When We Met
behind her eyes: A. L. Jackson
saving me: Molly McAdams
fouling out: Tiffany King
beneath your layers:Christina Lee
behind her eyes
A. L. Jackson
Misha hugged herself around her middle. Chills raced down her spine and crystallized the blood in her veins. She felt sick. So sick. Tears streamed from her eyes fast and hard, dripping from her chin as she bent at the waist and cried toward the ground. As she stood in the front yard of his house, confronting him with the video she’d found, her body trembled with a shock of grief. “How could you do this to me?”
Hunter laughed, a sound of insult as it rumbled up his throat and passed through the smug smile curling his lips. He inclined his head to capture her attention up from her own feet. Like a deer blinded by the light, she froze, locked in the clutches of the blue gaze she’d once thought so tender and kind. Now those eyes simmered with derision.
“Knew you had it in you, Misha.” His voice raked the taunt, cutting her deeper with each biting word. “The good girl act . . . I saw right through it. You’re just as easy as the rest of the sluts around here, aren’t you?” His face twisted with morbid satisfaction. “Of course that amazing fuck was worth the hundred dollars I had on the line.”
“A h-h-h-hundred dollars?” She stuttered over the question, her tongue thick as she tried to force the words around the shame clogging her throat. Confusion and disbelief spun with the heartbreak. Her knees went weak.
Hunter moved closer, his nose an inch from hers. “A h-h-h-hundred dollars?” he mocked, pouring salt into her oldest wounds.
Misha sucked in a pained breath and squeezed her eyes shut.
“What? Do you think you’re worth more than that?”
Misha recoiled from the insult.
He might as well have slapped her.
He’d already ruined her life.
Abruptly he straightened and took two steps back. “Because you’re not.” He released a lazy chuckle, casually running a hand through his blond hair like she meant nothing at all. Then he turned and left her there.
The sob she struggled to hold in broke free, and Misha stumbled over the patchy lawn as heartbreak tore through her.
Betrayal and humiliation penetrated all the way to her bones. Horror flamed her heated cheeks, streams of tears flowing like a river of fire scalding her flaming flesh. But this heat was nothing like the blush that kissed her skin with shyness, the way the crimson colored her face when the slightest bit of attention was cast on her.
Because this? This was anguish.
Misha couldn’t fathom the viciousness, couldn’t comprehend that one person could be so cruel. She’d believed he’d cared about her. Loved her. He’d promised her she was everything.
Turned out she was just a pawn in some sick, twisted game.
Three months later
What am I doing here?
I looked up at the dusty blue two-story house—the house I’d shared with three other girls, Indy, Courtney, and Chloe, during my sophomore year. Nostalgia billowed through me on a soft wave. I’d loved so much of my time here, learning how to spread my wings, to fly on my own without the shelter of my parents, who’d made it their lifelong duty to protect me from the vile dangers of this world.
My head shook with remorse. It hadn’t taken me long to be ensnared in its traps, had it?
After Hunter’s betrayal, I’d run straight home to Wisconsin and right into my mother’s waiting arms. Completely crushed. I’d sworn to never return here, too ashamed to be seen walking the halls of the university I’d attended in Ann Arbor, Michigan, since my freshman year of college.
Summer had passed in some kind of blur, my heart searching for a way to mend after it had been shattered beyond recognition. No longer did I fully recognize myself. The endless smile was wiped from my mouth and the naive trust I’d held in this world disintegrated into nothing.
But here I was, back in Michigan, standing in the driveway of the house I shared with my roommates. As much as I didn’t want to look, I couldn’t stop my gaze from wandering, latching warily on to the dingy white house next door.
Nausea pooled in my stomach as my eyes were drawn up the side of the house to the last window on the second floor. Behind that window was the room where I’d given Hunter my innocence. My hand fisted at my side, all of me protesting that thought. No. Where Hunter had stolen my innocence. Behind that window was where he’d hurt me, humiliated and shamed me.
