Be with Me: A Novel (Wait for You), Page 2J. Lynn
Tess. I sucked in a breath. It was his nickname for me—the only person who ever called me that, but I didn’t mind it. Not at all. While Jack demanded to know why I had told him my name was Teresa and Jase explained that Tess was a nickname, I was sucked back into the memory of the last time he’d called me that.
“You have no idea what you make me want,” he said, his lips brushing my cheek, sending shivers down my spine. “You have no fucking clue, Tess.”
“Mind if I use the john before we get out of here? I’ve got to get back,” Cam said. “I promised Avery dinner before the party.”
“I’ll show you,” announced Jack, grabbing Cam’s hand.
Jase arched a dark brow. “I’m sure he knows where the bathroom is.”
“It’s okay.” Cam waved him off. “Come on, little bud, lead the way.”
The two of them headed off toward the farmhouse, and we were officially alone. A hummingbird took flight in my chest, bouncing around like it was going to peck its way out of me as a warm breeze picked up, stirring the hairs that had escaped my ponytail.
Jase watched Cam and Jack jog over the patchy green grass like a man watching the last life preserver being taken as the Titanic started to sink. Well, that was sort of offensive, as if being alone with me was equivalent to drowning while being nom nom’d on by cookie cutter sharks.
I folded my arms across my chest, pursing my lips. Irritation pricked at my skin, but his obvious discomfort smarted like a bitch. It hadn’t always been like this. And it definitely had been better between us, at least up until the night he’d kissed me.
“How’s the leg?”
The fact that he’d spoken startled me, and I stuttered, “Uh, it’s not too bad. Barely hurts anymore.”
“Cam told me about it when it happened. Sorry to hear that. Seriously.” He paused, squinting as the line of his jaw tightened. “When can you get back to dancing?”
I shifted my weight. “I don’t know. I hope soon, as long as my doctor clears me. So fingers crossed.”
Jase’s brows knitted. “Fingers are crossed for you. Still, it sucks. I know how much dancing means to you.”
All I could do was nod, affected more than I should’ve been by the genuine sympathy in his voice.
His gray eyes finally made their way back to mine, and I sucked in a breath. His eyes . . . they never failed to stun me into stupidity or make me want to do crazy-insane things. Right now his eyes were a deep gray, like thunderclouds.
Jase wasn’t happy.
Thrusting a hand through his damp hair, he exhaled deeply. A muscle in his jaw began to tic. The irritation inside me turned into something messy, causing the burn in the back of my throat to move up to my eyes. I had to keep telling myself that he didn’t know—that there was no way he could’ve known and that the way I was feeling, the hurt and the brutal wound of rejection, wasn’t his fault. I was just Cam’s little sister; the reason why Cam had gotten into so much trouble almost four years ago and why Jase had started making the trip to our home every weekend. I was just a stolen kiss. That was all.
I started to turn, to go wait in the truck for Cam before I did something embarrassing, like crying all over myself. My emotions had been all over the place since I injured my leg, and seeing Jase wasn’t helping.
“Tess. Wait.” Jase crossed the distance between us in one step with his long legs. Stopping close enough that his worn sneakers almost brushed my toes, he reached out toward me, his hand lingering by my cheek. He didn’t touch me, but the heat from his hand branded my skin. “We need to talk.”
The piece of hair that Jase had reached for blew across my cheek untouched as those words hung between us. My stomach dipped like it did those seconds before I stepped out onto the stage. Fear had always formed an icy ball in the center of my chest when I stopped before the judges and poised, waiting for the music to begin. No matter how many competitions I had entered or how many recitals I performed in, there had always been a second when I wanted nothing more than to run off the stage.
But I hadn’t run away all those times and it was the same with Jase. I wasn’t going to run from this conversation. Long ago, I had been a coward. Too scared to tell the truth about what Jeremy—the ex-boyfriend from hell—had been doing. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I wasn’t a coward anymore.
I took a deep breath. “You’re right. We do need to talk.”
