Page 43 of Coercion

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“Why are all of youhere?”Sinclair shouts over the noise of three simultaneous conversations happening at once.“I’m touching hot things.”

“Jesus, Sin.”Will rolls his eyes.At Will’s joking, exasperated tone, Sin’s shoulders relax.

“What?I’ve touched hotter things before.The rest of you don’t have the same experience.”Sinclair swings his arms out wide to clear the space around him, which no one is standing in, then approaches the oven with a mitt on both of his hands.He pulls two big trays out of the oven and sets them on the stovetop.“Serving dishes.Go, go, go.”

Emerson opens a slim cupboard near the stove, shushing Sinclair with the air of someone whose church service just got interrupted.He slides two oval trays onto the countertop, and Sinclair uses a spatula to push the—

What is it?It looks like perfect, golden-brown crescent rolls folded over in a circle.“What are we having?It looks amazing.”

“Taco ring.”Two voices answer at once.Will and Emerson.

Sinclair snorts.“These two have cheese.These two don’t.”

Mia, who has become Emerson’s shadow, stares.“Those are tacos?”

“Except.”Emerson hovers a hand over the ones without cheese.“The crescent rolls are sweeter than tortillas.And softer.”

“Wow.”Mia’s awed whisper makes Sinclair turn his head to the side to hide a delighted smile.He shoots a look at Will, who shrugs.

“Lucky guess.”

Ben pushes in next to Mia, and Sinclair has to wave everyone away, because it’s time to carry the food to the dining room.There are refried beans and two kinds of tortilla chips and Spanish rice and a bowl of roasted vegetables.

Will slides into the seat next to me and curls his arm around my shoulders, just for a second.

“Cheese or no cheese?”Daphne stands next to me, serving spatula in hand.

“Cheese.Please.”She drops a wedge of taco ring on my plate, and I turn to accept the bowl of roasted vegetables from Will.“When were you going to tell me the taco ring story?”

His brow furrows.“What story?”

“You’re the one who suggested it for dinner, aren’t you?Is that because it’s your favorite thing to eat?”

He leans in close, his exhale brushing the shell of my ear.“It’s not my favorite thing to eat.”

“Oh my God.”Too many roasted vegetables spill onto my plate.My face feels fresh out of the oven.“You can’t just say—”

“Your pussy.That’s my favorite thing.Feels like it wasn’t totally clear.”

I close my eyes, and the bowl of vegetables lifts out of my hands.

“Bristol, you’resored.Are you okay?Is it too hot in here?”

I open my eyes to Daphne’s beautiful, concerned expression looking down at me.

“No, no, it’s perfect.Don’t worry about me.”

Daphne narrows her eyes at Will, then turns to serve herself vegetables.I attempt to elbow his ribs and fail.He’s too fast, one palm stopping my attack before I can get started.There’s a flicker of vulnerability in his eyes, and my heart squeezes.

“Sin found the recipe at the grocery store after our Dad—” He cuts his eyes around the table.Nobody’s paying attention.“After he went to prison and we moved in together.It was on one of those cards they put by the refrigerated section, I guess.Tried a ton of recipes like that, with only a few ingredients.”

“Because money was tight?”Will adds Spanish rice to my plate and uses the serving spoon to nudge it gently away from the vegetables.“Crescent rolls are kind of a splurge, though.”

“Sin was a little bit famous on Instagram, so we were okay for the first time in our fucking lives.”He hands the Spanish rice to Daphne over my head.“And crescent rolls are the same every time, as long as you cook them the same way every time.Like Mia’s Eggo waffles.”

Across the table, Mia and Emerson are carrying on a conversation that’s simultaneously about art and books.

“In general, I’m not drawn to contemporary art, with a few exceptions.One of them is fairly obvious.”

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