“Sis?” Austin croaks in my ear as he answers the phone.
“You were still sleeping, weren’t you? I’m sorry.”
I’d hoped waiting until my lunchbreak to call my brother would guarantee not waking him.
“Don’t worry about it. What’s the time?” There is a pause. And then, “Ah, fuck. It’s late. I should have gotten up ages ago.”
“You only get one day off a week. You should enjoy it.”
“Agreed. Which is why I don’t want to sleep it away. What’s up?” Austin asks, almost as if he can see me pacing in front of the bank and chewing my nails. “Is everything okay?”
“Have you spoken to Dylan lately?”
“No. Why? What’s he done? Broken his arm again? His leg? God, tell me he hasn’t been racing the bike again.”
“No, he’s…well. I saw him last night. Kara and I went to Brody’s.”
“You and Kara?”
I laugh. “Concentrate, Austin.”
My brother has had a thing for Kara for ages and I’m fairly certain Kara has a thing for Austin. Why the two of them have never acted on it is beyond me.
“I am concentrating,” Austin says.
“Dylan was working, and he… he warned his friend off me.”
“Well, it’s this guy he works with. His name’s Sam.”
“I don’t know his last name, I just know that when I asked Sam out, he said it was for the best that he didn’t go out with me because you guys have this “don’t date my sister rule”, and he didn’t want to piss you off.”
“You asked this guy out and you don’t know his last name?”
I sigh. “Was Dylan right? I mean, would you have been upset with Sam if he’d gone out on a date with me?”
“I don’t know, but if Dylan thought so, then probably. Dylan’s judgement is sound.”
I frown. “I told Dylan you wouldn’t have a problem with me dating a guy I like.”
“Normally, I wouldn’t. But then usually you know the guy’s name before you ask him out. Dylan knows I have certain…requirements of the guys you date.”
“Don’t get upset, Claire Bear. I just do my best to stop the love ‘em and leave ‘em kind from trying to get into your pants.”
“So, let me get this straight. You and Dylan have been conspiring to put a halt to any part of my dating life that you don’t like?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘conspiring.’ I never told Dylan to warn Sam off.”
“But you’ve discussed your ‘requirements’ of the men I date with Dylan?”
“Well, after I introduced the two of you, I had to talk to him about why he would never be an acceptable choice of partner.”
“He likes his personal freedom too much for you, Claire Bear. His ideal life has no room for the predictability and the stability you crave.”
“Fine, but I don’t understand why you needed to discuss it with Dylan when he’s never been interested in me.”
“He was interested. I just shut him down before he could do something stupid.”
Austin isn’t making sense. I remember how easily Dylan shot me down in flames when I put my heart on the line and made it clear that I liked him. That moment is burned into my brain as the single most humiliating moment of my life. He laughed and teased me about my feelings. Every time I’ve thought about it since, I’ve died a little inside. He was all I could think about from the moment my brother introduced us. I went to sleep thinking about him, woke up after dreaming about him, and lived every moment back then waiting for the next time I’d see him. And he laughed off my feelings as if they were nothing.
“Dylan wanted to take you out on a date and asked me for my permission. I told him if he wanted to take you out, he had to promise to stick around and marry you. That’s why he understands my expectations so well.”
“I’m sorry, I just need you to run that by me again. He really wanted to take me on a date?”
“Yes,” he says impatiently. “He had the hots for you back then, but he knew I would have given him a swift arse-kicking if he’d laid a finger on you. Not to mention he would have destroyed our friendship.”
I have no idea what to say. All this time, I’ve thought Dylan rejected me because he thought I was just a little girl and nothing like the women he was used to dating – which is exactly what he insinuated when I mentioned prom to him. And now I find out that he was interested. He was just a giant coward.
Just like Sam was last night.
My brother is not that scary, damn it! He would never injure someone I was dating if I really liked the guy. And I really liked Dylan back then. It broke my heart when he turned me down.
“You still there?” Austin asks.
“Can you ask Dylan to stop warning guys off, please?”
“I don’t know, Claire. Are you going to keep asking out guys you barely know?”
“If I am, that isn’t any of your business. I don’t cock-block you.”
He laughs. “The guys who work at Brody’s are good-time guys who can’t offer you anything stable and predictable. You’re better off staying away from them. They’re not your type.”
And now my brother’s calling me boring. Before last night, I might have believed Austin was simply looking after my best interests, and in his own way he is. But I’m starting to read between the lines. Because I want to put down roots and have a stable home life, people equate me with dull and boring. Staid, predictable, boring Claire.
Even if my brother doesn’t mean to make me feel like I’m boring, I can’t help but feel that sting. His comments are just more confirmation that no one sees me as a fun person capable of letting loose.
But Sam gave me his number before he knew I was Austin’s sister, and Dylan wanted to date me back in the day. And my friends certainly think I’m capable of letting go for a change.
“Thanks for the advice, but I can take care of myself.”
