Betting On Love: A Forbidden Bad Boy Romance (Fighting For Love Book 6)

5

Preston was far from pleased to be going to this thing.

First off, it was an anger management class. He’d have to do a bunch of stupid exercises, like deep breathing with a bunch of strangers, and he was going to have to do it until his teacher, whoever that asshole might be, was satisfied.

Second, the classes were being held during the evening at his old high school. The high school held a lot of night classes like that. Sure, you could drive into the city if you wanted to go to one of the community colleges. But if you were an adult, and wanted to do something other than see a movie or go to the bar, you went to the high school.

There were things like pottery and painting classes, cooking classes in the chemistry lab, and the local AA. Nothing fancy. Just local adults who had a talent, passing that talent onto other adults. Up until a few years ago, it wasn’t like there’d been much else to do in this one-horse town.

Then, five years ago, all the development had started, and it had been hounding all of them ever since. A development company had bothered Luke for almost a year until Adam had come onto the scene and helped him out by scaring them off with his lawyer shit.

But anyway, even though they were now surrounded by bowling alleys, movie theaters, laser tag halls, and the like, most people who’d grown up in the area were still set in their ways, and would go to the high school and sign up for whatever classes were available.

And anyway, it wasn’t like the community college had moved any closer.

Going back to his old high school was oddly bittersweet. High school wasn’t Preston’s glory days, by any means. But that was only because he didn’t have any glory days.

High school had been the last time he’d felt like he might have some potential in life. Like he might actually do something with himself. He’d gotten to see his friends all day every day; he’d gotten to hang out in the back room at the bar all the time. He got to play sports. And his grades weren’t too bad.

It was the last time that he really felt like his life had a purpose. When he actually felt good about himself, and liked getting up in the morning.

But then his dad had died during his senior year, and Mom couldn’t afford to keep things going on her own, and college was definitely out of the question. So he’d started his lifelong career of taking on menial jobs to help her make ends meet.

Then Mom had died, four years ago, and, well. Life was fine. Why not just keep things as they were?

He had no more energy left. No more drive. Nothing but his anger, and the vague feeling that he’d been robbed, somehow.

Preston paused, looking up at the school building. He’d once found it huge and imposing. Now it looked small, almost … like it had shrunk.

That was how it was with stuff from your childhood, though, wasn’t it? You couldn’t go back.

Preston shook himself out of his reverie and entered the school.

It was easy to find where stuff was. There were paper signs helpfully taped to the walls with the name of the class and room number on them, and arrows pointing in the right direction.

He followed the arrows down to Room 210. He’d had history class in here, once upon a time.

Preston entered and saw about five other people starting to sit down. The chairs were arranged in a circle, and everyone was looking at one another suspiciously, like this was a trap or something.

Preston couldn’t blame them. He didn’t feel like doing stupid exercises in front of a bunch of strangers, either.

He took a few steps into the room, and then saw who was standing at the blackboard, writing his name on the blackboard.

“You.” The word was out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

Brad turned, jumped slightly, then very visibly bit back a groan. “Preston.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Preston was going to kill Luke … but how was this Luke’s fault? Luke had no way of knowing that Preston was going to have an altercation at the grocery store with the guy who was in charge of his anger management classes.

Damn this small town.

The silence stretched out. Preston was thinking of just walking right back out the damn door. Screw Luke and his promise. If Luke really wanted to hold him to that, he could set Preston up with some anger management class in the city.

He couldn’t tell what Brad was thinking. The other man’s face was carefully blank.

Maybe he should just walk out the door right now, before it all got worse.

Brad took a deep breath. “Preston, why don’t you sit down and join the others? The actual counselor will be in shortly. I’m sitting in for my masters, but you guys can come to me for any questions.” His voice was light and neutral, no sign of the surprise and frustration that had flashed across his face a moment ago.

Preston really should leave. He knew he should … but he supposed he was more of a masochist than he’d thought, because he sat down in a chair.

If he didn’t stay—if he left—Luke wasn’t going to accept his story. He’d blown every chance that he had already. He’d made promises, promises that he wouldn’t start fights, that he’d be better, and he hadn’t held to those.

If he went to Luke and explained that he couldn’t take this class, Luke was going to be hugely disappointed. No matter that Brad would probably back Preston up, if Luke asked Hank to ask him. Luke would want Preston to find a way to get along with Brad. He’d tell Preston that this was another chance to prove himself.

So, fine. He was going to stay.

Didn’t mean he was going to like it, but hell, he’d already known he wasn’t going to like this thing. He wasn’t going to let this beat him. He was getting back into Joe’s, whatever it took.

He took a seat, folding his arms and staring up at Brad, his eyebrow raised. Challenging him. What are you gonna do about it?

Another person entered, this time a woman, looking a lot more laid back than Preston would have expected for a counselor. No suit, for one thing. She was sporting just a t-shirt and jeans, and she smiled at the group. “Hello! Did Brad get you all set up?”

Everyone besides Preston nodded.

