I leaned over and scratched Leo’s head as he purred loudly against my shin. He meowed for attention and I couldn’t help but giggle.
“You are such a needy thing. You know that?” I scratched under his chin, his favorite spot. “I’ll be back soon, okay? Stay out of trouble.”
My keychain jingled as I locked up, Leo’s face looking up at me curiously until the door closed. It was a beautiful day and the autumn sun casted beautiful rays of light throughout the corridors. I knew it would be gorgeous the moment I step out onto the front lawn, I could feel it in my bones. Jay might want to take a walk with me to take a look around the campus before classes started tomorrow.
I looked up and could see Sarah’s smiling face at the end of the hallway. She wasn’t always so overbearing. If everyone just gave her a chance to really be herself, they would know the difference. She was so used to trying to please everyone around her that she wouldn’t allow herself even the slightest bit of room for failure.
“Hey!” I smiled warmly when I finally caught up to her. “What’s up?”
“You going somewhere today?”
“Well, I was going to see if Jaylyn might want to get coffee with me and go over her classes. Maybe take a walk on campus. That way she won’t be lost tomorrow.”
“Scratch that. I need your help with the choreography for our new routine.” She huffed, crossing her arms.
I take it back. You’re a bitch.
“Sarah, I really wish I could. But I already promised Jaylyn today.” I lied.
I ignored the pang of guilt in my stomach for lying to her, even though she had a tendency to use me. Sarah won captain of our squad two years ago, and has never let me forget it. Everyone wanted to be a part of her crowd, and I just couldn’t measure up to their standards. But what they didn’t realize, Sarah had and continues to use my routines that I created on my own for our competitions. She’s been praised and we’ve won every competition since.
“It’s not just me, Elsie. The team needs you.”
“If the team needed me, I would have made captain when I ran for it. I told you I would help when I could, but I’m busy today. It’ll have to wait.” My eyes softened at her hard expression that was clearly laced with worry. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re such a snob, Els. Only thinking about yourself.” She sneered in defense.
“I really wish you wouldn’t say mean things to me, Sarah.” I shrugged one shoulder. “It doesn’t hurt my feelings; it just makes you look ugly. Just thought you should know.”
I really didn’t have time to waste arguing with her, so I just turned and walked away. I hadn’t heard from Jaylyn today, but I was hoping to catch her before she got off somewhere. I really did enjoy having her as a new friend. Besides Clara, I hadn’t really made any friends in my short two years here at Dartmouth.
I only joined the cheerleading squad to make my mother happy. She always wanted the best for me, even if I didn’t understand her methods. It was her dream for me to attend an Ivy League school, be the cheerleader she had wanted, and find a job that would afford all the nice things money and life had to offer.
I just wanted to hole myself up with a hoard of snacks, Leo, and my computer parts. I dreamed of being a technical analyst. I loved technology and trying to understand how it works. I had spent most of my childhood rooting through dumpsters trying to find discarded old parts and creating something from basically nothing.
My parents didn’t know about my college courses. They just knew I made the best grades and had been awarded a position on the Dean’s list. I really was trying to do right by them, Max and Alex included. Their future rode on the coattail of my education. If I didn’t make it, they wouldn’t. It had given me a new sense of purpose when I had first arrived here. I wouldn’t fail them.
I looked over the adjoining lawn that linked my building and Jaylyn’s together. This was going to be an exciting year, regardless. I had new friends that I hadn’t expected, and maybe it would be a good time to come out of my shell a little. I knew what everyone thought about me, even if they wouldn’t say it. I was always too cheerful, too energetic. I had been called simple, and plain. I had heard every insult and every whisper. I tried to not let it bother me so much and always keep a positive outlook on my rather sad life.
On the other side of the coin, a lot of people enjoyed having me around, even if I couldn’t manage to have a proper connection with them outside of a near acquaintance. With Jaylyn, it was simpler than the people who walked this campus with me every day. She was completely honest, and she had demons of her own. I could respect that. She didn’t like to talk about herself, and neither do I. But it was easy to talk to her, and I hadn’t been able to keep my mouth shut.
The doors to her dorm were propped open and I hurried inside.
“Hey, Elsie.” Giovanni side stepped to avoid bumping into me.
“No smart comment today?” I pouted. “I’m disappointed.”
“Nah, goof. Not today. I have to go get my classes changed before tomorrow. They have me set up on a weird schedule.” He laughed.
I smiled. “Oh, okay. Do you know if Jaylyn’s still home? I wanted to hang out with her today.”
“I haven’t heard from her. So, she’s probably still up there.” He waved. “Sorry to cut it short, but I really got to go.”
“That’s okay. I’ll see you later.” I returned his wave.
“Later!” He called over his shoulder, papers crumpled in his hands.
He was a handsome boy, not really my type, but definitely handsome. I shook myself away from admiring his backside and headed up the stairs. When I got to her floor, I had to pause to take a breath. Stairs were my weakness.
I rounded the corner and stop when I see a body hunched over a door.
“Motherfucker.” The body cursed.
I giggled. “Um. Hey, Jay. What’re you doing?”
She jumped and bumped her head against the handle. “Oh, hey, Els.”
I looked at her expectantly.
“This is Gio’s room. I need to get in.”
“To see if he’s lying to me.”
“About?” I half-smiled.
She was a terrible sleuth.
“Drugs. His father asked me to check and see if he was using.”
My eyes widened in shock. “I didn’t think Gio was the type to use drugs.”
“Me neither. But his dad is concerned. So, here I am. Trying to break in.” She huffed.
