“Zachary!” Delia chides.

“Sorry, not sorry,” my brother mumbles, pulling open the fridge and grabbing two bottles of water.

He hands one to Delia and pops open the other for himself, not offering me anything.

Yep. Fun, fun, fun.

“I’m guessing you’re here because Denver found out about you fucking over my girl.” Zach takes a swig of his water then pushes out one of those obnoxious exaggerated aahs. “Here to kiss some ass and show her you’re not a total tool?”

I slide into a chair at their granite-topped island, take my cap off my head, and then scrub a hand through my hair.

“At first, yeah, I was only coming here for her, but then I saw Delia in the hallway and my cheek started tingling like it always does when she’s around.”

“Slapped ya that good, huh?”

“You did,” I tell her. “And it reminded me of that shitty apology I gave you back then and how I never truly gave you a real one, the kind you deserved. If I were coming here for Denver, it would be the exact same thing again. So, no, I’m not here for her—or for me, for that matter. I’m here for you, Delia.”

“For me, huh?”

I nod. “Yep. So, take a seat or keep standing or whatever it is you need to do, because I’m about to deliver the speech of a lifetime.”

She and Zach exchange a look. He shrugs. “This is on you two. I’m going to keep making pizzas. I’m famished.”

“You literally just ate an hour ago.”

“You calling me fat, D?”

“Never.” The grin she gives him says otherwise.

Delia makes her way around the island and takes the seat next to me. “You have my full attention, Shep.”

She stares at me intently. I can’t help but squirm around in my chair under her scrutiny.

“Well, fuck. Now I’m nervous.”

She laughs. “Don’t be. I promise not to slap you again…I think.”

Zach coughs out a laugh but continues to act like he’s invisible, working on flattening out the dough.

“Thanks. Super reassuring.” I clear my throat. “So, I guess I never really explained to you why I did what I did.”

“You said it was because I was pestering you about Zoe.”

“Yes and no. Honestly, it was annoying as shit. I mean, it was college, Delia—that’s what happens in college.” I shrug. “People hook up and it doesn’t work and that’s that. I shouldn’t have been grilled about it at Thanksgiving dinner.”

“I was upset for my friend, but you’re right. I mean, she did it to guys too, so there was no reason for me to jump on you about it. I’m—”

“Don’t you dare,” I interrupt.

“I’m with him,” Zach throws our way.

Delia pretends to zip her lips closed and throw away the key.

“Anyway, yes, I was annoyed with you for putting all my business out there in front of my family, but it wasn’t just that. I was jealous.”

“Of what? My super sweet Ryan Gosling pajamas?”

“Totally.” I laugh. “No, of you and Zach.”

My brother pauses when I mention his name and I can feel his eyes on me, but just as quickly as he stopped, he’s back to flitting around the kitchen.

“Why were you jealous of us?”

“You reminded me of what I could have had with Denver.”

“How did that come about anyway?” Zach interjects.

“Eavesdrop much?” Delia teases.

“What? A guy can’t have questions about a secret relationship his brother had in high school?”

“So nosy.” She tsks.

“AJ wanted to propose to Allie in senior year and I thought it was a really stupid idea, so I reached out to Denver to ask her to help me convince our friends they were idiots and way too young to get married. One thing led to another and…yeah. We became friends, and then we became something more than that.”

“Via texting?”

“Yep.” I nod. “Which is another reason you two reminded me so much of us. You had what I was supposed to have: an unconventional beginning with a happily ever after. You pestering me about Zoe and all the other mistakes I’ve made over the years and my jealousy all rolled around in my head until I sent the photo.”

“Why’d you take it to begin with?”

I wince. “Because I was a pig. I literally have no reason other than you were hot and I wanted it, so I took it. It was free porn.”

“That’s…thank you? I don’t really know what to say to that.”

“That ‘free porn’ really ended up costing you a lot, huh?” Zach grabs a container of cheese, plucking out a handful of fresh mozzarella and plopping it down onto another slab of dough. “Was it worth it?”

“Not even kind of. No offense, Delia.”

“Trust me”—she holds her hand up—“none taken.”

We fall into a silence, the only sounds in the kitchen coming from the giant knife Zach’s now moving through the onions he’s slicing.

Delia pushes her chair back and starts to stand. “Well, this has all been very inter—”

“I’m not done,” I interrupt, and she falls back into the chair.

“You’re not talking.”

“You should hear the shit running through my head.”

“Then spit it out.”

She’s so scary when she’s serious, which isn’t often.

“Fuck. Okay.” I exhale heavily. “I didn’t tell you all that to make it seem like I’m making excuses, because I’m not. I just wanted to explain what was going through my head at the time. The simple truth is, I did something stupid and wrong and dehumanizing. I shouldn’t have done it.”

I turn toward Delia for the first time. Looking into her eyes is painful, but it’s a pain I deserve.

“Delia, I’m sorry. From the very bottom of my heart, I apologize. I’m not asking for your forgiveness. I mean, I totally want it, but I’m not asking for it. I just need you to know and understand that I regret that moment in my life so, so much.”

I swivel toward my brother. He notices the movement and sets the knife down, giving me his full attention.

“I owe you an apology too, Zach. I’m sorry I betrayed your trust. I’m sorry I hurt your girlfriend, and I’m sorry I let you down.”

Neither of them say anything for a long time, so long I almost feel as if I need to leave and walk away, let the pieces fall wherever they fall.

Delia’s hand lands on my arm and I swing my attention her way, surprised.

Her lips part and I hold my breath, waiting for her words.

“First, I have to say this…” She grins. “That was the shit rolling around in your head?”

My lungs burn from the lack of oxygen and I finally take a breath, laughing heartily.

“Sorry, I’m not that good with words—probably why I always lash out with actions.”

“Hmm, makes sense.” She squeezes my arm. “Listen, I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m giving it to you anyway. I forgive you, Shep, but not for you—for myself. It’s my way of letting all this go. I forgive you, but I won’t forget. I’ll always remember the betrayal and the hurt. I’m not saying things are always going to be shit between us, but don’t expect me to run up and hug you when I see you any time soon.”

“Thank you,” I say quietly. “I don’t deserve that, but thank you.”

She gives me a small smile and pulls her hand away.

“What kind?” Zach asks abruptly, moving toward the fridge.

“Huh?”

“What kind?” He drags a third slab of dough from the fridge. “Toppings—which ones do you want?”

I grin.

Pizza is Zach’s peace offering.

In that moment, I know everything with these two is going to be just fine.

If only I was so sure about things with Denny…

Thirty-Three

Denver

“I miss Steve.”

“You mean Shep?”

Yes. “No, I totally meant Steve.”

It feels so wrong to miss Shep when he did something so horrible, but I can’t help it. I’ve tried not to miss him. I’ve tried not to miss him with ice cream and chips and all the Oreos I could stomach, but none of it works. Not even binge-watching my favorite teenagers who use words that are way too advanced for their vocabulary to be realistic worked.

I still miss him.

It’s that it feels so right, which means it can’t be wrong…I think.

Monty crinkles her nose at me. “Steve’s the pug, right?”

“The cutest pug in the whole freakin’ world, yes.”

“She totally means Shep,” Zoe says, squeezing back between me and Monty on the couch. “Doesn’t she, Delia?”

“She does!” Delia calls from the kitchen.

We’re having a girls’ night, sans Allie, who is still on her honeymoon. How that lucky bitch can afford two weeks away on her salary is beyond me.

“It doesn’t make you a bad person, Denny,” Delia says, popping into the living room from around the corner. “It makes you human. You’re allowed to miss him.”

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