The Off-Campus series is one of my absolute favorite romance series to date with Elle Kennedy’s ability to perfectly mix humor and steam into one heck of a juicy story, so imagine my excitement when I learn that there’s another series set to release that’s in the same world! If I like something enough, of course I’m like every other member of a fandom who begs and pleads and prays to the creator of whatever it is to PLEASE GIVE US MORE, and it’s insanely satisfying when they do, add some extra YAY in there when it’s not terrible and a total cash-grab.
The Briar-U spinoff series definitely feels like the former in that sense when I got to reading this title as soon as I was able to find a hard copy. Even though it’s a new batch of main characters, the same chemistry and the same amount of angst, banter, sexual tension, and love scenes were all present in how the previous characters may have been so memorable for you like they were for me.
If anyone read my review of The Goal (Off-Campus #4), you’ll remember that I was less than thrilled about it. It’s not that I hated it, but it was definitely the weakest of the series, and that’s rather unfortunate considering it was the finisher to the series. My point is that this time around I was way more behind the couple from the get-go; their chemistry was plain as day and I couldn’t get enough of it all! It was a great bounce back from the less-than-stellar previous book for me.
It was a smart decision for the author to bring back some somewhat familiar faces from the previous books too: There was Hunter: the freshman who Dean kind of took under his wing, there was Collin Fitzgerald or “Fitzy,” the quiet, tattooed, game design student, and then there was also Summer, who is Dean’s younger sister. They were all really minor characters before, but now it’s great to see them get the spotlight this time around!
That doesn’t mean there also aren’t plenty of new faces to add to the bunch: there’s Summer’s instant new BFF, Brenna, who also happens to be the coach’s daughter, and Hollis, who’s Hunter and Fitz’s roommate. I think it’s also cool to add that these guys live in the same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker all lived in; it’s a great way to further connect the two series together like that.
For the most part, this book is pretty light in tone, there are some major social issues that are brought to light within the story, but I go more into that later down in the review.
What It’s About:
With the start of a new semester at Briar University, and while some faces have graduated and moved away, there are plenty of new faces to stir up some entertaining drama and romance much like the previous Off-Campus series! Some of the characters are some familiar names; they were underclassmen Hunter and Fitzy who have taken over the very same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker lived in their junior and senior years.
Another returning character is Summer DiLaurentis, Dean’s younger sister, who’s transferred from her previous ivy league university under some mysterious circumstances…but she has nowhere to go. Even as a legacy to join one of the top sororities on campus, they reject her due to her circumstances at her previous school, so she calls in a favor to her brother, and believe it or not, winds up rooming with Hunter, Fitzy, and another teammate named Hollis.
The issue with this set up? The obvious spark that’s between Summer and Fitzy that only grows bigger and bigger as they live under the same roof. He tries to act like there’s nothing going on, but just perhaps the lady doth protest too much…It’s total opposites attract: Fitzy’s an introverted, broody, heavily tattooed, and has Game Design as his major while Summer is kind of a total Elle Woods: Blonde, bubbly, gorgeous, and a Fashion Design major. On paper, it appears like there’s no way they’d be right for each other, but that certainly doesn’t stop the sexual tension to keep rising and rising until someone’s about to explode!
What I Liked:
The Familiar Faces! I really enjoyed seeing some returning characters like Summer, Hunter, and Fitzy; they were really minor characters in the previous series and didn’t get a whole lot of attention, so it was enticing to see them get the spotlight on them this time around. There were also some cameos from some previous Briar University students like Garrett, Hannah, Tucker, and of course Dean and Allie. Happy to see that the couples are all still together and moving forward with the next step of their lives. It was like paying homage to the base this series grew from and you kind of got that jolt of excitement you usually get when you get to have a big reunion with your friends.
The Social Issues Brought Up! Learning disabilities, sexual assault on college campuses, girl-on-girl hatred, judging people based off appearances, and broken families are issues that a lot of us face in our daily lives. These were some serious issues that were brought up in this book that I also think were handled incredibly well and respectfully by the author. It made the story feel a lot more meaningful and relatable because yeah, I definitely have experience with at least one of them myself. These were much more realistic than some of the other issues Elle Kennedy has brought up in her books, so you can tell there’s been some maturing of her writing ability by this point!
The Laughs! Hilarious one-liners, ongoing jokes with certain characters, and the steamy banter all make what I believe make Elle Kennedy an incredibly popular author within the NA Romance genre.
The Love Triangle! I know….weird to say since everyone seems to be completely over this whole trope indefinitely, but I can say I still enjoy it from time to time depending on how it’s handled. There’s some major angst that brews between Summer, Fitzy, and Hunter (who also shows major romantic interest in her). Kind of awkward since they literally all live in the same house together, and of course you know who Summer is going to end up with, so part of me was also torn on how Hunter reacts later on, but I can say it made me wonder how in the heck the two main characters will end up together!
