“You’re right, just a destruction of property charge and a suspension from the MLB.” He rolls his eyes. “My bad.”

“But the difference is she already knows all that and she’s still into me.”

He pushes himself off the couch and joins me in the kitchen. He rests his hands on the counter across from me, staring at me with hard eyes.

“What?” I grind out.

“You want this time to be different, yeah? You want things to not get all muddled and fucked up like they did last time? Want to build a future with her?”

“More than anything.”

No hesitation.

That’s exactly what I want.

“You want to be worthy of her?”

“Yes.”

He points at me. “Then you have to tell her.”

“Why can’t I just sweep it under the rug and never speak of it ever again?”

“Because that, my friend, is the pussy way out, and you aren’t a pussy.”

“You sure? How much pussy does one have to eat to become one?”

AJ pinches the bridge of his nose. “Dammit, Clark. You’re exhausting.”

“Weird—your mom said the same thing last night.”

“Shep…” he warns.

I hold my hand up. “Fine, fine. I’ll tell her, but if she dumps my ass, this is on you.”

He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “No, this is on you—entirely. Remember that.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but I know he’s right.

Fuck him for being right.

I have to tell her. Tomorrow. Before the wedding.

AJ pushes away from the counter and retreats into the living room, throwing himself back down on my sofa that cost way too much money and clicking play on the movie he was watching.

“Now beer me! Let’s get fucking drunk. I’m getting hitched tomorrow!”

“No, Shep, we cannot skip our best friends’ wedding.”

“You sure about that? They won’t even know we’re missing.”

“You’re right, they won’t miss the best man and maid of honor at all.” She rolls her eyes. “We’re not skipping.”

“But…you look so hot.”

She bites her lower lip, raking her eyes over me like the only thing she wants to do is see me in this tuxedo. “You don’t look too shabby yourself.”

Another slow perusal.

Her eyes catch the smirk lining my lips and she shakes herself out of her sexual stupor.

“Dammit, Shep! You almost had me.”

I reach for her, pulling her close and bringing my lips to my favorite spot below her ear. “I could still have you…”

She sighs, sinking into me. “Maybe just a quick—no!” She pushes herself back, swatting away my attempts to bring her back into my arms. “Stop being so sexy!”

“I can’t. It’s a curse.”

“Shep!”

“Denny!”

She laughs and shakes her head at me. “Come on, we need to get out there. The ceremony is starting soon.”

“I’m telling you, they could totally do this without us. There are only like fifty people here. They’ve got it under control.”

“You’re just horny.”

“Yes. Next question.”

“I didn’t ask a question.”

I slap my palm against my forehead. “Duh. Sorry. Tits on the brain.”

She picks up the bottom of her dress and pushes past me, dodging my hands as she walks by.

“Move it, Clark. Now.”

I sigh. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

“Maybe we can sneak off during the reception—after we greet all the guests,” she adds when she sees me perk up. “You still need to meet Monty, and I am dying to meet your Titanic parents.”

My gut grows heavy, that swirl of nerves from last night coming back full force.

I tried every way I could think of to bring it up casually this morning on the truck ride over to the venue, but I couldn’t do it. Nothing was sounding right.

Hey, Den, turns out you were right all these years—I’m a fucking tool.

Or…

Yo, Den, so a few years ago I sent a naked picture of my brother’s girlfriend to a few friends on the baseball team.

Nothing was fitting for the moment. So, I kept my mouth shut.

Now that we’re about to walk out there and face everyone, I have the distinct feeling that maybe blurting it all out would have been better.

Please don’t let this be the end…

“The end?” Denny says.

I snap my gaze her way, realizing I said that out loud.

She smiles at me and it’s one of those genuine expressions, the ones where everything is going just perfect in your life and nothing can touch you.

“It’s not the end. It’s just beginning.” She extends her hand my way. “Come on, Cap.”

Thirty-One

Denver

Shep’s been acting weird all week leading up to the wedding. It’s not been overly obvious, which I think is more concerning.

He keeps staring at me like he’s never going to see me again.

He’s doing it right now from across the room, watching me as he sips on his whiskey. I bet he’s thrilled to finally have something other than the putrid champagne they serve at all the galas.

“He’s staring over here really hard. It looks…” Allie gulps loudly. “Sexual.”

“That’s because he’s hoping we can sneak off into a closet somewhere. I kind of promised him we would.”

“You are not having sex at my wedding!”

I smirk at my best friend. “We’ll see.”

She shakes her head, smiling. “You incorrigible little hussy.”

“Oh, please. Don’t act like you and AJ won’t be sneaking off later too. Just think of this as research—we’ll scope out the best place and report back. You’re welcome.”

“There’s a room down the hall, kind of small, but you can totally make it work,” Delia chimes in, coming to stand next to me.

“Already?” I raise a brow at her.

“What? Have you seen Zach? That nerd pushes all my buttons.” She laughs and waves to her boyfriend, who’s across the room and definitely looks like he was just having sex.

“This is why we’re friends,” I tell her. “Allie, this is Delia. She’s dating Shep’s brother, Zach Hastings.”

I’ve been wanting to say hi to Zach and Delia all night and finally meet Shep’s parents, but every time I approach the subject or try to drag him over that way, he distracts me with kisses or cake.

I can’t resist either.

Allie’s eyes widen. “Two things, and I’m addressing these in order of importance. One”—she turns to Delia—“you snagged a hottie. He reminds me of a grown-up Harry Potter.”

“He kind of does, huh?” Delia agrees. “Congrats on your wedding. The ceremony was beautiful.”

“Thank you.” Allie blushes. “It was a long time coming.”

“What was two?” I ask.

“Oh!” She whirls on me. “You! You just called him Shep. You’re totally in love.”

“Zach’s hotness was more important than you accusing me of being in love with Shep?”

“I’m sorry, but have you seen him? Not to be a creeper, Delia, but damn.”

Delia laughs and shrugs. “What can I say? I got the best wrong number ever.”

“And you,” Allie says to me, “can hush. There was no ‘accusing’ going on. I know it’s true—you’re full-blown in love with him. It’s like high school all over again.”

“High school? But you and Monty didn’t move out here until college.” Delia’s looking at me, brows creased and confusion covering her face.

“Oh, you didn’t know? Those two met in high school and fell in love when they lived over two thousand miles apart.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope,” Allie continues. “Shep used to pretend to date this other chick all throughout high school, but he and Denny were busy swooning over one another. I followed AJ out here for college and she claims she followed me, but I know she came for Shep. Then that prick dumped her the moment she got into town. God, I’m still so pissed at him for that,” she adds.

“Huh. This is all very…enlightening. What happened?”

“He dumped her.”

“We were never dating,” I interject.

Allie rolls her eyes. “You were practically dating.”

“But not officially.”

“Are you two dating now?” Delia asks.

“We’re…taking things slow.”

“As slow as two people who bang as often as possible can,” Allie says. “You love him.”

I drop my head to avoid Allie’s smirking face, staring into the drink I’m taking my sweet time with.

I never fucking stopped.

Shep’s words from our time in the closet ring through my head, because they’re the exact ones I want to use right now.

I’ve loved Shep from afar for years, even when I wanted to hate him so, so badly.

I peer up and catch Delia staring at me with the strangest look in her eye. It’s a mix of uncertainty and hope and something I can’t quite place my finger on.

***

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