Jase lowered his hand as he glanced over his shoulder, toward the house. Without saying a word, he placed a hand between my shoulder blades. Unprepared for the contact, I jumped and then flushed.
“Walk with me?”
“Sure.” The hummingbird was back with a vengeance, pecking a hole through my chest.
We didn’t end up walking that far as we were still in plain view of the house. With all this land, I figured there were places that offered more privacy, but he steered me to the nearby split-rail fence surrounding the pasture opposite the field where the horses grazed.
“Sit?” he asked, and before I could say standing was fine, his large hands settled around my hips. I gasped as he lifted me up like I weighed no more than his little brother and sat me on the top rail. “This has to be better for your knee.”
“You shouldn’t be standing around.” He folded his arms.
I gripped the rough wood, only relenting because the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my knee. He didn’t say anything as he stared at me and I wanted to sit there mute, forcing him to broach the subject.
My silence lasted all of five seconds before I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. “It’s stupid.”
“What?” He frowned.
“The name of the town.”
He knocked the longer strands of brown hair out of his face. “You’re mad over the name of the town?”
“Is Spring Mills even a town? You kind of live in Spring Mills, right?” At Jase’s confused stare, I shrugged. “I mean, isn’t it really just Hedgesville or Falling Waters? Just because you build a super Walmart, that doesn’t make it a town.”
Jase stared at me a moment longer and then he laughed deeply—the sound rich and yummy. God help me, but I loved it when he laughed like that. No matter how irritated I was with him or how badly I wanted to karate kick him between the legs, when he laughed, it was like the sun was shining in my eyes.
He leaned against the fence and as tall as he was, we were at eye level as he reached over, draping an arm over my shoulders. He tugged me in close—close enough that if I lifted my head, our mouths would be inches apart. My heart literally did several pliés in my chest. If talking about fake towns and Walmarts got him in the hugging mood, I’d start naming other places like Darksville and Shanghai and—
“Sometimes I don’t think you’re right in the head.” He squeezed me as he dropped his chin to the top of my head, and my breath caught in my throat. “But I like that—I like you. I really do. Not sure what that says about me.”
Pliés? My heart was now a ninja. Maybe this conversation wasn’t going to make me want to go rock in the corner. I relaxed. “That you’re awesome?”
He chuckled as his hand slid down my spine and then was gone. He hoisted himself up beside me. “Yeah, something like that.” There was a stretch of silence and then his gaze settled on me again. His eyes were almost a pale blue now. “I do like you,” he repeated, voice softer. “And that makes it so much harder to figure this out. I don’t know where to really start, Tess.”
The ninja in my heart keeled over dead. But I had a good idea of where he could start. How about why he hadn’t returned a single e-mail or text since that night a year ago? Or why he stopped coming home with Cam? I didn’t get the chance to ask those questions.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and I blinked as the air went out of my lungs. “What happened between us? It shouldn’t have, and I am so very fucking sorry.”
My mouth opened, but I couldn’t make a sound. He was sorry? It f
elt like he’d punched me in the chest because to be sorry meant he regretted what he’d done. I didn’t regret it, not one bit. That kiss . . . the way he had kissed me proved to me that there really was such a thing as uncontrollable attraction, that yearning for more could be painful in the most delicious way, and that there really were such things as sparks flying when lips touched. Regret it? I’d lived off that kiss, holding it up high and comparing everyone in the past, which was not many, and everyone after him, which was even fewer, to that kiss he regretted.
“I’d been drinking that night,” he continued, that muscle in his jaw thrumming along with my heartbeat. “I was drunk.”
I snapped my mouth shut as those three words sunk in. “You were drunk?”
He looked away, thrusting his hand through his hair again as he squinted. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
A horrible twisty feeling coiled in my tummy. It was the same feeling when I had come down from my jump wrong. That horrifying, sinking sensation that had been a warning to the burst of pain that had come next. “You drank like two beers that night.”
