The early afternoon was uneventful due to my rather annoying roommate. Not that he, personally, was an annoyance, but just that his ever-looming presence seemed to hinder any attempt I tried to make to wire our shared space with cameras. Not one person could be too careful, especially in the world that I had come to know. Everyone posed a risk. Everyone was in some sort of danger from someone else. I would rather keep myself at the top of the food chain rather than the bottom. From where I stood, Giovanni’s life, and my own would be simple here. That didn’t mean I wanted to take any chances.
I stood by the sink of the kitchen, filling my water bottle from the spicket while Ryker followed me with his eyes. I could physically feel his stare boring into my head, and for an odd reason, it didn’t bother me. I was used to living alone, so this experience would be new to the both of us, I presumed. But after the initial shock, the God himself seemed little bothered by me being his roommate.
“Would you like to walk to practice together?” He finally spoke.
“I could hardly believe that you of all men would be on the skirt squad.” I snorted, trying my best to hide the smirk that curved my lips.
His laugh was infectious, but I remained calm. The effort came naturally. “I’m not. I’m on the football team.”
“Why am I not surprised?” I rolled my eyes. “You should really have a conversation with the captain. Steroids have many negative symptoms, some temporary...-” I glanced sideways, briefly at the front of his pants and then back up. I couldn’t hide the amusement my eyes held. “And others...more permanent.”
He chuckled under his breath, but I couldn’t tell whether he was actually offended or not. He pushed off the counter and I could feel the warmth of his body standing so closely behind my own. His breath tickled the nape of my neck, and I had to force myself not to shiver. “I promise you; I am not lacking in either area.”
So, my roommate was definitely a playboy, and definitely not shy about it.
This was why I preferred to be alone. It made the job easier and my personal life simple. There would be no mess to come home to at night, and no potential weakness to be used against me. I tightened the lid of my bottle and my phone beeped on the counter. Time to go. I had been ready for over an hour, and had been on edge about going, but now I didn’t want to go at all.
I adjusted my tank top, and the waistband of my gym shorts. These girls would think I was completely impossible. I picked up my phone and shot Gio a quick text letting him know I was heading outside and would be waiting for him downstairs. I didn’t wait for a response.
I stood outside, minding my own until laughter broke me out of my solitude. Giovanni and Ryker came bursting out of the dormitory entrance laughing and carrying on like they were lifelong friends. Now, that was annoying. I raised my eyebrows as Gio stopped in front of me.
“Oh, so you know my roommate?” Ryker looked between us.
“Yeah. She’s like the world’s most overbearing older sister.” He explained, giving me a side glance.
“Older?” Ryker looked at me.
“It’s rude to ask a woman her age.” I retorted.
“She’s twenty.” Gio piped up. I could have hit him.
“Well, if we are done discussing me, should we head to practice now? Or we’re all going to be late. That’s the last thing I need.” I huffed, my grip tightening on my bottle as I turned and headed in the direction of the field.
I listened to their conversation and offered little in the way of input, but they were busy talking about training and strategies. I had very little knowledge of the interworking’s of football or any sport outside of an arena. There weren’t many rules you had to live by fighting for a mobster in the underground network. Maybe only one. The most important one. Don’t lose.
That had been the easiest for me. I knew one day I would meet my match, but with Dominik pulling me from the ranks prematurely, I really didn’t know whether or not I would actually get to see the day, or live that long.
The field was noisy as we approached. The football team peppered the field doing what looked like warm up stretches. I waved my goodbye to Ryker and Giovanni, taking off in a mild shuffle to where the cheer team stood around. As I got closer, I could hear a girl yelling loudly over the chatter and excitement.
The girl’s turned when I joined them and they all stared incredulously at me.
I would be the black sheep of this squad. It only bothered me because the whole point of having to be here was to fit in and keep watch over Gio. Dominik really overestimated this time.
“Welcome, Jaylyn!” The girl who had been previously yelling stopped and turned her attention to me. “I’m Sarah, your squad captain. This is your team, and your sisters. We are so happy to have you on the team this year.”