Nerd Culture! Fitzy’s a Game Design major and is also a pretty intelligent guy, he falls pretty far from the stereotypical dumb jock, so of course that means he’s going to have a vast knowledge of video games and technology in general. Someone else pointed it out on Goodreads too, but I had to agree that it seemed like Elle Kennedy really did her research and made all the terms and platforms she mentions feel authentic and genuine. I’m by no means a game nerd in any way so I’m not the most legit source on whether this part was done correctly, but it for sure felt real to me.
What I Didn’t Like:
The Slow-Burn…I mean, the sexual tension was good, don’t get me wrong, but part of me was kind of hoping for more steamy smut scenes than what we actually got in this book. What we did get was some absolutely scorching, off the charts hot stuff, but based off what’s gone down in the books of the previous series, I was just kind of hoping for more.
It was a total joy to come back into the world of Briar University with all the hockey players and the ladies who rock their skates off, one by one with each new installment! I’m so happy that there’s going to be even more books, because like the Off-Campus series, this new cast of characters seem like an exciting bunch who’ll make you excited to see what will possibly happen next, and also wonder who’ll end up together.
If you loved the previous series, you’re going to adore this one too, and I can also say you’ll even enjoy this book even if you haven’t read them at all. First: I definitely say you SHOULD read them because of how amazing I think they are as a series, and second: The beginning might be a little jarring with the listing of so many names of people—the characters of the previous series—who make a cameo return before the story goes to focus more on the newer batch of the cast. Just want to throw that out there for anyone’s consideration.
Elle Kennedy continues to be a favorite Romance genre author for me with this new spinoff series, I’m really looking forward to the next three books too!
Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!
I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…
You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.
As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.
Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.
I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!
She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.
Back up to his eyes.
‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:
Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
What I Liked:
The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!
Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
What I Didn’t Like:
Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!
‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.
One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!
Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.
***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus the previous books in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***
To see my full review of book #1 – The Deal – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #2 – The Mistake – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #3 – The Score – Click HERE
Total Star Rating:2.25 Stars
Footsteps approach the kitchen. Garrett wanders in, wiping sweat off his brow. When he notices Sabrina, he brightens. ‘Oh good. You’re here. Hold on—gotta grab something.’
She turns to me as if to say, Is he talking to me?
He’s already gone, though, his footsteps thumping up the stairs.
At the table, Hannah runs a hand through her hair and gives me a pleading look. ‘Just remember he’s your best friend, okay?’
That doesn’t sound ominous.
When Garrett returns, he’s holding a notepad and a ballpoint pen, which he sets on the table as he sits across from Sabrina. ‘Tuck,’ he says. ‘Sit. This is important.’
I’m so baffled right now. Hannah’s resigned expression doesn’t help in lessening the confusion.
Once I’m seated next to Sabrina, Garrett flips open the notepad, all business. ‘Okay. So let’s go over the names.’
Sabrina raises an eyebrow at me.
I shrug, because I legitimately don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.
‘I’ve put together a solid list. I really think you’re going to like these.” But when he glances down at the page, his face falls. ‘Ah crap. We can’t use any of the boy names.’
‘Wait.’ Sabrina holds up a hand, her brow furrowed. ‘You’re picking names for our baby?’
He nods, busy flipping the page.
My baby mama gapes at me.
I shrug again.
‘Just out of curiosity, what were the boy names?’ Grace hedges, clearly fighting a smile.
He cheers up again. ‘Well, the top contender was Garrett.’
I snicker loud enough to rattle Sabrina’s water glass. ‘Uh-huh,’ I say, playing along. ‘And what was the runner-up?’
‘But it’s okay. I have some kickass girl names too.’ He taps his pen on the pad, meets our eyes, and utters two syllables. ‘Gigi.’
My jaw drops. ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not naming my daughter Gigi.’
Sabrina is mystified. ‘Why Gigi?’ she asks slowly.
Hannah sighs again.
The name suddenly clicks in my head. Oh for fuck’s sake.
‘G.G.,’ I mutter to Sabrina. ‘As in Garrett Graham.’
She’s silent for a beat. Then she bursts out laughing, triggering giggles from Grace and eventually Hannah, who keeps shaking her head at her boyfriend.
‘What?’ Garrett says defensively. ‘The godfather should have a say in the name. It’s in the rule book.’
‘What rule book?’ Hannah bursts out. ‘You make up the rules as you go along!’
– Elle Kennedy, “The Goal”
This is merely a taste of the humor that is Elle Kennedy whenever you read a new adult romance by this amazing author! As I’ve said before in plenty of my past reviews of her work, It’s just so incredibly hilarious, heartfelt, steamy, and genuine; I wonder if she literally just sits down in her home and thinks up these scenes so full of banter? Maybe that’s what I need to start doing as a writer in order to even get close to her level and quality of craft.
