Summer stood and motioned for the door. “I’ll be in Ruby’s room.”
I nodded, and once she closed the door behind her, I said to Malinda, “Aren’t you and Dad on your honeymoon?”
“We are, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to stalk my new daughter-in-law.” She laughed. “Your father kept me from calling yesterday. I tried your cell phone, but Mason answered. He gave me your dorm number, and I’m supposed to tell you that he’ll track you down today to give you your phone.”
I groaned. “I forgot it in his room.”
“And I see you two are really sticking to the whole dorm-room-for-a-month thing.” Her tone sobered up. “I think that’s commendable of you.”
I sighed, standing and trying to reach for my clothes with the phone tucked between my ear and shoulder. “We’ll see how long it lasts. I haven’t lived with Mason in over a year. Everything in me wants to go and find him already and just be with him, not stay here with people I don’t know yet.”
“Yet. Yet is the operative word, and I’m so proud of you, Samantha. Your father is, too, and he’s harassing me, so he can get on the phone.”
I frowned, pausing, as I reached for a shirt in the closet. “No, he’s not. He was probably leaving the room as you said that, wasn’t he?”
She was silent for a moment before a rueful chuckle slipped out. “You and your father. You two can be in each other’s presence, and you think that’s bonding. You two should talk more.”
“We do talk.”
“Only when you have to.”
She was confused, and she had reason to be. I asked, “How’s Mark doing?”
A hiss came through the receiver before she grumbled, “That damn son of mine. I love him, but he can be an idiot sometimes. He decided to take a page from your book and prove he’s so independent. I wish he wouldn’t have. He locked himself out of his car and wouldn’t let me go to his campus with him. When he finally did get the keys, he didn’t have enough cash to pay the locksmith. He had to get a ride with the locksmith to a nearby ATM. He paid the guy and ended up paying an extra ten dollars just to get back to his car. He forgot to lock his car after all of that.”
A foreboding sense started building in me. “Oh, no…”
“‘Oh, no,’ is right. His car was stolen. Everything he had was gone. We ended up wiring more money to him once he did a report and got to his dorm room. I had the airplane tickets booked, and we were packing to fly to him when he called last night. The cops found his car, and some of his stuff was still there. As soon as we’re back from the Bahamas, we’re going right to his place and making sure he has everything he needs. That boy is going to be the death of me, I swear.” A wistful sigh left her. “But I’ll be damned if I couldn’t love him any more than I do. I feel like I’m bursting with pride with the two of you, even with Mark’s mishap.”
I grinned. Some of that happiness I heard from her was contagious. I made a mental note to let Logan know about Mark’s adventure. Mark would wish the next family holiday wouldn’t happen because of all the teasing he’d endure.
“Okay. Your father is motioning for me. If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the horseback riding on the trail.” She whispered into the phone, “And your father wants to miss that, but no way, honey, I won’t let that happen. I need to get that stud on another stud just so I can take a picture and Instagram that back to Fallen Crest. You know how much ribbing he’s going to get about that one?” She ended with a hurried, “I’m so excited! Bye, Sammy. I love you!”
I was slightly stunned as she hung up, and the dial tone started in my ear. I didn’t remember if I’d said good-bye back or not, but she’d called me Sammy.
I was still sitting there, hearing that name on repeat, when Summer cleared her throat.
Her head poked around the door. “Uh, sorry.” She winced, and her eyes fell on the receiver now blaring in my hand. “Oh, good. You’re done. Uh…I have to warn you about something.”
She slipped in and shut the door with a soft click behind her. Her hands remained behind her back, still on the door handle. “Kitty and Nina are camped out at the end of the hallway. They’ve asked me four times when I think you might be heading for class. After last night, they’re in love with Logan Kade, and it’s sad to say, but that made them your personal stalkers.” She rolled her eyes. “I told them you don’t have class until lunch, but they don’t believe me. I think they’re going to wait you out and do the thing where you have to walk with them to your class—you know, where they’re super friendly, so friendly that you’d be completely rude to even try to ditch them.” She shuddered, one corner of her lip curving up. “Such beginners. If only I could school them better, they’d be proper stalkers.”
She laughed. “Just kidding. For real, but, uh…” She cleared her throat. “We need to come up with a plan so those two are distracted while you slip down the back hallway door. They really should have one positioned in the lobby and the other by the back door. It only locks from the outside, and the alarm’s not turned on during the day.”
She clapped her hands together. “Exactly. Operation Distract and Dash needs to commence…” She looked at my pajamas. “Whenever you’re dressed, that is.”
Summer went past the two girls, who really were camped out by the doorway. Nina was holding her backpack in her lap while Kitty had a strand of hair pulled over her face. She was furiously picking at it. Summer strolled past them and pretended to trip over Nina’s feet. Kitty didn’t seem impressed, so Summer spied the water bottle next to her and somehow lunged for it, knocking that to the ground, too.
