Hate to love you, p.20
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       Hate to Love You, p.20
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           Tijan

  “No, but I know some who think that way. It’s all those assholes who were coming at me today. Carruthers, the guys from the food court, the guys I ran from before my second class, they’re not saying anything about how Carruthers would’ve physically attacked me. They’re mad that I humiliated him.”

  He was quiet a moment.

  I said too much. I was already regretting it, and then I heard from him, “What guys who you ran from?”

  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The dangerous side of Shay was staring back at me. He was heated, but he was keeping it restrained. Barely. I sensed the danger under his surface. A shiver went down my spine.

  My mouth felt dry. “Just some idiots. I ditched them.”

  “What guys at the food court? Did you have problems in your second class?”

  “Shay—” I started but stopped. What could I say? “What are you going to do? Hunt them down and beat ’em up? Do you realize how many guys you’d be doing that to? You’d get kicked off the team. Every one you hit down, two more pop up. It’s endless. You can’t beat up everyone.”

  He cursed, his jaw clenching as he sat back in his seat and raked a hand over his face. “I don’t want them messing with you.”

  “Yeah, but—”

  “Not you.”

  I fell silent, sitting with him for a minute. “It’s always different when it’s someone you know.”

  He frowned, saying so soft that I almost didn’t hear, “Yeah.”

  I was walking through my hallway’s back door when the door to my room opened.

  Missy stood in there. She saw me and bit down on her lip. She was clutching her phone to her chest.

  I frowned. “What is it?”

  Shay invited me to his room again, but I thought it’d be better to head home. I could go up there. We both knew what we’d do, and I could even spend the night. A part of me wanted to. It was the part that enjoyed being around Shay, the part that enjoyed his touch, but there was another part of me that didn’t want to come back to my dorm. I didn’t know why that was, and I ignored it for the night. Besides, things just started with Shay and me. Spending the night was too much, too fast. It would have been too hard to ignore the friendship budding into something more if I did that.

  But now, seeing the strained lines around Missy’s mouth and the bags under her eyes, I wished I had stayed. I’d be wrapped up in bed, not feeling the pit of my stomach drop to the ground.

  “I’ve been calling you. Don’t you check your phone?”

  Shit. My phone had been buzzing on and off all night, but seeing they were only alerts for my social media, I turned it off. “I’m here now. What is it?”

  “Your friends from second floor, one of them is in the hospital.”

  “What?”

  “You’re supposed to call Kristina.”

  Icy panic lined my veins as I dug through my bag, turning and heading downstairs at the same time. I was rounding to their floor when the line connected to Kristina’s phone. It began ringing, and I was through the door and onto their floor. I was racing for their room. If they weren’t here, maybe there’d be a note on their door board, or maybe someone else knew.

  A second ring.

  I was at their door, searching. I couldn’t find anything but the normal scribblings from Casey’s friends.

  The phone rang a third time.

  A door opened farther down the hallway, and Sarah appeared. Her wide eyes filled with tears, and she sniffled, pressing a Kleenex to her reddened nose. “It’s Casey.”

  “What happened?” I asked as Kristina answered, “Kennedy?”

  “Kristina!” I exclaimed. My heart was pumping so fast. “What’s going on? Did something happen to Casey?”

  She got quiet. “She drank too much. They had to pump her stomach.”

  Sarah stepped closer to me, asking under her breath, “What’s she saying?”

  I frowned. She didn’t know, but I asked Kristina, “Is she okay?”

  “Yeah, but she wants you to come here. She said she’s going to make a statement and you’d know what it was about.”

  The rape.

  The entire bottom lining of my stomach opened up. It all fell out.

  I could only say, “Okay.”

  Kristina sounded strained. “I don’t know what’s going on, but can you get here as soon as possible?”

  “Of course.” I was turning for the back door again.

  “Hey.” Sarah hurried behind me, her hand stretched out. She was chewing the inside of her cheek. “Is she okay? Can we come?”

  “Uh.”

  I relayed the questions, and Kristina’s response was as subdued. “Casey doesn’t want to see them. That’s all she’ll say.”

  “That’s ridiculous.”

  “I know, but those are her wishes.”

  “Okay. I’m leaving right now. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Text me what hospital and room number.”

  I hung up, and Sarah edged even closer. Both her hands were pressed against her chest, holding on to that flimsy Kleenex. She was waiting.

