“Good grief, Blaise,” said the girl closest to me. “What happened to you?”
I grimaced and drew Aspen in front of me. I used her shamelessly as my shield. I was desperate. Ducking my head to her shoulder, I nipped her skin before grinning at my sister. “Your twin thing must be off, Taz.”
Aspen faltered again, almost falling back, but I manhandled her. I hurried her past my sister’s friends. She was there with girls who I knew had fucked Zeke, and a couple other guys too. I recognized her boyfriend, and he was throwing me definite shade, but I didn’t care.
I guided Aspen down the driveway.
Taz followed me to the street. “Jerk face! Stop.”
I chuckled. My sister was learning how to talk to me. This was better than the other bullshit she’d tried.
“Not now. I got somewhere to be.” I turned around, taking Aspen’s hand. I kept walking backward, so Aspen kept going too. “I need some alone time. You know how it is.” I gestured to her boyfriend. “It’s nice to see you two crazy kids worked it out, huh?”
The guy was full-on scowling at me now. He crossed his arms. The other guy with him gave him a cautious look.
Taz stopped, her hands in the air. “I’ve called you, like, twenty times over the last month. You never answer.”
A strangled laugh left my throat. She had no idea.
“What happened to your face?”
We kept going.
Taz stood on her tiptoes, as if that would help her. “I deserve to know, you know!”
I felt an asshole statement coming. I tried to squash it, because Taz had always been nice to me. She was eager for a relationship. But I couldn’t stop my mouth. “Yeah. Call your real brother first. Then we’ll see what you say.”
I saw the flash of hurt in her eyes at the same time I heard Aspen gasp.
But then we were into the street, and I maneuvered Aspen in front of me so I didn’t have to see another person who could love me learn that they shouldn’t.
I waited until we got into Maisie. Then I waited as Blaise cursed that he’d forgotten the pizza and ran inside to grab it. He was back five minutes later, and I knew he’d accomplished that by being rude. There was no way he could’ve walked through that house without people trying to talk to him, so he must have shrugged each and every one of them off like a bad rash. That was his way, I was learning.
I waited as he got in and I drove back to my house. (He said he was fine, and he seemed fine, but I still wasn’t sure who I trusted to drive Maisie right now.) I waited as we went into my house and up to the theater room with its snack room kitchenette. I kept waiting as Blaise heated us each a couple slices of pizza and led the way to my room.
Then he took a big bite of a slice, tossed the plate on my desk, and reached up to pull his shirt off.
That’s when I asked.
“When’s my turn?”
“Hmmm?” he asked. He pulled his shirt free, his eyes wide as he finished chewing what was in his mouth. “What?”
I shifted back on my heels.
His eyes dropped as he noted my movement, my posture.
That’s what he did. I was learning that too.
He saw everything. He watched everything, and then he decided what he wanted out of the situation and went about creating whatever that was. If he wanted sex, he’d go sensual now. If he wanted a fight, he’d say something mean—though he never did that with me. Not intentionally. So I waited to see what sort of Blaise I was about to get. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be his adversary, not yet, but I knew it would come. If we remained on this course, we’d butt heads. Every couple did. The resolving of it would tell me what we had.
I wasn’t a dating expert, but I’d read books—romance, textbooks, cognitive behavioral therapy handbooks. I’d done quite a bit of that. But I also knew things because while I’d had my brother, he and I had had a damn good relationship.
Then he died, and I was alone, and now I had Blaise.
I was also learning that I never wanted to be alone again.
Blaise still hadn’t said anything, but he eyed me like I was a wounded animal that could strike any second.
“When are you going to turn on me?” I asked.
His eyes went flat.
I lowered my head. “When are you going to push me away?”
He stepped back.
“When are you going to decide you don’t want my love in your life?”
Because that’s what he was doing with his family—with all of this.
His jaw clenched.
I’d pushed his button. “There it is. You don’t like what I’m saying.”
