“We need food!” Noah called out to Mark from down the beach.
“Translation, we need money!” Drew hollered.
Mark cupped his hands around his mouth to avoid yelling in Hazel’s ears. “Come get it!”
“How late is it?” Hazel asked. They had made their way quite far down the coastline for no other reason than to walk and talk and become friends. There had been less playful flirting and more meaningful, comfortable conversation.
Neither of them was wearing a watch, and they’d left their cell phones in the car since they were going to be in and out of the water. All Mark had with him was the credit card he’d used to pay for their lessons tucked in a secure pocket of his swim trunks. He pulled the card out and waited for the guys to trudge through the powdery sand.
They looked exhausted.
Mark was glad he had spent the afternoon collecting seashells and driftwood with Hazel rather than kiteboarding. The guys were sunburnt, sweaty, and heavy as if they could barely hold up their arms or put one leg in front of the other.
“Did you guys eat already?” Alex called when they were only a few yards away.
“Yeah, we had burritos and lemonade a few hours ago,” Mark said.
“Oh, that sounds so good,” Drew groaned. “I’m starving.”
“I’m kinda hungry again too,” Hazel said with a sheepish grin. “Can we maybe go with them to eat.”
“Sure,” Mark said, reaching for her hand. “I’m a college guy. I could eat twenty-four-seven.”
“If you guys were going to come with us then why did we trudge all the way over here?” Noah asked, turning back toward the main beach.
Everyone followed Noah, but Drew fell into step beside Mark and stage-whispered, “Did you kiss her yet?”
“Dude, no!” Mark pushed Drew away and he promptly fell to the sand, cursing as he went down.
Hazel turned around and walked backward as she called out to Drew, “He wants to kiss me, if that makes you feel any better.”
Drew scrambled to his feet and hurried to catch up. “Really?”
“Yeah, and he got to watch me take off my clothes.”
Drew, Noah, and Alex all stopped short and turned to where Hazel was still walking backward without letting go of Mark’s hand.
“What?” Alex asked, speaking on behalf of their collective jaw gaping expressions.
“Seriously, babe, you had to go there?” Mark felt his neck heat up and it wasn’t from the sun.
Hazel just blinked innocent eyes at him, a tiny grin playing at the corners of her mouth.
“She did not remove her clothes,” Mark explained to the other guys. “She pulled the straps of her swimsuit down off her shoulders.”
“Eh, semantics, you were so embarrassed your face was as red as Noah’s back.”
“I was not embarrassed,” Mark said as they resumed walking and Hazel turned around again so she was facing forward and coincidently all three other guys were now walking backward still dumbfounded by this turn in conversation.
“Let me get this straight, you took part of your swimsuit off in front of Mr. Virgin, himself?” Drew asked.
“Mister Virgin?” Hazel stopped short and turned to him with a teasing expression of disbelief. “Do they seriously call you that?”
“Geesh, I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m waiting for marriage, okay?” Mark pushed past all of them and kept walking toward the main beach.
Hazel hurried to catch up and wrapped both hands around his arm, pulling him close. “We were just teasing you. Don’t be so sensitive. I think it’s great that you’re waiting. Most guys don’t.” She made a show of glaring at the three guys following them, correctly assuming they weren’t living up to Mark’s nickname.
Mark suspected Alex hadn’t done anything he’d be embarrassed to talk about in front of his grandma, but he wasn’t standing up and declaring his moral values, either.
Noah and Drew had made it their life’s mission to tease Mark relentlessly about his commitment to stay chaste until marriage, and the nickname they’d given him was just another jab. Mark didn’t care. He knew what his father expected of him, and what his grandfather expected of him, and he was determined to live up to their legacy.
Suddenly, Hazel stopped short and pulled Mark off to the side. “You guys go on ahead. We’ll catch up. I wanna talk to Mark for a minute.”
“Give me that credit card first,” Noah said, holding out his hand. “Who knows how long you two will talk.”
Mark pulled the card from his pocket but turned away from Noah. “I don’t trust you, Noah. Alex can pay for the food. I want nachos.”
