But it didn’t matter.
Hunter had moved to the side, around his dad. “Cheyenne.”
I grimaced, shoving the street in me back down, and I went over to him. “Hey. Hey there.”
We’d exchanged pictures. I didn’t have social media accounts, but I used Come Our Way’s Instagram page to follow his. I’d seen him grow up over the years, but it’d been too long. Way too long.
“You got big.”
“Hunter.” His dad moved in, throwing me a sideways look, but his tone was half hushed and half cautious. I didn’t spare Deek a look, and he knew why. Before his call to the Mustangs, I might’ve been welcoming, but he made his choice.
“Dad, stop! She’s your kid, too.”
Deek threw me another look, but he ducked his head and moved back a step.
Chad came up. He took in Hunter, me, and sighed. He put his arm around Deek’s shoulders. “Come on. Let’s grab this little punk a beer, because apparently he thinks he’s an adult.”
Hunter rolled his eyes up. “Har har. Don’t be sour because she actually wants to talk to me.”
Chad laughed, pulling Deek with him.
Hunter laughed, too.
They exchanged lighthearted punches to their arms, but then Chad was heading away. Deek was stiff next to him, and Chad glanced over his shoulder at me. Hunter had already turned back, so only I saw the very real and very serious warning in those eyes.
He didn’t trust me.
I hadn’t thought much about Chad before. What I said to Cut had been the truth, but now I was doubly grateful because if I had cared, that look would’ve filleted me. As it was, I turned to the only one standing in front of me that could hurt me, but I knew he wouldn’t.
“You’re the Koala Man now.”
Hunter laughed, ducking his head down. He ran a hand over the back of his head, giving his hair a little shake before dropping it back down. His head went back up and he shifted on his legs. Feet apart. He was giving me the cocky athlete stance. “I play hockey, too.”
“I’m like Cut. First line.”
He was damn proud of it. I could tell.
I hadn’t gone to any of his games, obviously. I knew what school he went to. He’d told me over email. I knew of two girls he was interested in. I knew his friends’ names. I knew he liked his school, but he missed where he had been. I knew he had two best friends there whom he really missed, and one was a girl, and that girl was someone he thought he could have feelings for. I also knew that he was shutting it down because he was here, not there.
And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that did Deek know? Did Natalie know?
I was betting not that much.
“You’re liking it?”
Some of the cockiness faded, and his hands came out of his pockets. He nodded. “Yeah.” He started eyeing the wall between us. “I’d say you should sit with us so we could catch up, but knowing—” He nodded to the side where Chad and Deek were still in line for beer. “—I bet they’d actually shit their pants, huh?”
Melanie would like him.
I grinned. “Yeah, but imagine how smelly their shits would be if you gave them the slip and sat with me instead?”
Hunter laughed a little louder, his shoulders eased a bit more, too. “That would be almost worth it.” He got somber, his smile fading. “I don’t get their problem. They act like—”
They acted like I was my mother.
I changed the subject on purpose. “Do you get to see Deek a lot?”
He shrugged, and his face closed up. “Every now and then”
So he was saying he didn’t. Which was interesting since Deek moved out here because of Hunter.
“How’s your mom doing?”
His face opened back up a little, a small grin showing. “She’s good. I mean, as good as can be. It’s Mom, you know.” His face shuddered. “Or, I mean, no. She’s not your mom. She’s Natalie. Chad would understand.”
I was nodding, going with it. “I’m sure he would. I bet he’d have a whole joke to insert. I don’t. I’m sorry.” Gah. I wasn’t trying to make him feel bad. “I just don’t know Natalie that well, you know?”
His eyes grew fierce. “You would if she gave you a chance. Fucking Nata—”
He stopped, his eyes widening at my sharp tone.
I eased it back, a little. “Sorry. Just…she’s your mom. Appreciate her.”
We never went serious in our emails. Everything was light and joking, and it hadn’t been a hardship. Seeing him now, though; seeing the changes, seeing what I missed out on, it was a little harder to remain all surface-level here.
I was swallowing some bitterness, and I didn’t usually feel that.
“You, uh, you look good. You seem different, too.” He inched forward toward the wall, dropping his tone. “It’s not right that I didn’t see you all those years. I’ve talked to Dad and Mom about it, but I don’t care what they say. It’s not right. We should’ve…”
“Hey.” I tapped the wall.
He was blaming himself. He shouldn’t do that.
He paused, frowning at me, but I saw the fight still there. He was torn.
“Your parents had reasons for keeping me away.”
He snorted. “Maybe in the beginning, because they were worried about your mom’s influence, but not later. You were in college and I was…” He trailed off because he was still growing up.
I flattened my palm against the wall. “Listen to me. It is what it is. You cannot look back on ‘what ifs’ and ‘should’ves.’ Trust me. You were a kid. You’re still a kid, and I was getting my head together. We’re here now. That’s the great thing. Now…you walking down the same time I was walking in, that was meant to be. I believe in that shit. Believe in that. Okay? No look-backs. Got it?”
He didn’t at first, but then jerked his head down in a nod. “Yeah. Fine. I got it.”
I saw Deek and Chad heading back, beer in hand and it looked as if they were heading to fight a Marvel supervillain. All scowls, and I had to flinch because one of those guys was the reason I’d been born.
“Super Scowls are returning.”
Hunter grinned, but stepped back from the wall.
I let my hand fall back. “Let’s text instead? Or call, even? I’ll email you my digits.”
He nodded. “Sounds good.”
Then Chad was near us and he had his head tipped up in a challenging way.
I considered pointing out that there was no fight to be alpha between us, though; let’s be realistic. It’s hard to out-street someone from the streets. Chad might scoff at that, but someone else from the streets would get me. They’d be on the same wavy train.
“I looked at your seats, but you weren’t there tonight.”
I almost laughed at that. “Because you cared or because you needed to know which route to take to the concessions stand to avoid me?”
He winced at the last suggestion.
I let out a sigh. “I’m going to ignore the blatant disrespect you’ve shown me over and over again. I’m going to ignore a whole lot of things right now, but how about instead we could focus on what I should say when I go back to the seats I am sitting in tonight?”