I spun around to look up into his eyes. “Girlfriend?” I gasped nervously.

“I don’t care what label you put on it, but you’re mine regardless. I won’t share.”

When I just stood there with a shell-shocked expression on my face not responding, I saw the worry shoot across his. He lowered his voice and spoke slowly, “Babe, when I asked you if you wanted only me, last night, I wasn’t talking about one night only. Were you?” he asked, nervously clinching my h*ps tighter, as if I might leave if he were to let go. The steam from the shower began engulfing the room. The mirror was already fogged up and all I could pay attention to were his blue eyes contrasting against the white steam.

I shook my head no and watched the relief wash the worry away in his eyes. “I can’t be a girlfriend though. I’ll be terrible at it. I just can’t… I’ll hurt you… I just can’t….” I started shaking my head back and forth with my rising panic and rambling.

He gently pushed me backward into the shower and shut the glass door behind us. The water poured down over both of us and I slowly started calming down with his hands running through my hair. He softly tilted my head back to soak my hair under the spray of hot water. Without saying a word, he was bringing me down from my panic, without saying a word, making me feel safe and cared for.

I turned my face to the side. “You deserve someone better than me,” I whispered into his arm.

“You deserve to know how great it can be for someone to care about you.”

“I don’t even know what a good relationship is.”

“I kind of gathered that, and one day, you’ll tell me why you’re so afraid of them.” He tilted my face up to his. “I’ll show you how great we are going to be. Because you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, and I’m not talking about your gorgeous face, your stunning hair or your drop-dead sexy body. I never knew it was possible to be so attracted to your best friend.” My breath caught at his words. I’d never thought about it like that before, but slowly, he had become my best friend in all of this.

I wish I had the words to give back to him, but I didn’t. So, I just leaned up on my toes and wrapped my hands around his neck and kissed him with everything I wished I could say.

We hurried through our shower and raced to school. Before we entered the classroom, my heels locked into the pavement. I wanted to be who he needed me to be, but being in front of everyone, I was starting to freeze.

He leaned down from behind me, over my shoulder to talk into my ear, “Hey, if it makes it easier for you, I won’t call you my girlfriend, deal?”

My shoulders released their tension and I exhaled in relief, “Thank you, Jaxon.”

Right before I could walk into the room, he grabbed a hold of my shoulder and spun me around. “This doesn’t mean you get to be with anyone else, understand? Nobody else gets to touch you. There’s only you and me, no one else,” he spoke in a deadly serious tone. I loved when his voice got all rough and serious. Then he picked up my hand and tapped the inside of my palm where he had written last night. “Mine,” he whispered.

I slipped my fingers into the waistband of his pants and tugged him even closer to me. “I only want you.” I reached up and nipped his bottom lip with my teeth.

I heard a growl roll through his chest. “Do we really need to do this today?” He tilted his head toward the classroom door.

“Unfortunately,” I said as I pulled him into the classroom.

When I was finished with Biology later, I walked out of my classroom and Jaxon wasn’t out there. I didn’t actually know which class in the science building he was in, so I decided to walk down to the cafeteria, where we always went to meet up with everyone else anyway. This whole “dating” thing was strange territory for me. Was I supposed to call him or text him to tell him I would meet him? Or was I supposed to just act like I always did? I decided to go with the latter, because I had no idea how to do anything else.

I didn’t know if Jaxon would want to hang around to eat lunch here or go back to the apartment. So I decided to just sit down with everyone instead of going through the lunch line for a tray. Quinn and Cole hadn’t made it out here yet either. When I got to our usual table, I waved to Garrett, Mason, and Micah. I sat down in an empty spot and slowly more people started to join us. Right when I sat down, Micah slid in next to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I tried nonchalantly, moving away from his hold. I didn’t want to make this new change obvious, but I also knew how pissed Jaxon would be if he walked in here and saw Micah’s arm around me.

