Hate to love you, p.23
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       Hate to Love You, p.23
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           Tijan

  parade. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d been doing the elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, wrist wave to them. She was laughing, telling everyone how blessed we were, how scared she’d been as a mother, and I had had enough by the time we got to the front door.

  I was supposed to stay in the wheelchair until the car, but I couldn’t handle it. Irritation and general tension (though I didn’t know why) sat like two boulders in the bottom of my gut. They wouldn’t go away, no matter what I thought to myself. I had a prescription for painkillers, but I wished I’d upped the morphine dose, just to get me to the car.

  “The minivan, huh?” I remarked as Blake wheeled me up to the side door.

  We could still hear Mom chattering to someone behind us. “Yeah, not the car. She wasn’t sure how long we’d stay, so she insisted. She brought half the house with us. More room with this one.”

  He opened the door and held my hand as I stood and got in. My legs were a little unsteady, but nothing major. The nerves were from leaving, nothing else.

  I’d been attacked, but I wasn’t thinking about that.

  I wasn’t thinking about Shay, Missy, or Kristina, or what anyone was saying on campus.

  And I wasn’t lying to myself, either.

  “How are you doing? Really?”

  Blake paused by the door, waiting for my answer.

  “Okay! Sounds amazing. I’ll be DMing it. It’s all about Instagram, or wait. Do you have a Snipchat?”

  We both looked back.

  My mom meant well. She worked as a hotel manager, but her hobby and life’s passion was an actress. So far, she only got starring roles in our local community plays, but she was dedicated. We all gave her grief, but if our mother ended up on the big screen somewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  She was playing the “cool mother” at this moment. Or trying.

  I nodded to Blake. “Just tired, is all.”

  He nodded back, though he didn’t look convinced, and shut the door. Mom piled into the passenger door, turning around to me, and Blake got behind the steering wheel.

  “We got a hotel room. Did Gage tell you that? He has that apartment, but he has roommates, and you have that dorm. Blake can’t be there past hours, right? I talked to your roommate. She explained everything.” She took a breath. “So, honey, where would you like to go?”

  There was one place, but I said instead, “Your hotel is fine.”

  “Splendid!” She beamed at me.

  I had enough.

  It was hour five at the hotel. Blake left for the hotel’s gym, and I grabbed my phone and snuck out into the hallway. I called Gage and hissed once he answered, “Mom is driving me crazy.”

  He laughed, and I could hear people in his background. He said, “She just wants to make sure you’re okay, but not be too overbearing. She does that by doing weird stuff. You know that.”

  “She’s acting like she’s a real nurse. She called the front desk and asked if they had an IV pole. When they didn’t, she asked for anything that stood high, upright, and was skinny. She told the room service guy she’d need something for the morphine drip. I don’t have a morphine drip. I have pills, and she’s counted all of them and put them into a dispenser that’s broken up into the days of the week. I swear, Gage, if she asks me one more time to sit so she can practice her manual blood pressure skills, I’ll throw them in her face.”

  He smothered some laughter. “You know what she’s like. She’s scared and worried. Your attack was traumatic to us all. I thought for a second you were gone. I’m sure Mom did, too. Heck, I know she did. She was screaming when she called me.”

  I heard her calling me inside the hotel and glanced back. I sighed.

  I wasn’t upset with her. I wasn’t upset with anyone.

  There were two truths ringing in me, and I only wanted to acknowledge one. I wanted to see Shay. And pulling my big girl panties on, I asked, “Have you talked to Shay today?”

  “Yeah.” I could almost hear him grinning through the phone. “I was wondering when you were going to ask.”

  I swore at him.

  He laughed. “He said he can’t miss football practice, but asked if he could see you tonight.”

  I groaned into the phone. “Mom is going to be so embarrassing.”

  “She already was. She fawned all over him. He was still in the hospital when she and Blake arrived. She went gaga over him, touching him all over, hugging him, crying. If she could date him, I think she would. She wouldn’t care if you already were or not.”

  “You’re not helping.”

  “Not trying to, but yes, he’s asked. I told him you were in Witness Protection, i.e., our mother.”

  I grinned. The label had some merit. “Would you be pissed if I snuck out to see him?”

  “No, but Mom would.”

  “Really?”

  “Well.” He thought about it. “Maybe not, but she’d be jealous, and she’d ask you all the details I don’t want to hear as your brother.”

