First Semester (A Campus Tales Story Book 1)
I look around the one-bedroom apartment just off campus that my parents got for me—an I’m sorry but this is for your own good. I’d wanted to forego another year of school, tackle another European country, or maybe visit South America, or Africa, or Australia—hell, really any other continent except the one I was born on. I still crave adventure, and I still crave it beyond the borders of the US of A. At nineteen, I’m not ready for college, after spending eighteen years in what felt like shackles—known as the American school system—and they had finally set me free. I’m not ready for another four years of homework and tests and waking up before 8 AM for anything that isn’t to catch the sunrise or McDonald’s breakfast. I’m over school. That, coupled with the fact that I’m smarter than the average nineteen year old—I have an IQ over one forty and grades that had every Ivy League banging down my door last year—makes me wonder what college really has to offer me.
Nevertheless, my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They had stressed the importance of a good education—even if the diploma did just collect dust on a shelf while I fed my hunger for adventure with a backpack and a compass or whatever. These were my parents’ musings as they all but shoved me out the door. So, here I am, five hours from my parents’ house, in an apartment smaller than my room at home, prepared to take on Camden Graf University, my next adventure. College.
I’m startled from my thoughts by a banging on the door and I approach it with caution, wondering who in the world would be looking for me. I know no one in D.C., and classes don’t start for another two days. I know this is a building for students, but I thought I’d slid in sight unseen, opting for a Saturday morning move-in when I was sure more than half of the residents would be hungover from the night before.
I press my face to the door, standing on my tiptoes to peer out the peephole. “I’m not going to bite, open up! It’s the building welcome wagon!” I see a girl with blonde hair wielding a bottle of champagne and a tray of brownies.
I open the door, but not too far, not wanting her to take it as an invitation to come in. To be honest, all I want to do is go to bed early, and a chatty neighbor that wants to stay up to the wee hours of the morning gabbing like girlfriends and trading life stories would definitely throw a wrench in that plan.
“Hey, neighbor!” The girl, who seems no older than me but certainly taller than me, stands in my entryway. A crop top barely covers her breasts, and high-waisted pants are cut off at her ankles, exposing her bare feet. Her blonde hair is pulled into a sleek ponytail secured at the back of her head, and a small diamond stud gleams from her nose. Her makeup looks like she’s just stepped off a runway show, with perfect lashes and lipstick. “Welcome to the building. I’m Peyton. Peyton White. And you are?”
“Skyler,” I tell her as she hands me the plate of brownies and begins to pour the Andre champagne into a solo cup. Andre? But…why? There are so many better options than this toilet bubbly. I wrinkle my nose slightly and shake my head.
“Oh, what, you don’t drink? Shit. I have some La Croix in my fridge.”
My mouth waters; I do love La Croix. But I also love champagne. I just am not about to drink that.
Don’t be a bitch, Sky. My sister’s words blare in my head. “I drink. I just…haven’t had much to eat, and I’m a bit of a lightweight.” Lie number one.
“Oh! Well, have a brownie. Come on, a bunch of us are pregaming at my place to go out tonight. You should totally come.”
“You know, tonight isn’t great, I’m supposed to meet up with some old friends.” I shake my head. Lie number two.
She raises an eyebrow at me as if she doesn’t believe me. “Where ya from?”
“Really? Is it as boring as the stereotypes say?”
I take a tentative sip of the champagne she’d handed me and force myself not to gag. God that’s terrible. “Yep. Pretty much.”
“I’m from Seattle. Yes, it rains all the fucking time. No, I don’t know Edward Cullen or Christian Grey or the people from Grey’s Anatomy,” she says as if she says that every time she tells someone where she’s from.
I laugh at her joke. “I’ve never been to Seattle but it’s on my list. I want to see the Space Needle and go to that market everyone talks about.” I close my eyes, picturing the red letters in the sign.
“Pike Place? It’s not that cool.” She scrunches her nose in disgust as if she’s just heard a terrible dad joke.
“Still, it’s something renowned.” I shrug.
“Fine, we can go or whatever.”
And I almost choke on my drink as I hear the undertone of her comment. We are besties now and you can come home with me for breaks!
“Right, well, it was really nice to meet you, Peyton. I’m sure I’ll see you around.” I begin to shut the door when she stops it with her foot and hands me the bottle of champagne.
