The picture pinned to the graduate social board was an old one. Halloween three years ago. I had a slutty side that year and pulled off a sexy George Washington with spectacular success. Kelly, however, was well and truly serious with douche-bag Chad by then and had done a cool, interlocking, double-helix costume with him. Cool, but you had to stare at her chest to actually tell she had a figure and was a knockout.
Goddamn, douche Chad.
I sighed and continued down the hallway, also pausing to look at my new faculty picture hanging on the wall. Not my finest, but the new bob hair cut screamed ‘chic-professional’ and when I was paired next to the faculty head, an older man in sixties, I looked like a goddamn environmental goddess. Though as a new Assistant Professor, I was absolutely going to be swamped in research this first year, just to prove I deserved that mediocre picture. I turned away and walked down the hallway, scrolling through my phone for more pictures of Kelly.
Mother-fucking Chad. I looked over the last picture of us. A close-up selfie of just us two. God, I missed my friend. If I ever saw her ex, and chances were high with the two of us on campus, I would most certainly let him have everything on my mind. I wasn’t 100% sure, but it was pretty decisive her sudden absence came from their breakup. Her aunt dies and she doesn’t even call me?
Turning into Ben and I’s new office, I paused behind the door when the deep rumblings of two men laughing came from inside. I peeked inside, a new large presence had invaded my space, his ass sitting on my desk and speaking to Ben. I looked over the large and wide back, my eyebrows arching of their own accord. Hot damn. Dark, tall, athletic, and definitely knew how to fill out a pair of jeans.
“Ai, and you all graduated at the beginning of the year, ya?” The unknown hottie asked Ben with a thick and distinct foreign accent.
He shifted in his lean, his profile and side of his face twisting towards the doorway, a long distinct scar marking the cheek I could see. Tall, dark, and marked.
Ben, further inside the room and hidden behind the stranger’s broad back replied, “No, Kelly did hers a little early because of some family problems, and our other friend Chuck phoned it in completely.”
I pursed my lips at the mention of my friends. They were certainly in the bad books, Chuck more than anyone for his phone silence. Ben and I took it as a betrayal when Chuck went AWOL right after Kelly left us to take care of her family. It was silly to even contemplate, but the thought that Chuck lost interest in our group once Kelly left, had snuck into Ben’s and I’s conversation once or twice.
I cleared my throat, and Ben looked over to me while the stranger turned.
Definitely tall, dark, and fuck-me-here-and-now hot.
My brain had a space cadet moment for a moment when I met those bright blue eyes and briefly examined his face. A word stuttered in my throat while the stranger gave a knowing look. Like brain freeze happened to every male and female he met.
“Uh, hi,” I managed to get out.
He reached out to clasp my hand in greeting and I willingly took the strong handshake. His face actually held two scars, nearly identical to each other. One much visibly older, the hair of his dark chocolate beard growing over it well, and I was momentarily transfixed; wondering how he got them.
All I could do was smile, a stutter coming out of my lips as I had apparently became a school girl again. Instead, he answered, a rich Welsh accent ringing out.
“You must be Bec?” he smiled as he turned. His wide and warm grip encircled my entire hand.
“Uhhhh, yeah? Hi.”
“Bec! This is Rhys, he is looking for… Kelly.”
Ben’s head perked around the large mass of man, an expression of surprise mixed with amusement over his face, watching the puzzle come over mine. Rhys released my hand and scratched his nape like a school boy who was caught cheating on a test.
“Yeah, sorry ’bout that. I recognized you from your picture.”
“I mean, the ones Kelly showed me were a little older, a few in some...costumes, but it’s definitely you,” he commented with an almost cheeky grin I immediately returned. Lord, what had little Kel been up to in the last six months since I saw her? Because if it was this tall Welshman, then I was significantly less pissed she had dropped off the face of the Earth and ignored all calls and emails.
My throat clogged with a guttural sound, and Ben pushed his seat out to pointedly watch as I made a fool out of myself over a handsome face with a foreign accent.
“Well, then, I’m glad she kept those pictures.” I glanced back at Ben with a frown. “But...sorry man, we actually haven’t seen Kelly in a while. She dropped off the proverbial radar after graduation.”
Rhys didn’t seem perturbed or surprised by my unhelpful answer, and resumed his lean on my desk, folding his arms over his broad chest, giving a gun show up close. “Yeah, she said she hadn’t spoken to you in a while, a few bullshit excuses or something.” He shifted on his feet and looked down to his sturdy work boots. They were clean, but scuffed, like a farmer who had tidied up to come into the city. He plucked something out of his pocket and held it up.
