Broken Juliet
Author:Leisa Rayven

Contrary to Erika’s assurance that mask work would get easier, we all continue to struggle. But as bad as most of us are, Ethan is the worst. Erika has been pushing him harder than anyone else, and, of course, that means he’s always in a crappy mood.

 

He’s being distant, and even though I’ve made it very clear that I’d love to have more sex, it’s been nearly a week since he’s touched me anywhere interesting. He doesn’t even hold my hand unless I initiate it. Good thing I always initiate it. If he won’t let me have the rest of his body, I’m damn well going to have his hand.

 

“Erika fucking hates me,” he says, as we head over to the Hub “—a large, four-story building that houses the library, cafeteria, student lounge, and several large lecture theaters—” to meet our friends for lunch.

 

“That’s not true.”

 

“Then why force me to work with that particular mask? Anger, sadness, aggression—I could nail any of those.”

 

“Yeah, but she knows you have an issue with vulnerability, so she’s pushing you to conquer it. Imagine how great it would be if you had a breakthrough. You’d probably top the class.” And become a more affectionate boyfriend.

 

He shakes his head. “The likelihood of that happening is fucking nil. I can’t do it, Cassie. In fact, I’m not even sure what it is.”

 

I pull out my phone and google it. “Vulnerable. Adjective, meaning susceptible to being wounded or hurt; open to moral attack, criticism, temptation. Oh, wow! Next to the definition is a picture of you.”

 

“Funny.”

 

“Thanks. I try.”

 

We’re almost at the Hub when I spot a group of second years near the door. I recognize Olivia, Ethan’s more-than-a-little-bitter ex, among them. She frowns when she notices Ethan holding my hand.

 

“I don’t believe it,” she says as we approach. “I thought all the stories about you having a girlfriend were bullshit, yet here you are with the same girl I saw you with at the beginning of the year. You’re really putting the effort in to get her attached before you dump her, aren’t you? I mean, what you did to me was bad, but this one? She’s going to be cursing your name for years. Impressive.”

 

Ethan tightens his hand around mine. “And today just keeps getting better.” He tugs on my arm, and we head inside. I’m aware of Olivia staring after us.

 

“She really hates you, doesn’t she?”

 

He nods. “Yeah, well, I gave her good reason to.” He mutters that he needs food before disappearing into the crowded cafeteria.

 

I make my way to the far side of the room and find Jack, Lucas, Connor, Aiyah, Miranda, and Zoe at our usual table in the corner.

 

Jack looks around with a disgusted expression. “Damn, this place is depressing. Doesn’t the student council have anything better to do than decorate the shit out of everything? It looks like Jingly the Glitter Fairy jizzed all over the damn place.”

 

“It’s nearly December,” Aiyah says. “It’s festive.”

 

“Festive?” Jack gestures to the tsunami of tinsel and baubles surrounding us. “It borders on psychotic. Yesterday, they ripped down the Thanksgiving decorations like they’d personally insulted their mothers, and today, there’s a metric shit-ton of Santa porn all over the damn place. No one needs this much fucking tinsel! If I show up to my rugby match this afternoon with goddamn glitter all over me, I’ll make an official complaint to the dean. I will not be known as a human disco ball, no matter how fabulous that would look on me.”

 

There are giggles before Lucas says, “So, what’s everyone doing this weekend? Jack, did you finally convince that redheaded dance major to go out with you?”

 

Jack grins. “Hell yeah, I did. I’m taking her to that new Italian place in town. A little wine, a little pasta. And afterward, when I turn on the Avery charm, I predict I’ll be face-deep in her ballet tights by bedtime.”

 

Miranda glowers. “You realize that buying a woman a meal doesn’t give you the right to bone her, right?”

 

Jack scoffs. “I’m aware. Plus, I actually like her. If sex was all I wanted I wouldn’t go to all the trouble of taking her out, would I? I’d just invite her over to watch soft porn on Netflix in the hope that it would put her in the mood.”

 

Connor nudges Lucas. “What about you, dude? Aren’t you seeing that chick with the dreadlocks from visual arts?”

 

Lucas leans back and puts his hands over his heart. “Oh, sweet, sweet Mariah. I’m taking her away this weekend. Vineyard tour. Bed-and-breakfast. The whole nine.”

 

Jack frowns. “Shit, that escalated quickly. Haven’t you only been dating for two weeks?”

 

“What can I say, man? When it’s right, it’s right. She’s amazing. I may suck at a lot of stuff, but taking care of my woman isn’t one of them.”

 

I feel a twinge as I hear them talk, because I’m reminded that even though Ethan and I have been officially going out for over a month, he still hasn’t taken me on a real date. Usually we hang out at my place or his. Watch TV. Read. Study.

 

If I’m really lucky, we make out, but that’s it.

 

Kind of depressing, really.