She looks both regretful and embarrassed that she suddenly asked me to stop. I lift my hand and stroke her cheek reassuringly.

My eyes scroll over her features, taking in her nervous demeanor. She’s afraid of what might happen between us. I can see on her face and in the way she’s looking at me that she’s just as scared as I am. Whatever this is between us, neither one of us was searching for it. Neither one of us knew it even existed. Neither one of us is even remotely prepared for it, but I know we both want it. She wants this to work with me as much as I want it to work with her and seeing the look in her eyes right now makes me believe that it will. I’ve never believed in anything like I believe in the possibility of the two of us.

I can tell by the way she’s looking at me that if I tried to kiss her again, she’d let me. It’s almost as if she’s torn between the girl she used to be and the girl she is now and she’s afraid if I try to kiss her again, she’ll cave.

And I’m afraid if I don’t get up and walk away, I’ll let her.

We don’t even have to speak. She doesn’t even have to ask me to leave, because I know that’s what I need to do. I nod, silently answering the question I don’t want her to have to ask. I begin to ease off her bed and a silent thank you flashes in her eyes. I stand up, back away from her and climb out her window without a word. I walk a few feet until I reach the edge of her house, then I lean against it and slide down to the ground.

I lean my head back and close my eyes, attempting to figure out where I went right in my life to deserve her.

“What the hell are you doing?” Holder asks. I look up and he’s halfway out Sky’s window. Once he makes it all the way out, he turns and pulls her window shut.

“Recovering,” I say. “I just needed a minute.”

He walks toward me and takes a seat on the ground across from me, then leans against Sky’s house. He pulls his legs up and rests his elbows on his knees.

“You’re already leaving?” I ask him. “It’s not even nine o’clock yet.”

He reaches down to the ground and rips up a few blades of grass, then spins them between his fingers. “Got kicked out for the night. Karen walked in and my hand was up Sky’s shirt. She didn’t like that too much.”

I laugh.

“So,” he says, glancing back up at me. “You and Six, huh?”

Despite my effort not to smile, I do it anyway. I smile pathetically and nod. “I don’t know what it is about her, Holder. I . . . she just . . . yeah.”

“I know what you mean,” he says quietly, looking back down at the grass between his fingers.

Neither one of us says anything else for several moments until he drops the blades of grass and wipes his hands on his jeans, preparing to stand up. “Well . . . I’m glad we had this talk, Daniel, but the fact that we already professed our mutual love for each other tonight is leaving me a little overwhelmed. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He stands up and begins walking toward his car.

“I love you, Holder!” I yell after him. “Best friends forever!”

He keeps walking forward, but lifts his hand in the air and flips me off.

It’s almost as cool as a fist bump.

Chapter Five

“You’re wrong,” she says.

We’re standing in my kitchen. Her back is pressed against the counter and I’m standing in front of her with my arms on either side of her. I catch her lips with mine and shut her up. It doesn’t last long because she pushes my face away.

“I’m serious,” she whispers. “I don’t think they like me.”

I bring a hand up and wrap it around the nape of her neck and look her directly in the eyes. “They like you. I promise.”

“No we don’t,” my dad says as he makes his way into the kitchen. “We can’t stand her. In fact, we hope you never bring her back.” He refills his cup with ice, then walks back to the living room.

Six’s eyes follow him as he exits the room, then she looks back up at me, wide-eyed.

“See?” I say with a smile. “They love you.”

She points toward the living room. “But he just . . .”

My father’s voice cuts her off when he walks back into the kitchen. “Kidding, Six,” he says, laughing. “Inside joke. We actually like you a lot. I tried to give Danny-boy Grandma Wesley’s ring earlier but he says it’s still too soon to make you a Wesley.”

Six laughs at the same time she breathes a sigh of relief. “Yeah, maybe so. It’s only been a month. I think we should wait at least two more weeks before we talk proposals.”

My dad walks farther into the kitchen and leans against the counter across from us. I feel a little awkward standing so close to Six now, so I move next to her and lean against the bar.

“Did you come back in here so you could think of things to say that would embarrass me?” I ask. I know that’s why he’s standing here. I can see the glimmer in his eyes.

He laughs, then takes a drink of his tea. He scrunches his nose up. “Nah,” he says. “I would never do that, Danny-boy. I’m not the type of dad who would tell his son’s girlfriend how he talks about her incessantly. I would also never tell my son’s girlfriend that I’m proud of her for not having sex with him yet.”

Holy shit. I groan and slap myself in the forehead. I should have known better than to bring her here.

“You talk to him about the fact that we haven’t had sex?” Six says, completely embarrassed.

My father shakes his head. “No, he doesn’t have to. I know because every night he comes home he goes straight to his bedroom and takes a thirty-minute shower. I was eighteen once.”

