“DO YOU THINK my boobs look big enough in this?” Claire, my new housemate, and a girl I considered one of my best friends, asked from the backseat of the black Jetta.
I looked in the rearview mirror, watching as she adjusted her right breast, then the left, before shaking them both as if practicing a move for one of her dance performances.
Although I was driving, the Jetta didn’t belong to me. It belonged to my other housemate, Shannon, who now sat in the front seat, trying to keep her silver eye-lined eyes open. I just happened to be the only one in the dorm—and probably the entire university—who didn’t drink alcohol, and therefore, could drive the vehicle without worrying about arrest.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Amber, my very well- endowed in the chest-area housemate, said from the seat behind Shannon as she gestured to her double-D cleavage. “Even Ds look like As next to me.”
I snorted, squinting at each street sign we approached to make sure I was going in the right direction. Although it was my second year at Sonoma State University, I was still topsy-turvy when it came to the surrounding residential streets.
Shannon glanced over her shoulder, her vodka breath making me cringe. “They look bigger than they did earlier. They’re definitely big enough.” She then set her sights on Amber’s chest. “I’m not gonna stand next to you at the party. You’ll make me look like a twelve-year-old boy,” she slurred.
Amber smiled and winked, her blue eyes sparkling in the headlights of passing cars. “I’d give my left tit to be as skinny as you.”
Claire cleared her throat. “We’re talking about me. Roxy, what do you think? Big tits? Be honest.”
I shook my head. “I’m driving. I’m not about to crash the car to analyze whether or not that bra accentuates the size of your breasts.” I paused, turning left when the streetlight turned green. “Besides, isn’t it a little late to be asking that question? It’s not like you have any other clothes to change into.”
Claire’s drunken gaze stared wide-eyed at me in the mirror. “You can take me back to the house and I can change.”
I kept my eyes on the road, staying silent.
“It’s my car,” Shannon said, slurring. “And my gas.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Claire asserted.
“Are we there yet?” Amber whined. “I really need to pee.”
“Don’t break the seal. You’ll be peeing every five seconds,” Shannon warned. “And you don’t want to miss out on the cute boys.”
I sat up straight.Boys? My armpits began to sweat. Don’t freak out. You knew boys are gonna be there. You can just stay in the corner so nobody will talk to you. It’s not that hard. I rubbed my palms on my jeans. The girls aretoo drunk to notice whether I’m next to them anyway. I then pressed down on my big, auburn curls hoping that my hairspray would keep the inevitable frizz at bay. Don’t sweat like a pig. Keep it together. “Do you know these boys?”
“It’s all the baseball boys. I know them from cheer.” Amber uncapped her water bottle and sipped from her alcoholic concoction. “And I’m not impressed.”
I wanted to tell Amber it was illegal to have opened bottles of alcohol in a car. I especially wanted to tell her it was illegal to drink alcohol in a car. My grip tightened on the steering wheel. Don’t be that girl, Roxy. Nobody likes a know it all. “Not impressed?”
“I’ll text Steven,” Claire said, punching her fingers against the cell phone. “He’s our way in.”
“Steven?” Shannon asked.
“He’s a baseball player—”
“Who fucked Danielle this summer,” Amber interrupted. “Why are you still talking to him?”
Danielle? Like—your friend Danielle? Danielle who helped you move in, Danielle? I glanced in the rear-view mirror again, noticing that Claire’s light brown eyes never left the phone.
“He’s a friend,” Claire scoffed. “And he’s the reason why we can get in this party. Why don’t you just chill?”
“He fuckedDanielle—one of your bestfriends. Why are you talking to him again?”
“I don’t like him like that. Danny can have him.” Claire’s phone vibrated, her pale skin neon against the screen’s light. “If he knew I was a virgin, he would’ve had sex with me instead of her. Boys lovethat.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. Yeah, I’m not so sure about that, Claire.As I pulled next to the curb, Shannon’s head smacked against the headrest, neck lolling side to side, eyes closed tight. Please don’t throw up on me. Please don’t throw up on me. Please don’t throw up on me. I put the car in park.
“Is he cute?” Shannon slurred.
I turned to look out my window, watching as students walked from house to house, parties awaiting behind closed doors. I also worried that Shannon wouldn’t keep down her vodka, and any time she opened her mouth, I didn’t know what would come out.
Claire shrugged. “He’s alright.”
“You weren’t so nonchalant about it two months ago when you called me crying your eyes out.”
I smiled to myself. Talk yourself out of this. You don’t have to go in. The girls won’t care. I can pick them up when it’s over. “We probably shouldn’t trust some guy who went behind your back and did something like that.”
Claire opened her door. “He still loves me. He wouldn’t have invited me here if he didn’t.”
Oh great, I thought when she stumbled. Another night comforting you over the toilet. Just what I want.
I followed the girls down the street, gazing at three of the four housemates I would be living with for the rest of the school year.
Shannon flaunted a skin-tight, black dress that exposed her skinny frame, long legs and olive skin. Her straight, dark brown hair was streaked with golden highlights, and hung just above her shoulder blades. Amber wore a V-neck red dress that displayed her extreme cleavage and hid her slightly plumper midsection. Her brunette hair fell in straight layers all the way down to the top of her round butt, her short dress hugging her muscular legs. Claire had converted an orange, strapless shirt into a tiny dress that was held upright by a wonder bra and looked vibrant against her pale skin. Her light brown hair, which she’d sworn she’d never touched with dye, was pulled half up with an orange clip, her bangs bobby-pinned to the side to make her forehead appear smaller.
