The Not-Outcast

Page 24

But now she was worried, too, casting a small frown over her shoulder at us.

Melanie was covering for me, her head almost ridiculously high to make up for my own. Her shoulders were as wide as she could make them, and she was holding me almost under her arm. Cold sweat was running down my back, but this wasn’t my first rodeo.

I could fake it…and I was.

My mouth was pressed tight, but I was smiling and gave a small head dip to people who were turned toward us. Even if they didn’t say a word, I gave them a small smile, just in case. And then we were through a back door and going up stairs.

The lights were darker.

Cement floors.

The echoes from Melanie’s heels were like firecrackers being set off.

Cassie had sneakers on. Nice and comfortable and silent sneakers. And her clothing was quiet, too, except I could hear the soft rubbing of her sleeve against her Mustangs’ jacket. Still, it wasn’t as loud as Melanie’s leather skirt or those heels.

She asked my opinion.

I told her then it was ‘dead sexy,’ and now I was rethinking my terminology.

No. It still looked sexy.

Cassie liked it. She was looking at it, but there were rings of worry around her mouth, too.

But then Melanie was talking to her. She must’ve told a joke. I’d probably hear it in thirty seconds when it caught up to the chaos in my head.

Cassie was laughing, and she relaxed.

Melanie was such a good friend, because she was shielding me as best she could, but Cassie wasn’t detecting it.

Melanie was making Cassie think she had it under control, that her nutso friend would be fine.



Street chick.

It’s funny because those words were coming back to me now. I was an adult, but they were words I’d been called when I was in high school. They’d bounced off me then. Why were the simple memories of those words and phrases penetrating now?

We were through another door, on a higher floor, and things were muted, but I could still hear, see, feel, sense, taste, and again…why had I forgotten my damn meds? Stop it, Cheyenne. Deal with it. It’s not your first time here, and it won’t be your last.

Recognize the chaos.

Know there’ll be chaos.

Look straight and try to find your tunnel.

“This will be a lot quieter, promise.”

Cassie’s words came from a distance.

Melanie was chuckling right into my ear, and then a door was being unlocked, opened, and we were inside.

I almost wept from relief. The floors were carpeted. That helped the intensity of everything so much.

There were leather couches. Leather chairs. A few high-top tables.

A bar in the corner, and Cassie was nodding to the guy standing there. They spoke to each other, their heads bent together, and he nodded before leaving.

I never knew about these boxes. And we were so high up, but I needed to pull myself together.

I stepped away from Melanie and she frowned at me.

I patted her arm. “Give me a bit. Go and flirt, have fun.”

“You sure?”

I nodded, even though that sent everything spinning once again.

I needed a new anchor. It wasn’t fair to put that on Melanie. “Go.” I motioned, then threw a warm and fake grin to Cassie. “I’m going to sit for a spell.”

I didn’t know if Cassie was looking in our direction or not. The stimulus of looking back in her direction was too much, but I needed to cover my bases, and slipping away, I eased into a side room where there was no one.

Just me. Just four seats in the front with glass partitions keeping me from the people underneath us, and I sank into the seat in the far corner and bent over.

Forehead to knees.

Sometimes this helped. Just a bit. I needed a handle on it because I was having a slight panic attack, and I knew I’d been triggered at realizing I was off-schedule for my meds. But I could do this. I’d done it for years before, and now at least I had the coping mechanisms in place.

Head closed. Eyes bent forward.

I mean, switch those around, and a breath.

I recognized the sound of a door closing, and that had to be Melanie.

I didn’t know who was supposed to be in this box with us—if they were going to come in here or not—but I knew whoever it was, Melanie wouldn’t let them through. No way in hell. I was safe and I could relax and I needed to find a tunnel.

I needed to find a line.

I needed to focus on that line—and when some of the buzzing faded a bit, I looked up.

I ignored the people underneath.

They were a part of an ocean.

I was in a boat.

I was looking forward, at the surface of the water. That was the ice, and the guys were out there, already warming up.

I found Cut, he was zipping around. Shooting. He was laughing with one of his teammates, and I was so damn tired. Exhausted already.

I should go home.

I’d be worthless by the end of the game, but no. I could do this. I just needed a small handle on it. The panic attack was easing. It would slide away and things would be easier after that.

It had to be, I’d waited so long for him to notice me.


Jesus. It was a barnburner.

I was wiped, but hyped by the end of the game. We won three to two.

Hendrix came up to me. “I can’t believe Squatch. He came out of fucking nowhere, right?”

I was on a high. This was the best part of the game. Well, not the best. Part of the best. Playing. Fighting. Icing. All of it, being out there, going head to head, pulling out a win.

I fucking loved this game.

“Guys are heading to Bresko’s. You in?” He held out a fist. “We’ll use the back room.”

“Uh.” I met his fist with mine. “I’m not sure. I’m supposed to meet up with someone.”

His grin turned cocky and knowing. “Nice. Bring her for a drink or two.”

“Maybe.” But no way, and not at Bresko’s. We were all heading for the locker room, but I looked up. I looked up every time we left, and she wasn’t there.

She said she would be, so what the fuck?

Everyone was happy. They all wanted to celebrate, and I was there with them, but I needed to get to my phone so I could see what was going on with Cheyenne.


Cassie popped in from one of the hallways. I gave her a chin-lift. “Hey, Cassie.” And kept right on going.

“No, Cut…” She tugged at the corner of my sweater, indicating to a side room.

Already not liking this, I went with her. Cassie wasn’t asking about my elbow, and she looked strung out, nervous almost. We stepped in, and she moved to the door so it was only open an inch. “Hey, um…” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, glancing back to the hallway we just left.

“What is it?”

Her shoulders rolled back, her head lifted higher, and she spoke, more sure, “I don’t totally feel right doing this, but I also don’t totally feel right not saying anything.”


“What is it?” My teeth were starting to grind against each other.

“Melanie called before. She said you and Cheyenne were heading out after the game tonight.”

“That’s the plan.”

“Well, they showed up and they’d been drinking.”

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