Ui 101, p.1
UI 101, page 1
M. K. Claeys
After Glows Publishing
About the Author
Note from the Publisher
“Today is where your book begins…the rest is still unwritten.”
Unwritten, Natasha Beddingfield
Welcome to the University of Illington, where higher education doesn’t always take place in the classroom...
* * *
Southwestern bohemian beauty Rae, Midwestern punk rocker Ryn, and intellectual Southern Belle Mitzy meet for the first time on the wild ride that is college life. At UI, they encounter everything from being haunted by the past to having brand-new starts, going from the dean's list to being on academic probation, and dealing with dorm-room drama that becomes finding friendship where they least expect it.
* * *
So what happens when the place you were terrified of becomes your home and the crew of misfits on your floor becomes your family? You discover that the most important lesson is that where you are may be exactly where you belong.
What I wouldn’t give for a bit of freedom. Eighteen years I’d been stuck in this rinky-dink town, and what did I have to show for it? Well, let’s see...
There was the three-inch scar on my left thigh from when I’d fallen out of the maple tree when I was five. Oh, Daddy cut down that tree when I was fifteen, and good riddance, I say. I hadn’t climbed a tree since.
There was my high school record and diploma that said I graduated fourth in my class. Yeah, my class of ninety-seven. What an accomplishment.
There was the beat-up old Dodge in which I would be lucky if it didn’t have engine failure before I got across the country to start college this fall.
I stopped to think. I knew there had to be one more thing. Oh yes, the official piece of paper from the United States government that said since my mother was dead and we were no longer able to contribute her salary to our family’s income, I qualified for quite an enormous amount of financial aid. Well thanks, Mr. President. How will I ever repay you?
Whatever. Come August 25, I was out of this town for good. I hadn’t woken up with a smile on my face since I was eight years old, but today was different. Today was the day the realization I would be leaving this town behind finally kicked in. I woke up, dressed in my favorite long, flowy cerulean-blue skirt and white tank top. I checked my reflection in the mirror and decided that makeup or doing anything with my hair wasn’t worth the effort. As usual, this was as good as it was going to get. On my way out of the house, I scarfed down a bagel with veggie cream cheese for breakfast and headed into town for some last-minute errands. First stop: Abigail’s Place.
“Here you go, Auraelia, your last paycheck, baby.”
I’d known Abigail all my life—she used to babysit Sara Lynn and me when Martin was busy with school and football. She was like a grandmother to me, so it was only natural once I was old enough, I’d start working for her in her diner. The ’50s style restaurant, with its old-school checked floor, red booths, and black-and-white Rat Pack photographs on the walls surrounding the jukebox, felt like my second home. It seemed only right I was leaving now—Sara Lynn would be sixteen in September, so she could take my place as a waitress.
“So there’s nothing I can do to change your mind, is there?” Abigail signed off on my check. “You’re the best server I’ve got, and you’re due for a raise.”
I shook my head. “No can do, Abigail. I’m ready to start my new life. I’m ready for college. But don’t worry. I’ll be back for Christmas and next summer, so it’s not like it’s forever, and you could always give me my raise then.”
“Well, I’ll miss you honey. Here.” She handed me a separate envelope. “Open it when you get to school and find you need a little piece of home, all right?”
I nodded. “Thanks, Abigail. You’re one of the few people I’ll miss in this town.”
“Yeah, see you around, Auraelia.” Shannon wiped down table thirteen. “Make sure you let all those big city airs out of your head before you come back, or you won’t fit through the door.”
I didn’t say anything. Shannon had always been jealous because I had gotten the assistant manager position over her when Lisa left to elope with her fiancé, Esteban. But now that I was leaving, Shannon would probably take it over. I didn’t see what she was so bitter about. The bells chimed when the door to Abigail’s Place closed behind me as though it was the last time.
No more waiting tables at the diner.
My second stop was the store to make a few purchases I’d need for my dorm room, and then I headed home. In the heat of the day, the streets were deserted, and I cranked up the air conditioner inside the old Dodge. I slowed as I came upon Don Webster’s house—his car was parked on the curb, covered in shaving cream and toilet paper. I pulled the Dodge over, rolling down the window as I came alongside.
“Don, you all right?”
“Huh? Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just, well, this is the third time this month. And the police don’t seem to have a lead as to who’s doing it.”
