They saw me, and a few raised their hands in hello. A couple stood back, waiting for me to pass. I had to lift my bag up and over a little kid, and his eyes were bugging out. I grinned down at him. “Hey, kid.”
His mouth fell open.
I kept going.
Everything tensed inside of me.
That wasn’t an easygoing-ready-to-down-some-beers Chad. That was his I-have-to-tell-you-something-you’re-not-going-to-like voice.
My mood was going to take a nosedive. I felt it coming. “What happened?”
He took a breath, and I could hear some voices behind him. Male voices. One sounded younger.
“Who’s with you? That Hunter?”
“I have to tell you something and you’re not going to like it.”
I was just turning the corner for the parking lot, and there, standing just inside the door was Cheyenne. She was with her girls, Cassie included. The other three were talking, but Cheyenne was staring right at me. I took all that in, and I didn’t like what I was seeing or hearing.
Cheyenne had a knowing look in her gaze.
Chad was about to tell me something not good.
I bit into the phone, “What the fuck did you do?”
“I, uh…I got protective of Hunter, and Deek was there, and yeah. Not the proudest moment of my life.”
“Chad.” Another growl from me.
Cheyenne broke off from her group.
I was getting attention, but she was ignoring it.
I was ignoring it, though; I knew I couldn’t ignore it all. Sometimes shit that got overheard got spun and sold to websites and there was a whole section of click-bait hungry people out there, so I had to keep this neutral…for now.
Cheyenne had made her way to me.
I lifted my arm and she moved in, her arms sliding around me and her face touched my chest. I adjusted, putting the phone between my face and shoulder and cupped the back of her head with my hand.
“Hi.” She looked up, a whisper from her.
I smiled back at her, but I was tense. She felt it, and stepped back, a small frown showing. “Cut—”
“Where are you going after the game tonight? I need to explain things. And I think I need to grovel to Cheyenne, too.”
I ignored Chad and asked Cheyenne, “Why would Chad need to grovel to you?”
She stepped back so quick, it was as if she was snatched away.
“She’s there?” Chad in my ear, sounding slightly panicked.
My eyes on Cheyenne, I responded to him, “She’s here.”
He cursed at the same time Cheyenne looked away.
She looked back, and I was looking. I was searching.
Something happened, that was obvious.
I asked, “Why am I getting a really bad feeling here?” That was to her. To Chad, I clipped out, “We’ll be at Bresko’s as long as Cheyenne can handle it. You want to grovel, get your ass there. And fast.”
I hit the end button and held my phone.
“I don’t trust myself to be at the house with him right now. Can you handle Bresko’s?”
She nodded, too quick for my liking. “I was going to ask you, actually. Cassie said a bunch of the guys are going and Melanie wants to go. Those two made up.”
I didn’t give a fuck, but I reached out, and pulled Cheyenne back to me. I just needed to hold her.
I sent Hendrix a text.
Me: In for Bresko’s.
Hendrix. Awesome! See you there. Bring your girl’s friends too.
I showed Cheyenne the text and she nodded.
“Wait a second.” She touched my chest, heading back to her friends.
Cassie was standing next to Melanie, and she tipped her head back.
Cassie was smart. She could read people and she was reading me.
She said something to the others, and it wasn’t long after when Cheyenne was giving each of them a hug and breaking off to head my way.
She got to my side. “Cassie offered to drive the girls.”
Thank you, Cassie.
I put my phone in my pocket, shifted my bag, and reached for Cheyenne’s hand.
Our fingers were laced and we headed out into the masses that way.
I was with Cut, in his truck, heading to Bresko’s, and I just finished updating him on Melassie.
Cassie saw us at the game, came over. She and Melanie talked to the side for a bit. There was crying. There were hugs. Cassie apologized for being wrong, but I didn’t know what she was talking about. In the end, all was good.
“I’m not saying this to come off as an asshole, but I don’t give a flying fuck about Melanie and Cassie.” He glanced sideways to me, his hand tightening on the steering wheel. “Can we fast-track this conversation to where it’s about you and Chad?”
I’d been avoiding it, because who wouldn’t? The whole situation sucked. So, I told him. I told him everything. What I said. What Hunter said. What Chad said. What Deek said.
At the end, he cursed.
It started off soft, then he cursed again.
“Fuck him!” Even louder.
“That godd—” Lots of expletives here. And he finished it with, “Fuck Deek. Fuck Chad. Fuck both of them, but also fuck Natalie. I didn’t know you back then, but fuck her.”
Lots of fucks given here. It was almost like I was in the same vehicle with Melanie.
“Babe.” I reached over, grabbing his hand. “Chad said he needed to do some groveling. Let’s give him the chance?”
He shook his head, a long and deep sigh leaving him. “That’s the thing. It’s too late. He had time to deal with it, whatever is the issue. He doubled down with how he treated you tonight. He had an opportunity to make it right, and he didn’t. Now he’s going to come and he’s going to apologize, but for how long? Until Deek shows up at your shelter’s gala?” He glanced over.
His eyes were bleak, and my heart stopped.
This was costing him his friendship.
I reached out, tightening my hold on his hand. “Chad was your brother.”
“Was.” He looked back, staring out the window. “How do I make that right inside? That someone who was my best friend, my brother, is treating someone I care about like what? What’s even the word, Cheyenne? What you said was right. They’re treating you like you’re a criminal, and you did nothing wrong. Nothing. You were a product of the environment you grew up in, and instead of becoming just like your mom, you made something of yourself, something good, someone who betters the world.”
This was rocking me, in a bad way.
I fell back, my hand loosening over his.
I said, “Back then, I was used to being treated how I was, and it wasn’t just them. There were others. Social workers over time. Teachers. Teacher aides. I got used to it, but I never let ’em in. Never. Because I knew how they viewed me wasn’t what I was on the inside. I was so strong inside that they never made a dent. I don’t want Chad to make a dent. You know I’m not bothered by how he’s treating me.”
“I don’t understand—”