“Do you think you’ll get married? What about babies? Are you gonna have ’em? That would make us aunties, right? Oh, and can we be bridesmaids at the wedding? I wanna wear a—”
Alexa twists in her seat, trying to slap at Gabby in the back. “Gabby! Shut. Up. Jennie doesn’t want you as a bridesmaid.” She turns back around. “Sorry about her. Cool isn’t in her dictionary.”
A bloodcurdling shriek roars through the car as Gabby pinches Alexa, and I shove my arm between them, pushing them apart.
“All right, enough! Holy crap, I thought Carter and I were bad.” I exhale loudly and meet Stephie’s gaze in the rearview mirror. She shrugs. “You’re lucky the car was already in park. I have a terrible track record with stop signs.”
“But how?” Alexa asks. “Stop signs don’t move.”
“Yes, Alexa. I’m aware. Your brother likes to remind me at least weekly.” Climbing out of the car, I glance back at Garrett’s sisters. “Okay, ladies. Let’s go.”
Gabby’s the fastest to escape, quickly linking her arm through mine, Stephie next. Alexa ambles beside us, watching our joined arms like she’s feeling a little left out, even if she won’t say it. She’s in that grumpy preteen phase where cool and detached is the the only way to act. Mostly, she doesn’t want to have to ask for the attention she’s longing for. She pretends to be annoyed every time Garrett yanks her down beside him on the couch for movie night, but she’s as much of a snuggle bear as he is. That’s why she stays tucked into his side until the end credits roll.
“Hey, Lex,” I call. “Will you sit next to me at lunch later?”
“Really?” Her hazel eyes glow before she schools her expression, lifts a shoulder. “If you want.”
I give her a wink, making her flush. She’s so much like her brother.
I don’t think I truly realized the weight and depth of my love for Garrett until I saw him with his sisters. Watching him sway back and forth with Ireland in his arms while he babbles away to her really does it for me too.
Garrett and I aren’t technically living together, but his family moved out here at the beginning of April. Garrett’s dad doesn’t start his job until the end of the month, and we’re only halfway through it now, but it’s given everyone a chance to get settled into their new city. They’ve been staying in my condo, and I’ve been staying with Garrett.
Today, his parents are signing the papers for their new home, the one they take possession of in four weeks. I don’t know how to tell Garrett that I really just…don’t want to leave.
Falling asleep wrapped in the heat of his body, waking with his lips on my skin, his murmured words in my ear…it’s my favorite thing in the world. Even when he’s on the road, there’s something comforting about being in his space, something that feels like home.
“Wow,” Stephie murmurs, coaxing me from my thoughts as we step through the front doors of SFU. Her eyes are wide with wonder as she looks around the expansive foyer. “It’s so different in the daytime without all the people here.”
“Recital nights are packed,” I agree. We sold out two weekends in a row, and I’m proud to say an entire row was filled with my friends and family. I felt like I was dancing just for them. “But the semester is over now. Everyone’s finishing up exams, so the school is quiet.”
I sweep the girls into the dance studio. They ooh and ahh as they spin around the space, then follow me to the back where my cubby is.
As luck would have it, Simon has also chosen today to empty his cubby.
“Jennie.” He drops a textbook to his feet. “I didn’t know you were coming in today.” He looks to the girls. “Who are they?”
“Garrett’s sisters,” I reply with disinterest, packing my things into my bag.
“Right. So you two are…?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Gabby’s voice snaps from behind me. I glance over my shoulder to find her scowling at Simon, arms pinned, hip popped. “My big brother’s her boyfriend. And who are you, you frickin’ turkey?”
Simon fumbles for a response before giving up and hovering at my shoulder. “Uh, hey, Jennie.” He clears his throat into his fist. “Could we maybe…talk?”
“I don’t see what the point would be.” I yank the zipper, closing my bag. “You don’t really know how to listen, do you, Simon?”
“Yeah, Simon.” Gabby snaps her fingers through the air in the shape of a Z. “So back the heck up, buddy.”
There’s a tiny angel on my shoulder telling me I should reel her in, but the devil on my shoulder urges me to set her loose.
The angel wins. Damnit.
“All right, tiger. Rein it in.” I turn away from Simon, gesturing for the girls to go ahead of me.
