“I didn’t mean to,” Erik said, voice pitched high. “She was in the way. It was an accident. Tell her it was an accident!”
My hands curled into fists as my heart pumped erratically.
“Teresa,” whispered Debbie. I could feel her kneeling beside me. She placed a cold, trembling hand on my arm. “Say something.”
Pressing my lips together, I shook my head. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at my knee, because—oh God—I knew. I knew. The pain was too intense, too lasting. It wasn’t just hurt.
Erik bailed quickly, waiting for Debbie in the lobby below. He was lucky, because if I could walk like a normal person, I’d be kicking his ass across campus.
“I’m sorry,” Debbie said for the hundredth time as she helped me up on the bed. “I’m so—”
“Stop,” I snapped, taking a deep breath as my leg jerked from a painful spasm. “Stop apologizing. It wasn’t your fault.”
She backed away, hands clasped together. “He didn’t mean to do it.”
My mouth opened, but I sucked in a sharp breath as a slice of pain traveled up my leg.
“Do you need some ice?” she asked.
Grinding my teeth, I nodded. By the time she returned with a pillowcase wrapped around ice, I’d managed to straighten out my knee and roll up my pant leg. The skin around my knee looked puffy. Not good. I hissed as I placed the ice on it.
Taking another shallow breath, I looked at her. “He might not have really meant to do that, but he was pissed. He didn’t stop to think when he swung that bag around. Or maybe he did, and he just didn’t care.”
Tears pooled in her eyes. “I know he didn’t mean to.”
Falling silent, I adjusted the ice. My head was numb. Too many things were running through my thoughts.
She hesitated near the bed, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Several moments passed before she spoke. “Please . . . please don’t tell anyone.”
My head swung toward her sharply. I couldn’t believe she would ask that of me, and then my heart jumped. Hadn’t I asked the same of my mom and then Cam? Please don’t tell anyone? Because I had been afraid of how Jeremy would react.
The moment to confide in Debbie was here, but she rushed forward and hugged me around the arms and whispered, “Please.”
I didn’t say anything as she left because it was a promise I wasn’t sure I could keep. Lowering my gaze, I slowly eased up the makeshift bag. My skin was red from the cold.
My ringer on my cell phone went off an hour or so later, but I didn’t even look at it. Lying on my back, I’d shoved a pillow under my knee to keep it elevated. By the time I had to hobble down the hall for more ice, the pain had become a constant ache that spiked every so often, as if someone had placed a lit match against my skin.
My knee was swollen. The ice and elevation weren’t helping. I hadn’t heard a pop when I fell, but the swelling was bad news bears. And I knew I couldn’t test my weight on it. Not yet.
There were two more calls that night. Out of the three, two of them were from Jase, but I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. Last night . . . last night now felt like forever ago.
I stared at the phone, lip trembling as it signaled a message being left. As the screen blinked black, I reached for it, but drew up short. I couldn’t talk to him yet. If I did, there was a good chance I’d lose it.
Because if my knee was blown again, everything changed. This wouldn’t be temporary. There would be no going back to the studio. This . . . I looked around the dorm . . . this would truly be my life. This whole time I’d been faking it.
I pulled my hand back and rested my forehead against my palm. Another spasm rolled up my leg. I couldn’t deal with this again—the pain, the surgery, the rehab. But this time . . . I shuddered. This time would be different because the worst possible thing you could do to a torn ACL was to reinjure it. Doing so increased the chances of permanent instability.
And I wouldn’t be able to dance again.
When I finally slept, I don’t think I dreamed, and when I woke, the swelling had increased until my knee looked twice its size. I didn’t even consider getting more ice. I knew it wouldn’t do any damn good. I had no crutches, so there was no way I was walking to class. I stayed in my bed as acid churned in my stomach.
My cell went off a few minutes after music class would’ve started. Thinking it was Calla or Debbie—who’d sent me two texts checking in that I hadn’t responded to—I was surprised to see it was from Jase. I still hadn’t checked his message.
Squeezing my eyes shut until they burned, I sat up a little. He deserved a response, even after all those times he ignored me. This wasn’t about him. I sent him a quick message back.
His response was immediate.
Scrubbing my suddenly wet eyes, I texted back a quick yes, and then tossed the phone on the foot of the bed.
I knew I needed to call Dr. Morgan and Mom, but the mere thought of doing so caused my chest to seize. The pain and swelling—I already knew what it meant. My future and my dreams were over. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that.
Another shudder worked its way through me. Curling onto my side, I wrapped my arm around my pillow and shoved my face in it. The soft material quickly became damp. They weren’t big tears. Just silent and unending. The hurt in the pit of my stomach was as strong as the pain in my knee.
It was a little after twelve thirty when there was a sharp rap on the door. I had no idea who it could be. Maybe my yet-to-be-seen suitemates? Frowning, I hastily wiped my cheeks as I sat up, and then cleared my throat. “Come in.”
I tugged the quilt over my right leg. I don’t know why I wanted to hide it. Maybe it was like if no one else saw it, then it wasn’t true. Sort of a stupid mentality, but I was barely holding myself together. I was seconds away from throwing myself to the floor and flailing.
The door opened, and I blinked once and then twice, thinking I was seeing things, but the person before me didn’t vanish.
Jase strolled into my room, like he’d done it a million times. He was dressed in jeans and a black, long-sleeve shirt, and a plastic bag dangled from his long fingertips. He drew up short when he spotted me.
Concern filled his gray eyes. “Wow. You do look rough.”
