College and Woodland

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Chapter 1

Yellowcard- Lights and Sounds

Raychel

I know Max is working tonight. I stopped by to check his schedule posted next to mine in the theater box office. I am the manager and he my assistant on days when he can be here. Most nights he is tending bar at The Moon, a bar just off campus. It is super popular and he makes good money there. Enough to rent him and his boyfriend a house off campus. Tom (the boyfriend) is working as a paralegal while finishing his law degree at the university. When I said this is a college town I wasn’t lying. There are three colleges in town besides the one Stace, Max and I attend. Including a university and a community college. Thousands of students will be having a mass exodus from the here in a couple weeks. For those of us staying in town it means more opportunities to get jobs and housing until the influx of fall. I am hoping that they have some openings at the bar from people leaving for the summer. It’s really my only prospect besides retail work. I would rather have sloppy drunks spill beer on me than have to fold clothes that I can’t afford all summer.

I will have to go to the bar since I won’t see Max for at least three days and there is no time to waste at this point. Before I pack up my things in the office for the day I get a text from Stace.

Stace: Talked to my dad and he is okay with 400 a month for an apartment, or whatever. So think around 600 for the both of us utilities and all.

I knew she would offer to pay more since her dad is the one forking over the money and she knows I have to pay for everything by myself. My parents own a farm and I am the only one of their three children going to college. I have two brothers who are both younger than me. Both have decided to take over running things on the farm. Chad, only a year younger, is already managing most of the crops by himself and Evan the youngest is graduating from high school this year. Needless to say without my scholarship I would not be here.

Me: We have a starting point now I just need another job =)

When I walk into The Moon it’s already starting to get busy. It’s Thursday night and there will be a local band taking the stage in the next hour. I have to get in and talk to Max before he is totally bombarded by customers. I belly up to the bar. Max is right in front of me but his back is turned. I lean forward slightly so when he notices me he will get the slightest peek at my cleavage. He turns and his face lights up. I wish a heterosexual man would look at me like that.

“Oh god! Ray where have you been hiding those?” He asks while reaching out for my chest. I lean back before he can grab them. Some of the other people at the bar look at us like we are a side show. I don’t mind, we get looks like that all the time.

“Hello handsome, sorry to bother you while you are making the bacon, but I need a favor and it can’t wait.” I say in my sultriest voice

“Anything for you hot lips.” I fake swoon.

“I need a job, and a place to live, and we only have two weeks to secure both. Plus I have three finals this week”. I say deadpan. I can tell I have taken Max off guard. His face blanks while he replays what I said in his head.

“Ok first things first, we need another bartender and waitress and if I catch Lude we might be able to take care of that in the next couple minutes. Second I would love for you to move in with me but you and Stace would have to share a room.” My distressed face tells him that is not an option. “Okay well I will ask around about apartments and houses for rent.”

“Awesome I knew I could count on you.” I try and hug him over the bar but it really isn’t conducive for hugging. Max spots the owner of The Moon and gives me the ‘wait right there’ signal and he is off. I am sitting at the bar by myself. The place is filling up but most those people are out in front of the stage getting ready for the show. The stool next to me is suddenly filled with a tall guy, he asks the other bartender for a water with two lemons. I sneak a peek of him quick but when I meet his eyes I know I am caught. His eyes are bright blue and striking and his hair is pulled back in a pony but I can tell it would be as long as mine if it were down. He looks like a surfer, but in northern Minnesota we don’t get much of those. His smile is loose and buoyant. I immediately like him. I feel myself linger longer than I should and I know I am going to have to talk to him now. I am very friendly, but slightly awkward, when meeting new people.

“You know Max?’ he says. He must have seen me attempt to hug him.

“Yea.” Solid Raychel keep it monosyllabic. I look down at the bar. There is nothing in front of me to fidget with, damn.

“I’m Charlie.” He extends his hand to shake, when I take it I notice my hands are super clammy. I am swimming in awesome tonight apparently.

