We walked fast. My chest was tightening but he kept on going.

“You can’t keep him this wound up. So fucking what? Some slut kissed him on a stage. That’s bound to happen to any guy who leaves his house. It happens to me every other day, and I’m me. Fucking Lochlan’s seen his dad give up his whole life for his wife. He took early retirement from his job—he had a cool job. He was an air-traffic controller. How cool is that? Al was a badass dude before his wife got sick. Now he’s a fucking housewife and a caretaker, and Loch has seen that for a lot of years. To him love means sacrifice. Our parents aren’t like these people. Neither was willing to bend, so they quit. We’re quitters and Loch’s people are the type that hang in there till the last bitter drop of blood is squeezed. He is never going to cheat on you. He’s had opportunity like a mother fucker. I’m not kidding. He gets chicks begging him to suck hi…”

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“STOP!” I stopped walking and shook my head, “I get it.”

He released me and pointed, “You’re doing it now. You can’t control every aspect of his work life. You have to let him out of the yard and off the leash. He needs to not worry about getting dumped, every time you don’t like a girl giving him her number. He never takes the offers up and he never even checks out the girls. The minute he can stop being center stage Lochlan, he does. For fuck’s sake. Either be with him, the way he is or let him go. And get some self-esteem. What the fuck is that? It’s so annoying to see a pretty girl see herself as not worthy. You know what it makes us guys think, you aren’t worthy. We see you, how you see you. You’re pretty and funny and smart. Stop being such a douche-canoe.”

I looked at my brother, shaking and ready to slap him hard. Instead, I nodded, “We need to catch the plane.”

He laughed, “Picking up bad habits from Lochlan, little sister.” The difference was, I heard every God-damned word.

We boarded our plane and I had to think about everything he’d said. It took over for me in the fear department. It consumed me. I was the evil bitch from the alley.

Danny was right. When had he gotten so smart? I thought about the childhoods we’d had. Everything about mine had been easy. Every minute was given to me. Even my older brother stopped me from ever being picked on. The one stalker boyfriend seemed like nothing, compared to the things Lochlan had faced.

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I hated myself more and more with every mile we flew. We landed and I sprinted for the entrance. He was standing alone with sunglasses and a hoodie on. I would have known him, even with the hood pulled up. I ran across the wide space and leapt into his arms. He held me tight to him. Lochlan took deep breaths of my neck.

Danny dragged us out, Lochlan carrying me and all. I looked up and sobbed, “I’m so sorry I made her stressed.”

He shook his head, “Just don’t leave me. Please, stop doing that.”

I shook my head, “I won’t leave. And you can plate my food. It’s weird but I see why you do it.”

A tear rolled down his cheek, “She’s doing really well. Dad has her at the house again.”

I frowned, “So soon?”

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He nodded, “She might not say much, but what she does communicate is not missed. She’s never going to forgive me and she wanted her own bed.”

I kissed his lips softly, “I’m sorry, baby.”

“I’m more sorry.”

We got into the truck that had been in the driveway. Lochlan drove like a nut. We didn’t talk.

When we got to the house, I was fading fast. I was beat but I wanted to see Judith desperately. Gerry opened the door as we arrived. I kissed his cheek, walking past him to the living room. She wasn’t there. I turned and walked out, ignoring Mike, Lissie and Alex. I opened the door at the end of the hall, knocking lightly as I did it. Al beamed when he saw me. I shushed him, trying not to cry, “I’m so sorry for the drama I brought into your home.”

He pulled me back, “No. Our son is the one…”

I put my finger to his lips, “He has never been anything but a good boyfriend. He’s never given me a reason to doubt him.” I shrugged and stole my brother’s line, “I come from quitters. They’re not like you people. My parents don’t support each other the way you do. They would never understand your marriage. Or your compassion. They’re selfish people. I’m selfish and self-absorbed. I see the light inside of Loch and I know how big it is. I don’t think I’m big enough to be a part of it. It’s me not deserving him, not him straying on me. He would never and I know it. But I see the darkness in him and I assume the worst. Even though, he has never done anything but love me and protect me from it all. It’s a flawed version of love because it’s unique to him. But everyone has the same circumstances. We all love something or someone according to our ability to love. Loch is crazy and passionate and weird and intense and giving and funny. His love reflects all those things. He gets those amazing qualities from you both. I am sorry for whatever problems I have caused.”

He hugged me, “Thank you. You caused no problems, but thank you for seeing him. Seeing the light and the dark.”

