Page 19 of Eight Dates

Font Size:  

He turned, attempting to storm off, but a hand caught his elbow, and he whirled around. His eyes narrowed in a glare as Chris quickly yanked his hand back.

“Sorry. Sorry,” Chris started. “I just wanted to say sorry.”

“Okay,” Ben said.

Chris stared at him expectantly. “And tell you that I never meant for it to happen. If I could go back, I would do everything differently.” He blinked at Ben again like he was waiting for something, and Ben let him wallow for a few more moments before speaking.

“I’m not going to forgive you,” he said after a heavy breath. “Because I don’t think you’re actually sorry.”

“I swear I am. I don’t…fuck. I don’t regret being with him.” Chris’s breath trembled on his exhale, letting out a puff of white steam. “I fell in love with him. But I didn’t—wedidn’t mean to hurt you.”

Ben couldn’t help a soft, bitter laugh. “Yes, you did. There was no way in hell the two of you decided to start fucking each other behind my back without meaning to hurt me.”

Chris scrubbed his hands over his face. “You don’t understand. You can’t understand. The way I feel about him—the way we feel about each other…”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop right now,” Ben told him. “I lied to have you transferred, Chris, but I will have you brought up in front of the ethics committee. I have plenty of evidence.”

Chris paled. “Is there seriously no way forward? You were my friend.”

Ben almost choked on his own tongue. “That’s fucking rich.” He took a step back, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “I expected this from Taylor, if you want full honesty. He was always a shitty boyfriend, and I’m a thousand percent sure you aren’t the first person he did this with.” Ben sighed and shook his head. “But I expected more from you. I thought you were a good person.”

“I’m trying to be,” Chris said in a very small voice.

At that, Ben laughed. The sound was cruel and mocking, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t have an ounce of forgiveness in his bones. “You’re not trying hard enough. To be frank, I’m glad to be rid of you both, and that’s the most I can offer you. If that’s not enough to ease your conscience, then I suggest therapy. Have a good night.” And with that, he turned on his heel and walked away.

Chris called out after him as he headed toward his car, but he was grateful Chris didn’t actually try to stop him this time. He sat behind the wheel as the engine started and the air began to warm, and he felt pulsing waves of anger.

How dare Chris do this. An apology was one thing, but to expect anything from it? The audacity almost made him start laughing again. He was counting down the days that Chris was finished with his degree and left campus. With any luck, his PhD program would take him to the other side of the country, and Taylor would tag along.

That way, Ben wouldn’t ever risk running into them ever again. The thought made him smile, but it was fragile and ready to crack. He put the car in drive and pulled out onto the main road, keeping his focus on not sliding all over through slush and ice as he made his way to Nova’s place.

Pulling into the parking lot, Ben found a spot close to the front doors and put his car in park, though he didn’t turn it off. Instead, he gripped the steering wheel and pressed his forehead to the cool leather.

He wasn’t sad. He was furious that the wounds that had just scabbed over now felt flayed and raw. Was this some sick game Chris and Taylor were playing?

Maybe they wanted to see Ben hurt. Maybe neither of them wanted to let Ben move on. He’d managed to go so long without seeing either of them, and the fact that Chris showed up now felt like the worst timing in the world. God, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if they decided it was time to toy with his emotions.

He’d have to quit his job. He’d have to move. He’d—

“Uh. Knock, knock?”

Ben startled so hard he hit his nose on the steering wheel and cried out, pinching it as he looked up. He blinked through foggy tears and saw Nova’s face peering at him with some concern.

“Tell me it’s not already a bad date,” Nova said.

Ben let out a watery laugh and swiped at his eyes after making sure his nose wasn’t bleeding. “Uh, no. Tonight is just the rest of my disaster life catching up with me.”

The car shook as Nova tried the handle, and then he tapped a nail on the window and offered a very soft, kind smile. “Let me in.”

Ben unlocked the door, and he winced when Nova opened it and a cold rush of air hit him in the face. He sat back, a little stunned when Nova reached over him, but it only took a second to realize he was unbuckling Ben’s seat belt.

“Come on. I have treats inside. I made Chanukah cookies.”

The only Chanukah cookies Ben had ever tried were hard, too-sweet sugar cookies from a recipe his mom had made once. But the fact that Nova had done even that was enough to send him spiraling. He was far too tender for that level of kindness, and his breath shook as he let Nova take his hand and tug him out of the car and to his feet.

He moved on autopilot, locking his car behind him and following Nova to the service entrance. The heavy door opened to a little side hall, and Ben was grateful to be led into Nova’s office again instead of into the noisy bar or the kitchen.

The silence felt almost like physical pressure when Nova shut the door, and Ben rubbed at his temples before taking the comfy chair when Nova shoved him at it.