Surprisingly, Jace slid in on the opposite side of me, eyeing Micah. He never ate lunch with us; I usually saw him sitting with a couple of other pre-med students.

I took advantage of his appearance. “Hey Jace, how was class?” I asked, sliding closer to him and dropping Micah’s arm. “Thanks for saving me,” I whispered into his ear.

“Just trying to avoid a fight.” He nodded toward the lunch line and then leaned forward to eat his food. Jaxon was pushing his tray through the line behind a couple of girls, looking directly at me. He looked angry.

“Shit, shit, shit,” I continued whispering under my breath. “I knew I would be terrible at this.” When I motioned to get up and leave, Jace clamped a hand down onto my leg to keep me seated.

“Don’t run away, Ems. He’ll be fine. Just relax,” Jace’s reassuring voice kept me in my seat.

Jaxon walked up behind me and placed his tray down in front of me. He had gotten enough for the both of us. “Move it, Woods, you’re in my spot,” he said to Micah.

“Dude, last time I checked, we didn’t have assigned seating,” he replied, scooting closer to me.

“Micah, just move… please,” I said, trying to move away from him and bumping into Jace.

Micah shoved his tray to the opposite side in front of me and got up to walk all the way around the table and benches. When he came back around and sat down, he eyed me curiously. Jaxon sat down in his vacated spot and, with his arm behind my back he gripped my hip and scooted me closer to him. Then he brought his arm back and started eating like nothing had happened. Quinn and Cole finally came to join us at the table as well, moving in next to Micah.

I leaned into Jaxon. “I didn’t know if you wanted to stick around here or eat at home so, I didn’t grab any food,” I told him.

“Do you want to leave?” he asked, motioning to get up.

“You just bought all this food. We should at least eat it.”

He situated himself back into his seat and shrugged noncommittally. I didn’t like that I felt like I was in trouble for something, like I needed to explain my actions. I hadn’t even done anything wrong. I placed my palms down on the table so I could push myself up taller. I gave Jaxon a quick peck on the lips and I watched as the tension left his face. He looked down at me and smiled, then gestured for me to eat as well.

With a mouth full of food, Micah pointed his fork at the both of us. “What’s going on with you, Emmsie? You never dole out the affection.” Apparently, the extent of my nicknames at this school was never-ending; I hadn’t heard that one yet. I wasn’t a fan.

“Don’t call her Emmsie,” Jaxon shot a hard look at Micah while speaking.

“What, you’re the only one that can call her something special?”

“Just drop it,” I said to both of them. I noticed Jace stiffening up beside me.

“I call her by her name, jackass. Not some cutesy nickname,” Jaxon replied anyway.

“Emerson sounds like a dude’s name,” Micah retorted, and then a cocky grin spread across his face as he got an idea. Uh-oh I didn’t like that face. “When I’m pounding into her, I like to call out a chick’s name.” My mouth fell open at what he had just said.

First, I noticed Jace’s fist clenching, and then I felt the air rush past my head as Jaxon’s body flew across the table. He took Micah down with him during his flight. Both of them grunted from the impact of the hard ground, although Micah took the brunt of it with Jaxon on top of him. I sat up to look over the edge of the table at the two of them down there. Jaxon was pummeling him in the face with his fists repeatedly. Micah was trying to bring his forearms up to block the punches.

Jace swiftly scrambled over the table feet first and grabbed Jaxon by the collar of his shirt. I realized Jace had been anticipating this, because he scooped him up way too fast to have been surprised. Cole jumped up and helped Jace move Jaxon away from Micah. Cole stepped on Micah’s hand and twisted his foot to grind it into the ground on his way out. Micah didn’t say anything, but I saw him wince from the pain. Quinn shook her head back and forth at all of them. As the three of them were walking out of the cafeteria, Jace and Cole had their arms wrapped around Jaxon.

“Fuck you, Riley!” Micah bellowed from his spot on the ground.

