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Royal(5)

By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw



Halfway home, it occurs to me that Royal saved my life today.

Maybe I’ll try to be nicer to him from now on.

Just a little.



***



Demi, Age 17

{two years later}

“Why are you sitting here in the dark?” Royal’s voice startles me at two in the morning on a Saturday.

“I thought you were downstairs with Derek?” I sit up on our living room sofa, and Royal plops down beside me.

“Derek’s passed out,” he said. “And I can’t sleep.”

“You too, huh?”

“I never sleep. Can never get comfortable,” he says. “I’m like fucking Goldilocks or some shit. Each bed is too hard or too soft. Haven’t found the right one yet.”

Would probably help if he’d ever had a bed of his own.

“So what are you going to do?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Came up here to check out the Rosewood fridge. See what kind of leftovers Bliss has all Tupperwared up in there.”

Royal doesn’t move. Apparently, he’d rather sit here with me now than rummage.

“There should be some leftover lasagna,” I say.

“Cool. Bliss makes good food.”

“Yep.”

The living room curtains are pulled wide behind us, and the half moon in the sky provides just enough of a glow that I can make out the outline of his face in the dark. Not only can I tell he’s looking at me, I feel it too.

I squirm and play with a loose thread in the throw pillow in my lap.

“Go out with me, Demi.” His voice is slightly more than a whisper, and his question is a paddle shock to my heart.

“And why would I do that?”

“I’m graduating in May,” he says. “And we’ve never been on a date.”

“You’re like a brother to me. Ew. That’s gross. I would never. And Derek would kill us.”

“Psh. I’ll deal with Derek.” He inches closer. “Don’t act like you’ve never thought about it. I have.”

My body burns from head to toe. I don’t know how he can be so straightforward. Most guys at school are vague. They play mind games, or they’re too chicken to make the first move.

“I can honestly say that I don’t look at you that way.” I clear my throat and look away.

Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’m going to hell. I am so going to hell.

I stare ahead at a family portrait of smiling Rosewoods hanging above the fireplace mantle. I’ve always thought Royal should be included in those. He’s more or less one of us—maybe not by blood, but blood doesn’t always make you a family. He’s been to three-fourths of the Easter dinners at Grandma Rosewood’s house over the last few years, and I’m pretty sure that she likes him more than she likes Derek sometimes. Every time she comes over, she brings his favorite oatmeal raisin cookies, and they sit outside and chat on the front porch rocking chairs like they’ve known each other their whole lives.

Grandma was orphaned by nine and adopted by twelve, so I think that’s why she holds a soft spot for him.

Royal snickers. “Come on, Demi. I don’t believe you for one second.”

I roll my eyes. “Really not interested in becoming a flavor of the week.”

He licks his lips as they spread wide. “That’s cute that you pay attention to my social life.”

Kind of hard not to notice when he’s strutting down the hall like a peacock with a flock of spray-tanned cheerleaders hanging off his baseball pitcher arms.

“One date,” he says. “Per week. For two months.”

My face scrunches. “What? No. That’s dumb.”

“Just trying to prove that you wouldn’t be a flavor of the week.”

My eyes roll, and I fight my smile like my life depends on it.

“Fine. One date,” he says. “Per week. Until you decide you’re sick of me.”

“Which would probably be after the first date, if I’m being honest,” I lie again. Pretty sure the devil’s reserving a special spot in his fiery furnace with DEMI ROSEWOOD etched across it in flashing neon lights. “So it’s pretty pointless to even entertain anything involving you and me.”

“I don’t think it’s pointless at all,” he says. I glance at him. He’s not smiling or teasing, for once. “I’m seriously asking you out on a date, Demi.”

I exhale and slink back against the sofa, twirling a dark strand of hair between my fingers over and over, the smooth, soft strands distracting me from this moment.

We sit in silence for a minute or two. Once again, Royal has the patience of a saint that runs perfectly perpendicular to his lips made for sin.

“Derek’s going to feed your balls to the dog. You know that, right?” I lift my brows and purse my lips to keep from smirking.

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