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I pulled from his arms and knelt at her bed, She was sobbing silently. She made a noise. I gripped her hand, “I am truly sorry.”

She blinked out of control.

“She wants to tell you something.”

I looked at Al, “How?”

He grabbed a pen and paper, wiping a rogue tear from his face, “Okay, baby.”

She looked at him and started a series of blinks. I didn’t understand anything, but assumed he was counting blinks and putting down the letters that matched the number of blinks.

It went on for a couple minutes. He read it and smiled, “She said, be his shelter from the storm, whether it’s inside or out.”

She gave me a peaceful look, and I knew she was giving him to me. He would be mine to protect and keep safe. We would learn to love each other like his parents; I could learn how. I gripped her hands and fought my sobs, “I will. I’ll always keep him safe in my heart.” I kissed her hand and rose, “Get some rest.”

She blinked twice.

“That means yes.”

I nodded, “I assumed. Goodnight and happy Thanksgiving from the other day.”

Al nodded, “We’re thankful for you.”

I shook my head, “Not as thankful as I am for you.” I hardly knew them and yet I’d never felt more welcomed and loved.

I walked out of the room. He was standing in the hall looking dark. I stood on my tiptoes and brushed my lips against his, “Your turn.”

He looked down and walked in. I walked into his room, not going into the living room. I was humiliated and sickened by my actions. I wanted a time machine to go back and change it all.

Gerry walked into the room with a huge sandwich.

He handed it to me, “You okay?”

I shook my head, “I’m a petty asshole.”

He tilted his head, “Girl, if I saw Dean do that on TV, I would burn the fucking production set to the ground. You’re not petty, you’re insecure because women of the world wanna dry hump your man.”

I sighed, “Isn’t there a saying about the brighter the star the hotter the fire?”

He laughed, “Yeah, something like that. You feeling scorched?”

I laughed, “No, just the heat maybe.” Danny came in the room, “Hey. You okay?”

“Ya.”

“How’s Judith?”

I nodded, “She’s good.”

He took half of my turkey sandwich and ate a big bite. “You know we should have just gone to Mom and Dad’s this weekend. They wouldn’t have even noticed the drama.”

I smiled, “I’m glad we came here. I feel sick about Judith getting stressed and having a stroke, but I’m glad I met them and I see it all now.”

Danny shook his head, “I feel sick too. I’m glad I phoned Mikayla though. She was bawling and apologizing. It was awesome.”

Gerry gave him a look, “You did?”

Danny nodded and chewed. Gerry was about to say something, but Lochlan came in. He looked at us all with a confused stare. I smiled at him. He walked over and took my half sandwich that was left. He took a huge bite and sat back. We sat in silence. It wasn’t awkward, it was exhaustion. We were tired of our petty selves.

Chapter Seventeen

I want my MTV

I curled into him, sucking the warmth from him. He wrapped a huge arm around me, pulling me in, “Princess, you awake?”

I nodded, “Sort of.”

“I love you.”

I turned around to face him, “Loch, I don’t how it happened so fast, and I don’t why it’s taken me something like this to say it, but I want to.”

He kissed my nose and then my cheek. I whispered into his scruffy face, “I love you.”

He pulled back, “You do?”

I nodded, “More than I can explain or understand. It goes against every natural and reasonable thing I believe, but I do. In three and a half months you have won me, body and soul.”

He smiled, the sexy one that made me inhale funny, “Marry me.”

I laughed, “I can’t.”

He pulled back, “You love me and I love you. Why not?”

I laughed, “Because, we’ve known each other for three and a half months. That’s crazy.”

His eyes sparkled, “I’m crazy, crazy about you and sort of crazy on my own.”

I nodded, “Yeah, you are. Tell me what happened on that show.”

His eyes narrowed, “Me, Andrew, Mikayla, and Ben were the final four. Ben found out Andrew was gay. Andrew was in first place, as far as stats went. Being gay would hurt his chances of winning. It would also hurt his chances of being a successful pop star. You have to be like George Michael and build the fans and then come out, maybe not in a public washroom though.”

I snickered but his face stayed dark.

“Ben came to me, not knowing my identical twin was gay, and told me of his plan. I was tied for second place with Ben, not giving a shit about the show. I just wanted it to end. I hated it. It wasn’t art, it was drama. Anyway I told him no, I wouldn’t help him, and if I found out anyone heard Andrew was gay, I would kick his head in.” It was starting to make sense.

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