“Thanks for coming,” I said to Bastian’s mom and dad. Damn, they were loyal to me and to this university. They still donated to the fraternity and Bastian’s dad still attended alumni events. I knew they came to my games to try to hold on to some piece of their son. I could see it in their eyes, feel it in their hugs.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Sebastian’s mom said, and it cut me up inside. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there and drink myself into oblivion or drive into a fucking ditch. But then who would they come see play? What would keep them going? “We’ll come whenever we can.”
After I showered and changed, I trudged to the team bus. Girlfriends and baseball groupies were lined up in their tight jeans and short skirts, waiting on different players. The guys looking to get laid that night would tell certain girls to head up to Zach’s Bar near the university or they’ d just meet them at their cars in the TSU parking lot.
“Great game, Quinn.” I nodded politely at one of the girls, who had long blond hair and pouty pink lips. It was tempting to get lost in one of them for an hour. But I knew that feeling quickly passed and then I’d be alone with my pathetic thoughts again.
After exiting the bus in the college lot, I hopped in my car and followed the guys to the bar for a quick drink. I sat at my usual stool near the door so I could make a quick escape when my teammates got too stupid and drunk. Joel was there, at a table near the window with Jimmy, but Ella was nowhere in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t feel like going home with blue balls again tonight.
I hadn’t taken a leak since the beginning of the game, so I walked down the grimy hallway to the only bathroom in the joint. I didn’t want to think about how many people had gotten it on in that bathroom. Once, I’d even let a girl go down on me in there and immediately regretted it afterward.
I waited impatiently against the wall, tapping my foot to the rock music blaring from the speakers, because the bathroom was occupied. The door swung open and I straightened as Ella emerged into the dimly lit space. I wasn’t expecting to see her and my breath caught at about the same time as hers. Heat lapped at my neck as my body instantly reacted to her.
“Hey, Quinn,” she panted out, shoving her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, which only made her chest stand out more. “Nice game.”
“Hey,” I said trying to keep my eyes leveled on her face. But they kept swimming down to her full breasts and round hips. God, she looked hot in that baseball shirt. Even better if it had quinn #3 emblazoned across the back. “Thanks.”
“I never thanked you for the other night,” she said, breaking eye contact with me. A faint shade of pink stretched across her cheeks. “I kind of fell asleep on you.”
“Not a problem, Ella.” I noticed how snugly her jeans fit her shape, how she’d folded up the ragged bottoms to reveal her tiny red Converse kicks. Damn, she was cute.
“I should probably be embarrassed,” she said.
My gaze traveled up her neck to her dark hair as I tried getting my thoughts in working order. “About what?”
She lifted her face and our gazes locked. Her blue eyes were mesmerizing.
“Seriously? I was hanging over the toilet. Wearing practically nothing.” Her eyes widened like she hadn’t meant to say that last bit and as soon as my gaze scanned down her legs, remembering how they had looked that night, her pale skin turned to gooseflesh.
I was surprised how affected she was by me, and I felt the urge to move closer so I could inhale her almond shampoo or lotion or whatever scent I’d smelled the other night. Warm and soothing and all kinds of sexy.
“Nothing at all to be embarrassed about.” I took a step forward and noticed how she held her breath and curled her hands into tighter balls. How she looked at my lips and then at my eyes.
Then I heard a familiar voice. One I hadn’t been expecting. “Quinn.”
I squinted down the hall and saw Amber standing there, shifting on the balls of her feet. What the hell? No way had she ever tried to show up any place I’d been other than my baseball games.
“Gotta go,” I said to Ella and stalked down the hall, swiping right by Amber.
“Wait.” Amber followed me through the bar and out the door to my car.
I kept my back to her and picked up my pace. “What in the hell do you want from me?”
“Please, talk to me,” she muttered. “Damn it, just give me one minute of your time!”
I turned to look at her, my fingers gripping my car keys. There was desperation in her voice. I’d heard that tone before. Whenever she and Sebastian had a fight. When she wanted to talk about what had transpired that night. When she called my cell incessantly the month after.
“Fine. Go for it,” I said, leaning against my car door. “Although I’m not really sure what there is to talk about.”
“I want to talk about what happened that night.” I felt my whole body tense. It was enough to lie awake at night thinking about it. But to discuss it openly with her again? Hadn’t we been through all of this already? I just wanted to shake her.
“What the hell about it? Just get it out already.” I tossed my hands in the air. “You obviously have something huge to say.”
She took a deep breath. “It wasn’t our fault, Quinn. You have to start believing that.”
“No, you’re right, it wasn’t our fault.” I used my fingers for emphasis. “Just my fault. Mine and mine alone.”
“Quinn, you’ve got to stop torturing yourself like this,” she practically shouted. I looked around the parking lot making sure we didn’t have an audience. “I’m sorry I blamed you. I was such an emotional wreck afterward—angry at the world.”
I wanted to say she was right to blame me. That I was paying for it every day. But I decided to let her talk—get it out—so I could leave already.
“I can’t help the feelings that I had for you. And I know you had them for me, too.” She looked me in the eye and I didn’t deny it. “I . . . I need someone to talk to about everything that happened. You’re the only one who understands.”
“We’ve already rehashed that night, Amber.” I folded my arms across my chest, maybe in an effort to protect my heart. “How many damn times can we do this? I need to move on.”
“But that’s just it. You’re not moving on. You’re . . . living his life. Not yours.” She looked over my shoulder to my car. “What about your love of cars, your plan to own a shop someday?”
My fingers brushed against my 1966 Chevy Chevelle. She was black and sleek and the one thing I owned that I cherished the most. I’d helped my Uncle Nick build her from the ground up. Now I regretted sharing that with Amber. She was throwing it back in my face.
