Chapter 23

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T W E N T Y—T H R E E

EVENING WAS ROLLING around, and the sun was starting to go down to the point that the sky had a slight orange tint to it. It was gorgeous, really. I didn't think I'd ever get tired of seeing the sun set at night.

We decided now was as good a time as any to get out of the water and get something to eat after we dried some. After all, we hadn't eaten since eleven this morning.

      I checked the time on my phone after I'd gotten dressed—I'd remembered to charge it earlier while I was showering—to see that it was just after seven. "Where do you want to go to eat? It's seven, already."

      "We could always eat at my house," Tyler suggested.

      Ryder laughed—a sound I was still getting used to. "Yeah right, like you could cook anything without burning down the house. I'll cook at mine."

      "Hey!" He protested. "I can cook!"

      I snorted as Jay shook his head with a horrified expression. He was practically shivering at the thought of Tyler in front of a stove.

      "If I do recall," Cyrus cut in, "the last time you tried to cook for my mom, she actually forbid you from ever cooking again, whether you were at her house or not."

      "Okay," Tyler muttered. He puffed out his lower lip in a pout. "So, maybe I'm not the best—" there were murmurs of agreement, to which he glared at all of us, "but it's the thought that counts."

      "That's true," I agreed. I hooked an arm around his waist in a side hug with a grin. "You're still not cooking, though."

      "Fine," he muttered as I pulled away. After a moment, he asked, "Can Dakota come?"

      Ryder shrugged and tried to hide his smile at Tyler's lovesick attitude. "I suppose."

      Tyler grinned and pulled out his phone, speeding up with it against his ear and a hand against the other one as he walked ahead to block out noise.

      I glanced over at the sound of a phone ringing and saw Cyrus answer after checking the caller ID. With the glowing smile he showed at seeing who the caller was and the fact he pulled Jay aside with him to take it on speaker, I assumed it was his mother.

      There was a bit of silence after that of me and Ryder walking side-by-side, but it wasn't awkward, surprisingly. I glanced over to see him already watching me from the corner of his eye. He raised an eyebrow.

      "Can I talk to you?" I asked after a moment, my hand instinctively reaching up to my necklace.

      "I don't see why you have to ask," he responded simply, eyes shifting to my hand on my necklace. It was only for a second, but it was enough to make me quickly let go. "It doesn't matter the response, you'll still say what was on your mind."

      Though the response sounded rude, I don't think he meant it that way. At least, I hoped not.

      "Thank you," I finally said, blowing a strand of hair from the front of my face. It drifted back a few seconds later.

      "For what?" He asked, startling us both by reaching out and tucking the strand securely behind my ear. His eyes widened in surprise and confusion at his own actions. I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it. He blanked out his expression and clenched his jaw, tucking his hands in his pockets.

      We were silent another few seconds before I answered his question. "You covered for me, even though you didn't need to. So, uh, thanks."

      He nodded what I assumed was a silent 'you're welcome' before facing forward again.

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