Anti stepbrother, p.19
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.19
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           Tijan

  “No.” Caden sat forward and patted his friend on the arm. “We’re going to head out. I think we’ve done enough damage for the night.”

  Following his cue, I stood.

  Diego remained sitting, a befuddled look on his face. “Something happened. What was it? What’d I miss?” Then a gleam appeared. “Wait. Are you guys—”

  “Going home.” Caden touched my arm, gently guiding me in front of him. “I’m dropping her off at her dorm, and I’m going to my place.” His hands came down on my shoulders, and I almost jumped out of my skin. He was touching me, holding me in front of him. He guided me away from the table and out the back way like before.

  We were leaving. That was all. I tried to tell myself that, but as Caden said goodbye to Diego and maneuvered us through the remaining tables, I could only concentrate on the feel of his hands.

  His thumbs slipped over my collar and began to rub against the skin there. And he was right behind me. I could feel his heat. I could almost feel him. If I paused, I knew I could lean back against him and he would hold me a moment. When we got to the fence, I did just that. I closed my eyes, leaning against him. His hands dropped to my waist. Soon he would hoist me in the air, lifting me over the fence. It’d come any second…but it didn’t. He stood like that too.

  His fingers tightened around my waist. I held my breath. He’d break our contact any second now.

  He let out a soft sigh, warming the back of my neck, and I was airborne as he lifted me up and over.

  My legs were shaky as he leaped across, landing in front of me. He moved so seamlessly. He didn’t stand there and gape at me, like I had with him. His eyes didn’t even meet mine, and I frowned at that for a beat, but then his hand grabbed mine and we were walking to his vehicle.

  I didn’t say anything when we got inside the Land Rover.

  He didn’t reach for me, or grab my hand, so I kept it on my leg, palm turned up. He could grab it any time he wanted.

  He didn’t. A part of me ached at the emptiness, as if the weight of his hand on mine had become natural, like my own skin. I bit my lip, not sure how I felt about that. Well, I knew how I felt. I didn’t know how I should feel.

  When he stopped at my dorm, I murmured, “You really did bring me back here.”

  He frowned. “Did you want to go back to my place?”

  I didn’t reply. I couldn’t. I wanted him, and I knew what would’ve happened if we’d gone there instead. I would’ve kissed him, or he would’ve kissed me. I would’ve let him do a whole bunch of other stuff that he would be fine with and I couldn’t handle.

  I swallowed over a lump in my throat. “No. This is okay. I’m…I’m kinda tired anyway.” Liar. You’re wide awake.

  He nodded. “Talk tomorrow?”

  My heart slammed against my chest. “About what?”

  “About anything. Do we need reasons to talk to each other now?”

  “No.” I laughed. “I’m being weird again. Okay.”

  We were friends. That’s right. Friends.

  “Okay,” I said. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

  “’Night, Summer.”

  I walked away, but I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling.

  I wasn’t sure I knew how to be just friends anymore.

  Family Weekend started off like a zombie apocalypse.

  At least it did in my mind. The morning was normal, like any other Friday morning. I woke up, went to class, and got coffee and a bagel before going to Intro to Physiology.

  Marcus didn’t glare at me. Thank goodness. I never knew what I was going to get with him now. We were making progress. He now mostly ignored me, which was fine. I ignored him back. Afterwards, I brought Shayla with me to lunch with Avery and her friends. Claudia even smiled at me.

  If that had happened a week ago, I would’ve considered it a clear sign of the apocalypse, but I had other issues on my mind now. Caden, mainly, but also, Sheila and my dad called early this morning. They were coming, and so were a lot of others, it soon became apparent. I went to the library with Shayla for a study session, and when we left, parents were everywhere.

  People were hugging. Moms cried as dads stood awkwardly to the side. Dads cried. Others shrieked their reunions. Soon I was back in my dorm room, ready for my own hugging/crying/shrieking parents to arrive.

  Someone knocked on my door, and I plastered on a welcoming smile as I opened it.

  It was Kevin.

  My smile faded. “What are you doing here?”

  He gave me a crooked grin, raking his hand through his hair. “Mom called and said to meet here.” He walked in, his hands in his pockets, and glanced around. “This is nice. You didn’t end up with a roommate this year, huh?”