“You’re really just gonna walk away?” Simon hollers. “After five years of friendship? Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic? How many times do I have to tell you I’m sorry?”
My sneakers squeak as I skid to a stop, and rage thuds in my ears, in line with the beating of my heart.
His expression tells me everything I need to know: he’s not sorry. He wasn’t before and he’s sure as hell not now. What he wants is forgiveness he doesn’t deserve. He wants to walk away without the guilt of what he’s done.
“Sometimes an apology isn’t enough.”
When he opens his mouth, I beat him to it.
“Sometimes it’s not enough,” I repeat. “People like you throw out apologies like greetings, empty and meaningless, something you feel required to say. And people like me, people who like to believe there’s good in everyone, that we deserve second chances because we all make mistakes…people like me forgive you. We forgive you once, then twice. We forgive you again and again until somebody walks into our lives and shows us it’s not hard to keep promises. To apologize and mean it. To commit to being better. Until somebody shows us there’s no room in our lives for people who don’t care about boundaries. For people like you, Simon.”
Alexa slips her hand into mine, squeezing gently before she urges her younger sisters forward, and we head toward the exit, together.
I’m halfway out the door when I remember an item at the bottom of my backpack. I stowed it there at the beginning of the year. It was meant for an unsuspecting Krissy, but it wouldn’t be wasted on Simon.
I dig the hefty item out of my bag, walk back to Simon, and place it in his hand. “Here. I got you this before everything. You might as well have it.”
The smarmy grin that crawls up his face lets me know that, despite literally everything I’ve just said, he thinks this means I still care. So I stand there and wait for him to open the black cylinder.
Simon makes a triumphant noise as the object spring opens, and my grin grows as his dies.
Shiny confetti dicks in every shade of pink rain down around him, covering his hair, sticking to his cheeks, his clothing. They fall inside his open backpack, and a particularly large fucker catches on his top lip, clinging there as his eyes blaze.
For the life of me, I can’t get my grin to stop growing. “Let’s go, girls.”
“Um,” Stephie starts cautiously. “Were those…penises?”
“Yes. Don’t tell your mother.”
“Can we tell Daddy?”
“No. Wait. Yes.” That man loves me. So does Garrett’s mom, but she has a way of laying on the guilt with only the look in her eyes. I try to avoid being on the receiving end of that stare. Sometimes I just look anywhere but at her and she says she knows I’m avoiding her.
When we’re loaded in the car, I face the girls.
“Don’t ever let anyone walk all over you, ladies. Know your worth, set your boundaries, and don’t let anyone disrespect either of those things. If they do, knee ’em in the nuts and hit ’em with an exploding confetti dick bomb straight to the face. Understood?”
“Yes, Jennie,” they respond in unison.
“I wanna be strong like you when I grow up,” Alexa says quietly.
“You already are strong. But it’s okay to have days where you don’t feel strong too.”
“I wanna be a dancer and a cheerleader when I grow up,” Gabby pipes up. “Like you and Emily.”
“Oh, honey. Emily’s not a real cheerleader.”
“Then how come she was wearing a cheerleading outfit when she was saying good-bye to her friend yesterday? Me and Stephie were riding our scooters in the hallway and we saw her.”
“You know what? That’s a great question. You should definitely ask her at lunch.”
I crank the ignition, connect my phone to the car with the adapter, then quickly yank the cord right back out at the message that lights the screen.
Bear: Dreamt about fucking ur soaking wet pussy all night long until ur throat was raw from screaming my name.
Bear: Oops, autocorrect. That was supposed to say good morning, sunshine.
“Is that Garrett?” Gabby asks, leaning around the seat to peek at my phone.
I tug it into my chest. “No.”
Alexa squints at me. “You’re lying.”
“I have to admit, Jennie, you do look guilty.” Stephie pokes my cheek. “Your face got super red when you read the message. Alexa was always like that when she was texting Jacob Daniels.”
“My face did not get super red.” Her brother just lit my insides on fire with a simple text message. “He was just being sweet. Super sweet.” I’m gonna let him tie me up tonight.
