“Down the street,” he answers, his eyes traveling around my room. “You like Stephen King?” He picks a book off of a shelf on my wall, turning it over in his hand.
“No, I just like books about teenage girls who go crazy and kill everyone,” I say with a sweet smile.
Joel laughs and sets it back on the shelf, picking up a DVD in its place. “Dirty Dancing? Seriously?”
“Oh,” I croon, “Johnny Castle could wipe the floor with you.”
Joel scoffs and sets it back down; then he moves to my desk and picks up a picture frame, his mouth pulling into a wide smile. “Paintball?”
He turns the frame toward me, and I smile at the picture of Rowan and I at an eighth-grade graduation party. We’re covered in paint, each with an arm draped around the other and a paint gun propped on our hip, looking entirely badass.
“The boys had no idea what they were in for,” I say, and Joel laughs. He continues perusing my room, scanning pictures and books and knickknacks. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I ask, climbing out of bed and propping myself against my windowsill.
Joel sighs and opens my window. He slides one leg into the early morning cold and says, “I wish I could stay.”
When I say nothing back, he finishes sliding the rest of the way out, dropping between the bushes and turning to face me. I bend low, kiss him slowly, and confess, “I do too.”
Something sparks in his deep blue eyes, and his hand threads into my hair and practically pulls me out the window. He crushes my lips against his, and I grip the windowsill to keep from falling out. When he pulls away, he flashes me a white smile, and then he spins around and walks toward the street.
I pull back into my room in a boneless heap, sitting on the floor and touching my lips. A tiny giggle escapes me, followed by a whole fit of them that have me flopping onto my back and smiling up at the pale green stars on my ceiling. I’m still swooning when my doorbell rings and the stars explode into apocalyptic fireworks.
I rush to the doorway of my room, in full view of the front door, and helplessly watch as my dad beats me to it.
“Hi,” I hear Joel’s voice say from the doorstep, “is Dee home?”
My dad, already dressed in khaki pants and a checkered button-down, stares out the door for a second before letting out a little chuckle. “Dee!” he shouts. “The guy who snuck in your room last night is here!”
My dad turns to me and smirks at the way my jaw is hanging on the floor. Then he walks into the kitchen and I rush to the front door.
Joel looks just as stunned as I do. He’s standing on my doorstep—with his bad boy mohawk, his wrinkled day-old shirt, and his tattered jeans—and we’re just staring at each other with wide eyes and no words until my dad shouts, “Are you going to invite him in or are you just going to make him stand out there in the cold?”
I seriously contemplate closing the door and making him stand out in the cold, but instead I grab his hand and yank him inside. My dad appears around the corner a moment later, smirking around a cup of coffee. He takes a sip and asks me, “Are you going to introduce us?”
I cross my arms over my chest, realizing I’m severely underdressed. “Dad, this is Joel,” I say, flicking my fingers in Joel’s direction. My dad’s eyes light up with recognition that makes my stomach fall, and I continue, “Joel, this is my dad.”
“Keith,” my dad says, extending his hand to Joel.
They shake, and afterward, my dad scrunches his nose at his palm.
“Hair gel,” Joel rushes to explain, and I could just die and dissolve into the floor.
My dad chuckles and stares up at Joel’s mohawk. “Right . . . You kids want some breakfast?”
Together? No! Not now, not ever!
“Sure,” Joel says, and he follows my dad into hell’s kitchen.
They eat breakfast together. And lunch. Laughing and sharing stories and becoming best freaking buds. At noon, I’m sitting between them at the dining-room table furiously texting Rowan on my phone.
It’s like they’re BFFs.
Isn’t that good?
ARE YOU BEING SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?
. . . I think I’m confused.
I huff and lay my phone on the table, but my dad and Joel barely seem to notice.
“I got it when I was eighteen,” my dad says, pulling his arm out of his shirt and showing Joel his Celtic armband tattoo.
“Badass,” Joel says, and my dad grins.
Joel stands and lifts up his shirt, showing my dad the script stretching up his side. It says “I am the hero of this story” in delicate, curling letters, and I never put much thought into what it means. Now, I want to know when he got it, why he got it, where he got it. I want to trace my fingertips over the letters and feel his marked skin. “I got this when I was twenty-one,” Joel says, letting my dad read the words before lowering his shirt.
“Nice,” my dad says, and I roll my eyes. “When did you get the guitar one?” he asks.
Joel studies the tattoo on his inner forearm. It’s sepia-toned, of the neck of a guitar hidden beneath torn skin. “I got that one when I was nineteen.”
“So that was your first one?”
“Nah,” Joel answers, showing my dad the tiny music note hidden where his middle finger usually rests against his index finger. “I got this one when I was fifteen. Did it myself.”
“How?” my dad asks.