I Bet You (Page 20)
A sheepish grin crosses her face. “Just something he said. Apparently, he was also at that party and can’t remember much of it.” She gets a faraway look on her face. “All I can recall about him is this thing he did with his tongue—”
I hold my hand up. “Just stop right there. I want to be able to talk to him in the future without picturing what you’re about to describe.”
“And back to Ryker…I’m not his type, so nope. You’re wrong.”
Charisma thinks. “Hmmm, if you say so. But you did just bring him up again.”
I tuck more fries in my mouth.
She sighs and smirks down at her curves. “I wish I could eat like you do.”
“At least you have b***s.” I wave at my chest area. “Underneath this vintage Buffy the Vampire Slayer shirt is a sixty dollar push-up bra. Thank you, magic brassiere.” I look around the room and lean in. “With the cutlets stuffed in this contraption, everyone thinks I’m at least a solid B cup.”
“Stop it. You have t**s,” she says.
“Correction. I have titlets.”
She giggles. “That’s not even a word! How do you come up with this stuff?”
I tap my head. “But in my stories, the heroine always has big b***s.” I twist my lips. “Maybe I should get a boob job.”
She shakes her head at me. “Do it for you, but no one else.”
I nod. “Of course. The man who falls for me will love my titlets.”
“Please stop saying titlets.”
We both laugh.
I shrug and check my phone for the time—my break is almost over—and eat a few more bites of my burger. “Will you feed Vampire Bill for me when you get home?”
“No. He hates me.”
I wave her off. “The pellets are in the pantry, and if you can chop up some kale, maybe some banana, he’ll be all set.” I give her a grin. “Also, if you can tell him the word of the day again. We’ve been working on llama. Tell him I love him, too.”
She glares at me. “Seriously. Anything else? He’ll try to peck me. And llama? Ryker inspired?”
“It was!” A gleam grows in her hazel eyes. “I’m going to teach him something good, something that will definitely make him a cool bird.”
I give her a look. “He already has enough dirty words. I know he learned ‘s**t’ from you.”
“I know nothing.”
I sigh. “Just give him a little head scratch before you put him in my room, okay? Maybe turn on some music so he doesn’t get lonely. Backstreet Boys is his favorite.”
She takes a sip of her soda. “I don’t mind. I just hate that you work so much. You know your dad would pay your bills, right? All you’d have to do is ask.”
I exhale. He has offered to pay what my academic scholarship doesn’t cover, but I refuse. Mom left me the house and some insurance money when she passed. I’m not destitute.
“I don’t mind working. It keeps me busy.” It keeps my mind occupied, too, and I’ve always been one who needs that.
The door chimes as customers enter. I glance up at the door and stop, eyes widening.
It’s as if I conjured them.
I exhale. My dad, Carson, and his wife, Cora, waltz in with their new baby, Cyan. Yes, all their names begin with C.
“Ah, the new family,” Charisma murmurs as we watch them talk to the hostess for a few minutes. They’re probably up there requesting my section. I’m glad I still have a few minutes on my break.
“Looks like your dad is hunting you down,” Charisma says, arching her eyebrow at me. “You probably should have said yes to dinner.”
We watch as the hostess talks to them, and I study Cora. She’s pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way with straight blonde hair and an oval face with high cheekbones. Her frame is small with a soft middle from being pregnant. She hides it with flowy tunic-style shirts, wearing them with style and confidence.
The hostess points over at me, and my dad tosses a hand up then Cora does the same. She’s holding Cyan on her hip, and my gaze lingers there.
Perhaps he sees the trepidation on my face because he says something to the hostess and she leads them over to someone else’s section.
Charisma’s voice brings me back. “I’m heading home and crashing. You good?”
I give her a nod, and she takes off after leaving me cash for her check. I linger around the booth, taking my time, but eventually the laws of Southern etiquette demand I face them.
With a sigh, I clock back in and make my way to their table. It’s on the far right side in an alcove that’s rather secluded.
My dad is feeding Cyan orange baby food as I approach—something he never did for me. He looks up, sees me, and gets to his feet. “Hey, you,” he says, brushing his hands with a napkin.
He towers over me, about six three, a handsome guy with auburn hair and gray eyes. He takes the few steps over and attempts to hug me, and I let him. It’s this dance we do. He wants to make everything right between us; I’m not sure it ever will be.
I play with the gold chain around my neck, fingering the locket.
“I took that picture at the hospital the day after you were born,” he says, indicating the necklace.
What? I blink up at him, my equilibrium thrown. I think about the faded picture inside the pendant. Mom is smiling down at me, wearing a white nightgown with tiny rosebuds on it. I’m mostly a blob, just a baby in a pink dress. My eyes are open and they gaze right up at her. It was always us, since the beginning.
I shrug. “I assumed you ran out of town before the big day. Was it the offseason?”
His face doesn’t change, taking my s**t well.
With a deep breath, he continues. “You were a C-section, and I was terrified when they wheeled your mom into surgery. The blood, the smell of the hospital, the scrubs we put on—but once they pulled you out and put you in my arms…” He stops and studies his hands for a moment then looks back at me. “It was the offseason, but that wouldn’t have mattered. I wouldn’t have missed seeing you born.”
I frown at the emotion his words carry, my face tight. I don’t want to feel soft toward him. “And then I didn’t see you for ten years. Nice.”
He pauses. “I took care of you.”
His lips flatten—because he knows I’m right. “It’s been three years since your mom passed. Maybe we should try to talk—”
“Her name is Vivien.”
He nods his head in accord. “I cared for her too, you know.”
“She never told me you were at the hospital when I was born.”
He nods and looks away. “We didn’t leave on the best of terms. I had a team to get back to, and she had her doctorate degree to work on here.”
My jaw tenses, and I flick my gaze over to Cora, who I know can probably hear us but is pretending not to. I sigh.
“Some people just aren’t meant to be together,” he tells me. “Your mom…she knew we were too young, and she only wanted the best for you. That was her.”
Because he was busy living the baller lifestyle. Women. Parties.
“I made mistakes, Penelope. Having Cyan has made me see that.”
“Now you see. How fortunate.”
He watches me. “Just because there’s a new baby doesn’t mean we don’t want to see you.”