Authors: Kate Dierkes
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover Design Copyright © 2015 by Sprinkles on Top Studios
Editing by Ocean’s Edge Editing
Book design and production by Kate Dierkes
Copyright © 2015 by Kate Dierkes
All rights reserved.
To Felts and Warren
THERE WERE TWO
Will Eastons, but it never bothered me.
To everyone else, he was the guy who mixed Mountain Dew and milk at dinner and called it Mountain Moo, just because he was curious about the taste. He helped other people on their projects because he liked the challenge of something new, even if it meant he stayed up all night at the architecture studio for his work.
But when he came back to Sugarbush Hall when everyone else was asleep, he was the Will I knew. The Will who kissed the back of my neck if he woke up in the middle of the night and never let go of my hand, even when his fingers cramped. He looked for alternatives in everything, but never with me. When everything else was indefinite for him, we were always certain.
It was the second Will Easton I couldn’t wait to see as I neared Seneca University. I rolled the window down to let the late summer wind in. My stomach began to dip and flutter in a rush of excitement. Hand-painted white lettering on the window still announced the specials at Mary Lou’s Diner, and the green
awning over the Thai restaurant was more wind-battered than it had been last spring. The familiarity was comforting.
While the car idled at a stop light, I could see into the Bike Surgeon, the bicycles on the ceiling swaying from the light breeze sneaking in the open door. Across the street, Seneca Cycle competed with rows of bikes lining the sidewalk and waving plastic flags. The familiar scent of Magnolia Banks Lake reached me and I inhaled deeply. It was wet and earthy, and the grass rolled in a sloping cushion until it reached the lake.
My dad slowed to coast over a speed bump near a crosswalk, and for the best view of the approaching dorms I leaned forward around the thick roll of lavender carpet wedged next to me in the back seat of the Chevy. With graceless speed, cars were being unloaded into overflowing roadside piles of chaos, plastic crates and shopping bags all over the sidewalk.
“These dorms have elevators installed over the summer?”
It was the first time he’d spoken in an hour. It had been the same way last year, when he drove me downstate as a freshman. Crossing the border into Kentucky made him clam up and set cruise control to hover at the speed limit, which only made me more anxious to arrive at the university.
“I doubt it,” I said, eyeing the rambling lakeside dorms, their white trim bright against the spice-colored bricks.
My dad turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows, watching with an apprehensive but relieved eye.
“Last year, after I dropped you off, I dreamed about trudging up stairs carrying boxes all night. The same way you feel like you’re still moving after you ride rollercoasters all day at Six Flags, I guess.”
“You had vertigo from move-in day?”
My dad shrugged and inched the car closer to the double doors of Paso Fino Hall.
I’d spent the summer reliving a moment in the stairwell, too, but not for the same reason. I stared hard out the open window as if I could conjure an image of my last kiss with Will and the way his hair clung to his sweaty forehead while we stood on the stairs. . .
A fire-engine red mohawk sliced across the bright sun to cut off my view. A boy lifted a clipboard with a Seneca University crest to shield his eyes and gazed down at me.
I leaned around the carpet roll with an eager nod.
“You’re on the third floor. Your roommate hasn’t checked in yet,” he said, studying the clipboard.
I squinted into the glaring sun to study him. His hair was striking, but more noticeable were his eyes, so dark they were almost black. He was Hawaiian, with skin the color of sun-melted caramels.
“Are you the resident assistant for Paso Fino?”
He nodded. “I’m the boss as far as you’re concerned. My name’s Levi.”
From the driver’s seat, there was a groan. “That doesn’t make me feel better about leaving you here,” my dad said as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, leaving his peppered hair sticking up wildly at the temples.
Levi bowed his head as if he wished he could hide his anarchistic hair until all the parents left Wild Mare Point. He gestured with his clipboard and scrambled off to the next waiting car in the long line.
My dad put the car in park and swiveled to the backseat, dodging to make eye contact around the pillar of carpet.
“I know you can’t wait for me to leave, but I want you to listen to me. Really listen. Don’t just patronize me because you know your skinny arms can’t carry all this crap up three flights.”
I kept my hand on the door handle and felt my sweaty arm sticking to the vinyl armrest.
“Use common sense, Dell. Don’t walk alone at night and don’t drink the punch. You never know what’s in it. And . . . just don’t do anything you wouldn’t want me to know about.”
“I’ve already got everything figured out, Dad. I don’t anticipate any surprises.”
“That’s what I’m worried about, kid. That’s how you make the universe laugh, you know. You make plans.”
I sighed and swung the door open, spilling candy bar wrappers from the long trip onto the steaming asphalt. “You can do the heavy lifting and leave the planning to me.”
A few hours later, the day’s last rays of sun shimmered off Magnolia Banks Lake and set Paso Fino ablaze in gold and pink. I leaned my forehead against the hot window and took in the new view.
The day had been just as sticky when I moved into neighboring Sugarbush Hall last year, but this year lacked the nerves I’d felt on freshman move-in. Sugarbush was closer to the dining hall, Georgian Grande, but had a mediocre view of the lake. But at the time I didn’t know anything could be better than Sugarbush, especially after I saw Will Easton for the first time. He carried a stereo down the hall and his slick basketball shorts swished with movement. He flicked his neck to get the hair from his eyes as he searched for his room, and my pulse quickened when I realized he’d be living only two doors away.
