ROYAL(86)By: Winter Renshaw
My father is rarely wrong about anything; he’ll be the first to point that out. Which means he rarely apologizes.
“Royal.” Dad extends his hand once more, and Royal meets it. “We’ve missed you around here, and I’m extremely pleased to find that your accuser is retracting her statement. Please accept my apologies for doubting you. I hope you understand that it was nothing personal.”
It’s a formal apology, and my father is completely stoic and almost red-faced, but the fact that he’s admitting he’s wrong makes this a moment for the Rosewood history books.
“Sir, you were just doing what you felt you had to do to protect your daughter,” Royal says. “I respect that, and I would have done the same had I been in your shoes.”
God, I bet it kills him to say that, but his words hold a genuine quality that can’t be faked.
Their hands release, and Dad gives him a nod. They linger, eyes locked in a mutual show of respect until Mom intervenes with a bear hug for Royal.
“My goodness,” she says when she finishes. Her hands rest on his face, and she peers into his eyes like she’s attempting to peek into his soul. “You’re so grown. You’re not a little boy anymore.”
“No, ma’am,” he says.
She wraps her arms around him harder, breathing him in, and her lips arch into a warm smile. This moment is just as healing for her as it is for him.
“I’ve missed your cooking,” Royal says with a tease in his voice.
Mom laughs, peeling herself from him but holding on to his muscled arms. “Stay for lunch? I’ll make whatever you want.”
Royal places his hand across his heart. “I’d love to, Bliss, but I have to work today.”
“Why don’t you come for Sunday supper?” she asks. “I’ll invite Derek. You can meet our granddaughter, Haven.”
Royal looks at me, and I nod.
“I’d love that,” he says. “I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Hey, asshole.” Pandora’s the first to greet me when I arrive to work Friday morning. Yesterday I was “douche lord.” The day before that I was “asshat.” Monday I was a “fucking prick.”
I ignore her like I’ve done all week, punching in and heading outside to pull in a rear-ended Audi on today’s schedule.
For the next several hours, Pandora shoots death looks my way from behind the glass window that separates the front desk from the shop, and I avoid going near the lobby at all costs.
I have to get out of here.
I have to get away from that crazy bitch.
When lunch rolls around, I exit a rear door and walk clear around the building just so I don’t have to walk past her, only as soon as I come around the corner, I find her sitting on my hood.
“You just going to ignore me all day, Royal?” She crosses her legs, leans back, and smears handprints along my racing stripes. There’s red lipstick on her teeth, and her hair is pulled back so tightly that the corners of her eyes are pulled back.
“Get off my car.”
Pandora laughs and slides down. “Yes, sir. Whatever you say.”
She drags a finger down the buttons of my work shirt and circles behind me as I slip the key into the driver’s door.
“This thing looks good, by the way,” she says. “Never had a chance to tell you that.”
I climb in and start her up, but I’m met with resistance when I attempt to pull the door closed.
“Let go, Pandora,” I growl.
“Are you still mad about last week?” Her lips wiggle into a closed-mouth smirk. “God, get over it.”
“You’re asking if I’m mad that you told my girlfriend that I was a sex offender?” My view of her narrows as my eyes squint into the noonday sun. “Are you that fucking mental, Pandora?”
“I assumed she knew.” The innocence in her tone mocks my question. “I mean, don’t you have to tell people that before you fuck ‘em?”
Legally. Yeah. Which is how Pandora knew. But it was different with Demi. I needed her to hear me out. To not completely hate me before I dropped the bomb.
“Yeah, well, I’m not an offender anymore.” I have to clear my name, regardless of the fact that I could give two shits what Pandora thinks of me.
“Oh, you’re off paper now?”
“The record is being expunged. My accuser finally admitted that she lied about the entire thing.”
“Let me guess—your rich bitch girlfriend paid her off?”
“Stop calling her a goddamn bitch, Pandora. You don’t know her.”
“I know enough about her to know she’s too good for you.”