Secrets That We Keep by Linda Kage

“Okay,” he said, slapping his hands together and rubbing them in preparation. “I can work with this. What would Gracen be doing for you right now? We’ll see how I compare.”

I wrinkled my brow. “You really want to help me? Like he would?”

Lifting one shoulder, he said, “Sure. Why not? Like I said, I was bored and antsy myself. I need something to distract me.”

Noticing that he did indeed seem a bit off, I sat up straighter. He was always scruffy, but his clothes seemed more wrinkled, facial hair thicker, and the lines under his eyes were deeper than I’d ever noticed them being before. Had he not been sleeping well?

Suddenly worried and ready to kick the ass of anyone who’d distressed him, I demanded, “What the hell? What’s gotten you into a funk?”

“Ah, nothing.” He waved a hand and mumbled out a dismissive sound as he slid his gaze toward the ceiling as if trying to downplay his problems. “Angie just keeps calling, is all, asking me to come over.”

“Angie?” I made a face. “I thought you broke up with her months ago.”

“I did.” He sighed and scrubbed his face. “She’s mean and unstable and, honestly, I can’t stand her. I just want it all to be done. But then she’ll call sometimes, sounding all grumpy and lonely and depressed—” He raised his eyebrows my way as he repeated my own words. “And—I don’t know—I start feeling guilty.”

When his phone began to ring from his pocket, I scowled. “That her?”

He shrugged, looking miserable. “Probably.”

I lifted my hand. “Give it here.”

He sent me an untrusting glance. So I shook my fingers insistently. “Come on. I’m not getting any younger. Give me your phone.”

With a sigh, he handed it over. “Don’t be too mean. She’s hurting.”

“Oh, I’m not talking to her,” I reassured him. I’d never been able to stand Angie, and hearing that she was still messing with his head made me even less of a fan. There was no way I would be able to say anything productive to her right now.

So I turned the phone off completely. There. Now, neither of us had to listen to the ringing.

His shoulders immediately deflated in relief. That made me feel marginally better. I’d helped him. Which filled me with the urge to help him even more.

Setting the phone on the table, I watched him with pity. “You really must’ve been desperate if I was the lesser of two evils.”

“Hey, don’t say that,” he rumbled, picking at a knot of wood on the back of the chair he sat on. “You’re not so bad. I’d partner with you over Gracen at beer pong any day of the week. And trust me, that’s a big deal. I take my beer pong seriously.”

Except there was no drunken game to play tonight, so I shrugged. “I guess.” Then I sent him a forced smile. “At least I can keep you from going to your ex’s and doing something you’ll regret.”

He made a face. “I wasn’t going to go.”

“Mm-hmm.” I lifted my eyebrows. “That why you look so tempted?”

He shot me an indignant frown. “I wasn’t.”

I lifted my hands. “Okay, fine.” Blowing out a breath, I glanced around the kitchen and plopped my palms onto the table as I turned back to my reluctant guest. “What a pair we make, huh?”

He shrugged morosely and picked at the knot with more intensity, as if he were really trying to pry a shard of wood free.

Suddenly deciding he could stay, I said, “Gracen would’ve made me popcorn and hot chocolate.”

“Really?” Immediately popping to his feet, he announced, “I can do that.”

“And then he would’ve cuddled on the couch with me so we could watch Gilmore Girls together for the rest of the night.”

That caused him to pause. “Gilmore Girls?” he asked slowly. When I nodded, he groaned. “You gotta be kidding me. No. There’s no way. I refuse.”

I batted my lashes. “Gracen wouldn’t have refused.”

He snorted. “Gray can’t possibly like Gilmore Girls. All they do is talk. Constantly. Blah, blah, blah, the whole time. It’s enough to give me a headache.”

“He crushes on Rory,” I argued. “Big-time.”

“Damn. I should’ve known. Your brother’s always been a sucker for the pretty, innocent faces.” Another groan later, he rolled his head on his shoulders as if trying to force himself into Gilmore Girl mode. But it must not have taken because he suddenly asked, “What about Supernatural reruns? Or, hey, I know you like Stranger Things. Huh?” He lifted his eyebrows suggestively to make the alternatives sound more appealing than Gilmore Girls.