Waylon stood outside his dorm room wondering what he’d find once he opened the door. Would Zach be attempting to study like nothing happened? Would he be crying like it was the end of the world? Would he be staring listlessly out the window contemplating what to do next? There was only one way to find out. Sighing he opened the door. Nothing could have prepared him for what awaited him inside.
Zach was tugging on his long blonde hair as he surveyed the pile of things surrounding him and the abundance of empty boxes waiting to be filled. He glanced up as Waylon came inside. “I’m going home,” he announced a flash of anger in his pale blue eyes mixed with a little bit of fear.
Swallowing Waylon managed to choke out a single word “okay.”
Zach sank to the floor like a balloon losing air. His neediness must have been worse than he feared. He expected Waylon to offer some resistance to his going home. This near silent acceptance was more than he could bear. Sniffing he dabbed at his eyes. Reaching for the nearest pile he dropped it haphazardly into a box.
Waylon’s hands curled into fists watching helplessly as the blonde moved frantically around the room filling boxes. He shivered as another image filled his mind. His mother surrounded by empty boxes. His parents had been fighting for days before the fire. No one would tell him what was happening. No one said why they had to move. It was several years after the fire that he found out his Dad had lost his job. The job that paid the house payments. The simple truth had been they had to move because the bank had foreclosed on their house. His Dad must have started the fire because…
Shivering Waylon shook his head to break that line of thought. He walked towards Zach on leaden legs. Squatting down he said “we need to talk.”
Zach sat crossed legged on the floor staring resolutely at the half filled box in front of him. His hands dropped into his lap “about what?” he mumbled.
“About this,” Waylon waved an irritated hand around the room at the boxes “us.”
Shrugging Zach got to his knees “there’s nothing to talk about. I’m going home.” He reached for another pile. Dropping its contents into a nearby box ignoring the pained look in Waylon’s eyes
“Please stop,” the entreaty in Waylon’s tone and the man’s fierce grip around his wrist broke through Zach’s stubborn refusal to discuss anything.
“Alright,” Zach said sitting back pushing the nearest box away from him.
Grabbing Zach’s hand Waylon squeezed hard “I don’t want you to go.”
Zach blinked at the man’s confession “you don’t? Then why didn’t you say so?” He looked around the room “I don’t understand.”
Taking a deep breath Waylon looked down at the hand he clasped in his. Clearing his throat “most of my life I kept people at a distance. I never wanted anyone to get too close. I didn’t want to get hurt again.”
Zach moved closer watching the melancholy expression in Waylon’s eyes. It never occurred to him that Waylon might understand that need for self-preservation. “I’m sorry,” he murmured softly.
Nodding Waylon pulled the blonde close “I used to be so carefree and happy. I remember being able to laugh at just about anything.”
Zach nestled into him listening to his voice. Aching to help as well as find comfort knowing this man understood how a single event could alter everything in your life for years to come. He felt Waylon’s arms tighten around him as he focused on his voice and what he was sharing with him.
“I don’t know why he did it. I thought he loved us,” Waylon’s voice sounded strangled as his words ended in a plaintive cry “he set fire to the house. Got up in the middle of the night when we were all asleep. He wanted us all to die…”
Zach reached up stroking his face feeling the wetness from Waylon’s tears. There were no words that could comfort that sort of pain, that heartbreak and betrayal. Zach didn’t even try. Just held him while that nightmarish night repeated itself in Waylon’s mind.
“I don’t know why I woke up” Waylon said staring as if he could see the flames in front of him “maybe it was my sister screaming for me to help her.” He held his hands up crying “I tried to get to her but the fire was too hot. I barely had enough time to scramble out of my window before my room was engulfed in flames.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Zach assured him “you did the best you could.”
“I should have been able to save her,” Waylon clung to that thought “she was screaming for me. Begging me to help her and I couldn’t.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Zach repeated stroking his face. He held Waylon’s hand up inspecting it. The palms were rough, stretched and pinched in areas like it was too small for the hand it covered. Old scars covered both hands. “You tried to get to her, didn’t you?” he asked watching Waylon silently nod “the fire was already outside your door. You burned your hands trying to get your door open. You tried to save your sister but you couldn’t.”
Staring at his hands as if he hadn’t seen them before Waylon mumbled “it took months for them to heal. At the time I couldn’t remember how I had burned them.” He took a deep breath “I thought I just ran. Ignored her screams to save myself.”
“You wouldn’t do that” Zach said holding him close “the way you protected me I know you’d never run away no matter how scared you might be.”
Nuzzling Zach’s neck Waylon entreated “please don’t leave me too.”
Gathering her things Hannah stomped from the room chin held high feeling as if every eye was watching her.
“Hey I’m still waiting,” Donovan said next to her.
“Go away,” she demanded without turning to look at him.
“Is that anyway to talk to the guy who just sat through the longest and dullest class ever?” he asked in mock seriousness.
“I didn’t ask you to do that,” she protested without looking at him.
“Does that mean I’m not forgiven?” he asked trying to keep his voice serious.
“Leave me alone,” she screamed tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. A strong arm caught her before she fell face first on the cement.
“How about now?” Donovan asked kneeling beside her. Holding his hand out to help her up he said “after all, I did just save you from face planting in front of all these lovely people.”
Looking around at the gawking students she tried not to imagine what she must have looked like a few moments before. “Alright if it means that much to you,” she snatched her hand away from him as she stood “you’re forgiven.”
“See it wasn’t that hard to say now was it?” he teased.
She gave him a sour look “it’s worse than you can imagine.” Bending she started to gather a few things that went flying when she almost fell.
Donovan watched her a moment before bending to help her “see I can be a nice guy.” He handed her a brush and a mini mirror with a small crack in it.
