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Authors: marian gard

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BOOK: To See You Again
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"OK," I mumble as the call disconnects.

I roll over toward my window and think about what
Vanessa just said. I curl my legs toward my stomach, like I did as a kid when I
was worried or afraid. I'm not trying to make anyone nuts. I definitely don't
want to hurt Spencer. I look over at the picture of us that I have sitting on
my desk and think back to last year, when we first began dating. We'd had a few
of the same classes, but didn't really start talking until we were assigned a
group project together. He wasn't exactly shy, more like quiet and studious. I
never had to worry about him pulling his weight in the assignment, that's for
sure. While working together, we talked on the phone a few times and flirted a
little bit. He asked me out the day we presented our project to the class. He
was cute, and the awkward way he asked struck me as sweet, so I said yes. Things
progressed pretty quickly and within a few weeks we decided to be exclusive.

I can't really say I've ever had major butterflies
with him, but I don't think you always have to have that to make a good couple.
My parents claim they had been head-over-heels, and their marriage lasted about
two seconds. Spencer and I are comfortable together and I feel like I can
always count on him. My dad isn't exactly Mr. Reliable, and my mother is a total
flake—even
she
would admit that. I couldn't be more opposite, and I
always swore to myself that when I chose the guy for me, he would be someone I
could really depend on. Spencer fits that bill in every way. He's responsible,
driven, polite and he's never late—a huge pet peeve of mine.

His parents are great and have totally welcomed me
into their family. My mother jokingly laments that they have me married to
their son already, but I really like feeling wanted and included, something I
definitely haven't always felt in my own family. His dad even lined up a few
interviews for me in their hometown, which I'm
very
excited about.

The only real conflict we have is Collin. Spencer
doesn't get my friendship with him at all. I've tried to explain that Collin
has really been there for me over the past few years and I'm not going to cut him
out of my life just because I have a boyfriend. I have repeatedly told him that
we've always been just friends, never anything more, but he doesn't buy it. He
tries not to insult me and insists its Collin he doesn't trust. Things came to
a breaking point during first semester this year, however. Spencer got really
upset about it, and even cried a little, which totally freaked me out. While I
refused to end my friendship with Collin, I did agree to cut back on the time I
spent with him, which helped for a while. Then, a little more than halfway through
this semester, Collin got kicked out of his apartment and I let him crash with
me. I thought Spencer was going to combust. The only thing that seems to be
keeping him from totally losing it, is the fact that graduation is right around
the corner and soon it will just be him and me.

There's a part of me that will be relieved to have
the tension between the two men who matter most to me end, but it's also really
hard to imagine not having Collin in my life anymore. I sit up on my bed and
reach for my boots. Strapping them on, I resolve to talk with Collin about
keeping in touch. He's not good about plans, but maybe he'd make an exception,
and we could set some dates to hang out once I move away.

 

 

Collin

 

Raven appears in the living room, also in the bargirl
uniform. Her dark hair is swept up, exposing her long, pale neck. She's gorgeous,
but I swallow this thought. I can't say anything about it.

"Ready to go, babe?" Spencer rises from the couch
and crosses the room to her, where she plants her ruby lips on his cheek in a
light kiss. I want to punch him. Everyone is so hung up on what an asshole I
am, and yet she walks out here looking like
that
and he says nothing?
Douche. Bag. I run a hand through my hair and wonder how I'm going to tolerate
this night, especially without being able to seek oblivion in a bottle. I can't
get drunk. For me, intoxication means seeking out the bimbos, and I'm not going
to let Raven down. Before she follows Spencer out the door, she squeezes my arm
and whispers she's glad I'm going. Her fingertips graze my knuckles as she
releases me. The skin-to-skin contact, combined with her approval, is almost
more than I can take. It's a damn good thing I don't say much as it is, because
her touch triggers all the moisture in my mouth to evaporate instantly. I
manage a half smile, one that I hope masks my accelerated heartbeat.
Jesus,
Raven.

Chapter 2

 

Raven

 

There are seven of us packed into a long table at
Sheldon House, my favorite campus bar. It's loaded with dark wood, historic
signs and memorabilia from our school. Most nights the music is low, matching
the lighting, and it's a great place for a beer and conversation. On a Saturday
night, however, loud music blares and the place is practically busting at the
seams. We were lucky to get our table and we plan on hanging on to it.

Vanessa is sitting next to her relatively new beau,
Ryan, who happens to be Spencer's roommate. It took me forever to set them up,
but then she finally agreed to meet him and voila! I'm a hookup genius. I like
the two of them together. He's sweet to her; and for once, she seems relatively
content. She's been a serial dater all of college, and claims she was in high
school too. She hasn't been with Ryan all that long, but I think he's already
holding the record for her longest relationship. I about fell off my chair when
she referred to him as her boyfriend. That was a definite first. He's brought out
a new side of her, too. She's not usually the touchy-feely type, but when the
two of them are together, she can get downright mushy. It's fun to see her
happy.

