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“I live to serve,” he said, an expression curving into his face that gave away what he was thinking. Or reliving.

I wasn’t a blusher‌—‌the genetic code just hadn’t built it into my system‌—‌but I thought I felt one creeping up my neck at his continued stare.

“All right, lover boy,” Holly said, snapping her fingers. She winced, grabbing her temples again. “The airport. Sometime today.”

I hurried around the bed, grabbing Holly’s shoes she’d let me borrow, and pulled my bag down from the shelf in his closet. Grabbing his keys from the nightstand, Jude took my hand and led me to the door.

“It’s about time,” Holly whispered, digging through her purse.

Jude snagged Holly’s suitcase sitting outside the door and we worked our way down the hall, stepping over and around bodies decorating the floor.

“Looks like we missed out on some party,” I said, peering at one comatose couple, wondering how in all acrobatics they’d worked their way into that position.

“I wouldn’t say we missed out,” Jude said, peeking back at me with a suggestive smile.

“I think this is the one I made out with like a sex addict in remission last night,” Holly said, leaning over one of Jude’s teammates who was still smiling in his sleep. “Or maybe it was that one,” she said, toeing the hand of the guy across from the first and inspecting his face. “Yeah, definitely this one. His lips are the more swollen of the two. Speaking of,”‌—‌ruffling through her bag, she produced a tube of chapstick‌—‌”my lips are in serious pain.”

“I thought you said you were in a hurry, Hol,” Jude called up the stairs at her, keeping my hand in his. At the bottom of the stairs, a pyramid of bodies blocked the way. Leaping over it, Jude turned around, grabbed my waist, and lifted me over the human barricade. Waiting for Holly to make her wobbly way down, he lifted her over as well.

Jude’s truck was parked a ways off, so we hoofed it. Coming around the side of the house, a quilt of clothing and splintered wood decorated the side yard. I stopped in my tracks, appraising Jude’s yard decorating skills.

“Someone had a visit from the anger monkeys last night,” Holly said, stopping beside me.

Staring up at Jude, he peered at me from the corner of his eyes. “They most certainly did.”

“Rage is a terrible thing,” he added, crossing the lawn, but not before snagging a dark tee draped over a shrub.

I smirked at his back.

By the time Holly and I hauled our tired, slow moving butts to Jude’s truck, he already had Holly’s suitcase in the bed and both doors swung open for us. Peeling the white shirt he was still sporting over his head, he tossed that into the bed too. No wonder he never had any clean clothes. Lifting the black tee above his head, he paused, looking at me, his brows coming together.

“It’s all right,” I said, rolling my eyes. Just because I’d behaved like a jealous lunatic last night didn’t mean I wanted to be reminded of it. They were his clothes, regardless of who’d washed and folded them.

“Just checkin’,” he said with a faint grin before tugging it over his head.

Holly and I just stood there outside the truck, watching the show. Stuffing the shirt into his jeans, Jude stopped, looking up at us with confusion.

“What?” he asked, tucking in the back and giving me a devilish grin.

I averted my gaze, trying to look unimpressed as I climbed into the cab. “Oh, go ‘what’ yourself.”

Holly chuckled. “You know, Jude, the older you get, the uglier you get,” she said, winking at me as she crawled in beside me.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, climbing into the driver seat and started the truck up. “And the older you get, the meaner you get.”

Grabbing my thigh, he slid me closer until we took up a space intended for one person. He didn’t let go once the entire drive.

“Why does Thursday seem like it’s never going to get here?” I groaned, stalling outside of my dorm in Jude’s truck.

“Because it will feel that way,” he answered, brushing my hair over my shoulder.

I groaned louder. Holly had made it off on time and, while I’d willed the drive from the airport to Juilliard to go slowly, it of course hadn’t. The goodbyes Jude and I were forced to make every Sunday never got easier. We went to schools nearly five hours apart, so the possibility of sneaking in an afternoon weekday visit was out of the question. When we said goodbye, it was goodbye for an eternal five days.

Except for this week. It would only be for three days due to Thanksgiving break. It was truly a time to be grateful.

“So you’re okay with celebrating with my dad and mom on Thursday?” I asked again, just to make sure. Jude had been civil, as had they, but there was a strain between the two families that I doubted would even slacken with time. Jude’s father murdering my brother because my father had fired him was the kind of drama day time television creators couldn’t even conceive of. It was the kind of thing people didn’t “get over” after a few family dinners.

“Luce,” he said, stroking my face, “you’re my family. Where you go, I go.” He blinked, looking through the windshield. “There’s no one else but you.”

I didn’t like to dwell on Jude’s lack of family because it made my heart hurt like it was now. Jude truly had no family. No parents, no siblings, no grandparents, aunts or uncles. And not due to choice. Jude’s family had all, one by one, abandoned him.

