Rain dripped from my chin as I banged my knuckles across Thatch’s fancy apartment door.
Over and over again.
Like a crazy person, I smacked my hand against it. Tears mixed with water from the outside streamed down my cheeks.
I was “that girl.”
The one who went to her boyfriend’s apartment late at night, a complete hot mess of emotional chaos.
“Thatch!” I hit the door a third time, my palm stinging from the contact.
Finally, it opened.
Thatch was shirtless and shoeless.
His jeans hugged his body in a way that should have been illegal. Then again, he was a plastic surgeon—perfection was kind of his thing.
Anger surged through me and then . . . insecurity quickly replaced it. Brooke, the girl I had found him kissing, was taller than me, more athletic. She had stripper hair, the kind that just screams extensions, and her face was flawless. Probably along the lines of what Thatch was into. And her body? Let’s say it was made for sin.
And looky here.
In my entire life, I had never been more aware of my wet black band shirt or my holey boyfriend jeans.
My navy-blue Converse sneakers squeaked when I shifted from the left to the right foot and back again.
“What?” He cocked his head to the side. “It’s late.”
I frowned. Seriously? Why is he treating me like I’m the one who just got caught cheating? “I . . .” My voice was hoarse from crying. “I’m sorry for running away. I just . . . I was upset.” His face was like stone. No smile, not even any anger, just a chilly indifference that had me wanting to wrap my arms around my suddenly freezing body. “I want to try, Thatch. I . . .” My voice was barely a whisper. “I love you.”
I held my breath.
He didn’t say it back.
In fact, he didn’t say much of anything for a few moments.
Moments that felt like hours.
Finally, he pressed his fingers to his temple and then shrugged. “We’re done, Austin.”
The door clicked shut in my face with the finality of a gunshot.
“Fire!” Someone had shouted the word loud enough for me to jolt awake in a full-on panic. Heart hammering against my chest, I quickly assessed my bedroom for flames or smoke.
Pink walls. I hated pink. Pink walls summed up just about everything you needed to know about me. Namely, that my life wasn’t mine to control. I had pink walls because my mom liked soft colors and wanted my room to look feminine.
And the old One Direction poster with asshole Zayn on the front of it? Well, that’s what normal teenagers had on their walls, right? At least, that’s what my father said, since we always had to please the voters. And when the local news did a story on our house, it was a huge hit. Look at the all-American straight-A student and her normal high school room! Yay me. So the walls were pink, and I was staring up at One Direction.
Damn you, Zayn, damn you to hell!
I shook my fist in the air. Partially because I was still pissed at him for leaving, but mainly because I was so pissed at myself for allowing others to control me.
I blinked up at the white ceiling, my eyes finally dry after so much crying. No tears left, I sighed.
I blinked again. Had I imagined someone shouting “Fire!” at me? Was I really that exhausted?
“Oh look, you’re awake.” My best friend, Avery, breezed into my childhood bedroom with a plate of chocolate chip cookies in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. “I was afraid you were dead.”
“What?” I yawned, stretching my stiff arms over my head. Pieces of chocolate fell onto my face as I opened my clenched hands. Huh, imagine that, I still had some. “Why would I be dead?”
“You smell like it.” She scrunched up her nose. “And word on the street is you’ve given up showers and decided to stop shaving your legs.” She held up her hand.
“What? What are you doing?” I squinted and tried to focus. “Why are you holding up your hand?”
“Girl power. High five.” She closed it into a fist. “Or do we bump?”
“Why are you here? In my room? Isn’t it Monday? Don’t you have work?” After Avery screwed her boss—literally—and found her happily-ever-after with her childhood friend-slash-nemesis, she’d been moved to a different department, one that needed so much organization, I almost felt sorry for her having to put in so many hours. Between both of our schedules, we’d barely seen each other in the last week.
“Saturday.” Avery rolled her green eyes. “It’s Saturday, Austin, as in, the weekend.” She picked up a half-eaten granola bar and made a face. “Is this all you’ve had today?”
I snatched the bar away from her and almost growled. “Mine.”
“Wow, your transformation is complete. You’ve turned into a hairy beast with smelly hair and . . .” She narrowed her eyes. “Dear God, you have Cheetos in your hair.”
“Really?” I perked up.
