Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(9)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(9)
Author: Pippa Grant

“What the fuck’s actually going on?” I ask.

I wash six glasses while I wait for him to answer, and when he finally does, I wish I hadn’t asked.

“You know that accident Ellie was in?”

The pit of my stomach drops just like it did when I got his text the day after I fucked up. “We all know about Ellie’s accident, man.”

“She’s been…reserved since then.”

“She wasn’t fucking reserved when she punched me for trying to save her from drowning and then dunked me in the tub,” I say dryly.

“Really? That’s great!”

I swipe a hand over my face, because I’m getting annoyed. Beck’s always lived in his own world, but this is extreme, even for him. “She dropped her phone in the tub, so it might be a while before she calls to bitch you out.”

“Even better,” he says cheerfully.

“Push comes to shove, she tells me to leave, you know I’m gone.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold up.” Beck’s suddenly serious as banana pudding, which is pretty fucking serious in these parts. “Okay, okay. Yes, I knew Ellie was going to be there. That’s why I kept talking up the pirate festival for Tucker. She…needs you.”

“Your sister. Eleanor I can do it myself Ryder. She needs me.”

“Wyatt. She doesn’t know it, but yeah, she needs you. She’s just—she hasn’t been herself since the accident. And that prick Patrick dumping her right at the holidays for his neighbor—she’s always had this life plan, you know? Finish school, take over for Mom and Dad, get married, have three kids, live happily ever after. But it’s all…I mean, work’s good. It’s about all she does anymore. I told you she qualified to run the New York City Marathon this year, didn’t I? Qualified back before the accident. Now she can’t do it. She’s just…it’s like she’s giving up. She puts on the show, but she doesn’t talk about her plans anymore like she used to.”

I grunt, because yeah, Ellie was always making plans. When I’m in high school, I’m going to be on the soccer team. When I’m in college, I’m going to make the Dean’s list. When I go to work for Mom and Dad, I’m going to convince City Hall to hire us to make the building green. When I get married, I’m going to have two-point-four kids and a dog and a parakeet named Sue.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Beck says. “And the thing is…you irritate the shit out of her. So maybe…I don’t know. Just give her something normal. Annoy her until she starts planning on annoying you back. And I know she’s there at that wedding with her dickweed ex too. Drop-kick him for me a couple times, would you?”

I drop a clean plate into the drying rack before it registers that Ellie hasn’t been cleaning her own dishes.

Ellie doesn’t leave messes. She’s too type A for that.

Something is wrong. “You know there’s something really fucked up about asking me to irritate your sister.”

“I wouldn’t trust another soul for this job. Because I know you won’t hurt her. Irritate the fuck out of her, yeah. But hurt her? Not you, man.”

Fucking damn it.

I already did that, didn’t I?

“Are you serious?”

“Everyone’s treating her with kid gloves. She needs to know she can still do stuff.”

“She’s down in town in high heel pirate boots. I think she knows she can still do stuff.”

“Yeah, and I’m just a dumbass egomaniac who models underwear.”

Right. The Ryders know how to put on a face for the world. Doesn’t mean that’s the real story.

“I’m not going to try to pick fights with your sister to make her feel better.” Especially not when she’s just told the bride that I’m her fucking boyfriend.

Which I’m still in denial about, because I’m not spending this week confusing my kid.

But I don’t like how her ex was looking at her.

I don’t want to let him think she’s easy pickings right now either.

Beck laughs. “Like you have to try to irritate her. Just be you. It’ll happen.”

“Why don’t you try to annoy her?”

“Can’t. She’s my baby sister, and she’s hurt. My instinct is to protect and save.”

“You just asked me to annoy her.”

“That’s different. Plus, it was Levi’s idea. Fuck, I thought you two loved each other. I forgot all those times she threw dog poop at you when we were playing volleyball and you tried to help her serve better.”

I can’t believe I’m smiling over that memory, but here we are. “I was honestly surprised the day I heard she actually graduated college without getting arrested.”

“Mom says she never found where she fit in. Toss in teenage hormones and having us for role models, and she was basically doomed. But I think Levi’s right. She always hated you the most.”

