Every time he speaks up in class, my skin twitches and my heart does a little leap like it’s trying to return to its owner. And I hate my traitorous heart.
I might have tried to apologize, but he leaves me no opening. He’s out the door as soon as the professor gives the okay. Short of chasing him down, I’m not getting near him with any ease. I could do it, but my feet won’t propel me forward. I just want it all to end.
What could I say to him, anyway?
I’m sorry, Drew, but I can’t let go of my stupid old self. You remember high school? And that chubby, awkward girl? There is one in every school. The one that everyone knows, but no one really sees? My school? Well she had frizzy red hair and braces. She was too pale, too quiet. She never got asked to a dance. Never went to prom or made out in some guy’s car. She never even experienced a kiss until she got to college.
And no matter what she tells herself now, that stupid f**king shame, those icy cold years of isolation, don’t seem to leave her. It doesn’t matter that she knows she attracts guys now. It doesn’t matter that she knows she’s smart, or that she has friends. Deep down, she’s still that girl. Even when she fights to cut the line.
And she can’t f**king breathe with the spotlight turned on her. Because they’ll see. They’ll all see that she’s still that chubby girl who didn’t fit in. And you’re a spotlight, Drew. You blind her.
Yeah. Pathetic. Because I ought to be over it. I hate that I’m not. I hate my weakness. And I’d rather Drew hate me for the wrong reasons than feel sorry for me for the right ones.
Which only makes me hate myself more.
And so the pain continues as I follow him out of class the next week, only to stop dead when he meets up with another girl. She has cheerleader-sorority girl written all over her, from her size four jeans to her bone straight hair, falling like a shining sheet to her tiny ass. And maybe she carries a wealth of insecurities deep within her skin, but I hate her on sight anyway.
He gives her his bright smile, the one that used to make my knees give way, and she tucks her arm in his. And they look so good together that I stop. Maybe it’s for the best. He deserves to be happy. Deserves someone who isn’t a mess.
On the heels of that charitable thought comes a stronger one: Fuck. That.
I’m about to go tell him the truth. That I do care. I care too much. Then he turns his head, as if he feels me watching. Our eyes meet, and he cocks a brow as if to say, what the f**k are you looking at? As if to say, your chance is gone.
I turn around and leave without another glance.
THE LOCKER ROOM reeks of mud, sweat, and defeat. I sit alone on the bench in front of my locker and stare down at my hands. Hands that managed to perform the three fumbles, four incompletions, and the interception that lost the game. Worst f**king game of my life.
Each breath I take sends shards of agony along my bruised back and hips. My head pounds so hard I fear my eyes will pop out. Low murmurs bump about on the air, but no one talks to me. I don’t blame them. I am their leader, and I’ve let them down.
It’s worse when Rolondo gives me a quick pat on the shoulder. “Happens, man,” he says low and just to me. “Ain’t nothing but a thang.”
I want to shrink down inside myself then. I’m the one who threw him the shitty passes, making him look bad on that field. That he knows why I’ve f**ked up and isn’t killing me over it has my throat closing.
Sweat trickles along my temples and burns in my eyes. But I don’t move to wipe it away. I wait, quiet until the guys shower and change. Until they leave me.
I shower alone, standing under the hot water as a lump fills my throat, and then I turn off the taps. I’m dressed and zipping up my bag when Gray comes back in.
He looks at me for a long moment, his brows bunched together in a scowl. Yeah, I’ve f**ked him over too. “Sorry” seems too trite.
His voice cuts through the silence. “Look, man, you’ve got to know I love you like a brother.”
“Your brothers are all dicks.” It’s an old joke, said many times before, but my voice sounds like gravel and feels like glass against my throat. Humiliation crawls over me. Everyone loses now and then. But not like this, not by being a f**king bonehead and throwing away a game.
A small smile cracks his face. “Total dicks.” He ambles in further. “More than a brother, then.”
I want to smile, want to pretend it’s all-good. But I can’t even look him in the eyes. I know I’ve got whatever it is he’s going to say coming to me. God knows I heard more than an earful from my coaches.
“I don’t want to bust your balls,” Gray continues. “So I’ll just say this once. Get your head out of your ass and get over this chick.”
Easier said than done.
“We need your head on right, Drew. I appreciate you being upset for a while, but enough is enough. A piece of ass is not worth this shit.”
My head jerks up. I glare at Gray, not daring to open my mouth. But he simply shakes his head and steps closer. “She’s just some lying bitch—”
I don’t remember moving. A red haze fogs my vision as I slam him into the wall, my fists clutching his shirt. “Don’t you ever…” I grind out through my teeth before my jaw locks.
Gray’s mouth falls open. “What the f**k?”
Shit. Gray has been shoved around enough by people who are supposed to care about him. I step back, abruptly letting him go, and he sags a second before pushing upright, getting into my face.
“You’d f**king attack me over her?”