Hate to love you, p.5
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       Hate to Love You, p.5
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           Tijan

  you? You gush over puppies and bake cookies for your friends, don’t you?”

  I just gazed at him a moment, startled for a minute.

  Then, I grinned. “Linde, look at you. Are you projecting on me? Tell me the truth. You were baking cookies for me today, weren’t you?” I said it like a proud mother, and the rest of the table choked up with laughter.

  One of them pounded Linde on the back. “Okay. I see now what you were saying.” He nodded his approval toward me. “She is chill. You guys were right.”

  Drinks were dispensed, then Shay took the other seat beside me. I skimmed over the rest of the table. It was a long table, stretching enough to seat sixteen people or so. Most were football players, but there were a few others I didn’t recognize.

  Linde waved a hand, answering my teases, “That’s the persona I give off. Fucks with my enemies. They get all confused. Think I’m this nice guy and then bam!” He pounded a fist on the table. “That’s when I take ’em out.”

  One of the guys leaned forward. “And by enemies, he’s talking about the other teams on the football field.”

  Kristina nodded, her head bobbing up and down. “Totally.”

  She had a wide-eyed or starry-eyed sort of expression on her face. It took me aback. I’d been nervous when Shay pulled me aside and invited—rather, demanded—I come study at his place, but I figured that was because this was unknown to me. And because of him. He was just a lot. His presence overwhelmed me. He could be standing a few feet from me, and I felt like he was in me. But when Kristina snuck a look at him, I knew it wasn’t just me. It was him. He had this effect on everyone.

  I started to relax after a bit.

  Linde was over the top. Guys were like that, especially if they were jacked up on something, and speaking of, I glanced at his own glass in front of him. Beads of sweat lined his forehead, and a vein was popping out from his neck. Noting his tank and how tight it was against his bulging muscles—they seemed to be bigger than what I noticed from class—I glanced over my shoulder to the kitchen.

  A big, white plastic container was pushed up against the corner, a measuring cup beside it with a dust layer on the inside of it.

  Protein shakes, or something more serious.

  Shay cleared his throat, pulling my gaze to his. I saw the reproach in them, and he shook his head silently.

  He didn’t want me poking my nose where it didn’t belong. I got his message and settled on my political science textbook. Apparently, geopolitics needed to be my business, not whatever Linde was on.

  Still.

  My eyes went back to him, and then Shay kicked my chair. My head snapped back to his, and he widened his eyes again. A second warning.

  I frowned, scrunched my nose, and turned back to my book. Whatever. Fine. Geopolitics, my ass, though.

  “Okay.” Linde waved a sheet that we were given earlier in the week. “Clarke, tell me similarities and differences between political institutions and behaviors from state to state.” My mouth dropped open, but he held his hand up and continued, “And between communities. Go.” He sat back, folding his arms over his chest.

  A soft gurgle rippled up from my throat. “You’re serious?”

  “You’re Ms. Planned, Perfected, and Prepared. You should be able to rattle this off with no problem at all.”

  I opened my mouth again, flashing back to some notes I’d written earlier today, but one of the other football players spoke up, “This is the shit you’re learning in that class? Damn. I’m glad I kept to my gym major.”

  A few others laughed, joining in with their own comments, and soon the four of us at the end of the table were no longer the center of attention. I had a feeling this was how it’d been before we showed up.

  Linde pointed at me. “I’m waiting. Go.”

  And I did, doing exactly what he challenged me to do. The answers fell from my tongue, and once I was done, his eyebrows were arched up to his forehead. He nodded, slowly, and whistled. “Boom. You nailed it. You get an A, as far as I’m concerned.” Grabbing his glass, he shoved back his chair and rounded the table for the kitchen.

  I wanted to look.

  I fought it.

  I tried.

  I failed. I snuck a peek over my shoulder.

  My chair got another swift kick. Shay leaned forward and hissed under his breath, “Stop.”

  Kristina, who had been reading her book, paused. Her eyes looked up to watch us.

  I ignored her, leaning forward and whispering back, “My older brother had a problem. Sue me for caring.”

  She leaned forward. “What are you guys talking about?”

  “Nothing.” He spoke to her, but his eyes never left mine. He added to me, “I mean it. Stop. You’ve known him four minutes. You don’t get a say.”

  “Then why’d you bring me here if you expect me to be oblivious to shit?” I hissed back.

  “Because Linde asked.” His eyes darkened in anger. “Not me. Okay?”

  Well.

  Fuck.

