Unlikely allies, p.16

Unlikely Allies, page 16


Unlikely Allies

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  "I'll call you," Carol said as they turned to leave. Chris turned to wink at her one last time and I had to bite back a groan. Carol was a goner for sure.

  "I'm in love," she announced, throwing herself in the chair across from me.

  "I'm surprised it took so long, you've known him all of ten minutes," I said drily.

  "Closer to fifteen," she said, smiling at me impishly. "Isn't this why we came to college?" she asked, picking a piece of Mongolian chicken off my plate.

  I shoved my plate toward her.

  "So, you were a little rude there," she said, digging in with gusto.

  "Well, unlike you my dear, I'm not here to meet hunky guys, and especially not ones who assaulted my hand in a handshake."

  "Oh I'm sure it wasn't that bad."

  "Seriously, he rubbed his thumb along my pulse point. Who doesn't know that's a date move only?" I griped, taking a slurp of my Diet Coke.

  "You know, it might do Mr. Mountain Dreamboat some good if he thought you were dating."

  "Car, he has enough on his plate, like learning to walk again. This isn't high school anymore, no games allowed. He either wants me or he doesn't," I said, taking another drink to try to remove the sudden lump in my throat.

  Carol looked like she wanted to say more, but changed her mind and continued to eat the rest of my dinner.

  Chapter 18

  I let my head fall forward onto my desk with a thud. The pain radiated across my forehead, but it didn't alleviate my aggravation at the statistics problems that openly mocked me. "Why the hell an art teacher needs to know the probability of an ace of hearts coming up out of a gazillion cards is beyond me," I grumbled to myself, slamming the book closed in frustration. I was definitely going to have to hit a tutoring session if I planned on passing this class.

  "Shut down your laptop, chick-a-roo, we're going to a party," Carol said, breezing into our dorm room.

  "I can't, Car, I have a term paper due in my Teaching in Diverse Populations class, and this freaking Statistics class will be the death of me," I said, pointing to my textbook, accusingly.

  "Kim, you haven't been out since we got here. That's almost niiiine weeks," she said, dragging out the nine like it was a dirty word.

  "Car, I don't feel like going out."

  "Look Kim, I know you've gone through a lot, and I won't even pretend to understand what you went through, but honey, you have to move on. No offense, but Captain Dickhead is obviously too stupid to know what he's missing. Staying in the room pining for him every Friday night isn't doing you any good."

  "Car," I said, sighing. I knew she was right. When September had slid into October without a word from Mason, I faced the harsh reality that our short time together had meant nothing to him.

  "Come out with me, please. It's Halloween and one of the fraternities is throwing a huge costume party. I even bought you a mask," she said, holding up a cheapo paper Zorro mask.

  I giggled looking at it. "Seriously?" I said as my giggles turned to laughter.

  She smiled at me. "Actually, I bought you this one too, figuring you could pick," she said, holding up a plum-colored mask decked out in gems and feathers.

  "Okay, but you better not leave me stranded while you and Chris make out in some dark corner."

  "Chris is so old news. I'm going with Michael."

  "Michael?" I asked, wracking my head for a recent mention of him. "Regardless, you better not leave me high and dry."

  “I won't leave your side," she said, smiling at me mischievously. "Scouts honor," she added, seeing my skepticism.

  "You weren't ever a scout," I pointed out, heading off to the bathroom to take a quick shower.

  Carol's laughter followed me.

  Two hours later I was standing alone against a wall watching the party unfold in front of me with Carol nowhere to be found. I was ready to wring her neck for leaving me in a crowd where I knew no one. Though I was seriously pissed at her, I couldn't help openly gawking at the people around me. To say that college students got into their costume parties would have been a gross understatement. Scantily dressed girls walked around in costumes, ranging from vampires to angels. The majority of the male population at the party had gone with the werewolf theme. I had lost count after like the twelfth one walked by my safe place. I felt out of place standing there by myself, clutching a solo cup of punch that some stranger in a werewolf mask had assured me would make me happy. By his staggering around, I was pretty convinced his idea of happy and mine were entirely different.

