Wildcat: Chapter 6




Jade lies on my bed, flipping through a magazine while I get ready for dinner with my parents. A meal with Mom and Dad wouldn’t usually require such dedication to my appearance, but tonight I have to tell them that I dropped out of college. Again.

I don’t have the type of parents that will yell and scream or disown me, and I’m thankful for that, honest, but the disappointment and worry etched into their features over the past couple of years is starting to wear on me. First, it was when I dropped out of my study abroad program to travel with Rhyse and then again when I came home a blubbering mess after we broke up.

I get it. I gave up everything for him. I was all in. So all in. And it didn’t work out. I was shattered, and they were rightly concerned. But this decision isn’t a reaction to the breakup. If I took nothing else away from my time following Rhyse around the world, I discovered just how much I love taking pictures. Something that had always been a hobby before became a passion.

I’m in a dress my mom bought me and wearing my hair in two long braids—a hairstyle my dad likes (He’s never actually said that, but he always tugs the ends and smiles when I do.).

I do not want to be this daughter, the one still living at home at twenty-one, figuring out life and disappointing her family. Even if they’ve never voiced it, I know my parents expect me to be like my older sister, Cadence. She is the perfect daughter and sister. She went to college, got a great job, found a nice guy, and got married. I’d hate her if I didn’t admire her so much. Which is why I invited her tonight. She knows about my plans and is supportive.

Also, she has the bigger news. She’s pregnant! Mom and Dad can’t be upset when they’re getting their first grandkid, right? Right?

“Still nothing from hottie Leo?” Jade asks. “I’m surprised. Tell me again how you left things.”

Laughing, I indulge her for the third or fourth time this week but give her the short version. “He said he had a great time, and then we kissed some more until the Uber driver was about to leave my ass.”

“And the text?”

“Said that he was busy, but would call.” Which he hasn’t.

“Then he’ll call. He will. I know it.”

“Doubtful. It’s been a week since he sent that text, and I haven’t heard from him,” I say with an air of indifference. I’m faking. I went to sleep the morning after, or morning of, technically, since we stayed up all night, convinced he would text, but so far nothing.

“I was so wrong about him. The way he looked at you all night.” She fakes a shiver.

“It’s fine. It was good to get back out there.” I am trying desperately to play off my night with hot Leo like it meant nothing more than a hookup to get over my ex. I can’t handle another blow right now, so total delusion is my best option.

Besides, it isn’t the greatest time to get involved with someone. I need to focus on myself for a little while and figure out my crap. The breakup is still fresh, and my life is a mess. Hear those weak excuses? Yeah, I know. They’re true, but I have plenty of room in my schedule for mind-blowing sex with Leo. I will make room in my schedule for that.

“Can I change the subject?” she asks.


“I applied for a job with a bridal magazine,” Jade says, pulling my attention from the three shades of lipstick I’m deciding between.

“That’s great.” I turn from the chair in front of my vanity to look at her and smile.

“It’s a long shot. I have less experience than they’re looking for, but one of my classmates from college is an editor there, and she said she’d put in a good word.” She sits up, and I hold out the tubes of pink lipstick to get her opinion. She points to the one in my right hand, and I swivel back around to the mirror.

Jade is two years older, and unlike me, she went straight to college after high school, worked hard, and got a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She even used it for a short time, working with a local fishing magazine. Not long after, she quit and went back to the bartending job at Mike’s that she’d held through college because she said she makes more money and doesn’t have to write about nature. She is a girly girl through and through. The closest she wants to get to nature is a fancy-ass boat on a lake—her words.

“You really want to go back to a desk job? I thought you liked the hours at the bar.”

“I do, but I miss writing and researching, seeing my name on glossy pages. Though if I get this one, it’ll be mostly digital.”

I catch her in the mirror staring down at the old Cosmopolitan magazine and running a hand along the paper.

“You’ll get it. I can feel it. Good things are coming our way.” I kiss the air. “Now, how do I look?”

She gives me a once-over, and the corners of her mouth pull up into a smirk. “Like you’re heading off to eighth-grade graduation.”

“I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a dress with this much fabric in eighth grade,” I say as I smooth a hand down the skirt of my long dress. The cotton material falls to my ankles and has cute little tie straps at my shoulders. My mother has good taste. This dress is just a little more sophisticated and girly than I’d pick out for myself.

“Are you sure you can’t stay?” I plead. “My parents love you. You’ll be a good distraction.”

“Sorry, I have to get to the bar. I will check in later though.” She stands and places her hands on my shoulders. “You’ve got this. You’re a great photographer, and you’re following your dreams.”

I nod, soaking in some of that confidence. I have this.

I walk Jade upstairs and outside. Dad is in the garage working on his golf swing. He has a whole setup with a course simulation screen Mom got him for Christmas last year. The driver makes a loud thwack, and Dad curses under his breath as the ball goes left.

He looks up as we approach, and his scowl turns into a smile. “Hey, baby girl. Hi, Jade.”

