I grinned, knowing that’s what he would’ve said.
“Aspen.” Nate’s head was hanging low. He wasn’t looking at me, and if he hadn’t said my name, I wouldn’t have thought he was even talking to me. His tone was far-off, distant. Soft. Regretful. He added, “There’s going to be a time when you’re going to be mad at me, mad at Mom and Dad.” He looked up, his eyes keen and sharp. The regret was there, more prominent. “You can be mad. You can be furious with them, and me. I know that’s not how you usually roll. Sometimes I think I got all the anger in the family, but I just—you have every right to be angry at us. And when you feel that, you can call me and chew me out. It’s deserved on my end, and if you want to chew out Mom and Dad, I will be there. I will back you up. Fuck.” He shook his head. “I might do it myself because they deserve it. I missed out on you and Owen. I really missed out on Owen, and I’m--” He choked off, blinking rapidly. “I’m just so sorry.”
The words weren’t just for me. I knew it in my gut. I felt it in my bones.
You hearing this, Owen? Those words are for you too.
I’m hearing this. Dumbass doesn’t know I’m still around. Haunting his pasty buttcheeks.
I snorted, hanging my head down.
“What?” Nate was half grinning, half frowning. A confused look in his gaze.
“It’s nothing. Just, if Owen were here, he’d probably say he’s haunting your pasty white buttcheeks.”
You left out ‘dumbass.’
Nate laughed, tipping his head back. “That actually makes me feel good. I think he would like a few of my friends.”
It was later that night when I let Nate off the hook.
Blaise pulled up, and my brother was so relieved. It was almost comical.
He couldn’t leave quickly enough.
Hugs were given. Promises were made to see each other the next day, and that’s when I told him that I was going to attend the graduation ceremony.
Nate looked like he was about to cry, but he gave me one more hug, hit Blaise on the shoulder with a threat to keep me safe, and then he was gone. After that, Blaise and I got ready for bed.
We crawled into the sleeping bag and he went first, telling me about his mom.
I told him about my time with Nate.
Blaise nodded. “You deserve that.”
Then he kissed me, and there wasn’t much talking after that.
I wasn’t shocked later the next afternoon when they called my name at graduation that there were two roars of cheering—one from where my brother sat with some of his friends, and the other from where Blaise and Zeke sat. Both stood up and hollered, but Zeke ran up and down his aisle, getting everyone to do the wave.
I started crying.
I met Blaise’s eyes, and his smile had been so gentle, that I swear there’d been a whole hiccup in my chest.
Then there was the very, very eerie feeling I got as I took my diploma.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and a shiver went down my spine, but I wasn’t scared. That shiver wasn’t a bad shiver. It was in awareness, and it spread through my entire body.
Owen was here.
He was walking beside me. He received the diploma with me, and he stayed with me the rest of the ceremony. And as much as I hated to admit it, Blaise and Nate were both right. Owen had wanted me to do this for him, and because of him, but that was all I could handle. I was technically the valedictorian of our class. I’d been informed on Friday, but when the principal asked if I wanted to be recognized as the valedictorian, I turned him down.
I’d only moved to Fallen Crest my senior year, and I didn’t want to do the speech. Whoever was salutatorian and the third in line deserved it more than I did. They had likely attended Fallen Crest Academy all their lives, and they’d been competing heavily for the top two spots, according to one of the secretaries in the front office who liked to gossip. So I was good with that.
Coming to the ceremony was plenty for me, and afterward was the best part.
I met Blaise’s mom, who started crying. And I met Stephen, Blaise’s real dad, but after a quick hug, he had to leave. Roussou’s ceremony was starting in thirty minutes.
Then Zeke came over and picked me up in a big hug. He twirled me around, and I felt the entire world watching us. Blaise scowled at him, but there was no threat in it. He tucked me under his arm, and the two started trading joke insults.
