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  • Home > Jamie McGuire > Something Beautiful     

    Shepley

    “Quit being a pussy,” Travis said, punching me in the arm.

    I frowned and peered around us to see who had heard. Most of my fellow freshmen were within earshot, passing us to head into the cafeteria of Eastern State University for orientation. I recognized several faces from Eakins High, but there were even more I didn’t recognize, like the two girls walking in together—one with a cardigan and a light-brown braid, the other with golden beach waves and short shorts. She glanced in my direction for half a second and then continued on, as if I were an inanimate object.

    Travis held up his hands, a thick black leather cuff on his left wrist. I wanted to snatch it off and slap him with it.

    “Sorry, Shepley Maddox!” he yelled my name as he looked around, sounding more like a robot or a really bad actor. Leaning in, he whispered, “I forgot I’m not supposed to call you that anymore—or at least, not on campus.”

    “Or anywhere, douche. Why’d you even come if you’re going to be a dick?” I asked.

    With his knuckles, Travis tapped the underside of the brim of my ball cap, almost knocking it off before I grabbed it. “I remember freshman orientation. I can’t believe it’s been a year. That’s fucking weird.” Pulling a lighter from his pocket, he lit a cigarette and blew out a puff of gray smoke.

    A couple of girls hovering nearby swooned, and I tried not to vomit in my mouth.

    “You’re fucking weird. Thanks for showing me where to go. Now, get outta here.”

    “Hey, Travis,” a girl said from the end of the sidewalk.

    Travis nodded at her and then elbowed me, hard. “Later, cousin. While you’re listening to boring shit, I’m going to be balls-deep in that brunette.”

    Travis greeted the girl, whoever she was. I had seen her in a few campus basements the year before when I came with Travis to his fights at The Circle, but I didn’t know her name. I could watch her interact with Travis and learn everything I needed to know. She was already conquered.

    Travis’s weekly count had slowed down a little since his own freshman year but not by much. He hadn’t said it out loud, but I could tell he was bored with the lack of challenge from the coeds. I was just looking forward to meeting a girl he hadn’t bent over our couch.

    The heavy door needed more than just a tug, and then I stepped inside, feeling the instant relief of air-conditioning. Rectangular tables pushed together, end over end, made five lines, separated strategically in areas for flow and access to the food line and salad bar. One lone circular table stood in a corner, and there sat the blonde with her friend and a flamboyant fellow with a bleach-blond faux hawk that seemed to have slammed into a wall at his hairline.

    Darius Washington was sitting at the end of the line of tables, sufficiently close to the round table, so I waited for him to see me. Once he looked over, he waved like I’d hoped, and I joined him, pretty stoked that I was less than ten feet from the blonde. I didn’t look back. Travis was an arrogant ass more often than not, but being around him meant free lessons on getting a girl’s attention.

    Lesson number one: Chase, but don’t run.

    Darius waved to the people seated at the round table.

    I nodded at him. “Do you know them?”

    He shook his head. “Just Finch. I met him yesterday when I moved into the dorms. He’s hilarious.”

    “What about the girls?”

    “No, but they’re hot. Both of them.”

    “I need an introduction with the blonde.”

    “Finch seems to be friends with her. They’ve been talking since they sat down. I’ll see what I can do.”

    I laid a firm hand on his shoulder, peeking back. She met my eyes, smiled, and looked away.

    Be cool, Shep. Don’t blow it.

    Waiting for something as extremely boring as orientation to be over was made even worse by the anticipation of meeting that girl. Once in a while, I could hear her giggle. I promised myself I wouldn’t look back, but I repeatedly failed. She was gorgeous with huge green eyes and wavy long hair, like she’d just been in the ocean and let it air-dry in the sun. The harder I listened for her voice, the more ridiculous I felt, but there was something about her, even since that first glance, that had me planning ways to impress her or to make her laugh. I’d do anything to get her attention, even for five minutes.

    Once we were given our packets, and the campus layout, meal plans, and rules were explained ad nauseam, the Dean of Students, Mr. Johnson, dismissed us.

    “Wait till we’re outside,” I said.

    Darius nodded. “Don’t worry. I got you. Just like the old days.”

    “In the old days, we chased high school girls. She is definitely not a high school girl. Probably not even when she was in high school,” I said, following Darius out. “She’s confident. She looks experienced, too.”

    “Nah, man. She looks like a good girl to me.”

    “Not that kind of experienced,” I snarled.

    Darius chuckled. “Calm down. You haven’t even met her. You need to be careful. Remember Anya? You got all tangled up with her, and we thought you were going to die.”

    “Hey, fucker,” Travis said from under a shady tree, about a hundred yards from the entrance. He blew out a last puff of smoke and pinched off the cherry, mashing it into the ground with his boot. He had the satisfied smile of a man post-orgasm.

    “How?” I said in disbelief.

    “Her dorm room is over there,” he said, nodding his head toward Morgan Hall.

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