  Now I was even more concerned. I checked. Linde was still mixing the drink together. I lowered my head even closer to Shay’s. “Tough shit. You opened the door. Don’t expect me not to walk through it.”

  His eyes narrowed. “What the hell does that even mean?”

  I sat back, and letting my voice back to its normal level, I said, “If you wanted a dumb chick to study with, you fucked up. Becs and Aby have no problem being told what to think. Remember?”

  Linde was coming back but paused behind us. “What’s going on?”

  The rest of the table quieted, too. All eyes were on us.

  I felt the heat of their attention and stood. “I’m feeling the need for some fresh air.” The path was blocked from my side, so I went around Linde, behind Shay, Kristina, and their side of the table. “Be right back.”

  I wanted to let the door slam behind me but I caught it and closed it with a soft click, instead. A picnic table was on their back patio, and I slumped down on the far side of it, brought my elbows to the table, and I buried my head in my arms.

  Why was I reacting so much? Even for me, this was more than normal.

  The screen door opened and shut, but not before Shay pulled the inside door closed, too. He rounded the table to the opposite side where I was, but instead of sitting down, he leaned back against the post. Using his hands for balance, he kicked up and sat toward me, his long legs dangling. He hooked one foot around the picnic table, jerked it over, and rested his feet there.

  This made him even more opposing in my mind, and as he crossed his arms over his chest, I averted my eyes.

  Why did he bother me so much?

  I didn’t speak.

  He didn’t speak.

  A full minute passed before he groaned. “Are you serious?” He let his arms fall back to his lap. “Are you this stubborn with everyone?”

  “Are you?” I shot back, not hiding my own anger. “You came out here to apologize. What handbook says that I have to start that conversation?”

  He snorted. “Who said I came out to apologize?”

  I shut my mouth. Asshole.

  He laughed quietly. “Relax. I did come out to apologize, but not really at the same time. You’re not dumb. It’s partly why Linde thinks you’re cool. You’re not like other girls.”

  I motioned for him to go on. “I know the anticipation to tell me to mind my business is just burning inside you. Let it out. Let’s get on with this.”

  Another half-laugh, half in surprise and half in amusement. He grabbed the back of his neck. “Fuck, you’re feisty.”

  “Two brothers. One who got really messed up on that stuff, or stuff like what Linde is taking.”

  “It isn’t steroids.” He grew somber, folding his arms back up again. “It’s to help him bulk up. A lot of the guys take it, and it is legal for them to do that.”

  “It’s legal because some company paid some lobbyist to convince a Congress person to allow it. That’s why it’s le
gal, but it shouldn’t be. It can really mess with the body. He’s going to have problems long after his football career is done.”

  His eyes darted to the house behind me, and he then held his hand up. “Chill, please. It really isn’t a problem for him. Some guys, yes. Not Linde. He’s going to stop taking it after football. I’ll make him, and besides, he’ll get upset if he knows that’s why you’re out here.”

  I frowned. “Why does he think I’m out here?”

  He shrugged, his lip lifting in a crooked grin. “That I might’ve touched your leg in a place you weren’t having it. Your friend knows I was lying, but the guys don’t. They think I came out to hit on you again.”

  Hitting on me. I scoffed, but my body warmed at the same time, which pissed me off even more. This guy had power over me that I didn’t like, power over me that no other guy had had before. It was because he was Mr. Superstar at this college. That was all.

  He affected other girls the same way. It wasn’t just me.

  “What are you thinking?” He was watching me, wary again.

  I shook my head, closing those thoughts down. “Nothing.”

  “You have nothing to say about the guys thinking I’m hitting on you?”

  “Nope.”

  He whistled under his breath. “Thought that’d get some sort of reaction from you.”

  “No.” My throat burned. I let out a breath and tugged at my shirt’s collar before casually smoothing down my sleeves. “We came to study, right? Maybe we should do that.” I stood. My legs felt like they were filled with lead.

  His eyes narrowed, and he cocked his head to the side. “You’re lying to me right now.”

  My eyes went to his.

  He nodded to himself, the smolder melting into a smug expression, but it did nothing to lessen the impact he was having on me. If anything, it increased it.

  I was really starting to hate this guy.

  I scowled. “Whatever. Let’s go in. We have that quiz.”

  I brushed past him, going inside, but my mind was racing. Did I really have to be there? I already studied for the week. I could leave. Though, when I glanced to Kristina and realized she seemed to be enjoying herself, I couldn’t. I knew she was getting a kick out of studying and hanging out with these guys.

