“I don’t know if it’s going to be a huge thing.” Jase had devoured the hamburger and now had moved on to the fries. “I know Erik and Brandon are supposed to be running it. You’re going, right?” he asked Cam.
Cam glanced at Avery first. Too cute. “Are we?”
She bit her lip and nodded. “I think so.”
I didn’t know a whole ton about Avery, but I knew going to a party was a big deal. She didn’t seem to be into those kinds of things.
Brit and Jacob planned on going, and I turned my attention to the salad, digging out the cucumbers. In high school, I didn’t get to go to a lot of parties because of dance, so I really had no idea what to expect from a college one. Not that it looked like I was going to find out anytime soon.
“You’re coming, right?” Jase asked, and I wondered who he was talking to. Then I felt his foot tap mine under the table, and I looked up. His brows rose. “Tess, you’re coming?”
I blinked tightly as surprise washed over me. “Yeah,” I croaked, and then cleared my throat. “Yes. I can go.”
“Wait. What?” Cam dropped his arm from Avery. Holy shit. Hold the presses. He wasn’t touching her. He leaned forward, eyeing me with identical blue eyes. “You are eighteen—”
“I’m almost nineteen,” I interrupted, deciding that made a big difference. After all, my birthday was November the second, and we were less than a month away.
“Yeah, still, you’re not legal.” Cam glanced over at Jase. “You seriously just invited her to a frat party?”
Oh my God, I was going to kill my brother.
Jase popped a fry in his mouth. “You’re taking your girlfriend to a frat party.”
“I don’t like the idea of you hanging out at a frat house. Those guys there—”
Brit giggled. “Cam, when did you start going to frat parties?”
“And don’t say it’s different,” I jumped in, stabbing a piece of lettuce. “Because you were partying when you were fifteen.”
Cam sat back, and that’s when I saw that Avery’s hand had been on his thigh this whole time. False alarm. They had not stopped touching. “It is different,” he insisted. “I’m a guy.”
“I’m not the one who needs a haircut.” Cam picked up his bottle of water. “I’m half tempted to start braiding it.”
“I’d be down for that.” Jacob piped up, smiling. “I’m really good with braiding.”
Jase sucked in his bottom lip. “I think I’ll pass on that, but thanks.”
He sighed. “Story of my life.”
Avery tucked a strand of hair back behind her ear. “You should really come and hang out with us. Cam—” She shot him a look that shut him up in a second. “Cam will be okay with it. We’ll actually give you a ride.”
My brother opened his mouth again, but this time it was Jase who swooped in. “And if Cam doesn’t want to give you a ride, I will. Either way, you’re going. It’s official.”
“Or I can,” Brit offered. “Then again, I’m not the best driver, so—”
My smile spread as Cam was universally defeated. Excitement swelled in me, and I felt sort of lame, but it was my first college party. My gaze drifted across from me. I needed to find something cute to wear. A sexy new shirt would be nice. Maybe I could convince Avery to go shopping with me.
Jacob shook his head as his gaze centered on something behind us. “Man, there they go again.”
Cringing, Brit ducked her chin and smacked her hand over her eyes. “I can’t even watch. I’m serious. I get secondhand embarrassment.”
Twisting halfway in my seat, I immediately saw what they were talking about. My stomach sunk as I watched Debbie and Erik standing at the end of the tables, in front of the ram painted on the wall. Erik’s mouth was running a mile a minute and her cheeks were pale.
I nodded, watching them over my shoulder. “Yeah. Her boyfriend . . . he’s . . .”
“He’s a dick,” Jase replied, and I twisted back around in surprise. He picked up a fry. “He’s like a grade A f**king dick.”
“It’s the truth.” Cam turned toward Avery, wrapping his arms around her waist. He rested his chin on her shoulder, closing his eyes. “I mean, he can be cool, but he doesn’t know how to act right.” Pausing, he kissed the side of her neck. “I, on the other hand, do.”
My gaze met Jase’s for a second, and I couldn’t help myself. I glanced over my shoulder again. Erik had ahold of Debbie’s arms, and now her lips were moving fast. Whatever they were saying was gaining the attention of the table in front of them.
I wanted to get up and rip Erik’s hands away. Actually, I wanted to get up and kick him in the balls. As I forced myself to turn back around, words bubbled up in my throat—words that were suspicions.
Jacob shook his head as he raised his arms, stretching. “Girls are stupid. No offense or anything.”
“Care to explain?” Avery leaned back into Cam’s embrace, and those two were the picture of how couples in love should look like.
“Come on, I don’t care what he’s packing in his jeans, how smart he is, or how cool.” Jacob sat back, eyeing where Debbie and Erik had moved to stand just outside the open doors, still arguing. Debbie looked close to tears. “Any girl who puts up with that shit is f**king stupid.”
I stiffened, my fork halfway to my mouth. The piece of lettuce dangled there. Brit, like Jacob, was basically unaffected by the statement. Both of them had no idea that I had been one of those f**king stupid girls. And while I would never actively be that girl again, wouldn’t I always be that girl?
Cold fingers drifted down my spine as I lowered my hand. My appetite was officially slaughtered. Avery had fallen silent; so had Jase and my brother. Of course, they knew. I hadn’t told Avery, but I knew Cam had told her, because I had, in some ways, f**ked up his life this many years later.
