Undecided, p.2

Undecided, page 2

 

Undecided
 



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  No. What am I doing? I can’t justify this. There’s nothing he can say—

  “I can give you a break on the rent too,” he offers hastily. “How about until January, no rent? I already told you my parents are paying for this place, and I have some savings. You said in the emails you work at a coffee shop, right? So you can use that money for books or Christmas presents or whatever, and then in January, if you still like it here, you can pay. If not, no hard feelings. It’ll be like a trial run.”

  Did I just hear him correctly? Free rent?

  “Is it the bedrooms?” he asks, misinterpreting my hesitation. “You can totally choose—”

  “The bedrooms are fine,” I say.

  Don’t do it.

  “Everything looks great,” I hear myself add.

  Nice apartment, free rent, hot roommate?

  I can’t.

  “So… Are we doing this?” He shoots me a tentative grin, dimple flashing.

  Stare at something besides the dimple.

  I look at his chest and stick out my hand.

  “We’re doing this,” I say.

  chapter two

  Okay, so today didn’t go exactly as planned. It went mostly as planned, in that I have to move out of my current place by the weekend and I found a great, free, apartment, but obviously my roommate is not the bookworm I’d been anticipating. And we once had sex in a closet and then he forgot about it.

  I drop onto the edge of the twin mattress in my shoebox-sized dorm room and sigh, trying to convince myself I made the right decision. I mean, if I make a pros and cons list, the pros obviously outweigh the cons. And what’s the worst that could happen? I have a crush on my roommate for a while? Big deal. People live through crushes all the time.

  The tiny dorm window is already open, but I still shove it up an extra half inch, as though it will make breathing any easier. After last year’s debacle I’d had to sign up for summer classes and move into Henley, the lone residence they keep open for summer students. The rooms are barely big enough to house a bed and an average-sized human, and the building is nearly deserted. Of its ten available floors only five are in use, and there are four other people on my level. Not that I’ve had a lot of time for socializing, with three classes, a full-time job, and three hundred hours of community service.

  I wrapped up my summer courses and community service last week, and now all that’s left is my job at Beans, the coffee shop in town. I’d loved working there last year, but now it’s painfully awkward. The awkwardness is entirely my fault, but after nearly flunking out and getting arrested, I’d had to make some changes. One of those changes was ending things with my best friend and co-worker, Marcela Lopes. After getting my ass chewed in the Dean’s office, I’d flipped the switch on any fun and frivolity, and that meant getting rid of any bad influences in my life. Unfortunately Marcela fell squarely into that category, and she did not take being “shunned” too well.

  I know I made the right choice in changing my circle of friends—more like, deleting my circle of friends and opting to have none—but I really miss Marcela. She’s smart and funny and a little bit insane, and she’s the only one in the world who knows about my hookup with Kellan. She’d die laughing if she heard about today’s events, but I can’t call her. And when I go into work tomorrow, I can’t tell her, either. She’s not speaking to me, and it’s for the best.

  I’m pretty sure.

  I strip out of the constricting interview clothes and toss on a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt. I unwind my hair from its bun, relieved when it falls in nice waves down my back instead of its usual tumbleweed nest. Though we technically have a small kitchen on our floor, it’s just a filthy microwave and a stove with one working burner, so I forgo eating in, grab a jacket, and head to the small campus strip mall, which has been a ghost town all summer.

  There are two days left in August but no one gave Mother Nature the news, and the trees in northern Oregon are already starting to change, greens giving way to muted yellows and reds, the air already taking on the crisp feel of autumn.

  Classes officially resume on September fifth, the day after Labor Day, and students are allowed to move in on the third. Until then it’s just me and a handful of other summer students lining up for burgers and fries at the Hedgehog Grill, one of the few campus restaurants that stay open year-round.

  “Hey, Nora,” calls Franco, the owner. “Lemme guess. Burger. Mushrooms. Bacon. Vinegar for the fries. And…an orange soda?”

  “Sounds good,” I say, getting out my wallet. It always sounds good, since I always get the same thing when I come here. I pay and find a booth along the wall, grabbing my archaeology textbook from my bag, determined to cram every bit of knowledge about matrices and excavation processes into my brain by the end of dinner. Even though I have no intention of being an archaeologist, I’d failed this course last year and the only way to ease the bruise of an F is to re-take the class.

