unraveling

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Chapter 16

AVERY

Today, Patrick walked into my class with a giant bruise on his jaw. And Madden. Well, Madden was nowhere to be seen.

His roommate, however, sent him a furious glare that might’ve scared a normal person. And judging by the look on Patrick’s face, he was scared.

Later that day, a knock sounded at my door. I sighed, leaning back in my chair. “Come in.”

I didn’t know whether to be surprised or more annoyed. Liam, the one that had been glaring so passionately earlier today looked genuinely nervous standing in my office. He closed the door behind him and glanced around as if he wasn’t sure what to expect. “McCauley. I sincerely hope you have a good reason for this visit,” I said dryly. I was not in any sort of mood to deal with...anyone. Also, I didn’t like him.

He swallowed. “It’s about Madden.”

I blinked, trying to ignore the peak of interest I had in this conversation. I waited for him to continue, patiently, mind you, but he stayed silent. I wondered if he was waiting for a reaction of sorts. I stared blankly back at him. I said in a hard voice. “Don’t waste my time.”

Liam seemed to be deciding where to start. “You can get someone expelled, right?”

Now I was genuinely interested. I sighed. “I suppose.”

He pursed his lips, shifting. Why didn’t he just sit down? “I need you to do that.”

My lip curled with distaste and I scowled. He needed me to do that. That was a poor choice of words. And how was this about Madden? “Whatever that means,” I said dismissively. “It does not sound like anything I want to do.” He frowned.

“That means the end of this conversation. Which means you leave,” I informed him as he continued standing there. “Now.”

“He tried to rape Madden,” he blurted.

I felt my body go rigid, my heart halting to a stop, freezing my blood in my veins.

“I could report it, but without proof, I don’t think they’ll do anything.”

“Who?” I demanded. Someone tried to put their hands on Madden. That alone made my vision go red. But someone trying to force their way with Madden...

“He’s a student in your class-”

“Who?” I growled. “I need a name.”

Liam’s eyes widened. “Patrick. That’s all I have.”

That son of a bitch. The one that kissed Madden.

The rush of fury bubbled up inside me but composed myself. “Alright,” I said, my voice still harder than I would’ve liked. “You may leave.”

He didn’t move. “That’s it?”

“What?” I asked, exasperated by his presence. Seriously. Why did Madden like this guy so much?

“You...have no other reaction. Do you even care?” He sounded like he was losing his calm just as much as I was.

“Get out of my office,” I said flatly.

“I was right,” he mutters. “He’s been working himself overboard and you still don’t give a fuck about him.”

What did that mean?

My jaw tightens and I press my lips together. He thought I didn’t care? Really? Because as much as the idea didn’t make me happy, I did care. A shit ton more than I should for the annoying little brat that was too pretty for his own good. “If you’re going to make a scene, do it somewhere else.”

He glared at me. “You’re a terrible person. I can’t believe he actually believes that you have a heart.” That hit a nerve.

“Get out.”

“Do you care about anyone else? For fucks sake, you find out that he could’ve been hurt and you don’t care,” he said incredulously. That remark shot a harsh, cutting memory through my brain, making my skin prickle.

“I do,” I snapped. “You don’t know anything so get the fuck out of my office.”

He took a step back, wary. He didn’t say anything else before leaving.

Someone had forced themselves on Madden. At the roots of my nerves, I could feel the disgust, anger, hatred even for anyone who would even dare do something like that. He might’ve allowed me to put my fucking hands on him, but this bastard did not have permission and he had hell to pay.

What he had said, however, still itched at the back of my mind. It was the same words that I had told myself. I found out someone was in trouble and I didn’t do shit. Because I didn’t care. Because I was just not a good person.

The last thing I wanted was for that to happen again.

The image of Madden crying, as I’ve seen dozens of times now, burned into my mind. He was worth more than being fucked until he was literally in tears. He was young. He was impressionable. Whatever I was doing to him was probably a horrible thing to do to someone who was so starkly pure compared to me.

But I was pretty sure, if I could help it, I wasn’t letting him go anywhere.


-

“Thank you,” Liam said awkwardly.

I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t do it for you.”

I had quite a bit of power at the college. I will admit that it wasn’t simply due to my academic excellence that landed me this job. My family has participated in the funding for this particular school for quite some time. Not only was I a tenured professor, but it would be wildly difficult to have my fired from my post considering the President had practically begged me to consider working here. It was a certain step-down, lawyer to professor, but nonetheless, it had been a decent career choice considering my standing in my academic field. English wasn’t exactly interesting though.

