I’d sent Eva two texts and called her once. She still hadn’t responded. The invisible fairy was back but she wasn’t bringing the extra treats like the chocolate cake or strawberry pie. All I got was a thermos of water and an ice towel. Something was f**ked up.
I couldn’t go looking for her and demand she talk to me. Her dad would have my ass thrown off the property. I’d lose my scholarship and I wouldn’t have Eva. What the hell could I do? She wouldn’t talk to me. Our last conversation had been when she’d brought me the chocolate cake. The only thing that I could come up with was something had come up with the lady that came by and she was busy with that. Even still why the f**k wouldn’t she answer my texts?
I needed to go talk to Wilson anyway. Low could come get me tonight as easily as tomorrow for my day off. I didn’t do anything between now and tomorrow morning. As much as I didn’t want to leave with Eva giving me the silent treatment, staying here would just drive me crazy. I pulled a clean shirt on then picked up my bag and threw a few things in it.
Wilson should be inside by this time. Maybe Eva would answer the door. I’d be able to see her face even if we couldn’t talk.
I headed up to the house.
The lights were all on which was odd. Even the outside floodlights were illuminating the yard. The driveway was also full. Were they having a party?
I paused at the door as laughter and several voices drifted outside.
The door swung open and Jeremy stood smiling at me. “Hey, man. What’s up?”
“I need to talk to Wilson,” I explained, looking past Jeremy for any sign of Eva.
“Come on in. He’s at the table with the family.”
The family? Whose family?
Jeremy led me inside and down a small foyer. I couldn’t help but pause several times to study pictures on the wall of Eva when she was younger. She’d been beautiful her entire life. Pigtails had also been her favorite hairstyle for a really long time.
“She was ten in that one. Just gotten braces and was really upset about it. Her dad couldn’t get her to smile so he called over to the house and got me and Josh to come over. When we got there Eva was perched up on top of that swing with unshed tears in her eyes and an angry scowl on her face. Josh stood behind the photographer and started telling her knock-knock jokes and making funny faces.”
Her head was tilted to the side and she looked like she’d just finished giggling in the image. My heart tugged thinking about all the memories she had like this one reminding her daily of what she’d lost.
Jeremy started walking again and I followed him toward the large arched entryway where the sounds of voices and laughter were pouring out. Whoever was in there, they were having a really good time.
Jeremy stepped in in front of me, “Mom, Dad, Chad, this is Cage York. He’s working for Wilson this summer. Cage, this is my family. Chad’s my cousin from Louisiana I told you about that I’m going to be rooming with.”
I hadn’t expected a full introduction. Apparently, neither had they. I didn’t focus on any one person. When my eyes swept over the table I recognized Jeremy’s mother as the lady who had come by the other day. Fear festered at what her arrival could have meant. She was Josh’s mother too. I didn’t like where my mind was going with that one.
When my gaze found Eva, she wasn’t looking at me. Her head was down and she was fiddling nervously with her napkin. Fuck.
“Cage? Is there a problem?” Wilson asked.
I forced myself to look at Wilson, instead of his daughter.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your dinner. I just needed to ask you if it was alright if my ride came and got me tonight?”
Wilson shrugged and nodded, “I don’t see why not. Sure boy, go on. I’ll see you Monday morning.”
“Thanks,” I replied and swung my eyes back to Eva. She still hadn’t lifted her head. I didn’t want to leave like this. “It was uh, nice to meet y’all.” I didn’t wait for a response. I turned and made my way back to the door. I needed to get some fresh air and try real hard to get control of the panic settling in my chest.
The screen door slammed behind me but I didn’t flinch, I just kept walking. Reaching into my pocket, I texted Low to come on and get me tonight.
She’d be at least an hour. Instead of going back to the closed-in space of my makeshift bedroom, I headed down to sit in the swing under the biggest oak tree on the property. I rarely saw anyone out here. It was dark and I could stay hidden while I gathered my thoughts.
Josh’s mother had come for a visit and Eva hadn’t spoken to me since. What had been said? Had Eva seen her and realized what she was stepping down from? Josh had the nice all-American family. I, on the other hand, just had Low. My momma hadn’t made me meals and washed my clothes. Hell, my momma hadn’t even taken me to the doctor when I was sick. My half-sister and I hardly ever spoke. The last I heard she’d been busted in a meth lab with her latest boyfriend and gone to prison.
Yeah, I had one f**king fantastic family to introduce Eva too. If she thought I wasn’t worthy now, without knowing all that messed up shit, then I didn’t stand a chance.
I dropped my head into my hands. Why had I let myself care? Why had I decided to f**king care about someone who was so out of my damn reach? Girls like Eva didn’t want to keep me. They wanted to play with me for a while and then go find the boy their parents would approve of. I wasn’t the keeping kind. I’d learned at a young age that women didn’t keep me. When a guy’s momma don’t want him, why the f**k should anyone else? Something was wrong with me. Always had been. When I’d found Low, I’d held onto her and decided that since she was the only girl that wanted to keep me then she would be the one I spent forever with. I knew she’d never leave me. My fuck-ups would never send her running away. Then she’d found Marcus and he’d loved her in a way I never would. As much as I loved her I couldn’t love her the way it would take to be faithful.
Then came Eva. She’d shown me I could only want one woman and be damned happy about it. Too bad that just like the others she didn’t want to keep me. This time I hadn’t gotten rid of her before she could figure out I wasn’t worth keeping. I wanted too much. I’d hoped for too damn much.
Voices drifted across the lawn and I watched as Eva came walking out of the front door with Jeremy and his cousin. I could hear their laughter. The three of them walked out to Eva’s Jeep and the cousin opened her door and whispered something in her ear before helping her get inside. Pain sliced through me.
