Emma Doherty grew up in Yorkshire, England. She attended Northumbria University and now lives in London, United Kingdom.
We enter the frat house together, and although Ryan tries to hold on to my hand, he’s immediately swept up by people greeting him, slapping him on the back, and wanting to talk to him. He looks back at me apologetically, but I just smile back and wave a hand, letting him know it’s fine. I’m used to people wanting Ryan’s attention; he’s always been crazy popular, and this is his domain, his college, where he’s the football star. Of course he’s going to attract attention.
I step farther into the party, into a huge side room where people are already dancing over by the windows on a makeshift dance floor. My eyes dart past all the people dancing, laughing, and holding red cups and shot glasses as I try to find who I’m looking for. I can’t help but smile when I spot him. Jake stands over by the wall, chatting with a guy I don’t recognize. He looks pretty animated and is throwing his arms about, gesticulating dramatically for effect. I start to walk over to him, but someone else gets to him first. A petite blonde girl steps in front of me, pulls his face down to hers, and starts sucking at his mouth. I pull up short and can’t help the smirk that crosses my face. Wow, making out is actually gross from this close up. She looks like she’s trying to taste what he had for dinner. I wait for them to finish, but when they show no sign of stopping, I clear my throat loudly. They break away at the interruption, and when Jake spots me, a huge grin breaks out on his face. He quickly steps forward and grabs me in a tight hug, picking me up off the ground. Someone has definitely had a few drinks tonight.
“Was wondering when you’d show up!” he tells me, tousling my hair as I scowl in irritation—well, mock irritation. It’s impossible for me to stay mad at Jake for long.
“Um, Jake!” his make-out partner snaps, clearly annoyed I’ve distracted him.
“Heather, Becca. Becca, Heather,” Jake introduces us, waving a hand between us.
She eyes me suspiciously, and I raise an eyebrow at her. “How do you know each other?”
Ah, she thinks there’s something between us. I nearly snort out loud at the mere thought of it.
“Becca’s an old friend from way back. From grade school,” he tells her.
That doesn’t seem to appease her. “What are you doing here?”
“Who?” She glances at Jake questioningly.
I can’t resist. “My boyfriend,” I tell her, flicking my eyes over to Jake and wrapping my arms around his waist.
Her eyes widen in fury before Jake is pushing me away from him and rolling his eyes.
“Ryan,” Jake clarifies. He turns to me, and he can’t hide his smirk of amusement. “You are such a shit, McKenzie.”
We both turn back to her. Her eyes have widened in surprise, but she’s no longer staring at me with hostility.
I frown. Surely if she’s dating Jake, she’d know who Ryan is—they’re practically inseparable.
“Jackson,” I clarify. “Do you know him?”
“Know him?” she practically squeals, her face lighting up with excitement. “Everyone knows Ryan! Oh my God, you’re really Ryan’s girlfriend?” Her demeanor has completely changed.
“I take full credit for getting them together,” Jake informs her, which earns him an eye roll from me.
“Oh my God! It’s so nice to meet you,” she tells me, stepping toward me and apparently completely forgetting that she hated me a minute ago. “I’ve wanted to meet you for so long. Everyone’s dying to know who’s managed to catch Ryan and keep him so hooked.”
I take a step back from her, flashing a questioning look at Jake. He looks at Heather uneasily. This is weird. I mean, seriously? She makes it sound like I’m some mystical creature who is never around and doesn’t really exist. I visit as much as I can, but when I’m here, Ryan and I would rather spend the time together, just the two of us. So, it is pretty rare that I come to a party with him, but I am around, and I know most of his close circle here. And ‘keep him so hooked’? As if we’re not just a normal couple who love each other and are happy together? Why does she care so much about my damn business?
“You are so lucky! Seriously, Ryan is so into you. Like, he could get with anyone, and girls are always hitting on him. Like, seriously hot girls who would do anything, and he doesn’t even care!” I cock an eyebrow at her. Is this supposed to be reassuring? “I mean, seriously, girls will do anything to just talk to him, but he doesn’t even care. He loves you so much. And you are way prettier than Kelly said you were!” Okay, this does annoy me. “Like, you’re actually really, really pretty,” she continues.
