Page 18 of Chaos (Mayhem 3)

When Shawn says nothing else, I finish, “Anyway, they’re all just kind of . . . protective. Overprotective.”

“What would’ve happened if you told them the truth?”

I’m guessing I’d still have Mason as a babysitter to this day, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in a big family, it’s don’t bring shit up unless you want to spend the rest of your life talking about it.

“Who knows?” I answer as the front door of the apartment swings open and Adam carries Rowan in on his back. She’s balancing a pizza box on his head with a slice already hanging from her mouth, and I watch them even though my face is still turned toward Shawn. “I’m used to lying. It’s easier than fighting with them.”

The entire couch stirs when Adam drops Rowan onto the cushion next to me.

“Fighting with who?” she asks.

“My brothers,” I answer while Adam flips open the pizza box and both boys grab a slice. “I was just telling Shawn they can be kind of overprotective.”

Rowan chuckles and finishes swallowing a bite of pizza. “What do they think of you being in a band with these guys?”

She points a thumb at Adam and a pointer finger at Shawn, and I just sit there, eyes stuck open, mouth clamped shut.

Rowan narrows her eyes. “They do know you’re in a band with them, right?”

“Yeah,” I lie to the sweet blonde girl in front of me. “Of course.” I grab a slice of pizza to buy myself some chewing time, but it does nothing to distract Rowan.

“And they’re cool with it?”

Shawn and Adam are both waiting for my response, so I flick another lie off the tip of my tongue. “They know this is a big dream of mine, so they’re super supportive.”

I consider the fact that my pants don’t burst into flames a good sign, and Rowan’s appeased smile is a bonus. She grins at me, Adam spins on the recliner until his legs are dangling over one of the arms, and Shawn just stares at me like he can read my mind.

“That’s cool,” Rowan says, oblivious to my paranoia about Shawn’s potential telepathy. “You should invite them to Mayhem sometime.”

“Yeah,” I reply, not adding the rest of what I’m thinking.

Yeah, and while I’m at it, I should prepare myself to be tossed over Mason’s shoulder kicking and screaming while Bryce restrains my hands to keep me from clawing Mason’s useless ears off. Then Ryan can interrogate the guys about their intentions while Kale starts the getaway car.

“Maybe,” I finish with a saccharine smile.

Rowan’s questions about my brothers keep coming one after another. How old are they? What are their names? What do they do? Were they friends with the guys in the band back in high school? Why not?

“I’m kind of the black sheep of the family,” I divulge, setting my crumb-filled napkin on the table. “The rest of my family is very . . . ”

I’m trying to figure out how to finish that sentence when Adam volunteers, “Football.” He’s completely hanging off of the recliner now, his head smashed on the floor and his legs tangled on the seat. He’s writing upside down in a mini-notebook, with a breadstick balancing like a bridge between his chest and his chin.

I chuckle and agree, “Yeah, they’re very football.”

My brothers aren’t like me, with my blue highlights and nose piercing. They’re not like Adam, with his black fingernails and stacks of bracelets. And they’re not like Shawn, with his quiet genius and vintage clothes.

“So what made you different?” Rowan asks with genuine interest. “Why’d you pick up the guitar?”

My eyes were already on Shawn, and they stick there, remembering the first time I saw him perform, the way he played the strings of my heart with each and every note he struck. I had goose bumps and butterflies, and I’m not sure if they were all for Shawn or all for the guitar or all for both, but my fingers itched to touch those strings, and all of me longed to feel Shawn Scarlett.

“I was a big fan of the band in middle school,” I confess when I finally manage to tear my dark eyes from Shawn’s green ones. “They made me want to play, and the guitar just kind of . . . spoke to me.”

“Oh wow,” Rowan says. “So Shawn inspired you to play?”

“Hey,” Adam protests from the floor. “How do you know it was Shawn?”

“Well, it couldn’t have been Cody. But I guess it could have been Joel . . . ”

“I played back then too,” Adam complains, throwing a chunk of breadstick at Rowan.

She catches it in midair and pops it in her mouth, and I interrupt their flirty teasing by admitting, “It was Shawn . . . I’d never heard anyone play like him.”

“You should’ve said something!” Rowan exclaims, and I manage not to argue that I did say something. I poured my heart out and was rewarded with having it stomped on.

“Yeah.”

“They could’ve gotten rid of Cody so much earlier,” she continues, like she’s a million miles away. Her half-eaten slice of pizza gets discarded in the box, her voice somber when she adds, “Things could have been so different.”

“Maybe,” I agree, wondering how different they could have been if I hadn’t gone to Adam’s party that night.

I still would’ve cried myself to sleep, I always would have wondered what could have been, and I would have lost my virginity to someone who wasn’t Shawn Scarlett . . .

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