“You know what? When I’m twenty and you’re twenty three, you won’t be able to use age as an excuse anymore.” Kingsley looked up from the papers that Chris had asked him to read up on. He gave Jo a lazy smile as his brain cleared out of the laws of the new territory they’d just wandered into the week before.
But the smile slid away as his brain pulled together what Jo had just said. “Wait, what?”
Jo grinned, spinning a pencil idly between her fingers. “What do you mean what?”
“What are you talking about, Jo? What do our ages have to do with anything? What excuses?” Kingsley organized the papers on the desk, very determinedly not looking at the skeptical look on Jo’s face.
“You love me.” Jo had never been so blunt about it before, and Kingsley had to really fight to keep some composure. “You love me, and you’re not saying it, but I know it.”
“I—“Kingsley faltered. He’d always wondered if he’d be able to deny it if he was faced directly. Apparently not. “Jo, it’s not that simple.”
“I never said it was simple. I’m young, not naïve. But, come on, everyone knows that you and I are end-game, why don’t you just go ahead and admit that, and I’ll let it drop for the next four years until you can’t use age as an excuse anymore.”
Kingsley turned back to his papers. He was going to try to not say anything, but he just couldn’t help himself. “You deserve so much better than me. I hope we aren’t end game, because I want you to be happier than I could ever make you.”
There was silence between them for just a moment, and then Jo started laughing. Once she started she didn’t seem to be able to stop. She laughed for a while, leaning against the edge of his desk trying to take calming breaths and regain her composure. When she’d managed that, she looked up at him. “Oh, Kingsley, You’re going to have to come up with a better excuse than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kingsley, I’m the second accidental child of a mediocre whore in a shipping town. The only parenting I had until I was eleven was a boy who is smart enough to memorize the entire library in a month, but can’t understand the concept of a white lie when his four-year old sister asks what their mother does for a living. Until I was twelve, I spent more nights in an alley or a jailhouse holding cell than I did in a proper bed. My odds in life where to end up a doxy like my mother, or dead at a very young age.
“Instead, my idiot genius brother stumbled into another idiot genius in a different way who was determined to save lost souls in spite of the fact that he was still basically a child himself. He made sure we got taken in. He hated being in the same room as my brother, but nonetheless he made us a promise that he’d be there for us, no matter what. Over the last five years, I’ve learned that was true. I haven’t wanted for anything since. And I watched how he dealt with me and my brother and his brother and all the other lost souls that he made sure to take under his wing. And I watched him slowly fall in love with me, and I didn’t even realize I was falling for him until I was already in love.
“Now, this second idiot genius in my life has a twisted sense of morality, even though he loves me and he’s now sure without a doubt that I love him too, he’s still not going to be comfortable as a nineteen year old dating a sixteen year old, which is frustrating for me, but part of what makes him, him, so I’m not going to push him too hard on it.
“But, I am going to ask him to acknowledged me, to admit we’ve got something between us, and to promise that when I’m twenty he’ll give us a chance to be something, because if can’t promise me that then I don’t want to spend the next four years thinking about what could happen if he’s just going to stick to this stupid three years is too much thing.” Jo reached across the table, pulling Kingsley’s hands up off his papers and holding them as best as she could in between her hands. “So please, Kingsley, be straight with me. Do you love me?”
Kingsley swallowed hard, and then nodded slowly. The grin that spread across Jo’s face was contagious, and Kingsley couldn’t help but smiled back. “For my twentieth birthday, I expect a real nice date. You’ve got just under four years to figure it out.” Jo gave him a little wink and skipped out of the room. Kingsley’s head was spinning as he looked back to his papers. That girl was very likely to be the death of him, and he wasn’t even sure if he meant that literally or figuratively.