She starts crooning Nat King Cole, and I so desperately want to push that little red button and shut her up.

I don’t hate Shep anymore.

But I don’t still love him either.

That’s not possible…right?

“Allie!”

“Oh my gosh, I was trying to sing for you, you brat!”

Monty picks up singing where Allie stopped, and I throw the nearest pillow at her, smacking her right in the face.

“Vindication!” I yell as she tosses it back, missing me. “And I totally wanna slap you both. I do not love him.”

“Uh huh.” Allie rolls her eyes.

“Whatever you say,” Monty agrees.

I point to Monty then the door. “You, out.” Then I look at Allie. “I’m hanging up.”

“I love you…but not as much as you love Slug. Okayseeyabye.”

She hangs up as my finger hovers over the button.

Monty falls back onto the bed in a fit of laughter. I grab the pillow again and cover her face, suffocating her.

“Ah, I can’t wait to be an only child.”

“We still have Chuck!” I make out despite her voice being muffled.

I lift the pillow for just a second, giving her a sinister grin.

“For now.”

Twenty-One

Five years ago, April

Denver: DOWNLOAD ATTACHMENT

Shepard: What is that?

Shepard: Is that a dog crate?

Denver: It is. I found it at a garage sale for $5. I bet a pug could fit inside with plenty of room to spare.

Shepard: It totally could, especially if it’s invisible. Lots of room to spare.

Denver: You are a dream crusher.

Shepard: Hey, I’m not saying you can’t buy your own pug one day. I’m just not buying you one.

Denver: Uh huh. We’ll see about that.

Denver: Do you know how many dicks I’d have to suck on the street corner to buy a pug? Good thing I didn’t throw out my hooker heels from homecoming.

Shepard: At least ten.

Denver: OH MY GOD. So you WANT me to whore myself out?

Shepard: I mean, it’s a pug, Den—who wouldn’t whore themselves out for a pug?

Denver: I’ve been thinking…you should fly out here.

Shepard: Yeah? That would be kind of cool.

Denver: It would be, because then I could slap the shit out of you.

Shepard: Wow. Tell me how you really feel.

Denver: I don’t think I can type for that long.

Shepard: I’m going to assume that’s because you love me so, so much.

Denver: Sure. We’ll go with that.

Shepard: Wait, did you buy the dog crate?

Denver: …yes

Shepard: I’m rethinking so many things right now. You’re insane.

Denver: Uh huh. You’re just looking for an excuse to get out of our…arrangement.

Denver: You know, that sounds SO weird to say, like we’re in some sort of arranged marriage.

Shepard: It does feel a little weird.

Shepard: But it also feels weird calling you my girlfriend or some shit like that.

Denver: Yeah, that’s taking things too far, especially since we haven’t met.

Shepard: Besides, I’ve definitely been cheating on you for months with my other “girlfriend”.

Denver: Fair point.

Shepard: What about…mine?

Denver: No.

Denver: Too barbaric.

Shepard: Fine, fine.

Shepard: Dibs! You’re my dibs!

Denver: Hmm…I like this.

Denver: I think we can roll with this. Besides, that makes all this seem a whole lot less serious.

Denver: Not that this isn’t serious, because it is, but you get what I mean.

Denver: I think.

Shepard: If anyone gets it, I get it.

Shepard: How in the hell did we let this happen?

Denver: It was totally my charm and wit.

Shepard: Pretty sure you fell for MY charm and wit.

Denver: Oh, please. You’re the one who fell in love first.

Denver: LIKE! I mean like.

Denver: Shep? Did I lose you?

Shepard: I’m still here, Den.

Denver: Sorry, I didn’t mean that.

Shepard: You should.

Denver: Huh? Should what?

Shepard: Mean that. You should mean that.

Denver: Oh.

Shepard: Yeah. Oh.

Denver: Well, hell, now I’m never gonna get a pug.

Shepard: What?

Denver: How am I going to whore myself out knowing

you’re in love with me?

Shepard: I’m…sorry?

Denver: You should be! I really wanted that pug.

