The Not-Outcast

Page 32

When Chad called me, I thought he was high. I’d been at Hendrix’s and I’d sent her a couple of texts. No answer. I hadn’t thought much about it. I knew where she was. Anyone sitting at a titty bar was either enamored or bored out of their minds. I figured since it’s her friend’s place, she was having a good time. Then, Chad sent me the footage, and holy shit. Mind fuck.

She was toilet papering our place. Not even the whole place. She was toilet papering Chad’s side.

I cracked up, showing Hendrix the footage, and he cracked up, too.

But coming here, I hadn’t been pissed off at all.

Chad was Chad. I figured he’d be pissy and throwing his weight around. He did that on a normal basis, but I knew it’d be more with Cheyenne and yeah, there was history there that I knew I still hadn’t uncovered, but here we were. I mean, she warned me. I saw her getting worked up, and now she was doing laps in my swimming pool and I had no idea what I was going to say to her when she finished.

Chad took the other one home. Both of them had been drinking so they got an Uber, but I didn’t expect him back until tomorrow at some point. Tension was high between those two, so we’d see what unfolded tomorrow. But back to my girl, because she was mine, even with the shit that went down here tonight.

My Cheyenne.

Was this fast? Yes. Hell yes.

Was there stuff I needed to unravel? Fuck yes.

Was I walking? Not a chance.

Then she stopped swimming, did a flip in the water, and stood at the edge. She had tossed her clothes after two laps, so I’d watched her swim the entire time in only her bra and panties and my dick was hard the entire fucking time, but it wasn’t the time for that. She stood, water dripping down from her, and she just stared at me. She didn’t hide herself. Her hair was slicked back. Her hands went to her side as she rose out of the pool.

Still standing tall. Straight. Her hands never left her side. Her eyes didn’t waver either.

She was waiting.

To see what my reaction would be, I suppose.

I stood up and Jesus, I had no fucking idea what I was going to do, but I said somehow, “Ready for bed?”

A tired smile appeared—or maybe that was relief—and her top lip lifted. “Yes.”



I woke the next morning, and I froze.

I remembered everything. Everything. And holy Moses, I freaked yesterday. He actually saw it all, but on the Cheyenne Scale, that one hadn’t been bad. Swimming it out of me helped, but I was tired, and my body ached. I hadn’t swum in a really long time, and my body was revolting against the coping mechanism I’d chosen to calm the chaos.

A body shifted on the bed beside me, and I closed my eyes before turning over. Looking.

He was waiting for me. Head on his pillow, turned toward me, and he grinned. “Morning.”

I wanted to die. “Morning.”

His eyes softened. “How are you feeling?”

I shrugged. “It is what it is.”

Those same eyes darkened. “What does that mean?”

I had to put an end to this. I sat up, swinging my feet down, and noticing my tank top, I grabbed for it. It’d been dried and was folded on a chair by the bed. My pants just underneath it. I had stripped everything off in the bathroom and tugged one of his shirts on.

He did my laundry for me.

Oh, man. That was really sweet of him.

Sweet. Fuck.

I really had to end this now. I would be doing him a favor in the long run.

I pulled my top on, and reached for my pants. When I had one leg inside, he said from behind me, “Why am I getting a weird feeling here?”

I almost scoffed.

Because he was intuitive?

I only murmured, putting my second leg in, “Because you’re smart.”

“What does that mean?” He’d dropped his tone a whole octave lower. I heard him standing, felt the bed move. “You need to tell me. You need to talk to me.”

I stood, pulling my pants up and zipped them up, buttoning them. Shoes?

A strangled cough came from him, then, “They’re on the bed.”

I looked. He’d just put them there for me, straightening and standing back. His eyes were hooded. His face was granite.

That hurt. I knew it was me doing this, but he would thank me later.

“You’re running? Only this time I’m awake and witnessing it.”

He said it with such contempt, but he didn’t get it. He did not get this.

I grabbed my sandals, letting them plop one by one on the floor as I put my feet into them. I owed him an explanation, he heard about my freak-outs, and he witnessed the beginning of one last night, but that look—I’ll never forget how utterly helpless he looked when I was in the water.

He didn’t think I saw him, but I did. He never moved from his spot, and the longer I swam, the longer he stayed. Some might start falling in love with that, if they hadn’t been, or if they weren’t freaking out about losing their mind.


Not me.

Because I was guarded.

Because I had to be guarded.

For him.

Not me.

I was doing this for him.

And again, I was not falling in love with him, or realizing I had always been, or—nope. That wasn’t me. That wasn’t this mental case.

“I’m not a charity case for you.”

He actually flinched. “Who the fuck said you were?”

“I know guys. I know sometimes they want to save the girl, and you’re looking at me. You’re seeing how messed up I am, but I’m not just temporarily messed up, this isn’t a once-a-month, hormonal thing.” I pointed to my head. “All this is because I don’t have the right neurotransmitters working up there. It’s the same as someone getting cancer or arthritis. My brain is sick, and the problem with that shit is that I’m battling my own brain every day, every minute, every second, every fucking year of my life. This doesn’t get magically fixed. They don’t know enough about it to fix it. I can’t have back surgery, and voila, I’m all good. It’s not like that. You’re thinking you’re all in now, but you aren’t. Trust me.”

My chest was squeezing. A whole knot was sitting in my throat.

I was getting choked up, because, my God, he’d been the idea that got me through all the bad shit with my family. But that wasn’t real. I was walking away from it. I had all these walls put in place. Those walls kept me going. They kept me enduring, and he’d been so many of the walls. Protecting me from the outside world. The idea of him had been the foundation holding those walls up, and now it was gone.

And shortly, so would he.

Because I knocked all of them over in one swift move.

I felt bereft, and a whole feeling of doom was settling in my chest. Pressing in, pressing down. It was spreading through me, and I was fucked. I was so fucked.

Grabbing my purse, checking that my phone was inside, I had to go.

I had to go now before I changed my mind.

I was at the door, my hand on the doorknob, when he said, “Never took you for a coward.”

Oh. Oh no.

I swung around. “Don’t even go there.” My head was up, eyes wide, and I was breathing in fire. “Do not even go there, to that place where you think you can goad me for what? Running away? I live with this. You just got a visitor’s pass, but trust me, you don’t want a permanent residency. You train for your job but imagine if that same amount of work was what you needed every hour of every day just to keep breathing. Don’t call me a coward, dude.”

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