Authors: Leanne Davis
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m really sorry for almost hitting you. Are you from around here?”
“Sure. Close by that is.” He lived twenty miles from here. He didn’t often do business in his own neighborhood. His neighborhood was where the harder drugs were sold, and hence lots of cops patrolled that area. He’d gotten smart a few years back and stopped those completely. Now he mostly dealt with twitchy, scared college shits looking for a little speed to study longer or oxy for the thrill and experiment of it. He rarely carried large amounts on himself and he avoided the same spot more than once a week. There was a reason he’d been working for ten years and never once come on any cops radar. He was a ghost, a figment of the imagination. He dealt only with Quentrell and no one else. No other middle man or handler. That was his deal with Quentrell and since he paid his tab on time every month, Quentrell let him have the freedom. He had to date been able to stay clear of joining any gang but it had come at a high cost, a fee he paid Quentrell happily.
But it wasn’t often he got looked at with big, innocent eyes and a shy smile of pleasure. She leaned over and picked up a small black case that had knocked from her green army backpack. Not one for frills that was for sure.
He nodded at it. “You here at Peterson?”
“The music case being treated like it contains a precious family heirloom kind of gives you away. What is your drug of choice?”
She wouldn’t catch his phrasing as strange. It made him smirk; it was his favorite thing to say to most college shits. “Flute. I play the flute.”
“Uh huh. Any good?”
“Good enough to be here,” she said raising her gaze to his as if meeting his challenge, then she rolled her eyes, “I know total dork factor. I’ve heard it all. All four years of high school. But how I do it, isn’t.”
He stepped closer just to see what she’d do. She held her spot and her eyes sparked as a small smile tugged on her way too red and puffy lips. Sex lips. That’s what she had. They didn’t match the rest of her tomboy gone homeless look. “What? You make it cool?”
She nodded. “Yeah I make it the coolest. Do you go to Peterson?”
“Uh, I’m around there. Sure. Who isn’t?”
“It seems like anyone under the age of forty I meet goes there. It is a popular place.”
“Why else would anyone be in this town?”
Marsdale, California was no place. It wasn’t a city, it wasn’t the country. It was miles and miles of sprawling suburbia. Around Peterson was the better housing for students and the like. The farther from downtown one got, the worse the neighbors got until you eventually got to the district he was from. As of now, he crashed in the loft of one of the old Warehouses. His building mates were everything from a gang member to a guy he was pretty sure ran guns. He didn’t know, didn’t ask and they did the same. It wasn’t the kind of place to make eye contact with anyone. Most carried guns. Not Derek. He avoided guns as a rule. Something he never broke, no matter how harry the situation became. Guns led to shooting. Guns led to jail and death. He knew what guns did and he figured he was better off being fast on his feet than ever sticking around for a fight. He wasn’t too proud to run from anything or anyone. No pride was worth sticking his neck out for. Run. That was his secret to this life.
“It’s a lovely town. Why would you say that?” Her mouth puckered and her eyes frowned at him surprised. He should show her his side of the town and she’d see just how unlovely it was. But he supposed she was from some nice family and stayed on campus and ran around studying and partying and pretending to be a free, independent important adult. Sure, it might seem like a lovely place then. It had views of far off mountains, and this park for example had huge mature trees that shaded the green grass. All so picturesque and ideal. All such a front for the drugs and abuse and guns and violence that percolated just down the road.
“Too many years here.”
She tilted her head. “You can’t be older than me.”
He jammed his hands in his pockets, uncomfortable with her scrutiny. He resisted the urge to stand up straighter. His own jeans were loose and bagged over his Converse tennis shoes. He wore nondescript colors with a gray hoodie that shielded his dark hair and eyes. His mother was from Mexico. His father was white. His skin was a soft chocolate color. It was the only giveaway about dealing in this area. It was ninety percent white at this end of town. Around Peterson.
“Depends, how old are you?”
