“I need to find the potty.” I stood just as a Ping-Pong ball flew across the garage and bounced off the dartboard once more. “You need anything?”
Avery shook her head as she glanced at her barely touched cup of beer. “You’d probably want to use the one upstairs, on the second floor,” she suggested, looking up with a smile. “It’s not as gross.”
“But still gross?”
She nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Wish me luck then.”
Giggling, she scrunched up her face in distaste. “You’re going to need it.”
I headed for the door to the house at the same moment Cam darted away from the table and descended on Avery. It was like he’d been waiting for me to leave, to sneak in a kiss. And, boy, did he kiss her. Clasping her cheeks in his hands, his head lowered until there was no space between them.
A smile crossed my lips, but there was a pang in my chest—a throb of envy. And that was wrong. I shouldn’t be envious of my brother’s relationship. Both of them deserved the kind of love they shared, but I wanted to know what that felt like. To know firsthand the kind of love that healed instead of harmed.
Aaand I might be a tad bit tipsy.
In the living room, Erik’s and Brandon’s fingers were flying over their controllers. Both of their faces donned identical masks of concentration and determination. Debbie looked up from where she was perched on the arm of the couch beside her boyfriend, an extremely bored look marking her pretty face.
I sent her a sympathetic smile instead of asking her why she was sitting in here if she was so bored. I already knew the answer. Because Erik wanted her there, where he could see her. Control her. A bitter taste crawled up the back of my throat as I started up the stairs. I needed to get out of the room before I called him a dick again and threw a “face” on the end of it.
Took a few moments to get up the steps. My depth perception appeared to be wonky at the moment. At the top of the landing, I stopped and stared down the hall. “Oh . . .”
There were several doors on either side, most of them closed except for the one at the end of the hall, and that was clearly a bedroom where a hoarder of Mountain Dew bottles lived. Ew.
Having no other choice but to start opening doors, I started with the closest one to my left. I knocked softly and when there was no answer, I tried the handle. The door was locked. Hopefully that wasn’t the bathroom. The next room was an empty bedroom and the one after that was a laundry room with jeans and socks piled all over the floor.
Good God, they needed a house mom or something.
Closing that door before I started a load of laundry for the sad, sad creatures who lived here, I stepped around a pair of sneakers left in the middle of the hallway and went to the next door. I rapped my knuckles off the door and when there wasn’t an answer, I reached down and twisted the handle. The door swung open easily, revealing not a bathroom, but a rather neat bedroom and—
Oh my God.
The room wasn’t empty.
I knew what I was seeing and it only took seconds to take it all in, but my brain was slow to process everything. And that made it feel like forever.
Jase sat on a chair, his back to the organized desk. There was a pink box sitting there. I knew what was in it and for some reason that . . . that made what else I saw so much worse. His shirt was halfway unbuttoned, as if he’d grown tired with pushing the little buttons through their holes. His legs were spread wide, jaw locked and his arms hanging limply at his sides.
He wasn’t alone.
Standing before Jase was the kind of girl that could make me feel like last week’s dried vomit on a good day. She was beautiful. Long, thick black hair shone like glass and a tan, tight body hinted at being soft in all the right places.
Her shirt was off.
She wore only a denim skirt and a lacy red bra that proved some br**sts could defy gravity.
And I had a feeling those babies were natural.
I’d seen her a few times around campus, always with equally beautiful girls. I didn’t know her name, but in that minute, I hated her like we were vying for the same spot during a performance. And I was staring. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was the boobs. I needed to stop staring.
Seconds had passed from the moment I opened the door until Jase and this girl looked over. Something flickered in his deep gunmetal gray eyes, and his mouth opened. I flashed hot and then cold as our gazes locked.
So this is where Jase had been.
I guess he didn’t have a problem with getting laid with other girls.
A giggle bubbled up, escaping before I could stop it. I clamped my mouth shut. The laugh sounded near hysterical. I shouldn’t have drunk so much.
The girl’s perfectly groomed eyebrows rose as she stared at me. Annoyance tightened the line of her pouty mouth. “Excuse me?”
My stomach flipped over and over. For a moment, I couldn’t move at all. A crushing feeling pressed down on me. Was he giving this girl cupcakes too? Oh God . . . I couldn’t even bear the thought of that.
Then I started talking and walking. “I’m sorry. I was looking for the bathroom.”
“This is obviously not the bathroom,” she replied tartly.
Heat swamped my cheeks as a knot moved into my throat. He’d kissed me. Less than forty-eight hours ago. Touched me. Told me the truth about Jack. Obviously, I’d taken those very small moments and made them into a very big deal.
“I’m sorry,” I said again, my gaze darting to Jase as he stood. “I . . .” I stopped talking as the ball of emotion settled in the back of my throat. In such a haste to get away, I turned too quickly, knocking my left knee into the door. The hiss of sudden pain escaped my lips.
“Oh dear,” the girl murmured.
Face flaming like a red pepper, I spun around. I needed to get out of here.
“Tess,” Jase called. “Hold on a sec—Tess!”
I didn’t stop. Not when he called my name and then when the girl called out his. Forgetting why I even came upstairs, I hurried down the steps. My heart was pounding in a way that made me sick to my stomach. Torn between embarrassment and shock, I avoided the living room and went straight for the side door in the kitchen.
Common sense went right out the window, disappearing like that chick’s shirt. I stepped out into the night air and I . . . I kept walking. I followed the cracked pavement overgrown with weeds and then slipped between two cars parked along the curb. I took a right and I kept walking.
