A twinge of guilt rocks me because every word out of her mouth is absolutely true: I do need to talk to somebody. I want to open my mouth and vomit out all that has happened, to take the darkness and give it to somebody else. I want the nastiness and decay out of my body, out of my soul, and maybe if I expelled it in words, then maybe, just maybe, the rot would be gone.
But it’s like my windpipe has collapsed and my voice box was taken hostage. To tell her about my life—losing my home, what happened with Matt—that would mean exposing myself.
I trusted Matt and that didn’t work out, and I was stupid enough to talk to West and he hasn’t acknowledged a word I said since it happened.
“Thanks,” I say to her while turning the knob. “But I’m fine.”
In the cafeteria, Haley drops into the seat across from me and immediately pops a French fry into her mouth. “I’m considering tying your hands to your head. Maybe that way you’ll keep your guard up.”
I chuckle. Haley isn’t a “Hi” and useless conversation type of girl. She’s direct, to the point, not capable of bullshit, and I’m falling harder for her every day. I’m completely f**ked because she’s damned insistent that we keep things “simple.” “I’m keeping my guard up.”
I’ve been waiting for some sort of confirmation that she might see us as more than friends. More than coach and student. I slather a French fry in the ketchup, then push my tray away, wondering how much Haley’s had to eat all week. “Want to go to dinner tonight? Before we work out? My treat.”
She shakes her head without looking at me. “I’ve got to work before we go to the gym. You know, bills and all.” Weak smile on her part.
“What time do you get off? I’ll pick you up and get you to the gym.”
Haley scowls at her plate. She hates accepting help, but she mumbles, “Seven.”
For the first time since Rachel’s accident, I spot Isaiah at school. He walks in the side door pure night of the living dead—pale, dark circles under his eyes, the whole dead-on-his-feet montage. I stare at him and he assesses me like I’m scum.
I glance away first. He’s been standing by my sister, holding her hand, making her happy when I can’t. That deserves some respect.
Haley’s gaze flickers between the two of us. “You know him?”
“He’s Rachel’s boyfriend.”
Both of Haley’s eyebrows rise. “No kidding.”
“Wish I was.”
“How’d that happen?”
I shrug because I only know what others have told me. “They met drag racing.”
“Wow. Adrenaline rushes must be a family thing.”
I chuckle, never having thought of it that way. “Do you know him?”
“He lives in the same neighborhood as me, but I don’t know anything more than rumors and we both know that rumors typically aren’t true.”
We drop the subject of Isaiah and move on to fight strategy. When a scuffle in the corner draws her attention, I toss my remaining French fries onto her plate. I hold my breath when she turns back and breathe again when she doesn’t appear to notice. If I got caught doing that shit, she’d kick my ass.
“So I have this thing,” she says.
Interesting. “A thing?”
“Yeah, a thing.” Haley rummages through her backpack and withdraws a stapled-together pack of papers. “It’s a scholarship. A full ride and I really need it.”
She pauses and I feel like shit.
“Anyway,” she continues. “I have to submit a video and I’d like to tape me training you and some of your workouts to show why I’m a good candidate for the scholarship.”
I wiggle my fingers and she places the paperwork in my hands. Haley sucks in her bottom lip as she watches me from across the lunch table. “I’ll understand if you say no.”
Like I could say no to that face. “You didn’t have to create a big deal to get a video of me with my shirt off. I’d take it off if you simply asked.”
“Bwha…” It’s a short, sexy sound that accompanies an open mouth and red cheeks. I love it when she blushes. Since our night together, I’ve cut back on the sexual innuendos, but if she’s going to draw attention to her lips, then all bets are off.
I flip through the scholarship paperwork and the guilt that’s been killing me for the past three weeks mushrooms. With Haley’s current family situation, she needs this money and my father may be to blame. I’m home. She’s not. My life continues on as normal. She’s still living the nightmare. “Whatever you need, I’m your guy.”
Those gorgeous dark eyes brighten and her fork clangs against the tray when she drops it. “For real?”
“Yeah.” The least I can do is let her videotape our sessions.
Becoming the exact opposite of the hard-core drill instructor busting my ass at the gym, Haley claps her hands. Last night she continually screamed at me to keep up my guard as I ducked and weaved while pounding out a three-one kick combination on a bag.
She pushes her chair back and springs to my side of the table, wrapping both arms around my neck. “Thank you!”
Her hair falls forward, caressing my face, and her intoxicating scent envelops me. The memories of holding her all night flash in my mind. Never in my life have I felt such belonging and peace as when I lay awake watching her sleep.
My arms slide along her spine and, as I go to stand, she shifts back and kisses my cheek. Soft lips caress my skin and my fist clutches a strand of her hair. My heart beats hard and I turn my head, hoping to catch her mouth with mine. Our gazes meet and lust darkens her eyes.
Haley stiffens, like her mind caught up to her actions. She practically leaps away from me and presses a hand against her lips. “I didn’t mean that.”
I couldn’t stop the grin if someone paid me a million dollars because, yeah, she did mean it. Haley, whether she’s willing to admit it or not, wants more.
“Thank you,” she says as she continues to step back. “For helping me with the scholarship, I mean. Um… As in I’ll see you tonight.”
In a blur, she pivots and is out of the lunchroom with Marissa by her side. Damn, no girl has ever left me speechless or with this type of smile on my face. Then again, no girl has ever caused me to collapse on the floor in a pool of sweat.
I pick up her tray, then mine, dumping the garbage and placing the trays on the rack. Watch out, Haley. Simple just went out the window.