“I suppose,” she grumbled not in the mood to debate with him anymore.
“The least you could say is thank you,” he pointed out when he was done.
Stifling a wordless scream she felt building up inside her she gave him a grimace. “Thank you kind sir,” she curtsied mocking him.
“You were a bit of a tease,” his grin widening “I knew there was a reason why I liked you.” He easily kept pace with her when she turned and stormed off without replying.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” she demanded “I forgave you. Isn’t that enough?”
“Yes you did,” he agreed sounding rather pleased with himself.
“Then why won’t you go away?” she asked stopping to glare at him “you got what you wanted.”
He shook his head “I got half of what I wanted.”
“Half?” she asked her eyebrows arching in surprise.
“You said you liked me” he gave her a smirk “I’m waiting for my kiss.”
Pushing against him she shook her head “you’ll be waiting forever before you get that kiss.”
“No” he said catching her hand twirling her towards him “I think I’ll have that kiss now.” He leaned forward inhaling her intoxicating scent.
“You think you’re something special don’t you?” she asked leaning as far away as she could from him.
“Yes I am,” came his response with a devilish grin “that’s why you like me so much.”
Slapping his upper arm she protested “I do not like you. That attitude is why I will never like you.”
“I think the lady does protest too much” he smirked leaning in closer to her.
She resisted as long as she could before she let her mind wander to the way his lips would feel on hers. Would it be as magnetic as the first time? Her lips parted as she inhaled. Everything about this cocky self-assured red-head rubbed her the wrong way. Everything in her told her to run while she still could.
A loud jarring air horn blasted nearby as some students gathered to protest some perceived injustice. It was enough to jolt both of them back to reality. She used the moment to escape his embrace much to their combined regret. Shivering a little she requested “tell me something real. Tell me something true.”
He stared at her a moment before diverting his gaze towards his feet. His perpetual smirk gone. Replaced with a serious expression not often seen on his face. “I’ll do anything for the people I care about. I don’t mean the usual I’ll be there when times are tough. I’ll be the guy hunting down the people who hurt you.” Sighing he looked down at her “when I was little my mom lost our house to the bank. I took it upon myself to find out how. I didn’t know what I was doing at first but the more I dug the more I found. The bank was doing some shady things. Through the skills I acquired I was able to help several families from experiencing the same thing that happened to me and my mom. I like to think of myself as sort of a modern-day Robin Hood.”
“Criminal” he finished for her with a nod “I told you that to highlight the lengths I would go to for the people I care about. My mom wants me to stop. She hopes I’ll learn another skill.” He looked down into Hannah’s green eyes “you just might be what I need to change my wicked ways.” He reached over and took a strand of her long blonde hair twirling it around his fingers.
Vincent sat in the commons area feet tapping on the floor. He glanced at the time. She should be here any minute. He fingered the notebook wondering what he was going to say. Should he tell her Ryan hadn’t even wanted her notebook? Should he tell her he hadn’t had a chance to look at her notes yet? Should he tell her something came up and he needed an extension? He liked that option the best. It meant she’d have to come back again. Maybe he’d actually be able to ask her out like he wanted to earlier.
His thoughts scattered when the front door opened and a girl’s musical laughter filled the room. His heart leaped into his throat cutting off his air. She was here. Whatever he was going to say was lost to the sheer giddiness of being in her presence.
“Oh hi Vinny” she said entering the room “where’s Ryan?” she asked a look of disappointment crossing her face.
“About that,” Vincent said standing up scratching his head “Ryan didn’t ask me to get your notebook from today. I um….”
Snatching her notebook from Vincent’s hand she snapped “then why’d you take it? I could have used it to study.”
“I’m sorry” he stammered trying to get more words to come out before she left. “Wait” he cried as he watched in horror as she reached the outside door.
She took a deep breath before turning back to him “what now?” she demanded her dark eyes flashing with hostility.
“You didn’t exactly ask me why I was there this morning” he said watching as her chin tilted up in thought “you just assumed I was there to help Ryan out.”
Shrugging as some of her anger drained away “why else would you be there then?”
“Maybe I was there to see you,” he blurted stunning both of them.
Her eyes widened “why would you want to see me?”
Walking towards Trinity he leaned on the wall with a smirk on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes “I wanted to ask you out. I’ve wanted to since the dance.”
“Oh,” she looked away then down at the notebook in her hands “the dance was fun…”
“It was,” Vincent agreed “we could have even more fun if we go on a date.” His voice displayed his eagerness at the prospect. “What do you say? One date that’s all I ask.”
She laid a gentle hand on his arm “Vinny you’re a nice guy. As a rule I don’t date nice guys.” She watched as disappointment replaced the twinkle in his eyes.
“But you’d date Ryan,” he could hear the bitterness in his own voice “he’s a nice guy. One of the best.”
Shrugging “yeah I would. He’s emotionally unavailable to. Not the type to fall in love with me.”
“Is that why you won’t go on a date with me?” Vincent asked “you’re afraid I’ll fall in love with you” he couldn’t keep the incredulity from entering his voice.
“Basically yes,” she nodded a small smile upon her lips “I don’t do relationships. I like to have fun. No strings attached. Casual.”
“I can do casual,” Vincent assured her.
“For how long?” she asked “I don’t want to hurt you. That’s what’s going to happen if we go down this road.”
“It’s one date,” he insisted “it’s not like I’m asking you to marry me.”
Without saying a word she walked towards the door. Paused turning to Vincent “fine you win. One date.”
“You won’t regret it” he smiled dazzling her with his pearly whites.
“I better not,” she smiled back at him already feeling it was a mistake “just remember what I said. I don’t do relationships.”
“I’ll remember,” Vincent assured her with the easy confidence of a guy who didn’t know he was standing in quicksand.