The next two days goes by way too quick, because when my alarm goes off first thing this morning at seven a.m, I want to throw my phone against the wall.
“I’m not ready.” I grumble to myself as I drag myself out of bed, grab my shower caddy, towel and head towards the communal showers. I take one step inside, fearing the worst but am left pleasantly surprised at how clean the showers are. I set myself up in one of the stalls closest to the back of the shower room and step into the changing portion of the stall, closing the curtain behind me. I quickly undress, stuffing my clothes into my shower bucket, grabbing the essentials before I step under the torrent of water. The water pressure is amazing, and the hot water lasts more than fifteen minutes- to say I’m in heaven is a vast understatement.
It doesn’t take me long before I’m showered, dressed and ready for the day. I pull my hair up in a loose pony tail, pulling the hood away from my neck as I study the now almost fully faded bruises. I can’t wait to be able to wear normal clothes again-I think to myself and as soon as the thought registers my heart falls. How could I have let it get this far? I rub the bruised skin and sigh. I’m done hiding-I say, frustrated and tear off the sweatshirt. I toss it into my dirty clothes pile and examine the bruise. It’s definitely not as bad as it was the first few days, but there are still some small patches of discoloration in the shape of finger prints.
I hook my finger through the elastic band that’s holding up my hair, yanking it and letting my hair flow around my shoulders. I brush it all to the front, letting it rest against my chest. I risk another quick glance at the mirror, checking for any hints of bruising before deeming it acceptable enough, for the first time in the days since the incident; I didn’t want to be the weird girl in the hoodie on the first day of school when it’s 87° out.
I look over at Scout. She’s still passed out, sprawled out on her stomach with a light snore escaping her lips. I giggle to myself and shake my head. “I wish I was as lucky as you, girl.” The last part of my thought comes out in a groan before I sling my school bag over my shoulder and silently make my way out of the dorm room, double checking that I have everything before closing the door and locking it.
I pull out my campus map as soon as I leave the building, mapping out the best route to take to my first class, History of Media. It’s just a filler class and as helpful as finance or something like that would be for me in the future, I couldn’t imagine sitting through an hour and a half of a professor droning on and on about budgeting, numbers and whatever else goes into finance.
History of Media at least sounded somewhat interesting. I walk in the general direction of where I think the building is, holding the map out in front of me as I walk, studying it. About 90% of the dorms, lecture halls, and buildings in general- I can’t pronounce the names of and I wonder to myself how hard that’s going to make my first year here.
About fifteen minutes later I finally find where I’m supposed to be. I had to ask two people along the way, but I still made it. I glance around the room as I walk through the doors of room 2b. It’s massive. There’s rows of desks lined along six steps so that everyone can see the professor in front of them, and most of them are filled by now except for a few in the back. I try not to make eye contact with anyone, instantly feeling self conscious as if everyone’s eyes are crawling all over me. I take a deep breath and take a seat in the farthest chair in the back, my heart racing a million miles a minute as an anxiety attack threatens to burst free. I grip the edges of the desk causing my knuckles to blanch as I try to control my breathing. It’s almost a blessing in disguise that this class is huge. Positive, no one sees me having an existential crisis in the back of the class room, negative is that the sheer size of the class and everyone’s eyes on me as I walked in- that’s a little panic inducing.
As I’m calming down from my panic attack I feel a hand softly touch my shoulder. “Hey.” The voice rings familiar, but there’s a slight rushing sound still happening behind my ears causing me to be unable to register my surroundings for a moment or two until a familiar figure takes the seat next to me. His bright smile beaming at me- his hair is disheveled as if he took a shower and ran out of the house before it was even dry. He’s wearing a white V-neck and a pair of tight black jeans . As soon as he shows up I practically forget about the panic attack I was just having, his mere presence completely engulfing my attention.
His expression shifts for a moment, a look of concern casting across his perfect features. “Are you okay? You’re really pale.” He asks, leaning in ever so slightly as he studies me.
I nod my head. “Yeah, I uh.. I’m just nervous. This class is huge.” I fake a laugh, trying to hide my embarrassment over the fact that he caught me mid freak out. I look into his eyes, hoping he buys my bullshit story.
He questions me with his eyes for a moment more before dropping it. “I’m happy we have this class together” He says a grin spreading across lips and that smile is so sincere that my soul nearly shatters.
I can’t help but to smile back. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see a familiar face. I don’t know what made me think this whole college thing was a good idea.” I tease even though my nerves are still swirling around in the back of my head- my joke not being too far off from what I’m actually thinking.
He leans in close, close enough for me to smell the cologne he’s wearing- and god I could smother myself with that scent and die a happy (MORE than happy) death.
“You look beautiful today.” He whispers and the scent of his cologne intermingles with his minty breath, leaving me paralyzed in my seat. I catch myself gripping the edges of my desk for dear life as if to keep myself anchored- because I’m pretty sure right now if I wasn’t holding on, I’d float right on up with how, just having him next to me makes me feel.
