Rock Candy Kisses

Whitney Briggs University


Fall is my favorite time of year. The riot of color that nature displays leaves me breathless. Cool winds replace the scorching sun as the landscape transforms into a spectrum of crimson and gold. It’s a visual feast that I wait three whole seasons to gorge on.

Baya and Bryson are busy with a conversation of their own as they enthusiastically walk me through campus like a kindergartner they’re escorting to the first day of school. It’s technically not my first day at Whitney Briggs University. I moved into my dorm weeks ago. I’ve spent the interim getting to know the grounds with my roommate, Marley, but my brother and his new wife feel the need to walk me directly to the door of my sociology class. Baya and Bryson recently married this past summer in a double wedding with their best friends, Laney and Ryder. I love them with all my heart, but I can’t help but feel like a child under their wings. It’s not like I wasn’t warned. When my friends heard I was coming to Whitney Briggs, they frowned at the fact my brother and Baya were within hovering distance. Usually living so close wouldn’t be a big deal, but everyone at the Quincy School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing understands all too well how stifling family can unwittingly be.

Bryson picks up my hand—case in point. I try to wriggle free, but he clasps on tight as if saving me from falling into a bottomless pit. Crowds of girls waltz by, each one of them tossing their slanted stares to my brother. I’m sure Baya is used to having strange girls ogle her new husband. Both of my brothers are handsome and far too protective of their little sister than they need to be.

The girls pause their animated gestures a moment as their heads swivel after Bryson. Their sweet perfume mingles with the scent of new clothes—and I note that not one of them is holding their brother’s hand. I pause, pulling him back and wait for Baya to stumble over.

“What’s wrong?” The terror on her face says it all. Baya is beautiful, and bubbly, and I’m thrilled to pieces that she’s my new sister-in-law but…

I shake my head to assure her nothing is off kilter.

There’s a literal fork in the cobbled road, and I’m pretty sure this is as good a place as any to break it to them.

I’ve got it from here, I sign. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think there’s something symbolic about me getting to class on my own. I’ve looked forward to this moment for as long as I can remember, and—well, I want to do this myself.

The hurt look on my brother’s face says more than I can stand. A cool breeze whips by and ices my bare ankles.

Bryson sags into me while a dull grin breaks loose on his face. He signs back, I know you’ve got this, kid. “She wants to head out on her own,” he says to Baya before pulling me into a tight embrace.

I can read pretty much anyone’s lips. It takes some getting used to at first, but, after a while, it can be just as efficient as signing. There are a few people with whom I can’t quite catch every word. But, with the exception of the occasional mumbler, I get by pretty well.

Baya pulls me in, and I can feel her throat vibrating against my shoulder. It’s easy for people to forget that if I can’t see their lips, I don’t know what they’re saying. I pull back and dot my mouth with my finger.

“Sorry!” She grimaces. “Are you coming to the bar tonight?” Baya has a tendency to over annunciate, and that’s fine by me. In reality it makes things easier, but I’d rather she didn’t. I don’t want to be treated any different than she treats Laney or Izzy, or anyone else for that matter.

I nod and give a thumbs up. Apparently the first day of school is a pretty big deal at the Black Bear. There’s a local band performing tonight, plus the student body gets half off all drinks. My brothers and I bought out my father’s three bars last summer, the Black Bear being one of them. Despite the fact I’ve just turned nineteen and don’t make a habit of downing alcohol-laden libations, it’s pretty amazing to be business partners with my brothers.

Bryson and Baya each offer an insecure wave as they take off. They both hold the same coloring, and from here they look as if they can be brother and sister as easy as they can be husband and wife. It’s a weird thought, but oddly enough I specialize in weird thoughts. I suppose that’s a side effect of years of living in my own bubble. That was the nice thing about Quincy, while I was at school I was never alone in that bubble.

Bryson signs for me to text him as I head on my way.

The wind picks up, and a maple rattles its already yellowing leaves. The earth lets go of its raw, wet scent from last night’s rain, and I take in the robustness of nature at its ripest. For the last eight years of my life, I’ve been a fulltime resident at the Quincy school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, nothing but a saturation of deaf culture and a shared sense of self with every single person that surrounded me there. And, here, at Whitney Briggs I’m pretty much alone with everyday people who have never known a world without sound, a world with hard borders much like that of a picture.

