We stepped outside.
I glanced back, but I hadn’t been able to see Otis, Maisie, or JJ. They practically pushed me out of the booth when the staff first came over, and I knew they’d expect a full report at the next home game. But now we were walking down the sidewalk, and Cut kept glancing over at me, a teasing little grin on his face.
He focused me.
I realized it now.
Or, he focused me tonight.
I wasn’t going to question it. It was nice. A small reprieve, and tonight, a small voice was whispering in my head. Tonight. Enjoy tonight. Tomorrow I would be responsible. Tomorrow I would wake myself up from this dream, pull away all over again. Tomorrow.
That meant we had tonight.
And unable to help myself, feeling a pull on my hand, I reached out for his and he clasped mine tight. We got to his truck, and this was nice, too.
We were halfway to my apartment when his phone started ringing. He had it connected to his truck and we both saw on the radio’s screen, Chad calling. A small frown, but Cut reached over and disconnected the call. Guess he’d been unblocked. He hit another button, and I saw that he was sending him a message instead.
Then, ten seconds later, my phone started ringing.
He saw my screen. “She was with Cassie tonight.”
I sighed, knowing this wasn’t a coincidence, and I hit the answer button. Loud music blared first, but I still asked, “What’s up?”
“We have a problem.” Melanie was tense, but calm.
Dread lined my spine. That was not good, so not good.
I tightened my hold on the phone. “What’s going on?”
“We’re at Bresko’s. Cassie invited us out, said she knew some people who’d be here. I called Sash, not knowing who the ‘some people’ were. She’s here and she’s going nuts on your Not-Brother.”
At hearing her, because her voice traveled, “What do you mean, she’s going nuts?”
Cut hit his turn signal and veered to the left. We hit a light, but it was green at that second and he whipped us around in a U-turn.
“I mean, she’s upset. We came here, saw Not-Brother grinding on a girl, and Sash went over and started pinching him.”
“Pinching him?” Had I heard that right?
“Yeah. Legit pinching. Took him by the ears, and he crumbled like a twelve-year-old. Fell down. Then she started pinching his other ear. The chick he was with took off. Sash is in rare form tonight.”
Oh, boy. I knew what that meant.
I shared a look with Cut. His whole face was rigid, but his shoulders were shaking. The guy was trying not to laugh. I said into the phone, “We’re on our way. Be there in twenty minutes.”
“Who is we?”
“Cut and me.”
She was quiet. As I knew she would be.
“You’re with Cut?” Her tone was somber.
I sighed. “Yeah.”
She knew my decision. So did Sasha. They didn’t agree with it, but I shared with both of them the day I left his house for a second time. And now, here I was, going back on that very decision.
“Okay. We’re here. Cassie is dying. She thinks this is the funniest thing she’s ever seen.”
And speaking of, Melanie had been quiet lately about her and the PT lady. “Mel.”
“We need to have a chit chat.”
She sighed now. “I know. I was just thinking the same thing. But hurry up, because I gotta go and shit as soon as you’re here.”
And we were back to the normal Melanie.
Just needed to hear that one word.
She added, “Like right fucking now, babe.”
There it was.
“We’re on our way.”
As soon as I hung up, Cut said, “I need to tell you something.”
My stomach took a nosedive. “What?”
“I’m an investor at Bresko’s.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I knew the owner a while back. He asked for an investment, and I gave him money.”
“That place must rake in …”
Cut grinned. “It does well, yeah.”
He was a local god, a national hockey celebrity, and now he was saying he was an investor at Bresko’s? Why in the hell was he interested in me?
“What other investments do you have?”
“A few others.”
He glanced at me from the corner of his eyes. “Like, is this a problem for you?”
You know, at this point it was like fuck it. I’d run from him. I already told him most of my bad secrets. He saw a freak-out, and I tried to end it a second time. I didn’t have anything to lose here by being honest.
“You just keep getting bigger and bigger to me.”
I was back there, with my mom, leaving food outside her bedroom door hoping she’d eat. “I was homeless, and I didn’t really know it.”
“Wait. Back up. What are we talking about?”
Riding in a car at night was soothing to me. The lines became a constant blur. The feel of the vehicle moving under you. And the best feeling was when you felt safe.
I felt safe with him.
I couldn’t remember ever feeling safe with anyone.
But in here, with Cut driving, it felt soothing, and then to find out about his investments? Maybe a normal woman would be thinking she had won the jackpot, but that wasn’t me. People always left, investments or no investments. Pain sliced through me at the stark differences between us.
“I was homeless, Cut.”
“Yeah. You said that before.”
“You don’t get it.” And he never would, but he was lucky in that regard. “When you’re homeless, there’s a desperation you feel. And if you get so used to it, you become a different animal entirely. You’ve never felt that in your life. The older I get, the further I get from that girl, the more I realize how different we are. You’re already a celebrity and now Bresko’s? And you don’t want to tell me about the rest. We’re just so different.”
“Why’s that bad?”
“It’s not. I think a younger me would’ve been even more insecure because how could I matter to you? What do I have that I could give you? But now, I’m just having a moment. I’ve come so far from that girl, but I’m still struggling. That’s what this stuff does to you. You struggle no matter what. Every day. Every minute. You are fighting your own mind. And people don’t get it, people don’t want to get it.”
“I do. I mean, I want to get it.”
I looked him over, watching the lights and shadows dance over his face. I felt that safe feeling again, but there was a lull around him. He did that. He lulled the edges that used to pull at me, distract me, ingrain inside of me until I couldn’t focus on anything.
“But you never will, and I think that’s what the luckiest thing is for someone like you. You won’t get it.”
I’d gone back and forth so much, but right here, right now, I was coming to a decision. It made my heart pound. It made my chest tighten. It stretched every nerve ending in my body, and I couldn’t believe I was going to make it, but I was.