It’s been a weird couple of years.
It all started when I was thirteen and my mom knocked on my bedroom door and said, Hey, Krissy, can we talk for a minute?
She calls me Krissy. That in itself is weird, considering she’s the one who insisted on naming me Kristmas in the first place.
Kristmas Eve Cavanagh.
I’ll give you three guesses when my birthday is. Don’t worry, you won’t need the first two.
Anyway, back to the story.
After knocking, she comes in and sits down on the edge of my bed and says, I’m seeing someone.
My dad died when I was ten. He was hit by a car while out on his morning run. He pulled on his running shoes and kissed the top of my head and promised to make me French toast for breakfast when he got back. He was thirty-four.
It took a long time for me to process it and to accept that he wasn’t coming back. That he was never going to see me do all the things he always told me I was capable of. It was hard. It’s still hard, but when my mom told me she was seeing someone, I told her I was okay with it. More than okay with it. Because that’s what my dad would want me to say. He would want me to encourage her to be happy. To let her move on without being an asshole about it.
To be honest, I’d been expecting it. There’d been a lot of late night phone calls. A lot of I’m going to be home late from work. A lot of I’m going to dinner with a friend.
Her next words were the shocker.
It’s Mark McAllister.
That was my WTF moment.
Because Mr. McAllister is Maddox’s dad and Maddox is my best friend.
Has been my best friend since we were six.
We’ve been next-door neighbors since before that.
Mad’s parents divorced two years after my dad died. His mom moved to a nearby town and remarried directly after the divorce, taking his two sisters with her. Mad stayed with his father.
Instead of asking her if she’d been drinking, I just nodded my head and said, I like Mr. McAllister like a dummy.
Seven months later my best friend became my step-brother.
That’s when the trouble started.
Until then, Mad and I were joined at the hip. Talked and texted constantly. We’ve fallen asleep with an open phone line between us more than once, only to wake up and continue the conversation like we didn’t just spend eight hours snoring in each other’s ears.
We even had sleep-overs. Nights where one of us would come over to the other’s house and hang out, getting junk food wasted and watching horror movies before passing out next to each other. Granted, those nights decreased in frequency as we got older and Mad got more and more popular and I… didn’t. But we were still close. Still talked. Still told each other everything, even if he seemed a little distant at times. All of that came to a screeching halt when my mom and I moved in.
Almost overnight, he became moody. Sometimes hostile. I’m pretty sure he’s pissed about the fact that our parents are married and I didn’t offer up a protest. Not the way he did. Mad has been against it from day one.
This is fucking horse shit is uttered on the daily.
I still try though. I’m still hoping that he’ll crack and let me in. Tell me what me what I did so I can fix it. Start feeling like I matter to him again because we’re graduating next week and he’s going away to college on a full-ride football scholarship, a three thousand miles away, and I’m not sure I can let him go without knowing that we’re okay again.
That’s why I travel the hallway between our bedrooms instead of just letting myself in through the connecting bathroom. Why I knock on his bedroom door, while trying to forget that the knocking itself is a recent development. That before our parents got married I used to just walk in. Kick off my shoes and flop down next to him on his bed so I could stick my feet in his face and he could push them away with a laugh and tell me I’m gross.
That doesn’t happen anymore.
Now I knock.
Wait for my request to be granted or denied.
Because the last time I barged in he yelled at me. Called me a goddamned nuisance.
“Yeah?” his voice floats through the door. Short. Impatient.
“Umm… it’s me. Kris,” I say, feeling an idiot. A desperate, desperate idiot. “Can I come in?”
My request for entry is met with silence, which isn’t unusual. I’m turned away from his room and halfway to my own before I hear his answer.
Mad knows how to make a girl feel wanted.
Before all of this started, I would’ve given him shit about it. Now, I just backtrack and push his door open, feeling grateful to be acknowledged and pretty pathetic about it.
He’s sitting on his bed, back against the headboard. Remote in hand, staring at the television mounted on the wall above his dresser while he flips through channels. After a second or two he frowns at the rapid flicker across the screen. “You gonna come in or just stand there and stare?”
Sometimes I can take his moody bitch routine.
Sometimes I can’t.
Tonight I can’t.
Tonight I’m so completely over it that I’m through the door before I can blink or tell myself to stop. “What’s your problem?” I’m standing over him now. Glaring down at him while he keeps staring at the television. Keeps flipping channels.
“You are.” He barely gets it out past the tight clench of his jaw, his glare flicking upward, landing on my face with the force of a punch.
It’s like he did hit me. That’s how much it hurts.
I don’t even know why I’m so hurt. It’s par for the course with him these days. Sometimes he’s almost normal and other times it’s like he hates me. All I know is that it’s been three years and I’m done with letting him treat me like shit. I’m tired of walking on eggshells, letting him decide when he’s going to get over himself and tell me what I did to make him so angry at me for so long.
Reaching down, I rip the remote out of his hand, “Go fuck yourself, Mad,” I bite back, jerking the remote away when he makes a fast grab for it.
Suddenly he’s standing over me, face tipped down to glare at me. “Excuse me?” He growls it at me, his deep brown gaze practically skewered through mine. Hands clenched into fists. “What did you just say?”
I’m tall. Big for a girl. Nothing dainty or petite about me. What my father used to call sturdy. I’ve never been afraid for my physical safety before. Certainly never afraid of Mad.
I am now.
“You heard me,” I say, amazed that my voice isn’t shaking. That I’m not running for my life. Hiding under my bed. “We’re going to settle this, once and for all, because this has been going on for years and I’m sick and goddamned tired of you treating me like—”
He steps into me, even closer. So close we’re practically glued together and I have to tip my own head back to maintain eye contact. So close that I can feel the press of him against my belly.
Mad is hard.
“I’m sorry,” he says, still glaring down at me. Still standing over me. Still hard. Still looks like he wants to hit me. “You were you saying something?”
Suddenly, I can’t breathe.
“I…” My skin starts to prickle, a warm tingle sweeping over me from head-to-toe and I have to breathe through my mouth to feed my oxygen-starved brain. “I’m not… you can’t…”
Jesus, it’s like I’m concussed. I can’t think straight. I can’t—
“Wash up for dinner.”
My mom’s voice floats up the stairs and down the hall. You’d think that’d put an end to whatever the hell is happening here. That we’d both snap out of it. Jump away from each other like someone turned the hose on us.
Still standing here.
Still staring at each other.
Still looks like he wants to hit me.
Only, it’s not hitting me he’s thinking about doing. The realization brings on a second flush. This one deeper. Hotter. Pulls a stuttering gasp out of my chest and pushes the air from my lungs. As soon as the sound comes out of my mouth, his rigid cock gives a hard jerk against my belly.
His gaze drops to my mouth and he smirks at me. “Like I said, Kris,” he says, his hand suddenly closing over my wrist. His hands slide down, to cover mine, pulling the remote from my slackened grip. “You’re my problem.” He aims the remote over my shoulder and powers off the TV before tossing it on the bed.
Then he slips around me and disappears, the bathroom door snapping closed behind me a few moments later.