“Hey, Coach Miller.” Jade has always called him this, even though he’s never been her coach, but I think my dad loves it. Both of my parents adore Jade. She’s polite, respectful, and responsible. She’s also impulsive and fun, but never at the detriment to her career or reputation. I don’t know how she does it.

“How’s the team looking?” Jade asks him.

“Good. We have a lot of young, talented guys.”

“Maybe I’ll actually watch a game or two this year,” she says with a sly smile. Neither of us is into sports, much to Dad’s disappointment. Cadence was the sporty daughter.

Dad grins back at her with an amused expression as Jade heads to her car.

I sit on a stool at his workbench on the side of the garage. “Lots of new talent, huh?”

“Mhmm.” He walks over with the golf club and takes a drink of water, then gives the end of one braid a little tug. “You look nice.”

“Thanks. Mom picked this out for me.”

His dark brows raise. “Uh oh. Trying to please your mother. Is everything okay?”

“Everything is great.” I roll my eyes and pull away. “Cadence is coming.”

“I heard.” He rests the club on the ground and leans into it. “How are classes going?”

I struggle to form a response but am saved by Cadence’s car pulling into the driveway. “She’s here.”

I hop down and jog to greet her. She hurries out of the vehicle, and we meet in the middle, hugging fiercely.

“Scar,” she says. “Oh, I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” I squeeze her harder and then remember the baby. “Sorry.”

“I’m fine.” She looks me over. “You look so grown up.”

“Don’t worry,” I say quietly. “I’m still as much of a hot mess as ever.”

She links her arm through mine and keeps staring at me. We haven’t seen each other since I’ve been back. She lives three hours away and is a lawyer, which is, apparently, code for never gets weekends off.

Dad waits for us just outside of the garage.

“How’s the quest of becoming the next Tiger Woods coming along?” She steps forward and hugs him.

“I’m just out here because your mother threatened to withhold dinner if I didn’t stop working. Simon at work?” Dad asks, referring to my sister’s husband and my awesome brother-in-law. Simon is the best, but he’s even more of a workaholic than my sister.

“Always,” she answers. “If we didn’t work together, we might not ever see one another.”

The three of us laugh as we head inside. Dad is a total workaholic, just like Cadence, and Mom is always on the two of them to take more time for themselves. She was my biggest supporter when I wanted to study in London. She’s all about experiences and traveling. You’d think that would make her team drop out and follow your dreams, but she’s also a teacher, so education is sort of her whole life’s purpose.

“Ready for pre-season games?” my sister asks as she walks beside my dad.

“We’ll see. We still have a lot of work to do next week to prepare, but yeah, I’m ready to get back into it.”

“I heard you made Lohan an alternate captain. It’s about time. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league,” Cadence adds.

I fall in step behind them as we walk through the house to the kitchen. I couldn’t smell it earlier, but the aroma of homemade bread and spaghetti sauce assaults us as we step through the door and makes my mouth water. Mom made all of Cadence’s favorites tonight because family dinners are my mother’s love language.

“No hockey talk at the dinner table.” My mother comes around the big island in the kitchen to hug Cadence.

Cadence gives her a small gift bag (like I said, perfect daughter). “Don’t open it now. It’s for after dinner.”

Mom takes it but stands in front of my sister with a scrutinizing glare. I’m familiar with that glare, but I don’t think I’ve seen it used on Cadence since high school when she missed curfew.

“Honey, you’re glowing. Are you…”

Cadence nods, and then Mom bursts into tears.

“What’s going on?” Dad asks, watching the scene unfold before him with cautious eyes.

“I’m pregnant,” Cadence says, then mouths Sorry to me.

Needless to say, dinner does not go as planned. Mom sports an ear-to-ear grin as she peppers Cadence with questions about her pregnancy. Dad and I listen in, mostly, adding our excitement when we’re able to get a word in. I’m so happy for Cadence, but now that she’s dropped this amazing news, I do not want to be the one to ruin it. Which is why when the conversation turns to me, and I finally get an opening to tell my parents that I dropped out of college, I lie through my teeth and tell them classes are going great.

As soon as I’m finished eating, I take my plate from the table into the kitchen to rinse it off.

Cadence follows. “I should have known Mom would take one look at me and just know. I swear that woman is psychic. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine.” I open the dishwasher. “Maybe I should have come upstairs in my pajamas, unshowered, looking like the hot mess I am, and she would have figured me out without me saying anything.”

“You are not a hot mess.”

I cut her a look. “I’m a twenty-one-year-old, unemployed, college dropout who lives with her parents.”

“You are an up and coming artist temporarily staying with Mom and Dad.” She bumps her hip against mine. “You could always come live with me. I’m going to need all the help I can get. Simon and I are like the blind leading the blind. I’m going to be a mom.” She pauses with a faraway look in her eyes. It’s the closest to unsure as I’ve ever seen her.

“You are going to be the best mom.”

She smiles a little sadly. “Are you doing okay, really?”

“Yeah.” I let out a breath. “I’m getting there.”

