I was such a terrible liar.
When I finally worked up the nerve to go back to my dorm, our suite was empty. Debbie’s bed was tidy. Nothing was broken or out of place, but I wasn’t surprised. Erik hadn’t thrown a destructive temper tantrum yet. Jeremy never had.
It was eight before I decided to hop in the shower and get ready for the party. Part of me wanted to bail, but it was the first party I’d been invited to, and I was either going, facing the possibility of having to deal with Jase, or staying home and feeling sorry for myself.
I opted with leaving the pity party behind for the evening.
And going to the party was a good opportunity to prove to myself that I was done with Jase—that I could be around him without flailing.
After drying my hair, I tugged it up in a loose bun and pulled on a pair of black leggings. The cute shirt was out of the picture, so I settled on a long, loose polka-dotted blouse and my favorite, worn-way-too-much denim skirt. As I slid my feet into a pair of flats, my phone chirped.
Slipping my cell into my back pocket along with my key card, I took a deep breath and then headed out. Tonight will be fun. Tonight will be normal. I would be like any other almost nineteen-year-old heading out to a party. I would have fun.
Parked at the curb, Cam was behind the wheel of Avery’s car. As I trotted up to the back door, Cam was pulling back from the passenger seat, where Avery sat with cheeks as pink as Valentine’s Day cards.
I climbed in the back, grinning. “I’ll be amazed if you guys make it out of college without having procreated a soccer team’s worth of kids.”
Avery’s brown eyes widened. “Oh, God, no . . .”
I laughed, buckling myself in as Cam’s eyes appeared in the rearview mirror. I gave him a big smile. “What? No kids?”
“Ah, not in the near future,” he replied.
“But that means you guys have thought about it?” I wondered if Jase had ever considered wanting kids with Jack’s mother? Probably not when they were sixteen, but in the future.
Avery’s cheeks were now red. “Not really. I mean, that’s really serious. Not that we’re not serious.” She patted Cam’s arm when he returned his gaze to her. She twisted around, grinning. “Anyway, you look really cute. Love the shirt.”
“Thank you. So do you.” And she did, dressed in jeans and a pretty green shirt that complemented her coloring perfectly. “How many people are going to be at the party?”
“Not many,” Cam answered, spinning the wheel. “It’s not one of their big ones. You’re probably going to be bored.”
“She’s not going to be bored.” Avery grinned. “Jacob had to back out, but Brit is coming.”
I relaxed against the seat in spite of the twisty motion my stomach was doing. “That’s cool.”
“Is Ollie coming?” she asked Cam.
A smile crossed my lips. I’d met Ollie, Cam’s old roommate a few times. He’d graduated in the spring and while I hadn’t known him well, I knew enough.
“I think he might be showing up later.” Cam reached over, finding Avery’s hand without looking, and threading his fingers through hers.
I focused my gaze on the window, a little uncomfortable. Not because they were touchy-feely—and they were always touchy-feely—but because there was a little green-eyed bitch that lived in the pit of my stomach. I shouldn’t be jealous of them.
Shaking my head, I cleared my throat. “What is Ollie going to grad school for again?”
My eyes widened. “Are you serious? Holy crap. I didn’t think he was . . .” Um, how did I say this nicely? “I thought he smoked away most of his brain cells.”
Avery giggled. “That’s what I thought.”
“Ollie’s smarter than most people realize,” replied Cam. He blew past the Sheetz, which made me yearn for a jalapeño cheese–stuffed pretzel. “Hell, he’s smarter than he realizes.”
Avery and Cam then fell into a conversation about how they both really believed something was up with Brit and Ollie, but neither of their friends was sharing. Clasping my hands together until my knuckles ached, I focused on the dark shadows outside the car. When Cam hung a right into a subdivision, passing several dark roads with no streetlamps, my breath hitched.
He came to a stop near the end of the street and pulled into an empty spot across from a large, three-story home that appeared to have every light on in the house. Stomach tumbling, I stepped out of the car and inhaled the cool night air. I considered pulling Cam aside and telling him that I knew about Jack, but it didn’t feel right, like it wasn’t my place.
Avery sidled up to my side, looping her arm through mine. “Ready?”
I nodded. As the three of us crossed the street and headed toward the front door, all I could think about was how Jase would react when he saw me. Would he be upset I was there? Would he be happy? Mad?
Fudge on a f**ker. It didn’t matter. I was not here for Jase.
Cam held the door open, and Avery led me inside. I’d never been inside a frat house before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was somehow still surprised.
The foyer was clean and smelled pretty good. A line of sneakers was near the doorway, and there weren’t any holes in the walls. I wasn’t sure why I expected to see holes.
“Yo!” Cam shouted, edging past us and into the living room. “What’s up?”
Avery rolled her eyes as she slipped her arm free. “Wow. That wasn’t loud.”
Several guys were in the living room, crowding around a couch and TV. My skin prickled when I recognized Erik. He looked up and then quickly refocused on the game. The way he sat was unnaturally straight. Beside him, Debbie appeared okay. She smiled and gave me a little wave.
I waved back, wanting to apologize for earlier, but I knew right now or when Erik was nearby wouldn’t be a good thing.
Brandon Shriver was beside Erik, a game controller in one hand and a beer in the other. He nodded at me and then turned to Cam, holding up the controller. “Want in?”
“Nah.” Cam slipped his baseball cap around backward. “It’s all yours.”
“Keg’s outside, bro,” said a blond guy I’d never seen before. He was perched on the arm of a worn, old recliner. His dark gaze moved over Avery and then stopped on me. Taking a sip from his bottle, he grinned. “And I think a game of beer pong is on.”