It was strange that Claire and I got along like we did. We were nothing alike—I’d been forced to go to this party instead of staying at home and reading like I wanted to, while Claire downed shot after shot before she even put her party clothes on—but we’d met the previous year at a common friend’s house and somehow clicked. Even now, as she tried to show off every inch of her skin, I was hiding beneath dark blue jeans and a baggy red t-shirt. While the girls buckled the straps of their high heels, I laced up my black and white Converse.
I didn’t know if Amber, Claire’s roommate from last year, or Shannon, a random student that fate decided to make Claire’s roommate this year, would like me because I tended to shy away from the party scene. But I was willing to try to make an effort to get to know them better, hence why I was now pressing a button on the Jetta’s keys to make sure the doors had locked behind us, instead of driving away like a mother would after dropping her teenagers off at the school dance.
As we approached the door, it swung open, releasing a cacophony of loud music, splashing water, clinking glasses and drunken conversations. I hadn’t realized how nervous I was until I examined the massive amount of people cramped inside the tight confines of the house.
“Hurry up and get in here,” a boy with buzzed blonde hair ordered as he ushered us through the doorframe. I shivered when the condensation from the beer in his hand dripped onto my arm. After inspecting the surrounding yards one more time, he closed the door behind us.
I had to admit, the boy, Steven I presumed, was cute. His light blue eyes and straight teeth would lure any girl into his bedroom. I blushed when he smiled at me, looking down at the white tips of my shoes.
“I’m Steven.” His voice was raspy. He extended his hand out to me, and unfortunately, the manners my parents instilled in me from birth forced me to return the handshake.
“I’m Roxanne,” I nearly whispered. My hands were clammy, but his smile didn’t falter, nor did he pull away from me. I smiled at him shyly, hoping he didn’t think I was some sort of freak. Why do I care? He’s a complete stranger. I’ll probably never see him again.
“You livin’ with these party animals now?”
Amber was completely disinterested, her sapphire eyes scanning the crowds for some tall, dark and handsome man who would be able to provide her with free drinks. Claire giggled slightly and nodded as if Steven was talking to her, her prior comments about being disinterested completely forgotten.
I timidly took a step closer to him, the music making it difficult for me to hear him and nodded. “I didn’t know they were party animals.”
He laughed. “Then you don’t know them at all.”
Claire slapped his wrist. “Don’t scare the girl, Steven. She’s just getting used to us.”
I shrugged. “I’m sure we’ll be like sisters by the end of the weekend.” Or I can hide in my room for the rest of the year if we hate each other.
I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell him the truth about my living situation, so again I bit the inside of my cheek, again growing nervous. It was obvious that Amber hated me for being Claire’s new best friend, Shannon and I hadn’t exchanged more than ten sentences with one another, and I had yet to engage in any real conversation with Elizabeth, the other housemate we were supposed to meet here. School began on Wednesday morning and I was already busy with Biology, Intro to Psychology, and Anatomy homework—and secretly flipping through the syllabus of my token English class, eager to delve into the poetry workshop component of the semester, dreading how my Anatomy textbook seemed to loom over me as I slept.
“Well, why don’t we put your compatibility to the test?” He held the beer against my lower back and snapped the fingers of his free hand.
My back muscles stiffened, his too friendly touch catching me off guard. Relax, Roxy. He’s just trying to be nice. He’s their friend. Try to fit in. “Ladies, if you’ll follow me please.” Steven walked Claire, Amber, Shannon and I over to an elongated black table where ten red solo cups were placed near the edges of both sides in the shape of a pyramid. “Nothing like a game of Beer Pong to test the limits of true friendship.”
Dear Lord, get me out of here. I shook my head and politely declined. “No drinking for me tonight. I’m driving.” I also decided to omit that I didn’t drink because I was scared to lose control of myself in public situations. The “I’m a great DD” card was always stacked at the top of my deck.
He frowned. “That’s no fun. You can take a cab home.”
“Oh, no we can’t,” Shannon interjected. “She’s driving my car and it’s not staying here.”
Claire shrieked, waving her hand obnoxiously in the air. “I’ll play!” She latched onto my arm and tugged me into her side, nearly dislocating my shoulder. “Roxy, you can be my partner. Shannon’s car will be fine.”
“No,” Shannon said. “She promised she’d drive us home.”
I wanted to throw my arms around her and kiss her cheek. Thank you, Shannon. Greatest thing you’ve said to me, yet.
“Well,” Claire huffed. “Steven Can drink for you. Right, Steven?”
Let it go, Claire. I don’t want to play. I pretended not to notice Amber’s chortle when Claire shimmied her breasts side to side.
Steven ate it up. “I have no problem helping out such a pretty lady.”
When he winked, Claire’s grasp tightened around my forearm. I held back a wince. I could sure use some help here, Amber. Before Claire rips off my arm and beats Steven with it. Amber was too busy mentally throwing daggers at the back of Claire’s head.
“But that would give you an unfair advantage,” Steven continued. “And I don’t cheat.”
Claire released her Herculean grip, leaving behind red streaks on my white skin. She playfully slapped Steven’s shoulder and wrapped her arms loosely around his neck. “You’re being so difficult right now. Just say yes.”
Steven smiled at me over Claire’s shoulder and winked. “I’d do anything for a pretty lady,” he repeated.
Rubbing my arm absentmindedly, I struggled to keep my sarcasm at bay. When he winked at Claire, I held back a gag. You should really get that checked out. You might have something serious lodged in your eye. “Really, thanks but no thanks. Amber or Shannon can play.”
“C’mon Roxy,” Claire spat turning to face me. “Stop being such a bitch and play one game. It’s not going to kill you.”
A sudden pang hit my eyes, making them water. Now I remember why she and I never hung out when she’d been drinking. I took a deep breath and smiled, despite the want to tell Claire that she could find another ride home. “I’m flattered, really, but no thank you. Ask someone else.”