“Ray…chel. It’s Raychel but everyone calls me Ray.” I can feel the heat rising in my cheeks. You would never believe I am a theater major, I can’t even talk.

“Oh yea? Max talks about you all the time, you his girlfriend or something?” I think he might be fishing for my relationship status but he must not know Max all that well if he thinks we are together. When I don’t say anything he adds “I thought he was gay the way he talked about Ray all the time. I thought that was his boyfriend's name… sorry.”

“Oh I’m not, he is… gay that is.” I realize I put my hand to my chest while saying this and it draws Charlie’s eyes. I drop it to my lap immediately. Max saves me from making an ass out of myself even more by walking up on our side of the bar with is boss in tow.

“Lude this is Ray.” Indicating me by placing his hand around my shoulders.

Lude, a hulk of a man with tattooed sleeves on his arms and a rather unsightly scar running from his nose to his ear on his right cheek, puts out his hand for me to shake.

“Nice to finally meet you Ray, Max never shuts up about you.” His voice matches is gruff appearance.

I smile up and Max and then to Charlie again. “So I’ve heard.”

Lude takes no time getting to the point. “If you want a job waiting tables that’s okay with me but we can’t have someone without experience tending bar. Sorry but it gets too busy around here for you to learn on the job.”

“Of course. That would be awesome.”

Lude nods. “I will go get a schedule ready for ya. Can you start tomorrow night we are going to be short?”

“Umm yea tomorrow would be great.” With that he walks away. I am all smiles at Max, until I realize Charlie is still sitting next to me and engaged in the conversation as if it concerns him. Max gives him a pointed look.

“Charlie what are you doing up here?” Wow rude, Max, seriously? My eyebrows shoot up at him.

“Just getting a water before the show starts, and eves dropping on you and Ray’s conversation before that.” Now I am giving him the pointy looks. Straight forward is one thing but that’s just creepy. Max seconds my thoughts

“Creepy man.” Max’s jaw is tense. I have seen him do this on stage when he is playing a guy defending his woman. It’s really cute.

“I wasn’t trying to but she walked right in front of me when I was coming up here and you looked so excited to see her…”

“Yeah. Still creep factor five.” Max’s arm curls around me more like he can protect me from this super-hot guy who is at least a head taller than him if not more.

“Hear me out okay." Charlie puts out his hands to show us he is not armed. “Hardy and Guy are leaving for Chicago in a few days and Josh and I haven’t looked for replacements yet. There are going to be two rooms open in our house. I thought I would offer since your friend seems to be in a jam and any friend of yours can’t be all that bad. I was trying to be nice.” He looks away, almost shyly. Not that I would ever be convinced this guy is shy.

Max’s face brightens and his entire demeanor changes in an instant. "That would be great!” Wait what? Did I miss something? He was just getting all huffy and caveman over this guy and now he wants me to move in with him? They both start talking about where the house is and when we could move in but I interrupt.

“Excuse me? Sorry Charlie right? He nods still smiling like an idiot. “I don’t know you from Adam and I am certainly not moving in with two guys that I do not know. Who is Josh anyway?”

The words are still coming out of my mouth when a waitress climbs on stage and taps the mic.

“Thanks everyone for coming out to the Moon tonight! I am very proud to introduce our house band, Grounded!” The mass of people in the bar start cheering and Charlie jumps out of his seat.

“Gotta go, stay and watch the show Ray we can talk after.” He yells while running to the stage. He jumps on it right as the first cords from the guitar start to play. He grabs his own guitar and joins in. When he takes the mic and starts singing I look over at Max.