I smiled back. The guy was cute, even if he didn’t have dark hair or gray eyes. Right then, I decided that was a good thing. My smile started to spread.
“Awesome.” Cam turned, dropping his arm over Avery’s shoulder. “And stop staring at my sister, jackass.”
My mouth dropped open.
The guy chuckled and winked. “Yes, sir.”
“Cam.” Avery smacked his stomach as I turned away, my face burning. “Stop,” she said, smacking him again.
He shrugged one shoulder as he walked toward the open door leading to the garage. “Hey, I said she could come. I didn’t say she wasn’t going to regret it.”
Hurrying up, I squeezed past them and shoved my elbow into his side. Satisfaction rang throughout me as he grunted. “Last time I checked, I didn’t need your permission, ass wipe.”
“That is true,” Avery chimed in.
He made a face.
I shot him a look that warned if he opened his mouth again, I’d do bodily harm. Flicking the top of my bun, he dodged my swinging arm, bending and kissing Avery’s cheek. “Want to get in on the game of pong?”
She shook her head. “I think I’ll sit this one out. What about you?”
I had no idea how to play beer pong. “Me too.”
“You okay then?” he asked Avery in a low voice, and when she nodded, he kissed her forehead again. “I’ll be right over there.”
My brows arched. Right over there was like, right in front of the empty lawn chairs. As he jogged over to the group of guys clustered around a Ping-Pong table, we headed to the keg and returned to the seats with plastic red cups full to the brim.
I watched my brother with the guys for a few moments as I took a drink of the bitterness. Then another. “Not a lot of girls here.”
Avery leaned back, stretching out her legs. “I don’t come to a lot of the parties, but I think these kinds are more like get-togethers. So it’s usually just girlfriends.”
Wincing, I took another gulp. “Then I’m kind of standing out?”
She smiled at me. “Well . . . you want the truth or the make-you-feel-better truth?”
I laughed. “Hit me with the make-me-cry truth.”
The skin around her eyes crinkled as her smile spread. “Well, let’s just say if you want to meet someone, you’re definitely in the right place.”
Snorting, I gazed at the table. “Like that will happen with Cam around.”
“True. The guy back in the living room?” She took a sip of her beer and then lowered her hands. “His name’s Eddie. I think he’s actually a pretty nice guy, so . . .”
Looking over my shoulder, I couldn’t see into the living room, but I could hear the sounds from the video game and laughter. “Cam would probably pile drive the poor guy if I talked to him.”
Avery laughed. “I’ll distract him.”
Over the next hour we plotted, but that conversation drifted into the trip she and Cam were planning to take to the Poconos during fall break. “That sounds really romantic.”
The apples of her cheeks almost matched her hair. “It was his suggestion.”
“Aw.” I watched him, grinning. Who knew my brother was such a softie? “I’m proud of him.”
She laughed. “I’m so lucky.”
“More like he is.”
A ball zinged past us, smacking into the wall near the dartboard. Avery shook her head as one of the guys half ran, half stumbled after it. “How’s your knee doing?”
“It’s doing okay. Only hurts off and on. I have an appointment the week before Thanksgiving.”
“Keeping my fingers crossed for you.” She glanced over at the table. Cam was doing what I think was a victory dance. Or he was having a seizure.
“You miss dancing?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yeah. I really do.” There was a quick pause as she swallowed. “What was your favorite recital?”
Her eyes lit up when I told her about the last recital—the one before I majorly screwed up. Although she hadn’t danced for years, I could tell she was still passionate about it. I made a promise at that moment that at some point, I would get her to dance.
I stared into my empty cup, wanting to know where Jase was. I hadn’t seen his Jeep out front, but I knew several of them parked along the back. I didn’t ask because I wasn’t here because of him.
Not at all.
But why did he live in this frat house instead of at the farm? Wouldn’t he want to be closer to Jack? Or was it the opposite he needed?
I snuck another cup and then one more when Cam was busy making gooey eyes at Avery from the group of guys he stood among. Another girl had appeared at some point, but with the way one of the guys had his arm around her waist, I figured she was a girlfriend.
Brittany arrived, her short blond hair slicked back in a ponytail. Less than three minutes after she gave Avery and then me a hello hug, Ollie strode through the open garage doors, his hair hanging loosely, brushing his shoulders.
He raised his arms as practically everyone there shouted his name, a smile breaking out across his handsome face. “Aw, you guys missed me!”
Brit rolled her eyes, but before she could say anything, Ollie sidled up behind her. “Hello, Avery and Miss Teresa, how are you doing this fine evening?”
I giggled, shaking my head. “We’re doing good.”
“Great.” He captured Brit’s tiny ponytail. “I need to borrow you for a second, sí?”
Brit’s eyes went heavenward, but her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink. “I’ll be right back. Senor Fucktard can’t want me for that long.”
“It’ll be awhile,” he corrected, and her flush deepened.
We watched the two of them head back out into the night, and then I turned to look at Avery.
“Interesting,” she murmured.
I glanced at her, grinning. “I guess they are together.”
She raised her brows as she nodded. “I’d say something is most definitely going on there.”
The combination of the Erik/Debbie situation and Jase’s absence did not bode well for my good old liver, but it was doing great things for my mood. By the time I was halfway through my fourth cup, I didn’t care that Jase wasn’t around. Maybe later, when Avery coaxed Cam outside as planned, I’d go and find Ernest . . . or Edwin. Whatever his name was. And I would prove to myself that baggage-free guys could kiss just as well as Jase, if not better. That was my plan. But first, I needed the little girl’s room before I died.