Authors: Heidi Cullinan
“No she doesn’t. She just really loves Williams, like you do.”
They entered the fourth-floor hallway, which was unfortunately pretty busy. The guys whose rooms were on either side of the center bathroom had their doors wide open and music blasting. When Cara and Walter walked by, they wolf whistled and spoke loudly about tapping that sweet sugar ass.
They also, once Walter had cleared their vision, talked about the nasty cockroach problem on Porter 4. They emphasized
with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Cara stiffened. “
roach? Please. Fucking apes. Why don’t they just say faggot?”
“Because that will get them written up. Remember, you have to have at least a 3.0 GPA to get into Hope. These are apes who know how to compose B-level insults.”
Walter let her into his room. She stopped short, shook her head and laughed.
“Oh wow. Sardines have more room.” She laughed again, but then she put her hand over her mouth, abruptly sad.
“Hey.” Walter frowned and put his arm around her. “
. What’s going on? Why are you upset?”
“Because I left you here. I dragged you here, and then I left you, and this is what happened.” Walter started to protest, but she aimed a finger at him. “Don’t. I know I did this, so you can just let me stand here and feel bad for a minute.”
“How did you do this? What are you talking about?”
“What am I talking about? I totally dragged you to Hope. I told myself at the time you were miserable and lonely and you needed me, but to be honest, it was the other way around. I wanted you here, so I talked you into it. Now you’re stuck. You should transfer back home. You shouldn’t have to do this.”
Walter rolled his eyes. “Jesus, this wedding shit has made you a sap. You didn’t drag me into anything. I wanted to come, I’m here, and it’s fine.”
“This isn’t fine,” Cara demanded, pointing to the overcrowded room.
“I’ll get it sorted.”
“That’s what you keep telling me on chat. How, Wally?”
He had no idea. He’d sort of dug around the first week and a half, trying to find somewhere new, but it hadn’t been easy. Not for both of them and not together. He could have saved himself six times over, but not Red too, not without splitting them up.
“Leave it.” He held out his arms to indicate himself. “I’m fine. See? Go make a tulle bow or something.” He led her to the futon, then grabbed a Diet Coke out of the fridge, something he’d put there specifically for her arrival. “Speaking of bows. How come the plans? Where is the wedding of the year going to be held? You said you’d found a place.”
“Well, there’s this B&B on the lake I like, and I think it’s where we’ll end up going, unless we cave and go to the country club. Greg still clings to the idea of getting married in the aquarium, but I think it’s out of our price range, thankfully.”
“Yes, because every new bride wants to reek of damp and fish.”
She sighed. “I know. I hate to squash the idea outright, though. It’s his wedding too, and so much of this is turning into some kind of nightmare from
Say Yes to the Dress
“I take it your mother hasn’t settled back into sanity then?”
Cara rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Because she lives there so often.”
Walter put his arm around her and pulled her against him. “Sorry, Pickles.”
“You know that I’m used to it.” She sipped at her Coke. “Speaking of crazy. Meant to tell you this yesterday, but I was so fixated on getting the trailer I forgot. Your mom got kicked out of Whole Foods the other day.”
Walter went still. “What?”
“Yeah, I heard about it from my mom. I couldn’t make any sense out of it, because Mom fixated on the whole Shari-Lucas-is-a-Scandal thing, but from what I could gather, it was all projection. She yelled at some clerk about stuff in the aisle, which was standard, but then she wouldn’t let it go. She only stood down when the police showed up to escort her away.”
Walter shut his eyes and sighed. “Tibby told me the other day that Dad showed up at the house to pick her up and had a new girlfriend.”
“Bingo.” Cara patted his thigh. “I didn’t tell you so you could fix it. I just didn’t want you to hear about it on Facebook or something. I’ll take her to lunch next weekend, if you want. Maybe she can come with us to shop for table decorations.”
“Oh Christ, that’s above and beyond the call.”
Cara shrugged. “I think it might be a benefit, because she and Mom would argue, and Greg and I could sneak off.” She glanced at her phone and frowned. “How the hell long does it take to park a car? Is this parent weekend or something?”
“They’re doing construction on Fourteenth. Started middle of August. Whole road is torn up from campus to the river.”
“Oh good, because I’d hate for them to have planned that in the summer when no one would need to park a fucking car. Jesus. I don’t miss this place.” She leaned on his shoulder. “I miss you, though.”
He smiled and leaned back, resting his head on hers. “I miss you too. Every day.”
“Are you really okay with your bumpkin-boy roomie? You aren’t just putting a false face on for me?”
“Kelly? He’s fantastic. Naive and backward at times, but he’s got a good heart. Biggest complaint is all the damn sheet washing.”
Cara lifted her head and her eyebrows.
“Dust mites, you dirty mind.” He pointed to the air filter. “Kelly has like a million allergies. We have to wash every piece of fabric in the room every week in hot water. We clean a lot too, but that’s not so bad. But hauling ass with all our bedding down to Porterhouse laundry every Thursday? Pain in my ass.”
“You said he’s gay, though, right?” Her eyebrows stayed lifted.
“Yes. But he’s Lutheran and saving himself for marriage. Or at least True Wuve.”
“Lutherans save themselves for marriage?”
“I don’t think as a general rule, no, but who can say for sure?”
Cara smiled. “I think it’s cute.”
“Well, it’s not like I practiced the theory. But that’s cool, that he wants that.”
She punched him in the arm. “True Wuve happens, whether you like it or not.”
“I’m not saying it doesn’t. But it’s rare as a dodo, and then to put First Time on top of it? Crazy.”
“You’re just mad because you want to blow him.”
“Hell yes I want to blow him, and vice versa. I’m telling you, wait until you see that mouth. And those eyes. And that ass. He is grade-A talent.”
