I knocked twice and rang the bell, but the house remained utterly silent. My stomach sank to my toes as I waited, hoping someone would answer. The tears from earlier threatened to make another appearance as bitter disappointment coursed through me. No one was home. I wondered if Knox was out with a girl right now and the idea stung.
A commotion in the street caught my attention and I turned. Knox and the two younger boys strolled up the street, cheering and hollering and generally being rambunctious boys. My heart jumped at the sight of Knox balancing three large pizza boxes in one hand, and Tucker hoisted up on his shoulder.
“McKenna?” Knox set Tucker on his feet and stopped directly in front of me. His large form overwhelmed me and even though I’d been hungry to see him, I now found myself a little unsure about showing up here unannounced again. “Is everything okay?” he asked, inspecting me from head to toe.
I liked the way his gaze slid over me way too much. He saw the real me, the one I hid from everyone else. He knew I wasn’t here for anything related to the group. I was here because I needed to be.
Knowing he could read my expression—I never did have much of a poker face—I lifted my mouth in a smile and held up the bag of groceries. “I came to make dinner.” My gaze floated over to the pizza boxes he was holding.
“Tucker won his soccer game. We’re celebrating with his favorite—ham and pineapple pizza. You’re welcome to join us.” His eyes appraised me coolly, as if waiting to see what I’d do.
“I…I don’t know.”
“Come on, who can say no to pizza?” He grinned and waved the boxes tantalizingly in front of me.
He was right, my stomach grumbled at the scent. Pizza with Knox and his brothers sounded perfect right now. Much better than taking the bus back home alone and sitting there with Brian watching me all night while he pretended to be working on his laptop.
“That’d be great.” I hoisted the bag of groceries on my hip, immediately feeling better as my previous disappointment faded into the background.
“What’s all that?” Knox tipped his head to the bag while unlocking the front door.
“I was, um…” Spit it out, McKenna. “Going to make you guys dinner. Sort of as a thank-you for inviting me to eat with you last time.”
Knox’s smile lit up his whole face. He peeked inside the bag. “You’ll just have to come back another time then to cook this up.”
“Deal.” I breathed a sigh of relief and followed him inside.
“Jaxon?” Knox called, turning on lights as we crossed through the living and dining rooms en route to the kitchen. The house was dark and silent. I hadn’t guessed that Jaxon was home. He hadn’t answered the door when I knocked.
While Knox set the pizza boxes down on the kitchen table, I went with Tucker to grab paper plates, napkins, and drinks from the fridge. I rounded the corner just in time to see Jaxon shuffling a girl out the front door.
“Hey,” he said, strolling up to join us at the kitchen table once the girl was gone.
“Who was that?” Luke asked.
“Lila,” Jaxon said, offering no further explanation.
Knox didn’t look happy; the easygoing attitude he had outside vanished as he turned to face Jaxon. “What the hell are you wearing?” Knox looked down at Jaxon with his eyebrows raised. “Looks like your jeans got into a fight with a lawn mower.”
Jaxon’s jeans weren’t just ripped at the knees, they were practically shredded from the thighs down. I could easily see the print of his plaid boxer shorts. He grinned. “Lila can be a little rough.”
“Go change. Throw those away. And I told you, I don’t want girls here when I’m not home.”
“Yeah, because you never have girls here, Knox. Your f**king bedroom practically has a revolving door. I’m surprised there’s not a sign-up sheet out in the hall.”
“Don’t curse.” Knox stepped closer, his posture tightening.
His eyes flashed to mine and I couldn’t help but betray my curiosity. I chewed on my lip, wondering if what Jaxon said was true.
“Go. Change,” Knox repeated. It was clear he didn’t want Jaxon to say anything else to me.
As if remembering we were supposed to be celebrating Tucker’s win, Knox hoisted him onto his shoulder before walking to the table. “You get the first slice, buddy.” He slid Tucker into the chair at the head of the table and we all took our seats.
Over slices of pizza, Tucker recounted his victory to Jaxon and me. His entire face lit up when he talked about scoring his first-ever game-winning goal. As he chatted excitedly, Knox’s gaze rested on me, watching me as I ate.
A tight knot formed in my throat and I had to remind myself how to swallow. While I sat reminding myself how to properly chew and swallow my food, I realized one thing. Knox was a good distraction.
Miraculously, for hours I hadn’t thought about my parents, or my guilt, or my loneliness. Not once. Brian’s earlier warning that I needed to get a life came to mind.
Well, this was me, getting a life. I doubted he’d approve of my methods.
Having McKenna here was strange, yet felt completely natural at the same time. I needed to keep it together in front of the guys, but I wanted to pull her aside and ask her why she came back.
Once dinner was over, I sent McKenna into the living room to relax while the guys and I cleared the table. This was all new territory for me—but since she was a guest, she shouldn’t have to clean up, right?
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