The Way Back
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by Carter Quinn
Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: In freshman year, Riley Evans met the best friends he ever thought he'd have, Jason and Eric. But then his friendship with Eric turned into something much more. That relationship ended almost as soon as it began, and Riley hasn't let anyone near his heart since. Until now. When Riley needed him most, Jason helped pick up the pieces. Six years later, he's once again part of Riley's life. Riley is slowly letting Jason past his defenses and is starting to see how good they are together. They're even planning a romantic weekend getaway. Then, out of the blue, Eric calls, claiming he wants Riley back. Riley has been dreaming about Eric for six years, but suddenly he can't he stop thinking of Jason. Jason, who has always been there when Riley needs him--who puts Riley's happiness above his own, even if that means his own heart will suffer. Jason insists Riley face his old feelings for Eric to make sure they're really gone. But are they? If Riley can't learn from his mistakes, he may be destined to repeat them--and Jason won't wait forever.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: August 2012
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [272 KB]
Reading time: 177-247 min.
"So when's the wedding?" came the whisper in my ear.
"Whose wedding?" I asked, taking a pull on my longneck.
"Yours and Jason's."
The beer came up my nose in my attempt not to inhale it into my lungs. Fuck, that hurts! Coughing and sputtering, I grabbed a handful of napkins off the low table in front of us. Casting Melissa a hard look, I wished I had superpowers. If I did, my friend would be a steaming pile of ash in her chair. "Jesus, Melissa, what's wrong with you?" I coughed again around the restriction in my throat, glancing furtively at the unsuspecting man in question. Ten feet away, Jason stood beside a massive outdoor grill in animated conversation with Marc, Melissa's husband, who deftly turned steaks. The two of them had become fast friends in the three weeks they'd known each other. "It's only been six weeks. Back off," I hissed.
Melissa pounced instead. "Which is exactly four and a half weeks longer than you've been with anyone since--"
"Don't!" I interrupted fiercely, knowing the mere mention of his name would ruin my good mood. I had struggled long and hard to keep Eric out of my thoughts since Jason and I had started dating. It was a difficult thing to do, since I had always considered Eric the love of my life. But that was over and he was long gone--and even as new and unsettled as this thing was, Jason deserved more from me than being constantly compared to a shadow of yesterday.
My friend shrugged, leaned back in her camp chair, and began filing a fingernail. "You're falling. I approve. Let's just speed this thing along, shall we?"
I clenched the napkins in my fist. "I am not having this conversation with you. Not here. Not now." Abruptly, the tension of the topic tightened my shoulders almost painfully. I pushed up from the chair. "I need some ibuprofen."
Mel didn't even glance up from her nails, just waved blithely with her nail thing. "Kitchen. Second cupboard on the left."
The short walk into the house gave me time to relive the entire sordid tale of my romantic relationship with Eric. It wasn't a long relationship, just three months, but it was my first, and it had scarred and scared my heart. Six years later, I was just getting back on the horse, as it were. I had dated occasionally in the intervening time but never seriously and never for long, as Melissa was so keen on pointing out to me each time I ended another fling. I simply hadn't found anyone to measure up to my memories of Eric and what we'd had together. But I had looked, I told myself. Dropping four pills in my hand, I glanced between them and the beer, gave a shrug, and popped them in my mouth, washing them down with the bitter alcohol. I had just twisted the cap back on the pill bottle when I felt strong arms encircle my waist, and the heat of Jason's hard body pressed against me. I allowed a small, unseen smile and closed my eyes as I bent my neck to allow Jason to nuzzle in.
"You're tense, Riley Joe." Jason's low baritone caressed me as he licked at his favorite spot on my neck, the spot he knew sent shivers racing down my spine. No one had called me Riley Joe until Jason. Hell, my middle name wasn't even Joseph. It was Daniel. When I'd corrected him the first day we'd met, Jason had said Riley Dan didn't flow as well. I had agreed with a laugh and Riley Joe had stuck. "Is Melissa trying to get you to pose for her again?"
