Hello, hello! We’re just under three weeks until the release of The Last Summer! This sweet, YA contemporary romance is set to release June 17. So, how about an update and a sneak peek? Keep reading for the first two chapters!
The ARCs are officially done and out into the world, which is a huge relief. I’ve been so behind with this book, but it’s ready! If you’re interested in reviewing an early copy, please fill out the form here.
Want the latest updates, sneak peeks, and exclusive giveaway opportunities? Check out my Facebook group: Cait’s Inner Circle
Without further ado, the first two chapters of The Last Summer. Mind you, the book is going through one final round of editing, so it might be slightly altered in the final version.
Lila’s Summer Bucket List
Sleep under the stars
Attend a party
Get a tattoo
Use fake ID to sing karaoke in a bar
Stand under the lights on the football field
Go on a date
Sneak out of the house
Visit the baby goat farm
Go to Chicago
Spend a day in bed watching movies
Stay up to watch the sunrise
Be kissed in the rain
Run through the halls of the high school
Conquer a fear
Try something new
Dye hair pink
Sneak into movie theater
Climb water tower
Gavin leaned in close to whisper, “You’re doing that wrong.”
Lila whirled around, her long hair nearly smacking him in the face. “Why are you here?”
“Wow, nice to see you too, Weston.” He took a step around her to sit at the picnic table she’d been setting up. Grabbing the vase from the center, he spread the confetti around with his free hand before sitting the flowers back down on top.
“Seriously, what are you doing here?” Lila leaned against the end of the table with arms crossed.
He’d removed his graduation gown the second he and his mother got in the car after the ceremony. Ironically, the girl who worked so hard to get away from their small town stood in hers with it hanging open, revealing a pink dress beneath.
He turned to face her, straddling the bench and meeting her glare with a smirk. “I live twenty feet away, do really expect me to just hide out in my room all night?”
“Yes.” Her lack of hesitation stung, but he didn’t drop his smile.
She looked around, but they were alone in the shared backyard; he’d made sure before approaching her. Her mom stood in the kitchen, finishing up the food, and her father walked back and forth on the phone. Through the windows, Gavin saw Mr. Weston waving his arms around—no doubt speaking with another attorney in his firm. He had a habit of talking with his hands when frustrated.
“That was my gift, remember?” Lila asked. When he didn’t respond, she sighed. “This is my graduation party. Not yours. Not ours. Just mine.”
Gavin picked up a piece of metallic blue confetti. He twisted it, not sure what to say. She was right. As much as he hated it, his mother told him months earlier they’d have separate parties.
Tossing the confetti, Gavin stood. “Fine, but it’s going to be really boring then.”
She stared at him, not backing down, and narrowed her eyes. “No, it won’t.”
“Really?” He huffed and took a step closer. “You really think people from school are going to show up after you spent the last several years ignoring them and acting as if you’re better than all of us?”
Her face reddened as her jaw clenched. “Maybe if you didn’t act so immature—”
“Me?” He shook his head. She was the one who’d shut him out for no reason. They were inseparable growing up, then one day she just decided she was done with him. Their eleventh birthday was the last time they’d spent together as friends.
“Go away, Gavin.” She stomped past him, and though he wanted to reach out and stop her, he let her go.
He watched as she started setting up the next table. Swiping a hand over his face, he turned and headed toward his house as he pulled out his phone. He’d show her immature. He texted his best friend, Dylan, while walking into his garage. Together, they’d bring her party to life.
“You ruined my party!”
Gavin laughed. “Weston, you need to relax.”
“How can I relax when you’re ruining everything like always?” she yelled.
He grabbed Lila by the shoulder and turned her toward him. “Look around!” His hand shot out past her head, pointing to the people gathered in the backyard. They all smiled up at the colors exploding above them. “Your party was boring, just as I said it would be. Now, people are having fun.”
She couldn’t deny that they all looked happy. Most had moved to sit in the grass and stare up at the sky. A handful of kids ran around with sparklers near the treeline. Music played from the speaker Dylan brought with him. She still couldn’t believe Gavin invited his best friend, not that she had a problem with Dylan. He was always the nicer one in that friendship. At least toward her. Rolling her eyes, she twisted back to face Gavin.
“Your party is in two weeks, why couldn’t you just wait until then?”
“Because I was bored.”
She wanted to smack the smirk off his face. Their parents watched from nearby though. She could almost feel her mother’s glare burning into the back of her head. Their parents had given up on forcing them together to mend their friendship, but they’d made them promise to keep the fighting to a minimum in public. As if Lila and Gavin were misbehaved children.
“Besides, you know I love that face you make when your surprise turns to anger,” he said. “That little crease between your brows lets me know I’ve done my job well.”
Lila shrugged his hand from her shoulder and walked away, refusing to indulge him any longer.
“You’re welcome!” he hollered after her.
She stuck her tongue out at him over her shoulder but continued walking. Her mom called her name in warning, and Lila gave her an innocent smile. Fine, maybe they were misbehaved children around one another.
“I’m going to kill him.” Lila flopped down on the swing bench beside her best friend.
