toward the crowd gathering on the beach. When the water is shallow enough, Adam stops swimming and stands up. He helps the boy to his feet, but his legs are wobbly, so Adam ducks under his arm and carries him the rest of the way. The crowd breaks into applause once they are safely back on the beach.
The boy slumps down to sit in the sand as the other lifeguards gather around. Adam bends over, placing his hands on his knees and trying to regulate his breathing. Then he straightens and searches the crowd for the boy’s friends, but none of them are there. Fucking cowards , he thinks.
“What’s your name?” Blue asks in a friendly voice, crouching down next to the boy.
“Matthew Lynch,” He says when he finally catches his breath enough to speak.
“I think your friends left. Is there someone we can call?” Adam asks.
Matthew looks around, confused and scared, then he turns back to Adam. “My brother. Please.”
Ronan Lynch hates summer. He used to like it when it meant a break from school, but that became less relevant once he decided not to go to college. More importantly, though, Ronan hates the heat. His pale ass simply can’t handle it. Which is really just another reason why he prefers nocturnal activities, much to the chagrin of his roommate and best friend, Richard Gansey.
Gansey is fuck knows where. The library, probably. Researching or some shit. So Ronan, content as always to snatch sleep during the hottest part of the day, is stretched out on the sofa under the chugging window air conditioning unit with the lights off and the blinds shut. It’s perfectly dark and cool.
Just as his heavy eyelids are sliding closed, his phone starts vibrating violently on the coffee table. He’s instantly annoyed, but because he is also half asleep, he picks it up without thinking.
“What’s up, Matty?” He asks, yawning.
“Uh, Mr. Lynch?” A polite southern voice that is definitely not his brother says on the other end of the line.
Ronan snorts. “Who the fuck is this?”
“My name is Adam Parrish. I’m a lifeguard at Cabeswater Beach. Your brother, Matthew, is here and he had a bit of an incident in the water today.”
Ronan’s heart seizes and he sits up so fast he gets a head rush. “Holy shit. Is he ok?”
“He’s shaken up, but he’s going to fine. He needs someone to come pick him up, though. His friends bailed.”
Those fuckers , Ronan thinks. He didn’t like this new group of friends Matthew had been hanging out with recently, especially after he overheard them saying some homophobic shit while playing video games the last time he stopped by his parent’s house for a visit.
“I’m on my way,” Ronan growls.
He has to use the GPS on his phone to even find Cabeswater Beach or Lake or whatever the fuck it’s called and then there’s a ten dollar fee to get in. Of course he doesn’t have any cash on him and it takes for-fucking-ever for them to run his card. His knuckles turn white from gripping the steering wheel so hard while he waits and he’s half tempted to just run down the barrier. When they finally hand him back his card, he peels away, spinning tires and spitting gravel.
When Ronan pulls up in front of the main building, he’s relieved to see Matthew, seemingly unharmed, sitting on the steps next to a ridiculously tan and hot and shirtless guy in a pair of red swim trunks. It must be the lifeguard who called, but Ronan already forgot his name.
Ronan throws up the parking brake in what he is pretty sure is not a parking spot and gets out of the car.
“Ronan!” Matthew calls, but he doesn’t get up.
“Hey, kid,” Ronan says as he approaches.
“That’s your brother?” Hot Lifeguard asks. If Ronan is not mistaken, he thinks he hears a hint of awe in his voice. Ronan could be mistaken. He’s not always successful at reading those kinds of signals.
“So what happened?” Ronan asks, nudging Matthew’s knee with his boot. “You look fine to me.”
Matthew just shrugs, so Ronan turns to the lifeguard and raises an eyebrow.
“He was swimming in from the diving platform when he started to struggle. He went under, but I pulled him out of the water before anything happened.”
“Did you forget how to swim?” Ronan nudges Matthew again.
Matthew’s chin starts to quiver. “I don’t know what happened, Ronan.”
“Hey, it’s ok. You’re ok,” Ronan says, reaching to ruffle his brother’s blond curls.
“Uh, can I talk to you for a second?” Hot Lifeguard asks, placing a hand on Ronan’s shoulder to guide him away from Matthew. Ronan eyes his hand and he mutters, “sorry,” and, unfortunately, crosses his arms over his bare chest. As a consolation, Ronan’s shoulder tingles where his hand had been.