“I want tamales,” Hazel said as Mark handed his credit card to Alex.
They waited until the guys were out of hearing range then Mark asked, “What did you want to talk to me about.”
“I just wanted to clear something up,” Hazel said, meeting his gaze with no embarrassment. “I’m glad you’re waiting… because I’m waiting too.”
“Really?” Marcos raised his eyebrows, a grateful peace entering his heart. “After the way you teased me… I wondered.”
“I figured,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to tell you, because I don’t want you to think I’m that kind of girl. I’m not.”
Mark pulled Hazel closer into his arms, and offered a chaste hug, ignoring how little of her skin was covered by her swimsuit. While he held her, Mark offered a quiet suggestion. “We could wait together.”
Hazel pulled back but kept her arms around him, looking up into his eyes. “I’d like that.”
He hesitated barely a second but felt the time was right. “Ya think I could have that kiss now?”
She nodded slowly and then reached onto her toes, lifting her face to his. He met her halfway in a soft kiss. Not too passionate, but definitely more than a peck. A nice, easy first kiss, filled with possibility and the recognition that taking their time was a good idea. Life was too short to rush through the good parts.
Mark winked down at her and grinned. “Wanna share a virgin pina colada with me?”
“Heck yeah, let’s go.” Hazel grabbed his hand and together they dragged their feet through the sand up the beach toward the cabana where the guys were already gathered around a table.
“You owe me a hundred bucks, Your Highness,” Drew said as Mark and Hazel sat down and reached across the table for their food.
Mark held up his hand to get the attention of the restaurant owner. He called out to the gentleman, “Could we get a virgin pina colada with two straws?” The guy nodded and Mark turned back around to face the table and dig into his food.
“So, you’re stickin’ with the whole virgin theme tonight, huh?” Noah asked. He picked up one of three large burritos on the plate in front of him.
“Hazel likes me this way,” Mark said confidently then lifted Hazel’s hand and placed a kiss on the back.
“Yes, we all noticed just how much she likes you from that little kiss you gave her,” Noah said. “And I do mean little.” He took a large bite of his burrito.
“I don’t kiss and tell.” Mark selected a crispy tortilla chip loaded with chili and cheese and salsa and lettuce.
“You didn’t have to tell anybody anything,” Alex said. “I’m pretty sure the whole beach saw you kiss her.”
“Yes, I’m sure I’m one of three people in the whole world who has met a girl during spring break and kissed her while standing on a beach. How scandalous.”
Hazel giggled at Mark’s words. “And it doesn’t have to be a big kiss to count as a kiss.”
“Which is why he owes me a hundred bucks,” Drew pointed out. “A kiss is a kiss no matter how big or small.”
“I don’t have my wallet with me,” Mark said. “You’ll have to wait until later.”
“Why are you giving him a hundred dollars?” Hazel asked, unrolling her second tamale and dousing it in hot sauce.
“Because I won the bet.” Drew spoke so matter-of-factly that there was an implied duh at the end of his sentence.
“What bet?” Hazel set down her fork and looked around the table, lastly at Mark.
“Whether or not Mark would kiss you before we made it back to America,” Noah said.
“You… bet… whether or not I’d kiss you?” Hazel’s words were cold and disgusted.
“Not me!” Mark held up his hands in surrender. “They laid wagers because Noah said you hated me, and Drew said you liked me.”
“No,” Alex piped in. “I was the one who said she liked you, and then Noah asked if I wanted to bet and I told him I’m not a gambler, but Drew said he’d take the bet.”
Hazel’s arms were crossed over her chest and her eyes were cold and firm. She spoke through clenched teeth. “So why are you paying the hundred dollars.”
“They decided I was the only one who had that kind of money available. So, I was the one who should have to pay.”
“Just the fact that you were all involved in this little wager makes me sick,” Hazel said. “These are my emotions we’re talking about. I was starting to have feelings for you.”
Hazel pushed her food away and stood from her chair.
“Tell your driver to take me back. I don’t want to be with you guys a minute more.” Hazel spun on her heel and walked toward the parking lot. She didn’t look back.