“Neither will I,” I reply. I catch his hands. Squeeze them tight.
When we turn back to our parents, they’re watching us with wide eyes. For a long, long moment, no one speaks.
Then Dad turns to Josh. “I’m sorry, son,” he says, and the son makes it sound even worse, even more real. I think he’s about to do it again. Tell Josh to leave me alone, to get out of here. I don’t want to fight with my father, but I will if I have to. I will for Josh.
Instead, Dad smiles a little. “I should never have told you to leave my girl alone. I wouldn’t have if I’d known what kind of a man you’d turn out to be. How in love with her you are.”
Susan wraps her hand around my father’s and squeezes tightly. “I suppose we should have seen this coming,” she murmurs, a faint smile on her mouth.
“Wait.” I blink at them, frowning. “You aren’t mad?”
“How can we be?” Susan asks. She turns to smile at my dad, eyes sparkling. “We know exactly how you feel, after all.”
“But…” I bite my lip. Frown. This isn’t what I expected. I never thought our parents could understand, could be… okay with this.
“It’s a bit of an unusual situation, granted,” Dad points out. “But I think we can all agree that if we can’t follow our hearts… Well. Where would we be then?”
I break away from Josh. Cross the muddy ground to fling my arms around Dad. Susan crosses behind me, hugs her son, and pretty soon we’re all laughing. Tears sting at the corners of my eyes, but they’re happy tears. Tears of relief. Because, somehow, against all odds…
We’re going to be okay. We’re going to do this.
“One question,” I say, once I’ve stepped away from Dad, caught Josh’s hand again. “If you told Josh to stay away from me for all these years, how come you told him about me? About where I’m going to college and all?”
Dad raises an eyebrow. “I never spoke to Josh about you.”
Josh casts me a sheepish sideways glance this time. “Well, we are Facebook friends,” he points out.
“You never like anything I post, you never comment or message me, or…” I blink at him, confused. “You still look at my page?”
“From time to time,” he admits. Then he grins a little, sheepish. “Okay, maybe more often than I care to admit.”
My eyes are widening. My smile is, too. “You cyber-stalker,” I say.
He pulls me to him. “You love it, admit it.”
I turn away before he can kiss me, before this gets too crazy. “But, Dad, Susan…”
Susan, for her part, is already taking my dad’s hand and tugging him gently back toward the cabin, a smile on her face as she watches us together. “Don’t you worry about us, kids. We don’t want to stand in the way of anything real. And this…” She pats Dad’s back lightly. “This is the real deal.”
“You can say that again,” Josh murmurs.
Then I forget about our parents, because he’s tugging me back toward him, and I’m turning to face him, those big gray-blue eyes of his devouring me from head to toe as he studies me.
When he leans in this time, I don’t pull away. I don’t run anymore. I’m done doing that. He pauses an inch from my lips, whispers so I can feel his lips graze mine as he does.
“I love you, Pau.”
“I love you, Josh.”
Then he kisses me, and I lose myself in that kiss headfirst. When we break apart, we’re both breathless, panting, our hands wrapped around one another, arms clutching so tight it feels like we might break. I don’t care. I just want him as close to me as he can get, right now.
“You’re still a stalker,” I whisper in his ear, grinning.
He smirks and nips my ear back. “I’ll take stalker over step-brother any day.”
Two Years Later
I’m lying on the dock with my feet in the water, staring up at the late afternoon sun in my favorite spot in the world. I hear footsteps pad behind me and sit up. Before I can turn, though, warm legs drop around either side of me, and arms encircle me from behind. Josh leans in to kiss the nape of my neck, then slowly around to the side of my neck, while he pulls me back against him.
“What’s on your mind, daydreamer?”
“Not much. Just enjoying the quiet.” I turn to grin at him. “Without Dad here making all his usual daytime card-game racket, it’s kind of peaceful for once.”
Josh laughs. “I know the feeling. It’s strange not having Mom to serve lemonades, but I’m sure she and your dad are having fun down in Hilton Head.” They decided they needed a couple’s vacation, not a family one for once. Personally, I was more than happy to give them space—especially since it means we have the cabin all for us.