“Why don’t you just pick the lock?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Well, that’s what I was trying to do until you scared the crap out of me.” She put one hand on her hip.
“Oh, lord.” I couldn’t help but giggle. “Move over.”
I removed two of the pins in my hair and bent over. She watched me carefully as I expertly slid them both in at opposing angles. I gave the lock a little shake and the door popped open. I smiled and straightened, readjusting my hair.
“What the fuck?” She huffed. “You make it look so easy.”
“Well, I mean, it is kind of easy if you know what you’re doing. Want some help?” I asked. I cared about Gio given the little I knew about him.
“You’re a lifesaver. Get in, before someone sees us.” She practically pushed me into the apartment.
“Chill, Jay!” I laughed. “I passed Giovanni on his way out. He’s going to the administration building, so he’ll be stuck there for a while.”
“Okay, well, let’s split up. You start in the bedroom and I’ll start out here.” She suggested.
“Sure.” I smiled, happy to be of service.
I walked into Gio’s room and began looking under his bed and mattress, his nightstand and desk, even the pockets of the pile of clothes he left in the floor and came back emptyhanded. I walked back out into the living area and gave Jaylyn a weird look.
“I didn’t see anything that look suspicious. Maybe a large number of condoms, but at least he’s being safe.” I shrugged.
“Did you check the bags in his closet?” She asked, distracted.
“Oh, uh, no. I’ll go do that.”
“No need!” She cut me off too quickly. “I’ll do it. Check the shoes by the door, and then we can get out of here.”
“Okay...” I watched as she disappeared into his room. “You’re acting weird, Jay.”
“Wouldn’t you be if someone accused your little brother of doing drugs?” She called out.
She returned and looked triumphant. “Not a single drug in this place. Good.”
“Should we go now?” I laughed.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here.”
We made sure we left everything exactly as we had found it and snuck back out into the hallway. We giggled down the hallway until we reached her door and hurried inside and slammed the door closed behind us. Jaylyn washed over with visible relief.
“Hey, it’s okay.” I said. “We didn’t find anything, that’s a good thing.”
“I know.” She breathed. “Just don’t tell anyone about this, Els. For me? I don’t want him to think I don’t trust him. He would never forgive me if he knew I broke into his apartment.”
“We.” I corrected. “We broke into it. And no. I’m not going to say anything.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“So, besides being a detective today, what’s going on?” She asked, going into the kitchen to grab a glass of water.
“Nothing. I just wanted to see if you wanted to hang out today. Maybe walk around the campus a little? I would be a bad friend if I let you get lost on your first day tomorrow.” I smiled.
“I appreciate it, but I already know the campus by heart.”
I couldn’t help the disappointed look that colored my face and she could see it before it even started.
“We can hang out anyways, though.” She laughed. “I want to be able to enjoy my place when Ryker isn’t home.”
“Oh, he left again?” I asked. Of course, he did. Every Saturday.
“Yeah.” She looked down into her cup. “He was kind of angry when he left. Someone called him and whatever they talked about really set him off. He barely said anything before her stormed out of here. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Well, that’s weird. He’s usually back by now.” I looked up at the clock by the counter and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Usually? I thought he only did this kind of thing when his girlfriend came to town?” She looked puzzled.
“Oh, gosh. I’m sorry!” I made a goofy face. “Ryker is gone usually every Saturday night. He always comes back in the early hours of the morning. If Emma is here, he’ll be gone all weekend.”
“Oh.” It looked like Jay’s face was going to turn a shade of red, but it didn’t.
“What was the fight about on the phone?” I was curious, if anything.
“Well, I’m not really sure. It was broken up between yelling and whispers. But the end of it had something to do with Emma.” She shrugged. “He didn’t want to talk about it.”
“It was probably his dad.” I explained. “I’ve been around a lot of people. The only people Ryker doesn’t have a decent relationship with is his dad and Emma, as far as I know.”
“What don’t you know?” She smirked.
“Well, that’s a shorter list for sure.” I scoffed.
“You’re insane.” She shook her head. “So, what’s your favorite thing to do on Sunday’s around here?”
“Sunday’s are my designated lazy days. Movies, snacks, and Leo love. That’s about it.”
“That settles it then. Movies and snacks.” She declared.
Four movies deep and extended bellies full of carbs later and we were both laughing so hard our sides were hurting. I got to pick out the snacks under the order that Jaylyn would get to pick the movies. She chose horror movies that were so cheesy, we spent most of the time making fun of them and laughing at our own jokes. Jaylyn had a sense of humor when she wanted to, not just the sarcastic kind.
We both snapped out of the spell we were under when her front door slammed shut. Ryker strutted in and paused at our pajama clad armor.
“Did I miss something?” He asked.
“Girl’s night.” Jaylyn peered up from her side on the far end of the couch.
“And day.” I included, which incited a whole new fit of giggles from us both.
“This is going to take some getting used to.” He ran his fingers through his hair and my heart swooned. It was living art.
I looked over and noticed Jaylyn’s face had a similar expression, maybe a little darker. I wonder what she battled over internally every day. It obviously didn’t allow her a close unit of friends, let alone an intimate relationship. She has been acting so strange the last two days, and Ryker’s presence rattled her cage just a little too obviously.
I smirked. I would root for them in the end. They would be good for one another, in my unasked-for opinion. I just hope whatever demon that clouded her mind would eventually cease fire and allow Jay to live a little.
“Well, I better head out. First day is tomorrow and we don’t want to be late.” I jumped up and gave Jaylyn an awkward hug before I waved at Ryker and left.
Kitty cuddles awaited me.