Still jaded, p.1
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       Still Jaded, p.1

         Part #2 of Jaded series by Tijan  



  CHAPTER ONE

  "Have you heard?" Grace plopped her books on the table beside me. "Bryce Scout is moving back to town. The local celebrity jock is about to 'reclaim his crown.'"

  I rolled my eyes. "You're just jealous because Corrigan won't be around to flirt with you as much."

  Grace paled. "I am not…" she sputtered, her mouth agape, and then wised up.”You're the one who's jealous because Corrigan won't be spending as much time with you."

  I laughed at that one. If only it were true. "Right. It makes complete sense that I'll be missing my time with Corrigan."

  Grace pouted and leaned back in her chair. "You don't have to be the bitch you like to be. I'm just saying…whatever. I was just teasing you because, you know, Bryce is your boyfriend and everyone's talking about him, and you're my friend—just shut up, Grace."

  "I know," I murmured as our professor entered the room. I nudged Grace's thin shoulder. "But I wasn't joking. You've got the hots for Corrigan."

  Grace gasped and wheeled back to me in protest, but the class quieted in that instant and was soon underway. As Miss Connors wrote the first objective on the white board, I tuned the class out. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy our psychology class; it was that Grace was right. Everyone was talking about Bryce's imminent return, and I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I'd gone to Europe with him after high school. He had been going to play professional soccer, and I didn't have anything better to do. Corrigan went too, but he was the first to leave. However, while Corrigan had a legitimate reason since his mother had fallen sick with cancer; I did not when I followed him a few months later.

  I stuck around Barcelona, but it was difficult. I wasn't good at making friends, and the only person I knew was busy with training, practice, and games. Then there were the interviews, the team outings for the public, and a whole host of fanatical fans, mostly female.

  I'm not one of those self-conscious girlfriends—far from it—but the obsessive stalker types wore on me after awhile. I usually love ridiculing someone in public, tearing her to pieces until she shrivels up in a fetal position, but my run-ins with Bryce's adoring fans were too much. I realized that I needed my own life. So, I went home. That was six months ago…

  An entire year passed from when we left to when all of us returned home.

  "Sheldon!" Miss Connors boomed my name.

  I blinked back to reality and saw my previous high school counselor frown at me. She indicated the white board. "What are your thoughts on the fight or flight instinct?"

  I relaxed. Homework be damned, I could handle this question. "I think it's total crap."

  Miss Connors suppressed a smile. "And what do you mean by that?"

  She knew me so well. "The book says that people either fight or flight, right? They run or they attack? Well, it also says that people 'freeze' when they're in those life or death moments."

  "Do you freeze?"

  "Hell, no. I'm a fighter," I snorted in disgust.

  The class broke out in laughter, but I saw Grace grimace. I wasn't surprised to see the concern in her baby blues.

  "Do you think it's wrong to freeze?"

  "No. It's just what it is, you know? People freeze. They're going to freeze if they've never been put in that situation, and it happens. The body does weird stuff. It takes care of its own."

  Miss Connors snapped her intelligent eyes to me, narrowed them, and mused, almost to herself, "And maybe there's a reason why it shuts down…"

  What?

  I narrowed my eyes and studied my previous therapist/current professor in return. She looked tired, but no more than usual. Her thin straw-colored hair was pulled into a haphazard bun with strands that teased the tops of her slender shoulders. She wore a yellow blouse pulled out from pressed khaki pants. All that was the same as before, but she'd never started talking to herself in the middle of a lecture.

  I glanced around the room and saw more than a few other students confused. That's when I looked at Grace, only to find her concerned eyes still on me.

  "I'm fine!" I snapped out.

  Miss Connors jumped out of her trance.

  Grace bared her teeth. "I can think my own thoughts."

  "Not when they're about me," I barked back.

  "Sheldon…" Miss Connors frowned as she stepped forward. "Is there something I should know about?"

  "No!" I was tired of all the emotional support and crap. It had been a year since I killed the pervert who stalked me. It hadn't changed my life. I'd gone to counseling, more because the court mandated it, but I'd gone. I was fine. People needed to let it go.

  Miss Connors looked at Grace. "Is there something I need to know?"

  I interjected, "This is class, not Sheldon's personal crisis trauma team. And I'm fine. I'm pissed off because you made me talk in class, but otherwise, I'm fine. And don't talk to Grace. She doesn't have her head screwed on right now. She's got it bad for Corrigan, and he's unavailable, so she likes to turn her attention to me instead."

