I bite my lip. Worry starts to set in a few minutes later, and concentrating on the problems becomes near impossible.
“Maybe he just lost track of time,” Connor says, watching me check my phone repeatedly. “I think someone is throwing a highlighter party on campus tonight. Lots of the underclassmen I tutor were talking about it.”
“Upperclassmen don’t go?”
“Not usually. We’re more focused.”
I try not to roll my eyes. Another wide generalization. Lo would hate this guy. I must still look anxious because Connor closes our books.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “We can call off the bet. You don’t need to lose your money because I can’t concentrate.”
“I’ve never failed on my tutoring promises. The bet still stands. You’ll pass your exam, Lily. I’m certain of it.” That makes one of us. “Now, you’re obviously really concerned about your boyfriend. Until we find him, you’re not going to learn anything, so where do you think he could be?”
Huh? He’s offering to help me track down my boyfriend? I blink away the strangeness of Connor Cobalt and try to concentrate on Lo. Where would he be? That’s a good question. He partied himself out his first two years of college and has recently stuck to bars. Usually he arrives home at a reasonable time so he can drink heavy liquor here and pass out.
If I’m not driving him, then he has to be somewhere on campus. “You said that the highlighter party was on campus?” I ask.
“It’s outside on one of the quads.”
“We’ll start there.”
* * *
Strobe lights flicker across a grassy field. Bodies pump together to the hypnotic beat of house music. We approach at a distance. Most people wear white clothes with streaks of paint and marker that glow in the black lights. They run around and grind, almost animalistic in the cold night.
How will I be able to find Lo in this mess?
Before we integrate with the bumping and sweaty crowds, a petite redhead clenches my elbow. “Hey, you’ll need this.” She passes me a white tee. I frown as she hands Connor a much bigger size from the cardboard box by her feet. He doesn’t seem fazed as he unbuttons his dress shirt and pulls the other over his head, handing her his button-down.
“I’m not getting that back, am I?” he asks her with a flirtatious smile, or maybe it’s just a nice one. It’s hard to tell with a socialite like him.
Her eyes flicker roguishly, and she grabs his wrist. With a black magic marker, she scrawls her number on his palm. “I’ll keep it safe for you.” She puts her arms through the holes and wears the button-down like a light jacket.
Holy crap. I have to commend her. That was sexy.
Connor just smiles—calm and collected like it’s completely normal to search for his tutoree’s lost boyfriend and be hit on by a pretty redhead at a party.
Keeping my shirt on, I yank the white tee over my clothes and pull my hair out of the collar, layering up. Then we enter the madness.
Some guy with a neon green wig runs at me screaming like a banshee. He brandishes a giant pink highlighter and streaks it right across my boobs. That’s lovely.
Connor finds my hand and tugs me in a different direction. “What does he look like?!” he yells over the blasting music that vibrates my feet.
I dodge a purple highlighter that heads for my bare arm and pop up Lo’s picture on my phone.
“I know this guy!” He points to the screen. “He’s in my International Affairs class!”
I suppose that’s not that big of a coincidence. Business majors have to take all the same upper-electives. “That’s good! Should we split up?!” A girl squeals beside me and draws a yellow line right across my ass. Seriously? I’m not even wearing white shorts. The marker stains an ugly brown color on my jean pants.
He scouts the party and nods. “I’ll be on the side with the canvas and paint!” There’s paint around here?! Yeah, he can take that area. “You check out the keg.”
Good, he sends me to the one place Lo will probably be if he attended this crazed party, even if he considers keg beer to be the equivalent of cat piss. Huddled around the keg, people with markers are sparse, which leaves college students who came for free beer.
A lanky guy covered in neon blue paint does a keg stand, his shirt flopping over his head and revealing patches of curly hair on his chest. He chugs the bitter drink, and it takes only a couple minutes to deduce that Lo isn’t here.
I should have known. Cheap alcohol and ear-splitting music have not been part of his ritual since he was sixteen. While Lo may not have fully matured yet, his indulgences have.
I try calling him again, but it goes straight to voicemail.
I frown and spin on my heels to face the male voice. I don’t recognize him until I spot his highlighted fraternity shirt: Kappa Phi Delta. The frat house Lo picked me up at.
His blond hair blows in the wind, but the cold misses me as my whole body heats in an uncomfortable embrace. I guess I’m the real jerk in this scenario since I ditched him so quickly after the one-night stand.
He notices my confusion and points to his chest. “Kevin.” He nods to the keg. “Can I get you a drink?” Translation: Do you want to do it again?
Before I decline, Connor bounds over, face flushed from fighting through tangled bodies. His white tee is splashed in a variety of neon paints and streaked with highlighters. Someone missed the shirt, and his elbow glows bright pink. “I didn’t find him,” he tells me.
