I reared back, pressing against the door as what he was saying finally sunk through the shock. The seat—the floor—dropped out from underneath me. I blinked back hot, stinging tears. “Just to make sure I understand this. You don’t want to be my boyfriend, but you want to be my chauffeur?”
Jase’s brows furrowed together. “I want to be your friend, Tess. Not your chauffeur.”
Sucking in a shallow breath, I turned my attention to the front of the car. My thoughts raced as my stomach continued to do gymnastics. My skin tingled and felt tight.
“Stop saying that!” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I roughly wiped it away. “Just stop apologizing, because that makes this so much worse.”
He said nothing as he nodded his acquisition.
My hands shook as I reached for my bag. Numbly, I picked up my bag and reached for the door. He didn’t try to stop me as I slid out awkwardly, but he looked like he was about to get out to hand over the crutches.
“Don’t,” I said, voice hoarse. “I don’t want your help.”
Jase stilled in his seat, nostrils flared. “But I want to help you, Tess. I want us to—”
“To be friends?” I choked on my laugh. “Are you serious?”
He looked completely serious.
And that made this so much more screwed up to even think about, and it summed up just how shallow the depth of his feelings was for me. “We can’t be friends. I can’t be friends with you, because I love you, and you’ve hurt me.”
He flinched, and I got no satisfaction out of it. I tugged my crutches free, the motion unsettling me and I stumbled back, dropping my book bag.
“Tess!” He opened the door. “Goddamnit, let me help you.”
Cursing under my breath and through a sheen of tears, I picked it up and slugged it over my shoulder. He was standing in front of me by then, holding my crutches.
I snatched them away from him, shaking. “I wish you had decided that this was too much for you before we told my brother we were together.” My voice gave out to a strangled sob as I backed away. “I wish you would’ve figured this out before we made love.”
Jase jerked back, his lips parted.
I turned from him and without looking back, I started away from the Jeep. Not toward the Den, because I couldn’t face Cam and Avery. Slamming the crutches into the ground, I focused on a bench near Knutti. I needed to keep it together and I needed to keep calm. Losing it in public would just add to my humiliation.
Oh God, Cam was going to flip out. He was going to—the rubber end of the left crutch snapped off, nearly sending me to the sidewalk.
Frustrated and feeling a thousand other emotions, I evened out my weight on my legs and took the crutches, shoving them into a nearby trash bin. They stuck out like legs, and a couple of people walking by passed me weird looks as I limped across the street, toward an empty bench.
My knee was already throbbing as I sat down, but I didn’t care, because it was nothing compared to the feeling inside me. I dug my elbows into my thighs, resting my head against my palms, and squeezed my eyes shut against the rush of blinding tears.
Jase had been so perfect this weekend and last night . . . last night had been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We hadn’t screwed. We hadn’t fucked. We’d made love. It had been the perfect, the right moment, but . . .
Oh God, was I such a fool that I initiated it? That I had taken words uttered in the moment of heat and passion as being the real thing.
I’d never felt more young or stupid than I did in that moment. In two weeks I’d be nineteen, but I suddenly felt too young and too old.
A cold wind whipped up through the walkway, stirring my hair around me. I shivered, but I barely felt the chilly October air. I curled my fingers in, tangling them with my hair. Tears soaked my lashes and my arms trembled.
I don’t know how long I sat there, but I was losing my hold on myself. There was no way I was going to make it through my afternoon classes. Digging out my cell, I sent a text to Calla, begging her to pick me up and take me to my dorm. When she responded that she was on her way, I told her where I was and slipped the cell back into my bag.
Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly as I let my teary gaze drift over the lawn. I stiffened when I saw Erik standing under the small, bare tree near the sidewalk.
He was staring right back at me.
A fine shiver skated down my spine as he pushed away from the tree, crossing the distance between us with long-legged paces. He was the last person I wanted to deal with, especially considering what I suspected.
As he grew closer, I could see he looked just as bad as I did but for very different reasons. His usually styled hair was a mess, and his face was pale. “You told the police that I was with Debbie before she . . . before she died.”
Blinking several times, I leaned back and tried to sort out my thoughts enough to hold a conversation I so didn’t want to have. “I told them about the pink scarf and—”
“I wasn’t there. She broke up with me as I’m sure you know and were f**king thrilled about.” He bent at the waist, getting right up in my face. So close that I could see the fine lines around the corners of his eyes. “And you told them that I hit her. You know that’s not true.”
Disbelief rocketed through me. Shit on a bull, I knew that was true!
“So if you know what’s good for you,” he said, “keep your f**king mouth shut.”
“What a dick!” Calla clutched a carton of ice cream we’d found in the fridge. “Fuck guys. Seriously. Fuck them and not in a good way.”
My eyes were blurry and puffy as I watched her pace. There was a lot about Jase that Calla didn’t know and I wouldn’t tell her out of respect for his privacy. As much as he hurt me, I wasn’t about to announce to the world that he had a son and was most likely still very much in love with the mother of his child.
Because wasn’t that what this was really about? He hadn’t been ready for something serious, and I knew so very little about this girl, where she lived, if she was in some way still in the picture, or how long the two had been split. Knowing that his heart quite likely belonged to someone else made me feel all the more foolish. The first time he’d refused to talk about her should’ve been warning enough, and yet, I ignored it.
“Yeah, f**k ’em,” I whispered.
She stopped in front of me, holding out the ice cream. “More?”
I shook my head, clutching the pillow to my too full stomach.
Sighing, she plopped down next to me. “I’m so sorry, Teresa. This is the last thing you need right now—your knee, Debbie, and crazy-pants Erik.”
