“Or she is just really dedicated,” said Debbie as she sat on the edge of her bed. She sent me a smile. “It’s biology, right? That class is pretty hard and—”
“Biology 101 isn’t hard.” Erik laughed again as he shook his head. For once, I agreed with him, but I might not have found it hard because, oddly enough, science interested me. “What Deb isn’t telling you is that she failed bio her sophomore year and had to take it twice.”
Her cheeks flushed as she folded her arms. “Thanks, Erik.”
He shrugged. “Good thing you’re hot.” He flashed a grin I bet he found charming, but was really just freaking sleazy. “Because the whole intelligence thing? Well . . .”
I glanced over at her and I’d have to be blind and the most unobservant person in the world to not see the hurt and embarrassment in her expression. Anger rose like a serpent about to strike, and my mouth opened before I could stop myself. “You’re a dick.”
Erik’s head whipped toward me, his eyes widening as Debbie gasped. “What?” he demanded.
Too late to take back those words, and I didn’t want to. “You heard me.” I picked up my textbook and notebook. Standing, I shoved them into my bag. “That was a dickish thing to say. Therefore, you are a dick.”
Debbie was frozen on the bed, her mouth wide open. Two points on her cheeks turned pink. Erik’s mouth worked like he had a truckload of nasty words he wanted to unleash on me but was filtering them out. And I bet that filter had a name.
“I’m going to the library.” I smiled sweetly as I slung my backpack over my shoulder and turned to Debbie. “Sorry.”
There was an odd, glassy look to her eyes that caused my stomach to pitch. The satisfaction faded quickly as I stalked out of the room. It wasn’t until I was out in the hallway that I realized what that stare signified.
An antsy, itchy feeling lingered while I spent several hours in the cool, silent library. I shouldn’t have called Erik a dick. Not because he wasn’t one, because he was, but the fear that had filled Debbie’s eyes reminded me of myself.
No one had ever called Jeremy a dick. At least not to his face, but if they had, he would’ve blamed me, and I bet Erik blamed Debbie. And for that I felt terrible.
Realizing I had no idea what I read in the last chapter, I scrubbed my palms down my cheeks. Studying was pointless right now. The words had blurred together. The food chain and ecosystem breakdown made no sense when it should.
I snapped the text shut and glanced across the empty tables. There wasn’t a single soul on the second floor. Sighing, I dug my cell out of my bag. No missed calls or texts. Of course not. Why had I even looked? Wasn’t like I expected Jase to contact me or wanted him to.
When I finally worked up the nerve to go back to my dorm, our suite was empty. Debbie’s bed was tidy. Nothing was broken or out of place, but I wasn’t surprised. Erik hadn’t thrown a destructive temper tantrum yet. Jeremy never had.
It was eight before I decided to hop in the shower and get ready for the party. Part of me wanted to bail, but it was the first party I’d been invited to, and I was either going, facing the possibility of having to deal with Jase, or staying home and feeling sorry for myself.
I opted with leaving the pity party behind for the evening.
And going to the party was a good opportunity to prove to myself that I was done with Jase—that I could be around him without flailing.
After drying my hair, I tugged it up in a loose bun and pulled on a pair of black leggings. The cute shirt was out of the picture, so I settled on a long, loose polka-dotted blouse and my favorite, worn-way-too-much denim skirt. As I slid my feet into a pair of flats, my phone chirped.
Slipping my cell into my back pocket along with my key card, I took a deep breath and then headed out. Tonight will be fun. Tonight will be normal. I would be like any other almost nineteen-year-old heading out to a party. I would have fun.
Parked at the curb, Cam was behind the wheel of Avery’s car. As I trotted up to the back door, Cam was pulling back from the passenger seat, where Avery sat with cheeks as pink as Valentine’s Day cards.
I climbed in the back, grinning. “I’ll be amazed if you guys make it out of college without having procreated a soccer team’s worth of kids.”
I laughed, buckling myself in as Cam’s eyes appeared in the rearview mirror. I gave him a big smile. “What? No kids?”
“Ah, not in the near future,” he replied.
“But that means you guys have thought about it?” I wondered if Jase had ever considered wanting kids with Jack’s mother? Probably not when they were sixteen, but in the future.
Avery’s cheeks were now red. “Not really. I mean, that’s really serious. Not that we’re not serious.” She patted Cam’s arm when he returned his gaze to her. She twisted around, grinning. “Anyway, you look really cute. Love the shirt.”
“Thank you. So do you.” And she did, dressed in jeans and a pretty green shirt that complemented her coloring perfectly. “How many people are going to be at the party?”
“Not many,” Cam answered, spinning the wheel. “It’s not one of their big ones. You’re probably going to be bored.”
“She’s not going to be bored.” Avery grinned. “Jacob had to back out, but Brit is coming.”
I relaxed against the seat in spite of the twisty motion my stomach was doing. “That’s cool.”
A smile crossed my lips. I’d met Ollie, Cam’s old roommate a few times. He’d graduated in the spring and while I hadn’t known him well, I knew enough.
“I think he might be showing up later.” Cam reached over, finding Avery’s hand without looking, and threading his fingers through hers.
I focused my gaze on the window, a little uncomfortable. Not because they were touchy-feely—and they were always touchy-feely—but because there was a little green-eyed bitch that lived in the pit of my stomach. I shouldn’t be jealous of them.
Shaking my head, I cleared my throat. “What is Ollie going to grad school for again?”
My eyes widened. “Are you serious? Holy crap. I didn’t think he was . . .” Um, how did I say this nicely? “I thought he smoked away most of his brain cells.”
“Ollie’s smarter than most people realize,” replied Cam. He blew past the Sheetz, which made me yearn for a jalapeño cheese–stuffed pretzel. “Hell, he’s smarter than he realizes.”
