I was fully paralyzed. I couldn’t get myself to stand up, least of all walk out of there. Then my phone was going again. It was a text this time.
Stone: Where in the library?
Me: Second floor. Curled in a ball on the ground.
Stone: I’m coming.
I didn’t know how he could.
I tried pushing myself up again, but my body decided not to follow my commands. Curled in a ball, my forehead to the ground, nope. My body was saying it was just fine like this. Stay here. We’ll be safe here.
I needed to go…then, a footstep down my aisle. I tensed.
A soft voice, “Dusty? Is that you?”
She came forward, kneeling beside me. I felt her. “Are you okay?”
No. I was in agony and I couldn’t talk, I was in that much agony.
“Dusty.” More urgent. More concern. Her hand came to my shoulder.
I couldn’t move.
“What’s happening to you?”
I was having an episode. Couldn’t she tell?
I should be in a mental hospital. They had drugs for this, whatever was happening to me. I couldn’t even function on my own in public. This was ridiculous. And I was fully thinking these thoughts at the same time my body was locked up in a fetal ball.
“Dusty!” She began shaking me harder. “You’re scaring me.”
There was a rush of other footsteps.
She squeaked, whirling around.
“I got her.” That was Stone.
“Um.” She stood up, backing out of the way.
He moved in, then his arms were around me. He asked in my ear, “Can you move at all?”
A small shake of my head. That was it.
He cursed, but lifted me.
Once I was up, my legs went down and my arms went around him, and I could stand again. It was like he jarred me back to life.
Then he was in front of me. The aisle was too narrow, so Siobhan was behind him. He had on a large black sweatshirt, the hood pulled up, and a hat on underneath. The brim was pulled low, half-masking his face so only his nose, cheeks, and jawline could be seen. His mouth, too.
His so fuckingly talented mouth.
He was raking me in, and whatever he saw had that jaw clenching. His hand tightened on my arm. He demanded roughly, “What do you need right now? I can’t carry you out of here. I just can’t. Too much attention, so what can I do to help you so you can walk out of here by yourself?”
I touched his face, and I closed my eyes. Leaning in, my head to his chest, I stood there.
Slowly, almost hesitantly, his arms came around me. He held me. And only then did the knot that had a paralyzing hold on me start to unlock itself. My body began to ease, calming down. My temperature returned to normal. I felt my lungs expand.
I waited, past what was a normal time for a hug. But I needed it, and it was helping, and I knew Stone could tell. His hands splayed out on my waist, holding me above my hips. He was just waiting, letting me lean on him. Then, finally, I could talk and I gasped out loud.
His hand came up to the back of my neck. He gripped me, pulling my head back so I was looking him in the eyes.
They were hard, almost dead-like, but he asked, “You done being a bitch?”
Siobhan gasped behind him.
I hadn’t realized she was still with us.
I nodded, a small up and down, but it was true. He knew what I’d been doing. I said, but it came out as a whisper, “I’m sorry.”
“I get it. What you’re going through, I’m shocked you’re not a bigger bitch.”
I closed my eyes and my head went back to his chest. His hand softened on me, cupping the entire side of my face from my cheek to his fingers behind my neck. His fingers slid up into my hair and he cradled me to him.
“Um, I think…” Siobhan again. She sighed. “I’ll call you later?”
I nodded, but my voice would’ve been muffled against Stone’s chest. I was in no hurry to pull away and face her, not how I must’ve been looking, but I snaked an arm out around him and reached out for her.
She paused, I heard her, and I felt her grip my hand. She gave me a squeeze. “Later, Dusty.”
I squeezed her back in response, then she let go and Stone kept on holding me to him. His head was bent down. I was in a back corner, so we were almost in our own section of the library, a moment of privacy before we’d have to go out and face the world.
I just wasn’t ready for that yet.
Once I could walk on my own, Stone led the way.