She sighed, glaring. “Fine. I’m gonna see if Lizzy’s here. Danny’s probably driving her crazy by now.”
Once she stalked off, Steven scooted closer to me. “Danny’s here?”
Amber crossed her arms over her chest. “What’s it matter? You’ve already fucked her and fucked over Claire. You want to do it all over again?”
I winced. “So—” I chirped, hoping to ease the building tension. “Steven, where are you from?”
“The San Francisco area,” he replied.
Shannon, whose hazel eyes barely hung open and whose cheeks shined, beamed at him. “Really? What part?”
I’d forgotten she was even there.
Steven smiled at her, his charm sucking her into Schmoozerville. When he winked, a giggle escaped her pale, pink lips.
Another one bites the dust.
I pulled away from her glowing complexion and studied the party around me. Girls and boys flirted shamelessly with one another, alcohol sloshed in plastic cups and shot glasses, and ping pong balls bounced off tables in every direction. The ratio of boys to girls was skewed heavily in the boys’ direction, which was strange because Sonoma State was known for its larger female population, and the baseball team for its handsome players. The girls in attendance didn’t seem to mind multiple boys vying for their attention.
I, on the other hand, had a difficult time interacting with any member of the human species, especially those that were expecting sexual favors at the end of the night.
I glanced at Amber, who was doing everything in her power to not look at me. Not wanting the rest of the school year to be awkward considering her bedroom door was directly across from mine, I flexed and unflexed my fingers, trying to dispel my nervous energy, and wondered what my older sister, Lucy, would do in this same situation. Well, here goes nothing. “Hey, Amber, you see all of the hunks mingling around here?”
Her scowl deepened at the sound of my voice, her eyes somehow looking even further away from me. “No. I’m too busy standing around watching idiots talk to one another.”
I held back a flinch. Try again. Let her know you aren’t some weird freak who purposely stole her best friend. “Why don’t we try to change that?”
This time she looked at me, her usually light blue eyes nearing a shade of dark purple. “And how are yougonna do that?”
Determined to make Amber hate me less, I continued forward. I swallowed back the beer pong ball sized lump in my throat and said something that was completely out of character. “I do believe you ladies mentioned something about a dance party in the car earlier.”
Her lips twitched. A smile? “Pretty sure that was Claire’s idea.”
“And I’m pretty sure Claire is off trying to make Steven jealous. “
Amber nodded. “What’s your point?”
I shrugged. “My point is, either you can stand here and continue to be upset at her for ditching you, or me and you can start that dance party and have some real fun.”
She blinked, just as surprised as I was—a dance party was the furthest thing from hiding in a dark corner, but the guilt I felt about Claire’s behavior made me step out of my comfort zone to make Amber more comfortable. I really didn’t want to live with someone who had the potential to make my life miserable for the rest of the school year.
“You’re right.” Amber’s sapphire eyes sparkled with life, the angry purple long gone. “Let’s go fucking dance.” She grabbed the beer from Steven’s hand, tilted her head back and downed the liquid before placing the bottle back in his grasp. “And then let’s find some boys. I’m gonna need another drink soon.”
She linked her elbow with mine and ushered me into the living room where a DJ was playing a top 40 list of music and drunken individuals mingled with one another, not a dancing body in sight.
I frowned. “Did I miss something?”
“What do you mean?” Amber asked.
I gestured to the empty circle in the middle of the room that people were consciously avoiding. “Why even bother paying someone to provide music if nobody’s gonna utilize it?”
She shrugged. “People are too afraid to stand out.”
I nodded. Tell me about it. My plan was to stand in the corner the whole night. Taking a deep breath, I began walking to the center of the crowd. “I guess it’s up to us then.” You can do this. Do it for Amber. Do it because you want to make friends. Do it because you’re tired of feeling so alone all of the time.
“Are you really suggesting we start a dance party?”
I can do this. If I can dance in front of the mirror at home, I can dance here. I don’t know any of these people. They won’t care. This is just to make Amber happy. “Well, I don’t think anybody else is gonna do it.”
Amber grabbed my hand and sauntered over to the DJ’s table, elbowing me hard so that I would smile at the two boys standing behind it. One was tall, muscular and clean-shaven, his beard and sideburns trimmed to perfection. His dark gold eyes trailed down the small V-neck that was held up by my above average sized breasts and back up to my face before he returned the smile. I bit the inside of my cheek to refrain from covering myself and backing out of the whole thing. When Amber squeezed my hand, reminding me that I wasn’t alone, I arched my back and pushed my chest out further, hoping that some sort of false confidence exuded from my pores. Say something sexy. Be like Claire, or Amber, or any other girl here. I breathed in my nose and licked my lips. “How come no one’s dancing? You boys aren’t doing your jobs.”
He shrugged, his dark black eyebrows rising high when he took note of my blue jeans—something he probably hadn’t ever seen in a college party throughout his DJ career. “We play music, not dance.”
His Latino accent made me blush.
Amber stared at the tall DJ’s shorter friend. He had dark skin, emerald green eyes and blonde dreadlocks cascading down his wide shoulders. “That’s a terrible excuse.”
They raised their eyebrows at one another.
“What about the music?” Latino asked.
“Put it on shuffle,” Amber said.
“Who’d we dance with?” Dreadlocks countered.
I tried not to stiffen when Amber hugged me close to her side. “I can think of two girls who might be interested.”
I can think of a million other things I’d be more interested in doing. “How does that sound to you?” I tried to say flirtatiously.
Dreadlocks and Latino nodded once to one another, walked around their table, and grabbed our hands, leading us to the opening in the middle of the crowd. Don’t think about your sweaty palms. Don’t think about what other people are thinking. This is gonna be fun. Look at Amber—she’s happy. That’s all you wanted. Breathe. Stop looking at your shoes and breathe. Soon enough, other party patrons grouped together in a gyrating mob composed of whiskey breath, the stench of stale beer and raging hormones.
