A Work in Progress, Chap. 5&6

Chapter 5

Sunday afternoon, Rebecca sat at her dorm room desk soaking in the bright, warm sunshine as it streamed in through her window.  Holly had gone out two hours before, bound for a study session with friends.  Rebecca hoped these friends had a little more common sense than Treva and Lena did, considering they simply forgot that Holly and she were expecting a ride home the night before.

Riding the bus after midnight was not her idea of a safe way to travel.  After the whole Mountain Man episode, the last thing her nerves needed was to get into a knife fight on some lonely bus.

The phone at her elbow rang, and she reached for it without a thought.  “Hello?”

“Hi,” the voice on the other end said, and everything in her world stopped.  “Umm, is Holly Jacobs there?”

“H—Holly?  No, she’s not.”  The pencil in her hand dropped to the desk.  “C—could I take a message?”

“Oh, yeah.  Umm, I guess so.  This is Eric Barnett.  Holly and I met at Avalon last night.”

The gears in Rebecca’s brain slammed forward, stopped, and slammed forward again.  Willing her heart to stop thudding in her ears, she grabbed for her pencil.  “Is there…I mean do you have a phone number?”

“Oh, yeah.”  His voice guided her pencil across the paper as she wrote the numbers down.  “Umm, do you know when Holly might be back?”

Rebecca stared at the paper underneath her hand.  “No, she didn’t say.”

“But you will give her the message?”

“Yeah, I’ll give it to her.”

“Great.  Thanks.”

“Sure.”  She was sure he signed off, but she wasn’t at all sure what her reply was as she suddenly found herself holding a silent phone.  Slowly the receiver slipped from her ear and down to the cradle, but her gaze never left that number.  It lodged in her memory, so deeply she knew she would never forget it.

***

When Holly made it back around noon, Rebecca was still staring at the paper with his number on it, keeping it to herself for a few more moments.  She knew once it was in Holly’s hands, all her chances would perish.  And yet, although she wanted nothing more than to keep it for herself, her loyalty to Holly wouldn’t let her.

“Eric called earlier,” Rebecca said as Holly stood at the mirror brushing her hair.

The brush slowed as Holly turned to her in confusion.  “Eric?”

“Barnett,” Rebecca said, liking how that name sounded coming from her voice. “From the club last night.”

Holly’s face fell with the brush in disbelief.  “He called?”

“Yeah, he left his number.” Rebecca held it up so Holly could see it.

Had it been her, she would’ve had the number and the phone so fast it would’ve looked like a tornado.  However, Holly didn’t look even the least bit excited as she crossed the room and took the number.  She stared at it tucked between her fingers.

“Are you going to call him?” Rebecca finally asked.

Holly shrugged slowly.  “Probably not.”

Rebecca’s eyebrows shot up.  “Why not?”

Her gaze not seeming to focus on anything, Holly turned back for her bed.  “I don’t really know him.”

“That’s the point.  Isn’t it?  To get to know him.”

Flopping on the bed, Holly rolled to her stomach.  “Yeah, well, maybe I’m not here to meet guys.  Maybe I’m here to study.”

“Well, I’m here to study too, but if some gorgeous guy asked me out, I certainly wouldn’t blow him off.”

One second and then two Holly considered that and then rolled over onto her back, holding the number in the air away from her.  “He’s probably like all the rest of them.  Date, dinner, and then, ‘What do you say we go back to my place for dessert?’”

The date and dinner sounded good, considering Rebecca had never made it even that far into a date.  Nonetheless, it was obvious that Holly had made it that far and quite possibly farther.  “Not all guys are like that.”

“All the guys I’ve ever been out with have been.”

“Well, maybe this one’s different.”  For the life of her, Rebecca couldn’t figure out why she was trying to talk Holly into this date.  What she should be saying was, “No, stay away from him, he’s mine.”  However, her heart wanted her real words to be true so badly, they just kept coming out of her mouth.  “He jumped in the middle of something that could’ve sent him to the emergency room or worse for you last night.  I think he at least deserves a phone call back.”

The number dropped to Holly’s chest as she sighed.  Rebecca watched her carefully, expecting her to jump up at any second and grab the phone.  However, when she finally did move, all Holly did was roll over and lay the number on her nightstand.  Then gracefully, she stood, walked over to the mirror, grabbed the brush, and resumed her life as though Eric Barnett, the most incredible guy in the world, hadn’t just walked right through it.

With an annoyed shake of her head, Rebecca went back to her book.  She couldn’t tell who she was the most annoyed with—Holly for not calling him, him for calling in the first place, or herself for continually thinking about him even when she knew he wanted absolutely nothing to do with her.

“I think I’m going to go take a shower,” Holly finally announced.

“’K.”  The pen in Rebecca’s hand seemed like it was helping her study, but the truth was her attention was still riveted to the number lying on that nightstand.

When Holly walked out, Rebecca sat, willing her mind to stay on history.  However, after only a few minutes, even she saw the futility in that.  Quickly she grabbed her notebook, stood, and crossed over to the nightstand.  With half her gaze planted firmly on the door, she copied the number.

It wasn’t like she would ever actually call him.  In fact, the mere thought threatened to send her heart catapulting off the nearest balcony, but she couldn’t deny the overwhelming need to have that phone number in her own possession.  It was crazy, but very little of her life was making sense anymore, so it really didn’t matter.

***

For the remainder of Sunday and most of Monday as well, Eric kept close to the phone.  Hamlet and sign language were little more than external concepts to keep him busy while he waited.  Sign language actually did a passable job at taking his mind off the phone; Hamlet, however, threatened to send him screaming for the exits.

How anyone could read Shakespeare—to say nothing of understanding Shakespeare—was beyond his comprehension.  With the book in one hand, he walked into the kitchen and barely saw the cabinet or the bag of Oreos he pulled out.

“To die,” he said dramatically to the empty kitchen, “to sleep—No more—and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to!  ‘Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.  To die, to sleep—To sleep—perchance to dream:  ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.”

He sat down in the chair and shook his head in frustration.  “I have no idea what that means.”  His fingers flipped through the pages to see how many more he had to read, but that answer just sent him into further depression.  He opened the bag, bit off half of one, and willed his mind to comprehend something other than, “I’m never going to get this!”

“To die, to sleep—”

***

“How’s Hamlet going?” spike-haired guy asked as they stepped behind Rebecca’s desk Tuesday evening.

Immediately her head and heart sank.

“Two words,” Eric said sagely.  “It sucks.”

“That good, huh?”

“Man, I’m telling you, we’re in the middle of Act III, and to say I have no idea would be an understatement.”

“Have you gotten the Cliff Notes?”

“Ugh!  I don’t even understand them!”

“Well, why don’t you come over tomorrow night?  Gwen could help you, she’s great with that stuff.”

