Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
I groaned into my pillow, burying my face to try to drown out the obnoxious beeping of my alarm clock. Morning had come too soon. Elsie had left pretty late the night before and I had stayed up to monitor Giovanni. He and his roommate had decided to have a party that lasted until the early hours of the morning, so I had sat at my computer watching the festivities. They were going to regret it when they woke up this morning to the mess everyone had left behind.
I stirred at the gentle knocking on my door and slammed my hand down on the penetrating sound buzzing next to my head.
“What?” I asked, trying to keep the sound of utter bitch out of my voice.
“Do you want the shower first?”
“No, you go ahead.”
Ryker hadn’t made any attempt to talk to me since Elsie’s departure and I didn’t mind letting him have his space. It made it that much easier to hole myself into my room with coffee and a blanket without him asking questions. I was now regretting it as I sat up and my head swam from the lack of sleep. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me, but it was starting to catch up.
I retrieved my phone out of my nightstand and found twenty missed calls from Aiden. It wasn’t surprising, but it definitely leaned on the level of concern. After a full weekend of no contact, he had probably gotten drunk and decided to blow up my phone. He was the type that needed a clean break, because if I were to try to ease out of it, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I tossed the phone towards the end of my bed without responding. Hopefully he would realize that there was nothing here for him.
I turned to close the drawer and noticed that the phone Black had given me was lit up, so I checked it too. Nothing out of the ordinary check-in. Dominik, of course, had to make sure that I was very aware that I would be expected to check in every couple of days and that if I failed to do so, there would be consequences. I swallowed hard. I would expect nothing less.
I threw it back into its hiding spot a little too hard, but I was starting to resent my life choices that had led me to this point. I slowly got out of bed and stretched out what sleepiness I could, and opened the door to my closet. I inspected all the clothes I had bought when I was with Elsie and had to stop myself from gagging. Half of my space was taken up by a woman that didn’t exist, and I wasn’t partial to it. I pulled the nearest blouse off of its hanger and grabbed the nearest pair of jeans. Another beautiful day to play dress up.
“It’s all yours, Jaylyn.” Ryker called out from the other room.
I waited to hear his door close and snuck into the bathroom with everything I would need. I could see that being his roommate was going to consist of hiding everything personal from him, and apparently, cleaning up after him as well. My nose scrunched at his pile of dirty laundry huddled underneath the sink.
“Hey, I’m heading out. I’ll catch up with you later.” Ryker called out. “Don’t forget to lock up.”
I jumped with the closeness his voice had traveled over the rising steam and sound of water hitting my back. Panic.
“Alright!” I yelled.
The slam of the front door coaxed me back into the cocoon of warmth, and I tried to force myself to stay within the calming streams. I wasn’t prepared for today, and I never thought I would actually get this far in my life. College had been such an out of reach dream that I never gave myself any time to humor the idea.
Freshly showered and dressed nicer than I was used to, I clicked the lock and headed down the hallway. I stopped in front of Giovanni’s door and knocked. And knocked. And knocked.
“Giovanni, I swear to God, you better get up and get out here.” My voice raised an octave. “Or you’re going to be late.”
The door suddenly flew open to an obviously rushed Gio, still sporting a towel around his waist. The only sign of a hangover was lingering in his eyes. I reached in my bag and tossed him a small bottle of ibuprofen. The closeness that came with being a bodyguard left his nakedness unfazed. It was more shocking to see him in clothes than out of them. Not that Giovanni wasn’t attractive. Sarah was definitely barking up the right tree, but when I looked at him, I could still see the sixteen-year-old boy that had just hit puberty. A little slow on the uptake, and still had a childhood chub to his face. There was no coming back from that. At least not for me.
“You look like shit.” I mused, parking myself against the doorjamb.
“Thank you, captain fucking obvious.” He was rooting through a pile of shoes by my feet.
“Very original. Maybe you should consider putting on actual clothes before worrying about shoes, yeah?” I smirked.
“Just get out.” He practically pushed me into the hallway. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
I gleefully sprinted down the stairwell, taking in life’s small victories. Not that I wished for Giovanni’s discomfort, but the smug gratitude that came with him having a rough go of things brightened my day considerably. A little karma for all the trouble he has given me over the past couple of years. I could just kill him, maybe? Nah. Too much trouble would follow me around. Stuck in the daydream of a world without Gio, I hadn’t paid any attention to where I was walking until I crashed against a wall of muscle.
