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Anti-Stepbrother(16)
Author: Tijan

“Hey.”

I looked up. A dark silhouette came around from the opposite way. Kevin had his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forward.

“Hey,” I said back.

He moved closer, stepping into the single light positioned above me. A dagger sliced my heart. I could see the apology on his face, and I gritted my teeth. I didn’t want to hear it. He’d hurt me, yes, but I didn’t need him to pour salt on the wound.

I had a feeling I had no say over that.

“Look,” he started. He didn’t come any closer. He cleared his throat. “Uh…so this is weird.”

Maybe it was because I saw him with Maggie, or because I found out minutes later she had a boyfriend, or because he never checked on me after I lied for him. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t seen him at all since our ridiculous family dinner, but whatever the reason, as I waited for him to continue, the image I had of him in high school was stripped away.

That made me feel cold and vulnerable, like he was a stranger.

I could remember every time we’d talked during that year we lived together, but I couldn’t remember a joke, a hug, or anything affectionate. It was always me gazing at him, and feeling close, feeling warm because of my own daydreams.

That’d been it. He’d been present, but he’d been quiet unless with a girlfriend. He would laugh then, and I’d always heard that as a sound of relief—like he could only relax if a girl was with him.

Why had I cared so much then? What was I missing? I didn’t think I was completely delusional…or was I?

Kevin started to say something, but I interrupted. “Was I a mistake?”

“What?” He’d lifted a hand to scratch behind his ear. A dumbstruck look came over him, and his hand moved slowly back to his side. “What?”

“Me. That night we were together. I was a mistake.” My chest burned. “Wasn’t I?”

He blinked rapidly, then coughed to clear his throat. “Well…um…”

That was my answer. Those two stupid words were my answer.

The burning intensified, and I jerked, scooting away until my back hit the step behind me.

A week ago, I would still have been waiting for him to give me an answer. Things were different now. The unspoken told the truth, and I could hear that. I’d just been not listening for two entire years. Two fucking years.

I hung my head. “I’m so stupid.”

“What?”

“I’m so stupid.”

“Wait.” He started forward, his hand outstretched, but he paused.

I could see the thoughts crossing his face. What could he say? Nothing. That was the thing. If I was a mistake, he couldn’t tell me. I might tell his secret then, and if I wasn’t a mistake, it was too late. He was with someone else now. Right? It was one of those two choices.

Why was I trying to rationalize this for him?

After a moment he sighed and slid his hands into his front pockets. “I really love Maggie.”

There it was. That was his reason for everything. I’d just go with it, for now. “Okay.”

He stepped toward me. His voice grew clearer. “I know you’ve been here all week, and you’ve been alone. I would’ve called earlier or come to see you, but I needed to make sure Maggie was okay. You know what I mean?”

I didn’t, but my head bobbed up and down anyway.

“You understand?”

Not in the slightest, but again, I was nodding. Apparently I still had some wallflower in me.

“Good.” He sounded so relieved. “I was kinda worried. Your floor advisor has history with Maggie. I didn’t know—”

“Avery told me she’s friends with Maggie.”

He went still. “Oh. So you’ve talked about me and Maggie with Avery?”

“She knows our parents are married.”

“Oh.” He sounded surprised now. “You told her about me.”

“She knew, but—” My mouth was suddenly dry, and my palms were sweaty. I rubbed them together. “Why wouldn’t I?” What is going on here? “Am I not supposed to tell people?”

“About you and me?” he asked.

I leaned forward. Did he mean…

He continued, pointing between us, “That we’re stepsiblings, right? Everyone has to know my goddamn business. I don’t really know why you’re talking about me at all.” His hands went back into his pockets. He rocked back on his heels. “Besides, we were more housemates, really. That was it.”

I knew this, but still felt slapped in the face. “Housemates.”

“Yeah. I mean, yeah.” He frowned, acting like he was so confused. “I didn’t even know you before our parents got married. And that one year we lived together, I was barely around, and you were always in your bedroom. We never got close. Then last year I was hardly home. Like, ever.”

Except for that one night, I added silently. When you went out to a graduation party with my friends and me. When you got drunk with me. When we went home and kissed, and did more than I want to think about right now. You were hardly home, except for that one night.

I looked down. “I see.”

He coughed again, his feet shuffling on the sidewalk. “And I really love Maggie. I really do, but you see, she’s with that Marcus guy for now, and Marcus comes from a big-name family around here. His dad is a legacy legend in the fraternity, and even though Marcus isn’t a member, his brother Caden is one of my brothers. It’s just sticky. If they ever find out what you really saw that night—”

   
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