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“I’m dealing. I’m not having meltdowns.”

“You had one four days ago.”

“And that’s my point. I’m better, because of you.”

His eyes narrowed again, and he cocked his head sideways. “Why change that? Because you’re worried you might start feeling something?” He shrugged, grabbing his coffee once more. “Let’s end this when that happens.”

“It’s happening.” His eyes lifted back to mine. I added, “Last night. This morning.” I turned away, feeling like I was exposing more of myself to him. “It’s happening.”

I waited.

It didn’t matter. Whatever he said, how long he took to say anything, that didn’t matter. That’s what I was telling myself.

A second passed.

Five seconds.

I stopped counting after fifteen seconds.

I was holding my breath.

A chair scraped against the floor.

Looking, he was walking away. His coffee, his green juice, was left behind.


That was a nice punch to my face. It shouldn’t have been. This was why I said something. He was being smart. I was being smart.

Still. It hurt. It couldn’t hurt worse than that, right?

He came back into the room, not looking at me, but turned halfway to me. His head was down. He was holding his phone, and he asked, “You need a ride back and forth from campus?”

See. My chest squeezed. He was making sure I was okay even after he was kicking me out.

“No. The house is a few blocks from campus. I can walk or get a ride with one of my housemates.”

He looked up, his entire face guarded. Nothing shone through. “Get a ride.” He left again.

“Okay.” God. That hurt to say. My throat was burning.

This was the right thing to do. Right? Then why did I feel so stupid? So foolish? But no. We said no relationship. I knew guys. They could compartmentalize better than I could, or some could. No. Stone could. He didn’t have those feelings for me. He liked me in bed. He cared about me outside of it, but he was a rising professional athlete. No way would he want to be tied down in a relationship, and I wasn’t ready for that either. What I went through, what I was handling now, a relationship was the last thing for me. Jared. Me. School. Those were my priorities. I bring a guy in, and if that guy was Stone, he’d become everything I would lean on. I wouldn’t do any growing on my own. This hurt. All of it, but I needed it.

Stone saw that, or he would’ve fought me on this.

He would… Wouldn’t he?

No. He would. I might’ve been seeing the nicer side of him lately, but I knew the asshole side of him, too. A total prick. A complete dick. I felt like saying stick just so I rhymed here, but he didn’t have a stick. He had a weapon. He had…okay, not helping.

I let out a shuddering breath.

Jesus. This was hurting.

He came back into the kitchen, dressed to go to the stadium. He’d told me he had meetings already, getting ready for their next game. They didn’t get the half-rest day because of Monday Night Football.

Good Lord, the way he filled out his shirt, how the jeans molded to his legs, how I knew how powerful those legs could be, especially when he was thrusting inside of you…yeah, again, really not helping.

He went past me, grabbing his wallet, his keys. He was putting his phone in his pocket. He went to the door, but paused.

I was waiting. He would open the door in two seconds. He didn’t, and then he spoke, “I get why you’re stopping this. I know you’re doing it for you in the long-run, but I also know you’re half doing it for me.” A pause. I didn’t look back. I remained standing on the other side of that counter, my back now turned to him. “Thank you.”


Right there. He knew he didn’t want a serious relationship. That’s what I would’ve needed in my state. We were stopping before we even started.

It was better this way.

I was telling myself that as he shut the door behind him, as he drove out, as I heard the gate shutting behind his car.

I was lying to myself.

Chapter Thirty-Three

The first week sucked.

My housemates thought I was an idiot, and that was putting it nicely. I worried Mia and Lisa would go back to being bitches to me, but they didn’t. They weren’t friendly. They were just stagnant, if that was the best way to describe them? Savannah seemed quiet, but that was normal for her. Nicole and I spent more time together, actually building a friendship.

We met for lunch on Thursday, and that began our tradition going into my second week.

Siobhan and Trent, they were a mixed bag. Siobhan had moved, so she was sitting on the opposite side of the room as me. I didn’t know why. I’d not been fully forthcoming about everything in my life, but welcome to my life. I wasn’t forthcoming with anyone, even myself. We’d just started becoming friends. I owed her nothing, really.

As for Trent, he looked at me sometimes. There was the occasional wave, but only when he checked to make sure Siobhan was out of the room, so it was just before she came in or right after she left that he’d glance my way.

Three weeks after the video from outside the library had been posted, I was still getting the occasional ‘whassup?’ or ‘Yo! How’s the Rampage doing?’ Or the pick-up lines. If Stone Reeves banged me, then I must be quality pussy, one guy actually told me that. Stone had been pictured with a few other girls in the weeks since I left. I knew because I got asked every other day ‘what’s up with that? You two not boning anymore?’

It was real fun.

But there were good parts. Jared.

I still didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford to buy one, so I used most of what I had in my emergency fund to fly up and see Jared. I’d gone twice, the second time, I’d gone up on the bus. It took longer, but both had been worth it. I’d gone to his own football game, and Georgia confided after they came to see Stone that Jared begged his coach to switch him to wide receiver.

She didn’t ask how Stone was, and I was grateful. I think maybe she’d known not to ask, but I wasn’t going to ask about that either. We were both in a no-asking zone, and it suited me just fine.

And now I was standing in the Quail while Joe was looking at me like I was trying to convince him I came from Mars.

“You’re shitting me.” He was sitting back in his chair, a leg up and his ankle resting over his other knee. His hands were clasped together.

I shook my head. “Nope. I need the money.”

“You’re coming back now for the job I gave you before your coma and your parents died?”

I gritted my teeth. “Stone didn’t have any right to tell you that, but yes. I am. I need money,” I said it again. It needed to be said, because I NEEDED money! Like, yesterday. “I used up my funds to go see my brother. I’m still trying to go to college, and no, I don’t talk to Stone anymore, so he can’t help me. Not that he should’ve before.”

Joe stared at me. Long. Hard.

Cursing, he sat forward, picked up a pen and pointed outside the hallway behind me with it. “Every guy who works here knows Stone. They either love him or hate him. Sports is on the television all the time. The clip of you in Reeves’ arms after his one game, that was everywhere. Along with that video in the parking lot. Girls don’t know shit. You won’t have problems with any of them, unless it’s an obsessive fan, but those don’t come in here. Your problem is going to be the guys. They’ll want to talk to you about him. They’ll want to be the next him. You’ll be hit on almost from the time you walk in here to when you leave, and you’re going to have to be escorted to your vehicle by security because you’ll have guys following you, propositioning you.”

Was now the time to tell him I’d be walking back and forth from work? I was taking that as a no.

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know. I get the comments just walking around campus.”

“They’ll be worse here.”

My gut knotted up. “I need the money.”

Another long stare, another low curse, and he threw the pen at the corner of his office. His hands threaded together and he placed them behind his head. “This is not a good idea.” He squinted at me, turning his head to the side, his eyes taking on a more assessing look. “Can you change your hair?”

I reached back, grabbing my braid.

I’d never dyed my hair. Trimmed it. Permed it once, but never messed with the colors. It was a honey-blonde color, and in the summer I usually got almost white streaks.


He nodded. “Yep.”

“You want me to change my hair color?”

Another nod. “Yep.”

I was thinking. I was wondering.

What color would even work?

“You want me to darken it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t give a fuck. You can make it rainbow color for all I care.” He frowned. “Second thought, might not be a bad idea. The guys wouldn’t recognize you for sure then.” He clapped his hands together, grinning. He leaned forward in his chair, about to get up. “It’s decided. Rainbow hair. You won’t get harassed every night you work, and I got a server who can do her job without being harassed every night she works. Win-win.”