An overgrown oak sits stoically in front of the English building with its fat, hand-shaped leaves dripping magenta and ruby. My fingers dip into my purse as I feel for my camera. I’m certain my favorite course of the day will be my final class, Digital Studios. I’ve loved photography ever since I was seven, and my parents, a.k.a. Santa, gifted me a hot pink Barbie camera.

A skateboard whizzes in my direction, and I carefully maneuver into the center of the walkway. A group of girls hurry by, and one of them knocks into my shoulder. She gives a polite wave, and I can see her lips curving into an apology before turning away.

Kaya, my best friend at Quincy, warned me that life is very different (I believe the word she used was scary) out in what she’s dubbed the real world. She’s at Texas A & M, apparently having her fair share of scary experiences. I fish my phone out to send her a quick text. Life is beautiful. Nothing scary at Whitney Briggs! It’s not too late to apply for spring semester. Before I can hit send, a body lunges at me and whisks me into an overgrown dogwood. My phone flies right out of my hand, and, just as I’m about to dive after it, a squared off delivery truck whizzes by, missing me by inches.

My heart pounds wild in my chest. My head throbs and pulsates, threatening to explode as I take in what just happened.

I glance at the person who pulled me to safety—a boy, older by a few years, handsome to the point of nausea. He’s saying something, his face filled with concern. His dark hair lies over his head like a shadow, his brown eyes are marbled with shades of emerald, and a part of me wants to freeze time and stay here all day. At least that way I won’t have to face the fact I almost found myself pinned under a tire.

A mean shudder ripples through me at the thought.

Oh, God. I have to get out of here. I pull my book bag off the ground and scramble for my phone nearly getting my hand run over by a bicycle. Wow, I’m really on fire today. I’ll have to do a roll call of my limbs if I ever get back to my dorm in one piece. My body spikes with heat. I can practically feel my mother panicking when I fill her in on my first day of misadventures, not that I plan on sharing this tidbit with her. All I need is another lecture on how beneficial the Excel Implant will be. I understand the fact that hearing is valuable, but all I see is red (as in blood) whenever I envision myself on that operating table. It’s enough to make me want to pass out on the spot and inadvertently feed myself to the tire gods.

The handsome boy appears to be having a lively conversation with me as I wave a quick goodbye. This is usually the part when I pull out my phone and let them see my standby note I’ve shown at least fifty people since arriving two weeks ago—the one that more or less reads, I’m sorry—I’m deaf, and I can’t hear whatever the hell you’re saying. In reality, it starts with an apology and ends with an explanation of what it means to be deaf. People are generally stymied by the fact I can’t hear because to them I look average in every other way. The thing about being deaf is no one really wants to believe you for the first few minutes. Some days I’d rather not believe it myself.

He pulls me back gently as I try to make my way past him, and the soft scent of his spiced cologne washes over me in a warm heated wave, orange and mint. His eyes squint out a smile all their own as his bowed lips expand for me with kindness. My stomach gives a hard pinch followed by a detonation of heat I’ve yet to feel before. Whoever this boy—man—man-boy is, he’s got my full anatomical attention. Funny because that’s never really happened before.

“What’s your name?” His lips are full, the bottom more so than the top. They look softer than that of most men’s, and, oddly, I’d like to lose myself staring at them all day.

The bodies have all but cleared off campus, a good sign that I’m already late to class. I shake my head and point to the English building before bolting out of his grasp. My heart pounds so fast it pulsates right through my skull. Adrenaline shoots through me as if I’ve just conducted a prison escape—more like a Grim Reaper escape. That truck could have killed me. Correction, it would have—should have.

I’m starting to think Kaya was right—life is different and scary. That boy’s face comes back like a photograph I’ve unwittingly pinned to my mind, and my lips curve into a smile.

Despite Kaya’s worldly cynicism, I still believe life is beautiful.

In Sociology I meet my interpreter, the one the university graciously furnished me with, an undergrad like myself. He’s tall and lanky and wears an easy grin.

My name is Jean-Paul, but don’t call me that. He winks as he signs. It’s too French. I’m going by Tristan. John-Paul—Tristan—is a French foreign exchange student who knows American Sign Language (very well might I add). He goes on about how he’s studying to become a professor at a school similar to Quincy in Provence, and how (according to himself) he ironically speaks impeccable English. His mother is profoundly deaf, like me, so he’s been proficient in signing since he was a young boy. He works with the university’s DSP department, Disabilities Services and Programs. Tristan is taking all four of my classes this semester.

