“Pissed off,” Julian mutters.
Liam flinches. “Won’t happen again, I swear. I’ll come see you first, before I see Romy.”
His body is pointed to the street, and I sigh. “You may go,” I say, and he pauses for half a second then takes off in a run down the street toward a bright yellow Chevelle. He cranks it and drives past us very, very slowly.
“Call me!” Romy yells at him.
“Navy SEAL? Damn, I sound good.” Julian chuckles.
“I improvised. I’m pissed at Romy, but catching him coming down the tree—now that was just fortuitous fun.”
“You’re crazy! I hate both of you!” Romy yells before slamming her window shut.
Oh, the bliss of mentoring a teenager. Technically, Nana has guardianship of her, but I’m the one she gravitates to. There’s only seven years between us, so it makes sense. Did I do crazy stuff when I was a teenager? Um, yeah, hello, tattoo and vodka. I used to sneak out of my bedroom on the weekends. I gave my virginity to a bad boy in high school who dropped me afterward. I just want Romy to make better decisions than I did.
Julian throws an arm around me as we walk to the front door. “You mentioned the gun?”
“Told him you took the last guy out.”
He shakes his head. “What are we gonna do with her?”
A long sigh comes from me. “Heaven help me, I’ve tried. You should talk to her…”
He winces. “Serena, nah, don’t make me. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Maybe if you sat down with her and told her a guy’s point of view on sex, how they may not feel the same emotional attachments—”
He sucks his teeth. “Look, you’re a girl, she’s a girl…you got it.”
Then why is she always in some kind of trouble? Frustration builds in my stomach. In March of her junior year, while I was in the middle of dealing with the fallout from Vane, she hooked up with a bad crowd at the public school. The administrators caught her and two other girls smoking pot under the football bleachers. Drugs on school grounds are an automatic 180-day expulsion and admittance to an alternative school. I scrambled to find the money and managed to get her accepted at the local private school. Lucky for us, one of the board members is a policeman and worked with my dad, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken her.
An hour later, I’m slicing strawberries while Romy takes the chicken breasts out of the oven. A plate of warm waffles sits on the counter next to a bowl of eggs ready to be scrambled, just waiting for Julian to come in from mowing the yard.
My gaze drifts over the soft blue curtains in the breakfast area, the faded filigree wallpaper, the ancient oak table with a centerpiece of grapes and apples. The house is old and ramshackle, but tidy. Selling our family home was never an option after my parents died.
“How’s school? It’s your senior year, so that has to be exciting,” I ask Romy, offering an olive branch after I talked to her in her room. While she glowered, I sat on her bed and went through my checklist with her about teen sex, how she’s experiencing raging hormones, that sex doesn’t mean love…
Now in the kitchen, she shrugs, a wary expression on her face. Deep purple lipstick colors her mouth and her eyes are heavy with eyeliner. Magenta streaks pop in her hair. That’s new.
“Two weeks in and calculus sucks. I flunked the first test.” Her shoulders dip, and a panicked look flashes over her face before she turns back to the stove. “The uniforms drive me batty, and the girls are snotty. Headmaster Roberts glares at me like he expects me to fire up a joint at any moment. Same as last year.”
“Would you prefer I homeschool you?” I could, I guess, in between catering jobs and writing.
Her face reddens and her eyes grow shiny. “I miss my old school is all.”
“How’s the hip hop?”
“Tryouts are soon.” She turns away, giving me her rigid back.
“I can help you, if you want.” I took dance classes for years, ranging from ballet to modern. Once I thought I might do it professionally, maybe own a studio and teach, but the uncertainty of that career choice made me wary—especially after my parents died. I had to grow up quick.
“You’re busy.” She shrugs.
I sigh. “I’m sorry I’m not always here. Nana is.”
“At least I see you more now that Vane is gone. Asshole.”
“Language,” I murmur.
“Like you don’t say worse.”
I am trying.
“I’m sorry about letting Liam stay. We honestly just fell asleep.” Her lips twist. “Do you believe me?” Her eyes find mine and hold them.
I nod. “Just…don’t rush into anything, okay?”
“Like you did with Vane?”
A long exhalation comes from my chest. “Yeah.” The first night I met him, I slept with him. She knows about the pregnancy, the rushed marriage, the quickie divorce when he cheated.