“They don’t seem to have a lead?” I scoffed. “Is that their way of saying ‘We know who it is, but we won’t prosecute because we want to make sure Dave Baxter, John Ephrams, and Zach Thomas are only remembered for the championship trophies they brought home and not for misdemeanors?’ Please! God, Don, that is so pathetic!”
“I know,” he agreed as he pulled the toilet paper off his rearview mirror. “You mind giving me a hand?”
Of course I didn’t. Anything for Don—he’d always been there for me. Unlike some of my other so-called friends. I remembered the time I showed up to the desert kegger with my boyfriend, only to have the story come out that my supposed and now ex-best friend had slept with said and now ex-boyfriend. Don Webster had been the one to drive me home. A true friend, he asked no questions and I was not forced to tell any lies. The exes were two more reasons I wasn’t sorry to be leaving this town behind.
No more jocks toilet papering everybody’s cars just because they know the cops won’t do anything.
My cell phone rang as I left Don’s house. Dad, asking me to pick up—what else?—more toilet paper on my way home. Unfortunately for me, I decided to go to the corner store instead of the superstore, and I ran into one of the people I hated most—not only in this town, but in the world.
“Auraelia!” Becky Jackson squealed. “Hey, girl, how’s it going?”
I groaned inwardly. Speak not of the Devil, lest she appear. Becky Jackson was my ex-best friend. She was everything I had always wished I was—wealthy, blonde, beautiful, and insanely popular. Part of me wondered if she might just be a touch insane. Her obsession with my ex-boyfriend bordered on pathological. What could any woman see in a man who would cheat on someone to be with them? Once a cheater, always a cheater, right? I sighed.
Becky Jackson was the picture of perfection
“I’m fine, Becky; how are you?”
“I’m just fantastic!” She attempted to keep my wavering attention, following behind my heels and chattering away as I made my way through the store. “Hey, did you hear?” she said, putting herself between me and the display of battery-operated bathroom clocks I was considering. “Dave totally ditched Selma Watkins. I think he might ask me out again.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her as I sped to the toiletries. “That’s nice.” I pretended the selection of toilet paper was the most interesting thing in the world.
“Really! Emma told me at the kegger last night. Hey, speaking of keggers, why weren’t you there? I mean, seriously, Auraelia, everyone was there! You totally missed it! Evan did a kegstand and totally fell over and knocked himself out. There was blood everywhere!”
“And you obviously don’t care how Evan felt about it, do you, Becky? Or the fact that he waited till his hangover had worn off so he wouldn’t get a ticket for being a minor in possession before spending the morning in urgent care, only for them to clean it up and deny him stitches because the wound had been open too long?” I spat through clenched teeth. “But you didn’t care to hear about that, did you, Becky? As long as it was fun for you, right?
“Well, it was really funny. God, Auraelia, what crawled up your moo-moo? Obviously not Dave,” she retorted.
I almost threw my toilet paper at her but decided against it and slammed it on the checkout counter instead, nearly making the salesgirl fall off her stool.
“You know I don’t give a damn about Dave Baxter, Becky, and you know the only reason he’d ask you out again is for exactly that—to crawl up your skirt. So why even bother?”
Becky examined her nails and picked out a new polish from the display at the checkout. “Well, at least I get mine, Auraelia. You should consider it, and then maybe you wouldn’t be so uptight. Besides, at least I didn’t give it up to him, unlike some people we know.”
I shoved my purchase into the bag and stormed out, not even bothering to take the dollar and thirteen cents change. I didn’t “give it up” to Dave Baxter, or anyone else for that matter, but that was none of her business. God, did I hate Becky Jackson.
No more small-town gossip. No more stupid keggers in the desert that turn you into the town leper if you don’t attend. No more post-football pool parties. No more Becky Jackson laughing at me behind my back, and no more Dave Baxter laughing at everyone behind their backs.
Honestly, what was there to miss by leaving for a school over a thousand miles away?
As I pulled into my driveway fifteen minutes later, I looked at my house for what would soon be the last time.
No more first day of school pictures with Sara Lynn on the front porch swing.
I cringed. “Yes, Mrs. Laurence?”
“Those bratty relatives of yours ruined my begonias again with their hootenanny ball game. You tell them to stay off my lawn and keep their ball under control or I’ll call the authorities!”
“Mrs. Laurence,” I sighed. “Melvin and Mya are five years old. It’s not like they have full control over their motor skills just yet. And besides, they haven’t been here in almost two weeks. They’re visiting their grandparents in Nevada. Are you sure a skunk or a jackrabbit or a fox didn’t get into your flowerbeds?”