I can sign three different languages. He seems stoically proud about this.

That’s nice. I can only sign the one. My face heats when I smile.

I think we should coordinate our schedules as much as we can for the next four years. He signs while the professor takes roll.

Tristan has a calming spirit and boy next door likability to him, and already I want to be his friend. He also plays for the basketball team, which he’s mentioned about a dozen times in the last five minutes. He’s cute in a Muppet sort of way. He has clear blue eyes much like my own and a nice, although thin-lipped and exaggeratingly long smile—thus the Muppet reference.

My thoughts revert to the boy who snatched me from a waiting casket just a few minutes ago, and I envision what it would be like if he were my interpreter for the next four years. A pulsating heat shoots through my stomach. I think I’d have a cardiac episode before lunch. Pretty boys and I have never mixed well. Not that he was a pretty boy, more like a beautiful man. And judging by that tattoo creeping up the side of his neck, a little rugged around the edges.

Tristan gently taps my arm, and I come to.

Four years. I sign back. That’s quite a commitment. I smile. Yes, I guess that would make it easy. I’m a Fine Arts major, though.

That’s perfect. I plan on get my masters in English. You’re welcome to tag along. He gives a little wink, and my chest rattles with a laugh.

Silent laughter is something I had to learn to perfect. Speaking isn’t something I prefer to do. Most of my profoundly deaf friends have broken out of their lingual shells and speak freely, but, despite years of speech therapy, I haven’t had the best experiences with my vocal cords, so I prefer to mute them whenever possible—which is pretty much always. When I was little I would ask my brothers to describe the sound things would make, the slam of a door, the babble of a brook, and soon they made a game of trying to describe any and every sound on the planet to me. Of course, the descriptions were rife with emotion because that’s about as close as I could relate them. There was angry thunder, happy trees as the wind rustled through their branches, surprised doorbells, and the trash trucks that drove down our streets at early hours were always described as tired. Ironic since those were the very things that would wake my brothers an hour earlier than necessary on Thursdays, leaving my mother with a very tired Bryson and Holt. I, on the other hand, slept like a log. Still do. It’s my only talent, really.

Class moves all too fast for me. Tristan decides to take copious notes before shooting them to my laptop immediately. Whenever the professor says something he deems witty, Tristan is kind enough to sign it for me.

By the end of the class, I’m taxed from both the novel experience and Tristan’s incessant self-monologue. In one short hour I’ve become proficient in all things Tristan, his birth name being just the tip of the French iceberg. I now know he has three sisters, all of which are enrolled in fashion school. I know he’s bred hamsters for the last three years as a part of his horticulture and animals club which sounds a lot like 4-H.

By the time our final class of the day rolls around, Digital Studios, I’m exhausted both emotionally and physically.

I think my brain actually hurts, I sign as we take seats near the front. It’s a small class with only about twenty students, something far more my style compared to the stadium seating lecture halls we’ve endured. English 101 already has me cagey because I’m terrified of writing papers.

You’re just overwhelmed. Tristan pats me on the knee, and instinctively I pull my legs in. Sorry.

No, it’s fine. I’m just jumpy today. I sort of got off to a rocky start when I narrowly escaped my true destiny as road kill, but I leave that part out. That boy with the calming marble eyes comes back to me. I lean into my seat and sigh into the memory. His orange scented cologne still clings faintly to my sweater as I push my nose into my shoulder.

A tall girl wearing an expensive leather jacket and buttery boots that creep up her inky denim jeans saunters in. She’s beautiful, like cover model perfection with bouncy blonde curls, patriotic red lips that glide over her paper-white smile. Instinctively my stomach turns. That’s the kind of girl the boy with the marbled eyes would go for—the kind he most likely belongs with. Kaya once broke dating down into leagues, and, plain and simple, I’m not even on his playing field—but Ms. Red, White, and Blue Jeans is by a landslide. The girl next to her looks equally gorgeous with darker hair and eyes—the same I’ve-got-the-world-by-my-father’s-Master Card smile. I’ve noticed girls like that travel in packs around campus. Back at Quincy there weren’t really any social cliques or barriers besides the obvious, and when we were together we hardly noticed that one.