“I think your brother may have been under the influence,” he continues. “His friends had a cooler of beer.”
Ronan turns back to his brother. “What the fuck, Matthew? Were you drinking?”
“No, Ronan, I swear,” Matthew says, but for the first time since he arrived, Ronan notices that he’s slurring his words slightly.
“Don’t lie to me.”
Matthew purses his lips, but says nothing.
“We’ll talk about it in the car. Let’s go,” Ronan drags Matthew up by the arm, then turns to the lifeguard. “Thank you for saving my brother.”
“I was just doing my job,” he shrugs.
“You’re so humble.”
“I’m Adam,” he says, and then he looks down quickly, like he hadn’t meant to say anything at all. Ronan thinks he might actually be blushing, but it’s hard to tell with his tan.
“Adam what? I don’t really like to call people by their first names.”
“How charming,” Adam recovers with a grin. “It’s Parrish. Adam Parrish.”
“Nice to meet you, Parrish.”
Ronan feels a little tug in his stomach. Uh oh . He slings an arm around Matthew and guides him to the car before he says something stupid. But he can’t resist looking over his shoulder to see if Parrish is watching them walk away with that cheery smile on his face. He is. He even raises his hand and fucking waves.
I have to start going to the beach now , Ronan thinks. He opens the car door and throws himself into the driver’s seat as Matthew settles into the passenger seat. He runs a hand over his shaved head. “Fuck,” he says. “ Fuck . I hate the beach.”
“That was so amazing, Adam!” Blue says as they walk toward the arcade after their shift to pick up their friend Noah Czerny. “I mean, the way you hauled that boy out of the water.”
“Not just a boy, that dude was a teenager. He was bigger than me,” Adam brags.
“You’re my hero,” Blue says, batting her eyelashes at him. Adam wishes she wouldn’t do that.
They approach the open garage door of the arcade and see Noah leaning across the prize counter, chin resting on in his hands, staring longingly at a group of boys playing the racing game near the back.
Blue follows his gaze. “Ooh, Is that him? Your crush?”
Noah sighs. “Henry Cheng.”
“You finally asked him his name? Nice work, bud!”
“He dropped his ID. But our fingers brushed when I handed it back to him. He’s Canadian,” Noah adds, dreamily.
It reminds Adam of touching Ronan Lynch’s shoulder earlier, but he quickly pushes the thought from his mind. He doesn’t have time to fawn over Lynch and his sculpted arms and his shaved head and his sexy BMW. And he definitely does not have time to think about the tattoo he saw snaking across Lynch's back either.
“Are we done here? We need to go walk dogs,” Adam says. It comes out harsher then he intended and was meant to deflect his own thoughts, but instead Noah’s face crumbles.
“Just because you don’t want a summer fling doesn’t mean the rest of us should have to suffer,” Noah scowls.
“Adam saved someone’s life today, Noah,” Blue says, attempting to change the subject.
“Too bad you can’t save your love life.”
Adam laughs at that and shoves Noah lightly on the shoulder. He grins and everything is fine.
Noah clocks out, says goodbye to his supervisor and they pile into Adam’s shitty car to drive to their next job.
When Adam finally makes it home to his tiny studio rental after taking four different dogs for their evening walks, he stashes his cash in an empty cereal box under the bed and crosses off the day on the big printed calendar Blue had hung on the wall with their elaborate dog walking schedule. Twenty-two days down, fifty-four left to go. Summer will be over in no time.
Ronan takes Matthew home and only scolds him a little on the way. God only knows what he was doing at Matthew’s age, so Ronan is not one to judge. He shuttles his brother into his bedroom and closes the door before their mother can get to him. She would know instantly that he is drunk.
When Ronan returns to the apartment, Gansey is eating pizza and watching a documentary on Netflix.
“You have any plans tomorrow?” Ronan asks, tossing his keys on the counter and kicking off his boots.
“Not at the moment. Was thinking of checking out that new trail I found. You wanna come with?”
“What if we go to the beach instead?”