Before Spencer, Vanessa had a completely different
take on Collin than Tabby. She thinks he is, and I quote, "smokin' hot," and
used to pressure me all the time to "just
do
him already!" When I was
single she insisted that Collin and I should give friends with benefits a go.
My counterargument? That arrangement is a prelude to one of three possible
outcomes. 1) Girl falls in love. Guy doesn't. Broken heart ensues. 2) The exact
reverse of number one, except for the broken heart part or 3) The sex doesn't
go well—no one views it as a
benefit.
The conclusion to all of these
scenarios: friendship ruined. Not to mention the small, but impossible to
ignore, detail that I highly doubt Collin is interested. From what I've
gathered from his hook-ups, I'm not his type, and he has sure as hell never had
a girlfriend the entire time I've known him. I think he told me once that he
‘didn't believe in relationships'. I have no clue what the hell he meant by
that, but I'm pretty confident it wasn't a pickup line.

Spencer is sitting next to me with a possessive
hand resting on my knee. He always gets like this around Collin. It's so
annoying. Of course, Collin isn't much better. He loves to needle and agitate
Spencer and then shoot me innocent looks like he has no idea why Spencer is
seething.

In an act of goodwill, Collin bought everyone the
first round of drinks tonight. While he was ordering at the bar, I couldn't
help but notice these two girls who were clearly trying to get his attention.
The less he looked their way, the harder they tried, until one of them was
basically rubbing up against him.

While Collin's been dubbed a womanizer, I don't
exactly see it that way...it's more like…I don't know…like he gives in? Sometimes
I think being Collin must just be really weird. I mean, what would any guy do
with all that attention? Girls ogle him wherever we go. It doesn't matter if
it's an early morning class, or closing time at the bar, Collin is always on the
receiving end of some girl's sexual stare-down. I've witnessed chicks
practically throw themselves at him and usually, unless he's drunk, he acts
like he's oblivious. When he's loaded however, it is a totally different story;
he definitely responds to their attention. I don't like to be around him when
he's like that. It's as though he's a total stranger. He gets this weird smile
on his face that's like a distorted replica of his
real
smile and acts
all flirtatious. We haven't talked about it much, but the one time we did, he
defended himself by saying he'd never do anything with a girl unless he was
sure she was totally OK with it. Translation: It's mutual. Next topic, please.
It wasn't the heart to heart I'd been seeking, but I had good reason to believe
he was telling me the truth.

Not long after Collin and I became friends, I went
out on a date with a guy who forced himself on me. By some miracle, I was able
to escape before things got really bad, but it was still one of the most
terrifying encounters of my life. I don't recall everything I did to get out of
his car, but I do remember that the moment my foot hit the pavement, I broke into
a run, and didn't even take a second to look back. Frenzied and disoriented, I
just headed in what I thought to be the general direction of the main campus
and dorms. I must've been turned around though, because I ended up in the
business district. Everything was closed for the day. The entire street felt dark,
quiet and vacant, adding to my panic. I rounded a corner, still running, when I
practically crashed into Collin. He was crossing the street after finishing his
shift at the copy shop. If I'd been even a moment earlier, or later, I would've
missed him completely. At first he seemed a little shocked and confused. I
wasn't dressed for a late-evening run, and jogging in that area didn't make any
sense anyway. I did my best to play off my weird behavior and demeanor as a
joke, but inside I had a sickening cocktail of fear, shame and embarrassment
churning within me, and felt moments away from losing it. He wasn't fooled
though, and seemed instantly aware that I was far from okay. He didn't push for
an explanation, but insisted on walking me home.

When we reached my room, I didn't want to be alone,
so I asked him to stay until my roommate got there. He sat down next to me and
whispered, "I'll stay here as long as you want, and you don't have to tell me
anything, but I need you to understand one thing." He waited for me to look up
at him, and when I did, he said with conviction, "You're safe now, OK? I'm not
going to let anyone hurt you." Even as overwhelmed with fear as I was, I knew
he was telling me the truth. I could feel it. His comforting words and presence
allowed me to break down and explained what was wrong. I told Collin how the
asshole had tried ripping my jeans off in the backseat of his car, and how he had
bruised my hip and wrists attempting to hold me against my will.  Collin carefully
took my hand in his, examining the reddening welts on each arm and listened intently
to my every word. His expression shifted from steely and outraged, while I
retold the events, to comforting and soothing the moment my first tears fell.
He pleaded with me to go to the police, or at the very least, allow
him
to track down the guy and kill him. I felt ashamed for going out with some guy
I'd barely known and being dumb enough to be alone like that with him. I felt
guilty for having put myself in such a dangerous situation, and I admitted as
much to Collin.

"Hey," he'd said, cradling my chin gently, "
none
of this is your fault…absolutely none of it. Promise me you'll believe that." I
still struggle with accepting his words, even years later, but there's never
been a moment when I wasn't thankful for them. In the end, I wouldn't let
Collin do anything except sit with me. I just wanted to forget.

I now regret not reporting it, and last year when the
same thing, only far worse, happened to my friend Cassie, that's what we did. In
fact, Collin drove us. He didn't say anything. He was just there—a quiet, safe
presence, fetching water and ensuring she spoke to the right people, doing
everything behind the scenes so Cassie and I could just focus on getting
through it all.

I never worry about Spencer hurting me, but I won't
lie: it feels good to know you have someone in your life who always has your
back. For a long time now, that's been Collin.

My confession about my near-rape experience changed
things between Collin and me. Even though we never spoke of it again, we've
been very close ever since. In my heart that's the night that he became my best
friend. It's amazing how something beautiful can be born out of one of the
worst moments of your life. Things changed for him too, it seemed, because
after that he began opening up more to me about his family. He'd tell me things
here and there, never lingering on any one story or anecdote for too long. It
was clear that talking about any of it was a huge challenge for him. After I
met his family for the first time, and saw firsthand how difficult things had
been for him, he revealed he'd never told anyone what he'd shared with me.

His biological dad passed away when he was eight
and it wasn't long after that his mother married his stepdad, Victor. He was a
widower too, with a bratty daughter, Reba, and his much-prized son, James.
Collin was sandwiched between their ages by a few months in either direction
and quickly went from a pampered only child to a lost and forgotten middle one.
Collin's mother had grown up with a lot of money, but when she was married to
Collin's dad they didn't have nearly as much, a fact that seemed to be a
perpetual source of arguing between them. When his mother remarried she chose
uber-wealthy Victor, elevating her lifestyle more to what she had been used to
growing up and greatly pleasing her side of the family.

Collin said on the outside it had looked to many
that, apart from the sadness of losing his father, his living circumstances had
improved. Inside the walls of his family mansion, however, it was a completely
different story. Adjusting to a life with siblings was difficult, and Collin's
mother showered Reba and James with attention in an attempt to win their favor.
Collin tried really hard to be good at everything, to keep her attention and to
please Victor, but it all backfired. When it became clear he was outpacing his
stepbrother James, physically and academically, his stepdad began targeting
him. He became the family scapegoat for everything. If he did well, he was
punished; if he screwed up, he was punished. There was no winning; only
surviving.

He told me he knew life as he had known it was
over when his stepdad, angry with him for supposedly "showing off," grabbed him
by the arm and shoved him in his room, leaving a large, red welt on his arm. It
was the first in what turned out to be a long line of similar instances. Later,
when Victor wasn't home, Collin attempted to seek refuge with his mother, only
to find none. "He just wants the best for you, Collin. You have to try not to
make him so angry. He's your dad now. This is our new life." The way Collin
tells it, he died that day. From then on, he squandered his intellectual and
athletic abilities in every way he could. He stayed out of his new family's way
and tried to become non-existent. He explained the disappointment over his
failings was much easier to take when he'd quit trying to be himself.

I've seen another side of Collin though; one I
think few people know exists. I've experienced his protectiveness, watched him catch
a magical moment through his camera lens, and witnessed him commit generous,
loving acts when he thinks no one's watching or will find out. He's brilliant,
sweet and funny. It's all these things and more that have made him my closest
friend. I wish he could let go of the protective shell he wears, the one that
makes him standoffish and indifferent, but I think after everything he's been
through, it's just how he's built.

Spencer is clearly ticked about Collin hanging out
with us tonight. Apart from tethering me to the table with his hand on my knee,
he basically ignores me. He and Ryan have been doing shots, which isn't like
him at all. Spencer is more of a beer-only dude. While he gets drunk a lot on
the weekends, he doesn't typically aim for plastered. Tonight appears to be an
exception. Their drunken revelry is punctuated by an excessive amount of high
fives and fist bumps. It's clearly getting worse and soon they'll be quoting
stupid guy comedies; it's only a matter of time. I give Tabby a
help-me-out-here
raised eyebrow expression.

She tugs on her friend Erin's hand, and says, "Let's
go hit the dance floor, ladies!" She shoots the guys an authoritative look. "I
trust you guys can hold the table?"

Spencer releases my leg and waves us on. Collin's
expression shifts from cool indifference to alarm in the span of a few seconds.
He shoves the cigarette he was about to smoke back into his breast pocket and
extends a hand to Erin, the only single girl besides Tabby. Erin eagerly accepts
his outstretched palm, ignoring Tabby's agitated scowl. I scan Spencer's face
for irritation, but if his half-mast eyes are any indication, he isn't noticing
much of anything right now.

We dance and move, as much as is possible, on the
overstuffed dance floor until I'm sticky, sweaty and in need of a beverage that
won't further dehydrate me. I search for Collin and find him nearby, still with
Erin, who's drunkenly grinding into him as he towers over her. I make eye
contact with him and he shoots me a helpless look. I laugh and he laughs too,
holding up two outstretched palms in the universal sign for
not guilty.
I
motion that I'm going outside to get some air, and he nods and then extracts
himself from Erin, who sways and stumbles toward Tabby and Vanessa, who are
doing some semi-coordinated dance to
Livin' La Vida Loca.

Collin and I reach the front door at the same time
and he holds it open for me, leading us out into the noticeably cooler and
considerably quieter night air. He lights a cigarette and takes a long drag,
leaning against the wall. I pinch the front of my shirt letting cool air waft
onto my skin, giving me the chills.

"So is this college-y enough for you?" His voice
is low and deep, serious-sounding even, but he wears a small smile.

BOOK: To See You Again
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