The Wanderers

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chapter 8

The fraternity house was jam packed. “Low-key, huh?” I said, eyeing Tristan.

“For this bunch, yes,” he said with a wicked grin. I rolled my eyes and followed him through the crowd. He offered me a beer, but I declined. “Oh c’mon, one drink isn’t gonna hurt.” I took it so he would leave me alone. I had a feeling I might regret this then reminded myself, at the moment, it was better than sleeping on the floor in the hall.

Tristan floated around the room introducing me to all different people. All the girls he introduced me to seemed to only be polite to appease Tristan. I had to laugh at their eagerness to do whatever he asked. I also met a few of his brothers. Some of them were just like him and others were pretty laid back. One of the nicer ones asked me to play flip cup. I figured, why not?

After I beat all the guys none of them wanted to play anymore. They were too embarrassed to be beaten by a girl. One of the guys suggested we move on to beer pong, convinced I couldn’t beat them at that as well. Boy, were they in for a surprise. I have two older brothers and one of them likes to party. Not to mention all the parties Kyle and Kevin always had after they won a game. I spent many nights playing these games. I always had the better advantage considering I normally wasn’t the one drinking.

After I won the first two games, they decided to play teams. I was surprisingly having a good time considering my earlier mood. And to my amazement Tristan wasn’t glued to my side. After he introduced me to his friends he wandered off for a while, but then made his way back. He didn’t stick around long though, he was constantly walking around socializing and that was okay by me.

I sunk my next shot and the opposing team insisted I was cheating. My teammate called them out on being sore losers and they stomped off, further proving his point. “Good job Ella,” my teammate, Chuck, said giving me a high five. “So is there anything you’re not good at?”

“No,” I winked, elbowing him playfully.

He chuckled. “Well it was a pleasure being your teammate, but I think next time we should play for money.”

“Deal,” I smiled. He patted me on the back and took off to mingle.

“Ella!” I followed the sound of my name and glanced over my shoulder to see Cadence waving at me.

I walked over to greet her. “Hi Cadence, how are you?”

“Good. Are you here with Josie?” she asked, looking around.

“No. Actually I came here with Tristan,” I said almost shamefully.

She looked at me funny. I could tell she wanted to say something but decided to be polite. “Oh, well, that’s nice.” There was a slight pause, but she bounced back quickly. “So have you made a decision yet?”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, not sure what she was talking about.

“To join us,” she said. “We really would love to have you and Josie be a part of our sorority. If you’d like I could take you to the house sometime, show you around, and introduce you to the rest of the girls.”

“That’s not necessary but I appreciate the offer.”

“So you’ve made your decision?” she asked, hopeful.

“I’m sorry. I still don’t know yet.”

“No need to apologize. When you’re ready just let me know.”

“Hey Cadence, who’s the new meat?” asked one of Tristan’s brothers. I remembered this one. I didn’t like him. We hadn’t officially met and that was only because Tristan refused to introduce us. He stated that this other guy was worse than he was and didn’t want to subject me to that. I laughed at Tristan telling him that I highly doubted there was someone worse than him.

“Frank, this is Ella,” Cadence replied.

He smiled creepily at me and I almost didn’t want to shake his hand. Leaning back, his eyes roamed up and down my body, pausing at my breasts, grinning. I pulled my hand back and narrowed my eyes at him. His grin widened, taking it as a challenge. “So what’s a cute little girl like you doing here all by herself,” he asked, smoothing his hands over his blonde hair.

“I’m not here by myself,” I said, taking a step back.

A small scuffle drew my attention elsewhere. Cadence let out a sigh. “I’m sorry if you’ll excuse me,” she said, putting her drink down on the ledge and walked over to what looked like the start of a cat fight.

Frank the slim ball slid closer to me, wedging me up against the wall, and leaving me no place to go. “Now that she’s gone, you and I can have some private time,” he said, dragging his finger down my arm.

I picked up his finger and removed it from my arm. “Sorry but I’m not interested.” I said, trying to step away from him, but he blocked my path.

“Let’s not be hasty here. Stay a while.” Leaning in closer, he twirled a piece of my hair in between his fingers.

“No thank you,” I said, swatting his hand away. I tried to step away but he had me trapped, again.

