After the incident against the refrigerator, the night pretty much went back to normal. He gave me a glass of water and helped me stand up, then slapped me on the ass and put me to work. It was all I needed to let go of the awkwardness. A good slap on the ass.

“Have you ever played Dinner Quest?” I ask him.

He slowly shakes his head. “Do I want to?”

I nod. “It’s a good way to get to know each other. After our next date, we’ll be spending most of our time making out, so we need to get all the questions out of the way now.”

He laughs. “Fair enough. How do you play?”

“I ask you a really personal, uncomfortable question and you aren’t allowed to take a drink or eat a bite of food until you answer it honestly. And vice versa.”

“Sounds easy enough,” he says. “What if I don’t answer the question?”

“You starve to death.”

He drums his fingers on the table, then lays his fork down. “I’m in.”

I probably should have had questions prepared, but considering I just made this game up thirty seconds ago, that would have been sort of hard. I take a sip of what’s left of my watered down soda and think. I’m a little nervous about delving too deep, it always seems to end badly with us.

“Okay, I have one.” I set my cup down on the table and lean back in my chair. “Why did you follow me to my car at the grocery store?”

“Like I said, I thought you were someone else.”

“I know, but who?”

He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and clears his throat. He naturally reaches for his glass, but I intercept it.

“No drinks. Answer the question first.”

He sighs, but eventually relents. “I wasn’t sure who you reminded me of, you just reminded me of someone. I didn’t realize until later that you reminded me of my sister.”

I crinkle my nose. “I remind you of your sister?” I wince. “That’s kind of gross, Holder.”

He laughs, then grimaces. “No, not like that. Not like that at all, you don’t even look anything like she did. There was just something about seeing you that made me think of her. And I don’t even know why I followed you. It was all so surreal. The whole situation was a little bizarre, and then running into you in front of my house later…” He stops mid-sentence and looks down at his hand as he traces the rim of his plate with his fingers. “It was like it was meant to happen,” he says quietly.

I take a deep breath and absorb his answer, careful to tiptoe around that last sentence. He looks up at me with a nervous glance and I realize that he thinks his answer may have just scared me. I smile at him reassuringly and point to his drink. “You can drink now,” I say. “Your turn to ask me a question.”

“Oh, this one’s easy,” he says. “I want to know whose toes I’m stepping on. I received a mysterious inbox message from someone today. All it said was, ‘If you’re dating my girl, get your own prepaid minutes and quit wasting mine, Jackass.’”

I laugh. “That would be Six. The bearer of my daily doses of positive affirmation.”

He nods. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He leans forward and narrows his eyes at me. “Because I’m pretty competitive, and if it came from a guy, my response would not have been as nice.”

“You responded? What’d you say?”

“Is that your question? Because if it isn’t, I’m taking another bite.”

“Hold your horses and answer the question,” I say.

“Yes, I responded to her text. I said, ‘How do I buy more minutes?’”

My heart is a big puddle of mush right now, and I’m trying not to grin. It’s really pathetic and sad. I shake my head. “I was only joking, that wasn’t my question. It’s still my turn.”

He puts his fork back down and rolls his eyes. “My food’s getting cold.”

I place my elbows on the table and fold my hands under my chin. “I want to know about your sister. And why you referred to her in the past tense.”

He tilts his head back and looks up, rubbing his hands down his face. “Ugh. You really ask the deep questions, huh?”

“That’s how the game is played. I didn’t make up the rules.”

He sighs again and smiles at me, but there’s a hint of sadness in his smile and it instantly makes me wish I could take the question back.

“Remember when I told you my family had a pretty fucked up year last year?”

I nod.

He clears his throat and begins tracing the rim of his plate again. “She died thirteen months ago. She killed herself, even though my mother would rather we use the term, ‘purposefully overdosed.’”

He never stops looking at me when he speaks, so I show him the same respect, even though it’s really difficult to look him in the eyes right now. I have no idea how to respond to that, but it’s my own fault for bringing it up.

“What was her name?”

“Lesslie. I called her Les.”

Hearing his nickname for her stirs up sadness within me and I suddenly don’t feel like eating anymore. “Was she older than you?”

He leans forward and picks up his fork, then twirls it in his bowl. He brings the forkful of pasta to his mouth. “We were twins,” he says flatly, right before taking the bite.

Jesus. I reach for my drink, but he takes it out of my hands and shakes his head. “My turn,” he says with a mouthful. He finishes chewing and takes a sip, then wipes his mouth with a napkin. “I want to know the story about your dad.”

