“I’ll be inside.”
“Malls gets chilly.”
“Really? I mean—”
“He’s right, bug. Go grab one, and get Alice one, too,” my dad cuts in. I shake my head and go back into the house. I grab two cardigans. I’m not arguing with my dad. I never go head to head with him unless it’s something worth fighting for.
“Let’s roll,” I say, returning to the garage and seeing Eli must have changed into jeans real quick.
“We need to get the steaks, too, Major?” Eli asks my dad.
“Yeah, grab an extra. I’m sure Alice would like to join us.”
“You wanna stay over?” I ask Alice. She does sometimes. I don’t think she likes being at home. Her parents fight constantly.
“Sure,” she says so softly I almost don’t hear her. I link my arm with hers and pull her toward Eli’s truck.
As I take each step, I know Eli is hot on my heels.
“Rule number one, no texting while driving.”
Maggie turns her head to me and gives me that look that makes me want to pull her onto my lap and squeeze her close to me.
“The key isn’t even in the ignition,” she says before returning her attention to her glowing phone. I give her a second, and when she’s finished she tucks her phone in her purse down at my feet. “Alice said she was on her way to my house, but I said you were giving me driving lessons. I told her the Major is home and he can let her in until we get back.”
I start to say something about that, but she holds her hand out expectantly.
“Keys, please,” she says sweetly. God, I can’t resist that smile and those big blue eyes.
“Joke’s on you. It’s a push start, sunshine.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re a fancy cupcake.”
“With double sprinkles. And don’t you forget it,” I reply.
We’ve come to the parking lot at the college campus near her house. This is where Alice talked about going to college after graduation, and I wonder if Maggie plans on going here, too. When I ask her what she wants to do in the future, she’s less than forthcoming. I don’t know why, but it feels like she’s keeping her dreams from me. Maybe she’s embarrassed by them, or maybe she doesn’t know. I knew at her age what I wanted to do because I had it laid out in front of me. It was easy. But the world is big and wide for her, and she can do whatever she wants. Go anywhere she wants.
The thought of her moving away makes my chest ache, and I have to rub the pain away. I can’t wrap my head around what I would do if I didn’t get to see her every day, see her smile, or hear her laugh. It would be like a death sentence.
I’m trying to soak up all the moments I can with her, and this is one of them. Maggie was complaining that she doesn’t get a lot of experience driving because the Major and I are always driving her everywhere. She’ll be seventeen Saturday, and Major has hinted to me that he’s getting her a car. I mentioned that I could give her some lessons, and he agreed, but deep down I know the real reasons I volunteered.
I want to spend every moment I can with her. These past weeks have been the best of my life. I feel like not only am I a part of a family, but the person sitting next to me has somehow fused with my soul. Maggie has truly brought in the light to my life, and I can’t stand when we aren’t together. Even if it’s moments like this, where we are just being happy and playful. I know it’s wrong to want more from her, and I know she’s underage. I hate the part of myself that knows better, but I can’t seem to stop. I feel so guilty that she’s so young and I’ve tied my rope to her, but there isn’t enough strength left in my bones to make me stop. While I know I can’t touch her, I still have to be with her. I try to be as platonic as I can with the small touches I’m able to get. I keep a distance from her. We’ve become so familiar that it’s natural to be close.
“OK, foot on the brake and push the button. Got it,” she says, cranking up the truck and gripping the wheel.
“Take it easy on my truck. I happen to love it.”
“Not as much as you love me,” she says with a wink.
Jesus, her beauty is like a shot to the heart. She’s teasing when she says stuff like that, but it’s the truth. God, how I wish I could tell her what I feel. Even though it’s not right, I want it. Fuck, do I want it.
“I don’t know. This baby has heated seats,” I say, petting the space between us.
She rolls her eyes and eases her foot off the brake and starts to drive in the empty lot.
“Whatever. I can cook. This truck has nothing on me.”
“You’ve got me there, sunshine. I guess you win all my love.”
There’s a blush on her cheeks, and I love seeing it there.
“So what are you getting me for my birthday?” she asks as she circles and then goes down another row of empty parking spaces. She’s changing the subject, and it’s probably for the best.
“Hmmm. When is it again?” I tease, knowing full well it’s Saturday.
“Like you don’t have it circled in your calendar, cupcake.”
“With big pink hearts,” I tease back. God, I love when she busts my balls. “What do you want?”
She hesitates as she turns and goes down the edge of the lot. The spaces are laid out in big rows that are separated by lights. She’s driving up and down each one smoothly, and I start to wonder if she made up the excuse about not being able to drive.