Avery and Cam then fell into a conversation about how they both really believed something was up with Brit and Ollie, but neither of their friends was sharing. Clasping my hands together until my knuckles ached, I focused on the dark shadows outside the car. When Cam hung a right into a subdivision, passing several dark roads with no streetlamps, my breath hitched.
He came to a stop near the end of the street and pulled into an empty spot across from a large, three-story home that appeared to have every light on in the house. Stomach tumbling, I stepped out of the car and inhaled the cool night air. I considered pulling Cam aside and telling him that I knew about Jack, but it didn’t feel right, like it wasn’t my place.
Avery sidled up to my side, looping her arm through mine. “Ready?”
I nodded. As the three of us crossed the street and headed toward the front door, all I could think about was how Jase would react when he saw me. Would he be upset I was there? Would he be happy? Mad?
Fudge on a fucker. It didn’t matter. I was not here for Jase.
Cam held the door open, and Avery led me inside. I’d never been inside a frat house before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was somehow still surprised.
The foyer was clean and smelled pretty good. A line of sneakers was near the doorway, and there weren’t any holes in the walls. I wasn’t sure why I expected to see holes.
“Yo!” Cam shouted, edging past us and into the living room. “What’s up?”
Avery rolled her eyes as she slipped her arm free. “Wow. That wasn’t loud.”
Several guys were in the living room, crowding around a couch and TV. My skin prickled when I recognized Erik. He looked up and then quickly refocused on the game. The way he sat was unnaturally straight. Beside him, Debbie appeared okay. She smiled and gave me a little wave.
I waved back, wanting to apologize for earlier, but I knew right now or when Erik was nearby wouldn’t be a good thing.
Brandon Shriver was beside Erik, a game controller in one hand and a beer in the other. He nodded at me and then turned to Cam, holding up the controller. “Want in?”
“Nah.” Cam slipped his baseball cap around backward. “It’s all yours.”
“Keg’s outside, bro,” said a blond guy I’d never seen before. He was perched on the arm of a worn, old recliner. His dark gaze moved over Avery and then stopped on me. Taking a sip from his bottle, he grinned. “And I think a game of beer pong is on.”
I smiled back. The guy was cute, even if he didn’t have dark hair or gray eyes. Right then, I decided that was a good thing. My smile started to spread.
“Awesome.” Cam turned, dropping his arm over Avery’s shoulder. “And stop staring at my sister, jackass.”
“Cam.” Avery smacked his stomach as I turned away, my face burning. “Stop,” she said, smacking him again.
He shrugged one shoulder as he walked toward the open door leading to the garage. “Hey, I said she could come. I didn’t say she wasn’t going to regret it.”
Hurrying up, I squeezed past them and shoved my elbow into his side. Satisfaction rang throughout me as he grunted. “Last time I checked, I didn’t need your permission, ass wipe.”
I shot him a look that warned if he opened his mouth again, I’d do bodily harm. Flicking the top of my bun, he dodged my swinging arm, bending and kissing Avery’s cheek. “Want to get in on the game of pong?”
She shook her head. “I think I’ll sit this one out. What about you?”
I had no idea how to play beer pong. “Me too.”
“You okay then?” he asked Avery in a low voice, and when she nodded, he kissed her forehead again. “I’ll be right over there.”
My brows arched. Right over there was like, right in front of the empty lawn chairs. As he jogged over to the group of guys clustered around a Ping-Pong table, we headed to the keg and returned to the seats with plastic red cups full to the brim.
I watched my brother with the guys for a few moments as I took a drink of the bitterness. Then another. “Not a lot of girls here.”
Avery leaned back, stretching out her legs. “I don’t come to a lot of the parties, but I think these kinds are more like get-togethers. So it’s usually just girlfriends.”
Wincing, I took another gulp. “Then I’m kind of standing out?”
She smiled at me. “Well . . . you want the truth or the make-you-feel-better truth?”
I laughed. “Hit me with the make-me-cry truth.”
The skin around her eyes crinkled as her smile spread. “Well, let’s just say if you want to meet someone, you’re definitely in the right place.”
Snorting, I gazed at the table. “Like that will happen with Cam around.”
“True. The guy back in the living room?” She took a sip of her beer and then lowered her hands. “His name’s Eddie. I think he’s actually a pretty nice guy, so . . .”
Looking over my shoulder, I couldn’t see into the living room, but I could hear the sounds from the video game and laughter. “Cam would probably pile drive the poor guy if I talked to him.”
Over the next hour we plotted, but that conversation drifted into the trip she and Cam were planning to take to the Poconos during fall break. “That sounds really romantic.”
The apples of her cheeks almost matched her hair. “It was his suggestion.”
“Aw.” I watched him, grinning. Who knew my brother was such a softie? “I’m proud of him.”
A ball zinged past us, smacking into the wall near the dartboard. Avery shook her head as one of the guys half ran, half stumbled after it. “How’s your knee doing?”
“It’s doing okay. Only hurts off and on. I have an appointment the week before Thanksgiving.”
“Keeping my fingers crossed for you.” She glanced over at the table. Cam was doing what I think was a victory dance. Or he was having a seizure.
She nodded. “Yeah. I really do.” There was a quick pause as she swallowed. “What was your favorite recital?”
Her eyes lit up when I told her about the last recital—the one before I majorly screwed up. Although she hadn’t danced for years, I could tell she was still passionate about it. I made a promise at that moment that at some point, I would get her to dance.
I stared into my empty cup, wanting to know where Jase was. I hadn’t seen his Jeep out front, but I knew several of them parked along the back. I didn’t ask because I wasn’t here because of him.