“Oh.”

Rebecca heard all the air leave with that syllable.

He was shuffling books, papers, and his backpack, leaned over so he was practically talking in her ear. “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

He sat back up at his desk. “I just—I’m studying with some friends.”

The gap between Rebecca’s eyebrows narrowed.  It was the same voice he’d used when he lied about studying in the Student Union.

“Oh, well.  It was a thought.”

“Yeah.  I’ll keep it in mind.”

Mr. Templeton entered down front, and Rebecca told herself she should just stop thinking about him and pay attention.  However, the sound of his voice tugged her away from the lecture again and again.  He was lying.  She knew it.  The strange thing was, they were obviously good friends, so why was Eric constantly trying to lie his way out of getting together?

An understanding panged somewhere down in her soul.  The answer was in her own reaction to being invited somewhere.  “Oh, no, you go on” with the ever-present but never spoken conclusion, “You’ll have more fun without me.”

But why would he possibly feel like that?  He had the looks to get any girl he could want.  He had a smile that held the kindness of the world in the midst of it.  Not only that, but he backed that kindness up with action.  She had seen that first hand.  So, why…

Mr. Templeton was suddenly right in front of her, staring at her. When she looked up, fear was the only thing in her soul.  “Why do you suppose we have eight million sensory receptacles if we can only use one million at a time?”

The question wound through her brain, twisting past even the questions about Eric.  “Uh, because, you never know which million you’re going to need?”

***

For the rest of class she forced herself to pay attention; however, it was startlingly difficult to do.  Every time her mind wandered down the path of Eric, she yanked it back with both hands.  Knowing the exact shape of his smile and how the light danced in his eyes wasn’t going to earn her many points on the upcoming test—not to mention on the paper she had only thought about twice.

As she felt them prepare to leave after class, she warned herself that for the sake of her grades and her sanity, she had better buckle down and get to work.  If Eric Barnett was going to notice her, he would’ve done it by now.  He’d had plenty of chances.  So unless she walked right up to him and said, “You are the love of my life,” which was about as likely as Mars becoming the Earth’s second moon, she had better concentrate on getting on with her life.

***

“How was Psych class?” Holly asked a second and a half after Rebecca had entered the room.

“Fine.”  She slung her backpack onto the desk.  “How’s…?”

“Geography,” Holly said, lifting her book so Rebecca could read the cover.  “Let’s just say I know why I didn’t choose it for a major.”

“I hear you there.”  Rebecca sat down at her desk and dug out her notes.  Somehow when she got home they were always shorter than she remembered.  She turned the first page, and Eric’s name next to hers in a heart stared up at her.  In frustration she flipped the page.

“So you said the other night you haven’t found Mr. Right yet, but I didn’t ask if you have a boyfriend,” Holly said without looking up.

“No, you didn’t.”  She flipped two more pages, and there was his name with the pitchfork.  Instantly the tips of her ears flamed.

“So, do you?”

Rebecca flipped another page.  “No.  You?”

“Nobody special.”

“How about Eric?” The words made her head ache.

Holly shrugged and then wrote something in her notebook. “I never got around to calling him.”

“Oh.”  It was all she could manage. The hurt was clogging her throat.

“They’re never the way they look on the outside anyway,” Holly continued as she wrote something else in her notebook.

For one split-second Rebecca considered questioning that statement, but the phone rang at her elbow before she processed the words. She picked it up just as she got to a fresh notebook page. “Hello?”

“Hi, Holly?” The voice skidded through her chest.

Rebecca pulled her dignity to her. “No, this is her roommate. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Oh, this is Eric…Barnett again. Um, Holly never returned my call.”

Somehow Rebecca had heard that rumor. “Just a second.” She lifted the phone into the air with her hand covering the mouthpiece. “It’s for you.”

Confusion jumped onto Holly’s sleek features as she rolled across the bed and stood. “Who is it?”

“Eric,” Rebecca said, and she saw the concern jump into Holly’s eyes. A second passed during which Rebecca wasn’t sure that Holly would even take the call. However, with a tug of her T-shirt toward the floor, Holly accepted the receiver.

“Hello?”

Had dropping through the floor been an option, Rebecca would gladly have taken it. Unfortunately she was anchored at her desk and her only hope was to look like she was studying. She bent over her notebook and wrote something indecipherable down.

“Friday?” Holly wound the cord around her hand. “Oh, I don’t know…” The pause stretched into the next millennium. “Yeah, well…” The fact that Holly was staring at Rebecca registered, and when Rebecca looked up, she couldn’t quite read the message in her roommate’s eyes. “Okay. I guess.” The sigh seemed to take all of the energy out of Holly’s body. “Okay. I’ll see you then… Yeah. ‘Bye.” She hung up the phone and walked back to her bed where she flopped down nearly landing on her Geography book.

“Hot date?” Rebecca asked, wishing the question didn’t sound so sarcastic.

“He’s just going to a party with some friends.” Holly shrugged.

With no trouble at all, Rebecca pictured every one of the friends in that image. Holly would fit in perfectly.

***

It was the first time since the Junior Prom back in high school that Eric had actually been excited about a date. He struck a pose at his mirror and smiled at himself. “Gorgeous girl. Hero me. This won’t be so bad.”

Granted he had done everything he could to get out of going in the first place. Jeremy’s birthday wasn’t an event he could talk himself out of. But with Holly on his arm, the others would surely back off and give him some peace for a change. He grabbed his coat, wishing he didn’t have to, and walked out to his car. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t even close to great. However, he pushed that thought down as he started the car.

The three dances they had shared together at Avalon were enough to convince him that getting to know her a little better was a good idea. He was definitely looking forward to that prospect.  When he pulled up outside the dorms, he rechecked his sweater in the mirror and decided against taking the coat.

Outside was colder than he had remembered however, and he had to run the last ten yards to the door. He found the phones and dialed her number.  It rang once. Then twice before a female voice said, “Hello?”

“Hi, this is Eric. I’m downstairs.”

“Oh,” the voice said. “I’ll tell Holly.”

“Oh,” he said, not realizing that he wasn’t already speaking to Holly. “Okay.”

There was a shuffling sound, and then the voice was back. “She’s headed down.”

“Okay. Thanks.” He hung up the phone and walked over to the main staircase to wait. The first thing he saw was the navy blue slacks, followed by the white and blue striped and fitted shirt. In full light she was more goddess than he remembered. When his gaze got to hers, it didn’t hold. “Hi.”

“Hi,” she said softly as she made it down the last step.

“Umm… my car’s out this way.”

She nodded, and he took that as the cue to head to the doors. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to be in her eyes, but fear wasn’t it.

“I’m really glad you could come. I’m sure you had lots of other offers.” He pushed the door open for her, and she stepped past him. “Ugh. Could it get any colder?”

