Blaise hissed, flexing his hand. He folded his bloodied shirt and wrapped the dry ends over his knuckles. He pulled it around to tie it in a knot and leaned back, breathing out a curse.
“Shit! My phone.” He patted his pocket and relaxed. “Oh. Monroe gave it back after you called and said you were coming.”
I cast a sideways look. “What happened back there? I thought you just went to get pizza.”
His eyes closed with another soft curse. “I’m sorry.”
“I messed up.”
“Blaise,” I said gently.
My hands tightened on the wheel. “Tell me what happened. Please.”
“Yeah.” His head rested against his seat. “We went to the pizzeria, which is a popular place for Roussou kids, by the way.”
I hadn’t thought of that.
“We walked in. Ordered our stuff. The girl at the counter recognized your order and mentioned you.”
That was shocking. And interesting. “What’d she say?”
“That she thought you were cool, but she didn’t like me.” He grimaced. “She also didn’t like the thought that I knew you, was ordering for you.”
His smile didn’t reach his eyes. “You better get used to it if we’re going to last. I look like a dick. I walk like a dick. I act like a dick. I am a dick, to almost everyone except you.” He thought on that. “No. I am a dick to everyone but you. People clock that, and they’re going to worry.”
I kept driving, but looked over every now and then.
He studied me intently, his words soft. “You’re good people, Aspen. I’m not.”
Jesus. And then he said things like that…
I felt my tears rising. “Shut up.”
“Shut up!” I gripped the wheel with both hands. I wanted to squeeze it in half. “Just stop talking like that. Stop it.”
Then I waited.
I kept gripping the wheel, my heart pounding in my chest.
I clued in.
He was silent.
I glanced over. He grinned. “I stopped, but it’s the truth.”
I cursed under my breath.
His phone started ringing, and he pulled it out, hissing again from his hand. “It’s Zeke.” He hit the button and put it on speaker. “You’re on speaker, Zeke.”
“Who else is there?”
“Hi, Zeke,” I said.
He was quiet for a beat. “I’m glad she’s there. You tell her what set everything off in the first place?”
Blaise had his eyes closed, shaking his head. “No, man.”
Zeke laughed. “Aspen, babe, you must have, like, unicorn glitter in the air around you or something. Everyone goes to bat for you—people who don’t even know you. Monroe. The pizza chick. Who’s next? Hell, I might start worrying about Blaise’s intentions, and I love the guy.”
Blaise opened an eye, saw I was not happy with this conversation, and said into his phone, “I’m good. I gotta go.”
“Hey! Don’t hang up,” Zeke rushed out. “Don’t know where you are, but I grabbed the pizza. I’m at my house if you want to drop by. I made sure no one touched your girl’s pie. It’s in the back kitchen.”
That’s when I heard the music blaring from Zeke’s side. Funny. I hadn’t noticed it before.
“You want to grab your pie?” Blaise asked.
My first response was what fucking pie? Blaise had been in a fight—how was pizza important? But then I took a breath, counted to ten, and realized my stomach was growling. I shrugged. “I could go for some pizza.”
Blaise’s eyes warmed. “We’re on our way,” he told Zeke.
“Yessss. See you in two pumps, yeah?”
Blaise hung up, putting his phone in the divider between us.
He rolled his neck and touched the side of his mouth. “Fuck. That hurts.”
The tattoo guy had said they were having a hard time keeping Blaise from his brother. Cross had been in the other room, and his face had been bruised too. I’d been in too much shock over Blaise’s face, but I was remembering now.
I didn’t like what I remembered.
“You fought your brother?”
“Yeah,” Blaise said meekly.
“Why?” Over me? That made no sense.
“Like I said, the pizza chick didn’t like the thought of you and me. Bren came up—”
“Bren? Your brother’s girlfriend?”
He nodded. “Bren came up and actually vouched for me.”
This was so not making sense.
He looked away, sighing. “I don’t know. Cross came up, and the stuff from last night’s still bothering me. I got mad just seeing him, and I mouthed off. I said shit I knew would piss him off.”