Beth Ann draped an arm around her. “Oh, come on. Fireworks are awesome. Everyone loves them and seems to be having a good time. Just pretend it was all part of the plan. Take his credit.”
Lila snorted. “Yeah, right. Who would believe that?”
A loud boom echoed around them, and she watched as the sky glowed bright green and blue. Living outside of town, the Westons’ had a large backyard. With the Millers living next door, the two families shared the land, making the joined area even more spacious.
Lila’s dad and Mrs. Miller grew up together—best friends their entire lives. When he went off to college, they grew apart. For years, they only saw each other during holidays and summer breaks. When he moved back to Summersville with Lila’s mom, the three became near inseparable.
It was a story Lila knew well. Her father told it to her over and over as explained the importance of friendship, trying to smooth things over between Lila and Gavin. She was sure Gavin had heard it just as much. They eventually stopped. She felt as if they’d given up just as much as Gavin. It had been a couple years since she last heard the story.
A group of Gavin’s cousins laughed and ran by. Lila reached out and snatched up Emily before she could get away. The little girl squealed as Lila pulled her into her lap. “What are you doing, little monster?”
“Yi-ya, put me down!” Emily giggled.
The four year old’s mispronunciation of her name made Lila forget all her anger. She gave Emily a kiss on the cheek, squeezing her to her chest, then let go. The little girl skipped away, yelling to one of her older brothers. He stopped and squatted down so she could climb on his back. With her arms around his neck, he lifted her and ran after the others.
Lila couldn’t help but smile. Despite her strong dislike of Gavin, she loved his family. The Millers’ relatives visited often, and there were a lot of them. Lila’s father had one sister who lived on the other side of the country, whom they only saw a few times over the years. Her mom didn’t have any siblings, neither did Lila, so she always enjoyed having the extended-Millers around.
Apart from their families, a few of their parents’ friends and a couple of teenagers who worked at the Millers’ ice cream shop with Lila mingled around the party. Her coworkers had said hello and congratulated her before forming their own little circle, not interacting with anyone. No one else from their high school showed up, even though Lila had sent out invitations months in advance.
A momentary twinge of regret struck as she looked around, wishing she had done things a little different—that she was more involved in school while she had a chance. It would have been nice if at least a few people came.
The kids continued to laugh and play in the dim light of the tiki torches placed throughout the yards. Lila sighed as she watched fourteen-year-old Matthew spin Emily around on his back. “How is it they can be so fun and caring when Gavin is the worst?”
As if on cue, Gavin and Dylan strolled over to the swing.
“Ladies.” Dylan sat on Beth Ann’s other side, putting an arm around her. She laughed and playfully shoved him over.
Gavin lowered to the ground across from them, leaning back on his hands. “See, wasn’t that fun? You should’ve let me plan your party.”
“I’m actually surprised you two are having separate parties,” Dylan said.
With their birthdays only three days apart, they had shared a party every year until they turned eleven. After that disaster of a party, Lila started making up excuses about being too old and wanting to do something else. Even so, their families held all of their other holiday parties together.
“That was all her doing.” Gavin lightly kicked Lila’s swinging leg.
She rolled her eyes and looked to Dylan. “Having my own party was my graduation gift.”
“If we’d had a party together,” Gavin started, “at least people would have shown up.”
“Gavin!” Beth Ann hissed
Lila shrugged, trying to show his words didn’t hurt, then pulled her feet up beneath her to turn more toward Beth Ann. “Are you excited about New York?”
She knew the answer, it was all they’d talked about lately, but she wanted to change the subject. Beth Ann nodded, understanding. “Yes! I’m so anxious though.”
“I still can’t believe you’re going to Harleson.” Dylan stuck out his lip in an exaggerated pout.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave so early,” Lila said.
With an acceptance into the early summer program, it was Beth Ann’s last weekend home. She hooked an arm through Lila’s and pulled her close. “As soon as I’m all settled, you have to come visit.”
“New York would be a blast!” Dylan said. Gavin agreed and leaned up to bump his fist.
“Oh, no. I wasn’t inviting you two,” she clarified.
“Come on, Bethy,” Dylan pleaded as he pulled her away from Lila. He sat her on his lap and kissed her cheek. “You know you have to invite me.”
She gave in and smiled but didn’t respond. Instead, she stood, pointing toward the table on the back deck and mumbling about getting food. Dylan followed as he always did.
Lila wrapped her arms around herself, watching her friend walk away. An invisible band tightened around her chest, her eyes burned, and she bit her bottom lip. She didn’t want Beth Ann to leave in two days. They’d talked about it for the last year, but it didn’t make it any easier. New York was so far from their small Indiana town.
The swing jolted, and she grabbed the arm of the bench in surprise. Her eyes snapped to Gavin. She had forgotten he was still there.
“Breathe,” he whispered, gently rubbing her back. She took a shaky breath, hating that he knew how to help her through the anxiety.
“Thanks,” she replied after she had control again.
He held a hand over his chest in mock surprise. “What? Did Lila Weston just thank me?”