“I’m just right down the hall in 408 when you decide to stop being lame and pretending that you have anything to do tonight. I have tequila, and the starting lineup of the boy’s soccer team.” She gives me a wink. “Ciao, Bella!” She skips back to her apartment and flings open the door dramatically, letting the sounds of Kendrick Lamar float out into the hall.
I’m still momentarily speechless; having heard my native language thrown out there as well as the nickname my mother calls me. I know that non-Italians used the phrase often, but it still throws me whenever I hear it.
I look down at my arm again.
Life goes on, Bella.
I could either sit in this apartment and mope over he who shall not be named or I could embrace this new adventure, even if it isn’t hiking in Santorini. It takes me about thirty seconds to come up with my decision before I take a swig from the bottle.
“Ugh! First things first, teach Peyton what decent champagne is.”
I wrap the final strand of my newly highlighted hair around the wand before unplugging it from the wall in my tiny bathroom. There is barely enough room for me in here; heaven forbid I ever have a guy in here with me. My heart thumps and so does my sex. I am not ready for that! my heart tells me. But I am! my sex responds. The space between my legs has felt a dull hum ever since the words boys soccer team fell from Peyton’s lips.
Well, at least I’m not totally broken.
I let out a sigh as I take in my reflection in the mirror.
Okay, Sky, Peyton is nice. Maybe at least try and make friends? It’s time to let your guard down a little. Not everyone is going to screw you over like… my heart slams into my ribcage and my stomach turns. I’m not sure if it’s from the champagne or the thoughts of walking in on my ex with some girl’s legs wrapped around his face.
The white, off the shoulder top I’m wearing is the perfect contrast to my tan skin that I got by nature, not by bottle. Tucked into a pair of black shorts and sandals that tie up my leg, I’m not sure what look I’m going for exactly, but I look hot. My honey blonde hair that I had recently chopped off to shoulder length—spurred on by the words, “a woman who changes her hair is about to change her life”—bounces as I make my way down the hall. I have a clutch armed with the necessities in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. Sure, Peyton said they had alcohol, but I was taught to never show up anywhere empty handed.
I knock on the door and when it opens a billow of marijuana smoke floats out around me into the hallway. I wave a hand across my face. “Skyler! Sorry about that.” Peyton waves the smoke away and drags me inside. “You came!”
“Yeah, uh…my friends flaked.”
“Ugh, bitches! Well, I’m so glad you’re here! Guys, guys!” She tries to quiet the noise and, while some of the guys turn their attention to her, most continue what they’re doing. I notice although her apartment is about the same size as mine, it looks way bigger. She has a table pushed against the wall where four guys are playing beer pong. Shot glasses litter the bar in the kitchen as people play what I believe to be Quarters. There’s an array of playing cards on her IKEA coffee table, and four people surrounding it as they try not to crack the beer in the center. “This is Skyler, my new neighbor. Everyone say hi!”
Most of them say hi and wave as if this was that bar where everyone knows your name. I smile, and wave back, slightly intimidated at being put on the spot. I’m not shy, far from it, but being around people I don’t know, in an unfamiliar city, without so much as a wing woman or at the very least one person I know well, makes me a bit uneasy. I’m ashamed to admit I miss my mom, miss home, miss…I squeeze my eyes shut. No, Sky.
“Let’s get you a drink, huh?”
“Oh, I brought something,” I say as I hand her the Grey Goose.
“Oh fancy! I’m not wasting this on these assholes. You and I can drink this tomorrow in our mimosas,” she says as I follow her into the kitchen.
“Mimosas have champagne…” It’s more of a statement but it comes out like a question.
“You’ve never had them with vodka? Oh, girl, it’ll change your life.” She turns towards me and bounces on her toes like she’s dying to share a secret with me.
“Isn’t that just a screwdriver?” I feel like she’s speaking an entirely different language that I’m not familiar with. I know alcohol, for the most part, having spent the majority of my senior year of high school—and a few months in Italy—becoming well acquainted with the term “black-out” despite my under twenty-one status.
“Just trust me, alright? I’ll hook ya up.” And because on some level, I swear guys are pre-dispositioned to hear the words “hook” and “up” when used close together in a sentence, one manifests in front of us.
