“But you are a part of his life, Jase. And I can tell that you wish you had done things differently and isn’t that what matters most? That you love him nonetheless?”
Jase tipped his head back again and blew out a breath. “I love him more than life, but it doesn’t excuse the decisions I’ve made.”
Anger smoked its way through me, and I forgot about the mom thing. “You just told me not too long ago that I was too young when I was sixteen—that I couldn’t hold myself responsible for keeping quiet and not telling anyone about Jeremy. My age and general naïveté gives me a pass but not you?”
He opened his mouth.
“Does it? If so, that’s not fair and is seriously subjective in all the wrong ways.” On a roll now, I wasn’t shutting up anytime soon. “You can’t tell me that I need to let go of decisions and actions of the past when you refuse to do the very same!”
Jase drew back against the car seat, throat working as if he searched for the right thing to say but had trouble. “Well, shit. You got me there.”
“Hells yeah, I do.”
His lips tipped up at the corner, but his eyes were somber. “You . . . you don’t need all of this.” He turned thundercloud eyes on me. “You’re young and you have all your life ahead of you.”
I raised my brows. “What the hell does that have anything to do with anything? I care about you, Jase. A lot. Okay? And I want to be with you.” My cheeks burned, but I kept going. “That’s obvious, but you’re making choices and getting things all twisted up in your head without even asking me or seeing how I feel about it.”
“And how do you feel about it, Tess?” The line of his jaw hardened as his eyes flashed a heated gray. “You really want to be with me now? After knowing all that? And you think it’s smart for you and me to get involved? What if we do? And what if you get close to Jack?”
I folded my hands against my chest. “Why wouldn’t you want me to get close to him? I thought you said I’d be—”
“You are planning on leaving, Tess. You aren’t thinking about sticking around. And I’ll be damned if that boy gets hurt just because you want to get laid.”
I jerked back, flinching. Tears crawled up my throat and burned behind my eyes. Was that what he really thought? After all I’d said? After everything he’d said and done for me? That he summed everything up in me wanting to get laid?
Knowing that’s how he really thought of me stung worse than rejection.
“You know something, Jase?” My voice wavered, but I forged on. “The fact you have a kid who is being raised by your parents or that you won’t even breathe the mother’s name isn’t what would push me away or make me think differently of you. It’s the way you act and how you make such f**ked-up assumptions that does that.”
Jase didn’t show up for class on Friday.
Part of me wasn’t surprised as the lecture started on the baroque music period and Jase was a no-show. The ride back to campus yesterday once he pulled out of his driveway had been filled with tense silence.
What I had said to him had been true. Yeah, I was mind blown by the fact that Jack was his kid. That had been the last thing I’d been expecting. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and holy crapola that was true in this case. But I didn’t think of him differently. Not really. Okay. That wasn’t completely true. Of course, I thought of him slightly differently. He was a dad for crying out loud. I didn’t even know any dads close to my age, but it didn’t make me think less of him, and it hadn’t deterred how I felt about him. Granted, a relationship with him would be hard.
It would’ve been hard anyway.
But he had a little boy he might one day tell the truth to, and any girl in Jase’s future would have to be okay with that and be ready. Who knows if I ever would be, but he hadn’t given me the chance.
Like I’d said to him, it was how he viewed me that had hurt. That he believed I would get involved with Jack’s life without being aware of how a sudden departure could affect him.
Every so often, Jase’s eyes had found mine on the drive back and then he’d look away quickly. The only thing he’d said to me was good-bye. That was it.
And that made my heart ache.
Jase hadn’t called, and I refused to be the one to reach out like I did last time, only to be coldly ignored.
Jack’s my son.
As stupid as it might’ve made me, my heart bled for him. In spite of his dickdom when it came to me, he loved that little boy and it was killing him, the choices that he’d made when he was just a kid.
Just like my choices haunted me.
And then there was the issue of the absentee mother that he absolutely refused to speak about. Where was she? Did she still live around here? And did the sharpness in his voice come from a broken heart?
A pang lit up my chest, and I wanted to punch myself. There was no way I could be jealous of a woman who was nameless to me, but there was something there—something big—and I had a feeling that his reluctance to get seriously involved with anyone had more to do with her than it did with Jack.
Did it matter?
He’d said I was a mistake, and although he’d admitted something so big and so honest with me, it didn’t really change how he viewed me. Yeah, I got why he pushed me away, but it didn’t alter the outcome.
I shouldn’t have let him kiss me. Wasn’t like I didn’t know how it was going to end, but the ache in my chest throbbed as I glanced at the empty seat beside me. I’d barely slept last night, and when morning had come, the hurt had settled deep inside me. My feelings and thoughts had all twisted up into a messy ball.
Now I was pissed.
I hadn’t kissed him—not this time or the first time. It wasn’t me who had reasons to not be in a relationship. It was him, and he was the one who kept making moves, kept going from the kind of kisses that drugged the soul to shoving me away.
I didn’t have a fountain of experience when it came to boys and sex and friends, but I knew enough to know that he’d been hot for me before he’d kissed me. His body had proved that the moment he’d put his arms around me while we fed Lightning. And I did get that lust and feelings were totally different things.
Hell, I fell in and out of lust about three times a week depending on who I saw.
And I understood that just because he had a son didn’t mean he stopped wanting to get it on—and Jase wanted me. But was it more substantial?