“Appreciate that.”

“She can’t go too hard on you. Not with Tucker around. She loves kids.”

And I can’t go too hard on her.

Not with Tucker around.

Kid needs a good role model, not a fucked-up one. Especially since I know his mother’s dating again.

But the only thing I learned about being a good role model, I learned from my buddies’ fathers. Not my own.

“She’s gonna be okay, Beck,” I tell him. “She’s too stubborn not to be.”

“Thanks, man. I owe you one.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Quit being a pain in the ass. And don’t beat my high score on Frogger or I’ll ship you a box of dicks at work.”

“You coming home anytime this summer?”

“Sometime.”

“Swing by Georgia when you do. I need you to show Tucker that all these pillows and cardboard cutouts of you are airbrushed so he doesn’t get body image issues. And bring your baby book. The one with the picture of you swimming in cake with your baby belly hanging over your diaper.”

He laughs. “You got it.”

I hang up and finish the dishes, clean out the fireplace, and take out the trash before settling in to listen to an audiobook in the darkened living room.

Because if Ellie’s coming home tonight, we’re going to talk.

About everything.

Seven

Ellie

In addition to my brain reeling from trying to keep my story about Wyatt straight all night, my thigh and hip are full-on throbbing by the time Monica pulls to a stop beside Wyatt’s SUV in Beck’s driveway. A single lamp shines in the front window and the porch light glows bright in the dark, starless night. Once she has the car in park, she turns to look at me. “Sorry I didn’t get you home in time to take advantage of Wyatt.”

“Parenting is exhausting. We’ll have plenty of time later. And Wyatt knows I’m here for you this week. Like I know he’s here for Tucker to see the Pirate Festival. It’s just a bonus that we get any time at all.”

Gag me. But she’ll freak more if she knows I’m faking this, and I do not want to distract her from the joy of her pirate wedding week.

She leans over to hug me tight. “Thank you so much for being here this week.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“Am I a horrible person if I say I could really like Sloane if she wasn’t dating Patrick?” she whispers.

“Patrick’s going to be your brother-in-law. So probably.”

“I meant the being disloyal to you part.”

“Oh, stop. I have Wyatt. Patrick has Sloane. The world has moved on. Besides, I think I could like her too. Did you hear her story about the patient who kept trying to trade her chocolate bars for tequila? That was really funny.”

“But I’m still on Team Ellie.”

“We’re not on teams.”

“But I’m totally on Team Wyatt. I swear, Ellie, if he turns into a douche too after all this build-up—”

“What build-up?”

“You don’t spend years claiming to hate a man, then screw his brains out, then nearly get yourself killed in an accident and refuse to even admit you screwed his brains out for months afterward, and not have secret feelings for him. You just don’t.”

I gape at her.

“This isn’t about the accident, is it?” she asks, her brow furrowing in the dim light. “Because if he’s doing this because he feels guilty, and not because he’s always been unable to handle knowing that you’re his soul mate, then I might have to slice his balls off. And I don’t want to do that. Not when I think of the trauma to his kid.”

“You are such a nut.”

“And you love me for it.”

I really do. She’s like a female version of Beck. Fun, intentionally obtuse, and sometimes annoying, but always with good intentions, and always there to have your back.

I could do without the inference that Wyatt and I are soul mates though, because while it’s fantastic for a cover story, it’s horrible for my indigestion. “I hope I can be as good a friend as you someday,” I tell her.

“Hush your mouth. Who’s limping around on pirate boots to appease the bride?”

“I’m not limping.”

“You will be when I kick you out of this car so I can go back to town and break into Jason’s room for crazy parrot sex.”

“Crazy parrot sex?”

“Huh. I was going for monkey sex with a pirate theme. That didn’t quite work, did it?”

I give her one last hug before I swing the door open. “I love you, you goober. Go seduce your fiancé until you can’t walk tomorrow.”

“Well, if I must.” She winks. “Help you to the door?”

“No. I’ve got this. You go.”

“And you go have crazy parrot sex too. Understand me? And call me if you need a ride tomorrow. I mean, if Wyatt’s willing to let you out of his sight again.”

   
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