  I cringed, imagining her asking if he “pounded” or “made sweet, sweet love.” The nausea was coming back. “Let’s tell her after I’m gone.”

  He barked out a laugh. “Okay. I’ll tell him you’re game.”

  “I don’t want him to come here.”

  “You want to go to his house?”

  “Yeah.” I was breathless just thinking about it.

  “I’ll give you a ride. After what he did to Carruthers and that other asshole, he’s a solid guy. He cares about you, genuinely.”

  That had that lump back in my throat, swelling again. I blinked back a few tears. “Thank you, Gage.”

  “Don’t thank me. Do you realize how popular I am in school the last two days? People are using me to get to you. I feel like a damn celebrity.” His tone sobered. “Love ya, Kenz. There’s a bunch here who do. We’re all going to take care of you.”

  That lump swelled up so that I couldn’t talk. I choked out, “Thank you.” Then hung up because the tears weren’t waiting. They fell free, and I was still in the hallway when my mom opened the door. She took one look at me, saw the tears, and opened her arms wide. “Oh, honey.” She wasn’t pretending to be an actress. This wasn’t a show. I heard the love, and I walked into them.

  I might’ve needed Blake’s hug before, but this time, I needed my mom’s.

  I was back in that hallway, hugging myself and listening in on my mom and Gage talking. “I don’t understand why he can’t come here,” she said.

  Because I wanted privacy.

  Because I wanted to be somewhere I could think.

  The door was open an inch, but every word said was like a blow to my chest.

  When we stood to leave, Mom started with the questions. Where were we going? How long would I be gone? I was going to see a boy? And that last question, it was her third time asking. She did again, “I just don’t get it. We don’t live here, so this is her home away from home. Doesn’t a daughter need her mother?”

  “Mom, she’s only going for a few hours. She’ll be back tonight. I’ll pick her up.”

  “But—”

  The door creaked. Blake stood there, leaning against the doorframe. He rested his head against the paneling, using one finger to open the door a little wider. He took me in, one sweep of his gaze, and gave me a pitying smile. Then he turned and said, “Nothing’s going to happen to her, Mom. She’ll be safe. Gage vouches for this guy, and we already know he went after her two attackers.”

  I jerked, hearing those last two words. But he was right. I had been attacked. That was me. I was the girl who was attacked.

  Victim.

  That word felt like a blow in itself.

  I had become a victim.

  “But—”

  “Mom.” Blake pushed off from the doorframe, crossing the room. “She’ll be fine there.”

  “That’s a whole house of boys. Right? And he’s on the football team. There must be other players there. What if they’re not like this guy? And we do
n’t really know him. He attacked the two boys. What if he’s violent, too?”

  “He’s not,” Gage said, frustrated. “I would’ve done the exact same thing if I’d known who they were at first. I just wouldn’t have gotten away with it like he did.”

  “See. Right there. He got away with it. He could get away with other things, with—”

  I had enough. I pushed the door the rest of the way and stood, still hugging myself. “I’m alive. I’m safe. Nothing will happen to me there. I will be back in a few hours.”

  Her face was wet from tears, and she was hugging herself. That damned afghan was draped over her again, and she sniffled, using the corner to wipe her face. That was why she wore it. It wasn’t to keep her warm. It wasn’t for decoration. It was for the tears.

  I let out a sigh. “I’ll be fine, Mom. I promise.”

  Blake was on her left. Gage on her right. Both sons reached out a hand, comforting her. She managed a smile and bobbed her head in an awkward nod. “Okay. I’m just being a mother, you know. I worry.”

  “I know.” I moved in for a hug, and once she let me go, Gage and I almost sprinted for the door.

  He moved around me, holding the door to the stairs open for me. “She might change her mind.”

  “You don’t have to tell me.” I swept past him, not pausing a beat as I went down the stairs. Two flights later, we were outside and in Gage’s truck.

  He chuckled under his breath as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I can’t believe I’m giving you a ride to see Shay Coleman.”

  “I’m not supposed to be insulted you said that?”

  “No! No.” He lifted a shoulder. “You have to agree with me, though. Shay Coleman? Man. When I realized something was going on between you two at the bar, I almost shit my pants. I talked to him about you at that party, but I never suspected he was interested in you. He acted like you were an annoying little sister.”

  “Stop. I don’t want to hear that.”

  “He was putting on a front. I’m trying to say that he’s cool. He’s a cool guy.”

