Tumble (Page 15)
A hollowness descends over me. I push off the wall, slipping my phone out of my pocket. Pulling up my emails, I sort through the names and subject lines. There’s nothing there that I hope to see—no responses from companies looking for sports writers. Just a bunch of romance writers’ newsletters and offers for dollar flip-flops and discounted shirts.
My shoes shuffle against the concrete floor as I turn the corner and spy the toilet. Just as I’m unbuttoning my pants, I hear the door squeak open and realize the lock must not have fastened after all. My heart flies to my throat, and the alcohol sloshes around like an angry volcano.
My breath stills in my lungs as I look into the dim light. Dane is standing at the sink. One hand is planted on each side, his head bowed.
I blow out a breath. “It’s just you.”
His head whips to mine as he staggers to his feet. “How’d you get in here?” He shakes his head, running a hand over his chin. “Dumb question and not what I meant.” He sighs. “I didn’t know you were in here.”
“I know you didn’t. You were inside with the girl from the café.” The words come out before I have time to think about them. If I’d thought them through, I would’ve picked a better tone as well, because the accusatory way I said the words doesn’t help much. There’s nothing I can do, so I shrug.
“You mean Haley.” He shifts his weight, his brows tugging together. His lips begin to tug toward the ceiling.
“I don’t know what her name is.”
“You got a problem with her?” He grins.
“I don’t know her.” The light appears to move above the sink, but I’m present enough to know it’s really not. I lean against the wall and take a slow, deep breath. “She seems lovely.”
“She is lovely,” he says. “You’d like her.”
“I’m sure we’d be besties.”
He turns his back to me, but the way his shoulders vibrate tells me he’s laughing.
I wonder who Haley is and who she is to him. Does he screw with her on the side, or does he know her little girl too? It’s the last thought tonight, the one of Dane with a family, that draws my ire.
I do what comes natural: I throw my shoulders back, lift my chin, and pretend I have all the confidence in the world. It’s an old gymnastics trick that works on the mat. It’s not as effective against men. At least not this one.
Dane faces me, taking me in. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were jealous.”
“Of what?” I curl the corner of my lip like it’s an absurd thought. “What would I have to be jealous of?”
A sound that isn’t ladylike or explainable hiccups out of my mouth. I don’t worry about it, though. I roll my eyes. The motion makes me a little sick, but it’s worth it to make a point. “You obviously don’t know me. I don’t get jealous of pretty women, Dane.”
“I didn’t say you were jealous about that.” He half laughs. “I mean, come on, Nee. You’re the prettiest woman in any given room. Of course you aren’t jealous about that.”
My knees go limp, and I tell myself it’s the rum. I also tell myself I misheard him, but when I look into his eyes, I know that’s not true.
He takes a step toward me. And then another. With each step, my chest constricts harder. By the time he’s standing in front of me, I can barely breathe.
“I hate it you’re here,” he says. His voice is almost a whisper, yet somehow, despite the softness, it doesn’t lose a bit of grit. The words and texture are at odds, roughing over my ears and heart, and all I can do is take a step back against the wall. “I had just about forgotten you.”
“I had forgotten you.” I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, my hand shaking against my neck.
The wall is cool against my back, the unfinished concrete rough. I fidget, and the edges of the material bite against the fabric of my shirt.
Dane closes the distance between us. We’re so close that our chests are nearly touching. He towers over me with an intensity in his eyes that almost sets me aflame. Letting my jaw fall open in an attempt to breathe easier, I hear the vibration in my inhale. He hears it too. A smirk settles over his kissable lips.
“You hadn’t forgotten about me,” he says. “If you had, you wouldn’t be reacting like this.”
“Like you know just how good it is between us.”
“It was good between us,” I admit. “‘Was’ being the key term.”
“I have a feeling it would be even better these days.”
I might gasp. I might whimper. I might confess that I was thinking the same thing, but my stomach is clenching so hard I’m not sure, and I can’t hear anything over the echo of his words shooting through my mind.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I will my body to behave and my brain to take over and get me the heck out of here.
He reaches out and brushes another strand of hair out of my eyes. The back of his hand tickles against my cheek. A storm of goose bumps races across my skin, silently begging for more.
My stomach curls and I drop my hand to it to try to quell the ache. Before it makes it to my midsection, it bumps Dane’s.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” I tell him.
“I’m not complaining.”
He holds my gaze, a tempest brewing inside his green orbs. I peer into the swirls and feel his curiosity, hear the plethora of questions that mirror my own. Looking into his eyes doesn’t put me on edge or feel like I’m invading someone’s privacy like it does when you meet a stranger or go on a first date. It’s the opposite. That’s the problem.
The knot in my gut begins to unravel. My heartbeat slows. I start to lose myself in the pools of jade but am jolted back to reality by a drip of water falling into the sink from the faucet.
“I need to go,” I say, shoving a swallow down my throat.
He shifts backward. “Need a ride home?”
“I drove here,” I say, not moving a muscle.
“But you’ve been drinking and you’re a lightweight.”
Damn it. “I’ll get Claire to drive me. Or Penn.”
Tucking his hands in his pockets, he rocks back on his heels. “You afraid of me?”
“Then let me drive you home. What could it hurt?”
Four simple words is all it takes to knock me sideways. I’ve replayed that exact line—What could it hurt?—over and over in my mind. Hearing it from his lips again is enough to nearly paralyze me.
He doesn’t seem to remember. There’s no light coming on over his head, no realization sweeping his features like I’m positive is happening on mine. He reacts to my reaction with narrowed eyes and a curious tip of his head, and somehow the fact he doesn’t remember causes a pain to swell in my chest.
The force of emotion strikes a panic that radiates from deep inside my soul. I haven’t allowed myself to delve too deeply into this situation for a long time. It’s pointless. It will change nothing. But as my jaw hangs open and I try to bring precious oxygen into my lungs, I fight the urge to bound forward and smack him across the face—for what? For not remembering? For causing my chest to ache so painfully? For proving that everyone is a liar when they spout off you can have everything you want out of life?
Because I can’t. I can’t have him. And he doesn’t even remember.
“Funny you should use that language,” I say, clearing my throat.
“Why?” His face scrunches in puzzled confusion.
“It’s like when you say, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ and then everything actually goes wrong. When you say, ‘What could it hurt?’ I seem to remember it hurting so terribly I didn’t think I’d survive.” My voice breaks on the last word. Standing taller, desperate for him to get nothing from me but anger, I lift my chin. “Remember that, Dane?”
His gaze falls to the floor. His bottom lip sucks between his teeth as he toes his shoe against the concrete. “I don’t remember that line specifically, but I get what you’re getting at.”
He looks up at me, the lines on his face etching into his skin. The water continues to drip in the sink behind him. Each ping of a droplet like a tick of a clock. Each second of our standoff like a fuse being burned.
The air crackles around us, wrought with an awkwardness neither of us can navigate. When I envision this late at night sometimes, I have a lot to say. Now, words seem impossible to articulate.
“You know,” he says, bringing his eyes to mine, “I never got to tell you I’m sorry.”
“I bet you are.”
My response has his hands coming out of his pockets. He looks at me with an arched brow. “You know I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
The fuse has burned through.
“And that makes it all right, doesn’t it? You didn’t mean to hurt me. Gee, thanks, Dane.” With a heated glare, I cross my arms over my chest. “I bet you were thinking that while you screwed Katie. I bet you were thinking, ‘Boy, I hope this doesn’t hurt Neely.’”
“It wasn’t like that.” He growls. “And you know it.”