Home > Block Shot (Hoops #2)(9)

Block Shot (Hoops #2)(9)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

I grab my jeans from the pile with my shoes and socks. In complete awkward silence, I pull my jeans on, looking each one of those cowards in the eye while I do it. Even when I have to strain and wiggle to get my jeans over my hips and buttoned. I don’t know how much longer my bravado will hold. It’s straining and about to break. I rush past them all to leave the back room, determined to get out of here before the dam bursts and tears give away just how shattered I am. I’m scooping up my backpack and on my way out the door when a gentle hand stops me. I look over my shoulder, and cannot believe the audacity of Jared Foster.

“Banner, wait.” That desperation brightens his eyes to azure. It looks like desperation. But he’s really good at making things look like what they’re not. He made me think he liked me, that he wanted me. Mama didn’t raise no fool, but tonight that’s exactly what he made me. And over what? A sculpted body, blond hair, and blue eyes. I did it again, fell for a man’s lies and the flattery of his touch. Am I that desperate? That pathetic?

“You better let me go right now,” I snarl, my eyes tracing a jagged line from his grip on my arm to that damn handsome face.

“No, you will listen.” Frustration sketches lines around his mouth and between his brows.

My hand flies up and slams into his cheek. I’ve never slapped anyone before. Despite my hubris with Prescott, I abhor violence of any kind, but I don’t regret the bright red handprint blooming over his cheekbone. Anger flares in the stare we hold, his bouncing off mine.

“Oh shit,” someone says from the back room.

I glance over his shoulder to find all the guys gathered at the door, watching our exchange. Prescott’s smirk and a few snickers are last straws. Hot tears prick my eyes and I jerk away, walking as swiftly as I can toward the door. On the sidewalk, I can’t hold back the torrent of emotions any longer. A sob erupts from that place I’ve been guarding ever since those lights came on. The indignity, the humiliation, the cruelty of the situation presses against me on all sides, closing in and trying to crush me. I don’t even know how I make it home through the blur of tears, but as soon as I am on the other side of my apartment door, I slide my back down the wall until my butt hits the floor.

And the tears won’t stop. I’m shaking, trembling at the shocking cruelty of those guys.

Aftershock.

How the earth tremors following a seismic disruption. A result of great upheaval at the core. And at the epicenter lies Jared Foster.

I hate him.

I hate them all.

I hate the wretched, pitiful sound of my own tears. I hate the sting of shame piercing my heart like a thorn. I hate my stupidity, my naiveté believing Jared Foster wanted someone like me instead of someone like Cindy. I hate the way my thighs spread, stretching the denim of my jeans. The way my legs rub together when I walk. I hate this roll of fat hanging over my waistband.

This body is an inadequate shell that doesn’t reflect the powerful, confident person I am inside. And yet there’s a part of me that knows it shouldn’t matter. That knows whether I’m a size 2 or 22, I’m still smart and ambitious and kind and generous. And yes, speak Italian, Russian, and a little Chinese.

It shouldn’t matter, but I have to be honest with myself as I weep uncontrollably and admit that it does. Right now, it does.

“Banner, open the door.”

Jared’s voice bellows from the hall.

Could this night get any worse?

“I’m not leaving.” He gives the door four successive bangs. “You left your coat and your clients’ laundry. You have to get those so you’ll have to open the door.”

I cup my hand over my mouth to catch the sobs that won’t stay down. He won’t hear me crying for his fine sorry ass. I can imagine how glamorous I look with my just-fucked hair all over the place, puffy eyes, and blotchy cheeks. When I cry this hard, the blood vessels around my eyes always burst. Technical term: facial petechiaec. Layman’s term: hot mess.

“Okay. You want to do this.” I hear a sliding sound on the other side of the door and assume he sits on the floor, mirroring my position. “We can do this. I’ll stay out here until you open the door. I swear I had nothing to do with this. Prescott is a liar.”

I sniff, hope pushing through like a tiny bud in a storm somehow preserved from the wind and the rain, but I keep my voice hard and sure. I’ve seen what he does with my vulnerability. I focus on my anger to dry up my tears.

“So you had nothing to do with it? He’s lying? Did Prescott ask you to . . .” I clear my throat and close my eyes but force myself to say the words “. . . fuck the fat girl—me in case we’re confused about that. Yes or no?”

