Hate to love you, p.25
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       Hate to Love You, p.25
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           Tijan

  He said he didn’t care if I came, but I was girlfriend status now. I had to go. There was no reason not to go, and yes, he was a junior. He’d have one more year to play, and I would go to every single game, but I knew this one was important. It was their last. They hadn’t won enough to continue on to nationals, so it was their last whether they won or not.

  I wanted to go. I was terrified—but I wanted to go.

  “You sure about this?” Casey asked, standing in front of me that day.

  I was in a Dulane sweatshirt, and I wanted to pull that hood up. I wanted to hide again.

  I didn’t do that, but I did nod. “I’m sure.”

  “People are going to stare.” Kristina stood behind her.

  There wasn’t anything to stare at. There were no scars. No more fat lip. No bruises. My hair was good, even. I looked better than I had before, if I was going to toot my own horn. My skin had a glow to it. I lost a few pounds, and I’d started working out with Shay. I didn’t do the runs, but they had a makeshift gym in their basement. I joined Linde and Shay when they lifted weights. I was a little more toned.

  I remarked now, “Let them stare.”

  Sarah added, “They’re going to talk.”

  “Bring it on.” I raised my chin.

  Laura said, “Half are going to feel sorry for you, and half are going to hate you.”

  I pressed my lips together. “Fuck the haters.”

  Every single one of them tried to hold back their grins. Every single one failed.

  Kristina moved forward, separating one of my curls from the others. Once it looked how she wanted, she stepped back. She waved her hands in the air. “Perfect.”

  I was doing this.

  I had to do this.

  I was ready to go.

  I was returning to the original scene of the crime.

  Not the real crime, but what jump-started it all. A large crowd of people was moving toward the bleachers with us. Casey and I shared a look when we walked over to where the Dick Crushing event happened. She leaned over, a faint trace of a smile showing. “You were very fierce that day.”

  “The fucker had to come at me from behind the next time. Imagine if he hadn’t? Forget Dick Crusher. It could’ve been a Dick Rip-Off Event.”

  She smothered her laughter into her sleeve.

  Kristina glanced back. “What are you guys talking about?”

  “I’ll tell you later,” Casey said.

  Sarah and Laura were farther ahead, weaving through the crowds and leading us. We got to the bleachers, and it was then that it happened.

  A small hush settled over the seats closest to us. I didn’t look, but felt Kristina and Casey close ranks around me. I focused on the field. The team was already out there, warming up, and as I looked, Shay dropped back from a huddle. His arm went back, football in hand, and he threw. It was a perfect arch, soaring all the way into the end zone. A second ball was hiked to him, and he repeated.

  I focused on him.

  One of the girls took my hand in hers, and they led me past the rest of the bleachers. As we went, more and more conversations stopped until everyone started to notice. They looked to see what had everyone’s attention, and the whispers rose in volume.

  I overheard one girl ask, “Who’s that?”

  Her friend hissed back, “Shay Coleman’s girlfriend.”

  “Oh! Dick Crusher?”

  “Shhhh!” a third friend shushed them.

  Casey started laughing. She squeezed my hand. “You should embrace the name. A guy started selling T-shirts.”

  “I should get a cut.”

  “Hey! Up here.”

  Sarah and Laura had gone down an aisle. We went too far.

  Casey said as we backtracked, “They’re hyped for the parties tonight.”

  I was halfway to them since they were in the middle when the first person stood. She said to me, reaching out, “I’m sorry about what happened to you.”

  I swung around, reacting to her hand. I wasn’t expecting it and jumped back. Then her words filtered through, and I felt another sucker punch, but a good one. This was an emotional one, and I grew misty-eyed.

  She saw, and a sheen of tears formed in her eyes. She brushed at them. “My daughter was raped when she was fourteen. You weren’t raped, but you were attacked. What happened to you shouldn’t have. I just wanted to say I’m sorry, that I understand.”

  Casey gasped silently.

  The rumor mill had been silent about her assault, as far as I knew. The guys who knew hadn’t spread it around. Her hand curved into mine again. I squeezed it back, nodding to the woman. “Thank you for that.”

  I came onto these bleachers with my head turned away and eyes only on Shay. When I wasn’t looking at him, my head was down. It was up now, and I was looking at this woman.