“P, who’s your friend?” he asks as he slides a hand over her shoulder and points at me. I go through the ManFax—as my best friend, Stella, always says—as I survey the man in front of me. Tall. Blonde. No facial hair, but a cute face nonetheless. Muscular. Blue eyes. All American Boy.
“Skyler. Weren’t you listening?” She pushes his arm off of her. “And no.”
“No and no. Go away.”
“Cockblock,” he grumbles as he walks away, and I wonder if there is something going on between them.
“He’s fucked ninety percent of the girls in this room. Yes, I fall into that ninety percent. Let’s not dwell on it.” She hands me a Jell-O shot. “Just…it’s for the best. His dick game isn’t even all that great. Which is why I have not been back for seconds,” she says through a mouthful of the red gelatin that had far more Everclear vodka than was probably safe. “But he’s hot.”
Two hours later, more than half the party has left to hit the bars, armed with their fake IDs and willingness to make bad decisions. I sit on Peyton’s bed as she rifles through her closet trying to come up with something to change into.
“What you have on is fine, Peyton. Shouldn’t we go soon? It’s getting late.”
“Late? It’s midnight. The only reason people left earlier is one of the bars offers a Power Hour between eleven and twelve which means half priced shots and mixed drinks. Trust me, it’s still early.” I hiccup as I take another sip of my drink when there’s a beep from her nightstand. My eyes flit to the sound and she squeals with delight. “An OC notification! Yes!” She fist pumps the air and moves to her phone, her eyes lighting up with intrigue and excitement.
“O…C?” I ask, feeling the effects of the alcohol starting to catch up with me.
“Yeah, Our Circle! It’s this new dating app!”
“Oh.” I groan. “So, like Tinder or Bumble or whatever?” I’d never been on a dating app, but Stella swears by them. That girl goes on more first dates than anyone I know.
“They always are, right? Until something better comes along?” There’s always some new dating app that’s supposedly better than the last. It’s just the latest craze.
“No, this really is better. You can only join if you’re invited by someone else.”
“Oh, so kind of like how Facebook started?”
“Right! Well, not anymore. My sister’s unborn child has a Facebook already.” Peyton rolls her eyes and holds her phone up for me to see the app.
“So, you get invited and then what? You get unsolicited dick pics by, not randoms necessarily, but by someone who knows someone who knows someone that may be your neighbor’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend?”
“It takes the element out of whether or not they’re a psycho!”
“No…no, it doesn’t.” I chuckle as I listen to her backwards logic.
“Well…I haven’t met any yet. All the guys I’ve met have been totally normal. And gorgeous. And smart. A lot of guys from the grad schools in the area are on here. Of course, I do have my age preferences set just a teensy bit higher.”
“What’s a teensy bit?” I ask, wondering if this girl is about to unleash her wealth of daddy issues on me.
“Just twenty-two to like…forty.”
“FORTY? Peyton, how old are you?”
“That’s like…your dad’s age.”
“Well, I never knew my dad, so…Psych major me.” She rolls her eyes as if she already knows what I’m going to say.
I hold my hands up as if to say no judgment. “I think I want to try it.”
Her head snaps up from her phone and looks at me. “Really? I can invite you.”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Atta girl! Okay, what’s your Facebook name.”
“Oh…” My face falls as I remember the social media disappearing act I’d done. “I deleted it.”
“What?” She cocks her head to the side. “Why? And more importantly, how do you know when it’s people’s birthdays? I mean Instagram only goes so far. You do have Instagram, right?”
I nod. I wasn’t sure how to tell this blonde bombshell that had probably never had her heart broken before that I deleted it so I didn’t have to see my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend…excuse me, fiancée. He was the man I thought I was going to marry, the man that…No, Skyler.
I let out a breath. “A stupid boy.”
“Ah, say no more. Okay, I think you can do it through your email. What is it?”
“Bella dot Mitchell at Gmail,” I tell her and she looks at me curiously.
“It’s what my mom calls me. I’m Italian.”
“Hot. Definitely put that in your profile. The guys were all salivating over you when you walked in by the way. I have six messages from guys here asking for your number and or ‘deal.’ Are you DTF?” she asks, and I wonder when we got to this level where she’s comfortable enough to ask whether I’m down to fuck. I’m not a prude, but come on. I’d barely spoken two words to any of these guys that were allegedly asking.
