“I know.” He tipped up my chin. “I pretty much gave you the one promise I can give. Can we see how things go? I won’t let anyone mess with you.”
I tried to ignore the sudden burst of tingles in my chest, but dammit—he was in there, and making me feel things I wasn’t ready to feel. I never thought I would feel stuff like this, or have someone like him wanting to kiss me. And that’s all he was giving me, I reminded myself. We were more than friends, and he wouldn’t touch someone else, but relationships took more than that.
I’d have to go back to my same existence and what? Wait for him to show up? Make visits?
Then again, maybe that’s what friendships were like?
His eyebrows darted up in surprise. “Okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I don’t have friends in Fallen Crest. I’m out of practice for this stuff. All my friends at Hillcrest lived in the same building as I did, so it was different.”
He frowned. “Okay then, I guess.”
I’d started for Maisie when he caught my hand and pulled me in. His head dipped, and his mouth was on mine. A full minute later, he let me go, and my knees were shaking.
“That’ll last me a while. I’ll call later.”
I could do this… Couldn’t I?
But he said he’d call, so there was that. He was going to call.
Zeke answered after the first ring.
“Yo! Where the fuck you at, bro?”
I grinned. Always the same from him. For some reason, that settled me.
“Hey, I need a favor.”
He belched into the phone. “Name it.”
“Whatever. You missed the best rave last night.” He whistled.
I could hear voices, but they were fading, and a second later, they were gone.
“Talk to me. What do you need?”
“Where are you?”
He belched again, then laughed. “We had tacos earlier. Guess the peppers aren’t sitting right with me. But what do you need?”
“I’m not sure.” I explained about my mom and Griffith. “If he’s still there, I either need you to hold me back or be my alibi.”
I could almost hear him smiling. “Yeah, man. Anything for you. You want just me or should I grab Conway and Ashlome too?”
I paused, but there was nothing else there. “Hey, Zeke—”
“Water under the bridge, B. They never really liked me, so it’s all good. I can’t fault them since, you know, I love you too.”
There it was again, his unconditional bromance. “Right.” I was such a dick. All the shit I’d thought about him in my head…
“Dude, I can almost hear your wheels turning, so shut the fuck up. Okay? So you want both or just Conway? Or just yours truly?”
If Griffith were actually there, I would try to beat the shit out of him. “Maybe all three of you.”
Zeke belched again. “On it. Oh, and Daniels was asking about you last night. Am I correct that your absence had something to do with the chick in the back of your very fine G Wagon?”
Crap. My stomach took a nosedive. “Mara was asking about me?” I was hoping to not deal with that whole scene, but I couldn’t if she was going to push it.
“Yeah.” He was quiet. “Should I avoid her?”
I barked out a laugh. “Nah, man. You don’t have to avoid her; just pass on that I’ve got family drama happening.”
Mara hated family drama more than I did. Her mom was diagnosed with histrionic, so those words would keep her away for a good week. She’d overheard one of my fights with my mom and turned into mist for almost a month. It was kinda nice, except her blowjobs were the best I’d had.
I wonder what Aspen was like on that front?
I felt a kick in my gut and looked down. Oh yeah. He was excited about that too—if we ever got there with her. She’d been excellent with the hand job.
“See you in a few.”
We hung up, and I stopped at the store before heading home. It’d take Zeke a while to leave his house. No one ever wanted him to go. Taking my stuff to the checkout counter, I wasn’t paying attention when I heard from behind me, “Shit. That all for Aspen?”
It was my brother.
I tensed, then noticed the two packs in his hand. I nodded at them. “Those better not be for Aspen.”
He paused a second, then looked away, but I caught the grin. “Fuck you,” he said.
I smiled. “That’s the point of those, brother.”
The cashier looked at us, the previous customer done and departing. She reached for my box of condoms, saw me, saw Cross, saw what was in his hand, and blinked a few times.
Shaking her head, she ran the boxes over the register.