He slammed his hand right next to my head making me flinch. Then he dragged the back of his hand across my lower stomach, teetering on the edge of my jeans. “Come on, you come here to party dressed like that and looking the way you do. I know you’re the type of girl who plays shy, but really likes to have fun,” he said, pulling on the button of my jeans and trying to slip his hand down my pants.

I snatched his hand and twisted it behind his back slamming him into the wall. “Last time I checked no means no. Or do you need me to clarify that for you again,” I spat.

“No. I’m good.” I let him go and he turned around wrapping his fingers around my arm tightly. There was a fire in his eyes and he was not happy about being put in his place.

“Back off Frank,” Tristan growled, gripping his shoulder. I hadn’t seen where he came from, but was happy he appeared. I looked at Frank’s hand still on my arm and then back at him letting him know I would have no problem removing it for him.

He let me go, glaring, before turning around to Tristan. Frank’s face instantly changed when he addressed Tristan. “Relax brother, no need to get hostile,” he said, patting his shoulder. Tristan stared him down. Frank straightened out his shirt, threw Tristan a cocky smile, and then chased after the first girl that walked by.

“Are you okay?” Tristan asked, looking concerned.

“I can handle my own,” I said with conviction.

“Yeah, I saw that,” he smiled. “But seriously, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m perfectly fine,” I said, spreading out my arms proving that everything was good.

“Didn’t I tell you to stay away from him?” Tristan said, scolding me like I was child that misbehaved.

“Well when you told me he was worse than you, I didn’t believe that was possible so you know I purposely put myself in an awkward situation because I love proving you wrong.” I smiled sarcastically.

“There are other ways to prove me wrong besides engaging with an asshole,” he said.

“I guess I shouldn’t be talking to you then either,” I countered.

“Ouch...and to think I thought I was starting to break down your wall.”

“That will never happen and to set the record straight he approached me not the other way around,” I explained feeling the need to clarify. He leaned back and smiled at me. I had to turn away feeling my cheeks burn from the way his eyes were engaging mine. “So, what now?” I asked, pulling down the sleeves of my shirt.

“Well we could...”

“Not that.”

“How’d you even know what I was going to say?” I gave him an ’are you serious’ look and he shook his head. “Okay fine. Come on, follow me.” He took my hand and led me through the party to the back of the house where there was a pool table. “Know how to play?”

“No,” I said as I took the stick he handed me.

“It’s easy. I’ll rack and you can break,” he said racking the balls together. When he was done he handed me the cue ball. I took my shot, missing entirely. “That was pathetic.”

“I told you I didn’t know how to play.”

“You do at least know the concept of the game right? You want to hit a ball into one of these holes.”

“No, I thought the object was to see how many times you can hit the white ball without it hitting anything.”

He just smiled and bent down to break. He sunk two balls in the corner pocket. “You’re solid,” he gestured for me to go.

“If this is your way of teaching me how to play you kind of suck at it.”

“I wanna see how you shoot first.”

“Didn’t I just do that?”

“No. That was your attempt at breaking and you failed miserably.”

I narrowed my eyes at him before I leaned down to take my shot. I tried to pick what I thought would be the easiest shot, but was wrong. I still missed.

Tristan placed his stick against the wall and came over to help me. “We’re gonna go for the thirteen, left corner pocket.” I examined the shot thinking there was no way to make it. “It’s easy,” he said as if reading my mind.

He told me where to stand and then went over to where the ball was. “You want to hit it right here,” he said, pointing to the side of it. Noticing how doubtful I was, he walked back over to me, and told me to line up my shot. I slipped the stick between my fingers and bent down. “You’re holding it wrong.” He took my hand, readjusted it, and then leaned over me with his arm around my side and the other on the stick guiding me.

“Okay, turn a little bit this way,” he said, his warm breath tickling my ear and giving me goose bumps. “Now line it up, right, there.” His nearness was making my stomach do that flutter thing. I closed my eyes as he pulled the stick back and helped me make the shot. I heard the click of the balls connecting and opened my eyes in time to see the thirteen enter the left corner pocket.

“I did it!” I cheered, turning around to hug him. He tensed slightly by my reaction, but then relaxed letting his arms fall loosely around me. I pulled back quickly. I let myself get caught up in the moment. Feeling too close for comfort I hit the pool table with the back of my legs. “Sorry,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“What are you sorry for?” he asked in a hushed voice. His normal cockiness was gone. I let myself get lost in his eyes and I almost forgot where I was.