Here we are at the fourth and final book of this college hockey romance series, and I’m sad to say that despite all the praise I usually give these books and the author in general, TheGoal has to be my least favorite book of them all. It’s a damn shame because it’s the end and a book series should never have the final book be the weakest, it leaves such a sour taste in the mouth of the reader.
It’s not that I don’t think the two main characters, Tuck and Sabrina, go through their own growth and change throughout this book, it’s more just that I didn’t feel as connected to them compared to the others like Graham, Hannah, Dean, Allie, and Logan. I just found I wasn’t as interested in them; I like Tuck just fine, but that’s about it, I literally have nothing to add to him as a character…Sabrina was a hard-headed, strong willed female protagonist who is fiercely ambitious and determined to go where she wants to end up, but there just wasn’t really anything to make me care about her as much. This is all of course my opinion, but feel free to take all this criticism with a grain of salt.
While the two main characters are rather subpar for my taste, at least all the others whom I mentioned earlier still make their appearances! It’s always good to see them continue to make wise-cracks and give each other a hard time like an actual group of friends, although Garrett Graham seems much more like a typical airheaded hockey bro when the story doesn’t focus so much on him. Nonetheless, him and all the others are always welcome to make appearances and live inside my head rent free.
What It’s About:
The Official Blurb:
She’s good at achieving her goals…
College senior Sabrina James has her whole future planned out: graduate from college, kick butt in law school, and land a high-paying job at a cutthroat firm. Her path to escaping her shameful past certainly doesn’t include a gorgeous hockey player who believes in love at first sight. One night of sizzling heat and surprising tenderness is all she’s willing to give John Tucker, but sometimes, one night is all it takes for your entire life to change.
But the game just got a whole lot more complicated…
Tucker believes being a team player is as important as being the star. On the ice, he’s fine staying out of the spotlight, but when it comes to becoming a daddy at the age of twenty-two, he refuses to be a bench warmer. It doesn’t hurt that the soon-to-be mother of his child is beautiful, whip-smart, and keeps him on his toes. The problem is, Sabrina’s heart is locked up tight, and the fiery brunette is too stubborn to accept his help. If he wants a life with the woman of his dreams, he’ll have to convince her that some goals can only be made with an assist.
What I Liked:
The Humor! This never disappoints whenever I read an Elle Kennedy novel, I can always count on her to make me laugh out loud at least once every time I open a book of hers, whether she’s written it by herself or if it’s with Sarina Bowen!
The Return of All the Other Characters! It’s always a warm welcome to see characters like Garrett, Hannah, Grace, Logan, Dean, and Allie all make reappearances once again, even as their perspectives are no longer being centralized. It’s also adorable to see them as couples now that they’ve all had their little “happily ever afters” with their previous books.
Plenty of New Characters! There’s a certain amount of new characters introduced by now that are worth being mentioned, most of them are underclassmen teammates like Hunter, Fitzy, and even Dean’s little sister. I guess I can kind of spoil this, but pay attention to these characters because they’ll be getting their own spin-off set of books!
What I Didn’t Like:
I Just Didn’t Connect With the Two Main Characters…Like I said earlier in this review, I just didn’t care as much for Tuck and Sabrina in this book. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just wasn’t as interested in them when compared to the others.
How Was it Tucker Who Got Someone Pregnant?…For some reason, I always considered Tuck to be the smartest of the bunch, so I just find it ironic that he ended up being the one to get a girl pregnant first out of the four guys in that house! I would’ve pegged Logan for sure, or maybe even Dean, but I thought Tuck being the guy to get a bun in the oven first was a little unrealistic to say the least!
Not As Memorable…To be honest, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of stories where, whoops!…someone ends up pregnant, and now the two must quickly learn to readjust everything in each other’s lives to revolve around that notion, plus navigated their now much more complicated relationship. I think babies are absolutely adorable, at least when they’re not crying, but I’m just not as interested in reading stories so heavily involving them so much.
My goal, once upon a time, was to succeed. I didn’t realize that success wasn’t grades or scholarships or achievements, but the people I was lucky enough to have in my life.”
– Elle Kennedy, “The Goal”
I was disappointed with how much I didn’t care about the two main characters in this final installment of the Off-Campus series by Elle Kennedy, and I say that while literally everything she includes in her stories that I love are all included within this book: the banter, the humor, the friendships, the scorching romance, and I still wasn’t entirely sold on this!
Luckily, the story is actually NOT over entirely, and there’s going to be a spinoff series named the Briar U series that I know will star some of the newer side characters like Hunter, Fitzy, Dean’s younger sister, Summer, and plenty of others! While the original gang’s time is up and they’re all set to graduate, I’m so glad the fun at Briar University is not quite over yet!
I recommend these books to anyone who’s looking for a sweet, humorous, and sexy romance novel that’s light and easy to read through. Anyone who’s a fan of hot college jocks and the sassy female protagonists who put them in their place like the characters in these books will fall in love just like I did.
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!
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.
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!
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.”
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.”