She was too cheerful. And that irritated me. She was exactly the type of cheerful I was used to. The fake kind. Her appearance was a dead giveaway. I know what people say. Don’t judge a book by its cover. But she wasn’t a book. She was a goddamn Poise magazine.
Who the fuck wears make-up to work out in?
“Thank you. It’s nice to meet all of you. I’m happy to be here.” I forced myself to smile.
“Alright, ladies! Time to line up!”
I stood around, clearly having no idea what the hell I was supposed to do when a familiar face came rushing over to me. Elsie.
“Hey!” She oozed happiness, and you could tell she was excited. “I’m going to be your partner to help you learn the routines and get you up to speed.”
“I know most of the routines, I just don’t know the formations.” I laughed.
She all but dragged me to our own personal corner on the track. As she showed me the correct placements for my feet, we talked about anything that popped into her mind at the time. Once her light interrogation was over, I now knew that she had two younger brothers, her family had little means of money but she earned a full scholarship to Dartmouth, she didn’t have very many real friends but everyone loved her, she had trust issues, she had snuck her pet cat into her dorm apartment, and had an affinity for movies and snacks.
I had only given her information that Dominik had put on my profile for who I was supposed to be, and I actually felt guilty lying to her. She didn’t question anything I had said, but somewhere in the darkness of my heart, I wished she would have. Maybe then, I would have been more inclined to tell her the truth even though Dominik would have me murdered in the streets for it.
“So.......about Ryker.” She squeaked.
“What about him?”
“How did you end up being his roommate? Boys and girls aren’t supposed to dorm together on campus.” Her curiosity was obviously innocent.
“Something about paperwork. It was too late to fix. Apparently, because I go by Jay, they thought I was a boy. But without another apartment open, I am stuck where I am.” I shrugged.
“I don’t know how you can be so calm about it.” She giggled. “Ryker is thee God among us.” She laughed. “He’s popular with just about everyone; has the best grades, is on the Dean’s list, and is captain of the football team.”
I rolled my eyes, turning my gaze over toward where the team was huddled together before their next play. Of course, he was the captain of the team. Why wouldn’t he be? What else could possibly be added to the long list of things that makes my life just a little bit more inconvenient? I found him standing near the middle of his followers, Ryker standing just a bit taller than the rest of them.
“His girlfriend is okay, I guess. She is kind of snobby, though.” Elsie continued.
“Girlfriend?” My head snapped back towards her.
“Oh, so you are interested.” She giggled again.
“Elsie.” I leveled.
“Okay! Okay.” She put her palms up. “His girlfriend’s name is Emma. Smith, I think. She comes around every so often. She doesn’t go to school here. I think someone told me she’s a senior in high school. They’ve been together for a long time, but I’m not sure if Ryker has any real feelings for her.”
“What makes you so sure?” I questioned.
“Well, every time she comes out, he always prepares by filling up his schedule with either school, the team, or some type of work, I guess. He stays gone most of the day and only comes home late at night. He used to use your room for her to stay in, but I guess that’s not on the table anymore.”
“How do you know so much?”
“Well, I don’t gossip a lot. I mainly watch people and just listen to conversations going on around me. But you can’t say anything about what I tell you. Strangely, you’re the only person I’ve ever told anything to.” Her brows furrowed.
“It’s fine, Elsie. I won’t say anything if you won’t.” I smiled. She would be not only a good cover for a friend, but a great source of information if I ever came to need it. Another wave of guilt crashed into me.
“Alright.” She looked a little sheepish, but she wasn’t squirming. Bingo.
I turned when footsteps sounded behind me and Giovanni came sauntering over. His face was red, and sweat poured from his hairline.
“Rough practice?” I asked.
“No. I’m fine.” He panted. “Hey, I just wanted to know if you and uh...” He looked over at my companion.
“Elsie.” She offered with a smile.
“You and Elsie...” He looked back at me. “If you guys wanted to come to Tony’s with me and some of the guys tonight.”