“Two?” He wouldn’t look at me. “Ah, I know it had to be more than that.”
“Had to be?” My voice squeaked as a different kind of emotion started to fester inside of me. “I remember that night clearly, Jase. You barely drank two beers. You were not drunk.”
Jase didn’t say anything, but his jaw worked like he was about to crack his molars as I stared at him. Apologizing was bad enough, but claiming he was drunk? That was the worst kind of rejection.
“You’re basically saying you wouldn’t have kissed me if you hadn’t been drinking?” I slid off the fence and faced him, resisting the urge to plant my fist in his stomach. He opened his mouth, but I rushed on. “Was it really that disgusting to you?”
His head swung toward me sharply and something flared in his gray eyes, darkening the hue. “That’s not what I’m saying. It wasn’t gross. It was—”
“Damn straight it wasn’t gross!” There were a lot of moments in my life when Cam would tell me that I didn’t have the common sense to keep my mouth shut. This was cooking up to be one of those moments. “You kissed me. You touched me. You said I had no idea what I made you—”
“I know what I said.” His eyes flashed an angry quicksilver now. He looked me dead-on as he hopped off the fence with the kind of grace that was almost predatory. “I just don’t know why I said those things. It had to have been the beer, because there is no other reason why I would’ve done or said any of those things!”
A red-hot burn replaced the hurt. My hands closed into fists. No—no way did two beers make him do those things. “You’re not a lightweight. You’d been in full control of yourself. And you had to have felt something when you kissed me, because you couldn’t kiss like that and not feel anything.” The moment those words jumped off my tongue, my heart lurched. Thinking that was one thing, but saying it out loud showed how . . . how naive the words sounded.
“You’ve had a crush on me for how long? Of course you’d think it meant something amazing. Jesus Christ, Tess, why do you think I haven’t talked to you this entire time? I knew you would think there was more behind it,” he said, and heat poured across my cheeks. “It was a mistake. I’m not attracted to you, not like that.”
I jerked back as if I’d been slapped. And God knows I knew what it felt like to be slapped. Part of me would’ve taken that over this. I should have run when he said he needed to talk. Or least limped back to the truck. Screw being brave and confrontational. Hurt and embarrassment crawled up my throat, filling my eyes. Apparently, I was as transparent as a window, so I was thankful for the sunglasses hiding my emotions, but he must’ve seen something in my expression, because he closed his eyes briefly.
“Shit,” he cursed low, the skin around his lips a shade paler. “I didn’t mean it like that. I—”
“I think you did,” I snapped, taking another step back. Jase was right. That night had been a mistake—a stupid kiss that I had attached feelings to and built up in my head during his absence. I don’t think I’d ever felt more foolish than I did in this moment. “You couldn’t be any more clear.”
He cursed again as he crossed the distance between us, dipping his chin and causing several locks of waves to tumble forward. “Tess, you don’t understand—”
I barked out a short laugh as mortification burst through me like a dam breaking. “Oh, I’m sure I understand completely. You regret it. Got it. It was a mistake. You probably don’t want to be reminded of it. My bad. And it doesn’t matter. Whatever.” I was rambling, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to save face in the worst possible way, and as I went on, I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t, so I focused on his grass-stained sneakers. “It’s not like I’m going to be here for long anyway. As soon as my knee is cleared, I’m out. And that will be sooner than later. So you don’t have to worry about running into me for long or me bringing any of this up again. It’s not like you’re the only guy that’s—”
“Kissed you?” At the sharpness in his tone, I looked up. His eyes were narrowed until only thin, silvery slits were visible. “How many guys have you kissed, Teresa?”
Not many. I could count on one hand and only needed two fingers to count how many went beyond that, but pride had sunk its claws in me. “Enough,” I said, crossing my arms. “More than enough.”
“Really?” Something flashed across his face. “Does your brother know this?”
I snorted. “As if I would talk to my brother about that. Or like he actually has a say on whom or where I put my lips.”
