unraveling

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Chapter 18

MADDEN

As much as I reveled in the contact, I pushed lightly against his chest, trying to pry him away from me. "Wait," I mutter. "Don't do that."

His eyes flashed and he glanced down. "Sorry."

"No," I mumbled. "I'm sick, Avery. You can't kiss me."

He blinked. Then, he kissed me again and I hum in protest as his mouth covered mine.

"What are you doing?" I murmured. "You're gonna get sick."

"Don't care," he said, locking our lips again.

"Seriously. You're going to get sick," I whispered. "It's not fun."

"Are you actually stopping me?" he asked, a small smirk pulling at his mouth.

"No," I admit. "I'm warning you."

He scoffed, continuing. I moaned his thick locks of hair curling around my fingers. He assaulted my mouth with surprising eagerness. By the time he paused to let me breathe, my lips felt swollen and a little bit like they were on fire. All my worried thoughts were forced out of my mind by the presence of his lips on mine.

"You realize that if you get sick, the best I can do is heat up soup from a can, right?" I mumbled, tracing the line of his jaw with my fingertip.

His lips twitch. "Okay, but you know that metal can't go in the microwave right?"

I smiled. "You could teach me how to cook and that won't be a problem."

He glared down at me. "Evidence has proved that you aren't the greatest student."

I almost flinched at that. "I could be," I said quietly.

He doesn't say anything for a few beats. "Yes. You can."

I didn't know what to say to that. I leaned my head against his chest, frowning slightly. After a few silent moments, I felt his lips brush up against my ear.

"Just for future reference," he said, voice dropping into a low, husky drawl. "Don't try to do me any favors like what you did with Patrick."

I stiffened. "What?" He didn't respond, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. "I'm not sorry about it."

"It was a stupid thing to do," he muttered.

I cringed, my heart sinking. I hated it when he called me stupid. It was a sharp reminder of how much he thought of me. And how much I was worth to him. I swallowed the soreness in my throat, forcing the stinging in my eyes down. "I'm not stupid," I whispered.

"I didn't say you were."

But you think I am.

I felt a stab of shame. "I didn't want you to get fired."

"You don't think I've thought of that before I let him walk in on you sitting on my lap," he said dryly. It wasn't helping that he was talking to me like I was dumb.

I really was about to run away from this conversation. "I know," I muttered. "I just-"

"Don't," he said flatly. "Don't try to pull something like that again."

"That's not up to you," I mumbled.

"Yes, it is," he demanded.

I yanked myself away from him, looking at him. "You can't tell me what to do and expect me to just do it."

He looked unimpressed. "I'm not telling you what to do," he said evenly. "I'm telling you what you aren't going to do."

"You can't just say that," I snapped.

"Did you think about that when you decided to let him grope you?" he shot back.

"Let him grope me?" I repeated incredulously.

"Every single day in my class, you let him put his fucking hands on you," Avery hissed.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I had no response to that. What had happened with Patrick had been...my choice. "I did it protect you," I said quietly.

"I don't need you to do shit for me," he informs me flatly. "Think with your head, Madden."

It was stupid of me to do try to do something like that. And in the end, he didn't need it. He...doesn't need me.

"Get out of my room," I said, unable to keep the hurt from my voice.

"No," he responded tonelessly.

"I'm not going to sit here and listen to you," I spat, "tell me how stupid I am to you."

"Stupid?" he echoed.

I glared at him. He remained unfazed and stoic which only irritated me more. "Get out."

"No."

"Why are you so fucking-" I didn't know how to finish that sentence. There were so many words. Annoying. Frustrating. Rude. Arrogant. Inconsiderate. Domineering. Controlling. I exhaled, flopping back onto the bed, closing my eyes.

"Why am I so what?" he demanded.

"Just get the fuck out of my room," I groaned. It was bad enough that he thought I was dumb, but the fact that he was still making my heart do backflips was the most irritating part. It was like knowing you can't have something but you're still trying so hard to get it. "I can't deal with this right now."

"No," he snarks, eyes narrowing. "Finish that sentence."

"Stubborn," I decided. My voice rose louder than I intended.

"I'm not the stubborn one here," he growled. "You need to-"

"Stop being dumb?" I supplied. "Think with my nonexistent brain?"

He seemed to back down, blinking in confusion. For a few seconds, he just stared at me. Then, he glanced down, dropping eye contact, and pressing his lips together into a thin line. "You aren't not intelligent."

Well, if there was one thing I had learned, it was that English professors didn't use double negatives.

Unless they were uncomfortable.

I sat up again, staring at him. "I'm sorry, say that again?"

Avery's expression relaxed, but his voice was stiff and rough. "I don't think you're stupid."

