Page 60 of The Keeper

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“So, you told the band about Kit’s offer?” Stuart asks as we walk out of the movie theater.

I agreed to a date with him, and it’s almost like normal between us, apart from him holding my hand, which I’m not generally opposed to, even though I know it means something different to him than it does to me.

We saw a blow-up movie. Not high on my list, but it was entertaining, I guess. I don’t go to the movies very often.

“I did, and I also told them I’m not keen on taking handouts from my family. They both rolled their eyes at me and said they understood, but I think it was just a stall tactic.”

“Stalling for what?”

Just then, I get a joint text. From Nikki and Sven:

Nikki + 1: Outvoting you. We’re doing the soundtrack whether you like it or not.

I roll my eyes and hold my phone up for Stuart to see. He chuckles and says, “Well, you called that one.”

I text them back a thumbs-up emoji. What the hell. Might as well give my brother and my band what they all want.

Stuart nudges me with his shoulder. “This is a good thing. So much good can come from it.”

I shrug. “Maybe. Sometimes working with my family isn’t worth the hassle. But we’ll give it a try.”

“Your family just wants to help. They want you to be successful.”

“You know better than that, Stu. You’ve known me a long time. You know why I came here to live instead of staying in that world. My mom had me in makeup, doing go-sees from like age five. She toted me around making me sing, and dance, and act, like I was an ornamental commodity. It was not about wanting what was best for me. And they still don’t know me or what I really want in life. They just want me to conform to live within their idea of success or whatever. Unless they can mold me into what they want me to be, then I am nothing but an embarrassment.”

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as that, Billie. I mean, families are complicated, but it usually comes from love.”

I take a big breath in and then let it out slowly. “I know they love me, but they might love me more if I came into their entertainment world, you know?”

“Well, I would say you got the performance gene. It’s in your blood. Maybe you should just embrace it.”

“I do,” I argue. “I perform with the band. We’ve been out there.”

“But you’re holding yourself back just to prove you can do it without them. That’s not fair to your talent. It’s just you being stubborn to prove a point.”

“If you feel that way, then maybe you don’t really know me at all.” I say it sharply because he is starting to be obtuse to the point of annoyance. What’s frustrating is that Cal, who has little in terms of empathy, totally got what I meant. My family smothered me, and I want my wins to be on my own merit.

Stuart blows out a breath and grins as he puts his arms around me. “Aw. Don’t be like that, I know you better than anybody.”

He leans in to kiss me, trying to soften the mood. I’m rigid, though, and angry, so I don’t reciprocate right away. He laughs and tries again, and I remember that this is my best friend. This is someone who loves me. So, I loosen a bit, letting him kiss me, trying to want to kiss him back.

It just doesn’t do anything for me.

I pull away and extricate myself from his arms. He frowns.


“You’re not even trying.”

“I am trying. I’m here. I enjoyed our evening. But this…more than friendship that you want from me…it just isn’t working. I think you’re meant to be in my life just where we are. Best friends. Nothing more. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? We were having a good time, but the minute I didn’t agree with you, you decided this won’t work. That’s not fair.”

“I just don’t feel that way about you. It has nothing to do with disagreeing.”

“You know what? You’re a narcissist,” Stuart bites back at me. “You only think about what you want, what terms you want it on.”

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