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“Bye, Luce,” he whispered, pressing his lips into my temple before turning around and heading into the house.

He didn’t look back once, but I watched him the whole way until he’d disappeared into the house. Crawling into the car, I adjusted the driver’s seat and right before I pulled away, I glanced up into Jude’s bedroom window. He was taking up the window, watching me with the same eyes I’d just watched him with as he walked away from me.

Why did I do this to myself? Why didn’t I just put foot to pedal, not giving the window a second thought?

Of course I knew the answer to that. I loved him.

But sometimes, as I was learning, love just wasn’t enough.

A few weeks went by. A few weeks had never passed so slowly.

Jude kept his word, giving me the space I needed, not so much as sending a “Hey” text my way. Because I was who I was, one part of me was thankful to him for following my request, and another part was hurt. But because Jude was who he was, nothing or nobody told him what to do and a part of me knew if he really wanted to text me with a “Hey,” he would have.

The Tuesday following our indefinite separation, I’d woken up to a new set of heavy duty studs on the Mazda. There wasn’t a note or anything that would indicate who was the overnight tire fairy, but of course I knew. I didn’t know how he’d done it, but the gesture‌—‌knowing what they’d cost and the time it’d taken him to put them on‌—‌made me shed a fresh set of tears that morning after having a day’s break.

The next week, I awoke to a rose propped up on the windshield. A red rose.

I’d been reduced to one of those emotional girls I rolled my eyes at, leaving puddles of tears everywhere I went. It pissed me off to no end, but I went with it. Going without Jude felt like going through life without a compass, so if my body needed some tears to help it cope, I could handle it. So I tried to lose myself on the dance floor. I threw myself into dance, what had always been my go-to therapy and, for the first time, it fell short in the healing department. No matter how long or how hard I danced, the pain never muted. It never even dulled.

Thomas and I had danced at the winter recital last weekend and people were still talking about it. I’d refused to let myself look at the seat in the front and middle while we performed, because I knew if I found it empty or filled by someone else, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the rest of the performance.

I’d been right. As Thomas and I took our bows, I slipped and my eyes drifted to that one seat that had been overflowed by a beaming face this past year. It wasn’t tonight. A stone faced middle-aged man sat in Jude’s seat.

I had to cut the bowing and applause short because I wasn’t going to cry on stage. I still had some sense of propriety when it came to where and who I’d let see me cry.

In short, I was a mess.

Friday afternoon, a week before school let out for winter break, I was hurrying towards my dorm, hoping the faster I walked, the warmer I’d stay against the not-quite frigid temperatures. It was a nice thought.

“I don’t think you could look more pissed at the weather if you tried,” a familiar voice called out as I walked up the path to the dorm.

Lifting my head, I found Tony propped on the top step in front of the door, burrowed down in a big black down coat and smiling his Tony grin at me.

“Long time no see,” I said, letting myself smile. It felt good, having one piece of Jude close by.

Tony arched a black eyebrow. “Isn’t that the way you wanted it?”

Wrapping my scarf around my neck one more revolution, I walked up to him. “Damned if I know.”

“You women,” he said, shaking his head. “You play this tough game of pretending to know what you want, but as soon as we give it to you, you want the opposite.”

I smirked at him as I climbed the stairs and swiped my card key. No conversation needed to be had in the cold when a heated room was one card swipe away.

“You’re rather observant for a certified player,” I said, holding the door open.

Hoisting himself up, Tony weaved through the door and I followed behind him. He plopped into the first chair he came upon in the commons area. “This is some pretty nice digs,” he said, appraising the room.

Taking the seat next to him, I slid my mittens off. “Why are you here, Tony?” I asked, because he had yet to mention it and Tony and I had only been friends by association of Jude. We didn’t have the relationship that would justify him driving five hours to visit me.

His face dropped. My stomach followed.

“Oh, my god,” I breathed. “Is Jude all right?” My mind, of course, started firing off a list of things that might have happened to him.

“What do you think?” he asked, eyeing me.

“Don’t play with me, Tony,” I warned, my heart starting to slow when I realized what Tony was getting at. Life and limb wise, Jude was fine. Heart and soul wise, he was a bloody mess, right along with me.

“In terms of your face dropping reaction, yeah, he’s fine. No broken bones, no dangling limbs, no fast spreading tumors.”

I waited for my pulse to return to normal. “So what’s up?”

Looking at the floor, Tony leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. His foot was tapping the floor like a piston on speed.

“I heard about what happened with Adriana,” he began, causing me to flinch. I’d gone three weeks without hearing that name and trying not to think about it. Hearing it now slammed me up against a wall.

“I heard Jude’s story, he told me your story, and lord knows I had to hear Adriana bragging about how she’s bedded the quarterback with a girlfriend.”

