“You’re not.” Stone spoke almost lazily, no trace of the brief moment we’d just had. “What’s up?”
She hesitated, biting her lip. Her hand gripped on the doorknob, and she kept looking over her shoulder. Coming to a decision, she shot inside and shut the door, turning the lock. “Sorry.” She flashed us a grin, right at the same time as we heard footsteps running to the door and banging.
“Hey!” That was Dent. Or Nacho. I couldn’t decipher their voices yet.
Nicole yelled through the door. “Let me talk to her, yeah? Stone went out the back door. He’s not even in here.”
Dent/Nacho harrumphed. “Bullshit.”
Stone was grinning, tucking his head behind me and rubbing the bridge of his nose to my shoulder blade. It was sending tingles down my back. Goosebumps were breaking out over my arms, too. But enduring the shivers, I remained.
“I’m not lying, and she’s crying. Back off.”
“She’s crying?” We all heard a soft curse muttered. “Okay. Sorry about your car, Dusty.” A brief moment later, we heard his footsteps going up the stairs.
Nicole fixed us with a look, one eyebrow raised. She eased down into my desk chair. “Nacho came down because he wanted to invite Stone to hang out, watch the game tonight.”
Stone cursed. “I should be watching that at my place.”
Nicole went on, “And I came down to warn you that they have invited everyone. Literally everyone. You guys might want to sneak out in the next three minutes, or you’ll get swarmed by fans.”
Stone nodded, his hands easing on me and then starting to lift me off of him.
He said to me, “Grab the rest of your stuff.” He was looking around. “You have an extra bag? I can stuff whatever you need in that.”
I didn’t really have much, but since I couldn’t bring myself to look at them, I pointed to the pictures on the wall. “Those.” I turned for the bathroom.
“All of them?”
His voice dipped low, an edge to it.
I paused just in the doorway. “All of them.”
I knew who was in the pictures. My dad. Gail. Jared. My mom. A picture of my dad, my mom, and myself. Another picture of my dad, Gail, Jared, and just me. And a last picture of me in my graduation gown after high school.
I looked back, not sure if I wanted to. I didn’t know if I wanted to see whatever picture he could be holding.
It was my graduation one. He held it up. “You weren’t this thin when I left. What happened?”
I lost thirty pounds that year. Pulling my gaze from it and back to his, I shrugged. “You know what happened that year.”
His jaw clenched and he looked back down at the photo. I went to the bathroom, grabbing the rest of my things that Mia had left behind.
I could hear Stone and Nicole talking, but both were murmuring softly, and for a moment, I hoped he wasn’t telling her about my dad and Gail. I was still mourning my mom. I hadn’t even allowed myself to think about everything else I’d lost since then.
I was finishing up when my phone started ringing.
Going back to my room, I was looking at the screen.
“Who is it?”
I held it up. Screen said Jared.
He muttered a curse, then reached for it.
I wavered, but Stone was who Jared really wanted to talk to. Why fight it? I handed it over.
Stone took my phone, my bag over his shoulder, and headed up the back exit. “Jared, hey, man…” The door closed behind him, and I could only hear the faint trace of the call before that too faded.
“Wow.” Nicole gulped. “So, you like, really know Stone Reeves?”
“That night he came, everyone was in shock. He asked if there was a back exit, and when Mia said yes, he took off. It was like he just knew, and we came around the corner and you both were wrestling. Then your stuff got dumped and he tried to help you and you shoved him away. Everyone kept talking in the background and I was getting so irritated with them. I wanted to hear what you guys were saying, but I couldn’t. The guys wouldn’t shut the fuck up. Then you were getting in your car. He seemed like he wanted to stop you and bam!” She clapped her hands together.
“You were out, like out out when we got to the car. Mia started screaming. And Lisa, you know she’s in the nursing program, right?”
A faint memory surfaced being told that.
