I almost loved him for it, too. Almost.
“Yes. Let me change clothes and I’m ready to go.”
I started for the guest area, but he caught the back of my jeans. “You’re good. You look hot anyway.” He nodded for the back door. “Let’s go. I told my coach I’d be there by now. I know he’s waiting.”
Stone thought I was hot. What. The. Hell.
I paused, that thought flashing through my body, but then it was numb again. Gone. That brief spark vanished.
So, we left. I had time to grab my phone, then dash out to the garage.
Stone powered his window down. “You set the code?”
I backtracked, setting the code he told me earlier, and then dashed out to his truck. The drive there was actually peaceful. For some reason, I liked riding in the passenger seat with Stone driving. He wasn’t too reckless, but he drove how he played. Wild at times. Reckless. But also smart and controlled, too. Efficient. When we were at a stoplight, I half expected the people right next to us to recognize him.
“You have tinted windows?”
He nodded, easing forward as the light turned green. “Yeah. I had a scary incident last year, and since then, I’ll never not have tinted windows again. Only reason that one photographer got you was because you hadn’t totally shut the door yet.”
“Good to know.”
We went to where he worked.
He parked in a back lot, and we walked in through an off-door. A few other workers were around, and they raised their hand up, saying hello to Stone as he walked by. The orange and brown colors from the Kings displayed everywhere.
We went down one hallway and he paused outside a door, pushing it open. He stuck his head in, then backed up. “You can hang out in here.” It was a waiting room. There were couches. A television. A kitchenette area. He went to the fridge and opened it. “You can help yourself, and I’ll be about an hour. Two, tops. That okay?” He went to a closed door and toed it open. It was a bathroom. Then he went to the exit and glanced back. “You’re going to still be here and alive when I come back?”
I had my phone. I waved it. “I’ll call 911 and give them your credit card number if I need anything.”
He stared at me, gauging my intent, then rolled his eyes. “Har, har.”
Yeah. Har, har back.
It was a weird dynamic between us. Moments of kindness, moments of caring and then moments of strain and sarcasm and bitterness. This time it was all on me. I knew the next would be his. Cursing me as I’m in the hospital, totally something Stone would do. And me being bitter when he’s bringing me into this sanctum, where I knew so many would pay in blood to switch places—yeah. That was Stone and me.
I made some coffee while he was gone. I drank some of the water. I ate a yogurt, and had settled in, an HBO movie on when my phone started blowing up.
I picked it up, hitting one of the alerts.
Childhood Sweethearts? Mystery Woman Identified!
Say It Isn’t So! Is Reeves Off The Market?
And another headline, this one with a bigger kick than the others.
Recent Trauma Brought Them Together?
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I could repeat that forever and ever and ever and etcetera here because fuuuuuuuuck. Every single article had me tagged, and the last one brought up my car accident. I was skimming, but none of the others had the information about my dad and Gail.
I didn’t know if this could get back and affect Jared’s life, but I was hoping it wouldn’t.
Then my phone started ringing, and my stomach really did turn inside out. Jared’s name was flashing on the screen. Wow, that was quite the coincidence, him calling me at same time I’d just thought about him.
I hit accept and stood, already instantly nervous. “Hi.”
He was quiet on the other end, just a second. “You kidding? That’s the first thing you have to say to me?”
“Mom and Dad died a week ago, and nothing. Apollo’s mom and dad told me that they’re adopting me today. Where are you? You don’t want me?”
I collapsed down in a chair. “No, Jared. It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like? Where the fuck are you?”
“This isn’t because of the news?”
“Yeah. I mean, that’s another thing. You hanging with Stone Reeves? I thought you were like mortal enemies and what? Now you’re fucking?”
Shit. I frowned. “Is this how high schoolers speak now?”
“They are when their parents are dead and their only family has been absent every minute since they died. The funeral. Everything.”
My heart squeezed. There was ahold on it, crushing it inch by inch.
“Jared. I was in a car accident. I’ve been in a coma.” Had no one told him? I should’ve told him. I should’ve figured it out.