“Maybe this place could get self-checkout, hmmm?” I murmured as the screen showed what I owed.
“Uh, yeah.” But her cheeks grew red as she looked from me to my brother and back again.
I flashed her a grin. “I know. I’m richer, but he’s better looking.” I whistled under my breath. “Which would you want at the end of the day, huh? What a dilemma, right?”
“I—” She gaped at me.
I frowned. “No offense, but I already got a girl like you that I might have feelings for. Next time, meet me first.”
Cross cursed, shaking his head. “You are the biggest dick I know, and if you make a joke about your dick, I’ll punch it. Happily.”
I nodded at him, backing away and waving, the condoms in full view of everyone. “See you at home, brother.” I winked.
The exit doors swished open, and I walked out. I could see Bren waiting in Cross’ truck, and I smirked as I walked past. “Didn’t know you two were into handcuffs and whipped cream. Right on.”
I only noticed she was wearing a dress after I was past and almost to my Wagon.
I faltered. Crap. Maybe they were going on a nice date and I was being a dumbass making wisecracks?
The store’s doors opened again, and Cross came out, his condoms in a bag.
He saw that I’d faltered and looked from me to Bren before his jaw firmed. He tossed the bag inside the truck through an opened window, and headed for me in two seconds. “What’d you say to her, huh?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Excuse me?”
He pushed against my chest. “You can be an ass to some girl I don’t know, but when it comes to my girl, I tend to go nuts. Or don’t you remember from the last time?”
My jaw snapped shut. “Yeah. About that last time…” I pocketed my condoms and shoved him back. He was surprised, so I was there again, harder the second time.
A door slammed shut. I could hear feet running over.
“He didn’t say anything.” Bren tried to push between us. “Fuck’s sake, Cross. Stop.”
I was rattled, though not because this was the first run-in I’d had with my brother. This was number three by now? We’d traded no punches the first time, and I hadn’t hit back the second. This time, I felt my nice guy starting to fade. And, I still had Griffith to deal with.
I was rattled because I wanted to fight him. I hadn’t thought I cared. I thought I could give two pumps about this guy, but I guess somewhere deep down I did, because I really wanted to knock his teeth out. How fucked is that? Realizing you might care about someone because you want to hurt them? Was that an indication of how truly messed up I was? Because being raised by Griffith was sure to do that to even the best kid.
I refocused and saw Bren talking to Cross. I heard the words handcuffs and whipped cream, and she glared at me over her shoulder. “He’s just being a dick,” she concluded. “That’s it.”
I started laughing.
“Shut it!” Cross yelled.
I laughed harder and showed him my teeth. “You got a nice set there. I’d like them better on the ground.”
I wanted to fight.
Suddenly there was a screech of tires, and Zeke’s truck raced our way. Jamie was out before it even stopped. “Hey, hey, hey.” He stepped between us, frowning at my brother and me. “What’s going on?”
Oliver was slower to approach, but he sidled up on the other side of our circle.
Zeke turned the engine off and slid out of his truck. It was a big-ass truck. He whistled, smiling crudely at Bren and Cross as he tossed his keys in the air, catching them and repeating as he came to a stop beside me. “Thought the fight you needed us for was at your house.” He nodded at Cross. “You’re exchanging that pussy for this pussy?” His eyes slid up and down Bren. “I’m so down for that. Winner gets your woman?”
I’d heard stories about my brother and his crew fighting. And I knew Bren had had a knife against Zeke’s throat once upon a time, but he didn’t seem to remember that. His words were fighting words.
The shit I’d been throwing out was just to get a reaction. At first.
If Zeke kept running his mouth, we really would be tossing down in a second.
I waited, breath held, for my brother to react.
“Enough!” It was Bren who decided. She shoved Cross back toward their truck. “Your brother was being sarcastic, but he wasn’t mean. And his dumbass friend? Well, that’s a fight for a different night. Come on. You and I have a date, remember?”