I watched as Amber bent forward and shook her butt against Dreadlocks, his face radiating pleasure as he pretended to slap her butt, the crowd cheering behind her. I, on the other hand, could taste blood on my tongue from biting the inside of my cheek so hard. Latino had his hands moving all over my hips and stomach and thighs, his erection poking against my jeans. I shouldn’t have come. I should just go home. Amber grabbed onto my forearm and pulled me against her breasts, shaking them until my body moved along with her. Before I knew it, I was sandwiched between a stranger and a girl who I thought hated me, and my hips were moving in ways I never wanted anybody in public to see.
Strangely, after three songs passed, I realized I was actually having fun.
Amber wouldn’t let go of my hand, Latino was making me feel things I’d only heard my older sister brag about, and the music allowed me to lose myself, forgetting about homework, about how embarrassed I’d be if anyone in my classes saw me dancing this way, and about being a constant disappointment to my parents.
I was dizzy and lightheaded and having the time of my life.
After two more songs ended, I told Amber I needed to get some fresh air. In reality, I needed to catch my breath because my cheek was beginning to hurt and my nerves were getting the best of me—I thanked the Latino, and blushed when some random boys raised their beers in my direction.
“Let’s get outside before I embarrass myself further,” I told Amber, hoping that my hair wasn’t already a frizzy mess. “My hairspray will only last against sweat for so long.”
She wiped the moisture from her forehead and nodded, leading me beyond two girls groping one another, boys gawking, and through the wooden front door. We closed out the noise and inhaled the crisp midnight air.
“I need a drink when we get back in there. My buzz is fading,” Amber said fanning her face with her hand.
“How come you didn’t bring your own?” I asked.
She grimaced. “Why would I do that?”
“Oh, Roxy,” Amber sighed, resting her hand on my shoulder as if I just admitted to her that I wanted to write poetry instead of curing cancer. “You have so much to learn about the capabilities of a woman’s sexuality.”
I cocked my head to the side. “You mean, like, exploitation?”
“I mean like showing a little cleavage and having the world give you everything you’ve ever asked for.”
“And you’re using that power for…”
She winked. “Alcohol, of course.”
I couldn’t help it—I laughed and laughed and laughed, until my stomach began to hurt, Amber’s high-pitched and slightly hysteric laughter sounding pleasant to my ears. I think I’m one step closer to having her not completely hate my guts.
Nearly hidden by our laughter, footsteps crunched up the gravel driveway, a deep voice mumbling incoherently.
“I want whatever he’s having,” Amber snickered.
I nodded. “People are beginning to converse with themselves. It may be time to leave.”
“He might just be the guy I’m looking for. I’m sure he’d give me his alcohol and not think twice about it.”
An extremely tall boy came into view and shot a single wave in Amber’s and my direction.
“Do you know him?”
She nodded and threw a hand up in the air. “Hey Lamont! Long time no see!”
Something strange overcame me. My heart did an Irish Jig against my chest; my palms grew clammy; my fingers numbed. Despite the chilly air, my cheeks burned a feverish pink.
With short black hair, tan skin, dark brown eyes and prime athletic height, he epitomized my expectations of tall, dark and handsome.
His face was oval shaped, his black eyebrows bushy, the workings of a goatee hugging his chin. But it was his casual smile with those luscious, tan lips that made my jaw drop just long enough for the cold air to dry out my tongue. I tried to look away, but my muscles had forgotten how to function.
He ended his phone call and said, “Hey,” in a deep voice so delicious, I wanted to eat it for breakfast, save a little for lunch and finish off the rest for dinner.
“You’re running a little late,” Amber said, pointing at an invisible watch on her wrist. “Pretty sure this thing started, like, three hours ago.”
“Party doesn’t start ‘til I arrive,” he replied.
Amber rolled her eyes. “I see you haven’t changed a bit since last year.”
“Then I’m still one hell of a fucking guy.” He smiled again, miniature crescent moons forming on his cheeks. “What’re you doing out here?”
I pushed my hands into my pockets, wondering what was going on with me. My heart was beginning to hurt my chest and whatever was floating around in my stomach was making me feel nauseous. I smiled at him when he glanced at me, growing very self-conscious when his smile faded. Since when do you care about some stranger’s attention? So what if his voice is so smooth, I’d like to drink a glass of it? That doesn’t mean anything.
“It’s hot in there. Needed a break,” Amber replied.
“Oh, good. I thought they’d already run out of beer. Want to grab one with me?”
His deep, deep voice vibrated through my core and filled my heart with warmth. Maybe you’re not drinking, but nod. Nod at the guy and make him think you’re cool. I stared at him—that awkward, silent stare shared between two strangers with a mutual friend. Stop being an idiot. Remember what your sister told you: break out of your shell and meet some boys. Introduce yourself already!
As his gaze moved from my hair to the pale-yellow painted toenails hidden inside of my shoes, I was consumed by a heavy wave of anxiety; I wished I’d dressed like the other girls instead of dressing in my usual simple ensemble. I steadied myself with a deep—yet silent—breath and brushed my auburn bangs lowlighted with dark brown streaks behind my ear.
“Hi,” I managed, blushing foolishly.
Amber smacked her forehead. “Where are my manners? Lamont, this is Roxy, my new housemate.” She pulled me against her side and squeezed. “She lives right down the hall from me.”
He gave a slight nod. “Roxy, huh? Short for Roxanne?”
I swallowed back my anxiety and smiled. “Yeah. My parents had a thing for The Police.”
“Clever. Smart parents. It suits you.”