“What did he say that was so sweet?” Stephie frowns. “Did he say he wants to braid your hair? ’Cause last week I caught him with one of the ribbons you use in your hair. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was going to braid your hair for you. His face got really red, too, and he was kinda yelling.” She shrugs. “I guess he really likes when you use those ribbons.”
“Yes,” I say slowly. “That’s definitely why he had my ribbon.”
“Maybe one day I’ll have a boyfriend who wants to tie my hair with a ribbon too,” Gabby says brightly.
Garrett’s gonna kill me.
It’s been a long week without Garrett.
All right, it’s only been four days.
It’s been a long four days without Garrett. They’ve been on the road a lot the past few weeks as the regular season finished up. They nabbed second place in their division, and they get one day off tomorrow before jumping into the first round of the play-offs here at home.
School is done, which means I have unlimited free time until I either get a job or open my own studio. I really want the studio, but with it comes a lot of work, so I’m thinking of taking a business course to help me get there. In the meantime, I’ve been spending all my free time with the girls—Olivia, Ireland, Cara, Emily, and Garrett’s sisters.
Watching my niece grow is truly the most incredible thing. She’s changed so much in just five weeks, and Cara and I sleep there most nights when the boys are away. Carter is on FaceTime with Olivia every single minute he’s not on the ice because he doesn’t want to miss a thing with Ireland.
I’ve been busy, but it doesn’t stop me from missing Garrett when he’s gone. With play-offs here, I can’t help but think about what lies on the other side: months with him all to myself.
Silver moonlight slices through the cracks in the blinds in Garrett’s bedroom, bouncing off the oversized mirror that hangs on the wall. Garrett hung it just for me when I temporarily moved in because I complained about not having somewhere to check out my ass and my outfits.
I strip down and turn on the lamp, standing in the reflection of the orange glow, admiring the body that’s carried my dreams of dancing for years on end.
I’ve filled out more in my time with Garrett, the result of endless mugs of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, special edition Pop-Tarts, hearty dinners, munching on the couch while we watch movies, sleeping in in favor of early morning workouts, and just…appreciating every inch of myself, letting someone else appreciate it too. Areas that I spent years nit-picking, pulling at, looking for ways to make smaller, have softened in the most beautiful way. I’m more confident and in love with my body than I’ve ever been.
But my favorite parts are the tiny marks that paint my skin, faded hues of purple and pink, where Garrett’s taken his time loving on every inch of me with his mouth. My fingers flutter over every stain, igniting a spark deep in my belly, as if I can feel his mouth on me.
I smile as I touch the mark on my collarbone, the one Garrett left on purpose for Carter to see. He called it payback for being a dick but then shrieked at the top of his lungs as Carter chased him throughout the house.
My heart skitters at the sound of the dead bolt sliding, and when the door opens and closes, butterflies erupt in my belly. A heavy thud as a bag falls to the ground, then the quick padding of footsteps echoes in my ears, drumming along with my pulse. Garrett appears in the reflection of the mirror, pausing in the doorway, and a grin ignites across my face.
His eyes dance as he watches me admire all the ways he’s claimed pieces of me, and he slowly crosses the room, tugging on his tie, popping the first few buttons of his shirt.
Broad fingers slide along my waist, palms gliding over my belly, singeing my skin. Garrett’s chin hits my shoulder as he wraps his arms around me.
“Mine,” he murmurs, right before he skims my jaw and forces my face to his. His mouth covers mine and I open without hesitation, a soft sigh escaping my lips.
I reach back, fingers running through his blond waves as he trails wet kisses down my neck. Our gazes lock in the mirror, and his hand glides down my torso. My belly tightens as I watch his fingers creep closer, and my back arches, urging him there faster. He smiles against my neck, and when he dips two fingers between my legs, gathering my wetness, desire unfurls, shooting through me like flames.
Slowly, he works the tight bundle of nerves at the cleft of my thighs, drawing out each whimper, my fingernails clawing at his arms where he holds me. He sinks two fingers inside me, gaze heavy and heady as he watches me climb higher. I squirm, panting, and when his fingers curl, I come on a gasp, all while he whispers, “Mine.”
His palm lands between my shoulder blades as he pushes me forward, guiding my hands to the frame of the large mirror. I watch with rapt attention as his tie slides from around his neck, white shirt falling to the ground behind him, the rest of his clothes following.