“Nothing,” I said, quickly slipping away from him. “You’re shot.” I pointed to the table putting my mind back on the game. When he wasn’t looking I let out a breath and ran a shaky hand through my hair.

Get a grip Ella.

When it was my turn he offered to help me again. “No I got this,” I said, too afraid to be near him. He stood at the opposite end of the table trying to give me advice on where and what ball to shoot. Still too worked up from when he helped me last time my nerves got the better of me and I over shot the cue ball sending it flying off the table and into a group of innocent bystanders. Luckily no one was hit.

Tristan retrieved the ball and insisted he help this time so no one got hurt. “Okay, now this time, a little less power.” He wrapped his arm around my waist and lined up the stick. His soft hand slid down my arm, covering my hand and making my skin tingle. Goosebumps coated every surface he touched. “You’re shivering,” he said. “Are you cold?” I tightened my grip on the cold wooden stick, hoping he couldn’t feel the way my body was quivering beneath him.

“No it’s fine, I’m fine,” I stammered. He leaned in a little closer sending my head into a whirlwind spiral. “I think I got it,” I said, hoping he’d back away and give me some breathing room. He let go and straightened up. Walking over to the wall, he leaned casually against it as he waited for me to take my turn.

What the hell was going on? I didn’t realize how tightly I was gripping the stick until I tried to shoot and it didn’t budge. Loosening my grip I took the shot, but missed. “It’s okay,” he said. “At least you kept this one on the table,” he chuckled.

“Shut up,” I said, pushing him playfully and easing some of the tension I was feeling moments ago. When it was Tristan’s turn again, I spotted one of the sisters, Skylar over in the distance staring. I watched her carefully as she glared at us with her arms crossed. What is this chick’s problem, I wondered?

“You’re up,” Tristan said, bringing my attention back to the game.

By the time we were done, I was tired, and ready to go back to my room. I ended up having a better time than I thought I would and was surprised at how well Tristan behaved. Not once had he said something inappropriate like he normally did. I was impressed to see a side of him that I knew he didn’t normally show.

He walked me back to my room and even waited to make sure it was safe for me to go in. “Thank you. I actually had a good time tonight.”

“And that surprises you?”

“Yes and no.” He looked at me curiously. “Goodnight Tristan,” I said, opening the door and leaving it at that.

He put his hand on mine, stopping me. “You know it’s still early. We could go back to my room and continue the party,” he said with his normal cocky smile.

“You just had to ruin it, didn’t you,” I said, shaking my head knowing tonight was too good to be true.

“What?” he asked, innocently.

“Goodnight Tristan,” I said, pushing him back. I entered my room and closed the door behind me.

“I don’t even get a goodnight kiss?” he asked through the door.

I shook my head laughing. “No. Now go away.”

“It’s okay, I can wait. Sweet dreams la mia bella stella,” he whispered. I waited until I heard his retreating footsteps. Then I made my way to my bed not able to unscrew the smile from my face. I tried to be quiet as I could as I got undressed, not wanting to wake Josie.

“Who was that?” Josie asked groggily, startling me.

“Huh? Oh, no one,” I said, kicking off my shoes.

“Clearly someone’s got you all hot and bothered. I can tell by that goofy grin on your face,” she said, sitting up.

“Josie it’s no one. Well no one to be concerned about.” I carefully made my way through the darkness, guided by the small light coming through the window. Josie sat there and watched as I changed into my pajamas. I looked back over at her. “Seriously, you’re kinda creeping me out watching me change. Does this have to do with earlier, because I am so not having a threesome with you?”

“Eww gross, Ella,” she said, throwing her pillow at me and making me laugh. “No. I’m staring at you because I know you’re holding something back.”

“I am not,” I deflected, crawling in to my bed.

She bounced out of her bed and jumped on top of me. “Who is it?” she demanded always needing to know my business.

“Josie, really?”

“Come on, I want the details!”

“Josie I’m tired and want to go to bed.”

“You’re not getting out of this,” she said, ripping off my covers. I sat up annoyed as she plopped down in front of me, legs crossed. She sat there waiting with her elbows on her knees and chin resting on her hands. I sat staring right back with my arms crossed. This was something we did regularly when the other was trying to get information from the other. Josie was never good at this game and I knew it would only be a matter of time before she gave in. It only took a minute before she cracked. “Is it Jack?” she asked curiously.

