He simply nodded in response.
Emma jumped into the river and made huge splashes, pretty much soaking us all. Even though I wanted to scold her, the smile on her face and the excitement in Zeus made me happy.
“Thanks for bringing us here, Tick! I love it!” she shouted, tossing her hands up in excitement.
“Anytime.” Tristan smiled.
“I’m glad my daughter likes you. Otherwise I would’ve never spoken to you again.”
He laughed. “I’m glad my dog likes you. Otherwise I would’ve been convinced that you were a psycho. A person should always trust their pet’s instincts. Dogs are better at judging the character of a person than people are.”
“Is that so?”
“It is.” He paused and ran his fingers through his hair. “Why does your daughter keep calling me Tick?”
“Oh… Because the first time we met I called you a dick, and she asked what a dick was, and seeing as how I’m an awful parent, I’d told her I said tick, and explained to her that a tick is a bug.”
“So she thinks I’m a parasite that lives on the blood of mammals?”
“I think it’s actually an ectoparasite seeing as how they live on the outside of the mammals as opposed to in the interior. And they live on some amphibians, too.”
He snickered. “Well, that makes me feel better.”
I laughed. “It should.”
“Well, Emma, if you’re going to call me Tick, I think it’s only right for me to call you Tock!” Tristan smiled.
“Like a clock!” Emma beamed, jumping up and down. “Tick and Tock! Tick and Tock!”
“I think she approves,” I said.
“Elizabeth?” He turned my way with a serious stare.
“I know we can’t do what we were doing before anymore but, can we be friends?” he asked timidly.
“I thought you didn’t know how to be a friend?”
“I don’t.” He sighed, rubbing his neck. “But I was kind of hoping you could show me.”
“You believe in good things, even when your heart is broken. And I can’t remember what good things are like.”
That saddened me. “When was the last time you were happy, Tristan?”
He didn’t reply.
That saddened me even more. “Of course we can be friends,” I said.
Everyone deserved at least one friend they could trust with their secrets and fears. With their guilt, with their happiness. Everyone deserved a person who could look into their eyes and say, “You’re enough. You’re perfect, scars and all.” I thought Tristan deserved that more than most, though. In his eyes he held such sadness, such pain, and all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him and let him know he was good enough.
I didn’t want to be his friend because I felt bad for him, though. No. I wanted his friendship because unlike most, he saw past my own fake happiness and he would sometimes stare at me as if he were saying, “You’re enough, Elizabeth. You’re enough…scars and all.”
Tristan’s eyebrows furrowed and he looked at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. I stared at him as if I would never see him again. Neither of us wanted to blink. The seriousness of the moment started making us both uncomfortable. As he cleared his throat, I cleared mine. “Too much?” I asked.
“Too much indeed. So, on another note…” He ran his hands through his hair. “I noticed a certain Fifty Shades of Grey book in your hands when I last cut the grass.”
My cheeks reddened, and I shoved him. “Don’t judge me, it’s for my book club. Plus, it’s good.”
“I’m not judging. Okay, well, I am. Only a little, though.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.” I smirked.
“Oh? And how much of it have you actually tried?” He gave me a smug look, and I swore my cheeks were on fire.
Snickering, I started walking back toward our houses. “You’re such an ass,” I muttered. “Come on, Emma, let’s get you cleaned up and get you to your sleepover.”
“You’re going the wrong way,” Tristan remarked.
I paused, turned around, and walked past him again, going the opposite way. “You’re still an ass.” I smiled. He smiled back and walked beside me as Emma and Zeus followed our lead.
It was ten-thirty at night when I heard the banging. I dragged myself out of bed to answer the door. Susan was standing there with her arms crossed beside Emma, who was still in her pajamas, holding her overnight bag and Bubba.
“Susan, what’s going on?” I asked, alarm filling me up. “Emma, are you okay?” She didn’t reply; she just stared at the ground, almost embarrassed. I turned back to Susan. “What happened?”
“What happened,” she hissed. “What happened was that your daughter thought it was okay to tell stories about zombies to the rest of the girls, making them all freak out. Now I have ten girls at my house who won’t go to sleep because they’re afraid of nightmares!”
I frowned. “I’m sorry. I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm. I can come over and talk to the girls if you want. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” She huffed. “She started walking like the walking dead and said she wanted to eat brains! You told me she didn’t suffer any trauma from Steven’s death.”
“She didn’t,” I said, anger building in my stomach. I looked down at Emma and saw tears falling from her eyes. Bending down, I pulled her into a hug. “It’s okay, honey.”