There are a few seconds of guilty silence through the door before he speaks.

“It wasn’t like—”

“Yes. Or. No.”

“Yes, he did tell me that if I wanted to get into The Pride, I had to fuck . . . you, but I—”

“The Pride?” I run through the various fraternities on campus and cannot place that one. “What the hell is The Pride? Like lions?”

“It’s a secret society that I’m not allowed to talk about. I’ve signed papers that I won’t, even though I told them tonight I’m not joining. Not after they asked . . . Not after what Prescott wanted me to do.”

“So let me get this straight. You’ve been running around like a fool all semester to get into this secret society of privileged spoiled brats, and you’ve done everything they asked. Tonight they crossed the line when they asked you to fuck the fat girl.”

“Banner, stop saying that,” he cuts in harshly.

“I’m sorry it’s so hard on you hearing that I’m fat,” I say, every word sardonic.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“And you,” I continue without acknowledging his denial, “were so outraged by Prescott’s heinous suggestion that you told them you don’t want to play his little games anymore.”

“It’s not . . . Yeah. I told them to fuck off.”

“Oh, I just bet you did. Then you come to me and all of a sudden, when you’ve shown no indication of being attracted to me, you just happen to decide we should fuck.” I get on my knees and face the door, glaring at him with X-ray vision through the cheap faux wood. “Am I getting this right, Jared?”

“No, it’s not right,” he yells back, frustration reaching through the flimsy door. “I told you I’ve liked you all semester.”

“And Cindy? Why did you stay with her if you were pining for me?”

“I don’t . . . shit, I don’t know. Habit? Someone convenient to fuck? What do you want me to say? I’ve never pretended to be anyone but who I am, Ban. I’m not gonna lie to you now.”

“Maybe you were curious,” I offer, fresh tears burning my eyes. “How it would be with someone . . .”

Fat.

“Like me,” I finish aloud, biting the insides of my cheeks to control the tears. “Maybe you didn’t want anyone to know. Were ashamed and needed someone like Cindy for show.”

“That’s bullshit.” Something slams into the door, startling me because I’m so close to it. “None of that is true, Banner. I promise you it isn’t. God, just open the door and give me a chance.”

“Why?” I ask, forcing a hollow laugh through my tears. “Let’s just call it a one-night stand and move on. I’m sure this won’t be your first time doing that.”

“It was more than that, and you know it.” He pauses. “It was more to me, Banner.”

I hate him. I hate the way he makes lies sound true and makes me melt inside when I should be hardening myself against him.

“Look, one night in four years is not some grand passion,” I tell him.

“But how do we know what it could be if you don’t give me a chance?”

“You had your chance, Foster, if you even wanted it.”

“I wanted it,” he growls through the door. “Don’t tell me what I wanted. You wanted it, too.”

“When I thought it was real, yeah.”

“It was fucking real. Just . . .” His voice trails off into the silence of the hall. “Believe me. Just please believe me, Banner.”

All the parts that felt beautiful with the lights off war with all the parts that felt hideous under the bright glare, under their cruel stares. I’ve never felt what I did tonight with Jared, but how can I know what really happened? Is it worth risking this kind of pain again if he’s lying to me?

No. I have dreams, ambitions, goals that will require all my focus. There is an uphill climb ahead of me, and I won’t make it if I’m broken.

“I don’t believe you,” I finally reply. “And I want you to leave me alone. Here’s what’s gonna happen. We’ll take our final. We’ll go our separate ways. I’m moving to New York and you can go wherever the hell you want.”

“Banner, don’t do this.”

“Go.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“Yeah, you are, buddy,” someone says from the hall. Sounds like my neighbor, Mr. Harden. “He bothering you, Banner?”

“No, I’m her . . .” Jared sighs heavily enough for me to hear it. “Please, sir, just stay out of this.”

“Banner, you want him to leave?”

Yes.

No.

I don’t know.

“Yes,” I answer, hoping I sound more sure than I am. “I need him to leave me alone.”

“That’s it,” Mr. Harden says. “I’m calling the cops.”

“Come on, man,” Jared says. “We’re just talking. Banner, tell him.”

“Call the cops, Mr. Harden.” I sound steady but hot tears squiggle streaks over my cheeks.

“Banner,” Jared growls.

“Just go before the cops get here.” I press my forehead to the door. “And we can forget this night ever happened.”

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