Authors: Sophie Lira
“Liv, it’s fine.” I kiss her quickly. “So what’s all this?”
“Breakfast of champions. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, and chocolate croissants.” She gestures to the spread.
I kiss her forehead and pull out her chair at the counter. She blushes and bites her lip as I push the chair back in after she sits. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you for this. If I had to down another protein shake, I think I was gonna vomit.”
“Well, Cam told me all of his cooking secrets.” She bites off a piece of bacon, leaning in close. “It’s adobo and garlic.”
“Shocking.” I laugh and shovel a heap of eggs into my mouth. “But yours are better. Don’t tell him.”
She nods her head. “I know they are.”
“So, I have a surprise for you. Well, it’s kind of a surprise, but not really. What I mean is … ”
“Spit it out, Avery.” She nudges my arm.
“My parents invited us over for the weekend. They really want to meet you and my mom finished the pool house and—”
“You have a pool house?” Her eyes widen and her jaw drops. “Exactly how
did you mean?”
“My dad’s a really good lawyer.” I shrug. I’ve been trying to drop hints so it wouldn’t totally shell shock her about my family. “I’m going to ask Cam if they want to come up, too. My parents are super chill and my mom is dying to meet you.”
“I know.” She pours more coffee and takes my hand. “She called me the other day.”
The smile on her face brightens. She tucks her hair behind her ears and picks up her mug with two hands. I know my mom called her right after the whole hospital bill incident. I really didn’t want to give up Olivia’s number, but my mom has a huge point: she probably needs someone older other than her boss. The small amount of adults in her life will never replace parents. I couldn’t imagine life without mine. Ever since I was a kid, my parents were more my friends than anything.
Olivia doesn’t have that. I’m not sure she ever did. The huge differences in our lives growing up are probably more than I could comprehend.
“We talked for about a half hour. About general things, nothing major. Can I ask you something, though? It doesn’t matter or anything. I’m only curious.”
“Yeah?” I shift toward her.
“Was your mom ever close with any of your exes? I know we haven’t talked about it much, but it’s a little weird. Not weird, but … new?” She rubs my foot with hers.
I shake my head. “My life was so different then. I’ve always known who I was, but I never felt like this. All the girls I dated didn’t want to know me. They latched on to my name and what I could do for them. I didn’t want them around my parents.”
Her smile fades as fast as her shoulders fall. “You’re so much more than your batting average.”
“It was a blessing in disguise.” I kiss her forehead. “I could never imagine my life without you.”
“Kyle … ” She smiles, a deep flush stretching across her cheeks.
“It’s the truth.” I kiss her again quickly. “Come on, eat up. They want us there for dinner.” I break off another piece of a croissant and dissolve into a pile of fat-kid heaven as it melts in my mouth.
“Wait.” Olivia grabs my wrist as I’m about to go to take a shower.
I’m not expecting to see the wild, wide look in her eyes. “What’s going on?”
I have this sinking feeling she’s collapsing into herself like a goddamn black hole. I practically have to throw her over my shoulder to do anything outside my apartment besides work. She tugs on the end of her braid before looking over to me. “Your parents must think I’m an absolute train wreck. Everyone must think so.”
“They don’t.” I pull her off the stool and give her a hug.
She’s scared. I know she is. She has been. But I can’t tell her enough that just because my parents are loaded and frequent the country club doesn’t mean they’re stuck-up assholes. If anything, I think my mom would be better for her than me. My mom comes from the same place. She never talks about her childhood much, but I feel like she’d know how to handle Olivia.
“Well, we can’t stay for long, either. I have work on Monday.” She gives me a half smile that’s all unease. “I don’t want to have to ask Aubrey to switch again.”
“I know, darlin’. Working means a lot to you and I get it.” Even if we’re getting through this at snail’s pace, I won’t stop or give up until I pull the person I know is deep inside her out into the open. She follows me into the bathroom and we silently get into the shower. I’m not about to turn this into a dual purpose cleaning session.