I gave a small laugh, brought my hands up to stroke the fine blond hairs on Jason's tanned, muscular forearms. I relaxed back against my taller, broader boyfriend. My eyelids drooped in contentment. "I think she's given up on me since you came along." In her spare time, Melissa was a sculptor--a good one. She regularly sold pieces at exhibitions and at several kitschy shops around town. She had been after me to pose nude for her since we'd met five years earlier. As soon as she'd met Jason, however, her sights were firmly set on getting him to pose for her. Thus far, he had resisted her efforts, but I was saving up my money just in case.
Jason groaned, his hand sliding down to cup and stroke my cock through the thin cotton of my cargo shorts. My breath caught as he tongued my earlobe. "Doesn't she know you're the hunka hunka burnin' love here?"
I reached around, grabbing his firm ass and pulling him closer, thrusting back against him slightly. I felt his jeans-covered erection slide against me as he rocked his hips slowly. "You're fresh meat, Jase. And a lot of it, at that."
"Jesus!" came Marc's traumatized voice from the doorway. "That's the last thing I needed to know, Riley. Thank you very much."
We laughed as I pulled away from my boyfriend, turning to face my friend. "I meant he's taller and broader than me."
Marc's head dropped forward, shaking a sad "no." "It doesn't matter what you say now. That image is firmly planted in my head."
"Get my man off your mental view screen or put clothes on him, Reynolds," I warned gruffly, a smile softening the edge in my voice.
"I'm trying! I'm trying!" Marc grinned as he passed by us to take a seasoning from the cupboard. He swiftly made his way out the door, chuckling, an embarrassed flush still on his cheeks.
"Your man, huh?" Jason grinned, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
"Yeah, well, don't get all excited, big guy." I turned and patted Jason's cheek as I would a child. "You're the only other gay man here."
Jason frowned playfully, hanging his head. "Boy, you really know how to make a guy feel special."
A suggestive smile played at my lips. "You'll say that in a whole different tone in a few hours."
"Promise?" Jason beamed.
I arched an eyebrow. "If you're good. Go play nicely with the others. I'll be out in a minute."
Jason pecked me lightly on the lips. "Don't be too long."
I watched the man I'd been dating for six weeks saunter slowly out the door. Jason was a good man, probably better than I deserved. It still seemed unreal to me that we were dating. We'd known each other since the first heady days of my freshman year at the University of Kansas. He had seen the scared little country boy I was then and befriended me.
He and Eric had, that is.
I shook that dark thought away and pressed the button on the refrigerator dispenser for an ice cube. Holding my hand over the sink, I slowly drew the melting ice over my palm. Someone had once told me that was a good remedy for a headache. I knew from experience it worked, but I was never sure if it actually caused my head to stop throbbing or if my hand became so cold that that pain stood center stage. Either way, I could only handle so much. I let the cube drop into the drain. I shook the pain out of my hand and went to rejoin the others.
* * * *
The next afternoon, I met Melissa for our usual Monday lunch date. We met at Free State Brewing Company, a downtown favorite of the locals. The place served an interesting mix of dishes and, of course, its own brewed beers. I'd read on their website that the building was a renovated interurban trolley station, whatever that meant. The exposed brickwork on the north and south walls lent a certain charm to the place, as did the exposed beams and ironwork in the ceiling. The west-facing wall was all glass, providing a nearly unobstructed view of the goings-on on Massachusetts Street. We always chose to sit upstairs away from the crowds.
"I hate when you're on summer break," Melissa whined after the server took our drink orders.
Picking up her menu, she gestured to herself. "I'm stuck in this business getup, and look at you, Mr. Relaxed."