Jake clears his throat awkwardly while I try not to glare. “Okay, I think maybe we should get you some water,” he tells Heather and steers her away, smiling apologetically at me. “Ignore her,” he mouths over his shoulder at me, but I’m pissed off now. Why is some random girl I’ve never even met so interested in my relationship?
I turn to try to spot Ryan, and I swear my blood stars boiling instantly, because sure enough, there she is—Kelly Taylor, creeping up on Ryan.
Kelly Taylor has been hanging around Ryan since he first got to Cal State and they were in the same dorms. She’s a major football groupie who’s hooked up with over half the team, but it’s Ryan she’s been intent on since the start—he’s the prize in her eyes. I’m sure she’s convinced she’s perfect for him or some other nonsense. Every time I see her, I want to slap her smug face. It’s annoying that she’s actually really good-looking, and God, does she know it. She’s delusional if she thinks I can’t see through the fake smiles she gives me whenever I visit. She wants Ryan badly, and I’m pretty sure she’s made that clear to him. I trust Ryan completely, but I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. She’s forever tagging him in pictures on Facebook and Instagram. Usually she’s draped all over him, pouting like a Kardashian, and while he’s never touching her or doing anything to raise suspicion, it still pisses me off.
Oh my God! She actually reaches out and strokes his arm before Ryan awkwardly pulls it away. It’s as though she can feel my eyes on her, because she turns and spots me watching them, my arms crossed over my chest. She frowns at me, obviously unaware that I was here, and then nods slightly, says something to Ryan, and walks away. Ryan turns to me and looks confused while I glare, then he smirks at me, probably happy that I’m jealous. He strolls over to me and stops just in front of me with a cocky smile playing on his lips.
I glare back at him. “Having fun over there?”
A low chuckle leaves his mouth and his eyes gleam. “You’re jealous.”
“I’m not jealous!” I snap in annoyance.
His grin gets bigger. “Yes you are.”
“No, I’m not, and if I were jealous, it certainly wouldn’t be of Kelly Taylor,” I say with disdain.
A pleased smile crosses his face. I roll my eyes and tell him I’m going to get a drink, turning to walk away from him, but he reaches out and tugs me back against him. His arm wraps around my waist, and his mouth finds my ear. “I love that you’re jealous,” he whispers.
And I know that he does. I know sometimes he feels like he’s more into this relationship than I am, which is absolutely not the case, but I think it boosts his ego when he sees me jealous.
I shrug away from him and attempt to walk off, but he just starts laughing and tugs me around so I’m facing him. He reaches down to my waist and picks me up, hauling me over his shoulder so my ass is in the air.
I’m mortified. “Put me down now!” I demand, grateful that I’m wearing my usual jeans and not a skirt.
He laughs in return and starts making his way through the room. “Make way!” he calls. “My hot-as-fuck girlfriend is in town, and we need to sit down.” I try to struggle free, but he just slaps my ass, and I can’t help but laugh.
He stops over by a couple of sofas that are pushed together and repositions me so that when he sits down, I find myself in his lap with my back against his chest. I try to straighten my hair, feeling completely flustered, and then I turn and shove him. He simply grins at me wildly.
“Idiot,” I mutter, smiling at him. I go to move off his knee, but his arms clamp around me, pulling me tighter against his chest, and I know he won’t let me leave. I don’t really care; this is the best seat in the house, and I love being this close to him.
A low chuckle across from me turns my attention back to my surroundings, and I realize Ryan has sat us down next to Jason, Dean, and Marty (who might just be the nicest guy in the world); they’re Ryan’s teammates and they all live together, along with Jake. “Should have known you were in town, Becca.” Dean winks at me. “He hasn’t answered any of my texts since Thursday.”
Jason starts to laugh. “Dude, he’s been walking around with his head in the clouds all week, you should have known he was about to get laid.” I scowl at him, and Ryan reaches out and slaps him across the head, making them all laugh harder. I roll my eyes at them and look away. Of course they know Ryan and I have sex, but they don’t need to broadcast it to the entire party.
