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Royal(6)

By´╝ÜWillow Renshaw



“Nah. Derek’s cool. He’ll get over it.”

“Not if you hurt me, he won’t.”

“If anyone’s going to get hurt here, it’s going to be me.”

I scoff. “Why’s that?”

“’Cause I’ve waited years for a date with Demi Rosewood. Pretty sure it’s going to be epic. Pretty sure I’m never going to want to let you go.”

“Stop being weird. I don’t like it. Go back to being . . . you.”

I yawn and rise, tossing the throw pillow back on the seat behind me. Reaching over, I ruffle my fingers through his messy chocolate hair. If I treat him like a puppy, maybe I can ignore the fact that my heart’s beating a hundred miles per hour and my lips are tingling at the thought of touching his.

“I’m going to bed,” I say in a too-cool-to-care tone.

Royal captures my wrist and pulls my fingers from his mane, rising slowly. Our eyes catch in the dark, and I wonder if he can hear how hard my heart is beating now that we’re standing so close.

“Friday night,” he says. “I’ll pick you up at seven. We can go into the city. Do anything you want to do.”

“I don’t want things to be different between us,” I say, “if we go on this date.”

“You know what I’ve noticed about you?” he asks.

“What?”

“You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter what, you’re always expecting the worse. Always on edge. Always waiting for something bad to happen.” He cups my face in his hands and tilts his head, studying me. “Everything’s always going to work out. And I can say that, ‘cause I’ve been through some shit, and I’m barely eighteen. You have a beautiful life, Demi. Perfect friends, perfect family, perfect house. Bad shit doesn’t happen to people like you.”

“Bad things can happen to anyone.” I fold my arms. “And I am thankful for everything I have, just so you know.”

He shakes his head, biting the inside of his lip. “Saying that doesn’t make it true.”

My lips button. I can’t tell him that my entire life, I’ve had this weighted feeling in the pit of my stomach that the second I reach my pinnacle of happiness, it’s all going to be swept away without any kind of warning.

I’ve never told anyone that. It makes me sound crazy. They’ll chalk it up to anxiety. Mom will ask me to see a shrink. I don’t need talk therapy. It’s just a feeling I’ve always had. Like I was born with it. It’s always been there, like an invisible cloud of darkness lurking over my shoulder.

“Whatever, Royal.” I move away from him and eye the stairs. “I’m going upstairs now. Don’t forget to ask my dad if you can take me on a date. He’s old-fashioned like that.”

“Done.”

I stop, turning back toward him. “Excuse me? When?”

“Don’t worry about it. But Robert’s cool with it. Laid down some rules, but we’re good.”

“What did he say?” My curiosity is alive and well. Growing up, Dad always said we couldn’t wear makeup, swear, or date until we were out of the house. I’m sure he was exaggerating, but I can’t imagine that he gave Royal his blessing without making it into a big thing.

“He basically made me promise to marry you someday.” Royal smirks. “More or less. Maybe not in so many words. But the threat was there. Implied, really.”

I roll my eyes. I can see my dad putting the fear of God into Royal.

“He won’t have to worry about that.” I chuckle and amble toward the landing of the stairs. With my hand on the railing, I look back at Royal, standing in the middle of the dark living room bathed in moonlight. For a fraction of a second, he looks older, wiser, more worldly. I blink, and he’s back.

“Won’t he, though?” Royal winks.

“Night, Royal.”

“Night, Demi.”



***



Demi, Age 18

{18 months later}

I love him.

I love him, I love him, I love him, I love him.

The curtains to my bedroom window are pulled, and I’ve been watching the driveway for hours. Royal had to head upstate to visit some family. I didn’t even know he had family. He never really mentioned anyone, never really talked about his past in any kind of detail. But apparently, someone needed him, because he left in a hurry late last night with a backpack and a half-charged phone. Said he’d be back by dinner Sunday night.

I roll to my stomach, propping my head in my hands and tapping my fingers along my cheek to the beat of the song pumping through my ear buds.

Every song reminds me of Royal. I can’t listen to the radio anymore without feeling all the feels, every emotion magnified, every sensation intensified. Nobody ever warned me that being in love was like a constant Dopamine high.

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