I can’t help but smile. Maybe it was cruel to send her over there, but it was just a stupid dare to see if she’d actually do it. “Sorry babe. I didn’t know you’d actually do it. Jared’s one of my brothers and he’s seen you in my lap all night – he’s not going to make a move on you. He values his face too much.”
“What?” Her confusion is adorable. “So you chose someone you knew wouldn’t talk to me?”
I shrug. “I can’t have another guy touching something I want for myself.”
Her mouth drops open. “Oh.”
We’ve been pretending that we’re friends, because it’s all she’s ready for, but she has to know I want more. I consider asking her to kiss me. Her mouth is right there, inches from mine, looking f**king delicious, but I can’t. I can’t bear to hear her turn me down. I glance up and spot a safe-looking target across the room: a guy who looks like he was raised on whole milk and Flintstone’s vitamins. Safe as white bread. I wonder if she’ll do it. At least it’d be easier to hear her turn him down. “That guy…over there.” I point and Avery’s eyes reluctantly leave mine to seek the target. “Kiss him.”
Her confused gaze meets mine. “No kissing. I told you I’m not ready.”
Shit. Now I feel like a dick. “Fine. Go talk to him then.” I hold her eyes, wondering what she’ll do.
Avery surprises me by glancing his way, and then walking toward him without another word. Something twists inside me.
They strike up a deep conversation, and I silently curse myself. This was my grand f**king plan…to drive her into the arms of another guy? I should punch myself in the face.
I sulk on the couch and watch them. I haven’t seen the guy around here before. He actually looks like he’d be a decent guy, but that’s beside the point. Avery tosses her hair over her shoulder and laughs at something he says. God damn it, she’s actually flirting with him. My stomach clenches. He smiles at her, and I have the sudden desire to knock that smile off his face. I grab another beer and down half of it in a single gulp.
Jase is helping me break free from my shell in ways I didn’t think were possible. I need to thank him for last night. After his little dare gave me the shove I needed, I talked to Mitch for over an hour at the small party. And since Jase got pretty drunk, Mitch even drove me home. I had to give myself a little pep talk, convincing myself that Mitch was a safer choice. That despite my growing feelings for Jase, his reputation and whatever’s still going on between him and Stacia means I need to spread my wings a little. Jase and I are just friends and that is for the best.
I exchanged contact info with Mitch and we may be going out next weekend. We’ll see if he calls me.
I dress casually in yoga pants and a fitted long-sleeve tee, throw my hair into a ponytail and set off in search of coffee. I pick up an extra cup for Jase, who’s no doubt hung-over this morning, and begin the twenty-minute walk to his house, just off campus. I sip my coffee, letting the sunlight warm my skin. The leaves are changing, bursting in pretty oranges and shades of gold. I’m struck by the notion that the leaves are evolving just as I am.
I daydream as I walk, imagining it might be possible to move forward once and for all, when the images of that night creep into my psyche. Me, posing topless for the camera, with a seductive open-mouthed smirk, my hands and mouth on a certain part of Brent’s anatomy, making it obvious who I was and not-at-all obvious who he was. It started off as innocent, and I trusted Brent. Completely. Which was dumb. Beyond dumb. He had a reputation when I met him, but I believed he had changed.
It’s exactly why I need to exercise caution with Jase. I need to keep him in the friend zone. His belief in me means everything, but anything more will be simply too dangerous. It’s a pity the warning signs flee my mind at the first sight of him.
After knocking at the front door for several minutes, I decide to try the knob, and finding it unlocked, I let myself in. It’s probably a little forward surprising Jase like this. I know he’s probably still sleeping, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me, so I put it out of my mind and climb the stairs to his room in the attic.
I knock on his bedroom door and wait. Nothing. No sounds from inside. I smile at the thought of him curled up in his big bed. I don’t know if I should just go in or what. I tap again. “Jase?”
I hear him curse and then his heavy footsteps pad across the room. The door opens just a few inches and Jase peeks out at me with bleary eyes. His hair is rumpled and his clothes appear slept in. “Avery?”
“Morning, sunshine. I brought coffee. Can I come in?”
His confused gaze bounces from the cup of coffee I’m holding back to mine. The look in his eyes is pure panic. Something is very wrong and my insides tingle with the anticipation of bad news. Jase makes no move to open the door any further.
“Jase?” I question after a heartbeat.
He rakes a hand thoroughly his unruly hair. “Listen, Whistle…you’re not going to be happy, but I promise you, absolutely nothing happened.”
I storm past him into his room and see Stacia stretched out on the small sofa under the window. She’s just waking up, and dressed only in one of Jase’s T-shirts.
My hands are shaking. I set the coffee down on his dresser so I don’t throw both cups at him. He’s not my boyfriend. We’re not dating, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less pissed that he and Stacia…did whatever they did last night. But I’m the one that left with Mitch last night, what did I expect?
Jase stops before me, his eyes downcast at his feet.
Stacia stands and stretches, the shirt lifting to show her pink lacy panties with her movement.
“Stacia, it’s time for you to go,” Jase says, his voice tight.
She steps into her jeans and tosses her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Chillax, hun, I’ve gotta pee and then I’ll go.” She crosses the room and heads out into the hall.
Once she’s gone, Jase takes my hands in his. “I swear to God nothing happened. She got too drunk to drive home last night and I let her crash on the sofa. I didn’t touch her. I promise you.”
He’s still dressed in his clothes from last night – including his belt. If something did happen between them, why would he have dressed in all his clothes again before going to bed? I don’t know if I should trust him, but I want to.