“Oof.” The air escaped my lungs in one big whoosh.
“What the..-?” The mass turned towards me, just as I gathered my things back into my arms.
“Excuse me.” Salt. Lots of salt.
“Well, that’s rich coming from the guy standing in the middle of the hallway, basically blocking everyone from getting around your large ass.” I snipped.
I think I have a little woman complex, even though I could take him down and still leave enough time to grab breakfast before my first class.
“Oh yeah? Coming from the ditz who can’t look where she’s going in the first place?” The ball was now in my court.
Most guys I came into contact with took the submissive edge when it came to the sharpness of my tongue. This was definitely a change of pace. I looked up to eye the giant in front of me, flanked by a couple guys I had seen on the field not three nights ago. Then it clicked. These must be Ryker’s friends.
“Ditz? I probably have more smarts in my pinkie finger than you have in that tiny brain you have rattling around in that oaf head of yours.” Tit for tat.
The bear in front of me only smiled instead of giving another retort.
“I’m Abraham. Abe.” He chuckled.
I raised a brow. “Well, Abe. You’re in the fucking way.”
I neatly shoved past them and stormed outside, ignoring the typical male response of whistles and catcalls. I stood out in the breezeway and calmed the rising pressure that always followed with me swinging my fist at the nearest person. I swallowed down my frustrations and decided that at some point I would have to find an outlet to keep myself in check. Couldn’t just walk around punching people because I felt like I was in the mood to.
A kick-boxing class, maybe? Worth a try.
I checked the time on my phone and shoved it back down my back pocket, seething at the huddle of men peering at me through the glass doors. They all came clambering out, Giovanni in tow and I rolled my eyes. Of course, they were here for Giovanni. Why would I have thought any different. Gio gave me a quick glance and continued laughing along with whatever they were joking about. Probably me. Honestly, it didn’t bother me.
I kept my distance behind them as each one departed from the group, headed towards their first class of the day. When Gio was finally left on his own, I trotted up next to him and fell into pace easily.
“New friends?” I asked, tinged with distaste.
“They’re alright once you get to know them, Jay.” He kept looking down at him map.
“I’ll drop you off at your first class.”
“Of course, you know where my classes are.” It was his turn to roll his eyes. “Abraham likes you.”
“I’m sure he does.” I scoffed.
“Said you nearly pushed him to the ground.”
“Hardly.” I couldn’t help the humor that brightened my eyes. “I could, if given a decent chance.”
“Jay, I’m trying really hard to not be, you know, me. At least while we’re here. It’s nice when no one knows your business.” He admitted.
“Tell me about it. Look...” I stopped and pulled him to the side, just outside his first lecture hall. “I’m trying to do the same. But I still have a job to do. I’m doing my best to be as normal as possible. So, you can have a normal life here.”
“Okay. But you have to stop taking the offense with everyone I come into contact with.”
“That’s not even fair. I would have treated anyone the same exact way in that situation. But, sure. I’ll try to appear more docile.” I had to contain the huff at the back of my throat.
“That’ll be the day.” He cracked a small smile.
“Just get your ass to class, and pay attention to the Professor.” I rolled my eyes again. “Not the pretty girls wearing skirts, okay?”
He laughed just then and shoved me away from him. It was definitely a sibling affection that we had come to have between each other. I watched him until he found a spot in the hall and then headed out to get to my own lecture before I would be considered tardy. If Dominik was going to send my ass to college, I was going to make the most out of being here for free.
I grimaced as I approached my last lecture for the day. My back was already beginning to hurt from the hours I had spent bent over my laptop taking notes. Most of my classes were for freshman, so I was given a healthy dose of recounting everything I could remember from my high school courses, mixed in with college level starting courses.
My brain was soothed by the course elective I chose for my last class of the day. Elementary Oceanography. As soon as Black had informed me of my life changing situation, I made sure to contact Dartmouth and make slight changes to my schedule that Dominik wouldn’t notice. If I was going to be here, I should at least be attending classes that I wanted. Or classes that I would have chosen in place of the strange course my life had taken me.
