Anti stepbrother, p.2
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.2
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           Tijan

  He knew exactly what I’d just done.

  So did Kevin. I sensed his sideways glance, and then the back of his hand brushed against mine. I figured that was his way of thanking me.

  “Really?” Caden raised an eyebrow.

  “Really.” I raised my head in challenge, despite how I felt inside. I was covering for Kevin, the guy I was in love with, and it was wrong. I blinked a few times. Whatever. It would work out in the end. It had to.

  “Yeah.” Kevin coughed. “I was on the phone with her dad. He called because he couldn’t get ahold of her.” He said to me, “You’re supposed to call your dad.”

  “Uh, thanks.” Was I really?

  He shrugged, trying to look casual and cool at the same time. “No problem.”

  Caden didn’t say a word, only observing the exchange between us, but Marcus snorted and rolled his eyes.

  He flung his hand out, pointing to me. “Come on, you guys. You can’t be believing this chick. She’s Matthews’ sister. Of course she’s going to lie for him.”

  “Let it go, Marcus.” Caden’s tone was weary, and I had a feeling this showdown had happened before.

  I studied the other brothers’ faces, and they were all the same: tired. Kevin shrugged his shoulders again and cocked his head to the side, but he didn’t say anything. His gaze fell away from Caden’s, and he looked at the other two fraternity brothers.

  The bravado he’d adopted when I covered for him fell away, just slightly, but he still cleared his throat and forced a happy note in his tone. “I’m thinking it’s time to get down and get a drink. You guys game?”

  They regarded him, and Silent Muscle grunted. “I’m always down for a drink. Fuck this drama shit.”

  Kevin stepped between the two, clapping their shoulders. “Let’s do shots. It’s that kind of night now.”

  The three headed inside, leaving Marcus, Caden, and me behind. Before they disappeared, Kevin glanced back over his shoulder and nodded, giving me a half-grin. Then they were gone.

  Kevin had left me. Again. Déjà vu hit me. I felt like I had three months ago when I’d woken up the morning after and he was gone. I’d just covered for him, and he went off to take shots with his fraternity brothers. I frowned, not liking how that sat with me. The fucker.

  “Why?” Marcus spat the word at me, his jaw clenched. “Just, why? I know you saw her. You must’ve.”

  Guilt spread in me, but I didn’t say anything. What could I say? He was right.

  Caden sighed. “Leave her alone. He’s her family.”

  He reached a hand out to rest on Marcus’ shoulder, but Marcus dodged and turned on him, his eyes flashing.

  “I get it. He’s your fraternity brother, but I’m your real brother. One of these days, you’re going to have to pick a side, Caden. Fuck Dad. Fuck him and his stupid fucking fraternity.” He seared us both with an accusing look. “I don’t give a shit who covers for Matthews. It’s going to be an all-out war.”

  Now Caden was pissed.

  I didn’t know the guy, but I knew that much. He didn’t strike me as the type who let someone talk to him like that and walk away. I stepped back, expecting a punch, but none came. There was just silence. Brother glared at brother, both with clenched jaws.

  Then Caden glanced in my direction, and it dawned on me: They weren’t saying anything because of me.

  “Oh.” I flashed a grin and a wave. “I, uh, I should probably go call my dad. Because, you know, that’s what Kevin said to do.”

  Marcus snorted. “Right.”

  Caden just observed me, his stare unrelenting. I backed up a few feet, and he still watched me. It shouldn’t have bothered me, but a little fluttering feeling bloomed low in my stomach. I started to turn around, then paused halfway with my head bent. I could still feel him. I didn’t like that sensation, not at all. It was…unnerving, just like him. I glanced up one last time, and my shoulders immediately sagged in relief. They were gone.

  I pressed a hand to my stomach to calm the unwelcome fluttering going on in there.

  I went in search of Kevin. This time, the plan to avoid Caden/Asshole was in full effect. Kevin was probably fast on his way to getting drunk, or sneaking back out to find that girl again. I wouldn’t put either past him, but I really did want to see him. Only the reason had changed. Instead of wanting to see him because of us, I needed to find out if I really did have to call my dad.

  …Or that’s what I told myself.

  I snuck back in the way Caden had told me to sneak out and darted for the basement when the coast was clear. I didn’t expect Kevin to be there. I planned to get into his bedroom, then text him that that’s where I was. He’d have to come down to talk to me. He wouldn’t want me around in case the Asshole found me and took another shot at interrogating me.

  I was wrong.

  Kevin’s door was open just a crack, and I could see him sitting on his bed, his phone pressed to his ear. I paused just outside.

  “You got home okay?” he asked. A pause. “Good…yeah, he was pissed. No. No, he didn’t hurt me. I know.” Another pause, longer this time. “Yeah. I know. We’ll figure it out. I promise. What?” He groaned. “Uh, that girl was my stepsister, actually.” I could hear a feminine laugh from the phone, and he chuckled with her. “I know. I know. No, she won’t narc. She covered. Yeah. She’s good like that.”

