But really, what the hell are we doing? Because I’m not sure, and I don’t think Alexandria knows either so maybe we’re both fucked?
“Really? So you fucked her because of our bet,” Shep suggests. “Nice one.”
I nearly flinch at the word fuck. He makes it sound so…crude. This is coming from the guy who used to ask girls if they were down to fuck.
And he would have to bring up that stupid bet.
“Listen, you won the bet,” I say firmly. “I owe you.”
“I won? Are you serious?” Shep sounds skeptical.
“Well, yeah. I didn’t…” I was about to say we didn’t have sex yet, which is true. But I can’t tell him that. That means Shep will tell Gabe and they’ll both cackle and gossip over us like little old women. No thanks. “I’m not with her because of a lame ass bet we made on a whim.”
Shep’s smiling. “That’s nice to know.”
“So don’t ever bring it up again,” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “I won’t.” His grin never budges from his face.
“And stop smiling at me like a freak,” I mutter, waving a hand at him. “It’s disturbing.”
“You should feel disturbed. I’m disturbed too. I seriously, seriously never thought I’d see the day that this would happen. I figured you’d be pervy Uncle Tristan for the rest of your life to my six children.”
“Six?” And I’m his cousin, not his brother. I wouldn’t be his kids’ uncle.
“I bet I could get Jade on board.”
“You’re insane.” That he’s contemplating having children with Jade—six of them—I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but damn. I can’t imagine.
“Whatever. I didn’t see you with children. Hell, I didn’t even see you married. I figured you’d be a forever bachelor, go into retirement, chase after all the divorcees and widows until we finally put you up in the old folks’ home, only for you to get kicked out because you wouldn’t stop pinching the nurses’ asses.”
“You’ve got it all planned out don’t you?”
“Jade and I have talked about it more than once.” Shep shrugs, like that’s normal, to plan the rest of my life.
I chuckle. “You never know. It could still happen. The pinching asses part, at least.”
“No doubt.” Shep’s smile fades and he gets that serious face going on. The one that tells me he’s about to venture into sappy territory. “This is nice to see though—you with a girl. A nice girl who isn’t like the usual ones you uh, spend time with.”
“What sort of girls are you referring to Shepard?” I ask innocently. I want to hear his answer because not too long ago, he was hanging with those same types of girls too.
“You know the type. Always eager to please.” He takes a big chug of coffee then sets his cup in the sink. “Let’s get out of here.”
Nice way to change the subject. I get why he’s doing it. Closely examining me and my habits when it comes to women means Shep has to examine his past behaviors as well. I’m not perfect, I’ve never claimed to be. Neither has Shep. But he’s turned his life around these last six months with Jade. He’s a different man. But his past still lingers, as does Gabe’s—and they have to face it every day when they look at me.
They’ve never liked that. I know. It always felt personal, like maybe they didn’t like me much anymore either. And that hurt, not that I’d ever admit it. I’d much rather pretend I was my normal, asshole self. I wanted to piss them off more so I’d at least get a reaction.
Infantile? Yeah. But I couldn’t help it.
Then I go and find a girl. A girl I actually like. A girl I want to spend more time with. That’s all I can commit to for now. I can’t say I want a girlfriend. I definitely can’t say I’m in love with her. But I can say that I like Alexandria. I like her a lot.
And for once, admitting that to myself doesn’t scare me.
“You ready to go?” Shep asks, knocking me from my thoughts.
“Yeah.” I drain my cup and set it into the sink as well, offering Shep a smile. “I’m fucking starving.”
“Regular sex with someone you like does that to a person,” Shep says smugly as we walk out into the garage.
I don’t answer, just open the passenger side door of Shep’s car and climb inside. We ride together every Monday. This week it’s his turn to drive.
My phone dings and I check it, smiling when I see who the message is from.
What are you doing this afternoon?
I answer her quickly, ignoring the kissy noises Shep’s making as he fires up his car and backs out of the garage.
Spending it with you.
Her reply is just as fast.
â?º Awesome. So you’ll go on a run with me?
I frown. My girl runs? Since when?
I do. Well, I haven’t for a while but I think I need to get back into the habit. All this pizza I’m eating with my roommates is ruining my figure.
Please. She’s so thin I wonder where she puts it all.
You are perfect just the way you are.
You’re such a flatterer.
I’m not trying to flatter her. It’s the truth. She sends me another text before I can reply.
Text me when you’re done okay?
“Texting first thing in the morning. You two are so cute,” Shep says in a mock falsetto.
I’d hit him if he weren’t driving. “Fuck off,” I mutter as I send her one last text.
I’ll talk to you later. Have a good morning.
You too. xoxo
“What does it mean when a girl texts you a bunch of x’s and o’s?” I ask, frowning at my screen.
“Are you for real right now?” When I send Shep a helpless look he shakes his head, muttering under his breath. “It means hugs and kisses, dumbass. Jesus, where have you been? Living under a rock?”
His mocking words slide right off me. No one has ever sent me hugs and kisses in the form of x’s and o’s in my life. That probably makes me pitiful but I don’t care. In fact, I’m damn glad Alex is the first to ever do it.
So glad, I smile all the way to the diner.
Running with Tristan this afternoon was a huge mistake. Not only did he leave me in the dust more than once, he also made it look so easy. I’m huffing and puffing, trying my best to keep up while he’s running beside me, barely breaking a sweat and looking damn good while doing it. All the while he’s chatting me up without taking a breath.
I mean seriously, who is this guy?
Your potential boyfriend?
I shove the giddy-inducing thought to the back corner of my mind.
“I thought you said you were a runner,” he taunts as we’re in the home stretch. Otherwise known as a few blocks from my house. He’s turned around so he’s running backward, not paying attention to what he could possibly run into and I want to punch him for making it look so easy.
I also want to squeal with joy and tell everyone that guy’s mine. But that might freak him out so I keep my mouth shut.
“I warned you it’s been a while,” I huff out. I’ve pretty much given up, keeping up as best as I can while walking since I’ve given up on the running part as he runs ahead of me. Backward-runs, that is. He grins, too cute for words, the sun shining down upon him, casting him in this golden glow that makes him look downright…angelic.