  I hated this. “She doesn’t want to see you, but she doesn’t have a say who sits in the hospital lobby.”

  “Are you saying to come?”

  “It’s up to you.”

  I headed right back out to my car. The texts came through a moment later, and I knew which hospital that was and where. It took ten minutes with barely any traffic, and I didn’t have to get lost or drive around searching for the parking lot. Gage came to this same hospital and emergency room a year ago with a broken leg, so I was familiar with the layout.

  I went inside, emptied my pockets for the security guard, and did the same for the nurse manning the last emergency room entrance.

  Kristina was outside Casey’s room, her arms hugging herself and her head bent down. My heart ached seeing her like that. Casey was just changing to her. She didn’t know why, but she’d be hurting just as much once she found out the reason.

  “Hey.”

  Kristina’s head came up, and she opened her arms. I walked right into them. I ran a hand down her arm. “How are you?”

  She shook her head, stepping back. “Confused. Concerned. And a whole ton of other emotions.”

  I nodded to the door. “She’s awake?”

  “Yeah.” She turned around. “She was at some party. Laura and Sarah didn’t recognize the guys’ names who were throwing it. I guess that’s where she stayed last night.”

  “I thought she went to my brother’s.”

  “Me, too, but I guess not.”

  Kristina looked so torn, and I made a decision. I took her hand. “Come with me.”

  “What? No. Casey doesn’t want me in there. She said only you.”

  “Trust me. Okay?”

  With wide and fearful eyes, she did, and I led the way inside. Casey saw me first, and I could see the exhaustion sweep over her. She seemed to fold into the bed, and she was so pale she almost blended in with the white sheets. I’d never seen someone so sick. Her lips were cracked and rimmed with a black charcoal substance, and her hair was matted into knots.

  Then she saw Kristina, and she surged back upright.

  “No,” she started to say.

  “Listen to me.” My insides were tense and twisting into pretzel knots, but my voice was calm. I knew my face looked it, as well. I was channeling a Zen goddess, and I brought Kristina deeper into the room. “Casey, I can’t pretend to have any understanding what you’re going through, but I can attempt to imagine what I would want in your situation. I would want the closest people to me to be around me. I would want to gain strength from them. It’s their hand I would want to hold, and I get it. I do. I know what happened, but I’m not in your inner circle. We’ve shared meals, a few movies, but that’s it. I’m not your roommate, your best friend, or even your mother. You have to tell them.”

  She began crying as I spoke, and by the time I was finished, fat tears freely cascaded down her face. She was
n’t trying to stop them. When she spoke, it was the little six-year-old girl inside her. “It’s real if they know.”

  “I know.” I covered her hand with mine. “I know, but it’s real anyway. It’s time to let them know.”

  “Can you still stay? I asked the nurse to call the cops.”

  “Of course.”

  She nodded, hiccupping on the tears before grabbing for Kristina’s hand.

  I sat in the corner, but it was no longer my place. I was there for support. I was there to give Kristina what answers I knew, but she was the closest person to Casey. It was her time to replace me, and she did. Casey folded into her arms, and it wasn’t long before she asked for Laura and Sarah.

  I moved out of the room when they came in.

  I remained outside the room, waiting for a little bit. Kristina came out a few minutes later, hugged me, and thanked me, but she didn’t need to. I hadn’t done much. It was my final cue that I could leave, and as I was walking back down that hallway, two female cops were going the opposite direction. I paused once to watch them knock on Casey’s door, and I heard one say, “Miss Winchem?”

  Good. I nodded to myself.

  She sounded good. She sounded nice, patient. She wasn’t going to walk into that room and treat Casey like she was a joke or she asked for it. I didn’t hear that condescension.

  After I left the hospital, I didn’t drive to the dorm. If Missy were up, she’d have questions, and when I would give her a vague brush-off, there’d be the looks. It was always the looks.

  I drove to Shay’s, and after texting him, I walked up his driveway, past all of his roommates’ vehicles, and stepped onto the patio. I waited outside the back door, and a minute later, he opened it from inside.

  It felt good to walk past him, good to feel his hand on the small of my back, and good to feel his arms around me.

  I knew something was happening.

  I was feeling something.

  He was feeling something.

  And maybe I should care, but not that night.

  That night, sleeping in his arms, felt like the most right thing in the world.