A small smile crossed his lips as he came forward. “You don’t look that bad.” He sat on the edge of the bed, placing the bag on the floor between his feet. “Should I be worried?”
My brows rose. I was still too stunned by seeing him to understand where he was going with that statement.
“Is whatever you have contagious?” he clarified.
“Oh. No.” I paused, peeking up at him through damp lashes. “Why are you here?”
“Why?” He coughed out a laugh. “Seems pretty obvious.” Bending over, he picked up the bag and pulled out a plastic container. “Chicken noodle soup. Not for the soul. But for your hopefully not contagious disease.”
That damn fluttering feeling was back with a vengeance. I took the warm container and plastic spoon. A ginger ale bottle appeared next, and he placed that on the nightstand, then a pink box. A cupcake. I wanted to cry. “If you are so worried about getting sick, why did you come?”
One side of his lips curved up again. “Well, considering what we did Saturday night, I think that concern is beside the point.”
“And I figured you were worth the risk,” he added, rolling the bag up and tossing it in the wastebasket by the desk. “Knowing that should make you already feel better.”
I laughed, but the smile slipped off my face as I peeled the lid off the soup. What he’d done had rocked me straight to the center of my chest. I wasn’t sick, but there was no way I was going to deny this feeling. In spite of the dull ache in my leg and what it meant, warmth bubbled up my chest.
“Thank you,” I said, my voice hoarse. “This . . . this was really nice of you.”
Dipping the spoon into the noodle heavy soup, I took a healthy swallow to help ease the lump in my throat. What he’d done was a big deal. Tears burned my eyes again. I was turning into a big crybaby, but these tears were different. I wanted to tackle-hug him. I wanted to rain kisses all over his beautiful face. I wanted to be able to get up and do those things without hobbling through it. Him being here wasn’t the equivalent of him professing his undying love for me, but it meant something—something more than stolen kisses.
When I looked at him, he was studying me closely—too closely. I averted my attention to the soup.
“I was worried last night,” he admitted quietly. “When you didn’t answer, I thought . . . well, I thought you were ignoring me.”
Holding the container close, I gathered up some noodles. “I wasn’t.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you had, especially when I’ve done the same to you.” He thrust his fingers through his hair, and as soon as he dropped his hand, his hair flopped back over his forehead. “I don’t think I ever apologized for that.”
My heart rate picked up. Where was all this coming from? And why right now, when it felt like my kneecap was about to jump out of my leg totally alien-monster style.
“So I’m sorry about that. And when I made the comment about you just wanting to get laid. I know that’s not what you want. You’re better than that and you deserve more than that. I know that doesn’t mean a lot, but it wasn’t the right way, and in the end, it was f**king pointless because here you are and I can’t stay away from you.” He twisted toward me, leaning his upper body over my legs. “You know about Jack, but—”
His hip pressed into my knee, and I jerked. My body jackknifed as the slicing pain traveled up my leg. His hand snatched out lightning quick, catching the container of soup before it spilled all over me. Blood drained from my face as I slammed my hands into the bed, clutching the sheets.
“Jesus! What happened?” He jumped up like the bed had bitten his ass. “Are you okay?”
Reeling from the sharpness, I could only nod. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly, after several moments, the pain dulled back to a throb. My fingers eased off the sheets, and I forced my gaze up.
Jase stared at me. He glanced at my leg, and then my face. “You aren’t sick, are you? You’ve been crying. That’s why you look that way.” Before I could respond, he snatched the quilt and flipped it over. “Shit, Tess, your knee. Fuck. I didn’t know. I’m—”
He raised wide eyes to mine. “How did this happen?”
“I came down on it wrong Sunday night.” The lie came out easier than the truth. Guilt immediately settled like a stone in my stomach. Hand shaking, I brushed my hair out of my face. “I think I’ve really messed it up.”
“You think?” He put the container of soup on the nightstand. “How much pain are you in?”
I watched him gingerly sit on the edge of the bed. “It comes and goes.”
“Me sitting on it didn’t help, huh?”
Jase reached over, catching the strand of hair that kept falling in my face. He tucked it back. “Have you told Cam? Your mom?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t want them to worry.”
“Want more soup?” When I nodded, he handed it off. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, so this was doing my tummy good. “But sitting here with your leg like this isn’t helping anyone, Tess.”
“I know,” I whispered, ducking my gaze. I focused on his jaw as I scooped up noodles. Nice area to stare at. There was a thin blanket of stubble covering his lower cheek, giving him a rough, sexy look.
Jase ran a hand through his hair. “Then I’m guessing you haven’t called your doctor?”
Swallowing a mouthful of chicken noodle soup, I shook my head again.
“Okay. Then that’s the first thing we need—hold up.” He reached over, sweeping his thumb along my chin, catching the broth and causing me to flush. “We need to call your doctor. And don’t give me any shit. We need to do that. And we need to do that now.”
He let me finish my soup before he retrieved my cell from the foot of the bed. Handing it over, he waited, arms crossed, until I found my doctor’s contact. I had to leave a message, but the call was returned quickly. An appointment was set up for tomorrow morning, and my heart was already pounding with the ugliness of it all.
“I’ll take you,” Jase announced after returning from the hall, where he’d disposed of the soup container.
“What?” I pushed myself up against the headboard.
He was matter-of-fact. “I’ll take you tomorrow. He’s at WVU, right?”
“But you haven’t even told Cam yet or your mom, so how do you expect to get there? Hitch a ride?” His grin was full of arrogance. “I can miss my classes tomorrow. It won’t be a big deal. And if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t offer. So don’t argue with me.”