His lips grazed the bridge of my nose, and then he pressed a kiss against my forehead as he rolled off me, onto his side. The hand that had been cupping my cheek slid down, between my breasts, stopping just above my belly button. That sweet kiss seized my chest, but I waited for those lips to move farther south.
But the lips never did.
I turned my head toward his and opened my eyes. My mouth dropped open as realization sunk in. Lying beside me on the floor, Jase was passed out cold.
Forrest Gump had taken up residency in my head. The words stupid is as stupid does were on repeat. I should’ve ignored Jase’s text. I should’ve agreed when he’d called himself a jackass. I should’ve called someone to come get his drunk ass. I shouldn’t have yearned for more than a kiss on the forehead. And I really shouldn’t have been lured in by anything he’d said last night, no matter how badly I wanted to believe him, because he’d been drunk.
A drunk man’s words were a sober man’s thoughts. That’s what my dad always said, but I didn’t think that was true. Not in the bright light of the morning.
I hadn’t been able to get Jase onto the couch last night. So I had ended up shoving a pillow under his head and dropping the quilt over him. I’d sat on the couch afterward, fully intending on getting up and finding my own bed, but I had gotten a bit lost watching him sleep. Like I said, stupid is as stupid does. As I studied the softness in his features that were never present while he was awake, I’d fallen asleep.
When I’d woken up Sunday morning, the quilt that I’d placed over him had been tucked around me. And the pillow had replaced the armrest. Jase had been gone.
There was a huge part of me that wanted to believe that he’d spoken the truth last night and that it meant something, because that kiss . . . it had been so sweet. But he’d been hammered and he wasn’t here now. I appreciated that he’d apologized. We could move forward from here and be friends, but I wanted to kick myself for rushing out in the middle of the night to talk to him like I was desperate and hoping that he’d kiss me.
On any other place except my forehead, but that had been so . . . so sweet.
“Ugh.” I dropped my head into my hands.
But I’d been so surprised by his text. Hell, I’d thought he’d purposely lost my number and . . . well, I was a girl. That was my excuse. We’re just friends. I kept telling myself that over and over again. I needed to get that through my thick skull.
“You don’t look like you had a good night.”
I lifted my head at the sound of Debbie’s voice. She stood in the doorway with two cups of coffee in her hands. “Ahh . . .”
Brown hair tucked up in a neon purple clip, she shoved a warm cup into my hands. “Got a question.”
“Okay.” I sat down on my bed, crossing my legs. “I might have an answer.”
Toeing off her sandals, she flashed a quick grin and then dropped down on the bed opposite of me. “So I got home this morning around . . . hmm, let’s say—around four A.M. and I thought my eyes must be deceiving me, because there was one Jase Winstead passed out on our floor and you were asleep on the couch, all curled up like a little babe.”
A slow burn crept across my cheeks. “Uh, yeah, well . . .”
Debbie giggled as I stumbled over my words. “Now, when I see Jase in unexpected places, I expect him to be in a bed and not on a floor. Just saying, but come on, spill it. What was he doing here? I saw him at the party and he didn’t look like he wanted to be there—oh! Now it makes sense!” Her grin spread. “There was somewhere else he wanted to be and that was here, with you.”
That was a huge leap of logic to take. “It’s not like that.” At her doubtful look, I took a sip of the sugary coffee and resisted the urge to ask what “unexpected places” she had seen Jase in. “I’m serious. We’ve known each other for a while. You know my brother is close friends with him, right?”
“I know who your brother is. Everyone does.” She smoothed a hand over her bangs. “But I didn’t know you were good friends with Jase.”
I shrugged. “He was drunk, so I couldn’t let him drive home. He crashed on the couch. That’s about all. Not an exciting story to tell.”
One dark brow arched. “And why was he here when he was drunk?”
Fuuuuuck. Good question. I bought time by taking a nice long drink of the coffee. “He was seeing someone else or something. And he was drunk and texted me to say hi.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Well, that is boring.”
I laughed. “Sorry.”
“Damn, I was hoping I was going to get some dirty details and live vicariously through you.” She laughed when my eyes widened. “Come on, Jase has this . . . I don’t know, this intensity about him. Like he’d be the kind of guy who f**ks you and changes your life.”
“Fucks you and changes your life?” I repeated dumbly. The few times I had sex hadn’t been that impressive. “That is some serious penis skills.”
Debbie laughed as she flopped onto her back, managing to hold on to her Styrofoam cup without spilling anything. “Penis skills? Oh my God . . .”
I cracked a grin as I held the cup close. “Erik wasn’t with you, was he?”
Tension eased out of my neck. If Erik had been, I was sure he would go back to Cam or one of the other frat brothers. “Can I ask you a favor? Can you not tell Erik that Jase was here? I don’t want people getting the wrong idea—”
“Like they obviously would,” she teased.
“Exactly. And I wouldn’t want Cam to get ticked off for no apparent reason.”
She rolled onto her side, placing her cup on the nightstand. “Cam the overprotective brother type?”
I snorted. “You have no idea.”
“That’s nice though, having someone looking out for you,” she said, stretching her legs. “I bet he’s a pain in the ass when it comes to boyfriends.”
I took another drink and figured it was time to change the conversation. “Speaking of boyfriends, I’m surprised Erik didn’t come back with you.”
She bit down on her lip. “He wanted to go back to the party, so . . .”
So what Erik wanted, Erik got. Just like Jeremy. I glanced down at my cup, wanting to say something, but felt like I’d be overstepping a line. But to remain silent was killer. No one at school had asked questions when they saw Jeremy grab my arm or yell at me for the most insignificant infractions. Everyone had turned a blind eye. It was easier that way.
I squeezed my eyes shut as the feeling of helplessness returned like an old, needy friend you couldn’t get rid of. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I wasn’t a victim.