“Connor Cobalt!” Kevin exclaims.
Oh my God. They do not know each other. Where am I?
Connor turns and his grin widens as he sees Kevin. “Hey, man!” They exchange the bro-hug: a handshake, squeeze, lean in and slap on the back. I never understand those.
“I’m surprised to see your ass here,” Kevin says with a smile. “I thought keggers were far too inferior for Mr. Connor Cobalt.” Glad to know other people find his full name fascinating.
“Actually, I’m on the clock.”
“You call this tutoring?” Kevin’s eyes drop to the number written across Connor’s hand. “Damn, man, maybe I should adopt your methods. All I get out of my hours are headaches.” He glances at me, noticing my lingering presence. “Oh, this is Lily.” Obviously Kevin idiotically spaced out when Connor acknowledged me earlier.
Connor frowns deeply and tilts his head towards me. I want to smile. Yeah, you don’t have me all figured out.
“Yeah, I know,” Connor says. “I’m tutoring her. Econ.”
Kevin presses two fingers to his lips, trying to suppress his amusement. “You mean, you’re ‘tutoring’ her, right?” The douchebag even uses air quotes and nudges Connor’s shoulder suggestively.
My nose flares and heats again. I’m standing right here!
Surprisingly, Connor’s face contorts in disgust. He brushes Kevin’s shoulder off like he may have infected him. “No, I mean I’m actually tutoring her, Kevin. We’re here to find her boyfriend. She can’t get ahold of him.” He turns a fraction, closing off his body to his…friend? I can’t tell anymore. Connor is an enigma. He says offensive things and then becomes affronted when someone else dishes it out—though less subtly.
Kevin doesn’t take the hint. “Yeah, my brothers told me about him. He came to collect her the morning after at the house.”
I watch as Connor opens his mouth, but I don’t let him speak.
“I was single,” I defend myself, even if my rash-like mortification spreads. Mixed with neon highlighter, I must look like a freak. “And just so you know, you were an awful lay.” I turn to go and then on second thought—I whip around and slap the Solo cup from his hands. The frothy beer soaks in the grass and Kevin rolls his eyes as if this isn’t the first time a girl has assaulted his keg beer.
I inhale a strained breath and march away, pushing past people, not even caring when someone smears green on my cheek. Whatever. Nothing can make this night worse.
Connor catches up to my side as we find a break in the bodies, but I keep my speedy pace towards the parking lot.
He says, “I was about to tell him he’s a moron, but I think your method was far more effective.”
I laugh and wipe off stray tears that somehow escaped between now and then. When did I even start crying? The whole night has twisted my insides, and on top of everything, I didn’t find Lo.
What if he’s passed out at a bar? What if he’s stumbling on the streets or getting his stomach pumped in a hospital?
My voice grows small. “I don’t know where he could possibly be.”
“He’s probably fine, Lily.”
I shake my head, distraught tears building. “You don’t know him.” I bite my bottom lip to keep it from quivering.
Connor grimaces in sympathy. “How about we go back to your place and I’ll wait with you until he returns?”
“You don’t have to do that,” I say, sniffing. “I’ve already wasted enough of your time. This goes beyond tutoring me.”
“Yeah, it does,” he says with a nod. “But this is the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in six months, which was the last time Sadie scratched my date. And”—his eyes shift to the ground—“I guess, I know why you’d be worried about a guy like Lo. He smells like booze almost every time he does show up to class.”
I frown. He doesn’t show up often? I know he’s not the model student, but the way Connor talked, it made it seem like Lo skips more than he attends. As for his smell, Lo takes more precaution with our families—extra mints, showers, cologne. During school days, he cares less.
No one has ever confronted me with Lo’s problem before. I stumble for words before landing on something that feels semi-right. “He usually answers his phone.” It feels good not denying the truth to someone, even if that someone is as random as Connor.
We walk towards my BMW. “You must really wish I picked Henry Everclear.”
“Actually, no.” We both slide in the car, and I man the steering wheel. “I like the challenge. I’m in the top five percent of my class. Top one percent of my major. All I need is that extra something and Wharton won’t be able to resist me.”
I put the car in gear and head out. “Let me guess. Reforming the girl who is failing economics is your extra something?”
“I wouldn’t have put it so blunt, but yes.”
I try not to laugh. Connor has no idea how frank he can be. I switch lanes. “About Kevin…” I feel like I need to defend myself further. I’m not sure why.
“You don’t have to explain,” Connor tells me. “People have fun. I get it.” He taps the door handle to the beat of the soft rock song. “Goddamn, you live far away.”
I stop at a red light. “It only feels like that in traffic.” After a few more jerky stops, we arrive at the apartment complex. I walk briskly to the elevator with Connor on my heels. I try to hide my nerves by crossing my arms.