Home > Be the Girl(14)

Be the Girl(14)
Author: K.A. Tucker

Heather’s eyes leave the street long enough to offer her daughter a soft smile. “You want to get all dressed up?”

“Yeah.” Cassie nods. “Except I’m not wearing high heels because I’ll fall.”

“You don’t have to wear high heels,” Heather assures her.

“Yeah … and I’ll have to find a date,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Or not. You can go alone.”

There’s a long pause. “I don’t want to go alone.”

“Well, then, maybe you can go with Dillon.”

I recognize that name. Cassie has talked about him on our walks home. He’s a boy with autism in her class.

Cassie shrugs. “Dillon doesn’t like music. I don’t think he’s going.”

“Okay, well, maybe Emmett could take you.”

Would Emmett do that? Come home from wherever he is in five years to take his little sister to a high school prom? Knowing him, probably.

“Yeah.” I watch Cassie think about that for a moment. “Or Zach could take me.”

That’s a stretch. I know he’s Emmett’s friend, but is he that good of a friend? Would the tall, blond popular guy come back in five years to walk arm-in-arm with his friend’s autistic sister? And what would she wear? I can’t picture her in a short hem or a plunging neckline. Sure, she’s developing like a woman but the more I get to know her—how innocent she still is—I can’t see her in anything but a puffy pink Cinderella dress.

“Maybe.” It could be this angle, but the smile on Heather’s mouth wavers.

The first thing I notice when we pull into the Hartford driveway is that the Santa Fe is still gone.

“When is Emmett coming home?” Cassie practically plucks that question from my mind.

“He said five, I think. Cassie, can you take that bag by your feet into your father right away so he can finish dinner?” Heather points to a reusable grocery bag. “I’ll be there in a second.”

I sense that she wants to speak to me, so I linger outside the car, watching Cassie trudge away.

Heather offers me a warm smile. “Thank you for taking Cassie to the movies today.”

I shrug. “It’s no big deal. Really.”

“No, it is a big deal.” She sighs. “Cassie doesn’t have a lot of friends. She knows a lot of people. Between neighbors and families we’ve gotten to know over the years through Emmett’s hockey, she’s surrounded by a lot of people who care and are great with her. But none of them are her friends. People who make time for her. Holly did for a while, but …” Heather frowns. “It means a lot to Cassie to be able to go to a movie with you. We’re grateful to you for suggesting that last night.” Her voice has taken on a slightly husky tone.

I nod, unsure of how to respond. “I had fun.” And I did, I realize, even with Cassie’s prattling and the sense that I had to watch over her like a babysitter watches over her charge.

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, she idolizes you. She came home the other day and demanded that we repaint her bedroom to match yours.”

“Really?” I laugh.

“Yes. Your mom gave me the color chip from your room. Mark is very excited about painting.” Her laugh carries a derisive note. With that, she collects the rest of the groceries from the trunk.

I watch her disappear behind the front door, feeling a sudden lightness in my chest that hasn’t been there in so long.

Emmett is waiting for me at the end of his driveway, stretching his hamstrings, when I emerge on Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. His brown eyes roll over my black running shorts and my bare legs—that I thankfully remembered to shave last night, because the air is crisper than I expected and I have gooseflesh—before landing on my old high school shirt. His face splits into a wide grin. “Llamas?”

“Hey, I didn’t pick my high school mascot.” I grab an ankle and begin my warm-up stretches, stealing a covert glance at his form—long legs coated with dark hair and rippling with muscle; broad shoulders that lead into a shapely back. He’s wearing a burgundy-and-gold Eastmonte Eagles T-shirt that’s threadbare and clingy around his sinewy arms and powerful-looking chest.

His body is not that of a seventeen-year-old boy—at least not one I’ve ever met.

“At least llamas are more creative than eagles.”

“Fair point.” He grins, connecting his hands behind his back to stretch his chest, a move that shifts his collar, revealing a purplish-red bruise on his collarbone.

“What happened to your neck?” I blurt out without thinking.

“Nothing,” he says, tugging at his T-shirt collar to cover it, his cheeks flushing.

“Oh.” It finally dawns on me—Emmett has a hickey? “Really?”

He groans. “Don’t you start, too. I’ve already gotten enough chirping from my team yesterday.”

“Sorry, I just haven’t seen one in a while.”

“Since you were twelve, right?” He grimaces. “Holly knew what she was doing, too. She thought it’d be funny.”

“It kind of is.” I press my lips together to keep from laughing.

“Yeah, to everyone else.” He’s annoyed but at least he’s smiling now. He tucks his earbuds into his ears. Now I wish I’d brought mine. “Come on, Jones. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

“Jeez …” A bead of sweat runs down the side of Emmett’s face by the time we reach the end of our driveways. “I can’t believe you kept up. Your mom wasn’t kidding.” His breathing is as ragged as mine.

I bite my tongue against the urge to taunt him, to remind him that I only just started training again. The truth is, I wouldn’t have gone that hard had I not had the carrot of Emmett dangling there to push me. But my thighs and lungs burn, the three-kilometer route around Miller’s Park—a hilly conservation area with a small pond in the center—equal parts peaceful and grueling. We were the only ones out this morning, save for a lady walking her black Lab.

Emmett uses the hem of his T-shirt to wipe his face, giving me a sublime view of his six-pack and the dark trail of hair disappearing into his shorts.

I have to turn away to hide my bulging eyes.

Seriously, he’s only seventeen?

“Moretti’s gonna have a lady boner when she sees you run.” He checks his watch. “’Kay. We better grab a shower before school.” He frowns, and points at both our houses. “I meant separately. As in, two showers. In our own bathrooms.”

“Yeah, I figured.” I laugh it off, though in my head, I’m suddenly wondering all kinds of things, namely, has Emmett ever showered with a girl before? And what does the rest of him look like in the shower? And did he think I’d take that to mean something different?

Can he tell I’m crushing on him?

My heart, already racing from the run, takes on a whole new tempo as my stomach flutters with nerves.

“See you in a bit.” With one last grin, he jogs toward his house.

Forty-five minutes later, I’m waiting by the Santa Fe when Emmett walks out of the Hartfords’ front door, a half-eaten banana in his grip. He’s freshly showered and looking as hot as ever.

“Cassie, come on or we’ll be late!” He hits the button on his key fob to unlock the doors for me and then strolls to the end of the driveway to toss the peel into the green bin.

Cassie rushes out about thirty seconds later and climbs into the back seat. “I’m not ready!” she warns, as she does every morning.

He drums his fingers on the steering wheel, his lips pressed together tightly, as if he’s struggling to keep his patience this morning. What’s it like to have Cassie for a sister?

Her seat belt clicks. “’Kay, I’m ready.”

He pulls out of the driveway.

“When is your next hockey game, Emmett?” she asks.

“Thursday night.”

“Is it in Eastmonte?”

“Yup. Why?”

“AJ should come. Do you want to come with us to watch Emmett play, AJ?”

A rush of adrenaline courses through my body. Yes, I want to watch Emmett play. Now I have a valid excuse to go. “Uh … yeah, sure. Maybe?”

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