Caroline drew in a deep breath. Then she glanced over at me. “Okay, but Oren’s coming, too.”
Gam lifted his hands in surrender. “Fine.”
“Can I ride with Ten and Caroline?” Brandt asked.
“Ooh, me too. I want to go with them.” Colton skipped toward his sister to wrap his arms around her waist.
Gamble shot me a look full of hatred, silently accusing me of stealing his entire family from him. I lifted my eyebrows, daring him to say something. He opened his mouth, but no words came.
Shakespeare hooked her arm through his. “Looks like you and I have an entire ride all to ourselves.”
When he glanced at her and she smiled up at him, a warmth entered his gaze. I guess the two of them had made up from the biggest fight of their marriage. That was awesome, because I was forever grateful for that woman’s presence in his life. No one calmed his moody temper as much as Shakespeare did.
“I guess it’s settled then,” I announced, clapping my hands together. “Everyone, load up!”
I definitely rode in the “fun” truck on the way to Rainly Park. We barely got a mile down the road when Oren smacked me lightly on the side of the arm with the back of his hand.
I glanced at him, completely confused. “Huh?”
He briefly glanced back. “What? Didn’t you ever play car games when you were little?”
Both Brandt and Colton leaned forward curiously from the backseat as I said, “My family never went on long car rides.”
Sympathy crossed his features before he shrugged and grasped my hand, lacing our fingers together over the center console. Then he sent me a quick smile. “Well, my sister and I played endless hours of car games when we were growing up.”
I turned to the side in my seat to face him. “So, how does padiddle go?”
He shrugged. “It’s easy. You see a car with only one headlight and slap someone else in the car while you call out, padiddle.”
I blinked, waiting for the point of the game. Finally, Colton scratched his head. “And that’s it?”
With a chuckle, Oren shrugged again. “I didn’t say it was an enlightening, complicated, or educational game. But it’s a fun reason to slap your sister without getting into trouble.”
“Except it’s daytime,” I said dryly. “And our chances of finding someone with only one daytime headlight is fairly low.”
Oren scratched his scruff a second before saying, “My friend’s family used to play the same game, but they would thump the roof of the car whenever they saw a yellow car.”
“I like slapping arms better,” Brandt said just as Colton suggested, “Let’s do red cars.”
A second later, three different hands attacked my poor short-sleeve-covered arm.
“Padiddle,” they said in unison. “Red car.”
“What the fuck!” I lifted my hands in self-defense, shying away from them. “Why did you all go after me?”
Oren wiggled his eyebrows. “Weakest link.”
“Oh, what the hell ever.” Spotting a red truck, I swung out with both hands, catching Oren and Colton. Brandt was saved that time only because he was the farthest away. “Padiddle.”
And so the war began.
It had to be the stupidest, silliest game I’d ever played, but I was giggling by the time we reached the park. My brothers were talking a million miles a minute as we alighted from Oren’s truck.
Aspen and Noel paused midway between unloading blankets and baskets full of lunch. Noel scowled at us—probably for being so happy—and his glower fixated itself on Oren.
Ignoring my crabby brother, Oren skipped toward Aspen. “Here, Shakespeare. Let me carry that for you.” As he swept the laden basket from her arms, Noel’s glower only darkened.
After filling his own arms with two sleeping bags, Noel hurried after Oren, dogging his heels. “Hey, asshole. Don’t you dare try going through her to get to me.”
Oren didn’t bother to glance back. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said coolly. Then he stopped abruptly, picking our picnic spot for us as he set the basket down.
Noel huffed but dropped the sleeping bags. He faced off with Oren. “I don’t know what you’re playing at with this nice-guy act, but it’s not fooling me.”
Oren gazed at him blankly for a moment. “Hmm,” he finally said. “Good to know.” Then he dropped to his knees and unrolled each sleeping bag for the entire family to sit.
My overly suspicious brother set his hands on his hips and watched without assisting. I knelt down to silently help him. Meanwhile, Brandt and Colton began to chase each other across the grass, playing their own game of tag-padiddle, with squirrels now. When Aspen came bustling up with one last Tupperware container, Noel was still moodily standing watch while Oren and I finished smoothing out the blankets.