Tamar tugged the hem of her peplum blouse over slim-fit dark jeans and wrinkled her nose at her sandaled feet before she started the climb up to Dylan’s room. She told herself to snap out of this haze she’d found herself in all through the day, tamping down the echoes of Neecy’s pointed words reminding her that she didn’t deserve being with Dylan.

Somehow, Bekah managed to pull her in front of the mirror, coaxing her to see the woman she’d become; a very different person from two years ago. This reflection was a young woman who worked arduously to get here and darn it, she deserved a shot at happiness too.

Tamar smiled, reminding herself to give her spunky cousin a long embrace once she returned home. Rolling her shoulders to shrug off the anxiety that threatened to creep in, Tamar stood directly in front of Dylan’s door and with only a moment’s hesitation, she lifted a fist to rap on the door.

“I got it!” Crystal shouted quickly, dashing toward the door with a fork in hand before Dylan could come out. She swung the door open to get her first look at the woman that made Dylan smile at the mere mention of her name. She blinked violently, a wide grin slowly forming as she took in the petite woman before her.

She was not the leggy, airhead blonde Crystal had been praying against but she wasn’t quite what she expected either.  She brought her gaze up to those sharp blue eyes. “You’re Tamar. Crystal,” she said offering her empty hand.

Tamar smiled up at Dylan’s younger sister, taking in the girl’s kind green eyes and hair a little lighter than Dylan’s curled slightly over her shoulders. The girl was lithe and tall with perfect tanned skin, like her brother, but her features were feminine and softer. She looked like the kind of girl Tamar would’ve been jealous of in high school.

She reached out her hand and took the girl’s long-fingered hand in hers. Warm and inviting like her brother’s. Tamar decided then that she liked Crystal already. “Nice to meet you, Crystal.” She released the girl’s hand and extended the small covered dish in her hand. “I brought some dessert… It’s a fruit salad.”

Crystal flashed a smile and took the dish from Tamar without hesitation, stepping back into the room to allow her in. “Perfect. Now I won’t have to hear him complain about how he’s watching his diet and can’t have cake. Come on in. Dill will be out in a sec and the food’s almost ready.”

Tamar nodded, following Crystal into the room. “Dill?” she muttered softly, letting the nickname roll of her tongue. Her eyes took in the room before returning it to Crystal. “I mentioned to Dylan that you did a great job on his room. Heard he’s on tight reins to keep it that way.” Surprisingly, she felt at ease talking with this girl that she’d just met. It was probably the kind openness in her eyes that compelled Tamar to relax like she had with Dylan.

She laughed and set the fruit salad down to check on the chicken. “Thank you. Very tight reins. Never give him too much room to play. Don’t tell him but I brought some more things to add. This place looked like a jail cell when he first moved in.”

“Ah, I see… Will definitely keep that in mind,” Tamar bantered with ease, leaning against the counter. “My lips are sealed, although you might not want to make it too comfortable or he’ll never leave.” She smiled up at Crystal. “It might be too much like a home away from home.”

A shutter fell over Crystal’s eyes for the briefest of moments before she smiled in return. “I’ll have to keep that in mind. I rarely see him now as it is.” She carefully forked the chicken in the pan and turned each piece over before brushing more teriyaki sauce over them.

Tamar caught the brief look on her face and had a strange inkling that she’d said something out of line. Holding back a wince for her quick tongue, Tamar peered down at the chicken. “That looks delicious. Can I help with anything?”

“If you could find a pot around here I can boil noodles in, that would be great.”

“Neither of you is supposed to be cooking,” Dylan said entering the kitchenette area. “I’ve been thinking ‘bout this all day long. Never felt a feeling quite this strong.” He sang as he slipped an arm around Tamar’s waist.  The second he cut the last note he dropped a deep but brief kiss on her lips. “Hey, pretty girl,” he greeted softly.

The protest died in her throat as he swooped in and took her mouth in the kind of kiss she’d dreamt about that morning. She almost sank into his arms but remembered that his sister was an unwilling audience and drew back. Her cheeks were tingling as she gazed up at him. “Hey…” she said softly, eyes tracing his face. So much for keeping it cool in front of the sister. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and kiss him again.

Crystal dropped her fork, the metal clattering against the counter. She couldn’t do anything but stare, her jaw slack with disbelief as her brother crooned to Tamar as if he did it daily. “I am so telling Mom.”

Dylan chuckled, knowing immediately what it was that had drawn such a response from her.  He drew Tamar into his side. “Pick your jaw up, peanut. She won’t believe you.”

Tamar nudged at Dylan, moving away to stand by Crystal. “Don’t be a distraction, Sinatra. Show me the pot so I can boil some noodles.” She gave him a warm smile from where she stood.

Dylan glared at Crystal suspiciously. “What did you do and what did you say before I came in here?”

“Nothing. It’s hardly my fault if she prefers my company over yours, Sinatra.” She spun around to retrieve the fork, fluffing her hair as she did. She couldn’t contain her smile. Clearly Dylan’s singing was something Tamar was used to from the nickname. She’d have to corner him before he dropped her off.

Tamar bit back a laugh as Crystal teased her brother mercilessly. He even looked adorable when he was slightly annoyed.

“Brat,” he muttered playfully before opening one of the cabinets to pull out a pot. “How’s school going? I didn’t see your last progress report.”

Crystal looked to Tamar behind Dylan’s back and rolled her eyes playfully. “Five A’s, one B. We had a big game right before the calculus test and it threw me off a little. I know, I know. It’ll be an A by the time report cards come out.”

Tamar raised her brows inquisitively as she pulled the pot from Dylan’s hands. “What sport do you play, Crystal?” She could guess either volleyball or basketball from Crystal’s lithe, tall build.

“Volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter. I tried to manage soccer too but the schedules are too similar now so I gave it up last year. Do you play sports?”

Tamar’s smile waned slightly and she shook her head. “Nah… No sports.” She placed the pot under the faucet. “You’re a very busy senior. No room for senioritis huh?” she turned off the tap as the water topped over the brim.

Crystal arched a brow curiously. No sports? And yet Dylan was more than halfway in love if Tonio’s words and his actions were any indication. Interesting. “Incredibly busy. Even if I wasn’t, Bossy over here wouldn’t let me get lazy.”

Dylan just laughed. It would’ve been easy to point out he was the one footing the bill for all of her extracurriculars but she didn’t mean her teasing and he never wanted her to feel bad. “Bossy gets results.”

“By the way, I have a date for prom.” The words rushed out of Crystal’s mouth and she launched immediately into her next sentence. “Tamar, there’s some chow mein up in that right cabinet if you could grab it.”

Tamar bit back another laugh as she peeked over her shoulder for Dylan’s response to Crystal’s quick announcement. She could tell that these two were more than just siblings; there was a protective paternal side revealed so plainly in Dylan, endearing him more to her heart. She stood on her tiptoes, stretching a hand to reach for the noodles package and waited for Dylan’s response.

<<Chapter 16 || Chapter 18>>