My phone rang as I was emptying out my backpack.
Seeing an unknown number flash, I paused a second, then cursed at myself. How old was I? Twelve. Jesus. My stepmom was the only call I skirted, so I hit the accept button. “Hello?”
“Is this… Dusty?”
I sat up straighter. “Siobhan?”
“Yeah!” A relieved laugh. “Sorry. I didn’t want you to think I’m a stalker, but I got your number from Dr. Anderson, not that she knows that. I really hope that’s okay?”
I relaxed, slouching back down. “Oh, yeah. We should’ve exchanged numbers this week, anyway.”
Our last class today had been a quiz, and once that was done, everyone shot out of there. The quiz had been brutal.
“Um…” She got quiet. “So, why do I feel like I’m asking you out on a date?” A nervous hiccup. “Oh. Sorry. But, yeah. What are you doing tonight? Do you already have plans?”
I eyed my keys and frowned. “To be honest, I was going to hit up Chipotle. That. That’s my exciting college life Friday night plans.”
She laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t mind Chipotle myself, but want to head over here? My roommate and I were going to settle in for a movie marathon. We were thinking Harry Potter or Fifty Shades. We haven’t decided.”
I was gripping my phone so tightly. “What? No football game?”
“That’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”
“And no.” Her nervous hiccup was back. “We’re not big football watcher people. I mean, our lives are spent in biology labs. The most sporting things we do is trying to grab different kinds of fish to tag them. When it’s the weekend, we’re either studying or we’re relaxing. You know what I mean?”
I didn’t, not yet, but I lied. “Yeah. Totally.”
“We’ve got some wine here, too. You can sleep over, if you want. We have a super comfortable couch.”
My decision was made. I didn’t have to force myself to be a lionfish. I stood, reaching for my keys. “What’s your address?”
I picked up Chipotle for her, myself, and her roommate. They were supplying the place to hang out at and the wine, so the food was on me. I’d just skim back on a couple meals later that week. It was doable. The body was a great adapter, one or two missed meals wasn’t a big deal.
So it was all worth it, and when I rang their bell, both were in Harry Potter pajamas and I knew I’d found my people. Her roommate’s name was Emily, and within ten minutes of the first movie, we were all fast friends.
I’d been feeling guilty about ditching my roommates the other night, like maybe I was wrong to do it.
Was I? My feelings got hurt. Dent didn’t even matter. Nicole. Savannah. I was thinking I’d been too quick to judge before I shut them down. Maybe? But I also couldn’t help but wonder…did they even notice I was gone? If they hadn’t noticed, then I had nothing to feel guilty about.
But the last two days, I’d been thinking it was me in the wrong and I was the problem, yet here I was. I was sitting with a new friend and had made another friend, so maybe I wasn’t actually the problem.
And that was making me feel all sorts of better. On a Friday night, no less.
My phone rang right then. I knew without looking it was Gail, and I’d ditched her enough this week.
I rose, gesturing to their patio with my phone. “Mind if I go out there to take this?”
“No, no.” Siobhan waved a hand. “Go for it. We’ll pause and make some margaritas.”
I only grinned. They had a whole discussion if they should indulge in wine or margaritas. Emily wanted margaritas. Siobhan wanted wine. Emily had won out, and she sent me a tiny grin and a thumbs up as she followed her roommate into the kitchen.
Stepping outside, on the third ring I answered as I shut the door behind me. “Hello?”
“Your stepmom has been harassing my mom.” A low, gravelly voice greeted me.
I cursed under my breath. That’s what I get for not saving his number in my contacts.
“Yeah,” he bit out. “Fucking A, Dust.”
That pissed me off.
He didn’t get to call me out of the fucking blue, then use that nickname he used when we actually were friends. Oh-to-the-hell-fuck-no.
He was silent, hearing me, then a low and savage growl came from the other end. “Are you kidding me? Your stepmom has some delusion that you and I are fucking destined to be or something. Where’s she getting that piece of shit story?”
