I gulp down the lump of resentment clogging my throat. “Yeah, dinner sounds great.” It’s what she wants to hear, and I suppose I owe her that much. “As long as I can bring a date.”
So one thing I’m learning about Taylor—she doesn’t take well to sudden change. With this business about her mom’s new boyfriend, a hidden, lurking, full-blown panic type-A personality has reared its hilarious head. She’s rigid and coiled beside me in the passenger seat of my Jeep, her fingernails tapping the armrest. I can sense her mashing her foot down on the imaginary gas pedal in the floorboard.
“We’re not going to be late,” I reassure her as I pull away from the diner on Main Street. We’d stopped at Della’s to pick up a pecan pie for dessert. “Dude lives in Hastings, right?”
Her phone lights up her face and reflects off her window. She’s studying the route on her map. “Yeah, turn left at the lights. We’re heading toward Hampshire Lane, then making a right on—no, I said go left!” she yelps as I drive straight through the intersection.
I glance over. “This’ll save us time.” I happen to know for a fact that the left-turn light in the intersection we just passed lasts about .04 seconds and then you’re waiting like six minutes for it to change again.
“It’s seven-oh-nine,” Taylor growls. “We have to be there at seven-fifteen. And that was our turn!”
“You said Hampshire. I can get us there faster by avoiding the lights and cutting through the residential streets.”
Her dubious expression says she doesn’t believe me. “I’ve lived here longer than you,” she reminds me.
“And you don’t have a car, babe,” I say, flashing her a grin she would appreciate if she weren’t so wound up. “I know these roads. Coach lives nearby. Hunter and I spent a night driving up and down every one of these streets when Foster wandered off from a team dinner to smoke a joint. He got lost for three hours. Found him in some old lady’s empty above-ground pool.”
“Seven-ten,” she snaps back.
There’s no winning with Taylor. And I don’t really blame her for being a bundle of nerves. I’ve been in her seat.
It was just me and my mom for so long—and then suddenly this Max goofball shows up at the house in khakis and a Brooks Brothers shirt and calling me Sport or some shit, and I about lost my mind. Had to talk Kai out of boosting the rims off Max’s Land Rover, although I’m pretty sure it was him who slashed Max’s tire the first night he stayed over.
“If you decide you don’t like the dude, just give me a signal,” I tell her.
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. I’ll switch out his sugar with salt or something. I could also replace all his beer with piss, but then you’d have to drive us home.”
“Deal. But only if he’s a super douche, like he’s got a portrait of himself hanging up in his dining room.”
“Or endangered animal heads on his wall.”
“Or he doesn’t recycle,” she says, giggling. “Oooh, maybe you can text the guys to show up at the windows wearing Halloween masks.”
“Damn, you’re dark.”
But she’s laughing, and some of the tension finally leaves her body. This dinner is a big deal for her. For her mother and their relationship. I get the sense that Taylor’s dreaded this day for a while—this moment when someone would become the other most important person in her mother’s life, and she’d have to start getting used to the idea that her mom is a person with a whole life that doesn’t include Taylor. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
“What’s the street name?”
I turn right onto Manchester. The street is lined with bare trees whose branches sweep across brown lawns and skim the ground where the last snow of the season has finally melted. The old Victorian homes aren’t as big as the ones a few streets over, but the houses here are nice. I know this street.
“Number forty-two,” Taylor supplies.
“What is it?” She stares at me, alarmed by the look on my face.
“This is Coach’s house.”
She blinks. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I mean this is Coach Jensen’s house. Forty-two Manchester Road.”
“But this is Chad’s house.”
A strangled laugh pops out. “Hey babe, let’s play a game—”
“What are you babbling about?”
“—It’s called ‘Guess Coach Jensen’s first name.’”
There’s a beat. Then Taylor’s cheeks go pale. “Oh my God. IS IT CHAD?”
“It’s Chad,” I choke out between hearty chuckles. I can’t stop laughing. I know, I know, a total dick move, but come on—what are the fucking odds?
Taylor shoots me a glare, as if this is somehow my fault, and I can only imagine what’s going through her mind. I know Coach Jensen is a standup guy, but Taylor doesn’t know him at all. Right now she’s got to be asking herself if she’d want someone like me, someone like Hunter or Foster or any of those other hockey bros sliding into her mom’s DMs.
Honestly, I can’t blame her. Hockey men are definitely a handful. We’re animals.
The numbers on my dashboard blink from 7:13 to 7:14. I glance toward Coach’s house. The curtain moves in the living room window.
“T?” I prompt.
She digs her fingers into her temples, then releases a heavy breath. “Let’s get this over with,” she says.
Before we even reach the porch, the front door swings open to reveal Brenna. “Oh, this is perfect!” She shakes her head with a look of amused pity. “You dumbass.”
“She’s talking to me,” I assure Taylor.
“Obviously,” my girlfriend replies.
The girls hug and compliment each other’s outfits. I’ve already forgotten what Taylor’s wearing, because I’m busy trying to figure out if her mom marrying Coach makes us brother and sister until I realize Coach and I aren’t related. My brain’s stuck in neutral.
“You still have time to run, Con,” advises Brenna. “Go. Run free, you sexy Viking conqueror.”
Taylor turns to study me.
“What?” I demand.
“You do look like a sexy Viking conqueror.” Then she grabs my hand and grips it tightly. “And you’re not going anywhere, Thor. You’re my wing-man, remember?”
“I agreed to the job before we discovered your mom’s banging my Chad.”
“She’s banging my dad,” Brenna corrects with a snicker.
“Can we please not discuss our parents’ sex life?” Taylor begs.
“Good point.” Brenna opens the door wider and takes our coats, hanging them up in the front hall. “You seriously didn’t know?” she asks me.
“Did you? Because a warning would’ve been nice.” I hear voices coming from the back of the house and figure everyone else is in the kitchen.
“I knew I was meeting Dad’s new girlfriend’s kid, but I had no idea it was Taylor—or that she’d bring you. This is the greatest night of my life.” Brenna goes running into the kitchen ahead of us like a fucking tattletale. “Hey, Dad! One of your goons is here.”