Page 31

Because she’s staying with me.

All weekend.

She’s modest in a lot of areas, but definitely not when it comes to her food. I know she understands that she’ll only be at my house for two days, but she’s grabbed enough food to last two weeks.

I let her, though, because I want this to be the best weekend she’s ever had, and frozen pizza and cereal will definitely help me make that happen.

“I think we’re good.” She’s looking down at the cart, digging through it, making sure she got everything she wanted. “We’ll have to take a cab back to your place, though. We can’t carry all this.”

I turn the cart around right before we hit the checkout line.

“We forgot something,” I say.

“How? We bought the entire store.”

I head in the opposite direction. “Your birthday present.”

I expect her to run up behind me and protest, like most girls would probably do. Instead, she starts clapping. I think she might have just squealed, too. She grabs my arm with both hands and says, “How much can I spend?”

Her excitement reminds me of one of the times my father took Carey and me to Toys “R” Us. Carey was two years older, but our birthdays were only a week apart. Our father used to do things like that, back when Callahan Gentry knew how to be a father. I remember one particular trip; he wanted to turn the present buying into a game. He told us to pick an aisle number and a shelf number, and said we could pick anything we wanted from that particular shelf. Carey went first, and we wound up on the Lego aisle, which was typical of Carey’s good luck. When it was my turn, I didn’t fare so well. My numbers put us on the Barbie aisle and to say I was upset is an understatement. Carey was the type of brother who, when he wasn’t beating me up, was fiercely protective of me. He looked at my father and said, “What if he reversed the numbers? Maybe instead of aisle four and shelf three, we’re supposed to be on shelf four and aisle three.”

My father grinned proudly. “That’s pretty lawyerly of you, Carey.” We moved over to aisle three, which was the sports aisle. I don’t even remember what I ended up choosing. I just remember the day and how, despite that moment of terror in the Barbie aisle, it ended up being one of my favorite memories of the three of us.

I take her hand in mine, and I stop pushing the buggy. “Pick an aisle number.”

She arches an eyebrow and glances behind her, trying to peek at the aisle signs, so I block her view. “No cheating. Pick an aisle number and a shelf number. I’ll buy you anything you want off the shelf we end up at.”

She smiles. She likes this game.

“Lucky thirteen,” she says to me. “But how do I know how many shelves there are?”

“Just guess. You might get lucky.”

She squeezes her bottom lip between her thumb and forefinger, concentrating her gaze on me. “If I say shelf one, would that be considered the top shelf or the bottom?”

“Bottom.”

She smiles and her eyes light up. “Row thirteen, shelf number two it is.” She’s so excited I would think she’s never been given a gift before. She also bites her bottom lip to keep from appearing as excited as she is.

God, she’s adorable.

I turn around, and we’re standing on the opposite side of the store from aisle thirteen. “Looks like either sporting goods or electronics.”

She jumps a little and says, “Or jewelry.”

Oh, shit. Jewelry is close to electronics. This may be the most expensive birthday present I’ve ever bought. She lets go of my hand and grabs the end of the cart, pulling it faster. “Hurry up, Owen.”

If I knew birthday presents made her this excited, I would have bought her one the day I met her. And every day since then.

We’re still walking toward aisle thirteen when we pass jewelry, then electronics, eliminating both of those possibilities. We pause on aisle twelve, and even though we’re standing in front of sporting goods, she still looks excited.

“I’m so nervous,” she says, tiptoeing toward aisle thirteen. She rounds the corner first and peeks down the aisle. She looks back at me and breaks out into a huge grin. “Tents!”

And then she disappears.

I follow after her and round the corner with the cart, but she’s already pulling one off the shelf. “I want this one,” she says with excitement. But then she pushes it back on the shelf. “No, no, I want this one,” she mumbles to herself. “Blue is his favorite color.” She grabs the blue one, and I would help her, but I’m not sure I can move just yet. I’m still trying to absorb her words.

“Blue is his favorite color.”

I want to ask her who he is, and why she’s thinking about camping with someone whose favorite color is blue, blue, nothing but blue. But I don’t say anything, because I don’t have a right to say anything. She’s giving me two days, not forever.

Two days.

That won’t be enough for me, Auburn. I can already tell. And whoever’s favorite color is blue won’t stand a chance in this tent, because I’m about to make sure that the only thing she ever thinks about when she sees a tent again is Oh My God.

I get all the groceries loaded into the taxi and turn around to grab the tent. She takes it from my hands before I can put it in the trunk. “I’ll carry this. I want to go to my apartment for a little while before I go to yours, so I’ll just take it with me.”

I glance at the groceries and then back at her. “Why?” I shut the trunk and watch her cheeks flush when she shrugs.

“Can you just drop me off there first? I’ll meet you at your apartment in a couple of hours.”

I don’t want to drop her off. She might change her mind. “Yeah,” I say. “Sure.” I walk around to the back and open the door for her. I think she can tell that I don’t want her to go home, but I’m trying to hide my disappointment. When I get into the cab I grab her hand and close the door. She tells the cab driver her address.

I’m looking out the window when I feel her squeeze my hand. “Owen?”

I face her and her smile is so sweet, it makes my jaw ache.

“I just really want to shower and grab some clothes before I come over. But I promise I’m still coming over, okay?” Her expression is reassuring.

I nod, still not sure that I believe her. This may be her way of getting back at me for standing her up. She can still see the hesitation in my eyes, so she laughs.

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