“You have to shoot from here.” Matt’s voice brought him back to the game.
After ceremoniously being crowned the PIG for the second time in a row, which was maybe a little too true, Ryan suggested they go in so he could see Grandma before she got mad about being ignored.
“I’ll tell her it was my fault.”
Ryan rubbed his head and told his nephew he’d play again later. Going to the girls, he told Bella to gather her dolls and offered Katie a hand. “I hope she wasn’t bothering you. If she does, give me a sign and I’ll distract her.”
“It’s okay. She’s sweet.”
“She is sweet. She’s also fiery and loud, so really, say something if you need to. No one will blame you.”
She squeezed his fingers and kept them while they started to walk.
“Is she your girlfriend?” Matt teased with a smile.
“She’s my friend. And your mom would jump on you if she heard you ask, so you better be careful.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Do you? Aren’t you kind of young for that?”
“We have lunch together at school and she always sits by me.”
“Well, I guess that’s alright. You’re being a gentleman, I hope.”
“I’m not a man, Uncle Ryan. I’m seven.”
“Well, if you’re man enough to have a girlfriend, you’re man enough to be a gentleman, and you better be or I’ll come to school and sit in between you.”
He laughed. “I’m a gentleman, but don’t tell Mom I have a girlfriend. She doesn’t know.”
“You don’t think you should tell her?”
“I tell her I have a friend and she’s a girl. I don’t say she’s my girlfriend, either.” Smiling again, he looked at Kaitlyn then ran ahead into the house with Bella jogging along behind.
“Don’t listen to him. He’s at the age where girls have to be either ‘icky’ or a girlfriend. Nothing in between. Definitely a mini Will. Not sure he grew out of that, really. Bella… I get blamed for her a lot. Too many of my qualities. She drives them nuts.”
A tinge of sadness reflected in her face and he stopped her before they got to the door. “Are you okay? If this bothers you too much, let me know. I can take you to a hotel instead of staying here, or we can take a drive or something.”
“You’re staying here?”
He waited, confused by the question.
“If you’re here, it’s okay.”
If he’s there. Was she reading his thoughts? She couldn’t. He never said anything to make her think he was considering leaving her there, during tour, and maybe when he wasn’t touring, also. For her own good. And he wouldn’t, unless she agreed. “I’m here, Katie. I won’t leave you anywhere you don’t want to be. I promise.”
With a careful squeeze of her hand, he continued toward the house and looked back when the dog began to bark and jump up on the fence. He knew it was tied well. Still, Ryan stepped up the pace and got inside.
“That dog needs to go.” He looked through the screen door to where it was still throwing a fit about him walking into his brother’s house.
“Where would she go?”
Ryan caught Kaitlyn’s eyes and kicked himself for being so stupid. He hadn’t thought of the similarity. But it was a dog, and a vicious dog from the way it barked and growled. There was a big difference. Katie would never hurt anyone. She wasn’t dangerous, other than maybe to herself. “Somewhere without little kids it could maul, preferably.”
“She only wants to protect them, and she’s tied.”
“Yeah, maybe, but if it can’t tell I’m no threat to them, it’s still dangerous, and I’m not so sure it couldn’t get untied if provoked. That’s a strong dog, and anything that wants freedom badly enough can get it.”
She held his gaze. “No. Not always.”
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