Max nods and Vale pushes at the button several times to up the speed.
I grit my teeth, trying to figure out just where we stand. The obvious thing would be to just ask her, but fuck if I’ll do that. Especially not with Max in the room. So I push my speed up, break into a jog, and concentrate on running.
By the time Max is slowing to a walk, I’m on an eight-minute mile pace, which is just perfect for a short run to warm up. Max removes the mask and hands it to Vale, who sanitizes it and packs it away. She stands next to him, going over the results in low murmured tones. He asks her a few questions, she responds, and then he’s heading out of the workout room.
Except Vale walks out right behind him and my opportunity for conversation, surely stilted, starts to wither away.
“Hey,” I call out as my hand hits the Pause button. I’m hopping off before the belt comes to a full stop. “Wait.”
Vale stops dead and turns to look at me curiously. “What’s up?”
I walk up to her, a glance to the open doorway of the locker room revealing it’s empty. When I come to within a foot, I lean in a bit closer just in case someone’s lurking. “Want me to pick you up after your training session…grab some dinner and we’ll head to the hospital together?”
What in the ever-loving fuck am I doing?
Vale blinks at me in surprise, but then schools her features into a bland mask of ambiguity. “Um…thanks, but I think I’ll just head over there myself. But maybe I’ll see you there.”
A fucking brush-off, and now my hackles rise.
“What the hell is going on here, Vale?” I grit out, stepping in closer.
Her eyes flash hot but her tone is calm. “What do you mean what’s going on?”
“Last night, you’re clinging to me in desperation, accepting of the great fucking I gave you, and today it’s the cold shoulder.”
Vale gasps in outrage but doesn’t respond, instead spinning to leave. I reach out and grab her arm, spinning her back my way. She jerks loose, and rather than fleeing again, she steps up to me and pokes me in the chest. “You might be right, I may have been clinging to you last night in desperation, and yeah, that was a great fucking, but I seem to remember you’re the one that jetted out this morning faster than lightning.”
“I had to get to practice,” I say lamely.
“You had to escape me and your feelings,” she sneers. “Don’t deny it. I saw it written all over your face while you were giving me that good fucking. You may have given me your dick, but that’s all you gave me last night, and that part really, really sucked.”
I’m the one who blinks in surprise now that she was actually that perceptive. I figured she was caught up in the passion of it all, the escapism. I didn’t think she was reading me that clearly. Which is stupid, now that I think about it. Of course Vale would read me clearly. She knows me better than practically anyone.
I try to come up with an excuse but it’s equally as lame. “Come on, Vale…we have a history…a bad one.”
“No, Hawke,” she seethes in anger. “We have a great history. We had one bad moment. But it’s clear that’s never going to be forgiven, so let’s just call a spade a spade and realize that you and I are not meant to be.”
Why those words almost cause my knees to buckle is beyond me, but I push that aside. This is getting way off the track I had hoped to take. I put my hands on her shoulders and rub my thumbs back and forth in an attempt to calm her.
Her voice cracks and my heart aches over the misery in her eyes. “I know what you think…that last night was just a hookup, some ‘random’ to get our rocks off. But it wasn’t like that for me. I was all in, and whether you believe it or not, you’re the only man I’ve ever let into my body without protection.”
I’m stunned to complete inaction. My words fail me, even though I desperately want to ease away her hurt right now. Maybe I should just pull her into my arms hard, kiss the breath out of her, and let that be the truth I can’t seem to say.
“Hey, Vale,” I hear from the doorway, and my hands drop from her shoulders like she has hot potatoes stacked on them.
Vale takes a deep breath and turns to see Max standing there. His eyes flick back and forth between us, finally resting permanently on Vale. “We didn’t set up our next training session.”
“Oh,” Vale says as she turns away from me. “Let’s go pull up the calendar on my computer and get some slots scheduled.”
She heads for the door but stops when I say, “Vale.”
She doesn’t turn to look at me but she’s listening. “I’ll see you at the hospital tonight.”
My eyes slide to Max, who’s looking flummoxed over what is clearly a tense, personal moment between me and the staff athletic trainer. He raises his eyebrows at me in silent offer to back the hell away. I give him a shake of my head and Vale pushes past him, out the door and toward the AT offices.
Max holds his arms out in question. “Dude…what the hell was that?”
I let out a long breath of frustration before turning my eyes to him. “It’s such a long story, it deserves a beer or two. Interested?”
“Sure,” he says with a smile. “Let me get this next session set up with Vale and we can head out.”
“You okay in there?” I ask my dad from the kitchen. He’s in the living room, recliner kicked back and eyes glued to the TV. Our apartment is so small, I can speak in a normal voice and he’ll hear me even with the volume of Jeopardy! at a moderate level.