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Sugar Plum Isabella Starling, Jenika Snow 2022/8/5 16:59:15

“Thank you, Bastian.” I hesitated before walking up to him. Finally, our eyes met as I leaned in close to press a kiss against his cheek. His body went stiff when I did it, but I pulled back quickly before either of us could allow the kiss to go further. “I better go now; Daddy will be waiting.”

He nodded, and I dashed past him to the elevator, where Dad was already waiting for me.

As the door began to close, I caught sight of Bastian standing outside his apartment door. He was waving us off, but his signature grin was nowhere to be seen. For the first time since my mom passed away, I caught Bastian looking deeply upset.

And it was all my fault.

I decided to skip my only lecture for the day and make a nice home-cooked meal instead. Dad didn’t complain, and he didn’t even give me the dreaded conversation about drinking, though I had a feeling it was still coming. As I put a roast on the table, accompanied with some green beans and roasted veggies, he complimented me and we dug in together.

“You seem so serious today, Holly,” he said after a few moments of silence. “What’s going through your head? Nothing happened at that party, did it?”

His words instantly made me blush, and I shook my head vehemently. “No, Daddy. Everything is fine. I’m just preoccupied with all this end of the year, holiday stuff.”

Dad grinned at me, nodding with understanding. “New year, new you?”

“Something like that.” I smiled. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you last night. I was just nervous of what you’d say, and I knew I could count on Bastian to… take care of me.”

“I’m glad you called him. But it’s important that you know I’d never judge you for whatever happened last night. I’m here to help. But while we’re on the topic… you shouldn’t be drinking, Holly.”

“I know,” I muttered, my cheeks and my conscience burning. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson.” He patted my hand. “And you certainly made up for making me worry so much. The roast was amazing, darling.”

“I’m glad.” I started clearing the plates, but I still felt his eyes on me as I made my way around the room. He appeared behind me, startling me as his hand landed on my arm.

“Are you sure everything’s okay, honey?” he asked. The note of concern was unmistakable in his voice, and I hated myself for lying to him—the man who’d raised me.

“Of course. Everything’s fine; I’m just a bit stressed out with school stuff. Don’t worry about me, Dad.”

“Okay, honey. You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“Yes,” I whispered, but this time, I wasn’t fooling him. He gently squeezed my arm, making me look up at him.

“What’s going on, Holly?”

“I like someone.” I just blurted the words out before I could stop myself. I could never tell Daddy who I meant, but I didn’t want to keep secrets either. “I like someone very much.”

“Oh?” His smile was amused. “So this is about a boy, huh?”

“A man,” I replied, swallowing back the rest of that sentence. “He’s a man, really, not a boy.”

“Older than you?” He raised a brow at me.

I laughed nervously, muttering, “I think you really, really would.”

“Then I don’t know what the problem is.” He smiled fondly at me, gently kissing my forehead. “If you like him, I’ll like him too, honey. Don’t worry about introducing me yet though. I can be patient. Are you taking precautions with this boy?”

“You know.” He looked so uncomfortable I almost burst out laughing. “Protection….”

“Uh, yeah,” I lied through my teeth. “Of course. Way to make it awkward, Dad.”

He laughed and shrugged as he took some plates out of my hands and loaded up the dishwasher. The atmosphere changed from nervous and tense to amicable, and we cleared the table together and wiped down the counters. When I was just about to leave, Daddy’s hand lingered on my arm again, making me look up at him once more.

“Take your time to work things out, honey,” Dad said. “And remember, I’ll be waiting whenever you’re ready.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I offered him a grateful smile before scampering back to my room.

I finally got the chance to check my phone, finding several texts from Rosie on it. She was worried about me and apologized profusely about the previous night. Instead of texting back, I called her number and lay on my bed, waiting for her to pick up. I didn’t have to wait long, and the thought that she’d been waiting by her phone for me to call made me grin.

“First of all, I’m so freaking sorry,” she started breathlessly. “I cannot believe I ruined your night like that, and I am so, so sorry.”

“Don’t worry,” I consoled her. “It happens to the best of us. I’m just glad you’re okay.”