Page 71

“Shut it, Oliver. He needs to hear this.”

I try for nonchalant indifference, because I know it will piss her off even more. I cross my arms over my chest, arch a skeptical eyebrow, and practically croon at her. “Tell me, Avery…just how do you figure me to be an asshole?”

I know the answer to this, of course, but I’m feeling the need to do battle. The truth is, I’ve been feeling guilty about the way things went down. I have this undeniable feeling that I’ve missed something important. That maybe my feelings were misguided, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Perhaps she can give me some clarity through a good old-fashioned fight, because about the only thing I know for sure is that I miss Vale so fucking much and I don’t see how to fix this.

Avery takes a deep breath, a concerted effort on her part to stay rational in the face of her anger. She lets it out in a quick huff and says, “Because you hold a double standard. Because you won’t accept responsibility for your own failures. Because you want to blame Vale for your relationship ending all those years ago when it’s just as much your fault.”

I give a short bark of amused laughter. “That won’t work on me, Avery. Vale and I cleared the air about that night. She told me what happened with the miscarriage. I was wrong for not leaving that party with her, but she was wrong in not giving me the opportunity to make it right. She didn’t call me and just cut me out without a word of explanation. So forgive me if I can’t quite let that go at this point. It’s not something that’s easy to forget and frankly, that’s on Vale’s shoulders. She should have given me time; we were working on things, but she didn’t want to give me the time to catch up to her. She was able to let it go a lot easier than I was.”

“Not only are you an asshole but you’re a moron as well,” she sneers.

“I’m not an asshole,” I grit out. “I was truthful with Vale. I told her my feelings as they were, no sugar coating. That’s not being an asshole. That’s being honest.”

Avery gives an amused, condescending laugh. “How about turning that honest spotlight on yourself for a minute, Hawke. Have you ever once considered that none of this shit would have ever happened had you just returned her calls. Or her fucking email, for God’s sake. She may have made a terrible mistake in breaking up with you, but she tried to rectify it, and you’re the one that turned your back on her at that point. It was so fucking childish for you to do that, I don’t even see why Vale could just so easily forgive you for it and let it go herself. She’s definitely the bigger person.”

Somewhere around the statement when Avery said, “She tried to rectify it,” my blood literally froze in my veins and the back of my neck prickled with unease. A tight ball of anxiety lodged deep within my chest, making it difficult to breathe.

“What do you mean,” I say, enunciating my words slowly to try to control the shaking of my voice, “she tried to rectify it?”

Avery rolls her eyes at me. “Please…don’t play stupid. I’m talking about her calls to you after you left and the way you ignored her. Refused to call her back.”

“And an email?” I ask, my throat so dry and gritty feeling.

“Of course an email,” Avery huffs out. “But after you didn’t respond, she gave up.”

“I didn’t get any voicemails,” I assert confidently.

“Liar,” she hisses at me. “I suppose you’ll deny her email too. She reached out to you and you turned your back on her.”

I drop my arms away from my chest and stand up even straighter, towering over Avery. I lean down, and with rage filling me, I growl at her, “I didn’t get any fucking voicemails, and as far as an email…”

My mind races back to that time. Seven years was forever ago, but I’m not surprised I didn’t see an email. I wasn’t a big email communicator, and as soon as I got to Pittsburgh, I was given an email with the organization. I handed that out to my family to use and that was that. I was lucky if I checked it once a week and my old email was left in the dust.

I could log on to it now. I’m sure it still exists, but I don’t even fucking remember what the password is. Would there be an email from Vale spilling her guts to me from long ago? Would she tell me she lied about not loving me? Would she want me back?

The idea of it is almost too horrible to bear, because that means there was so much time fucking wasted. So much misery that could have been avoided, and oh, fuck…my refusal to give in to my renewed feelings for her. All borne of my inner demon-child who was still bitter and angry, and perhaps wanted to punish Vale.

Turning my back on Avery, I scrub both hands through my hair, trying to think. How did I not get her voicemails? My mind races, trying to remember what was going on in my life those first few weeks after I got to Pittsburgh. I started training camp, moved into an apartment. Went out partying with my new teammates, fucked around and tried to purge Vale from my mind.

And then it hit me as clear as day. I had lost my phone on one of those early nights living the high life in my new city. Had gone out, got drunk, fucked some chick, and ended up staying all night at her apartment. I snuck out the next morning and it wasn’t until about midday that I realized I didn’t have my phone. I assumed I left it at her place and didn’t want to go back for it. So I went out with my new money burning a hole in my bank account and bought the newest and most high-speed smartphone out there. I got a new number, proud of my new Pittsburgh area code, and I only gave it out to my teammates and family.

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