Nate came over with two friends in tow. One was a big, muscular guy named Matteo. The other was a girl who introduced herself as Grace.
Zeke was beside himself, his eyes all wide and bulging as he turned into a bumbling choirboy.
Nate had told our parents, and it was then that Mom and Dad came over.
Mom was crying. Dad looked like he’d shed a few tears.
He was right. Blaise was right. It was right to have them here.
As much as I didn’t confide in my mother, she was my mom. She was Owen’s mom too, and as soon as she hugged me, she broke.
This day wasn’t about me—that’s the thing that hit me.
It was about my family, because we all loved Owen. We’d all lost Owen.
My mom started to pull away, but I held her tight and whispered, “He’s here, Mom. I can feel him.”
That set her off again, but eventually she pulled back and blinked at Nate.
“I just want all my babies happy.”
“Mom.” Nate opened his arms, and she went to him. They had their own moment.
My dad caught me up in a hug, and I introduced my parents to Blaise. Their reaction could only be described as cautious. Blaise didn’t seem to care. Nate thought it was funny.
Slipping my hand in his, I rested against Blaise’s side.
His arm came around my shoulder.
In this moment, everything felt good. Everything felt right.
So why was I worried?
We were parked in his Wagon at the recently reopened Fallen Crest drive-in.
Blaise’s mouth was on my throat, and moving south. I was about to burst out of my clothes, not to mention my seat.
I had about three seconds before my mind shut off and I wouldn’t give a crap where we were. So I needed to disentangle his arms—and more importantly his mouth—because we were so not somewhere that we could move this where we wanted to go.
It had almost seemed a joke when a local business owner had announced his plan to reopen the drive-in, but it’d been up and running for the last two weeks, and based on the number of cars around us, it was proving to be popular. The grand opening had been a week after our graduation—same as the night Blaise’s mom had talked him into letting her have a graduation party for him.
It’d been a rocky event.
Marie wanted to go big and bold, and Blaise only wanted Zeke and me there. After a few exchanges, Marie had compromised. We were still getting to know each other, but I liked her. The guest list ended up being Zeke, Brian, Branston (all guys I was starting to get to know and becoming more comfortable around), Stephen (who was lovely), Taz (who I adored instantly), and Taz’s boyfriend, Race. He seemed intense.
The last two weeks had been interesting for my family.
Nate had stayed almost the entire week after graduation, because his friends were all coming in the next weekend. So that meant my parents were around the entire week, and since meeting Blaise, my mom was like a dog after a bone. Blaise had attended three family dinners, two family breakfasts, and every time he picked me up, he had to come into the house.
“Pick me up” was a relative concept, because Blaise was still sneaking into the house and sleeping over.
We’d slowed down on the sex, but there’d been a lot of nights of sweaty moans, and a lot of me cursing about why he wanted to slow down. Yes, he did. Not me. I was like “get in me now,” and Blaise was all, “no, we need to slow down. I have to show you how much I care about you.”
For a badass boyfriend, he was ridiculously careful with me.
I knew I loved Blaise, but I hadn’t expressed that to him. I started bringing it up, but each time I did, he began kissing me, and I ended up trying to get him to climb into my pants. He’d refrain, and I’d want to curse him.
I was starting to get a complex, about him.
So, I was both surprised and not surprised that he was putting the moves on me now.
We were at the drive-in. And probably he wasn’t planning to follow through, because he couldn’t, so why was I trying to be the responsible one here?
I turned and climbed onto his lap.
He leaned back, his eyes surprised, and I grinned as I straddled him.
His hands went to my legs. “Hey.”
Yeah. Turnabout is fair play.
“Hi.” I moved forward and began tasting his throat.
“Jesus, Aspen.” He groaned.
I grinned, moving down his throat to his chest.
He took deep gulps of air, his hands kneaded my hips.
“You like this?” I asked.
Yes. He liked this. He liked this a whole lot. I could feel him between my legs, and I ground down on him.