I knew, at the core of his anger and possessiveness of me, this was what he feared most from me: one day turning my back on him and walking as far away as I could get.

The ache in my heart deepened.

“Good,” I said, trying to play it off like I wasn’t hurting, “because we’re a team and teams don’t let their members go to family holidays alone.”

“Okay, team,” he said, turning in his seat, stalling just as much as I was. Taking a glance at my dorm looming in front of us, he sighed. “’Til Thursday?”

I picked up where his sigh let off. “’Til Thursday.”

Leaning in, his eyes drifted down to my mouth. “Better make it a good one then.”

I couldn’t help but smile, despite feeling like shit. Wetting my lips, I leaned closer, making it a good one.

CHAPTER NINE

The scent of patchouli and the beat of reggae swept through the hallway, alerting me that my roommate and friend, India, had, was currently, or was about to get her freak on in our dorm room. It was an every other day occurrence in my life.

If I was lucky, I could dodge in and dodge out with my books so I could study down in the commons area. If I wasn’t, and the room starting erupting with screams and grunts and snarls, I’d just have to wait it out. The last time I’d walked in on India with her man of the day, I’d seen things no god-fearing person should have to.

Stopping outside the door, I listened. Nothing but Bob Marley getting his grove on. “Indie?” I said, tapping on the door. “Is it safe to come in there?”

“Safe, little miss pure and prude,” India shouted back at me through the door.

Opening the door, the muskiness of patchouli almost floored me. India was draped over the chair we had stuffed in the corner wearing her red silk kimono bathrobe, smoking something that probably wouldn’t be kosher with the resident advisor.

“Have a nice time?”

“Eh-huh,” she breathed, giving me a stupid little grin. “If you were five minutes earlier, we could have made this a three way.”

Throwing my bag down on my bed, I plopped into our rolling chair. “Sucks to be me.”

India leaned forward in her chair, her dark skin still dotted with sweat. “Speaking of sucking,” she began, pursing her lips together, “did you guys…?” She made a few circles with her index finger.

“None of your business,” I said, spinning a revolution in the chair.

“So you didn’t,” she said, leaning back into the chair.

“Nope,” I said, clucking my tongue, “we didn’t.”

“It does suck to be you,” she said, chuckling.

“Oh, shut up,” I said, grabbing our stuffed aardvark we kept propped on our computer desk and tossing it at her. “You’re getting enough for all of us.”

“Yes,” she said, taking another pull of her smoke, “yes, I am.”

Giving the chair another spin, I stared up at the ceiling, stalling on the whole studying endeavor because, while India was the female equivalent of a manwhore, there was no else who could listen or offer better advice when it came to the complicated world of men than my roommate. Save for Holly, but she was stuck on a flight for the next couple of hours and I needed advice STAT.

“How was Jude?” she asked, picking up on my stalling tactics.

“He was…” I sighed, replaying the weekend. A lot of highs and lows. “He was Jude,” I settled on.

“Roller coaster Jude,” Indie said, making a mm-mm-mmm sound with her mouth. “Now, honey, that’s one ride I’d never want to get off.”

“I know,” I said, starting to feel dizzy from the spinning. “I don’t want to either.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem is the roller coaster,” I said. “We’re either on top of the world or knocking on hell’s door. There’s no in between. No breathing room. Just constant up and down at one hundred miles per hour.”

It always felt good talking with India about my concerns with Jude’s and my relationship. She never judged, just gave solid advice.

“I know, Lucy,” she said, shifting in her seat, “but your man’s a passionate person. Just like you are. If the two of you are together, you’ve got to accept the roller coaster as a way of life. You wouldn’t want him to change who he is any more than he’d want you to change. The drastic ups and downs will be what spending your life with Jude will be like. That’s a fact. You just have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Is what the two of you have together worth the sacrifice?” Her eyes narrowed on me, driving the message home.

I knew she was right, and I knew it was worth it, but I was human and couldn’t help but want the unattainable. “I just wish I could trade in the roller coaster for a carousel. Able to anticipate what was around every corner, making the journey with less dramatic ups and downs.”

“I get that,” India said, nodding her head, “but that’s not the hand you were dealt, baby. Jude was the hand you were dealt, and that man is no carousel, Lucy. That man is the super-duper-looper, Six Flags, knee-trembling roller coaster extraordinaire.” She sucked in a breath, out of it after that deposition.

“I know,” I admitted, already feeling better.

Jude was a roller coaster‌—‌I was a roller coaster. Together we created that super-duper-looper thing. It was scary, standing on the ground and looking up at it, but if that’s the ride I had to take to be with Jude, I’d be first in line.

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