He stood up, looking down at where I sat, just keeping it together by a thread, and stared at me. Like the idea of turning and walking out that door was crippling. Leaning down, he kissed the top of my head.
“Love ya, Luce,” he said, turning and heading for the door. “And I’m sorry me being in your life has made it so difficult. And I’m sorry I’m a piece of shit trying to feel his way out of being such a piece of shit.” Opening the door, he paused before closing it behind him. “I’d do anything to make you happy.”
As soon as the door closed behind him, my eyes flitted towards it, wishing I could take back everything. But I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. It wasn’t healthy feeling these kinds of searing emotions on a regular basis.
I sat there in the same position, telling myself I’d made a huge mistake, only to remind myself I’d done the right thing two seconds later. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been playing devil’s advocate with myself when a tapping sounded outside the door.
“Come in.” My throat ached and my voice was hoarse.
India stuck her head in, frowning when she saw me on the floor. “Did that bastard just break your heart?” she asked, stepping inside and kneeling beside me.
I shook my head. “No,” I said, “but I think I might have just broke his.”
“You two,” she said, hanging her head. “When are you going to get your shit together, huh?”
My hands had stopped shaking, but they were numb. Dead.
“Maybe never,” I answered. “Maybe we were never meant to be together in the first place.” Saying those words hurt my throat worse than the sobs had.
“Lucy, lord knows I love you and you’re my vanilla bean sister, but you can be daft some times.”
My head whipped up. What I needed from India was compassion and a shoulder to cry my eyes out on. Not another voice telling me I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.
“When are you going to stop looking at all the reasons you shouldn’t be together and start focusing on the reasons you should be?” she asked, her eyebrow ring bouncing with her eyebrows.
“India,” I said, “for all intents and purposes, he screwed my arch nemesis. Any reasons we had to be together kind of flew south with his boxers.”
“Is that what Jude admitted to?” she asked, plopping down beside me. “Making your arch nemesis pant?”
“Of course he didn’t admit to that,” I snapped, glaring at the half eaten chocolate bar on the floor. “He said he didn’t do it.”
“Then shame on you,” India said, her eyes narrowing at the same time her arm roped over my shoulder. “If you say you’re going to trust your man, then trust your man. Don’t revoke that privilege when he needs it most.”
“Oh, come on, Indie,” I said, so tired of arguing. “Not you too.”
“I’ve said my piece,” she said, holding her hand over her chest. “You are free to make just as many mistakes as the rest of us are. I just think this one is the one you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”
“Thanks for the pep talk,” I said, giving her a thumbs up. “Friend,” I added, to drive the dagger a little deeper.
She wasn’t impressed. “Speaking of Mr. Biggest Regret of Your Life,” she said, smiling sweetly at me, “where is the arch nemesis screwer?”
I lifted a shoulder. “Heading back to school,” I guessed.
“How?” she asked, looking over at me like I was making a joke.
“With his P.O.S. truck that gets two miles to the gallon and has an impressive array of fists dents dotting the bed.” And she had the nerve to call me daft.
“That P.O.S. was towed three nights ago after he showed up,” she said, standing up and walking towards the window. “One of the guys who hung around all weekend said he drove that truck right up to the front door and left it there while he searched every floor and room for you. I guess Juilliard decided a truck blocking the front entrance of one of their dorms was a parking violation.”
“So how’s he getting back?”
“Unless there’s a bus line that runs from New York to Syracuse late on a Sunday night, I’d say he’s hoofing it,” India replied, peering out the window.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered, knowing she was right. Jude was just crazy enough to attempt it. Or he’d wind up hitching, and the thought of the kind of person that might pick him up made my stomach jump into my throat.
“India,” I said, hopping up, “will you find him and drive him home? Please?” I wasn’t above begging.
“No can do, chicky-dee,” she said, plopping into her chair and firing up her laptop. “I’ve got more homework tonight than a Latin man has mojo.”
“India,” I whined, giving her a sad face that did nothing but earn an eye roll from her.
“Sorry, I can’t do it,” she said, fishing something out of the pocket of her hip-hugger jeans. “But you can use my sweet ass car. She’ll get you there fast and safe.” Tossing the keys at me, she waved me away. “Now be off with you. He can’t be more than a couple miles down the road.”
Looking up at me, she smirked. “Two down, only about another two hundred and fifty to go.”
Glaring at her, I grabbed my purse and marched towards the door.
“Have a nice trip,” she called after me, purring like a minx.
Making my way back down the hall, down the stairwell, and out the door, I debated taking India’s car over mine. As soon as I stepped out into the cold November night, I decided. Heated leather seats it was.
