LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Try Me (Extracurricular Activities #2): by Neve Wilder

Publish Date: August 5th, 2020
Number of Pages: 390 Pages
Publisher: Independently Published
Genre(s): LGBT, New Adult Romance, Erotica

**Warning!! This book contains spoilers from the previous book in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my review of book 1 – Want Me – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

That was the scary thing about love. It was unpredictable and unfathomable, and when you were walking a tightrope in its throes, the only thing that mattered was how much you trusted the person walking it with you.

– Neve Wilder, “Try Me”

What It’s About:

The official synopsis:

Two rivals. One law internship. A whole lot of objectionable activity.

It wasn’t always this way between us.
We were best friends growing up.
Competitive? Yeah.
Ruthless? Definitely.
Neither of us liked to lose.

But the intense chemistry?
That’s new.
The hatred in his eyes?
That’s new, too.

I should let it go.
There’s too much bad blood between our families. Between us.
But I can’t.
I don’t think he can, either.

Now we’re gunning for the same internship.
If he thinks I’ll back down, he’s dead wrong.

Once upon a time, I lost everything.
I won’t let it happen again.

Go ahead. Try me.

From the author of Want Me comes the second new adult college romance in the Extracurricular Activities series. Expect drama, snark, feels, egregious misuse of private property, a guy who’s way more heteroflexible than he realized, and a semi-sorta reformed bad boy who loves to test him.

~~~

This book was a great surprise to me! Book 1 was smoking hot with the focus solely on Nate and Eric and their smoldering relationship that formed, but one thing it kind of failed to do was make me care about any of the side characters. Mark was a notable character, but he was more an antagonist sort of with how he was confronting the two of them about why they were sneaking around, but he didn’t do much else besides just knowing him as one of Nate’s fraternity brothers and friend. When he had a fight with Chet, whom you don’t really meet in person in the book, part of me was wondering why I should care…but then I started this book and found out why.

This second installment in this MM college romance story now revolves around Mark and Chet, who have some interesting history that leads up to this book. They’re childhood friends who had a falling out and lost touch. There’s a ton more to that story, but you gotta read the book to get all that info! We’re gonna jump back to the present to when they get into a fight at Nate and Eric’s housewarming party, but then discover they’re fighting for the same law firm internship. Can they keep things professional and not let their history get in the way???

It’s a new adult romance novel and they’re the main characters, so of course they can and just like book 1, it’s total flame emojis….

I was surprised how much the author made me care about these characters, especially when Chet wasn’t even in the previous book…but oh yeah, I was rooting for them from page 1!

This book was a little more of a slow-burn in comparison, there isn’t a sex scene in EVERY chapter, but oh man is the spice awesome once again!

It also helps that this book had two perspectives telling the story instead of just one. It made the story feel deeper and more layered depths to it. I really think that helped in this book, especially with all the history between Mark and Chet.

But don’t let that deter you…the author still kept it pretty hot and steamy and dirty between these guys….it makes me jealous that all these hot, non-straight college males all live in the same house and I got nothing even close to that in my not-so-long-ago college days…

~~~

Mark Farrow, the boy I’d crushed on before I even knew what a crush was. The first guy I’d ever jacked off to. The first guy I’d ever wanted to kiss. The first guy who’d ever touched me exactly the fucking way I’d wanted to be touched. The only guy I could never have.

– Neve Wilder, “Try Me”

What I Liked:

  1. The Spice Continues! This book gets a 4-pepper rating in my system, it was filled with some extremely hot moments just like the previous book. It didn’t start in the first chapter this time, but oh man was it still a spicy read!
  2. Duo-Perspectives! I liked that the author switched it up and made both characters narrate the story. It added some complexity and more side-plots to the story. Both Mark and Chet got equal amount of time, and each an awesome side to this story!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Parents Suck….I was NOT a fan of Mark’s dad, and not just because he’s kind of the villain/antagonist in this story.

Conclusion:

Overall, I once again really enjoyed this book and am continuing to become a fan of this author REAL quick! Neve Wilder writes some hot-as-hell MM spicy romance and I want to learn all this authors other titles too!

Highly recommend if you’re into MM romance with a lot of spice as well as fluff, but mostly spice! Also if you’re into college romance stories, that’s an added plus here!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Writing/Articles

My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 5

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Here is the fifth chapter to add to my sneak peak of my work in progress about six young adults who all meet their freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In this chapter, you meet student athlete/scholar Madison Parker, who’s going to learn that balancing all that, plus a social life, isn’t as easy as she’d like it to be!

Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE

Hope you enjoy!

~~~

Chapter 5:

One day Madison Parker was going to change the world, and if fate didn’t make it so, she would have absolutely no problem taking it into her own hands. She knew life didn’t toss you more than a huge mess of curveballs—she’s had plenty thrown her way—so she always reminded herself to never hold her breath and wait for something to come to her; she needed to take it for herself if she wanted it enough.

Walking out of the Johnson Fieldhouse, the athletic center on the southernmost part of the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus, Madison heaved a sigh that eased the tightness in her chest. She stopped for a moment to enjoy the beautiful late-summer day. Sure, it was a bit outside of the normal hustle and bustle that made up her home city of Chicago, but she had to admit she liked the quieter, small town feel of the campus infused into the small, midwestern town of Menomonie. If she can thrive in Chi-Town, surely she would be just fine in small town, Wisconsin USA. 

Growing up in in one of Chicago’s oldest and nicest neighborhoods, Beverly, Madison lived right in the middle of the action of the Southside, but never felt like it was ever totally unsafe, and she’s always been used to a close-knit, diverse community that her hometown gave her while growing up, and with the Metra nearby, she could be deep within the Windy City in a matter of minutes with her friends, and get into (not) too much trouble.

Madison was always busy putting high expectations on herself in whatever she did: being in the top one percent of her graduating class, speech team, yearbook committee, and even being a two-sport athlete with a few records she proudly left behind in her final year back home.  

She supposed she could’ve gone anywhere for school, but what she didn’t bother telling her friends back home was how UW-Stout probably had one of the most affordable art programs in the midwest. Money wasn’t necessarily tight, but Madison could tell how they were worried how they’d be able to afford to send her off to school and not fall into the deep, dark hole that was student debt. Thankfully with her organization and ability to pay attention to even the microscopically-sized details, she’d been able to find enough scholarships that almost entirely financially backed her years as an undergrad.

Thinking about her mom, Madison sighed again with a sharp pang shooting straight through her chest. She hadn’t expected to already miss her family on just her second day of college; she even wished her obnoxious little turd of a brother, Dante, was around even though he stole a pair of her underwear to use as a slingshot the night before they left, or left her crude messages on her vanity mirror with her tubes of lipstick. It was a huge shock to her when her mother and baby brother helped move her into her dorm the day before and left before it’d fully hit her. She’d always had her family nearby whether she was home or out spending her hard earned money on the latest handbag from Michael Kors on Michigan Avenue, but now she was on her own for the first time ever. She wouldn’t be able to sit in her dining room and enjoy her mom’s amazing cooking everyday after school; she’d have to rely on the cafeteria or the Memorial Student Center; and there was no way it was going to be the same. 

A small group of three upperclassmen guys walked by along the sidewalk, and Madison warmed under their appreciative looks as they passed by. With how much her outfit cost and how long she took in getting ready that morning, she knew she looked good.

As she drew closer to her new home for the next two semesters, HKMC, Madison heard someone playing music from plus movement on the sand volleyball court also caught her eye, and she saw Heather Gracie with two seriously good looking guys practicing sets to each other. Heather put her hair up in a high ponytail and laughed at something the darker haired guy said, but the blond one was especially some serious eye candy, Madison had to admit. She watched him take his shirt off, appreciating the way the sun brightened his golden skin and made the dips and planes of his muscles even more pronounced. She was a sucker for a decent pair of abs. 

Oh my goodness, Madison mentally chastised herself. Girl, stop drooling before they catch you staring! 

She waltzed inside the side entrance of the dorm to get up to the third floor of Milnes and Chinnock. Checking her smartphone and to see a Snapchat from Lindsay, Madison opened it up to see her new friends were in Mandy and Ali’s room.

It still surprised her how quickly she’d met the other girls, who were thankfully all on the same floor as her. It was only the second day at school and it seemed like everyone has already paired off into little groups; maybe they formed meaningful relationships, or maybe it was more out of pure convenience to latch onto the closest people who have anything in common with out of fear of being alone, being looked down upon in some way. Madison liked to think the former on her situation: the girls approached her immediately after that extremely long and awkward floor meeting and formed their little inner circle. 

When Madison walked into the room, Mandy was curling Lindsay’s hair to give it some beachy waves while Ali sat in their red suede loveseat, watching The Walking Dead on a large TV. 

Madison smirked at Mandy’s disgusted look as a group of zombies began to tear open some poor, screaming victim like a feeding frenzy. It was never her thing either, but Madison could appreciate the amount of detail the costume department put into making a show about a zombie apocalypse look so realistic. 

Lindsay looked like she also wanted to protest, but just remained quiet and simply did her best to ignore the gory scene on the TV screen, and perked up when she noticed Madison in the doorway. 

“Ohmygosh, Mads, how’s it going? We missed you at breakfast earlier.”

“Hey Linds, sorry about that, but I was in a meeting.” Madison sat down next to Ali. “I’m joining the Track team.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you played sports,” Mandy said without looking away from Lindsay’s hair. 

“Do you play any?” Madison asked.

 “Hmm, not really, they’ve never been my scene, but all the more power to you. What position are you on, anyways?”

Madison chuckled. “I’m just a runner, so sprints and relays are my thing.”

“Huh, that makes sense considering how great your legs look,” Ali said.

Lindsay grinned at her friend. “Right?! I was just saying how bangin’ Madison’s body is. Like, she totally has better legs than Rihanna ever did.”

Mandy bemusedly rolled her eyes while still working on Lindsay’s hair. “Yes Mads, you could totally be working a runway if modelings on your radar.”

“Well, my only runway right now is the synthetic rubber of my lane on the track field, but feel free to keep these facts rolling, I am high-key all for it!” Madison sat up straighter and straightened her designer blouse. “Actually, speaking of sports, I saw Heather with some really cute guys down on the court. Anyone interested to go join?”

Lindsay and Mandy both acted like they hadn’t heard her., but both jumped when someone’s scream blasted from the TV.

Mandy groaned. “God Ali, seriously?…how can you watch that crap?”

“What? This is entertaining as hell! Plus, Daryl’s one of the best characters in TV history,” Ali responded, her eyes barely leaving the screen.

Lindsay played with the ends of a few strands of hair. “She’s always been into these kind of shows. She’s defs going to, like, make us watch all her favorite horror movies once it gets closer towards Halloween too.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Ali sat up. “Actually, count me in, Madison, Heather seemed pretty legit yesterday.”

Oh right, I could I forget she’s going to be there? Madison rolled her eyes. “Mhmm, yeah…totally.”

Ali’s eyebrow rose. “Please try to hold in your enthusiasm on that. What’s your problem? She say something to you?”

Madison huffed. “Not at all, but I’m not exactly high on anyone who so obviously doesn’t want to be around us.”

Mandy’s green eyes flashed as she looked over. “Seriously though! She was a total bitch to us at the MSC for no reason at all, and was actually so rude even though we invited her to come with us.”

Ali scoffed. “You weren’t any better, Mandy.”

“Hey, I was only giving back what she was dishing out in the first place. If someone is going to be an asshole to me when I don’t deserve it, I’m gonna call a bitch out on it.”

Madison nodded. “Exactly! Ain’t nobody got time for that unjustified bitchy behavior for absolutely no reason.”

Lindsay pursed her lips and her baby blue eyes were wide as she remained silent in her seat.  

Ali frowned. “Okay, then why suggest that we go out and join her?”

“Because I wouldn’t mind showing her up after putting up with her BS,” Madison shot back with a neck roll. If Heather Gracie wanted to start drama on the first day on campus, Madison swore she had no problem with some retaliation to show she was more than capable of ending it.

“Maybe she’s just shy? Being quiet doesn’t automatically mean someone is being bitchy, you know?”

Madison rolled her eyes. “Alright fine, you’ve got a point Ali, so maybe let’s go down and join in and start over then?”

“We should go for a little bit,” Mandy announced after a short pause. “After all, according to Madison there are cute boys, and I didn’t break up with my ex over the summer to just stay inside and just spend time with my girls.”

Lindsay just continued to smile and remain silent, but her smile seemed more forced. 

Madison nodded at her. “Sorry Linds, I know she’s your roommate and all, but even you can admit she was being pretty ratchet towards us for no apparent reason.” 

Lindsay’s smile finally dropped and she looked down at the floor. “I guess, but maybe it’s like Ali said and she’s just shy?”

Mandy scoffed. “I doubt it…a girl who looks like a younger and hotter Jessica Simpson should have absolutely no problem with self-confidence.”

Mandy finished the last few strands of Lindsay’s hair before putting her curling iron away. Ali got up and stripped down without any warning, not caring one bit that her door to the hallway was still wide open while she changed in front of her closet. 

“Holy Shit, Ali!” Madison feigned shock and shielded her eyes. “Warn a girl before deciding to let it all fall out!”

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it baby,” Ali shot back with a wink. She decided on one of her faded black concert tees’ with the sleeves cut out with some with some well-worn cutoff denim shorts. 

Mandy playfully poked Ali right in the chest before closing the door and changing into some workout gear. “Well, at least volleyball doesn’t have any gross, nasty AF zombies lurking around.”

Nope, just ex boyfriends apparently…

The four of them walked down to the court, and Madison couldn’t believe what was happening before her: Mandy had just called out the incredibly gorgeous blonde guy, who they all learned was named Jared, admitting he’s the guy she broke up with over the summer. Normally, Madison couldn’t help but live for the amount of drama that was happening before her eyes—it felt like she was inside one of her favorite tv shows, Gossip Girl—but it is so different when it happens in real life.

Did Mandy know beforehand that her ex went to the same school as her? Maybe she was hoping to run into him like this; she certainly seemed to be eating it up how much shaken he obviously was about it, but if she did know about him, why wouldn’t she share the news with any of her friends? Sure, they’ve only known each other just under twenty-four hours, but something felt off about all this. 

Everyone is dead silent, eyebrows all shot to the sky along with eyes darting back and forth, anticipating what could possibly happen next, or who would speak up first.

Heather cleared her throat after regaining some composure. “Well, obviously I don’t know the whole story here, but I’m shooting down any drama starting right now. We’re just here to play some volleyball, so if you want to join in, feel free, but otherwise you can go if you’re just here to start shit.” She turned back towards a glowering Jared. “What do you say?”

Jared pouted a little bit while not meeting anyone’s eyes, but reluctantly nodded his head with a gaze that almost looked like respect. “I’m here to play some volleyball.” 

Heather gave him a small smile as he patted her on the shoulder before jogging back towards the game, and Madison couldn’t help but sneak a peak at his retreating form. 

Heather turned back towards her and the other girls and crossed her arms. “Like I said, you’re all more than welcome to join in too. Just no drama.”

Madison wanted to shoot back some retort, considering the cold shoulder Heather gave them the day before, but her new friend beat her to the punch. 

Mandy tilted her head with a seemingly sincere smile. “There’s absolutely nothing to worry about, we’re all only here to play some games, that’s all.”

“Yep, playing games alright,” Heather muttered under her breath.

Madison couldn’t help but smirk at that, plus Heather’s sour expression as Mandy strutted right past her just made it even more hilarious. She had to give the blonde some credit though: she mean’t business when she actually spoke up, and she definitely noticed Mandy’s absolutely scandalized expression at Heather’s warning. Things were getting very interesting between the two of them.  

Lindsay walked forward next and smiled extra wide. “Thanks for letting us join, roomy! I bet we’ll all have loads of fun.”

Heather’s expression warmed, because how could anyone be cruel towards someone like Lindsay, who always has a bright smile? “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you earlier. Honestly, I didn’t know if you and the girls would want to play or not.”

Lindsay waved her off. “Oh it is, like, so not a big deal! We made it, we’re all here now, so the real fun can begin.” 

Madison noted how Lindsay practically bounced straight over to Mandy’s side on the court, all while Jared made sure to stay as physically far away from them as possible as if they had the swine flu everyone freaked out about not too long ago.

Madison stayed behind with Ali, who shared a look with her before clearing her throat to catch Heather’s attention. 

Ali shot her a nod. “You know Heather, you’re alright. You don’t stand for bullshit, and I’ve got mad respect for that.”

Madison wanted to say so much more, not nearly as complimenting as her friend, but nodded her head in agreement to play along. For now. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure Mandy’s not used to having anyone actually stand up to her like that. It takes a real boss-bitch to make that sort of power play.”

Heather whole body remained taut like she was expecting them to pounce at a moment’s notice, but she shrugged a shoulder nonetheless. “It’s no big deal, I just don’t want stupid drama when it’s only our second day here is all.”

Hmmm, then what was your issue with us in the MSC yesterday? Madison wondered. 

“I hear ya, and like I said, I can respect that. On that note, I say lets play already.” Madison felt Ali’s gaze land on her with a knowing smirk. “Right Mads?”

Madison frowned. “Of course, what’s with the look?”

“Oh nothing, don’t think so much about it.” Ali turned regarded Heather once again with a raised brow. “Well if you want to join us, there’s that free movie playing tonight on the quad. I know Mandy will be there, but she’s actually not as bad as you probably think.”

Heather laughed under her breath. “I’ll think about it.”

Madison continued to eye her down, and the two shared a look before Heather decided to turn around and rejoin the game. 

“Well, that was reassuring,” Madison muttered once Heather was out of earshot. 

Ali groaned. “Don’t be such a hater, Mads. Let’s go see those legs of yours in action.” 

Ali smacked Madison right on her behind while jogging away before Madison even had a change to retaliate. 

Madison couldn’t help but laugh to herself before noticing the small group of four sitting over at the picnic table. Eden Harrington and Jenna Nguyen sat at a picnic table with two guys whom Madison hadn’t seen before. One was tall, slim, and very obviously flamboyantly gay, while the other seemed much quieter, and judging by how everyone but him giggled uncontrollably, the only sober one of the four. Madison cringed and hoped none of the RA’s came out and caught them in the act, because they weren’t even trying to be subtle about it by now. They continued to pass a water bottle amongst each other.  

Eden noticed Madison staring, and she smiled and waved with an exuberance of excitement that usually came with someone who was incredibly drunk and saw someone they knew. “Heeeeyyya roomy!”

Totally busted, Madison reluctantly waved back and hoped her cringing grimace was perfectly hidden by the smile she popped onto her face. Yep, her and Eden were roommates, and they couldn’t be any more different from each other. She was already in countdown mode when the housing department would allow them to put in requests to switch rooms, then maybe she and Lindsay could switch while maybe Heather and Eden could move in together. 

Madison tied her dark, long hair up into an artfully messy bun that rested on the top of her head as she turned away and finally joined the game, ignoring her roommates pleas to come join her.

~~~

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Writing/Articles

My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 4

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Here’s another chapter to add to what is my sneak peak of my WIP passion project about a fictional series of books I hope to get published one day revolving around six young adults as they all meet in college! In this chapter, you meet the big man on campus, and all around total player: Jared Mikaelson. Read on to see what he gets up to within just the first few days after moving onto the UW-Stout campus. He certainly knows how to start things off with a bang, no pun intended!

Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE

Hope you enjoy!

~~~

Chapter 4:

Standing at six-foot-two with perfectly swept back blond hair, cerulean blue eyes, broad shoulders, and a grin that’s gotten him away with more than he’ll ever care to admit, Jared walked around like he was the big man on campus, because to him, it was only a matter of time before everyone who was anyone would know who he was anyways.

The day before, he strolled around the Backyard Bash with his roommate, Brayden, since their RA had the entire floor follow him after finishing the most awkward circle of ice breakers in a floor meeting ever. The entire time, Jared only wished he’d found that one guy on his floor, Rob, to buy some weed off him and make it all somewhat more bearable, but hey, at least he knew he didn’t have to go far to score a bag whenever the mood struck. He only had to walk about thirty feet down the hall and past the bubbler.

Brayden bumped Jared on the shoulder. “Bro, check out the sorority babes totally checking us out.”

Following Brayden’s nod, Jared glanced over at the Tri Sig booth, specifically at the coed who looked like a younger, tanner version of Lucy Liu. It took all of five minutes to score her number and the details for a party later that night at some random open house with a keg. Jared and Brayden had gotten inside with no problem, and immediately found themselves doing keg stands, winning rounds of pong, and enjoyed all the girls wanting a piece of the hot new freshman studs.

At one point, Jared frowned when Brayden actually turned one of them down. He swatted his roommate’s chest. “What the fucks your problem? That was a guaranteed thing!”

Brayden wore a sheepish smile as he swept his dark locks out of his face. “Bro, I told you, I’m still with Danielle.”

It took Jared a second to backtrack and remember this detail. “You mean that chick you said who goes to UW-Madison?”

Brayden’s blue eyes lit up at the mention of his high school sweetheart’s name. “Yeah bro, We’re going on two years now, and I think we can really make it work long distance.”

Jared noticed the stares of several girls checking them both out in that dark and sweaty basement, but his roommate was either completely oblivious or he actually just chose to ignore them. Brayden was a good looking guy; girls ate up the dark hair, blue-eyed lacrosse bro vibes that he could totally use to his advantage, but decided not to.  

Jared shrugged while he took a sip of out of his solo cup. “Whatever dude. If that works for you, cool, but remember that your girlfriend is about a three hour drive from here, and there are handfuls of babes not even twenty feet away that could equal a great time tonight.”

Brayden’s smile cracked along the edges, but he quickly recovered. “I know, believe me I’ve noticed, but you don’t need to hook up at a party to have a good time. Besides, when you meet someone special, no one else can even compare, you know?”

“Yeah, sure dude. Whatever you say.” 

Based off his own personal history, Jared contemplated how long it’d take for Brayden to figure out that long-distance relationships were never worth it, especially with both him and his girlfriend being freshmen in college now. Jared remembered his girlfriend from back home, and how she’d ended things with him the day of his high school graduation earlier in the summer.

Jared came to the university of Wisconsin-Stout with one specific goal in mind: to become a campus legend. For him, that mean’t going to the biggest parties, hooking up with the hottest girls, and being the guy who always had a wild and crazy story attached to his name. Years from now, he wanted people to be like, “Hey, did you hear that story about Jared Mikaelson when he insert one of the many stories of his awesomeness?” 

He wanted college to be just like almost every movie defined it as, from American Pie to Van Wilder. Even more importantly,he could finally make his own decisions and not have everything pre-determined without even having consulted him prior on the matter.

Still at the party, Jared separated himself from Brayden when he realized their goals for that night were no longer aligned, so his roommate gave zero effort and somehow made new friends with a couple of guys at the pong table while Jared decided that he was on the hunt. 

He found Ms. Lucy Liu look-alike about twenty minutes later. An hour after that, the two of them wandered back to Jared’s dorm room, which was thankfully still unoccupied, but Brayden was the last thing on Jared’s mind when there was a frisky coed beneath him underneath the covers.

At some point in the night, Brayden returned while Jared and Lucy-Liu were passed out, but Jared woke up the next morning and noticed his roommate’s sleeping form in his lofted bed across the small room.

He felt Lucy Liu shift in his arms as she too woke up, and he hatched an idea. With his eyes glancing over towards his still sleeping roommate, the two of them decided to go another round just to see if they could get away with it. 

His morning got even more successful when soon afterwards they’d decided to sneak into the showers together. Sure, some guy from his floor totally pretty much walked in on them, but getting caught with a girl in the showers wasn’t exactly something Jared would ever actually be ashamed of. 

After they went their separate ways, Jared woke up Brayden, and they both strolled down into the HKMC lobby to walk over and check out the athletic center’s weight room.

Jared spotted a blonde in short denim cutoffs holding a volleyball at the front counter, and he couldn’t help but mutter an appreciative “Damn,” under his breath as his eyes travelled up and down her figure. Her tan skin practically glowed, her hair cascaded halfway down her back, and her impossibly long legs had him fantasizing about them wrapped around his waist. He quickly speculated how long it could take to convince her to sneak off somewhere together later. 

Jared nudged Brayden and nodded in her direction as they both got closer. The hunt was on.

Jared pointedly cleared his throat. “Yo Brayden, weren’t you just telling me how a game of volleyball sounded like fun?”

Brayden played along. “Yeah bro, I was just saying how we should totally rent a ball, but it looks like someone beat us to the punch.”

Jared grimaced; Brayden could hold his own at pong as the night before proved, but the guy still had a thing or two to learn with acting. It was a bit cringeworthy. 

The girl scowled while turning around to face them, obviously not buying their little show. Even the larger guy with glasses and a receding hairline behind the front counter glowered at them. 

Whatever, like Seth Rogen over there actually has a chance with her, Jared thought to himself. This ain’t “Knocked Up,” no matter what he wants to believe.

Jared turned his attention back towards the girl. “It seems like great minds think alike, I hope we can join in.” He flashed his panty-dropping smirk for added measure; it’s worked for him just about every time he’s unleashed it. “The name’s Jared, and this is my roommate, Brayden. We’re in third Chinnock.” 

The tall blonde eyed him and Brayden for a moment before answering. “I’m Heather, and that’s funny because I live on third Milnes, so I guess we’re neighbors, much to my disdain… that means bad in case you needed clarification.”

Jared could admit he wasn’t expecting that kind of response—sneaking off later might not be happening like he’d hoped—but he couldn’t help but chuckle. “Huh, what a small world. So if you don’t mind, Brayden and I can go change and maybe grab my speaker, so we’ll meet you out there?”

Heather crossed her arms with a bemused smile. “Oh, so you just assume that you’re invited?”

He noticed Heather had her navel piercing which was kind of a turn on, but he made sure to keep his eyes above her shoulders at this particular moment in time. “Well, we’re still here, right? You haven’t told us to fuck off yet.”

“Very true, the key word being yet. Drop the douche routine, and maybe you can stick around.”

“You got it, sweetheart.”

Her eyes narrowed at that. “It’s Heather, remember?”

Jared’s grin widened. “I don’t actually. My memory sucks and I don’t know many words, remember?”

“Silly me for giving you too much credit, Jare-bear.”

Jared clicked his tongue. “Aww baby…you’ve already picked out a pet name? I dig it.”

Heather’s eyes flashed. “Don’t kid yourself, pretty boy.”

The two of them stared each other down, her frown deepening while his smile only grew even wider. One of them had to give up at some point. Brayden just looked back and forth between them like he watching an intense tennis match.

Heather’s expression cracked along the edges before she shook her head and laughed. “Tell you what, you guys go find more people to join in, and maybe I’ll be on your team. Sound good?”

Brayden threw Heather a thumbs up. “Sounds dope to me.”

“Awesome, the more the merrier. I’ll go claim the court before anyone else does.” Heather began to walk away. She pointedly ignored Jared as she waved at his roommate. “It was nice to meet you, Brayden.”

Brayden waved back as he threw a smarmy smile Jared’s way, who just flicked him off in response.

“Hey! What about me?” Jared called out to Heather.

“I’m still deciding,” she snapped back without even a glance over her shoulder.

Jared couldn’t help but laugh. He tilted his head towards Brayden while still watching her walk away. “I still don’t know how you plan to keep a girlfriend when there are some serious knockouts all over campus.”

Brayden sighed. “Bro, I already told you, Danielle and I want to try and make the distance thing work.” He looked back towards Heather’s retreating form. “You’re not wrong about the knockouts part though.”

Jared shook his head as the two of them walked out of the lobby to go back upstairs. 

The guy behind the front counter with the receding hairline waited until the two of them were both out of earshot before he finally rolled his eyes, letting out a big huff of air. 

“I hope those fucktards peaked in high school,” he muttered without looking away from his laptop screen. 

~~~

“Already moving on from the chick from last night?” Brayden asked Jared as they walked out the side door of the dorm into the bright and humid day. They came back down from the third floor about ten minutes later after they both changed into some athletic wear and sandals, and after going around the floor and recruiting anyone with their door open to come join them on the volleyball court. 

“She knew it was a casual thing going in,” Jared replied while tossing around his wireless bluetooth speaker. “I mean, it definitely wasn’t anything serious. I better believe I made sure Candice knew that before anything went down.” 

It was a lesson he’d learned from plenty of past experiences: Jared always made it a point to double check with any girl he was going to get hot and heavy with that they were on the same page and that there were no unrealistic expectations. There was less drama that way, they could both get what they wanted out of it, and could even get together for another few rounds if the mood ever struck, just so long as they remained on the same page.

“So you did at least get her name.” Brayden patted him on the back. “Proud of you, bro.”

Jared scoffed. “I’m not a total fucking pig dude, of course I knew her name. She fucking slept in our room last night!”

“And now you’re already moving onto the next one down the list.”