Ms. America One and Ms. America Two scoot into our row and both Tristan and I pull our legs in to accommodate them. One of them holds the scent of an overbearing perfume about as subtle as frankincense and myrrh. I make a face at Tristan, but he seems momentarily entranced by the volleyballs expanding from their sweaters. Figures. It’s a man’s world until a D cup shows up and debilitates the masses.

He doesn’t hesitate starting up a conversation with the tall one.

“She’s deaf.” I see his lips form the words, and my face floods with heat. I am deaf, but I’m also allergic to labels. Kaya wears her hearing loss like a badge, but I’m not so eager to flaunt the stones God placed in my ears to the rest of the world.

The girls take their seats before he leans in and signs. They asked how we were enjoying our first day.

How very nice of them. I gesticulate a little to get my sarcastic edge across. Next time just tap me on the arm, and I’ll know to pay better attention. It’s not like I want to keep the fact I can’t hear a secret, but I like to be a part of things. Sorry if I’m coming across snippy. I’m tired and hungry and all too ready to crash on that squeaky twin mattress back at the dorm.

Tristan breaks out with a relaxed smile. I apologize. I promise I’ll be more considerate. He examines me with a bit more scrutiny than I’m used to. You don’t have to be embarrassed about anything, Annie. You’re a sweet soul. Everyone will pick up on that. Plus you’re beautiful. Life always gives a pass to girls like you. He gives a quiet smile and turns to the front.

A pass, huh? Then why does today feel like one giant hurdle?

Professor O’Leary strides in. A tired looking man that has hands the size of baseball mitts. He tries his best to speak a little slower than usual and makes it a point to stand directly in front of me when delivering the lecture. It’s both embarrassing and unnecessary, but I appreciate his effort.

Tristan signs as he speaks.

“I want each of you to put together a portfolio on campus life through your unique eyes. The final will consist of a montage of photos that you feel best express your Whitney Briggs experience along with an oral report in which you relay what the photographs mean to you and how your view of life may or may not be altered through photography. I’m looking for artistry, impeccable imagery, and creativity. Pull at my heartstrings. Make me see you as a soul, not just a body that occupies a chair twice a week. Although a photograph captures a world trapped in silence—nothing conveys emotion louder than stunning imagery.”

It’s true. And as cliché as it sounds, a picture can convey something more meaningful than a thousand well-spoken words. It’s why I love to shoot the landscape, animals—people.

The class draws to a close as the professor examines our equipment. He gives my camera a brief nod of approval, but it’s hard to miss the fact that other students have far more impressive technology at their disposal.

Tristan and I stand to leave just as the beauty contestants make a spectacle of themselves to him—each struggling to thrust their chest a little closer to the poor guy’s face. We get it. You’re big, beautiful, and breasty. I sneer at them, but no one is paying any particular attention to me.

The tall one picks up Tristan’s hand with her freshly manicured fingers, speaking a mile a minute, flipping her blonde hair around like she’s trying to swat a fly. Her buddy scowls my way before pressing her chest toward Tristan, lest she forget the task at hand. It begs the question is chest-bumping some new mating ritual I’ve been in the dark about all these years? Either that or they don’t take kindly to other women hovering near their prey.

Tristan watches mesmerized as they swing their hips right out the door. His mouth drops open. Clearly he runs the risk of drooling all over his shoes.

They said to tell you hi. He stares vacantly in their wake while signing.

I’m right here, Tristan. They could have told me that to my face.

They’re not used to you yet.

Used to me? That’s okay, I laugh softly to myself. It’s pretty clear you’re all they want to get used to. Tristan is a good-looking Muppet if I don’t say so myself. I’m sure there will be a lot of beautiful girls vying for his attention over the next few years. I gauge him for a moment, studying the contours of his face, daring my stomach to clench the way it did this morning, but it declines the offer.

His cheeks stain a blotchy purple. The tall one is Johanna. The shorter girl has a hard Jersey accent. Her name is Courtney. They’re rushing for Alpha Chi. They wanted to know if you’re interested.

I roll my eyes. That’s classic—but nice of them. Next time they’re around, I’ll let you decline the offer for me. I’m not particularly annoyed with them. I realize it takes a little more effort for people to have a conversation with me. I don’t really blame those girls for asking him to relay a message.

