But somehow when I decided I would take what I could from Captain, he’d taken me. I’ve been living on this little fluffy cloud, forgetting all about my mother and how I have a duty to repay what was done to her. How could I do that to her? I owe her justice. It’s like I’m back in that room watching her die, standing there helpless all over again. Then the night flashes through my mind, playing scene by scene.
I close my eyes tightly. I don’t know how long I sit there making myself watch it over and over again in my head. Reminding myself of what I did.
I’d done nothing to save her. And what am I doing now to avenge her death?
I pull out my cell phone and text Mal.
I need a favor.
* * *
SOMETHING IS WRONG with Paige. I’ve been watching her all day, and she’s not herself. I’ve gotten her alone twice to ask her, but she brushes it off, saying she has a headache. I’m not sure I believe her. A mask has dropped over her face, making her harder to read than normal. By the end of the day, she isn’t any better, and I’m starting to worry and feel completely on edge. Every muscle in my body is strung tight as I wonder what’s going on in that head of hers. She’s been playful these past few days as I pulled the real Paige out piece by piece, but that playfulness has all but disappeared now.
“Kitten, maybe I should take you to the doctor,” I say, putting the back of my hand on her forehead to see if she has a fever. She doesn’t feel warm, but this isn’t like her. I don’t like this shit, and something about it is eating me. It feels off, and I always trust my gut.
She glances around and then back at me, knocking my hand away more forcefully than I expect. The motion burns deep in my gut. The playfulness slips away even more. She’s slipping away. I can feel it. Usually when she bats me away, it’s a halfhearted attempt. Almost an invitation to keep touching her. But that felt different. “To put it bluntly, I started my period today. I get really bad headaches and cramps, so if you don’t mind I’d like to be alone tonight.”
Her statement surprises me. I didn’t expect her to say it, but it’s not like she’s got the plague. I don’t know what most guys’ reactions would be, but I don’t care. It’s just a period. Every other person on the planet has one. It’s not like she’s going to give it to me, and if I’m with her I can take care of her. Get her anything she might need.
“Look, let’s go home and I can rub your feet and you can rest. I’ll make us dinner.” I’m already thinking about what I can do to make her better. Maybe she’s irritable and needs to eat. That happens more than not. I can Google what helps with that time-of-the-month shit. I’m sure there is something I can do for her.
She looks annoyed and shakes her head as if shaking away the idea. “No, I’d rather be alone. I’ll see you in the morning.” Her words are final, and I’m shocked, pissed even, as I watch her stack those blocks back up around her. She thinks they’re going to stay, but I won’t let them.
“Hey.” I grab her arm, but she jerks it out of my grip. What’s happening? Why is she being so aggressive? She’s pissed, that much is clear. I can see it in the tight lines of her body. She’s rigid, almost breakable.
“Seriously, Ryan. I’m fine. Give me some space tonight. Is that so much to ask?”
The fact that she used my real name makes me take a step back. I don’t appreciate her tone, or her insinuation that my being with her is somehow an inconvenience. “I wanted to make sure you were all right. I can see you have that under control.” It takes everything in me to force those words past my lips.
This is about her father. She has that same look on her face she had that night at the party. I take a deep breath to calm myself. I need to give her a little space. A little time to breathe, but not much. She isn’t walking this road alone, as much as she wants to, or at least thinks she wants to.
She grabs her messenger bag and avoids eye contact. “I’m fine. I’m not feeling great today, and I’d appreciate a night off.”
“Absolutely.” The word comes out cold, but she doesn’t react. I clench my fists at my sides so I don’t reach out and grab her and pull her to me.