Ryver's eyes burn a hole into my skin as I sit slumped down in my seat, picking at my breakfast. He went through all the trouble to make pancakes and I'm sitting here, barely touching my food. Granted, he made the pancakes for Maddie who seems to be here for breakfast every damn morning, but he also knows that I usually swallow them up, barely chewing because I love pancakes so much.
A strawberry rolls off my plate and I don't even care. It splashes down on the ground, leaving a red mark on the grey wood-like stones on the deck.
It's been a couple days since Joe joined me by the ocean, assuring me that he'd been sincere when he told me he wanted me. Though I know he was honest, and has taken advantage of every single moment we had to ourselves, no matter how brief, and that we need to make sure Ryver doesn't find out and bury our bodies where no one will find them, I can't help but feel hurt over the fact that last night, he went on a double date with Ryver and Maddie. He went on a date with her. Emma.
I know he's keeping up appearances and I knew beforehand what I was getting myself into by starting something with Joe, but it hurts. It really hurts that at night, when everyone is asleep and just the light of the moon casts a magical glow over the house, I'm the one he goes to. When Emma gets to run around with him when he's not asleep.
"What's up with you this morning?" Ryver asks, frowning at me.
Shrugging, I look back down at my food. "I didn't sleep so well last night." When I lift my gaze up to my brother, I catch Joe looking at me curiously as well. He knows what's wrong. He knows what's going on in my head.
With a sigh, I get up. "I'm gonna go into the city. I'll see you guys later." I leave my plate on the table, thinking Ryver will probably finish it because I know how much he hates to throw away food. Especially when he made it.
I've barely made it down to the parking garage when I feel a hand cupping my elbow, stopping me from getting into the car.
Turning around, my eyes lock onto Joe's.
"Talk to me," he says. "I know why you're upset."
I swallow and look away. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Joe as he grabs the keys to the Ranger Rover and presses the button to unlock the doors. The beeps sound deafening in the silence, the flash of the blinkers nearly blinding me.
Quietly, I get into the car with him, claiming shotgun as he sits down behind the wheel. He turns to me and then, without a word, grabs my face tightly with both hands and kisses me gently. Something springs to life inside me and my stomach summersaults as I kiss him back. It's automatic.
But then I shake my head and pull away, looking out the window. The sunlight slowly fills the garage as the door opens and the car vibrates as Joe starts the engine.
It's not until he's backed out of the driveway and pulled up on the road that I turn to face him. He's focused on the road, his elbow resting on the door as his hand gently holds the steering wheel. With the other, he handles the console, softly turning on the radio.
"I don't wanna be the other woman," I say.
He laughs, briefly looking at me before he focuses back on the road as not to drive us off a cliff. "You're not the other woman, Rubes."
I frown. "Yes I am. I'm your dirty little secret while you go on double dates with Emma and my brother."
Licking his lips, he pulls over on the side of the road. "Rubes," he starts as he turns to face me, pushing his sunglasses up the top of his head. "You're not the other woman. I don't even like Emma that way, I told you that already. She's cute, sure. But she's just a friend. I never had any intentions of starting a relationship with her. Jesus, do you know how long I've waited to kiss you?"
I swallow hard, butterflies fluttering in the pit of my stomach.
"We have to hide. For now at least. Can't we just enjoy the time we have?"
I look down at my hands in my lap as I pick at my fingernails. I know he's right. I know I'm being ridiculous. I knew what I was getting myself into. I know he's just making sure Ryver doesn't get suspicious by hanging out with Emma. Looking back up at him, I softly nod my head.
"And I love it when you get jealous." He smirks and I can't help a smile as I playfuly shove his shoulder.
He laughs and the sound makes a laugh of my own bubble up inside me.
"I like you, Ruby," he says when he gets more serious again. "I really like you."
"I really like you too, Joe," I respond on a small smile.
He leans in for another kiss. His lips wrap around my bottom lip, then my top before moving back to my bottom. Then he runs his tongue along my lip and I open up, letting him in to deepen the kiss. I moan a little, reaching up to grab his neck while his tongue explores my mouth.
When he pulls away, he presses his forehead against mine. "I really like you."
I rub my nose against his and pull away. "I'm a little bipolar, huh?" I say on a giggle.
He chuckles, starting the car back up and checking the mirrors for any other cars on the road. "I get it," he says as he pulls back onto the road and continues driving to wherever he wants to take us. "I get why you're upset. I would be too, to be honest."
His words make me think back to the other night, during the 4th of July party when Mike got a little too close to me in his opinion and he was the one going crazy with jealousy. Driving himself out of his mind with thoughts of me with someone else.
I know I'm already in too deep and it's gonna be hard to keep it casual, to hide what I'm already feeling for him.
"So," I start, willing the thoughts away, "where are we going?"
He just smiles in response, stopping at a red light. "You wanted to be out with me in daylight, right?"
