“The Easter Bunny carries candy.”
“Well, you’ve got me there,” she said. “I don’t have any candy. And if I did, that would be highly frowned upon, me luring you into my car with candy.”
“You getting in?” she asked. “Or am I going to get a ticket for loitering?”
Troy got in. He pulled on his seat belt and leaned his head back, closing his eyes with a sigh.
She texted her grandma that she was going to be a little late and then started to drive him to the harbor where Tanner was working, but then on impulse parked at the pier.
Troy looked out. “This isn’t home.”
“It’s the home of the ice cream.”
She bought them both double cones from Lance and then they sat on the end of the pier and stared out at the water.
“Thought only creepers bought kids ice cream cones,” Troy said.
“Or women who just really need a sugar fix. You made me hungry with the Easter candy thing. You going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Okay, then. How about why you have a bruise on your jaw and you’re limping?”
“Ah, so you…ran into a door?” she asked.
“You fell down some stairs?”
That got an almost smile out of him. “It’s not a big deal. I tried out for the school play.”
She glanced over at him. “And the part was to get beat up?”
“I got the part,” he said, not answering her question. “But you can’t tell anyone.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because he’ll think it’s stupid. I didn’t try out for football but I’m in a play.”
“Troy, your dad wants you to be happy here. That doesn’t mean you have to follow in his footsteps. You’ll find your own path, and he’ll understand that.”
“No, he won’t. He doesn’t understand anything.”
She couldn’t help it—she laughed.
He scowled. “What’s so funny?”
“Well, let’s see. From the moment he knew you existed, he changed his life to protect you. Went into the navy to support you, continued on the oil rigs, and then worked with your mom to get joint custody and cleared out the office in his house to give you a bedroom. And then he let you paint it dark purple. Dark purple,” she said, and laughed again. “He hates purple.”
Troy’s mouth twitched.
“I hate it too.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I was just trying to piss him off but instead he said sure, I could paint my room purple.” He dropped his head and looked at Callie. “Who does that?”
“A dad who’s human and has regrets, and loves you. Now tell me about the fight you had at school.”
He sighed. “Some of the football players think being in a play is dumb. I disagreed.”
With his fists, apparently. “Can’t you just stay away from them?”
“Yeah. But they need to stay away from the drama kids and not pick on them.”
She looked into his angry eyes. “You were protecting someone.”
“The other boy needs to tell a grown-up,” she said. She broke off when his jaw only tightened. “It’s not a boy,” she said softly. “It’s a girl.”
He shrugged again.
Yeah. It was a girl. She sighed. “If this is an ongoing problem, you really need to talk to your dad.”
“He could help,” she said.
“No, he can’t. The principal hates him even more than she hates me.” He stood up. “Just forget it, forget all of it.”
“You can’t tell him about the fight. Or the play. Not any of it.”
“Then you have to,” she said.
“Fine. I will.”
She looked into his fiercely determined eyes. He was at that stage, half boy, half man, and her heart ached for him. “I’m trusting you to do that.”
“I know,” he said, and it wasn’t until that night when Callie was in bed that she realized he hadn’t said when he’d tell his dad.
Should she say something before Troy did? The last thing she needed was for him to think she’d tattled. Nor did she want Tanner to think she was butting into their lives. She wasn’t. How could she? They were friends with benefits, and sometimes just benefits. Her own decree with the this-changes-nothing thing.
But then the matter was taken out of her hands when Tanner didn’t come over that night.
Callie lay in bed missing him much more than she’d thought possible.
The next day Callie’s phone beeped, reminding her to pick up Troy from his Lucille babysitting duty. She raced out the door and headed toward the art gallery. Halfway there, she was startled into a near heart attack when she saw blue lights flash in her rearview mirror.
She pulled over and was tearing through her purse for her driver’s license when the police officer rapped politely on her window.
She jumped, hit her head on the visor, swore, and finally rolled down the window. “I’m sorry,” she said, turning her purse upside down into the passenger seat. Where the hell was her wallet? “I didn’t mean to be speeding. I’m just late to pick someone up.” She tried a smile.
He didn’t return it. He was mid-thirties and extremely good looking in a dark and brooding sort of way. She recognized him as a longtime Lucky Harbor resident, but she wasn’t sure what his name was. “Your tag’s expired,” he said.