Erika releases my hand and goes over to her dad, who is shocked into silence. She kisses him softly on the cheek. “I love you,” she whispers. She tries to do the same to her mother, but the old bat backs up, out of the way.
Erika’s shoulders slump for a moment. I step forward and take her hand again. She gives me a grateful smile. “I’m ready.”
Gently, I push her mother to the side, making a path for Erika and me to leave. Tears are falling from my girl’s face, and any other time, I’d pick her up, but I get the sense she wants to walk out of here on her own two feet. Her mom’s been the bad boss Erika could never defeat and now that she has, she deserves to walk away from the battle on her own.
That said, if her parents ever come after her again, I’ll be the one wielding the sword. Erika won’t ever have to do it again.
I peek over at Tank, who is clearly still on edge as we walk toward his place. “Go ahead.” I nudge him with my elbow. He looks down at me. “Pick me up if—” My words are cut off as my feet leave the ground. I can’t help but laugh at how over the top and protective he is. I rest my head on his shoulder and wipe the remaining tears from my eyes with his shirt.
I’m a bag of mixed emotions—happy because I finally stood up to my parents, nervous because I’m not sure what the future holds for me, embarrassed that Tank has to witness what crappy people my parents could be, but most of all I’m grateful that Tank stood by my side through the entire debacle.
“Thanks,” I whisper into his shoulder. It comes out muffled, but I know he hears me, because he caresses my hair. Right now being this close to him is the only thing I need in my life. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know it will be with Tank. That much I’m sure of.
I rub my nose along his neck. The smell of him is calming, his big body is protective and I’ve never felt more loved than I do in this moment. I decide not to hide my emotions from him. I won’t be like my parents where everything is fake and surface. I want him to show me all of him, too.
“Tank.” I lift my head up to gaze into his eyes. “I love you.” He stops walking. His eyes, which looked pissed a few moments ago, soften around the edges. “We never said that to each other growing up.” I lick my suddenly dry lips. I feel more exposed to him than I ever have before. He’s now seen every part of me. Inside and out. Still here he stands, no judgment in his eyes. All he wants is to take care of me. He wants to make sure no one could ever hurt me. I should have known when he walked out of my door he wasn’t leaving to go home. Tank was heading to fix whatever the problem was, and that problem had been my parents. He was ready to take them on for me.
I thought maybe I could make peace with my parents, convince them that everything was fine and get them to leave. I had hope that I could go back to residing in the happy world that I’d been in with Tank. I knew they wouldn’t approve of him, but I never imagined that they would be outwardly rude and dismissive of him. I should have known better. I think what made me so mad was that I did know better. When I saw the way my mom looked at Tank I knew that this could only have one ending. That ending, unfortunately, won’t include my parents. I won’t betray the man who has breathed new life into my world and I most certainly won’t hide him. No, I’d never hide Tank. I want everyone to know I’m as much his as he’s mine. I suddenly understand why Liv is always putting her name on the backs of her boyfriends’ shirts. I want Tank’s name all over me.
“Treasure.” His one word comes out thick and full of so much emotion. He doesn’t have to say it. I know this man loves me. When I look back now it’s almost laughable that I didn’t see it from the very start. He said it in everything he did for me.
“You don’t have to keep trying to make me fall in love with you. I’m already there.” I reach up and touch his face. My finger traces the scar he has there. He leans in to my touch. Some might think this is fast, but I think when you know you know. From the very first moment I saw Tank he’s had all of my attention. Nothing and no one has ever done that to me. At least not in the way that he has.