  I’m halfway through a page about strata when I hear my name. Looking up, however, it’s not Franco calling me over to pick up my food, it’s Crosbie Lucas approaching with a tray of his own.

  “Trying to go incognito?” he asks, gesturing to my loose hair and non-cardigan. “Look more like a college student than a nanny?”

  “I guess it didn’t work.”

  “Can’t fool me.” Without waiting for an invitation, he slides into the far side of the booth and munches on a fry. “What are you reading?”

  “I’m studying.”

  “I figured. What?”

  “Archaeology.”

  “You want to be Indiana Jones?”

  “I just want to pass.”

  He shrugs. “Sure. Fair enough.”

  My eyes dart around and I catch several people looking our way. Despite last year’s irresponsible antics, I’m a small fish in a big pond, and I don’t have much of a reputation. Crosbie Lucas, however, does, and though I’ve just agreed to move in with his best friend, I have not agreed to be friends with Crosbie by extension. Every girl Crosbie hooks up with gets added to a list called the “Crosbabes” and no way do I want to join their ranks, rumored or real.

  Before I can think of a polite brush-off, Franco shouts that my food is ready. I head up to collect my meal, then return to the table and sigh when Crosbie shows no signs of leaving.

  “What are you doing on campus?” I ask. “I thought you lived on the Frat Farm.” The short strip of old Victorian homes converted into Burnham frat houses on the west side of campus has more than earned its name, thanks to the wild parties and rumors of crazy behavior that’s more fact than fiction. I should know, since I’d been a frequent flier there last year.

  Crosbie speaks around a mouthful of food. “Just working out. They keep the Larson gym open all summer.”

  “I thought they had weights at the frat houses.”

  “Oh yeah? You spend a lot of time there?”

  “No,” I lie. “Just a guess.” Though Crosbie and I were never officially introduced last year, we’d been at a lot of the same parties, and it’s more than a little offensive that he doesn’t remember me.

  He stuffs a couple of fries into his mouth. “I’ve got an elliptical and some weights in my room, but it’s not enough. And the gym here’s quiet in the summer, so I like to use it when I can.”

  “Makes sense.”

  “You staying on campus?”

  “Yeah. I was taking summer courses.”

  “Trying to get a leg up, huh?”

  Ha. “Yep,” I lie again.

  “Kell says you’re moving in.”

  I hesitate. I already know it’s true, but hearing it from someone else feels weird. Like it’s more true, more permanent, more wrong, somehow. Like how you know streaking down Main Street is a bad idea, but hearing your parents say “You ran naked down Main Street, Nora!?” makes it sound even worse.

  “September third.”

  “Should be interesting.”

  “What does that mean?


  He shrugs. “It means, Kellan’s got good intentions about being a model student this year, but I don’t think it’ll happen. And something tells me you’re the kind of girl that doesn’t want to be corrupted.”

  I nearly choke on my burger. “Corrupted?”

  “Yeah. You ever go to a party? Get drunk? Mess around? That’s what Kellan’s into—hell, you’ve got your nose buried in a book, but even you must know that. I just think maybe you’re going to be…scandalized a little bit this year. It’s why I said you had the wrong address. So you didn’t make a mistake.”

  I try to keep a straight face. “Thanks for looking out for me.”

  He points at me with a fry. “I see you’re not taking this seriously. I’m just saying, don’t get your hopes up.”

  “What would I be hoping for, Crosbie?”

  He grins. “What every girl hopes for. Happily ever after with Kellan McVey.”

  “I’m just trying to graduate.”

  “Same here,” he replies, distracted by a commotion over my shoulder. “But sometimes…we get a little off track.”

  “Hi, Crosbie!” A gaggle of girls dressed in tiny summer dresses and heels totters past, each shooting Crosbie their most endearing smile.

  He gives them a nod. “Ladies.”

  “Join us?” one asks, as though I’m invisible and Crosbie’s dining alone. Seems to be the theme for today.

  “Sure thing,” he answers, watching them giggle and make their way to a corner booth.

  “You just went off track pretty easily.”

