Kiss Me Like This
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“Can be broken.”
“If I’d known your mother was going to upset you so much, I wouldn’t have let her in.” Abi looked out the still-open door. “You guys go back to Sean’s place, and I’ll do damage control for whatever people heard.” Her roommate hugged her. “Text me later to let me know you’re okay?”
“I should have told you about my mom, Abi, about how things are between us—” But she’d been so afraid to trust anyone.
Just as scared as she’d been by the thought of having to one day return to her old life.
Sean didn’t trust himself to say anything as they walked out of Serena’s dorm and headed for his frat. Not only because he was so damned angry with her mother...but also because for everything Serena had ever said about wanting to stay at Stanford, he finally realized just how high the outside pressures on her were. Not only from her mom, but also from powerful movie stars like Smith Sullivan who wanted her to star in one of his films.
The truth was that when she’d brought up the movie the previous night, Sean hadn’t asked for any extra details because he hadn’t wanted to even think about the possibility that it might get put back on her schedule in the future. Instead, he’d stupidly wanted to bury his head in the sand and believe that nothing would ever pull her back to her old life. Exactly the way his sister had so wisely predicted it would, a handful of weeks ago.
Losing someone he loved again was his worst fear.
But how could he have stopped himself from loving Serena?
Especially when seeing her with his family today had changed something inside him, had taken the love he already felt for her and made it so much bigger. So much deeper. Even the small moments had mattered so much, like when his dog had licked her face and she’d been so carefree, so happy. He’d made a silent vow to do whatever he could to give her that happiness all the time. But the crazy thing was, it had taken her mom coming today to show him that facing the hard stuff tonight was probably the only way either of them could really get to that happiness.
Which was why, as soon as they were inside his room, he said, “Yesterday, when you found those pictures of my mom...I’m really sorry for what I said to you.”
“You’ve already apologized. More than once. You don’t have to apologize anymore, Sean.”
“It just…whenever I think about what I said about you and your mom, how I refused to even try to understand why you hadn’t spoken to her since you started school...” He regretted more than he could say every word that he’d flung at her about taking her mother for granted. “God, I’m an ass**le, Serena.”
“You’re not an ass**le, you just—”
“Made stupid assumptions. Really stupid ones. Because even without giving me the full picture, you gave me enough little pieces here and there that I should have put it together.” He took her ice-cold hands in his to try to warm them. “My parents always completely supported me in doing whatever I wanted to do…and yet I still keep bowing to the pressures of playing baseball rather than spending time doing things I might end up liking better. I mean, I like baseball and going pro wouldn’t suck. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I hadn’t been good at it, if I might be more focused on photography by now. But you had no one to stick up for you, did you?”
When she replied with a soft no, he had to work like hell to rein in his fury. “You are so damned brave, Serena. Do you even see it in yourself? How strong you are?”
She didn’t respond for several long moments, and he knew she was going around and around and around inside her head over decisions about the future that she felt she needed to make right this second.
Finally, she asked, “What was that like? Having a mom who loved you just the way you are?”
He’d told her she could push him, that he needed her to push him when no one else would. But now that she was, and he knew it was finally time to let it all out...it wasn’t easy. Not even close. Every muscle, every tendon in his well-tuned body was poised for flight. But he’d already admitted to her that he might want to take pictures more than he wanted to play baseball, which was something he’d never said to anyone. Hell, it was something he hadn’t even wanted to admit to himself, not when it was easier just to keep moving in the direction everyone believed was his destiny. But what if he—and Serena—were actually meant for different destinies? Ones that veered from her beauty and his athletic prowess? Ones that had her poring over books in libraries and had him photographing sunrises in the mountains?
“I thought everyone had a mom like mine,” he finally told her. “She was home with us until Maddie started kindergarten and then she went back to teaching third grade. We used to complain about having her at school with us, because it meant we couldn’t get away with anything, but we all secretly loved knowing she was there. If you fell down or felt sick or just needed to ask her a question, she was just a few doors away. And always ready to listen.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t a secret to her how you really felt.”
“It wasn’t,” he agreed, able to smile about those memories for the first time in what felt like forever. “There were a lot of us to wrangle, but our house was always open to our friends, too. The six of us would often turn into twice as many in the afternoons, and it was pretty crazy, but somehow everyone knew what was on the okay list and what wasn’t.”
“Was she strict?”
He nodded. “It probably came from having to keep classes of kids from rolling over her, but she was also really fair. Of course, even knowing the rules, we would still get into all kinds of trouble.”
“Now that I’ve met your brothers and sisters,” she said with a little smile that he was so damned happy to see, “I can only imagine the trouble all of you must have gotten into.”
“I was eight years old and stupid as a brick when I broke my wrist. Justin stopped laughing when he broke his ankle. Drew had already been through it with two broken legs by then, though.”
“We’d see him coming in the wheelchair going a hundred miles an hour and we’d all scatter trying to save ourselves. Even Olivia and Maddie broke fingers and toes. Only Grant skated through unscathed. The stories I could tell you...” He grinned, thinking back. “Most of the time, though, even when we got in trouble, as long as no one got really hurt, she’d tell us we were all grounded or doing extra chores for the next week. But then she’d also compliment us on our creativity and would tell us to keep thinking outside the box, just to be a little smarter about it in the future.”