“Well, they are doctors, so they have to be sm—” When he cocked his head slightly to the side, I cleared my throat. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so many things.”
He turned to Amber. “Things, huh? What kind of things?”
Amber shook her head. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Trust me,” I interjected. “They have nothing but phenomenal things to say about you.” When I reached out to grab his arm for emphasis, his cell phone was knocked from his hand, falling toward the ground in painful slow motion.
It skipped down a cement stair with a crash.
“Oh my God.” My cheeks flushed crimson. “I am so, so sorry! If it’s broken, I’ll buy you a new one.”
Without thinking twice, I dropped my knees to the ground and snatched up the phone, hoping beyond all hope that I didn’t destroy the thing. There were no visible scratches and the screen hadn’t shattered. “Looks like everything is—” My face rose to meet his pant’s zipper. Oh my—get away from the crotch, away from the crotch. I stepped back, stood erect, placed the phone forcefully into his palm and tried not to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Like, reallysorry,” I repeated, fingers fighting one another behind my back. “I can be a real klutz sometimes.”
His dark eyes sparkled bright with curiosity. “You’re not a klutz. I tend to make girls fall head over heels for me. It’s not the first time I’ve brought a girl to her knees.”
Amber laughed, completely oblivious to my sheer mortification.
I stared at the white tips of my shoes, curls dangling just over my breasts. Way to go, Roxy. You really know how to make a great first impression.
When a pair of white and black Nikes came into view, I shyly glanced up, surprised to find Lamont in such close proximity. “So,” he asked. “How about that beer?”
LAMONT OPENED THE refrigerator door and handed out ice-cold beers as if he owned the place.
“Is he allowed to do that?” I whispered.
Amber shrugged. “He’s on the baseball team. I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Here you are ladies.”
I politely refused the beer he held toward me. “I’m the designated driver tonight,” I said, not ready to admit I didn’t drink regularly like everybody else. “Thanks, though. I appreciate it.”
Before he could question me, Amber snatched the can from his hand. “I’ll have it. Wouldn’t want to waste it.”
We turned around as Shannon walked toward us, her cheeks red, her fingers wound tightly with Steven’s.
“Dude, Lamont! Didn’t think you’d make it. You ready to fuck shit up at the beer pong table?” An intricate handshake-hug combination ensued.
“I take it they know each other?” I asked.
Amber nodded. “Best friends.”
“Oh my God!” Shannon shrieked, startling all those who inhabited the kitchen. “You have a Boobiesbracelet!”
Lamont glanced down at his wrist. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“That’s Shannon—our other housemate.”
“Can I have it?” she asked, completely ignoring Amber’s introduction. “I’ve always wanted one.”
“It’s like, three dollars from the mall. What’s stopping you?”
The black, rubber bracelet had I Love Boobiesengraved in white block letters, and it rested comfortably around Lamont’s tan wrist.
Another strange feeling overwhelmed me—a feeling that I only got when the classmate sitting next me received a higher grade. Is she flirting with him?
“I want one now,” she whined.
I wasn’t one to engage in confrontation, but something deep within my gut told me that this behavior was not okay, especiallywhen she was already holding the hand of another guy. I also knew better than to challenge someone as intoxicated as she was but seeing Lamont smile at her made me want to fight her—which was definitely different from my typical “run away and hide” technique. This was the first boy I was genuinely interested in getting to know since my junior year of high school, where the boy I fell in love with told me having a girlfriend would ruin his college experience. Part of me warned that I should ignore these feelings because nothing was worth the pain I’d experienced that year, but the other part of me said that I should stand up for myself and for my feelings.
I also had enjoyed his attention—which again, was unusual for me.
“Where did you get it from?” I asked, taking a small step toward him.
He looked down at me, lifting his arm just enough so I could see the bracelet at eye level. I fought the urge to rest my cheek against his forearm, wanting to permanently memorize the way his skin smelled. “Probably at Tilly’s or something. They’re super cheap.” He raised an eyebrow when he saw me staring at the black and white rubber. “You wanna wear it?”
I smiled over his wrist at Shannon, who raised her hands up in frustration. “Are you kidding me? I asked you if I could wear it first!”
“She did ask first,” I said. “It wouldn’t be fair if I took it.”
Lamont smiled, driving my pulse up to a dangerously high level. I felt a bead of sweat form between my shoulder blades and begin its descent down my spine.
Shannon held out her hand. “I promise I’ll give it back.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. Just take it, Roxy. He offered it to you. “But I mean, if you insisted, I wouldn’t want to be rude.”
Shannon swayed side to side, Steven holding her waist tight. “She doesn’t even want it,” she yelled, hiccupping slightly.
Lamont surveyed me, then Shannon, then me again. “How about I pick a number between one and twenty?”
My shoulders slumped forward. You are so stupid sometimes. You should’ve just taken it when he offered it to you. I clenched my jaw, fighting back unexpected tears. Just guess the right number. That way, instead of thinking about Shannan all night long because she has his bracelet, he’ll be forced to think about the curly haired girl instead.
Shannon shook her head. “How do I know you won’t change the number to match hers?”
Before Lamont could produce an answer, Claire ran up like a bat out of hell and threw her entire body around him. Her dress rose up around her hips, revealing her butt to all innocent bystanders. I watched mutely as she kissed the air beside his ears and pressed her nose against his cheek.
“Lamont, my love! I haven’t seen you in forever!” she yelled, now much moreintoxicated than when we first entered the party.
I glanced away, my body completely inundated by jealousy. I’ve known Lamont for maybe fifteen minutes. We haven’t even had any semblance of a conversation yet. I pushed my bangs behind my ear and frowned at Amber.
She shrugged apologetically. “She does this when she’s drunk. I hate to say this, but you will get used to it.”