Jared eyed Heather, who was alone out on the sand court wedged between the four dorms of HKMC. “Whats so wrong about that?”

“Nothing I guess… well, maybe there is?”

“Well, which is it? Cuz as soon as she can hear us—,” Jared lowered his voice as he subtly gestured to Heather “,—this conversation is over.”

Brayden somehow frowned while still keeping his usual smiling expression. “Just remember that girls are more than just sex, I guess?”

“Sure thing, bro.” Jared flashed his own signature grin as he nodded at Heather. “Hey gorgeous, ready for us?”

Heather raised a perfectly arched brow. “I have been. Weren’t you supposed to grab some more people?”

Jared turned on his speaker and T-Pain immediately started blasting. “Whats that saying again? Good things come to those who wait?

Heather rolled her eyes.

Brayden quickly explained how they went around and recruited a few people on the floor to come down, which seemed to appease her. 

“How ‘bout we practice serves or something?” Brayden suggested. “For real though, mine could probs use some practice.”

“Not a bad idea there, roomie, lets do it,” Jared said as he removed his shirt and tossed it next to his speaker and sandals on the grass nearby. Knowing his abs were on display, he peaked over to see if Heather noticed. She definitely gave him a look, but turned around and went to the other end of the sand court while tying her hair up in a high ponytail. Jared mentally patted himself on the back; the see has officially been planted. 

“I’ll serve to you guys, see if you can actually catch them,” Heather called out.

Brayden gave Jared a quick jab in the ribs. “Prepare to fuckin’ eat it, dude.”

Jared shoved him away with a chuckle. “Yeah right bud, get ready to fall hard on your ass after I’m through with you.”

“Yo, that sounds kinda gay dude. You sure you don’t swing the other way?”

Jared was about to respond, but a slap tore through the air, and a white flash crossed his vision before the volleyball wailed him right across the face. He stumbled back a step or two before he fully realized what even happened. His eyes flashed to Brayden, who was bent over in hysterics, then back over at Heather, who walked up to the net with the biggest smug expression he’d ever seen. 

Despite the teasing and back and forth lines they’ve shared, Jared couldn’t help but feel a quick rush of anger shoot straight up his spine. “What the fuck was that? We weren’t even looking!”

Heather didn’t back down. “Sorry, but I was getting bored of your testosterone-fueled, macho, masculine trash-talk and decided matters into my own hands, no pun intended.” She even added a little wink at the end. 

Brayden managed to stop laughing as he looked down at his phone. “Man, I wish I got on my story! Heather, can we do another take?”

Heather bent over and picked up the ball. “I’m down if Jare-Bear’s bruised ego hasn’t taken too hard a hit?”

Jared huffed out air through his nose and chuckled in pure frustration. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. Serve again, and see what happens.”

Heather nodded. “Shows what can happen if you don’t keep your head in the game.”

“Okay High School Musical… just serve it.”

Heather laughed as she waltzed back to her side, and Jared cursed under his breath and could’ve sworn that she added a bit more sway in her hips to tease him further. He vowed he was going to savor it when he eventually had her screaming his name. He convinced himself it was only a matter of time. 

The three of them continued to serve and set to each other up; Brayden had a surprisingly wicked overhand once he got the hang of it. 

Not long after that, one other guy timidly walked over towards them, which was amusing since he was a bigger guy, and Jared figured he could make an effective lineman on the football team.

Heather noticed him too and gave him a warm, welcoming smile. “Hey, want to join in? We’re still waiting for more people, but we’ll take as many as we can!”

The guy scratched his short beard and stumbled over his words. His face went red as he barely managed to stammer out, “Sure thing.”

In a rush, he removed his sneakers and socks and joined Heather on her side to make it an even two-on-two.

Brayden juggled the volleyball in his hands as he regarded the new guy. “Hey, you’re on our floor, right?”

 The guy’s eyes widened at that. “You guys… you both came to my door and told me to join you down here.”

Brayden scratched the back of his head. “Oh yeah, right… my bad.” 

Brayden and Heather both introduced themselves, and hearing his name mentioned, Jared flashed a peace sign on the other side of the court before scratching his abs. The quiet, bearded guy looked him up and down before jerking his head in a nod while introducing himself as Matt Anderson. 

With four people on the sand court, they were finally able to start an actual volleyball game. 

More people joined in soon after; it was like the music was attracting people like moths to a flame. Before they knew it, there was ten people on both sides, and even a few people along the sidelines waiting to rotate in. 

After awhile they switched up the teams, and a group of two girls and two guys walked by to just sit and watch at the nearby picnic bench; the girls both sharing a single water bottle with the taller of the two guys, their faces all scrunched-up after each taking a sip, like it wasn’t obvious what they were doing. The shorter guy with glasses skipped the bottle every time it was passed to him.

One girl, who had longer light-brown hair with bangs and green eyes, stared at Jared and threw him a wink. Jared returned her look with a coy little grin of his own before bringing his attention back to the game, and just in time to witness sand explode right at Matt’s feet. the volleyball rolled away as their teammates all yelled at him for missing the spike.

Jared walked up to him from behind and nudged his shoulder, ignoring his surprised little jump. “Dude, just set me up whenever you get the chance, then we’ll seriously kick some ass.”

Matt nodded, and both watched as Heather threw another perfect overhand serve that barely made it over the net. One of their teammates stumbled as he whacked the ball, but was still able to set it towards Matt, who gave the perfect set up to Jared. Thanks to a couple years of basketball, Jared leaped into the air for a vicious spike, even adding an enormous grunt for added effect. The ball was a flash of white as it shot past the net, splashing up sand where it landed. 

His teammates all gave him a whoop of congratulations, and Jared pointed a finger at Matt, both sharing a wide smile. “That’s what I’m fucking talking about! You’re the man!” 

Matt nodded back before jogging over to the sidelines during the rotation now that it was their serve, and Jared amusedly noticed that there was a little more bounce in his step. 

He noticed Heather staring his way, watching him and Matt’s little exchange, and Jared wondered what she was thinking as she seemed to regard him in a different light than the usual snark she’s been tossing his way.  

Four more girls walk over towards the court, and one quick glance their way told Jared they were definitely “those girls” from high school. It wasn’t that he’d really say he dated those kinds of girls—except for one exception—but from where he grew up, there was usually more than likely some sharp claws ready to stab out an eye underneath all the glam. At least, his ex certainly gave him that impression. 

A dark-brunette stepped ahead of the others. He took her in, and a feeling of unease filled the pit of his stomach at how familiar she seemed. He frowned and took a second look, and a jolt of pure, shocked terror raced up his spine and hit him right in the chest. 

There was no way…

She eyed him too, and when she too recognized him, her eyes widened before she quickly recovered and flashed him a Cheshire grin that gave him a sick feeling of oily, acidic, regurgitation. “Wow Jared, it’s nice to see you still love playing with balls.”

By now, others stopped and stared; even the other girls she’d walked over with all seemed confused. Her darker-skinned friend gestured between the two of them. “Wait, do you two know each other?”

Jared blinked several times before he felt himself freeze over and all emotions were blacked-out. It was like that part of his brain was shut down entirely and left nothing behind. “Mandy…. what the fuck are you doing here?”

To make matters even worse, Heather jogged over and  stood beside him; she was probably already buddied up with Mandy and the girls, and that’s why she’s been giving him so much attitude. Jared almost wanted to laugh at how ironic it was that for the first time in his life that he was surrounded by all these beautiful women and it was actually the worst thing that could be happening to him. 

Heather waved.“Hey Mandy, glad you gals could make it. Did you want to join in?” 

Mandy amusedly looked over at Jared once again, and he refused to squirm under her gaze. “We’d love to play some games. Can I be on Jared’s team?”

Jared just remained silent and stoic as ever, and also pointedly ignored Heather’s little frown as she glanced over at him. He turned away as he could feel the weight of everyone’s on him: Heather’s, Mandy’s, her three friends’, Brayden’s, Matt’s, even the green eyed chick still sitting over at the picnic table. Normally he was all about having everyone’s attention—he’d even say he thrived on it—but now he just couldn’t strain against the weight of it all any longer.

Heather flipped her long ponytail over her shoulder and rested her hands on her hips. “Okay, but before we get back to it, I guess a more interesting question is how exactly do you know Jared?” 

He wasn’t going to say a word; he was too busy trying to figure a way out to get out of his own personal hell and keep a shred of his dignity. The only thing missing was his parents. 

Mandy cleared her throat and turned back to Heather, clearly loving the scene she’s caused, and Jared wanted nothing more than to wipe that smug smile off her face and make her feel as miserable as he did. 

Mandy smile was ice cold. “Oh, we know each other alright. Jared just happens to be my ex-boyfriend.”

~~~

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Writing/Articles

My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 3

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Welcome back, and take a look at the third chapter of my work in progress: a novel that will turn into a multi-book series loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout! While I’m still editing away on my second draft, I’m still continuing posting just the first few chapters to allow anyone interested to get a sneak peak at what I’ve been working on. It’s been a long couple of weeks with plenty of drama, work kicking my butt, family tragedy, and I’ll admit it’s all caused me to mentally step away and not focus as well as I usually have, but I can’t beat myself up for that! I won’t go into detail, but I’d say it’s pretty well justified; all I will say is be sure to reach out to your loved ones, whether it’s your biological family or your chosen or both, tell them you love them, you appreciate them in your life, and that you cherish them! You never know when life will take a crazy turn, and suddenly someone is taken away from you too soon…

Back to the topic of my project, here is the next chapter to (hopefully) enjoy that follows Luke Mitchell this time around. Get a sneak peak of what’s brought him to campus at the start his freshman year; he’s certainly got some major baggage he carries similarly to Matt and Heather, who you’ve met in the previous posted chapters.

Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE

Hope you enjoy!