  I reached for the doorframe. My fingers curled tight around it.

  “Don’t worry. I mean it, Maggie. She won’t say anything. She loves me. We’re family. She’s not like that.” His voice dropped, growing husky. “I love you, too, and I mean it. Everything will be fine. I got your back. I promise.”

  My nails dug into the wood.

  “Okay. Okay. Yeah. I should get back up. I’ll check on Summer—that’s her name. I’ll text her right now. Love you. Bye.”

  I heard the beep when he ended that call and had just a moment before I felt my phone buzzing. It was in my pocket on silent, as was my habit, and before I pulled it out, I took a moment to collect myself.

  He was an asshole, and this time I didn’t mean Caden. Kevin slept with me a little over three months ago, and he’d led me to believe he’d been involved with no one else seriously since then. I thought this would be our time, now that we’d be in school at the same place, but he was in love with another girl—one who had another guy fighting for her.

  My throat burned, and I blinked back the tears.

  I wouldn’t cry, not for Kevin.

  I had the answer I came for.

  I pulled away from the door, leaving my phone in my pocket. I wouldn’t even look at it. I made my way back up the stairs. I was turning down the hallway for that side door when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

  “Your stepbrother is a dick.”

  I turned around, my throat still burning. Caden stood there, not looking surprised. His hard eyes were locked on me, despite the girl plastered against his side. She had her arm around his waist.

  He was waiting for a response, and maybe he expected a denial. I didn’t know, but all I said was, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

  His eyes widened, and surprise flashed in them, but I was done.

  I slipped out the door and left.

  I’d been so stupid.

  I’d driven up to North River University ahead of Sheila and my dad last night.

  Today was move-in day for me since I was coming up earlier than others, so I’d told them I had a friend to stay with. They never questioned me. That “friend” was supposed to be Kevin, and because that didn’t work out, I’d checked into a hotel room.

  Now here I was, bright and cheery—not so much—waiting in my dorm’s lounge for their SUV to arrive. Sheila and my dad were planning on seeing Kevin too, but I was hoping they’d go find him after my stuff was moved in.

  “Summer.”

  No such luck.

  I looked up from the couch, and my heart sank at the same time the old butterflies lurched up into my throat. Kevin
looked so damn good. Freshly showered—his hair was still wet—and wearing a snug shirt over jeans, he kept his shades covering his eyes. My heart did a little flip-flop.

  I hated him.

  No. I only wished I did.

  He flashed me a grin, showing his perfect, white teeth, and he came forward, holding two coffees. He offered one to me. “Got you your favorite. Sugar free, right?”

  I took it, my hands closing around the warm cup, and I let out a silent sigh. I could already feel a traitorous grin tugging at the corner of my mouth. It was like I lost control over myself when he was around. I hoped it wasn’t always going to be like this.

  “Yeah.” I held the cup in front of me like it was a shield and made a point of looking around. “Uh, where’s our mom and dad? Did they call you already?”

  He didn’t move. I felt like he was studying me, but I couldn’t see through his shades. He nodded, slowly. “Yeah. They called when they were a half-hour away.” He glanced around.

  A few girls lingered by the front desk, stealing glances in his direction, but no one else was in the lounge. I purposely sat across the room, in the farthest corner, but he moved close, even though he didn’t need to. He cleared his throat, and I got ready.

  “Um…so…about last night—”

  I waved him off. “No worries.”

  He frowned, his forehead wrinkling. “But—”

  I looked away. “No. I mean it. I came early and stopped to say hi. That was all. You looked busy, so yeah, I left.” Please leave it alone. Please leave it alone. I prayed silently.

  After another beat, he coughed and shifted back in his seat.

  “Okay. Well, thanks.”

  I nodded. My neck was stiff. “Yeah. No problem.”

  “Summer, are you sure?”

  “Oh, yeah.” I bobbed my head up and down, clenching the coffee cup like it was going to slip away. Then, as if in answer to my prayer, they pulled up to the door. “Look. They’re here.” I couldn’t keep the relief out of my voice.

  As I started forward to meet our parents, I caught how Kevin had looked out the window, then jackknifed back to face me. But I was ahead of him and hoping to leave the awkwardness in the dust behind me.

  “Mom. Dad.” I waved as they got out of their SUV and started our way.

  I set the coffee on a bench as I knew this one-day-apart reunion would consist of hugs. Sheila liked hugs, and I was soon engulfed in her arms.

  “Summer.” Sheila held me to her, murmuring into my hair. “You dear girl. I’m not letting you go, you know. Nope. Not going to happen. You’re firmly glued in my arms. I’ll hug you to death.”