According to Human Resources at the university, it had not been Patrick’s first offense. Even without proof, all the accusations had lined up and he had been forced to drop out of the school, and any other colleges in the area had blacklisted him on sexual harassment charges. It had taken about a week to go through, but my Tuesday of the next week, he was gone.

That, while a harsh punishment, was not enough to pay for the damage he had caused here. None of his victims had truly came out and spoken, mostly because they were all male.

Ah, but the law prohibits bashing people’s heads in as a form of violent retribution for crimes.

“Did you do it for Madden?” he asked quietly. He was sitting today, which only gave me a sinking feeling that this wouldn’t be a short conversation. He seemed just a bit too comfortable with me.

Did I do it for Madden? Yes, well, one could argue that I did it as justice for every single one of the students he had violated. “That’s irrelevant,” I said flatly.

Madden had not shown up in my classes for the week. And as much as I wanted to ask, I restrained myself.

“Well, if you did, on the very off chance,” he replied, looking me dead in the eyes. He said that second part sarcastically as if he knew what I had been thinking. “If you care, I’m sure he’s dying to see you.”

I frowned. “What?”

“He’s been sick all week. And he’s pretty miserable.”

I gave him a blank look. “And?” He’s sick. That would explain the absences. I would be lying if I said that the utter lack of his presence hadn’t bothered me at all.

He sighs dramatically. He mutters something under his breath that I couldn’t catch. He sits up straighter in the chair. “He’s probably never going to tell you this,” he mutters, looking anxious. “He went out with Patrick because Patrick threatened to report you to the university for sexual misconduct on one of your students if he didn’t.”

The sound of his name me scowl immediately. But the words that followed made me pause. I don’t say anything to that, my brows knitting slightly.

“He hated him,” Liam explains. “He was an asshole, and obviously he was a pervert. But he was scared that he would be the reason you lost your job.”

I stared at him, trying to sort out his words. Madden had tried to protect me. And in return, he could’ve gotten very, very hurt. I mean, he couldn’t have known that I wouldn’t have been fired for such a weak accusation. But...fuck what was he thinking? “He’s stupider than I expected,” I said flatly.

He winced. “Just thought I’d mention it.” He stands to his feet, adjusting his bag. I don’t look at him, hearing the door click behind him.

Madden was like an extra complication no amount of life experience or education could’ve prepared me for. And he was slowly ebbing away at my sanity and what I had believed to be a rock-solid control over myself.

Only minutes after the door closed, however, someone else entered. Taking a deep sigh, I groaned. “Get out,” I demanded.

Hale rolled his eyes, sitting down. “What? You’re kicking out your flesh and blood? Don’t be so cold, Avery.”

“You’re the one who keeps bothering me,” I snarked.

Hale casually propped his feet up on the corner of my desk, leaning back in the chair. He tipped it back, a playful smile crossing his lips. It was odd how much he reminded me of Madden. Studying my face, he gives me a concerned look. “You look like shit.”

“Thank you,” I said dryly.

“You look like you’ve been hungover for a week. What’s going on? You good?” It was true I hadn’t been getting very much sleep recently. Even if my brain refused to believe it, my body had truly gotten used to the memory of someone else sleeping in my bed. Not for warmth but for the presence of having Madden’s small frame, clinging around me.

I was fucked.

If I was being that obvious, the idea forming in my head probably was not going to benefit me. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. What’s wrong? And where’s the adorable twink you were dating?”

“I never dated him,” I muttered. Hale knew that already.

“Ah,” he says in realization. “So this is about him.” I don’t bother answering knowing he was going to push his point. “What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying and you’re not even bothering to hide it.”

“Because I don’t want to talk about it,” I snapped.

“Then something happened.”

“Yes,” I relented.

Hale leans forward. “Do you like him?”

“No,” I say instantly. Any person would’ve been stupid to fall for his flirtatious glances and charming words. But I never missed the way Madden strained for my affections. The need for intimacy was natural, especially after sex. But even just falling asleep, he seemed to want to be around me. From his obvious attempt to fix my mood after he eavesdropped on my conversation with Ian to the information Liam just told me, I was starting to get a sinking feeling that Madden’s constant involvement in my life meant more than just a part of a deal to him.

That wasn’t a good thing. Not for me and definitely not for him.

I was no longer convinced that I was simply attracted to his face. Because I knew exactly how his face twisted when he was deep in thought. I knew how his lips curved when he was shy. I knew the exact moments when he was thinking of a dirty thought. I knew his range of facial expressions down to the last detail from more than just having spent quite a bit of time with him, but because I had bothered to notice these things. And as I had proven, I couldn’t seem to stand the idea of any other person touching him.

