Second Down

Book Two in the Moving the Chains Series

 

Copyright ©2015 by Kata ČuiĆ

 

All Rights Reserved.

 

This novel may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express written permission by the author. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. And yes, that includes the internet and social media. Especially those. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

Art in any form is created from the blood, sweat, and tears of the artist. In this case, the writer. Please do not engage in piracy or plagiarism. Purchase from valid vendors. Create your own art!

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and goings on are the product of the author’s ridiculous imagination and/or life experiences, and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead or otherwise, is coincidental. Kind of. Mostly.

Rob

When we enter the local chocolate factory in the afternoon—after crossing off our cupcake race at the bakery and the light saber battle at the store—Evie and Tini look literally like a couple of kids being turned loose in a candy store.  

     As she turns her head in every direction with adorably wide eyes, Evie breathes—yes, breathes—out her words. “Well, what are we going to get?  This item was a little vague.”

     “Yeah, I’m pretty sure the girls just picked this one for a quick chocolate fix.” The shop is pretty crowded on a Sunday afternoon, so I choose an empty space of wall to lean against while the girls go do their thing.

     “But, Rob, this stuff is so expensive.” Evie shakes her head slowly as Tini bounces up and down beside us.

     “I’m buying, so get whatever you want.”

     When she turns her pretty blue eyes on me with a shocked face, it’s all I can do to stifle my laughter and the urge to squeeze her. She’s so damn cute.

     “Are you insane?  You don’t even have a job, this year…”  

     It's obvious Evie could really go crazy in here. The idea that she even remotely cares about spending my money makes my heart do funny things in my chest. Things it’s not supposed to be doing for this girl anymore.

     “The Lady isn’t the only thing that Pops left to me. It’s fine. Really. Go pick out whatever you want.”

     “I’m not gonna just spend all your money…”  Arguing is what Evie lives for. 

     Thankfully, Tini steps in, grabbing her sister by the elbow to drag her away. “Listen, sis. When a guy tells you to get whatever you want, you don’t argue. You say thank you, appreciate how much he loves you, and do whatever he asks.”        Tini throws a wink at me over her shoulder as they walk away. Evie’s cheeks flush with that pretty shade of pink they turn when she’s embarrassed. Her level of cuteness today is killing my resolve to remember what’s best for her, turning me into some greedy little asshole that wants to scoop her up and plant kisses all over that beautiful face.

     We brought Tini along with us to be our videographer for the day. She’s taken that job very seriously, along with her self-imposed task of dropping not so subtle hints to Evie about things I’m still not entirely sure I want her to remember, lest it trigger worse memories. At first, I was mortified. I tried to either downplay whatever clues dropped like little bombs out of Tini’s mouth, or I hissed at her to shut the hell up. Then I realized my over-hyper reactions were just piquing Evie’s curiosity even more, so I decided to go with feigned annoyance as the day wore on. It’s getting exhausting. Especially since every minute we spend together is weakening whatever tenuous grasp I have on this new reality of us being in a strictly platonic relationship.

     As if last night wasn’t bad enough. By the time I got home after dropping Evie off at her house, I was so wired that I laid in bed for hours, realizing that Papou had definitely set me up with that little method that he suggested for teaching Evie how to drive The Lady. It had damn near worked, too. Swear to God, if that girl had told me she wanted me last night, this would’ve been a done deal. I would’ve caved and given her anything she asked of me. Well, anything I was capable of giving anyway. As if I needed any more proof that something in me is broken in this new post-attack phase of my life. Having Evie’s entire body pressed against mine was hands down a wake-up call that I am a seriously messed up individual. 