“Of course you can, Claire Bear.”
His tone is indulgent, as if he’s humouring me.
“I can. So call your watchdog off, Austin. Or I’ll tell Kara about the time you tried to steal that photo I took of her at Wet ‘n’ Wild.”
He doesn’t sound so indulgent or fond of me now. I smile smugly. He knows I always keep a promise, especially when it’s retribution for something he’s done to piss me off.
With that I hang up, satisfied that at the very least Austin will call Dylan and ask him to back off for a while.
“So, you talked to Austin?” Kara asks later that night as we sit at my small kitchen table eating a large pizza she brought over.
“And…” she says, gesturing impatiently for me to keep going.
“You know how I’ve always kind of hated Dylan?”
Kara rolls her eyes. “You didn’t always hate him. At one point you liked him so much that you wanted to ask him out.”
“You remember that?”
“Of course I remember it. One minute, going out with Dylan was all you talked about, and the next, you’d made all Dylan talk off-limits because you’d suddenly decided he was the biggest jerk alive.”
“Didn’t you ever wonder why I went from liking him to hating him at the drop of a hat?”
“Of course I did. But you refused to talk about it.”
“That’s because…he turned me down.”
Kara was just about to take another bite of her pizza, but she stops with the slice halfway to her mouth and puts it back down, her eyes as wide as saucers. “Are you trying to tell me you actually asked him out?”
“Yes. Well, I told him my prom was coming up and mentioned how it would be cool if we went together.”
“And he shot you down?”
She reels off a few derogatory names for Dylan. “He has absolutely no taste in women.”
“But then I was talking to Austin about what happened last night, and he told me that back then, Dylan wanted to go out with me.”
“Then…” Kara blinks, clearly confused.
“But Austin warned him off, the same way Dylan warned Sam off last night. Dylan decided he wouldn’t ask me out and then rejected me because Austin wouldn’t approve.”
“That…that pussy!” Kara sputters. “You’re better off without him. Seriously, Claire.”
I appreciate Kara saying so. She probably thinks it’s what I need to hear, but for some reason I don’t feel better off without Dylan. At sixteen, I was crazy about him. He was my heart’s desire, and I was robbed of the chance to act on it. He’s always been the opposite of everything I should want. Back then, he was a bit of a bad boy, but there was something so magnetic about him, I wasn’t able to resist the pull I felt to him.
Even last night, being in his orbit, I completely lost my head. And the look in his eyes right before I thought he was about to kiss me makes my stomach twist in knots every time I think about it. He affects me. He always has. I’ve spent the past nine years of my life trying to convince myself I hate him because it’s easier to label what I feel as hate. After he rejected me, I had to find a way to put distance between us. But I don’t hate him. Not at all.
Sure, he’ll never fit into my plan for the ideal life. My brother is right about that. Dylan values his personal freedom too much to ever make me happy long-term. Settling down and buying a house and having a family isn’t on his list of things to do in this lifetime. But my friends want me to take a timeout from my plan and I need to have some fun. If I’m going to spend the next few months of my life dedicated to having fun, I want to have it with Dylan.
I look at my friend. “I still want him.”
“Oh, God. No, Claire. He is not part of your plan.”
“Exactly. He’s not part of my plan. You guys said I should have fun.”
“Not with Dylan.”
“Because you like him, Claire. You like him way too much to have fun with him.”
“That’s a ridiculous thing to say. I know nothing is ever going to come of it. Isn’t that the best kind of guy to have fun with?”
Kara shakes her head. “It’s a bad idea. Trust me. Let it go. Let him go.”
I sigh, pushing away the plate in front of me. “I don’t think I can, Kar.”
“How do you know he’s still interested?”
It’s a good question. Just because Dylan was into me nine years ago doesn’t mean he still is today. But I could have sworn he wanted to kiss me last night, if only just for a split second.
Despite Kara’s reservations, I feel that this time in my life is the perfect opportunity to pursue a fling with Dylan. And when it’s over, Dylan will finally be out of my system and I can get on with searching for Mr Right.
“I don’t know if he’s still interested, but I’m going to find out.”
Kara is shaking her head and looking worried. “I really don’t think you should do this, but I know better than to try and talk you out of something when you’ve made up your mind. So, tell me, what’s your plan?”
“I might go back to Brody’s tomorrow, see if Dylan has spoken to Austin and test the waters.”
“I’m supposed to go over to Dad’s for dinner tomorrow, but I can put it off if you want me to come with you?”
I shake my head. “Thanks, but I’ll be okay. Besides, just in case I have it wrong and he shoots me down again, I would prefer you weren’t a witness.”
“Okay. Call me if you change your mind.”
“Thanks, Kar, I will.” As I wave Kara off for the night, I finally allow myself to feel excited. I’m going after Dylan James.
A/N: Thanks for reading! 🙂 Please like, share or leave a comment if you enjoyed the chapter, or please just keep reading.