I get it. It’s just going to be the most awkward, uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some winners, believe me.

Chelsea runs her hand over my chest. “What’s the matter? Big, tough guy like you afraid to talk to a teenage girl?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Afraid? No. Just never thought I’d think of the time I took her to a One Direction concert as the good old days.”

Chelsea laughs. Then walks over when Regan calls her to look at puppy-covered notebooks.

“I’m booored,” Ronan whines from his seat in my cart.

“Don’t say ‘sucks,’” I tell him in my best “parental” voice. “It’s not a nice word.”

His devil-cute blue eyes meet mine. “But it does suck.”

I hold back a grin. Because I have a weakness for the pure honesty kids have at his age—before they learn to weigh their words or shadow their opinions.

I rub his head, messing up his thick blond hair. “Yeah, it does.”

That afternoon, I bite the bullet and stick my head through Riley’s bedroom door—she’s lying on her bed, phone in hand.

She plucks an earbud from her ear. “Hey. What’s up?”

“Whatever you want to talk to me about. It wasn’t me.”

“Noted.” I jerk my head toward the spare bedroom. “Come on.”

She gets up and follows, throwing her brown curly hair up into a messy bun. We walk into the yellow-walled spare bedroom a few doors down the hall, and I close the door behind us. Riley sits on the bed with a half-annoyed sigh—like I’m wasting her precious time. As if there weren’t a hundred other things I’d rather be doing—like getting a root canal without Novocain.

I cross my arms, look at her, and imagine I’m in court, talking to a witness. Calm, cool, and steady—that’s my job. And I’m fucking good at it.

“So . . . you and Peter . . . how’s that going?”

And now she looks even more weirded out. “What are you talking about, Jake?”

“Okay, here’s the deal—your aunt and I have noticed that you and Peter seem . . . pretty serious. And . . . we want to make sure you’re being safe.”

The last word hangs heavy in the air. Like one of Cousin It’s rancid dog farts.

Riley’s face turns a startling shade of fire-engine red. “Oh my God. Is this really happening?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “I know, I know, it’s fucking awful.” Then I open my eyes and tell her the bare honest truth. “But this is important, Riley.”

Her eyes hit the floor and she breathes out a quiet, “Okay. But I’ve already had the sex talk. Like, years ago, with my mom. I know about being safe.”

And there goes the eye roll—it was only a matter of time.

I nod. “Knowing isn’t the same as doing. Especially when you’re in high school.” I open the nightstand drawer and pull out the box of condoms inside it. “So, this is always going to be in here. For you to use. No questions asked. Me or your aunt will replace the box as needed—again, no questions asked, Riley.”

Trust me—those are answers I do not want to hear.

“Just to be clear, this isn’t us saying we’re okay with you having sex. This is us being realistic and wanting you to protect yourself . . . if and when you do.”

I put the condoms back in the drawer and lean against the wall, crossing my arms again, as Riley watches me.

“Some guys may try and give you a hard time about using condoms. And as a guy, I’m telling you straight up—screw them.”

The echo of my own words penetrates.

I rub the scruff on my chin, choosing my words carefully. “I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell you to wait until you’re married . . .”

“I just want you to remember . . . people can get hurt when they have sex before they’re ready. No one’s ever been hurt by waiting.”

She doesn’t say anything and I don’t really expect her to—but the contemplative look she’s wearing tells me everything she doesn’t say. She’s hearing me.

“And if anyone ever pressures you or hurts you . . .”

I will tie them to a tree and burn them alive.

“. . . if you ever have any questions or you’re wondering about something . . . you can talk to us. Me or your aunt—there’s nothing you can’t tell us. Got it?”

Riley stands up and we walk to the door. Halfway there, she pauses. “This was really open-minded of you, Jake. And I appreciate you and Aunt Chelsea, you know, swapping gender roles in this situation.”

Is that what we did?

“But . . . let’s never speak of this conversation again. Sound good?”

All the air rushes out of my lungs. “Jesus Christ, yes. Sounds great.”