I was wishing I hadn’t invited Tony inside.

“Anyways, I didn’t think much of it after the drama died down a bit. I believed Jude because he’s my boy, but even I have to admit I had my doubts about the whole ‘no way in hell would I or did I screw Adriana Vix’ testimony,” he said, his eyes moving around the room. “I mean, she’s Adriana Vix. Adriana. Vix.”

“I get it, Tony,” I interrupted, not in the mood for him to get a hard on while he fantasized about her in front of me. “What’s your point?”

Shaking his head, he glanced over at me. “A couple nights ago, I was with my Spirit Sister being”‌—‌his face lined as he contemplated‌—‌”serviced, and she might have been a tad tipsy and ran her mouth a bit more than Adriana would have liked.”

That was one sentence that I couldn’t and didn’t want to wrap my mind around. So I looked at Tony and waited.

“My Spirit Sister’s Payton Presley,” he explained, which didn’t explain anything to me. “She and Adriana are, like, best friends. At least as much as girls like those can have best friends. It’s more like ‘you’re my favorite enemy, so I’ll drive the dagger into your back softly when you turn around.’ That kind of thing.”

None of this was coming around to Jude and me.

“And?” I tried not to sound irritated.

“So Payton was running her mouth in bed about how at least she didn’t have to stage a screw with her football player.”

My heartbeat picked up pace again.

“I nonchalantly pressed her for more details and apparently Adriana told her everything that happened. About Jude storming into the house after your guys’ fight, shutting himself in his room with a bottle of tequila. And so, don’t hate me,” he said, looking over at me like he was a bit scared of me. He had me by a hundred and fifty pounds and he looked like he wanted to feint away from me, “but I might have been the one to mention you and Jude’s fight to Adriana that night. Jude had opened up to me about what had happened, not much‌—‌he hadn’t wanted to talk much‌—‌but I didn’t think it was that big of a deal telling her when she showed up late that night.”

Everything was coming together now. And the realization of what had happened was causing me to feel all sorts of things.

“Payton told me Adriana guessed that you would eventually come walking through that front door, so she camped out in Jude’s room, stripping him down while he snoozed in a tequila stupor, hung out in a bathrobe in front of the window until you pulled up,” Tony sighed, leaning back into the chair and staring at the ceiling, “and you know the rest.”

Words failed me. My heart beat so hard it was echoing through me. There were so many things I needed to say and I needed to do. Jude had been right.

He hadn’t slept with her. He’d told me it didn’t matter how drunk he got, he never would want anyone but me. Or at least hadn’t at the time. Who knows what had changed in him during those weeks apart?

I had about a hundred questions of clarification for Tony, and about a million things I wanted to say, but only two words were on the tip of my tongue.

“That. Bitch.”

Tony nodded. “Not exactly breaking news there, Lucy.” Popping to a stand, he looked down at me. “I know this is none of my business, and I’m gonna catch a shitload of heat from the cheerleaders if they find out I ratted one of their own, but I don’t care. I like Jude. I like you. He loves you,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You deserve to know the truth.”

I had the truth for weeks now, and I’d refused to let it take root.

“Sorry to throw this all on you, Lucy. I know you wanted your space and time and everything, but I couldn’t not tell you.”

“Does Jude know you’re here?” I asked, contemplating my next move.

“Nope,” he said, giving me a sheepish smile. “And he’d probably kick my ass if he did know.”

I nodded. He patted my leg before heading towards the door. “I gotta get back. We’re throwing a huge bash at the place tonight and someone’s got to tap the kegs.”

“Tony?” I called after him.

Stopping, he turned around.

“Thank you.”

“What can I say?” he said, running his fingers through his dark hair. “I might never find something as special as what you guys have together, but I sure as hell am not going to let you guys throw it all away without a fight.”

Is that what everyone thought I’d done? Thrown Jude’s and my relationship away? That’s the farthest thing away from how I would have described it. If anything, I carried it with me everywhere I went.

“Talk to ya later, Lucy,” he said, waving before throwing the door open and leaping down the stairs.

Later wasn’t going to be all that far off, I decided.

Going with my gut, letting it dictate something that was rash and every shade of irresponsible, I burst out of my seat and was bouncing down the front stairs of the dorm as Tony’s truck peeled out of the parking lot.

I hopped into my car, heading out of the parking lot with only one person’s face on my mind as I headed north.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

A double cappuccino, one pit stop, and a half a tank of gas later, I was pulling onto the street Jude’s house was on. The street was already brimming with cars, but I didn’t let that stop me. I had a one track mind and now that I was close to putting that track into action, I rolled up in front of the house, put the car in park, and left it in the middle of the street. Jude’s truck was back in the driveway, proving if mine got towed, I could get it back somehow.

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