  I looked at Linde and saw his forehead scrunched as he was trying to memorize something in the textbook. He still had sweat beaded on his temples and definitely looked tense, so I kept my mouth shut.

  Shay slipped into his old seat, and his eyes met mine.

  He told me Linde asked for me to be there. Linde was my friend. I felt a tug in my chest—Linde was whom I cared about.

  I picked my pen back up and began underlining.

  Linde was whom I would stay for.

  Kristina was all giggles on the ride home.

  After studying for two hours, most of the guys had gone to bed or left for wherever they lived. The only ones up were the four of us and one other football player from class. Shay and that guy moved farther down the table and were quizzing each other. I moved so I was in the middle of the table, and Linde and Kristina were at the end where we’d originally been sitting.

  Then Linde declared he needed a drink.

  I declined. So did Shay and the other guy, but Kristina was persuaded to have one with him. It was a strong one. A really strong one.

  “One drink.” She dissolved in more soft laughter, holding her hands together over her mouth. “One drink, and I’m like this.”

  When we went to Shay’s Jeep, I scooted into the back. I was tired, and I didn’t want to feel the stress of sitting next to him. Kristina twisted around, pressing her nose to the back of her seat. She gazed at me, her eyes wide. “What am I going to say to the others? To Casey? She’s going to know.”

  I glanced to the clock on the dashboard. It was after three in the morning. A normal roommate would be asleep by now, but this was Casey. I shrugged. “If they didn’t end up partying tonight,” because you never knew, “you can sleep in my room.”

  “Missy won’t care?”

  “Missy starts snoring at ten on the dot every Sunday through Thursday night. You’ll be fine.” We had a loveseat that could get pulled out into a third bed for the room. If Missy said something in the morning, I’d be surprised. After her comment this afternoon, I figured she’d avoid me for at least a week. Plus, to her, Kristina was one of those popular girls who should be treated like a unicorn—mystical, beautiful, and only found in fairy tales.

  “Okay.” She hiccupped, turned around, and slumped down in her seat.

  I glanced to the rearview mirror, saw Shay watching me, and felt another bolt of energy in my chest. This was how it was going to be. I had to get used to it. He just affected me. He didn’t really do anything to cause it, but it was there. It wasn’t going away. There was no judgment, sympathy, or amusement in those blue eyes as he watched me. He was literally just looking at me, and I let out a sigh.

  This semester could be the longest four months of my life.

  When he pulled into our dorm’s parking lot, I leaned forward. “You can pull up to the back door there.”

  Kristina was swaying on her feet as we got out.

  I was crawling from the back, when he quietly asked, “Do you need help with her?”

  I looked back at him. “I’m sure we’re fine.”

  “Sabrina’s at the front desk. Let her know if you need help.”

  Sabrina.

  I paused, my fingers sinking down into the seat. Of course, she’d have an equally beautiful name.

  I dipped my head down, murmuring, “Thank you. And thank you for the ride.”

  I didn’t say anything about Linde, because he was right. If Linde became a close enough friend where I could voice my opinion, and if he asked, I would say it then. It would’ve been me passing judgment on him, otherwise. I was prickly enough with people judging me. Hello, pot meet kettle.

  I climbed out the rest of the way, shut his door, and held a hand up in a farewell wave as he wheeled the Jeep around deftly and pulled away. Holding my ID to the back door scanner, it opened for us, and I made Kristina wait in the stairwell so I could scope out her room situation.

  The hallway’s low lights were on. Light shone from underneath a few of the doors, but they were quiet. I got to Kristina’s and used the key she gave me to open the door an inch. No light was on inside, and I waited—I didn’t hear anything. No deep breathing. No light snoring. I opened the door wider, then stepped inside and waited again.

  No reaction.

  No one moved in their bed.

  I hit the switch, and the room flooded in light. Casey’s bed was empty. That answered Kristina’s dilemma, and I relayed the information. She sagged against the wall, her hand to her chest. “Thank goodness.” Her smile was a little messy, and her pupils dilated. “Thank you. It was a fun night. Those guys are nice.”

  I nodded, and said another good night.

  Moments later, I was in bed, and Missy’s snoring shook the post. I was used to the noise and vibrations and closed my eyes. The sound almost lulled me to sleep now.

  The alarms started too early, way too early. Missy’s started at six, and went off every ten minutes until seven o’clock, which was when she finally shut the damn thing off. The bed shook again as she climbed from the top bunk, and I drifted back to sleep.

  She woke me again thirty minutes later when she returned from the shower. I listened without opening my eyes as she moved around getting ready for the day and groaned when my own alarm woke me at eight.

 
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