“Charlie and Josh are Lude’s nephews. They are here every week, twice a week.” He says as an explanation. Then he leaves me and goes back behind the bar. I look back up on stage and Charlie is singing his heart out, they are covering a Yellowcard song that I love. I am super impressed, while transitioning to the next song Charlie goes over to the lead guitarist and says something into his ear. This guy is dark to Charlie’s light. Same tall build and long hair, but his is a mahogany color. His eyes are so dark from this distance they look black. I notice his eyes because they are looking right at me. Then he smirks slightly and gives me a dude nod. Charlie turns and smiles at me too. Tall dark and handsome must be Josh. Wow…


When they are done with the first set and take a five minute break I make my way to the ladies room. I pull out my phone on the way to text Stace. If we are going to talk about moving in with these guys tonight then I have to get Stace here.

Me: Stace you need to get up to the moon ASAP.

Stace: I am studying for my chem final what’s up?

She hated to be interrupted when she was in the studying groove but this was worth it.

Me: I got a job and might have found us a place to live at the same time.

Stace: okay but why do I need to come there now tho?

Me: Because the guys we will be living with are playing here, right now.

Stace: playing?

Me: The band, they are playing in the band

Stace: R they good?

Stace considers herself a music critic. She grew up with musicians therefore she judges character by your taste or ability in music. The only reason I passed her test was because my dad was a huge CCR fan when I was little and I knew all their songs. I was redeemable. I thought Grounded was pretty good but I knew my opinion would not get her up here. There was only one thing that would do that in a timely manner.

Me: One word, Pink

This was a code word we came up with the first few days of school our freshman year. If a guy was pink he was extremely hot. Not much else would get Stace’s attention faster.

Stace: be there in 10

She is so predictable.


Josh

During the break I pull Charlie into the back room we used as a dressing room.

“What do you mean you found someone to live with us? Who’s the girl?”

Charlie looks at me like I’m dumb, although if he answers the way I think he will he is truly the stupid one.

“The girl would be the person who can move in with us.” I put my hand up to start my rant about how we cannot have a chick living under same roof as us. Especially not one that looks like her. Even with the stage lights in my face I could see how stunning she was sitting at the bar by herself. Her hair is long, and she has big doe eyes. She looks sweet, corruptible. Charlie stops me.

“She is friends with Max, the bartender. In fact SHE is Ray!”

“I thought Ray was his boyfriend.”

“I know me too.”

“Still, Charlie did you see her? She is like what 21? Looks innocent as a nun too.”

“She goes to school with Max. Maybe she is a nun.”

I suddenly picture the girl, Ray, on her knees in front of me but she isn’t praying. I shake my head to get the image out. If there is any chance she will be living in our home I cannot fantasize about her. She will be sleeping too close to me.

“We can talk to her after the show, I told her to stick around.” Charlie seems confident that this girl will stick around to talk to us... I have my doubts. When we get back on stage I look to where she was sitting and she is no longer there. I give Charlie an ‘I told you so’ look but he points to a table off to the side of the room where Ray and short redhead have sat down. Damn...

********

I take my time putting away my guitar and changing my sweaty shirt after the show. Charlie went over to talk to Ray and her friend. I am avoiding. There are a few things I would rather do then deal that shit tonight. I know Charlie is being himself, the nice one. It’s been this way our entire lives. He is the people person. He is always the one to meet new people and try new things. I am a little slower warming up to people. There is a knock on the door and I realize Charlie is not going to let me take my time anymore. I open the door and come face to face with Ray.

“Oh, hey. Charlie said I would find you back here. He is still talking music with Stace. Stace is my roommate she is really into music. She has this whole theory about how you can judge if someone is a decent person by the music they listen to. She was super impressed by you guys…” She is rambling, she must be nervous. She is even more adorable close up. I can see now those big eyes are a pale grey rimmed with darker blue. Her hair is a light brown and hangs well past her perfect chest. I am memorized by her lips as she talks, they are a pale pink and I want to taste them.

She has stopped talking and I am now just staring at her. Shit.

