He threw his arm around her shoulder, practically mauling her chest. I watched them move out the door together.
“He’s all yours,” I said. She looked once behind her as tears pricked my eyes again. “Good-bye, Joel.”
I sagged against the wall and played our conversation over in my brain.
I’d thought that by saying good-bye to Joel, I’d be leaving a piece of Christopher behind, too. But I was wrong. He’d always be inside me. Joel had just given me more memories of him. And for that, I was grateful. And right now, Christopher would probably be telling me that it was about damn time.
I gripped Quinn’s keys and turned toward the stairs. I considered leaving them on the kitchen counter and going home. I felt sad. But I also felt relieved. And brave.
And those emotions thrust me forward.
I still had a burning desire to see Quinn. Even though I knew it might head nowhere good. I was leaving one fire behind and walking into another.
But this one was already consuming me.
I stood in front of his door and gathered myself before knocking.
“Come in.” His voice was muffled and throaty, sending a shiver straight through me.
I nudged open his door and stepped inside. The only light on in the room was from a bedside lamp. Quinn was lying on his back, in only his shorts, atop a navy-blue comforter. As soon as he saw me, he sprang to a sitting position and yanked the earbuds away from his head.
“Everything okay, Ella?” I most likely looked a mess. There were lingering tears in my eyes. And possibly some residual hurt.
I nodded and held up his keys. “I found these in the couch cushion and thought you’d probably need them.”
He stood up and stalked toward me, shutting the door closed behind us. He grabbed the keys and tucked them in his pocket. “Did something happen?”
“Not really.” I shrugged. “Just your run-of-the-mill college breakup.”
“You and Joel?” His eyebrows slammed together. “I’m . . . I’m sorry.”
But he didn’t look sorry. He looked relieved. And that lit a firestorm inside me.
“Don’t be. It was a long time coming.” I toed the hardwood floor as if there were something interesting there. “You know that.”
He sighed, most likely recalling our earlier conversation.
“You actually helped me realize some stuff.” My eyes slid up to meet his. “Decisions I needed to make.”
Quinn took another step and was standing so close to me now I could see his pulse pounding at his neck. I wanted to touch the smooth skin on his chest and work my way down to his flat stomach.
“Will you be okay?” He swiped a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, I don’t. Really.” And I meant it. Besides, having him so near didn’t help organize any lucid thoughts in my brain. “I’m good.”
“Where is Joel right now?” His eyes stole to the door, as if Joel would come busting through any minute now.
“Out by the fire with some blond,” I said. “And before you ask, I’m fine with it. I basically handed him to her. Since I walked away, he can do whatever the heck he wants to now.”
“I guess that means you can, too,” he said, his voice deep and his eyes hooded.
I offered a slight nod, all I could muster with him standing so near. “I was with him for all the wrong reasons.”
We stood staring at each other and the splash of moonlight through his window illuminated the intensity in his eyes. Specks of green and gold sparkled in his irises. He had stubble along his jaw and I imagined its roughness against my skin.
He flexed his fingers like he didn’t know where to set them. And I wanted nothing more than for him to place them around my waist. Or in my hair.
“Why . . .” he said and then swallowed. “Why did you come up here, Ella?’
“I told you,” I mumbled. “To return your keys.”
“You could have given them to one of the guys.” He leaned forward and his body heat enveloped me. “Why did you come up here, Ella?”
“Because,” I whispered. I reached out and traced my thumb along his full bottom lip. I had no idea what I was doing, just that I was desperate to touch him.
A quiet growl emerged from the back of his throat and all at once he backed me against the door. “Tell me why.”
“I . . . I don’t know.” Suddenly I was scared. Of my desire for him. Of the chance I’d taken coming up here. I was being careless, which was something I’d never done before. I’d broken up with my boyfriend and was now standing in this other boy’s room.
Quinn’s fingers reached out to mine and he laced our hands together. “You do know.”
I felt drunk on his gruff voice. On his touch. I was hyperaware of how his calloused fingers were tracing lazy circles along my palms.
“It’s because I . . . I like you, Quinn.”
“You like me,” he said, parroting my words. He positioned his knee between my legs pinning me in place. And then he slid my hands above my head and braced them against the wall.
I felt vulnerable. Exposed. Completely electrified.
He dipped his lips toward my collarbone. “What else?”
I could barely concentrate while his mouth and nose skimmed along my jawline, up to my earlobe. “Tell me,” he whispered in my ear.
“And . . .” I stifled a whimper. “And I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“Been thinking about you, too.” He nuzzled his lips in the crook of my neck and an electric current hummed between my legs. His hips rested against mine and I felt how turned on I’d made him. It was heady.
“You smell so fucking good, Ella.”
I pretty much melted like hot wax right on the spot.
“Tell me what you want,” he rasped against my hair.
Then his wet tongue darted out and licked my earlobe. This time, I couldn’t stop the moan that escaped my lips.
You, I wanted to say. I want you.
This girl was driving me out of my fucking mind. I wanted to wrap myself up in her. Get lost in her for days. She’d broken up with Joel. And then she’d come to my room.
But I wasn’t the solution. I was the problem. A big-ass problem.
If I couldn’t even live with myself, how could I make someone else happy?
She’d start to hate me after a while. Just like I hated myself.
She was making the sexiest damn noise in the back of her throat and titling her hips against mine, driving me insane. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d wanted someone this badly. Maybe I never had.
I still had her hands pinned to the wall and I could feel her soft breasts bumping up against my chest. I wanted to strip her naked and run my tongue along her skin. Taste her everywhere. Hold her until the sun came up in the morning.
