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Against All Odds: Chapter 37


I’ve never had a guy come over to my parents’ house for dinner before. Visit the house I grew up in, that’s filled with reminders of my childhood. My cement handprints are on the front walk. The walls are covered with photos I took and elementary school art projects. Several of my school photos are attached to the fridge with magnets.

My parents met Walker once, the one time they came to Boston during my sophomore year, and it did not go that well. After about ten minutes, I could tell they didn’t like him, and Walker never made much effort to sway their opinion toward the positive.

Everything about tonight feels different, from the moment my mom opens the front door and points out the handprints. I avoid Aidan’s amused gaze as she tells the story of how excited I was to make them.

She beams at our clasped hands as we enter the house, then fawns over the bouquet of flowers Aidan brought her. Launches into a series of questions as soon as we’re seated in the living room.

My mom adores him, just like I knew she would.

My dad isn’t the stern presence I thought he’d be either. He doesn’t say much from his seat in his favorite armchair, but he’s not scowling or grumbling. He mostly watches us, taking careful note of Aidan’s hand on my knee. He rests his hand there every time we drive somewhere too, and it’s become natural. And my dad’s expression isn’t disapproving, just assessing. Just like he seems to notice how Aidan gets up to refill my drink as soon as I finish it.

My dad and I haven’t discussed Aidan beyond the awkward “Sorry about this morning,” delivered by me right after Holt won the championship. I think my conversation with my mom helped a lot more. I’m sure she passed along everything I told her.

I figured tonight’s dinner invitation was a result of my mom twisting my dad’s arm. But my dad accepts Aidan’s offer to help with the grilling readily enough, and I can see their lips moving while they’re standing on the back patio so they’re not standing in silence. Hopefully they’re discussing hockey, not me.

It’s rainy and cold out, but they seem determined not to let it impinge on the barbecue efforts.

My mom and I end up in the kitchen, her tossing the salad while I sip on wine.

“You like him?” I ask.

She nods. “He’s very charming. Polite. Good-looking.” I make a face, and she smiles. “But you know what my favorite thing about Aidan is?”


My mom points the salad tongs she’s holding at me. “That smile on your face.”

I take a sip of wine, pretty sure I’m blushing. “Do you think Dad’ll be okay with it?”

“I think having your kid grow up is bittersweet. We’re both so proud of you, Rylan. But…you’re his little girl.” My mom smiles. “And I’m positive it didn’t occur to him this is how the tutoring arrangement he set up might go. Between that and the way he found out…it threw him for a loop. Just give him a chance to readjust.”

I nod, then glance toward the patio. They’re still talking, which is hopefully a good sign.

“Do you think I made a mistake?” I ask my mom. “Me not starting at Holt as a freshman?”

“Do you think it was a mistake?” she counters.

I lift a shoulder, then let it drop. “I don’t know. Part of me thinks so, since it’s felt right being here in a way it never felt in Boston. I thought I just needed time to get comfortable there, that everything would start to make sense, and it never did. Then I came here and everything was so much easier, from the start. I hate thinking I missed out on that for two years. But then part of me thinks…maybe I needed to go to another school to appreciate Holt. Does that make any sense?”

“It makes a lot of sense, sweetheart. And I think instead of focusing on how you got here, just enjoy that you are. Don’t look back at the paths you could have taken. Focus on what’s ahead.”

I nod. “I am. Or I’m trying to, at least.”


The sliding door opens and my dad steps inside. “We need an offload tray, Miriam.”

My mom nods, then turns to rummage through one of the lower cabinets.

I glance at my dad. “Everything…okay out there?”

His neutral expression doesn’t change. “Phillips isn’t terrible with a grill. Picked it up faster than penalty kills.”

“His name is Aidan, Dad. Which you know.”

“I know, honey. And if I ever call him that, you’ll know that things are not okay.”

I take that to mean my dad is still claiming Aidan as one of his players, who he always refers to by their last names. That there’s some affection there, buried beneath his obligation to interrogate any guy I date.

“He’s…important to me,” I say.

My mom hands my dad a metal tray. “Here you go, Anthony.”

My dad hands it to me. “Take that out to Phillips. He should be able to handle it.”

It sounds like another tiny endorsement.

