As I looked around, I noticed Liam walking over to Aliyah. He looked handsome as usual, in jeans and a V-neck shirt, his hair perfectly tousled and his mischievous grin in place. I watched as he spoke to Aliyah, making her turn her attention from the conversation from the girl in her biology class, to him. I watched his face as he flirted, and knew the moment she shot him down. Liam tried to look as if it didn’t matter, but I could tell that almost three years of rejection was starting to get to him, and as he walked past her into the kitchen, I wondered why he didn’t give up.
“Jeb, can I cut in for a minute?” an achingly familiar voice said to my left, causing me to forget about Liam and Aliyah, and turn toward Craig.
“No,” I said loudly, before Jeb could respond, then growled in frustration when Jeb turned and walked away. “Ugh, what do you want?”
I didn’t wait for him to respond, instead turning on my heel and walking down the hall toward the bathroom.
“I want to know why you’re here. Why you keep coming to my frat parties, when there are a million other parties that you can go to. Do you like torturing me?” Craig asked from right behind me.
I whirled suddenly, causing him to stop so abruptly he had to steady himself with one hand on the wall, spilling a healthy stream of beer onto his shoes. We both watched as the gold liquid hit his nice, clean loafers.
I trailed my gaze up to his, an apology on my lips, but froze when I saw the anger on his face.
“You don’t want to talk to me anymore… Fine! You don’t want to be friends… Whatever, I’m happy to accommodate you.” Craig began walking closer as he talked, causing me to step back. “But your actions show something different. I think you miss me, you just don’t know how to make things right between us, and that’s why you’re always here. Just admit it, Gwen… Talk to me,” The anger left his voice as he pleaded with me, and although I knew what he was saying was true, I couldn’t bring myself to take the olive branch he was extending.
“Get over yourself,” I responded instead, lifting my chin and meeting his eyes haughtily. “I like to come here because you guys have the best booze, and the hottest guys.”
Craig took another step, and when my back hit the wall, I put my hands on my hips, refusing to back down at the look of hurt that flashed across his face.
“So you’re just here to get drunk and fuck my brothers, is that it?” he replied, and I had to stop myself from flinching at his crassness. I knew I was hurting him, but I needed to preserve my heart, and this was the only way I knew how to do it.
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” he replied, stepping to the side.
His affable tone just pissed me off more.
“Don’t be such a hypocrite. You go home with random girls all the time, and you certainly drink your share of alcohol…”
Craig stepped back in front of me, blocking my way, and leaned his face down into mine, the anger practically vibrating off of him.
“Don’t give me that double standard bullshit. If I thought for one minute you were drinking and sleeping with random guys because you were enjoying college and sowing your wild oats, or whatever the fuck you call it, I’d be all for it. I’d be your biggest damn champion… But we both know that’s not it. You’re doing this for my benefit, to punish me. And the shit of it is, I have no idea what I’m being punished for, but I can tell you one thing, you’re not happy. You know it, and I know it, and I just wish you’d wake the fuck up and let me help you.”
His words pierced my skin and I suddenly felt like a cornered, injured animal, and all I wanted to do was fight back.
I was about to scream in his face, and maybe start kicking, when Liam and Aliyah came up behind us and Liam put a hand on Craig’s shoulder.
“Hey, brother, ease up,” Liam said with a forced chuckle. “The entire party can hear your squabble.”
Craig turned to his side and I squeezed past him, taking Aliyah’s hand so she could lead me down the hall.
“Gwen,” Craig called, his voice gentle and full of regret. “Meet you next Friday at three?”
I nodded, then turned and walked away.
We were going home for Brock and Victoria’s baby shower. Even though I didn’t give him the time of day for most of the year, we always drove back home for special events and holidays together. It started when Shelly and Cal had their first baby. Craig had been so excited to be an uncle, and I really wanted to be there to see the baby, so I’d agreed to go with him. After that, it just became a habit. I knew I should put a stop to it, I’d been telling myself that for years, but it was the only time that I let myself be with him, and not fight the entire time. We both loved our family and friends, and since they were so closely intertwined, it would be silly not to go together.
Then there was the fact that I still attended all of his baseball games. Sure, I took pictures and submitted them to the school paper, but no matter how many times I told myself I was going to stay home, and stop going to his games, I always went.
If I was honest with myself, I’d realize that one of the main reasons I never bought a car, was that if I did, I would no longer have a reason to carpool back home with Craig. And, if I stopped going to his games, I’d not only be breaking a promise I made to him eight years ago, but I’d miss the joy and pride I always felt when I watched him play.
It was a good thing I hadn’t been honest with myself in over three years.
TIME FOR LOVE READING ORDER
8 WEEKS (#1) GOODREADS
21 DAYS (#2) GOODREADS
42 HOURS (#3) GOODREADS
15 MINUTES (#4) GOODREADS
10 YEARS (#5) GOODREADS