Trudging over to the luxury something or another, I glanced around, not really expecting to see Jude, but kind of hoping I would. I fumbled with the buttons on her key, finally managing to get the thing unlocked on the third try. Sliding into the seat, I adjusted it forward because India was pushing six feet, turned the key over, and cranked the heated seats to the high setting. Warmth drifted up my body almost immediately.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I decided to drive the route I drove every other weekend when I headed up to see Jude. I didn’t know if he’d taken it—I didn’t even know if he was on foot—but it was a starting point.
I cruised a few miles below the speed limit, whipping my head from sidewalk to sidewalk, sure I’d see him the next block down. The next block turned out to be three miles down the road. India’d been right. He was planning on walking the journey from New York to Syracuse on foot.
Not that I needed any more confirmation, but the man was crazy.
His walk was purposeful, his shoulders rolled forward and his hands stuffed into his pockets, likely to stay warm. I could see the fog from his breath from half a block back. Steering over beside him, I rolled down the window.
“Need a ride, cowboy?”
His mouth curved up as he continued down the sidewalk. “Girls shouldn’t offer rides to crazy men roaming the streets late at night.”
I reminded myself I was mad at him and that we were taking a break. After I gave him a lift home. “I like my men crazy.”
Stopping, he turned and walked towards the car. “Then I’d love a ride,” he said, sliding into the passenger seat and smiling over at me. It was the sad kind though because it didn’t hit his eyes.
“Cold?” I asked, turning his seat to the high setting.
He lifted a shoulder. “I’ve been colder.”
I could tell he was hiding something between the lines—like a subliminal message—but I wasn’t sure what.
“Okay then,” I said, hitting cruising speed. “Syracuse or bust?”
Hanging his hands in front of the heater, he looked away from me and stared out the window. “I’ll take ‘or bust.’”
I glanced over at him. The heat blasting through the car heightened Jude’s normally subdued scent. Every breath I inhaled smelled of Jude. Every breath hurt to take. “Of course you would.”
“You and I both know where I’d rather be, but since I can’t have that, then sure, Syracuse will work.”
I looked down at the clock glowing neon green in the dark. We’d ticked off a whole five minutes in what was a five hour journey. If he kept throwing these kind of topic punches, I was going to be TKO because we hit the interstate.
“Could we not do that?” I asked. “I need a break. You agreed to one. But I couldn’t let you walk a million miles in the cold and dark. Can we just play nice?”
“Yeah, Luce,” he said, tilting his head back on the seat rest. “I can play however you want me to play.”
By the time we were cruising down the interstate, Jude and I hadn’t said another word to each other. We’d never mastered the art of small talk and since the heavy stuff was off the table, we settled into an agreed upon silence. Although it didn’t feel quiet.
At the first pit stop, Jude insisted he drive the rest of the way and those were the first and last words he said to me the rest of the way.
I jolted awake, but my jolt fizzled short. I was in the passenger seat of India’s car, the seatbelt tight around me, the morning light just starting to make its way into the car. I was staring at the ceiling since my seat was reclined. Unbuckling my belt, I shifted in my seat.
Jude was reclined in the driver’s seat, awake, and watching me.
“What time is it?” I asked, shifting farther onto my side to look at him straight on.
“A little after five, I think,” he said, the crescents beneath his eyes darkened. I wasn’t sure how long Jude had gone without sleep, but I knew whether it was one night or four nights, it was unhealthy.
I—us being the real stick of dyn**ite—was as unhealthy for him as he was for me.
My first class was at nine, so there was no way around being late unless I booked twenty miles over the speed limit. “I’ve got to get going,” I said, reaching for the switch on the side of the seat to lift the seat back up.
Jude didn’t move; he just stayed reclined, curled into that position, staring into the space I’d just been asleep in.
Finally, he sighed. “Yeah. I know.”
Moving the seat up, he exited the car. He waited for me as I came around the front, holding the door open and toeing at the ground.
Another goodbye I had to say to Jude, the semi-permanent kind, and I didn’t want to do it again.
“Bye,” I whispered, squeezing past him to crawl into the car. The word stuck in my throat, tasting acrid.
His arms suddenly wrapped around me and pulled me against him, surprising me. He held onto me, refusing to let me go, and I let him. In the past, Jude had always felt like the one holding me up when we were close like this, but now it felt like I was the one holding him up.
Nuzzling into my neck, his body shook once. I was going to start sobbing again if he didn’t let me go.
I was one breath breathed against my neck away from dropping my first tear when his arms lifted away, feeling like he was breaking through concrete to free them.
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