“Tony’s bar?” Elsie questioned. “Yeah, I’ll come. Sometimes, we all head over on the weekends, and Tony is a really nice guy. Jay?”
I fought the internal urge to scream. What the hell was he thinking? The last thing we needed was to be off campus in a public bar with inebriated college kids. He was making a show of it, and he knew it. I would come off as prude if I openly rejected his offer with Elsie standing right by me, and with her willingness to go, I couldn’t refuse. I would be going whether I liked it or not, because Gio had already made up his mind.
Elsie looked at me with hopeful eyes, and if they got any wider, she would have been the world’s cutest kitten. I’m not sure anyone could refuse her eyes when they pleaded.
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes, trying not to smile. “I need a shower first.”
The squeal of happiness that came from Elsie’s petite body was alarming, but it was hard not to share in her excitement, even if I wasn’t excited at all. She gripped one of my hands with both of hers and jumped up and down next to me.
“We’re going to have so much fun!”
“What time should I be ready by?” I asked.
“We’re all going to head over about seven.” Gio looked a little bit surprised at my choice of company, but didn’t comment.
“Alright. I’ll be ready by six-thirty. I’ll meet you out front around then?”
“Sure. Don’t make us late.”
He departed in a jog, and Elsie released my hand.
“Hey, um, I don’t have a car. Is it possible to catch a ride with you?” Her face reddened with what I guessed to be embarrassment.
I shrugged nonchalantly. “Yeah, no problem.”
“It’s just the other girl’s kind of follow in Sarah’s footsteps. I don’t think they care too much for me, and they mostly just spend their time making fun of me.”
“Elsie.” I squared her up. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I like you. And I won’t make fun of you.”
“Thanks, Jay. I really do appreciate it.”
“There’s really no need to thank me for basic human kindness, Elsie. Just meet me at my apartment around the same time, okay?”
“Okay!” She smiled and practically bounced away.
I shook my head. How could anyone treat her any way besides with kindness? High school was bad, but I guess college was a whole lot worse. Some things never changed. I bent over, grabbed my water bottle and towel, and started my way back to the dorms.
Not entirely unexpected, Ryker trotted over and matched pace with me.
“So, how was your first practice?” He asked, I suppose to make random conversation to ease the awkwardness.
“It was fine.”
“Are you and Elsie coming to Tony’s tonight?”
I stopped walking and turned to stare at him. “Are you stalking me?”
“Well, we live together now. You are a cheerleader. I’m a football player. I feel like I would need to do a lot more to be considered a stalker.” He chuckled. “But, if the shoe fits.”
“Thank you, for giving me all the information I need to fill out a police report.” I joked, stepping back into rhythm.
Ryker leaned his head back and laughed. His smile came naturally, unfocused and unforced. I did envy him that. To live a life carefree. It was a price too heavy to pay.
“So, Jaylyn Sloan isn’t a fan of bars.” He mused.
“Jaylyn Sloan isn’t a fan of people. She can get perfectly shit-faced by herself.” I retorted. “It’s cheaper anyways.”
“Not a people person.” He simmered on the idea. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Is that supposed to be an insult?”
“Not at all. Just a previous impression, that obviously had some truth behind it. You can’t say my initial assumption was wrong.”
“I guess not.”
We reached our apartment in no time, the short walk seemed shorter with our brief conversation. I let him shower first, hoping he would leave me enough time to shower and prepare myself for a night out. I wasn’t a girl in the sense of prepping myself for hours, but I would need time and privacy to recover my tattoos. Him being in the apartment would make it nearly impossible to do so without being found out.
He didn’t take long, but made a show of stepping out of the bathroom with only a towel draping his waist. When our eyes met, he smirked, but I rolled mine away quickly. As soon as he looked away, though, I found that my eyes had made it back to admire his figure. He was attractive. Other-worldly, even. And he knew it.
“I’ll see you there, yeah?” He asked, walking out of his room and heading for the door.
“If I make it.”
He chuckled under his breath, but left without looking my way again.
Oh, two can play at that game.