  Grace gasped and pushed up from the table. She gathered her books against her chest, glared once more at me, and swept out of the classroom. Once the door slammed shut behind her, I sat back and waited for the shocked lull in the class to end. And one second later, it did as people eagerly turned to their table partners.

  I had just outed Grace…because that's the type of friend I am.

  Miss Connors sighed, looked at the clock, and then called out, "Okay, guys. You can go."

  I stood up.

  "Not you, Sheldon."

  I sat down.

  When the last student left, Miss Connors crossed the room to shut the door. As she turned, those condemning eyes in place, I snorted, "That's who I am. I'm not very nice at times."

  "No, you're not," Miss Connors agreed with me. "But you're normally pleasant, especially with Grace. What's the deal?"

  I grinned at her words. "What's the deal? Are you still trying to talk to me in my language?"

  "Sheldon," she exclaimed. "You have never outright hurt Grace before. I have known you since high school and counseled you for one of those years. The last time you were a cold bitch to someone like Grace was the same time you were being stalked, and two of your friends were killed. So I'm asking…is there something going on that I should know?"

  Well, when you put it like that…

  I sighed, "No. I'm just a bitch. I'll apologize to her later."

  Miss Connors gave me one of those all-too-knowing looks before turning to her desk. "I think you should leave her alone, but that's my personal opinion."

  I should, but the truth was that Grace had become one of my only friends besides Corrigan. I sort of needed her, though I'd never tell her that.

  "I heard that Bryce is coming back to town." Miss Connors watched me with hawk-like eyes.

  I paused. "Yeah?"

  "I know that the two of you weren't doing so well when you moved back. How are things now?"

  Hell. No. I reared my head back. "I had my stint in therapy. I'm not going back, so no questions about Bryce, especially Bryce."

  "What about Corrigan? Can I ask about him?"

  "Him either." I pushed through the door.

  Miss Connors yelled as it shut behind me, "Can I ask if they're even alive? Is that okay? Or maybe you—are you alive?"

  I suppressed a shudder and veered for the door in joy. Maybe not joy, but I was anxious for my escape. And then I was through. I breathed in the fresh air and heard, "Sheldon! Yo. Stop."

  And the fresh air was ruined.

  Michael Reveritt jogged towards me in his fitted white shirt that seemed to glide over his muscles with those Labrador chocolate eyes and plush lips that always seemed to be smiling. Or kissing. I knew he kissed a lot of girls. I knew he did more than that too.

  "What do you want, Ritt?"

  He stopped and shook his head as he laughed. "Always about the sunshine, ain't ya, Sheldon?"

  "It's Jeneve. What do you want?" I was tempted to stomp my foot in rhythm and tap out the seconds until I lost patience, but that was rude…and I'd already filled my rude quota for the day.

  "Whatever, Sheldon. You know you love how I say your name. Just admit it." Then, he caught the look in my eyes and hurriedly threw out, "Corrigan said you banned the frat house from your party on Friday night? That can't be real, right? Corrigan's got it wrong."

  Parties. Frats. And Corrigan. Why was I not surprised this was why Michael Reveritt found me? I grew tired of the game and turned on my heel. "No, you're not invited."

  Mike followed. "Come on, Sheldon. You're all alone in that huge house of yours. Corrigan told me about it. He told us about the ragers you used to throw. Why won't you let us come?"

  "Because you're morons." I had a better reason, but the moron part was true enough.

  Mike reached out and drew me to a stop. He pleaded. "You're best friends with Corrigan, and he's one of my brothers now. How can you cut off a brother from his brothers? It's inhumane. And besides, we're a frat. We have to be at the best party on campus."

  "Good thing my place isn't on campus." I peeled his fingers from my arm.

  "You know what I mean. Come on, Sheldon. You're one of us, and we have to be there. It wouldn't look right if we weren't."

  "Contrary to your thoughts, Ritt, the party isn't for you. It's for me, Corrigan, and Bryce. I'm inviting people that Bryce knows. He doesn't know you—"

  "Yes, he does."

  I stopped in my tracks. "What are you talking about?"

  "He calls Corrigan all the time. Corrigan spends a bunch of his time with us. I've had a few conversations with your boyfriend; at least enough to know that he's a chill guy. He'd be surprised if we weren't at the party."

  "He's not my boyf—" I stopped myself. It had been over a year, and I still automatically denied the relationship. I waited a beat and then clarified, "I'll talk to Corrigan about it, but if you guys come, you can't trash my place. If you do, heads will roll. I mean it."

  Mike flashed a smile. "I wouldn't expect anything else. And you're family. We won't do anything to your place. Corrigan would take a battering ram to us if we did."