Her smile barely cracked her face. “I wouldn’t know how.”

“Me either. What do you say we make a break for it?”

***

From her window four stories up, Rebecca saw them exit the building. The amber lights highlighted their dash down the sidewalk until they disappeared under the trees.  She watched the sidewalk long after they were gone.

At that moment she would’ve given whatever was asked to be the one he was climbing into the car with, the one he had called twice to ask out, the one he had noticed. A tear slid from one eye and its twin crested and then fell from the other. Why was she the only one who didn’t know how to play this game? Why was she the one doomed to forever be left behind?  It didn’t seem fair. What had she done to be so hideous that the world couldn’t love her?

Thoughts of home and the never-ending message that she didn’t measure up stomped across her heart as she wiped away the tears that were now sliding like rain down her cheeks. Why her parents had bothered to even have her was a mystery. They had obviously been banking on her being a Xerox copy of Liz Ann.

Popular, athletic, smart, and perfect—Liz Ann was every parent’s dream child. How could they possibly have known what a disappointment their second offspring would turn out to be?  Directionless and scared. Shy and gawky. She never met a guy she couldn’t turn off. Although she loved watching sports—football, basketball, baseball—she had never been able to play to save her life. Her hands, her feet, her body would never cooperate with the signals coming from her brain long enough to do more than watch. It was a fact of life she had accepted to the chagrin of all those around her.

In high school she had two friends who hung around because her locker was by theirs. Her teachers had all had such high expectations for her. How could they not? Liz Ann had set the bar pretty high. Too high.

Wiping her eyes, Rebecca pulled herself away from the window, trudged across the room, and flopped on the bed. She didn’t even bother to get a book down to study. Feeling sorry for herself was all she had the energy to do.

***

Eric couldn’t be sure, but he suspected that they were attracting more than a few looks as they walked into Jeremy’s apartment complex.  When they got to the elevators, he punched the button and stepped back. His gaze chanced to hers, and when they snagged on each other, he smiled.  She tried to smile, but it didn’t last.

“So, you go to school here?” he asked by way of conversation. They hadn’t said ten words to one another since they’d gotten in the car.

“Just transferred here.” She looked up at the lights and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Oh? Where were you before?”

The glance she shot in his direction looked like she was being strangled. “Weir.”

“Weir?”

“It’s a junior college.”

“Oh.”

The elevator dinged, and when the doors slid open, she stepped on ahead of him. He boarded and pushed the button marked 5.  Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he watched the lights slide one to the next. His thoughts drifted to the coming party, and he had to take a breath to steady the thought. The elevator dinged again, and when the door slid open, he put a hand out to keep it there.

She wound her straight, just past shoulder length hair over her ear and stepped out. Guiding just by walking next to her, Eric led her to the door and knocked. He heard the voices on the other side, and they did nothing to calm the trepidation in his heart.

With one swing, Jeremy opened the door. “Hey! Look who made it!”

The announcement was obviously for the benefit of the rest of the room. All five gazes jumped to them. Holly shrunk behind him, and he wished he hadn’t thought this was a good idea.

“Come in. Come in,” Jeremy said with a little too much enthusiasm.

Ducking his head, Eric put his hand on her back and guided her forward. In the next instant they were surrounded, and he handed out the introductions without really hearing them.  He could see they were impressed, and he hated that because he knew they were all thinking how did a guy like him end up with a girl like her.

“So, Holly,” Desiree said, putting a hand on her arm and leading her over to the dips and chips lined up on the counter, “where did Eric find you anyway?”

Holly wound a perfectly blonde wisp of hair over her ear as her sweet face shaded pink. “We…met at Avalon last week.”

“Oh,” Zoë said, and Eric wanted to pound her for the understanding in her voice. “You’re the one he almost took a beating for.”

The question obviously made Holly uncomfortable, and Eric decided for her sake it was time to take the night in hand. “So, Jeremy, are we just going to stand around all night, or are we going to get this party started?” He walked over to the stereo, picked up a handful of CD’s, and started flipping through them. “Bleh! Yuck! Oh, Yanni. Yeah.” He flipped the one he was holding, which wasn’t even Yanni to the desk with the others. “I don’t think so.”  One by one he continued through them until he pulled one up for closer inspection. “Ah! Something decent. Finally. Jeremy, you’ve really got to revise this music collection, my man.”

He slipped the CD into the slot, worked the buttons, and in no time a beat the size of New York was pulsing through the speakers. Much better, he thought turning it up another notch. With this much noise, no one could talk. Dancing a few steps over to the chips, he picked one up and smiled at Gwen. “Nice party.”

“I’m glad you think so!” she yelled over the noise as annoyance slid over her ivory features.  She looked over at Jeremy who obediently went to turn the stereo down to a reasonable level.

Once it was playing rather than blaring, he stepped over to Eric’s side. “We’re really glad you guys could come.” A pause that would’ve filled the Grand Canyon ensued.

“Yeah,” Eric finally said as he munched on a chip. “We wouldn’t have missed it.”

***

Rebecca was still awake when Holly made it home, but letting the darkness shield her from facing her roommate, she pretended to be asleep. Holly, as always, quietly went about getting ready for bed. The only time she even turned on the light was to wash her make-up off. As soon as that was accomplished, the darkness returned, and Holly crawled into bed.

With everything she had, Rebecca wanted to ask how the night had gone. She wanted to ask if he was as nice as he seemed, if his friends had welcomed her as one of their own.  It seemed insane to even want to know, but at the same time it would’ve been nice to be able to have some details to go with the fantasies playing through her head. Before she got up the courage to ask, however, she noticed that Holly was breathing softly.

That opportunity gone, Rebecca rolled to the side and looked out the window into the silver moonlight tinged in amber. A tear at a time her heart broke.

Chapter 6

For four whole days Rebecca had talked to Holly as little as possible. She had done her best to avoid her roommate, even to the point of staying late and going early to class. Over and over she had told herself she was being a jerk, but it didn’t make her heart hurt any less when she looked at Holly. She was who Rebecca could never be.

Sitting in Psych class on Tuesday night, Rebecca’s mind went where it had been going since Friday night—out on their date. First she would play it in her head with Holly, and it all went perfectly. Then she would substitute herself into the picture, and the whole scenario changed. Wonderful was not the word she would’ve used to describe it.

“So, are you going to take Holly to the game Friday?” spike-haired guy asked as the two of them entered the row behind her. Rebecca hunched over her book, trying to become invisible which was obviously working because they didn’t seem to even notice her presence.

“Yeah.” Eric leaned down to get his books. “She’s got some kind of Biology study session, but she’s going to try to get out of it.”

“Cool. Knicks and Celtics. I can’t believe my dad didn’t keep them to himself.”