There’s this gravitational pull that I feel whenever he’s around that causes the hairs to stand up all over my body and makes my heart do some pretty funky things in my chest. It’s such a cliche thing to say, but it almost feels like I’ve known him way longer than I have. Things with him feel normal, and easy. There’s no hesitation and I feel like I can actually be my true self in front of him- a side of me that only Lydia and Isaac ever see.
“Is it weird that I was kind of hoping to see you?” I swear I see his cheeks flush bright red.
I shake my head. “No, not at all.” I can’t help the smile that spreads across my lips as I take in the dimples in his cheeks and the way his eyes glitter in the lighting.
“Good. Because- now don’t mind me being super forward but..” and I can hear the uncertainty and hesitation in his voice before he continues. “I just, I don’t know.. there’s something about you.” And just as I’m about to speak, he adds, “I’m good with my words, I know.” He chuckles nervously and it makes my heart swell.
“I think you described it perfectly.” I whisper to him trying not to disturb the students around us. My body feels like it’s about to combust and my cheeks ache from smiling so much.
Going from having someone treat me like shit, cheating on me and hurting me in more ways than just physically; to meeting someone who randomly says I’m beautiful, or who seems just as flustered and nervous around me as I am around him- in the best of ways. Someone who already after barely knowing each other has already made me smile and laugh probably more than I have in months. The realization causes a fresh wave of panic to surface but I squash it down and continue to whisper with Tanner throughout the entire class- going back and forth making each other smile and laugh, flirting innocently. It felt normal. It felt good, and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this care free.
Once class is over I gather my books and stuff them into my shoulder bag.
“Where ya off to next?” Tanner asks me as he gathers his ratty looking notebook and stuffs it under his arm.
I shrug my shoulders before pulling out my phone, scrolling through my schedule. I let out a long groan realizing which class I have next.
Tanner looks at me quizzically. “I have calculus next.” I offer a fake gag and with that he laughs a little and follows me out of the classroom, holding the door open for me.
He peers over, taking a peek at my schedule as his arm snakes it’s way around my shoulders. “Well, looks like we’ll at least be in the same building. I can show you the way. Good thing you have a super smart friend like me, I can pretty much navigate this campus blindfolded-” he pauses for a quick second as he studies my schedule once more. “There’s a few buildings that we don’t share classes in, but I can definitely show you where they are, but most classes we’ll end up in the same building or at least one close by.” He offers me a show stopping grin and I nearly trip over my own feet but Tanner catches me as if nothing even happened- no chuckle, no rude remark about my clumsy-ness; nothing, almost as if it was instinct for him.
It was weird not being made fun of, and the longer it’s been- being out from under Gavin’s control, the more I realize everything he’s done over the years to hurt me. Every little word out of his mouth, the way he’d try to control me: control how I dress, how I acted, who I talked to, who I was friends with, when and where I went out. If I wasn’t his little princess, damsel in distress, he didn’t want me. For him I had to be his idea of perfect, which is so far from the real Charlie.
I only had four classes today. My first class was History of Media, then calculus, theory and practice of fiction, and the last was one of my teaching classes. It’s not necessarily the smartest choice- as my mother had reminded me constantly, up until the day I left for school- to attend college wanting to major in creative writing. She always said I should go to school for something more prestigious such as a lawyer, or a doctor. But, I can’t argue my way out of a paper bag, and I nearly faint at the sight of any type of bodily fluid. Plus, her only motive for me having a more esteemed career would be the cash flow that I would eventually acquire. All she wants out of me is to suck me dry of anything and everything that I can offer.
So, I added some classes that would make her happy. Classes, that if I ever decided to, during my years at school, I could follow through with and become an English teacher- get the opportunity to mold young or even older minds and teach them the beauty of reading and writing.
When I round the corner, leaving my last class I see a muscular frame leaning against the outside wall, talking with someone I don’t recognize- not that I’d really recognize anyone else but him and Scout at this point.
I smile as I wonder if he came here to wait for me, since this is one of the buildings we don’t share a class in. The guy he’s talking to looks a little disheveled like he just rolled out of bed, but their conversation seems animated and happy.
Tanner spots me and waves me over. I instantly blush and hike the strap of my bag higher up onto my shoulder as I make my way over to the two of them.
Tanner smiles down at me, his frame towering over mine at only 5′1. “Charlie, this is Collin, my best friend. Collin, this is Isaac’s sister Lydia’s best friend. It’s her first year here. Figure she could use another familiar face.”
I smile up at the boy and extend my hand to him. “It’s nice to meet you!” I blush just slightly at Tanner’s introduction before feeling Collin’s sturdy hand grasp mine, giving it a gentle shake; his politeness taking me by surprise.
