Chapter Twenty Three.

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Songs for this chapter are:

Fast Car- Tracy Chapman

Shirtsleeves- Ed Sheeran

To Be Alone- Hozier

Half of My Heart- John Mayer


I sit my cell phone down on the table as slow as I can. I feel like I'm trapped in an interrogation room or something. Only in this room there's cheese-its and bottles of Gatorade. So, maybe not so much like an interrogation room. Though, Dakota would make a sexy ass cop. I can imagine her body dressed in a tight costume, just for me to peel off.

The look on her face says that if she were a cop, she would arrest me. And not in the sexy, playful handcuff-me-to-the-bed-and-tease-me way.

"It was my mom and Ken on the phone. They had an appointment today for little Abby," I tell Dakota with a somewhat fake smile.

Not fake because I'm not happy about the baby's progress or that Ken is still head over heels for my mom, fake because Dakota's probably going to be pissed that I was talking to my mom about Nora and she overheard it so there's no denying it, not that I need to. Nora is my friend, barely that. However, the conversation, even though it was innocent, only further fuels the fire of jealousy she's creating over Nora. The match in her hand is burning pretty bright now and I want her to understand that there's nothing to be worried about. Nora wouldn't give me a chance even if I pursued it. It would be messy because of her friendship with Tessa and I barely know her anyway, why is this a thing?

"How is she?" Dakota asks from behind me, "Abby. How is she doing in there?"

Dakota leans down and wraps her arms around my neck and she leans her head on my shoulder. Her hair smells like coconut and her curls are soft against my cheek.

"She's good. They sounded a little worried for a second, but I think I'm just overthinking things."

Dakota's breath is warm against my skin. "Overthinking? You? You don't say?" she chuckles and her laugh is beautiful, like she is.

I reach my hand up and gently squeeze her arm.

"I'm glad she's doing okay. It's still kind of weird to think of your mom being pregnant, at her age. Not in a bad way," Dakota seems to be aware of how her words sounded. She quickly recovers.

"She's the best mom I've ever seen and both you and Abby are so lucky to have her, at any age. I don't know Ken very well yet but from what you tell me, he's going to be a great dad."

"He will be," I say and kiss her arm.

"Let's just hope Abby is more like you and less like Hardin," she laughs and little needles prick my skin.

I don't like the way she said that. Not one bit.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I lift her arms from mine and turn around to face her.

Dakota's face gives away her surprise at my reaction. Am I overreacting? I don't think that I am.

"I was just joking, Landon. I didn't mean anything by it. You two are so different, that's all."

"Everyone is different, Dakota. It's not your place to judge him. Or anyone."

She sighs and sits down next to me at the kitchen table.

"I know. I wasn't trying to judge him. I'm the last person who can judge anyone," she looks down at her hands. "It was a shitty joke that I won't make again. I know he means a lot to you."

My shoulders relax and I'm questioning why I'm so irritated. She seems remorseful and I know Hardin is a tough pill to swallow. I can't really blame her for her opinion of him though. She only knew him as the guy who smashed a cabinet full of my mom's dishes from my dead grandma and refused to call her by her actual name.

Hardin does this thing where he pretends that he doesn't know any female names except Tessa's. So, Dakota was Delilah every time he addressed her. I don't know why he does it, and sometimes I wonder if it's actually possible for him to forget every woman's name except Tessa's. Weirder things have happened between those two.

I would rather not spend the entire night at odds with Dakota over one remark.

"Okay. Let's just talk about something else. Something lighter," I suggest.

Since she's already apologized and she seems like she genuinely didn't mean anything by her comment, I want to move on. I want to talk to her. I want to hear about her days and her nights.

I want to lie next to her in bed and reminisce about our wild teenage years when we had movie marathons on school nights and held pizza roll eating contests on my futon. My mom never questioned why I blew through bag after bag of pepperoni pizza rolls.

She had reason to wonder what was going on when I start asking for combination. My mom knew I hated those, but she never once asked me why Dakota ate so much every time she came over. I think she knew that since a forty-ounce beer cost just as much as a bag of pizza rolls, the chances were slim that Dakota's freezer would have any food in it, much less name brand Pizza Rolls.

"Thank you." Dakota looks down and I smile at her and stand to my feet.

"Come on, you." I dip down and lift her body into my arms and she shrieks.

She's light, even lighter than I remember, but it sure feels good to hold her in my arms.

The twenty-two steps to the couch wasn't long enough to make up for the last few months, but I drop her onto the leather couch. She lands with a soft thud and her body bounces up a few inches and she shrieks again.

She's on her feet in no time, running after me with a grin on her face. She's giggling, face red, and hair wild.

When she lunges at me, I jump out of the way. I slide on the thick rug that I was supposed to tape down the second day I moved in, and I jump onto the chair, missing her fingertips by mere inches. I really hope I don't break this damn chair. I leap off of it and my socks slide across the floor. I loose my balance and my muscles strain and my pants are so freaking tight when my legs bend in this painful unnatural way. I pull one leg in and twist my body and Dakota rushes over to me. Her face is worried when she puts one hand on my shoulders and tucks the other one under my chin, forcing me to look up at her.

I can't stop laughing and my stomach hurts from it, but my leg doesn't.

Dakota's panic turns to amusement and her laughter is my favorite song.

I grab her shoulders and pull her into my lap. Her hands wrap around my neck and she pulls me down to kiss her. Her mouth is softer than my touch, and I'm a fool for her as I trace her tongue with mine. 

(This book will contain sexual content, WARNING. Stop reading now if you aren't comfortable with that :) 

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