Playing Her Secret Crush(6)

By: Casey Griffin

“Your family’s good?” she asked casually.

He shrugged. “The usual.” Obviously, she hadn’t noticed him checking out her daughter, so he relaxed and went back down the stairs to talk.

“That’s good.” She smiled warmly enough, but since the Warners were practically his second family, she knew things weren’t that “good.” Her expression conveyed the same pep talk she usually gave him. Things will get better with time.

Mrs. Warner was great. Alex felt like he could talk to her about stuff like his brother. Whenever he tried with his own mom, she just ended up crying and leaving the room.

When Mrs. Warner’s eyes landed on her daughter, they widened. She made a pleased little gasping sound. “Sweetheart, you look cute as a button.”

Katie rolled her eyes and came back down the stairs. “Yeah. Button. That’s what I was going for.”

“This is a nice dress.” She tugged at the fabric, causing Alex’s eyes to drop again. “When did you get it?”

“This thing? Oh, it’s old,” Katie said. “Just something I threw on. I wanted to see if it still fits before school starts.”

But her mom’s smile only grew wider. “Is this about a boy? It is, isn’t it?”

“Mom,” Katie groaned.

A boy? Alex’s hand tightened on the bannister. Surely she was only teasing her. Katie had never had a boyfriend—well, except for that loser in freshman year, but that was before Alex had met her.

“It’s fine, sweetheart,” her mom said. “You’re starting senior year. It’s perfectly normal to be interested in dating.” She played with Katie’s long, dark hair, which was down for once instead of in a ponytail.

Katie tried to swat her away. “Mom!”

“I’m just saying, girls your age are always gossiping about boys. You spend so much time playing that video game that I was starting to worry. It’s good to see you putting yourself out there and getting all dolled up, acting like a girl.”

“I’m not dolled up.”

Alex frowned. “You are kind of dolled up.”

“And I am a girl.”

“Yes. You’re my little girl.” Mrs. Warner squealed as she pulled her daughter in for a hug.

Alex laughed as Katie squirmed in her mother’s embrace, but his smile faded quickly. Sure, maybe other girls their age always gossiped about guys. Heck, he knew they gossiped about him, too. He’d seen the flirty smiles, heard his name whispered and the giggles as he passed them in the halls. But Katie wasn’t like that. She didn’t spend all her time talking about guys. She spent her time…well, with him.

Katie relented and sank into the hug. “Umm, this is great, Mom, but is it okay if we’re done with the mother-daughter bonding thing now?”

“Sorry. You two probably have lots to catch up on.” She reluctantly pulled away. “But just so you know, you went a little overboard on the lipstick, honey,” she didn’t quite whisper.

Katie’s hand flew to her mouth and she quickly wiped at it, smearing lipstick on the back of her hand. With a sigh, she turned and trudged upstairs.

Alex followed her up to her room, stifling his laughter. He could sense Katie shooting looks at him over her shoulder, but he kept his eyes on his feet (and off that dress). He couldn’t think of her like that. After everything they’d been through together, she felt like family. He could even say he loved her. Just not like that.

Maybe there was a time, at the beginning, when he’d hoped… But it wasn’t possible. Not now.

When he walked into Katie’s bedroom, he wrinkled his nose. It smelled like perfume. It was a nice scent, just not how Katie usually smelled—like her coconut shampoo.

As Alex dropped his backpack on the floor, Katie closed the door to her room and turned to him. “So, how was your vacation, really?” she asked, and he knew she didn’t mean the answer he’d give anyone else.

Alex sighed and flopped down on Katie’s carefully made bed to relax. Sometimes it felt like her house was the only place he could relax.

After his brother died, he’d spent a lot of time hiding out in Katie’s room. Home just didn’t feel the same anymore. The Warners’ place became more his home. Being with Katie felt like home.

“Better now that it’s over,” Alex answered. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. But Jason died almost two years ago now, and it felt like his wake all over again. Everyone was talking about his accomplishments, what he could have accomplished, if he’d lived…” He sighed. “I get it. I do. I’m just tired of it, I guess.”