  "I'm going to kill, Car," I mumbled to myself, setting down my full cup.

  "Talking to yourself is never a good sign," a voice said from beside me.

  Startled, I turned and found myself facing yet another werewolf.

  "Seriously, did you guys get a group rate on costumes or something?" I said, snippily, knowing I sounded like a bitch, but I couldn't find the will to care. I was over the whole party scene.

  "Nah, it was a joke. We thought it would be funny to all show up as badass wolves," he said, laughing good-naturedly.

  "Oh, I get it. We used to do stuff like that when we were in second grade," I said sweetly.

  "Ouch, that's harsh, but I guess when you put it that way, it does seem pretty childish," he said, pulling off his mask and tossing it to the side.

  Static from the mask made every hair stand up straight across his head.

  "Much better," I said, stifling a giggle.

  "Damn, I make static look good," he said, glancing in the mirror on the wall behind me.

  "Wow, I'm surprised you made it through the door with that ego of yours," I said.

  "You don't like me much, do you?" he asked, sitting on the edge of the end table in front of me.

  "I don't know you well enough to determine if I like you or not."

  "We could change that," he said, dropping his voice down a notch.

  "Seriously, that's the pick-up line you decide to go with?" I asked, shaking my head as I started to walk away.

  "Hey, wait. I know I sounded like an ass there. It's just unsettling to talk to you."

  "Really?" I said, raising my eyebrows behind my mask.

  "Yeah, Zorro was a hero to me when I was growing up, and I just never expected him to be so shapely."

  I couldn't help laughing as I pulled off the cheap mask and tossed it to the side. "There, is that better?" I asked.

  "Oh, damn, you're a girl?" he teased. "Can I get you a beer?"

  "I was actually on my way out," I said, all my animosity gone.

  "Just one? As friends," he pleaded.

  "Friends?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.

  "Yeah, you definitely have the 'no vacancy' sign on. I figured you have a boyfriend that is either stupid enough to leave you alone at a party or doesn't go to school here, right?"

  "No, he doesn't," I said, not bothering to correct him. "Okay, I'll have a beer, but can we drink it on the porch before my ears start bleeding?"

  "Sure, I'll grab a couple while you head outside."

  "Okay," I said, making my way through the sea of bodies toward the door. Multiple hands grabbed at me on my way out, but I ducked away from each of them.

  I was grateful to find the porch empty when I finally made my way out. I breathed in the cool crisp air, glad to be away from the smoky haze that had filled the building. I sat on the rustic swing at the far end of the porch, enjoying the relative silence. I could still hear the music throbbing beyond the walls beside me, but the muted sounds were a relief. While I waited for the "werewolf" to join me, I contemplated Carol's words from earlier. Maybe it was time for me to move on. Maybe meeting someone was my sign.

  "I was worried you'd ditch me," werewolf boy said, exiting the building with two bottles of beer in each hand.

  "I contemplated it, but I thought I remember reading somewhere that werewolves are super fast," I teased.

  "Good call. I would've definitely sniffed you out," he said, setting the unopened bottles on the ground befo
re sitting beside me. "By the way, I'm Brad," he said, holding out his hand.

  "Kimberly," I said, taking his hand in mine. I was slightly disappointed that I felt nothing at his touch. His hands were smooth and cool from carrying the beers, and all I could think about was Mason's warm calloused hands that felt so right wrapped around mine.

  "Freshman?" Brad asked.

  "Yeah, is it that obvious," you?"

  He laughed shrugging "Junior. So what do you think of UCLA?"

  "I like it, but I could do without my Statistics class," I said, grimacing.

  "Who do you have?"

  "Johnson," I said, making a face.

  "Yeah, I heard he's a prick. I took stats last year, but I had Wilson who has mad-teaching skills. I can help you out if you want."

  "That'd be great. I'm definitely going to need a little tutoring if I hope to pass the class."

