“Nothing,” I say finally. “All I have to do is email the agency and fax in a sheet with my signature. I already researched it on their website last year.”
“I’m proud of you, Whistle.”
“Thanks.” I’m proud of me too. “Night, Jase.”
I fall asleep with a smile on my lips, contentment in my heart and questions in my head.
It’s been several days, but I haven’t asked Avery if she’s emailed the adoption agency or faxed in the information release. I am serious about helping her. Why wouldn’t I be? Even if my own parents are messed up most of the time, I love them and everyone deserves to know who brought them into this world. Even if it does make me nervous to think about what kind of mother gave a sweet little thing like Avery away. Still, I don’t want to hassle her. I just want her to be happy. Little by little, I’m watching her blossom and it’s beautiful. She doesn’t seem to be hiding quite as much, her eyes are bright and determined, and she’s even excited about going out this weekend. It’s no longer like pulling teeth to get her to come out. Though I know if I push too hard, too fast, I could lose her.
This weekend one of my frat brothers is playing at a local club and everyone is going to watch him perform. I wouldn’t mind having Avery alone at my house, but she seems excited about going.
I tell her I will pick her up, amazed that she’s set on doing this even without the safety net of her friends. Apparently, they have some theater party tonight. But I like that she trusts me. I stop in front of Avery’s dorm, where she’s waiting on the sidewalk. Her face lights up when she sees me. It’s strange to me that she wouldn’t kiss me, yet she clearly feels something when I’m around. This girl keeps me guessing, that’s for sure.
Before I can even exit the car to go around and open her door, Avery’s sliding in next to me.
Her eyes widen and her mouth curls upward. I don’t know who scared her away from male attention, but it’s clear she’s hungry for it now. “Hi,” she returns.
“Ready to listen to some bad folk music?”
“Sure. I love bad folk music.”
“Then you’re in for a treat.”
We sit through two warm-up bands before my buddy Sloan makes his way to the stage. Our table of a dozen or so stands up and cheers for him. Avery does too, clapping and whistling with the rest of us. Sloan slouches on a stool and begins to strum a familiar cord. Just a man and his guitar – it’s a brave move. I’ve heard him play at the house, but never perform like this. His voice joins the notes and he’s actually decent.
Halfway through the set, Avery taps my knee. “I’m just gonna run to the restroom.”
“I’ll take you.” I rise with her.
She gives me a confused look, but nods.
I tell myself it’s because she’s so innocent and since I brought her here, she’s my responsibility to look after. But I know it’s more than that. I want every other guy in this place to know she’s with me. I rest my hand on her lower back and escort her through the bar. If I could create a sign and pin it on her back, I would. It would say back the f**k off, she’s with me.
I walk Avery to the back of the club and wait in the hallway while she’s inside the ladies room. When she emerges, I can’t resist lacing her fingers between mine and guiding her back to our table, before pulling out her chair and settling down next to her.
After the set, we head to my house and instead of taking Avery directly to my room, where I know I won’t be able to behave myself, we hang out with the small group that’s gathered in the living room. Due to limited seating, Avery sits on my lap, something that’s wreaking havoc on my self-control. I place one hand on her hip and she smiles politely at me. She wouldn’t be smiling if she knew the wicked thoughts playing through my mind right now. We’re having fun, debating the issue of our school mascot’s resemblance to a penis. Hearing Avery say the word penis is a treat. Her mouth pouts in the hottest way, and her cheeks are tinged in pink. Stacia comes in and interrupts. Damn Stacia always ruins all my fun.
The chatter in the room dies down as a roomful of eyes look between Stacia and me, complete with Avery balanced on my lap. Shit f**k. This isn’t good. I feel Avery stiffen, and my hand involuntarily grips her hip, telling her to stay put. Stacia and I aren’t dating anymore. She’s just going to have to deal with it. Besides, it’s not like I invited her here tonight. I swear, I think she drives by and whenever there are lights on or cars in the driveway, she just comes in.
Stacia walks straight past me, swinging her hips and heads for the kitchen. “Trey, make me a drink, hun,” she says, luring him after her.
I hate how she thinks men are at her beck and call. Shit, they usually are, but that doesn’t make it okay. And Trey’s an easy target. He’s just horny enough to follow. Asshole.
That was Stacia’s big complaint of me when she and I dated. I wasn’t attentive enough for her. Her word, not mine. She doesn’t want a boyfriend; she wants a pu**y-whipped fool at her beck and call to spoil her rotten. Maybe I’ll feel that way about a girl someday, but not Stacia. She’s already spoiled enough. For the right person, I’ll want to do those things, not be guilt-tripped into them.
Even after Stacia leaves the room, Avery’s stick-straight posture tells me she’s still uncomfortable. I want to get back to our easy banter. “I think it’s time for your next challenge,” I whisper near her ear, my lips rubbing against her skin.
Avery relaxes in my arms and turns slowly to glance at me, a slow smile forming on her lips. “What’d you have in mind?”
If I tell her what’s really on my mind, I’ll get slapped. “I want you to go talk to that guy over there.” I look pointedly at one of my frat brothers, who’s picked up Sloan’s acoustic and is butchering the simple notes.
“Done and done.” She smiles and rises from my lap.
As soon as her warm weight is gone, I’m regretting sending her away. But watching her confidence grow is a thing of beauty. I’m riveted watching Avery spark up a conversation with Jared. Maybe this was a bad f**king idea. He continues strumming the guitar, glancing up at her only occasionally, and only to give the briefest of replies.
A few seconds later, she slides back into my lap with a huff. “Well, that was a letdown. He practically ignored me.” She pouts. “Aren’t these little challenges supposed to be good for my self-esteem?”