~~~

Chapter 3:

The next morning, Luke yawned and stretched his arms above his head before trying to tame his wild, chestnut waves. He coughed when he got a big whiff of his roommate Rob, not expecting the smell of marijuana as soon as he woke up. It did explain where he’d been until three in the morning. 

Luke chuckled to himself as he glanced over at Rob’s passed out form in his lofted bed; he wasn’t even trying to be subtle about smoking, but based off how deafening his snoring was, he also wasn’t getting up anytime soon. 

Climbing down the side ladder, Luke quietly undressed before snagging his towel, shampoo, and body wash before heading over to the communal showers. He almost forgot his rubber flip flops, which reminded him when his older brother had explicitly warned him to pack a pair. He hadn’t been able to take it seriously, because really, who actually wore flip flops into the shower? 

His brother, Brett, remained persistent. “Lukey, it’s a communal shower with a bunch of guys in college… You have no idea what goes on in those stalls, or what stays behind. Trust me, you don’t want to be barefoot in there. If they could talk, those tiles would be screaming louder than Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.”

Luke made the short trek from his room down the hallway towards the communal bathroom, but of course, two girls just happen to walk in from the stairwell with to-go containers. Wearing nothing but a towel, Luke stopped and mumbled a “sorry, excuse me,” with his head down before letting them pass first. One of the girls, who had bangs and green eyes, eyed him up and down in appreciation before whispering something to her friend as they both walked back to the girls side on the third floor of Chinnock-Milnes. 

Double checking his flat stomach with what he had to consider a semi-decent pair of abs, Luke also made sure to check out the girls when they looked the other way before he made haste into the bathroom. 

I guess I’m not the only early riser anymore, Luke thought to himself. He smirked at the memory of the girl’s gaze on him before he noticed steam lace through the air from behind one of the curtains in one of the shower stalls. 

The guy in the stall also wore a cheap pair of flip flops, and Luke couldn’t help but be a little relieved he wasn’t be the only one; maybe it was a serious thing to actually worry about. 

In his own stall, Luke turned on the water and as soon as it was hot enough, he hung his towel on the hook and stepped under the hot spray. Water blasted his scalp and all the way down his back, and he felt all the tension leave his shoulders. 

He felt himself wake up as he ran his hands through his hair, and reached for his body wash, but it slipped through his grasp. He cursed as it slid into the other occupied stall next to his, then cursed them at how they just had to pick the one in the middle, even though no one was around beforehand.

“Oh shit, someone’s already dropping the soap!” the guy announced, his deep voice filled with humor. Luke was about to respond, but froze when another, more higher pitched laugh also joined in. 

Holy shit, I think there’s a girl in here, Luke thought.

The laughter abruptly stopped right before the guy’s hand returned Luke’s bottle over the barrier.

“Hey man, sorry about that,” Luke said. 

 “All good, bro. No worries.”

There was definitely two voices in the next stall, and they were both trying to be quiet as they whispered to each other, but the more high pitched voice kept giggling or letting out little squeals while the guy kept saying something too low to pick out amongst the running water.  

Feeling like a total creep, Luke sped along with cleaning himself off. He flipped the shower off, wrapped his towel around his hips, and tried to escape without being seen or hearing them possibly start to go back at it. He wasn’t against anyone hooking up—he even wished he’d gotten that lucky on the second day of college—but he also wasn’t about to stick around and have it literally be five feet away from him while it was going down. 

The next stall door opened behind him, and Luke froze in his spot like somehow it was him who’d just gotten busted. Out walked a tall, blond guy on their floor who might as well have stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. He remembered the guy’s name was Jared from their floor meeting the day before, but he hadn’t expected to see anyone on his floor be completely bare-assed while drying off his hair with his navy-blue towel. 

The towel he formerly had tucked around his waist.

“Seriously dude? What the fuck?!” Luke raised his arm to shield his eyes but it was too late, he’d gotten a full-frontal glimpse of the guy’s junk.

Jared laughed with complete nonchalance. “My bad, bro. You know what they say when you’ve got it, amiright?”

Thankfully, he wrapped his towel to hang low around his hips while he tossed Luke a wink and grabbed a second towel off the hook, but kept it just out of reach. A slender, very obviously female arm reached out and snagged it after a few failed attempts, and the two of them laughed as she tried to whip him in retaliation. 

Jared regarded Luke once again and shrugged with a cheeky grin. 

The back of his neck red, Luke practically flew out the door to get back to his room and away from the happy couple before they went back at it with him right there or worse: possibly offering him to join them in a threesome. He was so completely done with this weird as hell situation he’d stumbled upon.