It wasn't a love confession. It wasn't even close. It was being told that I wasn't stupid. But my insides started feeling like someone shot a pinball through me, my heart bouncing and pinging around my ribs. I felt the hope starting to rise up inside me and I shoved it down before my mind started spinning with fantasies and I was too far gone. I hesitated. "But you said that it was stupid."

"It was a stupid idea," he said quietly. "You shouldn't put yourself in that position."

My eyes widened and I chewed nervously on my lower lip, scared to hear the answer. "What...what do you mean?" He doesn't answer, his face hardening. "It wasn't a stupid idea."

"Yes, it was."

"Why?" I blurted. "Because it was my idea? You can't say you don't think I'm stupid when you keep implying it in everything you say to me!"

"And I still fucking mean it," he snapped. "You aren't going to do something like that again. I won't be the reason someone actually hurts you."

I stopped. His words took a moment to fully sink in and I could feel myself start to melt a bit. It became clear to me now that he had actually been sincerely worried. It occurred to me that I might've been reading things all wrong about him. Maybe his lack of emotional expression wasn't because he didn't feel anything but because he simply didn't do it in the way that I was used to. He did it through actions, not words. I bowed my head. "I'm sorry."

Avery was silent. He tipped his head back, letting it rest against the wall as if this entire conversation had been physically exhausting for him to have. "Come here."

I moved back over to him and allowed myself to be pulled back into his lap, my back pressed firmly against his chest. I made a soft noise, feeling his lips against my hair. Not everything could be resolved just yet. "Do you think it was my fault?" I whispered.

I felt him tense up slightly underneath me. Like he knew immediately what I was talking about. "What?" he asked grimly.

"What ended up happening with Patrick." My voice was barely audible, even to my own ears. I just couldn't admit it. I didn't want to think about it. But I couldn't just keep avoiding it. The words, the memories, the feelings would stay lodged in my head until I learned to let them go.

"I mean, I know that it...it...I couldn't have controlled it," I mumbled. "I know that. But if I hadn't let him-"

"Don't," he said harshly.

I flinched.

Avery's grip tightened on me and I could see a slight wince in his expression when he saw my reaction to his tone. "Don't justify his actions."

"I'm not," I protested softly. "I'm just saying that you were right. I let him...touch me." I almost shuddered at that. I really had. So much. I could still feel it sometimes, his handprints on my body.

"You didn't let him do that to you," he snarls.

I looked at him and I could see just how angry he was. Normally, that would be fine for me to deal with, except it felt so much stronger. It probably wasn't at me, I realized, somewhat easing my mind. "Okay," I said, still a little scared. "I...I'll just shut up."

"It wasn't your fault."

"I know."

"Say it then," he demanded.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. My mouth suddenly felt hot and dry. It wasn't my fault. I didn't have a choice. It wasn't consensual. Nothing could ever justify your choice to rape someone. And there was no excuse or defense for it. "I can't," I whimpered.

His eyes softened slightly and he pulled me closer to him.

I felt his lips against my forehead and that steeled the last of my nerves enough that I didn't cry.


-

What the fuck was my relationship with him anymore?

I woke up on top of Avery and he was still asleep. I was literally lying on top of his torso, my arms latched around his waist. It was a pretty rare sight to see Avery asleep. He usually woke up before me.

He still looked so guarded in his unconsciousness but the lines on his face were noticeably relaxed. I studied his face, a palm over his steadily beating heart. It was comforting how strong it felt under my fingertips. Evenly paced and continuous. It was a constant that I had gotten so used to hearing every night that for the nights I spent without it, it felt off. His eyes opened and he stared back at me for several seconds, almost as if comprehending what was happening, before he said dryly, "Did you have a good night's sleep using me as a personal body pillow?" His voice was low and raspy as he just woke up and the sound of it made me shiver slightly despite the warmth provided by him in my bed.

"I always do," I replied, smirking.

He shot me a semi-irritated look and pushed me off of him so that I was actually lying on the bed next to him. Running a hand through his hair, he rolled his eyes at the ceiling as if asking why he even bothered with me. I hid a smile.

Actually, I would be lying if I hadn't been a little bit surprised that he had actually stayed overnight. I expected him to leave. After all, he had never stayed at my apartment before. And I've also never spent a night with him without sex. "Thank you," I mumbled.

Avery's jaw worked. He sat up on the bed, glancing sideways at me with his eyebrows raised slightly. He was waiting for an explanation. "For last night."

He made a face. "I don't remember you ever being this polite."

"You can't just accept a thank you like a normal person?" I asked, voice equally as flat.

"Not when the person thanking me is you."

I frowned. "You realize I'm a nice person, right?"

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I-" I paused. "Okay, whatever."

Avery reached over pulling my face to his and pushed his mouth against mine. I made a small noise of surprise, eyes widening. Carefully, I wrapped my arms around his neck lightly pulling away. "Avery," I whispered. "Seriously. I don't want you to get sick."

