“He is,” Kale challenges with feigned indifference. “You should go talk to him.”
I give my twin a look, he gives me one back, and I say, “Don’t you ever want a boyfriend?”
“You do realize Bryce is still hanging around here somewhere, right?”
I scoff. “So?”
Kale gives me a look that says it all, and I try not to let him see how much his refusal bothers me. It’s not that I don’t love being the one who keeps his secrets—it’s just that I hate that this is one he feels needs to be kept.
“So if Shawn isn’t the hottest one,” I say to change the subject, “who is?”
“Are you blind?” Kale asks while pushing his face close to mine to inspect the black around my pupils. I use my free hand to push his forehead away.
“They’re all pretty cute.”
A girl nearby screams bloody murder as the boy in board shorts picks her up and jumps in the pool. Kale watches them and sighs.
“So which one?” I ask again to distract him.
I chuckle. “You’re only saying that because Adam is a man-whore. He’s the only one you could probably convince to switch teams.”
“Maybe,” Kale says with a tinge of sadness in his voice, and I frown before taking his cup to the keg to refill it. I’m squeezing the tap when he elbows me in the arm.
I look up to see Shawn Scarlett and Adam Everest—walking toward the keg, toward me.
There are two ways this can go. I can pretend to be confident, offer to pour their beers for them, smile and start a normal conversation so I can say what I need to say, or—nope! I drop the tap, nearly twist my ankles in a supersonic twirl, and bite my lip all the way to a secluded spot that doesn’t feel nearly secluded enough.
“What the hell was that?” Kale asks breathlessly from behind me.
“I think I’m having an allergic reaction.” My palms are sweating, my throat is closing, my heart is pounding a mile a minute.
Kale laughs and pushes me. I’m stumbling forward when he says, “I did not come all this way to watch you turn into some kind of girl.”
With my lip pinned between my teeth again, I glance back toward the direction we came and see Shawn and Adam, beers in hand, slip inside the house through the patio door.
“What am I supposed to say?” I ask.
“Whatever you need to.”
Kale circles behind me and nudges me toward the door again, and I continue walking forward in a daze, my feet eating the long distance step by step by step. I don’t even realize that my twin hasn’t followed me until I turn around and see he’s not there. My Solo cup is empty, but I cling to it like it’s a security blanket, avoiding eye contact with everyone around me and pretending I know where I’m going. I navigate a narrow path through a few familiar faces from school, but not many seem to recognize me, and the ones that do just kind of raise an eyebrow before going back to ignoring me.
Everyone from school knows my older brothers. Everyone. Bryce was on the football team before he decided getting into trouble was more important than a scholarship. Mason, two years older than Bryce, is infamous for breaking the school’s record for number of suspensions. And Ryan, a year and a half older than Mason, was a record-shattering track star back in his day and remains a legend. All of them straddle this weird line between treating me like one of the guys and acting like I’m coated in porcelain.
I find myself looking for Bryce, desperate for a familiar face, when I spot Shawn instead. He’s sitting in the middle of the couch in the living room, Joel Gibbon on one side and some chick I instantly hate on the other. I’m frozen in place when some idiot slams into me from behind.
“Hey!” I shout over the music, whirling around as the jerk leans on me to steady himself.
“Shit! I’m—” Bryce’s eyes lock with mine, and he starts laughing, wrapping his hands around my shoulders to steady himself in earnest now. “Kit! I forgot you were here!” He beams like a happy lush, and I scowl at him. “Where’s Kale?”
“By the keg out back,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest instead of helping my drunk-ass older brother stay on his feet.
His brows turn in with confusion as he finally finds his balance. “What’re you doing in here by yourself?”
“Needed to pee,” I lie with practiced ease.
“Oh, want me to take you to the bathroom?”
I’m about to chew him out for treating me like a baby, when one of his on-again, off-again girlfriends sidles up next to him and asks him to get her a beer.
“I think I can find my way to the bathroom, Bryce,” I scoff, and he studies me through a glassed-over gaze before agreeing.
“Okay.” He eyes me some more and then unties the oversized flannel from around my waist and manhandles my arms into it. He pulls it closed over my chest and nods to himself like he’s just safeguarded national security. “Okay, don’t get into trouble, Kit.”
I roll my eyes and take my flannel back off as soon as he walks away, but then I regret dismissing him so quickly when I find myself standing alone in a crowded room. I root myself to a spot by a massive gas fireplace and pretend to drink an empty beer while trying not to look awkward, which is probably useless considering I’m spying on Shawn from afar like a freaking creeper.
What the hell was I thinking coming here tonight? He’s surrounded. He’s always surrounded. He’s amazing and popular and way out of my league. The blonde sitting beside him looks like she was born to be a cutout advertisement propped in front of Abercrombie & Fitch. She’s hot and girly and probably smells like fucking daffodils and . . . is standing up to leave.