My heart stuttered, along with my step.
“Josie!” Seth called out again, his voice closer. “Hold up.”
Part of me wanted to keep going, but I couldn’t. A tiny spark of hope flared to life. I turned around, stopping under the cluster of olive trees. “What?” I said when he drew near. “Did you follow me so you can scold me again?”
Seth slowed, stopping a few feet in front of me. “I didn’t scold you.”
“Bullshit,” I snapped, latching onto the anger, because that was better than the confusion and hurt. “You scolded me in front of Marcus. Told me not to embarrass myself. Except you were the one embarrassing me.”
His brows knitted. “Okay. I didn’t mean to do that—”
“It doesn’t matter if you meant to do that or not. You did it.” I took a deep breath as I stared up at him. “What is going on, Seth? Why aren’t you training me anymore?”
Crossing his arms over his chest, he didn’t answer for a moment. “Like I said earlier, it’s just better that way.”
“That’s not an explanation.”
His gaze met mine and then flickered away. “It’s all the explanation you need to hear.”
Anger burst inside me once more and I barked out a short laugh. “Okay. You know what, I’m a grown-ass woman, and you don’t get to decide what I need and don’t need to hear.”
“I know that, but this time, I do.” His eyes deepened in hue, turning into a tawny color. “I’m not trying to be a jerk.”
“Then you need to try harder,” I fired back. “Because I’m pretty sure you just came out here to tell me the same lame crap you told me inside, and that’s nothing.”
Seth exhaled roughly as dark clouds began to roll in overhead, blotting out the sun and casting deep, unforgiving shadows across the quad. A storm was coming. “This isn’t going how I planned,” he said.
“How exactly did you plan this—whatever this is—to go, Seth? Everything was fine yesterday and—”
“Everything was not fine yesterday.” His arms dropped to his sides as he lowered his head so we were nearly eye level. “Yesterday was one huge-ass mistake. Fuck. Not just yesterday. Everything has been.”
I drew back again, actually took a step back from him. My mouth opened, but I’d lost the ability to form words as that fissure in my chest spread, cutting deep, and it throbbed and pulsed like a very real, raw wound.
“Everything?” That was the only word I managed.
He stared at me a moment and then looked away, cursing under his breath as he shoved his fingers through his hair. “You don’t understand.”
“You’re right.” Tears clogged my throat, and I didn’t want to yell at him anymore. I only wanted this to be some kind of bizarre misunderstanding. “I don’t understand. Can you . . . can you please explain it to me?”
Seth lowered his arm and looked at me. There was a wealth of secrets in those odd eyes, and I stiffened like steel had been dropped down my spine. Instantly, I knew it would be better if I hadn’t asked the question. If I had just kept walking.
“I . . . I like you, Josie. I think you’re great,” he said, his voice flat once more, and what was in my chest just shriveled right up, like a flower left without water and sun. Everything was over. “But what we’re doing isn’t working out for me.”
“And you’re not just talking about training, are you?” I heard myself ask in a voice that was small and pitiful.
Seth said nothing, but thunder crackled in the distance.
“That’s wrong,” I whispered as I jabbed my finger at him. “You can’t even say it.”
“We’re not just talking about training. I’m talking about everything,” he said, and I flinched as that one word echoed throughout me. He looked away again, shaking his head. “Is that what you want me to say, Josie? Did that make you feel better hearing that?”
“No,” I admitted, drawing in a shaky breath. “Why? Why—”
“I don’t want to do this with you,” he interrupted, his voice cool but his words slicing right into me. “I don’t want to do any of this with you. Dammit, Josie, don’t make this hard. That’s enough of a reason.”
The burning sensation spread to my throat and chest, and I took another step back. I didn’t know what to say as I stared at him and only two words came out.
Hot tears welled up in my eyes. “Fuck you.”
I didn’t wait for his response, and this time, when I turned around, Seth didn’t stop me. I made it to my dorm and inside my room before my tenuous hold stretched too thin and then broke. The burn intensified, climbing back up my throat as I closed the door behind me and slid down, plopping onto the floor right in front of it. I smacked my hands over my face, pressing my palms into my eyes, but that did nothing to stop the tears.
There was so much to be worried about—training, finding demigods and the librarian, my mom and Erin, the Titans, and so much more, but right then, I didn’t care about any of that. My chest was split right open and my heart was torn out, left on a marble walkway by a group of olive trees. The pain was intense and consuming.
“Oh God,” I whispered into the silent room.
My shoulders shook as my fingers curled against my forehead. I clamped my mouth shut, stifling the sobs that were trying to break free, but the tears came. There was no stopping them. Hot wetness slipped down my cheeks. I thought I felt the floor move under me, a tremor that rattled the furniture, but I didn’t care about that either.