“I’m sorry about how things ended with Rhyse, but I’m really glad you’re back and that you’ll be here to be Auntie Scar.”

“Me too.”

My phone pings in my bra, and I fish it out, earning a laugh from Cadence. “What else are you hiding in there?”

I stick out my tongue at her as I unlock the screen. For days I’ve jumped every time I’ve gotten a new text, hoping it was Leo. I felt something with him that I hadn’t felt in a really long time. Maybe ever. Then again, maybe I was so desperate for someone to give me attention, I imagined the connection. But it’s not Leo this time, just like it hasn’t been him any of the other times a new text has come in the past few days. Jade’s name displays on my screen. I got the job! They called right after I left your house. Can you come out for drinks tonight? Invite Hottie Leo!

“Oh, I know that smile.” Cadence tries to peek over my shoulder, and I sidestep so she can’t see the screen. “Who’s the new guy?”

“What did I say about not dating until your thirty?” Dad winks as he comes into the kitchen carrying his and Mom’s plates.

“It’s Jade. She got a job with a local magazine, and that rule went out the window when this one got married at twenty-three and knocked up at… How old are you these days? Twenty-nine?”

“I’m twenty-six, and you know it.”

Cadence is not thrilled about creeping closer to the thirty mark, and I like to tease her about it any chance I get.

“You met a boy?” Mom asks. We’re now all crowded into the very space I came to escape.

“Boys are idiots,” Dad says. “Thirty. That’s about the time they start acting like men.” He’s still pissed at Rhyse. My parents only met him once, but he made a great impression. He always does. He puts on his media face—charming grin, saying all the right things, personable, likable. And it isn’t even fake. He loves his job and meeting people, being in front of a crowd. He was meant for a life in front of the camera.

Cadence laughs softly. “I need to get going. I’m so tired these days, and I have to be in court first thing in the morning. The gift bag has an adorable I heart my grandparents picture frame in it with a photo from my first ultrasound.”

“Oh!” Mom rushes for the bag and her first glimpse of the little bean.

There’s a lot of oohing and ahhing over Cadence before she can get out the door, and then it’s just the parents and me again. Dad goes to his office with a promise that he won’t be long (We all know that’s a lie.), and I help mom clean up.

“Don’t forget we have the party for the team tomorrow,” she says as I start to leave the room.

“Do I need to be here?”

“I think it would be nice,” she says. Translation: yes. Most girls would be dying to attend a party with a bunch of pro hockey players, but I have had my fill of professional athletes. Besides, it’s too weird now that my dad is the coach of the Wildcats.

“Okay. I’ll be here, but I’m inviting Jade, so I have someone to talk to.”

I text Jade to wish her congrats on the job, decline her invite to go out tonight because I need to edit some photos I took for Mike to keep up his new visibility and promo online, but beg her to come to the team party at our house tomorrow.

The edits for Mike don’t take long. In fact, it takes me longer to select a few images from the hundreds I took than to do the actual editing. Either way, I’m happy to be doing something to work on my skills. I’m not sure Mike even cares about the photos that much. I think he just felt bad for not giving me more hours behind the bar. Since my first shift, I’ve worked two more afternoons, and they went about as well as the first.

After I send off the edited images, I fall into bed with my phone and scroll for jobs. There are a few places looking for photographers, but I don’t feel ready for that yet. I check my messages, you know, just in case one came in from Leo, and I didn’t notice (groan), and then since I’m already feeling sorry for myself, I go to Rhyse’s social media page.

Someone on his team posted a video from the race last weekend. He stands on the podium as handsome as I remember. It really doesn’t seem fair that he can go on living his life, winning, looking great, seemingly unaffected by our breakup, while I’m floundering with just about every aspect of my life.

I scroll through his old posts. It’s weird to see his life like this, knowing I was there but not being in any of it. Half of the photos are ones I took, but I’m not in them. Rhyse’s team thought it was best to keep the focus on him. When we first got together, he snapped a selfie of us at some event and posted it, tagging me as his girlfriend, and the backlash from his fans was immediate and awful.

He’d built an image—the hotshot Formula 1 racer and notorious playboy. He’d partied hard his first couple of years, dating women all across the globe. That’s who people wanted him to be. They didn’t want him to settle down and grow up.

They came for me in droves. I had to change my social media profiles to private. He might have been ready for a serious relationship, but after seeing the reaction, his publicist thought it was best if we kept it quiet for a while. At first, it was only going to be six months until the end of the season. I didn’t love being his girlfriend in private only, then in public watching him keep up his single, fun image, but it was better than being attacked.

And I was head over heels. I really thought it was temporary. Six months came and went, and I could see that he still wasn’t ready to risk his popularity taking a nosedive to really be with me. I held out hope for another six months, but on our one-year anniversary, I gave him an ultimatum.

And here I am.

I traveled all over the world with him, but there isn’t a single scrap of evidence I ever existed on any of his social media pages. If it weren’t for the ache in my chest, I could almost pretend it never happened.


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