  Shay was moving around the room. It was still dark, and I felt the morning chill in the room. I could hear the swish of his clothes as he came closer to the bed, and I asked around a yawn, “You get up this early?”

  He chuckled softly and then turned on a lamp. “Yeah. Sorry.” He was dressed in Dulane sports clothes—a Dulane lightweight jacket and Dulane lightweight sweats. “Some of us go running in the morning.”

  He looked damned good, but I groaned. “You’re not human. You have classes all day, then practice, and we didn’t sleep much last night.”

  His mouth curved up.

  I gestured to him, even my arm and hand felt too tired to be awake. “Now you’re going running?”

  “If I don’t go, the guys will want to know what’s going on.” He sat on the bed next to me, his hand rubbing my back. “How are you doing? You didn’t say much last night.”

  I shook my head. Those were serious thoughts and a serious conversation. It was too early for that, too. “I’ll tell you later.”

  “But you’re okay?”

  I nodded. “Yes, I am.” I groaned again. “My roommate’s probably freaking out. I guess she was calling me last night and I never answered.”

  “About what?”

  I waved that off, another yawn. “That’s for later, too.”

  A soft knock sounded on his door.

  His hand ran down my back. “Okay. I’ll be back in an hour.”

  “You run for an entire hour?” I curled up, pulling the blankets tight around me. “You’re insane. I’m sleeping with a crazy man.”

  He chuckled. A look passed in his eyes, but it was gone in a flash and he stood, crossing the room. He grabbed for his phone and opened the door. I heard a soft and muffled, “I’m ready.”

  Then the other person asked, “I wasn’t sure if you were coming. Thought you’d skip because of . . .” His voice trailed off.

  I tensed, recognizing Linde’s voice.

  Shay just laughed. “Nah. I’m ready to go.”

  “I’m sure you are.”

  I fought against rolling my eyes, holding my breath, but Shay kept himself as a barrier. Linde couldn’t see me, not as long as Shay was in the doorway. A second later, he stepped out and pulled the door closed. I listened, but could barely hear them descending the stairs and leaving.

  I reached for my phone, checking for messages before I went back to sleep.

  Deleting all of Missy’s texts asking where I was, I lingered on the one sent after I would’ve already left for the hospital.

  Missy: Not sure what’s going on, but I’m here if you need me.

  That was nice of her. I thumbed off a response, knowing she didn’t turn her phone on until she was leaving for her morning classes.

  Me: I’m good. Slept at a friend’s. Be back later. Have a good day.

  I didn’t expect a response, and I rolled over, tossing my phone on the floor.

  It buzzed a second later, and I grabbed for it, surprised.

  Missy: Good. Up half the night. I was worried. If you’re okay, then I’m going back to bed.

  I cringed, muttering to myself, “And the award for the Most Insensitive Roommate goes to . . .”

  Me: Sorry. I thought you’d go to sleep, but I’m fine. Sorry again.

  Missy: No problem. Good night/good morning!

  I grinned, dropped my phone back to the floor, and curled back over. I was asleep within seconds.

  A bang woke me up the second time, and I assessed my surroundings. Shay was still gone. The bathroom door was open so he wasn’t in there. I looked for his running clothes, but didn’t see them dropped in a pile. Reaching for my phone, I’d slept an hour. They were probably still going, but hearing a second bang, I realized it was from the kitchen.

  The guys were up.

  That meant I probably wasn’t getting any more sleep, so with too much effort this early in the morning, I got up, used the bathroom, got dressed, and grabbed my things. I was sneaking down the stairs when a roar of laughter came from the kitchen. I jerked, flattening against the wall for a second, but no one opened the door.

  I slipped outside, feeling like a criminal. I was at my car when I heard a light pounding of feet. I looked over, the group of guys were heading back to the house, but two broke off and came my way.

  Shay was in front, and Linde was slightly beside and behind him at the same time. Both slowed when they got to my car. Shay stopped a few feet from me, but Linde looked almost dumbstruck. His eyes were opened wider than normal, and a shadow formed in them seconds before his lips pressed back together.

  Shay was looking between the two of us, just waiting.

  “So.” Linde rested a hand on the top of my car’s trunk. Sweat glistened from his face, rolling down to plop on his clothes and on the cement by his shoes. His headphones were hanging around his neck, the cords leading to his shirt’s pocket. “This is going on.”

  Shay was sweating, too, but no headphones. He straightened, both his hands going in his pockets. His shoulders were slightly
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