“Welcome to the most ridiculous years of your life,” Tanner said. “High school.”
“But how did people hear?” Troy asked.
Tanner slung an arm around the teen’s shoulders. “It’s Lucky Harbor, son. It just is.”
Troy shook his head in disbelief. “My mom was right. This place is crazy.”
“You that unhappy here?” Tanner asked, keeping his voice even. “Because if you are, we could talk about it and visit our options.”
Troy was boggled. “You mean…move?”
“Whatever it takes to make this work between us,” Tanner said.
Troy stopped walking to stare at him. “You’d really do that? Move? For me?”
“Whatever it takes,” Tanner said again, and was stunned when Troy leaned in for a hug. Tanner didn’t hesitate, just wrapped his arms around his kid and held tight for the moment it was allowed, closing his eyes while his heart swelled until it squeezed against his ribs.
All too soon Troy pulled back and looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the need for physical touch. “I don’t want to move.”
“Good,” Tanner said. “Because I’m getting tired of buying paint.”
He took Troy home and was halfway up the walk when he realized what time it was—six-thirty—and went still as stone. “Shit!”
Troy glanced back at him. “What?”
Christ. He’d done some difficult things in his life, but being a dad took the cake. He was overwhelmed by the sheer emotional drain on his system and the fact that, without Elisa, it was entirely up to him to give Troy everything he needed.
And in doing that, he’d forgotten Callie. He’d fucking forgot her. He whipped out his phone and called her.
His call went right to voicemail. Not a good sign. “Callie,” he said. “I’m sorry. I got held up, but I’m coming now.” He wasn’t about to use Troy as an excuse, but an uneasy anxiety curled in his gut. He’d left her waiting for him, which killed him. He looked at Troy. “I’ve got to go.”
“You had a date?” Troy asked.
Troy studied him. “A big date?”
“Like you were going to ask her to marry you substantial?”
The kid was a mind reader. “I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. Thinking. Breathing. Eating. Fantasizing… “Would that be okay with you?”
Once again Troy was dumbstruck. “You’re asking my opinion?”
“Well, yeah,” Tanner said. “We’re a package deal.”
Troy stared at him from eyes that were suddenly a little shiny.
Tanner cupped the back of the kid’s head and lowered his own to be at eye level with his son’s. “Right?”
“Good. Go inside. Do your homework. Don’t leave without being in contact with me.”
“I won’t,” Troy said. “I’m sorry I made you late.”
“Not your fault,” he said, and when Troy just looked at him, expression uncertain and worried, Tanner reached out and clasped his shoulder. “Seriously. This isn’t on you.”
“Bring her flowers,” Troy said earnestly. “That’s what her site says to do. You bring a girl flowers when you screw up.”
Tanner was pretty certain flowers weren’t going to do the trick. He drove to the docks, which were deserted. Of course she wouldn’t still be waiting there an hour and a half hour later.
He went to her place next.
She didn’t answer his knock.
He texted her: Open up, it’s me.
He knocked again, and Becca poked her head out her door. She was wearing Sam’s shirt, knee socks, and I’ve-been-thoroughly-fucked hair. “She’s not home,” she told him.
“Do you know where she went?”
Sam appeared behind Becca. He was wearing nothing but a pair of faded jeans slung low on his hips to reveal the waistband of pink boxers speckled with red lips. His feet were bare, his jaw rough, and his hair was as wild as Becca’s. “Hey, man.”
“Didn’t mean to interrupt,” Tanner said. “I’m just looking for Callie.”
Sam and Becca exchanged a long look.
“What?” Tanner said.
“We saw her a little bit ago,” Sam said. “She was leaving.”
Becca sighed and came forward, putting a gentle hand on his arm. “She said she was going out for a little while, that she needed to clear her head.”
He didn’t like the look that crossed Becca’s face. “What aren’t you saying?” he asked.
“She looked like she’d been crying.”
“Shit.” Tanner slid his hands into his hair. “Fuck.”
“Why does it matter to you so much?” Becca asked. “Considering that the two of you are just”—she paused—“friends.”
His gaze snapped to her. “That’s the way she wanted it from the beginning. She didn’t want a relationship.”
Becca looked at Sam and did an impressive eye roll.
“It’s not his fault,” Sam told her.
“What’s not my fault?” Tanner asked.
“That you’re an idiot,” Sam said.
“Hey, I thought I was just giving her what she wanted.”