Sighing disappointedly, he strolls past me. “Come on; let’s get you home. I’d ask if you want me to have a tow truck come get your car, but I already know the answer.” He stops near the front of my car where I left the flashlight balanced on the bumper and leans over to inspect the engine. “So, either I can come pick you up tomorrow and we can drive out here and try to fix this, or we can borrow Ari’s truck and tow it to your mom’s house.”
“Towing will probably be better since I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s wrong with it.” I move over beside him, feeling shaken up about what happened and craving his comforting nearness.
He stares at the engine with his head tucked down, his mouth set in a thin line. I don’t know what’s running through his mind, but I’m not fond of how upset he looks, and I hate that I might have played a part in it.
“Thank you for saving my ass,” I feel the need to say as guilt stirs in my chest. “And for being my knight in shining armor again.”
He takes a deep breath before elevating his gaze to me, a smile playing on his lips. “Anytime, princess.”
I restrain a sigh. “Beck … I thought we had an agreement that you weren’t going to use that nickname anymore. I’m getting too old for it.”
“I never agreed to anything. You just told me I had to stop, and I did for a while.” He slips an arm around my shoulders, and all I can think is safe, safe, safe. “But I figure, since I’m your knight in shining armor tonight, you have to be my princess. It’s part of the rules, and you can’t argue with the rules.”
I shake my head, deciding to let him win this one, even though the nickname makes me feel like a little kid or a damsel in distress.
“Fine, but this princess needs to get home,” I tell him through a yawn. “She’s really sleepy.”
“All right, my lady. Your chariot awaits.” He bows, and a laugh bubbles from my lips, a sound I didn’t expect to hear on such a cruddy night.
He smiles proudly, and I start to question if getting me to laugh was his intention all along. He really is the best friend ever. I’ll never be able to thank him enough. Still, I want to try so maybe I won’t crumble when he finds the love of his life.
I wrap my arms around him and embrace him with gratitude. “Thank you. I really do appreciate everything you do for me, even if it doesn’t always seem like I do.” I breathe in his scent. Calm. I feel so calm.
He hugs me back, slipping an arm around me then pressing our bodies closer. “You know I’ll always be here for you, Wills. Even when we’re seventy years old and can barely walk, I’ll use my cane to keep the bad guys away.”
I smile, but sadness weighs on my heart. He may mean that now, but one day, he’ll have other people he’ll want to care for more than me. Or worse, one day, he’ll find out how big of a liar I am and decide I’m not worth saving anymore.
Willow. Willow. Willow. She’s the most amazing, brave, strong, beautiful girl I know, even if she doesn’t think so. She also gets herself into some of the most unnerving situations. Then again, most of the time, it isn’t her fault.
She’s had a difficult life, starting from when her dad walked out when she was six. I met her not too long after that happened. She was so quiet, sad, and broken back then. Sometimes, she still looks that way, her big eyes so crammed with pain, sadness, and the stress of a difficult life. All I want to do is hug her, which I try to do as much as she’ll let me.
But the touching thing is becoming a real problem lately. For me, anyway.
Somewhere along the road of friendship, I started seeing her as more than a friend. Way, way more.
After we get into my car, I drive toward her house, taking subtle breaths to try to calm the fuck down. I’m normally a fairly calm guy and prefer talking things out instead of throwing punches. But when I heard that guy trying to coax Willow into opening the door, uncontrollable anger blazed through me. Then I pulled up and saw him running to his car, and I lost any ounce of calm I had left. If Willow hadn’t stopped me, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Probably rammed my fist into his face until my knuckles broke. I should feel rattled by that, but thinking about what that guy probably wanted to do to her …
I open and flex my fingers, sucking in an unsteady exhale.
“Are you okay?” Willow fixes her big eyes on my hands. “Why’re your hands shaking?”
“They’re just having a spasm,” I lie, tightening my grip on the steering wheel. “Too much typing up assignments, I think.”
She gives me a dubious look. “Since when do you even do assignments?”
I press my hand to my heart, mocking offense. “Are you saying I’m a slacker?”
“No … but you did get away with only taking tests during our senior year.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault the tests were so damn easy. And if I can ace them without doing the homework, then why do the homework?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know … I guess I can kind of see your point. Although, I could never get away with doing that.”
I reach over and lightly tug on a strand of her hair. “Of course you could. You’re the smartest person I know.” I offer her a lopsided smile. “You’re just an overachiever.”
Her face scrunches. “Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t, though.”
“Since when?” I search her sad eyes, wondering what’s bothering her tonight.
“I don’t know … since forever, I guess.” She shrugs, picking at her fingernails. “I just think life would be way easier if I wasn’t always trying so hard and just didn’t care.”
“It’s not,” I tell her. “Trust me, I know.”
She gives me the look, the one that means she’s about to defend my slacker actions and stroke my ego. “You’re not a slacker. You just don’t like wasting time by doing stuff you don’t like. But you work so hard and always do what you love.” She sighs, resting her head against the window, dazing off into her own little world. “I wish I could spend my life having more fun and being less stressed out.”
“You could.” I reach out and place my hand over hers. “You just have to stop worrying about everything so much.”