“No. But she broke up with her boyfriend,” I said, my voice hoarse and flat. “She was in a good mood when I last talked to her. I thought she’d left to tell her folks about the breakup.”
The police exchanged looks, like the fact that Deb had broken up with her boyfriend explained everything, but it didn’t. If anything, it made this whole situation even more confusing. Why would she do it when she said she had so much to look forward to?
Once I was done talking to the campus police, the county and state officials showed up, asking the same questions.
“She’s already answered those questions,” Steph spat when a deputy asked what I was doing before I returned to the apartment.
The deputy nodded. “I understand, but—”
“But don’t you think she’s, like, I don’t know, a bit traumatized by everything right now? That you could give her some breathing room? Maybe a few minutes to deal with everything?”
The deputy’s eyes widened a bit, but before he could respond, Steph stood suddenly and stepped around the deputy. “Thank God, you’re here. It took you long enough.”
I didn’t get a chance to look up to see who she was talking to. The deputy sidestepped as a tall shadow fell over me, and the next second, arms went around my shoulders. I inhaled deeply, recognizing the faint trace of cologne that belonged to him—to Jase. Shuddering, I turned into his embrace, burying my face against his chest.
“I was back at the farm when you called,” he said to Steph. She called him? What the what? “I came as fast as I could.” His hand slid up my back, tangling in my hair. “Oh, baby, I am so sorry.”
I couldn’t speak as I burrowed closer and gripped his sides until I was bunching up the same sweater he’d worn on our date earlier. I wasn’t close enough. I was so cold that I wanted to get inside him.
“I wish I’d come inside with you. Damnit, I wish you didn’t have to see that.” He dropped his head to mine as he tightened his hold, keeping the blanket from slipping away. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
The deputy must’ve given up, because he wasn’t asking questions I didn’t want to think about anymore. God, I didn’t want to think at all.
“Thank you,” I heard Jase say, and then there were the soft footsteps of Steph walking away from us.
I wanted to tell Jase how she’d stayed by my side, but my lips were pressed together too tightly. He held me, whispering words in my ear that didn’t make much sense to me, but somehow had this calming effect.
A sudden hush descended on the lobby, and Jase’s body tensed against mine. Suddenly, someone cried out and some residents’ sobbing grew louder. A sickening feeling pooled in my stomach and I started to pull free, to look because I had to look.
“No.” His hand clamped down on the back of my head, holding me in place. “You do not need to look right now, baby. I’m not going to let you see this.”
I gripped his sweater until my knuckles ached. I knew without looking what was happening. They were taking Debbie out. Another shudder coursed through me.
Minutes ticked by, and then we were approached again by the police. They wanted to take a formal statement.
“Can this wait?” Jase asked. “Please? I can bring her to the office tomorrow, but I really just want to get her out of here for right now.”
There was a pause and then the officer relented. “We have enough information for tonight, but here’s my card. She needs to come by the office tomorrow.”
Jase shifted as he took the card. “Thank you.”
The officer cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for this, Miss Hamilton. Try to get some rest and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Try to get some rest? I almost laughed.
“We’re going to get out of here, but I need to get your crutches, okay?” Jase said as he pulled back, cupping my face. My eyes locked with his. Concern tightened the lines around his mouth, thinning his lips. He looked as pale as I felt. “You going to be okay while I go get them?”
I hadn’t realized that I’d come down here without them. Closing my eyes, I took several deep breaths as I tried to pull myself together. “Okay. I’ll . . . I’ll be fine.”
When I nodded, he started to get up, but I gripped his wrists. “Where are we going?”
“We can go back to the house up here or my parents—”
I didn’t want to be around people and I especially didn’t want to run into Erik. “I have a key to Cam’s apartment. It’s . . . it’s in my purse. Can we go there?”
“Yeah, baby, we can go anywhere you want.” He glanced over my shoulder. “I’ll be—”
My grip on his wrists tightened. “Don’t tell Cam. Please. If you do, he’ll come home and it will ruin the trip. Please don’t tell him.”
“I won’t tell him,” he promised, kissing my cheek. “And don’t worry about that. Okay? Just don’t worry about anything.”
Relieved that this wouldn’t interfere with Cam’s plans, I relaxed a little. Jase left to find one of the officers so he could go upstairs and get my stuff. As I waited for him, I kept my gaze trained on the scuffed tile. I could feel the stares on me, and I wanted to shrink into the blanket and disappear.
When Jase returned, it wasn’t soon enough. Holding my purse, he helped me up and guided me outside. I barely felt the cool air as we made our way past the police cruisers that were parked along the curb and into the parking lot.
The ride to University Heights was silent. Jase held my hand, but I barely felt his grip. I was numb inside and out, and I wondered when I’d start feeling things again. Immediately after I’d injured my knee the first time, it had been like this. Empty. In a daze. The out-of-it feeling had lasted for days, but this was on such a deep, different level.
Cam’s apartment was dark when we stepped inside. Jase stepped around me, easily finding the switch to the overhead light. I imagined the apartment was like a third home to him.
He stopped a few feet from me and turned, thrusting both of his hands through his hair. “Tess, baby . . .” He shook his head, as if he had no idea what to say. And what does one say in a situation like this?
I took a deep breath, feeling weak in my knees. “I’ve . . . I’ve never seen a dead person before.”
He closed his eyes briefly.
“And she was dead.” I stopped, swallowing. That was a stupid, unnecessary clarification, but I needed to say it out loud. “She killed herself. Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know.” He started toward me, a look of pain clouding his eyes.
