Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 20
Will gave her a disgusted look. “Exactly how old are you, Brynn?”
She blushed but stood her ground. “Look, I know it’s immature, I just…I can’t see you after knowing that we…”
She shuddered a little at the intensity of the memory, and saw immediately that he misinterpreted the reaction as disgust.
“All right. If that’s what you want.”
His voice was so dead that she almost panicked. Almost begged him to take her again. But instead she gave a businesslike nod. “Good, then we’re agreed. It doesn’t have to be forever. I just need a little space.”
“Baby, I’m about to give you all the space you need,” he said with a blank expression.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she yelled at his retreating back.
But her only answer was the resounding slam of her front door.
* * *
Brynn barely remembered the drive home, but by the time she made it up to her bedroom with the intent of taking a bath to soothe her rage, she had several missed calls, which she’d ignored.
There were three from her mother, each with an accompanying We still love you, but are you doing drugs? voicemail. There were two missed calls from her sister, which meant Sophie had been updated on big sister’s meltdown and wanted all the gritty details.
There was even a typo-ridden text from her dad saying that his college roommate had gone into psychiatry if she ever needed someone to talk to.
And one missed call from Will. But no voice mail.
It didn’t even occur to her to hit redial. What could possibly be said?
Brynn turned on the hot water in the tub before bracing her hands on the vanity and taking a deep breath as she stared at the mirror. She looked…awful.
Hair that was shorter than it had ever been before and sticking up and curling in weird places. The fact that it had been dyed back to her usual blonde should have been calming, but combined with the layered cut, it was all wrong. It was like old Brynn had collided with the new Brynn, who had in turn tried to go back to old Brynn, only…
She couldn’t go back.
Her eyes had a wild, unhinged look that she didn’t recognize, and her white blouse had pink spots from where she’d gotten blowback from the strawberry grenade she’d tossed at Will.
Her mind kept flitting back to that moment when she realized what he was going to say.
On one hand, she regretted her reaction. She could have just let it go. Given it no more reply than a rolling of the eyes, and let her parents assume it was merely round two thousand eight hundred and ninety-one in the saga that was Will and Brynn hate each other.
But oddly, calm had never once entered her mind.
And given a time machine, she wasn’t sure she could muster up a calm reaction if she got a do-over.
Because in that moment, she hadn’t been feeling calm, or annoyance, or even rage.
She’d been hurt.
Which was stupid, really. She’d known the minute she’d knocked on Will’s door and asked him to have a fling that it was irresponsible. She had known on some level that having your worst enemy accompany you to a tattoo parlor was begging for trouble.
But then in some strange, unexplainable little bubble of time, she’d trusted him. Trusted him to decide what permanent brand she was putting on her body. Trusted him not to tell anyone.
Some detached, obviously moronic part of her had thought it was their thing. A forever marker of their ill-fated but somehow necessary time together.
And he’d thrown it in her face.
Swallowing around a lump in her throat at the ache, she dumped some of her favorite honey-almond bubbles into the steaming water and let it foam enticingly before slowly beginning to disrobe in wooden, mechanical movements.
Her eyes caught on her reflection in the mirror as she shimmied out of her skirt, and she sucked in a breath at the sight of the tattoo. Her fingernails raked over it lightly, wishing she could scratch it right off and be done with it. Be done with its memories. Her fingernails scratched harder. God, what had she been thinking?
“I don’t think it works like that.”
Brynn let out a screech at the unexpected voice as she threw her arms over herself, futilely trying to cover the essential areas. Not that it mattered. Will wasn’t even trying to look at her more interesting parts.
And if Will Thatcher was passing up an opportunity to stare at her boobs, they were really and truly over.
Hot blue eyes gave her a pitying look as she grabbed for a towel and wrapped it around herself. “I don’t know why you bother. It’s nothing I haven’t already seen, and the novelty’s worn off. Not all that impressive to begin with, actually.”
Brynn’s chest heaved in agitation as she debated just how bad a murder charge would be. “Get out.”
She didn’t bother asking how he’d gotten in. He seemed to think that being neighbors was akin to being roommates. Will merely leaned against the doorway, clearly having no intention of going anywhere until they had this out.
She didn’t even know what this was.
“Why’d you do it?” she asked. To her horror, her voice broke as she blinked back big pathetic tears.
Brynn saw his fist clench and unclench as his expression softened for a split second. She thought he might apologize. Maybe even reach for her.
But then his hand clenched into a fist and the shutters went down. “Why’d I do what? Tell Mommy and Daddy their daughter got herself a little ink?”
She swallowed. “That. And you let them think…”
“That we fucked?”
Brynn winced and gave a little huff of dismay. But one look at Will’s angry face told her it was the wrong thing to do.
“What’s wrong, you embarrassed? Embarrassed that you got caught banging someone without a 401(k)? Embarrassed that you did something the country club would frown upon?”