For all my life I’d seen the best in people. My mother had always told me it was what made me who I was, why I glowed and smiled and shed a radiant light on the rest of the world. She said it was what made me good and begged me to never let it go.
Hunter taught me it just made me a fool.
“There you are.”
Tearing my eyes away, I turned to Indy as she stepped out onto the front porch of the house. Red hair whipped around her face, green eyes watching me where I stood at the end of the walkway.
“It’s about time you got here. It’s Happy Hour and we’re making drinks. Get your ass inside.”
I felt the heat rush to my face, and I chewed at my bottom lip, grabbed the two suitcases I’d taken from my car, and began to haul them behind me.
I hadn’t truly been happy since I left this place three months ago.
Junior year started in just three days. I didn’t think I’d be a part of it, resigning myself to giving up my dreams and transferring to a small school in Wisconsin, never turning back. Indy had convinced me I was wrong. She’d been betrayed, too, her jerk of a boyfriend hurting her, and she needed me back in the house. Just as much as I needed to be here.
I’d missed it. Now that I was here, I could admit that I knew I didn’t want to run away. By my doing so, all I had accomplished was allowing Hunter to win his nasty game.
He’d stolen something precious from me. I wouldn’t let him steal the internship I’d worked so hard for, too. Helping the kids there was the most important thing in my life, the one true thing that had called me back to Michigan. I couldn’t rid those innocent little faces from swirling through my mind, those little kids being the ones I planned on dedicating my life to.
No, I wouldn’t allow him to steal them, too.
The final key had been Indy telling me Hunter had been booted from the house next door, voted out when his three roommates found out he was the one who’d been responsible.
My heart warmed in a way I thought was no longer possible. I still couldn’t believe they’d taken up my side, supported me after I’d been so gullible.
It didn’t mean I loved the idea of someone else there, living in that room where I had been played like a cheap, worn-out piano.
That was what I wanted it to be. The room should be taped off and boarded up so no one could enter its repulsive walls. Even better, pummeled into a million tiny pieces by a wrecking ball. Maybe then the memory of what had happened there would be pulverized along with it.
I knew he would still roam the campus, that some people would think me someone I was not, that there would be times when I’d bear the brunt of the curse he’d cast on me. But I took comfort in knowing I wouldn’t have to witness that same smug, self-satisfied expression he’d looked at me with when I confronted him, when he laughed and mocked me, tossing me aside like a piece of trash.
Never again would I allow myself to fall prey to a guy like that. Lesson learned—the hard way.
I ascended the five wooden steps to the covered porch, my suitcases bouncing as I dragged them up behind me. I let them go and hugged Indy.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered near my ear.
I squeezed her tighter, sad the two of us were sharing in some kind of brokenhearted kinship.
“I’m so sorry to hear about Dean,” I mumbled into her shoulder.
“Me, too.” She pulled away, swiping away a tear. She gestured toward the door. “Come on, let’s get your stuff inside and then we need to catch up.”
I followed her through the front door. Inside, the main room was cramped with three couches. We spent a lot of time here, watching TV, lounging, and talking, sometimes studying, and this was where our friends hung out when they came over.
One of our other roommates, Chloe, sat on one of the couches, typing furiously on her laptop. She glanced up, squealed when she saw me in the doorway. “You’re back!”
She set her laptop aside and hopped up to welcome me.
I hugged her. “Thanks for letting me come back.”
“Pshh . . .” She smiled a playful smile, waves of her short blond hair swishing around her face. “Like we wanted to go through the trouble of looking for a new roommate.”
Courtney, the last of my roommates, ducked her head through the opening to the kitchen. “Misha’s back!” Her statement was no question, but tossed out in a loud greeting. “You don’t know how glad I am that Indy was able to drag you back here where you belong.”
There was no question they were working to play it light, to pretend like this heaviness didn’t surround me, like tears wouldn’t fall at the drop of a dime or at the mention of his name.