Luke scoffed under his breath. “Great, we have a man-whore on the floor.”

~~~

Making sure to avoid anyone else on his floor for rest of the morning, Luke snuck down the stairwell towards the HKMC lobby to head out to his brother’s house, which was about a twenty minute walk from the dorms. 

It’s been a Mitchell family tradition to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout; both his parents met each other when they’d attended back in the day and were engaged before graduating together. Both of Luke’s older brothers, Brett and Jason, also had enrolled: Jason graduated two years earlier with both a Bachelor’s Degree and a fiancé, very much like father like son. Brett was still enrolled as a Junior, but had a girlfriend he was getting pretty serious about, so it seemed like a pattern had strangely developed amongst the men of the family in those regards. It wasn’t premeditated, it just sort of happened like that. Luke never really considered himself superstitious, but he was sure there was some sort of unspoken expectation, so there was just one more thing to constantly tug on the back of his mind while we was at school, besides simply trying to make up for all that’s happened to him in the last year and what he’s put others through.  

Same shit, different day, Luke always told himself to shrug it off, but how does someone simply move on from the fact that their own father could no longer trust them, that they breathe down their neck about every little thing, and constantly reminded them of their mistakes? 

Luke reminded himself that he could finally loosen up again and enjoy his first real sense of freedom, which included brats on the grill and plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon once he got to Brett’s house. He had a feeling he was going to be visiting quite a lot over the course of the next two semesters.

Exiting the stairwell, Luke rounded the corner towards the lobby, but failed to see the person right there, and bumped into them before he could stop himself. It was becoming a tragic habit for him, it seemed.

Even wearing sandals, the girl had legs for days with flowing waves of blonde hair cascading down to her lower back, and dark eyes stared back at him while full lips spoke words his way, but Luke was actually struck dumb and didn’t hear any of it.  

 “Sorry about that.” Luke grinned. “Still waking up I guess, I guess. What’d you say?”

The girl sighed with a jutted-out hip, her arms crossed to cover her chest with a bemused expression of learned patience.

“Oh, you know, just talking to some guy with serious hearing problems who may or may not have been staring at my ass, so it’s making me reconsider any apology of bumping into him”—she rolled her neck while giving him a side eye—“but I figure I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt to try and redeem himself.”

Luke winced while scratching the back of his head before officially apologized. “Well, I appreciate the second chance. Not every girl is as forgiving about that sort of thing.”

“Ah, so you do totally admit to checking out my ass,” the girl replied, but at least she looked amused while she said it.

Luke could only shrug in response before stepping aside in an attempt to be a gentleman, but that made the girl actually laugh and smile his way.

“Oh no, I appreciate the honesty, but I think I’ll go after you.” She gestured for him to walk ahead of her, so Luke reluctantly did so while trying to ignore the way his face burned.

The only positive thing to come out of it was she could possibly be checking him out too, so maybe he should glance back and see exactly where her eyes are traveling towards.

As they entered the lobby together, she sped up her pace until they were side by side, and Luke noticed she wore short cutoff denim shorts and a white tank top with a pair of aviators resting along her crown.

 “Is there a beach somewhere nearby?” Luke asked.

She shrugged a tan shoulder. “Actually, I was going to start a game of volleyball out on the court, you want in?”

Luke grunted in disappointment. “I’m actually going somewhere already, but for sure next time.”

What. The. Fuck?!, Luke screamed inside his head. When a girl asks you join her, you don’t freakin’ say you can’t… fucking dumbass.

While he inwardly cussed himself out, at least the girl gave no indication that she was aware of his inner turmoil. “For sure. I just figure it’s a good way to meet new people, so there’ll probably be other games to join in over the next few days.”

 “I will definitely be there next time, I just hate canceling plans I’ve already made.” Luke offered his hand. “I’m Luke by the way. Luke Mitchell.” 

Her eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion, so Luke prayed she didn’t notice how he almost squirmed under her scrutiny, but her stony expression cracked along the edges, and her eyes warmed.

“Heather Gracie, it’s a pleasure.” She shook his hand with an impressively good grip. “I guess I’ll see you around, Luke Mitchell. Don’t stare at anyone else’s ass for too long wherever you’re off to. Someone might get weirded out.” She added a wink at the end for good measure.

Luke laughed. “Lesson learned, you can bet on that.” He nodded his farewell, and when he was outside and out of sight, he let loose a deep breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. He couldn’t remember when a girl had ever put him in his place quite like that, but he kind of liked it.  

He arrived at his brother’s place about twenty minutes later, and Brett’s house was in full swing. In the backyard, there were two slip-n-slides set up parallel to each other with a table lined up with two rows of red solo cups along the ends. There was actually a decent amount of people there, and someone had their speakers up on the patio blasting some Macklemore.

Luke grinned as he watched the relay start. The group screamed encouragements as two guys slid across before sprinting towards the table, shooting back whatever was in the cups before trying to flip the cup from the bottom off the edge to have it land on its lid. As soon as one was successful, the next person was urged on by their team and repeated the whole process.

“Don’t get any crazy ideas, son,” a voice spoke from directly behind Luke, and he swore his heart skipped a beat. There was no way…

Luke slowly turned to find both of his parents standing right there behind him, and he actually lost the ability to speak for a couple moments. 

“What are… wuh… what are you guys still doing here?” Luke managed to stutter out. How could his parents still be around after they’d dropped him off and helped him move in just the day before? Have they seriously still been here the whole time? 

His father nodded towards the game still going on. “Apparently, we’re keeping you from fucking up your college career before it’s barely even begun.”

Whoop, there it is… 

Luke’s father never missing an opportunity to remind him not only of his past mistakes, but also of how little he expected from his youngest son. He was always able to say all that in a single sentence. Every. Single. Time. 

“Oh hush, Hugh.” Luke’s mother swatter her husband on the shoulder with scolding look. “Leave him be. You know he can have a beer or two if we’re here and say it’s okay.”

Hugh chuckled with a deep roll of his eyes. “Don’t give him any ideas, hon. We let him have one, then what?”

“Okay, seriously though”—Luke rested a hand behind his head—“what are you guys still doing here?”

His father was about to make some retort, but his mother threw him another dirty look that shut him up before she answered instead. “We haven’t been back for a couple years now, and since it’s where we met, we wanted to visit some old spots around town, and reminisce about it all.” Her tone went soft and dreamy. “We like to see how much has changed or stayed the same since we enrolled.” 

“And to make sure our kids are staying out of trouble,” Hugh added. Any amusement or happiness left his face as he regarded Luke again. “I swear, if I get to know the Menomonie PD as well as I did with Milwaukee’s back home, your ass is out of here, you here me?”

Luke’s jaw clenched and he had to count to ten before he could respond. “Crystal clear.”

He also ignored his mother’s pitying look. There was only so much she could do, but at least one of them has forgiven him for everything he put them through. 

“Good.” Hugh looked around at the backyard. “Now, where’s you’re brother? We’ve been here for five minutes, and he still hasn’t come over and offered me a beer.”

“I just hope he finally introduces us to that girl he keeps mentioning whenever I give him a call.” Luke’s mother looked around she smiled and waved at someone on the patio.   

Brett was at the grill with bratwurst sizzling, and he had one arm wrapped around a curvy girl with darker tanned skin and hair up in a messy bun. She whispered something in his ear before she nuzzled his short, dirty blonde hair until the front was styled more towards the front. When it was to her liking, she took the spatula out of his hand, and with a quick kiss on the cheek, Luke’s older brother stepped away to wrap him up in a big bearhug. 

“Lukey, you made it!” Brett put him down and his smile grew as he turned towards their parents; a more toned down hug for their mother and a firm handshake for dad. “You all did! Great to see you, glad you could all make it.”

“Of course dear, you didn’t expect us to return and not stop to see you too?” Their mom chuckled at the absurdity. “I will say I wasn’t expecting you to have so many friends over today.”

Brett’s green eyes twinkled as he scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, just a couple of ‘em wanted to stop by to celebrate Labor Day weekend the right way.”

“Well that’s alright, you’re of age and want to wind down.” Hugh stepped forward and gave Brett a firm pat on the shoulder. “But I know this is to just get it out of your system before you’re back to hitting the books, am I right?”

Luke swore he saw Brett’s megawatt smile crack just a bit, but he nodded along. “Yes sir, you got it.”

Brett and him shared a look when their dad didn’t notice. 

“So, can I get any of you a beer? How was move-in yesterday?” Brett asked as he bumped fists with some random passerby. 

Their mother smiled. “It wasn’t too bad this year. I swear, they get more organized with it every time we come back.”

Brett nodded at Luke. “What dorm are you in again?”

“Third floor Chinnock.”

“Aw man, I was in South Hall my freshman year, and let me tell ya, there’s a reason why they call it the ‘Dirty South.’”

Hugh coughed. “Yes, well… I’m sure it’s a riveting story, but more importantly, whatever happened didn’t stop you from staying on top of your courses. We met your brother’s roommate yesterday, and the kids a huge pot-smoking dope. Luke doesn’t need to be around that if he wants to go far.”

Luke winced at his father’s harsh words. The day before as they all met Rob, his father took one look at his roommate’s multi-colored beanie and longboard and started to chew him out with a third degree interrogation that made everyone feel uncomfortable. Thanks to that, Rob probably thought he was a part of a whole family of narcs, so Luke internally reminded himself that he should apologize to him when they ran into each other.

Brett pulled Luke in and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “No need to worry pops, I got him taken care of. Consider me his mentor to show him the ropes and keep him on the straight and narrow.” 

That at least seemed to satisfy both of their parents; they both raised their bottles of beer in salute. Both Luke and Brett joined them, the former relieved at his older brother’s magical way to somehow say exactly what their parents always wanted to hear. It certainly helped that he grew up as the “golden boy” of the family: varsity captain of the football team, homecoming king, you get the picture. It certainly helped create some high expectations and plenty of pressure from their father.

Brett gestured over his shoulder. “Well like I said, glad to have you guys stick around and stop by, so I want to introduce you to some people. First, This is my girl, Eve.”

Brett gestured back towards the girl up at the grill. She waved with a bright smile as she scooped the food onto a nearby platter before placing it on the nearby table, leaving it to be devoured by the eager feeding frenzy of eager college students.

Eve walked down the patio steps into Brett’s waiting arm and removed her sunglasses as she greeted the Mitchell family without an ounce of trepidation.

“Eve, such a pleasure to finally meet you,” their mother said. “Brett has told us so much about you.”

Eve nodded. “Same with you for me, I feel like I practically know you both already.”

Hugh nodded at them. “How did you two meet again?”

Brett and Eve shared a look, and Luke took another swig of his beer to hide the smile that creeped onto his lips. If he remembered correctly from what Brett admitted once, Eve and him met while dancing against a stripper pole at one of the local bars, and started going at it in the bathroom forty-five minutes later after about three-too-many tequila shots.

“We met at the one of the Packaging Committee meetings,” Brett said. “She was sitting up front, answering almost every question the president was asking us, and I just couldn’t help but be impressed at how smart she was.”

Eve kissed his cheek before she flashed a bashful smile. “Oh you know, I just had to impress this amazing hunk of a guy. I noticed him when I first walked in, and thought to myself how he was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen.”

Luke snorted, but hid it with a cough and stuttering how his beer went down the wrong tube while ignoring Brett’s stony expression tossed his way. 

Hugh’s eyes narrowed on Luke. “Geez son, with all the shit you’ve pulled, I’d assume you’d at least know how to drink a freakin’ beer.”

Well, that certainly caused the gorgeous, warm day to drop a few degrees. Luke didn’t respond as he took another sip, this one long enough to finish off the bottle. 

Brett snapped his fingers. “That reminds me, Luke, I got something to show you.” He turned back to Eve. “Babe, can you keep my parent’s company while I bring my brother inside really quick?”

Eve’s smile had an edge of panic, but she hid it in the blink of an eye. Luke had to hand to her, she could really roll with the punches. “Sure thing, honey. Take your time!”

“Love you, babe,” Brett said before he kissed her. She nudged him away with a chuckle before she wandered off between both their parents. 

Luke grinned at his brother. “I gotta say, I think you got a keeper there, Brett.”

His brother gave him a smarmy smile before smacking Luke across the back of the head and pushing him up the patio and inside his house. 

It was much cooler inside thanks to an AC unit in one of the windowsills. Luke once again reminded himself how he’d have to crash there more often. He certainly wouldn’t run into naked floor-mates getting more than just themselves wet in the morning, plus HKMC was so sticky and disgusting with all the heat still infesting every square inch after move-in day. There wasn’t AC in sight unless someone paid an extra hundred to have one installed into their window, but he needed any extra cash he could manage to scrounge up, and Rob was probably much more interested in using his industrial-sized fan for obvious reasons. 

Random people chatted on the two mismatched couches in the TV room, but Brett led Luke right past them up the stairs. It looked like they had the whole upper level to themselves, but Brett still closed the door behind him once they were inside his bedroom. 

His older brother turned to him, his green eyes looked serious instead of their usual amusement, and he clasped his hands together.

“So, I just wanted to clear the air and make sure that we’re on the same page about pops.”

Luke remained silent. 

“I know what I said out there, but I just wanted you to know, I honestly don’t give a damn what he wants.” 

Luke crossed his arms. That was rich, coming from one of dad’s golden children…

Brett continued. “I’m being a hundred percent real right now. Lukey, you’re way smarter than both me and Jason…hell, you saved my ass from flunking half my classes.”

It was true. Back home, Luke might not have straight up done all Brett’s schoolwork, but he was definitely the reason why Brett was able to play every Friday night and even remain Captain. Come to think of it, how has Brett been doing with his courses while he’s been away at college? Ironically enough, it’s never brought up. 

Brett raised his hands in front of him in calming gesture, like he expected Luke to physically lash out. “I know things have been kind of fucked back home with those assholes you used to run with, plus everything with dad and all, plus I’m sure Jason and I didn’t make it easy for you.”

Luke felt the sharp ache hit him in the chest. “It’s not entirely that… well, it’s not like you guys purposely made it harder for me.”

Brett waved him off. “Like I said, don’t sweat it. I just hope you know, and I’m sorry for getting all mushy on you, but Lukey, I love you.”

And at that, somehow the ache in Luke’s chest continued to twist and contort like someone was trying to wrench his heart straight out of his chest. How many times has he damned his brothers over the years at how big of the shadows they left behind for him to try and crawl out from? Their father already put enough pressure all on them, but when someone has two “perfect” older brothers like Brett and Jason were, it seemed like nothing Luke did ever measured up, and their father was always quick to remind him of that. Even more so now after everything.

Brett rested a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “I know Jason and mom love you too… dad does too, even though he’s godawful at showing it. He pushed Jason and I until we couldn’t stand it either, but it’s just the way he is. Hopefully with age, he’ll learn to calm the fuck down.”

Luke didn’t believe that for a second. If anything, the inevitable retirement would just make the infamous enigma that was Hugh Mitchell even more irritable, but Luke nodded along in silence nonetheless. 

“Hey, you don’t actually have to go all straight and narrow like I said earlier, you can still kick it here whenever you want,” Brett assured him. “Hell, I’d say you deserve to let loose more than anyone else I know.” 

Luke released a heavy sigh. “I can’t argue with you on that, but I better take it easy for the first semester, just to get him off my ass a little bit.” 

“That’s why you’re the smart one, Lukey. You can just head straight over here every weekend, and that way I’m not completely bullshitting Pops when he asks me if I’m actually keeping an eye on you. I can even ask the housemates if it’s cool to get you an extra key.” 

Luke couldn’t help but smirk at the look on his brother’s face as they figured this all out; Brett was so proud of himself for (almost) coming up with it all on his own. His green eyes lit up like Christmas lights as he told Luke about what they could do without their parents around, and Luke himself couldn’t help but feel the anticipation rise up at that prospect. 

Brett patted him once again on the shoulder. “I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself. I got’chu, and you’re gonna have the time of your life here, buddy. You know what they say, ‘When in doubt, go to Stout!’

Luke squirmed as Brett pulled him into a headlock and noogied his scalp; his loose waves getting even more messed up. “Fuck off!”

Brett chuckled as he let him go. “Oh c’mon Lukey, you’re my little brother, I gotta mess with ya every now and then.”

Luke shook his head with a smirk. “But in all seriousness, thanks Brett, it’s about damn time I got over here, and be able to start fresh.” He paused and looked down at the carpeted floor. “I just want to make dad proud of me again, you know?”

He hated how small his voice sounded just then, or how vulnerable he felt admitting that out loud, but he desperately needed someone in his corner after everything. Their mom may have forgiven him, but Luke couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a conversation and it was like she was walking on eggshells around him. Jason was also halfway across the country over in Oregon with his wife and two dogs, and only made appearances at holidays or any other major family events. Luke just wanted a sense of normalcy.  

He peered up to see Brett’s eyes that were full of sympathy or pity—possibly both—and it was crazy how much he looked just like their dad. Sometimes he forgot that detail since whenever his father ever bothered to speak to him anymore, it was with absolute contempt, distrust, and what felt like barely controlled rage at its worst.

Brett’s voice went soft. “You will Lukey, I know you will.”

