Cole and Olivia were out there. Cole was doing his white boy thing, one arm straight up in the air, waggling his hips back and forth, but it was working for him because Olivia was all over it.
And though the beat was fast, Sam and Becca were slow-dancing, plastered up against each other like white on rice, staring into each other’s eyes as if no one else existed.
Tanner’s gaze ran over the crowd and locked onto Callie. For over the past two hours now she’d been wherever he wasn’t, and if he hadn’t known better he’d have sworn she was avoiding him. He smiled at her.
She smiled back but it was short her usual wattage. And maybe it was an ego thing, but damn, he loved the way she usually looked at him. Like he was the best thing she’d seen all day. Like maybe he made her world a better place to be. Like she couldn’t imagine not having him to look at.
But she didn’t give him any of those looks now. In fact, she turned away.
And then vanished into the crowd.
What the hell?
He caught up with her in the parking lot just as she slid in behind the wheel of her car and started to shut the door. Holding it open, he crouched at her side. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she said, busy doing something in her purse.
“You’re leaving?” he asked.
“Um, yeah…I just need to—” She tossed her purse into the passenger seat. “Yeah. It’s just about over and I have to get up early and I’m pretty tired, and…yeah.”
She was rambling. Which she did only when nervous or upset, and since he hadn’t made her nervous since that first morning at the coffee shop, he had his answer. “You’re upset.”
She finally looked at him, her expression dialed to Give the Man an A+.
He wracked his brain but couldn’t come up with a reason. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” She tried to shut her door but he was in the way. “Excuse me,” she said in that tone she reserved for her most annoying clients.
“Callie.” He cupped her face and turned it to him. For the briefest of beats he’d have sworn there was hurt in those beautiful green eyes, but then they were twin pools of…nothing. Nothing at all. It was a defense mechanism, and one he knew well since it was his own. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
She shook her head.
Batting zero. “Give me a minute to say my good-byes,” he said. “And then I’ll go with you.”
“Not necessary,” she said. “I know the way.”
“I’ll meet you there then.”
“No,” she said quickly. Too quickly. “Um, I painted. The fumes are bad.”
“Yes.” But she didn’t attempt to hold eye contact.
His heart sank to his stomach like a ball of lead. What the hell? “Then come to my place.”
“He’s spending the night with my mom. Please, Callie,” he said quietly when she started to shake her head.
“Fine.” She tugged at the car door again. “I’ll come over later.”
Relieved, he rose and took a step back, standing there while she pulled out of the lot and vanished into the dark night.
Back at the dock, Cole met up with Tanner as they stood together watching Sam and Becca dancing like there was no one else in their orbit.
“They grow up so fast,” Cole said.
Tanner found a laugh. “Yeah. He did good.” He gestured with his chin toward Olivia dancing with Sam’s dad. “So did you.”
“And so did you,” Cole said. “Callie’s perfect for you. She loves Troy and, better yet, she appears to like your sorry ass too.”
“Callie and I aren’t a thing,” he said, and even as the words came out automatically, he felt his heart ache in protest. Because goddamn, he wanted them to be a thing.
When had that happened?
Cole swiveled his head and stared at Tanner, and then he laughed. “Yeah, right.”
“We’re not. We’re just…” Shit. He couldn’t do it, he couldn’t use the word “friends.”
Because they were more, damn it. No matter what she wanted to believe.
Cole was staring at him. “What are you talking about? I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
“Yeah? And how’s that?”
“Like she can’t take her eyes off of you,” Cole said.
Tanner let out a low, slow exhale.
Cole shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”
Damn, he was tired of people saying that. “Fuck you.”
Cole laughed. “You’ve seen who I sleep with at night, right? Nothing personal, but she’s a lot sweeter and softer than you.”
Okay, that was it. He was out. Tanner pushed away from the railing and started to walk off.
Cole grabbed his arm.
Tanner went still and stared down at the hand on him. “You want to let go.”
Cole let go. “Jesus. Touchy, much?” He stared into Tanner’s eyes. “What did you do? How did you screw it all up?”
“I didn’t do anything. And why do people keep assuming I screwed it up? I don’t screw things up. I’m careful not to.”
“When it comes to anything but yourself, yeah,” Cole said. “You’re real good at taking care of the people in your life. You’d give them the shirt off your damn back. Hell, you’d give them your heart and soul—as long as you don’t have to be responsible for theirs.”