Page 23

I didn’t hide.
I sure as shit didn’t fade.
With a new determination, I started getting ready and made plans.
It was time to wipe away the coat of denial, which started with fixing what I’d broken.
Staring at the black door with my fist raised, I seriously considered saying fuck it and running.
No more hiding.
With a begrudging sigh, I managed a single knock on the door.
Maybe they wouldn’t be home.
Maybe I could say I tried and be happy with that.
Maybe I wouldn’t have to fa—
The door jerked open, revealing the same blue eyes as mine. Except his came with furrowed brows casting a dark shadow that rivaled the black door.
“Hey, Uncle D.” My voice shook with the nerves I couldn’t hide. While any other time, a sign of weakness would send Daniel running to my rescue, not so much now.
“Olivia.” His hard tone let me know I was on my own.
“Can I come in?”
I winced. His callous response triggered a flare of emotions that leaped over each other in a fight to break free. Hurt. Irritation. Shame. Anger. A biting response sat at the tip of my tongue to deflect them all, but that was how I got there in the first place, and I swallowed it back.
“Well, I figured if I was going to be a petty, little, whiny bitch, the least I could do is take responsibility for it and come apologize.”
He studied me, standing like a grumpy statue for so long that I almost waved my hand in front of his face to make sure he was still alive.
Was he expecting more?
Did he not want to hear it?
Did he want me to stay?
Did he want me to leave?
My muscles clenched tighter with each passing second. They ached with every jerking adjustment from foot to foot. Just when I was about to turn and leave, he finally spoke up.
“You’re not a petty bitch.”
His voice lacked all emotion, leaving me floundering over how to respond. Somehow, thank you didn’t seem like the right thing to say, yet it was all I could think of. Thankfully, he saved me from coming up with anything when he continued.
“But you’re definitely little and whiny.”
“I mean, you are shorter than me,” he explained like I hadn’t spoken. “And goddamn, did you whine a lot as a kid.”
Finally, his stoicism broke with a shake of his head and twitching lips. It was small, but it wedged its way between a crack in the wall I’d erected between us. The crack spread until the entire wall crumbled, releasing the building pressure like water from a dam.
The emotions that had been clamoring for freedom faded, and I took my first deep breath in months. I hadn’t even realized how much the tension between us weighed on me until it was gone.
“I’m working on being better,” I admitted.
He settled his gaze back on me. This time without the anger and instead with the love and understanding he usually had. “That’s life, kid.”
“Yeah. Life kinda sucks sometimes.”
“No shit,” he laughed. “Wanna come in?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
I followed him inside and tossed my jacket in the usual spot along the back of the chair. I plopped down on the overstuffed seat and found the groove I’d worked on forming even before Daniel moved in with Hanna. He sat in the corner of the couch closest to me and waited, knowing from the way I fidgeted with the stitching that I had more to say. I almost laughed at the way it took me back to the teenager coming to confess something to her uncle.
“I’m just really sorry for how I’ve been acting lately. I know I haven’t been myself, and—whether or not you’ll admit it—I’ve been acting like a giant bitch.”
He held his hands up and laughed. “No comment.”
“Good choice. Hanna taught you well,” I joked. “But seriously. I never meant to…lash out the way I have been. I’m just—” I faltered over the words, not knowing what to say without saying everything. Which I definitely wasn’t ready to do. In the end, I settled for sticking to the reason I came there. “I’m just sorry.”
“You’re forgiven.”
“Thanks, Uncle D.” I exhaled my relief but should have known better than to celebrate too soon.
“So, what’s up? What has you so on edge?”
I went back to picking at the chair. Not quite ready to divulge it all. Today was a baby step toward repairing the relationships I’d damaged, so I could feel comfortable enough to lean on them when I was ready.
“I’m just tired.”
“Mmmhmm,” he deadpanned but played along with my lame answer. “Is Carina working you too hard?”
I met his question with a devilish smile. “No, Kent is.”
“Disgusting.” He gagged. “Seriously, though…”
“It’s n—”
The buzzing of my phone on the table cut off another denial. I looked at the screen and unlocked the message, bringing up a blurry black and white photo from Oaklyn.