Jase shook his head. “No. He thinks his grandparents are his parents.”
“Why?” I asked the question before I could rethink how intrusive it was. God, that was rude of me. But I wanted to know. I needed to know how Jase, someone who clearly loved that little boy more than life, was letting someone else raise him.
“It’s a mess,” he answered, leaning back in the seat. He rubbed his hand down his face and sighed. “They’ve raised him since birth as their own. Even adopted him. That makes me sound like shit, doesn’t it?” He tilted his head toward me, and pain filled his eyes, causing my chest to clench. “I’m not even raising my own son. My f**king parents are and he doesn’t even know. That makes me so attractive, doesn’t it?”
I blinked rapidly, my mouth hung open, and I had no idea what to say to that.
He laughed harshly as he tipped his head back against the seat. Tension seeped out of his shoulders. “I’m not raising my own kid,” he repeated, and I knew right off that was something he said to himself quite often. “For five years, my parents have raised him. I want to change that, but I can’t take back those years, and how do I change that now? Telling him could f**king destroy his world and I don’t want to do that. It would also break my parents’ hearts, because they think of him as their own.” His eyes closed. “I’m a damn deadbeat dad.”
Jase laughed humorlessly again, and I sat up straighter. “You are not a deadbeat.”
“Oh, come on.” A self-degrading smile appeared. “I just told you I have a kid. I’m almost twenty-two years old and I have a five-year-old that my parents are raising. Do the math, Tess. I was sixteen when he was conceived. Sixteen. Still in high school. Obviously that’s not something to be proud of.”
His gaze sharpened on me and he seemed to toss around that question. “No,” he said quietly. “I’m not ashamed of Jack. I’ll never be. But I am ashamed of the fact that I’m not owning up to my responsibility and being his father.”
I bit down on my lip, wanting to ask so many questions as a truck blew past the entrance road. “So you were sixteen when he was conceived? You were just a kid, right? Just like I was a kid when I was with Jeremy.”
“That’s different.” He closed his eyes. “That doesn’t excuse anything on my end.”
“How many sixteen-year-olds do you know that could be a parent?” I demanded.
“There are many who are.”
“So? That doesn’t mean that every sixteen-year-old is equipped and ready for that. I sure as hell wouldn’t have been. And my parents would’ve helped me out.” I paused, realizing like an idiot that it takes two people to make a baby the last time I checked. “You also weren’t the only person responsible. There had to have been a mom. Where is—?”
“I’m not talking about her,” he said sharply, and I flinched at his tone. “None of this has to do with her at all.”
Whoa. There was definitely some baby mama drama right there.
“And helping isn’t the same thing as adopting.” His eyes opened into thin slits. “When I told my parents what was going on, they were upset, but they wanted me to finish school, go to college and keep playing soccer. They didn’t want me to give all that up.”
“I don’t blame them,” I said softly. But what about the mother?
“So it was either that or give Jack up for adoption, because I wasn’t ready. As f**ked up as this sounds, I didn’t want him at first. I didn’t want anything to do with him; before he was even born or I even laid eyes on him, I gave him up in a way . . .” His voice grew thick and he cleared his throat. It was obvious that whoever the mom was, she was out of the picture the moment Jack was born, and I was dying to know why. “So they filed for adoption and it was granted. Looking back, I realize how f**king selfish I was. I should’ve owned up then, but I didn’t ,and there is nothing I can do to change that right now.”
“But you are a part of his life, Jase. And I can tell that you wish you had done things differently and isn’t that what matters most? That you love him nonetheless?”
Jase tipped his head back again and blew out a breath. “I love him more than life, but it doesn’t excuse the decisions I’ve made.”
Anger smoked its way through me, and I forgot about the mom thing. “You just told me not too long ago that I was too young when I was sixteen—that I couldn’t hold myself responsible for keeping quiet and not telling anyone about Jeremy. My age and general naïveté gives me a pass but not you?”
“Does it? If so, that’s not fair and is seriously subjective in all the wrong ways.” On a roll now, I wasn’t shutting up anytime soon. “You can’t tell me that I need to let go of decisions and actions of the past when you refuse to do the very same!”
Jase drew back against the car seat, throat working as if he searched for the right thing to say but had trouble. “Well, shit. You got me there.”
His lips tipped up at the corner, but his eyes were somber. “You . . . you don’t need all of this.” He turned thundercloud eyes on me. “You’re young and you have all your life ahead of you.”
I raised my brows. “What the hell does that have anything to do with anything? I care about you, Jase. A lot. Okay? And I want to be with you.” My cheeks burned, but I kept going. “That’s obvious, but you’re making choices and getting things all twisted up in your head without even asking me or seeing how I feel about it.”
“And how do you feel about it, Tess?” The line of his jaw hardened as his eyes flashed a heated gray. “You really want to be with me now? After knowing all that? And you think it’s smart for you and me to get involved? What if we do? And what if you get close to Jack?”
I folded my hands against my chest. “Why wouldn’t you want me to get close to him? I thought you said I’d be—”
“You are planning on leaving, Tess. You aren’t thinking about sticking around. And I’ll be damned if that boy gets hurt just because you want to get laid.”
I jerked back, flinching. Tears crawled up my throat and burned behind my eyes. Was that what he really thought? After all I’d said? After everything he’d said and done for me? That he summed everything up in me wanting to get laid?
Knowing that’s how he really thought of me stung worse than rejection.
“You know something, Jase?” My voice wavered, but I forged on. “The fact you have a kid who is being raised by your parents or that you won’t even breathe the mother’s name isn’t what would push me away or make me think differently of you. It’s the way you act and how you make such fucked-up assumptions that does that.”
