Frayed Page 60

’’I took her to the beach yesterday and was worried she might have gotten too much sun,’’ he rushes to answer.

’’Oh, you\ e the friend who was teaching Bell how to surf?’’ Jack asks.

Ben\s hands go to his pockets and he nods with a smile.

I\ve kept my mother and Jack in the loop on my ’’dates’’ with Ben. I just failed to mention his name. And now I wonder if that was worse than not telling them. I\d painted a picture of a proper suitor pursuing me, and he was one and he did pursue me. They just didn\ know the guy was Ben Covington. But they were both really happy for me that I was finally spending time with someone I liked. So why should it matter who it is?

Jack even mentioned that since I called my new suitor a friend and not my boyfriend, it must be serious. And I was planning on telling them as soon as I knew for sure Ben wanted more than just se* from me, so that should count for something. Not that I\d tell my parents that.

My mother\s eyes dart to me again. ’’Oh my, you are really burnt. You looked pink last night, but today it\s much worse. Did you put something on it?’’

’’Yes, Ben brought over some aloe,’’ I answer, rushing toward the bags that Jack set on the counter.

’’Oh, let me,’’ my mother answers as I start unloading the items.

’’Bell, I should run. I have some calls to make at the office,’’ Ben says, and I notice the use of my real name. I don\ like it.

’’I didn\ realize you had to work today. It\s Saturday.’’ I know I\m frowning but I can\ help myself. He\s trying to ease out of an awkward situation, but I really don\ want him to go.

’’With the announcement I really should head in and return a few calls,’’ he says. ’’Mr. and Mrs. Tyler, it was a pleasure to meet you.’’

’’Call me Jack.’’

’’Oh, and I\m Charlotte of course,’’ my mother adds, rounding the counter and making her way into the kitchen.

’’What about breakfast?’’ I ask, hoping he\ll stay.

’’I made it for you,’’ he says.

I stop unloading the goods from the bags that my mother has already started to put away and follow him to the door. My mother and Jack begin their own conversation and Ben points to his feet. Crap, crap, crap.

’’Let me get you those books you asked to borrow before you leave.’’ I don\ know what else to say. Honestly I don\ care if you\ e sixteen or twenty-six;getting caught by your mother with a boy in your room is just plain embarrassing.

Ben covers his mouth with his fingers in a move I\ve come to love but right now hate. I know he does it when he\s trying not to laugh. I scowl at him and he pats his pockets. I get it don\ forget his keys and wallet. I make the walk of shame to my room as my mother and Jack act as if they don\ know what\s going on. Entering my room with a deep sigh, I gather everything. I come back with a brown-handled shopping bag, knowing my mother and stepfather must have noticed Ben didn\ have his shoes on. I hand him the bag filled with his stuff and some random romance novels I grabbed off my floor. When our hands connect he brushes his thumb across the top of mine. Electricity shoots through me and I finally smile at him.

He opens the door and once again says good-bye to my mother and Jack.

’’Bye, thanks for stopping by to check on me.’’

A devilish grin crosses his lips. ’’Anytime. Call me later if you need anything,’’ he replies with a wink.

When he leaves I collapse against the door. My body is taut with tension but also tingling at the same time.

’’Bell, I think we should have a talk.’’ My mother\s voice is stern, but soft. And I hope to God she doesn\ want to give me the se* talk again. She gave it to me when I was sixteen and again after I told her I was pregnant. I think I get it.

Jack busies himself putting the fruit in Tupperware containers my mother also brought over. Even though he isn\ my father, he has always treated me like a daughter. His love and concern have meant a lot to me, but he also knows when to keep quiet like now.

Standing straight, I slowly make my way to the kitchen. ’’Mom, I\m sorry I didn\ tell you I was seeing him. I just didn\ want you to judge him.’’

My mother stops what she\s doing. ’’Bell, I would never judge him. I just don\ want you to get hurt.’’

’’But you are judging him. I can tell by the look on your face.’’

’’Charlotte, he seems like a nice boy. Respectful, concerned about Bell,’’ Jack says, and my mouth drops. I wouldn\ have counted on him as an ally.

’’I\m not judging him.’’ The tone of her voice rises. She glances at me. ’’I am not one to judge anyone. What happened years ago when he was with Dahlia is for you and him and your brother to come to terms with, and I\m sure you know that isn\ going to be easy.’’

’’Ben and Dahlia have talked. They\ve made peace.’’

She raises her hand. ’’Like I said, that is between the four of you. My concern right now is only for you. Have you told him about the baby?’’

I shake my head no.

She levels with me. ’’Secrets become lies.’’

’’I\m not you,’’ I snap back.

She ignores me and I know I shouldn\ have said that.

’’Bell, honey, not telling him isn\ any way to start a relationship. You can\ keep a secret like that. It\s not fair to him. Everyone in our family knows. You know I think you should have told him years ago, but since he wouldn\ return your calls I let you make the decision not to.’’

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