She washes her hair, scrubbing her scalp like she always does before rinsing it clean. I take the moment to breathe in her shampoo. It’s the only thing that keeps me calm. If I smell it, I know she’s near. As she slathers on some conditioner, she swipes under her eye.
“I miss him so much.” She turns to me, shaking her head. “I just want someone in my real family again. It kills me that I have no one. I know I have other family. But Tyler is the only blood I have. No matter how much of a dick he’s being, I still miss him.”
“I know.” I stand under the scorching water with her, holding her as tight as I can. As much as I want to kick his face in, there has to be something more to it. If I can find him, I’m going to make him talk to her. Whether or not he wants to.
Get away from me.
My feet cement to the ground as Braden catches up with me. I can’t move. My breathing picks up. I won’t make it out alive.
I whip around and my legs still won’t budge.
My old house. But on fire.
Tyler’s face contorts through the flames.
I cough, but my mouth glues shut. Gum snakes through my teeth.
I pull at the chunks, but they won’t come out.
The taffy-like pieces catch in my throat.
Someone. Please help me
I jolt awake and fly forward, barely catching myself before I face-plant into his dashboard. Kyle veers to the side of the road and runs his fingers through my hair. Thankfully no cars are around to flip him off for swerving like a maniac.
“You okay?” He pulls me closer, kissing the side of my head. “You were screaming. It scared the shit out of me.”
“Not really.” I put my hand over my heart, taking slow breaths and clamping my eyes closed again. Flashing remnants of my nightmare still linger. “Can we stop at the next rest area?”
“Of course.” He takes my hand and kisses my knuckles. “Have you been having a lot of bad dreams?”
Every single night.
“Sort of, but you always know when I’m having them and they stop.” I smile, leaning over the console and kiss his cheek.
“What do you mean?” He glances at me with an eyebrow raised.
I sigh, taking another huge step in opening up more and talking about things I’d usually keep to myself. “I haven’t been sleeping well. When I do sleep, I have these dreams. Some freak me out. Some petrify me. But I always wake up and you’re holding me. Like no one could ever hurt me.”
He smiles, but there’s a hint of sadness in his eyes. We drive for a few more miles and pull off the highway outside of Beaumont. As I get out of the car, I stretch and yawn. Kyle takes my hand and we walk into the giant rest stop overcrowded with truckers and families looking to recharge with greasy fast food and mediocre coffee.
“How about this?” Kyle holds up an oversized T-shirt that says
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
with an arrow pointing down. “Classy, right? My mom would love it.”
“I enjoy your current ensemble much more.” My favorite dark-wash jeans hug his legs like the most perfect glove, paired with a light blue Henley and his new favorite gray-knit slouched beanie. I’m in hipster heaven, especially with the way his shirt clings to all his muscles and makes them look even more defined.
Don’t get me started on his aviators.
Or his blinding white Vans with light blue piping.
Table for Swooning, thanks.
I shove the cheap shirt back on the rack and busy myself rummaging through bags of candy. As I wait for Kyle to pay for his nutritious lunch of beef jerky and Snickers, I smooth out my black sweater and pull up the back of my nicest jeans. I’ve been having another breakdown about looking presentable enough for Kyle’s parents though I know I’m nothing like the hot mess of a girl I was only a few months ago.
There are people everywhere, and I’m starting to feel uneasy the longer Kyle’s away. Mostly truckers with disheveled clothing and dingy skin. I know my past is behind me, but this reminds me of my father. He was never neglectful, but he didn’t really know how to parent. There was always food on the table, heat in our house, and clothes on our backs. But the little things, like making sure your thirteen-year-old son isn’t taking care of your eleven-year-old daughter for days at a time, were never on his priority list.
I’m pretty sure the trucking company he worked for was unaware his kids lived at home with him. Maybe it’s why I’m so grossly independent when it comes to my finances, but I still look for companionship because I never knew what it was like. I was always drilled to be friends with Tyler and not draw attention to myself. But Tyler was always off with his baseball buddies. That’s how I got involved with Braden in the first place.
