I don't know what to say. "You killed someone?"
Peter nods, and regret flashes across his face. "It was self-defense, but murder is murder. The guy bled out and died on the way to the hospital. He died because of me. No matter what I do, that's always there. That's why I knew what you were thinking that night because I thought the same things myself."
"I didn't take money from Sean. Actually, I told him—"
Peter smiles at me. "I know. He told me on the way here that you said you'd shove any extra cash up his ass. He's kind of a dick like that. I'll beat the shit out him later if it makes you feel better." He's joking, a little bit, maybe.
"At least someone is looking out for you."
"Yeah, I suppose." Peter pulls on to my street and rolls to a stop in front of my parents' house. There are lights on, and I know it's packed with people and food. "Do we have to go in right away?"
Peter shakes his head and cuts the engine. "No, we don't have to. Let's walk around the block. Come on. The fresh air will help."
Peter walks around and plucks me from the car. We start walking, and his phone buzzes. Someone keeps texting him. "Who's that?"
"Jonathan." Peter holds my hand, looking straight ahead as he says it.
"Really? What does he want?"
"Well, he wants me to drive out to this place in Islip and see why Mom wants to kill him. He also wants me to stick around. The nosy kid found out that I'm currently without an employer and has been making outlandish job offers."
"Really?" Peter nods with a slight smile on his face. "What'd you tell him?"
Peter kicks a rock with his saddle shoe. "I told him that I wasn't interested. I want you to take all the time you need with your family. Jon can always find someone else to fix his latest and greatest blunder."
"Peter…" I stop in my tracks and look up at him. "You can't say things like that. You have no job and no money."
He shrugs. "I have enough to get me through this. Besides, it's not like I'd leave you now—you're mine, body, mind, and soul."
I worry about him and it shows on my face. Maybe he is like his younger brother, walking around with his head in the clouds somewhat. People need money to live, and Peter doesn't seem to be in a rush to secure another job. After the way he left the university, I'm not even sure he can be employed somewhere else. I can picture Peter's hands filling out a job application:
REASON LEFT LAST JOB: Slept with my student.
Technically, I wasn't Peter's student when he slept with me—unless that's literal and someone is counting sleeping—but looks are just as damning. There were rumors flying around about the two of us long before anything happened. I smirk, thinking back. I had no idea he liked me so much.
Peter squeezes my hand. "What are you thinking about in that beautiful mind of yours?"
"About how we met and that I had no idea things would end up here. I'm glad they did. I wouldn't trade a second of those months away."
Peter lifts my hand to his lips and smiles at me. "Same here. And I'm so glad you finally gave me some coffee because I was seriously parched and had no idea. Like none." He's smiling at me. "So what now? Are we headed back to Texas or do we become Jersey folk?" Peter turns and we continue walking, and turn the corner. We're headed back to my house again. I can see the porch light from here along with scads of cars parked up and down the street like a string of army ants.
"Jersey folk? Who talks like that? You're from Long Island—and don't think I didn't notice that whole 'I'm from Connecticut,' you liar, because I noticed. You're supposed to have a Gawd-awful accent in there somewhere, Mr. New Yorker, along with a natural scorn for anything awesome that comes out of Jersey, like me."
"I didn't lie. I came to Texas by way of Connecticut."
"Same difference, fibber."
"Not quite, coffee girl." Peter stops me a few houses away and looks down into my eyes with a sexy smile on his face. "And I notice you dodged my question, which makes me think you haven't decided yet."
"I really don't know what to do." I tuck my hair behind my ear and take a deep breath to steady myself. Emotionally, I feel about as strong as a wet tissue. "I've wasted so much time. I still have one parent and the ugly stepsister back there. It feels like I shouldn't run away this time. Maybe I can fix things or just start over."
"Wait a second. Is the ugly stepsister Mr. Turkey or Sam? Because I can see the title fitting either of them quite well."
"Stop talking trash about Mr. Turkey." Of course I meant Sam. He's such a jerk, but he's still blood. I don't want to write him off again, not without trying to patch things up first. I glance at the house and then back at Peter. "So when did you hear his name?"
"Sam's? You just said it, and I figured it out. Cinderella, ugly stepsister, jealous brother. Got it." Peter taps his index finger against his temple. "You forget how smart I am."