“Great.” The woman sat down, smiling. “As he probably told you, Brad is getting his masters right now, and part of that is sitting in on classes. I’m Katie, and I’ll be your official counselor, but I’ll be letting him take on some partial duties here and there to practice. I’ll let him give the introduction, and then I’ll take us into the first part of class.”

She looked expectantly over at Brad, who cleared his throat. He looked a little nervous, actually. Preston might’ve felt bad if he wasn’t trying to maintain his irritation.

“All right, looks like it’s time to start. First of all, thank you all for coming here. I know it’s not easy to admit when you have an issue, whatever that issue may be.”

Brad sat down in one of the empty chairs in the circle. “Anger helps us to feel in control. When we’re in a situation, or have an issue that makes us feel out of control, anger helps us to feel like we’re taking some of that control back.

“Some anger management classes will just give you exercises to do. And those exercises are helpful, but they don’t get to the root of the problem. They help you to manage your anger, but they don’t help you to actually understand why your reaction to everything is such extreme anger, why anger is your default, why you’re feeling this way.

“And until you understand why you feel this way and face it, you’ll only be putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. Learning exercises is important, and we’ll be using them, because everyone needs to learn how to handle their anger.

“But what’s more important is that we find out the reason why this is such an issue in the first place. So that’s what we’re going to focus on in these sessions.” Brad smiled at everyone, although Preston saw that Brad’s smile was a bit more tentative when his gaze slid over to him.

Preston just gave him a challenging little smirk.

So, Brad wanted to get into his head? Play therapist? That would be fine. He wasn’t going to learn anything. But Preston figured he could bullshit his way through this.

Hell, it might even be a little entertaining.

Brad cleared his throat, looking away. “So, why doesn’t everyone go around the circle and introduce themselves?”

Everyone looked at one another, nobody wanting to be the one to go first.

Finally, one of them, a spry looking guy with spiky brown hair, spoke up. “I’m Jared?”

“Hi,” Brad replied. He sounded honestly pleased to be meeting Jared.

Preston scoffed and rolled his eyes, doing it just enough that Brad would notice. He wasn’t buying the whole "I care about each and every one of you” Kumbaya crap.

Brad shot Preston a behave look.

Preston was not going to behave. He was stuck in this stupid class, and was probably going to be sabotaged because the coach didn’t like him, and he’d had a bad run-in with him, and he hated that he had to be here in the first place…

The others introduced themselves, and then it was his turn.

Preston cleared his throat. “Hi, I’m Preston. I like long walks on the beach and romantic candlelit dinners.”

Brad rolled his eyes at him. “Welcome, Preston. This sounds like a good time to remind everyone that this is the sort of class where you get only as much out of it as you put into it. If you’re serious, and put good work into this, then you’ll make a lot of improvements and you’ll see real results.

“But if you treat this like a joke, then you’re not going to get anything out of it. I expect you all to pay attention and actually be present in class. If not, then I reserve the right to kick you out. Is that understood?”

Everyone nodded. Katie looked pleased with Brad. Preston wanted to know where this backbone had been the other night. How could Brad be so firm and in control here in class, but couldn’t be out? In a town where Preston could think of at least a dozen gay men off the top of his head? Seriously?

“Alright.” Brad walked over to the board and pointed at the things he’d written on there. “So, first and foremost, this class is going to be a two-pronged attack against your anger issues. The first is one that you’ve probably heard of, and were expecting, which is exercises like writing down your thoughts before you say them, taking a few deep breaths when you feel anger building, yoga…”

“Yoga?” Preston couldn’t hide the snort of laughter.

Brad glared at him. “Yes. It helps to calm you down. But the other side of things is the psychological.

“The exercises are just ways to control your anger, but as I said, they don’t help you understand why you feel so angry in the first place. They won’t help you to understand and get rid of the rage that’s inside of you. Only by us talking about our problems and supporting one another are you going to be able to let go of the emotion that has been holding power over you for so long.”

“If we have to join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ I’m out,” Preston replied.

Brad closed his eyes and took a deep breath as if silently asking God for patience. Katie nodded at Brad encouragingly. “Good to know,” Brad said dryly.

“Now, remember, this is a safe space for everyone. Whatever you say here is not going to be repeated outside of this class. You’re probably going to find over the course of this class just how similar your experiences are, and that’s going to be a great way to help support one another. So don’t be afraid to speak up. There’s a good bet that someone is going through the same thing that you are now, or has in the past.”

Oh, hell no. Preston was not talking about his past—about his father—with a group of strangers.

“Do I get a merit badge for every exercise I master?” he asked, tamping down on his panic and irritation.

Brad was definitely trying to keep a hold on his temper now. “No.” There were now two spots of color high up on his cheeks, which Preston resolutely told himself did not make Brad look cute.

Preston grinned at him. Yeah, not so fun when you’re the one getting angry, is it? Brad probably thought he was so high and mighty, thought that he was so much better than they were for not giving into his anger. Ha.

If he got to drive Brad crazy, he might get a bit of fun out of this whole thing after all.