I was bound and determined to write something happy this time around since both my January posts (photo & song prompts) were a bit on the down side. LOL I have failed in that quest. But now, I have two more characters clamoring around in my noggin. o.O JUST what I needed.
I felt his gaze, the weight of it, but didn’t show any reaction. He wouldn’t want me to—I’d learned that real quickly. Watching me was something he did, had done for since we met at the beginning of the term through mutual friends. But if I were to glance up, meet his gaze or give him any clue I was aware of his near constant perusal, he’d flush—rather prettily—and look away. Then, avoid being around me for days. And that was the last thing I wanted. As fucked up as it was, I’d take whatever I could get from Eli Hannigan, even if was just being around him in the safety of our group of friends and the heaviness of his gaze.
“You’re coming tonight, right, Trev?”
Startled, I slid my gaze over to Olivia, careful not to go too far and look at Eli—a difficult feat since the petite brunette right next to him.
“Tonight?” I managed to ask as my stomach soured at just how close the couple sat together on the common room sofa.
Olivia threw her head back and laughed. “Where is your head? We’ve only been talking about this for the last half hour. Party tonight at Eli’s family’s cottage. Plan on staying the night, getting drunk and having a good time.”
I couldn’t help it; I flicked my eyes toward Eli, meeting his blue-gray gaze fully. Forcing a smile, I replied, “Fun as that sounds, I’m busy.”
“Busy with what?” Tyler, my so-called best friend, the person who introduced me to Eli and pretty much the only person who had any idea what I felt for the other man, snorted and nudged my shoulder. “Finally making time with that guy from the bookstore?”
Before I could answer, Olivia bounced her seat excitedly. “Oh, you have a date? Bring him along. The more, the merrier, right, Eli?”
A muscle in Eli’s check twitched as he clenched his jaw. Surprised filled me as he kept his eyes firmly on me. “Supposed to be a small get together, Liv,” he said tightly. “Last thing I need is a bunch a dumbasses trashing the place and having my dad all over my ass, like last time.”
“It’s one more person!” She shook her head, chuckling. “Trevor was already included in the original head count. Adding one more isn’t a big deal. Besides, don’t you want to meet the guy Trev’s been mooning over?”
That muscle twitched again, and he shoved a hand through his short brown hair before lifting a shoulder. “Sure, why not?”
“We’ll see, I muttered.
I pushed myself up from my position sitting on the floor and stood, anxious to get back to my dorm. To be free of his gaze, now filled with annoyance and…a hint of anger, just for a little while. Though I knew, even as I walked away, feeling its heavy, heated weight on my back, I’d be back for more. I always was.
* * * *
The party was winding down. Music turned off. Those who hadn’t already passed out stumbled up the stairs to find a flat surface to sleep for the night. I glanced around the cozy cottage and shook my head. Fuck this, I thought as I grabbed my jacket from one of the hooks near the door and shoved my feet into my sneakers.
I wasn’t even going to come at all. I’d been set to settle in for the night and study or zone out in front of the TV. Instead, I’d gotten in my car and, using the directions Tyler had scribbled out for me, driven out in the middle of fucking nowhere. All to watch my friends and people I didn’t really know get wasted and be stupid. And to be watched by Eli, who, despite this being his party, kept distant from everyone. Including his girlfriend. I shook my head. Fuck, I thought Olivia was his girlfriend. They acted like it most of the time, but she’d spent most of the night with Eli’s roommate Sam. They hadn’t done anything, at least not that I saw, but it was just odd that I hadn’t seen her and Eli near each other at all over the course of the evening. And his gaze had been on me, not her, but that was nothing new. That was familiar.
Whatever. Not my fucking circus. I turned to the door, the anxious need to escape overwhelming me again.
“Hey, where are you going?”
I froze in the open doorway as Eli’s voice washed over me. Just for a moment. I inhaled deeply then looked over my shoulder with a grin.
“Heading back. As many people as there are here, I’m guessing every bed is claimed. I’d rather go back to mine than crash on the floor. Fun party, Eli. See ya around.”
I stepped outside, and the bitter cold slapped me in the face as I pulled the door shut behind me. Rubbing my hands together, I walked toward where the cars were parked along the dirt road that led out here. Snow crunched under my feet, and my breath froze on the still air.
“Trevor!” Eli jogged past the line of cars just as I pulled open the door of mine. “You can’t leave.”
I leaned inside and started the engine then straightened to watch him stumble to a stop. The small amount of light from the car’s interior illuminated his wide eyes and lips parted as he panted slightly.
“Course I can. Christ, Eli, you’re not even wearing a coat. Get back inside.”
“You can’t drive back into town. You…you’ve been drinking. ‘S’not safe.”
“No, I haven’t. As you well know since you were watching me all night,” I mumbled.
His brow furrowed, and he pressed his lips together a moment then blurted, “You didn’t bring your boyfriend.”
I let out a bark of laughter. “Don’t have a boyfriend, Eli.”
“That guy…the one from the bookstore. Tyler said—”
“Tyler’s a shit stirrer and sees what he wants to see. Now, get your ass back inside before it freezes off.” I gave his arm a light shove. “Have fun the rest of the weekend, yeah? See you guys when you get back.”
He breath quickened, from the cold, I thought, until he surged forward and pressed his lips to mine. I grabbed hold of the top of the door, fingers aching as I fought not to launch myself at him.
With a gasp, he broke away. “Fuck. Fuck, Trevor, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have— Fuck.” He glanced at cottage, a frantic expression on his face, then back to me. “We’re drunk. That’s all. Stupid and dr—”
I grabbed him around the back of his neck and yanked him forward, slanting my mouth over his. Sliding my hands up into his hair, I gripped the ridiculously soft stands and let myself all into the kiss, the feel of him, his taste.
After a final slow lick along his bottom lip, I drew back and let my forehead rest against his. His hands trembled where they fisted the front of my jacket, but he made no move to back away.
“You’re not the only one watching,” I whispered. “This wasn’t some stupid, drunk thing, Eli. You haven’t had a single drink since I got here hours ago. So, cut the bullshit.”
“I’m not like you,” he said, his voice just as quiet as mine.
From anyone else, I might have taken offense, but there was no disgust or censure. I could practically taste the fear on his wobbly words. I closed my eyes a moment, cupping his face as gently as I could.
“Nothing wrong with you if you are.”
He shook his head, and his breath swept hotly over my face. “I wish things were different. That I could be…”
Abruptly, he released his hold and stepped back. Squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw, he seemed to be building a wall around himself, effectively shutting me out.
“See you Monday,” he said flatly and started back toward the cottage. After a few steps, he paused and looked back. “Be careful, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I breathed watching his shadowed figure fade into the night.
After sliding into my car, I rested my forehead against the steering wheel, eyes squeezed shut. Fuck. The last thing I needed was to be hung up on some closeted guy—no matter how gorgeous, how nice, how tempting he was. Eli was a friend, nothing more. He was unwilling to be anything more. I pushed aside the memory of how frightened he’d seemed. I was just overthinking that. Coming out could be scary for anyone. I could make sure he knew I’d be there to support him if and when he took that step, but waiting around for something that may never happen? No. It was time to move on.
That thought, that resolution, firmly in my mind, I straightened and put the car in reverse. As I turned, pulling a U-turn, the headlight’s beams crossed over the stone cottage. My heart ached and I had to swallow around the huge lump that formed in my throat. Eli stood on the steps, hands shoved in his jean pockets, slightly hunched over.
I felt his gaze, the weight of it. Heavy, familiar and…so fucking sad.