“Who threw the first punch?”
He was quiet for a moment. “He did, but I said shit he had to hit me for. I started the fight.”
“Because he got time with a decent dad while you got beat up by a guy who wasn’t your dad. That’s why.”
Hold up. Hold up a freaking minute…
I’d heard my voice. I knew those words were mine, but I hadn’t thought them. They were just there, and they were a lot.
I bit my lip. “I’m sorry.”
Blaise made a gargled sound.
I looked over to see his mouth open, and he stared at me. He blinked and shook his head.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I felt bad. “I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have said that—”
“No,” he croaked. “No. You’re right. I saw him, and it was too much. I just wanted to destroy him, you know?”
“I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face using the pavement. I wanted to smash his face in. Like, fuck him.” He sighed again. “Aspen, I don’t know where or what you’re going to college for, but you need to go for counseling. It would’ve taken me a year of therapy to figure that out.”
“I’m going to Cain, but I’m undecided on a major.”
I nodded. “Yeah.” We’d never talked about this. My heart started beating fast. My palms felt sweaty. “Where, I mean, where are you going?” Please don’t say across the country. Please don’t say on another continent.
His grin spread. “I was going to go to Columbia.”
Crappy, crappy, crap. That was in New York. That was across the nation. Wait. He said… “Was?”
He nodded. “I sent an email to Cain this morning. They offered me a soccer scholarship a while back, but I turned them down. Things changed recently.”
My chest squeezed. My hands got sweaty all of the sudden. Did I dare hope? “Yeah?”
“They emailed me back this afternoon. I’m in. They gave the scholarship away to someone else, but they’re going to do their magic and get me in and on the team.”
“Are you serious?” I might have been hyperventilating.
Who does that? Sends an email in the morning and hours later gets into school?! Cain was not an easy school to get into, either—although it had been for me.
“I saw you play, but you must be some soccer star.”
“I am,” he confirmed, gloating. “We didn’t talk about it, but that’s why I didn’t show up here till February. I wanted to finish the season at my old school.”
I remembered watching him.
He loved it. That was obvious, but it’d been more. It was as if he was doing what he’d been born to do. The whole afternoon was special, but when Zeke brought the ball out, I watched Blaise. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. It was like it was a part of him and how dare Zeke be holding it instead? Then he merely took it from Zeke and the rest was something I knew I’d never forget.
It was special. A moment that Blaise was letting us in, letting us see him, and he wasn’t hiding. He wasn’t giving attitude. He was ferocious and hungry. I had felt the power from him as he tore off, leaving Zeke behind. It’d been about him and the ball, no one else. When he stopped later, he was panting, but so had I been.
A dark excitement curled through me, leaving tingles in its trail.
I was near breathless now. I couldn’t wait to see him play again.
The lights of Fallen Crest were nearing, and I needed to get my head on straight. So much was making it spin. I took a breath. One thing at a time.
I had no idea where Zeke’s house was.
Blaise gave me directions, and as we got close, I could see it lit up like Christmas in Times Square. Cars and trucks lined his driveway and both sides of his street.
Zeke was having a party. Why hadn’t I realized that over the phone? Zeke and party were almost interchangeable.
Blaise got quiet, observing me as I parked and then just sat there.
“I can run in and grab the pizza,” he offered. “You can stay here.”
My chest squeezed even harder.
He knew I had issues. I’d told him some of them, but I hadn’t told him the rest yet. We both had things we needed to work through.
I looked at him. “This thing with you and me?”
“Are we… Are you…?” What was I saying?
He leaned toward me. “Are we what?”
I couldn’t say it.
I felt things for him, emotions I didn’t dare share. I didn’t want to scare him away, and I was still scared of it myself. But if we were going to…you know…be something, I should brave a party for him. A normal girlfriend would do that. A normal girlfriend would set aside her issues and go be with her poor beat-up man as he went to see his best friend.
I could be a normal girlfriend.
Blaise was still waiting, so I forced a smile. “Nothing. Let’s go inside.”
Yeah… I had a feeling I should’ve stayed in the car.