Instinctively, I reached for my phone and punched in a text to Will:
“When are you moving in? Can’t wait to see you later!”
Down the hall, the noisy wheezing of an old man caught my attention. He carried an armful of sherbet-colored towels and his face was red with exertion when he turned the corner.
“We pay . . . all this money . . . and your building doesn’t have elevators?” he panted.
“It’s part of the charm of living in Wild Mare Point,” a familiar voice said, following in his wake.
“Charm, my ass.”
Ruby Rae Mackey turned the corner with a smile despite her dad’s complaints.
When she saw me leaning against the window, she rushed down the hall in a cloud of expensive perfume. Her strawberry blond hair gleamed red in the glare of the sunset, and when she hugged me I realized how much I’d missed her.
“This one again. I remember you,” Ruby’s father said as he approached. He tossed his bundle of towels down on the table in the hallway and pulled out a chair. Oscar Mackey was old enough to be Ruby’s grandfather, and he’d made enough money in farming to last several lifetimes.
“Mr. Mackey, it’s nice to see you again. Can I help you bring Ruby’s things up to her room?”
“No, that’s a man’s job. A young man’s job,” he clarified. “Ruby Rae’s boyfriend should be helping, but he’s unable to be reached, conveniently enough.”
“Nicholas knows I’m moving in tonight, and he should be here soon,” she said. Her tone, normally girlish and accommodating, took on a sharper edge as she spoke to her dad. “And I can manage just fine by myself, Pop.”
“I don’t mind helping, really,” I said.
Ruby gave me a small, grateful smile.
“Let me at least get a look at my new room,” Ruby said, her tone returning to normal.
As she unlocked the door, I scooped up an armful of her towels from the table where her father had discarded them and followed her.
“I’m surprised my roommate isn’t here yet, but I guess that means I can take the bed by the window,” she called as she strolled in.
“Did you talk with your new roommate over the summer? To decide who brings the fridge and the TV and stuff?”
“No. If I’m going to have a bad roommate assignment, I’d rather not know. That way I don’t have to worry about it all summer. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.”
I frowned as I set her towels down on the bed. Ruby and I had roomed together in Sugarbush Hall, but I’d decided to live with Natalie Ciccone this year. Ruby was too nice to say anything, but I still felt guilty about leaving her to room with a stranger.
“All summer I kept telling everyone I couldn’t wait to go home. Drove my dad wild,” she drawled. “But now I’m home.”
She stood in the center of the room, marveling at the openness of the double-bed suite. Her room mirrored mine, but where my room already had mass-produced prints of artwork tacked above Natalie’s bed and posters of indie bands lining my half of the space, her room was a blank canvas; the burnished blond wood desks with wooden hutches were empty, in stark contrast to the crowd of picture frames and books filling the desks in my room. Natalie and I had moved our beds to a semi-lofted position, but the beds in Ruby’s room grazed the floor.
The rush of the shower thundered through the thin wall of our shared bathroom.
“Natalie?” Ruby asked, gesturing to the doorway.
“We’re getting ready to leave for Alex Connor’s birthday party. Do you want us to wait for you?”
Ruby sighed and walked to the large picture window overlooking the court below. “I have a lot of unpacking to do, and I promised I’d see Nicholas later tonight.”
Ruby and Nicholas, a brooding senior, had dated most of our freshman year.
From out in the hallway, Ruby’s father called to her.
“Ruby Rae, let’s get a move on. I’ve got to drive back to the farm tonight,” he shouted, his voice hoarse and rough around the edges.
Beside me, Ruby tensed.
“Only a few more hours until you’re free,” I whispered.
“The countdown started last May, Dell. This is nothing,” she said. She squared her thin shoulders and brought a smile to her lips. “Coming, Pop!”
THE MAIN STREET
of off-campus housing, Massey Avenue, was a kaleidoscope of colors and a concert of competing music. The houses and apartments were rundown, with sagging thrift store couches dotting porches, beer signs hanging in windows, Christmas lights roping around windows, doors, decks, roofs.
Natalie and I veered into the grass while a group of girls pushed past, loudly wondering if one of the frats was nearby.
“Do you think Will is going to show up at Alex’s party tonight?” I asked. “I haven’t heard back from him yet, but he’s probably moving into Paso Fino right now.”
Natalie lifted her long hair off her back and switched her purse to the opposite shoulder, bumping my elbow. “He’s never going to get a better night to go out all year. Classes haven’t started yet. And I’m sure he’ll want to see you after being apart all summer.”
“This may sound bad, but sometimes I wish I could just keep them apart. I always worry that he and Alex will have some awkward conversation about me.”
“What, like, ‘Hey man, we’ve both slept with the same girl’?” Natalie smirked.
“Will and I have never had sex,” I protested. “But Will saw me bring Alex back to the dorm before we were together, and Alex knows I’m dating Will. It’s probably pointless to even think that they would ever say anything, but I worry anyway.”