It’s right on the tip of her tongue to beg me for…well, my tongue.

But, Denny being Denny, she doesn’t.

Instead she pushes her shoulders back, takes a sip of her coffee, and says, “You’re buying.”

I shake my head, fighting a laugh as I make my way down the hall to get dressed for the day, leaving her sitting there regretting her decision.

I slide into my bedroom, not bothering to close the door, and strip down to my underwear while I root around in my drawers for something to wear.

“You know, we could always—what in the hell are you wearing?”

I spin around, trying to cover myself, but it’s no use.

She darts into the room, pulling my hands away.

“Are you wearing pug underwear?”

“N-No!”

“Is he lying on a pizza floatie?”

“He’s not!”

She laughs, holding my arms out and inspecting me.

“You so are.” She looks up at me, eyes smiling. “You are on a whole new level of messed up, Shepard.”

“It’s Doug the Pug!” I say in defense.

Steve pushes the door open, sauntering over to Denny like she’s his owner. She scoops him up and snuggles him close to her chest.

“Come on, Steve, you don’t need to see this.” She nudges her nose against his and says quietly, “Your dad is a freak, but he’s our freak.”

Ours.

And that’s the first time I get a boner in front of my dog.

“Mmm…”

“Why do you always sound like you’re having an orgasm when you’re eating?”

“You would know, wouldn’t you?” She shoves another bite of her gravy-slathered bacon into her mouth.

Why, yes I would.

She chews and swallows then sits back in the booth, looking stuffed. “I was famished. Thanks for breakfast.”

“You’re welcome. I’m just glad we could come to an agreement on leaving Steve at home.”

“I still think it’s bullshit you made me leave him behind. He’s lonely!”

“Which is why I set him up in the living room with a view of the TV and his favorite show on, as requested.” I hold my finger up. “Nay, as demanded.”

“It’s not the same as snuggles,” she argues. “Come on, we better get going if we’re going to make it to the decorations store.” She sighs. “I can’t believe I have to spend the entire weekend with you two weekends in a row.”

“Well if your best friend wasn’t insisting on a shotgun October wedding, we wouldn’t have to.”

“Oh my gosh!” She clutches her chest. “I didn’t even think to ask her—is Allie pregnant? Is that why they’re rushing this?”

“I think they’re just in love.”

Slowly, a smile stretches across Denny’s lip at my words. “My, my. Are you saying you believe in love now?”

I shrug. “My feelings might have changed over the years.”

“Yeah? What changed your mind?”

You.

I wish I had the balls to say it out loud, to tell her that the moment I fell in love with her six years ago was the moment I started believing.

I’ll never forget pacing around my room, freaking out when I realized I’d fallen for her.

Zach was home for break during college. He was there with his girlfriend at the time and watching them be all lovey-dovey was getting to me, so I was texting Denver an excessive amount to avoid them. He caught me smiling at one of her asinine texts and, thinking it was Penny—like everyone else did—he teased me like big brothers do.

“Aw, I see you’re texting your girlfriend again. Someone’s in love.” He puckered his lips and made the most obnoxious kissing noise.

“Yeah, so?” I shot back without thought.

My automatic response kicked me in the ass and I ran to my room, calling AJ and asking him to explain what love felt like.

It was the most awkward fucking conversation in all our years of friendship, but when it was over, I had my answer.

I was in love with Denver Andrews, a girl who lived over two thousand miles away, a girl I’d never met and only knew via text. I’d never heard her voice or her laugh, but I already knew I loved them.

Still, that didn’t stop me from completely screwing things up for us.

That’s what happens when doubt and worry creep into your head. You do really stupid shit—shit you can’t fix, shit that takes years to heal, shit that can fuck you up and turn you into a person even you don’t recognize.

I know, because that’s what happened to me.

I made one mistake and it snowballed into several more. I couldn’t stop it. It didn’t matter who I was hurting in the process because no matter what I did, they couldn’t hate me as much as I hated me.

I realize how fucked up that kind of logic is.

“How’s the article coming along?” I ask, changing the subject on her, not answering her question because I’m not interested in lying to her.

She takes a sip of her orange juice, which she insisted on getting along with another coffee and a water. Surprisingly, she’s had most of all three. “It’s going.”

“What exactly are you writing about?”

“You.”

“Right, but what about me specifically? My stats? My career?”

“No baseball stuff, actually. I want the community to get to know the golden boy they adore so much. I…” She runs her fingers over the condensation on her glass, not meeting my curious eyes. “I want them to get to know the Shep I used to know…if he still exists,” she adds quietly.

“He does.”

She doesn’t say anything for the longest time, her attention still focused on her cup.

I shovel a few more bites of food in, unsure of where to take this conversation after that.

She guzzles the rest of her juice like there’s secretly vodka mixed in there and nearly slams her glass down onto the table.

Finally, she looks at me. “I’m starting to believe that.”

Hope sparks inside me.

Hope I’ve longed for.

Hope I desperately need when it comes to Denny.

Hope that gets fucking crushed when I look up and see Zach. He’s tugging his girlfriend along behind him, about to walk directly by my table.

We lock eyes.

His harden, and I try to not cower.

He turns to Delia, whispering something to her. She glances to me and nods. They quicken their pace, planning to waltz by without saying a word.

I don’t blame them.

“Delia!”

She whips her head Denny’s way just as they’re pushing past us.

“Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in forever!” Denny scrambles out of the booth, throwing her arms around my brother’s girlfriend.

“It’s so funny running into you here,” Delia says, her eyes flashing to me as she hugs Denny back. The glance is quick, only lasting a moment, but I see panic there.

Unnecessary panic, I might add.

Feeling awkward, I throw a few twenties onto the table and stand too, not missing the way my brother slides a protective arm around Delia’s waist and pulls her to him.

“Denver, this is Zach. I know you heard all about him last year.”

Denny shakes my brother’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Zach. I look forward to one day seeing your Harry Potter underwear.”

“Oh, you haven’t yet?” He acts like he’s about to unbuckle his belt, and Delia knocks his hands away.

“Quit it.” She laughs. “I’ll show her pictures later. Zach did a Harry Potter boudoir shoot for me. We’ll have to get together so I can show you the goods.”

I clear my throat, trying not to laugh, because of course my brother did that.

Denny speaks up. “Oh, where are my manners? Have you met Shep Clark yet?”

No one moves or says anything.

“Did you guys hear me? The Shep Clark.” She rolls her eyes teasingly. “He’s kind of a legend around here.”

Heat fills my cheeks and I shuffle my feet, clearing my throat. “Uh, Bucky?”

“Yes, Cap?”

“This is Zach.”

She crinkles her nose at me. “I’m aware. Delia just introduced me to him.”

“No, Den, this is Zach.”

I see the wheels spinning in her head and the moment everything connects for her.

Only AJ knew about Denny and me, so when she moved out here for college and I fucked things up, that was that. We went on with our lives like the other didn’t exist, doing everything in our power to ensure that beyond the paper a few days a week, we didn’t have any contact. She didn’t run in the same circles and it wasn’t common knowledge that Zach and I are related, so they never met.

Until now.

“Shit up!” she hollers, attracting a few curious stares from other patrons. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Not at all. Denver, meet my brother. Zach, this is Denver Andrews.”

“Andrews?” His brows shoot into his hairline. He looks at Delia and she nods. “Huh.” He tilts his head and squints at Denver. “I guess I can see it.”

“What am I missing here?” I ask.

“Denver’s twin sister Monty is dating Robbie,” Zach explains. “Delia and Denver know one another from college. They were in a few classes together.”

***

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