I waited as both girls got up. Nina helped Summer while Kitty grabbed her water bottle before it fell down the rest of the stairs.
It was my time.
Both were distracted, and I slipped down the back stairs. I went all the way down and through the back door. Summer was right. A girl soared through the door two seconds before I hit the last set of stairs. No alarm sounded, so I went outside.
I was waiting by the bike rack as Summer came out, laughing. She was barely holding on to her coffee cup, which she’d told me she was going to refill in Ruby’s room right before activating Operation Distract and Dash.
She had a second cup for me and shook her head, tsking under her breath. “Logan was not enough of a dick to put those two off. I think he only cemented that they both want to marry him. What will Nate think? Kitty loved him first.”
“I think Nate will sleep just fine at night.”
“You never know. She could’ve been the love of his life.” Summer sped forward as we began walking toward the classroom buildings and turned around so she was walking backward. She wiggled her eyebrows. “What if Kitty actually is the girl he’s meant to be with? I mean, who knows? He could end up going down the completely wrong lane in life. Do you believe in stuff like that?”
I slowed, frowning. “What are you talking about?”
She sped up, still walking backward and motioned for me to keep up with her. “I mean, the decisions you make today could alter your future. Things like that. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be your roommate. Maybe I was supposed to be someone else’s, but something happened. Say, for instance, she did something horrible. She made one decision that changed her future, so it changed ours, too. You and I weren’t even going to meet, much less become the best buds that we will be. Thank god she made that horrible decision, right? Or maybe not. Maybe whoever that girl was might have actually been the love of Nate’s life, or maybe even Logan’s. Let’s get ambitious here. Do you think about stuff like that?”
“No.” I scratched my head. It was spinning a little bit. “Why the hell would you?”
Summer laughed, twirling around so that she was walking side by side with me again. She lifted a shoulder, her head falling down. “I don’t know. I think it’s the aftereffects of hating my stepmother. She did a real fucking doozy on my da
d. I always think, what if they hadn’t met at that bar? What if my mom and dad hadn’t fought that night? What if I hadn’t come home late, so they wouldn’t have ended up fighting because of me? Things might’ve been different.” She sounded so serious now. “Things might’ve been happier.”
I stopped walking. People streamed around us. A few shot us dirty looks, but most just zipped around us, hurrying to their classes.
I’d known her a day.
That one moment told me so much more about her than all the other hours we’d spent together.
She was unhappy.
She hated her stepmother.
She wished for her old life.
And she blamed herself.
As if she realized she’d given me a full window to her inner workings, Summer grinned at me, looking at me sideways. “What are you looking at?”
A broken daughter.
I shook my head. “Nothing.”
Me. I was looking at myself.
I pushed forward. “Let’s go to class. Where’s your first one?”
Summer pointed to a brick building across the courtyard. “In there. I checked the map yesterday when we got our books. The store is right over there.” She moved to the smaller building right next to where her classroom was.
Students were everywhere. A line was outside of the bookstore, weaving down the sidewalk. People were milling back and forth, some dashing around the line and moving into the brick building. The larger building extended higher, maybe four floors, and students were lingering outside those doors, too. Some were smoking. Others were talking with friends. Still more stood next to the bike rack. We were coming down a sidewalk that met five other sidewalks in a large stone circle in the middle of the courtyard, and people were coming back and forth.
As Summer checked her map again, I saw some others doing the same. We weren’t the only lost freshmen. The thought was a little comforting.
“Yeah.” Summer nodded before folding the paper up and sliding it into her folder. “That’s my building. Where’s your classroom?”
“In Ives. Room three-twelve.”
Her forehead wrinkled, and she pulled the sheet back out. “Okay.” She stopped. Her finger started to point, but she turned until it was aiming at the building right behind us. “This is your stop.”
“Yep.” She checked once more. “Ives. That’s what my map says, so this is it unless there are two Ives buildings.”
I was about to say good-bye and head inside when Park Sebastian stepped in front of me, blocking me. A smug smirk was on his face beneath his black sunglasses. His gelled hair was combed to the side. As he stood there, holding a book and a couple of notebooks in his hand, he looked like he stepped right from a college magazine shoot. His shirt hung from his wide shoulders, not too tight, and fell to his trim waist. He had on frayed cargo shorts, but they seemed like they’d been frayed on purpose.
I didn’t think. I said the first thing on my mind, “You look like a douche.” I pointed to his shorts. “That’s trendy? If you’re hoping to look poor, you’re sucking at it. Your whole demeanor screams entitled rich prick.”
Summer gasped quietly beside me, but she coughed, trying to cover up her laughter.