When Debbie’s phone went off, I opened my eyes to see her quickly pull it out of her pocket. “Hey, babe, I was—” Her words were cut off suddenly, and I stiffened. “I know—yes. Yes! I just left to get some coffee. You—” She twisted at the waist and swung her feet onto the floor. As she stood, her eyes met mine. A crimson stain swept across her cheeks. She looked away quickly as she hurried out of the room. “Erik, babe, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
She stopped at the door, bending to pick up the sandals she kicked off. Her cotton shorts rode up her thigh, revealing the skin just below her hip. I gasped, but the sound must’ve been lost in whatever Erik was saying to her.
Bruises in an array of yellow and blue marred her skin. Some old. Some so fresh, so vibrantly purple, that I knew they had to have been created within the last twenty-four hours.
Debbie straightened, sandals dangling from the tips of her fingers. “I’m coming over now. I just need to get gas—I know you told me to get gas last night, but it was late . . .” She sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry.”
Pressure clamped down on my chest as I watched her close the door behind her. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t erase what I saw or what it meant. All the bruises, a large cluster of blotches, were inflicted where they could not be normally seen.
They’d been hidden.
My shirt was already starting to cling to the middle of my back, and my right knee ached. The walk from history class in Whitehall all the way to music appreciation on west campus was truly a bitch in this heat. Even worse was the fact that if I wanted to eat anything, I would have to walk my happy ass back to east campus.
“You should’ve taken the bus,” Calla Fritz said, shifting her messenger-style book bag to the other shoulder. “There’s no reason for you to walk this far.”
“My bullshit radar just went off.” Calla tugged her long, golden ponytail out from underneath the strap of her bag. I’d only met her last week when I started class. We shared history and music together, but in the short period of time, I discovered she was pretty blunt when she wanted to be.
Besides Debbie, she was probably my only friend. I didn’t count Avery because she was my brother’s girlfriend and had to like me. Mom had said right before I left for school that some of her longest-lasting friendships started her first year in college.
I didn’t think that was going to happen for me.
Even my friendship with Sadi, and we’d been dancing together since we were five, hadn’t lasted.
“You started limping by the time we reached the football field,” she added.
Sweat caused my sunglasses to slip on the bridge of my nose. Pushing them up, I smiled at her. Short and curvy, Calla Fritz reminded me of one of those ’50s pinup girls. The kind of girls who’d dance burlesque and make a lot of money doing it.
But, like me, Calla was far from perfect.
A raised scar covered her left cheek, from the corner of her lips to her ear. With makeup, it was a faint mark. I didn’t know how she got it and I didn’t ask. I figured it would be something she’d volunteer.
“I always limp,” I told her. Hiding my gimp leg was impossible with the nice bright pink cut decorating my kneecap. I would’ve preferred to hide it, but I couldn’t stand the heat of late August. “And I need the exercise.”
She snorted. “What the hell ever, my thighs need the exercise. You need a hamburger.”
“Have you seen my ass? It’s known a lot of hamburgers up close and personal. And it’s on speaking terms with french fries.”
“That’s okay. My thighs make out with milkshakes.”
I laughed and then sighed as we entered the tunnel that connected the two sides of the campus. Since it was underground and lit by track lighting, it was a good twenty degrees cooler.
“I wonder if anyone would notice if I just lay down in the middle of this?” Calla asked.
“Probably, but I’d be right there with you.”
Calla spent the rest of our trip bitching about the fact that she—a nursing major—had to take music appreciation. I didn’t blame her. It was an easy enough class, but not the most interesting. Our professor really didn’t apply himself. After all, almost everyone in the classroom was there because they had to be.
College was so strange. It was like high school with little to no parental influence. We still had to take classes we didn’t want to take, except we actually had to pay for them, which really kind of sucked ass.
The auditorium was half full, and we took our seats in the back. Sitting halfway down the aisle, I swallowed the groan of relief when I sat. My knee immediately thanked me. I popped my sunglasses up, cringing at the fine sheen of sweat dotting my forehead. Nothing like being a sweaty mess for class. I was so ready for fall.
“Wake me up about ten minutes till,” Calla said, sliding down in her seat. She kept her sunglasses on. “Because then I’ll feel like I attempted to pay attention.”
I grinned. “Will do.”
As the class filed in, I started thumbing through my notebook, searching for the section I’d been taking notes in last week. I didn’t realize anyone was heading for the unoccupied seat to my left until I heard the chair creak. I glanced over and my jaw dropped.
Jase Winstead was sprawled arrogantly in the seat beside me, long legs bent and both arms draped lazily over the back of the seats. Dressed in faded jeans and a shirt, he looked like he had every right to be there, especially with his backpack resting against one of his legs.
Except I couldn’t figure out why he was here.
A funny little half smile hitched up one corner of his lips. “Hi.”
I glanced around, making sure I was in the right class. Beside me, Calla stared at Jase as she removed her sunglasses. I was in the right place. “Hi.”
The smile spread about an inch. “You look surprised.”
“I am,” I said, snapping out of my stupor. “What are you doing here?”
He tapped a long finger off his notebook. “Had a meeting with my adviser last week to make sure I had all my credits. Turned out I still needed music appreciation, and this was the only class that wasn’t full. So I did a late add.”
Jase paused as his gaze slowly drifted over my face. His body was the epitome of relaxed, but there was an unnerving level of quiet intensity in his stare. “I was actually sitting in front of you. You didn’t see me, but I saw you.”
There was no way that Jase knew my schedule, and him being here had absolutely nothing to do with me or his late-night visit on Saturday. I totally knew that, but that knowledge did nothing to stop the bubbling of hope and excitement. “Well, that’s . . . um, that’s cool.”