I laugh and swat at him. "Not that! The bird. How'd you know I named him?"
"Oh," Peter takes my hand and starts walking again. "I heard you talking to him when I first found you. It was right before your aunt came out and asked you to go to the store. I wanted to rush up to you and hold you in my arms, but I heard what happened and put the pieces together. Showing up too late was a dick move on my part, and I wasn't sure if you wanted me around. When you gave your dinner to the vulture, you called him Mr. Turkey. I thought it was cute. We should get him a bowtie or something."
"Let's not listen to Sean anymore, like ever, okay?"
"That is the most brilliant idea I've ever heard. Agreed."
Tapping my thumbs swiftly across the screen, I answer the text from Millie and put my phone on the table. Several days have passed, but I haven't headed back yet. Millie did the math and realizes that I'm cutting it really close. I tell her not to worry and put the phone down. I just didn't want to leave Dad yet. He likes having me around. The only time he smiles is when he walks into a room and sees me. There's always surprise on his face, like he'd forgotten that I came back.
Peter glances over at me. Dad's been letting him sleep on the couch, which helps a lot. If I can't sleep, I come downstairs and sit with Peter on the sofa. He wraps his arms around me and we stare at the television until dawn. I manage to pass out for a few hours at a time. I keep reminding myself that time will lessen the vise on my heart, that it'll unclamp eventually and I'll be happy again.
Peter pokes his pancakes. Aunt Beth is still cooking for us. At first I thought she was here for Dad, but I think she's here for her. Mom and my aunt were good friends, and I can tell that my aunt feels better when she's in the kitchen cooking. I'm going to get so fat—well, Mr. Turkey is going to be morbidly obese. The bird eats anything I don't finish, and he really likes bacon. I'm thinking about taking a pound of uncooked bacon out of the package and dropping it off the roof so it splatters on the patio. It'll be like old times for the bird, minus the trucks.
"Stop hording bacon for that beast." Peter reaches across and steals a strip from me.
"There's plenty more bacon, hon!" Aunt Beth calls out from the kitchen.
I grab the strip away just as Peter's about to eat it, and he bites air. I laugh and toss it out the back door to Mr. Turkey. "Get your own."
"You did not just do that," Peter says after blinking in shock. He's got dark, tousled hair, two-day scruff on his beautiful face, and a flick of mirth in his eyes. A dark T-shirt clings to his chest and makes his eyes appear bluer than possible. Without warning, Peter leans into me and tickles my side.
I nearly jump out of my seat, trying to avoid his hands, but Aunt Beth is there. She swats him with the back of the spatula. "None of that at the table, young man."
I laugh because he's a doctor and my aunt is scolding him like a child. It's hysterical, and Peter has no idea what to do with it. He finally swallows his smile and says, "Sorry, ma'am. It won't happen again."
"Ma'am?" Aunt Beth glares at him. "How old do you think I am?"
I point at Peter and laugh. "Come on, Dr. Granz, kiss her ass and say sorry."
He looks confused. That phrase is respectful in Texas, but up here the women act like it means they're old and decrepit. I continue to snigger at him and get a smack with the spatula, too.
Aunt Beth shakes her head at me. "Table manners, Sidney. And stop feeding that thing. It'll never leave if you're giving it bacon every day."
"I'll never leave if you keep feeding me bacon every day," Peter says to Aunt Beth.
It was the right thing to say because she beams. "Oh, stop." Then she takes his plate and says, "Let me get you some more."
Peter waggles his brows after folding his arms across his chest. He leans his chair back so it's on two legs and gives me the most arrogant smirk I've ever seen. "She likes me better than the turkey."
"Everyone likes you better than the turkey."
"What about you?"
"At the moment, or in general?" I don't look at him. I take a bite of muffin, or I plan on it, but Peter swats it out of my hands and the treat lands on my plate.
I do a slow-motion turn and see Peter looking pleased with himself. "You suck."
"You like it."
My jaw drops into a surprised smile and I shove his shoulders. The chair slips out from under him, and Peter topples over onto the floor. Aunt Beth choses that moment to appear in the doorway. "Enough of this. If you two want to act like children, then go outside." She places the bacon on Peter's plate, picks it up, and shoves it in his hand before clapping at us. "Come on. Take your things and eat in the yard. Out!"