“No. Not Jack.”

“Tristan?” she said, scratching her head not able to think of anyone else.

“No,” I said, hoping she couldn’t see my reddened cheeks in the dim glow of the moonlight shining through our window.

Her jaw dropped and her eyes went wide. “It’s Tristan, it totally is! Oh my god you like Tristan!” she practically shouted.

“No I do not!” I said quickly. “And keep your voice down.”

“Why, are you afraid lover boy will find out you like him?”

“I do not like him,” I repeated.

Josie fell back on the bed giggling. “You so do,” she sang. “I’m going to go tell him.” She jumped up off the bed. I dove for her grabbing her ankle and causing her to trip. “What the hell, Ella?”

“Fine, if I tell you I like him will you let it go?” She nodded excitedly despite the fact I just made her do a crash landing onto the floor. “Okay, I like him, I think…sorta…maybe?”

“Uh, I’m confused,” she said, getting up and returning to her bed.

I retrieved my blanket from the floor and crawled back into bed. “You and me both,” I confessed.

“So you do like him?”

“Yes and no. I mean I don’t know. One minute I feel a certain way and I’m like, ‘wow, what is this strange attraction I’m feeling,’ and then the next minute he opens his mouth and ruins it all,” I sighed falling back on my pillow.

Josie laughed. “Yes, guys do tend to have a way of ruining things by opening their mouths. You think maybe it’s lust you’re feeling?”

I rolled my eyes. “No, that’s more him than me and that’s the thing. He’s so obnoxious I just want to smack him. And then there are these rare moments when he drops the act and is someone else entirely.”

“Yeah, I could see how that would be confusing.”

“The other thing is that I’m worried those rare moments are the act and the real him is what I see all the time and if that’s true than no thank you. I will not be another notch on his belt.”

“You think maybe that’s why he wants you so bad, because he’s not used to rejection?”

“Makes sense, I mean why else would he be so persistent?”

“Did you ever think because maybe you’re hot and he actually likes you?”

“Well ya know,” I said, dusting off my shoulders.

“Conceited much?” Josie laughed.

“You said it first,” I teased.

Josie’s smile faded and got serious for a moment. “Okay, for real though, how do you feel about him?”

“Honestly Josie, I just don’t know.”

She didn’t ask me anymore questions after that.

I arrived at Art class before Tristan and sat in the back with Jack. Tristan slipped in at the last second. His eyes wandered the room stopping on mine. He smiled and strode for the empty seat next to me. Today I didn’t bother to pretend it was taken. “Ella,” he smiled.

“Tristan,” I smiled back.

The professor started the class by telling us we had only a week left to finish our paintings. In the beginning she had let us paint what we wanted, then we moved on to assigned projects. But now we had a chance to go back and finish our original work. I was thrilled.

Every now and then I would feel stumped and sat back in my chair to take a break. I tried to sneak a peek at Tristan’s work, but he kept it blocked pretty well. I craned my neck to look over his arm, but he caught me and turned his easel away from me. When he thought I wasn’t paying attention he would try to sneak a peek at my work. Following his lead I turned my easel away from his prying eyes. He just smiled and continued to paint. Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I spied him watching me. He flashed me a smile and winked. I bit my lip, trying to keep my eyes on my painting.

I decided to clean up my brushes early because I had a mental block and thought it best to start with a clear head the next day. “You finished?” Jack asked.

“No, just need a break,” I replied.

“So I was…um…wandering if you’d like to grab some lunch?” Jack asked a little nervously which I found kind of odd. All the time we’d spent together lately I couldn’t imagine why Jack would be nervous about asking me to have lunch with him.

I didn’t dwell on it and said, “Sure.” When I turned back around to collect my things I noticed Tristan was no longer there. Confused I looked around the classroom, but he was gone.

“Everything okay?” Jack asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “So where should we grab a bite?”

Jack and I traveled to a local cafe a few blocks from the college. He talked about his classes most of the time while I sat and listened. Every now and then I would drift off. Each time my mind wandered Tristan’s face would flash in my head. I contemplated different reasons for why he had left so abruptly today, but I couldn’t think of any good excuse. He always stuck around just to torment me, but today he hadn’t and for some reason that bothered me.

“Ella?”

I brought my attention back to Jack. “I’m sorry what?”