“It’s nice to meet you, Charlie. I’ve always thought Lydia was hot as hell. But Isaac would kill me.” I almost choke as he speaks, and looking over at Tanner his eyes are aflame, boring holes into Collin.
Collin’s eyes instantly snap up to Tanner’s and his face goes white. Collin doesn’t look scared of Tanner per say, more or less like he knows that he said something stupid. He gives Tanner a half smile.
“I’ve gotta go, but I’ll catch up with you later Tanner.” He turns his attention back to me, “and it’s really nice to meet you Charlie, again.” He says awkwardly before skittering away in the opposite direction.
“So..I promise Collin isn’t always such a tool ” Tanner starts once Collin is out of sight. “He means well.” He chuckles nervously as he rubs at the back of his neck.
I smile up at him and giggle. “Oh trust me, I’ve met worse. He seems... sweet.” I laugh again. “How long have you two been friends?” I ask as we head towards the main part of campus.
He rolls up his notebook and shoves it into his back pocket before sliding his hands into his pockets as he walks beside me. Now I know why his notebook is so tattered looking. “Oh man, it feels like forever, but I met him two years ago. Both of our freshman year here. He just stuck. He may be a little... odd-” He chuckles before continuing, “but he’s an amazing friend. He says some dumb shit but that kid has the biggest heart ever.” He smiles and I can see how much he adores Collin and I can’t help but to swoon even more as he starts defending his friend to me.
“Listen, you don’t have to defend him to me. I’m a little odd myself, I think everyone can be odd in their own ways. But, you guys seem pretty close, it’s cute. Your relationship with him kind of reminds me of Lydia and I. If you saw us together you’d totally understand. I met her in kindergarten and we’ve been glued to each other ever since. She’s my oddball.” I smile and bump my hip against his gently, causing his eyes to fly to mine and I can’t help but blush.
A wide smile spreads across his full lips. “You guys sound pretty cute too.” He blushes slightly and I catch him biting the corner of his bottom lip as he looks down, and it takes all of my self control to stop staring. “So... what’re you doing tonight?” He asks after a moment of silence, looking back up at me, the blush on his cheeks no longer visible.
In a weird way I don’t want to go in and be stuck in my room all night. Scout is great, but she had already told me that the majority of the classes she’s taking this year are night classes which means that I’d likely be alone most of my nights this year. I sigh and shrug my shoulders, sliding the strap of my bag up my shoulder once again as it slides down. “I’m probably just going to get some writing done, but most of the time that turns into Netflix binge watching as I feign writers block.”
He chuckles at me, coming to a stop. He turns towards me as I stop along side him. “Well, I know a great spot to get some ice cream... and an even better spot to watch the sunset.” The corner of his lip finds it’s way between his teeth again- a habit of his that leaves me feeling completely undone; one that I have to admit I like way too much.
I just nod my head. “Perfect.” I smile up at him and my heart skips a beat as a dimple appears on his right cheek. His smile is electrifying, causing my brain to completely short circuit. Once I realize I’m just standing there, staring at him like a weirdo I shift my attention behind him, a halo of orange sunlight encompassing him making him look like a fucking GOD!
I gulp down my naughty thoughts as he walks backwards towards the parking lot. “Oh you’re in for a treat.” He chuckles before turning to walk forward, matching speed with me as he swings an arm across my shoulder. It’s such a friendly gesture yet my insides turn to mush and I can’t help but lean into him ever so slightly, soaking in the strong smell of him- a scent that I could TOTALLY get used to. I smile to myself at the thought, as we reach his car. He opens the passenger door of his pickup for me and holds the door open as I climb up, shutting it behind me once I’m situated.
Tanner slides into the drivers side and starts the engine, taking the time to reach for an AUX cord, plugging it into his cellphone. He puts the car in reverse and the first song that comes blaring through the speakers is a song by “One Direction” and as soon as he realizes, he lunges for the volume knob. I can’t help the laugh that escapes me- it’s such a deep belly laugh, a laugh I haven’t laughed in god knows how long.
“Oh, now this is something I didn’t expect.” I angle my body towards his. “Are you a “Directioner”, Tanner.” I can’t control my laughter as my gut aches.
Tanner’s face is the brightest shade of red. I try to contain my giggle as he tries to talk. “Nope, I just have three young sisters. But I can totally jam to some 1D.” He tries to save himself, his response just making me giggle more.
“You’re such a dork.” And even so I can’t help my heart from exploding at the thought of him and his three young sisters belting out One Direction lyrics. “Next time you have a jam sesh, please invite me, or at least make sure you get a video.” I smirk up at him.
“You wish.” He says, his eyes connecting with mine as we idle at a stop light. His gaze causes my heart to pound behind my ribs and I have the strongest urge to lunge across the seat and kiss him like my life depends on it- and when the thought sets in I definitely know that he’s got me; hook, line and sinker.