“Talent.” She leaned against his shoulder again. “I miss you, Wally.”
He didn’t say anything, simply kissed her hair and punched her lightly on the arm.
Kelly was at the freshman mixer, trying to ditch the group of giggling girls he’d become surrounded by and move over to the cute redhead by the tray of cookies when his cellphone started playing “Candle on the Water”, which meant Walter had assigned his texts that ringtone again.
Ditch the coffee klatch and come to Opie’s. You can meet Cara and her Prince Charming and then tell me you told me so about true love being real and all that crap. I have your pitcher of root beer and dairy-free pizza ordered already.
Kelly smiled at his phone and put it away.
“Who was that?” one of the girls asked. “Your girlfriend?”
“Roommate.” He tracked the redhead as he went for punch. Should he go over and introduce himself? The very idea made him sweat.
The girl beside Kelly leaned into him. “Tell him to come here and join our party.”
Her hand brushed his arm, and Kelly jolted before moving away. He frowned, confused—they wanted him to invite the redhead over? Then he realized they meant Walter. “He’s a junior.”
” another one of the girls said and leaned on Kelly’s other side.
God, Kelly wished Walter had showed up personally to collect him. Of course, then Walter would watch Kelly being an idiot, not asking talent out. He cast one last longing look at the redhead, admitting he wasn’t going to go introduce himself.
A third girl, the only one who hadn’t been hanging on him, rolled her eyes. “Ladies, give it up. It’s not going to happen. I
you he was gay.”
“I—” Kelly cut himself off, realizing the reflex to panic was foolish and unnecessary. Still, he cast nervous glances at the girls on either side of him. “Sorry, she’s right.”
The one who had her hand on his arm all but stomped her foot. “Damn it.” She glared at the one who’d called Kelly out. “How the hell do
“I have fucking eyes. He’s been scoping the guy by the punch bowl.”
Unable to help himself, Kelly looked that way once again. This time, as if drawn by the power of their mutual focus, the object of his affection met Kelly’s gaze. He held it too, and he smiled.
“Ooh, we have a winner.” The girl who had pointed out Kelly was gay nudged him in the elbow. “Go for it.”
The very idea had Kelly paralyzed.
he wanted to say, but then he remembered Rose’s admonition. It was totally his turn to do this, she was right.
But what if he got snubbed?
He lifted his punch to his lips. “I will. In a minute.”
The girls teased him a while longer, but soon they drifted away, new prey in sight. Kelly watched them swarm a group of guys who looked slightly nervous but who brightened when the trio came their way. He sipped his drink while he watched the flirtations fly between them. The one who had called him out for being gay hung back, assessing, while the other two duked it out with flattery and carefully placed touches. The guys leaned into the girls, accepting their overtures, though the tall one in the center—the cutest—seemed to get most of the attention, and he reveled in it. His buddies laughed along with him, but it was clear they wished they too had girls on them.
The girl who liked to hang back caught the attention of a guy on the end, quiet, cute, but clearly shy. The girl smiled at him. He smiled back and turned to her, his posture open, hopeful.
She stepped closer into his space and put her hand on his arm.
God, could it really be that easy?
His gaze drifted back to the redhead, who was still talking with his group of friends. This time, though, Kelly kept his eyes fixed on his prey until he turned. Their gazes met and held.
The redhead smiled, and Kelly smiled back, even as his heartbeat increased.
His phone played “Candle on the Water” again, but he hit IGNORE.
I’m going in,
he thought wildly, and headed across the room.
“Hi.” Kelly started to extend his hand as he approached, checked the gesture and brushed it against his leg instead.
“Hi yourself.” The redhead tipped his head to the side. “I think your orientation group was next to mine in the auditorium.” He held out his hand. “I’m Mason.”
Kelly met the gesture. “Kelly.”
“Great to meet you.” Mason ducked his head and smiled at Kelly. “How are you liking Hope?”
“It’s okay.” He resisted, but just barely, the urge to put his hands in his pockets. Instead, he gestured somewhat feebly to the room at large. “I know it’s a small school, but it’s still a lot of people to me.”
“Oh yeah? Where are you from?”
“Windom, Minnesota. It’s not very big.”
“I’ve heard Minneapolis is great.”
“It is, but we’re two hours from it. Well, if you want to go all the way into downtown. The suburbs are closer.”
Redirect. Do not start talking about your idyllic small town and how far it is from civilization.
“What about you, where are you from?”
“Naperville.” Mason’s smile broadened. “So what do you say we ditch this party and go make our own?”
Kelly didn’t just blush. He got hot, and cold, and almost paralyzed. “Um,” he managed eventually, and that was all.
Mason winked. “We can start with coffee at the deli. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, we could go for pizza at that place across from campus.”
Walter. Kelly put his hand over the phone in his pocket, half expecting it to ring on cue. “Oh. Actually, I’m supposed to meet my roommate after this. Maybe later?”
“Sure. Let me give you my number.”
Fifteen minutes later Kelly walked across campus toward Opie’s, heart pounding in his throat, head full and dizzy, dick a little bit hard. He kept remembering Mason’s smile. Mason’s fingers brushing against his as they exchanged phones. Mason’s wink.
Mason’s entreaty that Kelly text him later.
When “Candle on the Water” played yet again, Kelly startled, and he silenced his phone, unwilling to engage. He didn’t want to talk about the encounter, not yet. Walter could pull it apart when Kelly got to the pub. For right now? This was his victory, and he would savor it.
“Well look who finally decided to show up,” Walter drawled when Kelly came around the corner to their booth at Opie’s.
He looked winded, and he sank into the space beside Walter heavily. “Sorry.”