“Yes, I’m sure, Little Miss Smarty-pants. And if you don’t watch your mouth and stop being sarcastic with me, I’ll call the cops on you!”
God, I didn’t know sarcasm was a social more punishable by law.
No more arguing with the crazy neighbor-lady when my niece and nephew accidentally kick their ball on her lawn. No more hot spring for relaxing in the woods that we own behind our house.
Wait. Damn. No more hot spring was a bad thing. So my own private spa was something I didn’t want to leave behind. Out of all the other thousand things I couldn’t wait to wash my hands of, giving up one luxury wasn’t such bad odds. But I had two weeks until I left, and I was going to spend every spare minute I could soaking in it.
“Sara Lynn?” I knocked on her bedroom door a minute later. “I’m going to the spring one last time. You want to come with me?”
“Sure,” she said, marking her place in her book. “Let me get my suit on, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”
I grabbed my new oversize university tee, the one they’d sent me in my acceptance package along with a vinyl drawstring backpack with the school’s mascot, Bucky, screened onto it, and slipped it on over my bikini. I grabbed two bottled waters from the fridge and shoved them into the backpack along with a few granola bars and two towels. After that, I waited by the back door for my sister, and ten minutes later we were out of the door and trekking through the woods to our own private oasis.
“It’s going to be weird with you gone,” Sara Lynn commented as we settled into the steaming, sulfur-scented water.
“Yeah. It’s just Dad and me now. Martin and Ashley don’t bring the twins over very often. You know that.”
“Can you honestly blame them? With how insane old Mrs. Laurence acts if their ball even touches her lawn?”
Sara Lynn laughed. “No, I guess not. But it’s more than Mrs. Laurence that’s driving you to go away to college so far east.”
I sighed. “I can’t lie to you, Sar. You know how much I hate this town. I always have. That doesn’t mean I hate you or I like leaving you and Daddy by yourselves, it’s just… Well, it just means Evansdale is not where I think I’m meant to spend the rest of my life.”
“Can I come visit you?” Sara Lynn turned toward her towel on the ground. I couldn’t see her face any more, but I had already seen the tears welling up in her eyes. The damage had been done.
“Of course you can!” I cried, swimming over to give her a hug, even though she tried to push me away. “I’ll be home for Christmas, and then on your midwinter break in February, you can come and spend the whole week with me if you want!”
“Won’t your roommate care? Those rooms looked pretty small in the pictures.”
“Not if I threaten to kick her ass, she won’t. You’re my sister, and you are welcome any time. I’d do the same for her if she wanted her sibling to come visit. Who knows, maybe she has a younger brother who’s hot, and you guys can hook up,” I teased.
“Whatever! But cool. I want to see where you’re going to live. You want to see who can touch the bottom first?”
I grinned. We’d played this game ever since we were old enough to swim. “You’re on. Loser carries home the backpack.”
Everything was packed. Nearly all I owned had been smashed inside that tiny Dodge, and it took me three attempts to fit my guitar in. No way was I leaving without it. It had been my mom’s, and to me, there was no price on its value. I tha
I flipped on the radio and music filled the interior of the old Dodge. I had a full tank of gas and a brand-new student Visa credit card to buy more. A case of Red Bull from my brother Martin and a package of Chips Ahoy! chewy chocolate chip cookies from Dad and Sara Lynn sat on my front passenger seat, along with my one-eyed teddy bear, Pooka. I had everything I needed to keep me going through the night before I stopped to nap for a few hours and then drove on during the day tomorrow. The fact that I was leaving an entire day before move-in and welcome week officially started was not bothering me in the slightest. I was ready to leave this godforsaken town for good.
“Bye, Daddy!” I hugged him one last time. “Bye, Sara Lynn. Be good, and send cookies!”
“I will!” she agreed, giving me a squeeze. “You know I’m taking your room, right?”
“Whatever. It’s not like I’ll be here to notice.”
“Take care,” said Dad. “Call if you have problems, okay, Pooh-bear?”
“I will, Dad. And I’ll call when I get there too.”
“I love you, honey. We’re so proud of you, you know!”
“Thanks, Dad. And I was serious about the cookies, Sara Lynn.”
“You’ll gain the freshman fifteen if you don’t watch it!” Sara Lynn teased.
by M. K. Claeys have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes