Hell, Sebastian had been doing the same thing to his girlfriend, Amber. But she hadn’t been all that innocent, either. Then again, I’m not one to talk. I’d been playing games, too. I just hadn’t realized it. Until it was too late.
I didn’t know Ella all that well, but lately she’d been on the quiet side. Too quiet. She used to joke around more, had one hell of a truck driver’s mouth, and could hold her own in a Call of Duty game with the guys.
Maybe her silence spoke volumes. I could feel the tension hanging in the air lately between her and Joel.
A lot of the guys accused Joel of keeping Ella around for free pussy. Joel always pretended to be into the chicks hard to get them to spread their legs. Sure, he’d kept Ella around longer than most. So maybe she was good in bed. I shook my thoughts away from Ella’s nice rack and how her dark hair might look fanned around my pillow. I didn’t need a boner tonight.
As soon as Joel spied Ella through the window, he pushed the girl off his lap and she plopped down on mine, pouty bottom lip jutted out. And there went my potential hard-on. But if she wiggled her hips a little more she’d be sure to bring it back.
She turned and whispered against my ear, “Want to head upstairs, Quinn?” I looked down at her sheer white T-shirt, her lacy bra peeking beneath, hiding her small but perky breasts.
The trouble with these frat brats was that they were always around. If you just wanted to chill with the boys, it could get awkward. And if you brought home a date, it could even get ugly. So I stayed far away. Not that I brought home any dates.
“Hey, baby.” Joel hadn’t even bothered to stand up and greet his girl when she walked through the door. I glanced at Ella. Flushed cheeks, a hint of irritation in her eyes. Maybe she was getting tired of his bullshit, too. She had on a fluffy skirt that went to her knees with a fitted blue T-shirt. Her long brown hair was draped over her shoulders. She looked like she’d just come from work, because she wasn’t in her usual attire.
“Hey, Ella,” both Jimmy and Todd said, waving over their beer bottles. She glanced at me and then my visitor, who was now rocking her hips in my lap. For some reason, Ella’s scrutiny made me want to push this chick off. I wouldn’t be taking her upstairs anyway. She knew that and so did all of the guys.
I shook my head. Why in the hell did it matter?
Ella rolled her eyes right before they became blank. It was as if she’d literally flipped a switch and become numb. I knew that feeling all too well, but what did this girl know about feeling dead inside? I’d heard Joel talk about her large and boisterous Polish family and how her mom made the best dumplings from scratch. How could a girl with all that have any problems?
My mother served takeout from the local pricey restaurant and we ate it around an awkwardly silent table. And that was just on the two nights our maid, Louise, was off. On the other nights, I used to eat alone. I’d trade places with Ella in a heartbeat.
I’d bet she never lay awake at night wondering if her parents would ever forgive her. All because a huge-ass mistake almost ruined her father’s chances of running for political office.
Joel tugged Ella down on his lap, where the chick in mine had been sitting just moments before, and a couple of the guys exchanged smirks. Had it been Brian’s girlfriend, Tracey, in Ella’s place, none of that would have gone down. Brian was in love with Tracey, fiercely loyal to her, and I admired him for that. He got razzed about it all the time, but he didn’t put up with that frat-brat bullshit when she was around. Or even when she wasn’t. Joel needed to take lessons from him or just let Ella go.
Sebastian should have done the same with Amber. They should have been honest with each other. Damn, we all should have been. My stomach started sloshing and rolling. Guess that was the end of my thinking about stupid-ass Joel and his naïve girlfriend. Who the fuck cared about what the hell they did? I had bigger things to think about, like spring break and whether or not I’d be going home over it.
I realized the girl in my lap was still waiting on my answer. I was hoping she’d just forgotten she’d asked me to go upstairs. She tried nibbling on my ear and I pushed her away. “Not tonight, Beth.”
“Never any night with you,” she huffed and stood up.
“Yeah, big Q man, what’s up with that?” Todd asked.
Even Ella passed me a strange look before her eyes cleared.
What the hell was that for?
“What’s up with what?” I said. I knew exactly what they were getting at, but it wasn’t any of their fucking business.
“You and chicks, man. You bat for the other team or something?”
Here they go, giving me the business.
“I think Quinn’s girlfriend might be his beloved car,” Brain said, grinning. I wouldn’t dispute that. I’d put a lot of hours into restoring my classic beauty and got pissed whenever I caught anyone leaning against her. Hell, sometimes I even covered her at night.
Before I could come up with some lame-ass excuse, Joel put his damn foot in his mouth and saved me the trouble.
“Have you guys seen the chicks who hang around after ball games?” Joel said and Ella stiffened. “They are smoking hot. He could probably get his fill every night.”
The table went completely silent as everyone stared at the floor or wall and avoided eye contact with Ella, who looked like she wanted to crawl inside a hole. Her normally bright-blue eyes looked cloudy and worn. Talk about disrespectful. At least Sebastian had never done something as asinine as that in front of Amber. No, it was me who’d done something horribly wrong, while he had been only a few feet away.
I felt like punching Joel in the face and telling Ella to find a guy that respected her, but then the awkward moment passed, and Jimmy had to pipe in about the damn baseball groupies. “You hit some of that action, Quinn?”
I shrugged. Let them think whatever the hell they wanted to.
“What about you?” Todd asked Jimmy. The girl on his lap looked back at him, too.
“Of course,” he said, and then resumed gnawing on her neck.
After a few more rounds of poker, I was down twenty bucks and ready to call it quits. By that point, Joel was practically falling off his chair. Even Ella had stepped up her drinking. About an hour ago, she had wandered into the living room, picked up a controller, and started playing Skyrim. She had a tall glass of beer sitting next to her, and now the contents of her cup were drained. She was probably still pissed off and hurt by Joel’s lame-ass comment.
I paused behind the couch and watched her play for a few minutes before saying good night and heading up to my room. I plugged in my headphones and lay down on my bed, hoping to fall into a less fitful sleep than the previous night.
About twenty minutes later, a loud clunk against my wall woke me from my reverie. I pulled a bud away from my ear and heard Joel and Ella’s hushed voices. It sounded like she was struggling getting him to bed.
Typical fucking Joel. I threw my headphones aside and strode out my door to help her out. Joel probably weighed twice as much she did.
“Whoa, there.” I grabbed hold of Joel’s other arm. “I got this.”
“Thanks,” Ella said, her cheeks pink and puffy from the effort.
I plopped him down on his bed a little too roughly and headed toward the door. “All yours. Lucky you.”
When I got back to my room I changed the CD to something slow and soothing, hoping I could fall asleep for real this time.
But then I heard a gagging noise coming from the hallway. Regular Grand fucking Central around here. Coughing and then gagging again. I peeked out the door and saw Ella, hunched over and trying to make her way to the bathroom across the hall.
She was wearing an oversize white Sigma T-shirt. And nothing else. I didn’t know what propelled me out the door again except that maybe I wanted to help her. What the fuck for, I had no clue.
But if I was being honest, maybe I wanted to stare at Ella’s long-ass legs that were barely hidden beneath the bottom of her T-shirt.
“Hey. You okay?” I stood on the threshold of the bathroom door, wondering again what in the hell I was doing. “Need some help?”
Before I could get the words out, she dry heaved into the toilet.
That shit wasn’t sexy at all, except her white T-shirt had traveled up her ass and she was wearing barely there pink panties.
Ella wasn’t a tiny girl. She had a large rack and nice, shapely hips. Seeing her practically bare ass in full glory stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn’t move my limbs or my lips.
What the hell was wrong with me? It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen a girl’s ass before.
I adjusted myself in my shorts. Shit.
This was so embarrassing. I was sick to my stomach but thankful that I hadn’t actually puked my brains out. Nothing like blowing chunks in front of one of Joel’s frat buddies.
“I’m okay,” I said, the words like cotton in my mouth. My head was pounding like a steel drum band. “Th . . . thanks for asking.”
Then I felt the heat of Quinn’s body and his soft voice near my ear. “Ella, you need to cover up in case some drunk ass busts in here and sees you.”
Like him? Except he didn’t seem at all drunk. He sounded . . . concerned.
I tried shrugging my shoulders but I wasn’t even sure if they’d moved. Before I had time to register my next thought, I felt his rough hands tug down my T-shirt. And then he took a quick step back, like he was afraid I’d think he was fondling me or something.
I laid my cheek against the toilet seat, praying nothing gross was stuck to it, while the room spun around me. Somehow I didn’t even care. I just needed my stomach to stop sloshing around and for my brain to stop feeling like sludge.
Why the hell had I downed that last shot and then chased it back with a beer?
Oh yeah, because my boyfriend was an asshole and had made me feel like I wasn’t even in the room. Maybe it was time I started being more truthful with myself and with Joel. Tell him how he made me feel and how he needed to cut that crap out. I didn’t know why I’d let things that bothered me go for so long.
“I’ll wet a washcloth,” Quinn said. I heard the faucet turn on and a vanity drawer slide open. “Might make you feel better.”
Before I could protest, Quinn clunked down on the tile behind me, and passed me the wet towel. My hand reached back but I had trouble grasping it; I was that squeamish. Instead, a low groan came out of my mouth.
“I’m gonna help you.” His voice was low and raspy, and right then and there I wished this strange meeting were under different circumstances. That I could actually lift my head and look at him. Figure out what he might be thinking. Discover the true color of his eyes. Were they green or copper or a mix of both? Had he thrown on his university ball cap again or was his russet hair a mess of tangles?
I was pretty sure I didn’t need anyone babying me, especially not mysterious Quinn. But I supposed it could have been worse. Jimmy, who always partied hard, might have tried to cop a feel alone in here with me. I didn’t get that impression from Quinn. He was handsome and broody. It always seemed like he had a lot on his mind. Like he was pretty serious about baseball and school. And not about girls or partying.
“Okay?” he whispered. He was waiting on permission to touch me again. And, God, I appreciated that about him.
“Yeah,” I said, another wave of nausea rolling over me. I swallowed the warm bile in the back of my throat and squeezed my eyes shut.
I felt Quinn’s hot fingers lift up my hair and then smooth it from my shoulders. I attempted to hold in a shiver. His heat mixed with my clammy skin made my stomach do weird flips. Next, I felt the cool cloth against the nape of my neck and I let out a deep sigh. It soothed and cooled my skin.
“If you raise your head, I can wipe your forehead, too.”
“N . . . not sure if I can yet.” I swallowed back my nausea.
I felt his breath against my cheek. “Let me do it.”
Why did this suddenly feel too damned intimate? I prayed that I smelled halfway decent and that my makeup was still intact and not beneath my eyes. I’d never been this up close and personal with Quinn and I felt like he could see all of my flaws. Hell, he’d already seen my ass. I wasn’t petite like my two best girls. I had curves. Curves that Joel used to appreciate.
The question was why did I care?
Quinn was only being nice and I was in no state to think it through more clearly. “Okay.”
His large and rough palm slipped beneath my cheek and gently lifted my head. He swiped the cool cloth over my forehead and then down the sides of my face.
“Hmmmm . . . so good.” I sounded ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it. It was nice being taken care of, even if was by a virtual stranger. A cute, mysterious stranger.
“Can you sit up yet?” he asked, sounding a little breathless. “I can help you back to Joel’s room if you want.”
I shook my head a little too forcefully, causing me to pitch forward and dry heave again. I was suddenly glad I hadn’t eaten any dinner. It might have ended up in Quinn’s lap.
“Shoot.” I lay down with my cheek against the cool tile floor. I could feel my T-shirt rising above my hips again, but I just didn’t care. Besides, he’d already seen it all. “I’m just going to stay here for a while.”
I listened to him inhale a lungful of air and then release it quickly. “Um, okay. I’m gonna bolt.”
I heard him stand and mutter, “Fucking Joel,” under his breath. “But I don’t like the idea of you being in here all night. I’m gonna check on you again in a little bit.”