“Yeah? Me too,” he agreed, but his eighteen and hers were probably comparing a forty year old to a four year old. Her sweet, innocence that nearly shined out of her eyes were not the hardened one’s of Hallie Cupper who too, was eighteen and had been turning tricks off and on since they were fifteen. Somehow he knew Olivia whoever had never really seen the life Derek had.
Her eyes lit up. She wasn’t subtle with whatever crossed her mind. He wasn’t used to it. Most anyone he knew hid everything, and especially emotions. Emotions went to wither and die where he was from. She seemed to realize they were staring at each other and she dropped her face down a few inches. It was the expressive to shy that caught his attention.
“Well, I was on my way to practice with a few friends. I’d better get there before they start missing me.”
She leaned over and picked up her bike and helmet. She strapped the helmet on and raised her leg over the bike’s bar and stood there. She tugged her back pack up tighter. The instrument stuck out of the top. “Well, maybe I’ll see you around campus sometime, Derek.”
He held two fingers up to his forehead in a casual salute, “Maybe, Olivia.”
She smiled again those red lips stretching over perfect, white teeth. She had a wide, mobile smile that ended in the crinkle of her eyes. Beautiful girl who didn’t do one thing to enhance it. It was an interesting juxtapose.
He watched her pedal off. He was pretty sure he’d never gawked after a chick pedaling away on a bike wearing her safe little helmet and dude-like pants. She did, however, make him smile in amusement, something he rarely did when on this side of town.
He glanced at his phone. Hell, he was supposed to meet Carter ten minutes ago. He flipped around and loped off towards his best client.
Olivia Lindstrom settled her book bag at her feet as she pulled out an old fashioned spiral notebook and pen. Her brain couldn’t seem to remember anything unless she physically wrote it out. So she took all her class notes the old fashioned way. Each word scrawled in her flowing, neat cursive. The small table to write on was only wide enough for her paper and an elbow. It was a cavernous lecture hall. Peterson was a large university who also had a general population beyond their acclaimed music program. Her first class of the day was her nine o’clock English class, which was called The Research Paper, and included a hella long research paper that would be the only determination for the final grade. She didn’t like those odds and was determined to make class every day and make sure she understood it and didn’t miss anything.
The lecture hall was only half full, probably due to the early time. She’d always rose early and in a good mood, so she decided to get the early classes and that usually meant less students. Glancing around she tapped her pen on her notebook with a soft thunk.
She sat up straight when she glanced to her left and saw Derek standing in the doorway glancing around. Her heart tripped and increased as her blood flowed warmer in her. She had hoped she would see him again, and had spent days regretting not setting something up, or figuring out if they had any classes together… or something. But that would have been so weird.
But he was so hot. He made her blush just to think about. He had these eyes… well they made a girl’s heart simply congeal when he stared at you. They were dark as coffee and deeper. Like his soul was talking to you in dark, brooding want. He seemed to be scanning the crowd looking for someone. She hid her face down as his head swiveled her way.
God, she was being ridiculous. She wasn’t fifteen anymore. She should be able to make eye contact with a cute guy. A guy who had sparked her interest. A guy who was there, now, and she’d thought about for four days with wincing displeasure with how stupid she had acted. She hit a tree right in front of him.
Still, his scowl was dark. The hat was low over his forehead and again he wore nondescript clothes, actually almost the same as her. She glanced down. Her dark cargo pants and white tee, were terrible. She couldn’t seem to make herself care about clothes. Her mother was the classiest epitome of fashion, and yet not a stitch of it had rubbed off on Olivia. She just didn’t care. Life was so short and busy and exciting, why spend hours in front of a damn mirror? She just didn’t get the urge, not at all.
But now? He’d probably cringe when tomboy she went up to him. But, he’d been so nice to her in the park. His gaze hadn’t cringed at her fashion sense.
She got up and quickly went to the end of the row of seats so she could circle around the back of the auditorium without Derek noticing her approach. Her hands started to grown clammy. She stopped dead when another guy joined him. They bent their heads together and started talking intently as they stepped out the door. Her heart leapt. No! This might be her last chance to see him again. The professor had just entered and was started with a ‘good morning.’
