Authors: Kristen Kehoe
Tags: #Romance, #Love, #New Adult, #College, #changing POV
I nod. “I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school—not as many as my mom thought. Just a few real ones. We did all of our internships and exchanges together—seeing the world in the way our parents approved of while getting away from them for a while. But when I came here, even those friends seemed to disappear.” It’s been weeks since some of them left for the East Coast or Europe—and we haven’t spoken, not even the casual comment on Instagram. “Not a lot of people from my school stay in California. Or even on the West Coast.”
“Why did you?”
Why did I? “Because I was too scared to leave.”
I wish it wasn’t true, but if I’m going to keep making those steps, without the crazy antics of last night, it’s time to admit why I’m starting school in a place very different than the one I imagined. I wasn’t brave enough to tell my parents
—I never have been. Even last night: I was bold enough to throw dinner in my brother’s lap, but I still walked away rather than facing the consequences right then and there.
“Well, I left. Shit’s still hard when you come back.”
The crowd cheers when one of the skaters does another complicated-looking turn, holding onto his board. Nala doesn’t cheer. In fact, she looks purposefully unaffected. She turns to me. “Ever eaten out of a food truck?”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“Well, then, get out your list, Red. You’re in for a treat.”
“As long as there are carbs. I’m having an affair.”
Her laugh is loud and free when she throws her arm around my shoulders, rising on her toes slightly, ignoring the heads turning in our direction. “I’m glad to be your roommate, Jordan.”
My own smile breaks. “Me, too.”
Growing up, I lived in six different houses. My mother isn’t a bad person—just a needy one. My dad died when I was young—some sort of open water free-dive accident that resulted in his drowning.
The police came to the house we lived in and broke the news. My mother crumbled. She just fell down and sat there. Since then, she’s gotten up, but only to latch onto whoever is available—me, or one of her many husbands.
There have been four husbands and countless boyfriends since my father’s death. With each one came a new home, a new location, a new Cheri Novak-Williams-Santos-Butler-Jacques. The only one she ever keeps is Novak. Somehow, this lets me know that if he had lived, my mother would still be married to my father.
Almost two years ago, on my twenty-first birthday, I received a small inheritance that was awarded to me from an account my father set up. With it, I bought what I’d never had: a home.
It rests in South Mission on the bay side. A glorified shack, it cost me all of my inheritance and a good portion of what I’ve made since in renovations—but it’s mine. Every day I wake up and look out the glass-fronted wall to the ocean, I remind myself the bed I’m sleeping in is mine—no one can kick me out.
“Why’d you take out all the walls?”
Malcolm flops down in the chair next to mine on the concrete slab that sits in lieu of a deck outside my back slider. It fades straight into the sand which leads to the beach. His house is a few over, another shack Hunter helped flip and renovate from crack-house to efficient beach-bungalow. It’s twelve hundred square feet—a hundred larger than mine. Where Malcolm’s place is closed in, trees separating him and his house from the neighbors, my backyard is open, flowing straight from home to home. Even though I don’t spend a lot of time talking, I need to see people, life, faces, to feel their energy.
“Floor plan flows better without separate spaces. I needed a work space, and I needed a bedroom. I didn’t want to feel closed in for either—and I want to see the outside wherever I am.”
“So you fuck and photograph in the same place? Kinky.”
I shake my head, despite my smirk. Of the three of us—me, Hunter, and Mal—Malcolm is the most abrasive. He says what he’s thinking and he doesn’t give two shits if it’s offensive. Which it is, almost every time he speaks.
“Where you headed to first when you take off next month?”
He sips his beer and leans back, kicking his long legs out and crossing them at the ankles. At almost six-foot-two, he’s large for a skater. His black hair is shaggy, not long like mine, but definitely unkempt. Every time I see him his arms seem to sport just a little more ink—all black and gray, no color.
“Back to L.A. for a few sponsorship things. With the Games over for a bit, it’s about training, entering some competitions, trying out new tricks, and being seen.”
“With anyone in particular?” I ask, not because I care, but because I want to know if he saw Nala there today. His hesitation tells me it’s a
My lips quirk. “No.”