  "It's no problem. You pick the day and time and I'll be there. What's your major?"

  "Um, I'm doing dual," I said, taking a deep swig of beer. "Art and education."

  "Sweet, so you want to be an art teacher?"

  "Yeah, my dad runs a foster camp during the summer and I got to teach the art class before…" I said, letting my voice trail off.

  "Before?" he asked, questioningly.

  "Before I got hurt," I admitted.

  "How did you get hurt?" he asked, sounding intrigued.

  "It's kind of a long story," I said, wishing I had kept silent, but before I knew it I was spilling out all the sordid details of my disastrous summer. He listened attentively while I talked and I was embarrassed when I finally finished. My diarrhea of the mouth had been getting me in trouble for years. I couldn't believe I was sitting with someone I hardly knew letting it all hang out.

  "Sorry, I didn't mean to unload all of that on you," I said, downing the rest of my second beer.

  "Sounds intense," he said. "You're like a hero."

  "No, I'm not," I scoffed. "I may have saved us, but I didn't save his leg."

  "Because you're a medical doctor and you botched his treatment?" Brad said, finishing off the last of his beer.

  "No, but I should have gone for help sooner."

  "So, those doctors of his told you that if you would have left sooner they could have saved his leg?"

  "Well, no," I hedged, getting his point. The guilt I had been harboring for the last two-and-half months shifted a little.

  "Have you talked to him since you left? You know, to clear the air?" he asked, using his foot to make the swing move slightly.

  "No, I was trying to give him space. Truthfully, I know I'm a dumbass waiting for him to show up, but what we shared in our mock cave seemed so real. Maybe everything was like the cave, nothing but a mockery," I said, waiting for the typical male response.

  He surprised me by sighing loudly. "I'm going to want to kick myself later for saying this, but I'm sure he's probably feeling conflicted."

  "What do you mean 'conflicted'?"

  "Well, no offense, but no dude wants his girl to do the saving, and by what you've said about him, I'm sure his pride took a major smack. Coupled with the fact that now he's a cripple. I'm sure he's hiding out, licking his wounds."

  "Don't call him that," I said as anger welled through me at the derogatory comment.

  "Look, I'm just stating how I'd feel. You may not think of him as a cripple, but that's how he's viewing himself."

  "So, what are you saying?" I asked, surprised.

  He sighed again. "I guess I'm saying give him time. The dude's gone through some serious shit."

  I laughed self-consciously at his words.

  "What?" he asked, looking puzzled.

  "Nothing, I just think my radar must be off. I thought I was going to have to dodge moves from you, and instead you're telling me I should give some other guy a chance," I said, shaking my head incredulously.

  "Oh no, your radar isn't off, I'm just a sap. Believe me, I thought this porch interlude would be going an entirely different direction than me encouraging you to hook up with someone else."

  I laughed. "Well, it's a new one for me, but I'll take it," I teased.

  "Can I at least walk you home, or am I too much of a chump in your eyes to do that?" he teased with twinkling eyes.

  "I guess," I teased back after pretending to contemplate it. "Let me text my friend to tell her. Even though, after the disappearing act she did tonight, she doesn't deserve it," I said, pulling out my phone so I could text the traitor.

  "Okay, all set," I said a moment later, stowing my phone back into my handbag. "So, I'm guessing since you had a different agenda tonight, you don't have a steady girlfriend?" I asked as we strolled toward my dorm.

  "No, my high school girlfriend and I broke it off last spring."

  "Why?" I asked without any qualms of intruding.

  "I guess we just grew apart. We had such high hopes when we decided to apply to the same college, against our parents' wishes, I might add. They all thought a little separation would have done both of us some good."

  "Ugh, so she goes to school here too? That's got to hit the suckage scale."

  He laughed. "Yeah, it wasn't fun at first, especially since she decided that my friend was more to her taste."

  "What a whore," I said.

  He laughed again. "Yeah, I guess she is."

