“Oh Tiergan,” she breathes as she pulls away from me. Her hand jumps to her mouth. “What have you done?”
I had expected her to be angry with me. But it’s not anger in her eyes, in her voice. Anger I could handle. It’s disappointment. Deep, wounded disappointment. In me.
Keaira had looked at me the exact same way.
I turn away from it. “I did what I had to do,” I reply to a bright line between two wall boards. “And I’m not apologizing for it, either.”
My back is cold where her arm had been. I pull my legs up and wrap my arms around them. To hold in the warmth.
“You’re an idiot, Tiergan,” she says. Her voice is soft. A steel gauntlet in a velvet glove. I study my feet.
“What did you do? Tell her you didn’t want to see her again? No—no, that’s not it—you wouldn’t have needed to avoid me for weeks for that.” She pauses, then inhales sharply. The sound of a light going on. “You pretended you didn’t have feelings for her any more, didn’t you? So she’d break it off. So you wouldn’t have to. That’s it, isn’t it.”
I really am transparent to her. Most days, it’s one of the things I like about her.
She kicks my hip and I look up. Anger bubbles up, but I let it pass, unheeded.
“Is, that, it?” she demands.
I meet her eyes. I try to stay impassive, but some of the hurt gets through. Her expression softens, just a bit.
I nod, and break contact.
“Tiergan!” she cries, and moves in close. She lifts my head with her hand. “Why would you do that? You love her!”
I smile sadly, and try to avoid her eyes. “Because it’s not enough, Tara,” I say with a shrug. “Her parents are insisting on a First, and we both know I’m never going to be that. They’re old school. She won’t be welcome home again if she disobeys them. And that’s the best case scenario.”
I shouldn’t say the rest.
But it won’t stay in. “I thought maybe we could make it work, anyway, so I asked Faolan if she could Pair with me.”
My eyes start to burn.
“And that’s when he told me he wanted her for himself.”
The anger rises again. Much stronger this time. I dig my nails into my palms, and struggle to hold it. “He says it’s because we need an alliance with her family. And we do . . . . Things are getting really precarious with Rian.”
I can feel it getting ahead of me, slipping from my grasp. I look straight ahead and squeeze harder. “But I’ve seen the way he looks at her, Tara. And I hate him for it.”
She grabs my hand and pulls at my fingers. “Tiergan! Stop!”
I know what she’s reacting to. I can smell the blood. I can feel it starting to run down my leg.
And I like it.
“Can you believe he actually acted like he was doing me a favour?”
I jerk my hand out of hers and ram my arm back into the wall. The pain blooms in my elbow, round and shiny. I ram it back again, on the same spot. The pain races up my arm and and spreads into my head. I ram it back again. And again.
Something. Again. Anything. Again. Break!
“Tiergan!” someone yells in my ear.
I drive my fist up and towards. Hard.
I want it to connect. Want it go through.
I pull it back just in time.
And I’m in the pumphouse again, and my arm hurts like it’s on fire, and I’m dripping blood over everything, and Tara is looking at me with a fear I’ve never seen from her before . . . and for all of those reasons—or none of them—I can’t stop sobbing.