His scowl grows. “Making excuses for her, Jones? She doesn’t deserve it.”


No, she doesn’t, but the alternative of telling him that she and everyone else I’ve known for most of my life behaved that way on a constant basis is unthinkable.

“Whitney was a cheerleader at my high school. She’s nuts for all things football.” I have no doubt she would have had her claws in Drew had he gone to our school.

Drew gives me a look, as if he knows all too well what I am thinking. I also kind of hate that he reads me so easily.

“I take it you don’t like cheerleaders?” he asks.

We sidestep a group of girls, all of whom eye Drew. Quiet giggles rise up as we walk by.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say. “Last year, in my study group, there was a girl who is on the squad here. Laney. She was nice. Worked her ass off to succeed at her sport, and I admired her for it.”

“I know Laney.” By the happy look in his eyes, I wonder just how well, but before I can voice that uncharitable thought, he adds, “She goes out with my friend Marshall.”

Ah.

Drew opens the door to the stairwell for me.

“Then there are cheerleaders like Whitney,” I go on, “who seem to have studied the handbook for stereotypical bitches everywhere.” I shrug, pulling free a thick lock of hair that’s caught beneath my bag strap. “Why they feel the need to act accordingly, I’ll never know.”

Drew’s eyes, bleary as they are, crinkle at the corners with tired humor. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to play a part.” He pauses, his hand on the banister. “Or maybe not. Nonconformist that you are.”

Praise never sits well with me. Especially not Drew’s. I make a face and force my voice to be light. “Bah. Nonconformity is a role too.”

“Maybe, but…” Drew flashes a quick smile, genuine but tight with pain, “‘Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.’”

“Throwing Emerson at me?” I shake my head as we make our way up the stairs. “Now you’re just showing off.”

“What can I say? My mom was an English lit professor. Emerson was her favorite. Other kids got Goodnight Moon before bed. I got that and an Emerson quote.”

“Leave it to you to pick the chauvinistic one out of the bunch.”

“What?” His brows rise in outrage. “There’s nothing chauvinistic about that quote.”

I repress a grin. He’s too easy. And if teasing distracts him from his pain, more the better. “Right. Whatever. ‘Whoso would be a man’.” I make quote gestures with my fingers for emphasis. “Why not ‘human’?”

Unfortunately, Drew is too quick. His growing scowl suddenly breaks into a knowing smile. “’Man’ is generic, and you know it.”

“It is also sexist,” I retort, having way too much fun.

“I highly doubt they viewed it as such in 1841, Jones.”

I’m about to rib him further but then I take a good look at Drew. He’s getting paler, a light sweat breaking out on his high forehead. A pang centers in my chest.

“Come on.” I take him by the elbow and guide him down the hall. “Let’s get you settled, before you fall on your face.”

Upstairs we head for the campus radio station booth. It’s a large glassed in area, manned by Floyd Hopkins most afternoons. He’s there now, taking a break by the looks of the sandwich and soda he has on the desk outside the inner DJ booth.

He sees me coming and breaks into a smile. Tall, thin, with a bushy dark blond halo of curls and a scraggly goatee, he’s a modern day Shaggy. But there’s no denying his charisma. There’s always been something charming about the way he carries himself. A lazy confidence.

Floyd was the guy who introduced me to weed sophomore year. We got high and had sex. It was that eventful. But we remained friends. Well, ‘friends’ was kind of stretching it. More like acquaintances with carnal knowledge. Not that this stops him from hugging me for a bit too long. Or maybe he does so because of Drew standing next to me; Floyd’s eyes stay on him for too long as well.

“Anna Jones, how you doing?”

I break free of Floyd. This was a bad idea. One of many. “Fine.”

“Yeah…” Floyd looks between Drew and me as if waiting for an explanation. Drew appears ready to flee.

“Look,” I say, “can I use your back room…” Horror has my voice fleeing. Floyd’s instant creepy grin and Drew’s raised brows hit me like a brick. Holy shit. I really am a dumbass, because it never occurred to me how my request would sound.

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” I snap, flushed and wanting to die.

Thankfully Floyd laughs. “I’m just messing with you, Anna. I know you’d be the last girl to ask to borrow my couch for sex.” He glances at Drew. “Even with Battle Baylor here. She’s too discreet, you know?”

Drew merely looks at him, and Floyd kind of deflates like a day-old balloon. As for me, I want to hit something. Floyd runs a finger along his hairy chin. “It’s cool. Go on and take your seven minutes.”

“We really need more like an hour…” Again my voice dies on a gurgle.

Floyd’s grin erupts full force. At my side, Drew makes a smothered sound like he’s choking.

“God, just…” I tug Drew past Floyd and storm into the lounge, shutting the door on Floyd’s amusement.

Not on Drew’s. He bursts out laughing, even as he clutches his head. “Ow, shit.” He laughs again. “God, you should have seen your face.”

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