Sebastian’s smug smile didn’t move. It began to spread, and he lifted his sunglasses. He started to take them off as I felt a presence beside me. Logan stepped in front of me. He was dressed in a T-shirt and similar cargo pants, but I kept my mouth shut about him. Logan could pull it off, looking like a rich bad boy who didn’t give a shit. Then again, I knew Logan. That probably helped, but standing next to him, Sebastian looked even more like a poser.
Summer glanced nervously at me.
I shook my head. It was during the day. There were lots of witnesses around. We’d be fine. Nothing bad would happen.
Logan started. “Thought we told you to stay away from Sam.”
It wasn’t a question.
Sebastian moved back a step, letting his sunglasses fall back in place. He gestured to the building behind him. “I’m going to class, Kade. You’re going to start a fight because of that?”
“You’re in her way.” Logan’s hand slipped behind him, and his bag slid down his shoulder and his arm until the strap was hanging over his wrist. He held his fingers toward me. His bag slipped even further, and he motioned for me.
I took the bag from him and slid it over my shoulder. Maybe this was going to last longer than the few minutes I’d originally thought. I bit my lip, casting a concerned look to Summer. She didn’t seem like she was going anywhere. A fascinated expression was on her face as she gazed first at Logan, to Sebastian, and back to Logan again.
“Again, I was just going to class.”
Logan didn’t move.
Neither did Sebastian.
Summer kept glancing between the two and to me. When she saw I was holding Logan’s bag, her eyes got wide. I wanted to reassure her, but the truth was that I had no idea what was going to happen.
I kept remembering what Logan said the previous night. Call him, not Mason.
Mason couldn’t get in trouble.
As if Logan knew the train of my thoughts, he shifted on his feet. My gaze jerked up and trailed past him, past Sebastian, and landed on Mason.
He was coming from the building where my class was located with my cell phone in his hand. A scowl was on his face, and his jaw locked in place. I swallowed tightly. Logan moved backward, stepping into me. I adjusted, knowing that he was herding me even more away from Sebastian.
I started to go to the side. I wanted to go to Mason, but Logan’s arm swept me back. He caught me around the waist. He held me in place, right behind him. A memory flashed in my mind of another time when Mason had done the same motion for the same reason.
“Don’t!” Her head snapped back up, and her eyes were wild. “You always said, we’d be gone. He wouldn’t marry me, and you were right. He won’t. It’s over. Finito. Finished.”
I stepped around Mason, but he moved with me. When I started to get closer to her, he moved another inch. He was blocking me. He didn’t want me close to her, so I stayed put.
I folded my arms. “Mom, you’re drunk. Everything will be better in the morning. I promise.”
Park Sebastian wasn’t my mother. I didn’t have years of terror built inside me because of him. My mind was made up. I wasn’t helpless, so I shoved Logan’s arm down. Mason’s gaze caught mine, and he narrowed his eyes. I caught the warning there, even before anything was said. It didn’t matter. I would not let him get hurt because of me. I would not allow myself to be his Achilles’ heel. Sebastian needed to learn that, so I started forward.
Logan caught me again, but I sidestepped him. He went to the right to block me. I feinted left. Because of the movement, I was now face-to-face with Sebastian. Logan groaned a little bit, but I tuned him out.
I shrugged off Logan’s hold.
“Sebastian.” Mason’s tone stopped everything. He was quiet but foreboding.
Sebastian, who hadn’t realized Mason was right behind him, straightened abruptly. He kept his glasses on, but his jaw clenched, and he moved to the side so he wasn’t surrounded on both sides anymore. Mason adjusted, coming to stand next to me. Logan circled to stand on his other side. We were now a unified front while Summer crossed her arms. Her head kept going back and forth between us and Sebastian. I didn’t dare look over to see what she was thinking. She was getting a good view as it was.
The entire atmosphere shifted once Mason made his presence known.
Sebastian’s smirk fell flat.
The aura of tension and danger was around us. Students dashed for their classes, but they slowed and then stopped to watch the standoff.
No one said a thing. I wasn’t sure if I was even breathing.
Sebastian laughed—or tried to laugh. It fell short and came out sounding angry. “Mason, nice of you to sneak up behind me.?
Mason pushed something against my hand. “I was waiting for Sam.”
Opening my hand, I took my phone from him and tucked it into my purse.
I could feel the anger rising in Mason. He wasn’t doing or showing anything, but I felt it from him. His arm brushed against me, and it was rock solid, like cement. He was like cement on a normal day, his body toned and perfected from his training during the past summer, but this was more. The strength in him was radiating out, and everyone else was noticing, too.
As I looked at the crowd that formed, I knew the tension between Sebastian and Mason would be known by the end of the day, if everyone on campus didn’t already know. Phones were pointed at us, recording, and I only hoped Mason really wouldn’t do anything now. That would be blatant evidence against him.