     At first, I was terrified that my stupid body would do something to betray my need to keep her comfortable in that situation, whether I wanted it or not. As the hour that we drove around went by, and nothing happened... Well, then, I started to worry that I’d never be normal again. What kind of eighteen-year-old male doesn’t get aroused by having the woman of his dreams tucked between his legs for over an hour?  Apparently, this one. The bigger part of me that doesn’t want to think about anything sexual when it comes to Evie—the same part that, once again, threw up and took a scalding hot shower to remove the filth that I woke up in is grateful. There’s this tiny nagging part of my brain that is convinced this is a very real problem, and maybe one I should bring up with my therapist. What if—by some miracle—some day far into the future, I’m in a normal relationship where things like that are welcomed and expected, and I can’t perform because I’m permanently broken and unable to even think about, let alone enjoy, things that most guys my age obsess over constantly?      Evie and Tini don’t leave my line of sight as they wander around the store, trying to decide which decadence they want. Pretty sure if she asked me, I’d buy her everything in here. Instead, she keeps picking things up and showing them to me across the room, mouthing the same question with those perfectly kissable lips, “Do you like this?”

     She's so very sweet. Each time she thinks of me, I can’t stop the stupid smile that spreads across my face. I must look like an absolute idiot, standing here. I have no idea what she ever saw in me to begin with. When she finally picks up a plain chocolate bar with only a silent—but definitely naughty raised eyebrow—I laugh out loud. If only she knew that wouldn’t provoke the same reaction in me as it did before to watch her eat that. If only she knew a lot of things…

     That isn’t fair. Not only isn’t it fair for her to have a completely traumatized, head-case of a boyfriend, it’s also not fair for her to have a romantic relationship at all. Not after the way more than one man has used her and messed with her head. Although, since I have no interest in what they used her for anyway, maybe this could work between us after all.

     I’m pulled from my screwed up train of thought by Alex sidling up next to me and mirroring my own stance against the wall. “How much do you think this is gonna cost us?”

     Rachel runs up to Evie, then jumps up and down about her excitement over the coup she pulled by listing chocolate as a scavenger hunt item.

     That same stupid grin breaks out over my face when Evie turns her gorgeously expressive eyes back to me. Again.

     “I take it your date went well last night?”  Alex asks with just a hint of a smug tone.

     “How’d you know Evie and I went out yesterday?”

     Alex gives me a pointed look. “Uh, maybe because everyone on Court went on their dates last night?”

     I guess that makes sense. “It went okay, but it wasn’t an actual date.”

     “Obviously. You have to actually kiss the girl goodnight, Falls. Jesus. Didn’t I teach you anything?”

     “Were you following us?”  I wouldn’t put that past Alex for even a second, especially now that there’s a bet with a thousand bucks on the line.

     “No, but now I have the answer to my suspicions. Did you even tell her last night, or at least try to talk to her about the way things really are between you?”  

     Since Evie and Tini seem to be doing okay with Rach, I finally tear my gaze away from my charges and stare my brother down. I still may kick his ass in the middle of this crowded shop if I don’t like his answers. “No, but apparently you did.”

     “I did the best I could given the situation, Rob. She asked me to invite your little crush to your birthday party. What was I supposed to say?  At least I didn’t tell her everything. I still think you should.” Alex won’t look me in the eye, so I know he’s as pissed as I am, but trying to stay calm in the middle of the store.

     “What did you tell her?”  

     Evie had said that she didn’t quite remember, and I could tell that she wasn’t lying. She’s still having more concussion symptoms than even she probably realizes.

     When he finally does look at me, my initial suspicions are confirmed. He’s pissed as hell. At me. “I told her things were done between you and your mystery woman, and that she was the girl you really wanted to spend your birthday with. I lied to cover your ass once, but I won’t do it again. Evie doesn’t deserve anyone lying to her, especially you. If she ever point blank asks me, I will not hesitate to rat your cowardly ass out. It was ridiculous enough the first time, but now?  After everything that’s happened between you two?  Hell no. Man up or get out of her life.”

     All I can do is gape at Alex and his stupid mouth and his stupid opinions that are more than right. I want to defend my position, but there’s no way I can adequately do that without revealing exactly what I saw happen to Evie. I’m not willing to do that. I’m certainly not going to keep having the same argument with everyone. Since I’m the odd man out over what to tell Evie about us, I know it’s only a matter of time before she figures it out on her own with everyone else dropping hints, whether she actually remembers it or not. Again, I’m left feeling that no matter what I do, it will be wrong. Any choice I make will hurt her. She’s been hurt enough.