  I eyed the door. To close or not? Gah! I would’ve been all for that a few weeks ago. Close the door, be in my room with Kevin, hope someone would make a move… That seemed so far away, and not far at all. That damn hole inside me started to burn again. I left the door open and sat at my desk. Kevin continued looking around the place like he was the health inspector.

  “Do you know what your mom has planned tonight?” I asked.

  He flashed me that rakish smile again.

  I scowled.

  He sat on my bed and sank backward to lean against the wall, his legs sprawled over my entire bed.

  Well, just make yourself at home.

  “You know my mom. She’ll have something elaborate. I’m guessing dinner tonight and then private box tickets for the football game tomorrow.”

  “Oh, that’s right.”

  “What’s right?”

  “I forgot we had a football team.”

  “Family Weekend usually coincides with Homecoming. The football game is a big deal.”

  “Huh.” Now I remembered Caden talking about the game. “That makes sense. There were a lot of extra people on campus today.”

  “They do a lot of reunions this weekend too. It’s kinda a big free-for-all, but there are parent and family activities planned.” He leaned forward. “You know about the big brunch before the game tomorrow, right?”

  “Uh…”

  “Your resident advisor should’ve told you about it.”

  Avery and I had other things to talk about. “It’s all good. I’ll look it up. I’m sure there’s information online. I can print out an itinerary.”

  “You have to reserve tickets ahead of time.”

  “Oh.” I glanced down. “Maybe we shouldn’t mention the brunch to Sheila.”

  “What brunch?” she called from the doorway.

  Too late.

  She and my dad had appeared, grocery and Target bags in their arms and on the floor by their feet.

  Family Weekend had officially begun.

  I welcomed them with open arms, and after the barrage of hugs, Sheila beamed at us. My dad started bringing in the bags, and she said, “Okay, we have a dinner reservation in thirty minutes, but we wanted to come here first and drop everything off.”

  Kevin peeked in one of the bags. “Any of this for me?”

  She swatted his hand. “Maybe.”

  “Maybe?”

  “Are you going to tell me where you’re living?”

  He froze. “What do you mean?”

  “I know you’re not in the frat house. I called there one morning for you.”

  “Oh.”

  Shit.

  He didn’t say it, but I heard it.

  Sheila wasn’t amused. She crossed her arms over her chest. “So where have you been?”

  “Uh…”

  “That’s what I thought.” She rested an arm around my shoulders and pulled me in for a side-hug. “At least with this one, I always know she’s safe and not living with some boyfriend she’s not talked to me about.”

  Kevin fought a smile.

  I coughed and stepped forward, disengaging myself from Sheila. “Traffic can be a bitch. We don’t want to be late for that reservation, do we?”

  The reservation was at a trendy res
taurant. All the waiters wore pink, as did the hostess who seated us. She also wore a hard-on for Kevin, flirting and smiling coyly at him. When she had to return to her stand, her hand trailed over his shoulder. He glanced back, giving her a secretive smile, which wasn’t that secretive at all. I saw it. She returned it, and when he looked back to the table, his eyes went straight to mine.

  “Are you serious?” I asked.

  “What?” He picked up his menu.

  Sheila glanced between the two of us. “What’s going on?”

  I ignored her. “Is it the five-month mark?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “You know.” I shrugged. “Aren’t you a little early? You still have two more months, don’t you? Maybe my counting is off. When did you move in with Maggie again?”

  Sheila sighed. “That’s what I was worried about.”

  Kevin glared at me. He spoke around gritted teeth. “Can you shut up, please? This isn’t the time.”

  “When is?”

  He leaned forward and hissed, “What’s gotten into you?” His eyes narrowed. “Or maybe I should ask who’s gotten into you?”

  I picked up my menu. “Oh, right. I forgot how you always go to the sexual innuendos because I happen to be friends with another guy. Friends, Kevin. F-R-I-E-N-D-S. I’m spelling it out because I know it’s unfamiliar. It’s a type of relationship where you don’t screw the other person. Those do exist, you know.”

  “Stop it.”

  “Or maybe you really don’t. Do you ever hang out with a girl and not plan to get in her pants at some point?”

  “I did with you.”

  I sucked in my breath.

  “We both know how that turned out.”