  “Mom.” I could hear the smile in Kevin’s voice as he stood next to us. “You gotta let her go. She’s going to need oxygen at some point.”

  “Nope.” She shook her head, rocking from side to side with me. “I lost you to this hell called college. I’m not ready to lose this girl too.”

  I laughed. It felt good to hear the words. Sheila had never pushed to replace my real mother, but in some ways, she’d stepped into her shoes seamlessly. There hadn’t been any problems when the two families merged. There should’ve been, but there just weren’t. It might’ve helped that I knew my mom would’ve wanted my dad to be happy, and he was. I couldn’t deny that. Sheila had let me set the pace, and when I’d started doing my homework out on the dining room table instead of holed in my room, I knew she’d rejoiced. Food had begun to pile up around me. Then drinks. Then her own work.

  A part of me had felt sorry for her. Kevin was rarely home.

  The nights he did come home alone, it wasn’t until nine or ten. I’d heard him stop to talk to Sheila and my dad only a few of those times before going to his room. A few times I’d gone downstairs and sat in the kitchen, hoping maybe he’d want a late night snack or glass of water, but that rarely happened. Once he was in his room, it was for the night. Or maybe he saw me and came back later when I wasn’t sitting there.

  There were the occasional family dinners, but those were congenial. Thinking back on it now, I realized everything had always been polite. That didn’t seem normal. I wondered—watching as Sheila released me and hugged her son—if Kevin really had been okay with getting a new dad. It had always seemed like it to me.

  My dad came over to give me a hug now, and then he and Kevin shook hands.

  That was it.

  It was like a mask fell from my face, and I could see things differently. I saw a lot of stiffness and distance between Kevin and my father, but then my dad caught my gaze, and all of that went away. Warmth shone from his eyes, and my concern slipped away.

  “You okay, pumpkin?” He rested his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close.

  I nodded, my head brushing against the top of his arm. “I’m good.”

  “Ready to start college?”

  Sheila harrumphed. “Hell. That’s what it is,” she mumbled, but she was trying to hold back her grin at the same time.

  “Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m ready.”

  Kevin was watching me, and my body tingled. That was my normal reaction around him, but it felt different, like so much else this day. I snuck a peek. He looked at me like I was a stranger, or like he saw something new in me. Whatever it was, well—I didn’t know how I felt about it, but right now I had a dorm to move into.

  “You got here ahead of time and checked in already?” Sheila turned to me, her arm now around Kevin’s back. He didn’t seem to mind and leaned into her.

  I nodded. “Yeah. I’m all checked in. I met my resident advisor and everything too.” She’d been fine with me moving in ahead of time.

  “What’s her name?”

  “Avery. I’ll introduce you when we go up there.”

  “And your new roommate? Is she here already? When do you meet her?”

  “She’s not.” Classes would start on Thursday, and final registration was Wednesday. Today was Saturday. “I have a few days yet.”

  “Oh.” Her eyebrows knitted together. “What are you going to do? Maybe you should come back for those days.”

  “No.” I shook my head. “I’ll take my time, look for a job on campus or something.” I glanced at Kevin. I’d come up early to spend time with him, and as if sensing my thoughts, he looked away, his Adam’s apple moving up and down.

  He stepped out of his mom’s hold. “I actually need to get going.” He gestured toward the campus behind him. “I have to meet my academic advisor about declaring my major this year.”

  “Yeah?”

  He nodded to his mom. “Going pre-law, Mom. You proud?”

  She smiled, but it look stilted, like she wasn’t sure how to feel. “Pre-law, huh?” She nudged him with her hip. “My son’s following in his father’s footsteps.”

  He continued to hold her gaze. This had been the only topic not talked about since we’d moved into their house: Kevin’s dad, Sheila’s ex-husband.

  Glancing at my father, I saw the same tight-lipped expression and knew that Mr. Matthews was still not going to be talked about.

  An unspoken look passed between Kevin and his mother before he sighed, cracking a side grin. “Hoping to, anyways.”

  “Well.” She lifted her chin. “I’m proud of you, Kevin.”

  He pressed his lips together, showing a slight grimace. “Thank you, Mom.” He looked to my dad. “It was nice seeing you again, Daniel.”

  My dad held out his hand. “You too, Kevin. We don’t see you enough at the house.”

  The two shook hands, and I felt I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone. Things were so stiff and…just awkward with them. I was mystified. I’d really thought everything was fine over the last year, that the two of them were close like Sheila and me.

  Kevin swung his beautiful eyes my way, and his voice softened. “See you later, Summer?”

  “Uh, yeah. See you later.”

  “You two will have such a great time. You’re both at the same college. My son going pre-law. My new daughter already decidin
g on sports medicine. You’ll have to have weekly dinners.” Sheila pulled Kevin in for a last hug. “You take care of your stepsister, okay?”

  “I will. I promise.” Another last farewell and he headed across
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