“Things change.” Whenever I’d stayed at Aunt Gabby’s house, I’d wander into the garage and watch Uncle Nick work. Pretty soon I was holding a wrench and he was teaching me how rebuild an engine or customize a paint job. My father bought my car off of Uncle Nick for my sixteenth birthday, after I begged him repeatedly. But I wasn’t allowed to drive her until I went off to college. Dad didn’t want me getting any crazy ideas in my head about being a broke, blue-collar business owner. He’d been thrilled when I’d applied to TSU to become a business major. I focused back on Amber’s face. “Dreams change.”
“Not really. You tell yourself that they do.” Her finger jabbed at my chest for emphasis. “That you need to pay your dues. That you owe him. But you don’t.”
I placed my hands on her shoulders to show her I meant business. “Don’t do this, Amber.”
Tears were streaming down her face, and she clung to my shirt for support. I felt terrible that she was such a wreck, so I pulled her against me and held her, rubbing her back in small circles.
“I need you, Quinn,” she said into my shoulder. “And I . . . I still want you. I can’t feel guilty about that.”
I became rigid and then pushed away from her. She always knew how to twist the screw. How to manipulate me. I was naïve and inexperienced back then. She knew Sebastian was pulling away from her, so she went after me instead.
Probably because she wanted to make Sebastian jealous. And I fell for her. Fell damn hard for her.
“No, Amber. I won’t go there with you. Not anymore,” I spit out. “Go find someone else to fuck around with.”
Then I wrenched open my door, cranked the key in the ignition, and pushed down on the gas. When I looked in my rearview mirror, she stood staring after me.
I had my script ready to go at my desk. It was a slow night, which didn’t happen that often. Usually the weeks preceding a holiday like Easter were the worst. They triggered all kinds of expectations and memories for people. But on sunny days like today, the lines were slow. The weather made people feel better somehow. At least momentarily.
My thoughts were all over the place tonight.
I couldn’t stop thinking about seeing Quinn in the hallway at Zach’s. How he’d moved toward me like he wanted to be nearer. I wouldn’t have stopped him, either, even though my boyfriend had only been five hundred feet away. How messed up was that? There was just something about Quinn. Like being around him again had pulled me back into his orbit.
And that girl who’d showed up. Was she an ex? Did he still want her? The powerful way he’d stared me down and then looked at her—pain mapped all over his face.
And then the way he’d held her in the parking lot. I couldn’t turn away from that window. It was all tender and intimate, and it tied my stomach up in knots. But then he’d pushed her away and sped off, leaving her standing all alone.
Joel had done a fair amount of groveling after that night I spent in the bathroom with Quinn. I didn’t mention what Quinn had done, which felt wrong, like he and I shared a secret. I didn’t want Joel to get the wrong idea, because in truth, nothing had happened. Except that the atmosphere had somehow shifted between Quinn and me.
Joel wasn’t a jealous kind of guy, and at first, I liked that about him. But after what Quinn had told me, I was beginning to think differently of him. Like Joel didn’t quite care enough about me to be possessive. To make me feel like I was his and he was mine.
I imagined it felt amazing to have someone want you so much that they staked claim on you. Like Bennett and Avery. Maybe they hadn’t spoken it out loud, but it was obvious. They were all over each other all the time and no one would stand a chance getting between them.
I’d wondered on more than one occasion if Quinn was that impassioned with his girlfriends, and I had a pretty good idea that maybe he was. It seemed like he’d been holding himself back in the bathroom. He’d stopped himself from saying everything he had wanted to about Joel. Like his raw emotions had been right under the surface waiting to be unleashed.
He was so intense in the hallway at Zach’s. It had been like he was crawling beneath my skin, trying to get inside me. Unless I’d been imagining it and my crush was purely one-sided. I mean, the guy watched me dry heave, for fuck’s safe. How sexy could that have been?
I wasn’t sure why I kept thinking about that gorgeous boy. It was stupid and dangerous. Besides, he was never with any girls—at least not recently—and even if he was, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t choose someone like me. I was probably too tame, too straitlaced for him. I liked things orderly, tidy, with few surprises.
What I saw in Quinn—beneath the surface of his eyes—was something wholly uncultivated, despite his smooth exterior. Something passionate and undisciplined. And it made me want to be throw all my rules out the window and feel wild and untamed with him.
All of these fantasies about Quinn were keeping me from facing some hard truths about my own relationship. I always knew Joel had been a bit of a flirt, but based on his “hot girls” comment the other night, I wondered if he’d cheated on me, too. The problem was: We’d never truly had a conversation about not seeing other people. It was just assumed. He knew I was a loyal girlfriend and so maybe he’d never felt the need to tell me he wanted me and me alone.
And here I was six months later, not even sure where I stood. I knew he enjoyed our sex life, because he’d told me it was some of the best he’d ever had. He denied up and down that he was screwing around with other girls when I’d asked him, but there was something in his eyes that said different.
I thought about telling him that we should date other people to see if he would take the bait, but ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to play head games with him. Besides, if I was fantasizing about this other guy, did I really feel that deeply for Joel in the first place?
My phone line lit up and snapped me straight back to reality.
“Suicide prevention, this is Gabriella.”
“Hi, um . . . Gabby?” The low drawl of his tortured voice made my heart practically crash straight out of my chest.
It was him, the guy I’d been wondering about. The one who I’d hoped was still alive. “Daniel?”
I heard him let out a gasp. “You remembered my name?”
“Well, not too many people call me Gabby,” I said. I needed to continue talking to keep him on the phone this time. “I’m glad to hear your voice. Last time you called . . .”
“Yeah, I hung up, sorry about that,” he said. His words were a bit slurred, and I wondered how much he’d had to drink. “I just wasn’t ready to talk. And I’m still not sure if I am. But tonight I had . . .”
“Had what, Daniel?”