As I stared at him, a knot climbed up and got lodged in my throat. Tears filled my eyes.
His pupils dilated as he dropped my hand and cupped my cheeks. “Baby, why are you about to cry? Did I—”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said quickly, my voice cracking. “You did everything perfectly.”
I laughed hoarsely. “It’s okay.” Leaning over, I kissed him. Whoever Jack’s mom was, was truly missing out. “It’s perfect.”
“You sure? Fuck what I think is right and wrong. Because I can get na**d in like two seconds flat and be inside you quicker than that.”
Jase rested his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. His warm breath danced over my lips. “I want to take you out on a date. I want to take you horseback riding. I want to tell your brother. I want to take you home to my parents and introduce you as my girlfriend. I want to prove this means more to me. I want to do this the right way.”
My chest squeezed under the pressure of what I felt for him in that moment. If I hadn’t already tumbled head over heels in love with him, I would’ve tonight, but I was already lost in him. Those three little words formed on my tongue, but I kept them to myself as I snuggled closer, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to just enjoy his closeness and his almost desperate want to do this the right way.
In spite of all the stuff running through my head, I slept like the dead after Jase left, waking up oddly refreshed. I’d thought Wednesday morning would be hard to face, waking up to a future I hadn’t planned, but if anything, what I really felt was an odd sense of anticipation.
As I got ready for classes, I received a text from Jase. He wouldn’t be in music but would be there to pick me up afterward. When I asked if everything was okay, he’d replied with a quick text saying everything was cool.
Excitement was palpable in the halls of Whitehall. Somehow I’d forgotten that we didn’t have classes Thursday or Friday. Fall break—a four-day weekend. History wasn’t nearly as crowded, but maneuvering with crutches was still damn inconveniencing.
Sympathy clouded Calla’s face when she got an eyeful of me and my crutches. “What happened?”
As I sat awkwardly in the chair, I told her I’d lost my balance on Sunday. I didn’t mention anything about Erik or Debbie. Not because I cared what people thought about the asshole, but I didn’t want Debbie to have to deal with it. Somewhere between yesterday morning and today, I decided Deb and I were going to have a nice long chat the next time she was in the dorm. I was going to tell her the truth—of what happened to me. It might not make a difference, but maybe it would.
“My knee is too unstable and it will most likely stay that way.” My stomach dipped at those words, as if saying them made it somehow more real. “It shouldn’t have given out on me Sunday, so . . .”
She leaned forward, lowering her voice. “So no dancing?”
Unable to say those words, I shook my head.
I wasn’t very talkative after that. The whole “refreshed” mood evaporated when we missed the bus to west campus and I had to hoof it over. My armpits were killing me by the time we hit the arts center, and they still ached when I hobbled out at the end of class.
God knows how long I had to worry with these crutches. My lips slipped into a scowl as I tried to balance myself and pull down the back of my shirt. It would be so much easier if I didn’t have classes on both sides of the campus. I could drop music. Or if I dropped history, then I only had to go from my dorm to music then to east campus—
I cut those thoughts off. Dropping classes was like quitting. Giving up. I would not do that. No matter how much of a pain in my ass this would become.
“There’s your man,” Calla said, causing me to almost topple over as I stood on the pavilion.
I almost asked her how she knew, but then I realized that she was just teasing me. I wanted to tell Calla about us, but I needed to tell Cam first. Strangely, it didn’t seem real until then. Like if I couldn’t announce it on Facebook, then it hadn’t happened yet.
I rolled my eyes at that and turned to her. “I’ll see you later.”
She waved good-bye as I painstakingly made my way to where he was idling in the no parking zone. Jase got out and jogged around to my side. Brown hair curled out from under the gray knit skullcap he wore. I decided it was a good look for him.
He opened my door and then took my crutches, placing them in the back, and when he turned to me, he started to lower his head, as if he were going to kiss me hello. My insides tensed. He stopped short, let out a deep breath, and then cupped my elbow.
“Up you go,” he said, and I shivered at the deepness in his voice.
Once he was in the Jeep, I glanced over at him. “Did you get everything taken care of this morning?”
“Yeah.” His gaze flicked to the rearview mirror. A campus police cruiser was coming around the bend. With a quick, satisfied grin, he pulled out before they could get him for where he was parked. “Mom called me early this morning. Jack was sick all night. Throwing up.”
“Oh no, is he okay?”
He nodded. “He’s got a bug. Doc said he just needed to drink lots of fluids and rest. He’ll be out of school the rest of the week. He was pretty upset about that.”
“Yeah, he loves his teacher and going to school.” He paused, rubbing his chin. “Hopefully he stays like that.”
I leaned toward him. “Did you like going to school when you were little?”
He laughed. “Hell no. I skipped more than I went to class—Jack’s different, though. He will be different.”
I smiled at that, silently wishing him luck.
“If he’s feeling better this weekend, I thought we could . . . I don’t know, take him out to lunch or something?”
That was huge. I nodded eagerly, a little nervous. What if Jack woke up one morning and decided he hated me? Kids were fickle like that.
Since a lot of students had already bailed for the four-day weekend, we didn’t have any problem finding a parking spot near the Den, and the place was practically empty as I walked in. Jase carried my bag and slowed his long-legged steps to match mine.
Only Cam and Avery were at the table, sharing a slice of pizza. I opted for a hot dog and fries—breaking up the monotony of greasy hamburgers—and Jase, I think, got an entire pizza judging by the stacks of slices on his plate.
Sitting down across from the lovebirds, I stretched out my right leg. “I’m surprised you guys are here. I thought you were heading up to Pennsylvania?”