It had to be more. He wanted to help me experience something other than dancing and what he said yesterday about what had happened with Cam not being my fault had meant a lot. That meant he had to care, right? Of course he cared somewhat because I was Cam’s sister . . . damnit.
Irritation pricked my skin as I shifted in my seat, clutching the pen until the cap cracked. I stroked the flame until it turned into an orb of anger—anger was better than hurt.
God, what pissed me off even more was that I was sitting in music appreciation for God’s sake and would probably fail my midterm because I had spent the last thirty minutes obsessing over that jackass.
“The baroque period saw the creation of tonality,” said Professor Gibson. “Tonality is a language of music where a specific hierarchical pitch is based on a key center—the tonic triad.”
Phasing in halfway through the lecture, I had absolutely no clue what Gibson was talking about and as he continued, so did my confusion.
“The common, most well-known composers of the baroque period are Johann Sebastian Bach . . .”
I was going to Sebastian Bach Jase right in the face.
“You okay?” Calla asked as the lecture grew to a close.
I packed up my notebook and nodded. “Yeah, I’m just tired.”
She didn’t say anything as she stood. In history class, she had asked about yesterday and because I had no idea how to put any of what happened into words that didn’t involve several f**k bombs, I’d told her everything had been great.
Despite it being sunny, the chill in the air when we left the arts building made me glad for once that I was wearing jeans. Poor Calla, in her red cotton shorts, looked like she was about to freeze her bum off.
“You know, when Gibson talks about Sebastian Bach, all I can think of is that rock singer in the eighties who was really hot. I doubt the real—”As we rounded the corner, she drew in a deep breath. “Oh boy . . .”
Curious, I followed her gaze as I wrapped my arms around my waist. I squinted. A guy with close-cropped brown hair was heading across the packed parking lot. There was a line of cars heading in and out, and he cut between a Volkswagen and a van. Dressed in nylon dark blue pants and a gray Shepherd shirt that stretched over broad shoulders and a nice chest, he looked like he could’ve stepped out of any welcome-to-college advertisement.
I’d seen him a couple of times around Whitehall. He was hard to miss, with handsome angular features and wide, expressive lips. I glanced at Calla. “Who’s that?”
“You don’t know him?” she asked, tugging on the hem of her shorts. “That’s Brandon Shriver.”
“Brandon Shriver?” I pulled my sunglasses out of my bag and slipped them on. “I like the name.”
“So do I. But I’m surprised you don’t know him. He’s friends with Cam and Jase.”
I forced a grin. Jase. I was currently pretending that guy didn’t exist. Wasn’t working very well.
“He started last semester in the spring, but he’s older than me.” The hollows of her cheeks flushed. Calla was twenty, so I tried to figure out how that worked. She answered before I could ask. “He was deployed overseas for a couple of years. I think he’s an education major, which is strange. He’s too hot to become a teacher. “
“Hey,” I said, elbowing her. “I’m going to be a teacher.”
“But I don’t want to make beautiful babies with you. With him,” she said, and sighed dreamily. “That’s a different story—oh, here he comes.”
And he was. Hopping up on the curb, he crossed the pavilion. No more than a couple of feet from us, he glanced over to where we stood. Right off the bat, I noticed he had bright green eyes, something I hadn’t been close enough to him to see before. That brilliant gaze moved over Calla, then to me before drifting back to the blonde.
Calla gave a short wave as her cheeks bloomed as red as her nail polish. “Hey.”
“Hi.” His voice was nice and deep. He glanced over his shoulder and then cut over to where we stood. “Traffic is a nightmare. I hope you aren’t planning to leave campus anytime soon.”
A second passed, and then Calla shook her head. “Not for the next couple of hours. Are you?”
She knew damn well I wasn’t going anywhere, but I played along. “No. I’m guessing I’m walking over to east campus.” Which already seemed weird after days of hitching a ride. Like the weather, everything changed in a heartbeat. I shook that thought out of my head.
Brandon nodded as he rapped the edge of his notebook off his thigh. “You look familiar,” he said, eyes squinting until only a thin slit of emerald showed. “Do we have classes together?”
If we did, I’d probably be more interested in that class. As the sun passed behind an endless stream of clouds, I popped my sunglasses up on my head, pushing the shorter strands of hair back.
“You know her brother,” Calla supplied.
“I do?” He returned his attention to her.
“Yes.” She angled her face in a way that only her profile—the unscarred cheek—was visible to him. “She’s Cameron Hamilton’s sister.”
“No shit.” His lips formed a genuine smile, and I wondered if there was anywhere in the world where I wouldn’t be recognized as Cam’s sister. “I see it—yeah, the eyes.”
I felt my cheeks heat.
“Anyway, he’s a good guy.” Brandon shifted his weight. “He’s not a part of that one frat, right? The one with Jase Winstead?”
Goddamnit, I seriously could not escape that guy. “No, but he’s good friends with Jase and a couple of them and he goes to a lot of the parties.”
“Like the one this weekend?” he asked. When I nodded, he glanced at an abnormally silent Calla. “Are you going?”
Calla cleared her throat. “Nah, got to work.”
Interest flickered across his otherwise stoic expression. “Where do you work?”
Man, this conversation was about as awkward as two monkeys trying to screw a football. But it was cute, the way Calla kept stealing looks at Brandon. As she answered his question, I looked over and took a startled step back. A way too familiar black-and-gray Jeep pulled around a truck, stopping at the curb. The window rolled down just as my mouth dropped open.