"Like, like on a date?" My eyes widen a little.
"How do you like going to the aquarium?"
There's something about the deep blue hues in the aquarium that calms me down. Feeling like a kid in a candy store, I run from display to display, pressing my face against the thick glass and admiring the creatures swimming or crawling on the other side.
Joe follows behind me all the time, chuckling at my excitement, messing around on his phone every so often.
When I turn back to face him after watching the clown fish, he has his phone at eye level. He uses his free hand to adjust some things on the screen and I know he's taking a picture of me.
Gasping, I rush over to him and try to snatch his phone so I can look at the ridiculous candid picture he just shot.
"Joe!" I call out his name, jumping up when he holds his phone up above his head. Being smaller than he is, he knows damn well I can't reach up that high and chuckles at my attempts.
When I almost fall after half jumping on his feet, he wraps his arm around my waist to steady me, his smile slowly fading. I watch as he swallows hard, eyes searching and finally locking on mine.
My arm is still up in the air, but my body has completely frozen. I can feel the intensity of his gaze all the way to my toes. It feels like he's seeing right into my soul, stripping me down completely.
My mouth drops open a bit as I release a shaky breath. He licks his lips and slowly, I watch his eyelids fall shut as he leans in closer, attempting to close the distance between us.
It's then that I take my shot. I pull away and take advantage of his brief moment of weakness to grab the phone out of his hand. Laughing, I step away from him and open up his photo album to look at the picture he took of me.
I have to admit, it doesn't look half bad. The light isn't flattering, but the smile on face is obviously genuine and the angle is nice. Biting my lip, I continue to look at the picture. It's actually really cute that he took this picture of me.
Turning back around, I look at him and smile. He sighs and reaches out his hand, silently begging me to give him back his phone. I grin and then quickly edit the photo to make it a little more flattering before giving his phone back to him.
"Happy now?" he asks as he looks down at his phone;
"Yes, very." I grin widely and watch his face as he presses the home button on his phone.
The screen lights up and he rolls his eyes while I giggle and skip away from him, moving on to the next exhibition area.
"You set it as my background?" He asks unbelievably as he catches up with me.
"Yup," I say, leaning in closer to the glass to watch the turtles behind it.
He moves to stand next to me, his back facing the glass while he continues to look at his brand new phone background.
"Now Emma can be the one who's jealous," I say, turning my back to the turtles as I lean in closer to him and stare down at his phone with him.
"Rubes..." he looks up at me, frowning lightly.
"I know." I nod my head, feeling the disappointment washing over me again. "Baby steps, right?"
"I like this," he says as he shakes his phone in approval, "but you know I have to change it back."
I open my mouth to respond, but he cuts me off. "At least for now."
I close my mouth again and offer him a smile, nodding my head again. Leaning in, I press a soft kiss to his cheek and watch as he sets it back to his old background, a picture of the New York skyline he took when our families were out in Brooklyn Bridge Park to say goodbye to Joe and Ryver before they went off to college in Boston.
"That was a really nice day," I say, still looking at the screen.
"Yeah it was. You spilled coke all over yourself and I had to force myself not to stare too hard."
Playfully, I slap his chest and roll my eyes.
It's true though. It was a really hot day and I was wearing a white linnen playsuit. Of course I'd made the stupid decision of wearing a bright red bra underneath it. Then I even more stupidly spilled my diet coke all over me when my brother made a really ridiculous joke just as I was about to take a sip from the can. And there it went, all over me, sticking to my body and making my clothes incredibly see-through.
I was only fourteen then, but I already filled my bra up nicely.
I was fourteen and Joe was eighteen.
"You probably didn't notice," he continues, "but nearly every guy there that day turned his head when they heard you scream. I had to clench my fist not to punch every single one of them in the face for staring at you, enjoying the show."
He turns to look at me and chuckles. "Shit Rubes, it's like that one summer 2004 you suddenly became... someone else. Your braces came off, you'd gotten highlights and, shit, I sound like a perv." Nervously, he runs his hand through his hair. I just stand there beside him, quietly enjoying the torture he's going through by admitting all this to me.
He said he'd wanted to kiss me for a long time. I just didn't know he'd wanted to do it for the past six years. He's always been protective, but I thought it was for way different reasons.
The fact that I was his best friend's little sister just made it easy for him to make up excuses when he tried to push guys away and joined my brother on explaining why I shouldn't go out with a certain someone.
"I think it's cute," I say on a giggle. "I'm just really glad that we're here now." Leaning my head on his shoulder, I look up at him.
He looks down at me and smiles, stuffing his phone in his pocket. "What do you say we go watch the show?" He points at a sign and I reluctantly turn to look at it. There's a sea lion show starting in ten minutes.
"Let's go!" Grabbing his hand, I skip off and follow the sign, pulling him behind me.