“No!” She smacked my shoulder. “See! This is what I was afraid of! This is what you do when you get sad! You revert back to your junior high self.” Her eyes leveled me with a knowing glare. The one that was ever present during the tumultuous high school years when my then boyfriend, Braden, had literally slapped a piece of bread out of my hand during prom night because he said it was going to make me fat. Thinking about him gave me hives.
Avery sighed. “Are you stashing junk food in your bed?” She pulled back the covers to reveal my shame. “MoonPies in your nightstand!” Her movements were too quick.
Too late. She could barely get the drawer open as chocolate MoonPies spilled over onto the floor.
“Austin.” Avery shook her head slowly and held out her hand. “Give me the Mountain Dew.”
Braden had hated Mountain Dew.
That’s why I bought stock in PepsiCo the minute we broke up.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I sniffed while trying to move the unopened soda farther under my pillow.
“One!” She held up a finger. “Two!”
“Stop counting! I won’t be threatened in my own room!”
The room I still lived in while I finished grad school.
The room that reminded me of all the things that drove me to want to go to grad school in the first place.
“Three!” Avery launched her body across mine, using her nails to scratch my arm as she dug under the pillow and swatted the Mountain Dew onto the floor. “Oh, Austin, they put formaldehyde in these things!”
I clenched my eyes shut. “Just go away.”
“No. I’m not leaving—and not just because you’re trying to pickle your body with this . . . Look, it’s been a month.” She pointed a judgmental finger at my can of soda. “You need to get over him.”
Because I refused to say his name.
Because saying his name was just asking to be haunted by the feel of him, his rough hands running all over my body, the way he kissed like he was going for the gold, or the way he never, ever, let me leave his side without squeezing my hand and kissing me across the lips, gently as if to say, Hey, just wanted to touch you.
The dreams were bad enough.
I refused to think about him during the day, because that just gave him more power, but my body had different ideas at night, when the darkness blanketed me in a quiet loneliness that threatened to choke me to death.
Everything was perfect.
And then it just. Wasn’t.
The tears came again.
Of course they did.
My chest was sore. Like an idiot, I rubbed it, but nothing made the heartache dissipate. Add school stress to the mix and I was an exhausted hot mess, barely able to function without sobbing my eyes out and drinking lots of coffee so I wouldn’t fail at life . . . or my classes.
School stress, I knew I could manage. I always did.
Family stress, it was always there.
Exhaustion? Well, that was typical for a college student.
But the whole Thatch situation? That’s what sent me over the edge. That’s what kept me up at night. That’s what made it so that when I turned in my last project, my professor gave me the number to the UW counselor hotline.
Why? Why was I so unlucky with guys?
He was supposed to be a really hot one-night stand. We’d had an agreement, and then everything changed. You’d have to be insane not to want more of that man after one night. And when that one night turned into another, then another, and things got serious on my end, when I confessed how I really felt, he should have made a run for it! That’s what cock-sucking cheaters did! They made a lame excuse about how it was “fun” and then ran in the opposite direction with their tail between their legs. But what did he do instead? He s
aid, “Let’s try.”
As in, let’s be more than sex partners every other Saturday when I wasn’t up to my ears in research and when he wasn’t scrubbing in on some lame-ass boob surgery.
So try we did.
And it worked.
And it was awesome.
Until it wasn’t.
Until the leopard took a good hard look in the mirror and thought to himself, Gee golly gosh, I really do miss those spots! Damn it! I can’t be tamed. Insert Miley Cyrus lyrics here.
End of story.
No happy ending.
Because the leopard let a girl, who was not me, maul him with her mouth in front of me, hours before confessing that he’d been feeling apprehensive about our arrangement.
What? Like we signed a contract or something?
That should have been my first clue.
Instead, I ignored it, and walked in on him kissing my best friend’s sister.
And then, after all the tears on my end, when I went to his apartment the next day and said I wanted to really try to make things work.
He said no. And broke up with me. With me.
As if I were the one who did something wrong! When I was willing to forgive and forget—willing to move the hell on! Because I liked him. An irritating voice panging inside my chest cavity, a voice also known as my heart, had other feelings, strong ones, feelings that reminded me how tender he’d been toward me, how loving, how caring. How pissed off he’d been when I told him about my parents’ lack of affection, and how nurturing he’d been when I confessed how badly school was stressing me out.
Fine. I loved him.