I Wanna Text You Up (Page 36)
As I’m passing him on my way to the fridge to grab a beer, he snakes an arm around my waist and pulls me close. He places a finger under my chin and brings my eyes to his. Brushing the loose hair off my face, he smiles at me.
“Can I kiss you?”
My knees grow weak at the request, and I answer by crushing my mouth to his for the first time in a week.
It’s a soft, slow kiss, but it burns in all the right ways as his lips move over mine. He lifts me off the floor and sets me on the counter closest to us, tucking himself perfectly between my legs.
Our kiss turns more intense, the pressure of his mouth growing against mine, his hands finding their way into my hair and holding my head to his. He kisses me like this is the last kiss we’ll ever share, like he’s afraid to let me go, like he’s scared.
He has nothing to be afraid of.
I trace my hands over his back and around to his front. The moment my fingers meet his warm skin, he wrenches away, tearing his mouth from mine as he pants and gasps for air.
“Fuck,” he mutters. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to turn into that.”
“Caleb, it’s okay.” I pull at his shirt. “I want this. I want you.”
“I want you too, but you deserve answers.”
In my lustful haze, I forgot all about how mad I am at him.
“You’re right. Walk away.”
“Walk away. Go sit at the counter or something. I’ll chop the sausage.”
He rears back. “You’re going to do what to my dick?”
“The sausage, not your sausage.” His brows pinch in confusion and I point to the stove. “For the Bs and Gs.”
“Ooooh. Well that makes more sense.”
“Yeah, so scram. I can’t have you near me right now. I want a clear head when you explain yourself.”
He bobs his head up and down. “Right. Okay. You’re right.”
He takes a seat at the bar and lets out another ragged breath before bringing his hands together. He rests his fingertips under his chin, and it almost looks like he’s praying.
“My mom hasn’t always been the best mom.”
I hop off the counter and head toward the stove, thinking giving him the illusion of privacy while talking will help.
“She’s a stripper—whatever pays the bills, right—but as you can imagine, working in an environment like that doesn’t bring the best people into her life, especially since the town I come from is full of nothing but crime and filth and hungry kids. She’s so…stuck there, and she’s dragging my brother down right along with her. It’s a damn miracle I got out.”
I chop at the sausage with the spatula, still not turning around. “But did you really, Caleb?”
“Did you really get out? You’ve been so stuck between the two worlds that I don’t think you’ve escaped as much as you think you have.”
I hear his hands hit the countertop, not in an angry way, but more like he’s defeated. “It’s so hard…so much harder than you can imagine.”
“What’s so hard about it?”
“They call, all the fucking time. They want me there—they need me there. They’ve run out of groceries, run out of booze, run out of money and cigarettes and everything else. And me?” He lets out a sardonic laugh. “I’ve about run out of fucks to give.”
This is the first time he’s spoken so freely about his family and it pains me to hear his words, to hear how broken and defeated he sounds. There’s an underlying tone of panic too, and I sense that Caleb feels like he has to be the safety net that keeps his family afloat, forgetting to live his own life in the meantime.
“I threw away my shot at the majors for them.” His voice strains, and I nearly drop my spatula to run to him. “I fucking threw it all away.”
“My brother owed some deadbeat guy money. He came looking for it, tried roughing him up, and I wasn’t having any of that. The kid’s only sixteen. So, I took care of things.”
“Took care of things?”
“With my fists.”
“Oh,” I say.
“It gets better.” He pulls his lips back in disgust. “The cops were called, and my mom and brother said I provoked the fight.”
I spin around at his words, stunned. “No.”
“That’s… I-I can’t even find the proper words for how messed up that is.”
Moments of silence pass by. The food sizzles on the hot stove, and I don’t bother to turn my attention back to it.
“Why do you keep going back?”
“My grandma. She lives in the local nursing home.” He slides his eyes my way. “She’s who I go see every Sunday.”
“I thought you went back for your mom and brother?”
“I go back to give them money or whatever it is they want. I meet them at the bus stop because I refuse to go over to their trailer anymore.”
“And this last time you rushed home?”
His eyes turn to fire in a flash. “My mom called me hysterical in the middle of the night, told me my grandma had fallen, so I rushed there.” He shakes his head, annoyed with himself. “I should have known it was a bullshit call—my mom doesn’t care what happens to my grandma.”
“Grams was just fine.” He grins. “Nothing can take that old broad down. She’s tough as nails.”
“Then what did your mom want?”
That fire turns to ice, and I can see him stiffen. “Money.”
“After all that, she called you for money?”
“Of course she did. She didn’t think she did anything wrong.”
“She didn’t think…” I let out an irritated growl. I can’t even with this information right now. “Why’d you end up staying longer?”
“Legal stuff. I’m now my grandmother’s sole beneficiary and her only emergency contact. Now I don’t have to deal with my mom or brother anymore.”
I fold my arms over my chest. “And why couldn’t you have explained this to me before?”
He lets out a loud sigh and scrubs his hands over his face. “I’m embarrassed as all get out by my family. My mom would rather be loyal to a drug dealer than her own son. My brother would rather become a drug dealer than finish high school.”
Caleb stares blankly right past me. Watching the tangled web of emotions running over his face is killing me right now. He looks so…desolate.
“I’ve tried. I’ve tried so fucking hard to make things better for them. Hell, I even offered to move them here and away from all that bullshit there, but they don’t want it. They like the way they live. How am I supposed to explain that my family wants that over me? Over stability? It’s sad and painful and so fucking stupid.” He finally looks at me. “I didn’t mean to scare you, and in hindsight, maybe leaving a note like that wasn’t such a smart idea.”
“In hindsight?” My voice pitches on the last syllable. “You think?”
He shrugs sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Zoe. I’m really sorry.”
“What about now, Caleb? What happens now?”
He sits up straighter, his chest puffing out with determination. His eyes harden.
“I’m tired of being their bank, tired of them using me, and I am damn sick of missing out on time with you. I’m done straddling the line. I don’t want their toxicity in my life anymore. I want you.”
“Me?” It comes out a squeak.
Caleb pushes himself off the stool and prowls toward me. His walk is strong, sure, steady.
He cups my face in his hands, tilting my head so I can meet his gaze. He towers over me with serious eyes.
“You, and this apartment. Breakfast and Beats. Mittens. Our grocery trips, the shitty schedules, and the texting. You. I want you.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
He grins. “I know, huh?”
Caleb presses a quick kiss to my lips and I pull at his shirt, not letting him move.
I make sure he’s looking into my eyes before I speak. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about, you got that? I’m here for you, not to pass judgment on you. We’re a team. Don’t you ever—and I mean ever—leave me like that again. Understood?”
He swallows loudly. “I got it.”
I don’t let him go.
“You know I’m not asking you to give your family up, right? That’s not what I meant about you being between two worlds. It wasn’t me giving you an ultimatum. I’m worried for you, for them, and kind of worried about us and what that could mean for our future.”
“I like it when you say words like our future.”
“I know,” he says, pressing his forehead to mine. “But I have to. If I don’t put my foot down and do something about it now, I won’t ever do anything about it and I’ll keep adjusting my life to meet their needs. I can’t and won’t do that. I’m getting ready to graduate college. I have a future to think about. I can’t keep letting them drag me back to my past. I’m doing this for me, for us, and for them.”