“This is the life,” Laurie sighed beside me.
I leaned up on my elbows, swiping my sunglasses down to sneak a peek at her laid out on the sun lounger. Inches upon inches of bronzed skin covered only by tiny scraps of pale blue material. Shit, I needed to send Victoria's Secret a thank you note or something because my girl... well, my girl looked hot. Smoking. Then someone cleared their throat, and I remembered where we were; in my girlfriend’s yard with her parents, and her father, Mr. Davison, was shooting me a death stare.
“Beautiful day, Mr. D.” I flashed him my trademark parent-worthy smile before wrapping an arm behind my head and leaning back. Laurie shuffled onto her front and reached for my hand as it dangled over the edge of the bed.
“Hey, are you okay?” she whispered.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Because if you want to get out of here...” The suggestion hung in the air between us, and while I’d rather be anywhere but here, I threaded our fingers together, smiled, and said, “It’s cool. We can hang out with Lo and Rick later.”
“Okay.” Laurie sighed softly. I knew she wanted to bail, but her parents were in town and they wanted to ‘bond’. I was sure Mr. Davison had ulterior motives, like keeping his beady eye on me and making sure I didn’t corrupt his only daughter.
“So, Kyle.” The man in question cleared his throat again. The guy needed to invest in some slippery-elm lozenges. “Laurie tells us you decided on a school.”
Knowing this was one conversation I couldn’t escape, I swung my legs over the lounger and sat up. “Yes, Sir. It’s looking like USC.”
“Looking like?” His brow quirked up, and I felt his judgment brushing up against me.
“I’m attending their summer camp next month and then they’ll want their scouts to come out and see a couple more games in the fall, but it’s looking good, Sir.” I dragged a hand down my face, the weight of my girlfriend’s father’s stare too intense for a Monday morning.
“USC is a good school, Mike.” Mrs. Davison’s saccharine sweet contribution to the conversation did little to ease the tension building in my chest.
“But it’s not Berkeley,” he replied.
“Dad,” Laurie sat up and pulled on her kaftan. “We’ve been through this. I still haven’t decided. I’m not even sure I want to take pre-law.” Her voice trailed off when my eyes snapped to hers, but it was too late. The damage was done.
Because I’d asked her to come to USC with me.
And she still hadn’t decided.
“I’m going for a swim,” I announced, throwing my Ray-Bans on the lounger.
“Kyle, wait...” her voice rolled off my back as I approached the pool, leaving her with the circling piranhas.
Truth was, Laurie was free to choose her own path. Her own school. Her future. And it stung like a mother because there had been a time when all my future held was football... and her. She was in my plan. My future included her by my side: supporting me, cheering me on in the bleachers as I kicked ass for the USC Trojans. But a lot had changed in the last few months. There was a distance between us. And I didn’t know how to fix it.
I saw the doubt in her eyes every time she looked at me, the truths she’d yet to tell me.
Laurie had secrets. But that wasn’t the only problem.
Because so did I.
“I’M SORRY ABOUT MY dad.” Laurie glanced over at me as I pulled the Jeep—AKA my baby—into the driveway.
“It’s not your fault he’s an asshat.”
“Kyle,” she gasped, but I saw the hint of amusement in her eyes.
“It’s true. The guy just can’t leave it. I play football. I was born to play football. I don’t know why that isn’t good enough for him.”
“He just...” she hesitated, and I cut the engine, raking a brisk hand over my hair, hating the dark cloud hanging over us lately.
“Just what?” I twisted around to her and searched her face. She loved me, I knew that. It was right there, written all over her face and in the way her body gravitated to me. But shit, something had changed.
“I’m his little girl. He wants the best for me, for my future.”
“Yeah? I thought I was your future. You and me taking on college... together.”
“It is, Kyle. I just—”
“You just what?” I ground out, irritation bubbling underneath the surface. “You said it yourself, you’re not even sure you want to take pre-law.”
I wasn’t a fighter. Never had been. That was more my stepbrother, Maverick’s, thing. Me, I used humor as a band aid. Bad vibes in a room, I cracked a joke. Shit with the fam-a-lam got too heavy, I said something inappropriate to break the ice. It’s just how I rolled. How I’d always rolled. But right now, with my girl—the girl I’d loved since I knew what love was—looking at me with pain and regret in her eyes, I wanted to punch the ever-loving crap out of something.
“I just need some time to figure out stuff.” The second the words left her mouth, the air inside the Jeep froze and I felt sucker-punched. Knowing I needed to get the hell out of there before I said something I regretted—something I couldn’t take back—I grabbed the handle and snapped, “Yeah, well, when you’ve figured it out, let me know.”
“Kyle...” But her words were distant because I was out of the car. Taking the back gate into the yard, I bypassed the house for Maverick’s pool house. The television was on, but no one was around.
“Rick, Lo, where the—” Giggles filtered out of his room and I clamped my eyes shut. “If you’re banging my cousin back there, heads are going to roll.”
There was a crash followed by more giggling and then rustling. A minute later, Rick’s head appeared around the door, his hair mussed up, a lazy grin on his usually moody-as-fuck face.
“It’s called knocking.”
“Since when do I ever knock? I need beer, stat.”
He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes on me. “Since when do you need beer, stat?”
