ROYAL(5)

By: Winter Renshaw



I nod.

“Everyone else took off running, and what’d you do? You went back and smashed its head with a rock.”

I laugh through my nose, my damp eyes blinking.

“That thing didn’t stand a chance when you were done with it,” he adds.

Though it’s been years, the most vivid part of that memory is the fact that Royal chased after me. He let me do what I had to do, and he made sure I wasn’t alone.

“So tell me, former child snake killer,” he says. “You going to get back in there and practice some more? Or am I taking you home now?”

I wipe my drying tears on the back of my hand and stuff my pride down deep.

“Yeah. Fine.” I sigh. He lets me go, and we linger for a moment. “Stop looking at me that way. It’s weird.”

“How was I looking at you?”

“I don’t know. Like . . .” Like you think I’m pretty.

Derek would murder him if he made a move on me.

The sky behind him morphs into a deep shade of stormy blue, and flashes of lightening precede a distant rumble of thunder.

Quick, tiny droplets of water ping against the metal bed of his Chevy, and the rain begins to kiss our faces.

“Get in,” he nods toward the cabin.

I move toward him, making my way to the passenger side, but he stops me with a palm on my shoulder.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You didn’t think you’d get out of driving just ‘cause there’s a little bit of rain, did you?” Royal smirks. “This is how you learn. Get in. You’re driving us home.”

Halfway home, it occurs to me that Royal saved my life today.

Maybe I’ll try to be nicer to him from now on.

Just a little.



***



Demi, Age 17

{two years later}

“Why are you sitting here in the dark?” Royal’s voice startles me at two in the morning on a Saturday.

“I thought you were downstairs with Derek?” I sit up on our living room sofa, and Royal plops down beside me.

“Derek’s passed out,” he said. “And I can’t sleep.”

“You too, huh?”

“I never sleep. Can never get comfortable,” he says. “I’m like fucking Goldilocks or some shit. Each bed is too hard or too soft. Haven’t found the right one yet.”

Would probably help if he’d ever had a bed of his own.

“So what are you going to do?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Came up here to check out the Rosewood fridge. See what kind of leftovers Bliss has all Tupperwared up in there.”

Royal doesn’t move. Apparently, he’d rather sit here with me now than rummage.

“There should be some leftover lasagna,” I say.

“Cool. Bliss makes good food.”

“Yep.”

The living room curtains are pulled wide behind us, and the half moon in the sky provides just enough of a glow that I can make out the outline of his face in the dark. Not only can I tell he’s looking at me, I feel it too.

I squirm and play with a loose thread in the throw pillow in my lap.

“Go out with me, Demi.” His voice is slightly more than a whisper, and his question is a paddle shock to my heart.

“And why would I do that?”

“I’m graduating in May,” he says. “And we’ve never been on a date.”

“You’re like a brother to me. Ew. That’s gross. I would never. And Derek would kill us.”

“Psh. I’ll deal with Derek.” He inches closer. “Don’t act like you’ve never thought about it. I have.”

My body burns from head to toe. I don’t know how he can be so straightforward. Most guys at school are vague. They play mind games, or they’re too chicken to make the first move.

“I can honestly say that I don’t look at you that way.” I clear my throat and look away.

Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’m going to hell. I am so going to hell.

I stare ahead at a family portrait of smiling Rosewoods hanging above the fireplace mantle. I’ve always thought Royal should be included in those. He’s more or less one of us—maybe not by blood, but blood doesn’t always make you a family. He’s been to three-fourths of the Easter dinners at Grandma Rosewood’s house over the last few years, and I’m pretty sure that she likes him more than she likes Derek sometimes. Every time she comes over, she brings his favorite oatmeal raisin cookies, and they sit outside and chat on the front porch rocking chairs like they’ve known each other their whole lives.

Grandma was orphaned by nine and adopted by twelve, so I think that’s why she holds a soft spot for him.

Royal snickers. “Come on, Demi. I don’t believe you for one second.”

I roll my eyes. “Really not interested in becoming a flavor of the week.”

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