Sure we would; we just wouldn’t realize the danger. Because the truth is, we’re walking deaf, dumb, and blind half of the time. And even though I can tell myself this afterward, after I f**k up, it doesn’t make me feel any better. Because I’m about to do a f**k up royale. With cheese. I feel it in my bones, like an inevitable death I can’t escape, but I do it anyway. And part of me knows this even as I hurdle down the path towards destruction. The bigger part of me, in fact. Does that make me dig in my heels and try to stop? Of course not. I’m the girl walking down those dark stairs into the basement. The truth is, I’ve been her since it all began.

Chapter 23

FROM THE WINDOW, the quad is a carpet of green, ringed by copper and gold tipped trees. Branches sway in the gentle breeze and the golden leaves dance. A pretty picture. Students stroll past on their way to one of the many red brick buildings that line the square. It’s all so silent, this vibrant life teeming just outside the window.

Inside, however, I’m facing the firing squad.

“Anything interesting out there, Miss Jones?” Professor Lambert taps her notepad with the tip of her pen.

I give her a half-guilty smile. “I love the fall. It’s my favorite season.” I’m pretty sure, from now on, I’ll always equate Drew with crisp air and gilded sunshine.

The fine lines around Lambert’s eyes deepen. “I prefer spring. The flowers and new green leaves.” Evidently tired of dancing around her intended mission, she takes a small breath, and her focus tightens. “Tell me, Miss Jones, have you given any thought to what you might do upon graduation this spring?”

I knew this question was coming. It’s why I’m here. Evaluation of my progress thus far and prodding into my future plans. As head of the department, Professor Lambert has met with me for similar discussions throughout my college career.

I lean back and cross one leg over the other. “I’ve given it thought.” When I’m not thinking about Drew, I’m thinking about that. “But it hasn’t gotten me very far.”

Understanding softens her expression. “Don’t let it worry you too much. For most of us, it takes a lifetime to truly figure out who we are and what we want. I’m merely trying to help you take a step in the right direction.”

I had thought college would be that step but, apparently, not so much. It’s only made me an intellectual dilettante.

“Have you considered graduate school?” she asks. “With your grade point average, I imagine plenty of programs would be interested in having you.”

Having a 4.0 opens doors, true. It also kind of makes you think that academia is the only safe place for you.

“No. Honestly, Professor, I have no desire to continue with school right now.” The thought makes me shudder. I study because it’s my current job, but I don’t have any passion for it. I’m freaking burnt out on school as it is. And even though it scares the hell out of me, I want to be out in the world, a little fish in a big, blue sea.

Lambert studies me, her head tilted to the side, as if by looking at me from another angle, she might unlock a clue of who I’m supposed to be. Well good luck to her. I’ve stared in the mirror for hours at this point and still haven’t got a clue.

When she speaks it’s cautious. “I understand you are involved with Mr. Baylor.”

My body turns to lead in my chair while my heart begins to pound. “What makes you say that?”

This time, her smile is soft and wry. “Come now, Miss Jones. You two are in class with me. I’d have to be blind not to notice.”

I resisted the urge to squirm like a child in my seat. Were we that obvious? Likely we were. It takes all of my willpower not to look at Drew, not to reach out and touch him when he sits a foot away from me. And Drew has always been less circumspect. Every class, I feel the heat and power of his gaze on me like the rays of the sun.

“I’m not sure how this pertains to our conversation,” I say.

She bites the corner of her lip, and in that moment, she appears much younger than her fifty-odd years. She leans forward, bracing her arms upon her desk, and her silver bobbed hair swings over her ears. “I realize this is none of my business,”—an intro that never bodes well—“but it’s easy to become lost in the fervor of love.”

There’s that “L” word again.

“Which is understandable,” she goes on. “But when it comes to someone like Mr. Baylor—”

“You fear I’ll waste my potential on a football player,” I finish for her. “And here I thought I knew better than that.” I’m not so sure I do anymore. Which scares the hell out of me.

Her mouth purses at my sarcasm. “Mr. Baylor possesses a powerful personality, one that easily overshadows others. And while most of my fellow faculty members would be urging you to keep him happy, I’m more concerned about your life.”

I lean forward as well. “You’re right. It’s none of your business. However, I can appreciate your concern.”

The corners of her eyes tighten as she peers at me. “All I ask of you is that you consider yourself first. It is all I ask of any student, by the way. Even Mr. Baylor.”

But we both know that Drew doesn’t have to worry about being lost in me. His life is mapped out in glowing pinpoints of light.

A dark chasm opens up beneath me, threatening to suck me down. Because she is right, I have no idea who I am supposed to be, or what the hell I’m going to do once college is over and Drew’s gone.

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