I laughed and glanced down at my attire for the day--a faded green T-shirt with the remnants of a half-washed-away Vancouver Canucks ironed-on logo, cargo shorts, and sandals. During the school year I played the part of the respectable teacher and usually wore slacks and a dress shirt to my American History classroom, but on weekends and during summer break, this was essential Riley Gear. Mel, on the other hand, looked beautiful in her white power suit, her fingers, neck, and ears graced with tasteful original creations in platinum and diamonds. It was apparently a good thing to have a professional jeweler for a father.
"Yeah, well." I shrugged. I had no argument. "You look amazing, as always." She wasn't fishing for a compliment. She was like me, much more at home in casual clothing, but the woman could work a business suit.
She smiled. "Thanks. I just wish we didn't have to dress so formally all the time. Just once, I'd like to be comfortable at work."
"Mel, honey, you own the company. You can change the dress code."
She harrumphed. "And be the laughingstock of the real estate world? I think not. Besides, I can't imagine what some of those kids would think is business casual. As it is I had to put up a reminder that skirts and dresses require hose. There is very little tackier than bare legs in a business environment."
"Uh huh." I nodded and took a sip of my water. We'd been over this a million times in our friendship. I wasn't about to argue, even if I disagreed, which I didn't.
The server came with our drinks and took our food order. Melissa smiled at me and clasped her hands together atop the table. The gleam in her eye made me nervous.
"So, how's Jason today?"
I groaned. "I'm not having this conversation with you, Melissa."
"'But Riley' nothing. Listen, I'm having enough trouble with this whole thing without you pushing."
She held her hands up in surrender. "Who's pushing? I'm not pushing. I just--Marc and I think you two make a great couple. Wait. What trouble? What's he done?"
I chuckled. "Wow. All that in one breath."
"Yeah, so stop deflecting. What's going on?"
I rolled my eyes like a bratty six-year-old. Was this what I was reduced to now? "Nothing's going on. I mean nothing bad. We're good. Better than good, actually." I cocked my head at her. "Why doesn't that freak me out, Mel? I've spent the last how many years avoiding a relationship with anyone? Now, all of a sudden, I'm apparently in one and it feels--" I struggled helplessly for the word, then gave up, "--good."
Melissa laughed at me, the bitch. "Finally."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
She reached across the table and patted my hand. Apparently I was a bratty six-year-old and a good dog. "Relax, honey. It's supposed to feel good when you're in love."
I yelped like I'd been kicked, nearly upending the glass I was reaching for. "I am not--" I swallowed hard, refusing to say the phrase. "Melissa, we've only been dating a few weeks. That's too soon for anyone to--especially me!"
My best friend smiled patiently and delivered the words she'd been waiting years to say. "I think you've finally accepted that he's not coming back." She patted my hand again, and I sat there, mouth agape, shocked to the core.
Thankfully, our food appeared at that moment, so I wasn't required to respond, but my stupid little mind tripped right on over to Ericland. He wasn't coming back; that much I knew--and I was okay with it, even without Jason. I forced myself to think of happier things, like children drowning, hundreds of puppies in kennels, or massive floods decimating entire cities, anything but Eric. With those random images flashing around on my own private view screen, it was no wonder my chicken fingers tasted like I imagined a dog treat would. I forced one down but abandoned the second after only one bite. Ugh. I wasn't hungry after all. I couldn't help but wonder where my water bowl was. I pushed the plate away, forcing myself not to reanalyze Melissa's assertion.
She looked up from grinding half a ton of pepper into her salad, the question in her eyes.
I just shrugged and looked away. "Milk-Bone," I mumbled, before slogging down half my tea.
* * * *
The rest of the week passed smoothly. June continued on like it always does in Lawrence: hot, humid, and with more than our share of thunderstorms. Jason and I spent part of Wednesday evening sitting on his screened-in back porch, watching as an incoming storm put on one hell of a light show. As the temperature dropped to a comfortable level, I curled into him, leaning my head on his strong chest, his arm casually slung around my waist. His fingers idly caressed my stomach under my T-shirt. My buddy, Bo, Jason's three-year-old beagle, was draped over my feet, snoring contentedly.
