“Go ahead. I’ll leave you to it.”
I crank the shower in the hall bathroom, strip out of my damp clothes, and step into the glass stall. The warm water seeps into my bones and brings a shiver of pleasure. I make it even hotter, and it almost triggers an orgasm. I’m so tired of being cold and wet.
As I soap up, I think back to my arrangement with Jake. Was it a mistake? Probably. It’s a lot of effort to go to for an unpaid internship, but if I want to gain experience by working at a major sports network and be able to do it during the school year, I only have two options: ESPN and HockeyNet. And the former is even more competitive.
I dunk my head under the spray and stand there for as long as I can justify. When I can imagine my father lecturing me about running up his hot water bill, I turn off the shower.
I cocoon myself in my terrycloth robe, wrap my hair in a turban, and cross the hall to my room.
Because Dad bought this house after I’d already moved out, this bedroom doesn’t really feel like home to me. The furniture is plain, and there’s a noticeable lack of personal items and decorations. Even my bedspread is impersonal—solid white, with white pillows and white sheets. Like a hospital. Or a mental institution. At our old house in Westlynn, I had one of those four-post beds and a colorful quilt, and on the wall over the headboard there’d been a glitter-painted wooden sign that said PEACHES. My dad had it custom made for my tenth birthday.
I wonder what ever happened to that sign. A bittersweet taste fills my mouth. I don’t remember the exact moment that Dad stopped calling me “Peaches.” Probably around the time I got together with Eric. And it wasn’t just mine and Dad’s relationship that suffered. What started out as admiration for a talented hockey player turned into a deep hatred that exists to this day. Dad never forgave Eric for what happened between us, and he doesn’t feel an ounce of sympathy that Eric has been spiraling ever since. A real man admits when he has a problem, Dad always says.
I unzip my suitcase and pull out some warm socks, panties, leggings, and an oversized sweater. I’ve just finished dressing when Dad knocks on the door.
“Yup, come in.”
He opens the door and leans against the frame. “You want anything special for dinner tonight?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I tell him, amused. “You don’t have to cook.”
“Wasn’t gonna. I thought we’d order a pizza.”
I snicker. “You know I’ve seen those meal plans you force the boys to follow, right? And meanwhile you’re over here ordering pizzas?”
“You’re home,” he says with a shrug. “It’s cause for celebration.”
Is it? Our interactions are so strained and awkward that it feels like two strangers talking to each other. There’s no warmth between us anymore. No hostility, either, but he’s definitely not the same man who used to call me Peaches.
“Okay, then. Pizza sounds great,” I say.
A short silence falls. He seems to be examining me, searching my gaze for…something.
For some reason, I feel it’s imperative to say, “I’m an adult now.”
Except saying I’m an adult now pretty much ensures that the person claiming adulthood is viewed as the complete opposite.
Dad’s mouth quirks wryly. “Well aware of that.”
“I mean, just because I’m staying here for a week or so doesn’t mean you can give me the ‘you live under my roof, you follow my rules’ shtick. I won’t follow a curfew.”
“And I won’t have you lumbering in here drunk at four in the morning.”
I roll my eyes. “That’s not really a habit of mine. But I might come home a little tipsy around midnight after hanging out with my friends. And I don’t need you to lecture me about it.”
Dad drags his hand over his close-cropped hair. He’s sported this no-nonsense military buzz cut as far back as I can remember. Dad doesn’t like to waste time on frivolous things. Like hair.
“You do your thing, I do mine,” I finish. “Deal?”
“As long as your thing doesn’t harm yourself or others, then I won’t have a reason to interfere.”
My throat grows tight. I hate that when he looks at me, he still sees that self-destructive girl with the poor decision-making process. But I’m not her anymore. I haven’t been her for a long time.
Dad turns away. “Let me know when you’re getting hungry and I’ll place the pizza order.”
He firmly closes the door behind him.
Welcome home, I think.
“Omigod, Bee, you would’ve died!” It’s Friday night and I’m on the phone with Summer, who’s filling me in on the crazy shit that apparently went down yesterday, courtesy of one Rupi Miller.
