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Chapter 5

“So spill. Who was that guy you were talking with at the party last weekend?” My roommate Emily, a political science major, was occupying the next lounger over from me on our giant back deck. Emily was what guys would call a ten. She was tall, slim, and knew how to show off her assets to their best advantage. Right now she was dressed for function over form in a blue bikini cut to minimize tan lines.

I was studying. Ava was in a third chair on my other side. Jen was the only one in class Friday afternoon, which she hated. She loved to be outside, though she was more likely to be seen playing sports than tanning on the patio. It was hot and sunny and we were taking advantage before the weather started to cool off for fall.

My brain pried itself out of finance and tried to catch up to the conversation. “Huh?”

Ava was also focusing on her tan. Without the distraction of books, she’d evidently heard Emily the first time. “Ooooh, what guy?”

Emily grinned mischievously. “Tall. Dark. Looks like he stepped out of a billboard just to rip your panties off with his teeth.” She did everything but lick her lips. “Is he taking business? I should transfer. Screw poli sci.”

This wasn’t going to end well. “You mean Dylan?” I glanced over to Ava. This time, it took her a moment, but when she caught up she was on it like white on rice.

“What? Dylan, my brother Dylan?” I nodded to confirm and Ava shook her head vehemently. “Hell, no, Em. Do not go there. He’s off limits.”

Emily sighed. “Too bad. Why?”

“For starters, off limits because he’s my brother and you’re my friend. It’s girl code.” She narrowed her eyes for emphasis. “But he’s also damaged goods, big time. Though there are enough freak shows that don’t care about his issues.”

Emily didn’t seem intimidated by Ava’s deterrent tactics. “I’d be willing to get in line for a run at that. Dayum.” She stretched, and I wondered if she was still thinking about Dylan.

“Let me put it this way.” Ava rolled over onto her stomach and adjusted her bathing suit. “When Dylan grew a foot and bulked up, it was like every girl in a thirty-mile radius got the memo overnight. Junior year was bad enough. He was popular, the center of attention. But then things went downhill.” She paused. “Since he got back from rehab, he’s been trying to fly under the radar.”

My ears had clearly heard wrong. “What? Dylan was in rehab?” Ava nodded. I shook my head like I was still trying to clear it. “How did I not know this?”

“Rehab is so LA,” Emily said dreamily. Apparently it was a turn-on for some girls.

“Yeah, summer after senior year he was in a clinic. Mom and I knew, but somehow after a while it got leaked—I don’t know how—and the story got around. He doesn’t talk about it.”

My shock must’ve been evident.

Ava shot me an apologetic look. “Mom and Dad wanted to keep it under wraps. By the time it leaked, I figured you’d heard the rumors but didn’t want to pry,” Ava continued. “I was surprised he came last weekend actually. He doesn’t party much anymore, but I thought I should invite him since he just transferred in for sophomore year.”

“Wait, your brother’s younger than us?” Emily sat up. “No way. He looks older.” She glanced to me for corroboration. I resisted the urge to comment. Not sure what I’d say besides, he kisses like he’s older, too. And even thinking it might start off another unproductive spiral in search of the appropriate amount of guilt one should have for participating in—fine, initiating—that particular situation.

This was exactly why I’d asked Dylan to forget it. Though in retrospect it seemed like it’d be harder forgetting it myself than getting him to.

Ava just shrugged. Clearly she was over talking about her brother. “I only saw him at the start and the end of the night. And he said he had good time.”

“I’d show him a good time,” Emily voiced. Ava threw a pillow at her.

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