I look over and see Kelly scowling from her place in the corner. She’s standing with a few other girls who are also looking at me in disdain. Her eyes lock with mine, and I know this is driving her crazy. She wants Ryan so badly; she’s not even bothering to hide it anymore. The last couple of times I’ve been here, I’ve noticed it more and more. I’m almost tempted to plant one on Ryan right now, just to piss her off, but I think better of it. I don’t have to prove myself to her. In fact, girls like her make me sick. The thing about Ryan and his teammates is, they are big deals on this campus, however crazy that might seem. They are at the top of their game in college football. If they make it to the NFL, they’ll have more money than they could possibly imagine, and there are certain girls in colleges all across the country (mine included) that see this as a huge selling point. That, combined with the fact that most of the guys on the team are friendly, funny, and good-looking, means they get some serious female attention. These girls want them badly and will do almost anything to get them. Given the fact that Ryan is also drop-dead gorgeous and probably one of the most charismatic guys I’ve ever met, it’s easy to see why I don’t like Kelly Taylor and the other girls that are lining up to take my place.
“Becca?” I turn and see Hayley Walsh smiling at me. “I didn’t know you were in town this weekend.”
I return her smile as she sits down on one of the sofas. Her boyfriend, Max, stands behind her and nods at Jake when he too wanders over.
Hayley is the only other serious girlfriend that I know on the football team. She followed Max to Cal State, and they live together now. Although a bit excitable and preppy, she’s actually a sweet girl I’ve come to really like. She always makes me feel welcome whenever I visit. I know Ryan’s teammates found it crazy when they first heard that Ryan and I were together despite living so far apart, and I know they initially encouraged him to live the single-college-guy party lifestyle, but they soon understood we were unbreakable. Now, they just treat me as one of their own.
“How are you?” I ask. “Enjoying your last year at college?”
Hayley beams at me. “Yeah! Graduation will be here before we know it.”
I grin. “Scary times.”
“Nah, it’s exciting. Just annoying that we can’t make plans until we know where we’ll be next year.”
“You don’t know?” I ask, surprised. I know I have no clue about what I want to do after graduation, but I’m hoping that in a year’s time, I’ll at least have considered some options.
“Of course not. I’m hoping for the West Coast, but it really depends on Max,” she says, gesturing behind her.
I raise my eyebrows in confusion.
“You know, where he gets drafted, where he’ll be based?” she continues.
“You’re going with him?” Now I get it—she can’t make plans until she knows where he’ll be. “Wow, I didn’t realize,” I continue, smiling at them both while she looks at me like I’m crazy. I feel Ryan stiffen around me.
“Yes, I’m going with him,” she tells me, a frown on her face, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“But what if you guys end up in the middle of nowhere? What will you do for work?”
“Well, I don’t know yet.” She laughs at the expression on my face.
“You don’t know yet?” Isn’t the whole point of college to study hard and then get a job in your area of interest?
“No, I’ll figure something out.”
“Wow.” I’m impressed. Hayley’s told me before how much she loves living in California, so I’m amazed she’d willingly move somewhere she knows nothing about. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I don’t know why you’re surprised about this. I want to go, to support him,” she says, awkwardly glancing behind me at Ryan.
“But,” I continue, trying not to make Max feel uncomfortable even though I do think this is crazy. “Don’t you think—”
She cuts me off. “I’ll do whatever. Work wherever. I probably won’t even have to work, and we might start a family in the next few years.”
Wow. This is news to me, although she’s right—it probably shouldn’t be. It just seems crazy to me that you would put your own life and plans on hold to follow your boyfriend to the middle of nowhere and just be there waiting for him when he comes home. What about her hopes and dreams? And a baby, already? She’s only twenty-one, twenty-two at the very oldest.
“Unbelievable,” Ryan mutters behind me. I turn to look at him, but he grabs me by the hips, shoves me to the side, and stalks toward the kitchen, leaving me behind.
I look around in surprise. His friends are either looking awkwardly away or looking at me like I’m stupid. “What?” I ask. I turn to Jake. “What did I do?”
He rolls his eyes at me in frustration. “Use your brain, Becca.” When I just stare back at him blankly, he gestures after Ryan. “Well, follow him then.”
I send Hayley one last confused glance and follow after Ryan. I catch up with him in the kitchen and see that he’s grabbed a beer. When I reach out to grab his hand, he turns to me, and his face is thunderous.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Becca?” he demands, his voice low and angry. He looks furious. “It hadn’t even occurred to you that we might have to live somewhere completely random if I get drafted?”