He didn’t say it outright, didn’t point a finger in my direction, but I felt slapped in the face by his accusation anyway.
I bit out, my blood boiling, “Trust me, asshole. It’s not because of me.”
“Put her in her place. You and I, we ain’t anything. Got that?”
“Abundantly.” And because I knew where he was going, and I was petty and I wanted to get there first, I hung up on him. Bastard.
Then, a moment.
I couldn’t breathe.
We built a fort together.
We played in the woods together and in the river that ran through both our properties.
We had a whole maze put in place.
I never did the dolls thing growing up.
I was outside. Dirty. Rough. We played tag and we pretended to hunt shit.
His dog was the friendliest German shepherd alive and he’d been horrible at protecting us. We pretended he was our guard dog anyway.
My mom baked for us.
His mom cooked for us.
We were best friends until sixth grade, until puberty hit, and suddenly Stone was too fucking cool for me.
Rage, long and deep, rose up in me, and grabbing ahold of the bannister, I bent over, letting out a scream like I’d never yelled before.
Hearing a clambering behind me, I remembered where I was, and a whole new litany of curses flashed in my mind.
Real shit and private shit just went public, and turning, wiping all of it away, I waved a hand with an awkward smile on my face. “I’m good,” I said as soon as the door opened again. “Sorry. Just an annoying call from home.”
They both seemed concerned, but were polite about not being pushy. I could tell they were either weirded out by me, my reaction, or I don’t know what else, but the easygoing and carefree vibes of our Friday night was gone. My outburst of anger had ended that, so maybe it was me? All my problems with other people. Maybe I needed to really decide what I wanted? If I wanted friends, I might need to seek some professional help and figure out what I was doing wrong…or if I didn’t want friends, then I was good.
I left halfway through the second movie, and when I say I left, I mean that I felt it was in the most awkward way ever.
Emily and Siobhan seemed more relaxed when the first one ended. The margaritas might’ve helped, but there were quite a few sideways glances my way, and once during the second movie, Emily gave up all discreetness and openly stared at me. I knew right then that I needed to go.
Saying my goodbyes, Siobhan walked me to the door. Emily remained on the couch, giving me a wave, but I could tell she was relieved I was going. I was crushing their Friday night chill sesh and I didn’t want to be responsible for that.
“Dr. Anderson is doing a research study. I have to go to the marine lab and check on her seahorses tomorrow. You want to come with?”
I almost did a double-take.
“Are you serious?” Not because this was awkward, she wanted me to go, and why would she invite me for another outing? But in the way that I was already preening because she was talking about seahorses. The males were the ones who carried the eggs, and what other species did that? Also, they lived the life of mostly resting and eating, and well hiding, but seriously. Resting. Eating. The guys carried the babes.
I was so in.
Siobhan grinned. “Yeah. The little things are kinda cute. Then I was going to meet Trent at the Quail to study. Want to come to that, too? I figure we always have something we can be studying.”
I almost had to take a step back.
The Quail was the name of the campus pub, the one that I first thought was the only one on campus. Small. Cozy. I liked it immediately, but I hadn’t known the name. The Quail seemed fitting for some reason, and also, I raised an eyebrow. “Trent?”
Her face went from a blush red to lobster red. She picked at her doorframe, her eyes jutting away. “Yeah. I mean. We’re friends. He’s a good guy.”
“That’s the guy in our genetics class? The cute blond you sit by?”
I hadn’t thought it was possible, but her face was getting even redder.
I couldn’t stop myself from teasing. “The guy who looks like a six-foot-one model? Who wears glasses, but he has high cheekbones and he could be the definition of a gorgeous nerd? That Trent?”
She was eyeing the air like she wanted a black hole to open up and she could step through it. “Yeah. Him.”
I was starting to feel bad. “I’m just teasing. You know the guy is into you, right?”
Her eyes swung to mine. “You think he is?”
I nodded. “My knowledge might not be vast, but I can’t imagine a guy meeting a girl in a bar, on a Saturday night, wanting to study, unless he also wants to get in her pants.”