Page 31

“Well.” I was redoing the math since the first week was spent in the coma and then at Stone’s. “Maybe just a week, actually.” Yes! That was right. Stone kept forgetting there was time already spent in the hospital, and those totally counted. “Six days, actually.”

My week was looking way better now. I could think in six days. I could busy myself with homework and college again.

My knees almost gave out from relief.

I could call the Quail. I could call Siobhan. I could set up study dates. I could start working. I could busy myself in other ways. Hell to the yes. Halle-freaking-lujah.

“You, uh, need more places to clean or…” She was taking in all the food. “…or cook stuff?” She gestured upstairs. “I know Mia and I have been bitches to you, but we’re trying to be civil. Shit’s not about you, but anyway. You can go upstairs if you need more to do.” She half-grinned to herself. “Don’t think anyone would turn down free cleaning and a personal chef.”

I should’ve been insulted? Maybe? She was okay with me cleaning her shit. Lovely. But I was so relieved, to be honest. “You think? They wouldn’t get mad at me using their food to cook at all?”

She snorted. “We’re in college. You think we have money to cover personal chefs? God, no. We might’ve been kissing your ass if we’d known all this before.” She turned for her room and a second snort came from her. “Hell. When Char comes crawling back, we might not take her at this rate.”

Then she was in. Then the door was shut. Then I was alone, remembering I only had this place for a semester.

Nope. Not going there.

One day at a time. Or, well, six days at a time right now. I’ll figure the rest out when the time comes.

So, with all that in mind, I took the upstairs to task.

She was right. Savannah and Nicole gave me hugs, and Mia’s greeting was a reserved hug, but all echoed Lisa’s thoughts. So I cleaned and I baked.

That evening, I had a complete taco buffet made for twenty people. Guacamole. Salsa. Avocado. Multiple dipping sauces. Ground meat. Lettuce. Cheese. Corn tortillas. Soft tortillas. Hard shells. Refried beans.

Day four: I moved to the backyard and began listening to landscaping audiobooks.

Day five: The guys went to the grocery store, restocked everything, and I went to town. Again. That night they had a full pizza buffet spread for them. Pepperoni. Sausage. Taco cheese. Goat cheese. Mozzarella ball cheese pizza.

There were three different sauces to go with the pizzas.

I even shredded parmesan cheese myself into a bowl by each pizza.

They had a Thursday night football party. Eagles were playing Vikings, and I grabbed a slice of pizza and hid in my room that night. Cooking. Baking. Cleaning. Now landscaping. Those things I could do alone, only when I was alone. If people came around, I was gone. Too much stimuli with my concussion.

And I still had two more days to go.

The house was empty on Friday. Texas C&B had an away game, so everyone traveled for it and I had to start thinking what to do to get ready for the next week.

I needed a car for errands. The reason I answered Char’s ad was because this house was four blocks from campus, so I could walk, if necessary. It was necessary now. So that meant walking back and forth for me next week, and I’d need to call the Quail to set up my hours.

There’d been no communication with Stone. I was glad.

Jared was different. We started texting back and forth, then the last two nights, we’d moved to phone calls. They weren’t long, but I was grateful to hear what Stone had said. Jared was angry. He’d been fixated on Stone. There were no more guilt trips about me taking him on, if I wanted him or not. For going through what I was dealing with, he seemed to be doing better than me. I could hear that he genuinely liked where he was.

I agreed with Apollo’s mom and Stone. Jared was in a stable environment there. He wouldn’t be with me, but that was another thing I needed to remedy next week. As soon as I could, I needed to travel up there just to see him, hug him, check in with him in person.

That was at the top of the list.

That night, I broke.

I’d been doing good. Going. Not thinking. But with the planning that day, thoughts and worries snuck in, and unlike the last time, I didn’t have anything to push these emotions off. I let them in. I felt them. And I cried. I sobbed.

I needed to sob.

Saturday was different. I couldn’t stay inside any longer, so I was out. I was walking. And without intending to go there, I found myself at campus.

Then, the library.

Then a back section and I sat there, my headphones on, and I breathed. I just breathed.

I felt an attack coming on. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what started it, but it was coming and I had to focus on just getting air in and out through my lungs. That tended to help. I needed my mind to shut down, too, or I needed to leave.

My phone was in my hand.

Stone said not to text. What a bitch I would be, texting him now. I got through my episode last night. I could handle this one just fine.

Not that I could handle it, I would.

I would be fine.

I would be fine.

I would be fine.

I wasn’t fine.

My pulse was rising. My vision was becoming blurry. I felt my body heating up, shooting past my normal temp and that wasn’t a good sign. Now I was just getting anxiety about getting anxiety or whatever this was. I hated it. I loathed it.

I reached for my phone.

No! I couldn’t text Stone.

He’d been helping me because of my mom. He fucked me. I couldn’t imagine he fucked me because of her, but I had to deal with this alone. He told me not to contact him when I needed help with my nightmares. This was a nightmare.

I was alone.

No one was coming to help.

And then, as if I had conjured it to happen, my phone started ringing. Stone calling.

My breath was becoming more shallow, but when I started seeing stars, I hit accept, putting the phone to my ear.

I couldn’t talk.

My throat wasn’t working.

I slid out of my chair, my butt hitting the floor, and I leaned forward. My forehead bent over, almost touching the ground. There. I could handle it this way. I could get through this attack like this.



My lungs were rattling.

He cursed. “Where are you?”

They were seizing again. I pushed out, it sounded as a wheeze, “Library.”

“I’m at a team thing, but I can be there in thirty. Hold on, okay?”

I should tell him not to come.

I had pushed him away. Straight up. That’s what I did. Him being inside of me all night long, I already felt stripped to him. Then finding those cookbooks, unraveling this mother-like relationship he had with my mom and hearing there was some other secret thing going on with my dad and his mom, I hadn’t wanted to deal with any of it.

So I pushed him away because I was safe alone. It’s what I was used to. No one could hurt me then, but here I was being weak and an asshole, and just so fucking thankful he had called me because I knew my pride was a problem. I wouldn’t have reached out. I would’ve endured, but now I only had thirty minutes to worry about.


I could do that.


But no. I’d have to stand. I’d have to walk out of here because Stone couldn’t search the library. He’d be accosted just parking in the lot.

I needed to meet him halfway.

With that thought, I would get up. In a minute. Another minute. Five more. Okay. Ten more.

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.

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