I sigh. “I’m going to return it. I bought it before—”
“Anyone home?” Julian pokes his head in and holds up a six-pack of Bud Light. “Thought I’d check on my girls.” He grins broadly.
“And you brought sustenance!” Nana chortles as he twists open a bottle and hands it to her.
I take one—might as well—and we all clink our bottles together, Romy with a soda.
A few minutes later, Liam knocks and comes in.
“Oh, goody, Tree Boy is here. I say we do a Friday night movie,” Nana says, her arm curling around me on the couch.
It’s obvious they planned this, a whole Let’s keep Serena company brigade. I give them the fake smile.
“Creepy, sis,” Romy chirps, then she says, “I want Pride and Prejudice—”
“No,” Julian calls. “We’ve watched that one ten times!”
“Now it’s going to be eleven!” Romy says as she pokes him. “Suck it up.”
“Fine, but I’m calling dibs on the next one. Fast and Furious,” Julian mutters.
“Go get snacks from the house,” Nana declares, shooing them. “I’ll need my guacamole and chips. Liam, did I tell you Turo’s Italian?”
He bobs his head. “Yes, ma’am. Very nice.”
I manage a smile.
“Come with me, kids,” Julian says to Liam and Romy. “Let’s grab the snacks.”
Liam shifts a wary gaze to Julian. “Can I take a look at your bike?”
Julian narrows his eyes. “Don’t put smudges on it, and don’t even think about sitting on it.”
Romy grins and grabs Liam’s hand as they follow him out the door.
“Serena…” Nana pats my hand. “Let’s talk. I’ve kept my mouth shut, but, dear, you miss him terribly. You’ve had time to process, but you look like ten miles of bad road.”
“You try so hard to be good, to be a role model for Romy, to provide for her, and you’re the kind of girl who’d never break a promise, but people do. Romy screwed up when she got in with a bad crowd and did wacky weed. You put your life on hold for Vane. Julian goes through women like water. I tend to say things I shouldn’t. And Dillon made a mistake. He didn’t correct his friends when he should have and you had to hear it in a horrible way. Men, in general, tend to not talk about deep things. Perhaps this incident is a hurdle, yes, but how you deal with it is what matters. You love him, and his face is happier than a pig in sunshine when he looks at you.” She hesitates. “Don’t judge him by another man’s scorecard. You’re scared because of Vane, but all I get from Dillon is a boy who needs you. He’s younger than you, yeah, yeah, but his soul is aligned to yours.”
“He’s…” Tears spring up behind my eyes and I blink rapidly. My hand hits my chest. “He isn’t Vane, I know it, but…” I don’t want to be hurt anymore.
The others come back in, and I turn away, swallowing. They find seats and I snuggle under a blanket as Darcy and Elizabeth battle it out for love.
The question is, what am I willing to do for love?29“This was on the porch.” Sawyer tosses me a package and I catch it. It’s in a brown manila envelope with an orange and blue ribbon around it. My name is scrawled across the front.
I sit back down on the bed, shoving my duffle for the game to the side. “Who left it?” My dad and Brianna have already given me their gift, a set of diamond cufflinks. Dad suggested I wear them for the NFL draft in April. He wants to go with me to New York and bring the family.
He shrugs. “Beats me. We got ten minutes before we’re due at the stadium.”
When he’s out of my room, I tear open the package, my chest tightening at the note.* * *Dillon,
I got this before. It felt wrong not to give it to you. I wish for you everything. Kisses in meadows. A sky full of stars. All the wonderful things destiny has in store for you. Happy Birthday.
Serena* * *Popping open the box, I pick up the sterling silver football charm. I shut my eyes, thinking about where she is right now. She sent it, and it has to mean something.
Later, when I run onto the field for the game, I kiss both my hands, tug the charm out of my jersey, and brush my fingers over it, for her. My eyes rove the stands, searching, hoping, but she isn’t in the press area, nor do I feel the weight of her gaze anywhere in the stadium. She isn’t here. Disappointment flares, but I’m not surprised.
My eyes land on my dad. He waves a foam finger at me while Marley bounces on Brianna’s knee. We sat up last night reminiscing about childhood memories and going through videos I had of Myles on my phone. No family is perfect, but, perhaps, ours can be united. Problems exist, yes, but the blame we both shared is lighter. Grief is horrible. In the space of one heartbeat, I can picture my brother going over that cliff. Dad can’t change how he dealt with Myles’s death, how he cocooned himself, pushing the world away, just as I can’t change that I didn’t stop him from jumping, but we can forge ahead and make a new path for ourselves.