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Anti-Stepbrother(15)
Author: Tijan

She left me alone in an empty hallway, with an empty feeling inside me.

I was back to square one of no friends. Lovely.

Claudia was right about one thing. Avery did apologize the next morning. She did it with bags under her eyes, oversized sweats on her body, messy hair, and a slight green tinge to her skin. She had a water bottle in her hand.

She was hungover.

I didn’t say anything about my encounter with Claudia. It wasn’t Avery’s fault her friend was a bitch, but when she invited me to dinner the next night with the same group of friends, I declined. She asked me to lunch the day after, and I had the same response. She wore a puzzled frown after that, but I didn’t think she was going to invite me anywhere else. I hoped it wouldn’t matter. My roommate would move in soon.

The next day was finally the official move-in day for freshmen, but even while the hallway was busy with people bringing in stuff and unpacking in their rooms, I sat alone in mine. That night I found out the reason.

Avery knocked on my door to let me know she was holding a floor meeting in a few minutes, and that I wasn’t getting a roommate.

“Why? What happened?”

She held a clipboard to her chest. “I got a phone call this morning, but I haven’t had the time to let you know. There was a death in the family, so she’s coming next semester. She’s starting late.”

“Oh.” I glanced over my shoulder to my room. It was all cozy, but just with my stuff. There was still an empty bed, an empty desk, an empty dresser, and an empty closet.

“Don’t get comfortable. They might move someone else in, or you’ll get lucky and have your own room for the semester.”

“When will I know?”

She lifted a shoulder. “People transfer in late all the time, or someone could ask for a room transfer. If you move your stuff around, just be prepared that you might have to move it back.”

“Okay.”

She smiled now, resuming the professional advisor demeanor she’d worn when she’d first met me and my parents. The Avery that had invited me to the party faded.

“I’ll see you at the meeting then?” She checked her phone. “You have two hours. The campus ice cream shop is open tonight just for incoming freshman, so I was going to invite everyone over there. It’ll be a great way to meet new people.”

During the meeting, Avery told me and my freshman floormates the rules as we shared similar nervous looks with each other. When she finished, she gave us a half hour to change or freshen up, or whatever we needed, before we were supposed to meet back in the hallway to go for ice cream.

I went back to my room, still alone, and puttered around for a few minutes. I was heading back out the door when my phone buzzed. I glanced down and saw a text from Kevin.

It was only three words. Can we talk? But those three words had my heart racing. My hand closed around the phone, and I couldn’t move for a second.

I knew my feelings weren’t going to magically disappear, but this was ridiculous.

A rush of memories flooded me. How he’d leaned in close, a hand on my shoulder as his lips grazed mine. Heat had spread through my body. I could feel his lips again now. His hand on my shoulder, pressing lightly there before sliding down my arm and curving around my waist. My chest had pressed to his as his mouth opened over mine, demanding more. I gave it to him. Lifting my arms to twine around his neck, my heart had stampeded against my chest. I would’ve given him anything.

I did give him anything. I gave him me that night.

My phone buzzed again, breaking through the spell. A cold dose of reality poured over me as I read the next words: We should talk about Maggie.

Yes. We should. I groaned internally. That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I typed back, already knowing I’d push off the ice cream social thing because I was a weak dumbass when it came to Kevin. When and where?

I didn’t have to wait long. His text buzzed right back: Now? We can meet at Brown Building. Front steps.

This was all sorts of wrong. Why didn’t he just come to my dorm? He could see my room, maybe help me meet anyone who didn’t go to get ice cream? I could have pressed the issue, but I didn’t. Instead of joining the crowd gathering outside Avery’s room, I bypassed them and went down the stairs.

Outside I walked toward the area where I thought Brown Building was located. I’d registered for classes the day before and gotten my books at the bookstore, but I’d only wandered around campus a few times. I knew it was broken up into three large quad sections with the student center/cafeteria in the middle of it all. One of my classes was in Brown Building, so I needed to find where it was anyway. After cutting through the student center—and walking right past the ice cream shop—I pushed open the doors leading to the last quad area. I hadn’t explored that section yet, so I was surprised to find that it was quiet. And dark. There were more lights posted in the other parts of campus. I felt like I’d stepped into a closed sanctuary.

Two sidewalks led from the student center, breaking into separate directions. Trees blocked my view, but based on where I remembered seeing Brown on the map, I headed right. Brown was the third building down, and the sidewalk circled around the building, taking me past a side door.

Kevin wasn’t at the side door.

I stayed on the sidewalk and continued around the building, finding a large set of stone steps leading up to another door. They overlooked a small pond, and I went to sit down. I could see why Kevin chose this spot. It was private, and with the pond and its fountain, it was almost tranquil. I didn’t even feel like I was on a college campus, or that a bunch of freshmen were a few buildings away.

   
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