“I thought they were going out of town.”

“Hawaii,” spike-haired guy confirmed. “I guess that’s an excuse.”

“I’d take the tickets any day.”

Mr. Templeton walked in, and the conversation died down. Rebecca shook her head and sighed. Life just got better and better.

***

By the time Eric got home after Psychology, his everything’s-fine exterior had cracks a truck could drive through in it. The only explanation for why Jeremy took everything he told him for unquestionable truth had to be that Jeremy’s mind was on other things. Namely Gwen. The sigh escaped as Eric pulled the Oreos out of the cabinet. He didn’t blame Jeremy. Had he been the one who ended up with Gwen, the rest of the planet could have disappeared as well.

Collapsing onto the chair, he broke a cookie in half and then bit off a piece. Everything he’d said about Holly was true. He had asked her out. She had said yes, but why she had said yes was less clear. The whole night had been a bust. It was insanely clear that she would’ve rather been dipped in hot acid than to have been with him. He stuffed another cookie into his mouth.  He didn’t even get up the guts to kiss her when he dropped her off.

The arms wrapped over her chest, the effort it took to say a few words or to come up with something to say, it was all so much harder than they all made it look. Whatever the secret was, he really wished someone would clue him in because it was clear he was missing something.

***

“Oh, hey,” Holly said as if she was happy to see Rebecca when she got back from class. Seeing the grocery bag in Rebecca’s hand, Holly bounced up. “What’d you bring me?”

“Oreos.”

Holly’s eyes narrowed at the tone in Rebecca’s voice. “Class that bad?”

Rebecca dropped her books to the desk. “I’m supposed to take the test in there next week. Four chapters. I haven’t even read one yet. I’ve got a six-page paper for history that is not writing itself, and I’ve got a Psych paper that I’m supposed to be researching, and I don’t even have a topic yet.” She slid her coat off and wrapped it over the chair. With one hand she ripped into the bag of Oreos. With the other she pulled one out.  Holly watched from across the room as if it was the quintessential acting job.  Not wanting to, Rebecca walked over and offered her the bag. “Want one?”

“Sure.” Uncertainly Holly took just one and twisted the two wafers apart from each other. “It sounds like you need a distraction.”

“I’m fine.” Rebecca fell into the desk chair.

“Yeah, you look fine.” Holly bit a piece off. “Hey, how about this. We can go out to the movies Friday. They’ve got another marathon showing.”

“I thought you had plans.” The statement was out before Rebecca thought about it.

“Plans?” Holly asked. “What plans?”

Rebecca stood and threw the bag onto the bookshelf. “Never mind.”

Anger dropped onto Holly’s face. “Gee, excuse me for living.”

At the closet, Rebecca pulled out her showering accessories. “I’m going to take a shower. Be sure to write down my messages.” Then she stopped and laughed. “Oh, yeah. What am I saying? I don’t get messages.” With that, she stalked out.

***

Holly was still on the bed studying when Rebecca came back. With half the water in the building pouring down over her head, she had decided that it really wasn’t Holly’s fault and so it was time to get on with the apology. She stood at the mirror brushing her wet hair.

“I’m sorry about before,” Rebecca said. “I just get tired of sitting here in the room while everyone else goes out.”

Confusion slid across Holly’s face. “You went with us to Avalon.”

“Oh, yeah. There was a fun night. Sitting in the dark all night watching everybody else have fun.”

Understanding overtook the confusion, and Holly bowed her head. “I guess I didn’t think about that.”

Rebecca let the hairbrush drop. “It’s not you. You actually talk to me. It’s everybody else who wants me to disappear.”

Holly’s eyebrows knit. “Disappear? Why would you say that?”

With a sigh Rebecca shrugged. “I’m not like you. I don’t have every guy in the place falling all over themselves to be with me.” She resumed the brushing. “Heck, I can’t even get one guy to notice me much less anything else.”

Holly slid off the bed and stepped over to the mirror where she leaned against the wall. “You got anyone specific in mind?”

The brushing slowed. “I did, but he’s kind of taken.”

“Oh, bummer.”

“Yeah. Not that it was going to happen anyway. I just stupidly let myself hope…”

“Hey, hope is never stupid. Maybe it didn’t work out this time, but that doesn’t mean it never will. All guys can’t be that dumb.”

It was a nice thought, but there was little evidence to support it. “You want another Oreo?”

Holly smiled. “Now would I pass that up?”

***

It took longer than normal to get dressed mostly because Eric couldn’t decide what said, “Woohoo, Celts” without looking like the team mascot. In the end he had settled on the Celtics jersey his parents had given him for Christmas the year before. With a white long-sleeved shirt underneath, it didn’t look too bad. He only hoped Holly wouldn’t dress up. If she did, he would end up looking like a slug next to her.

His confidence swerved when he looked in the mirror, and he was again debating the wisdom of his chosen outfit when the doorbell rang.  It took thirteen steps through the little apartment to answer it.

“Hey, buddy,” Jeremy said. “You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Eric grabbed his coat and followed his friend out the door.

“I’m thinking maybe we can swing by a burger place and grab something after we pick Holly up,” Jeremy said. “That way we won’t have to brave the concession lines.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

They exited and walked to Jeremy’s BMW. It was then that Eric saw Gwen, and reality descended. He crawled into the back of the car. “Hey, Gwen-a-walinski. How’s it going?”

“Fab. You?”

“Fab,” he lied with a happy smile plastered to his face.

The trip to Holly’s dorm was nothing short of torture. Jeremy and Gwen spent the entire ride holding hands and cooing at one another. It was enough to make a person hurl. At the dorms, Eric had somehow thought he would just run in and retrieve Holly. However, before he had time to put that plan into action, Jeremy killed the motor and started to get out.

“Oh, I can just go get her,” Eric said as Gwen got out her side. “Or not.”

In annoyance he walked ahead of them up to the heavy wooden doors. They were like the chaperones who go around the prom with a ruler to make sure the dancers don’t get too close. Sighing so that only he heard it, he walked in the doors and over to the phones where he dialed the number. He pasted a smile on his face as he looked over at them. If this could get any worse, he didn’t want to know how.

“Hello?” the female voice said.

His attention snapped to that voice. “Holly?”

“Umm, no…”

“Oh. May I speak to Holly?” There was dead silence for a full ten seconds. “Hello?”

“I’m… uh. Didn’t Holly call you?”

This was not good. He turned to the wall. “No, she didn’t. Why?”

“I… are you sure she didn’t call you?”

Frustration snapped through him. “Hello. I think I would know if someone called me or not. Where’s Holly?”

“Are you downstairs?”

“No, I’m on Pluto. Where else would I be?”

“Umm. Just a second. I’ll try to call her and see if she’s coming.”

