Because that’s what she was. Mine.
She was no one else’s and I should’ve shut that shit down long ago. I knew why she walked. I got it, and a part of me wondered if she was doing the right thing, but fuck that. No more. I was done staying away. I was done keeping quiet and not making her talk. We needed to talk. Talking. Shit. We barely talked. We fought, then we went to bed. That’s how we communicated, and I was trying to tell her all the ways I cared for her. I needed to show her, not just say the words, but she was asleep and I had to leave and do my job.
Except I couldn’t make myself leave her room. I couldn’t even get off the bed, and I needed to get off the bed. I’d be fined so damn much money if I didn’t show, but every cell in my body was screaming at me to curl back in her bed, pull her into my arms, and never let her go.
Never ever let her go again.
But, shit. I raked a hand through my hair.
I couldn’t do that. I was a professional. We played through everything. Wind, sleet, rain, pain, blood. We showed up. We played. We dominated.
He was dead. I was trying to tell myself. She was safe. I could leave, do my job, and scoop her back in my arms afterwards. Her. Me. Our bed. Yeah. It wasn’t my bed anymore. It was ours. She just didn’t know it.
I had to go. I had to, but God, I didn’t want to go.
Moving around the room, I went to wash up before dressing, but I wasn’t going out her side way. Hell no. I went the other way, not expecting anyone to be up. I’d been in college, but I hadn’t partied like these guys. I rarely partied. I footballed. That was it. I did football, and if I wasn’t footballing, I was training to football or thinking about footballing. Football was my life. These guys, they were different. They were more normal. If they were planning on pro, they had one last year to get their shit together. But that wasn’t my issue.
Going up to the kitchen, I hadn’t expected anyone to be up.
Someone was up.
A girl was at the counter making toast. She turned, yawning, but seeing me, she shrieked. “Oh, my Jesus!” She pressed a hand to her heart, giving me a shaky smile. “I wasn’t expecting a guy, and then it’s a guy, but it’s not just any guy, it’s you, and yeah. Still getting used to seeing you around here.”
She was the nice one, the one Dusty liked. I was trying to remember her name.
“Yeah. Hi.” The toast popped up and she took one, waving at me before putting it on the plate and reaching for the butter. “I suppose you’re on your way out? How’s our girl doing downstairs? She seemed tired last night. I mean, more than usual considering how much she’s working.”
I had started to walk past her, letting her talk, but hearing the last few words, I paused.
The girl was still rambling, her back to me, still buttering her toast. “Between you and me, I worry about her. She’s not gotten a car and she doesn’t think we notice, but she’s walking back and forth from campus. That means she’s walking after her shifts, but she’s got some hang-up about asking for help. I don’t get it, but she’s prideful. So, yeah. My uncle has a car in the garage. There’s no insurance on it, but I was thinking I could ask him to get some and she could drive that. We could say it’s the house’s vehicle, but poof—like magic—it’s always available only for her.” She turned, the toast done on her plate. “What do you think?” She was smiling at me.
She took one look at me and that smile was wiped clean.
I was barely keeping my shit together as it was, and now to know this.
She’d been walking. No, fuck that. She was working. A lot, from what this one was saying, and she was walking?
I grated out, “How far is campus from here?”
She swallowed, getting with the program and cluing in how close to the edge I was. “Her job is four blocks away. I think she cuts through somewhere, maybe a side alley, so it might be less. I’m not sure.”
Fuck that. Fuck this girl. Fuck her fucking roommates. And fuck me, for letting her go when I knew I shouldn’t have.
Fuck. Just fuck.
“How long has this been going on?”
Another swallow before her head bobbed down. “Uh. A week? No. More than that, I think. Maybe two?”
“You don’t know?” I ground that out.
“No. I’m sorry.”
I was gone. Dusty was going to have a car in her spot by the end of the day and before then, Morpheus would be on her curb. If she walked, he would follow. I didn’t give a flying fuck how pissed she might be about that.
She had had a goddamn stalker.
My thoughts went rampant thinking about that piece of shit. I wanted to find him again, murder him with my bare hands and stuff his desecrated bones back into the ground, and I wanted to repeat that process all over again. Over and over and over until I got justice for Dusty.
I had no clue, no fucking idea.
A stalker. A goddamn motherfucking stalker.
If I’d known, shit. I would’ve wanted to go at him, wrap my hands around his throat, but fuck. I couldn’t go back in time. The piece of shit was dead, but I could go forward, and I interrupted the nice roommate. She was still talking.
She’d been pouring orange juice into a glass, and at my growl, she jumped. Juice spilled all over the counter, but flinching, she swung those wide eyes to me. “Uh. What?”
“Noel. Witkerson. Your school’s QB 1. Where is he? I know he sleeps here.”
“Oh.” She was flustered, her cheeks getting red. “Savannah’s room is upstairs on the right, but…”
Yeah. Yeah. Don’t go up there. They’re sleeping. She didn’t know I didn’t give a shit.
I stalked up the stairs, lined up there were two bedrooms and I saw the bathroom door open. I went to the right and I didn’t give ’em an option. I was hoping they weren’t going at it—but I’d seen that shit before, so no big deal—because I flung the door open.
The girl screamed.
Witkerson jumped out of bed, wild and panicked, but saw it was me and he swore, grabbing for a pillow to cover his nuts. He remembered we both spent most of our lives in football locker rooms and dropped the pillow. Crawling back in bed, he lay back down. “Tell me this is fucking important, man. You’re interrupting my sleep time and my time with my girl.”
“She had a stalker.”
“What?!” the girl squawked, bolting upright.
She had a shirt on. Thank God. I didn’t want to see her girls. Any normal day before today, I might’ve looked if they were presented to me because fuck, I’m a guy…but not this day.
“It’s why she came down here. A stalker.”
The QB 1 sat up, suddenly all serious and yeah, he better be.
I clipped my head at him. “You’re here. You’re here when I can’t be. That piece of shit is dead, but there might be others. Her name, her face, it’s getting out there. And she’s mine. I ain’t keeping quiet about that anymore. She’s going to get more attention, more focus, and that brings haters. Bitch catty women and dirty perv assholes. Sick fucks, too. She and I haven’t talked, she doesn’t know the lengths I’m going to, but I’m going to them. If she stays here, and if she chooses, I’ll be here most nights, but I’m going to try to get her to my house. But if she stays, you’re on duty. Got it?”
“Wait.” The girl was looking between us.
The QB nodded. “Got it.”
“What is going on here?”
“Good. I’ll have a guy parked out front all day. He’s her ride. She ain’t walking anywhere alone today and tonight. There’ll be a car of her own here by end of the day.” I bit out and turned for the door. “I got a game, then I’ll be back to either sleep here or collect her for my place.”
The girlfriend jumped up in bed, but I had turned already. Caught the movement out of the corner of my eyes, glimpsed something white on her legs and figured she had pants on, too. Again. Not caring. This was today, not yesterday, not a month ago. Things were different today. Everything was different. I was staking my claim and I wasn’t going away. Hell to the fuck no.
I pounded the doorframe. “See you later. Remember what I said…watch her.”
And because there was an unwritten guy code and my job was to pick on the younger bucks, I pounded on the other door. “Don’t forget to pull out, Harrington!”
There was a scream in there, too, and then from him, “Shut up!” He groaned. “I was fucking sleeping, douche.”
I pounded the door a second time, laughing, then I was down the stairs and out the front door. I had a block to walk to my Jeep and a game to get ready for.