“She seriously showed up at the house and dragged Hollis on a date?” The balls on that girl. I love it.
“Yes! She was wearing the cutest black dress with a white lace collar and really sweet heels, and he’s sitting on the couch in sweatpants, playing video games with Fitz. She took one look at him and screamed, ‘Upstairs! Now!’ You should have seen his face.”
I’m in public, so I can’t hoot the way I want to. But I’m hooting inside, because I can totally picture Hollis’s expression. “I bet he thought he was about to get laid.”
“I don’t know what he thought. She’s been texting him all week about their ‘big date,’ but he thought it was some sort of joke. He didn’t actually believe there’d be a date until she showed up at our door to pick him up.” Summer starts laughing hysterically. “So she took him upstairs and went to his closet and picked out an outfit for him—”
A cackle slips out. I can’t help it, and I don’t care if everyone at the train station hears it. This is priceless.
“—and now they’ve been gone for about an hour and I don’t know whether to file a missing-person report or see how this plays out.”
“See how it plays out,” I say immediately. “Please don’t come between Rupi and her man. I beg of you. Hollis needs to feel what it’s like to be harassed.”
“I think they might be a match made in heaven.”
Headlights catch my attention. I’ve been outside the train station for the past ten minutes, waiting for a blue Honda Civic to arrive, and I think it’s finally here. I squint as the car approaches the curb. “Sorry, babes, I gotta go. My car’s here.”
“I cannot believe you’re going on a date and I know nothing about this guy.”
“There’s nothing to know. It’s just a Tinder guy. Probably won’t amount to anything other than a hookup.” Yes, I’m a liar. So sue me. And yes, of course I feel bad lying to my friends, but there’s no way I’m telling Summer the truth about tonight. It’s bad enough that I know what I’m doing tonight.
I offer a hasty goodbye and hang up just as the passenger door of the Civic pops open. Hmmm. Jake is sitting up front with the driver. I peer at the driver’s seat and spot a cute girl with turquoise drop earrings and big hair. Why doesn’t that surprise me?
“Hey,” he calls as he hops out of the car.
For a second I lose my voice. He’s wearing his Harvard jacket, a sin I reluctantly forgive because the rest of him is so damn appealing. His dark hair is swept back from his face, emphasizing chiseled cheekbones and a jawline that makes me drool. He’s completely clean-shaven tonight. Last weekend he had some scruff. Now he looks young and smooth and…fine, he looks incredible.
Unfortunately, Jake Connelly is a very attractive man.
I walk over to him. “Hey.” Then I slide through the back door he holds open for me, and greet the driver as I settle in the backseat.
Jake gets in beside me, we buckle up, and then we’re on our way. According to the email that Ed Mulder’s secretary sent me, Mulder’s address is in Beacon Hill. He must haul in quite the salary at HockeyNet.
“You look weird,” Jake murmurs.
“Weird how?” And that is not what you’re supposed to say to your fake girlfriend. My nerves are already on edge.
“You’re wearing lip gloss. And it’s pink.”
“So I don’t like it,” he growls.
“You don’t? Oh no! Let me run home and choose a makeup palette that’s more to your liking!”
From the front seat, the driver snorts.
Jake’s dark-green eyes flicker with amusement. “Fine, disregard my opinion. But I dig the red lips. The pink ones aren’t doing it for me.”
They’re not doing it for me, either, but I won’t give him the satisfaction of admitting it. I purposely toned down my appearance for tonight. Some sad, sick part of me is hoping to impress Ed Mulder.
As we head toward Beacon Hill, I scroll through the sports news on my phone. I frown deeply at one headline. “Have you been following this Kowski thing?” I ask Jake. “I swear, the refs have a conspiracy against him.”
“He’s the most fouled player in the league. And the amount of missed calls on him is astronomical. Something’s going on there.” I scan the rest of the article, but the author doesn’t add any new insights. Basically, the referees keep missing calls and Sean Kowski keeps paying for it.