“That would be nice.”

The short pause stretched longer. “I’m going now,” she said.

“Okay,” he said, not really understanding why she hadn’t left yet.

“Well, hang up already. I’ve got to use this line.”

“Oh. Sorry.” He started to put the phone down then picked it back to his ear. “Talk to you in a minute. ‘Bye.”

“’Bye.”

***

Her blood pressure hit boiling as Rebecca pushed the disconnect button. She released the button and punched in Holly’s cell phone number. The second Holly answered, Rebecca knew the answer to her question. “Hello?”

“Holly. It’s Rebecca. Did you forget about your date?” There was no answer only the noise of happy people in the background. “Eric just called. He’s downstairs.”

“Oh, Eric. The game.”

“Yeah.” She stretched the syllable to two. “He’s waiting. Where are you?”

“I… Lena asked me to go shopping.”

“What about Eric?”

“I don’t know. Umm. Tell him I’m really sorry.”

“You’re going to stand him up?” Rebecca asked completely astounded.

“Well, no. Not technically. Just tell him I’m studying, and it’s going to take longer than I thought.”

Disappointment flowed through Rebecca. So it had been a set up the whole time. Holly knew she wasn’t going when she accepted. How else could her present excuse so perfectly match her previous one? “Fine. Have fun shopping.”

Without really hearing the end of the conversation, Rebecca signed off and then realized with horror that there was no way for her to call him back. He was downstairs, and those phones only dialed one way. Heaving a sigh of disbelief, she stood and stalked out. There was no point in making herself beautiful. He would never know the difference anyway. Seething at Holly for making her break the news to him, Rebecca stomped down the stairs. Her paint splattered T-shirt, ripped jeans, and present hairdo—or hair don’t as it really was—would’ve scared Prince Charming himself from the premises.

When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she crossed her arms and let the scowl stay on her face. She knew who they were the second she saw them leaning against the wall in the lobby engrossed in conversation. Without pretense, she walked right up to them.

“Holly said she forgot. She’s not coming.”

Eric, whose back had been to her, spun around, but her irritation never wavered.

“She forgot?” he asked, and she saw his next two thoughts stream through his eyes. The first being ‘Oh, great. I’ve been stood up.’ The second ‘It figures.’

Despite her best intentions to stay angry, Rebecca thawed a degree or two when she saw the hurt and understanding drift through his eyes. She shifted her weight to the other foot. “She said she was studying, and it got later than she thought it would.”

“Oh,” the tall redheaded girl standing with her hand tucked firmly in spike-headed guy’s hand said. She looked over at Eric with sympathy that would’ve pulled tears out of a stone statue. “That’s too bad.”

Rebecca could no longer look into Eric’s eyes. His head was down to the point that all she could see was the straight part in the center of his hair.

“Well, that stinks,” spike-headed guy said. “Now what are we going to do with an extra ticket?”

Eric shrugged but never really lifted his gaze. “We could always scalp it.”

“I don’t know,” the redheaded girl said with trepidation. “I heard they rounded up a bunch of scalpers a couple weeks ago. I don’t really want to go to jail tonight.”

“Ah, well,” spike-headed guy finally said. “Dad’ll never know the difference anyway. Come on.”

“Well,” Rebecca said with a short nod. “Have fun.” She spun on the toe of her sock and headed back for the stairs.

“Or,” she heard the redhead say, “you could take somebody else.”

“Who would I take?” Eric said sarcastically. “It’s an hour ‘til tip off.”

Spike-headed guy cleared his throat loudly just as Rebecca made it to the steps.

“Yeah, why not?” the girl asked barely above a whisper.

“Yeah. Come on. Go for it,” spike-headed guy said, encouragement underlying the words.

Seven steps up, Rebecca caught the sound of footsteps on the floor behind her.

“Umm, excuse me,” Eric said from the bottom of the stairs. “Miss?”

Uncertainly Rebecca turned to see who he was talking to as she hadn’t seen anyone else in the lobby. The step beneath her foot slipped forward and out from under her foot when she realized he was standing there, looking up at her. Barely catching her balance before she took that step with her shin, she stopped. “Me?”

“Y-yeah,” Eric said, and realizing the awkwardness of his position in relation to hers, he stepped up one stair and then another. He glanced back at his friends who waved him on. “Look, I know this is kind of weird, but we do have an extra ticket.”

Rebecca’s hand went to her hair, and her gaze dropped to the stairs between them. “You want me to go?”

“If you don’t want to…”

“No!” she said a little too loudly. Then she reined her heart in. “I mean, it sounds like fun, but I’m not…” She looked down at herself and saw nothing. “I’m…”

“We could wait,” he said with no certainty behind the statement at all. Then he looked down at his own attire and laughed. “It’s not like we’re going to the prom or anything.”

“I…” Rebecca glanced over to his friends. “Okay. I’ll just…” She pointed up the stairs.

“Cool. We’ll be waiting.”

When she turned back up the stairs, it was all she could do not to tumble right back down them. Her mind had completely shut off the second she realized he was talking to her, and although she had never been on autopilot before, she sincerely hoped someone knew where they were going and how to get there because she had no clue.

***

“She seems nice,” Jeremy said as Eric stood next to them trying to figure out what had just happened.

Somehow he had gotten talked into asking a girl who looked like an electrified porcupine with glasses out to a basketball game. She looked like she’d never so much as heard of the sport.

“Hello. I don’t even know her name,” Eric said in petrified horror.

Gwen shrugged. “So you ask.”

“Huh,” he said not at all amused. Maybe he would get lucky, and she wouldn’t come back down. Then again the way his luck was running, she probably wouldn’t have even changed when she did. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Worse had definitely arrived.

***

Options and time. Rebecca didn’t have an abundance of either one, so she grabbed the only Celtics T-shirt she had brought with her from the closet. He must be a Celts fan. He had on a jersey. Her T-shirt wasn’t as new as she would’ve liked, nor was it as classy as his jersey, but at the moment she couldn’t be picky.

Yanking the pencils out of the back of her impromptu hair do, she brushed through her hair, yanking more than brushing. Ten quick trips down, and that was going to have to do. She grabbed her make-up and threw on some blush. It wasn’t great, but she didn’t have time to achieve great. That would take more than her sparse skills anyway. She reached under her bed and yanked on her Sketchers. He probably had cool Nikes. Then again, he had cool everything.

Trying not to let her brain go in that direction, Rebecca grabbed her keys, her purse, and a jacket. So much about this was so out-of-whack, and yet she had never been more excited in her life. At the stairs she flew down them. The last thing she wanted to do was to upset them by making them wait.

“I’m ready,” she said, letting the happiness in her heart flow into her voice as she walked up to them.