Shannon crossed her arms over her chest. “Why don’t you give Claire the number? I know I can trust her.”
“What’re you talking about?” Claire asked still clinging to Lamont’s neck.
“These girls both want my bracelet, so, they’re picking numbers,” he said.
Actually, you offered me the bracelet. I began fidgeting with the hem of my shirt, Claire’s bare butt cheeks beginning to make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t get it. She made it quite obvious earlier today that she hates Lamont. Did I mishear her? “Alright, Lamont. Pick a number,” I croaked, my voice threatening to give away my true feelings.
When she climbed off him and beamed at me, my eye twitched. “I just love games! Turn around and I’ll tell you when to guess.”
Shannon and I turned our backs on them, but it didn’t matter—I could hear every word of their exchange, which meant Shannon could too. It became quite apparent that drunk people didn’t understand the meaning of the word “whisper” and Lamont basically announced his number to the entire room. My only hope was that Claire would ask me to pick a number first.
Instead, she smiled at Shannon. “Okay, you guess first.”
She smirked at me and fluttered her eyelashes at Lamont. “Twelve.”
He and Claire looked at one another and then at me. You’re really gonna make me guess? “I don’t care—nine.” I frowned and blushed harder, hugging my elbows.
Lamont grabbed Claire’s elbow and turned her to face him. Their noses were almost touching, but Lamont’s rushed words were audible enough for me to understand. “Claire, help me. I really want Roxy to have it. I just don’t want to piss off Shannon.”
I blinked. What?
“She’s hot and nice and funny. I like her. This is my chance to have her talk to me again. She’ll have to give it back at some point—what should I do?”
Claire’s flirty demeanor changed, her forehead wrinkling with annoyance. “Why don’t I take it instead?”
I turned toward Amber. “What is she doing?” I hissed.
Amber readjusted her bra, her cleavage even more apparent than before. “She’s being herself.”
“But I thought she didn’t even like Lamont.”
“She doesn’t,” Amber said. “But she doesn’t like when she’s not the center of attention. God forbid anybody else get a chance.”
“I just wanted to have a conversation with him.”
Amber smiled. “Ohhh the little wallflower wants to bloom.”
I shook my head. “No no no, that’s not—”
“Well, what’s the number?” Shannon asked, impatient.
Lamont glanced at Claire. “I can’t remember.”
“That’s not fair.” She glared at Lamont and shook her head. “You’re being mean.”
“Here—don’t be like that—I’ll put it behind my back—yeah—that’s it. I’ll put it behind my back. Shannon, you guess which hand you think it’s in,” Lamont said quickly, sliding the bracelet past his knuckles.
“It’s a lousy three-dollar bracelet,” Amber mumbled. “I have another one at home I could give you.”
Lamont toyed with the rubber bracelet behind his back, his eyes darting nervously in my direction.
Shannon pointed to the right hand. “Amber, if I pick wrong, I want yours.”
A sly smile crept onto Lamont’s face. He slowly exposed the empty right hand in front of Shannon and then revealed the band resting on his left palm. I watched as he stretched it onto my wrist, feeling a spark ignite somewhere between his fingertips and my skin.
He pushed Claire to the side, wrapped his arms around my back and pulled me in tight. Although hesitant at first, I relaxed against him, allowing his embrace to comfort me. “I’m sorry I didn’t just give it to you,” he whispered. “I didn’t want to hurt Shannon’s feelings.”
My heart seeped right through my ribcage, a puddle of pitiful mush. “I didn’t really want it until you offered it, honestly.”
He chuckled. “I just wanted another excuse to see you again.”
I pulled away from him slightly, confused. “Me? Really?”
“Jesus you guys,” Amber shouted. “If you’re gonna have sex, at least get a room.”
I closed my eyes, wondering why this guy had such a pull over me—his arms still held me tight, and for some reason, I didn’t feel the need to push him away.
“Nobody asked you perverts to watch.” He nuzzled my neck with his moistened lips.
My body shivered.
I was a goner.
THE RED AND blue lights flickered through the living room curtains. The music halted abruptly, the owners screamed at the attendees to shut up and those of underage status began to panic. I pushed my way through the crowd and found my housemates downing shots in the kitchen.
“Cops are here. We’re leaving,” I ordered grabbing each glass from their grasps and placing them on the counter.
“What? Are we in trouble?” Shannon slurred.
I shook my head and grabbed her elbow. “You will be if you don’t follow me out of here. Just be careful and avoid eye contact.”
Amber and Claire followed our lead.
As we walked through the front door, the police officers studied us suspiciously with flashlights in hand. I smiled at them, trying to appear calm and collected, when in reality, my heart fluttered like a hummingbird’s wings. Once we made it to the car, we all took a collective deep breath.
I unlocked the doors. “I need all of your help.” I slid into the driver’s seat. “I do my best to avoid these sorts of situations—boys are really complicated. He hasn’t stopped texting me.” Each of the girls closed their doors. “I have this inkling that maybe he wants me to come over?”
“First of all, who says an inkling?” Shannon asked. “Are you drunk?”
Amber snickered. “No duh, he wants you to come over. All over him.”
I gulped. That’s not funny. “I’m sure he just wants his bracelet back.”
Claire grimaced. “Are you telling me you think he’s cute?”
I shrugged, her accusatory tone filling me with shame. “Yeah—he’s—he’s okay. He’s tall. He made me laugh. And—and—” I glanced at the bracelet. “I need to give his bracelet back.”
“I’m down to go if they give us free booze,” Amber chimed in.
“If you’re actuallygonna give him the bracelet after everything we went through, you might as well give it to me.”
I smiled at Shannon. “I promise I’ll go to the mall tomorrow and buy you a brand new one.”