  He laughs and swipes one of my fries, since his are gone. “I’ll get back on track tomorrow. Nice talking to you, Nora.”

  “Yes,” I agree. “It’s been fantastic.”

  * * *

  Most people hate moving, but for me it’s really no big deal. All of my earthly possessions fit into a pair of large duffel bags and two pilfered milk crates, all of which I strap to my bicycle and painstakingly wheel over to Fir Street the day before Labor Day.

  It’s strange to see Burnham bustling again after it was a virtual dead zone all summer, but today is the official first day of move-ins, and campus is buzzing with new and returning students. Everywhere I look there are tearful parents and anxious sophomores, everyone doing their best to put on brave faces. Frosh leaders wear obnoxious neon T-shirts and carry megaphones, rallying their nervous young troops with promises of the best years of their lives.

  I keep my head down and maneuver my unwieldy load through the crowds, breathing a sigh of relief when I make it to the shady pathways that wind around the edge of campus. It’s quieter here, the canopy of old trees dotting the pavement with light and shade. The sun found its way back to Oregon and it’s warmer than it has been, enough so that even in jeans and a tank top, I’m sweating when I reach the apartment.

  I pause on the sidewalk and take in my new home. The apartments are more like tiny townhouses, each with a door that opens onto a tiny front lawn. They have red brick faces, green doors, and a single window on the second level. It’s…homey.

  The home I’ll be sharing with Kellan McVey.

  The front door bursts open and Kellan and Crosbie elbow each other as they stumble out, dressed in sneakers, shorts, and matching Burnham Track T-shirts. They stop when they see me, and I smile uncomfortably and wheel my bike up the short path to the front door.

  “You got more?” Kellan asks, taking in my load.

  “This is it.”

  “That’s it?” Crosbie looks perplexed. “Where’s your bed? Your desk?”

  “They’re coming,” I say. “I was in residence last year, so I don’t own any furniture. It’s supposed to arrive on Tuesday.” Today’s Sunday and tomorrow’s Labor Day, so that’s the earliest it could get here. I don’t mention that it’s coming from Ikea, so odds are I won’t figure out how to get everything built until the following weekend, if ever.

  I wave off their offers to help bring the stuff in, but they insist, and after one short trip, my bedroom is fully equipped with two milk crates of books, and two duffel bags of clothes and toiletries.

  “Home sweet home,” I say when they linger.

  “You, uh, want to come for a run?” Kellan asks. “We were just leaving.”

  I definitely do not. Athletics are not my forte. “Thanks,” I say, “but I have to be at work in an hour. I’m just going to hang some stuff in the closet and head out.”

  “Oh yeah?” Crosbie asks. “Where do you work?”

  Though Kellan already knows this from our email exchange, I tell them about Beans, located in the center of Burnham’s tiny downtown.

  “I’ve been in there a bunch of times,” Kellan says. “I don’t think I saw you.”

  I do my best not to roll my eyes. I’m invisible. I get it. “I must not have been working.”

  “They have open mic nights, right?” Crosbie asks, looking interested. “Like, for any type of talent?”

  Kellan makes no effort to hide his eye roll. “Dude. No.”

  I’m expecting him to make a joke about his lap dance talent or something, so it’s a total surprise when Crosbie says, “Do you ever have magicians perform?”

  My eyebrows shoot up. “Magicians? Er, no, not that I’ve seen.”

  “Huh.”

  “No one has time for your tricks,” Kellan mutters, clearly embarrassed for his friend. But Crosbie doesn’t appear to care. “Illusions,” he says. “You don’t have time for my illusions.”

  I’m too surprised to laugh, but I do make a strange sound that’s half snort-half snicker. Kellan looks at me in confusion, but Crosbie grins and I feel my mouth twitch. Anyone who can quote Arrested Development can’t be all bad.

  “There’s a sign up book at the register,” I tell him. “Come in any time and put your name down.”

  “Maybe I will.”

  “Don’t encourage him,” Kellan pleads, dragging Crosbie from the room.

  “No encouragement necessary,” Crosbie says. Just before he lets Kellan win the tug of war he adds, “We’ll see you.”

  That would be a first, I think, watching them go.

