The Best Thing - Page 58



I pressed my lips together for a second before asking, “Do your hands still smell?”

His groan made both of us laugh.

“How often does that happen?”

“Coming out of her diaper or onto the seat?” I snorted.

Jonah groaned again. “Forget I asked. I’d rather be surprised, I suppose.”

That probably was the best choice, but I still couldn’t help but snort again, the memory of the poop of his hands and all over her and her thighs and back so fresh.

It made my fucking month. I’d bet Grandpa Gus was going to ask if I’d gotten pictures of the incident.

I’d gotten her showered and dressed as fast as I could, but we’d lost all of the time I’d set aside for having dinner before heading over. He’d bought four sandwiches, two apples, and two bottles of water that we’d scarfed down in record time in the hotel lobby before leaving once more. Luckily, Mo had eaten right before we’d left my house and hadn’t been too grumpy about her early bath and adventure.

An image of her crap hitting his face filled my head yet again.

Oh. That child, giving priceless memories to cherish for the rest of my life. I already wanted to start laughing.

“Welcome to fatherhood.” I snickered as I finally turned the car onto the street that I had driven on, and been driven to, thousands of times.

Fucking fuck.

I had no reason to be nervous. I knew that. It wasn’t like they were going to stone me or anything.

Maybe just boo. It wouldn’t be the first I’d been booed.

I didn’t glance at him as I pulled my car into the parking lot of the still-familiar strip mall and found a spot in the back. There were just as many cars as I remembered there being for this specific night. “We’re here,” I told him. But when I got a chance to take him in again, I had to pause.

“What’s that face for?”

He was frowning. “Why were you gripping the steering wheel that hard?”

Why?

I opened and closed my hands, feeling the stiffness in them. All right. I guess I had been gripping the shit out of it. Taking a peek at Jonah’s frown, I tried to think of an excuse to give him.

Nothing came to mind though but the truth.

I didn’t want to admit it even to myself.

Fuck it.

“This is the first time I’m coming to my old club since I quit,” I admitted.

Those beautiful bright eyes just slightly widened before he asked carefully, “Before Mo?”

I nodded.

That had his eyelids lowering into a slow, slow blink. “How long did you study here for?”

My finger wanted to scratch my nose, but I kept my hand on my lap… in a fist. I cleared my throat. “About twenty years.”

His cute mouth opened in a small O.

Yeah, exactly. I blew out a breath. “I came to tell them in person I was retiring and just never came back.” That sounded just as shitty out loud as it did in my head.

“They were upset with you?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Not at all.” Not even a little bit. When I’d dropped the news, they had been surprised—of course they had been surprised; it hadn’t been a secret I’d claimed I was never going to have kids—but all the people who had known me had given me a hug and wished me the best.

Yet none of that had helped ease my guilt over leaving.

Or over staying away for so long when none of them had given me an actual reason to cut them out cold turkey.

Like a hypocrite, my conscious tried to say. Fuck. I rarely thought about it so that I wouldn’t feel guilty. That thought had me almost squirming.

“What are you worried for then?” the man in the seat beside me asked.

I didn’t want to answer that specific question, so I didn’t. “Jonah,” I said carefully. “Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

The answer came out of his mouth like a missile, without hesitation, without a second thought. “Leaving you and not being brave enough to call you for almost two years.”

I stopped breathing.

And then I swallowed those words down for later, needing to inspect them and the way he had that answer on his soul so readily accessible. I was honest, but not like that. Why’d he have to go and drop that on me right now, just like that with no warning or anything? Why the hell hadn’t he thought about that some more?

Scratching at the corner of my eye, I tried again. “That’s not what I meant. I meant more along the lines of borrowing your parents’ car in the middle of the night and sneaking out.”

“I never did that.”

I had to keep from smiling. “Yeah, me neither. You haven’t… stolen anything?”

He frowned and shook his head.

“Never?”

“No.”

“Beat someone up?”

That got me another shake of his head and a frown. “The older boys tried to beat me up,” he clarified, reminding me of his comment about being short and skinny for so long.

It touched me, it still seriously touched me. And made me mad he’d been picked on. “Your brothers saved you?” I asked.

“My sisters.” One of his cheeks hitched up. “A few times.”

More like all the time, I bet, since he’d said he’d never beat anyone up. I loved that his sisters were the ones to save him too. I focused again. “Did you ever toilet paper someone’s house? Thrown eggs at someone’s car?”

No and no, with horrified looks each response.

I was fishing now. “Trespassed?”

That got him to tilt his head to the side. “I did jump into the neighbor’s yard once or twice to get a ball when we’d toss it over the fence. But I let them know afterward.”

Something that felt an awful lot like hot chocolate poured down the center of my chest. Tenderness, it was tenderness for this innocent, good soul. He had to be protected at all costs. He really did.

And I couldn’t help but smile at him even though I tried my hardest to press my lips together and stop from doing it.

And then this idiot had to turn it up a notch by grinning at me. “What? Have you done those things?”

“I’ve never beat anyone up for fun or stolen anything,” I explained, eyeing two cars that pulled into the lot and parked. Little kids in their gis climbed out, followed by a parent or two. They looked so excited. I had been the same way back then.

Actually, I had usually been that way.

Jonah’s next question had me glancing back at him. “Lenny, which of those things you mentioned have you done? The toilet paper and eggs?”

I nodded. More than once. I didn’t want to tell him how many times either if I didn’t have to.

An eyebrow went up. “Trespassing?”

Okay, that question wasn’t so bad. “Yes, but for good reasons.”

His face said tell me, but it made me hesitate.

Should I?

One three-second-long glance at his face gave me my answer. “We’re family now, right?” I got myself to ask, trying to ease into this.

The “yes” that came out of his mouth was as immediate as his “sure.”

My chest ached for a second, and I hoped I didn’t regret this. “I’m inducting you into the first circle of trust,” I told him carefully.


Tags: Mariana Zapata Romance
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