“Ummm.” I clear my throat. “Not…like right this second?” I wince.
“Oh, time of the month?” She blanches.
My face turns slightly pink, as if surfing the crimson wave was the only reason I may not want to have sex with a guy I just met. “No, I just…”
“Okay, so no, totally cool. The playing hard to get route. I love it. Okay, I sent you the link. Let’s set up your profile before we leave, so you can get a feel for it while we’re out. It’s a Saturday night so it’s a perfect time.”
I had a feeling Peyton wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I had a lot of vodka infused Jell-O in my stomach, coupled with two very strong vodka drinks that told me that this was probably a great idea. So, I let Peyton set up my profile, pulling pictures from my Instagram: one of me with my dog and a glass of wine, one of me in New York with Stella being embarrassing tourists on a ferry in front of the Statue of Liberty, one of me in a bathing suit, and finally one of me throwing a penny into the Trevi Fountain, a picture taken by…
“Oh, I bumped my age up a few years by the way. Do you want to? Guys our age are annoying.”
I was no stranger to lying about my age. I had a fake ID, a really good one that put me at twenty-two. “Ummm. Well, what age did you put?”
“Okay…sure, why not?”
“Bella,” I tell her. “Can you make my name Bella?”
“Skyler is a great name. You sure you don’t want to use that?”
“It’s also pretty uncommon. What if some psycho tracks me down?”
“Fine, Bella. What do you want in your profile? Def write that you’re Italian. Can you speak it fluently?”
“I knew Italian before I knew English. Yeah.” I chuckle thinking about how my father spoke only English while my mother spoke to me in Italian growing up.
“Okay how about this: New to the area by way of Italy. Name isn’t actually Bella.” She looks up from my phone. “Give me a fun fact.”
“Ummm. I love iced coffee?”
“What girl doesn’t? Next.”
“Okay, ummm, I have a tattoo that—”
“Really? Tattoos and iced coffee? Groundbreaking.” She rolls her eyes and I swear to God it’s like I can hear my sister’s voice.
“I was going to say, just put the quote I have on my arm, smartass.” I point to my arm and she squints, probably because her vision is a bit blurry.
“What’s it say?”
“La vita va avanti.”
“Life goes on.”
“It’s not exactly the vibe you want for a dating app. Sounds a bit morose if you ask me.”
“It’s not! It’s supposed to be inspiring and motivating. The kick in the ass you need just when you need it.”
Her lips form a straight line. “Aaaaaand, iced coffee it is.”
With Peyton’s arm locked through mine, we walk down the sidewalk with a few people behind us. My phone had been buzzing ever since she made the profile, mostly heys and what are you up to tonight? and where’s the party? A few guys tried to banter with me in Italian but I lost interest the second I realized they were using Google translate. That shit is never accurate.
This isn’t quite like those apps where you had to “like” each other to communicate. No, this served kind of like a chat room, where everyone within the radius you permitted could message you. You could reject the chat or block, and only once you accepted did it reveal your bio. It didn’t seem one hundred percent safe or effective, but Peyton insisted that they were just working out the kinks.
Sheesh, with the way she advocated for this app, you’d think she created it.
A picture of a man flashes across my screen and I almost drop my phone because holy mother fuck is he gorgeous. Aidan. The first thing that captivates me are his eyes. They’re the most fascinating shade of aquamarine. Not quite blue, not quite green. I’d never seen that color as someone’s iris before. The Caribbean waters, yes. But someone’s eyes? Never. His dark brown hair looks as if he’d spent the time just before the picture was taken, pulling on it. His sideburns connect to some sexy facial hair all across his jaw, and his perfect, straight teeth almost blind me. He stares at the camera, standing with two other guys that look like they probably share DNA. In his second picture he’s in a cap and gown, for what looks like his Doctorate, and Ray Bans cover his face that makes me weak in the knees. The final picture he’s standing on top of a mountain, holding his hands out with that stunning smile. I take note of his very muscular arms trapped beneath his t-shirt.
I accept his chat request immediately, desperate to know more about this gorgeous creature.
“Oh, he’s hot as fuck! How come he’s never shown up on mine before? What’s his bio say?” Peyton leans over my shoulder as we stop walking to read what it says.
“New to DC. Where the fuck is there to hike around here? Will give you tacos and/or mimosas if you tell me. Bonus if I can convince you to come. Oh, and I’m taller than you.”
“I love hiking!” I shriek.
“Ew, why?” Peyton blanches as we start walking towards the bars again. “Message him!”
“What do I say?”
“Oh God, Sky. Tell me you know how to flirt with boys. You’re not a virgin, right? Ohmigod.” She stops. “Did I throw you into the lion’s den with no way to tame the beasts?” Her eyes are wide and unblinking.
“No, no, no.” I shake my head. “Not a virgin. Just, I’ve never really used an app before, and I’m not witty in text.”
“Everyone is witty in text…okay, that’s not true. But girls are better because we usually discuss the replies as a group. Okay,” she rambles, “make it easy. It says he’s new to DC, ask where he’s from!”
“Oh, that’s good.” I nod as I type out a message.
Bella: Fellow newbie! Where are you from?
Peyton groans next to me. “Did I tell you to say all of that? God, you’re a dork.”
I frown and look down at my message brought on by definitely too much alcohol. “Should I add a smiley?”
“No girl, chill.”
Aidan: Hey Bella, I’m from Boston. And you’re gorgeous. Just needed to put that out there.
“OH, we are so in there!” Peyton giggles. “Fuck tonight, let’s go back to my place and sext your new boyfriend.”
“I don’t think it’s a two person job, and no one is sexting anyone! He said I was pretty—”
“Gorgeous. He used the word gorgeous, Skyler. Now reply. Tell him you want to sit on his hot face.”
“I am not saying that.”
“Fiiiiine, or thank you.” She shrugs. “Whatever.” My phone pings again.
Aidan: Too fast. Sorry. So, you’re really from Italy? Or you’re Italian?
Bella: No not fast! Thank you, and I’m Italian but I’m from Connecticut.
Aidan: What brings you to DC?
I start to type out school but then I remember I’m supposed to be twenty-two. “I always go with grad school,” Peyton interjects. “And I never say CGU.”
Bella: Just moved here for school.
Aidan: Nice! Where are you going?
I glance at Peyton and she rolls her eyes. “Just say Georgetown. Guys cream their panties over a smart girl.”
“I am a smart girl,” I retort.
“We go to CGU, of course we’re smart.” CGU is like the less pretentious version of Georgetown. You need the grades or the legacy to get in here, and I have both.
“Eh, my parents donated like four libraries here. My GPA did not do anything for me, and I was stoned during my SATs. I think I guessed B for like every question.” She shrugs and I giggle. This girl is growing on me.
I didn’t like the idea of outright lying to him though.
Bella: I don’t have my real name on this app and you think I’m just going to hand up my school on a platter? What if you’re a serial killer?
Aidan: Fair. But I am not a serial killer.
Bella: Right like you’d tell me. *eye roll emoji*
Aidan: Ha. What’s your real name anyway? Or can I not know that either?
Bella: Maybe one day.
Aidan: Bella means beautiful in Italian, right? I would say that it’s fitting.
“Okay in like five minutes he’s called you gorgeous and beautiful. He totes wants in your panties.” Peyton claps her hands and squeals.
I want him in my panties too, God damn!
We approach the bar and the bouncer lets us in without so much as a glance at my ID. I wonder if I actually look twenty-one as he stamps my hand and ushers us inside. We’ve lost most of Peyton’s friends, having stopped to thoroughly stalk Aidan’s profile. I go to reply to his message when I see another one has come through.
Aidan: What are you doing tonight? Do you want to meet up?
My breath catches in my throat seeing his words on the screen. Am I ready for this? Casual sex? We certainly aren’t meeting up at midnight to just talk.
“What he say, what he say?” Peyton asks, and when I look up she’s holding a shot of some amber colored liquid to her lips and holding one out for me.
“What’s that?” I ask her as I hold it under my nose. I’m immediately flooded with a sense of nostalgia.
“Right. Okay.” I take the shot, letting the cinnamon flavored whiskey slide down my throat tasting like bad decisions and regret. “He asked if I wanted to meet up.”
“Ummm duh. Ask where he is! Ask if he has friends with him. A good fuck always clears my head and God knows I am not ready for Physics 101 on Monday morning.”
I take a deep breath, letting the alcohol lower my inhibitions.
Bella: I’m at Lush. Where are you?