Jeremy climbed in the back and his cousin sat in the passenger’s seat. Eva was going out. She was moving on. I had been a side distraction.
My eyes stung and I hated the weakness tears represented. Fuck that. I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t cry. I also didn’t f**king beg. I knew what it felt like to beg someone to want you. I’d been called a worthless piece of shit by my father from the time I was five. Then again by my mother when I was a teenager rebelling because of the life I’d been handed.
I’d decided long ago if I was worthless then I didn’t have to live by anyone’s f**king rules. I’d make my own.
My phone chimed alerting me of a text message and I grabbed it praying it was Cage. He hadn’t come back yet and it was Tuesday. Daddy didn’t seem concerned and I was scared to ask him where Cage was. I couldn’t show any interest in Cage. But I needed to know where he was. He’d stopped texting me after Saturday night. He hadn’t called. I’d ignored him. I had to. I was so confused.
The text was from Chad. He was driving me nuts. We’d gone out dancing Saturday night after Cage left. Daddy and Elaine had thought that was a wonderful idea when Jeremy suggested it. I had been stuck. Elaine’s hopeful expression as Chad pulled my chair out for me had been hard to miss. She had invited Chad because she was matchmaking.
Chad wanted to know what I was doing tonight. I wanted to know when he was going back to Louisiana so he would leave me alone. I typed that I wasn’t up for doing anything and left it at that.
Watching the barn for Cage to show up was making me anxious and nauseous every minute he didn’t come driving up. Had he quit? Surely not. He had his scholarship to deal with. I looked down at my phone and thought about texting him. I’d ignored his attempts at trying to contact me. Would he even respond?
I had to know.
Me: Are you okay? Where are you?
I held my phone in my hands and waited.
The silence in the room was deafening. I could hear my heart beating. With each second that ticked by without a response my stomach twisted tighter into the coil it had been in since Elaine had told me how disappointed Josh would be in me. I didn’t want to disappoint Josh. I didn’t want to make a mistake. Cage had been a way for me to heal. He’d been fun and exciting. Nothing felt bad and wrong when we were together. I knew he would be gone soon. I hadn’t kidded myself into believing we had anything long lasting.
After several minutes and no response I dropped my phone onto the bed and lay back on my pillow. Was he going to leave my life just like that? No goodbye, just disappear?
A warm tear trickled down my cheek. For the first time in eighteen months my tears weren’t because of Josh Beasley.
I decided to go get Cage’s sheets and wash them. I could ask Daddy if he was coming back with the excuse that I needed to know if I should put the sheets back on once I cleaned them.
The barn door was open when I stepped outside Wednesday morning. Hope surged in my chest. I wanted to run toward the barn but I couldn’t. Daddy was around here somewhere.
Once I got close, I stopped and took a deep breath before I walked inside. If he was in there I had to explain things. I wasn’t sure yet what I was going to say. Telling Cage that Josh’s mother didn’t approve of him wasn’t exactly a wise idea. Cage didn’t seem like the kind of guy that would take to being told he was less than worthy with a shrug. If I wanted to get rid of him that would be a really good way to do it. And I definitely didn’t want to get rid of him.
Cage stalked out of the barn with a scowl on his face. He had a straw hat tilted back on his head and his shirt wasn’t yet soaked from sweat. He was gorgeous.
He halted when he saw me then his face turned hard and cold before he continued past me and threw the shovel and tool box into the back of the truck. I tried to speak but my words got stuck in my throat. I didn’t know how to talk to this Cage. The one with the cocky smile and sexy swagger was gone.
He stalked back by me and headed back into the barn. I was frozen. What did I say? Would he yell at me if I tried to explain? Did he even care? Had I been written off where he was concerned? Oh, god. Was I now just one of the many he’d toss away and forget?
He came back out of the barn with his hands full of feed and a can of motor oil. His eyes didn’t even flicker past me. I really did feel invisible, now.
Once he threw the things in his truck he headed for the driver’s side door and jerked it open. He was going to drive off. I had to say something.
“Cage?” I croaked out.
The only reason I knew he heard me was that his shoulders tensed but he didn’t look back and respond.
“Cage, please,” I begged, hoping that would at least get him to look at me.
His grip on the door was so tight his knuckles were white.
“Don’t,” he replied in a flat emotionless voice before sliding inside and slamming the door behind him.
He pulled out and headed south without once making eye contact with me. My chest felt like it was going to burst. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run after him and demand he talk to me.
This is what it feels like to care about someone who doesn’t feel the same.
I’d only known how it felt to love someone who loved me just as fiercely. I’d never known rejection. I’d never wanted someone who didn’t want me. The longing didn’t go away with rejection.
Numbly, I went inside the barn and headed back to his room. I would still wash his sheets and towels. He needed clean things.
I opened the door to his room. The mattress was bare and a set of clean sheets were stacked on top. Beside them sat a stack of clean folded towels and washcloths. He’d taken his things to Low. She’d washed them for him.
The sorrow only grew. She’d never have to feel the ache from Cage’s rejection. He loved her. He always would. Just like Josh had loved me without question. It had been unconditional. I hated Willow because she had something I never would: Cage York’s unconditional love. Did anyone else have that? I knew they didn’t. He never spoke of family. Low was his family. She was all that mattered to him. What must that feel like? I picked up his towels and put them on the small shelf beside the shower. Then I went about making up his bed for him. I hadn’t been able to clean his sheets for him but at least I could do something. I wanted to do something for him. Even if he no longer wanted me.