I storm away from him, not dignifying that with a response.
“I’m sorry, Pau,” Dad calls after me. But I’m not ready to talk to him yet. No. I need to find Josh first.
It doesn’t take me long to find him. He’s out behind the woodshed, shirt tied around his waist, sweat glistening along his abs as he lifts the axe to chop another block of firewood. For a second, I pause just to watch him work and savor the way the sun glistens off his muscles, highlights every inch of his glorious body.
Then I step into his line of sight, and he sets the axe aside, eying me with a cold, sideways stare. He runs a hand through his hair, and I try not to let that distract me either, because damn, even that simple motion drives me crazy. Makes me want to tackle him right here and kiss that pout off his stupid lips, run my hands over his hard pecs…
“Are you talking to me again?” he asks, and I swallow my crazy lusty impulses.
“I’m sorry.” I step closer. “I shouldn’t have been avoiding you. I shouldn’t be running. You’re right.”
His eyebrows rise. “That may be the first time I’ve ever heard you say that.”
I roll my eyes. “Josh. I’m being serious here.”
He steps closer to me, too. “Serious about what, exactly, Pau?”
I swallow hard. Lick my lips. “About us. Josh, I…”
He just waits me out in silence, eyes on me, red-hot, but compelling me. I want to tell him the truth. The whole truth and nothing but.
I have to.
“I know what my dad said to you. All those years ago.”
He grimaces, but nods.
“I’m sorry he did that. And I’m sorry you felt you had to listen. And… I’m also sorry that I got scared. By this, by us, by how much I feel for you. It freaked me out, especially given… Given everything. This whole situation. But it doesn’t change how I feel. It doesn’t change what I want. And I want to be with you.”
A throat clears sharply. But it’s not Josh’s.
Josh realizes first. His eyes widen, and his mouth goes slack. I whip around, follow the direction he’s looking, over my shoulder.
Behind me, carrying a tray laden with three more glasses of lemonade, stands Susan.
To judge by the shocked expression on her face—a mirror image of Josh’s face right now, the resemblance between them starkly visible for once—she heard everything I just said.
“I…” I wince. “Susan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Paulina,” she interrupts. I stammer to a halt. What else can I say? How can I explain that away?
“We were practicing for a, um… a play, and…”
“Are you in love with my son?” Susan asks, point-blank.
I can’t lie. I can’t tell the truth. So I just stare at her. Force my mouth to open. I have to say it. I think back to my conversation with Dad. To my own advice. The truth is better. Even if it’s awkward.
But before I can answer, Josh speaks up. “Whatever she might feel, Mom, I’m the one who…” He straightens his shoulders. Looks at me. “I love Paulina.”
Now it’s my turn to gape at him, open-mouthed. Even so, despite the situation, the awkwardness of it, all the ways this could go wrong, I can’t deny that hearing those words sets off fireworks in my belly. He loves me.
When I turn back to Susan, she’s still holding the lemonade tray in one hand, though the glasses are all rattling, because her other hand is pressed to her mouth. I dart forward to grab the tray, but I bump it in the process, and there’s a deafening crash as the glasses shatter on the ground, spraying my sandaled feet with lemonade.
That’s when Dad comes running around the corner. “Everything okay here?” he asks.
He looks between all three of us, brow furrowed.
Josh turns to face him. “I just said that I’m in love with Paulina.”
And there it is again. That explosion of electricity, that fire I can’t tamp, no matter how wrong, how complicated it may be.
Dad looks as shocked as Susan. He glances back and forth from Josh to me and back again, mouth moving without words. Then he finally recalls himself. “For how long?” Dad looks at me as he asks.
Josh laughs, a bitter edge to it. “I’ve loved her since I was sixteen years old. Since our first kiss, right here on this lakeshore. You probably know that already, or you wouldn’t have told me to leave her alone,” he adds, pointed.
“Josh,” Susan warns.
But he’s taken on a defiant air now, chin lifted. He turns to face me, ignoring both of our parents. “I’ve loved her every minute of every hour of every day now, for years, and I never stopped. I can’t stop—I won’t stop now, even if I’m technically her step-brother, it doesn’t matter to me, I can’t… I can’t let her go, now that we’ve finally found each other again.”