After my father was killed in a twelve-vehicle pile-up in Alaska, I wasn’t sad. I don’t think he ever wanted kids. I still think I was so good in school because I had nothing else to be proud of. I didn’t get love from parents, so I thought my teachers would be the next best thing.
I rake my fingers through my meticulously straightened hair and fidget with the straps on my bag as Kyle comes back. I don’t know how to react to his parents. Do I hug them? Feel them out?
“They’re going to love you as much as I do. Stop freaking out.” Kyle jolts me out of my thoughts. He takes my hand and we walk back outside. Easier said than done. He must not know what it’s like to second-guess yourself twenty-four-seven.
“I know, it’s … this is important to me, to make a good impression. Your father has spent so much time helping me, and your mother already sent me that care package. I put your life in danger. You’d think they’d be less … welcoming.”
Kyle takes my face in his palms, his gorgeous, warm brown eyes radiating with care and love. “My parents are the most wonderful people, Olivia. I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been really fortunate in my life, and I know you deserve it more than anyone.” He leans in, giving me a short peck.
“But why?” I cross my arms. “Kyle, they don’t know me. You barely know me, in the grand scheme.”
“I know you. You are kind and have the best intentions. You don’t have a malicious bone in your body. The hand you’ve been dealt fucking sucks. My parents have been there, too. My mom was in and out of the foster system for years. They believe me when I say you’re worth it. Because you are. They trust my judgment. Always have.”
He opens the car door for me and I shake my head, unable to process his words. He wraps me in a hug and I level out. The words I didn’t know I was waiting over twenty years to hear release even more emotion inside. I know I can get through this if I try. He gives me a kiss, and I relish the affection deep to my core.
The next hour and a half go by too fast. I’m heavily distracted by texting Natasha and Aubrey, eating candy, and swatting Kyle’s hand away at his inappropriate attempts to
calm me down
. The last thing I need is rumpled clothing from a highway orgasm.
Kyle takes the exit for River Oaks and my stomach drops. Within a few minutes, we’ve left the bustling freeway and entered wealth like I’ve never seen. I’m sure these giant, elegant houses are like Kyle’s, and I have to remind myself to not stare like it’s the first time I’ve seen snow.
“We are definitely not in Kansas anymore.” My head follows mansion after mansion detailed with elaborate gates every few hundred feet. Before I can remember how to speak, we turn into a massive driveway lined with lush evergreens. The gates open and I duck my head down a little to see out the windshield to an enormous white stone-front house.
Okay, mansion isn’t even an acceptable term.
The sparkling French doors in the front are decorated with an extravagant fall-themed wreath. The detached four-car garage has faux wooden doors with a 7-series BMW, Mini Cooper, and golf cart parked in front of it. The entire property is accented with gorgeous flowers and plants, and there’s even a swing hanging from the willow tree in the front yard.
This is like a Hallmark Special.
“Welcome to the Avery abode,” Kyle says, with a hint of amusement. “This is nothing. Wait until you see the waterfall and batting cage in the backyard.”
“Your garage is bigger than my old house.” I gape at one thing after another. The front door flies open and a gorgeous blond woman runs out, a Siberian husky puppy bolting behind her.
Do not squee at the puppy.
Do not squee at the cute, fluffy puppy!
“They got a dog?” Kyle’s smile almost breaks his face in half, and I think he’s about as excited as I am. He parks his car and we both hop out. Before I’m overcome and rolling in the grass with ol’ blue eyes, I remember this is the first time I’ve been here and mind the few Southern manners I have.
While Kyle hugs the stunning woman with his same brown eyes and blond hair, I squat down and pet the dog pawing at my shins. “Hey, buddy!”
“Olivia?” I’m jolted out of puppy paradise when Kyle’s mom calls my name. I stand, locking eyes with her. A million ropes inside me break and I have the most overwhelming urge to cry. She’s about my height, dressed way more casual than I anticipated in a pair of skinny jeans, canvas flats, and a fitted UNC T-shirt. Her long hair is braided to the side and I see so much of Kyle’s warmth in her eyes.