I’m the one groaning this time. I fold my arms on the table in front of me and accept my payback. “Like I said, I haven’t seen him since I was three. I don’t have any memories of him. At least, I don’t think I do. I don’t even know what he looks like.”

“Your mom doesn’t have any pictures of him?”

It dawns on me when he asks this question that he doesn’t even know I’m adopted. “You remember when you said my mom looked really young? Well, it’s because she is. She adopted me.”

Being adopted isn’t really a stigma I’ve ever had to overcome. I’ve never been embarrassed by it, ashamed of it, or felt the need to hide the fact. But the way Holder is looking at me right now, you would think I just told him I was born with a penis. He’s staring at me uncomfortably and it makes me fidget. “What? You’ve never met anyone who was adopted?”

It takes him a few more seconds to recover, but he puts away his puzzled expression and locks it up, replacing it with a smile. “You were adopted when you were three? By Karen?”

I shake my head. “I was five. I was put into foster care when I was three, after my biological mother died. My dad couldn’t raise me on his own. Or he didn’t want to raise me on his own. Either way, I’m fine with it. I lucked out with Karen and I have no urge whatsoever to go figure it all out. If he wanted to know where I was, he’d come find me.”

I can tell he’s not finished with the questions by the look in his eyes, but I really want to take a bite and get the ball back in my court.

I point to his arm with my fork. “What does your tattoo mean?”

He holds his arm out and traces his fingers over it. “It’s a reminder. I got it after Les died.”

“A reminder for what?”

He picks up his cup and diverts his eyes from mine. It’s the only question he hasn’t been able to answer with direct eye contact. “It’s a reminder of the people I’ve let down in my life.” He takes a drink and places his glass back on the table, still unable to make eye contact.

“This game’s not very fun, is it?”

He laughs softly. “It’s really not. It sort of sucks ass.” He looks back up at me and smiles. “But we need to keep going because I still have questions. Do you remember anything from before you were adopted?”

I shake my head. “Not really. Bits and pieces, but it comes to a point that, when you don’t have anyone to validate your memories, you just lose them all. The only thing I have from before Karen adopted me is some jewelry, and I have no idea who it came from. I can’t distinguish now between what was reality, dreams or what I saw on TV.”

“Do you remember your mother?”

I pause for a moment and mull over his question. I don’t remember my mother. At all. That’s the only thing about my past that makes me sad. “Karen is my mother,” I say pointblank. “My turn. Last question, then we eat dessert.”

“Do you think we even have enough dessert?” he teases.

I glare at him, then ask my last question. “Why did you beat him up?”

I can tell by the shift in his expression that he doesn’t need me to elaborate on the question. He shakes his head and pushes his bowl away from him. “You don’t want to know the answer to that, Sky. I’ll take the punishment.”

“But I do want to know.”

He tilts his head sideways and brings his hand to his jaw, then pops his neck. He keeps his hand on his chin and rests his elbow on the table. “Like I told you before, I beat him up because he was an asshole.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “That’s vague. You don’t do vague.”

His expression doesn’t change and he keeps his eyes locked on mine. “It was my first week back at school since Les died,” he says. “She went to school there, too, so everyone knew what happened. I overheard the guy saying something about Les when I was passing him in the hallway. I disagreed with it, and I let him know. I took it too far and it came to a point when I was on top of him that I just didn’t care. I was hitting him, over and over, and I didn’t even care. The really fucked up part is that the kid will more than likely be deaf out of his left ear for the rest of his life, and I still don’t care.”

He’s staring at me, but not really looking at me. It’s the hard, cold look that I’ve seen in his eyes before. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now…but at least now I can understand it more.

“What did he say about her?”

He slumps back in his chair and drops his eyes to an empty spot on the table between us. “I heard him laughing, telling his friend that Les took the selfish, easy way out. He said if she wasn’t such a coward, she would have toughed it out.”

“Toughed what out?”

He shrugs. “Life,” he says indifferently.

“You don’t think she took the easy way out,” I say, dropping the end of the sentence as more of a statement than a question.

Holder leans forward and reaches across the table, taking my hand into both of his. He runs his thumbs across my palm and takes in a deep breath, then carefully releases it. “Les was the bravest fucking person I’ve ever known. It takes a lot of guts to do what she did. To just end it, not knowing what’s next? Not knowing if there’s anything next? It’s easier to go on living a life without any life left in it, than it is to just say ‘fuck it’ and leave. She was one of the few that just said, ‘fuck it.’ And I’ll commend her every day I’m still alive, too scared to do the same thing.”

Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance