A Little More Touch Me
The Fallout Series Book 2
If I could punch both of my parents in the face, I would.
The traditional post-graduation dinner ritual was supposed to be one that a graduate looked forward to. Parents, proud of their child recently finishing college, gushing over what an amazing future their kid would have, and the newly formed adult relieved to finally be finished lapping up every piece of praise.
I supposed that was only for other families.
Because here I sat at a table in a very nice restaurant being lectured by my parents about how my future was going to play out.
“We just don’t understand why you’d even consider leaving,” Mom said, bringing me out of my comforting thoughts of how in a few hours, they’d be miles and miles away. “Rhian,” she snapped. Clearly, I wasn’t listening carefully enough.
The only thing showing her irritation, other than her tone, were tiny fine lines between her eyebrows. Since everyone said I looked like her, I didn’t want those. Though she appeared younger than she was and I’d love to inherit that part along with the blonde hair and blue eyes she’d given me. Though my brother looked like Dad, to whom I bore no resemblance.
“Mom, calm down,” I finally said. She loved it when I told her to calm down. Probably shouldn’t have said that. “I hear you. I just don’t agree with you.”
Dad cut in. “You don’t agree that you need a job?” Every strand of his dark hair was in place. It always was. He wasn’t overly large, but something about him was intimidating to most people. Not to me but most people.
I rolled my eyes. Leave it to him to totally misunderstand what I was saying. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“Rhian.” He sighed. “You’ve finished college and your carefree days are over. It’s time you grow up and start making decisions.”
The soft music playing in the background should’ve helped keep everyone mellow but this restaurant didn’t know my parents. And the restaurant being completely full should’ve kept their voices down. But again… my parents didn’t seem to care who heard them dress me down.
“Yes, Father, I know. It’s time to work. Yada, yada, yada. I just resent the fact that you two don’t think I know that.” I took a long drink of my water because this dinner was about to end. “We just disagree on what ‘time to work’ means. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong. We just don’t agree.”
A cork popped to my left which brought my attention to the family at that table actually celebrating their graduate. As the waiter poured the wine, I longed for the rest of the bottle.
“What we don’t understand,” Mom interjected with a much calmer voice, “is why you would move hours away when your father can get you a job right here.”
“That’s why I don’t want to stay.” I dabbed the corners of my mouth with the very fancy cloth napkin from the very fancy restaurant my parents had chosen. Normally, they were more financially conservative, but they’d said this was a special occasion. Though I could’ve predicted this ambush given that they’d said no when asked if Laney could come with us.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mother asked calmly.
I placed my hands against the table on each side of my plate, a plate with most of my steak and potatoes still on it, given that I’d barely touched the thing. The plates hadn’t arrived long enough ago for me to have enjoyed much. Two bites. Maybe three.
“Dad being the chancellor of the school is what I mean. I don’t want to slide into a job that I may or may not want. Just because my dad is the boss doesn’t mean I want to work for him.”
“Rhian… ” Mom sighed and set her fork on her plate. As if she needed to be frustrated by me. Though while I stopped trying to eat to defend myself against their assault, she’d kept right on taking her tiny bites. “Do you know the Webber boy? Aldrich?”
I ground my teeth together. “Not really. Why?”
I knew him. Or knew of him. He had graduated from high school the same year as me. Only he’d graduated from Dad’s school, not my silly public one.
Mom picked her fork back up and poked at her food. Not eating but looking busy. “He was asking about you.”
“Great.” Though it was anything but. “I’m not interested,” I told her.
Aldrich Webber was probably a nice guy. He could’ve been a great guy for all I knew. But he was a trust fund baby who’d graduated from my dad’s affluent private school. It had taken every argument my brother, Tegan, and I had had in us to stay out of that district and attend our regular public school. Mom and Dad did pick their battles every once in a while, and it was the district where we lived, one of the best public high schools in the state, and where our friends were.
“I think he absolutely should be your type. He comes from one of the best families in the city and—”
“Nope. I think we’re done here. You wanted me in the family business, and I played along for four years. Majored in education. I did what you wanted. Now it’s time for me to do what I want.”
“And just what is that?” Mom asked, skepticism all over her face. She didn’t think I could make it without their help and damn it, I was going to prove them wrong.
“Well, today, that is packing up my apartment and helping my best friend move home.” I pushed myself to my feet, slung my crossbody over my shoulder, and began to walk away. Two steps into it, I turned back to them, snapping my fingers. “And going with her.”
This time I walked away for real, not paying any attention to either of them quietly calling my name. As soon as I got to my car, I pulled out my cell and tapped my brother’s name.
“Miss me already?” he asked instead of just saying hello.
“Not at all,” I told him. “Because you’re a dirty rat bastard.”
His deep chuckle barely made it through the phone to me. “Why’s that?” he asked once he stopped laughing.
“Because you graduated from college twice and had to know what I was walking into with this dinner. Is that why you didn’t come with us?”
“Maybe.” That meant yes. The dirty rat bastard.
“Tegan,” I chastised as I turned the key in the ignition. This Hyundai Accent supposed to be my college graduation gift, which my parents had given me when classes ended a couple of weeks ago. Having a new car was exciting and I’d taken it without thinking about any strings attached. Now it felt like a bribe, but what they didn’t realize was that I couldn’t be bribed. I wasn’t going to cave in and take a job that was handed to me. Especially when I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
He laughed again. “Sorry, Rhian. And I’d like to remind you that you didn’t even come to my graduation, let alone the dinner.”
“True, but I had finals that week and you were all the way in Boston. Both times.”
“Those sound like excuses.”
“Excuses, my ass.” I pulled my car out of the parking lot just so that I wouldn’t run into my parents.
Tegan was five years older than me and had gone away to the farthest college he’d been accepted to that had the program he’d wanted. After undergrad, he’d gone into a physician’s assistant program and graduated again two years ago. He’d been a surgical PA since then. Though, I’d asked him why he came back to Pittsburgh and he’d told me this was where his mentor was and where he would learn the most.
“So what are you going to do if you’re not working for Dad?” he asked. Well, that was the million-dollar question, now wasn’t it?
Having my father be the chancellor of an affluent private school, my mother teaching English at the same school, meant that both Tegan and I had been expected to go into the education as well. He’d straight-out refused, saying he wasn’t about to teach a bunch of asshole kids. I’d caved like a house of cards and majored in education. But now… now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to teach at all.
“Rhian,” Tegan prompted.
I sighed. “I don’t know, OK?”
“Look.” Something shuffled behind him. “You don’t have to be Mom and Dad, but you have to do something.”
“I know.” I snapped the words at him when he didn’t really deserve it. “I am doing something,” I said in a much nicer tone. “I’m headed home to pack up the apartment and helping move Laney home.”
“Then you’re… ”
“I don’t know. As I’ve said many times. But I’m staying with Laney this summer to figure it out.”
“I guess that’s sort of a plan. But try to figure it out soon.”
“I will. Love you, brother.”
“Love you, sister.”
Tegan was still a dirty rat bastard, but a dirty rat bastard whom I loved.
If my parents knew anything, they’d stay away from me for a while. Sure, I’d get the texts, probably some calls, whatever. Those I could ignore. But I’d done what they’d wanted basically my whole life and I was completely over that. Now was the time for me to figure out what I wanted. Not do what was expected of me.
I pulled into the parking spot next to Laney’s Jeep, my normal spot. I assumed now that she had snagged herself a job, which started in the fall, she’d upgrade the old thing. Though she was pretty attached, given her dad had helped buy that for her before he’d died.
“Honey, I’m home,” I called out as soon as I opened the door.
“You’re an idiot,” Laney replied from the direction of our galley kitchen.
“You don’t have a martini waiting for me?”
She came around the corner with her blonde hair in a messy bun, eyes dancing with excitement. A much different look than what she’d had on earlier at graduation. It was like she’d attended the ceremony then come right home and changed into shorts and a T-shirt. Actually, it was my T-shirt. We were the same size and being as short as we were there weren’t a lot of other people, we could’ve borrowed clothes from. Given that, we’d always let the other have free access to our closets.
“How was dinner?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Did you do anything with your mom?”
She cocked her head to the side. “No. You know we went to dinner last night. Today is for packing and Mitch had to get right back because of work. They left right after the ceremony.”
“Where’s Zac? I don’t want to accidentally see his naked ass again.”
Laney snorted but smiled widely. “You know you do. It’s a good ass.”
Zac and Laney had been together almost a year but had known each other almost their whole lives. After a four-year separation, they couldn’t be kept apart when Laney returned to her hometown to take care of her father’s things after his death.
“Honestly, it’s a great ass,” I said, which earned me a scowl. “Hey,”—I held up my hands in defense—“you said it. But it’s your ass and I’d rather not see it again.”
“It was one time and you weren’t even supposed to be here.”
No arguing there. I was supposed to be at the library all night, but after three hours, I couldn’t take another minute of staring at books and my computer, so I’d decided to go home. I couldn’t have predicted that Zac had driven in for an impromptu quickie of every kind. He’d only spent the one night and Laney told me he’d only been there about five minutes when I’d come through the door to find his naked ass tightening and loosening as he’d pumped into my best friend on the couch.
The worst part, or best, depending on how I looked at it, was that they’d finished after I ran to my bedroom screaming about my eyes.
“But he had to get back right away. Felt awful about it, obviously, but this long-distance bullshit is about to end. He’s been working a crazy amount to try to get the money to buy the parts store.”
“At least we’ll be back in town tomorrow. Are you excited?”
Laney dropped into one of the chairs at the table with a sigh. “Yes. Living apart this year hasn’t been easy.”
“What?” I asked with fake shock. She’d been grumpy and sexually frustrated at times. “I never would’ve known.”
“Shut up. But at least now we’ll be in the same town. Next door to each other.”
“And I’ll be there. Which makes everything better, of course.”
I quickly wet my lips, about to ask the question I’d already asked a dozen times as our plans unfolded. “And you’re absolutely sure you don’t mind me moving in with you? Even though it means you’re not moving in with him?”
Laney scrunched her face up in a way to tell me I was being dumb. “No. You’ll take my old room and figure out what you want to do. You know if you decide to get a job in East Branch or even in Detroit, I wouldn’t complain.” She set another box on the floor and taped up the top. “As for living with Zac, we haven’t decided what we want to do yet. We’ve been busy with school and work and he has Dylan to worry about.”
We’d been friends since high school when she and her mom moved to Pittsburgh. We’d decided on college in Ohio together, became roommates, and I’d tried to be there for her when her dad died and now, I had no intention of relocating away from her. Who knew what would happen, but I didn’t want to go anywhere else. She was my family.
“We’re leaving first thing tomorrow?” I asked her.
She nodded. “As soon at Max and Cody come get all the furniture, we are good to go. They said they’d be here at ten.”
Max and Cody were a couple of guys we knew who still had two years of college left. “For them, that’s noon.”
She giggled back. “I know. But a girl can dream. We can pack up our personal stuff into our cars tonight, keeping only the essentials, which we can throw in tomorrow.”
“Let’s order pizza and get this done.”
Laney cocked her head to the side and asked, “Didn’t you just eat with your parents?”
“Ha! No, I did not. Let me change and we can chat about that.”
After quickly changing out of my graduation dress, I too pulled on some comfortable shorts and a tee because we did still have a lot of packing to take care of. Which also meant twisting my long, blonde hair into a messy bun not unlike Laney’s. People commented that we could’ve been sisters given our similar coloring. Then I used my handy food delivery app to order some pizza and joined Laney in the kitchen, where she was packing up some dishes.
“Aren’t the guys taking this stuff too?” I asked her. She nodded in return. “So why are you packing them so carefully?”
“Don’t be a dick. They paid us five hundred bucks for the whole apartment of crap. We don’t have to move it. They get to furnish their first apartment. It’s a win-win.”
“Pfh. Five hundred bucks for everything is kind of a win for them. Not for us,” I told her.
“True. But we bought most of this second-hand. The things your parents bought you are coming with us and we get to leave. So it’s a win for us, too.”
I thought about what she’s said and decided she was right. It was a win. Max and Cody were finishing their second year of college, so getting an apartment was exciting for them.
“Fine,” I said with a dramatic sigh. “We’ve got twenty minutes before pizza comes, so let’s get this room done.” The rest of the apartment was already packed because those rooms mostly had bigger items. I still had my room to do but was pretty sure Laney’s was already done. It was just the way she worked.
Laney gently placed the last glass into the box when there was a knock on our door. Dinner had arrived.
I grabbed it while she taped up that last box. We settled on the couch and dove in. Now, normally, we probably would’ve grabbed plates, but they were packed. I’d also ordered us drinks, though we did still have a few in the fridge. It was our last night of just me and her. No, Zac didn’t live in her house. He had one of his own that he rented next door, but I wasn’t delusional enough to think they wouldn’t be together at one house or another every night.
“I’m going to miss this place,” she said as I took a second slice of greasy pizza.
“No, you’re not,” I countered. “Zac is there. Think of all the hours you’ve spent on the road going to him. Or him coming here.” Him coming to Laney was rarer because he had a job he needed to keep and a kid. He couldn’t just drop everything, even if he’d wanted to. That wasn’t how it worked.
“Well, no. I’m not going to miss living three hours away from him. But this was our place, Rhian. I am going to miss this.”
“We’ll have to force Zac to stay home some nights so we can have this once in a while.”
Laney chewed on her pizza slowly and I knew that look on her face. She was considering something. Something she wanted to say to me but hadn’t found the words yet. I’d wait patiently until she figured it out.
“He will be there a lot,” she finally said.
“I’m totally aware. I think once you two are in the same town, there isn’t a thing that could keep him away.”
She gave me a smile that said I was right and she loved it. She loved him.
“But will it bother you?” she asked. I raised my eyebrows in question. “That he will be around so much? I don’t want you to think I’m replacing you.”
“You can’t replace me, Laney, and I won’t have sex with you, so you’d need someone for that job anyway,” I said. She laughed loudly. “No, seriously. I think this summer is going to be awesome. If Zac’s around, then I’d guess Porter will be and he’s not hard to look at.” The worried lines on her face began to give way to something softer. Something that said she believed what I was saying. “I promise. I won’t feel like the third wheel since I know that’s what you’re really worried about.”
I hadn’t had a steady boyfriend in a year and a half. I’d hooked up, but there hadn’t been anyone I’d wanted on the regular. Plus, I’d known I was moving.
“Porter, huh?” Laney asked for the millionth time.
“Ugh. You know nothing happened between us. But he’s a flirt. I can’t not flirt back. Plus, I haven’t seen or talked to him since what? New Years? He had a girl with him then and they’re probably still together, so why are you even asking?”
“Porter is a flirt,” she said with a small nod. “And he usually has a girl with him, but there’s almost zero chance they’re still together.”
“Well aware of that too. I don’t want Porter. I would’ve hooked up with him last summer if I’d wanted that.”
“Then what do you want?”
“I want to figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I need a job, of course, but preferably one that doesn’t start until the fall so we can have one last carefree summer.”
Laney would have the summer off since she’d gotten a teaching job in East Branch and school didn’t start until after Labor Day. Which gave me a little time to figure out what she already had. Never once had she wavered in her decision to be a teacher and I longed for that kind of resolve.
“Now that I can get behind.”
We clanked our cans of pop together and laughed. If nothing else, we’d both earned one last fun summer.