I entered the hall and winced, looking straight down at the flats I chose to wear instead of my boots. They weren’t broken in and the backsides were beginning to tear into my heels. I tried to ignore the pain and found a spot in the back of the hall. I set my laptop down and opened it up, pulling up a new page for notes I knew I would need.
Busy with myself, I hadn’t noticed the person who decided to sit next to me. I was in the back, two rows away from the nearest student and this girl decided to sit next to me. I turned to say something and stopped when a goofy familiar face beamed at me.
“I can’t believe we have a course together!” Elsie was her usual happy self.
“Me neither.” I raised my brows, mostly from disbelief. “You are taking courses for Oceanography?”
“I’ve already completed most of the courses for computer sciences and I’ve done quite a bit of electives. I completed all my core courses last year, so now I kind of just wander from elective to elective.” She explained.
“Hm.” Of course she was smart. There was no doubt about that.
“So how is your first day going?” She was set up for the lecture in less than a minute.
“Really?” She pouted. “That’s all I get?”
“Yeah. Just fine.”
“You’re such a grouch sometimes.”
“It’s been long.” I caved. “Had a rushed morning. Came close to hitting a guy. I’m trying to not get distracted during my classes. And, my heels are on fire.” Short. Sweet.
Her eyes bugged out. “Who did you almost hit?”
She turned away to rummage through her bag while I sighed. “Some guy. Abraham. I’ve seen him around Ryker and Giovanni. He’s a douche.”
She came back to face me and passed over two Band-Aids with a smile. “Oooh. I know Abe. He is kind of a douche.”
I gave her a look.
“Just because I’m nice doesn’t mean I can’t call it like I see it.” She shrugged.
I went to respond but the Professor started the class and everyone quieted down. Elsie and I broke away from ourselves and gave our full attention.
When the lecture was over, Elsie began to organize her notes and I couldn’t help but notice how much more in depth hers were compared to mine. School wasn’t easy for me, and I always had to put in an extra amount of time to get the grades I needed to pass.
“Hey.” I whispered, trying to keep my voice low so that we wouldn’t gain an audience. “You think you could help me with my classes?”
Her eyes brightened. “Of course, I don’t mind.”
“No problem. I’ve tutored before.” She smiled. “We can talk more about it after practice if you want.”
I immediately dropped my bags as I pulled my horrid shoes off in the entryway. Ryker was sitting in the living room engrossed in his own computer, notebooks sprawled out around him. I went straight for my room and peeled away my clothes in a rush. They were tight and uncomfortable compared to my usual attire and it felt nice to breathe.
In the time it took me to change, Ryker had cleared his mess and was standing in the kitchen. I looked over at him and he smiled.
He chuckled. “It gets easier.”
“You don’t have to lie to me to get my hopes up.”
“It just gets worse.” He turned it around.
“Ready for practice?”
“Yeah, will you hand me my water bottle?”
He passed it over and the weight threw me off. “Thanks. You didn’t have to fill it.”
I set it down in front of me and threw my hair up into a quick ponytail.
“Someone is in a mood.” He noticed.
“No.” I corrected. “I just don’t want to go. I’m tired and hungry.”
“How about we order pizza afterwards? We can just be lazy on the couch for the rest of the night.” He suggested.
“Wait, really?” His promises made my mouth water.
“Yeah.” He laughed, filling his own water bottle.
“I’m going to hold you to it.” I made a point to glare at him.
He only smiled and closed the lid to his jug and bent to grab his bag.
The cool evening air raised the hair on my arms and I tried to ignore the buzzing coming from the pocket of my gym shorts. I had an inkling of an idea of who it was that would only give a few seconds before they tried calling again.
“You going to get that?” Ryker rumbled beside me.
“Um, yeah.” I pulled my phone out and sure enough Aiden’s name was lit up across my screen. I instantly hit the power button to send him to voicemail. There was no way I was going to talk to him in front of Ryker. How would I even explain it to him afterwards?
“Already giving the fuck you button to someone?” Ryker tried to hide his smile as we entered the field.
“What’s it to you?” I snapped, clearly not wanting to carry on a conversation.
“Damn. Easy.” He chuckled.
“Whatever.” I snipped and picked up the pace to leave Ryker standing with his own admissions, splitting away from him to join the squad on the track.