He had been leaning on the wall with his shoulder. When Eric turned and looked at her, he straightened, but said nothing.

“Boy, that was fast,” the redhead said.

Rebecca smiled. “I didn’t want to miss tip-off.”

Together, the four of them turned and started for the doors.

“I’m Gwen by the way,” the redhead said, holding out a hand that looked like it had been dipped in milk. “And this is Jeremy.”

Finally spike-headed guy had a name.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Rebecca said. They pushed out into the moisture-chilled air.

“You too,” Jeremy said. He walked three more steps. “I’m sorry. Umm, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh, duh,” she said. “Sorry. I’m Rebecca. Rebecca Avery.”

“Well, we were going to grab something on the way,” Jeremy said as he climbed in his side of the car and each of them took a door, “but I don’t think we’re going to have time now.”

“Nachos and watered-down Coke at the game are fine with me,” Rebecca said. At that point dirt would’ve been all right.

“Yeah,” Gwen said. “I say we just go and deal with eating later.”

“Go it is then.” Jeremy pulled out as Gwen worked the stereo.

“You mind a little retro? Jeremy’s a big Poison fan.”

“Fine by me.” Rebecca’s glance drifted to Eric who looked like he was heading for the gas chamber. “How about you, Eric?”

His eyes widened as his attention snagged on her. “Me?”

“Yeah. Do you like Poison?”

“Oh.” He stretched his leg. “They’re all right. I’d rather have Lifehouse, but…”

In the next instant pretending to care vanished. “You’re kidding. Lifehouse? I love them.”

“Really?” He looked genuinely surprised.

“The first time I heard Simon, I could’ve cried.”

“I like Somewhere in Between.”

“Oh, yeah. That one will tear your heart out.” She sang one line although she knew she didn’t have the best voice in the world. At the moment she really didn’t care.

He laughed, and his face actually broke into a real smile. “Boy, have I been there,” he said. “Wanting to go back and do it all again but not being able to. I wish I could write songs like that.”

“No kidding. How he weaves the thoughts together, stuff I’ve thought all my life, but I can’t explain it so anyone else would ever understand. Then along comes this song, and it’s just… yeah… wow.”

“Have you heard Fairytale Sandcastles?”

She fell through the irony of the question. “Heard it? It’s on repeat on in my room.”

****

Never in 22 years had Eric ever met anyone like Rebecca Avery. She was fascinating. He had even forgotten Jeremy and Gwen were on the date by the time they got to the Fleetcenter. More minutes than not, they were talking one on top of the other. Music, classes, people—the topics flowed as if of their own will. They talked until they made it to their row.

“Ah, man, we missed tip-off,” Jeremy said, sliding past two people to their seats.

“Yeah! Come on, Celts!” Rebecca yelled even as she followed Jeremy through the row. She was only partially watching where she was going when her foot caught on an unseen object on the floor. “Oh!” she said, jerking suddenly to the right. Her hand caught the chair back.

Instantly Eric reached out to steady her, barely preventing her from falling right into the next row. Her arm felt soft and small in his hand, and for a moment all the noise and everything else vanished.

“I’m sorry. My purse,” the lady sitting there said as she stuffed the object further under the seat.

“It’s okay.” Rebecca regained her footing and wound a strand of blunt cut off-blonde hair over her ear as Eric let her go. She looked back out to the court as she got to her chair. Nothing about her spoke of just being struck by the lightning he felt. “Go, Celts!”

A fast break down the court, and a player clad in a green jersey slam-dunked it on the other side.

Her arms flew into the air. “Yeah! Yes! Way to go!” She clapped in rapid fire.

Next to her, Eric clapped twice as they dropped into their seats. He watched the game for ten seconds, and then his attention went to her. “You good?”

What he saw in her eyes when she looked at him was like nothing he had ever seen. “I’m fantastic.”

***

Midway through the third period, Eric turned to Rebecca who was thoroughly enjoying everything about this evening. “You hungry yet?”

She looked at him, and there was nothing to do but smile. “I’m fine.”

“Well, my stomach’s about to revolt. If you want something, I can go get it.”

Her attention snagged on the players treading down the court right in front of them. Then she looked back at him. As much fun as it was to watch, she knew he would miss a good chunk of it if he left now. “I’ll go with you.” She stood up.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” he said, standing as well.

“We’re up by five,” she said, glancing at the scoreboard. “How much could we possibly miss?”

He scratched the side of his head. “Well, okay.”

“Hey,” Jeremy called from the other side of her. “Would you bring us a couple slices of pizza?”

The crowd around them jumped to their feet in response to the play on the court. Rebecca turned, but she had missed the play that brought the Knicks within three. “You got a preference?”

“Pepperoni,” Jeremy said, and Gwen nodded.

“You got it,” Rebecca said. Careful not to trip on anything, she followed Eric out to the concrete steps.

His stride seemed to eat the distance as they went up. She, on the other hand, had to force her legs up the last five steps as they were about to wobble out from under her from the strain.

“Whew,” she said as he opened the door for her. “That’s a climb.”

“Tell me about it.”

They walked out and down the concourse in the direction of the food.

“You want pizza too?” Eric asked, clearly staking out a plan.

She shrugged as she crossed her arms in front of her. “Oh, whatever is fine.”

He looked at her curiously. “So, are you always fine, or is this a new development?” His green eyes sparkled with the question.

Her gaze fell to the concrete. “I’m just trying not to be too much trouble.”

They stopped in the line to get slices of pizza.

“Trouble?” he asked. “You? Never.”

She laughed. “Hey, I can be trouble if I want to.”

“That I would like to see.”

“No, trust me. You wouldn’t.” Matching his steps, she moved forward.

His gaze went up to the lighted board displaying their options. “What do you want?”

“Pepperoni is fine.”

“Fine,” he said as his mouth went halfway up. “There’s that word again.”

“Well, what do you want me to say, ‘I want double cheese, extra-meat, and it better be right, or I’m sending it back’?”

His smile drifted through her heart, and had she not been standing right next to him, she would’ve pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. “How about we live on the edge and get a Jalapeno Pepper and Onion?”

Her eyebrows arched for the ceiling. “Jeremy and Gwen would be thrilled. They might strap us to the top of the car to ride home.”

“You never know. That could be fun.”

She put out her arms as if she was flying. “Yippee!”

The cheers from the game crashed into their conversation. Eric looked up as if he’d just noticed. “You’re missing the game.”

“So are you.”

“I think they owe us double for delivery.”

Rebecca smiled wickedly. “Let’s just tell them it was double. They’ll never know the difference.”

“Hey, I like how you think.” He nodded appreciatively. As they neared the front of the line, he reached into his back pocket for his wallet. “Now, seriously, what do you want? And don’t say Jalapeno and Onion because I’ve got to ride home with you, too.”

