We snuggle back down into the same spots we were in before.

“Tell me.”

“Fine, but no laughing.”

“Is that what you were saying? That I was going to laugh at you?”

“Duh. Anyway, it was Allie and AJ. They, uh, they’re the ones who made me believe.”

“In?”

“Love. Fate. All that other bullshit you subscribe to.”

“So then Santa, Valentine’s Day, and the dangers of mixing Pop Rocks and Coke?”

He laughs, remembering what he said to me all those years ago. “Yes, all that bullshit.”

“How?”

“They made it.” He brushes away a hair that’s fallen over my eye. “They made it through college, AJ’s baseball career, and all the other shit. They did it.”

I lean into him, getting close enough to where he thinks I’m going to kiss him, then against his lips, I whisper, “I called it.”

He chuckles when I pull away. “You did. And it just got me thinking about us…”

“And everything we missed.”

“God, there’s so much.”

“We could have at least three pugs by now.”

“Is Steve not enough for you, Den?”

“You can’t just ask a girl how many pugs is enough. That’s barbaric.”

He laughs, and I roll onto my back and can feel him staring holes into the side of my head.

“What?” I ask.

“Last month, when I almost lost my career over one stupid decision, it made me realize all the other things I’ve lost to stupid decisions.”

“Like?”

“The respect of my parents. A relationship with my brother. Some friends. And the biggest one of them all…” He pauses then exhales a shaky breath. “You.”

“I’m right here, Shep.”

“I’m right here too, and I’m not going anywhere—not this time.”

I don’t say anything else.

I stare at the ceiling for a long time, so long that Steve begins to snore from his corner of the room.

Not Shep, though. He’s still awake…waiting, staring.

I roll back toward him, capturing his hazel stare with my own.

“I’m not going anywhere either, but Cap?”

“Yeah?”

“No bullshit this time?”

“No bullshit. Until the end of the line.”

My eyes widen. “I think I just came. You quoted Captain America to me.”

He winks. “You’re welcome.”

And then I smother him with a pillow.

Twenty-Seven

Shepard

I’ve never been the type to talk about my feelings, always keeping shit bottled up because it’s no one’s business but my own. Last night, talking to Denny so openly about how abso-fucking-lutely terrified I am of heartbreak was a first for me. It was the most real I’ve been in a long time, probably since I had a screen and two thousand miles separating us.

I wasn’t lying when I told her I still love her. How could I possibly stop? Of course I fucking love her. I just didn’t have the goddamn balls to put my heart on the line back then.

Now in the car on the way home, I peer at her out of the the corner of my eye, admiring the way her lashes fall across her cheeks, loving the freckles that dot the bridge of her nose, the upturn of her plump lips, which are the same color as her nipples.

“I can feel you staring.”

“No you can’t.”

“Can too, ass.”

“Ass? Is that any way to talk to the guy who gave you a wild night of pleasure?”

“You might have fucked me, Shep, but I’m still a little mad at you.”

The word fuck leaving her lips makes my dick jump, and this is so not the time for that shit.

I clear my throat. “Why’s that, Den?”

“For then. For screwing up our dibs. For making me chase after you and then abandoning me.”

“I—”

“You never told me why.”

I dare a peek at her. She’s still resting against the window, eyes still closed like she can’t look at me for this conversation, and I can’t say I blame her.

I kind of want to kiss her for it because I don’t think I can stand to look at her right now either.

“I was scared.”

“I was scared. That’s your big reasoning for pretending I didn’t exist when I packed my life up and moved across the country for you? Leaving me completely on my own and scared out of my mind?” The irritation in her voice is clear.

“It’s the truth, Den. I told you last night I was scared to go through what my mom did. I was fucking terrified as shit that I could fall in love with someone I’d never met before, frightened out of my goddamn mind that someone could mean so much to me.” I squeeze the steering wheel tighter. “The only thing I was ever passionate about was baseball. That was it for me. That’s all it was ever supposed to be.”

“We were young, Shep. You had your whole life for baseball.”

“I had my whole life for love, too. I wasn’t supposed to find it then, not when I had a career ahead of me, a future I couldn’t dream of wrecking.”

“Yet you almost did last month…without me. You could have had me and baseball,” she argues.

I shake my head. “Not then. I couldn’t afford the distraction. It was either go after my lifelong dream of playing in the big leagues or chase after a girl I’d never met.”

“I hate the way you say that,” she says in a small voice. “Like what we had didn’t mean anything.”

“It meant everything, and that was the scariest part of all of it,” I tell her honestly. “If it had come down to it, I would have walked away from my dream for you. That scared me to no end.”

“You wouldn’t have walked away from baseball.”

I laugh. It’s dry and dark and sad even to my own ears. “But I already had.”

She sits up in her seat, finally looking up at me. “What do you mean?”

“I was recruited by another school with a better team.”

“What!” she yells so loudly she wakes Steve, who begins scrambling up her chest, whining like mad.

She cuddles him close. “Shh, shh. Sorry, buddy, didn’t mean to scare you. Your dad just dropped a big, unexpected goddamn bomb on me and I’m about two seconds from kicking his ass.”

“I could totally take you,” I tell her.

She glowers at me. “Don’t test me right now, Shepard.”

Denny scoops Steve into her arms and slides him into the crate in the back seat. She tucks a blanket around him and closes the door, not turning back to me until he’s snuggled in tight.

Spoiled little shit.

“Explain.”

“What, no please?”

“Shepard…” she warns, her tone enough to send a chill down my back.

I let out a long breath. “I already said it: I was recruited by a bigger, better school. I was days away from telling them yes.”

“What happened?”

“You sent me that acceptance letter for Christmas. I called them the next day and turned them down.”

Her mouth drops open and she shakes her head, staring at me like I’m fucking insane. “But…but…why in the hell would you do that!”

“You. Us. Dibs. Because you were coming to be with me.”

“What about AJ? He was coming too.”

“Right, but AJ is a baseball guy. He knew how big a deal it was to be recruited by that school. He was telling me to go for it.”

“Why would you do that, Shep?” she begs, desperate for answers. “Why?”

“I already said why: because of you, because I loved you, Den. I wanted to be with you.”

“Then why did you abandon me? Why did you ignore me? I showed up to that party and you shut me out—literally! Not only did you break my heart, you embarrassed the shit out of me. Why? A classic case of cold feet?”

“It got real.”

“What did?”

“Dibs.” I motion between us. “We got too real. You being there…it scared me. What if I wasn’t what you wanted or expected? What if we didn’t work out? What if we failed? What if I regretted not taking that offer?”

“Sure, Shep, sure, but what if you were everything I expected and hoped for? What if we did work out? What if we didn’t fail? What if you didn’t regret it for a second? What if the fucking Pope shits in the goddamn woods? There are a lot of what-ifs in life.” She shakes her head. “Being chickenshit isn’t a reason to walk away from something.”

My knuckles turn white against the wheel.

She’s right. I know she’s right.

If I could go back and change everything, I would. I wouldn’t push her away. I’d fight through my struggles. I’d fight for us.

But I can’t change it. All I can do is make it up to her.

“I know that now. If it makes you feel any better, the only decision I’ve regretted the last five years is not giving us a chance, not giving up that school. It was us…always us.”

She crosses her arms over her chest and lets out a sardonic laugh. “Good. You should. We would have been fucking amazing together.”

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***