She didn’t reply, she just shook her head and looked back to her friends on the porch. Dylan had never teased her like Gavin. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body and seemed to genuinely like everyone. They never spent much time together, but he treated her better than the rest of Gavin’s friends. Her dad joined them, pointing to the little speaker playing music. Dylan started talking to him in his typical animated form—probably explaining how the Bluetooth let him play music from his phone. Her father was alarmingly-bad with technology.
“Hey.” Gavin bumped Lila’s shoulder. With a wink and mischievous smile, he said, “At least you’ll have me around all summer.”
She groaned and jumped up. “Shut up, Gavin,” she said as she headed in the direction of her parents.
Lila opened the sliding glass window and handed over a chocolate chip ice cream cone. The shop stayed busy all day, but it had finally let up around dinner time. As summer break began and all the different graduation open houses took place, people typically came and went nonstop from mid-morning until they closed. The little boy at the window said a quick thanks then ran off to play on the playground with his friends.
“I can’t believe you have to work on my last day here,” Beth Ann complained as she stepped up to the window.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Lila said. “Mrs. Miller was desperate when Cass and May called in. I couldn’t leave her hanging.”
She knew it shouldn’t have been up to her, but she truly loved the Summer Scoop. Mrs. Miller hired her three years earlier, but she’d helped out before then unofficially. In their small, lake town of Summersville, there weren’t a lot of options—especially for teenagers—so Lila was grateful for the chance. Without the Scoop, she didn’t know what her life would look like. It had changed everything.
“I’ll be done by ten-thirty, then we can have one more sleepover,” she said. “We can stay up all night watching movies and eating junk food.”
“My flight is really early. I have to leave by like five. I don’t think I should stay up all night. As much as I want to…”
Lila sighed, frustrated that time had gone too quick. “Well, at least hang out here for a little while. I’ll get you some ice cream.”
“Vanilla swirl,” Lila finished with a grin. “I know.”
She turned away, grabbed a cone, and walked to the machine. Saying goodbye to her best friend would hurt. They’d planned to spend the day together at the lake’s beach, but now she was stuck watching others enjoy the sun from the shop on the hill beside it.
That seemed to be the theme of her life.
A plan to change that began to form as her mother’s words from the week before about making the most of her summer echoed in her mind.
“Mom, this isn’t fair,” Gavin said for the third time. “It’s my last summer before I have to be an adult. I have plans—fun plans. None of which involve working at the Scoop.”
“Honey, I know, but I really need the help.” She didn’t turn away from her spot at the desk in their living room. “I wasn’t expecting two people to quit the first week of summer.”
“So hire a couple more people,” he pleaded. “There are plenty of high schoolers wanting jobs.”
“I will, but I don’t have time to do it by tomorrow. Besides, it will do you good to learn some responsibility before leaving for school.”
Gavin groaned and flung himself down on the couch. His mom flipped through a stack of papers, making notes off to the side as she went. When he didn’t respond, she stopped. Setting the papers and pen down, she turned in her chair and took her glasses off. The weariness in her eyes struck him with guilt.
“Just give me a few weeks to get a couple more people trained,” she said. “Poor Lila is practically running the place by herself right now.”
That made him groan again. He hung his head back and raked a hand through his short chestnut hair. “I have to work with Lila?”
“You know she works there. This isn’t news.”
“Can’t we work different days or something?” he begged.
“She works almost every day, usually all day.”
“Of course she does,” Gavin muttered. For years, he’d heard about how perfect and responsible Lila was and how he should be more like her. “Mom, you know she hates me.”
She sighed. He knew she was just as tired of them fighting as he was, though he’d never admit it out loud. “This needs to stop. You’re practically adults now. You need to talk to her and figure out what happened all those years ago.”
Gavin shrugged. They’d had that conversation countless times. The truth was he had no idea what started it. He remembered playing in the sprinklers as kids, laughing and building snowmen in the winter. They did everything together, until they didn’t. She wanted nothing to do with him.
“Only a few weeks?” he asked. Knowing how important the shop was to his mom, he did want to help. Now that his dad spent so much time from home, she did everything on her own. And she she rarely asked for help. Gavin just didn’t want to spend his summer being nagged by his uptight neighbor. Or, at least, that was the reason he told himself over and over.
If only he’d believe it.
“Two or three weeks tops.” When the phone rang, she stood and patted his leg. “Thank you. You’ll start tomorrow morning.”
“Ugh!” he yelled, over-exaggerating as she walked by laughing. In the kitchen, she answered the phone, and by her tone, he knew it was his father, who was out of town for a company business trip. Something that happened more and more lately. Gavin wondered if he was assigned the trips or if he volunteered to get away.
Rolling to his side, he snatched his phone up and texted Dylan. His friend sent several laughing emojis in response to the news.
Gavin: Thanks for the support. You know this affects your plans too, right?
Dylan responded with the poop emoji, and he laughed. His friend then sent a basketball emoji. Gavin shook his and sent a thumbs up. Dylan used way too many emojis and GIFs, but it mirrored his over-the-top personality. Gavin stood from the couch and moved toward the stairs. As he began to climb, he yelled down to his mother, “I’m not wearing the uniform though!”