“We are.” Cam swiped a handful of fries off my plate and didn’t even bother to look guilty. “We’re leaving tonight.”
She nodded rapidly, causing her high ponytail to bounce. “I’ve never been there, so I can’t wait.”
“What are you guys planning to do there?” Jase dropped an elbow on the table, and as he leaned forward, he picked up the second slice of pizza and lowered his other hand under the table. “I mean, what do you do in the Poconos? Stare at trees?”
Cam snorted. “No. There’s hiking, indoor saunas, wine, fishing—I’m taking Avery fishing. She’s never done it . . .”
As my brother went on . . . and on, Jase shifted closer, pressing his right leg against my left one. A second later, his hand landed just above my knee. My eyes widened as I stilled, hot dog halfway to my mouth.
“And we’re renting a boat on Saturday,” Cam continued, sending Jase a meaningful look that made me drop my hot dog.
Did he see what was Jase was doing? Oh God . . .
Cam frowned at me. “You okay over there?”
“Yeah,” I squeaked, and grabbed my hot dog as Jase’s hand crept up my leg. “So, um, a boat?”
My brother said something that made the skin around Avery’s eyes crinkle as she laughed, but I was too focused on Jase’s hand curving over my upper thigh. I took a deep breath when he leaned over, plucking up a few fries, using the closeness to his advantage.
His hand slipped between my thighs.
Heat flooded my face as I ducked my chin, but the warmth also went way south, traveling to one point, right where his hand was heading. He wouldn’t do it.
“What kind of boat is it?” Jase asked, and dear God, he sounded completely at ease.
Whatever boat Cam was renting totally wasn’t even on my radar. Jase’s hand inched closer, the tips of his fingers brushing the band covering the zipper of my jeans.
I drew in a deep breath as my hand tightened around the hot dog. Pieces of the bun crumbled. He wouldn’t go any farther. No way.
“So what are you doing?” Avery asked, resting her chin in her hands.
“Nothing really, I’m going—” Words were cut off when those long fingers slipped down the band and pressed in. Sensation flared. A sharp pulse shot through me. I don’t know how I didn’t jump.
Cam tilted his head to the side. “Yeah, what?”
“I’m going to . . .” I placed my bun on the plate as he slid his finger down and then up, tugging on the jeans. The motion increased the intensity, creating an ache deep inside me.
“You need to get a car,” Cam said. “Then you could at least go home and visit Mom and Dad.”
Jase’s hand moved to my thigh, and I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or disappointed. My body throbbed, but my head cleared a little. “Well, I’ll buy the car with my imaginary money from my imaginary job.”
He made a face. “I know damn well Mom and Dad are giving you money.”
“Yeah, like to buy food. Not a car,” I replied.
“You’re leaving your truck here, right?” Avery picked up her water. “Maybe she could—”
“Oh, hell no to that.” Cam looked at Avery like she was crazy. “She is not driving my truck.”
Jase kept his hand on my thigh, and by the time lunch was done, I was torn between wanting to punch Jase and climb up on him, rip his pants open, and—
“Hey,” Cam said, interrupting my really inappropriate thoughts. “I need to talk to you for a second. You done with lunch?”
My stomach tumbled like a baby rolling down the hill. “Sure,” I said as I peeked at Jase. He didn’t look worried. Not that he should be worried. Cam wouldn’t hurt him too badly once he found out, especially since Jase had confided in me.
I said good-bye to Avery and followed Cam outside on my crutches. We didn’t go too far, stopping under one of the large maples that had turned dizzying shades of golds and reds. As Cam flipped his baseball hat around backward, I tugged my cardigan close. The chill in the air wasn’t too bad, but it had a decent bite to it.
“What’s up?” I asked, feeling like I was about to hurl up what little I’d eaten.
Cam smiled, but it faded as he took a deep breath. Unease unfurled in my belly as he looked at me. Oh God, it was about Jase and me. He knew. We should’ve told him. Granted, it only happened yesterday, but we should’ve—
“I’m proposing to Avery this weekend,” he blurted out.
“I’m proposing to Avery this weekend—on the boat. It’s just going to be her and me. Going to have the boat loaded with flowers and chocolate. The ring . . . isn’t too big. Only two carats.”
“Yeah, and I’m going to put it on one of the roses.” The hollows of his cheeks flushed. “Anyway, I just wanted to let—”
I snapped out of it. Happiness bubbled up like champagne inside me. In my haste, I almost toppled over as I awkwardly maintained my grip on the crutches and got one arm around him. “Oh my God!” I squealed. “Cam, you’re going to get married!”
“Well, hopefully.” He hugged me back, and when he drew away, he was smiling broadly. “If she says yes.”
“Of course she’s going to say yes.” I was grinning so hard my face hurt. “Oh, I’m so happy for you two! She’s such a sweet girl and I love her and I love you!”
Cam laughed deeply and hugged me again. “She’s . . . she’s perfect.”
I nodded. “When are you doing it? Saturday?” When he nodded, I was exceptionally glad I hadn’t said anything to him about Jase. Not when he was about to do this. He needed to be completely focused on Avery and his plans. “Call me or text me when she says yes. You have to promise me.”
I squealed again, earning a few strange looks from people passing on the sidewalk. I gave him one more epically awkward hug, and then I saw Jase exiting the double doors, carrying my bag.
“Here comes your little helper.” Cam smirked as he kissed my cheek. “I’m gonna get back to Avery.”
“Good luck, but you don’t need it.”
The usual cockiness was gone when he glanced back at me. “You really don’t think so?”