“But he likes you,” Hale prods.

“I don’t know,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Why don’t you ask him?”

His eyes lit up and I was unnerved me how excited he seemed at the idea. “Could I? I do wish you had gone out with him. He seems like a lot of fun.” Of course, they hit it off. The last thing I needed was to watch another person ogle my brothers. Especially if that person was Madden.

Running an idle hand through the roots of my hair, I said with a slight edge, “Do what you want.”

“Wait, so you don’t like him. You don’t know if he likes you. But he’s keeping you up at night?”

“He’s not keeping me up at night.”

Hale clicks his tongue disapprovingly. “Denial.”

“He’s not,” I said, voice rising slightly.

“More denial,” he offered.

“Shut up,” I mutter.

“And there it is.” He sounded triumphant and I shot him a glare. “So. What’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem,” I said exasperatedly.

His eyes narrowed and he stared at me for several seconds, long enough to make me scowl again. “Did you fight?”

“No.”

“Did you do something supremely stupid?”

Probably. “Why do you assume that?”

“Because that is usually what happens when you interact with other human beings,” he stated with a smile.

“I didn’t do anything.” That wasn’t exactly true.

“Did he sleep with someone else? Did you sleep with someone else?”

My jaw hardened. “Why does that matter?”

“Because I need to figure out what’s wrong with you and you aren’t going to tell me.”

“There’s nothing wrong,” I argued. As much as I had a certain capacity for Hale’s usual melodramatic personality, this was starting to get to me.

“Yes, there is. I’m excellent at giving advice. Lay it on me.”

I snorted. “You’re really not.” He really, really wasn’t.

Hale opened his mouth to protest but my door banged open again and Nathan walked in, also uninvited. No one knocks anymore. Where’s the respect?

“Okay, I have an announcement!” He strolled him, arms open before he glanced at Hale and frowned. “Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?” I demanded back. “You have jobs, right? Stop barging into my office in the middle of the fucking day!” To be fair, it was like 6 PM, but still.

“I’m here giving relationship advice to him,” Hale supplied proudly, ignoring me.

Nathan’s eyes lit up and he sat down in the remaining chair, arms propping up on the armrests in a relaxed gesture. “Avery? Relationship? This is about the student, right? The really pretty one?” He snaps his fingers trying to conjure a name. “Madden.”

I sighed, making a face. “No.”

“Yes,” Hale cut in. “You like him.”

“No.”

“You like him.”

“No.”

“You like him.”

“No.”

“You like him.”

“No.”

“You like him.”

“Stop,” Nathan agonized. “You like him.”

“No.”

“You-”

“I don’t,” I snapped.

They both gave me skeptical looks, brows raised. “But you do,” Hale said.

“I will kick you out,” I warned.

“You love me,” Hale grinned at me. “You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” I drawled.

Nathan started, “What’s the problem then?”

I sucked in a breath, my teeth gritting. “There’s no problem.”

“Did something happen between you two?”

I leaned my head back against the backing of my chair, pressing my lips in consideration. “He’s sick.”

“Sick?” Hale echoed questioningly.

“He’s been absent for a week,” I finally muttered.

“And you’re worried about him,” he finished.

“No,” I groaned. I was just stating facts. But if he’s been sick for a week, that must mean it’s pretty bad. And his roommate had said he was miserable.

And that he’d want to see me.

“Perhaps,” I admitted quietly.

“This is gonna be good,” Nathan said, smirking. “Since when are you concerned about such trivial things?” He enunciated the last words, mocking me.

Since Madden.

“You have his address. Go talk to him,” Hale suggested.

I made a face. “Why the fuck would I do that?” That, while it had crossed my mind before, sounded like a terrible idea.

“Oh,” Nathan said, snapping his fingers together in realization. “Bring him soup. That creamy one that you make. It’s really good.”

“Why would I bring him soup?” I asked incredulously. I was struggling to follow both of their trains of thought.

“That’s what you do when someone’s sick.” Nathan’s voice had a certain ‘duh’ factor to it as if it was obvious.

I blinked, trying to determine if he was serious. “You used to do it for me all the time.”

I did remember that. I glowered at him, giving him a flat look. “That was not by choice.”

He smiled impishly. “Of course it was. I’m your little brother. You loved doing that for me.”

I ignored that comment. I grew up with absent parents and three younger brothers. The taking care of them part was built in, if not by choice. I hissed, “I’m not bringing him soup. I’m also not going to his apartment.”

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