     As if knowing that all my thoughts perpetually revolve around her, she appears. She wraps an arm around Alex’s waist as he pulls her into his side. I notice with more than a little jealousy that she never flinches from his touch.

     “Hey, good lookin’. What are you doing here with this loser?  You’re too good for him.”  Alex gestures towards me with his chin, but keeps his eyes trained on Evie. His tone is playful for her benefit, but I know that he means what he says for mine.

     “Aww, Alex. Don’t be mean. I have a soft spot for guys who offer to buy me chocolate.” She winks at me.

     It seems that playful Evie is making an appearance today. I really cannot handle this level of adorable. She’s been killing me all afternoon with it. Her messy, curly hair piled on top of her head, her too big for her face hipster glasses, and comfortable clothes that just scream she doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her are dropping me on my ass today.

     Alex scoffs and gives her another squeeze. “Please. I could treat you so much better than this. You should totally date me instead.”

     Holy balls, he better be kidding. I hope Evie doesn’t notice my eyes popping out of my skull, or the invisible laser beams I’m shooting at Alex’s head.

     Evie laughs. “Alex, you’re ridiculous. You know that, right?  I don’t date players.”  

     She shoots him a sideways glance. Between the two of them, I honestly can’t tell whether they’re joking or seriously considering it.

     “I thought you didn’t date jocks?”  This would be me, marking my territory, by employing the irresistible-to-Evie reverse psychology.

     She narrows her eyes at me, but quirks her mouth into a cute, little half-smirk. “Guess I already broke that rule yesterday, now, didn’t I?”

     Either she’s acting even for Alex—who she seems rather cozy with—or she was playing me yesterday by insisting we were on a fake date. Huh. If she considered it a real date, that would’ve been good to know...yesterday. Because, according to her perception of my mood all day, I had royally blown that opportunity.

     “No pics posted means no proof, so either you two aren’t completing that item, or you’re gonna have to find precious time for another date.”  

     Evie steps away from Alex as if he’s just delivered the news of an impending apocalypse.

     “Shit. Rob!” She turns to me with wide-eyed horror painted on her face. “I didn’t even think about the pictures!”  

     I’ve gone from wanting to maim Alex to wanting to kiss him so rapidly that I have mental whiplash. “Guess you’re just gonna have to go out with me again, my girl.”  

     I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. Sometime in the last ten minutes, my brain gave birth to probably one of the more brilliant ideas I’ve ever had. If I can’t tell Evie the truth about us without potentially triggering a bad memory for her, but I also know she’s felt the same way about me as I have about her since freshman year, then why can’t I just pick up where we left off, according to her version of events?

     Though she’s better at pretending everything's okay than I am, neither Evie nor I are the same after she was brutally attacked and violated. The old Evie and the old Rob had unspoken crushes on each other for years that finally culminated in so many epically stupid decisions, it’s amazing we ever had a relationship at all—no matter how short-lived. 

     Evie might be onto something with her quest to leave the past behind and make a new future. Starting today, I am going to put all my effort into making the new Evie fall for the new Rob. If I couldn’t be sure that she still wanted me after everything that’s happened to her, then no problem. Because I’m not that guy anymore anyway.  Just like she’s not that same girl. It’s the best possible solution to this whole fucked-up scenario, so that everyone still gets what they want...or wanted. All of our family and friends can stop dropping their hints and harassing me. I still get my Dream Girl. Evie still gets her Dream Guy—albeit the new and decidedly less sexual versions of ourselves.

     The only thing that will stop me is if she doesn’t respond to my advances, or gives me any sign that I’m not still what she wants, or that a relationship really isn’t what she needs right now. Which is honestly—even though no one else seems to agree with that logic—my biggest fear. Until she gives me even the slightest hint that is the case, it’s game on.