Am I overreacting?

I don’t think that I am.

“I was just joking, Landon. I didn’t mean anything by it. You two are so different, that’s all.”

“Everyone is different, Dakota. It’s not your place to judge him. Or anyone.”

She sighs and sits down at the kitchen table.

“I know. I wasn’t trying to judge him. I’m the last person who can judge anyone.” She looks down at her hands. “It was a shitty joke that I won’t make again. I know he means a lot to you.”

My shoulders relax, and I start wondering why I got so irritated so quickly. It’s like it came out of nowhere, although I do get tired of people piling on my stepbrother.

Dakota seems remorseful . . . and Hardin really is a tough pill to swallow. I can’t really blame her for her opinion of him. She only knew him as the guy who smashed a cabinetful of dishes my dead grandma gave my mom. And as the guy who refused to call her by her actual name.

Hardin does this thing where he pretends that he doesn’t know any female names except Tessa’s. So Dakota became “Delilah” every time he addressed her. I don’t know why he does it, and sometimes I actually wonder if, in fact, he really hasn’t forgotten every woman’s name except Tessa’s.

Weirder things have happened between those two.

But I would rather not spend the entire night at odds with Dakota over one remark.

“Okay. Let’s just talk about something else. Something lighter,” I suggest.

Since she’s already apologized and seems like she genuinely didn’t mean anything by her comment, I want to move on. I want to talk to her. I want to hear about her days and her nights.

I want to lie next to her in bed and reminisce about our wild teenage years when we had movie marathons on school nights and held pizza-roll-eating contests on my futon. My mom never questioned why I blew through bag after bag of pepperoni pizza rolls. She had reason to wonder what was going on when I started asking for the combination varieties, because she knew I hated them. But she never once asked me why Dakota ate so much every time she came over. I think she knew that since a couple of forty-ounce beers cost just as much as a bag of pizza rolls, the chances were slim that Dakota’s freezer would have any food in it, much less name-brand pizza rolls.

“Thank you.” Dakota looks down and I smile at her and move closer.

“Come on, you.” I dip down and lift her body into my arms and she shrieks.

She’s light, even lighter than I remember, but it sure feels good to hold her in my arms.

The twenty-two steps to the couch isn’t long enough to make up for the last few months, but I drop her onto the cushions. She lands with a soft thud and her body bounces up a few inches and she shrieks again.

I step back and she’s on her feet in no time, running after me with a huge grin. She’s giggling, face red and hair wild.

When she lunges at me, I jump out of the way. I slide on the thick rug that I was supposed to tape down the second day I moved in and jump onto the chair, missing her fingertips by mere inches. Something creaks beneath me.

I really hope I don’t break this damn chair.

I leap off of it and slide across the floor with the help of my socks. I lose my balance, and as my leg muscles strain, unsuccessfully, to right myself, I realize that my pants are so freaking tight that my legs are bending in a painful, unnatural way. Sitting on the floor, I pull one leg in and twist my body and Dakota rushes over to me. Her face is worried when she puts one hand on my shoulders and tucks the other one under my chin, forcing me to look up at her.

I can’t stop laughing and my stomach hurts from it, but my leg doesn’t.

Dakota’s panic turns to amusement and her laughter is my favorite song.

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