A passport, the brief flicker of Kelly’s face with long red hair flashing at me.
“The thing is, she kind of left this in my hotel the other day. I just need an address… you know, make sure it gets back to her.”
I frowned at the sight and reached out for Kelly’s passport. “I can see it gets back…” he pulled the passport away and out of my reach, a sly, vulpine grin came over his face.
“Actually… I would like to make sure she gets it personally, you know?”
I stepped back and away from the musty scent he gave off, now mildly curious at what exactly Kelly had been doing with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Smokin, especially if she had her passport on her. Was she returning from a flight from somewhere?
“She… didn’t leave you anyway to contact her?”
The smirk on his face deepened and he gave a knowing glance to Ben. “Well, we didn’t really get to talk much, you know? I mean, about the little things. Big things, sure, but semantics, not so much before she had to suddenly rush out like a modern-day Cinderella.”
He stood and replaced the passport securely in his back pocket, snug against his ass, and he noticed my confused look. Were we talking about a one night stand here or a few weeks, what? I didn’t get to ask anything about it before he cut me off.
“I would like to… get to know her a little more, you know? So, if you have a way to contact her…? The number and address I found when I searched online seemed like an old Tacoma one.”
Ben and I had the same expression and we looked at each other quizzically. Tacoma? Kelly had never lived in Tacoma in all the years I had known her. Rhys continued.
“It took me a while to realize it must have been the wrong one. I never realized how many Kelly Jones there would be in Seattle.” His wide smile continued and he ruffled his hair, looking between Ben and I. Kelly left her passport in this guy’s hotel room after a few days together, but didn’t talk about how to contact each other? Not even an email?
“Anyway, just her mailing address would be great. I’ll send it to her, and put a letter inside.”
I pursed my lips. I knew Kelly had a P.O. Box for the commune, so I wouldn’t be giving out her home address, which didn’t seem terrible if the guy was a creeper. I slowly nodded, watching as Ben shrugged to me, agreeing with the same idea we were both probably having.
“Sure...the administrator’s office down the hall has her commune’s mailing address I can get.”
He shot a wide, beaming smile like I had given him the greatest gift. Maybe he was “Brillant. Lead the way,” he said, and with a parting look at Ben, I left our office, the tall Welshman walking beside me.
“So, you and Kelly are close, huh?” he asked, sounding like he wanted to make small talk, but secretly interested in more than just pleasantries. I looked up at him, he walked closer that a normal person should in a wide hallway, our shoulders almost brushing, his height nearly towering.
“Yeah, I mean, we were. Thick as thieves for the last four years. Then, you know that thing happened earlier this year.” I left it open, seeing how well he actually knew Kelly, or if he was actually bluffing about how close they had gotten. Rhys nodded, deep in thought and somber for it.
“Yeah, she talked a lot about her aunt. I can’t imagine going through all that.”
He kept his stare down to the floor as we walked down the empty hallway, classes were due to start in another week at the end of August, and our feet echoed in its silence. Well heck, if Kelly had told him about her murdered aunt, something she didn’t even tell me about until I pressed her into a corner, then maybe Rhys was telling the truth and it was more than a one night stand.
We arrived at the administrator’s office for the department, now empty for the long lunches, and I walked in and to the far back row of the student files. Kelly technically didn’t graduate until three months ago, so her file was still in the cabinet. I pulled it, wrote the mailing address down, and returned to Rhys looking over the office patiently. He plucked the post-it note out of my fingers, and smiled wide, all of his straight white teeth showing and gums included.
“Well, good luck getting ahold of her, and if you do, tell you she officially owes me, and I’m looking forward to hearing all of her lame excuses,” I said with an easy smile, only slightly jealous of my absent best friend for picking up this guy who obviously wanted more of her. But it also meant Kelly was getting out of her Chad funk and the murder of her aunt. She was living. Even if I was sad about not seeing her, I had to be happy about that.
Rhys looked at his watch for a second, tucking the address into his shirt pocket, “Uh, look, I am starving and don’t know the area very well. Would you and your friend like to go and get a bite? I’d love to get to know you guys and what Kelly was like before we met, you know? Learn all the little things we didn’t get time to talk about.”
He said it with a charming smile, and for some reason, a bite sounded too good to pass up.