He advanced on her, but Brynn stood her ground. Had no choice, really, unless she wanted to back up into the tub.
“It was supposed to be our secret,” she said, keeping her voice low and calm.
His face contorted in disgust. “And who decided that?”
Brynn blinked. “We did.”
“No, we sure as hell didn’t!” he exploded, throwing his arms in the air.
She stared at him in stunned silence. She didn’t know what was more shocking, the fact that the usual implacable Will was having an outburst, or what the outburst itself suggested.
“What are you talking about?” she said, frowning in confusion. “We decided three years ago after that…mistake…that we wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“Did we really? Because that’s not the way I remember it.”
He didn’t let her finish. “The way I remember it, a woman I’d known forever showed up on my front porch, screwed my brains out, and then promptly swore me to secrecy like I was some sort of humiliating disease.”
Brynn scoffed. “Don’t even try to make it sound like you wanted to go public. You’ve always hated me.”
He didn’t respond, but his eyes were fierce as he moved even closer. This time, instinct did have Brynn stepping back until her heels hit the tub. Her heart began to pound. She’d seen a lot of versions of Will over the years, but never this one.
The man was livid.
And she had no idea why.
“Will, let’s just calm down a sec. Let me put some clothes on and we can discuss this like rational adults.”
He let out a harsh laugh. “Do you even hear yourself? A guy is standing here trying to tell you something and all you want to do is be rational.”
Brynn licked her dry lips, all instincts on high alert. “Fine. What do you want to tell me?”
His eyes roamed over her hair, his chin resting against his chest briefly in defeat before he raised his head again. “Just forget it.”
Before she realized what she was doing, she reached out a pleading hand. “Wait, I want to know—”<
He backed out of her reach. “No, you don’t, Brynn. You really don’t. If you did, you would have shown some sort of reaction when I showed up with another woman at your family’s house tonight.”
“Well, I certainly showed emotion when you sold me out to my parents!”
His hands found her shoulders and gave her a little shake. “And what was it you were feeling, Brynn? Anger? Embarrassment?’
She took a breath. Then another. And then said it. “It hurt.”
His lips twisted slightly. “It was supposed to.”
She shouldn’t be surprised, but it still felt like a slap in the face.
“Why?” she asked in a small voice.
He ignored her question. “What exactly are you so scared of, Brynn? That all your friends will turn their backs on you because you didn’t marry a doctor? My God, do you really think a friend would even care?”
“No,” she said in a small voice.
“Then why? Why don’t I even get a chance?”
“Because guys like you aren’t interested in girls like me!” she exploded. “Not for keeps, anyway!”
His jaw dropped slightly. “What the hell are you even talking about? What do you mean guys like me?”
She rolled her shoulders restlessly. “You know. Popular guys. And then the not-so-popular girls.”
Will stared at her for several seconds. “Hold up. Did we just take a time machine to high school? God, is that why you always date boring nerds? Because they won’t reject you?”
A time machine to before high school, actually, she thought. But she’d already said way more than she’d wanted to. “Can you please just…leave?” she asked weakly.
“Not until you explain. Are you pushing me away because you’re holding on to some shitty memories of when you were a little chubby and awkward?”
She sucked in a small breath. “You don’t know anything about it.”
“Damn straight! Because you never told me.”
“Because it’s painful,” she said. She waited to feel righteous. Waited to feel justified in her confession. Instead, she felt…small. And a little pathetic.
“Look, Brynn…don’t let a few ancient insecurities ruin this.”
“There’s nothing to ruin.”
“Bullshit,” he said plainly.
Her hair was sticking to her neck and it was getting increasingly harder to breathe. Why the hell was he pushing this? She needed him out. She needed space. She needed…
“We’re not right for each other,” she said, tightening the towel around her and forcing herself to take deep, even breaths.
“Because you’re all charming and easygoing, and everyone loves you just by looking at you, and you’re going to wake up one day and realize that you don’t want me.”
Will threw his hands up in the air. “Dammit, Brynn! You’re not Dumpy Dalton anymore!”
A gasp ripped out of her at his words. Words she hadn’t heard in…
“Where’d you hear that name?” she whispered.
He took a deep breath. “Sophie.”
She would kill her sister.
“Well, then she also probably told you about how I…”
“Yeah, yeah, how you were unpopular, and probably a little weird and you had bad skin, bad teeth, a limp, whatever.”
“But, Brynn…you’ve got to get over it.”
Hot anger rushed over it. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare tell me how I’m supposed to feel. You don’t know what it was like.”
His face softened slightly. “You’re right, I don’t. And I hate that kids were mean to you. Hate that I was mean to you, even though all I ever wanted was for you to look at me. Bullying is real, and it’s vicious, and I wish like hell that I could go back and beat up anyone who ever made you cry, my past self included. But it was what, fifteen years ago? You’ve got to stop letting it ruin your adult life.”