The back of my throat burned. “She told me last night that she was happy that she broke up with Erik. That she had her whole life to look forward to.” I drew in a breath that got caught. “She was okay today. I don’t understand.”
“I know.” He stopped in front of me, and when he spoke again, his voice was low. “You may never understand.”
I didn’t want to believe that. Something had to have happened to make her do what she did, because I didn’t want this to be something I never understood and had to live with. I wasn’t moving, but somehow I stumbled. The crutches fell to the floor, thudding softly off the carpet. Jase caught my elbow and led me over to the couch.
“You doing okay?” He sat beside me, placing a warm hand against my cool cheek.
I nodded as I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch. The words—they sort of just came out of me. “Maybe I should’ve said something earlier to her about Erik—about what I’d been through with Jeremy. I could’ve helped her. Maybe paid more attention—”
“Stop,” he said, cupping my cheeks with both hands as he pressed his forehead against mine. “There was absolutely nothing you could’ve done to have made any of this different. Do you understand that?”
I wasn’t sure. I had been silent from the start with her and Erik, and Debbie had stayed silent over what had happened. Silence, no matter which way you look at it, destroyed lives.
He made a deep, torn sound. “If she wanted to kill herself, she would’ve done it no matter what anyone did or said, Tess.”
Something didn’t ring true about that, made it hard to believe that she would’ve actually hung herself. Denial was riding me pretty strongly, but there was something in the back of my head that screamed she wouldn’t have done this.
“I wonder if they’ve found a suicide note,” I mused out loud, feeling a heaviness settle in my stomach and chest. “Do you think they did?”
He pulled back, dropping his hands to my legs as he shook his head. “I don’t know. They might tell you tomorrow when I take you to the office.”
That was the last thing I wanted to think about having to do. I scrubbed the heels of my palms down my face. So many thoughts raced through my head that I blurted out one of them. “Did you know Steph lived there? I mean, that she was my suitemate?”
“No. I’ve never been to her dorm. Never asked, either.”
I chose to believe him in that moment, because it was stupid to care about that right now. “She called you?”
“She did and I . . . she said you were really upset—screaming—and she called me.”
I shuddered as those horrible moments after finding Debbie came back. “How did she know?”
He looked at me, confused. “The night at the party—she pretty much guessed that you meant something to me and that something was going on between us.”
Made sense. I turned a little and focused on taking several deep breaths.
“I’m going to see if Cam has something to drink.”
“Make it strong,” I mumbled.
“You sure?” He kissed my cheek after I nodded. “I’m sure he has something.”
Lifting my gaze, I found myself staring at where the crutches had landed on Cam’s beige carpet. A few days ago I’d thought my life was ruined. Not completely, because good things happened at the same time that something so terrible had. I got Jase. Finally, after years of pining for the boy, I had him. Earlier tonight, when I’d been upset with Jase over hitting Erik, seemed so irrelevant. As did my bum knee. Those issues paled in comparison to what had just happened to Debbie and her family. My problems were nothing, because Deb . . . she was gone.
Jase returned with a small glass of amber-colored liquor. “Scotch,” he said, handing it over. “It should help.”
I took a sip and winced as it burned my throat. “Whoa.”
“The second drink will be easier.” He held the entire bottle and took a swig, obviously a pro at drinking the fancy stuff.
He’d been right. The second drink was easier and the third even more so. When I finished, I placed the glass on the coffee table.
“Did it help?” he asked, placing the bottle beside my glass.
Did it? I turned to him. “I want . . . want to sleep.”
His expression softened. “That’s probably a good idea.”
Yes. That did sound like a magnificent idea. “Will you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
“Of course I’ll stay with you. There’s no way I’m letting you be by yourself tonight.”
I scooted toward him and looped my arms around his neck. “Thank you so much for coming.”
He returned the embrace. “You don’t have to thank me for this.”
“But I do. I don’t know what I would be doing if you weren’t here. Probably losing my mind. I just . . .” I didn’t finish. Gratitude swelled in me. “Thank you.”
Jase dropped a kiss to the top of my head, and I found it hard to disentangle my arms from him. I found an old, oversize shirt of Cam’s to wear to bed while Jase investigated the extra bedroom.
“Sorry. I can’t sleep in Cam’s bed. Too weird.”
I limped into the extra room and eyed the full-size bed that had a blue comforter neatly tucked in. “Isn’t this Ollie’s old room?”
Jase glanced over his shoulder. His gaze was quick, but I didn’t miss that he was taking in all the exposed flesh. Cam’s shirt slipped off one shoulder and the material ended midthigh. If I bent over, someone would be getting an eyeful of my undies.
He looked away as he widened his stance by the bed. “Cam actually replaced the bed and stuff because the old one belonged to Ollie. Sometimes I stay here.”
Jase chuckled. “I would not sleep in the same bed as Ollie unless it’s been disinfected.”
My lips twitched. “That’s mean.”
“Uh, you didn’t want to sleep in his bed either,” he pointed out as he faced me. “That boy has been around. His bed has had more action than a subway train.”
I cracked a grin.
His eyes lightened. “There they are.”
“Even better.” He swooped down, kissing the one on my left side and then the right. “I love them.”
In spite of everything, my chest warmed and I knew it had nothing to do with the liquor. The warmth lasted until I climbed into the bed that smelled like fresh linen and Jase disappeared back into the apartment, checking the door and grabbing some water for himself.
Shivering again, I tugged the comforter up onto my shoulder and curled onto my side, my back to the door. When I closed my eyes, I saw a set of pale legs and limp arms.