I watched as Jace and Cole’s arms flexed from the brief struggle Jaxon put up. Then they continued out the door toward the parking lot, without even a glance back. It all happened so fast that not many people even noticed in the loud cafeteria. I think the only people that saw were those at our table, and one of the other tables that Jaxon and Micah fell between. Micah’s food was half on the table and half on the floor. He pulled himself back up on the bench and sat down in front of me again. His face didn’t look that bad, it was mostly just red. I knew if Jaxon wanted to, he could have done some real damage. He had his head bent forward looking down at his food.

His angry eyes looked up at me, “You should stay away from him, Em. He’s insane.”

“Only to assholes, Micah,” Quinn said from beside me, glaring at him.

“I didn’t say anything I wouldn’t say any other day!” He lifted his hands in frustration.

Garrett and a few of the other Frat guys slid down the bench toward us. “You know what you said, fucker, just drop it.” He eyed Micah.

I looked down at my food for the next couple of minutes and picked at the turkey and ham sandwich. Micah may have been a jerk for what he said, but at the end of the day, he was right. I had allowed all of the guys to openly joke about our times together; hell, I was usually the one making the jokes. They didn’t know any better. I wanted to believe that Micah wouldn’t have said something like that if he had known I was with Jaxon now.

“I’m sorry, Micah, that was my fault. You didn’t know.”

His hard eyes shot to mine. “Didn’t know what, Em?” he angrily responded. He knew and he was trying to get me to say it out loud, but the coward inside of me couldn’t even do that.

Everyone had finished their lunch and vacated the building about fifteen minutes later. Quinn sat faithfully next to me the whole time, offering her silent support.

“I don’t think I can do this, Quinny.”

“You can and you will.” She looked at me with a serious expression.

“Quinn, you can’t force me to be in a relationship,” I spoke through a laugh.

“Em, I’ve never seen any of those guys look at you the way he does. I’ve never seen you look at any of those guys at all, really. You look at Jaxon though, and you let him in. Don’t quit now.”

I sighed in defeat. She was right. The fact was that, I didn’t want to let Jaxon go or even be away from him, period.

“Jaxon’s never going to be okay with the fact that I’ve slept with practically everyone.” I said.

“He’ll have to learn, won’t he? Besides, you haven’t slept with EVERYONE. You haven’t slept with Jace or Cole,” she winked at me. “Let’s keep it that way, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I leaned my head on her shoulder. Quinn was good for my spirit. She knew what I was thinking before I even had to say it, and she knew how to ground me when I was becoming a flight risk.

We walked out to the parking lot to get in our car when we noticed Jace and Cole standing around the truck talking. There was no Jaxon in sight.

“He hopped on the bike and left as soon as we got out here,” Jace said with a shrug, but I could tell he was worried about his brother.

“Do you think that was the smartest thing to let him do when he’s pissed?”

“I think he’s just pissed at himself,” Cole said.

“At himself, why? I figured he was mad at me.” I was shocked.

“He thinks he scared you,” Jace said looking a bit forlorn.

“The only thing I’m scared of is him out there riding that thing while he’s got so much running through his head.” I pulled my cell out of my pocket and brought up his name in my contacts.

Me: Come back, please?

Jace pulled down the tailgate and we sat on top of it next to each other. Cole pulled Quinn into the bed of the truck and tucked her into his lap. I heard him whispering into her ear, but I didn’t know what he was saying. I sat there swinging my legs back and forth, hoping that Jaxon was okay and that he would come back by here soon.

“Em, I have a class to get to,” Jace’s voice sounded unsure. I knew he was wondering if he should stick around to make sure Jaxon was okay.

“Go ahead, Jace. I’ll text you when he comes back.” I patted his leg.

“Thanks, Em.” He leaned and kissed me on my cheek right before he leapt down off the tailgate. “Go easy on him, kay?” I nodded my head at him.