“Whatever,” I mutter, and stalk off into the kitchen. I head to the garbage can, stomp my foot on the pedal at the base, and when the lid raises, I try to stuff the box inside.
Except it’s about two sizes too big, so I wrestle with it, taking my frustration out on the cardboard and the two aromatic pieces still in there taunting me. I feel tears welling in my eyes as I push and punch at the box, trying to get it to conform.
“Not hungry?” Hawke asks quietly from behind me.
My body stiffens as I make a last hard push to cram it all in and I blink my eyes rapidly to dispel the moisture. “No,” I say sullenly.
Starved, more like it.
“Your dad says you have a second job training people at a gym,” he says conversationally.
I ignore the remark and instead turn on him. “Seriously, Hawke…why are you here?”
“Because I was worried about your dad,” he says simply. “I knew you were hiding something from me, and while I might have lost contact over the years, I still like and respect your dad very much. Why wouldn’t I check in to say hello?”
He has a point, and I don’t like it, because I don’t like anything about Hawke being back in my life. It dredges up too many memories and flares my guilt and heartache back to life. My heart is already full to bursting with worry and dread; I don’t have room for all of the emotions that come with the territory of Hawke Therrien even talking to me.
“Fine,” I say, my voice heavy with exhaustion. “You’re concerned about him. You’ve come to visit. You can feel good now about making contact with old friends.”
No mistaking the sarcasm in my voice.
I turn to the refrigerator and pull out a protein shake I keep stocked. It won’t satisfy my hunger, but at least it will give me something. As I twist the cap, I notice Hawke lean back against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Why are you so angry with me?” he asks softly. “I’m not the one that abandoned first.”
My eyes widen with surprise even as guilt flushes through me. He’s right, I’m the one that cut ties, but surely he has to admit that I tried to rectify…
No, wait…doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.
“Listen, it’s late for me and I need to get a shower, head to bed,” I tell him firmly as I move past him.
His hand shoots out, lands on my shoulder. His fingers curl in to stop me, and I hate the sudden flash of euphoria over his touch. That shouldn’t happen. I should never feel that way from one simple touch.
“Why, Vale?” he whispers, his eyes hard yet filled with need.
My breath seizes in my lungs, the urge to rail against him clogging up my most basic need to survive. I swallow hard, suck in deep through my nose. “Why? You want to know why now?”
“Yes,” he grunts with exasperation.
More hot anger flashes through me, giving me a resurgence of energy. “Maybe you should have asked why back when—”
The sounds of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” starts bleating from my phone, a ringtone that generally puts a smile on my face. The most it serves to do is shock me into instant recognition that I forgot to call Todd again.
I pull away from Hawke’s grasp and pull my phone from the case clipped to my hip. I don’t even give him a glance as I connect the call and put it to my ear. “Hi, honey,” I breathe into the phone. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call.”
My eyes slide to Hawke, who lowers his arm and drops his face to look at the floor. A muscle ticks in his lower jaw.
“Hey, sweetie,” Todd croons at me, because he can hear the exhaustion on my voice. “Rough day?”
“You have no idea,” I tell him as I push past Hawke and walk back to my bedroom.
“It must have been a doozy. No room in your life for me right now, huh?” His tone is light, but I don’t miss the underlying censure.
“It’s been nonstop since five a.m.,” I tell him defensively as I step into my bedroom and shut the door behind me.
“You’re working too hard,” he says pointedly.
Well, there’s a news flash.
“Yeah, well, someone’s got to do it,” I say as I sit down on the edge of my bed and then lie back. I stare at the popcorn ceiling with water stains indicating the apartment above me at some point had a leak. “And until I win the lottery, well…this is just the way it is.”
“I can send you money,” he says automatically, and it’s a rote offer, because we’ve had this conversation before.
Too many times.
“You know that’s not an option for me,” I remind him.
Todd blows a pained gust of frustration into the phone and then lets out a long-suffering sigh. I roll my eyes, curious as to why he feels affronted over my refusal to accept his help. It wouldn’t change anything between us one way or the other.
At least on my part.
On his, I’m sure he thinks it will bring us closer together. Almost as if he wants to tie me by dependency, and that’s never going to happen.
I feel bad thinking these things about him.
Todd Walters has been in many ways very good for me. We met almost six months ago while I was working in Columbus for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He’s a dentist and works for a large practice specializing in sedation dentistry. We met when one of my players cracked a tooth wide open during spring training practice and I was tasked with driving him for an emergency repair. The poor kid was so terrified he insisted we go somewhere that would knock his ass out, and thus my first meeting with Todd. By the time the tooth was repaired, I’d accepted his invitation to coffee because he was cute and charming and I was lonely.