What was I expecting? For them to talk about me? Mention me since they were at the same school I attended? But nothing. And that wasn’t realistic. Stone helped because he said he cared, but it was initially because of my mom, because he hadn’t known what his parents did to mine, and then it was about righting some wrongs. So, no, I shouldn’t have expected them to talk about me. Why would they? Bringing up my past only muddied their future.
His parents only helped because Stone made them. That was just the truth, and I needed to get over it. And I was trying to do that as I moved around the box, picking up the remaining dishes after everyone had left.
Cammie scooped up some of the emptied platters. “They called downstairs and could do with some help getting everything taken down. I’m taking these down. I’ll be back for another load.”
Ben was right behind her. “Me, too.” His arms were full of booze, though.
I nodded. “Got it. I’ll finish picking up.”
Both nodded, and then it was just me.
A toilet flushed.
Shit. I heard the sink in the bathroom turn on, off. The drier started. The door opened, and Colby walked out.
He stopped, scanning the room, craning his neck to look into the other section of the box.
His eyes found me after, and stark determination flared. He started for me.
I turned, reaching for more emptied dishes.
“Hey.” He stopped beside me. “Is that other girl gone?”
“Cammie?” I kept my head down.
“Yeah. She take off?”
“No. She just took a few things to the catering section.”
“Oh. Good.” He sounded relieved. “What’d you say her name was? Cammie? Does she work with you here? In the catering section?”
He was interested in Cammie.
The surprise and the relief mixed with a thread of warmth. Colby was a good guy. Cammie deserved a guy like him, but her boyfriend. I didn’t know much about her boyfriend, just that he wasn’t here and she was tight-lipped about him.
“Uh…she has a boyfriend.”
Colby laughed, snorting. “Is he a professional athlete?” I could hear his arrogant smirk. I didn’t even need to look up.
“I don’t know.” I moved around him. Most of the glasses had been picked up. I headed behind the bar. Ben was cleaning them before putting them away, so I put my bin on the counter and started emptying the small dishwasher.
Colby followed me, standing on the other side of the bar. “Look. I’m serious. I’m interested.”
“For what? A hookup?”
He was silent.
Jesus. He was.
I looked up, glaring. “Are you serious? Cammie deserves more than th—”
I messed up. Bad. Terribly.
The second I looked up, recognition flared over his face and he took a step backwards. “Holy fuck! Dusty?” He was looking me up and down, taking in my blue hair. Shock was soon replaced with concern. His eyebrows pulled together, and his face softened. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Don’t say anything.”
His eyes flashed, and he shook his head, already backing away.
“Colby!” I started after him.
He held his hand up, his phone in it. “You know I can’t keep quiet about this.” He frowned, taking me in again, and regret flaring a second. “I’m sorry, but I’d want to know if it was my girl.”
With that, he was gone.
And I was so fucked.
He was probably making the call as he left.
I didn’t have long. I needed to get out of here as soon as possible.
I finished cleaning the rest that was left, then grabbed my phone. Ben was coming back right as I was heading for the door.
“Hey…” He trailed off, seeing me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, but I gotta go.”
What was I doing, though? Really? No. I could go back to the Quail. Stone wouldn’t remember it. He’d only hear I was working here, not there. He might not follow me, and then I really stopped myself.
It didn’t matter.
Colby would call Stone, but nothing. Nothing would happen. He might come. He might get in my face. He might issue threats about me eating, or something, but that’d be it because in the long run, he left. I spoke the words, but he was the one who utilized it. He put it into action.
So, with that decision, I stayed. I helped clean up the rest, and it was much later on when I was heading back to the Quail. Ben took the last round of dishes with Cammie, and there’d been no room in the van. It was fine. I told them I would walk. I could do with the clear air, to be honest.
And in all that time, nothing happened.
Not one text. Not one call. Not one Stone showing up in the box.
It really was done.
I was just turning the corner for the road leading to the Quail when my phone started buzzing again.