We sat in companionable silence except for the occasional remark about a particularly spectacular bolt of lightning. Most of it was contained between the clouds, but a wild one would sometimes reach for the ground, flashing infinitely brighter than the others. One of my weirder thought patterns had Jason as those brilliant flashes lighting up my otherwise unremarkable cloud-to-cloud existence. I shook the thought from my head, blaming Melissa for the strangely romantic bent. Really, Riley? I scolded myself. Comparing Jason to lightning? That's just asking for the guys with that fun little white jacket with all the buckles and straps to come take you home with them.
"What are you thinking about so hard?" Jason whispered into my hair.
I smiled up at him, arching my back in a stretch. "Nothing. Just enjoying being here."
An indulgent smile graced his lips. "I'm enjoying you being here too." The kiss he placed on my lips was gentle, almost a lazy exploration of my mouth with his tongue. It was comfortable, as all of our kisses had been save that first sweetly awkward one, but still he excited me.
I felt my cock begin to lengthen as I wound my fingers into his thick blond hair, pressing him closer, holding him in the kiss. He tasted so good, a combination of the beer and his own unique taste, with just a hint of tobacco from his after-dinner smoke.
He broke the kiss and nuzzled his face into my darker hair. "Oh, Riley Joe. You could tempt the collar off a priest."
I laughed. "From what I hear, that isn't too difficult."
He chuckled. "The horns off a bull?"
I shifted position, drawing a wounded glance from Bo as he shuffled off to find another bed. "Sorry, pup," I called after him.
"You and that dog," Jason chided with a grin.
"Hey, Bo's my buddy."
"Oh, I know. When I come through the door after a long, hard day, he just gives me this pitifully disappointed look that you're not with me. Or that I'm not you, I'm not sure which."
Absurdly pleased, I patted his thigh in condolence. "He loves his daddy too."
"Ha!" he answered. "But is that daddy t-w-o or daddy t-o-o?"
I shrugged smugly. "Well, you don't bring him chicken from Free State."
"Oh, so you're bribing him with food?"
I laughed, pressing a quick kiss to his chin before sliding my tongue along his stubble-roughened jaw to his earlobe. "Why not?" I whispered. "I bribe his daddy with sex."
"Speaking of which," he growled, moving with lightning speed, "it's time to pay up, baby."
I honest to goodness shrieked with laughter as he swung me into a fireman's lift and carried me into the bedroom.
That night, the violence of the storm raging outside lost to the fierce passion we created. Our sex had always been good, but the next day neither of us walked normally.
* * * *
I was sure there was no simple diagnosis for the madness that had settled in my beleaguered brain in the last few weeks. I'd look up from a book I was supposedly reading to realize I'd been daydreaming about the look in Jason's eyes when he was about to kiss me. Or the volume change for insipid caveman TV commercials would interrupt a memory of playing fetch with Jason and Bo. Well, with Bo, really. The only stick Jason would chase after was the one between my legs.
What I was surprised and unsettled to find was that, with increasing frequency, those mental vacations focused on the future--a future in which Jason and I were a couple. It wasn't anything that should have been terribly frightening. I didn't envision us in our dotage surrounded by granddogs or anything. No, I would catch myself thinking we should go see the Chiefs play at Arrowhead come winter, or something equally banal but unquestionably couplish. It was clear my manic little brain had made a complete break with sanity. Jason and I were dating, yes, but trying to create a "future" with him was ridiculous. I was born a bachelor, and I intended to stay that way. The experience with Eric was enough to warn me away from the delusions of joyous coupledom.
Jason was a gorgeous, hard-working, honest man who treated me well. He never took me or my time for granted. He always asked before coming over and never arrived empty-handed, even if he just brought over pizza and beer while we watched a ballgame or a rodeo--if it was his choice--on my 55-inch LED. He'd even sat through the Stanley Cup finals with me, though he neither understood nor particularly cared for ice hockey.
