We got her drift. She was back to being our Sasha.
We were all good to go. The emergency to get here was settled.
One more last group squeeze and release. We dropped our arms and turned, facing Chad who was talking to Cut now. Cassie was still sitting in their booth, a half-smile on her face, looking at us as if we were a new entity to her. Her mouth was parted in that half-smile, too.
Cut first looked at me. “You good?”
I nodded. I was good.
Both Melanie and Sasha took note of that question, sharing a look before glancing to me.
“Sasha, let’s talk about this. Please.” Chad stepped forward.
Sasha moved back, and her eyes got cold. “No.” She inclined her head toward me. “Home?”
I shook my head. “Cut’s going to take me. You want a ride from us?”
Cassie had come over to join our group. Melanie shifted, standing closer to her, but they weren’t touching. Melanie said, “We got her!” She sidled up, linking her elbows with Sasha and bumping her hip against hers.
Sasha looked like she needed to take the dump now.
Melanie gave Chad a dirty look, but she didn’t say anything.
He was taking all of us in, including Cassie who had joined our ranks. With a groan, he raked his hand through his hair, grabbed his drink, and said, “I’m out of here.” He jerked his chin up at Cut. “See you at home.” He spared us all one last look before he left the box.
Cassie said to Cut, “It’s nice seeing you out and about.”
He laughed. “Right.”
“It’s a rest day for you tomorrow, so I’ll see you at eleven for a soak.”
He dipped his head down again. “Got it.”
She raised her eyebrows, but she was grinning as she did it. “Okay, then. Looks like all is well now. Ready, babe?” She reached for Melanie’s hand, and all three of them gave a wave before heading out. Melanie and Sasha both stepped close for one more half-hug.
Mel whispered, “Have fun! You look good with him.”
Sasha added her one cent, “Happy.” Then she narrowed her eyes before stepping back and following the other two.
Cut frowned at me. “I’m now wondering what the emergency was?”
“Sasha would’ve gone nuclear on him if he hadn’t stopped. That’s the reason for the call. Mel relaxed because she knew once I walked in here, Sasha would calm down, and she also knew Chad would leave. Which all happened.”
Cut winced. “What a great endorsement for Chad.”
My chest felt a little heavy now. Some of the background was seeping back in.
He shook his head, his arm coming around me as he pulled me to him. I stepped in, touching his chest, and then his head came down to rest against mine. “Chad’s got some good. It’s just that some of his bad is showing right now. He’s like a brother for a reason. He’ll come around.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
“I don’t care about Nut-Brother. I want you to know that.”
“Nut-Broth—you know? I don’t want to know.” He frowned down at me. “But your dad, and Hunter—”
“I’m not like that. I’m not built that way. What happened was kind of shitty, and I thought it was really cool that Deek took me in when he did. My baggage isn’t him, or Natalie, or Chad. I didn’t do anything wrong when I was a kid, but they acted like I was going to rob them blind. I came in from the streets and that’s how they viewed me. Some people have those thoughts and they can’t get rid of them. It’s like fostering a teenager, I’m sure. Some are scared to do it, but I had no control over my life at that age. Only one who didn’t judge me was Hunter, and that’s all I kinda care about. It’d be cool to see Hunter, but we email and I’ll see him more once he’s older. My baggage is just my head.” I tapped my head. “It’s in here. This is enough to deal with. Everything else is cosmetic. Surface shit. It doesn’t matter.”
“Family doesn’t matter?”
“They aren’t family. Sasha. Melanie. Hunter. They’re my family.”
His grin turned crooked, and it was adorable on him. “You simplify things.”
I shrugged, stepping closer because I couldn’t help myself. There was that pull from him again, and I was remembering high school. I was remembering when I first saw him, how I felt it then, too.
“I’m saying this stuff so you don’t take any of it on. Whatever’s between you and Chad, I don’t want you taking on my stuff. I don’t harbor any feelings toward Chad. If I did, it’d be on behalf of Sasha. Me and Chad, there isn’t a me and Chad thing. I’m okay with it.”
“I reserve the right to feel a certain way, just like you said you could feel a certain way on behalf of your girl. It’s the same thing for me.”
I opened my mouth. I was going to say it wasn’t the same thing, but … it was.
It was because he cared about me, and I was really starting to feel that. He’d said it before, but hearing someone cares about you and actually believing someone cares about you are two different things.
A whole warm feeling was spreading through me. It went to my toes and fingers, and I was starting to tingle. “Okay, but I don’t want you to worry about what I’m feeling about him. That make sense?”
He nodded. “It does.” And his hands slid down my sides, rounding to my back, and he pulled me flush up against him. “Since we’re here and we’re alone, wanna stay a bit?”
I’d almost forgotten we were in a nightclub. That said volumes right there.
He pulled me over and we sat in the back booth. As if they’d been watching, giving us privacy, a staff member came in then to check on us. She brought us waters. As soon as she left, he lifted me up so I was on his lap.
We sat like that, not talking.
There weren’t words for how good this felt.
I wasn’t just stepping inside from the cold here. I was inside and there was a fire, and I was getting handed hot chocolate with marshmallows. It was that kind of feeling, and sometime later, I relaxed so much against him that he was cradling me in his arms. My back was to his chest. I was watching the play of lights on the ceiling, and my legs had fallen to the side of his.
I felt like I was in a trance, like where you inhale happiness and contentment, and it filled you up from the inside out. I was so calm that I was breathing out peace and tranquility. It was a trip, the whole thing, and I knew then that I was fucked.
I just didn’t have it in me to care.
From: Koala Boy
Subject: I broke up with Monica.
To: Koala Boy
Subject: Need me to hurt her? I know a Herb who has a vicious dog.
From: Koala Boy
Subject: You’re joking, right?
To: Koala Boy