“Are you okay? You seem to be somewhere else.”

“Oh, sorry, I’m fine,” I said, looking down at my barely touched lunch. “Actually, I’m not feeling too well. Do you mind if I head out?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I just grabbed my stuff and threw some money on the table leaving Jack questioning what had gone wrong.

I had a hard time getting Tristan out of my head. What was this strange power he had over me all of a sudden? Why did I care so much? I was so lost in my thoughts I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. I stopped and looked around. Where the hell am I? I retraced my steps back to the restaurant. I ended up walking two blocks in the wrong direction. By the time I managed to find my way I got the strangest feeling that someone was following me. I glanced over my shoulder to confirm my suspicion, but it was hard to single out any one person. The streets were crowded with students. I brushed off the feeling and picked up my pace. Then I reminded myself I had to apologize to Jack for bailing on him like that.

I found Jack the next day on my way to our first class. I had tried to apologize last night, but his roommate had said he left and didn’t know when he’d be back so I knew I had to catch him before class. “Jack!” He paused and waited for me to catch up to him. “Hey, I wanted to apologize for yesterday I...”

He cut me off. “No need, you were sick. I understand,” he said, giving me his crooked smile. I wanted to correct him and tell him the truth, but I couldn’t find the courage. Instead I let him believe that was why I really left and followed him to class.

When I got to art Tristan wasn’t there. I shrugged figuring he was late, but when he didn’t show I was a little worried. I reminded myself this was Tristan, he was probably hung over and sleeping it off. I left it go figuring I’d see him tomorrow.

I hadn’t seen Tristan in class all week. I told myself I had no need to be concerned. I was sure he had just been on a binge all week. Josie had informed me this week was the final week before they accepted anyone in to the sororities and fraternities so most pledges were taking a brutal beating for those houses that still did hazing. Thankfully the sorority Josie wanted me to pledge was not into that tradition, but apparently their brother fraternity still was.

I heard the door open and looked up to see Tristan stroll in. He whispered a few words to the teacher and then proceeded to take his normal seat next to me without saying a word. I looked at him and he just nodded and got started on his painting. I didn’t take my eyes off of him. Something was different about him. He seemed almost sad, but I told myself I didn’t care and turned back to my work. Neither Tristan nor I spoke a word the entire class. Nor did he once take his eyes off his painting. I, on the other hand, couldn’t help myself and would sneak peeks over at him. His eyes looked intense as he worked diligently on his piece. I wondered for a moment what was going on inside that head of his. I’d never seen him look so serious before, but the class was over too soon for me to come to a conclusion.

As I cleaned up my things I noticed that Tristan was still working. “You coming, Ella?” Jack asked.

“Yeah,” I said, but when we got to the door I stopped. “Can I catch up to you later?” I asked Jack.

“Yeah, no problem,” Jack replied before taking off.

I turned back to Tristan who was still sitting in his chair working. I waited until there was no one left in the class besides us and the teacher. Then I went back over to my seat and sat down facing Tristan. He still didn’t look at me which I actually found irritating. I tried my best to wait until he acknowledged me but my patience was wearing thin. “Where were you all week?” I asked.

He finally looked at me and with a week smile asked, “Why, did you miss me?”

“Hardly,” I said, trying to sound convincing. “I was just curious, that’s all.” His lips twitched slightly and I knew he was trying hard not to smile. “So are you not going to tell me? Was it something illegal?” I teased.

“Why do you care?” he asked peculiarly.

“I don’t. Like I said I was just being curious.” I had to look away so he couldn’t tell I was lying.

“I had some business to take care of,” he said simply.

“What kind of business?” I pressed.

He finally stopped painting and gave me his full attention. “How badly do you want to know?” He raised his brows looking me over and I knew exactly what he was implying.

“Not that bad,” I said, getting up.

He chuckled and went back to his painting not saying another word. I waited for another moment before I had enough.

“Addio mia bella stella,” he said.

I turned around annoyed. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“You’re not even Italian, you’re Irish.”

“How do you know?”

“Because your last name is McKinnon which is pretty much a given.”

He smiled. “Would you prefer the Gaelic version, because I could do that? I just always thought it sounded nicer in Italian.”

I would have to agree. The little Gaelic I did know didn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as Italian did, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. So I simply responded with, “Whatever,” and left.

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