Cammie: Dude! Colby Doubard is at the Quail! Oh. Are you coming? Joe’s pissed. We told him you were walking, but he doesn’t believe us.
Cammie: OMG! Colby Doubard just asked for my number.
Cammie: OMG OMG OMG! Colby Doubard just asked me out!!! He left already, but he asked me out!!!
Cammie: Shit. Double shitter let’s all take a dump together shitter. Kyle will be so pissed.
I scrolled through the rest.
Joe: Cammie arrived ten minutes ago. Where are you?
Ten seconds later,
Joe: If you have an emergency, I need to know what it is.
Two seconds later,
Joe: Just let me know if you’re okay.
Joe: Reeves called me. You’re good.
My heart jumped up in my throat.
Whatever Stone was doing, he wasn’t here and he was leaving me alone. That’s probably all he was doing, knowing I needed time and that I’d be fine and he was just covering for me.
Should I text him?
No. I wouldn’t. It was better to leave it alone. And with that decision made, I had five hours of shift I could still cover.
I texted Joe.
Me: I’m almost there, just walking. I’m fine.
Five minutes later, I was coming up the back alley for the Quail. I could hear all the people in the front, the line extending past where I was coming up, and I was just to the back door when a hand grabbed my wrist.
“I don’t think so.”
I was pushed against the building.
My heart stopped. I’d like to say dread filled me or panic started, but that would’ve been a lie. The first thought and emotion that flashed through me was finally!
Finally, he came for me.
Finally, he sought me out.
Finally, he remembered me.
Finally, he cared.
But here was how messed up I was because while I wanted him to be here for me, and I knew he was, I knew he was only here because Colby called him. He was here to ‘check up on me.’ I could just imagine the phone call from his teammate. Stone wasn’t here because he had feelings for me, or at least the feelings I wanted for the long term or the feelings I needed from him to even have a fighting chance.
He was here because he cared, just not enough.
Be happy with what he’s showing you. That thought flashed in my head, too, and I wanted to give into it. I wanted it so badly that my teeth were aching, tears were coming to my eyes, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I would not survive.
He was in my face, and my God, he felt amazing. His eyes were angry. His jaw clenched. His hand had a cement hold on my arm before he shifted, placing both his hands on either side of my face. “Got a call earlier.”
“I’m sure you did.” I was resigned. He was going to go through it all, and I was already folding. If he kept at this, I’d be in his bed by tonight. And I’d hate myself for it.
He shifted closer, lowering his head so he was peering at me eye level. “Got a call saying that the girl with the blue hair, that I hadn’t looked at her close enough.” He touched my hair. “Apparently, none of us had looked at her hard enough, but why would we? Different hair. You’ve lost weight. More pale.” He skimmed me up and down, a sneer tugging at his lip. “What the fuck have you been doing to yourself?”
Anger surged up and I smacked his hand away. I seethed, “You don’t get to stand there and judge me.”
His eyes flashed again. Hot. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” I was in his face now because fuck him.
My body was craving him.
My heart was aching for him.
But my pride, yeah, that was raging. It was like in high school when he walked past me in the hallways because I wasn’t good enough for him. Seeing his parents, him, serving them, old fucking times.
“You don’t get the right to sit up on your high horse and judge me on the ground. You don’t get that right, Mr. I’m So Fucking Talented and I have the whole fucking world at my feet. Mr. My parents’ marriage might be a sham and unhappy, but we got a house and we got land and we got money to insure we never have to go cold or hungry. You don’t have that right because you might have shitty parents, but you still have paren—”
His lips were on mine.
I folded. My knees dipped. My arms wrapped around him.
I gave in, for three seconds.
One. Two. Three. So fucking heavenly, and I could’ve died and felt satisfied with life, but it was just for three seconds and then reality set in and I shoved him back.
“Get off of me!”
He was right back, his hands in fists, hitting the building beside me. He snarled, “Why? Goddammit, tell me why. One fucking good reason!”
“Because you’re not the long game.”