Before I know it, we’re in the parking lot and at my car. She gets in the driver’s seat and cranks it up as I get in.
With a squeal, she pulls out of the student parking lot and heads to our house.
“What about the party?” I ask, my mind blank. “We didn’t finish…” My words choke off, and I hitch in a breath, one I think I was holding since the moment we walked out of the library.
Tears stream down my face, and I reach up and touch them.
Charisma grinds her teeth next to me, her eyes darting over my way before looking back at the road. “I’m going to kill that sonofabitch. Where is he right now?”
My mouth feels like cotton, but I push through it to get the words out. “He went to Maverick’s place tonight. It was his sister’s birthday. He asked me to go…but I wanted to wrap up the party stuff.” I sound like a robot.
I heard the ring of truth in his voice when Archer said it. I clutch my stomach. The nausea that was bubbling in the library is imminent. “I’m going to be sick.”
She jerks the car over, and I jump out and hurl, my body spasming. There’s nothing there except a soda I had earlier.
She rubs my back. “I’m so sorry. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t heard a word anywhere about this—even from Blaze. You know I would have told you.”
“Do you think it’s true?” I say.
She chews her lip. “I know I’m not great with advice, but in this case, you need to talk to Ryker. Get the story from him, not some loser football player who creepily hit on you once.”
I feel fresh tears prick my eyes, and I stuff them down, determined not to let them win. “Those bets mean something to them.” I use a stash of napkins from the glove compartment to wipe my face. “And if it’s some kind of misunderstanding, why didn’t he tell me about it?”
She shakes her head. “Do you care about him?”
I nod and bite my lip. “I never should have trusted him. He’s ruined…everything.”
“I don’t want to go home,” I say to Charisma as we get closer to the house. My chest aches at the thought. It’s where he and I hang out. Make love.
She shifts her eyes toward me. “You wanna go find Ryker and kick him in the nuts?”
I clench my hands. “No. I-I can’t talk to him yet.”
She sighs and bangs her hand on the steering wheel. “I really want to punch him.”
“It might make you feel better?” She sends me a wry grin.
She does a U-turn at the next intersection, tires squealing.
“What are you doing?” I say, hanging on to the side of the car.
“We’re going to Cadillac’s. I can’t handle you being all quiet and monosyllabic.”
“I can’t face people,” I say, hands fluttering.
“You can. People adore you, Pen. Adore. You’re kind and sweet, and you didn’t do anything wrong. He’s the one who needs his dick cut off for spouting off about you at practice. Come on, let’s go and just have a drink. I won’t ask you to shoot pool.” She grins, and I know she’s just trying to make me feel better.
Because her comment just brings back memories of Ryker showing me how to play.
“I guess I don’t really have a choice,” I say on a small half-laugh, half-groan noise when she pulls into the packed parking lot.
She tugs a makeup bag out of her purse and gets to work on me. She helps me remove the dark mascara under my eyes and repair my red lipstick. I let my hair out of the messy bun and fluff it up, checking it in the visor mirror. I straighten my Word Nerd shirt and skinny jeans.
I frown. “I’m really not in the mood for this.”
“Just come inside for ten minutes. You need to decompress, and this is the perfect place.”
I don’t tell her I don’t need to decompress. I need to process. But when she gets something in her head, she’s a dog with a bone, so I sigh and nod.
“You’re gorgeous,” she says. “Let’s get you some tequila.”
We walk into Cadillac’s, and thank God, there isn’t a football player in sight. We aim for the bar in the back, both of us settling on stools.
I’ve just slung back my shot when a text pops up on my phone.
Penelope. I can explain.
At first, I’m not going to reply, but I can’t help myself. Is it true? My palms are clammy as I grip my phone.
Another pops up. Let me tell you why. Please.
My jaw flexes, and I suck in a breath.
“Don’t respond,” Charisma says, reading over my shoulder. “Let him worry.”
Another text comes in after a few minutes. Where are you? Blaze said you left the library to go home. I’m here, and you aren’t.
My lips tighten, and I turn my phone over so I don’t see his texts.
Margo walks in and makes a beeline for us. Charisma texted her earlier and told her we were moving the meeting to Cadillac’s. She’s looking a little harried if her fast stride is anything to go by as she maneuvers her way through the crowd, clutching the navy cardigan around her neck and smiling tightly at the people she passes.
Some of them give her a surprised look.
Winding around the masses of co-eds, she finally reaches us, her pale pink lips tight. “This is where you want to have a meeting? This place reeks of stale beer and body odor.” Her nose sniffs.
And it’s so Margo…that I have to flash a small smile. At least she hasn’t changed.
“Get down off your high horse, MP. We had a crisis at the library. And have you seriously never been inside Cadillac’s? WTF is wrong with you?” Charisma says.
“Madam President,” I say, deciphering Charisma’s acronym.
She frowns. “And what crisis?”
I recount the incident, my tone cool. Hard. I’m holding it all in right now. Barely functioning in a tequila-fueled haze.
“Holy shit.” A frown burrows in her forehead. “That type of bet doesn’t sound like Ryker. I mean, everyone knows they do them, but they’re usually harmless, stupid pranks.” She gets a steely look in her gaze. “And you heard this from Archer? He’s a first-class dickhead.”
“The Chi Omega MP just said dickhead,” Charisma calls out to the randoms surrounding us. “Everyone drink!”
“Here, here,” comes from several patrons and they eagerly comply.
She signals the bartender. “Garçon, bring me a glass of wine for the lady, please.” She looks over at Margo. “What kind, MP?”
“Champagne?” she answers. “Do they serve that here?”
I nod. “It’s terrible, but it’s my fav.”
She looks down at my shot glass.
“For the pain.”
She bites her lip and leans in. “Are you sure all of this is true?”
“He texted me and didn’t deny it.” A horrible thought hits me. “What if this is all over social media?” I recall the video from Sugar’s that was supposedly deleted.
Charisma gets the champagne from the bartender and hands it over to Margo then pulls out her phone, her lips set. “I’m on it. I’ll text Blaze and get the deets. He’s got some explaining to do. I’m never going down on him again.”