“Screw you, Brooklyn.” There’s heat in the words—there always is. He leans forward, his elbows braced on his knees after he sets his beer down between his feet. “Did you talk to her?”
“What do you think?”
Hunter comes through the side gate to the backyard and I nod at him. He’s as light as Mal and I are dark. Green eyes, buzzed bronze hair, skin glowing with a golden tan and unmarred by visible ink on his arms and legs. Before easing down into the remaining chair, he trades the six-pack in his hand for a cold beer from the cooler near the sliding glass door. Stretching his legs out, he crosses his flip-flop clad feet at the ankle and leans back, in the exact position Malcolm was only moments ago.
Mal barely acknowledges him. “Three grand. Final offer.”
I lean forward; now we’re eye level. Crazy bastard—I may only be two and half inches taller, but I have at least thirty pounds on him. Where I’m large and bulky in the chest and shoulders, he’s solid—lean and cut so hard his muscles appear chiseled at times. We called it
in high school—the kind a guy is born with, which is why when he fronts like he’ll fight me, I know he isn’t bluffing.
“Tell me why you want it.”
His jaw clenches in time with his fists. Hunter tenses, watching, but not moving. I stay where I am, in Mal’s face.
There is a small twitch in his eye, an involuntary muscle spasm from controlling himself when that’s usually the last thing he does. I wait, wondering if he’ll break. He doesn’t. Instead, he flips me off and rises to walk inside, slamming the glass slider shut behind him.
Hunter lets out a silent breath and drinks deep. “Dangerous,” he mutters, and I shrug. Maybe, but there is one thing I know: until he can tell me why he wants that picture, I’m not selling it to him. Because I’m loyal, I also won’t sell it to someone else.
The photograph in question is one of Nala in the early morning. Her surfboard is over her head, her eyes on the waves, her crazy mass of hair blowing behind her. Profile, neck, shoulders, arms, hands—all on display. I faded out the background to a hazy white. The ocean is filtered, a grainy, exotic, texturized blue that’s unreal, almost comic like. But Nala and her board are natural—no filter, no texture, no lighting manipulation. The gold of her skin, the overcast sky that shed a perfect light on her that morning, the natural wood of her board, the supple lines of her jaw, her shoulders—all real and raw.
I took it almost two years ago, right when she was getting ready to graduate high school, a chance meeting on PB when she was out surfing and I was out wandering with my camera. Malcolm saw the photo before I ever did anything with it, and offered to pay me five hundred dollars for the untouched, unedited picture. I denied him. When he saw the final photograph, those bold colors so fake, juxtaposed next to her quiet beauty, he offered me double that. I denied him again, just like I’ve denied him every time he’s asked since.
He’s not ready for what owning that photo will do to him. I don’t care if it’s my place or not to decide this—he didn’t see Nala when he walked away from her. I did. She’s made the conscious effort not to see him in the years since he hurt her and she let him; I won’t betray her by selling this painting without her knowledge, and I won’t let him purchase it without answering my question.
I hear a knock. Just as I open the slider and step inside, Malcolm opens the front door. It should be comical to see the way his body stills and his face goes blank. Probably would be, but Nala’s in front of him, her face slightly less shocked, but not much. She knew he was here, and still, this face-to-face meeting was as hard on her as it was him.
This is how I know love fucks with a person. Malcolm is never unsure, never confused, never surprised. But, he’s all three right now, staring at the one he walked away from. He had his reasons, but they don’t seem to matter almost five years later when she’s right here, like this.
To her credit, Nala pulls herself together before he does, an arrogant tilt of her brow the only thing registering on her face when she speaks. “Malcolm. Alive even after that brutal loss in the Games a few months ago. Good for you.” She jerks a thumb behind her. “This is my roommate, Jordan.” And then she slips by him, leaving Jordan on the front stoop alone.
“Beer,” Nala says, heading my way.
I point out back. “Cooler.”
She buzzes past me, and I watch Jordan hold her hand out to Malcolm, who is still standing like an asshole in the doorway, mute and unmoving. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Nala invited me to a friend’s house with her for drinks on the beach as a way to make up for this morning.
“It will be fun. And you can cross another experience off your list—maybe number eight:
stop overthinking things
She had a point.
I drove this time, citing my reason as a desire to learn the highways and streets of San Diego. Really, I just wanted to get here in one piece. Nala drives a jeep—there are no doors or roof, and she changes lanes like she’s racing. On the busy highways, it’s beyond terrifying. No amount of self-discovery will get me back into her death trap when I have a choice.
“Confession time,” she says. I turn off the ignition and angle myself to look at the adorable beach bungalow we’re parked outside of.
“You’re a secret agent working for my mother. This is actually an intervention about my new, but very real, addiction to bread, not a party.”
“You’re funny, Red. How come I’m just learning this?”
“Don’t beat yourself up. It’s been three days. I’ve had eighteen years and I’m just figuring it out.”
She points at me. “There it is again, which makes me believe this might not be as bad as I was thinking.”
“Afraid I’ll embarrass you in front of your friends?” I ask.
Truth? I’m a little afraid I will, as well. Rich people looking for meaningless chitchat, waiting for a time to brag about themselves and their offspring? I’ve got all the standard lines down pat. Regular people talking about regular things? Well, it’s been a long time since I was in a room full of
“The other way around, actually. This is Brooklyn’s house. He asked me to come over—and to bring you with me.”
“Is this some sort of Hannibal Lecter interest he has in me?”
Nala laughs and pats my hand before opening her door.
“I’m serious,” I say as I get out of my side. “This feels oddly Charles Manson—befriending a girl and bringing her to the lair.”
She steps inside a wrought-iron gate to a miniscule courtyard that frames a bold blue door. “Now you’re mixing your metaphors.” She knocks. “One’s a cannibal, the other is a hippie murderer. And neither applies here. Brooks is an artist—he’s lacking social skills, not sanity.”
I’m stopped from asking another question when the door is pulled open. It takes a second, but I recognize the guy on the other side as one of the two skaters from today—the larger one. Nala’s frozen form tells me all I need to know about their relationship.
Her shoulders are tense, her stance almost hostile; the man filling the doorway looks anything but. Heartbroken. Desperate. Needy.
He’s a little over average height, and he’s got the physique of a fighter—broad shoulders, muscles apparent everywhere, no excess flesh to be found. His wavy black hair is long enough to brush his ears and skim over his brow. His shirt is stretched well across his chest, and leaving his tattooed arms bare, the muscles of his forearms rippling and moving as he grips the door. Blue eyes burn out of sun-bronzed skin, latching onto Nala.
When he says her name, it’s a question, as if he simply cannot believe she’s in front of him. And then Nala transforms; her shoulders loosen, her breathing comes back, and she has a pithy comment ready.
“Malcolm. Alive even after that brutal loss in the Games a few months ago. Good for you. This is my roommate, Jordan.”
Nala is gone before Malcolm recovers. Deciding it’s best to treat this situation like I have every other awkward social moment where someone’s pretending his or her son or daughter or husband or wife is not really on trial for illegal possession, embezzlement, or something else, I put on a polite smile and hold out my hand to introduce myself.
Malcolm stares at my hand a minute, assessing what just happened. And then he laughs—one quick burst he punctuates by shoving his hand toward me. “Fucking girl. She never changes. Malcolm Brady—first place loser.”
“At least you were first somewhere.”
This elicits more laughter. “Maybe you should be my publicist.”
“I’m short on witty comments,” I tell him, and he nods.
“Well, your roommate never is. Even as a kid she had an answer for everything.” His face is starting to darken again. Something inside of me prompts me to make him smile.
“I watched her use her phone to calculate a twenty percent tip on a six-dollar burrito today—I can assure you she most certainly does not have an answer for everything.”
This is rewarded with a laugh—one richer and louder than the first. I feel oddly accomplished.
He steps back and motions me forward.
I walk inside, my eyes immediately going to the open space with white tile floors and bare white walls. There is a narrow hallway which must lead back to kitchen or bathroom. Otherwise, it’s four walls—three white, one all glass facing the ocean, letting the outside in. A bed is thrown against the wall to the left of the door. Some sort of complicated desk takes up almost the entire length of the wall parallel to the bed and door. A tall stool sits at the desk, a large Mac on top of the desk’s massive surface, and numerous paintbrushes and tools hang on the cork wall behind the desk.