We stepped into the elevator, and I asked, “Are you going to get in trouble for not sleeping there?”
Reese shook his head, rubbing a hand over his jaw. He looked tired, softening lines around his mouth and bags under his eyes. Taking off his hat, he ran his hand briskly through his hair before shoving it back on, squashing it. He leaned back against the elevator wall.
“Coach knows about Aiden’s party. We’re fine. I mean, we’re all adults. We gotta meet at eleven for meetings, but I’m fine till then.”
The elevator dinged, and we stepped out onto Trent’s floor.
Reese stayed right behind me, his hand on my hip. “I thought your buddy lived in Minneapolis?”
“No. He moved down here for college and just stayed, but he travels a lot for his job.” Speaking of, I opened the door and asked, “How’d you know where we were?”
He grunted, shutting the door, flipping the locks, and stepping around me.
That wasn’t a good sign.
Dropping his hat and sunglasses on the counter, he went to the fridge. He grabbed a water, and tossed one to me. “Drink that.”
I caught it, holding it a second. “Excuse me?”
He motioned to my phone and me. “I don’t want to talk to drunk Charlie tonight. You’re acting fine, but I don’t care about how you’re acting. I want you sober. I want to get shit dealt with, because I’m sick of this absence crap.”
My heart soared.
I opened my water and took a drink. “You really do care, don’t you?”
He rolled his eyes. “Spare me.”
I laughed and capped the water again.
“Really? All that texting was you sober?”
I touched my chest. “It’s like you don’t actually know me.”
“Oh…” He let out a myriad of curses, his head tipping back. “Not with this bullshit. Come on, Charlie. I want to deal with you, not just another chick playing fucking mind games.” He tossed his phone on the counter, his water next to it. Stepping back, he folded his arms and fixed me with a glare. “You said a lot of heavy stuff in those texts. Say it again to me—face to face, not behind your little phone keyboard. Give me a chance to actually respond this time.”
He wanted to go there.
I looked away, holding on to the counter behind me. I kept my head down, but I started. I had to. For him—and fuck my chest that felt like I was taking a cigarette to it from the inside.
“Everything in those texts, I meant.”
Ooh… I was trying not to, but… ”Yeah. I mean, I often wonder who’d win a selfie contest? A manatee or a dolphi—”
“Stop joking! This is serious.” His chest heaved. “At least it is to me.”
Then, staring at me, he raked a hand through his hair. “You know—shit. Yeah. Okay. You laid out your heart. I read those texts. I can’t imagine what you’re going through with Damian. But what I can say is that you shouldn’t be ashamed of trying to keep living. Never be ashamed of that. I doubt he would want you to feel that either. You shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to keep living. I mean, my God, there are no words. There’s nothing I can say to make that okay, or even try to what—hold your hand through it? I have no clue. All I know is that when you left, I hated it. I watched you walk away from me at the airport, and I wanted to fucking go nuts. You joke, but that’s what I was feeling. I had you…”
His eyes blazed. His nostrils flared. He jerked forward, coming to me and stopping a few feet away. There was no one else, just him and me.
I couldn’t look away. I was captive to what he was saying, the way he was looking. My fingertips curled around the countertop behind me.
“I know the hell it is going through life with two alcoholics in the family and a mother who gave up long ago. I can understand that suffering, but I don’t have the words to help you with Damian. I wish I did. I wish I could shovel a bunch of money at his doctors and they’d make it go away, but not with this disease. I can’t do anything except care for you and hurt with you, that’s all.”
Yep. Tears. Again.
I was steadfastly ignoring them.
He’d stopped—maybe for air or maybe because it was my turn—so with a tight chest, I started. My head was firmly directed to the floor. I’d really lose it if I had to see him when I said these things.
“I fell in love with you, and not the stalker way. The real way.” I laughed. “I think it might’ve started when you called me a camp groupie. I’m weird like that, or maybe when you answered the first round of questions I asked you. Then a bit more when I stepped out of the bathroom and you were there, waiting for me. You told me you didn’t like ‘it,’ and that meant something to me.”
I risked a look. He was rolling his eyes, but I spoke again, drawing his attention back to me. “You saw me. Most don’t. You were right. I use the crazy as a shtick, and it’s not right. I mean, I’m being really unfair because I know no one’s really crazy. There is no crazy. People have struggles, or imbalances, but they’re not really nuts like I use it. But it kept people away for the longest time. Until you. You saw through it, and you started to like me anyway.”
His arms fell to his side, and his eyes became softer.
“We were friends, and I really loved being friends with you, but I was still trying not to feel anything or let anyone in. I couldn’t. I thought I would shatter, because if you let people in, they can hurt you. I was raw—still am, to be honest. But you got in there, and I started not only wanting to be around you all the time, but looking forward to seeing you, to texting you, to just hearing your voice. The calls. The texts. That’s all just because I’m desperate for some attention from you.”
My voice broke off.
In one sense, this was embarrassing. In another sense, I was exposing myself again and bracing for what he’d say in return. But most of all, I was saying what I meant, and deep down I knew I would handle whatever came back from it.
That was freeing.
It was needed.
This. This was a part of moving on. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt it. I knew it.
I looked up again, unshed tears pooling in my eyes. “I fell in love with you, but I am still really messed up, and I am still really exposed, and I am… I am like a toothless saw that had all its jagged edges fall out, and you have to put them back in. Glue them. I don’t know how you do it—buy a new saw? Though since I’m the broken one, I hope you don’t do that. Anyway, a toothless saw, that’s me.”
I smiled, my lips curled over to blanket my teeth. “Like this. I’m like a shark with no teeth.”
“Shut up.” He moaned, his head swaying from side to side. “You are unbelievable. You sent me all these really deep texts, and now you’re joking about being a toothless shark while you’re professing your love? Really?”
I said it simply. “I love you, and I’m telling you, and I don’t have much more to expose, because what I have, I’ve already shown. The rest is self-preservation, in case you decide to walk out of here. I’ll crumble, but I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen.”
More because I really love basketball, and if you leave me, I’ll have to stop watching ball, and that’ll hurt too.
It’ll be like a second dumping all over again.
So please, please, please, don’t walk out and leave me behind.
I looked up. He stepped closer, his head tilted to the right.
I eyed his hands. They were at his side.
I wanted them on me. Once he reached for me, he could make the world go away. All the hurt and sadness, all that was stripped away under his touch, but he didn’t lift them to me.
“The correct usage of crazy aside, you are a complete ball of psychosis at times.”
That’s what he said.
My chest filled with warmth.
He laughed, a self-deprecating edge to it. “Having said that, you were like an itch. I needed to scratch it, and the more I did, the more it grew until it took me over completely.”