“Oh! It’s Toto! I’m babysittin’,” he said with a proud smile that showed off a deep dimple in one cheek. “Abby would probably kill me if she knew I left him in the car alone, but I was only gone for ten minutes. It’s still warm in the car.”
The dog wiggled its entire back end, wearing a navy-and-gold striped sweater and standing on a plush wool pet bed.
“I…” I began, looking to Thomas. “I’ve never had a dog.”
Taylor laughed. “You don’t have to take care of him. You just have to share a seat with him. I have to strap him in though. Abby is kind of a fruitcake about this dog.”
Taylor opened the other side and secured Toto into the nylon harness. Toto must have been used to it because he sat still while Taylor snapped each clip into place.
Thomas rolled the seat cover under until it revealed a hair-free section of the seat.
“There you go, honey.” The corners of his mouth were trembling as he tried not to smile.
I stuck out my tongue, and he shut the door.
The seat belt clicked when I pushed it into the buckle, and I heard Taylor laughing.
Thomas gripped the handle. “She can hear you, fuckstick. My door is open.”
Taylor opened his door and bent down, looking sheepish. “Sorry, Liis.”
I shook my head, half-amused and half in disbelief at their banter. It was as if we had fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a frat house full of drunken toddlers. Suddenly, Eat Me had a whole new meaning.
Thomas and Taylor buckled in, and then Taylor backed out of his spot. The drive to the bachelor party was full of colorful insults and updates on who was doing whom and who was working where.
I noted that Trenton and Camille weren’t mentioned at all. I wondered how that went over with the family, knowing she’d dated both Thomas and then Trenton, and how they felt about her, if they disliked her at all because Thomas didn’t come home anymore to avoid causing awkwardness for them or further pain for himself. Shame washed over me when, for less than a second, I hoped they didn’t like her at all.
Taylor pulled into the driveway of the Rest Inn and then drove to the backside of the building. Twice as many cars were parked back there than in the front.
Taylor turned off the ignition. “Everyone is parking here, so we don’t tip him off.”
“Cap’s? The bachelor party we’ve waited a year to throw Travis is going to be at Cap’s?” Thomas said, unimpressed.
“Trent planned it. He’s taking classes again and working full-time. Plus, he’s on a budget. Don’t bitch if you didn’t offer to help,” Taylor said.
I expected Thomas to lash out, but he accepted the scolding.
“What about the, um…” I pointed to the dog looking up at me like he was going to lunge for my throat at any moment—or maybe he just wanted a pat on the head. I couldn’t be sure.
A car pulled up next to us, and a woman hopped out, leaving the engine running and the headlights on.
She opened the back door and smiled at me. “Hey, there.” She looked at Thomas and stopped smiling. “Hey, T.J.”
I already loathed the nickname. Taylor didn’t refer to him that way. The woman was exotically beautiful with her layers of chestnut hair, the wavy ends stopping at just above her waistline.
Raegan unclipped Toto’s harness and then gathered his things.
“Thanks, Ray,” Taylor said. “Abby said everyone else was going to the wedding.”
“No problem,” she said, trying not to look at Thomas. “Kody can’t wait. He’s been wanting a dog so bad, but I don’t know how people keep a puppy from being lonely while they go to work and school.” She looked down at Toto and touched her nose to his, and he licked her cheek. She giggled. “Dad offered doggy daycare, so we’ll see. Maybe babysitting for a few days will help us decide. Should I walk him? I don’t want a mess in my car.”
Taylor shook his head. “I just took him right before I picked them up. He should be good until you get home. Did Abby tell you about the harness?”
“She told me—in detail.” Raegan scratched the dog’s head and then turned around, opening her back door. She let the dog walk around on the backseat while she buckled in the harness, and then he sat, astonishingly well-behaved, while she buckled him in again.
“Okay,” Raegan said. “That’s it. Good to see you, Taylor.” Her expression instantly lost all emotion when she looked at Thomas. “T.J.”
She had to be an ex-girlfriend. Between the nickname and overly cool demeanor, he must have really burned her.
She smiled at me again. “I’m Raegan.”
“Liis…nice to meet you,” I said, completely unsettled by her one-eighty.
She hurried around the front of her car and then disappeared inside. The car pulled away, and Taylor, Thomas, and I sat in silence.
Taylor patted his brother’s shoulder, again so hard that it made me wince in reaction. “The whole point of this weekend is to celebrate what we missed out on because that little bastard eloped. And, Tommy…” Taylor’s grin faded.
Taylor nodded, a touch of sadness in his eyes, and then he pulled on the door lever before setting off across the parking lot.
When I opened my door, the cold air was shocking. Thomas rubbed my arms, breathing out a small cloud that was a stark contrast to the night surrounding us.
“You can do this,” I said, already shivering.
“You’ve forgotten how cold it gets here? Already?”
“Shut up,” I said, walking toward the building where Taylor had gone.
Thomas jogged to catch up and took my hand. “What did you think of Taylor?”
“Your parents should be proud. You have exceptional genes.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment and not a pass at my brother. You’re mine for the weekend, remember?”
I smirked, and he playfully jerked me against him, but then I realized how much truth was behind his lighthearted remark. We stopped at the door, and I watched Thomas psych himself up for whatever was on the other side.
Without knowing what else to do, I rose up on the balls of my feet and kissed his cheek. He turned, catching me square on the lips. That one gesture began a chain reaction. Thomas’s hands went straight up to my cheeks, gingerly cupping my face. When my mouth parted and his tongue slipped inside, I gripped his sport coat in my fists.
The music inside suddenly became louder, and Thomas released me.
Another brother—obvious because he looked so much like Taylor—was holding open the door. He was wearing only a yellow nylon Speedo, barely big enough to conceal his man parts, and a matching wig. The hideous bright yellow acrylic on his head was a mess of curls and frizz, and he flirtatiously bounced it with one hand.
“Like it?” the brother said. In small steps, he pirouetted, revealing that bit of fabric he wore wasn’t a Speedo at all but a thong.
After getting an unexpected eyeful of his snow-white hindquarters, I looked away, embarrassed.