“I guess it could be worse,” I murmured, thinking about how I was never going to be able to sleep in that bed again. I knew it would still carry his scent and I couldn’t bear that. Run out of my dorm and my bed, I was about to become close friends with this couch.
Calla gave me a quizzical look. “I’m pretty sure you’ve eaten a shit sandwich this last week or so.”
That much was true, but Debbie still had it worse than me. At least I was alive. Closing my eyes, I rubbed my aching brow. “I don’t think I’m ever going to have sex again.”
“Join the club.” She sighed heavily. “I’ve sworn off guys.”
I peeked at her. “Completely?”
She nodded. “Yep. Life’s easier that way.”
“Do you like girls?”
“I wish.” She laughed. “I just think sex makes things complicated and messy. I mean, yeah, I talk about how hot guys are and make a ton of sexual innuendoes to the point someone probably thinks something’s wrong with me, but I’ve never had sex.”
“What?” I said in a disbelieving voice. “You’re a virgin?”
She laughed again. “Is it really that shocking? I can’t be the only twenty-one-year-old who hasn’t had sex.”
“You’re not,” I said immediately.
Straightening, she switched the carton of ice cream to her other hand. “And look at me, Teresa. I don’t look like you or Avery. I’m not thin, and I sort of look like the Joker.” She gestured at her scarred face.
My mouth dropped open. “First off, you’re not fat.”
She arched a brow.
I rolled my eyes. “And you do not look like the Joker, you dumbass. You’re really pretty.” And that part was true. Scar or not, Calla was really pretty. “I can’t believe you said that.”
Shrugging, she stood. “Enough about me and my lack of sex and whatnot; is what you told me all that Erik said to you?”
The change of subject threw me for a loop. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“Are you going to the police?”
I shook my head. “He didn’t do anything I can report. What he said really wasn’t a threat—what he said was what anyone would probably say if someone cast suspicion on them.”
“Yeah, but I don’t like what he said to you.”
“Neither do I.” I rubbed my hands across my face again.
Calla left for the kitchen, tossing the ice cream in the garbage. When she returned, she curled up beside me, remote in hand. “Let’s watch some bad TV. I’m pretty sure that cures all.”
Bad TV might cure a lot of things, but I knew it wouldn’t fix what was ailing me. I wasn’t sure what could. I’d given my body and my heart to Jase and he had handed them back.
A few things became clear by the end of the week. If the police suspected that Erik was guilty of anything other than being a shitty human being, it didn’t show. I saw him around campus and he didn’t look like a guy who had the police breathing down his neck or was about to be arrested for murder at any given second.
Maybe my suspicions were totally off the mark, but I avoided Erik at all costs, even if it meant crossing the street when I didn’t have to or turning and walking in the other direction. Even if he hadn’t hurt Debbie this time, he had in the past.
The other thing was that there was no keeping the fact that Jase and I were not together from Cam and Avery. By Friday, when I guessed neither of us showed up for lunch in the Den for the third time, they suspected something was up.
Cam cornered me when he’d come over to grab some extra clothes. I was sitting on the couch watching a marathon of Dance Moms, an open bag of Cheetos on the coffee table and two empty soda cans keeping me company.
He sat beside me, dropping his hands between his knees. “So . . . ?”
I exhaled loudly.
“Yeaah,” he said slowly. “So what the hell is up with you and Jase? You two haven’t been coming to the Den. At first I thought ya’ll just wanted some privacy, which, by the way, irked me, but I haven’t seen his Jeep here since Sunday morning.”
Debating if I should draw this out or just get it over with, I tugged the quilt our grandmother had made for Cam a few years back up to my chin. “We’re not together,” I said, like ripping a Band-Aid off. I laughed then, the sound dry. “I don’t even think the couple of days we were together really counts as being in a relationship. I’m pretty sure Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian have been married longer than we were together.”
I thought that last bit was pretty damn funny, but Cam looked like someone just died in front of us. “I knew it. That son of a—”
“I really don’t want to hear that right now.” I turned to him, and whatever he saw in my face caused him to shut up. “Whatever happened between us shouldn’t affect your friendship.”
“How can it not? Look at you?” He glanced around the room, gaze landing on the bag of junk food and soda cans. He sent a pointed glare at the TV, right when a small girl burst into tears. “You’re my baby sister and you’re obviously sitting here heartbroken. I knew he would f**k this up and he had to have known it too.”
“How did you know, Cam?”
He opened his mouth and he closed it.
My smile was weak. “I know—I know about Jack. Everything.”
Shock flickered across his face as he sat back. “He told you everything?”
I nodded. “Yeah, he told me. Is that why you knew he’d f**k up? Because he has a kid or because he’s still in love with Jack’s mother?” I was just throwing the last part out there. I didn’t really know for a hundred percent that he was in love with her still, but it seemed that way. By the way Cam’s eyes widened even more, I feared I hit it right on the nail.
“He told you about Kari?”
“Her name’s Kari?” I asked.
Cam stared at me a moment then looked away. Several seconds passed. “So he didn’t tell you about her? I guessed as much as he told you about Jack, but he didn’t say anything about her?”
“No.” I swallowed, lowering the quilt by an inch. “When he told me about Jack, he wouldn’t talk about her and when he . . . when he said we couldn’t be together, he said it was because he wasn’t ready for something serious.” I was so leaving out the sex part, because as far as Cam knew, our relationship hadn’t progressed to that part. If Cam knew it had and that Jase had called things off the day afterward, he would do more than punch him. “I asked if it was about her, but he still wouldn’t talk about her. I think . . . I think he’s still in love with her.”
Cam ran his hand through his hair, causing several strands to stick straight up. “Shit, Teresa, I don’t know what to say.”