“Hey, Rick.” Laurie’s voice came from behind me and I sucked in a sharp breath.
“Beer it is.” Rick pulled the door closed behind him, no doubt letting my cousin—his girlfriend—get her shit together.
“Did you guys have a good day with your parents?” His question wasn’t for me, so I didn’t answer, letting Laurie field that one. Although I was intrigued to hear her answer.
“It was...” Awful. Embarrassing. My dad is a giant dick. But none of those words came as she said, “Okay. They’re only in town until the weekend. So they want us to spend some time together.”
Because that’s who we were now—liars.
“They’re away for business again?” Rick arched his eyebrow at me and I levelled him with a ‘shut-the-fuck-up’ look.
“No, they’re taking a vacation. Dad’s business has been crazy, so he’s treating my mom to a two-weeks in Cabo.”
“Nice.” Rick handed me a beer and offered Laurie a soda. She took it with a shrug, and part of me was relieved she was agreeing with him. Because while it was nice for Mrs. Davison, it most certainly wasn’t nice for their seventeen-year-old daughter who didn’t get an invite.
“Hey, guys.” Lo appeared, and I scowled at her. The look she wore, I knew well. It was the same look Laurie had right after I got her off—and I did not need to imagine my stepbrother and cousin going at it. A shudder rolled up my spine and Lo punched my arm. “It’s been months. Get over it.” She poked her tongue out at me before moving to Rick’s side.
“Besides,” she added. “We deserve this.”
That I couldn’t argue with. Rick’s dad had been a ‘right wanker’, as Lo called him. She was British, and she and her dad—my dad’s brother and my uncle—had moved out to California last summer after an accident had killed her mom and brother. That had been fun times. Rick didn’t know it at first, but she was the girl he’d ended up with at a party the summer before, and Lo hadn’t known it, but Rick was kind of a possessive asshat.
Of course, in true Rick style, he'd refused to accept he wanted her, while Lo had loved nothing more than pushing his buttons. It was a match made in heaven. But it hadn’t been plain sailing for them, so while I never wanted to see them pawing over one another again, I couldn’t blame them. When you knew, you knew.
I glanced over at Laurie remembering the first time I laid eyes on her. It was some cosmic shit: birds singing, the sun rising like a halo around her. I was thirteen, fresh out of puberty and thinking I was the man.
“Stone, where the fuck is your head at right now?” Rick shoulder checked me, and I blinked at him.
“We’ve been standing here talking about the weekend for like five minutes and you’re all gooey-eyed and zoned out.”
“You kiss your momma with that mouth?” He said around a smile but then a flash of realization widened his eyes and he rushed out, “Shit, man. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
It really wasn’t, but yeah, not going there.
“Where are the girls?”
Rick flicked his head to the couch where Laurie and Lo sat huddled watching some car crash television show. “I don’t know how they watch that shit,” he grunted, and I murmured in agreement. “So, want to talk about it?”
“No, I really don’t.”
He made a derisive grunt in his throat. “Come on, Stone. I know I’m not exactly the care and share type, but you know I appreciate everything you did for me and Lo. And besides, we’re brothers. If you’re in trouble, let me help.”
I stared at him, my fingers curled tight around the bottle of beer, thinking how easy it would be to just come out with it. To offload all my secrets. But the problem with secrets was once you told someone they became real. You had to face up to them. And I wasn’t ready. The ripples would be too far reaching.
“I call bullshit.” His intense stare burned the side of my face as I watched Laurie talking to Lo. I was glad they had each other, but sometimes it made everything more complicated. Lo and me were family. Lo and Laurie were best friends. I couldn’t help but wonder, if lines had to be drawn, whose side she’d fall on. Laurie’s, jackass. Girls always side with their own.
“It’s just college stuff.”
Rick leaned back against the counter, but I saw the tension in his stance. I wasn’t the only one having doubts about the future. A year older than us, he started college in the fall. He was only moving twenty miles away, but he’d be there and Lo would be here. I knew it was eating away at him.
“Laurie still not decided about USC?”
I shrugged, trying to play it cool, but he saw past my bullshit. Always had. Always probably would. It was why we worked so well. I was the light to his dark, and he was the seriousness to my humor. In some ways, we were two halves of a whole. And although our families hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye, I never felt that way about gaining a brother.
“She’ll come around, you two are like lobsters or something.”
“Lobsters?” My brows quirked up. “I can’t wait to hear this.”
“Fuck off, Lo made me watch Friends. It was painful.”
“Sounds like it.”
“So, Rachel and this guy, Ross, are on and off and on again and Phoebe, the blonde ditzy chick, explains to the group they're lobsters because lobsters find one mate for life and always find their way back together, or something like that.”
My eyes almost bugged out of my head and Rick flipped me off. “What the fuck just happened?” I couldn’t contain the rumble of laughter in my chest.
“It gets in your head.”
“Do you still have a dick down there, Prince?” My eyes dropped to his sweatpants. “Or should I start calling you pussy?”
Rick drained the rest of his beer, slamming the bottle down on the counter. “Maybe you should ask Lo if I still have a dick or not.”
“Dude.” I grimaced. “Too much information.”
He waggled his eyebrows and smirked before heading over to the girls. And I followed. Because what other option did I have?
I was Kyle Stone and people expected me to just roll with it.