“Quinn,” she breathed against my hair. “I need . . . I want . . . please.”
I pulled back to look at her. There was desperation in her eyes. She wanted me just as badly as I wanted her. I released her fingers and cupped her soft cheeks in my hands.
“I’m not going to kiss you, Ella. Not tonight.”
She sagged against me, her forehead landing on my shoulder.
“Kissing you would be too easy,” I whispered in her ear. “And you’re not a girl I want to be easy with.”
“I get it, okay? You don’t date. I remember you said . . . you said that.” She said those words into my shoulder. But now she raised her head to meet my eyes. There was determination in them. “I knew that coming here. And I’m okay with whatever happens.”
She was telling me that she knew she might be a fling. And that didn’t sit well with me. This girl needed more. She needed someone to give her everything.
And I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t good enough for her. I wasn’t strong enough to give her anything more.
“Is that what you think? You think someone as incredible as you wouldn’t be worth my time?” I pushed away from the wall and sat down hard on the edge of my bed. “I don’t date girls because . . . I can’t . . . I’m not . . .”
Her eyes were round and shiny. “Because of that girl in the parking lot at Zach’s?”
My back straightened. Had she been spying on Amber and me?
That was the cold splash of reality I needed.
“Yes and no. Not because I still want her. But she’s part of my past and it’s a past I’d like to forget,” I said. “And you bringing her up reminds me of why I shouldn’t be doing this again.”
She knelt down in front of me. “Doing what again?”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t going there with her. With anybody. I’d already said too much.
“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to pry,” she said. “I’m just trying to understand you.”
Had anyone ever said that to me before? Had anyone even taken the time to care?
“Look, I’ve never done this before,” she said gesturing between us. “I’ve never been so reckless. Here I am throwing myself at you and you don’t even want me. I must look like an idiot.”
She stood up and balled her fists. Her hands were shaking.
And she couldn’t have been more wrong.
“You think I don’t want you?” I reached for her waist and yanked her toward me. I gripped her sweet ass and tipped my head to rest on her stomach. Her fingers fisted my hair and I felt her harsh breaths against my neck.
“If I kiss you, Ella, I won’t be able to stop,” I said. “I’d want more, and that can’t happen. I’m just not . . . it just . . . can’t.”
I felt her stomach quiver and then her fingers loosened their grasp in my hair. “I don’t know you very well, Quinn. But I’d like to.”
She cupped my chin and forced me to look at her. “I don’t understand why you’re fighting this so hard. God, I made it so easy for you.” She leaned her face toward mine and I felt her warm air on my lips. “So for whatever it’s worth, I think you’re amazing.”
My chest squeezed into a tight fist and I bit my lip to keep my emotions in check.
She backed away from me, turned, and walked out the door.
Worst of all, I let her.
It was the night before spring break, and I was volunteering at the suicide hotline. In the morning, I would be headed home for a long weekend. The phone lines were lit up tonight, as I knew they would be right before a holiday.
It helped keep my mind off Quinn and what he’d said to me that one night last week. Avery thought it was cavalier of him to push me away if he knew he was fucked up. Her words, not mine. She’d done much of the same when she’d started crushing hard on Bennett last fall. It was nice to have her perspective. But it didn’t lessen the want. The need. The desire to see him.
To make matters worse, I didn’t miss Joel all that much. I’d seen him around campus with different girls. Like he’d unleashed himself on the female population again. He was free and raring to go.
It was strange to not have an excuse to go to the frat house anymore. Tracey had called to ask what happened between Joel and me and I’d been tempted to question her about Quinn. To spill the beans and see what she knew about him. I also considered showing up at his ball games, but I didn’t want to look like a stalker.
A student volunteer named Lizzy gave an exasperated huff across the hall. “I’m getting a lot of hang-ups tonight; are you guys?”
“Nope, I haven’t. But it’s almost spring break, so it makes sense,” I said. Steve, another volunteer on with us tonight, was busy on a call. Sometimes, hang-ups meant people were just too scared to go through with the call. It was frustrating on both sides.
I couldn’t even finish my thought because my phone line lit up again.
“Suicide prevention. Gabriella speaking.”
“I was beginning to think you weren’t working tonight, Gabby.”
My heart vaulted into my throat. “Daniel.”
Had he been hanging up on the other lines until he reached me?
I swallowed several times before answering. “You having a hard time tonight?”
“How’d you guess?”
“I figured you wouldn’t want to chill on the phone with me if you weren’t.” I was going for humor, but I wasn’t sure if he’d appreciate that. So far, he’d been unpredictable.
“True. But I like talking to you, Gabby,” he said. “You make me feel . . .”
“Feel what?” I had no clue why I hung on this guy’s every word. He brought out some protective instinct in me.
Long silence. This time I could hear the wind in the background and the sound of cars swishing by. “Like I . . . matter.”
“Oh, Daniel.” An emotion I didn’t recognize slammed into my chest and I tried not to vocalize it. All I could think about was whether Christopher had felt like he mattered. Had I told him enough times how much he’d meant to me? I knew from experience that what-ifs were useless and that loving homes didn’t necessarily dissuade suicidal acts.
We had a loud and active family, and maybe Christopher had felt lost in the shuffle sometimes. He was the quiet and reflective sibling who spent lots of time alone in his room. But it would have helped to know that Christopher had felt loved before he’d decided he was ready to die.
“I’m here,” I said. Shit, I didn’t want him to think that I’d abandoned him. “What you just said made me feel . . . emotional.”