My shoulders reveal the weakening of my stance as I slink down in my seat. “Everyone cares to a point.”
“They do, but you should only care about the opinions of people who matter to you.”
The injustice placed upon him starts eating at me. Of course, he’s right, but why didn’t I realize that with anyone in the past. I lean over. I could kiss him if this seat belt had more give. “Like you. Your opinion matters to me.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” He grins. At a light, he stretches across the empty space between us and steals a kiss. He didn’t have to steal it, though. I would give him whatever he wants. “Your opinion matters to me, too.”
While I riddle through the changes I’m making in my life, he’s already reached the destination, so sure of who he is. It’s enviable. And attainable, especially with him having my back.
“Good,” I reply, returning to my side of the SUV. With all this honesty, guilt resurfaces. Why’d I ever lie? I should have just told him in the first place and at the very least, when I confessed my virginity. Here I am in the same situation, but this time, he has a right to be mad. “Joshua, I’m . . .”
Turning onto my street, he drives slower, and glances over. “You what?”
“I’m twenty,” I say, ripping the bandage off.
His expression remains steady, and he turns back to pull into a parking spot. After he cuts the engine, his eyes begin to narrow as he stares ahead, seeming to digest the admission. Then his head angles toward me. “I know you are.” His eyes leave me as he looks out the windshield, resting his forearms on the steering wheel. “Why’d you lie?” His voice is deep, his words coming slower.
I hate when I can’t read him. First, his expression and now, his tone. As I stumble through the reasons, none seem legit enough to justify it anymore.
He says, “I’ve taken you to Lucky’s. That’s not bending rules, Chloe. That’s breaking the law, so I’m trying to figure out why you’d let me. You lied about being a virgin and now—”
“I didn’t lie about that. You didn’t ask.”
Wringing the steering wheel, he sends a hard look my way. “Why would I?”
“Exactly. It didn’t cross your mind that I might be.”
He sighs, sitting back. “Look, that is what it is. If I could go back, I might have done things differently armed with the information I have now. For you. But I like our first time, and you seemed to like it too, so I’m not trying to dwell on the act of what we did. But why does it seem like you’re hiding stuff from me? That’s the part I don’t understand.” When his eyes return to mine, he says, “I could have been arrested for giving you alcohol in Lucky’s.”
Wringing my hands, I start to panic, but then seeing his shoulders relax has me easing in response. He says, “I’ve been drinking since I was seventeen, but it bothers me you didn’t tell me important details about you. It makes no sense why you lied about your age.”
“I felt you wouldn’t look at me the same, just like before.”
“The same as?”
I need to remember he’s always taken me as I am, at face value, trusted me, and now empowered me with the opportunity to explain my side of things. “How you’re looking at me now.”
“I know. I’m very familiar with being on the receiving end with my father. I can bear to see it on him. I can’t bear it with you.”
Guilt shadows his eyes, and I feel I’m losing him. His hand rubs my leg, and he leans over with a gentleness taking over his expression. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to be. You did nothing wrong. I’m the one who’s sorry.”
“So, when you said you didn’t have your ID, you meant you didn’t have a fake one, right?” I nod, guilty as charged. He adds, “That makes sense.”
He pops the door and comes around to open mine. “Look, I want you to know that your age doesn’t change anything other than maybe we don’t hang out at Lucky’s until your birthday. There’s plenty to do legally until then.” His eyes flick up to the building beside us. “How about we start over and not lie to each other anymore?”
I get out and lean against the closed door. “I won’t.”
His hand covers the miles of my waist. “The truth is, whether you’re twenty or twenty-one, I love you, Chloe. I’m on your side.”
“I love you, too.” I fist the front of his shirt, pulling him closer.
“With all this love between us . . .” Swept up, I’m tossed over his shoulder, my voice going hoarse from laughter as I reach down to smack his ass.