Chapter 8 - Part 2

She took a breath and released it before finding the courage to approach them.

 

“There you are,” Hannah exclaimed when she came to a stop beside her. “We were just wondering where you were.”

 

“I got a little lost,” she mumbled. 

 

“Look who I found.” Hannah’s hand touched Karsyn’s arm.

 

“Karsyn,” she greeted, trying to hide the underlying feelings she had for him.

 

“Jess.”

 

Warmth pooled in her stomach, and she found herself wondering if it was the alcohol or the sound of his voice. She wanted to close her eyes and hold on to the sound like it could take her back to a time where only he had mattered.

 

He was still staring at her, which was making her feel more self-conscious. She wished he wouldn’t do that. She got her drink from the table and took a gulp. Then, to her dismay, her friend excused herself to go to the bathroom and left her standing alone with her ex. 

 

“How have you been?” Karsyn asked. He wore jeans and a white top, which made his tanned skin more prominent. It made her knees weak. He’d always had that effect on her and it was no different now. 

 

“Good.”

 

“Hannah told me about you and Charlie.” His gaze trailed to her mouth.

 

She didn’t really want to talk about Charlie.

 

“It is what it is.” She didn’t want to go into the details of why it had happened. 

 

“I would be lying if I didn’t admit I’m glad.” His eyes found hers again.

 

She studied him. “What does it matter?”

 

He shrugged. “It does.”

 

She frowned. Was there still some hope he still cared?

 

“I didn’t think you cared,” she ventured before taking a sip of her drink.

 

“Jess.” There was a warning in his voice. “I never stopped.”

 

Her eyes shot to his.

 

“Then why?” Talking about it brought back all the pain tied to it.

 

He ran a hand through his hair before letting out an emotional breath. “It was my fault. I was filled with so much pain that there wasn’t room for anything else.”

 

Her throat tightened at the rawness of the emotion in his voice.

 

“I couldn’t pull myself through it and be the guy you needed me to be.”

 

“All I wanted was you,” she breathed, feeling her throat burn as she felt a well of emotion. “Just you.”

 

She had fought so hard to hold on to what they had shared, but with the grief and guilt… It had shattered all that had been left. As much as she wanted to blame him, she knew if they had stayed together the guilt of Dylan’s death would have torn them apart. 

 

Even now, she knew there would be no way to be with him without him knowing the full truth. The only way she could live now was for everything to be out in the open, and she would have to deal with the repercussions, no matter how much it hurt.

 

“I want to tell you that I can be that guy again, but I don’t think I can be.” He sighed. 

 

It felt like her heart plummeted from her chest to the floor, and she felt the impact vibrate through her. Heartbreak.

 

“What if I don’t want that guy anymore?” she whispered hopefully, trying to hang on to something, not wanting the end to be final. Maybe if they were both different, they might have a chance of making it a second time. But her mind reminded her of the reason it would never work between them again: Dylan. Her heart ached for an entirely different reason than it had just moments ago.

 

“I don’t know.” It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, but at least it was honest. It wasn’t the end, but it wasn’t a beginning.

 

As if on cue, Hannah returned. She dropped her gaze to school her features, and she felt the heat of Karsyn’s own gaze. 

 

“Did you guys catch up?” Hannah looked between them, picking up on the undercurrent of something.

 

“We did,” Karsyn said, giving nothing away. There was no way to know what he was thinking. 

 

Hands wrapped around her waist, taking her by surprise. She spun around to see the smiling face of Karsyn’s friend, Robert.

 

“Rob,” she gasped in surprise, putting her hands to his arms to steady herself.

 

“Jess.” His smile was warm, and she put her arms around to hug him close.

 

It had been so long since she had seen him, which had been at Mr. Shaw’s funeral. He still looked the same. Warm eyes and a smile that put her at ease in an instant.

 

“I’ve missed you.” She hugged him tighter.

 

“Same, pretty girl.” Her heart warmed at the affectionate nickname he used for her.

 

When he released her, he looked around at Hannah and Karsyn. “Where’s Charlie?”

 

“We broke up,” she admitted.

 

Robert’s loyalty to Karsyn had ensured that when things with Charlie had gone south, his friendship with him had ended as well. It was another thing she felt guilty about. If she had been strong enough, this could have been avoided and she wouldn’t have broken their friendship.

 

“It’s good to see you.” He squeezed her arm gently before nodding in Hannah’s direction and murmuring a greeting. 

 

“You’re always late,” Karsyn complained when his friend stopped at his side.

 

“I thought you would have the girls lined up already.” As nice as Robert was, he was a man-whore, never with the same girl for too long.

 

She didn’t want to think of Karsyn with someone else even if it was inevitable.

 

“And all I found were these two.” Karsyn was watching her with in intensity that was difficult to ignore. Robert gave Hannah a knowing look and they left to get some more drinks.

 

“Not sure this is the best idea to be left alone with you,” she admitted slowly, knowing the alcohol was making her more free with her innermost thoughts.

 

“It isn’t.” He moved closer and she felt his presence overpower everything else. She lifted her eyes up to his. 

 

“What do you want?” she whispered as he took her drink from her hands and set it down on the table.

 

“A dance.” He held his hand out to her.

 

She was playing with fire, but instead of being fearful, she found herself wanting to burn. She placed her hand in his, and as his hand wrapped around hers, he pulled her to the dance floor.

 

It was so easy to fall back into what she knew. The feel of his arms around her, the way her body gravitated to his, the way her skin tingled when he touched her. She wanted it more than anything.

 

Even with the bodies around them dancing to the music, it felt it was only the two of them. Being with him gave her a sense of peace that made it easier to let go of everything, even if it was only temporary. She moved her hips in time with the beat of the music. She didn’t know if it was the crowd surrounding them, pushing them closer, or if they were gravitating closer together themselves, but Karsyn’s hands settled on her hips and she moved closer. She raised her eyes and when they locked, the heat between them skyrocketed.

 

It would be the most natural thing to slide her arms up around his neck and pull his mouth to hers, to feel his mouth devour hers, but she didn’t. She stopped herself.

 

“What are we doing?” she asked.

 

His hands tightened their hold on her hips. “I don’t know.”

 

His eyes moved to her lips. Kiss me, she thought.

 

He drew her closer, and her hands moved to rest against his chest. She breathed him in, the scent of him giving her a sense of something familiar, something safe. 

 

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered, revealing something she hadn’t admitted to anyone.

 

“I…” He didn’t finish the sentence. His eyes held hers and she could sense something had changed. It was subtle but unmistakable.

 

“I never stopped loving you.” She bit her lip, waiting to see if that would stop him from withdrawing from her emotionally, but it seemed to have the opposite effect when he released her to run a hand through his hair. 

 

“I don’t know… I don’t know if I can do this.”

 

It felt like a physical blow, but she did her best to weather it with as much dignity as she could muster. At least she had been true to her feelings for him, even if admitting them to him had made no difference at all. She was living her life true to her feelings, and that gave her a sense of triumph in the face of defeat.

 

“That isn’t what I want to hear.” She sighed, feeling her heart ache for what she longed. “But I’m a big girl.”

 

He reached out and brushed her mouth with his thumb. She wanted to give in to the longing of his touch, but she couldn’t. With a step back, she put space between them.

 

“I’ve got to go.” She inclined her head in the direction where Hannah would be waiting for her.

 

“Take care of yourself,” he murmured before she nodded stiffly and left him on the dance floor. Every step she took made her feel shakier inside. She had believed there might have been a chance at a reconciliation, but her last safety net was well and truly gone. She was in unchartered territory, and it scared her.