Six covers her face with her hands. “Oh, my God.” She peeks through her hands at my dad. “I guess I know who Daniel gets his personality from.”

My father nods. “Tell me about it. His mother is terribly inappropriate.”

Right on cue, my mother and Chunk walk through the front door with dinner. I glare at my father, then walk toward my mother and grab the pizza boxes out of her hands. She sets her purse down and walks over to Six and gives her a quick hug.

“I’m sorry I didn’t cook for you. Busy day today,” she says.

“It’s fine,” Six replies. “Nothing like inappropriate conversation over pizza.”

I watch as my mother spins around and eyes my father. “Dennis? What have you been up to?”

He shrugs. “Just telling Danny-boy how I would never embarrass him in front of Six.”

My mother laughs. “Well, as long as you aren’t embarrassing him, then. I’d hate for Six to find out about his lengthy showers every night.”

I slap the table. “Mom! Jesus Christ!”

She laughs and my dad winks at her. “Already covered that one.”

Six walks to the table, shaking her head. “Your parents actually make you seem like a gentleman.” She takes a seat at the table and I sit in the chair next to her.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper to her. She looks at me and smiles.

“Are you kidding me? I love this.”

“Why would long showers embarrass you?” Chunk says to me, taking a seat across from Six. “I would think wanting to be clean is a good thing.” She picks up a slice of pizza and begins to take a bite, but then her eyes squeeze shut and she drops the pizza onto her plate. By the look on her face, the meaning behind the long showers has just hit her. “Oh, gross. Gross!” she says, shaking her head.

Six begins to laugh and I rest my forehead against my hand, convinced this is more than likely the most uncomfortable, embarrassing five minutes of my life. “I hate all of you. Every last one of you.” I quickly look at Six. “Except you, babe. I don’t hate you.”

She smiles and wipes her mouth with a napkin. “I know exactly what you mean. I hate everybody, too.”

As soon as the words fall from her mouth, she looks away like she didn’t just punch me in the gut, rip out my intestines, and stomp them into the ground.

I hate everybody too, Cinderella.

The words I said that day in the closet are screaming loudly inside my head.

There’s no way.

There’s no way I wouldn’t have noticed she was Cinderella.

I bring my hands to my face and close my eyes, trying hard to remember something about that day. Her voice, her kiss, her smell. The way we seemed to connect almost instantly.

Her laugh.

“Are you okay?” Six asks quietly. No one else can tell something major is going on with me right now, but she notices. She notices because we’re in sync. She notices because we have this unspoken connection. We’ve had it since the second I laid eyes on her in Sky’s bedroom.

We’ve had it since the second she fell on top of me in the maintenance closet.

“No,” I say, bringing my hands down. “I’m not okay.” I grip the edge of the table, then slowly turn to face her.

Soft hair.

Amazing mouth.

Phenomenal kisser.

My mouth is dry, so I reach to my cup and down a huge gulp of water. I slam my cup back down on the table, then turn and face her. I’m trying not to smile, but this whole thing is slightly overwhelming. Realizing that the girl from my past that I wished I could know is the same girl from my present that I’m thankful to have is practically one of the best moments of my life. I want to tell Six, I want to tell Chunk, I want to tell my parents. I want to scream it from the rooftops and print it in all the papers.

Cinderella is Six! Six is Cinderella!

“Daniel. You’re scaring me,” she says, watching as my face grows paler and my heart pounds faster.

I look at her. Really look at her this time.

“You want to know why I haven’t given you a nickname yet?”

She looks confused that this is what I decide to say in the middle of my silent freak-out. She nods cautiously. I place one hand on the back of her chair and one hand on the table in front of her, then lean in toward her.

“Because I already gave you one, Cinderella.”

I pull back slightly and watch her face closely, waiting on the realization she’s about to have. The flashback. The clarity. She’s about to wonder how the hell she failed to realize it, too.

Her eyes slowly move up my face until they meet mine. “No,” she says, shaking her head.

I nod slowly. “Yes.”

She’s still shaking her head. “No,” she says again with more certainty. “Daniel there’s no way it could . . .”

I don’t let her finish. I grab her face and kiss her harder than I’ve ever kissed her. I don’t give a shit that we’re seated at a dinner table. I don’t care that Chunk is groaning. I don’t care that my mom is clearing her throat. I keep kissing her until she begins to back away from me.

She’s pushing on my chest, so I pull away from her just in time to see the regret wash over her entire face. I focus on her eyes long enough to see them squeeze shut as she stands to leave the kitchen. I watch her rush away long enough to see her stifle a sob by slapping her hand over her mouth. I remain in my seat until the front door slams shut and I realize she’s gone.

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