That was probably what started the whole daydreaming-about-the-future thing. Under tickle torture, I'd extracted from him a promise to try ice skating with me this winter. In exchange, I'd agreed to accompany him on a weekend excursion to his parents' lake cabin.
"If I have to fall on my ass learning to ice skate, you can learn to water ski," he'd declared. I'd acquiesced gracefully, wondering wickedly what it would take to get him to ditch the board shorts for a banana hammock. The man would look mouthwateringly delicious in a Speedo.
It was finally Friday. I was to leave in two hours to meet him at the cabin.
I'd awakened Thursday morning to Jason's hard body wrapped tightly around me. His arm snaked securely around my waist, our legs entwined, his breath tickling the back of my neck. I'd closed my eyes to better enjoy the sensations roiling through my mind and body.
Jason was the first man I'd ever actually slept with. Before and after Eric, I'd had my share of sexual partners, but that was all they were. There was never anyone I trusted enough to fall asleep with. Eric, whom I'd trusted with my heart and soul, had never slept with me once we'd started having sex. He would fuck me or I would suck him off; then, if we didn't get up to eat before starting round two, he'd bound out of bed and be off, fairly ruining my afterglow every damn time, the bastard.
It was different with Jason. He liked to nuzzle my neck and hold me close afterward. The first several times, I'd been slightly confused and more than a little tense. He'd held and caressed me with infinite patience until I relaxed. Still, once he fell asleep, I had carefully extricated myself from his arms, bed, and house.
For Jason, honesty and openness were everything in a relationship. After the third time I ditched him, he sat me down for a conversation about it. He told me how much he wanted to wake up next to me in the morning, explained in cock-hardening detail how fun it was to wake up in the middle of the night and start the sex all over again--and damned if he didn't demonstrate in balls-draining glory that very night. After that, I was more than willing to play the game.
The man was a cuddle monster, awake or asleep. It took several sleepovers for me to adjust to having his smooth chest and hairy legs against me while I slept. But now, on those three or four nights a week we spent apart, sleep was slow in coming. And waking up was nowhere near as fun--or as warm.
That Thursday morning, as I lay securely in his arms, I thought back on our now-seven-week-old relationship. Of all the places we could have met again, neither of us knowing the other was back in town, it had been a random run-in at Sears that had brought us together. I'd just scanned my receipt to pick up my new front-loading laundry pair when Jason bounded in the door. We stared at each other in shock for a moment before he crossed the room and enveloped me in a rib-crushing hug. He was picking up a new chainsaw to clear some overgrowth from around his property, a small farm about ten miles outside of town. We exchanged news and small talk until my box appeared on the receiving associate's dolly. As I talked to the employee, Jason grabbed the phone out of my hand.
When he called later that evening to ask me to meet him for dinner the next night, I was surprised but pleased. Jason had been one of my closest friends during college. He was a year older, so he was just about to graduate when the shit hit the fan with Eric. I hadn't seen him since shortly after his graduation, but I was glad to renew the friendship.
It wasn't until he kissed me as we were leaving our second hours-long dinner that I realized it was a date. I felt a smile on my lips as I relived that sweet, awkward kiss. My always-confident friend seemed suddenly shy and unsure as he gripped my shoulders lightly to bring me into a hug. In the semidarkness of the parking lot, he pressed a kiss to my cheek. Surprised, I drew back to look at him. He searched my eyes for a split second, but with a look so deep I swear he saw my first memory. Then he brought those firm, lush lips to mine. I gasped in surprise, and his mouth opened over mine. His tongue darted out to touch my lip, then hid away again. I stood stock-still, my brain frozen in moments long past. Stunned, I opened my eyes, hoping to convince myself I was hallucinating. His incredible cornflower-blue eyes, though, stared back at me as his kiss still slowly mind-fucked me.