Silence. Again. And I didn’t know how he was reacting, but I was painfully aware the other people we both loved had also been in a car accident.
His voice was strained, “You okay?”
“I…” This was hard. I was swallowing tears almost as fast as they were slipping down my face. “I got the news and got in my car, and a moving truck totaled me. I backed out in front of them.”
“They were worried about swelling on my brain, so they put me in a medically induced coma. I just got pulled out of it a few days ago, and since then, I haven’t been handling anything the best way.”
I should’ve called by now.
I should’ve called him the instant I heard.
“I’m so sorry, Jared. I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, well.” His own voice broke. “Do you not want me, Dusty?”
I sat still, holding that phone so tight, and making sure I heard him right. Logically, I knew there were ways to think about this situation with us, but I wasn’t thinking logically. I was thinking with all emotion, and that question pierced straight through my chest, finding my heart. Bullseye. Without missing a beat, I said the words that had haunted me about Jared since I woke up from the coma, “Do you want me?”
“Yes! I mean, shit. You’re my only family. You’re my sister.”
This day. Right here. Right now. I would be better. I would no longer be an okay person, or a good person. I would be a fucking great person, and I’d have to google how to do that because I knew it’d be a lot of work.
I breathed into the phone, “Yes. Yes. I thought Apollo’s parents would be the best for you. They have a stable house. They have jobs.” I didn’t. “You don’t have to leave school. You could finish the year out there—”
“I don’t give a shit about any of that. I want you. You’re my family. The only person on this Earth I have left who cares about me.”
I was nodding, and crying, not knowing how I was going to do any of this. “Okay. Yeah. Okay. Um,” I stood. I couldn’t figure out how to be this new person sitting down. That made no sense. “Okay. Just, okay.”
“You have any idea what you’re going to do?” I could hear a bell sound where he was. Lockers opening, shutting. Conversations. Laughter. Shouts. A ‘what’s up, man?’ Followed by a ‘pound my fist, dude.’ He’d left his class early to call me.
“Not a goddamn clue.” My head still felt woozy. “I think the concussion is affecting me.”
“Coach says to take that stuff seriously. You shouldn’t even be on your phone right now.”
“Yeah. Well. I’m glad I am. I’m glad I had it, or I would’ve missed your call.”
I heard his laugh, and everything righted for a split second. I could do this. I could keep going. Right? I was asking myself. Right? I just answered myself. I was feeling inspired.
“Okay. Well. You let me know.”
I was nodding and smiling to myself and beaming like a fool. “I will. Right. Have a good rest of the day.”
“Er. Okay. Bye.”
“Bye!” I was waving, to the microwave. “Lov—”
That word stuck in my throat. I hated that it was there, but it was. Jared hung up.
I stood there.
I didn’t move.
I almost felt the microwave was going to start heckling me, and then I heard from behind me, “You did not just do what I heard you just do?”
Stone was there. Stone was furious. Stone was probably back to being my enemy after this.
I gave him a weak smile. “I blame my concussion.”
He growled, fixing me with a heated glare. “You are so fucking stupid.”
Yep. I so knew that. But on the flipside, I was now a single mother-figure. So, yay that?
Well. The joke was on me.
Apollo’s mom called me thirty minutes later. I was just leaving the stadium with Stone beside me. Seeing Georgia’s name on the screen, I glanced at Stone before answering. “Georgia. Hi.”
She started right in. “I am so sorry. Apollo called me and told me what Jared said to you. Now, you have to understand that I am in no way trying to get between a stepbrother and sister. You both lost your parents, and if I thought there was even a small inkling that Jared meant what he said, I wouldn’t even be making this call. But having said all of that, Apollo told me last night that Jared has an alert set so any stories about Stone Reeves go right to his phone. He got the alert that Page Nine sent out a day ago, and he recognized you. Jared has…” She hesitated. “Jared’s been a bit difficult the last couple days, with reason. We get it. We can’t imagine his pain, but he was talking to Apollo last night and said that he wants to ‘hook up’ with his sister and score free Kings tickets.”