The Not-Outcast

Page 38

I wanted to touch her. I wanted to hold her. Hell. I really wanted to pull her on my lap and have her grind on me. But I did none of that, forcing myself to sit here and stare back at her like we were just friends.

Fuck that. I was jumping back in. “Chad’s fucking your friend again.”

Her hand jerked in reaction, shaking her water a little. “What?”

I grinned. “Or he did that night. And the nights I’ve been home, he hasn’t. He and I got into it before my Seattle game.”

“You did?”

I was trying to read her, but I couldn’t. I had no clue what she thought about that.

I said, “Called me out, that I was avoiding him.”

“Were you?”

I shrugged. “Kinda, but not at the same time. He was gone when I went home, and then I was traveling with the team. I was going to call him from my hotel in Seattle, have it out, but now he’s blocked me.”

Her eyes got so big. “What?”

I laughed. “Chad’s been my boy for a long time. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get through it.”

Her head bent again, and she started running her thumb up and down her glass. She was doing it, not knowing she was doing it, and I was having a hard time not picturing that was my dick.

Christ. I shifted in my seat, knowing I was already hard.

“Did you mean it?”

She looked back up, and I winced, seeing some sadness in those eyes.

I said softly, “That first night at your place when you told me that you used to love me. Did you actually mean it?”

Her lips parted.

I knew I was still in the learning stages of getting to know this girl, but I felt like I already did. I felt it deep in my core. It was the weirdest sensation.

She sighed, her hand falling from her drink. “I thought I did. I mean, yes. I wasn’t… Back then, I had an altered state of mind. I formed a coping mechanism. It sounds weird, but it’s like my brain couldn’t handle everything coming at me, so I was thinking things that weren’t true to help me get through it.”

“But that night when we went to my place? That first night. You felt it then, too?”

She swallowed, her lips flattening for a second. “I… The idea of you became my foundation. You were my goal, but it was a lofty and far-off goal and I never thought it’d happen. I mean, I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know that until the next morning when I ran. It just got too real, too fast and I freaked out.”

“But I know now. You told me and I’m still here. I still—fuck! I’ve never had to ask a girl to let me in. Like ever.” Which was sad, in a way. “I don’t know how to handle this. I called you tonight because you were up there, and I couldn’t not call. I tried. I feel like giving your friend a trip to Tahiti.”

And yeah, even saying that to her was a humbling moment here.

I didn’t even know what else to say. I was here. I wanted her, but what can you say when they’ve already said no? You keep pushing it and you’re the asshole.

“So, you and Chad are fighting?”

“Yeah, but it’s not about you.”

She bit down on her lip. “It feels like it is.”

I shook my head, reaching for my water. “It’s not. I’ve let things go for too long, and I think you were just the catalyst. There’s some things he needs to stop doing. He knows it. We’ll be fine.” I already told her, but she looked worried. “Really. He and I haven’t fought fought in a long time. This was due.” And that made me wonder, “I know Natalie moved here a couple years back. Chad mentioned that Deek moved here, too. A year ago? You ever see him?”

Her shoulders seemed to shrink in size right before me.

She shook her head. “I—no. Hunter and I email, but that’s it.”

“That’s it? Fuck. Hunter’s what? He’s in high school by now.”

“He’s a junior.” Her grin was proud, but also sad. “He’s playing hockey. You’re his idol.”

“I’m his what? Chad never said a word.”

She looked away.

I leaned forward. “Hey.”

She turned back.

I sighed. How could someone look so fierce, so proud, so stubborn, and so sad at the same time? How could someone reach inside you and yank out all these emotions that you didn’t know existed? She did that, and this wasn’t going away.

I said instead, pushing all that shit to the side, “I didn’t know what was going on in high school. You said your mom was a junkie?”

We heard footsteps, and we looked.

Dee was bringing the appetizers over. “Here you guys go.” She glanced at the drinks. “You need anything else?”

I was making an executive decision. Reaching inside my wallet, I handed over my card. “Can you just ring us up?”

“Oh.” She took the card. Her gaze was more assessing now. She was taking in how stiff Cheyenne’s shoulders were, and I didn’t want to think what she saw when she took me in. “Maybe some to-go boxes?”

“That’d be great. Thank you.”

She nodded, another pat on the booth, but this time it was softer.

As soon as she was out of earshot, I said, “I want to see you. I’m sorry. I know you’ve ran from me twice now, but—” I groaned. “You don’t get to make the decision for me. I get to make that decision. You can’t push people away for the rest of your life.”

Cheyenne wasn’t looking at me.

“Cheyenne. Please.”

“This is so hard.”

Agreed. “Let me give you a ride home. Can we talk while I give you a ride home?” A different thought came to mind. “How are you handling being here? And the games? Is it too much for you?”

She looked up, the bags under her eyes more pronounced, but she shook her head. “I’m good. Or, I’m as good as I normally am. You, you bring more stress, and that wears on me. It’s like I have walls set up from the meds, and you break them back down. But now I’m doing extra cardio in the morning. It all helps. I’ll do meditation tonight, too.”

Meditation. Meds. Cardio. She couldn’t drink. Her life was close to mine.

“I’ve never tried meditation before.”

She grinned, a slight one, but it was there. “It really helps.”

Dee was coming back with a box and the bill. She handed both to me. “Thank you both.” She paused on me. “Do you…?”

I shook my head. “I got my truck here.” I signed the bill and handed it back, but my gaze was on Cheyenne. “I’m hoping to give this one a ride home?”

Cheyenne sighed, closing her eyes a beat. When she opened them, there was a new light there. She nodded, though it was tentative at first. “A ride would be nice.”

A ride. We’d still never had that first date, so I’d start there.



We left down the stairs.

Cut walked half in front of me, with an arm behind me, resting on the small of my back. Little touches like that, and I was dissolving into a puddle. I wasn’t paying attention to everyone paying attention to us, and it was him. It wasn’t the meds. It wasn’t my condition. It was just, straight up, him.

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