Page 58

“Okay. You don’t want to talk. You don’t want to figure out what’s going on between us. I respect that.” He exhaled loudly. “That’s why I’m not going to force this. I’m not going to chase you down once we leave here. You come to me when you’re ready, and if you don’t? Well, that’s a damn shame, because I think that no matter what is going on in your head, we could have something real between us.”

My tongue wouldn’t move. My jaw was locked down, because whatever Tanner thought we had between us would swan-dive out the window when he really got to know me.

Tanner’s shoulders rose with another deep breath as he rubbed the palm of his hand over his chest, above his heart. His voice was flat when he spoke, and his gaze distant, almost cold. “Later, then.”

He left the room without so much as a glance back. I closed my eyes, holding my breath until my lungs started to burn, and I went beyond that moment, right up until when I had to drag in air.

“Later” didn’t sound like a promise. “Later” sounded almost like a goodbye. “Later” was totally expected.

As expected, the ride home was a sad and awkward affair. There were no long or teasing looks between Tanner and me. Kyler wasn’t grinning at us in the rearview mirror. Syd had her nose buried in her eReader, and that was about the only thing that was similar to the trip up.

The sky was overcast and cruddy, and as we drew closer to Maryland, it started to drizzle. Tanner was the first one to be dropped off.

He climbed out, hesitating as our eyes met, and then he closed the door. I pressed my lips together and told myself not to look when he walked out from behind the car with his duffel bag, but I did.

I looked up, peering out the window. He stopped by my side, tapped the window, and then moved on to Kyler’s window. “I’ll text you later,” he told him, and then he was off.

Tanner didn’t speak to me, not that I was expecting that, but my chest still ached. When Kyler pulled up in front of my apartment, Syd followed me upstairs.

I stepped inside, suddenly weary to my very bones. Dropping my suitcase just inside the door, I faced my very closest friend. Neither of us said anything, and I almost said the things I’d never said to her before.

“I’m sorry,” was all that came out of my mouth.

Sydney’s smile was somewhat sad as she said, “I know.”

The next few days flat-out sucked.

I spent them in my apartment, ignoring the calls from my mom and dad. I knew nothing had happened, because if so, Brody would’ve showed up. I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with them. They’d mean well, of course, but I never felt like I…like they were proud of me when I got off the phone with them. Their disappointment always lingered like a festering wound.

I’d slept most of Sunday and Monday away, holed up in my bed. At some point during that time, I decided I needed a dog or a cat. Weird and random, but I thought then maybe my place wouldn’t seem so cold and empty.

By Tuesday afternoon, I’d ventured out of my bedroom and ended up spending the majority of the day roaming around my apartment aimlessly. So much was floating around in my head, and I wanted to talk to Syd, but I didn’t want to bother her. Although she hadn’t said she was upset, I knew she had to be. I didn’t blame her. I was pissed at myself.

I needed a change.

Standing in my living room, I took a drink of the beer I had left in my fridge while I turned in a slow circle. I ran my fingers through my hair. I didn’t like where the TV was, and that was an easy fix. Over the next hour, I moved the television to the other side of the room, dragged the couch across the floor, and rearranged the leaning bookshelves. My arms ached as I studied the walls. Maybe I needed to paint. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’d gone through at least three different colors since I’d moved in, and now I was regretting going back to the sandy beige color.

Maybe that’s what I’d do tomorrow.

I still had a couple of weeks before classes started, and I wasn’t volunteering that week, so obviously I had time. Plenty of time.

You need help.

Sleep last night was elusive, even with the help of the sleep aid and the three beers I’d drunk. I hadn’t meant to drink that much, and I wondered if it was somehow counter-effective to the sleeping pill. I shouldn’t have taken it, but I kind of forgot that I’d been drinking when I’d popped it in my mouth. Or maybe I just didn’t care.

I lay in bed, unable to shut my head down. I kept picking up my phone, but who would I call? Syd would be asleep, and I couldn’t call Tanner, but damn, I wanted to. I had no idea what to say to him.

He’d told me there might be something real between us, but he…gosh, he deserved better than this.

So I played a game. Then I checked Facebook. Then played another game. Finally, around four in the morning, I drifted off to sleep, not really even looking forward to tomorrow, because I figured it would be like today. Today sucked, much like yesterday and the day before.

I slept most of Wednesday away, but it wasn’t a useful type of sleep. I never seemed to hit a deep enough level and when I did, I dreamt of being in a house, and I couldn’t find my way out. In the dream, I wasn’t alone, but I could never find the person who was there with me. They seemed one step ahead, and I was simply lost, never finding the correct door, the one that would let me out.

The quiet moments were getting to me.

Around six, I drank the last apple-cider-flavored beer, but that didn’t relax me. Nothing was on TV, and I dismissed the idea of rearranging my bedroom. The only thing left to do was to get the paint. At least I could do that. Maybe I’d invite Syd over, and we could have a painting party. I could get one of those cheese and meat platters. And I could also get a slew of hot guy movies—movies with Theo James and Jude Law and Tom Hardy and other hot British dudes. Were all of them British? I didn’t know. Their voices were hot and that was all that mattered.