After I take the tray, my dad doesn’t let go.

“No guy will ever be good enough for you,” he tells me. “Not my stubborn, brilliant, beautiful little girl. But…” He smiles. “You could do worse than Phillips. A lot worse.”

I swallow. Nod. “Thanks, Dad.”

He nods back. There’s still a lump in my throat as I head outside with the tray clutched in one hand.

I feel so lucky. So loved. So much like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Even the chilly, damp air doesn’t extinguish my good mood.

“I flipped everything again, so…” Aidan glances over, registers it’s me, and then straightens from the grill. “Oh. Hey. What happened to Coach?”

“He sent me out here. I think it’s a vote of confidence in your barbecuing skills.”

“Oh. Okay. Cool.” He lifts the lid of the grill to survey the cooking meat. “Is there a thermometer somewhere? I think it’s done, but I really don’t want to fuck this up by feeding your parents anything raw.”

The only other time I’ve ever seen Aidan this nervous was the morning he asked me to be his girlfriend. He was rambling and fidgety the whole drive here, talking about going bowling with Harlow and Conor next weekend. Mentioning the voicemail his dad left him and the paper he has due on Monday.

And now? Fiddling with the burners and frowning at the food? He looks vulnerable. So far from the suave guy lounging in that stone hot tub, staring up at the stars like a fallen god.

“I’ll grab a thermometer,” I say.

“Great, thanks.”

I turn to go, then turn back. I’ve spent the past week debating when, where, how to say this to him. Maybe he didn’t mean it, that night. Maybe it will freak him out.

But Aidan has a talent for pushing me out of my comfort zone, so I let him draw me out once again. Even if he doesn’t feel the same way, I want him to know this is how I feel.

“Hey, Aidan?”

“Yeah?” he replies, still studying the grill.

A light mist has started to fall, backlit by the light attached to the rear of my parents’ house. All it illuminates is the patio, the rest of the fenced yard lost in the night. All that’s visible is Aidan, the grill, and the empty pots my mom will replant in the spring.

“I love you.”

Immediately, he tenses. I can see his shoulder muscles contract beneath his sweater.

Aidan turns to face me, the intensity in his expression severe as he studies me.

“You do?” There’s something tentative and hopeful in the question, so unlike his usual confident self.

I nod. I think part of me realized loving him was inevitable from the moment I saw him standing outside my window. Or maybe it was the way my stomach dropped when I saw him sitting in steaming water. How something shifted irrevocably in that moment to accommodate this overwhelming emotion that’s only expanded.

“Yeah. I do.”

Aidan abandons the smoking grill and walks over to me. He touches me slowly—reverently—his hands landing on my hips before they slide around to my back. And he stares at me, somehow seeing all of me. I feel stripped raw in a safe way, holding his gaze as he just looks at me. Looks at me like he never wants to focus on anything else. Examine anywhere else.

His right hand lifts, his thumb brushing across my cheek and leaving a tingling trail in its wake before he twirls a piece of my hair around one finger.

“I said it first,” he tells me.

“I know. I heard you that night, in the hotel room. But I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to, and then with all the craziness after the game I just…” I exhale. “Even if you didn’t mean it, or if you’re not ready to say it, I mean it. Whenever you’re—”

Aidan smiles, shaking his head. “I meant it then, and I mean it now. I love you, Rylan Alice Keller, even though you lied about your name the first time we met and had the audacity to insult me the second time.”

I roll my eyes. “Can you please let that go?”

Aidan laughs, then kisses the top of my head. “Never. Both are fond memories I’ll never forget. Now, can you grab the thermometer before I burn the meat I spent the past twenty minutes bragging to your dad I know how to cook perfectly?”

I roll my eyes, then head for the door.


I glance back. “Yeah?”

“I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. It terrifies the shit out of me, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced. You make me want to do better. Be better. So…thank you. For making me want to change.”

“Thank you for changing,” I tell him. “Because I would have fallen in love with you anyway, and you would’ve broken my heart.”

“It was the pink pom-pom hat that pulled me,” he tells me seriously.

I shake my head. “Should I share that tip with the rest of the girls on campus?”

“Sure. But it wouldn’t have worked with any other girl on campus. Just you.”


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