Kyle spoke before I could even think to answer her. “My dad has lenses—he doesn’t like wearing glasses.”
“My lenses made my eyes look different,” I told him. “Scary, even.”
He leaned closer, fascinated. “Like actors wear in horror movies?”
“Exactly like that.”
Sarah elbowed me gently. “You wore them well.”
I grinned. “I do miss the lizard ones.”
Sarah chuckled, her expression nostalgic. “They creeped out Mrs. Bannon so bad.”
“Didn’t the school principal ask you not to wear them?” Emma scooped more mashed potato onto her plate. “My school was super strict—we couldn’t even wear pretty hair ties.”
I sipped my water. “She did ask me not to, but she didn’t make a fuss when I ignored her.”
“She liked you,” said Sarah. “Especially since you argued with the nun that was rude to all the teachers.”
Blake turned to me, brow creased, eyes gleaming with amusement. “You argued with a nun?”
“Not on purpose.” It really hadn’t been my fault.
“She asked Kensey in what ways the bible ‘spoke’ to her,” Sarah explained. “Kensey said she didn’t want to answer because it would offend her, but Sister Margaret promised she wouldn’t be upset.”
“But she got upset?” Adam prodded.
Cutting into my chicken, I said, “I told her I believed in God but that I didn’t take the bible too literally, because I thought a lot of it could have been lost in translation or might even be metaphorical.” I shrugged. “She told me she’d pray for my doomed soul. That was nice of her.”
“I heard you got into a lot of fights at school, Kensey,” Tara said ever so casually.
I ground my teeth, reminding myself that the bitch wasn’t worth my time or attention.
“How’s your apartment-hunt going, Kenz?” Sarah asked, as if Tara hadn’t spoken. And I understood that she’d raised the subject because it was a fast way to piss Tara off and hopefully shut her butt down.
It was Blake who answered, hand rubbing my thigh beneath the table. “That’s over.”
Tara perked up. “You found a place, Kensey? That’s great news.”
Blake looked at her. “Kensey’s staying with me.”
Tara’s grip on her fork flexed. “Permanently?”
At his nod, Emma’s face lit up. “Good. I hated the thought of you all alone up there in that big apartment, Blake. Plus, Kensey makes much better coffee than you—this is good for your visitors, like me.”
“Never thought I’d ever hear that you were living with someone,” Gage said to me. “It’s good that you’re out of that shithole, sweetness.”
“Careful,” Blake said to him, voice low but threatening. “Be very, very careful.”
Gage raised his hands in an apologetic gesture. “Old habits die hard.”
Adam cleared his throat. “Maybe we could talk about something other than Kensey so she doesn’t develop a complex. Like how awesome I am. That’s always a fun subject.”
And just like that, the tension was broken.
Tara didn’t speak to me throughout the rest of the meal, which meant I got to enjoy my dessert in peace. Afterward, we all filed out onto the patio and seated ourselves on the rattan furniture. Blake sank into a chair and pulled me onto his lap.
There was talking and laughing and sharing funny stories. I didn’t once look at Tara, so I wasn’t sure if she was paying me and Blake any attention or not. But when I was returning from using the downstairs restroom, she was waiting for me in the hall, eyes diamond hard.
I sighed. “You really want to do this here, on Adam’s birthday?”
“Blake said he told you about Liza Montgomery.”
Apparently, she did want to do it here. “Just when I thought my opinion of you couldn’t get any lower…”
“He had no right to—”
“You don’t want a fourth musketeer. I get it. I don’t plan to push my way into this. It’s not my war. I couldn’t possibly be as emotionally invested in it as you, Blake, and Bastien are, so it would be nothing but intrusive of me to insist on being part of it. I understand that it must be uncomfortable for you that a perfect stranger knows all about it. But the bitch has pulled me into this, Tara. Don’t you think I have the right to know exactly what I’m dealing with?”
She sneered. “I’ll bet he hasn’t told you about B3.”
“No, he didn’t tell me. He showed me.” That made the sneer slip from her face. “I know everything, Tara. He trusted me with it. And I didn’t walk away. What does all that tell you?”
Mouth a thin slash, she glared at me, chest heaving.
“It should tell you that the moves you’ve made and the games you’d played so far were a waste of your time. It should tell you that it was a mistake to hold out for something that surely your gut told you that you’d never have. It should definitely tell you that it’s time to move on.”
She stepped toward me, arms straight at her sides with her hands balled into fists. “What did you do, give him an ultimatum? Tell him you’d walk away if he didn’t share it all? Nothing else would have made him lay it all out for you. If he didn’t open up to you until forced into a corner, what does that tell you?”
Tired of this, I asked, “Can’t it be enough for you that he’s happy?”
She snorted. “Blake will never be happy. He doesn’t want to be. He won’t let go of the guilt that eats at him because he likes to feel the sting of it.”
No, he felt he deserved to feel it—that wasn’t the same thing. And I wondered if, even on a subconscious level, Blake preferred to embrace the guilt than be overwhelmed by the rage.
“If you think differently, you don’t know him at all,” Tara added. “I know him inside out.”
“No, Tara, you don’t. You know the parts of him that he chooses to let you see.” I’d bet she’d never believe there were times when he’d tickled me until I couldn’t breathe, tossed me in the ocean with a wicked grin, or chased me around his apartment for shoving an ice cube down his shirt. The first time I’d met him, I’d branded him too serious. But he had a playful side; he just didn’t expose it often.
Really, I had the feeling that this was about more than her wanting Blake. Maybe watching Blake and Bastien enter into relationships and spend less time with her brought back the feelings of abandonment she must have felt when Levi killed himself. Or maybe she worried that by taking such big steps in their lives, Blake and Bastien were moving forward and wouldn’t find the project so important anymore. Maybe it was both.
I felt a little sorry for her. I knew what it was like to be abandoned. Neither my maternal nor my paternal family had ever wanted anything to do with me. The only blood relative I’d ever had in my life was my mother. Being cast aside and dismissed that way wasn’t a pleasant feeling. Just as I’d made the Armstrongs my family, Tara had made Blake and Bastien her family. She’d grown to want more from Blake, but if she’d truly thought she had a chance with him she’d have made a move by now.
“Have you ever asked yourself if the reason you cling to the idea of having Blake—something you know won’t happen—is that you don’t want to be happy, Tara? Or maybe you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy. Maybe you’d feel guilty to have the things in life that Levi will never have. Is that because you think you should have known what he’d do?”