~~~

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Writing/Articles

My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 2

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Continuing off my previous post on the home page, I’m continuing with giving a sneak peak at my WIP passion project while still working away on the next draft of my college story starring my cast of six characters. Last chapter, you met Matt Anderson, but this time around you’ll meet Heather Gracie, who has a lot going on beneath the surface as she too is starting over in a new environment and hopes for the best!

Be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE.

Hope you enjoy!

~~~

Chapter 2: Heather

Not many people would realize it if they were to take one look at her; they’d probably take in her long blond hair, hourglass figure, striking features, nice clothes, and assume she had everything handed to her and has never had a single hardship. She just has a way about her that naturally draws people in, and more than likely was both the homecoming queen and prom queen from back home in Prior Lake, Minnesota, had the latest fashion trends in her closet and had too many friends to even be able to keep track of them all, and maybe that was true at one point, but that was couldn’t be more further from the truth. 

Heather has been ready for a fresh start since her sophomore year of high school. After everything thats happened—without having to rehash it all if anyone would ever ask—she was finally able to start her life over, and leave all of it in the past where it belonged. She didn’t even bother to look back as she, her mom, and boyfriend all drove onto the highway earlier that very morning.

She was riding a high of finally moving into her dorm, and it quickly faded with the heavily weighed down feeling of an oncoming food induced coma as the three of them walked back onto campus after grabbing a bite to eat at an upscale local bar & grill on Main Street named the Log Jam. 

Heather ran her hand through her long, golden blonde hair and sighed with total pleasure at how bright and warm the sun felt on her face and down her spine. To her, it was like a good omen of how she was finally where she needed to be. 

She decided to get out her Canon while Ryan, her boyfriend of three years, simply followed with her other hand still connected in his. She felt his smile on her with his warm brown eyes while she snapped a quick photo of the UW-Stout clocktower as it stood tall and proud against the clear blue sky. He playfully tugged her back into his chest after she took another shot, and kissed her cheek.

What was she going to do without him for the next ten months? He was always there over the last couple of years when she needed a shoulder to lean against, always within arm reach, and now he’d be over an hour away finishing his final year over at the University of St. Thomas. 

While her mom walked ahead to give them both some space, Heather reached up to fix Ryan’s brown waves that he’d been growing out over the summer. It gave him a sexier laid-back look that she’d really began to like. 

“Your hair looks so much sexier pushed back,” she quoted her favorite movie of all time, Mean Girls, as she played with some of Ryan’s locks, tugging a few locks behind his ears. 

“Yeah yeah yeah, babe.” Ryan chuckled as he rolled his eyes. “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

Heather laughed. “Because I have a boyfriend who can quote movies right back to me, that’s why.”

“Well, you’ve had me watch them so many times, I practically could quote that entire movie back to you.”

Heather ruffled his hair with a mischievous grin. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Hey now.” Ryan’s voice feigned a warning as he playfully swatted her hand away. “You just fixed the hair, babe.”

“Well, I like it all messed up like that,” Heather lowered her voice as she leaned into his ear. “It gives me some great ideas.”

“Heather…not with your mom right there.”

“Fine, we’ll keep it just PG-13 for now.” Heather wrapped her free arm around his neck to have him lean down and share a quick kiss before her mom turned back around to catch them in the act and clear her throat. 

“So, have you talked to your roommate at all recently?”

Heather shrugged as the three of them walked back into the HKMC lobby. “We talked about a month ago to see if there was anything else I needed to bring. Otherwise nope, not really to be honest.”

“Well, she seemed nice at least, right?” 

Recognizing the worried tone, Heather shared a look with Ryan while her mother’s back was to them. “I guess so.” 

They walked up two levels through the stairwell, the echoes of their feet on the tiled floor could be heard all the way up to the fourth floor.  

Heather didn’t want to admit that she was dreading this inevitable greeting because as soon as the housing department emailed her roommate’s name: Lindsay Erickson, she’d immediately gone onto social media to check her out like any other normal millennial with a smartphone at their disposal. She still remembers the pit in her stomach and how it grew with every picture on Lindsay’s many profiles showed a petite human barbie doll with platinum blond hair going halfway down her back, baby blue eyes, a beauty pageant smile, designer clothes, and many group shots of her and her friends with their hands on their hips in that bent back pose…the many duckfaces…and how they all owned different versions of a Coach designer handbag. Based off that alone, Heather had a pretty good idea what kind of person her roommate was; hell, she was that same person not that long ago herself. 

Heather decided to go to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to escape from the dark memories of back home, but it seemed like some of it decided to follow her there.

Speaking of the Prada wearing Devil with blue eyes, Lindsay was already moved into her side of the dorm room while the three of them had been out. Her side was an assault of the colors pink and white, and was currently painting her nails at her desk with what seemed like almost professional-level precision. She even had what looked like an actual makeup artist’s station set up on her desktop with many sized brushes, mascara tubes, hairspray, and different shades of eyeshadow.

Lindsay looked up with the flip of her sleek hair and flashed them all a too bright smile as she introduced herself. 

“It is soooo fabulous to finally meet you!” Lindsay rose from her chair, and waltzed over to embrace Heather before she could even respond, but making sure her nails didn’t smear. “Can I just say, your Insta’ pics do not give you justice. You’re, like, so gorgeous…ugh, I am so jealous.” 

She actually said the word “ugh.” 

Heather quickly cleared her throat and pasted on a perky grin. “It’s soooo great to meet you too, Lindsay, and I am, like so in love with your hair! You’ve totally got to show me what kind of conditioner you use!”

“Oh, I totes gotchu girl.” Lindsay winked. “Not that you need any help, but if you’re ever looking for a little glow up, I am here for you.”

 “I’ll definitely have to remember that just in case.” Heather looked around Lindsay’s side and lingered on a poster with curvy font saying just the words “Bold, Dream, and Sassy.” 

 Heather’s mom took a step forward with a cautious smile of her own. “So Lindsay, I’m surprised how quickly you moved in, we were only gone for almost a half hour. Are your parents still here?” 

Lindsay sat back down at her chair and quickly blew on her nails. “Oh no, they’re both so incredibly busy with work back home, and had to rush out ASAP. Thank god for those people out front to make moving in so quick.” 

Lindsay paused to check her phone. “So…we will defs have to chat some more soon, but I’d actually promised a friend of mine that I’d meet up with her once she got here, so see ya roomie! Something tells me that this is going to be such an amazing year!” 

Lindsay waved over her shoulder as she jolted out the room left the three of them alone, once again not even waiting for a response. 

Once the clank of Lindsay’s heels disappeared down the hallway, Heather glanced over at Ryan, who swore under his breath and ran a hand down his face. Her mom didn’t look any more relieved either.

“C’mon guys, it’s not that big of a deal.” Heather crossed her arms. “Compared to the others, she seems harmless. I can definitely handle her.”

Ryan plopped down onto the large red futon. “I believe you, babe, but I just don’t want you to have to deal with any more bullshit. One look at her, and it looks like it’s just followed you here.”

Heather’s mom checked the doorway before answering. “She does remind me of those girls you used to run around with.” 

And of course that’s who I get paired with, Heather thought to herself. She noticed Ryan’s sullen expression from her mother’s comparison. “True, but like I said, I can handle it if anything happens. I can handle it, I swear.”

Ryan grunted some response, and her mom nodded with her usual worried look. “Just be sure to call me if there are any issues at all, because I love you and only want the best for you, okay honey?” 

She walked over, and Heather was wrapped up in another tight embrace, this one much more welcome. She wished she could say or do something to completely erase the worry lines that have become so pronounced all over her mother’s face over the last few years. It was a reminder that she wasn’t the only one who’s suffered some hardships over the last couple years. Both her and Ryan have helped her through what was her own personal hell.  

As she reluctantly let go, her mom took a deep breath and her expression brightened. “Okay, now it’s time for you two to scrunch together for a picture before we leave.” 

She gestured for Heather and Ryan to stand close together while she whipped out her phone. Ryan scooted in from behind and wrapped his arm around Heather’s hip. They both smiled with well hidden patience while her mom struggled to figure out her smartphone’s camera, even though she’s had it well over a year by now.

 “I’ll be sure to come visit often, someone’s got to make sure there aren’t any knives to take out of her back,” Ryan joked. Heather laughed, but her mom simply threw a bemused smile his way.

He kissed Heather before she could reply with some snappy response. “Love you, babe, and you’re going to do great here. Just get out there, and you’ll meet people in no time, I know you will.” 

“Well damn, now I guess I have no choice with all this pressure on me.” Heather rolled her eyes, but returned his smile. “But I’m not worried one bit. I say bring it on.” 

Soon after, both Ryan and her mom gave their final goodbyes as they walked out the door, and Heather actually had to fight back tears as she was now alone in an entirely new world that would be her temporary home until May. The last thing she needed was to start bawling and have someone walk by; it wasn’t the first impression she wanted to make.

Strong girls who looked for a fresh start didn’t cry at the first sign of trouble.