  I grinned. Corrigan would; that made me proud.

  "So you're cool with us coming?"

  I sighed, "Were you ever not coming?"

  "Hell, no," he laughed. "I just thought I'd make one last ditch effort before we crashed and officially pissed you off. Good thing, huh?"

  I bared my teeth, much like a wolf would do before it tore into its prey. "Do you know what I do to people that piss me off?"

  Mike stopped and opened his mouth. No sound came from it.

  "The worst I've done is kill 'em…"

  I turned and sauntered away but not before hearing Michael mutter behind me, "Holy God, that woman."

  Why didn't I want the fraternity at Bryce's party? The real reason is that I didn't want any distraction from his homecoming. I didn't want any drama. I wanted Bryce to feel relaxed, around people he used to know. The frat guys were not relaxing and definitely not drama-free. But I already knew they'd crash the party. It made sense that they'd want to be at the best party around, especially one that was thrown for the local jock celebrity, as Grace had termed it.

  Ah…Grace.

  I'd have to fix that. I knew that I'd hurt her feelings, but a part of me didn't understand why she was so upset. Yes. I had publicly exclaimed that she had feelings for Corrigan, but that wasn't exactly top-secret. I knew it. Grace knew it. I was pretty sure a whole bunch of other people knew it, Corrigan included. Besides, everyone knew the details of my personal life. If the campus gossip mill hadn't covered it, the tabloids from Europe got the rest. They really loved Bryce over there, and they really hated that he was leaving for a U.S. team.

  My phone rang.

  And speaking of Bryce…

  I grinned as his name flashed over the screen. "What's up?"

  "Hey, I'm here," he said.

  "You sound refreshed. Shouldn't you have jetlag or something?" And what did he mean he was here? He wasn't supposed to show up until Friday, two days from now.

  Bryce laughed. "I slept on the private jet, Sheldon. And yes, I know it's disgusting that I get to fly in private planes now, but deal with it. I don't suffer jetlag, and I don't care."

  "Whatever," I growled but grimaced. Could I be any more annoying?

  "What's wrong?"

  "Nothing," I clipped out.

  "Sheldon, what's wrong?"

  "Nothing!"

  "Tell me what's wrong or I'm going to have my mom come over for dinner tonight," he threatened.

  I buckled—damn it. "I was a bitch to Grace."

  "When are you not?" Bryce laughed.

  He knew me too well. "And I told our psych class that she has feelings for Corrigan."

  Bryce quieted on the other end for a moment. "I thought they'd already talked about that. Didn't Corrigan tell me something about that?"

  I shrugged. "News to me. Grace hasn't said anything to me about it, but she's been stupid over him since our senior year. Good gracious, how long is she going to pine for the moron?"

  Bryce mused, "Well, it's out now. They'll figure it out."

  "And I'm the quintessential bitch, like always."

  "You're just you, Sheldon. Get over it and get home. I've missed you."

  I grinned and picked up my pace for the car. "My dad did have a pool installed…"

  "Done. I'll meet you there." And Bryce hung up.

  As I approached my car, I shook my head. Bryce was back. He was back, and he was at my house—it felt good.

  It felt…like normal.

  CHAPTER TWO

  When I pulled into my driveway, I was a little confused when I didn't see Bryce's red Miata. Then I hit the button for the three-car garage, and there it was, all nice and shiny. It was one of Bryce's guilty splurges while he was in Europe. When I decided to come back to California, he'd sent it with me. Bryce said it wasn't the same driving it around when I wasn't there. So I'd been driving it until the last few weeks when Corrigan insisted he wanted his time because when Bryce came home, he'd lose his chance with the Miata. I hadn't cared, and it had been with Corrigan since.

  Guess Bryce got it back.

  As I let myself into the house and walked down the adjoining hallway, I caught sight of his luggage. A year ago, he had left with a soccer bag over his shoulder, and now he returned with sleek, black, pristine-looking luggage. I wasn't sure how I liked the changes, but, no matter the money, Bryce was still Bryce.

  Bryce and me were still Bryce and me.

  I quickly shed my clothes for a bikini and strode towards the pool. I pushed open the door, and there he was, in a brisk front crawl through the pool. The water glistened over his shoulders, which rippled and bunched as he continued to pace himself. He made swimming look easy.

  And then he stopped at the edge and lifted his head.

  I groaned and smiled in delight at the short black Mohawk, sea blue eyes, and chiseled cheekbones. Bryce flashed a smile, full of intent, as he lifted himself out of the pool.

 
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