Claire snorted. “If you went through all that just to talk to him, you’re pathetic.”
“That’s harsh,” Amber said, defending me. “Besides, I’ve seen you do worse. She likes him. What’s the big deal?”
I smiled in the rearview mirror. Finally—someone who won’t judge me. And to think she totally hated my guts only a few hours ago.
“Firstly, he’s fugly. Secondly, he has a girlfriend. She can’t like him.”
I chewed on my already raw cheek, again tasting blood on my tongue. A girlfriend? What is she talking about?
“If you think he’s so ugly, why did you date him last semester?”
I slammed the breaks, nearly causing a collision with the headlights behind me. “Hang on just one freaking second.”
Claire glared at Amber. “We did notdate. We went on onedate. Those are two completelydifferent things.”
“If you went on a date with him, you must have found him attractive.”
Claire made a face. “It was out of pity. It was like, the fifth time he’d asked me. Besides, he took me to a hockey game. It was a free ticket.”
“That’s kinda mean, don’tcha think?” Shannon added.
“I think you guys are taking this all out of proportion,” I said, signaling to get in the next lane over. “I need to give him this bracelet back—I promised. And besides, he seems like he’d be a good friend.”
“A friendwith benefits,” Amber teased.
I waited for a snarky reply from Claire, but she remained uncharacteristically silent. She was texting away, a smile reflecting off the phone’s backlight.
I furrowed my brow. “Everything okay, Claire?”
She didn’t bother to look up. “His name’s Chris. He’s Lamont’s roommate.”
The wheels in my head began to squeal, a fresh drop of degreaser applied to the rusted gears. Lamont’s roommate. That’s how I’ll get to see Lamont again—make this all about Claire.
“And…?” I prodded.
“He has a girlfriend,” Amber laughed. “They’ve been together for like, three years or some shit.”
The car rolled up to a red light.
I glanced over my shoulder. “What’re you doing talking to him then?”
Her smile faded. “He does nothave a girlfriend. They broke up last night. He told me all about it when we were playing beer pong.”
Amber was skeptical. “You actually believe that?”
“They did! Lamont confirmed it.”
“Oh, well, if he confirmed it, then it mustbe true.”
Claire stuck her tongue out at Amber. “Stop being such a bitch.”
“Has it even been officially over for twenty-four hours?”
Claire shrugged. “Who cares? He’s single.”
“Or so he says,” Shannon mumbled.
“I wouldn’t hook up with someone who has a girlfriend. I’m not that kind of girl.”
Join in on the conversation. Be their friend. “If he just broke up with her, shouldn’t you be worried about being the rebound?”
“So what? He obviously thinks I’m cute if he’s already talking to me.”
“No,” Amber argued. “That means he thinks you have open legs and a ready vagina.”
Shannon and I laughed, Claire’s pout dropping to her knees.
“Shannon,” I said. “This is your car, so you make the decision. What do you want to do?”
She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Just how cute is he?”
That was the second time that night I wanted to throw my hands around her and kiss her to death. God bless you Shannon. I’ll buy you the entire Boobies bracelet factory.
“He’s adorable,” Claire swooned.
“If it’s just a kiss,” I threw in, hoping I was beginning to fit in. “What’s the harm in that?”
Shannon nodded against the headrest. “Let’s do it.”
“What do you think, Amber?”
She turned toward the window and shrugged. “I already told you. If they have free booze, I’m in.”
My phone buzzed, an unknown number flashing on the screen. A number that had been sending me texts since we parted ways at the party. A number that was already engrained into my memory forever. This is it. It’s now or never. Don’t chicken out. This is your chance to really get to know him. “Hey, Lamont?” I answered. “We’re heading over now. Think you could give me some directions?”
WHEN WE FINALLY located the house, Lamont’s tall and lanky frame came into view. He ushered us up the driveway asking what took so long.
“This place is a labyrinth,” I admitted. “I may or may not have taken a couple wrong turns.”
“You probably shouldn’t be drinking and driving then,” Lamont said opening the front door. “Cops’ll hop all over that.”
“Lamont, I’m sober.”
He snorted. “Sure, you are. Everyone’s in my room. To the right.”
“No, really,” Shannon countered. “I wouldn’t let her drive my car otherwise.”
“I was just giving her shit. I drink and drive all the time.”
He followed us down the hallway and to the right into a room where boys were drinking, laughing and talking loudly. Some gathered around a laptop, others lounged on the two queen beds present, and two other boys mixed drinks at the bathroom sink. They all greeted us happily, but I felt my emotional balance begin to wobble.
I don’t know anybody here. I’m the only one not drinking. Claire says Lamont has a girlfriend. What if she’s right? I don’t belong here with these people. I belong at home, alone, with my books. I fidgeted with the bracelet and wondered if everyone could hear my heartbeat. I sat on the bed beside Claire and smiled bashfully at Lamont when we made eye contact.
Claire nudged me. “Weren’t you listening? He has a girlfriend back home. You don’t even know him—stop pretending you do.”
“I’m not trying to pretend anything. I’d like to get to know—”
She shook her head. “No, you really don’t. I know I sound like a bitch but I’m looking out for you. Sonoma is a tinyschool. Do you reallywant to have home-wreckerattached to your name?”
I began rubbing my palms up and down my thighs. “I know you say you’re trying to look out for me, but I’m beginning to think you like Lamont.”
Claire glared at me. “Are you crazy?”
I shrugged. “Like you said, I’m not trying to be a witch. It’s just—I saw how you interacted with him at the party and—”
“He’s disgusting, Roxy. How could you find him hot? Look at his face—okay, yeah, he’s tall, but is that what you want to look at for the rest of your life?”
I clenched my jaw, my frustration reaching its peak. “Claire, could you please shut up?”