~~~

Later that day at around two in the afternoon, everyone was officially moved into the third floor of Milnes-Chinnock, so both Resident Advisors made their rounds to introduce themselves to all their new freshmen. 

The girl’s side RA was named Tiffany: a shorter, curvier sophomore who was a little ball of energy all decked out head-to-toe in UW-Stout apparel. She gathered all the girls to meet in the study lounge that divided their side from the boys. The bun on the top of her head practically bobbed with excitement in just about every one of her motions.

Heather sat down at one of the worktables, and was joined by Lindsay and another girl with shoulder length layered blonde waves, but Tiffany spoke up before anyone could get even a word in.

“Hello girls, and welcome to our first-floor meeting for third floor Milnes! Now, the point of this meeting is to get you all ready to be able to start off your year here at Stout with a bang!”

The girl sitting next to Lindsay chuckled. “Amen to that.” 

Olivia continued without skipping a beat. “So, while I’ve gone around and met each of you individually as you’ve moved in, you have yet to meet each other. I wanted to take the time to have us all sit together so you can do so, and so that there’s hopefully some familiar faces in case you’re ever lost around campus, or want to find someone to sit with in the commons.” 

Olivia’s eyes immediately met Heather’s, who tried not to let her wince peak through her smile. “So, we’ll go around in a circle until we get back to me. Just tell us your name, hometown, major and what your favorite food is.”

Yay for those awkward ice-breakers…

Heather noticed a few of the girls rolling their eyes or sneaking glances at their phones, so she turned back to a hopeful Tiffany with a warm smile as she introduced herself. “I’m from Prior Lake, Minnesota, my major is Entertainment Design concentrating in Digital Cinema, and my favorite food is pizza.”

Lindsay hid her phone and perked up as she introduced herself next. “I’m from Edina, Minnesota, my major is going to be Professional Communications and Emerging Media, and my favorite food is…I’d say veggie wraps or spring rolls.” She giggled to herself. “I actually made the decision to stop eating meat, like, I believe that—”

“Yo, so my name’s Ali Devereaux.” The girl with the shorter blonde hair cut in with a smirk and greeting hand gesture. “I’m also from Edina, and Linds and I have actually been tight since second grade. I’m doing Industrial Design, and feel free to shove anything sweet and chocolatey my way.” 

A couple other girls went around the circle. Next was an artsy, bohemian chick who wore a rosy-pink maxi skirt with a floral short sleeve top. Her green eyes that peaked out from beneath her bangs practically glowed; her whole demeanor felt warm and Heather found herself liking her almost instantly. 

“My name is Eden Harrington. I’m from St. Anthony Falls, and my major is Entertainment Design.” 

Heather also perked up at that. 

Eden continued. “I’m in the Animation program, and my favorite food is…oh goodness…so many things. I love sushi, pasta, coffee, muffins, and did I mention coffee?”

A petite girl with porcelain skin, dark brown hair, and eyes the shape of teardrops straightened her back as she started next, introducing herself as Jenna Nguyen. 

“I am from Duluth Minnesota, I’m majoring in Graphic Design, and my favorite food is mozzarella sticks.” Jenna gestured to her pin. “And yes, I am also a Ravenclaw, so if anyone else is a fellow Potterhead, we should talk!” 

Eden practically squealed in her seat at how she was a Hufflepuff. Heather remembered when she’d taken the Pottermore quiz on that website a few years ago, and learned she was a Gryffindor.

They got to the final girl, who had pitch-black hair that was professionally straightened, and her dark skin was devoid of any imperfections; she was certainly striking. She had a commanding air around her as she spoke.  

“My name is Madison Parker, and I’m from Beverly, Chicago.” She sounded like everyone should’ve just known that information already. “I’m going into Industrial Design, and I’m always up for grabbing tacos.”

Heather’s floor certainly had an interesting array of girls she was going to be living with for the next few months. Some she was more thrilled about, like Eden and Jenna and maybe Ali, but there were girls like Madison and even Lindsay who she was weary of. She wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but she also didn’t want history to repeat itself. 

Shortly after, Tiffany led the group outside towards the grassy quad separating the dorms from the academic buildings, where there was a festival called the “Backyard Bash” underway with many booths set up. Tiffany explained how all the student organizations on campus recruited new or returning students for their clubs, emphasizing how it was a great way to see all the different ways to be able to get involved on campus, and that everyone should sign up for at least one of them.

All the girls immediately split up and searched to see what UW-Stout had to offer; Heather ended up going off on her own since everyone else already appeared to be paired off. Eden and Jenna naturally bonded over their love of all things involving a boy wizard and his lightning bolt scar, and her roommate seemed to latch onto the girls like Madison, but not without dragging her childhood BFF along too. 

None of the other girls really gave her the time of day either; they probably saw her long blonde hair and big breasts, and assumed she was just another stuck up bitch who thought she was better than everyone else because she was probably another Barbie clone.  

Whatever, Heather thought to herself, It’s not like I haven’t dealt with that before. She refused to let it bug her, so she held her head high, squared her shoulders, and flipped her hair until it flowed halfway down her back, and kept on going even if it was on her own. 

She pointedly ignored the sorority booths but was still curious at some of the other clubs being offered: Anime Club, Comics Creators, Blue Devil Productions, Blue Devil Brewing, and The Fine Arts Association were just to name a few. Her interest piqued when she saw that Blue Devil Productions were actually in charge of live concerts and the free campus movie nights, but wondered if she’d be able to film her own flicks at all. Maybe she could start her own filmmaker club while she was enrolled; it’d sure look great on a resumé for anywhere she’d apply to in a few years. 

Her stomach began to growl so loudly her eyes darted around to check if anyone else actually heard her too. She supposed she could wait in line for a plastic container of nachos, and maybe listen to the live cover-band while they played on a stage nearby, but she had to admit that idea didn’t sound incredibly tempting or satisfying. 

Someone tapped her on the shoulder, so Heather turned around to find that rocker chick from her floor, Ali Devereaux. Her ruby red lips grinned like she knew a secret. 

“You’re Heather, right?”

“That’s me.”

“What do you think of all this so far?”  

Heather glanced around and shrugged a shoulder. “A lot, thats for sure.”

Ali chuckled. “Right? Like, let me have a fucking second to breathe at least.” She paused to feign a gagging noise. “I swear, the chick running the Fashion Club booth or whatever would’ve decked me with her clip-board if she got any more up in my face to have me sign up, you know?”

Heather chuckled as she crossed her arms. “What? You mean you don’t like people attacking you to get you to sign up for something.”

Ali smirked. “If I did, I’d go find the nearest Best Buy.”

So very true, Heather thought to herself, but what does this chick want from me? “I guess, and at least they get paid to do that sort of thing, but thanks for the heads up, I’ll make sure to avoid them too.” 

“Anytime, babes.” Ali gave her a quick once-over with a raised brow. “So I did have an actual reason to grab you besides just idle chit-chat. Linds told me that you seem cool, so we wondered if you wanted to come with us to get some real food at the student center?” 

“We?” Heather’s brow rose while looking over Ali’s shoulder to spot Lindsay, Madison, and a gorgeous dark-brunette from her floor as they all stood about twenty paces away. She remembered the girl’s name was Mandy, who had striking eyebrows and the whole dark hair with pale blue eyes combo that made her a total knockout. Like Madison, she’d worn a bored expression while all the girls introduced themselves, and she seemed to have a smile like she already knew everyone’s dark secrets. 

She gave off a strange vibe; it wasn’t like she thought everything was beneath her, but more she didn’t take anything seriously or have any real emotions towards anything quite yet. It was just a cool indifference, and it was hard to get a good read on her.

Lindsay and Madison both waved—Lindsay with much more enthusiasm—while Mandy simply wore an indifferent smile with her hip jutted out and arms crossed.

 Part of her really wanted to say no, but Heather reminded herself how it was all their freshman year too, and no one wanted to be alone—Lindsay didn’t seem like someone who could even go to the bathroom on her own—so maybe they couldn’t be all bad if they extended an olive branch like this.  

That certainly didn’t mean she wouldn’t keep her eyes on Madison and/or Mandy, because something about them didn’t sit right in the pit of her stomach.

She joined the girls, so the five of them all wandered over towards the Memorial Student Center—MSC for short—to check out what food options it had.  

Heather just hoped she wouldn’t regret it.

~~~

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell