Cross the Line (Boston Love Story #2)

By: Julie Johnson


I wasn’t looking for trouble.

He found me anyway.

Phoebe West, reflecting on her love life.

The first time I ever met Nathaniel Knox, I was crying my eyes out.

(In retrospect, I see this as a fitting prelude to our relationship.)

Sitting on the grass in the back yard of our estate on Nantucket, I was too focused on the dead bird lying under our maple tree to even notice the new boy next door hopping over our fence from his yard to ours. It wasn’t until he’d settled in the grass beside me and asked why I was crying that I lifted teary eyes to the most stunning face I’d ever seen in my five years on planet earth.

He was older, that was certain — at least eight, maybe nine. Tall, like my brother Parker, but there was something sad about his dark eyes. I was too distraught by my gruesome discovery — and, even back then, too captivated by a single glance at him — to work up any sense of stranger-danger.

“The bird,” I’d hiccupped, turning back to the tree and pointing with a shaking finger. “It’s… it’s….”

“Dead.” The boy nodded and leaned closer, eyes flashing with annoyance as he took in my tears. “So? It’s just a stupid pigeon.”

“It’s n-n-n-not a pigeon,” I managed to squeak out between hiccups. “It’s a t-t-t-turtle d-d-dove.”

“Sorry,” he said, voice a bit softer. He rubbed the back of his neck, looking nervous and uncomfortable. “I didn’t mean to upset you, or whatever.”

I took a deep breath and stared at him, tears still dripping down my cheeks.

“Tell me about the pigeon.” He sighed. “Sorry. The turtle dove.”

“That’s the boy husband bird.” I pointed at the dead dove. “The girl wife bird is up there in the tree.” My finger lifted straight up to the branches overhead. “They lived in a nest together. They sang every morning and every night. I could hear them from my window, right there.” I swung my arm around to point at my bedroom window, halfway up the lawn. His gaze followed my finger, then returned to my face. I hiccupped again. “They were m-m-married. But now the husband bird is dead.”

“Are you stupid?” His face contorted into a scowl. “Birds don’t get married.”

“My m-m-mom says turtle doves mate for life.” I wiped my running nose on my sleeve. “She says they’re just like humans. And now…” My eyes watered again.

“Now what?” he asked, curious despite his best efforts to act otherwise.

“Now there won’t be any singing.”

“You are stupid,” he said decidedly. “There’s still one dove left. That one will sing.”

I shook my head. “The wife bird won’t sing anymore. Because her heart is broken. Mom says she might even d-d-die.”

Something strange moved at the back of his eyes. It looked almost like fear.

“You can’t die from a broken heart, can you?” I asked, wiping my nose again.

“Well…” His scowl reappeared. “I don’t know for sure. My parents definitely aren’t in love anymore, but they haven’t died or anything. Yet.”

“How do you know they aren’t in love?” I asked.

His scowl deepened. “They fight all the time. That’s why we moved here. My mom said she wanted a divorce if my dad didn’t buy her a bigger house and stop sleeping with something called Cheyenne.” His eyes narrowed in thought. “I don’t know what a Cheyenne is, but my mom was real upset about it.”

“What’s a divorce?”

He sighed. “How old are you?”

“Five. How old are you?”

His chest puffed out a little. “Nine.”

“My brother Parker’s nine. He’s at soccer right now, though.” I tilted my head to get a better look at him. “What’s your name?”

“Nathaniel Xavier Knox. You can call me Nate.”

“I’m Phoebe,” I said, ducking my head. “You can call me Phoebe.”

“Have you lived here a long time?”

“Only, like, my whole entire life.”

“I think I’m gonna like it.” He stared at the water. “It’s near the beach.”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Sometimes there are jelly fish and seals and stuff. It’s cool.”

We were silent for a while.

“We should bury him,” I said, staring at the dove again. “The husband bird deserves a funeral. Maybe it’ll cheer the wife bird up.”

“How do you even know that one’s the boy and the other one’s the girl?”