“She took charge. Started yelling no one could touch you. Stone was on the phone, already calling 911 and I swear, if Lisa hadn’t looked ready to ream him, he would’ve yanked you out of the car and drove you to the hospital himself. The Rampage Reeves we see in the games sometimes, he was here. He was going nuts, cursing, threatening. Once he realized Lisa wasn’t letting anyone touch you, he was on the phone, yelling at whoever would pick up. I lost track, but Lisa felt for your pulse and said you were breathing, too. Ambulance got here quick. I think that was one of the places Stone called to yell at, since it took them twelve minutes to show up.” She had to stop for oxygen. “Wow. Just wow. He asked us for a bag. Mia’s the one who packed it and gave it to him, then he took off with the ambulance. He came back later, and I’m pretty sure one of the other wide receivers dropped him off to get his truck. The guys were half-watching cause it was so late, but he looked absolutely wiped.”
Stone hadn’t told me any of this. Then again, I hadn’t asked.
“I didn’t realize all that happened.”
“Just so you know, we all took a vow. We didn’t tell anyone what happened. Nothing. No one knows about you knowing Stone Reeves.”
“Really?” The ‘we’ she talked about was probably twenty-plus people. That seemed to be the core of their partying group. The football team. Them. And they had a few extra girls sprinkled in. I’d paid attention the two weeks I was there.
“Yeah. I mean, our group, but we didn’t say anything to anyone else.”
“Well, I got three Google alerts. I think it’s out there.”
“I’m just letting you know that since you’re big on privacy, there’s probably a whole sector of nerds on campus who don’t know. So you know that much.”
That was comforting. “Thank you.”
“But I mean, like the regular sixty percent of campus probably knows. And when you come back, only maybe thirty percent will remember. And from even that, ten percent will recognize you. From that, maybe three percent will say something.”
Around sixty-nine-thousand students went to our school. I got to look forward to a little over two thousand of them mentioning something about Stone and myself.
Two weeks in isolation at his house suddenly started to look good.
“So, yeah.” Nicole’s smile was still awed. “I just, I can’t get over how much you know Stone. I mean, coming in and seeing you in his lap, and I know you said you and he aren’t, you know, but man. Mia and Lisa are such bitches. They were saying you sucked his cock somewhere, but this—” She motioned to the bed where she’d seen me in his lap. “That’s not what they’re saying. I don’t think they know how to handle this. It’s awesome.”
My dad and Gail died.
There was nothing else to say. I was fine letting Nicole think what she thought, and I picked up the rest of my stuff. “Okay. I’m going to go.”
“You need homework gathered for you or anything?”
I went to the door, but looked back. I thought about it, really thought about it. “No. I don’t need that, but I do need to come back here after these two weeks are done. I need to be a normal student, and I need Mia and Lisa to continue being bitchy to me. I need that because—well, I don’t know why, I just need it. Please don’t say anything about me being in Stone’s lap. We have a weird history.”
“Oh.” She blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. No problem. I won’t say a word.”
“Your friends are just great.”
Stone greeted me with that biting comment as I slid into the passenger seat, shutting the door. I knew what he saw. He knew I knew what he saw. There was no point in arguing. I just sat back and held my bag on my lap. “I told you before, I didn’t know anyone before I moved down here.”
A few of them were sitting on the steps outside, pretending to talk, but mostly still watching Stone. They waved as Stone pulled from the curb.
“Yeah.” His hand flexed over the steering wheel. “Let’s talk about that.”
Which was code where he said the command and I was expected to confess everything.
Fuck that. I wasn’t his bitch. I looked out the window instead.
“Dusty.” A low growl from him.
A snap back from me, “Stone.”
A second growl. “I care. Fucking hell. I care, okay? I wouldn’t be doing any of this shit if I didn’t still care about you. Those people didn’t give a fuck about you, except the one girl. Not a goddamn one of them, and you’re asking me to look away from that? I can’t. Me being a guy and caring about a girl, I can’t do that. It’s not how I was raised.”