Jase didn’t show up for class on Friday.
Part of me wasn’t surprised as the lecture started on the baroque music period and Jase was a no-show. The ride back to campus yesterday once he pulled out of his driveway had been filled with tense silence.
What I had said to him had been true. Yeah, I was mind blown by the fact that Jack was his kid. That had been the last thing I’d been expecting. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and holy crapola that was true in this case. But I didn’t think of him differently. Not really. Okay. That wasn’t completely true. Of course, I thought of him slightly differently. He was a dad for crying out loud. I didn’t even know any dads close to my age, but it didn’t make me think less of him, and it hadn’t deterred how I felt about him. Granted, a relationship with him would be hard.
It would’ve been hard anyway.
But he had a little boy he might one day tell the truth to, and any girl in Jase’s future would have to be okay with that and be ready. Who knows if I ever would be, but he hadn’t given me the chance.
Like I’d said to him, it was how he viewed me that had hurt. That he believed I would get involved with Jack’s life without being aware of how a sudden departure could affect him.
Every so often, Jase’s eyes had found mine on the drive back and then he’d look away quickly. The only thing he’d said to me was good-bye. That was it.
And that made my heart ache.
Jase hadn’t called, and I refused to be the one to reach out like I did last time, only to be coldly ignored.
As stupid as it might’ve made me, my heart bled for him. In spite of his dickdom when it came to me, he loved that little boy and it was killing him, the choices that he’d made when he was just a kid.
Just like my choices haunted me.
And then there was the issue of the absentee mother that he absolutely refused to speak about. Where was she? Did she still live around here? And did the sharpness in his voice come from a broken heart?
A pang lit up my chest, and I wanted to punch myself. There was no way I could be jealous of a woman who was nameless to me, but there was something there—something big—and I had a feeling that his reluctance to get seriously involved with anyone had more to do with her than it did with Jack.
He’d said I was a mistake, and although he’d admitted something so big and so honest with me, it didn’t really change how he viewed me. Yeah, I got why he pushed me away, but it didn’t alter the outcome.
I shouldn’t have let him kiss me. Wasn’t like I didn’t know how it was going to end, but the ache in my chest throbbed as I glanced at the empty seat beside me. I’d barely slept last night, and when morning had come, the hurt had settled deep inside me. My feelings and thoughts had all twisted up into a messy ball.
I hadn’t kissed him—not this time or the first time. It wasn’t me who had reasons to not be in a relationship. It was him, and he was the one who kept making moves, kept going from the kind of kisses that drugged the soul to shoving me away.
I didn’t have a fountain of experience when it came to boys and sex and friends, but I knew enough to know that he’d been hot for me before he’d kissed me. His body had proved that the moment he’d put his arms around me while we fed Lightning. And I did get that lust and feelings were totally different things.
Hell, I fell in and out of lust about three times a week depending on who I saw.
And I understood that just because he had a son didn’t mean he stopped wanting to get it on—and Jase wanted me. But was it more substantial?
It had to be more. He wanted to help me experience something other than dancing and what he said yesterday about what had happened with Cam not being my fault had meant a lot. That meant he had to care, right? Of course he cared somewhat because I was Cam’s sister . . . damnit.
Irritation pricked my skin as I shifted in my seat, clutching the pen until the cap cracked. I stroked the flame until it turned into an orb of anger—anger was better than hurt.
God, what pissed me off even more was that I was sitting in music appreciation for God’s sake and would probably fail my midterm because I had spent the last thirty minutes obsessing over that jackass.
“The baroque period saw the creation of tonality,” said Professor Gibson. “Tonality is a language of music where a specific hierarchical pitch is based on a key center—the tonic triad.”
Phasing in halfway through the lecture, I had absolutely no clue what Gibson was talking about and as he continued, so did my confusion.
“The common, most well-known composers of the baroque period are Johann Sebastian Bach . . .”
I was going to Sebastian Bach Jase right in the face.
“You okay?” Calla asked as the lecture grew to a close.
I packed up my notebook and nodded. “Yeah, I’m just tired.”
She didn’t say anything as she stood. In history class, she had asked about yesterday and because I had no idea how to put any of what happened into words that didn’t involve several f**k bombs, I’d told her everything had been great.
Despite it being sunny, the chill in the air when we left the arts building made me glad for once that I was wearing jeans. Poor Calla, in her red cotton shorts, looked like she was about to freeze her bum off.
“You know, when Gibson talks about Sebastian Bach, all I can think of is that rock singer in the eighties who was really hot. I doubt the real—”As we rounded the corner, she drew in a deep breath. “Oh boy . . .”
Curious, I followed her gaze as I wrapped my arms around my waist. I squinted. A guy with close-cropped brown hair was heading across the packed parking lot. There was a line of cars heading in and out, and he cut between a Volkswagen and a van. Dressed in nylon dark blue pants and a gray Shepherd shirt that stretched over broad shoulders and a nice chest, he looked like he could’ve stepped out of any welcome-to-college advertisement.
I’d seen him a couple of times around Whitehall. He was hard to miss, with handsome angular features and wide, expressive lips. I glanced at Calla. “Who’s that?”
“You don’t know him?” she asked, tugging on the hem of her shorts. “That’s Brandon Shriver.”
“Brandon Shriver?” I pulled my sunglasses out of my bag and slipped them on. “I like the name.”
“So do I. But I’m surprised you don’t know him. He’s friends with Cam and Jase.”
I forced a grin. Jase. I was currently pretending that guy didn’t exist. Wasn’t working very well.