Shepard: Bucky?

Denver: *grumbles* What.

Shepard: I’ll buy you a pug.

Denver: WILL YOU REALLY?

Shepard: Yes. Now quit talking about whoring yourself out.

Shepard: You know, for someone who isn’t allowed to do a whole lot of things normal teens are allowed to do, you sure do have a wild imagination.

Denver: I blame Allie.

Shepard: I could kiss Allie right now.

Denver: You’re totally thinking about blow jobs, aren’t you?

Shepard: Nah.

Shepard: Also, yes.

Denver: Cap?

Shepard: Hang on, I’m trying to concentrate.

Denver: Oh my god, quit being weird!

Shepard: One more month, Bucky. One more month.

Denver: One more month until what?

Shepard: Until I kiss you so goddamn hard.

Denver: You countin’ down the days?

Shepard: Maybe.

Denver: 32.

Shepard: Now who’s in love?

Denver: Me.

Twenty-Two

Shepard

The sound of my favorite Sinatra song I’ve Got You Under My Skin fills the cab as we cruise down the highway, and I can’t help but grin because this song is just so fitting for us.

“What are you smiling about?” Denny asks.

I shake my head and lie, “Just that I can’t believe you still have that dog crate.”

“I mean, you’re welcome.”

“Did you even have a dog over the last five years?”

She shakes her head, running her hand over the pug curled in her lap. “Nope. I was saving it for Steve.”

“And what did you do with it in the meantime?”

“Threw a piece of plywood on top, covered it with a blanket, and called it a shelf.”

I give her an incredulous look.

“What?” she says. “I was a broke-ass college student! I mean, I had just picked up my entire life and moved two thousand miles away from home for some boy I love.”

I stop breathing.

Love?

“Loved…w-with a D—past tense,” she says, trying to play it cool but failing miserably as she stammers the words out.

Huh.

“What was that? You want my D?”

“Don’t make me vomit, Shep.”

“Can you really say that given how many orgasms you’ve had from my tongue alone?”

She brushes an invisible hair away from her face, shifting in her seat. “I…suppose that’s a fair point.”

“That’s what I thought. You’re welcome.” I glance over at her. “I don’t know how you think we’re going to sneak him into the hotel.”

“I brought my movie theater purse.”

“Movie theater purse?”

“You know, the bag you take to the movies so you can shove all your snacks in there, like a burger and fries.”

“You take a burger and fries into the theater?”

“Once.” She shrugs like this is the most normal thing in the world. “Sometimes you’re just extra hungry and trying to catch that cheap movie night and you’re running out of time, so you improvise. It happens.”

“Remind me to stop taking you out in public.”

“Oh whatever. You’re just jealous you don’t have a movie purse. Besides, you can still take me to the movies. It’s dark in there, so no one will know we’re together.”

“Is this your way of asking me to take you to the movies?”

She taps at her chin and Steve huffs when she stops petting him. “I wouldn’t argue with a real date.”

“Real date, huh? So breakfast the other morning doesn’t count as a real date? Or what about taking you to all these galas? Dress shopping?”

“All of those were obligations.”

“Breakfast was an obligation?”

“Yes. You give a girl an orgasm, you’re obligated to feed her breakfast. Don’t you know the rules?”

I laugh. “Clearly I don’t.”

“No wonder you haven’t settled down after all these years.”

I was waiting for you.

“I mean, besides the fact that you were so obviously pining over me.”

I eye her. “Is that so?”

“I said obviously, didn’t I?”

“You saying you paid attention to me?”

“I’m sorry, but have you seen your ass? You might have been a total dick to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have eyes, Shep.”

I cough out a surprised laugh. “I mean, it’s nice to know you still used me as man meat all these years.”

“Are you implying I flicked my bean to thoughts of….” She shudders. “You?”

“I wasn’t, but since you brought it up, I can only assume it’s true.”

The wheels in her head are spinning as she tries to figure out how to lie her way out of this one. It’s obvious in the way her eyes brighten with embarrassment.

“W-Well, it’s not,” she finally manages to utter.

***

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