His eyes cooled. “Didn’t take you for a dick.”
I raised my head, not allowing him to look down on me. I watched him the way he’d watched that Gambin guy at Zeke’s party, only he’d done it sitting down, with me on his lap. He did it like a professional.
I was so out of my league. I shook my head, easing away from him. “What am I doing?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
We’d just switched roles. I’d been on offense, and I’d intended to see it through. He was worth it. So what was I doing now? Backing away? Running off? I flinched, hearing Blaise’s own words in my head, “You running?”
Probably. Because that’s what I did. I didn’t stand and fight.
Concern colored Blaise’s expression.
“You care about me,” I said.
His head tilted. “Yeah. I thought I’d made that pretty clear to you.” His eyes darkened. “Is that what this is about? You don’t know how much I care about you?”
My chest hurt. My skin felt stretched.
I felt a storm coming. My pulse sped up.
A panic attack was imminent.
He couldn’t see me like that.
“He’s seen you like that already.”
Really?! I sucked in my breath. Now I heard Owen’s voice?
I could hear my brother laugh. “You didn’t really need me before. Don’t run. You chose him. No more running.”
I’m not going camping anymore, I decided then and there.
He just laughed.
Right. Blaise was here. He was alive. He wasn’t a voice in my head.
I could be so crazy sometimes, so what the hell? Owen was right. I’d chosen him. I needed to commit, so here goes nothing—or everything.
“Owen wasn’t my twin,” I said.
Those words were not what he’d been expecting. I read it on his face. His mouth went flat, but he didn’t say anything.
“But everyone thought he was,” I continued.
My chest tightened again, like something was sitting heavy on my throat. I had to push through it, ignore it. That was my panic rising.
I coughed and plunged forward. “I’m smart. I don’t know if I told you.”
He nodded slowly. He was listening. He was with me.
“Like, I’m almost genius-level smart.”
“He doesn’t respect modesty. Be bold.”
Fuck off, Owen!
I sucked in my breath, feeling tears rising. Damn. He always used to do that to me.
“I am genius-level smart. Like, they wanted me to skip a grade.” I winced. “Or two.” Then I hurried. “But I didn’t let them. I mean, I went up one grade…” I wasn’t explaining any of this the right way.
So not a genius.
I tried to backtrack. “Here’s the thing, I’m young.”
His eyes clouded over. “How young?”
“I turned seventeen three weeks ago.”
I was a sixteen-year-old senior. Har har. Laugh at the little genius girl. Now let’s all throw popcorn at her so she can break down and we can feel better about ourselves.
I braced myself—it was always the same response. Always.
But nothing came.
I’d even closed my eyes, preparing myself. For nothing.
I opened them and Blaise was just staring at me, except the clouds weren’t in his eyes any more. They were all over his face. He was almost glaring. I hadn’t expected that reaction. Though, maybe I should’ve? We did have sex. Were you supposed to explain all your hidden secrets before climbing into bed with each other? Probably.
I was going to suck as an adult. I couldn’t even get this teenager stuff right, and I only had one year left. Well, not really. I was off to college. That was adulthood. Kinda.
“That’s why you don’t have friends?”
“What?” I squeaked out.
His face was livid. I thought I was reading that right, but his tone was tender. “You don’t have friends, Aspen. We’ve talked about this. I knew you didn’t know anyone at school, but I thought there’d be someone. Old friends from your last school. A cousin maybe? There’s been no one.”
So many craps.
“I…” had no idea what I was doing anymore. What was the point of me starting this? “I thought I had friends.” Then Owen died. “I realized I didn’t later.”
“What happened?” Blaise was quiet a moment. “Where are your parents?”
Right there. He’d dug right in, right to the bone.
My throat burned.
I didn’t answer.
“They aren’t here. We’re graduating in two days. Where are your parents?” He spoke so softly, so kindly.
I hated it.
Fine. Let’s do this.