He didn’t react to that.
He sat there, but his eyes looked down at the table.
I didn’t want to be waiting how I was, all tense-like, sitting on the edge of my seat, like I needed his approval or disapproval or his rejection, acceptance? Anything. I hated it, but it mattered. It mattered more than I wished it did and I was holding my breath.
“That’s what happened tonight?”
There was a balloon in my chest, filling, filling, getting tighter and tighter at his question, at how his tone was so not judging, at how, just like that, the balloon started to deflate.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“What’s it like? What do you feel?”
Like a herd of cattle are stampeding over me, and I can’t ask for help or raise a hand for someone to grab. But I couldn’t tell him that—wait. Why not? So, I did. I repeated every single word, and I waited again when I was done.
This is one of the worst parts. When someone is asking, when you’ve made yourself vulnerable to them, opened yourself up for judgment, and you then have to wait if they’ll ‘get it’ or if they’ll dismiss it because when they dismiss your truth, they dismiss you.
“Jesus. It’s like you’re being Kronewalled again and again and again.”
The sympathy mixed with torture from him had me blinking back tears.
“Yeah. I guess, but I don’t know if it’s exactly like that.” Because hello, being Kronewalled looked like it sucked. Getting hit that hard against the walls, I saw him do it and saw him get checked like that, and I was already cringing just imagining it.
But he got it. Kinda. Or he was trying.
That said everything.
“I’m sorry you go through that.”
More tears. I was just blinking nonstop right now.
“Dude,” I whispered.
He laughed, then grew fierce as he leaned forward, his eyes capturing and holding mine. “We’ve been over this. Don’t ever ‘dude’ me.”
“Dude.” I laughed.
He grinned, then his eyes grew warm again, looking me over. “You were heading to bed?”
I nodded. “I was.”
“Can I talk you into watching a movie? Or sports highlights? I mean, is it okay if I just hang out with you, that is, if you’re feeling up to it now?”
More heat. More tingles, and I was beginning to throb. There was a whole blooming thing happening in my body. Like a blanket coating my insides and it was spreading, and it was delicious, and it made me feel a way that was dangerous for someone like me to feel.
But I found myself whispering back, “Yeah. That’d be rad.”
He snorted. “Rad.”
So, we did. On my couch. A blanket pulled over my lap. A movie on, and he took one look at me, at my blanket, and shook his head before reaching over, hooking an arm around my waist and hoisting me over him.
I squawked, which he laughed at as he positioned me so I was tucked in the corner of the couch. My legs and half my body were draped over him, his other arm behind my back, and he tugged me so my head fit into the corner of his arm and chest, and I burrowed in there.
I felt every inch of him for the rest of the night.
I had no clue what we watched.
To: Koala Boy
From: Koala Boy
To: Koala Boy
Subject: DUDE OF THE DUDEST! I love you.
From: Koala Boy
Two away games later, I was pulling up to the house when I heard the music blaring from inside.
Chad was having a party.
The music wasn’t my first clue.
The thirty vehicles parked in the driveway and down the road had been. We had bought two lots, joined the houses together so I was able to pull into my garage. Chad’s was full, but the grand doors opened onto my side of the house, and I was tempted to sneak in through the back, go up those stairs and slip into my room. I could lock that shit down, and I was now thinking of a whole new design plan to turn my second floor into an apartment, with doors that could come down to close out the stairs. That’d be convenient right about now.
I didn’t, because Chad knew I was coming home, and he knew I’d been avoiding him since Thursday night.
A few women were hanging out on the front porch when I parked, heading over.
“Hey, Cut. Sorry about your loss.”
I grunted. “Yeah.”
I was normally polite, but standoffish. These women, though…Chad had partied with before.
I nodded a hello, and kept moving around them.
They wanted me to stop. And I wanted to go to bed with Cheyenne. We all didn’t get what we wanted.
Thankfully, it wasn’t as packed as much as I thought it was going to be when I went inside.
A few guys in the foyer.
More in the living room.
I dipped into the kitchen, grabbing water, a few sports drinks, and food. There was a whole gathering in there, and Chad saw me. He was at the sink, his arm around a woman who wasn’t the Not-Russian he’d been spending time with. He straightened, his arm falling from her, and he called out, “Hey, buddy! Great game last night.”
We won the first game, lost last night.
I lifted my chin at him. “Thanks.” I scanned the rest of the room. I realized I didn’t know any of them, which made it easier for me to turn and move through the room that connected the kitchen to the living room. I could swing around, going up the back stairs, but as I did, I saw where the party was. Outside.
The giant patio doors were slid open. People were laughing. That was where the music was coming from, and lots of bikinis. Lots and lots of them.
“I’m planning on moving the party to Bresko’s later if you wanted to join?” Chad spoke from right behind me.
I turned, catching his grin, but it was a masked grin.
“Nah, I’m good.”
I started for the stairs.
“Hey.” Chad got in front of me. “What’s going on with us? You’ve been off for a week.”
He wanted to know about Cheyenne. I told him about Cheyenne. Then he told me about Cheyenne, but I found out Thursday night that I was thinking he didn’t know a lot about the sister he didn’t want me to see.
I stared at him. “You know what’s going on.”
He quieted, the grin slipped and he eased back a step. He was holding a beer and his hand tightened, gripping it. “You’re still going to see her?”
I gestured in the direction of the kitchen with my head. “What about that bunny? I thought you were seeing Cheyenne’s friend.”
“She’s not a bunny.”
“You know what I mean.”
He quieted, nodding. “Yeah. I do.”
And there was silence.
Which I figured.
Chad liked that I was usually laid-back off the ice. Until now, because I wasn’t anymore when it came to Cheyenne, and there were feelings involved. Those feelings came out of nowhere. And they were intense, and we were all playing catch up, including myself.