Garrett urges my legs farther apart, cock pressing into my back as his hands roam my body, fingertips dancing over my belly, palms squeezing my breasts, thumbs scraping over my taut nipples. A lopsided smile blooms on his face before his lips press below my ear.
“I love you,” he murmurs. When he sinks inside me with one unhurried, deep thrust, he grips my throat and softly growls, “Mine.”
His eyes watch me carefully, hooded and heated, searing every place they touch as he moves inside me. His hips slap against my ass, hands gripping my hips as he moves faster, spurred on by each jagged breath, the moans, the whimpers.
I don’t want to leave. I want to stay here, right here with him.
“Your parents sealed the deal for the house today,” I manage, jolting forward with the weight of his plunge.
“They move in four weeks.”
“That means I can move back home soon.”
“You’re already home.”
“This is your home.” The words lick at the skin on my neck, hot and sweet. “I’m keeping you.”
“Are you asking me to move in with you?”
“I’m telling you you’re not going anywhere.”
“Hmm. Feels very bossy of you.”
“Guess you’re rubbing off on me, sunshine.”
My head lolls forward with a soft cry when he brushes my clit. “It’s only going to get worse if I-I…mmm, if I stay.”
“I know. I’m dealing with it. We’re all dealing with. I’ve warned everyone to expect a new, growly Garrett.”
“But I like old, gentle Garrett.”
His pace slows to a torturous speed, fingers easing off my hips, out of where they’ve dug a home in my skin.
“Garrett,” I whine, slamming my ass backward. “Harder.”
“You said you prefer gentle.”
“There’s a time and a place for gentle, and right now isn’t it. Fuck me like you mean it.”
His tongue glides up my neck. “Say please.”
“Fuck me, please.”
“C’mon, sunshine. You can do better than that.”
A shudder rolls down my spine as he removes himself completely, then sinks back inside achingly slow.
“Please,” I whimper as his thumb circles my clit. “Fuck me, Garrett. I don’t want to be able to stand when you’re done with me.”
His hips still, keeping me full of him, and I feel his smile against my neck before he pulls out and drives himself forward with a single punishing plow that makes me scream, catching myself against the mirror. He tangles his fingers in my hair, pulling my head taut, keeping my gaze on his reflection as he pistons inside me with a ferocity he reserves just for me, just for the bedroom.
He yanks me off him and spins me around, lifting me up, winding my legs around his waist, and slamming me back down. My nails rake across his shoulders as he presses me against the mirror and fucks me, and every single inch of me trembles as pressure builds low in my belly.
My walls tighten around him, pulling him deeper as his thrusts quicken. His blue-green eyes stare down at me, shining with so much love, so much wonder, and I take his mouth, forcing him to swallow his own name when I come, soaking his cock.
“Mine,” Garrett whispers.
He sinks down to the ground, pulling me between his legs, holding me to him as I watch the reflection of his lips dot my jaw, my neck, my shoulder.
“Mine,” he murmurs with every kiss.
His smile is so tender as he gazes at me in the mirror, beautiful and special, like it’s all for me. His nose nudges my jaw until I turn my face to his, and he presses his lips to mine.
“My best friend, my sunshine, and my whole heart.”
Fireworks erupt and my heart takes flight as I settle into the love I always wanted, the love I craved. I couldn’t have ever imagined it’d feel like this, so whole, so complete it makes my shoulders uncurl, makes me stand a little taller.
I might have been confident before, bold and self-aware, but the more I look back on it, the more of an act it feels like. Nobody took the time to get to know me, so I put up walls to keep everyone out, to avoid the heartache altogether.
In the end, all I did was lose bits of myself. I placed myself in a box and hid my most vulnerable parts, the pieces I was too scared to show, the parts that made me exactly who I was, because I was afraid people wouldn’t love me for me.
But maybe what I was actually afraid of was that somebody would love me for me. That they’d see all of me, the sharp, jagged edges right along with the soft, frayed ones, and still choose me.
And that’s what Garrett does.
He sees all of me, and he chooses me, day in and day out.
He says I’m his sunshine, but I think he’s mine.
I shine a whole lot brighter with that man igniting my sky.
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