Gansey looks up at him, curious. “You know it’s hot at the beach, right?”
“I’m aware. I thought it might be a nice change of pace.”
“What happened to you? Are you possessed?”
Ronan flicks his ear and steals a piece of pizza, before flopping down on the couch next to Gansey.
“Nevermind. It’s definitely you. And what beach do you want to go?”
“Hmm,” Gansey considers it. He pulls out his phone to do a quick search on his maps app. “I hadn’t planned on exploring that area until later in the summer, but I suppose now is as good a time as any.”
Ronan shrugs. He doesn’t know anything about the goddamn beach. Case in point, he realizes the next morning that he doesn’t even own anything that would be considered swimwear by the general public and he certainly doesn’t have any shoes that are open-toed on purpose. He tries on an extra pair of Gansey’s trunks, but they are way too small and way too bright and way too ridiculous. In the end, he reverts back to his usual attire. The only thing on his agenda is ogling the lifeguard, afterall, and you can do that just as well in jeans and a tank top. He’ll even take his boots off if he has to.
Finally ready, he walks out into the living room and finds Gansey in a polo and cargo shorts and a fucking Gilligan’s Island bucket hat. If that isn’t bad enough, he’s wrestling with some kind of electronic contraption that’s good at finding things.
“Are you seriously bringing that with you?”
“If you insist on making me go to the beach, I’m at least going to make the most of it,” Gansey replies.
This should be interesting, Ronan thinks.
“Ugh,” Blue says. “The geese are back again. It’s your turn to chase them away.”
“What? No!” Adam exclaims. The only thing worse than safety check is the flock of geese that has decided that the lake belongs to them now. They are currently on the march up the beach like Allied soldiers on D-Day.
“Yep. I got them last time. One of them tried to eat me.”
Adam groans and climbs down from the lifeguard stand and immediately stops dead in his tracks. A little ways down the beach, between Adam and the geese, is Ronan Lynch, sweltering in jeans and tank, his bare feet buried in the sand - no beach chair or towel or blanket in sight. The pale skin on his shoulders is already tinged pink and showing early signs of a terrible sunburn developing. Adam pivots and scrambles back up the chair for his bottle of sunblock. He drops it at Lynch’s feet as he passes and then runs, arms flapping, toward the geese. They hiss and honk and flap right back at Adam, but they eventually disperse to the other side of the lake. Lynch smirks as Adam passes by on the way back to the lifeguard stand.
Adam faces forward, eyes on the water, trying desperately to avoid looking in Lynch’s direction. When he finally gives in to the impulse, he sees Lynch strip off his tank top and turn so another handsome boy, also inappropriately dressed for the beach, can help put sunblock on his back. It’s his first full view of Lynch’s tattoo and Adam nearly falls out of his seat. He can’t seem to take his eyes off the pair as the other boy finishes rubbing in the lotion. He feels a sharp pang of jealousy in the pit of his stomach.
“Now that’s interesting,” Blue says, kneeling to look over his shoulder. The other boy picks up a discarded piece of equipment and resumes scanning the sand with it.
“Is that a metal detector?” Adam asks.
“Are those boat shoes?” Blue responds. She continues to stare in awe until Adam waves a hand in front of her face. “I’m going to go tell him it’s not allowed.”
“That’s not an actual rule.”
“It is now,” Blue says, climbing down from her perch.
Blue returns in time for safety check with a huge grin on her face.
“So?” Adam asks.
“He’s surprisingly charming,” she admits.
“I see you did not actually succeed in getting him to stop using the metal detector.”
“I told him he could continue as long as he gave me his phone number.”
“You’re terrible,” Adam says, but at least he has nothing to be jealous about.
“Shut up. I’m smart,” She blows her whistle and starts yelling for the swimmers to exit the water.
A couple of hours later, Lynch approaches the lifeguard stand. Adam sits up attentively.
“Save any lives today, Parrish?” he asks, holding up the bottle of sunblock to Adam.
“Yeah. Yours,” Adam says, shaking the bottle at him.
“Huh. All I saw you do was chase away some geese.”
“The geese are more dangerous than you think.”
“My hero,” Lynch says, batting his eyelashes at Adam. Adam hopes he never stops doing that.