  "It should be a law that you shouldn't be able to date your ex's best friend," I said, shooting him a sympathetic look.

  "Ex-best friend," he corrected me.

  "See, that's what I mean. These things never end well for the friendship," I added.

  "It sucked at the time since I caught them in the act. I guess our parents were right, we needed separation. She just took it literally," he said with bitterness creeping in.

  "Aw, Brad, I'm sorry. You deserve better than that whore," I said, giving his hand a squeeze.

  "Damn, the guy has to be a cripple," I heard him mutter under his breath as we approached my dorm room.

  "What?" I asked, not sure I heard him right.

  "Nothing, I'm just contemplating my morals if I hit on someone who is gaga over someone who got dealt a raw deal," he said wryly, winking at me to let me know he was joking.

  "What can I say," I argued.

  "I know," he mocked. "That's okay. I think it's allowable in this situation."

  "Why all the insight?" I asked, curiously.

  "My twin brother Dan is paraplegic. He was diving off some rocks at the lake near my house when he slipped and smacked against the rock on his way down."

  "Holy crap, I'm so sorry. When did it happen?"

  "More than two years ago. It was the day after we graduated high school. A bunch of us were blowing off steam, drinking and partying and stuff. Dan and I were arguing over Megan and me attending the same college. He wanted college to be about us since he claimed Megan and I had been tied at the hip since sophomore year. I was pissed, said some shit and wound up leaving the party. I got the call before I even pulled my car onto the road. He jumped off the rocks and wound up slipping just before he dove and hit the outcropping of rocks on his way down," he said quietly.

  "Oh my God, I'm so sorry," I said speechless.

  "It was tough at first. They weren't sure if he would make it. But, he did and we've all spent the last few years adjusting to it. That's why I know what your guy is going through. I saw all these stages with Dan. The only difference is his girl didn't want him after the accident."

  "What a whore," I said again, making him laugh.

  "Is that the only insult you can think of?" he asked.

  "Nah, but my friends and I decided freshman year it fits almost any situation when a girl has done you wrong, so we coined it our word. I guess I should pull out the thesaurus."

  "No, I like it because it suits both situations perfectly."

  "So, how does your brother feel about you off at college without him?" I asked, sitting on the steps of my dorm.

  "Oh, he's here too. He had to take on
line classes freshman year, but I dragged his ass here last year after he was done moping around. We have an apartment right off campus."

  "That's awesome," I said, feeling like a weight had been lifted off my chest. Maybe, just maybe, Mason would still come to his senses. "I'm so glad we met tonight," I said warmly, standing to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.

  "Me too," he admitted. "Though Dan will be disappointed I didn't bag a chick. He says he's sick of watching me mope around like a kicked dog."

  I laughed. "He sounds like a smart guy. I hope I get to meet him," I said, walking up the stairs backward.

  "Count on it," he said, heading back the way we had just come.

  I was smiling as I trotted up the stairs to my room. Carol had been right. Going out tonight was a great idea. Of course, I'm sure me meeting a guy who would encourage me to wait for Mason probably wasn't her intention, I couldn't help thinking.

  Chapter 19

  By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, my optimism had begun to wan. Brad and Dan, whom I had been hanging out with every spare moment I had, tried to remain upbeat, but I could tell by the time we left for break, that even they were second-guessing their advice.

  "Maybe you'll hear from him during the break," Dan said as we ate pizza in their apartment the day before break.

  "Or, maybe he's decided I'm not the girl for him," I said, scooping up a stray piece of cheese up with my finger. "Don't you guys get sick of hearing me whine?" I asked, sucking the cheese off my finger.

  "Are you kidding? It keeps me from hearing lonely boy here moan about his dismal love life," Dan said, tossing a piece of his crust at Brad.

  "At least I'm out there trying," Brad countered.

  "I don't need to try, I've already scooped up my girl," Dan said mysteriously.

  Brad raised his eyebrows at me, questioningly. I shrugged my shoulders. His guess was as good as mine.

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