But she wasn’t in high school anymore. No one could make her stay. No one even cared if she did. Rushing after Derek, in one of the only spontaneous actions she could remember taking she sprinted after the guys. They were stopped outside the hallway, near a closed door discussing something intently. They slapped hands together in some kind of strange guy-like handshake, and then they nodded and turned from each other and started in opposite directions. The kid walked back into her class. Derek was going the other way. Spurred forward by something, she called after him, “Derek! Wait!”
He froze and spun around quickly with a dark scowl on his face. She paused, her smile of hello, slowly fading. He then seemed to mentally shake himself. His face eased into a smile and the hard distrustful look left his eyes as they scanned over her. She dearly wished she’d had even an ounce of girlie inclination. “Hey. Are you in this class?”
Did she sound too hopeful? She might have. She might sound a little too desperately perky he might be in her class.
“Uh… yeah. Sure. Just forget my… stuff. Be right there.”
“Oh. That’s cool. I mean, I am too. Dreading the paper, but I wanted to get it out of the way.”
“Yeah, me too. So… I’ll see you in there?”
He seemed impatient, like he had to go. She nodded and twisted her hands before her. “I’m in the third row back. There are lots of empty seats if you…”
His expression softened again and he seemed to shake his head for some reason. “Third row. Okay, Olivia. I’ll be right in.”
She smiled and turned quickly and nearly ran back to her seat, cowering down and mentally doing a high five. She had not only approached him, spoken almost coherently, but managed to convince him to come sit near her. And he did. Five minutes later he came in. He didn’t carry any kind of backpack, but had a notebook like hers. She smiled when he sat directly behind her. Her entire body went rigid and she was useless the rest of the lecture. She could picture Derek’s gaze on her. Which she highly doubted it was. But she wanted it to be. But that want also made her completely self-conscious. She turned in her seat just a little so it looked like she was crossing her legs when really she was checking to see what he was doing. He noticed and lifted the side of his mouth and tilted his head as if to say “hey” to her. She could feel the burn of her flush, but she smiled too.
She wrote what the professor said but none of it entered her conscious brain. She’d have to study it all out of the book. Boring. She was a better auditory listener, than reading and studying. That’s why she was so conscientious about going to class. She always had been. But she still planned to be. It made no sense to her to pay all this money for the privilege of higher education and then skip out on it. Yet, she swore every other classmate around here gushed on and on how great it was not to study or be accountable to classes. Huh? Then what exactly where they there for? From what she could see when she glanced back at Derek every few minutes or so he seemed to be listening and taking notes as well. The hour ended. Her blood started warming again in anticipation. Should she try to talk to him again? Or just play it cool and give him a friendly smile?
He was exiting the row to the right, she did so too, a few steps behind him, so she could follow his lead. Wait, what was this? He stopped and looked back at her. He was specifically looking for her. Her heart tripped and she had to instruct her feet not to speed forward to see him. He’d figure out she was delighted he was waiting for her.
He smiled when she entered the stairway. They had to wait off to the side to let other students filter past. Finally they could enter it and head towards the double door entrance together.
“I think I grew a few gray hairs while he talked. Jesus, what an airbag.”
She smiled and pretended to laugh, even though she didn’t totally agree. Professor Donnelson was extremely nice. He put a lot of work into everything he presented and often interacted with the class, where so many professors barely even glanced up or seemed to care they were supposed to be teaching them anything. Many treated the underclassmen as if they were a big, giant stepping stone to get onto the stuff that mattered. Donnelson seemed interested in the success of even the freshman.
“Yeah. Yeah, he is,” she muttered annoyed with herself for not sticking up for the professor she liked. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like Donnelson would ever know she was bad mouthing him. But still, she didn’t like pretending.
But then… Derek smiled. It started slow and spread into his cheeks where a dimple indented his cheek and his eyes, such dark eyes absorbed all the light in the room it felt like. “You just totally blew shit up my ass. You liked him. Your laugh was fake.”