Without thinking about it, she reached over and whacked his shoulder. “Hey. That was your idea. I had nothing to do with it.”

“You were standing there, weren’t you?” He pulled out some bills.

“Yeah, so?”

“So, you were in on it. Your word against mine.”

Rebecca shook her head and glared at him. “Oh, yeah? What if I beat you up?”

He looked at her with no fear. “You think you can take me?”

“You think I can’t?”

The couple in front of them stepped to the side, and together they stepped up to the place to order. He dug back into his wallet. “What do you want?”

“Oh, I can get it,” she said, realizing what he meant and grabbing for her purse.

“Don’t be silly. I’ve got it.” He glanced at the young man behind the counter who was looking at them with bored annoyance. Eric leaned over closer to her. “You better order before he shoots us both.”

“Oh.” She looked at the young man who hadn’t gotten any happier. Absently she readjusted her glasses. “Umm, I’ll have a slice of cheese.”

“To drink?” he asked as he punched in her order.

“Oh, just water is fine.”

He looked over at Eric.

“Three pepperonis and two large Cokes.”

He finished the order, took Eric’s money, made the change, and handed it back. “You’re number 2435. It’ll be out over there. Next.”

Rebecca waited while he walked and replaced the money. “I really could’ve bought my own.”

“Don’t worry about it. I owe you one anyway.”

Puzzled, she looked at him. “Owe me?” Ambling slowly, they made their way down the line of people waiting for their pizza. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“Hey, you saved me from the dreaded third wheel syndrome. That’s worth a piece of cheese pizza any day.”

They stopped next to the wall, and Rebecca leaned up against it, watching him. His gaze however was on everything except her.

“Third wheel, huh? I figured you probably had a girl on your arm for every social function that came along,” she said, more honest than she probably should’ve been.

“Me?” he asked as if he was genuinely surprised by the assessment.

“Yes, you. What, you think that’s so hard to believe?”

“In a word? Yes.” His gaze slipped up to hers and then away. “I think they’re tired of having me hanging around.”

“They seem cool,” she said, not wholly sure why he looked so sad.

“Oh, they are. It’s just that they’re together.” He emphasized the word with a bounce of his chin. “You know how that goes.”

The comment knifed through her heart. Until that moment she had almost convinced herself that this was a real date and that he wouldn’t have rather been standing here with her beautiful, perfect roommate. Her gaze dropped to the concrete where her toe made a small circle. “Yeah, I know how that is.”

“Number 2435,” the person at the counter said, spinning the tray across the stainless steel countertop.

“That’s us,” Eric said, and he stepped over to the counter. He handed her the bottle of water and her plate with the slice of pizza. Then he surveyed the rest of the order, obviously trying to figure out how he was going to transfer it from its present location to its destination. He picked up a cup, considered, and put it back down.

“Here.” Rebecca stuffed her water bottle into the pocket of her jeans. She picked up a napkin threw it onto her pizza, put one plate on top of it, grabbed another napkin and in seconds she was holding all four plates.

He looked at her approvingly. “Nice.”

“Yeah, now if I just don’t fall getting back down there, we should be set.”

She tried not to notice the looks they got as they went back to the door and down the steps.

“Ah, man,” Eric said in annoyance. “It’s already the fourth.”

The crowd around them was on their feet cheering as the Celtics took it the length of the court and drained a three pointer.

“Yeah,” Rebecca said, trying to watch and concentrate on getting down the steps in one piece. Finally she made it to their row. “Excuse me.”

The older couple swung their legs out of the way. Eric followed her in as the fans again jumped to their feet.

“Ah, man, you missed it,” Jeremy said to Eric, seeming to talk right through her. “Dixon fouled out.”

Rebecca transferred the two plates to them.

“He fouled out?” Eric asked as he sat down. “We’re sunk.”

Pulling the water bottle out of her pocket, Rebecca sat down just as everyone around them jumped up again. On the court two players jumped into each other. The referee in the middle looked like a rag doll.

“They better watch out,” Jeremy said next to her as she carefully handed the last plate to Eric. “Somebody’s going to get thrown out.” He took a drink of the soda Eric had handed him, and his face contorted. “I thought I said Coke. This is Dr. Pepper.”

“It is? I ordered Coke.”

“He did,” Rebecca said with a nod. “I heard him.”

“Here. This is Coke.” Eric handed his own drink across to them. The trade was made. On the court the game resumed.

Taking a bite of the pizza that wasn’t exactly warm anymore, Rebecca glanced at the scoreboard. They were now down by six. “Come on, Celts! Don’t let them get away from us!”

“Go, Celtics!” Eric cheered next to her. He took a drink of the Dr. Pepper. “Ugh. Yuck,” he said so that only the air right in front of him and her could hear. “I hate Dr. Pepper.”

“You want some water?” she asked, offering it to him.

“You mind?”

She shrugged. “No, go ahead.” She took another bite and was half finished chewing it when she jumped to her feet with the rest of the arena. “Come on, ref! When somebody’s on the floor, it’s pretty clear somebody fouled!” She sat back down in a huff.

Eric leaned over to her. “You should go give them your glasses. I think they need them.”

Self-consciousness slid over her, and she lifted the side of her glasses. “They need more help than that.”

“No kidding. Oh, come on!” he yelled as his legs lifted him off the chair.

She stood too, juggling the pizza and the water bottle that was now back in her possession. “Give us a break, ref!”

The clock ticked inexorably below the three-minute mark.

“Come on, guys!” she yelled. “We’re going to have to beat the refs, too!”

At that moment a green-jerseyed player snatched the ball from his opponent, strode the length of the floor in five steps and laid it in the basket.

“Yes!”

“Yeah! Woohoo! Go, Celts!” Seemingly in one motion, Eric inhaled the last of his pizza and grabbed the water bottle from her hand.

That made picking up her own pizza much easier. However, cheering and eating threatened to choke the air from her body. No one had sat back down, so standing, she ate the remainder of her pizza and clapped as best she could. When it was gone, she reached back over for her water bottle, and he handed it to her without either of them really looking. She took a drink.

“Come on,” he yelled. “Make your move already!”

“Come on, Celts!” she yelled next to him. “Defense! Defense!”

The player lunged forward, and the whistle blew.

“Oh, no!” Rebecca put the water bottle to her forehead.

“I do not believe this,” Eric said not loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Come on!” he screamed.

Into the game more than the plate and the water bottle, she turned and set them down under her chair. She stood again and clapped as the Knicks player stepped to the foul line. “Miss it. Miss it…” The ball arched into the air and dropped in. She closed her eyes in disbelief. They were going to lose this game. “Get the rebound,” she yelled as the second shot went into the air and bounced away. “Yeah! Now, go! Go! You don’t have time to stand there! Go!”