Um, no. I hadn’t thought about it all.
“Have you even thought about where you’ll live and what you’ll do after you finish college?”
“Well, no. Not really. You know I want to be on the East Coast.” My roommate is from New York, and after hearing her talk about it over the last couple of years, I’ve been desperate to move there after college.
“But what if that’s not where I’m playing?”
“Well, it’s not an issue yet, so there’s no point in worrying about it, right?”
His eyes narrow, searching my eyes. I look away awkwardly.
“Jesus Becca, you haven’t even thought about what we’ll do after we graduate?” I stare back at him, openmouthed. “Has it even entered your brain that I might want you to move with me?”
Oh crap. “Yes.”
“Don’t lie to me,” he snaps. He knows me too well. “For fuck’s sake, what is the point of all this then? You won’t transfer to be with me now. You’re not even thinking about us being together when we graduate. What the fuck is the point of this long-distance crap if there’s not even going to be an end to it?”
My jaw falls open in disbelief, and he turns and walks away in annoyance. I watch him stalk out of the kitchen for a few seconds before my brain kicks in and I hurry after him, reaching out and grabbing his arm. “Wait,” I say quietly.
He sighs but reluctantly turns to face me. I tug on his hand and pull him out into the hallway, aware that we’ve garnered a few curious looks now that we’re back in the huge living room. The last thing I want is his friends witnessing this fight, and I definitely don’t want Kelly Taylor to see it. He allows me to pull him into a dark corner where we have some privacy.
“What the hell was that?” I demand, my own voice sharp with anger. “If you don’t want to be with me Ryan, just tell me.”
His jaw clenches, and I can practically feel the anger radiating off him in waves.
“You think I don’t want to be with you?” he demands. “Becca, all I want is to be with you. I hate this long-distance shit. I thought I’d get used to it, but all I want is to see you. Every single day. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, but I have to stay here and play football, and then you tell me that when this is all over, when neither of us are tied to a college anymore and we can both be together, you haven’t even thought about moving to be with me?”
Oh shit. He’s right. A wave of guilt floods me as I realize how this must look. Ryan always considers me in every decision he makes, and I don’t always remember to consider him. Like when I decided to go to Southern U after he’d already accepted his scholarship. My right hand reaches out to his left, and I lace my fingers through his.
“I’m sorry, okay? I wasn’t thinking. That was stupid.”
He sighs and looks past me, but I can tell I’ve placated him slightly. I tug on his hand, pulling his attention back to me.
“You’re right. Long-distance is shit, but we make it work because we’re us. We’re Becca and Ryan, and we’re always going to be together. Nothing is ever going to change that.”
He still doesn’t look at me, but his body has started to relax ever so slightly.
“It’s you and me, Ryan. Always will be.” I tug on his hand again, and he finally looks down at me. “When it comes to leaving college and you getting drafted, we’ll make it work, right? Everything will work out just fine,” I tell him.
He gives me a reluctant nod, and I smirk back up at him. “I love you, Jackson,” I tell him—and I do. I love Ryan Jackson more than I ever thought possible. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best person in the world, and I still get butterflies when I see him. Sometimes, I just need my brain to engage a little more so I realize how things might look from his perspective.
His eyes soften. “I love you too, McKenzie.” I know he means it; he knew it before I did.
I stand on my tiptoes and press my lips to his. He responds, pulling me into him. I deepen the kiss, putting everything I have into it, trying to prove to him how much I feel for him, how much I love him. He kisses me right back, and suddenly I’m backed up against the wall with Ryan’s hands roaming all over me. I pull away, breathless, and he’s smirking down at me, blatant lust in his eyes. I’m pretty sure they reflect the look in my own.
“Wanna get out of here?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.
He gives me a look that makes my stomach flip and takes my hand, pulling me out of our private corner. He strides ahead, cutting through the large front room. We pass his friends by the sofas, but Ryan doesn’t even slow down, just shouts “We’re out!” over his shoulder at them. I catch them smirking at us, clearly realizing we’ve made up. Kelly and her friends scowl at me as Ryan pulls me into the backyard and then onto a back road. We get back to his room in record time, and all arguments are completely forgotten.