My hands balled into fists, and I started to rise. I rarely yelled at my dad, but as my lips parted, I knew I was about to scream at him to shut the fuck up.
Before the scream could leave my lips, however, Willow beat me to the punch.
“First of all, I don’t think spending time with your son is a waste of time.” Willow held her chin high, her voice wobbling slightly. “I learn a lot from spending time with Beck. And second, I have a job. Two, actually. So I don’t need your advice.”
My dad blinked, thrown off. Then his eyes narrowed. “What could you possibly learn from my son?” His eyes swept the room littered with candy wrappers and soda cans. “Other than how to sit around on your ass all day and be completely useless?”
God, I hated my father. Nothing I ever did was good enough. And I hated that Willow was here to witness this. Sure, she knew my dad was a dick from the stories I told her and from witnessing him ream me occasionally, but he’d never directed his douchiness on her before.
“He taught me how to play soccer the other day, which let me tell you, took a lot of patience.” Willow counted down on her fingers, her eyes burning fiercely. “He taught me how to drive a stick, helped me open a savings account, showed me how to make interest in it. He’s actually really smart with numbers, but you probably know that already since you’re his dad.” Her lips spread into a smile. “Oh, yeah, and he taught me how to eat cookies and drink milk at the same time, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re having a cookie eating contest, it really comes in handy. And winning cookie contests is really important to me. In fact, I’m thinking about going pro. That is, if they’ll let people who look like they live in cardboard boxes enter the competition. I’m not really sure about that. Maybe you know, though, since you’re so smart.”
I wasn’t sure whether to jump in front of her, laugh, or kiss the freakin’ shit out of her.
Steam practically fumed out of my dad’s ears as his gaze shot to me. “Beckett, you have five minutes to say good-bye to your little friend and get ready to go to the office with me. And make sure to dress properly.” Then he turned and stormed out of the room.
Once he was gone, I let out a breath I didn’t even realize I was holding and turned toward Willow. “I’m so fucking sorry about that, Wills. Seriously, I can’t believe he did that.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” she insisted. “I already knew your dad was a dick.”
“Still … I should’ve told him to go fuck himself when he said all that stuff to you. I was planning on it, I swear. You just beat me to it.” I grinned. “You’re kind of a badass when you want to be.”
She smiled back at me. “I figured I could return the favor for all those years you stood up for me when kids called me a four-eyed freak. It just sucks that he’s making you go to work with him. I know how much you don’t want to work in an office.”
“I’ll be fine.” I tried to sound convincing and failed epically. “A few days isn’t going to hurt me.”
“Still, if you need me to rescue you, call me.” She scooted closer to me on the couch, and when our knees brushed, my gaze flew to her legs.
She was wearing shorts, something she rarely did and something I had more than fully noticed when she’d showed up at my house. Her legs were so long, and her skin looked so soft. She was gorgeous. I swear to God, some days, it drove me crazy. I thought about touching her all the time, running my fingers up the sides of her legs, maybe even the inside of her thighs. I often wondered, if I did, would she shudder? I imagined she would. Of course, that might have been because I wanted her so badly.
“You’re okay, though, right?” Her voice was crammed with concern as she placed her hand on my leg, drawing my attention away from her legs. “You know what he said wasn’t true, right?”
I blinked the desire away, knowing she’d probably run the hell out of here if she knew my thoughts. Well, either that or kick my ass.
“Yeah … I’m used to his shit by now.” My miserable tone suggested otherwise. I wasn’t even sure my miserableness was because of my dad or from how much I wanted her without having the nerve to make a move.
She poked me in the side, and I flinched but laughed.
“Don’t let him turn you into a wallower. That’s not you. Don’t let him take away who you are.”
“It might be better if he did. I mean, everything he said was kind of true. I don’t really have any direction or goals or anything.” I was being overdramatic. At the same time, I kind of liked hearing her defend me. It made me feel all good inside. I wanted to hug her … kiss her … run my finger up the inside of her thigh …
See? There I went again.
“You have direction and goals,” she said. “They’re just different from his.”
I forced myself to focus on the conversation, carrying her gaze. “And yours.”
“Yeah, so? My goals are boring. You’re so much more fun than I am. Sometimes, I wish I could be more like you.” She twisted a strand of her hair around her finger and chewed on her bottom lip, drawing all of my attention to her mouth.
Unable to control myself any longer, I started to lean in to do just that.
Her eyes snapped wide. “What are you doing?” she sputtered, slanting back.
Holy fucking shit, this is getting out of hand.
I tried to settle the hell down. Moving away damn near killed me. It went against everything I wanted.
That’s when I realized how much I liked her. And not just because she was hot. I liked her for everything she was, for everything she did for me, for everything that we were. Some of my favorite life moments were experienced with her.
She made me laugh. She told me things I tried to convince myself I didn’t need to hear. She got me. And I got her. I got her so much that I knew I could never act on my feelings because it would break her rule to never date anyone, at least until she finished college. She created the rule over the belief that it would help her not end up like her mom. I knew she never would. But when Willow made up her mind about something, she threw all of her effort into it, which meant there was a slim to none chance that me acting on my feelings would end well.
And so began the last three years of my self-torment, of wanting something I couldn’t have. Something that was always right in front of me, reminding me how perfect life could be.