Because I didn’t have the courage or the common sense or the whatever necessary to tell the truth, or to simply leave Jeremy, my silence had kick-started a chain of events that had almost destroyed my brother.
“I’m going to go ahead and head to class.” Picking up my backpack, I slung it over my shoulder as I stood. “I don’t want to get caught in the rain.”
“I’ll see you guys later.” I kept my gaze on my salad as I picked it up, not daring to look at anyone.
Dumping my food, I headed out the entrance we came in, purposefully avoiding the side where I’d seen Erik and Debbie. Thick, ominous clouds had rolled in and the scent of rain was strong, but it hadn’t started yet.
A knot had crawled into my throat as I stepped onto the sidewalk. Jacob hadn’t meant anything by what he said. I got that, but the truth in his words still stung. It was more than just the embarrassment. I didn’t want to think about Jeremy—ever again. Except he kept popping up like a damn cold sore. If I could have my time with him scrubbed from my memory, I would.
Maybe you’re not quite over what he did, whispered a snotty, annoying inner voice that I immediately told to shut up.
Halfway up the hill, I stopped and turned as my heart did the same thing it did every time I heard his voice. It didn’t matter that I’d just spent a good two hours with him, or the fact that my less than perfect past had just exploded all over our lunch table. I was hopeless.
There was a slight smile on his face as he came to me. Gently taking my arm, he steered me off the sidewalk, out of the path of the moving crowd. Coming to stand under a tree, I tightened my grip on my bag.
“You ran off quickly,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to ask you something.”
He was still holding my arm, his hand warm and strong against my skin. “What?”
Jase looked at me as if Jacob had never said anything, and like I hadn’t just run off with my tail between my legs. Instead, he smiled as he slid his hand down my arm, circling his long fingers around my wrist.
Dear God in heaven, if Cam stepped outside right now and saw this . . .
“What are you doing after class tomorrow?” he asked.
My eyes widened and holy moly, it was like a million run-on sentences invaded my brain all at once. Was he? Did he? Is he? I had to literally stop and force my head to work right. “Um . . . I get out of class at one, but I don’t have anything planned.”
I waited for more of an explanation, but there wasn’t one. “Good?”
“Yep.” He stepped in, so close his shoes brushed my toes. “Because you have plans now.”
Calla stood in the doorway, holding a Twizzler. “So you have no idea what you’re doing today?”
“No.” I tugged on the hem of my tank top. “All Jase said was to dress to be outside. This is good enough, right?”
Her gaze swept over my jeans and sneakers. “It’s still a little warm outside, buddy. Might want to rethink the jeans.”
I gazed longingly at the tiny closet and the pair of lonely shorts that resided in there, but I really didn’t want to spend whatever we were doing worrying about him staring at my scar. Not that I should care about that, but I obviously did. And it wasn’t that warm, not like it had been a month ago. “I’ll keep the jeans.”
She studied me as she twisted the edge of her ponytail between her fingers. “It’s not that noticeable, you know. Just saying. Anyway,” she went on before I could say a word, “where’s Debbie?”
I glanced at the empty, unslept-in in bed. “I don’t know.” I hadn’t seen her since sometime yesterday, and she’d only been in the room for seconds before rushing off.
“Good question.” I dragged my gaze from the bed. “I have yet to see them.”
“Weird,” she whispered, turning around. She crept toward their door. “I want to knock.”
My phone chirped and my heart jumped. Snatching it off the bed, I quickly read the message. “He’s outside waiting for me.”
Grabbing my purse, I dropped my phone in it after sending him a quick message. We headed out of the suite and past the open doors to rooms where people obviously had normal suitemates.
“So this is a date?” Calla asked as she went for the elevator, forcing me away from the stairs. “Right?”
She arched a brow at me as the doors slid shut. “I think he likes you.”
For a moment, I entertained the thought that this might be a date and that he might like me. I’m happy that you did. A giggle bubbled its way up my chest. Okay, thinking this was a date was not a good thing. I shook my head. “I’ve told you. I’ve known him for a while. He’s best friends with—”
“Cam,” she interrupted. “I know. But he’s not with Cam. He’s with you. And I doubt he’s taking you out on this little outing because of your brother.”
I opened my mouth, but having not considered that he could be doing this because of his friendship with my brother, I snapped my jaw tight. What if that was the reason? I placed a hand against my belly. I didn’t want his pity or whatever. Worse yet, what if he was doing this because he thought of me as a sister?
Well, I could probably rule out the sister thing.
“Ah, the look on your face is kind of scary.”
She laughed as the elevator stopped and the doors eased open. “Better.”
“Really?” When she nodded, I smoothed my hands through my hair and then dropped my arms as we stepped out. The lobby was crowded. Half of the people were sprawled across the couches and chairs. I stopped at the door, spying his Jeep idling in the no parking zone.
“Can I tell you something?” she asked as we stepped outside.
My heart was already pounding. “Sure.”
A slow grin stretched across her pretty face, diminishing the faint line of the scar. “I just have to say this, okay? That boy . . .”
“What?” I asked, stopping a few feet from the Jeep. Calla was from this area. She was younger than Jase, like me, but she might know things I didn’t. Not that it mattered. It couldn’t matter. We were friends.
And I was beginning to sound like a broken record.
Calla sighed as she started to back away from me. “That boy is freaking unbelievably hot. That is all.”
A smile formed on my lips and I laughed, muscles tightening and then relaxing. “Yeah, I’d have to agree with that.”