I’d never seen Damon look so dejected, so fidgety, so lost.
“What can we do to fix this?” I leaned back in my chair and let my hands drop into my lap. We had ordered lunch, but it had yet to be served. Where I’d usually love to hang out with my best friend for an hour, today wasn’t one of those days. I was sliding into a dark place in my own life, and watching Damon head-dive into depression wasn’t helping much.
“Nothing.” He glanced up from staring at his hands and shrugged. “I fucked up.”
“Everyone messes up, Damon.” I reached for my water, enjoying the coolness of the glass in my hand. Life was a torrential accumulation of painful fuck-ups, but I thought it was only my life that told that story. It would seem that I was wrong.
“Right.” He chuckled and let out a sigh as his eyes moved around the quaint restaurant in front of us. “All these women and any one of them would be mine with very little effort.”
“But you don’t want any of these women.” I took a quick sip of my water as I tried to think through the various ways we could get Bethany, Damon’s ex-finance to forgive him, to see him in the light I saw him in. He might have been a shallow asshole from time to time, but deep down inside of his puffed up chest was a good man with a lot of hurt.
“No, I don’t. I want my woman back.” His shoulders stiffened as the waiter appeared beside us and set down our lunch.
I reached across and traded the grilled salmon in front of him for the burger in front of me. I ran every day so I could eat like shit… it was one of the only real pleasures in life that seemed to be constant.
“It’s going to work out. You have to give her some time to think things through.”
“Is it?” He picked up his fork and pushed the fish around his plate. “And what if it doesn’t? Am I willing to change? To soften? Can I even if I wanted to?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged and picked up my burger, pausing only briefly. “If Ana needed me to change all those years ago, I would have.”
“Bull shit.” He lifted his eyebrow, challenging me. As much as I hated to be the center of his attention when he was in a foul mood, it was better to see him aggressive and moody than dull and non-responsive.
“No?” I spoke around a mouthful of burger.
“You didn’t quit your job. That would have solved the problem, Kendal. The university couldn’t have stepped in between the two of you because she wouldn’t have been your student anymore.”
“No, you’re right. I love my job, but don’t let her off the hook that easily, please.” I forced a tight smile, hating that the bastard was forcing me to go back to the most painful time of my life.
Misery loves company, even if it has to push its friends to the party.
Damon chuckled as his eyes darkened a little. “Do you miss her?”
“Nope. I used to, but I’m over it.” I lifted my napkin and wiped my mouth.
“Then why aren’t you dating, old friend?”
“I haven’t found the right woman. Unlike our college days, I’m not looking for a hot woman to bend over a bench somewhere. I want a relationship that matters.”
“Pussy.” Damon snorted.
“That would be delicious as well.” I took another bite of my burger and gave him a toothy grin. He could work to bait my emotions all he wanted to. I was used to him, and cared too much about him to let him push off his own hurt onto me. He wouldn’t learn anything from doing so.
“She’s going to be insanely pissed at you.” He took a bite of his fish, but kept his brown eyes focused on me.
“And she should be.” I shrugged and reached for the ketchup. “I set her up to have you run into us. It’s no better than lying. The things I do for you, I swear.”
The tight line of his mouth softened a little. “I’m sorry about that. I know she’s your TA. I shouldn’t have-”
“You didn’t.” I shook my head and reached for my water. “Stop being an emotional roller coaster and pull yourself together. You fucked up. Big damn deal. Get the girl back, or sell the ring and find another woman to worship you.”
“Worship?” He snorted and sat back in his chair. “Is that a joke?”
“Nope. Look around. Half the women in this place are either staring at you, or pretending not to. It’s disturbing.” I laughed as a smirk lifted his lips. He needed to go after Bethany and soon. She was the kind of girl most men would trip over themselves to get to. Beautiful, young, incredibly brilliant and strong-willed. He’d almost felt something the first day she walked into his classroom not a month before.
The memory of their first encounter caused a laugh to bubble up inside of him. He stifled it and forced himself to keep his mind locked in the present instead of dipping into the past. Memory lane would quickly lead back to where it always did – to Ana. To her soft white sheets and caramel-colored skin. To the sound of her moaning his name as her back arched, her breasts jutted out.
“Hey. You here?” Damon thumped my arm as I came to.
“Yeah. I was just thinking about the first day Bethany came in.”
“What about it?” Damon pushed his plate away, his food barely touched.
I chuckled. “She was considerate and nice, and I took it as a come-on.”
His brow pulled tight. “She came on to you?”
“No, you idiot. Listen to what I’m saying and stop reading into it a million meanings. She was nice and I took it as a come-on because I’m hyper sensitive to women as I should be. I can’t tell you the number of innocent looking college girls that basically throw their panties at me. It’s disturbing.”
Damon’s turn to laugh. “Wait, are you saying that all these women are attracted to you, and you, being the upright citizen that you are, turn them down?”
“Of course I do, asshole.” I picked up my burger. He was getting to me… though I promised myself he wouldn’t. “It’s not like I have a choice. I don’t own my company, and my fingers aren’t stuck up my dad’s ass, timing his pulse for the right moment to seize the opportunity.”
