ROYAL(13)

By: Winter Renshaw



I catch a glimpse of his face in the milliseconds before the door slams. He studies me, his chest rising and falling, and his lips straight, almost sympathetic. A whiff of his cologne floats through the doorway, and I don’t recognize it. It’s unfamiliar, and I’m irrationally pissed at him for it. I bet some ex-girlfriend picked it out.

And she was probably pretty, because guys who look like Royal can have any woman they want. I bet she wears Lululemon yoga pants and her topknots are always perfect, and I bet she holds his hand when he takes her shopping at the mall, and she smiles because she’s accessorizing her perfect little outfit with the kind of man most other women could only ever dream of.

Next time I’m at Neiman’s, I am not walking down the cologne aisle and spritzing my wrist with his old cologne for the hundredth time. Like a crazy person.

He doesn’t look the same, doesn’t smell the same. Despite his obnoxiously effortless good looks, he doesn’t fit the image of the young man I fell in love with as a hopeless teenager. He’s harder. His face wears experience. His eyes are wiser, crinkly at the corners.

Sadder.

Or maybe he’s reacting to how utterly pathetic I look right now, barely able to stand and refusing to brush the hair from my eyes.

“I don’t know you.” I grit my words. “You’re a stranger to me.”

The door slams hard. Harder than I intended. I lock the deadbolt and twist the lock button on the handle before pressing my ear against the wood, waiting. Listening for footsteps crunching in the snow-covered front steps.

Seven years has led to this.

A door in a face.

A thousand times I’d imagined this moment. It was grander. More self-assured. I looked good. He looked awful. I walked away satiated. He stood, tail tucked. There was closure involved. A realization that I was finally over him. In my daydreams, I moved on with my life once and for all, never giving Royal Lockhart a second thought.

I slink down the door and crumble to a defeated pile on the ground, burying my face in my hands.

But I don’t cry. I’m too exhausted.

“Demi.” The voice of a man penetrates the wooden door. He doesn’t even sound the same.

I guess I shouldn’t expect a twenty-six-year-old to sound like a nineteen-year-old, but I wasn’t prepared for that.

“Go. Away.”

“I need to talk to you.”

I huff, throwing my hands in the air to an invisible audience.

“What do you want now? After all this time?” I call out. My hands fall against the front of my thighs.

It kills me that I want to know what he came here for.

Now.

After seven years of radio silence.

He doesn’t deserve a minute of my time, but I deserve answers.

“Let me in,” he says. “You need me right now. Whether you want to or not.”

My eyes roll to the back of my head. He doesn’t know shit about what I need. And how dare he demand I let him in.

“We’re strangers. You don’t know me anymore.” Being mean to him makes me unreasonably happy. I peel myself off the cold floor. “And you sure as hell don’t know a damn thing about what I need.”

“I heard about Brooks.”

I stumble backward two steps then lunge for the door.

How. The. Hell?

Without hesitation, I yank the door open, my left hand flying to my hip. “What, you stalking me these days?”

He shrugs. “Not really. Read about it on the news. Your name was mentioned.”

I slap the fakest grin I can muster across my mouth and smack my hand against the doorway. “Look. I’m honored that you came all the way here from wherever the hell you’ve been hiding to come and save the day, but really, your services aren’t needed. I survived the last seven years without you. I’m sure as hell going to survive the next.”

I want to slam the door in his face again, but I feel like it might lose its effect. Instead I lift my brows, rise on my toes, and glance at the vintage Challenger parked across the street—windows tinted so dark you can’t see through them, all black with two white racing stripes, and desperately in need of a paint job, yet still tragically sexy.

I recognize that car.

You don’t miss something like that in a neighborhood like this. Brooks always commented on it, saying it made our street look trashy. He wanted to call the neighborhood association about it, but I talked him out of it. We always thought it belonged to the college-aged son of the neighbor in the Tuscan McMansion across the street.

“That yours?” I ask.

He turns to glance at the Dodge; the only street-parked car on the block right now, and glances back at me.

“You have been stalking me,” I say.

His hand rakes along a smile he’s trying to hide, as if my accusation humors him. “No. Not stalking . . .”

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