  * * *

  Speaking of invisible, I wish that were the case at Beans. Because almost everyone who works here is a student, we have pretty set schedules and I normally work alongside Marcela and our boss, Nate.

  Nate and Marcela are polar opposites. Nate is the tall, blond, hipster-type with skinny jeans and dark-rimmed glasses, and Marcela is the kind of girl who beats up hipsters. She favors thigh high boots, short skirts, and too-tight tops. Paired with her bleached hair and signature red lipstick, she looks like a cross between a fifties movie star and a naughty schoolgirl who hates me. I’d ended things right after my arrest in May, and I’d sort of hoped that her summer away from Burnham would help calm her vitriol, but it didn’t. She returned two weeks ago with the same amount of burning resentment she’d left with.

  “Hey,” Nate calls when I rush in through the kitchen, tying my apron around my waist. I’d parked my bike in the alley and now I wash my hands and pretend not to notice Marcela ignoring me as she takes a tray of muffins out of the oven. “You’re late,” he adds, propping himself up against the counter.

  “It’s three minutes,” I point out, drying my hands. “I didn’t account for the travel time.”

  “You’ve been making the same trip for a year.”

  “Not today. I mov—” I try to stop myself, but it’s too late. Not that it’s a problem if Nate knows where I live, but it’s obvious I can’t afford one of those apartments by myself, so the next obvious question is to ask about roommates, and I don’t want to have this conversation now.

  Or ever.

  Especially when Nate might not know about the Kellan McVey thing, but Marcela does.

  “Wait,” he says when I try to hustle up front. “You moved?”

  “Yeah,” I call over my shoulder. “I think I heard the bell. Time to work!”

  I elbow my way through the s
winging doors to the front of the shop, inhaling the familiar smells of coffee, vanilla, and pastry. The owner of Beans is a huge patron of the arts and every square inch of the shop that isn’t devoted to coffee, snacks, and seating is committed to displaying artwork. We’ve got everything from paintings on the walls to handmade furniture, sculpture, jewelry, and a very popular set of Russian nesting dolls painted to look like famous movie characters.

  I recognize the woman waiting at the counter. She comes in often and is nice enough, but she’s got increasingly complicated drink orders and despite the fact that she looks only a couple of years older than me, insists on wearing fur coats year-round. Marcela nicknamed her Mink Coat and the name stuck.

  “Ready to order?” I ask.

  “Yes, please. I’ll have a small iced half-caf double non-fat peppermint mocha with coconut milk. No whip.”

  Nate’s lingering at my side and she shoots him a shy smile he barely notices. For once I’m grateful for her complicated order. Welcoming the opportunity to avoid follow up questions, I take an absurdly long time to make sure the cup is perfectly full before sliding it across the counter.

  “Thank you.” She flicks another glance at Nate, who’s carefully restocking a tray of brownies, and leaves.

  “So,” Nate says when Mink Coat is gone. “You moved?”

  “Yeah.” I add the extra change to our tip jar. “Just to the edge of campus. Off campus. Barely.”

  His brow furrows. “Just off campus is a pretty nice area.”

  “Safe and studious.”

  He rolls his eyes. He knows all about my life changes, and while he wasn’t exactly cheering when I got arrested last year, he does think I’m taking things way too seriously. That’s just the way I am, though. Always have been. I’m hot or I’m cold, never in between. Invisible or under arrest.

  I started to develop when I was thirteen, cringing at the newfound unwanted attention my boobs were getting. Because I’d gone from being an awkward, gangly teen to the subject of catcalls and leers with no transitional stage, I’d rebelled the best way I could: baggy sweatshirts and jeans, sneakers, no makeup. And for the most part, it did the trick. I got no attention. I also got no dates. No one asked me to the Christmas dance or homecoming or even to prom. I had to go with my neighbor Charlie, who was a grade behind. When I moved to Burnham from my home in Washington, I decided it was time for a change of pace. I wasn’t going to bury myself in oversized clothing I found on the discount racks, I was going to come out of my self-imposed shell and live my life. When I met Marcela on my second day at school, I knew she was the ideal accomplice and the perfect guide to the Burnham party scene. And it wasn’t like I was particularly shy or awkward—I’d just never embraced my outgoing, sexy side.

 

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