We head out to go our separate ways.

See you tomorrow, I sign, ready to speed to my dorm. There’s nothing more I want than a nice, hot shower—my pillow has managed to seduce me sight unseen. I think I’ll blow off the bar tonight. God knows I’ve had enough action for one day. Any more stimulation and my head might actually pop off, that is if I don’t manage to get myself flattened by an errant semi in the meantime.

Tristan stuffs his hands in his pockets and sways back on his heels, examining me with an uncomfortable gaze.

“Hey, Annie?” I read his lips easily, and I’m thankful he’s speaking at a normal speed—that he’s speaking to me in general. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

So what did you say?” Marley spins into her reflection and runs her fingers through her flaxen curls one last time. She’s spent the last half hour wielding a gold-barreled curling iron with a hairstyling vengeance. She’s sprucing herself up at a manic pace, getting ready to head out to the Black Bear in just a few minutes. She’s begging me to go, but I keep refusing. The way my day is headed, I think it’s best to shut my eyes and mercifully put this twenty-four hour interval to an end.

I cringe at what came next. Well… I show her my phone. Marley doesn’t sign, but I can read her lips just as good as she can read the notes from my phone most of the time. I may have said yes.

Her pouty pink mouth falls open. “You lied?” Marley is your typical beautiful blonde with big ocean blue eyes that rival my own. And, unlike Johanna and Courtney, Marley has treated me just like anybody else right from the beginning. Maybe that’s why I felt so close to her from the get go. Marley has been a life raft to me ever since move-in day. She’s acclimated well to life at Whitney, so much so that she already has her own section in the school newspaper both the online version and the tree-slaughtering one. Her column, Sex and the Coed, has raised a few brows on campus, but, for the most part, she’s engrossed the masses. She said she needed a catchy title to get everyone’s attention. Her articles are mostly about fashion with the odd sex tips thrown in for good measure. Pairing the perfect jeans with a blowjob seems strange to me, but I grew up under a rock compared to everyone else, so I just go with it.

I type as fast as I can. I guess I did lie. But, I swear, I didn’t mean to. My head was just all over the place today. Something happened this morning that sort of spooked me, and it was all downhill from there. I show her my phone.

“What happened?” Her concern grows as she leans in. The light catches her sticky gloss, and her lips shimmer like a tiny galaxy of stars.

I may have got in the way of a moving vehicle. I cringe.

“Annie!” Her hand flattens over her chest. “I’m sorry, I should have been there for you.” She pulls me into a hug and rambles out a warm stream of words right into my shoulder before pulling back. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you go out that door alone this morning.”

It’s fine, really. Baya and Bryson tried to walk me to class. I close my eyes a moment envisioning what my brothers would do if they knew about my brush with a chrome fender followed by my brush with all out lust for the boy who saved me. Please don’t say anything. I thought my biggest challenge would be bikes and skateboards. I had no clue a freeway ran through campus.

She plucks the phone from my hand and pounds out a note.

It’s rare, but I’ve seen cars and trucks. Be careful. Her lips twist. I won’t tell but only under one circumstance.

I shrug in lieu of a written response. Marley and I are working out the kinks in our communication barrier quicker than I thought possible. In a few short weeks, Marley has managed to feel like the Whitney Briggs version of Kaya—not that Kaya could ever be replaced, just multiplied in a very sweet manner.

“Come to the Black Bear.” She bites down on her lower lip, a devious smile hedges up the sides. “Or when your brothers ask why you didn’t show, I might just have to spill everything.”

The Black Bear Saloon vibrates with an energy all of its own. I’ve been to a couple of parties with Marley, mostly on “the row” where the sororities and fraternities line the streets. The party scene seemed like a fun idea in theory, but it’s near impossible to read anybody’s lips in dim lighting, and I felt bad for Marley every time she tries to transcribe a conversation for me. I agreed to come to the Black Bear but only if she agreed to hang out with some of her other friends while I took pictures. I figure what better time to start cataloging my collegiate experience than tonight. Besides, I’ve been meaning to take a few cute couple shots of Baya and Bryson, and of my brother, Holt, and his fiancé, Izzy. Holt is Bryson’s fraternal twin, but only the discerning eye can tell them apart.