I had no clue how he knew where to go, but I went with him. Down the aisle. Through a door. Down stairs that I hadn’t known were there. A door leading to the main area of the library opened. I tensed, but a staff member was there.
She nodded, pointing to another door. “Follow me.”
I got it then. Stone was snuck in and she was leading us through a hallway that only staff must use, till we got to a back exit door. She opened it, propping it open, and a nice and polite smile to us. “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Reeves.”
Then we were out, and Stone was hurrying toward his truck. They’d allowed him to park in one of their staff slots, too. Genius. But a lot of students were cutting through the parking lot. It was right on the way from the main quad where the post office was and the Quail. It was a shortcut, and a group of guys were going past us. If I were to guess, freshman jocks on their way to a Saturday late breakfast or early lunch.
The group went past us, except one.
Stone kept his head down, waiting before cutting across the sidewalk.
The last guy glanced up, distracted, then swiftly did a double-take. “Holy shit! It’s Stone Reeves!”
His friends all drew up short, turning to look.
Stone gripped my hand, but lifted his head to the guys.
At the sight, all of their eyes got big.
“Hey, man! What are you doing here?”
“You a student? No. That doesn’t make sense.”
One of the other guys was studying me, and he nudged his buddy. “News is right. That’s his woman.” Both were looking at our clasped hands. He stepped forward, wearing a Kings ballcap, too. “You a student here?”
That question was directed at me, and Stone growled. He didn’t like that. “You don’t direct questions at her.”
The guy’s head snapped back. All of them stood at attention.
One held up his hands. “Just fans, man. Don’t need to be a dickhead.”
The one who saw us first laughed. “It’s Rampage Reeves in the flesh. That’s fucking cool!”
Stone cursed, then forced himself to take a more relaxed stance. “Look, guys. I can’t hang out. I gotta get her back. Emergency and all. Hope you understand?”
A few started nodding right away. The one who tried to ask me a question narrowed his eyes and stepped forward. “Nah, man. We may never see you in person again. Sign something for us.”
Stone’s own eyes narrowed, but they darted to the side.
Oh. Fuck. A phone was pointing right at us.
He bit out a growl. “Enough.” He ducked his head down, and immediately his hand went to my neck, pushing my head down, too. Then he led us to his truck. “Keep your head down. I don’t know if that punk got your face or not.”
“My face is already out there.”
“On gossip sites. Video by a student is a whole different ballgame.” His hand flexed over mine. “Sorry about this.”
He was apologizing. He was saving me, and he was the one apologizing.
I was such an asshole.
He opened my door. I got in, keeping my head low. And he was rounding, getting in his door. We headed out, but the group of guys had stayed, and every single one of them had their phones out, recording us.
He glanced over, frowning. “For what?”
“You had to come in there because of me.”
“I didn’t have to do shit. I chose to go in there to get you. I could’ve sent someone else, you know. I didn’t. Maybe think on that, huh?”
I—I didn’t know what that meant.
Seeing my look, he started laughing and shaking his head. “All I’m saying, maybe we’re not the enemies you like to think we are.”
He grimaced. “Not quite. I was a prick. You were a nice girl. You got resentful, and I wised up to how much of a dumbass I was. I think that’s the best summary for all this shit, don’t you?” We were pulling away from the campus, and he glanced back in his rearview mirror. “That’s gonna be all over your school’s gossip sites. You know that, right? People will figure out who you are.”
I sat back. “Maybe I should think about taking a leave of absence?”
His look to me was swift. “You mean that? I thought you were gung-ho about maintaining the ‘dream’?”
“That was before I found myself curled up in a ball in the library and I couldn’t move.” I picked at my nails, picking at nothing that was there, but I was picking at it, nonetheless. Shame and embarrassment was sitting heavy on my chest.
“That was a panic attack.”
No. “That was a full-blown meltdown. What if that happened in class?”
“Your school knows what happened. They said you could take a semester off. You’d just have to do summer classes instead.” He waited a beat, saying softer, “And my dad paid for the rest of your years.”