I charge at Jack again, but a dozen hands pull me back. He slinks away toward the food table.
“Come on.” Kayla pulls at my arm. “Let’s go home. We’ll sort this mess out later when everyone is sober and your cheek is taken care of.” She throws a dark glance toward Jack’s back. “Who knows? You might have rabies or something.”
Rachel nods briskly. “Good idea. You two go on and you”—she nods toward the student—“you come with me.”
Kayla marches out of the party room with her head high and her shoulders straight, totally unconcerned about her future, but once we reach the elevator and are out of sight of the rest of the staff, she wilts like a flower without enough water. Her head bows, and her snowflakes twinkle sadly under the bright fluorescent lights.
“Knew we should’ve gotten rid of the breakroom,” I mutter as I jab the elevator button. “You’re going to be fine, Kayla. I’ve got a lot of contacts around the country. There are plenty of other science departments.”
“That’s nice,” she replies, but her tone says she’s miserable.
I rub the back of my neck and try to think of something else to comfort her with. “I can pay Jack off. I have plenty of money. My patents earn several million—”
“It’s not about the money,” she cries. The doors to the elevator slide open, and she jumps inside, furiously pressing the parking button.
Caught off guard, I nearly let the doors close before I come to my senses and slam a hand against the edge of one of them. I push the heavy doors aside and climb on board.
“Were you trying to get away from me?” I growl, backing her into the corner.
“Yeah, I was. After all, isn’t that what you want?” She puts her chin up. “Talking about sending me away to another department.”
“You don’t want to continue to work?” I’m full of confusion now, anger at her trying to escape warring with puzzlement over her not wanting to leave this hellhole.
“Of course I want to work. Leaving here in the middle of my studies is not great for my resume or my future.” Something glittery flashes in her eyes before she turns her head to the side.
“Yeah, I get that.” Changing in midstream can mean a setback of a year or more. “Which is why you should let me use my contacts to find a new place for you. Joy Patterson has a great program in Seattle at Washington U. They’re doing some breakthrough work with vertical farming and solar energy. You’d be a great fit there.” Patterson has been begging me to come work with her, but Dean Campbell has basically let me do whatever I wanted so leaving this place wasn’t appealing. Or, I should say, it wasn’t appealing before. But now that Kayla’s career and reputation are in jeopardy, it’s a good time to move on. I pull out my phone. “Let me give her a call right now.”
“No!” Kayla swipes the phone from my hand. “I can find my own damn TA position. I don’t need your help. I’d rather die—”
Her voice cuts off abruptly when the elevator screeches, and the interior is plunged into immediate darkness. “Oh no,” she moans. “Not now.”
My throat contractsas I fight for air. Why did this have to happen now? I was already in the middle of a small internal panic attack and now this. Before I can try and do anything, I’m lifted off my feet and into Nathan’s arms. I bury my face in his neck, breathing him in. A sense of calm comes over me. As hurt as I am by him, my body seeks his comfort.
“It’s fine.” His tone is gentle as though he’s talking to a scared kitten.
“It’s never fine when people say it’s fine,” I say into his neck.
“You’re right. It's better than fine when I have you in my arms.” Some of the tension leaves my body hearing his sweet words.
“You can be really sweet sometimes.”
“And the other times?”
“Confusing?” I say that about him, but I feel as if I’m the same way these days. It’s strange how at times I feel like I’m really close to Nathan and others I’m not sure who he is.
“I understand this. I too find myself confusing when it comes to you. This is all new to me. I’m never sure of what you want. Unless we’re naked in bed.” I let out a small laugh. We didn’t need words in bed. Everything was so much easier at the cabin. I want to go back.
“What is new to you?” I ask, knowing I need clarity about all this before I drive myself insane.
“Having a relationship.”
“But we’re not. We were only supposed to have our time in the cabin. That was the deal,” I remind him.