I spot Izzy by the bar tying back her long, dark hair. She and Holt are newly engaged. She’s the one who introduced me to Marley. Izzy and Marley’s sister Jemma, have been best friends for years. Izzy actually used to teach my dance class when I was a kid. She always made sure that I never missed a beat. She taught me to count my way through the numbers and put me in the middle of the action so that no matter where I turned I could pick up on visual cues from the other girls. I couldn’t have chosen a nicer person for my brother. He let the family know last summer that the reason he never went to college was because he felt like he caused my parents’ divorce. It was a huge mess. Obviously my father’s infidelity with a girl who had hardly turned eighteen at the time had more to do with it than he did. And by the time Holt realized he wasn’t the bomb that detonated over my parents’ marriage bed, he had already paid an emotional debt he never really owed. He and Izzy help run the bars in addition to her newly acquired dance studio, Electric Lights. Bryson is busy working on his masters and does most of the behind the desk stuff that the business requires. Ironically, I’m sort of a silent partner in both the business and in life.

The lights dim a bit, and a swarm of bodies move toward the stage as one of the bartenders, Cole, introduces the lineup for the night. I’ve known Cole for as long as I can remember. He and Bryson were roommates for years. The sign above his head reads 12 Deadly Sins, and judging by the anxious looks on the droves of girls lining the edge of the stage, these sinners have quite the female following. I take a seat near the wall and pull out my camera, taking pictures of the sea of platinum curls, the short skirts that seem far too impractical for the arctic drop in temperature we’re experiencing outside. Gawking at their long, bare legs through my lens has me feeling a bit pervish, so I sneak in a picture of Cole heading off stage, kissing his girlfriend, Roxy. I love Roxy. She’s as straight to the chase as one can get. It’s hard to get her to smile, but she’s pretty nice to me overall. She’s been known to bring cupcakes to the bar at least once a week during staff meetings, and they’re fabulous in a zillion calories sort of way. Once I gain my freshman fifteen, I’ll know who to point the finger at.

The band takes the stage, and the bodies jump up and down—boobs are jostled right out of their safety nets as the girls in front go wild, thrashing their fists in the air, swinging their hips to the non-existent music. I know it hasn’t started yet because at a venue like this the vibrations tend to ride through my body. The energy in the bar skyrockets as the girls work themselves in a head thrashing frenzy. I take a seat up on the table to get a better look as the music gets under way. The baritone of the bass pulsates through my chest. I lean straight against the wall and feel the rhythm of the music jump up and down my vertebrae like a xylophone. This is one of the things I know for a fact I’m missing out on in life—music. I close my eyes a moment and try to imagine what it must sound like. My parents outfitted me with heavy duty hearing aids when I was a kid, and I still have them, but they made the world scary like what I’d imagine demons sound like, heavy, tired moans that I’m positive I want no part in, so I never wear them. Instead I feel the vibration that life has to offer. And on occasions like this, I ache to know what it must feel like to hear something so fierce and majestic. Back at Quincy we used to turn the speakers up as loud as possible and feel the top ten iTunes hits vibrate through the room. I guess that was our way of experiencing what seems to have everyone else our age so mesmerized all the time.

A light tap emits over my leg, and I open my eyes to find Laney and Baya smiling at me.

Laney waves. “Can I get you anything?” She over annunciates the words.

I shake my head and point to the stage. My eyes connect with the lead singer, and my mouth opens as if I’m about to say something, but really it’s from sheer surprise.

It’s him. It’s the gorgeous boy with marbled eyes who saved me from acting out a very real piece of performance art today—the red asphalt rendition.

He elongates a note and smiles right at me. My stomach fills with a fire that expands right up my chest. There it is again, that physiological response that makes every cell in my body sit up and pay attention.

Baya and Laney don’t let the moment go unnoticed.

Baya jots something down on her notepad. Cute isn’t he?

I brush her off with a shy smile, but I can feel my cheeks burning right through my denial—sirening out a, hell yes! without my approval.

“Let me get you a soda,” Laney offers. “You want some food?” She looks as if she might be mouthing the words. I can usually tell, but I never mind.

I shake my head again, but she’s saying something and nodding, and I’m afraid she’ll be back with a steak before I know it. Sometimes people go out of their way for me, and Laney has always been like that.