  The fuckhead. I could feel the silence around the table like a two-ton weight. My dad was here. Kevin’s mom was here—the woman who had taken me in and loved me.

  That asshole. I jerked forward, ready to deliver a retort when my dad interrupted.

  “I think that’s enough from you two.”

  “Yes.” Sheila nodded. “What has gotten into you? You never talked to each like this at the house.”

  “Because we never talked.”

  I kept my mouth shut, but Sheila seemed taken aback by Kevin’s statement.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Summer and me. We didn’t talk.”

  “Because of you,” I added. Yeah, the intention to shut up had been a good one…

  He regarded me, sitting back in his chair. I felt like we were squaring off. I was going with it. My blood grew more heated by the second.

  “Are you kidding me?”

  “Do I look like I’m joking?” I asked.

  His jaw clenched. “You always look like you’re half joking or half going crazy, so yeah. You kinda do.”

  “Kevin Jamison Matthews!” Sheila’s fist came down on the table. “You apologize now to your stepsister.”

  He didn’t. He narrowed his eyes and turned to address his mother head-on. “That’s the thing, you never gave me a choice as to whether I wanted a stepsister. I’m assuming she never got a choice about a stepbrother either—or even a stepmother.” He turned to my dad, who’d been sitting stoically. “And no offense, sir, but I never wanted a new dad. I have enough issues with my current one.”

  “Get up from this table and walk away.” It was a softly spoken command from Sheila, and it sent shivers down my back.

  I didn’t say a word. My dad still hadn’t. We waited to see what Kevin would do, because this had become an exchange between mother and son.

  Kevin waited five more seconds, holding his mother’s gaze, before pulling his cloth napkin from his lap. He laid it on his plate. Shoving back his chair, Kevin didn’t say another word or look at us as he stood and left.

  I’d been holding my breath since Sheila’s command. I slowly released it now, blinking back a few surprising tears.

  She let out a shaky laugh. “That’s been brewing for a while, and I apologize wholehearted—”

  “Stop, Sheila.” My father cleared his throat, folding his hands on the table. “He’s right.”

  “Excuse me? Did you just say—”

  He interrupted again. “They’re both right, and what were we thinking? We just got married, Sheila. We didn’t give them warning, or time to get accustomed to the new setup. They met a week before we moved in, and he’s right about that first year. They barely talked. Everyone barely talked. The only two who did were you and me.”

  He turned to me. “I should’ve known. You were quiet that year, but you’ve always been quiet. I thought you were just missing your mother. I didn’t think— No, I didn’t want to think. I just decided you got along, so I didn’t think about unresolved issues. I’m sorry, honey.”

  I blinked back more tears. That hole was ripping open inside me. My mom… A wave of longing crashed over me. I could hear her voice. I was right there, holding her hand in the hospital. I felt her fingers brush back my hair as she said softly, “You won’t just have a great life, Summer. You’ll soar. I know you’ll be better than your father or I ever were.”

  My heart started going, too fast.

  I couldn’t—it was pressing into my throat. I felt like I was being choked from the inside.

  “Are you okay, honey?” Sheila’s hand came down on mine, warming me.

  I nodded, brushing the tears away. “I’m fine. I, uh—” I looked at my dad. “I miss Mom, that’s all.”

  Sheila grew quiet.

  Tears welled in my dad’s eyes, and my throat closed up at the sight. I turned away.

  I didn’t want to cry. I felt my mom every day, but I couldn’t let myself think about her. If I did? Niagara Falls. Clearing my throat, I dried my eyes and shook my head. That hole—it needed to close.

  “Before we hold a candlelight vigil right here and now, can we deal with the Kevin thing?”

  “That’s what I am? A thing to deal with?”

  Kevin had returned. He paused before pulling his chair out.

  I waved to his face. “Oh good. Your scowl came back too.”

  “Summer!”

  This time the reprimand came from my dad. “What is with you?”

  “Okay.” Sheila spread her hands in the air. “This is enough. It’s obvious our family has some concerns to air, and I think we should have our first official family meeting tonight. We have a suite. We can talk about this at the hotel, but can we enjoy the meal first?”

  Kevin still hadn’t sat back down.

  She pointed to his chair. “Can you sit? Can you be civil for the next hour?”

  Picking up his cloth napkin, he tucked it back on his lap and
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