  I didn’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this.

  Casey and Kristina were dabbing at their eyes when we got to the row where Laura and Sarah were sitting. Two guys were at the end, and there was an empty space between them. It’d be a tight fit for three of us, but the two guys stood.

  They stepped into the aisle. “You can have our seats.”

  “No, that’s oka—” Kristina started to say.

  The guy cut her off, gently but firmly, “No. I was one of the guys mad about what you did to Carruthers.”

  I tensed, meeting his gaze.

  I saw only remorse there. “Giving up my seat so you can sit comfortably is a small price to pay, believe me.” He dipped his head in a nod. “I’m sorry for what happened to you.”

  Casey’s eyes were wide, matching the storm inside me.

  I hadn’t expected any of this. “Thank you.”

  He and his friend moved farther up in the bleachers, and we sat down. It was just the small area where we were, but I saw a few others dabbing at their eyes. They had been watching the woman, and then the two guys.

  The announcers started talking soon after.

  The cheerleaders ran out and began cheering, and slowly, one by one, people began looking away.

  I didn’t move. I didn’t talk. I sat like a statue until some normalcy returned around us, and I was just another student again.

  I let out my breath, which felt like I’d been holding it forever.

  “Uh, Kennedy.” Casey pulled at her hand.

  I had it in a cement-like hold, pressed on top of my leg. “Oh!” I released it. “Sorry.” I hadn’t realized.

  Her hand was completely white. She laughed, rubbing at it to get the blood flowing again. “Trust me, I understand.”

  I glanced around, dipping my head low as I did. “That was nice of them.”

  “Could you imagine any other reception with Shay Coleman as your boyfriend? I mean, that helps.”

  “I know.”

  “There’s Gage.” She stood and waved for him.

  He was coming down the front aisle, two containers of popcorn in hand and snacks sticking out of his pockets. His roommates followed behind, one of them holding two sodas. There was a space behind us, and the four of them scooted in. Gage was right behind me, and he leaned down. “How you doing?”

  Oh, yeah. Evading that question. I pointed to his popcorn. “Is that for me?”

  “What? No! Get your own.”

  Casey turned around, too, her eyes wide, her lips puckered in a pout. She was giving him the puppy-dog look, and he groaned, throwing his head back. “You two suck. Here.” He gave us the smaller container of popcorn. Then he reached over to his roommate. “We gotta share. The girls sucker-punched me with guilt.”

  The roommate laughed, handing over one of the sodas. “That’s fine with me. Give me one of the candies.”

  Gage growled again, but tossed him one of the bags. After he settled, his soda in one hand and his popcorn situated beside him, he leaned down once more. “For real, how are you?”

  I waved him off. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  Casey did. “A woman was really ni
ce and two guys gave us their seats. It was a good reception.”

  “Cool.” He eyed me. “You’re okay, though?”

  I nodded. A big knot formed when we first came to the game, and some of it had loosened by the time we sat, but I was feeling emotions I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to dwell on them. I just wanted to watch the game.

  Once it started, no one paid me attention.

  It became all about Shay and the team. He threw three touchdowns, running a fourth in himself, and Linde helped smash his way through for that last one. My voice was hoarse by the time the game ended, and there was a bittersweet feeling that swept over the crowd. Some were drunk and cheering like mad, while others were clapping with a somber expression on their features. They stood at the end for the team. They were done. Their last game was complete.

  There wasn’t a huge celebratory feel to the atmosphere, but I knew there’d be lots of partying going on that night.

  Gage asked, “What are you and Shay doing tonight?”

  I shook my head. “We haven’t talked about it.”

  “Mom went home this morning.”

  “Yeah.”

  “She took the van. I figured we could take your car back or my car tomorrow.”

  We began following Casey out. Kristina was behind me, and Sarah and Laura were already off talking to other people. I doubted they’d go back to the girls’ dorm rooms with us, opting to go straight for a party instead.

  I said to my brother, “Maybe we should all go out for breakfast tomorrow, too. One last hurrah before heading home for break.”

  Casey glanced back at me. “Were you able to finish all your exams and finals?”

  “Yeah. I took a little hit on one presentation, but it wasn’t much.”

  “You’re feeling okay? Being around everyone?”

