Denver: Yes, an adorable pug. I can see that.

Shepard: I even miss your sass. Is that wrong?

Shepard: Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t care.

Shepard: Seriously, though, Den—when can I see you? The last two galas weren’t any fun without you. Penny is a pitiful date. She doesn’t tell a single person about my small dick. It’s so not embarrassing and it’s weird.

Denver: I don’t know, Shep…

Shepard: Can I take you on a date?

Shepard: Not to the movies. Clearly we can’t be trusted there. Or in any dark spaces, for that matter.

Denver: I…yeah. I think I’d like that.

Shepard: Okay. Be ready in twenty.

Denver: Twenty minutes?! You’re crazy!

Shepard: Only about you.

Denver: It is nearly 11PM. I am NOT going on a date at 11PM.

Shepard: You are too.

Denver: SHEP!

Shepard: I’m not joking. I’m putting my shoes on right now.

Shepard: Be ready.

Denver: And if I’m not?

Shepard: You will be.

Thirty-Six

Denver

I’ve never been so nervous to hear knocking on my door before, not even during college when Allie and I threw a crazy party and the cops were called.

That’s nothing compared to Shep knocking on my door right now.

I pull it open and am met with the most unexpected sight.

“Steve!”

I grab the puppy from Shep’s outstretched hands and snuggle him close. The pug licks happily at my face, and it’s the cheeriest I’ve felt in weeks.

“Someone missed me,” I say to Steve.

“Yes, someone did,” Shep replies.

My eyes meet his for the first time in weeks, and it nearly knocks me backward.

There’s stubble lining his chin, like he hasn’t shaved in a couple days, and I have to say, it really works for him.

I don’t notice that I’ve reached for him until my fingers collide with the rough stubble.

I pull away quickly, trying to compose myself.

“I, uh, I like that. It suits you.”

“Yeah?” He runs a hand over the shadow. “Good. I was thinking of keeping it.”

“You should.”

He nods, smiling. “Then I will.”

“God, this is awkward.”

“It is, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He rakes his eyes over me, taking in my outfit, which is eerily similar to the one I was wearing that night in the grocery store, only this time I’m actually wearing a bra. “You, uh, ready for our date?”

“If you’re about to hate on my outfit, I will strangle you.”

“Ah, there’s my asphyxiation-loving girl.”

“Shepard…” I warn.

“What? I’m not saying a thing.” He presses his lips together. “Come on, we’re working on a tight schedule here.”

“A tight schedule for our impromptu date at 11PM.”

“Technically,” he says, pulling his phone out of his pocket and glancing at the screen, “it’s only 10:45.”

“You are so annoying.”

“You love it. Let’s go.”

Grumbling, I follow him out the door, not bothering to grab my purse because he is so paying for this entire date.

We make our way out of my building and I follow him down to his truck.

He pauses outside my door and turns to me. “I know it’s kind of cliché, but it’s all I could find this late at night.”

“Okay…” I say, stretching the word out.

He pulls open the door and sitting on the seat is not one, not two…not even three, but five dozen red roses.

“What in the ever-loving fuck, Shep? That’s a lot of money.”

He shrugs. “I had to get you a dozen for every year I wasted.”

“I… Hell, I have no idea what to say.”

“Then don’t say a thing.” He slides Steve from my arms and opens the back door, where he then deposits the pup onto the bed that’s sitting back there. “You know what they mean, right?”

I look up at him. “Yes, Shep, I do.”

He nods once. “Good. Now get in. Time crunch.”

I gather up the flowers and pull them to my nose, loving the way they smell, then haul myself into the cab. It’s difficult maneuvering around with all the flowers in the way, but it’s worth it.

Red roses mean true love.

Cliché, but still absolutely breathtaking.

The car ride is silent, and for the first time in a really long time with Shep, it’s a comfortable silence, the kind of comfortable I’ve always craved when it came to him.

It’s sad that it’s taken us so long to get to this point.

“What are we doing here? They close in like ten minutes,” I say as we pull into the lot at Smart Shoppe.

“Told you we were on a time crunch.” He turns the truck into a parking spot but doesn’t shut the ignition off. “Stay here. Last time we came here, I had to carry your ass all the way across the parking lot, and I am not doing that again.”

“So rude, but I’ll wait here—only because it’s annoying to have to get out of the car with all these flowers, and someone needs to watch Steve.”

“See? I’m so smart. Be right back.”

He takes off jogging into the store, and I occupy myself with trying to arrange the flowers better so I’m not so cramped.

He returns with two full bags of stuff, and the store lights dim as he approaches the car.

“Boom. Made it.” Shep tosses his bags into the back then climbs back behind the wheel.

“What’d you get?”

“Ice cream.”

“What kind of ice cream?”

“Our favorite.”

Our.

Even though he’s just talking about ice cream, the word makes my heart skip a beat.

I like the way it sounds. I like the way Shep and I sound together.

I wasn’t lying when I told him I was still mad at him, but Delia was right: I can be mad at him and want to be with him all in the same breath, and that’s okay.

Shep pulls out of the parking lot and takes a left then another left two stops up.

I laugh when he pulls into a fast food joint, because I know just what he’s up to.

He steers the truck to the drive-thru and rolls his window down.

Pointing at me, he says, “Don’t you dare try to order any of that fancy stuff. Dollar menu only for you.”

“I want two orders of spicy chicken nuggets, a large fry, and a vanilla milkshake.”

“I already got us ice cream.”

“Oh, the milkshake is for you. It’s cute that you think I’m sharing that ice cream.”

Smirking, he shakes his head and places my order for me, adding on a double cheeseburger and large fry for himself.

When we get through the line, Shep parks in the lot and motions for me to get out.

I grab Steve and his bed from the back then make my way to the bed of the truck, where Shep is already laying out a blanket for us to sit on.

We climb on up, our feet dangling comfortably off the back just like after the first gala we attended, and we dig into our food.

There’s no conversation as we eat, because we don’t need it.

We’re content.

After we finish nearly all the greasy goodness, Shep busts out the pints of ice cream, lining up all our favorite flavors.

“They only had one spoon,” he says, holding it out to me.

I narrow my eyes at him. “Uh huh. How convenient.”

“Guess we’re just gonna have to…share.”

“If I didn’t have your cooties already, I’d complain.” I snatch the lone utensil from his hand and scoop out a bite of mint chocolate chip. “But I guess since you bought me all this deliciousness, I’m gonna let it slide.”

“You? Don’t you mean us?”

There it is again, that skip.

“I like that thought…us,” I admit quietly before shoving the spoon in my mouth to stop myself from saying anything else.

“I do too.” Shep sighs heavily. “I meant everything I said in those ads, Den.”

“You already said that.”

“I know, but I really need you to know I meant everything. You have no idea how sorry I am. You were right—I do hold on to the past. I don’t think, I just react, and I make excuses for that. I shouldn’t do that. It’s not fair.”

“It’s really not,” I tell him. “Especially when you hurt so many people in the process.”

“I don’t want to be that person anymore.”

“Then don’t be.”

“Is it really that easy?”

“Yes,” I say emphatically. “You know, Delia told me she thinks I make you a better person.”

“You do.”

“I don’t agree,” I argue. “I think you’re always a good person. You’re just afraid to let people see that side of you, because you’re scared they’ll like you…and then leave you. So, you push them away before they can like you, because you’re scared of heartbreak.”

“Aren’t we all?” he questions.

“Sure, but some of us are ballsy enough to face it anyway.”

He chuckles. “Always gotta bring my balls into it, huh?”

“Well, if you’d actually use ’em once in a while…”

***

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