Her head snapped back, surprised. “What did you—”
“I said, please shut your mouth.” I inhaled through my nose and out my mouth, trying to slow my pulse. “You don’t have to think he’s cute if you don’t like him. But I’d like to get to know him, so, if you’d please excuse me, I’m going to find Lamont.”
Before Claire could argue with me, I jumped off the bed and turned down the hallway in search of Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome.
I spotted my target rummaging through the refrigerator in the small kitchen. He smiled when he closed the door, lifting a beer can in my direction. “You come looking for beer?”
My, oh my, oh my. He is gorgeous. Beads of sweat began to form beneath my breasts. “Actually, no. I came looking for you.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, right. Let me grab you one.”
“Lamont, no thank you. I’m not drinking.”
He studied me carefully. “Really?”
My anxiety returned. “Yes, really.” I rubbed my forearm and looked down. “I don’t drink.” I licked my lips, worried that he would find me some kind of a freak. “I’m sorry to bother you.”
As I turned to leave, I heard the hiss and pop of a beer can opening. “You’re not bothering me. Pretty girls don’t talk to me unless they’re hammered. I doubt a knockout like you actually wants to talk to me.”
I blinked, surprised. “Me? A knockout?”
He sipped his beer. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You’re gorgeous.”
I smiled, shaking my head. “You’re very sweet.” Resting my hand on the doorframe, I sucked in my stomach, hoping that my baggy shirt would hide some of the weight I’d gained over the summer. “I just wanted to talk.”
His eyes burned a hole through my soul. “Why?”
“Honestly?” I shrugged, this whole confident façade beginning to exhaust me. Why do I want to talk to him? Why didn’t I just go home? “Well, I didn’t really get a chance to get to know you earlier. I thought I should know more about this mysterious Lamont.”
He chuckled, holding out his free hand. “Come outside and we’ll talk. I need fresh air.”
I timidly put my hand in his. Our fingers laced together perfectly. This—this is nothing like the chemistry I’ve studied my entire life. How is this even possible? I tightened my grip and smiled when he did the same.
We made our way through the sliding glass door and stepped into the brisk, autumn air. “I should’ve brought a jacket. I didn’t realize I’d be outside.”
He scoffed. “You have a perfectly capable man standing next to you—you don’t need a jacket.”
“That’s a little presumptuous of you.”
I shook my head and took in the scenery around me. “Never mind. It’s not that cold,” I lied, rubbing my hands up and down my arms. “I’m just saying I don’t need you to keep me warm.” Even if just holding your hand made me feverish. The backyard was medium sized, cigarette butts and beer cans strewn about the dead grass, the cement patio protected by a white, latticework covering, and giant wooden slats separating this property from the others around it. “You know, this is the perfect house for a dog.”
“Dogs are too expensive.”
Nodding, I took a step further, admiring the thick trunked trees sitting in the far corners of the yard. “I have a yellow lab at home. Molly. I would’ve brought her here with me, but sadly, pets are not allowed in the dorms.”
Lamont smiled. “Molly, huh? Sounds sweet.”
“Yeah, I miss her terribly and I’ve only been here for a week. My parents are gonna take care of her, but I still wish she were here. Sometimes, I feel like she’s the only one who understands me.”
After realizing how loudly the crickets were chirping, I faced Lamont and found him studying me quizzically. Okay. How about we don’t talk about family matters?
“I’ve always wanted a dog, but they’re way too much work. Puppies are the worst.” He sat in a plastic patio chair and patted his thigh. “Care to join me?”
I hesitated, eyeing the chair beside him. “What do you want to talk about?”
He leaned forward, grabbed my waist and pulled me toward him. I struggled slightly before collapsing onto his lap. I straightened my back and tightened my stomach muscles. Act cool. Pretend you sit on guys’ laps all of the time. “You know, there are plenty of other empty chairs here for me to sit on. I don’t want your legs to fall asleep or anything.”
“You weigh like two pounds, calm down.” He placed one of his arms on the top of my thigh and wrapped the other around my back before resting his chin on my shoulder. “I like having you this close.”
I tried to make my body relax, but my pounding heart was making it difficult for me to sit still. If someone could explain what is happening to me right now, that’d be awesome. “So,” I squeaked. “W—what did you w—want to talk about?”
He connected his hands together and pulled me closer. The lack of distance was going to make my heart explode. His enlarge pupils flickered away from my lips reluctantly. “I lied,” he whispered. “I just wanted to kiss you.”
“You—what?” I asked, my lungs working overtime to try to get a grip on my breathing.
He smiled, his plump, tan lips enticing me to lean in toward him—to give up fighting what I was feeling and go with it. “You heard me,” he breathed.
I had every intention of pushing him away because Claire’s voice kept warning me about his potential girlfriend—but my voice remained hidden in the back of my throat. My muscles finally relaxed. The moment his lips touched mine, I knew something out of the ordinary had passed between us. I pulled away slowly, eyes closed, savoring the tingling sensation lingering on my lips.
I lifted my heavy lids and stared longingly into his chocolate brown eyes; a starry night sky gazed back at me. It had been quite some time since I felt this way—and it had been two long years since I allowed myself to succumb to my emotions. Lamont’s kiss proved it was well worth the wait. I wrapped my arms around his neck, silently leaning in for a second taste, forgetting the questions that plagued me earlier. I pressed my lips hard against his, passion erupting beneath the moonlight. My world flipped upside down and right side up by a stranger I only met a few hours ago.
I’m in way over my head.
He nibbled on my bottom lip, his teeth teasing my senses, his fingers caressing my back. I swept my tongue against his upper lip—a seductive move I’d seen in millions of movies—and promised myself I would stop overthinking the situation.
But what—what if—what if he really has a girlfriend?