“Yea I’ll be out in a second.” I close the door in her face. Great Josh. I stared at her then slammed the door in her face. Perfect first impression. When I open the door to go out she is still standing in the hallway. I want to apologize for closing the door in her face but I figure being an ass is my MO.

“Come on.” Without making sure she is following me I walk into the bar. It has cleared out some, so close to closing. I spot Charlie and the other chick, Stace, I think Ray said. She looks less innocent than Ray but she is still young. I am 27, Charlie is 25. We are not old men by any means; but these chicks make me feel like it. I take the seat next to Charlie fixing him with a warning glare. I want to give the worst impression possible. That way these girls will be less inclined to share a house with me. Charlie, like usual, ignores my brooding.

As I walk up to the table I can hear my cousin talking animatedly,“So Stace what do ya think it’s 250 a month per room, that includes utilities of course. The rooms are kind of small but we have our own laundry in the basement.” Seems like he is wrapping this shit up quickly. What the hell is the hurry?

Ray and Stace look at each other and Stace seems sold on the idea. Ray looks at me, looking like she just swallowed a bug. She pulls Stace to her and whispers something in her ear. Stace gives her an exasperated look and turns back to us.

“I need both your last names, we will have to get back to you tomorrow. But I think it sounds great.” Apparently Ray thinks we are sketchy. Maybe Charlie’s charm hasn’t won both them over so quickly. Last names? For a background check maybe? Charlie does not even hesitate.

“Wood, Charles and Joshua Wood. Here’s my number I don’t have classes tomorrow so you can give me a call whenever and come see the house when you are ready.” Stace takes his number into her phone. Ray is still looking at me like I might bite her. She would be right, I want to bite her. I am sure she would enjoy it though.

They get up and walk out the front doors. Charlie turns to me.

“You know if you stop looking at her like some kind of serial killer she wouldn’t have to run a background check on us.”

“What? I have no idea what kind of look I was giving her?” I know exactly how I was looking at her. That was the whole point I don’t want that temptation sharing a home with me.

“They are cool chicks man. Stace is really chill and Ray is really quiet. I think they will be great roommates. I know they will be clean at least. We will have to fumigate Guy’s room after he moves out he is such a slob.” He has a point Hardy and Guy are pigs, we agreed about three months in they were a poor choice.

“How old are they Charlie? They look like they aren’t even old enough to be in a bar.”

“Stace is older she just turned 21 in January, Ray will in August. That’s not a big deal. They both have double majors so they don’t drink much according to Stace. Ray is a theater management and comparative literature major and Stace is Bio and engineering. So they are smart and hot.” He looks at me like he is trying to read my thoughts. If he only knew. He seems really excited. I wonder if he is attracted to Ray too. Or maybe Stace, she seems more his type. I try to nonchalantly ask the next question.

“Will we have their dumb ass boyfriends hanging around constantly?” I can only imagine what kind of meathead Ray is dating. Someone so innocent looking has to be seeing a big dumb jock.

“No, according to Stace, Ray just broke up with ‘the devil in human clothing’. Her exact words. Stace has a boyfriend but he works out on the oil field and only comes to see her once or twice a year.” How did he get so much information on them in such little time? Stace must be really chatty. I turn from him and mull it over. Ray is single and her ex was an asshole. Fucking perfect. I feel like my head is going to explode. I have to work in the morning so I get up from my seat.

“This is your deal man. I have to work tomorrow so text me if the girls call. I guess they can come look at the place. Let the guys know to pick up a little.” Or not… maybe seeing how shitty those bedrooms are will sway them not to live with us. I turn without saying goodbye. Charlie knows I am not in favor of this but the extra cash would be nice. We got the house for free, inheriting it from our grandmother. So the girls rent will be paying the bills and the little left over will pay for beer. I am not home that much between work and gigs with Grounded. Charlie is still in grad school so he will be around them more.

I hit my bed hard when I get home. I close my eyes to sleep but dreams of long hair and gray eyes keep me tossing and turning.

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