  The truth was, there was a cold trickle of sweat going down my back, but that was it. Gage was walking behind me, Casey and Kristina on either side of me, and I knew it was all purposeful. They were shielding me.

  They came up from behind before.

  Someone could slip through. I’d never see them coming, but I could walk forward and still breathe at the same time in this formation. I looked back, my eyes meeting my brother’s. A knowing look passed between us, and I answered Kristina, “I’m better than I expected.”

  He dipped his chin down to me.

  I mouthed “thank you” to him.

  “Kennedy?”

  All of us paused. I froze, but felt relief flood me when it was only Missy. Holly and the cousin were with her, along with another girl.

  “Hey!” Missy wore a warm smile as she came toward us. “I didn’t know you were coming to the game.”

  My things had been packed away in the minivan already. They’d be brought back in a month when I’d move into a triple room with Casey and Kristina. The room change had been approved, but I thought she had left this past week.

  “You, too. I thought you went home yesterday.”

  “Oh.” She shook her head, gesturing to Holly. “We’re sticking around for the weekend, going back on Sunday.” She saw Gage and paused, frowning. Her eyebrows pinched together. “You’re . . .”

  “Oh!” My one secret that remained a secret. “This is my brother.”

  Holly noted, her eyes wide in awe, “You’re Gage Clarke.”

  Gage nodded, his arm coming around my shoulders. “I am. I’m famous. I’m Kennedy’s brother.”

  “You were in my stats class.”

  Gage nodded like he already knew this. I knew he didn’t. He said, “Hope you did better than I did. Mr. Trellyps was not a fan of mine.”

  “Yeah . . .”

  This was why I kept it a secret all semester, or tried. This look of shock, awe, and something else darker in Holly’s gaze.

  Missy said, “Your brother is Gage Clarke, and I’m kicking myself now for not putting the two together.”

  Holly’s cheeks reddened, and she glanced away.

  Missy added, “And you’re dating Shay Coleman.” She shook her head, her eyes narrowing at me. “You’re like a stranger. I thought I knew who you were.”

  Kristina shifted closer to me, but it was Casey who spoke up. “Ever thought maybe she did that for a reason?” She gestured to Holly. “Both of your reactions proved why she doesn’t. You’re already looking at her differently. When I stopped up there once, I got the distinct impression you couldn’t believe she was friends with me. Imagine how you would’ve been when you realized Shay Coleman was in your room.”

  The closet!

  I forgot, and started laughing.

  When they looked at me, I waved a hand in front of my face. “Nothing. Sorry. Uh, yeah. I’m private for good reason.”

  Missy shot back at Casey, “You obviously knew. Is that why you’re friends with her?”

  A death look came over Casey’s face. “I became friends with her when she supported me through my rape.”

  Holly’s head snapped back up.

  Missy’s face drained of color. “O-o-h. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

  “Exactly.”

  Casey turned her back on them, her nostrils flaring.

  Feeling a twinge of sympathy, I nodded to Missy, indicating we should step to the side to talk. She hesitated, but in the end, she came with me. I felt the others watching, but to some extent, this was none of their business.

  She stuffed her hands into her jacket, kicking at a rock on the ground. “This is it, huh?”

  “I don’t want you to think I kept things from you on purpose. It was never personal.”

  Her foot paused, but she didn’t look.

  “You were attacked, and you didn’t reach out to me.” She lifted her head, her bottom lip trembling. “How’s that not personal?”

  “You treated me like I was beneath you.”

  “When?”

  “In looks. In things you said. You were surprised I had a friend when Kristina came up to the room, and you fell over when Casey did. You can’t tell me you would’ve looked at me differently if Gage came knocking on the door, or if you knew about the one time Shay was in the room.”

  She went still. “He really was in our room?”

  “Our closet. I made him hide, but he refused the second time you came to the room.”

  She cocked her head to the side, her forehead wrinkling then clearing as her eyes rounded. “That night I thought you were masturbating? I was so grossed out by you.”

  “Yeah.” I itched behind my ear.

  She expelled a breath of air, shifting back on her feet. Her shoulders relaxed. “Do you know what it was like when I heard about your attack? Then I heard what Shay Coleman did because of you? And that you were dating? I almost fell to the ground. I thought it was a lie, but the front desk girl said it wasn’t.”

 
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