“I don’t hate you,” Chance said, and tears burned my eyes.

“Good, because I love you more than life.”

“I love you too.”

I Had to Let It Go

CHAPTER 34

GUNNER

I had avoided her for four days. I hadn’t even made eye contact with her. It was game day, and I had one focus in mind. Winning the game. Once we had won, I was taking Serena to my truck and spending several hours. It was homecoming, and I was ready for it.

Walking out of my second period, Asa and Willa were directly in my path talking. Willa was smiling up at him, and I watched them closely. When had Asa and Willa become so chummy?

“I’ll see you at lunch,” he said as I got closer to them.

She turned to leave, and her eyes met mine. For a moment there was a flash that one could have mistaken for her being pleased. But then they went empty, and she walked away as if I hadn’t even been standing there. That burned. I’d asked for it, but it still motherfucking burned.

“What’s up with you and Willa being so buddy-buddy?” I asked Asa, unable to pretend like I didn’t care. Where the fuck was Brady? He had a wide-open opportunity here, and he was blowing it.

“Taking her to the dance tonight,” he said, beaming like he had won the lottery.

“I thought Brady was,” I said, not really knowing if that was even close to true. I just assumed Brady would ask her.

Asa frowned. “Naw, he’s taking Ivy.”

He never got the nerve to dump Ivy. Well, then he deserved this. He could watch Willa dance with Asa and sulk all night. I wouldn’t be dancing. I had other plans. Ones that didn’t make me think about my parents and my house I still hadn’t been back to.

I was going to have to go home after school though. I had to get my shit for tonight. Hopefully neither parent would be there. Rhett still was ignoring my calls and texts. I was trying not to let it get to me. But it was. We’d always been close. This had to have been hard for Rhett to hear. I’d known most of the lies for years. But I couldn’t talk to him and check on him if he wouldn’t return my calls or texts.

Brady stopped Willa, and I watched them. He was all smiles, and I knew he was liking the taking-her-to-school thing. He left earlier and always spent more time on his appearance. Why he let Asa get a chance at her I didn’t understand. He obviously hadn’t kissed her yet. Damn, that kiss. It was in my every thought. I was dreaming about it. That kiss was controlling me, and I didn’t even care.

“I’m picking her up for school starting Monday. I asked her, and she said yes. Glad you decided to toss that job off to a taken guy so I had a chance.”

Shit.

What was Brady’s deal?

“You don’t even know her.” My comment sounded more annoyed than I had meant it to. But whatever.

Asa shrugged. “Gonna get to know her. I like what I do know.”

She had hell in her life he couldn’t even begin to understand. It wasn’t my place to tell him, and her secrets would remain that. Her secrets. I’d protect them.

“Don’t hurt her.” Okay, that came out as a warning. What the hell—it was.

“Don’t plan on it. Jesus back off. I like her.”

The urge to slam my fist into his face was strong but not the best move. I knew Asa. We were friends. He was a good guy. I was being ridiculous and maybe a bit jealous. I had to let this go. I wasn’t going to ever have a real relationship, so I wasn’t ever going to have Willa. That kiss . . . well, it was my warning. That I couldn’t even have a small taste of her. I was too fucked up.

She needed a Brady Higgens, dammit. Why wasn’t he taking advantage of this? God, he was a dumbass. He didn’t even like Ivy.

West used to help keep Brady’s head on straight, but lately Maggie was all West could think about. I wonder if the first time he kissed Maggie he’d felt the earth move. That would make sense as to why he became so attached to her so quickly.

“I’ll see you at lunch,” Asa said with a look of annoyance at my ignoring him, then left me there. Thinking about the reasons why that kiss with Willa couldn’t mean more.

In my avoiding-Willa plan I hadn’t been faced with her sitting at my lunch table with the team. And Serena all but perched on my lap. This was awkward. It hadn’t been before, and that stupid kiss had made it this way. Thankfully, Asa hadn’t taken a spot close to me, so I didn’t have them directly there beside me. After my comment in the hall earlier, Asa had made the move to sit down the table closer to Nash and Ryker. West and Brady were the two closest to me. Which meant Ivy and Maggie were also. It was obvious that Maggie wasn’t a fan of Ivy or Serena, so she didn’t appear comfortable.

Ivy was chattering on about those stupid brownies her momma made for Brady like she was the best girlfriend on the planet, and I tried to ignore her by straining to hear what Asa and Willa were talking about. Interestingly enough, so was Brady. He wasn’t paying any attention to Ivy either. And I could tell he felt guilty about that. Which made no sense. In the least. Why was he even wasting time with her? I never understood that.

“Brownies are good, but not much beats those cookies of Mrs. Higgens’s,” I said, wanting to shut the girl up so I could hear Willa.

“I second that. Those cookies are incredible,” West agreed.

Ivy shut up, although she looked ready to toss us both across the room. I watched as Willa tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, and a shy smile played on her lips. Asa was working his charm, apparently. She was about to blush.

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