Troy huffed out a put-upon breath and looked at him. “What?”
“Just checking to see if you had any other new bruises,” Tanner said.
“Not being funny,” Tanner said. “I really wanted to see.” He drove them to the harbor and parked. “Come on.”
Troy followed without question. This was more out of sullenness than any sort of blind obedience. The kid didn’t speak until they were on the boat and Tanner was pushing off and steering them away.
It was one of those startlingly gorgeous blue days. Skies so blue it hurt to look at them. White cotton-ball clouds scattered to the east. Choppy seas dotted with whitecaps, slapping against each other in a constant beat. Tanner felt at home here, maybe more than any other place. He wanted that for Troy.
The teen had come out of himself a little bit and was taking in his surroundings as well. Calm. Alert.
Which wasn’t to say he was happy. He wasn’t.
And Christ, Tanner hated that. He wanted to make it better more than he’d ever wanted anything else in his life. Out in the middle of the harbor, he handed over the wheel to Troy.
“Me?” Troy asked, straightening up.
“You,” Tanner said. “You think you’re ready to get us out of the harbor?”
“Yeah.” Troy paused. “Why?”
“Why what? Why are you sometimes a butt-munch?” Tanner shrugged. “No idea.”
Troy bit his lower lip, looking nervous.
“What?” Tanner said.
“It’s something. Just say it.”
Troy sighed. “I’m not doing football.”
“I know that.”
“You know?” Troy asked. “Callie told you?”
Tanner blinked. “No, the coach told me. You told Callie?”
Tanner stared at him, stuck between being grateful his son had been able to confide in Callie and jealous as hell that it hadn’t been him.
And why hadn’t Callie told him herself?
“It’s not because of the stupid coach’s kid,” Troy said defensively. “It’s because I don’t want to.”
“That’s a relief,” Tanner said.
Troy stared at him. “It’s a relief? You were the football star. I thought you wanted me to follow in your footsteps.”
“Hell no,” Tanner said. “In fact, please don’t follow in my footsteps. You going to tell me about the bruises?”
Troy looked out at the water, his stance natural, easily balancing himself on the choppy water like he’d been born to it. “You wouldn’t get it.”
Tanner let out a low laugh. “Right. Because I’ve never been fifteen.”
“Because you owned that school.” Troy looked at him. “I’m not that kid. I didn’t grow up here. I’m not a star athlete. I’m the new kid. And I’m a little different.”
“Different is good,” Tanner said. “So is standing up for yourself.”
“It’s not like I’m alone,” Troy said. “I have friends.” He met Tanner’s eyes, his own shadowed.
Tanner tried to read them but the kid was good. “You’ve been standing up for your friends.”
Troy nodded once.
“Good,” Tanner said. “One more thing.”
Troy tensed. “Yeah?”
Tanner put his hand on the kid’s shoulder. “The way you’ve got your friends’ back? I want you to know that I have yours in the same way. And I expect you to let me know when you need me to do something more.”
Troy seemed to grapple with that a moment and then nodded again.
Tanner helped him guide the boat out of the harbor. They then took the water exhilaratingly fast and hard, and both were grinning like fools when they finally returned to the docks two hours later.
Troy helped tie everything down and lock up without being asked, already knowing the drill.
When they were back in the truck heading home, Tanner said, “You did good.”
“On the boat?”
Troy stared straight ahead, but Tanner thought maybe he was smiling just a little bit.
Callie hung out at her grandma’s that night. She told herself it was because she was worried for Lucille, but that wasn’t it.
Callie wasn’t worried about her grandma. Nope, she was pretty sure her grandma was saner than all of them put together. The truth is, Callie needed the comfort of being there. Period.
Just after dinner, Lucille squeezed Callie’s hand. “Stay with me tonight?”
“Of course,” Callie said, even as she knew it was a pity date. But a bunch of Lucille and Mr. Wykowski’s friends came over, and they brought out the big guns—Kahlua and milk.
Which meant that Jeopardy was a rowdy affair, after which Callie fell asleep on her grandma’s couch.
And woke up with a man with a jackhammer inside her head. She drove home and told herself it didn’t matter if Tanner had come looking for her last night. They weren’t a thing.
But still, as she walked into her building, she looked around as if she could possibly see signs of him having been by.
As she was unlocking her door, Becca peeked out and smiled. “I was just coming to see you,” she said. “Two things. One, remember when we made a list of things to do for my wedding and I insisted on handling a lot it myself? Well, with the big bachelor/bachelorette party coming up this weekend, I forgot all about one of the things I said I’d do.”