Baya flashes her notepad at me again, Maybe after his set you can talk to him. She bounces on her heels at the thought.

“No way,” I mouth. I type out a quick text. I’ve got enough on my plate this semester. I don’t need to add desperate to the equation. I went on a few dates back at Quincy—all with boys in my class, mostly dances, but there wasn’t a real spark. Dating just seems like a waste of time unless you feel that spark.

Baya makes a face as she glances back at the lead singer. “I don’t know…” She wrinkles her nose as she scribbles out another note. Something tells me that boy knows how to start a lot more than a spark. Maybe you’re right, you’d better stay away. He looks capable of burning down the whole damn building if you know what I mean. She gives a quick wink before disappearing into the crowd.

I lean and press my back hard to the cold wall as the music, the vibration of that beautiful man’s voice, streams through my veins like a long anticipated breeze on a sweltering midnight. The cords in his neck distend as he belts out the lyrics, and in my heart the silence is exchanged for a rhythmic code to the universe. He’s wearing a dull green T-shirt with a faded image of a flag on it, but it’s his muscles, the hard contours of his body, that beg my eyes to stay. He’s muscular but not overly so. He has an overt charisma and charm about him that explains the estrogen bomb going off at his feet as the girls clamor to touch the hem of his jeans like he’s Jesus.

The night goes on with my brothers taking turns checking in on me. Laney brings me a steady order of nachos even though I’ve hardly touched the first. Cheese from a can just isn’t my thing, but I don’t have the heart to tell her. Marley and a few of the girls from our dorm have migrated over, and I’ve gladly shared the mother load with anyone who wants it.

“Can you believe this band!” Marley beams practically shaking me by the shoulders before her expression drops. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s okay,” I mouth. “I love them.” Well, the idea of them. They gave me good vibrations, I want to say, but I’m sure the idea sounds a bit too esoteric at the moment—or sexual. Marley has a way of turning even the most innocent thought into a vision of X-rated delight. Before I can say another word, I spot Tristan making his way over. The band cuts out, and the normal vibratory sounds emit from the speakers. I know for a fact that Holt has music streaming from the moment this place opens right up until the crew closes for the night.

I make a face at Marley. It’s too late to text her about Tristan. We’ll have to work out a code for get me out of this predicament.

Tristan gives a quick wave, and I motion for him to introduce himself to Marley. She nods toward him politely and smiles, but I can tell by the look on her face she’s sizing up the situation.

“Oh, you’re that Tristan!” Her eyes grow wide as she realizes it’s the poor boy I expended my very first lie to. I couldn’t feel like a bigger ass if I tried.

“So is your boyfriend here?” Tristan glances around fully expecting to see a living, breathing, male who might actually be in a commitment of some sort with me. I eye Cole for a moment, but that would be weird, and I’d hate to be cut off from my cupcake supplier so soon.

A gaggle of blondes head in this direction, and then I see him. It’s the boy with the eyes, the boy with the band, the boy whose mouth moves like a poem come to life as he leans into the mike, the one whose large and in charge of the 12 Deadly Sins. My stomach does a hard flop reminiscent of the stomach flu. I’m pretty sure hot boys are not supposed to remind you of a twenty-four hour puking session.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” I can read his lips clearly. I’ve already committed them to memory. His eyes are lined with black kohl, and it only makes him that much more absurdly handsome. This is definitely a look that he should pull off often if not daily. My mind drifts a moment as I envision him dipping into my makeup bag before I notice that he’s still waiting for me to answer his question. I go to shake my head, but Tristan opens his mouth instead.

“Are you the boyfriend?” He offers him a hand before he can refute it.

Marley’s mouth drops as she glances from the singer to me.

My palms grow sweaty, and the camera nearly slips from my grasp. I knew I shouldn’t have come tonight. On top of everything else poor Tristan here will discover that the girl he’s committed to assisting for the next four years is a barefaced liar. I can’t help it, though—a part of me doesn’t want him ogling me for the next half decade. At the moment, it did seem the only logical way out.

The boy with the marbled eyes looks from me to Tristan then back to me with an extended pause. His eyes singe into mine like flames, and I have to blink just to keep from fainting. What the hell has gotten into me today?

He nods into Tristan. “I am the boyfriend. Nice to meet you.”