Rival Page 44

“You’re a jerk,” she scolded. “Here we’re thinking you’re in bad shape, and you’re just fine! Playing soccer and partying. What’s the matter with you?”

Still wincing, I rubbed my arm and dropped my backpack. “Nothing. I know I’ve been out of touch, but you shouldn’t have worried. You’re just mad because you missed my hot ass, huh?”

She huffed, and I laughed a little. They cared. Enough to show up at my school and ambush me outside my soccer game. As pissed off as they looked, it made me happy that they’d come.

In truth, I’d known they would. And for some reason, I just couldn’t reach out myself. I didn’t want to hear about how much fun they were having at home this summer. I didn’t want to take the chance of hearing any gossip or news about my father’s divorce.

I missed my friends, and I knew I’d miss them more if I stayed in contact.

That’s how it had to be. Until now.

Jared stepped forward, and Tate placed a casual hand around his waist, bunching up his gray T-shirt.

“Damn right, we shouldn’t have worried, ass**le,” he growled in a low voice. “Fallon was right.”

I straightened, my neck heating up. “What are you talking about?”

I hadn’t said her name out loud in months. I’d thought about her, though, even though I didn’t want to.

“She came with us today.” Tate looked too happy to deliver that blow but then tightened her lips. “But she split when it was obvious that you were fine.”

Wait, what?

“Why is she with you?” I shook my head, disbelieving.

“Because Tate and Fallon are roommates,” Jared chimed in, losing patience. “What’s the big deal?”

“What?” I blurted. “She lives with you?”

“Yeah.” Tate let out a bitter laugh. “You two don’t keep in touch much, do you?”

I nodded sarcastically, bending down to pick up my bag. “That’s awesome. She’s living with one of my best friends and hanging out with the other two.”

“Well, she’s been a better friend than you lately,” Jared gritted out. “I can’t believe we had to chase you down like this.”

“Yeah, we better get a good time out of this tonight,” Jax chimed in, shoving his hands into the front pocket of his hoodie.

I barely heard them, the anger pouring in and out of my lungs faster by the second.

I looked at Tate. “Where is Fallon?” I asked.

“She said she was going to walk around until we were ready to leave.” She took out her phone and began texting. “We thought we’d stay the night, but I have a race in Shelburne Falls tomorrow night, so we weren’t staying the whole weekend. But . . .” She looked up. “You seem happy as a clam without us here, so I guess we’ll head back tonight.”


“You’re not leaving. I’ve been a jerk, and I can’t explain right now, but . . .” I nodded. “I want you guys here.”

Tate sighed, looking at her phone. “She’s at the Grotto.”

I blew out a huge-ass breath and tossed Jared my dad’s house key. “You remember where my dad’s house is at, right?” He’d tagged along one weekend when Tate was in France two years ago.

“You all go there,” I said, walking toward my car. “I’ll go get Fallon.”

• • •

The Grotto was a landmark at Notre Dame and a reproduction of a French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in the 1800s. For believers and nonbelievers, it was a beautiful spot on campus where people went to pray, meditate, think, or just be quiet for a while.

I couldn’t claim to be churchgoing guy, but even I lit candles there before games and tests.

Just in case.

It’s also where my father proposed to my mother more than twenty years ago. And look how that turned out.

I didn’t know what I would say to Fallon, and I wasn’t even sure what I wanted from this. Did I want her to leave? No. Should I want her to leave? Yes.

She deserved every f**king cold shoulder in the world. What nerve she had showing up here. Blackmailing my father; nearly throwing Jared’s mom under the bus; and jerking me up, down, and all around for her own pleasure.

Sure, I’d spun out for a few weeks after getting to South Bend, but then I’d zoned in on soccer and my friends. I was fine.

And yeah, I’d gone AWOL on my best friends. And sure, I’d barely laughed since being here, but I was still handsome like nobody’s business.

That worked for me.

Walking through the clean-cut lawns, veering down sidewalks under the canopy of nearly bare trees, I spotted the Grotto tucked back into a rock wall.

And Fallon was there.

Not sitting and sulking like I thought she’d be. Or wanted her to be.

No, she was standing in front of the shrine, hands in her back pockets, staring at the sea of candles flickering in the light wind. The Virgin Mary sat perched in her cove above to the right, and I shook my head, smiling at the irony.

People came here to pray. A few individuals were kneeling before the fence separating them from the shrine right now.

I couldn’t yell at her here. Damn.

Sitting down on the bench behind her, I threw my arms over the back and waited for her to turn around.

Her light brown hair blew across her shoulders, and her small hands cupped her ass in her jeans pockets. I closed my damn mouth and swallowed.

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