There was a small voice in the back of my head telling me that I was being stupid and overreacting, but I was flying headfirst into drama llama land. All I knew was staying at that party was not in my stars. There was no way I could face Jase after what I so obviously interrupted, or face anyone, really.
My cell went off, the ring muffled, and I let it ring.
I wanted to go home.
Like my real home—not my dorm. I wanted to press rewind back to May and not take that stupid jump that destroyed everything. If I could, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be around Jase.
By the time I reached the last block before hitting the set of dark roads before the main one, I knew I should’ve asked Avery to take me home, but I didn’t want to ruin their night. I could’ve asked Debbie, but Erik would’ve flipped out. I—
My cell phone vibrated once more in my back pocket and I ignored it again.
The beer dulled the ache in my knee. Or maybe it was the pressure in my chest that made everything else seem so freaking insignificant. And maybe it was the beer’s fault for why I was seriously attempting to the walk the mile plus back to campus in the middle of the night.
The last house in the subdivision was dark and silent, and a truck flew down the road so fast that it caused my pulse to spike. I stopped at the end of the road, lifting my hands and pulling the hair that had slipped free of my bun back from my face.
He’d kissed me. He’d touched me. He’d held me. He’d tried to make me find something other than dancing so I could fly again.
Stupid tears burned the back of my eyes, partly due to frustration and the other part—well, it was more stupid than me walking back home. I let go of my hair and the wind caught some of the strands, tossing them around.
What was I doing? Cam would freak when I didn’t come back. He’d probably call search and rescue. And Jase? He probably thought I was completely psycho, but he said . . . and I thought . . . I had thought wrong.
I squeezed my eyes shut against the tears. Seeing Jase with another girl hurt like a kick to the face. It made me doubt what I harbored for him was just a stupid crush, because this—this was not how you reacted when you saw your crush with someone else.
I opened my eyes, hating the fact that my lashes felt damp. This was not me. I was not this kind of girl. I was not—
Two headlights lit up the road, quickly bearing down on me. I twisted halfway, and my heart plummeted. It was a Jeep, but it couldn’t be.
Brakes squealed as the car screeched to a halt beside me, and I was suddenly staring at Jase’s face through the open passenger window. His eyes were shadowed, but his lips were pressed into a tight, furious thin line. “I’ve been calling you.”
I didn’t have a response to that which didn’t include f**k off.
Jase leaned half of his long body into the passenger seat, and now that I could see his eyes, they were a deep, stormy gray. “Get in the car.”
“No.” The word came out, and f**k, if it didn’t feel good saying it.
He glared at me. “Get in the car, Tess.”
“I don’t think so.”
He looked away, taking a deep breath before returning his attention to me. “What are you doing all the way out here? It better not be what I think you’re doing, because you cannot possibly be that stupid.”
And just like that, an emotional switch was thrown. Anger flooded my system. I skipped right out of drama llama land and straight into crazy bitch land. “I’m not that stupid? The fact that you have to ask me what I’m doing is pretty stupid when it’s damn obvious. I’m walking home.”
He stared at me like I’d just admitted to having a penis. “You’re walking home?”
“Did I stutter?” I snapped. Not my most clever of all comebacks, but I was rewarded when his expression clouded over.
“Are you f**king insane?” When I didn’t respond, he cursed and then jerked the wheel to the curb. Leaving the engine running, he hopped out of the Jeep and was in front of me in an instant. With his height, he towered over me, but all I saw was that his shirt was still unbuttoned. “First off, you are walking on a major highway. A car could come flying down too close to the shoulder and hit you! Kill you, Tess.”
As if to prove his point, a car flew down the road, music thumping from its speakers. Perfect timing. I folded my arms. “I—”
“Or someone could stop.” He caught the edge of my chin, forcing me to hold his gaze when I started to look away. “And not someone who’s interested in just giving you a ride home. Do you understand me?”
I blanched. “I do, but—”
“And then there’s your knee. Did you even think about that?” Man, he was on a roll. He still had my chin, daring me to even blink. “You think it’s good for your injury to walk that far? And because of what?”
I opened my mouth to say something that was probably not going to make this situation any better, but that’s not what came out of my mouth. “Was the cupcake for her?”
Damn me straight to hell and back. I was never drinking again. Fuck beer and the keg it rode in on.
Jase’s eyes held mine, and what felt like an eternity stretched out before he dropped his hand and cursed. “Get in the car, Tess. And do not argue with me.” He started to turn, but then whipped back toward me. “Fuck it.”
He didn’t even give me a chance to follow him. Like the first day he joined music class, one second I was standing and the next second I was over his shoulder. The world tilted and my hair fell forward in a tangled mess.
“What the hell?” I shrieked, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt. “Put me down!”
“Hell no. I’m not standing out here arguing with you.” He stalked over to the Jeep and yanked open the door. “You and I are going to talk—”
“I don’t want to talk to you!” I slammed my palm into his back. He didn’t make a sound as he turned around, dropping me onto the front seat. “You—”
“You move out of that seat, I swear to God, I will sit on you,” he warned.
“I don’t—what? Sit on me? What are you? Two?”
Jase gripped the door. “Stay there.”
“I’m not a dog.”
He leaned in, putting his face right in mine. Up close, his eyes were a stunning shade of silver. “Stay here. If you get out, I will chase after you. Like a dog.”