Never Sweeter (Dark Obsession #1)(5)By: Charlotte Stein
“Oh, okay, yeah, my bad. But apart from that one tiny incident of book destruction—of books I might add that were not even yours.”
“Then there was the time the books were mine,” Letty continued. “Only you thought a fitting place for them was a toilet in the boys’ bathroom. Then when they wouldn’t flush you doused them in lighter fluid and set them alight.”
“I…damn it, all right. But that was years ago; you can’t hold something against me I did as a kid. But this is different—you could go back to your dorm and start bleeding out of your eyeballs. I have, like, a civic responsibility to make sure you don’t.”
“Are you serious with this shit? Who do you think I am, exactly—some kid fresh off the school bus? I know you, Tate. I know you better than your own mother probably does. I had to know you to survive high school. Do you get that?” She shook her head, surprised to find something like weary amusement in her voice. “Civic responsibility? Jesus, if you had even an ounce of anything like that in your whole meaty body you would have checked on me in the hospital last time.”
He started to answer, but something seemed to pull him up short. More than that, in fact. It robbed his features of all animation. It took his half smile and the pretend concern, and replaced it with an odd kind of closedness. Like his face was a book and someone had just slammed it shut.
“I really didn’t think you’d want me around last time.”
“But you think I want you around now? After you drop me on my ass?”
“Wait, what?” he said. “Now hold on a second, that is not what happened at all.”
“Please tell me you’re not going to try gaslighting me over a fucking head injury. You grabbed me and then let go right when you knew I would slam into the ground.”
“Jesus Christ, Letty I don’t even know what gaslight means. I’ve never known what it means. You say these things and I’ve no fucking clue what you’re talking about.”
Tate stopped there and took a breath in a way that seemed oddly familiar. Then she realized: it was like her glancing up at the ceiling to stop the tears, even though he didn’t appear tearful at all. She wasn’t sure Tate could cry, if she was being honest. So what was this? What exactly did he need to contain?
Anger, she thought—and it was true, his voice was softer when he started talking again.
But there was something else there, too. A kind of desperation that made her feel odd.
“And that is fine. That is really cool that you’re super smart and know about this shit,” Tate said. “Shit that I probably did do once without, like, being aware of it. But I swear to god I’m not doing it here. I swear to you that I just wanted to stop you falling, and then you looked scared as fuck and like you wanted to kill me and so I just backed off. I just backed off, that’s all.”
He drew a line under his words with his hands, firm and sure, and when he did that odd feeling tripled. It made her want to slide down the double doors and onto the floor, for reasons she couldn’t grasp. It had to be her not-that-serious-injury, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like something else. Like she believed him.
And she couldn’t allow that.
“Then keep doing it. Back all the way off until we can barely see each other. You understand me, Tate? If you really are concerned, just leave me alone.”
It took a full three days to accept that Tate had listened. Three days of peering around corners before going in that direction. Three days of anxious messages from her dad, asking her ridiculous things like did she want him to call the police? Three days of wondering if she should call the police, even though there was nothing to tell them. He wasn’t doing any of the old bullshit he used to do—or at least none that warranted her dad getting as upset as he had the last time. She could almost see the four worry lines across his forehead in every text; the way he’d seemed to age overnight.
She didn’t want him to get any older.
So she messaged back that everything was fine, and only afterward realized that it was. Tate was just never anywhere, not even in places he was supposed to be. She braced herself for Harrison’s next class, but had no need to. When she dared to look in that direction, someone else sat in his seat. And a cursory glance around told her that he had not simply chosen another one. There were no six-foot-five-inch guys in the lecture hall, busy being too massive for their chairs.