Pepped Up Forever(36)By: Ali Dean
Clayton nods, accepting my thanks, and he takes my hands. “Pepper, if you hadn’t been in that alley to meet me, none of this would have happened. I hope you know that I am so sorry for asking you to meet me there. There are usually other girlfriends or family too, and it didn’t occur to me you’d be all alone,” he adds.
I shake my head. “I don’t blame you at all, Clayton, you couldn’t have known. There were crowds just around the corner. It seemed safe.” Well, actually, it was a little creepy, but still, it’s not fair for him to blame himself. Especially when he doesn’t know that Wolfe had been targeting me well before last night.
Clayton takes my hands in his then, and again I feel like he’s on a different wavelength entirely about where we stand. I didn’t think I’d indicated we’d progressed to this level of comfort together, but I’m so inexperienced at all this that I’m beginning to wonder if the date, the responding to texts and calls and accepting his gifts adds up to something more serious than I realized. If that’s the case, it’s even more important we never go on that second date I promised.
“Clayton, I just don’t think we should continue trying to see each other anymore.” I look up at him, wondering if I should continue with my explanation, but as usual, I find him difficult to read.
“You don’t?” he asks quietly, and I wish it wasn’t the case, but his voice is tinged with hurt.
“It’s just, I’m about to start college again. This is a really important year for me with running, and I’m going to be so busy. And you’re in the same boat with baseball,” I add.
“I’d make time, Pepper. You can’t tell me what I’m too busy for. I’ve shown you that I’ll be there for you, haven’t I?”
His words, once again, strike me as off. It’s like we’re talking about two different things. We went on one date, yet he’s acting like we’re in a serious relationship. Did our little flirtations in the past mean something more? Am I reading this all wrong? Man, maybe I do need to date more. I’m really clueless.
“You have Clayton, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth or make assumptions about your life. The truth is, starting a relationship with you right now just isn’t going to work for me.” I’d mention the level of commitment it would require again, but that seems unwise at this point.
“Is this about what happened last night?”
“No,” I answer immediately. But maybe it’s a decent cop-out, since he’s being a little bit more adamant than I expected. “Well, yeah, maybe a little. I just, it doesn’t feel like the right timing,” I add, hating myself for twisting the truth. I really hope I’m not giving him false hope for the future, but I’m not about to tell him I simply don’t feel strongly enough about him to keep trying. He’ll tell me I haven’t given him a chance, and maybe he’s right. But I know I’m doing the right thing. At least, it feels right. Plus, Gran told me to, and while she gives orders all the time, this one was different.
Clayton stands abruptly, and it takes me a second before I react and stand with him. He walks to the door. “I hope you feel better soon, Pepper.” But he doesn’t make eye contact with me, and he shuts the door hard, leaving me feeling like a total jerk.
It had been three weeks since the assault, and no sign of the attackers. I was pissed. I knew this wasn’t a major crime, or at least, it didn’t turn into one, in the grand scheme of things, but I was sure with enough resources, Wolfe Jenkins could be found in no time. The cops just weren’t trying very hard, and it was difficult to accept that this wasn’t a top priority for them, when it was constantly on my mind.
We withheld the other evidence we had against Wolfe, for now. It didn’t seem to have a purpose for the moment, since the cops were already after him. If we needed it, we could bring it out, but I’d rather hold onto it. I still didn’t understand why Wolfe had targeted Pepper, or what he’d had planned.
Wes left a week ago for Princeton, and we’d talked about hiring a bodyguard for Pepper. But Pepper would hate that, and she was being smart. She wasn’t fighting me on driving her everywhere, and now that preseason was back up for cross country, she was never running alone. She had six housemates, and I hadn’t bothered second-guessing myself when I’d sat them all down on move-in day and told them to lock the damn house, and never leave Pepper there alone. So, we’d opted against a bodyguard, and I was on edge.