  “I know.” I frowned. He was being weird. This conversation was weird. “Are you trying to say something without saying it?”

  “No. I—” He rolled his eyes. “I’m impressed, I guess.” His lip lifted up again. “You kinda have a type. You date older guys. You date up.”

  Parker was a year younger than Blake, so he was three years older than I was.

  I flushed. “Let’s not talk about him. Please.” Remembering my last conversation with Shay, I said, “And I’m not technically dating Shay.” I didn’t think.

  “What?”

  “It was never official between us.”

  He snorted. “It’s official now. No guy would beat the shit out of another guy and try again even when cops were in the room for a side chick. He cares, Kenz.”

  That lump was back, but it was resting on top of my throat. “It was me, Gage. I didn’t want anyone to know.”

  I could feel him glancing at me, but I kept staring straight ahead. Tears blurred my vision, so I looked down to my lap. “He told me he liked me the last time I saw him, and I told him he was moving too fast.”

  “Are you serious?”

  “I went to him after Casey reported her rape. I didn’t think. It just felt right to go there. I got scared afterwards.”

  He turned down Shay’s street. “You might want to stop bullshitting yourself.”

  “Yeah.”

  He parked in the driveway, and I took my cell. I’d barely used it once I got it back.

  When I checked earlier that day, the voice mail was full. Hundred plus text messages. It became too overwhelming. Everyone wanted to know what happened. There were just as many people wishing me well. There were a few who said the opposite. I saw the first one and handed the phone over to Gage. There was nothing on there I was embarrassed about, and he went through the messages one by one. The ones who wished me harm were turned over to the cops. The well-wishers got a reply back saying it was Gage texting on my behalf, and a polite and general thank you greeting. Once they thought Gage was in charge of my phone, those texts stopped coming. Word must’ve gotten out they couldn’t get in touch with me that way.

  Still, I made sure to send a few personal texts to Missy and Kristina. They wanted to make sure I was okay. I was, or I was better. I asked Kristina about Casey, who replied that she was doing better. Linde texted, too, and I thanked him, as well. But the person whose texts I read over and over again, yet still hadn’t replied to, were Shay’s.

  I don’t know why I couldn’t reply.

  I read over them again, from the first that he sent me that night.

  12:38 am

  Coleman: Heard something. Call me!

  12:48 am

  Coleman: For real. I’m hearing more, and I’m going nuts. If it isn’t true, I need to know or I’m going to do something.

  2:48 am

  Coleman: Gage said you’re in the hospital. So am I. I lost it, but I’d do it again. Text me when you can.

  4:18 am

  Coleman: Did something again. Thinking of you.

  4:38 am

  Coleman: I tried to see you, but got kicked out of the hospital. I can’t come in. Your mom’s interesting. I like your brothers. Good guys.

  9:15 am

  Coleman: Just left a meeting with coaches and some detectives. Lawyers, too. I’m not going to be charged, thank the fuck, right? Okay. You’re getting a pile of texts from me. Gage said you’re not doing calls or messages. Call when you can, if you want to.

  11:17 pm

  Coleman: I blew your cover. Word’s out. You’re going to be pissed, but I don’t even care. I told people you’re my girlfriend. It shut most of the rumors up, but figured I should text and let you know. I’m sure your brothers told you already. So. Yeah. Get pissed and call me, if you want. I’ll take the yelling. I’ll enjoy it, even.

  4:23 pm

  Coleman: Gage called. I told him, but texting you again. Yes. You can come to me any time, any day, any minute. I’m here. Or I’ll come to you.

  It was a little under forty-eight hours later, and I texted him for the first time.

  Me: We’re outside.

  His reply was immediate.

  Coleman: I’m here.

  I looked up. He was gazing back at me from the driveway.

  A sudden wave of nerves rose inside me. I’d avoided looking in the mirror so far, but I needed to see the damage. Taking a deep breath, I flipped down the visor. My mom wasn’t joking about the moldy pickle. The entire right side of my face was swollen with a Monet of black, blue, green, and yellow bruises. I had a fat lip.

  I was a mess. There wasn’t another way to say it, and I was going to see Shay like this?

  “I’m hideous.”

  “What?”

  “Nothing.” I grabbed the hooded sweatshirt in the back of his car and pulled it on. Sunglasses were on his dashboard, and I took those, too.

 
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