In that instant, we broke apart, laughing. The laughter died in my throat the next moment when his thumb tenderly stroked my lower lip. He took my face between his big, calloused hands and whispered, "I've wanted to kiss you for years, Riley. May I?"
Unable to do anything but nod slightly and close my eyes, I felt his lips cover mine again, not at all tentative or shy this time. The man kissed the air from my lungs and the blood from one head to the other. It was gentle and sweet and barely restrained. His teeth bruised my bottom lip as he tugged and sucked on it. His tongue coaxed mine into the game. Almost without realizing it, he had me pressed firmly against the side of my old truck, pressing his strong body against mine until I had no choice but to grind my groin against his jean-clad thigh. He groaned and thrust back at me, my mind coming alive again at the feel of his why-yes-you-are-happy-to-see-me erection digging into my hip. Roll of quarters, my ass, my freaky brain thought. Try half dollars!
I must have moaned at the memory, because I felt Jason chuckle softly before he pressed a kiss to the back of my neck. His hand wrapped around my already-leaking cock, and it was all over but the very fun wake-up sex.
I sent him off to prepare the cabin a very happy man, judging by the ridiculous smile on his face. I went home to pack, as relaxed as a well-fucked wet noodle. He called from the lake that night and smooth-talked me into my first-ever phone sex experience. His voice would make us a mint if we ever set up a 900 number.
By Friday morning, I knew it was going to be a great weekend. Just me, a lake, and my two hounds.
And then it all went straight to hell.
* * * *
I never answered calls from unknown numbers. But this time I was so distracted getting ready, I flipped open the phone and pressed it to my ear, barking out my last name. The responding voice shot a jolt of ice and fire down my spine, rooting me in place as I bent to grab the straps of my duffel bag sitting on the floor.
"Eric?" I asked, all the breath leaving my body in that one exhalation.
"Yeah," the voice I knew so well affirmed. "Hey, bro, did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Uh." No words sprang to my mind. It simply refused to give voice to the thousand thoughts flying through it in a supersonic panic. Eric was calling me. After six years, Eric was finally calling. And I had absolutely no idea what to say. Or how to breathe.
"Riley? Are you okay?"
Shaking my head to clear it just a little, I took a deep gulp of air. "Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry, you just surprised me. It's been a while." While you were married, my mind reminded Eric silently. To a woman, it accused. A woman you left me for. Finally able to move, I leaned against the back of the couch, gripping it tight with my right hand while clutching the phone to my ear with my left. "What can I do for you, Eric? How did you get my number?"
Eric's deep, honeyed voice washed over me, sending a shiver of nostalgia and longing down my spine. "I called and asked your mom for it. Man, it's good to hear your voice, Riles."
My cotton-stuffed brain couldn't make sense of anything through the haze. "I--" My voice faltered again. I took a deep, not-at-all-cleansing breath and tried again. "Why are you calling me?"
"Right to the point, eh, Riles?" He laughed softly, causing my heart to somersault. "The truth is, I want to see you."
"What?" Okay, this had to be some sort of giant cosmic joke. I was ready to take off on a romantic weekend with the first real boyfriend I'd had in years--I had admitted just last week that Jason was that. See! Progress! And now Eric called? Now? What the hell? I'd dreamed of this phone call for years, though I never expected it to actually happen, dreams be damned. But here it was, and I was wholly unprepared for it. I wanted to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming--or daymaring, more likely--but my racing heartbeat and churning stomach assured me this was my reality. And damn did that show suck. All I could think to ask was, "Why?"
I heard Eric sigh and knew this call wasn't going the way he had expected. "I've missed you, Riley."
I could hang up. I should hang up on the bastard. But the little piece of my heart that still belonged to him manned up and refused to let me. I closed my eyes, then quickly opened them to cut off the image of Jason that appeared on my eyelids. "It's been six years, Eric."
"I know. I'm sorry. I've thought about you every day--"
"You're married. I--"
"Divorced, actually. Please, Riley, just meet with me. I have so much I need to tell you."
I'd only heard that pleading tone in his voice once before: the night he came to tell me he was getting married and implored me not to hate him. The son of a bitch had waited until he'd fucked me senseless twice before telling me, entreating me to understand. That's right, Riley, I told myself. Grab hold of the anger. "I don't think so, Eric." I swore I could feel the threads that held my mended heart together popping one by one, because there was nothing--nothing--I had wanted more in the last six years than for Eric to say he wanted me.
"Riley, please," he begged. "Don't you ever wonder what it could have been like for us?"
I laughed so as not to cry. "Every fucking day, you asshole. But you left me." My knees gave way and I slid to the floor. I banged my head against the wooden brace inside the back of the couch, the phone gripped tightly in my wet palm.
"It was a mistake. One I'll regret forever. Please, just meet me so we can talk. I--I want you back, Riley."
I sobbed silently into the phone, unwilling to let him hear that I was in more emotional pain than I knew a body could feel. My chest seized so tightly I could barely breathe. I could actually feel my shoulders curving around the pain of it, some instinctive protection mechanism triggered by this impossible conversation. This was a thousand times worse than when he'd left because now he was saying the words I'd waited forever to hear. But how could I possibly believe him? How could he mean it? "I--" My voice was too thick with tears to continue, so I forced breath steadily through my mouth to calm myself as he waited on the other end of the call, occasionally whispering an, "It's okay. Just breathe."
I finally gathered myself enough to try speaking again. Strangely, the first thing that tumbled out of my mouth was, "How much of this is about Jason?" I didn't even know the thought had formed before it was hanging there in the air between us. "You have to have heard we're seeing each other. Is that why you're calling?"
"No, Riley, no. I mean, yes, I heard. But that's not it. I divorced Carly a year ago. I've been in Kansas City trying to get my life back together before I contacted you. If I'd known you were back in Lawrence--your mom told me--shit." He sighed. "Look, this has nothing to do with Jason. We haven't spoken in years. This is about me and you and correcting the biggest mistake of my life. Please, Riles. Just meet me. Hear what I have to say. I want--we deserve another chance."
"Are you in love with him?"
"No, of course not. It's too soon." The answer tripped off my tongue automatically. It was my stock answer, and I had no reason to question it. I'd always been in love with Eric. From the very first moment I looked into his soulful brown eyes, I was a goner. I had never allowed anyone else to get that close to my heart. Jason was closer than anyone had ever been, but I wasn't in love with him. Seven weeks wasn't enough time for that.
"Good. Then we have a chance. Come on, Riley, please. I'm begging you."
My hand carded through my hair, a physical manifestation of my recent forced occupancy in emotional hell. "Jesus, this is unreal."
"I promise, it's all real," he answered with such a hint of triumph I wanted to deck him.
"I can't make this decision right now, Eric. My head is spinning. I have to think. I have to talk to Jason."
"Why?" He sounded appalled.
I ground my teeth to keep my temper in check. "It's what grown-ups in relationships do, Eric."
"Oh, of course." He sounded almost chastised. "Okay, then, can I call you tomorrow?"
"Sure. Yeah, fine. I gotta go now." I started to pick myself up off the floor--literally, for chrissake.
"Okay, I'll call you tomorrow around six. Bye for now, then. I love you."
My ass crashed to the floor again, and I very nearly threw the phone as I forcefully disconnected. What the fuck? I love you? Three months and he wouldn't say it, but six years later it just came tripping off his tongue, casual as you please? I was so not ready for this. How could I have ever thought I would be?
I stumbled into the bathroom to splash cold water on my overheated head. Unfortunately, as the sink filled, I caught sight of my red eyes and swollen face, streaked with the salt of drying tears. Oh yeah. I'd never been more fuckable. I dunked my head and screamed into the water.