It was as though his words ripped through her very soul, reaching for its most damaged nerve and searing it.
And in that moment, she really, truly hated him.
Hated even more that there was truth in his statement. Truth she wasn’t ready to deal with.
“Get out,” she said, after several tense moments passed between them.
He closed his eyes briefly. “If I walk out that door, I won’t be coming back, Brynn. Ever.”
Her stomach lurched. Ever? “But…”
He met her eyes. “I can’t do this anymore. You’re killing me from the inside out. You’ll be able to walk away with a tiny little battle wound. But me? I’ll be…”
Will didn’t finish the sentence, but her heart began to pound anyway. “What are you talking about? You can’t do what anymore?”
His face crumpled slightly as he reached out a finger toward her cheek. “Brynny. Do you have any idea what I felt when you showed up on my front porch that night three years ago?”
She tried for a smile to lighten the mood. “Horny?”
He didn’t smile back. “I felt like my entire life was finally about to start.”
Brynn literally felt her heart skip a beat.
“But it was just sex,” she whispered.
He didn’t respond.
“Wasn’t it?” she asked, her voice cracking.
He continued as though he hadn’t heard her. “I waited so long for you to come to me. I was on top of the world. And not even a week later, I find you on a date with some other guy.”
Her mind reeled, remembering. “You came over to return something my mom asked you to drop off, not to see me. And if I remember correctly, you were a total dick. Two days later, you were gone.”
His jaw tightened. “Did you care that I moved?”
Yes, I cared.
“I just thought you might have mentioned something that big, even to me,” she said softly.
“I didn’t mention it because I didn’t know I wasn’t going to move until I got on the plane.”
Brynn shook her head. “What do you mean you didn’t know? You moved across the country; you must have had some idea.”
“That’s ridiculous. Who changes three time zones without a plan?”
He gave the smallest of smiles. “You and your plans.”
She took a deep breath. “So you moved because we slept together?”
Will went very still, his eyes dark and pleading. “I moved because I couldn’t stand the thought of watching you with other guys. Not after we’d been together. I moved because I didn’t want to be your dirty little secret, Brynn. I still don’t.”
Brynn froze. “You mean…you want…”
“Yeah,” he said with a harsh laugh. “I want. I want to hold your hand, and take you to the movies, and be with you when we go to your parents for dinner, and I want you to call me when you have a flat tire.”
“I did call you when I had a flat tire.” It felt like the safest thing to say at the moment.
“You think that wasn’t planned?”
She snorted. “How could you plan a flat tire?”
He just looked at her and her jaw dropped.
“You gave me a flat tire?”
Will didn’t bother looking the slightest bit guilty. “I would have done anything to get you to notice me.”
Her world tilted slightly at the implications of that. “Notice you how?”
She did know. But still her brain rejected it. “You…That’s why you moved next door? That’s the game you were playing?”
“It was never a game, Princess. Not to me.”
“So you…you’ve wanted us…me…you…to be like, a thing?”
He gave a curt nod.
Brynn’s fingers dropped again to the mark on her hip. “One step closer to what, Will? What does it mean?”
His hands were on her shoulders again, only this time he pressed he
Brynn’s vision went fuzzy and her mouth went dry. “All these years…?”
He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them again, the emotion was so raw that she almost gasped.
She put a hand up to stop him. “Will.”
He grasped her fingers, refusing to be silenced. “I’ve loved you every day. Every single Goddamn day since you first flicked your hair at me on the football field in that tiny cheerleading skirt.”
Brynn’s entire body trembled even as her brain shied away from his words.
Will Thatcher loved her.
She had never felt so lost. She had no idea what to say. Had no idea how to make this go away, or how to fix it.
She opened her mouth to say something. Anything. But her brain couldn’t put the pieces together. Couldn’t reconcile that the Will who’d always hated her had never hated her at all.
And that the Will she hated could be…
No. They’d spent their entire lives making each other miserable, and he wanted to push that all aside for something that could never work?
She was ice and order and calm. He was fire and instinct and chaos.
He would hurt her. And she’d already hurt him.
There was nothing for her to say.
Brynn forced herself to watch his eyes. Forced herself to recognize the exact second that he gave up.
The moment he realized that she wasn’t going to be saying it back.
All the fire and heat dropped from his gaze as he gently let her drop down to her feet. His hands fell away from her, arms falling loosely to his sides.
Brynn felt the loss of contact acutely. She wanted it back.
“Will, can’t we just…I need time.”
He gave a quick shake of his head, before planting a tender kiss on her forehead. “You’ve had plenty of time, Brynn.”
A sob hiccuped in her throat as she felt the meaning behind that kiss. She knew what that kiss meant. Knew Will well enough to understand what he wasn’t telling her.
LAUREN LAYNE SERIES:
Other author's books:
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