Actually, I was feeling much better this morning. Still a little bit stuffy, but I wasn't nearly as dizzy or exhausted as before. But I was pretty sure I still wasn't supposed to kiss anyone.

"Just be quiet," he murmured, connecting our lips again and pinning me against him by the waist.

Halfway through kissing me and thoroughly putting me in a full-time daze, the door opens. As soon as Liam saw us, he groaned. "I'm going to pretend I didn't see that," he called, "If you two are going to shag, remember that the walls are not as thick as you'd want."

"We're not going to fuck," Avery said with a scowl.

"We're not?" I asked dubiously. That was usually where things went with us.

He glared at me and I ducked my head, hiding from his gaze against his own shoulder. "What do you want?" Avery reprimanded.

"It can wait," Liam mutters, shutting the door.

I pouted slightly, sighing in defeat. "I'm not happy he told you."

Avery's scowl deepens but he didn't question my words. "I don't like him."

I tilted my head slightly to the side. "Why?"

He didn't answer me, which was pretty normal, but I was curious now. He wasn't the type to voice his opinion so blatantly on something like this. "Did he say something?"

"Forget it," he mutters, looking annoyed.

"We both know I'm going to keep bothering you until you tell me," I teased pointedly. "You could save yourself the trouble and take away my fun."

"Brat," he said with a slight sneer.

I just grinned. "What's wrong with Liam?"

He just ignored me, starting to climb off of my bed. "He's a great person, why don't you like him?" I kept prodding at him, following him as he started walking, opening the door to my room.

"The fact that you won't tell me only makes me more curious," I said, latching onto his arm and pulling him to a stop.

He glared down at me, yanking his arm, dragging me towards the living room. "Stop that."

"Tell me," I pleaded. I pulled the words out as I clung to him. "Please."

Avery managed to haul me into the living room, despite how much I was trying to stop him. If he was actually trying to get away from me, I knew it wouldn't be difficult for him, and yet he just let me hold onto him.

"Do I want to know what's happening?"

I turned around, glancing at Liam. "Um...I don't know, do you?"

"Nope," he decided, walking to the kitchen. "What you do with our English professor is not my problem."

"Don't be such a prude," I waved him off. "It's not like we did anything."

Liam poured himself a cup of coffee. "Really? You guys haven't seen each other for a week. I thought you'd be all over each other."

"I'm sick," I emphasized.

"So what I walked in on earlier...that was you being sick?" he said skeptically.

"I am feeling a lot better," I admit quietly. "But that was his fault." I pointed at Avery who just made an irritated sigh.

"I was right," he mutters. "I don't want to know about your sex life."

"We didn't have sex," I corrected.

"And we aren't going to," Avery said quietly. His voice dropped low, only enough so that I could hear him. I turn around in surprise, staring confused up at him.

"What?" I asked. I was unsure if I had heard him correctly. What did he mean by that?

His lip curled distastefully and he looked almost like he wasn't going to say anything else. "We aren't going to," he repeats stoically.

"But...why?" I was more puzzled than anything. He couldn't be serious, right? Whatever was happening with Avery and me was laid on a foundation of sex. Ending that seemed so illogical. But he wasn't ending that, right? A fearful edge crept inside me.

"I'm not going to until I hear you say it," he murmured.

My heart lodged in my throat. I knew exactly what he was talking about immediately and I winced. "I'm fine," I whispered.

He doesn't say anything, his jaw tightening. He doesn't look at me though. He clearly didn't believe me. "I'm fine," I said more urgently. A could feel a harsh set of disappointment. I didn't know why he was doing this but it was...my fault. It was something I knew wasn't true but I couldn't say it. I just couldn't. It frustrated me so much that every time I thought about it I wanted to break down all over again.

"You're not."

Shame burned through me and I stared at the floor to hide the embarrassment on my face. "Stop that," he snapped.

I swallowed. But no words came out of my mouth. His hand reached out and he forced my chin up, his fingers digging into the sides of my cheeks. It was not a new feeling.

"Stop that," he demanded again. "Stop looking so sad."

Again. My vocal cords wouldn't work. No sound came from me. I couldn't think of a single thing other than the crippling sense that I just kept making things worse and worse. That I was worthless. And it was all my fault.

Avery reigned in his expression and his face hardened. "Your grade won't change, don't worry."

His words rooted me in place. He turned his back to me, stepping. towards the front door

He was my professor. I was his student. That's what this was.

"Wait," I said, not trusting my voice.

He stops, but he doesn't turn around. "Are we still..."

The rest of my statement faded, but it was obvious what I was saying.

He didn't say anything, walking away and leaving me standing in both shock and a little bit of what felt like heartbreak.

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