ROYAL(6)

By: Winter Renshaw



He licks his lips as they spread wide. “That’s cute that you pay attention to my social life.”

Kind of hard not to notice when he’s strutting down the hall like a peacock with a flock of spray-tanned cheerleaders hanging off his baseball pitcher arms.

“One date,” he says. “Per week. For two months.”

My face scrunches. “What? No. That’s dumb.”

“Just trying to prove that you wouldn’t be a flavor of the week.”

My eyes roll, and I fight my smile like my life depends on it.

“Fine. One date,” he says. “Per week. Until you decide you’re sick of me.”

“Which would probably be after the first date, if I’m being honest,” I lie again. Pretty sure the devil’s reserving a special spot in his fiery furnace with DEMI ROSEWOOD etched across it in flashing neon lights. “So it’s pretty pointless to even entertain anything involving you and me.”

“I don’t think it’s pointless at all,” he says. I glance at him. He’s not smiling or teasing, for once. “I’m seriously asking you out on a date, Demi.”

I exhale and slink back against the sofa, twirling a dark strand of hair between my fingers over and over, the smooth, soft strands distracting me from this moment.

We sit in silence for a minute or two. Once again, Royal has the patience of a saint that runs perfectly perpendicular to his lips made for sin.

“Derek’s going to feed your balls to the dog. You know that, right?” I lift my brows and purse my lips to keep from smirking.

“Nah. Derek’s cool. He’ll get over it.”

“Not if you hurt me, he won’t.”

“If anyone’s going to get hurt here, it’s going to be me.”

I scoff. “Why’s that?”

“’Cause I’ve waited years for a date with Demi Rosewood. Pretty sure it’s going to be epic. Pretty sure I’m never going to want to let you go.”

“Stop being weird. I don’t like it. Go back to being . . . you.”

I yawn and rise, tossing the throw pillow back on the seat behind me. Reaching over, I ruffle my fingers through his messy chocolate hair. If I treat him like a puppy, maybe I can ignore the fact that my heart’s beating a hundred miles per hour and my lips are tingling at the thought of touching his.

“I’m going to bed,” I say in a too-cool-to-care tone.

Royal captures my wrist and pulls my fingers from his mane, rising slowly. Our eyes catch in the dark, and I wonder if he can hear how hard my heart is beating now that we’re standing so close.

“Friday night,” he says. “I’ll pick you up at seven. We can go into the city. Do anything you want to do.”

“I don’t want things to be different between us,” I say, “if we go on this date.”

“You know what I’ve noticed about you?” he asks.

“What?”

“You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter what, you’re always expecting the worse. Always on edge. Always waiting for something bad to happen.” He cups my face in his hands and tilts his head, studying me. “Everything’s always going to work out. And I can say that, ‘cause I’ve been through some shit, and I’m barely eighteen. You have a beautiful life, Demi. Perfect friends, perfect family, perfect house. Bad shit doesn’t happen to people like you.”

“Bad things can happen to anyone.” I fold my arms. “And I am thankful for everything I have, just so you know.”

He shakes his head, biting the inside of his lip. “Saying that doesn’t make it true.”

My lips button. I can’t tell him that my entire life, I’ve had this weighted feeling in the pit of my stomach that the second I reach my pinnacle of happiness, it’s all going to be swept away without any kind of warning.

I’ve never told anyone that. It makes me sound crazy. They’ll chalk it up to anxiety. Mom will ask me to see a shrink. I don’t need talk therapy. It’s just a feeling I’ve always had. Like I was born with it. It’s always been there, like an invisible cloud of darkness lurking over my shoulder.

“Whatever, Royal.” I move away from him and eye the stairs. “I’m going upstairs now. Don’t forget to ask my dad if you can take me on a date. He’s old-fashioned like that.”

“Done.”

I stop, turning back toward him. “Excuse me? When?”

“Don’t worry about it. But Robert’s cool with it. Laid down some rules, but we’re good.”

“What did he say?” My curiosity is alive and well. Growing up, Dad always said we couldn’t wear makeup, swear, or date until we were out of the house. I’m sure he was exaggerating, but I can’t imagine that he gave Royal his blessing without making it into a big thing.

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