Home > All Played Out (Rusk University #3)(10)

All Played Out (Rusk University #3)(10)
Author: Cora Carmack

Or if I want to examine exactly what he means by “like.”

I don’t get a chance to make a decision before both of us are distracted by a commotion behind us.

My team has just scored, but Mateo’s team doesn’t seem to be paying the slightest attention. The guy with blond, unruly hair, Ryan, is standing nose to nose with Keyon on my team. I can’t hear what’s being said, but the tension is plain as day in their body language. And though I can’t hear the guys, I can easily hear what Stella is yelling at Ryan’s back.

“Jesus, Ryan. Would you chill out? It was nothing!”

When that doesn’t work, she takes hold of his arm and tries to pull him away. He doesn’t budge. Until she screams, “You’re not my fucking boyfriend, okay? So BACK OFF!” Ryan stumbles back then, like her pull on his arm suddenly doubled in strength. He faces her, all tensed up, and she continues, “And I am not a porcelain doll. I don’t break easily, and I sure as hell will not be treated as if I already have.”

She turns around and storms off, and after a few seconds, Dallas, the redhead, jogs after her. Ryan stares off blankly, clenching and unclenching his hands as if she just barely slipped from his grasp and he hasn’t quite figured out how it happened. His expression is a mix of anxiety and alarm and pain, and for a moment it reminds me of the look on Torres’s face that he’d hidden so quickly after I accused him of being a puppet.

Sometimes I can be too brash in my observations. I don’t always think ahead to the emotions that could follow, and my heart does something akin to a shiver when I think of how I would feel if someone called me out on my own insecurities.

What if someone I barely knew looked into my eyes and said the very thing that I’d thought in my most unguarded moments, the thing that scares me most? What if someone could tell that the reason I concentrate so much on details and data is that they’re the only things that keep me from feeling inferior? I disregard emotions because they don’t come easily to me, because when other people talk about love or happiness, I feel only a cloying sense of confusion and fear that I’m not capable of those things. Not that I don’t experience happiness or love my family, but those are nurtured emotions that have grown slowly and steadily over time, and they exist at comfortable levels. But deeper than that? The kind of happiness that fills a person up? Or love that can overwhelm a person and rearrange the very essence of who they are? I don’t believe I have that kind of thing in me. It’s just not in my nature.

Which is why focusing on my career has always made the most sense. That’s something I understand. Something I’m good at.

But now even that feels off-kilter.

I turn then, intending to apologize, to admit that I’d judged him too harshly, but Torres is no longer behind me. I whip around and see that he’s slipped around the other side of the picnic table and is heading back to the field, where what’s left of his friends are gathered together talking.

Dylan is there too, Silas’s arm draped over her shoulder and holding her tight to his side. They all wear looks of concern as they talk, and I swallow, feeling as if the distance between us is much greater than the length of a table and a dozen yards of playing field.

I’m on the outside here. And what hurts more than the fact that no one seems to notice me as I turn and head for Dylan’s car is the fact that I’m comfortable on the outside. It’s what I know. It’s who I am.

Is that something that can be changed through will alone?

DYLAN DROPS ME off at home, but doesn’t come inside. She offers to, sure. She’s been looking at me funny ever since she found me waiting at her car alone, but I just told her I’d walked off to think. Which is the truth. Besides, she had plans to go over to Silas’s house, and I didn’t want to ruin that. I flip on the lamp beside the couch, leaving the overhead light off, and take a seat in my dim living room.

My roommate has been seeing Silas only since the start of the semester, and I can already acutely feel her absence. When she stays at his house, and I’m left alone in our two-bedroom apartment, I should be happy. The place is by no means big, and I should relish the extra space, the alone time.

Instead, the loneliness creeps into the shadowed corners, and I find myself turning on every light in the place just so that I don’t feel so alone.

This could be my future.

It’s not as if I can keep a roommate forever. When I’m thirty-five, I’ll be hard-pressed to find a friend to live with me just so I don’t have to come home to an empty house. But I suppose I’ll spend most of my time in a lab then anyway. I’m not afraid to be married to my job, or at least I didn’t used to be.

But this feeling is just a phase. It has to be. I will love the challenge of working in biomedical engineering. I’ll be on the cutting edge of medicine and technology. My time and focus could change innumerable lives. That will make up for any loneliness I might feel in the few short hours a day I’ll spend in my empty apartment. Better than getting myself into a relationship that will only be half real. No, I don’t want or need to have another person mucking up my life. There is too much I want to do, too much I want to accomplish. And though my relationship experience is limited to a few simple high school dates, I know enough to see that relationships take work. You can’t just consider your own needs anymore, and that weighs people down.

No. I’m happy as I am. Especially when it’s the only way I can be.

Despite those determined thoughts, I find myself pulling out the spiral where I’d jotted down my list a few days ago. I’d added a handful of things that had seemed obvious at the time.

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