They took it the length of the court, and before the others even got set, the player pulled up, shot, and three more points were added.

“Yes!” Eric said next to her, and she slapped his hands.

Before they had a chance to take another breath, a Celtic player snagged the dribble from the Knicks player and laid it in.

“Yeah!” she screamed, the emotions taking over her sanity. She raked her hands through her hair, forgetting there might still be grease on them from the pizza. There was no time for napkins, so she wiped the rest of it on the back of her jeans.

The clock flipped from minutes to seconds, and pandemonium took over. It was difficult for all the screaming to keep up with the transfer of the ball from one team to the other. In a breath a Celtic player headed for the goal, trailed step for step by a Knick. At the goal, the ball slipped up and through the hoop as below the Knick crashed into the Celtic. In the next second they were both on the floor.

“That’s what happens,” Rebecca said breathlessly as she shook her head. “They let them get out of hand.”

The referees pulled the players apart and sent one to the line.

She clapped softly. “Put it in. Put it in. Put it in.”

The shot bounced off the rim and right into a Celtic player’s hands. No more than a second later, he shot, and when it dropped through the net, the place erupted.

“Yes!” She jumped up and down for all she was worth. “Now stop them! Stop them!”

Before the Knicks had a chance to get it back down the court, the final buzzer sounded.

She threw both hands in the air in triumph. “Yeah! We did it!” Her body turned her to Eric, and he grabbed her in a hug.

It was over before she realized it had begun, and suddenly she was dizzy with the experience. She turned to Jeremy who hugged her too for no other reason than she was standing there.

“Oh, man! That was awesome!” Eric reached over her head and slapped Jeremy’s hand. “Wow! What a game!” He looked back out onto the court. “Woohoo! Go, Celts!”

It was several minutes before the exuberance died down, and they each began to retrieve their belongings. Eric turned to follow the older couple out, and when he got to the stairs, he backed up half a step to let Rebecca go first.

“Be careful,” he said in her ear, and the lightheadedness returned.

Step by small step, she trudged up the stairs and followed the crowd out into the concourse.

“Wow. That was some game,” Gwen said when they had made it out.

“I thought we were sunk after the third quarter,” Jeremy said.

“We wouldn’t know,” Eric said as the four of them meshed into a single line and headed for the door. “We were out being food service.”

“It sure was good,” Jeremy said, rubbing his stomach.

“I don’t know,” Gwen said. “It was kind of greasy. I think we should stop somewhere and wash it down with something that isn’t covered in red-tinged oil.”

“Thank you for that appetizing thought,” Eric said.

Not saying anything, Rebecca rode the wave of humanity to the outside doors. The second they went through them, she yanked her coat on.

“Nothing like that good ol’ Boston chill,” Jeremy said, his words making puffs of steam as they came from his mouth.

“Who’s dumb idea was this anyway?” Eric asked as he pulled the collar up on his coat.

“Hey, watch it, or I might not ask you again.”

Rebecca didn’t care if she ever got asked again. This one night was enough to live on for the rest of her life.

***

As he sat next to her at the restaurant, Eric noticed how quiet Rebecca had gotten the second the game was over.  He tried to drag her into the conversation, but after just a few words, she would duck out again.  All in all he wasn’t sorry Holly had ditched them. He’d had a great time with her roommate. In fact, two hours later when he walked her back into the dorm, he was kind of sad to see the night coming to an end.

“I had a really good time tonight,” he said, and it was the truth.

“Yeah, so did I.” She glanced at him, but he didn’t get the chance to really see into her eyes before she looked down again. “Thanks for asking me… even if you were roped into it.” Without so much as stopping to linger with him, she walked through the lobby toward the stairs. “Tell Jeremy and Gwen I said thanks again.”

“Will do,” he said, and for the miniscule amount of sense it made, his spirit was screaming that it wanted her to stop. However, she seemed to be set on go.

“Thanks.” She paused only one second at the first stair. “I’ll be sure to tell Holly she missed a great game.”

“Yeah,” he said, but his smile hurt. “Do that.”

“Take care.” And with that, she climbed the steps out of his life.

When she had disappeared at the top of the steps, hurt and disgust with himself attacked him. Why was he such a loser in the girls department? Sure, she wasn’t great, but it was like she couldn’t wait to get away from him. He couldn’t figure that out exactly because she’d seemed to have a good time. She even said she’d had a good time. And yet, she didn’t so much as hint that a kiss would be in the cards.

Pitching his arm to the side in irritation, he turned around and walked out.

***

In her room, Rebecca raced to the window where she put her hand to the cold glass and watched him stride down the sidewalk. If only it had been real. If only he had really asked her, and she had really said yes, and they had really gone out together on a real date. But for all the wishes of her heart, she knew it wasn’t her he had wanted to spend tonight with—it was Holly.

Still, even as he disappeared, she asked herself if one stolen kiss would’ve been so terrible. Of course it would have the rational part of her brain said, but there was one part of her heart that wished she didn’t have to be so conscious of her loyalty to her roommate. Would Holly have ever known—or cared?

At that moment the door behind her opened. Without more than that warning, she found herself face-to-face with Holly. Rebecca was glad for the darkness because her face went hot at being caught daydreaming about the guy her roommate was going out with.

“Oh!” Holly said momentarily surprised when she caught sight of Rebecca standing, silhouetted at the window. She reached over and snapped on the light.

Rebecca blinked back its intensity.

“I figured you’d be asleep already,” Holly said.

“How was studying?”

“I wasn’t… Oh.” Holly put her head down. “Was he mad?”

“Just for the first half. Then I think he kind of got over it.”

“The first…” Holly seemed to clue into Rebecca’s wardrobe. “Did you go?”

Rebecca shrugged and walked away from the window. “They had an extra ticket. Seemed a shame to waste it.”

Holly stood stock-still and watched as Rebecca walked over to the sink. In the mirror, Rebecca gazed at her own reflection, which made her heart ache. He’d been forced to take her, nothing more. The image of her face with Holly’s just behind her told her that louder than words ever could.

“I really did forget,” Holly said, a soft plea in her voice.

“Whatever.” Rebecca turned away from the mirror, grabbed her shower accessories, and headed for the door. “I hope it was worth making him feel like dirt.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Yeah, and I’m sure you meant it.” With that, Rebecca walked out. The look in his eyes when he had first realized Holly wasn’t coming haunted Rebecca’s every thought. The vulnerable understanding that he was not good enough to remember washed across Rebecca’s heart, and she shook her head fighting to get it to forget.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2005

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About Staci Stallings

Staci Stallings shares her heart for God with her novels, articles, and conversations. She loves making new friends, writing, and playing piano and guitar.
This entry was posted in A Work In Progress, Novels and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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