“Where?” he repeated, head cocked to the side as if he had to work that single word through his mind. The moment he decided on what that could possibly mean, his broad shoulders stiffened. “Where are you putting your lips?”
“Uh, like that’s any of your business.”
His stare sharpened. “It’s totally my business.”
Did he live in an alternate universe? “I don’t think so.”
“Don’t call me that,” I snapped, sucking in a deep breath.
Jase reached for me, and I easily dodged his grasp. The last thing I needed was him touching me. Determination settled into his striking features. “Where are you—?”
The door to the front of the house slammed shut behind us, saving me. Jase stepped back, drawing in a deep breath as his little brother raced across the grass and gravel.
From about four feet away, the little boy launched himself at Jase, screaming, “Superman cape! Superman cape!”
He caught Jack and slung him around, latching his little brother’s arms around his neck. Jack hung down his back, sort of like a flesh cape.
“Sorry it took so long.” Cam grinned, unaware of what felt like unbearable tension to me. “Your mom had lemonade. And applesauce cake. Had to get me some of that.”
Jase smiled, but ducked his chin at the same time. “Understandable.”
I stood there like a statue. A bird could’ve pooped on my head and I wouldn’t have moved. My fingers felt numb from how hard I was clenching my hands.
As Jase turned to the side, Jack smiled at me. “Are you going to learn to ride?”
I didn’t realize what he was talking about at first, but when I did, I didn’t know what to say. I doubted Jase wanted to see my face on this farm again, even if I had the lady balls to get on one of those things.
Cam was staring at me, brows raised, Jase was staring at the ground, his jaw tense, and Jack was waiting for me to answer.
“I don’t know,” I said finally, voice hoarse. Willing myself not to make more of a fool out of myself, I forced a smile. “But if I do, you’re going to help me learn, right?”
“Yes!” Jack beamed. “I can teached you!”
“Teach,” Jase murmured, hooking his arms around Jack’s legs. “Like I said, little bud, she’s probably got better things to do.”
“Nothing is better than riding a
horse,” Jack argued.
Holding on to his brother, Jase straightened and glanced at me. His expression was shuttered, and I wished I hadn’t mentioned the horseback riding. Jase probably thought I was being serious and trying to find a way to see him.
After this, I honestly never wanted to see his face again.
That hurt to realize I felt that way. Before the kiss, we had become friends—good friends. Texting. E-mailing. Talking whenever he came with Cam. And now that was ruined.
I will not cry. I will not cry. That was my personal mantra as I shuffled back to the truck and climbed in, using my good leg to propel me up. I will not cry over the jerk. I also told myself to stop staring at Jase, but I watched him with his brother up until mine returned.
“You ready to head back?” Cam asked as he closed the driver’s door.
“Ready.” My voice was unnaturally thick.
He glanced at me as he turned the ignition. He frowned. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, and cleared my throat. “It’s allergies.”
The doubtful look on his face was expected. I didn’t have allergies. My brother knew that.
Cam dropped me off in front of the West Woods complex. After asking him to tell Avery I said hi, I carefully exited the truck and headed up the narrow walkway toward Yost Hall as I dug out my key card.
I’d gotten lucky with the dorm situation. Because I was a late registration, all the rooms in Kenamond Hall and Gardiner Hall, dorms usually reserved for freshmen, were full. I almost didn’t get a dorm. The day before classes had begun, I showed up at the residential life department, praying they could put me somewhere—anywhere. My only other option was to live with Cam, and as much as I loved my brother, rooming with him was the last thing I wanted.
Tears were shed. Some strings were pulled, and I ended up in a West Woods suite-style residence hall, which was so much better than the tiny matchboxes called rooms in the other halls.
Using my card, I slipped into the cool air and headed for the stairwell. I could’ve taken the elevator to the third floor, but I figured the walking and climbing were good for my leg since I hadn’t been okayed to really do anything more active. I would be soon, though. I had to be, because if I was going to get back into the studio in the spring, I needed to get my ass back in shape.