“Oh shit. I hit a nerve.” Damon laughed and glanced around the room. “You assume these women are stealing glances at me, Kendal. What if they’re not? What if it’s you they’re looking at?”
“It’s irrelevant.” I worked on my burger while he glanced around as if interested in truly assessing which of the two of us were being studied. Funny enough, he most likely hoped it was me, and I hoped it was him. Unwanted attention was a burden both of us were sick of sharing.
“Tell me about the first day my girl came into your classroom. How was she being nice?” He lifted his eyebrow and picked up the glass of red wine in front of him.
“We made small talk, and then she asked how old I was. The way she asked it left me concerned that she was busy calculating the math in her head between our ages.” I shrugged as Damon snorted. “I gave her the speech.”
“Oh man, I haven’t heard that in years. Give it to me.”
“You’re a bastard, you know that?”
“I do, and now make me feel better and give me the speech.”
“Having to recite my ‘hands off speech’ is much better than what we used to do in college every time one of us felt like shit.” I shook my head as the images of sharing woman after woman came up. “At least I won’t have to take a shower after this.”
“You might.” He smiled and glanced around again. “You enjoyed all those orgies. Stop acting so fucking proper. It’s me you’re talking to.”
“Maybe, but those days are long gone.” I brushed my fingers by my lips as my eyes locked with a pretty blond. She waved, and I smiled to be polite. Far too thin.
“Stop eye-fucking that chick behind me and give me the speech. Pretend I’m a horny college girl that is all over the idea of getting you in bed.”
I rolled my eyes. “I swear I hate you.”
“No you don’t. Get to it.” He glanced at his watch before giving me a smile. At least he was coming back to life a little.
“Fine, but don’t give me shit over it.”
He lifted his hands in the air. “Never.”
“Right. Anyways, I’m not a model, nor do I care to be. I’m a guy that loves math, football and I’m an extreme stickler for the rules. I don’t date students or TAs, so keep things staunchly professional between us, or I’ll dismiss you.”
“How about other professors?” He used the best female voice he could muster, which was fucking horrid to say the least.
I laughed and pushed my half-eaten burger away. “No one at the college. I’m going to have to join a dating site soon. I haven’t taken a woman to my bed in two years.”
“Two years? Shit, man. Does your dick even work anymore?”
“I can pee out of it. Does that count?” I reached for the bill when the waiter appeared with it. Damon might have been insanely wealthy, but paying for lunch had little to do with the size of our bank accounts. He was hurting over Bethany, and where I’d have given anything to help, my hands were tied. Lunch would have to do instead.
“I’d love to tell you where to find a great woman, but I’ve been searching since Christa myself.” He picked up his wine glass and tossed back the rest of the contents before standing. “It’s not like you want to hang out in a club or a bar at thirty-one.”
“Nope. I’d be the old creepy guy in the back. I have very little interest in that.” I stood up and wiped my mouth as my phone buzzed in my pocket. I needed to get back to the university to wrap up a few things before heading out to the gym and yet another lonely night at home.
“Hey, man,” Damon’s expression softened, “I really do appreciate you trying to help me with Beth. Just redirect her if she starts talking about what a piece of shit I am around you.”
“I doubt that’s going to happen, but you know I have your back. I’ll do anything I can to help out, brother.”
“Good. You’re my only friend.” He reached out and gripped my shoulder, staring as if he had something else to say, but wasn’t sure he could get it out.
“Stop being a pussy and walk to the door. All these women are going to think we’re gay.”
“That might be our way out of being the center of attention.” He lifted his eyebrow and released his hold on me.
“Fuck no. Your tits aren’t big enough for me.” I walked past him as he chuckled again.
The number on my phone was one I’d seen too many times in the last year. Memorial Hospital.
“Thanks for lunch, old friend.” Damon extended his hand and smiled.
“Anytime.” I shook his hand and turned to walk out to the parking lot as he moved toward the valet. We’d been given the same opportunities and yet had very different lives. Where he was a billionaire, I was living a little better than paycheck to paycheck, but happiness meant far more than money ever would.
“This is Kendal.” I pressed the phone to my ear.
“Dr. Tarrington. This is Tinsley at Memorial Hospital. Amanda had another episode this morning. We need you to-”
“I’m on my way right now.” I tucked the phone into my pocket and ran toward my car. My little sister was all the family I had left in the world and with her MS getting more and more aggressive, it seemed like I’d soon lose her too. Fear wrapped around my heart as I fumbled with my keys and dropped them on the hot pavement. “Shit.”
She needed me and yet I couldn’t provide the kind of care that would allow her to stay with me out at the house. She needed help twenty-four seven as her body began to give out. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it either.
Hard emotions raged through me as I got in the car and started it before slamming my foot to the gas pedal.
“Why couldn’t it have been me? Why didn’t I get it instead?” I murmured the words I’d been mulling over for twenty-something years since Amanda got diagnosed with the degenerative disease. Where I couldn’t seem to get life going, my sister would never get the chance to even try. Tears blurred my vision, and I shoved the thought away as I always did. The situation was what it was. All I could do was offer her comfort, my time… my heart.
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