I watch as she pads around the space, looking at the knickknacks scattered along the custom shelving I have built around my flat-screen.

“You don’t put your trophies out?”

“Nah. I’m full of myself, but not that full of myself.”

“Could have fooled me,” she smarts off. “You have a lot of balls.”

“I hardly think two is a lot, but thank you.”

She sighs. “A lot of signed balls.”

“Ah, yes. I do. I got most of them when I was a kid, but I’ve managed to make a couple friends and score some extras in the last couple years.”

“Must be nice to be famous.”

“I’m hardly famous, Den.”

“Around here you are. It’s kind of annoying.”

“Only kind of?” I tease.

“You’re right—it’s massively annoying. Do you know how hard it is to avoid someone when they’re constantly thrown in your face?”

“So you’re finally admitting you avoided me for four years?”

“I’d hardly call seeing you four times a week avoiding you.”

“But you tried. You tried real fucking hard, always running out of class first, ignoring me at the paper, dodging me around campus. I once saw you enter a bar, make eye contact with me, and then leave—tell me that isn’t avoiding me.”

“Fine,” she concedes, turning around to stare at me with hurt eyes. “I did try, but can you blame me, Shep? After everything?”

I look down at the cup in my hands, ashamed. “You’re right.”

“I know I am.” She turns her attention back to the shelves. “It’s nice to know you were watching me so closely though.”

“It’s impossible not to.”

She pauses at my words, but only for a second.

When she stops at the last shelf, I don’t miss the way her breath hitches, like she’s surprised I kept her gift all these years.

“I’ve read them all multiple times.”

Her shoulders rise and fall with her uneven breaths.

She likes that I kept the Captain America comics she sent me so many years ago. Even more than that, she likes that they’re bagged and boarded even with being so well read.

Denny gives herself a small shake and strides toward the kitchen, setting her mug on the counter. “You should be keeping them in sleeves. I’ll be ready to go in ten minutes.”

“Oh my god, would you quit it? I didn’t mess it up that bad.”

“This is why I don’t let people drive Shelia.”

“You are so dramatic,” she mutters in that smartass tone of hers I love. “Just drive. We’re already late.”

“We wouldn’t be running late if you’d moved at more than a glacial pace this morning. You said ten minutes—that was definitely more like thirty.”

“I had to do something with the rat’s nest on my head.”

I glance over at her disastrous-looking top knot. “Well, you missed a spot—or ten.”

“It’s artfully messy,” she argues.

“How did you forget to pack pajamas but not an outfit for the day?”

She points to the bag she’s holding on her lap. “That’s what us girls call an emergency one-night stand bag. I didn’t plan on needing pajamas.”

“You’re saying you planned on sleeping with me last night?”

She rolls her eyes. “This bag is not specific to our…situation last night. It’s just a general one-night stand bag.”

“Uh huh. You totally wanted to bang me last night, but I shot ya down. Couldn’t let you take advantage of me in the back of a truck.”

“I will yank Shelia right from your grip and run us into the nearest telephone pole.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” I seethe, gripping the wheel tighter just in case.

“Try me.”

I step on the gas, attempting to shave a few minutes off our drive…and keep Shelia safe from Denny.

There’s a small yip sounding like it comes from the vicinity of the passenger seat as the car lurches forward.

Huh. Weird.

Ignoring it, I turn on the radio, and the sounds of Sinatra fill the cab.

“You still listen to this?”

I feel my cheeks begin to heat. “Yes.”

“Are you still hiding your love of old-school music?”

“Yes.”

She laughs. “I kind of like that I’m the only one who knows that secret.”

“I did confess it to Zach, but he’s not a real person, so you’re still the only one. Not even AJ knows.”

“Wow, I feel special,” she says distractedly.

I glance over to see her slide open the zipper on her bag just enough to slip her hand inside.

“What are you doing, Den?”

“N-Nothing,” she says, clearly guilty of something.

The bag moves.

I hit the brakes.

“Denver Andrews! Tell me you did not stuff my pug into your ratchet duffle bag.”

“Well do you want me to lie to you then?”

“Denny!”

“What!” She unzips the bag fully and pulls Steve out, snuggling him against her face. “Look how cute he is.”

“I cannot believe you right now.”

“He was so lonely, Shep. I couldn’t leave him in your apartment all by himself.”

“We don’t even have his leash.”

She digs into the bag again, producing his leash, water bowl, and treats.

I shake my head, slightly annoyed but even more amused.

This woman, I swear.

“It’s too late to turn back now. We’ll be even later.”

“How did I not notice this?”

She kisses Steve’s nose. “Because you’re a dumbass.”

Surprisingly, Steve does a really good job in the car, Denny calming him down when we have to stop and his anxiety gets the best of him.

When we finally pull up to the restaurant, we’re miraculously only ten minutes late.

Denny snaps Steve’s leash on and gets out of the truck.

“Hope Allie and AJ don’t mind sitting outside, Steve.” She shakes her head at me. “Can’t believe you’re so codependent you brought your dog, Shep.”

“I-I… You… You!” I sputter, dazed by her accusations. “I swear, Den, I’m going to kiss you today.”

“I’ll kiss you back.” She winks. “Now go get us a table.”

I shuffle inside, finding our friends and explaining to them the fact that we need to move this breakfast date outside because Denver is a psycho.

AJ finds it amusing. Allie’s just confused about why we came together.

“What the hell is this?” she says to Denny as we all sit down at the new table outside.

Steve tucks himself into Denny’s lap.

“This is Steve. Steve, meet Allie, your aunt.”

“Oh my gosh, he is so cute. When did you get him?”

“He—”

“Just last night,” Denny cuts me off. “Shep gave him to me as a gift. Isn’t he just the sweetest?”

“What! You bought her a puppy?” Allie screeches.

“No, you nut. Your best friend is just insane,” AJ tells her.

I point to my best friend. “What he said.”

Though, if I’m being honest, I did buy the pug with Denny in mind.

I don’t even want to admit how many hours I spent trying to find a way to get her that puppy for Christmas all those years ago, but I couldn’t make it happen. I couldn’t make the purse happen either.

So, I settled on sending her one of her favorite comics, signed. And coal, of course.

That pug never left my mind. When I found out I would be on disciplinary probation the rest of the season, I’d figured I’d have a long-ass time off to finally train a puppy, so I bit the bullet and here we are.

Denny covers Steve’s ears. “You don’t listen to a word they’re saying about your new mommy. Meanies.”

“Clinical,” I remark.

Denver shields the dog’s eyes and flips me off.

“Did you two ride here together?” AJ asks.

“We…did,” I answer carefully, looking to Denny to see how she’d like me to answer that.

“I stayed the night after the gala. And no, before it’s brought up again at a later point, Shep did not score a homerun with me. I’m not as clinically insane as he believes me to be.”

Leave it to her to just put it all out there like that, like sex is completely normal breakfast conversation.

“Debatable,” I argue.

“Hey! Be nice to my maid of honor.”

“Tell your maid of honor she needs medical help and I’ll consider it.”

“He might not be entirely wrong, Denver,” Allie admits with a smirk.

“Quit ganging up on me or I’ll take my puppy and leave,” she announces.

“My puppy.”

She narrows her eyes at me. “For now.”

Her lips twitch when I meet her stare, and I’m trying real fucking hard not to knock this table over and cover her mouth with mine.

Like she knows what’s going through my mind, she lifts a challenging brow.

Oh fuck.

I scoot my chair into the table more, hoping to cover my growing dick.

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