Kylie Quinn stood at the back of the pickup truck and frowned at the tower of boxes. Sadly, only a handful of them belonged to her. “Um, your mom does know we’re sharing a room not a full apartment, right?” She glanced over at her best friend, Celeste, who had the same overwhelmed expression on her face.
“She knows. She chooses not to listen.” She dragged a box labeled “bedding” toward her, lifted it out of the truck, and then headed inside the residence hall.
The campus was a bustle of excited energy. There were people everywhere carting boxes and trunks and suitcases. A woman with a bouquet of multicolored balloons and a large box wrapped in shiny pink paper walked across the parking lot. It looked like she was preparing for a birthday party, not college move-in day. Conflicting emotions warred inside Kylie—relief that she wasn’t the one who was going to be embarrassed and sadness that she didn’t have either of her parents here to do embarrassing things like bring her balloons.
Sighing, she reached for the box labeled “Kylie bathroom” and hefted it into her arms. She grunted with the effort. Why had she stuffed it so full? She set the box on the tailgate and wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans. Maybe she should leave that one for Celeste’s dad.
Stop being a wimp.
“I could so kick your ass, and you know it!” a guy yelled.
“Bullshit! I just gave you the chance, and you blew it!” another guy shouted. Raucous laughter followed their words, and Kylie turned to see what the commotion was about.
Four shirtless guys walked down the sidewalk. One of them had a basketball tucked under his arm. They were all tall and handsome, but the one on the far left snagged her attention. He had to be well over six feet, with dark hair and eyes to match. Broad shoulders gave way to muscular arms. And that chest? Her eyes widened as she took her fill—full pecs, chiseled six-pack abs, gym shorts hung low on his hips. Good Lord, everything about him was sinfully fabulous. A sheen of sweat glistened on his body. He removed the college baseball cap he wore, swiped his arm across his forehead, and then put on the hat again, backward. His tongue peeked out to graze across his bottom lip.
She suppressed a groan as a tingle worked through her body. If that’s what the college guys around here looked like, she was going to end up doing a lot more dating and a lot less studying. She laughed to herself. Yeah, right. With all the experience she had? She’d be lucky to have a guy like that even talk to her, much less ask her out.
Forcing herself to stop staring, she pulled the box into her arms and headed toward the res hall. She’d made it a few steps when one of the guys whistled a catcall. The tips of her ears burned, and her face felt like it was on fire. Are they whistling at me? She wanted to twist around and look, but fear and adrenaline kept her moving forward. Her heart thumped wildly. Just keep walking.
“Dude, you don’t stand a fucking chance with her.”
There was no way in hell they were talking about her. Were they? No. They couldn’t be. Just then, a tall, thin, leggy blonde crossed Kylie’s path. She had a flirtatious smirk plastered across her flawless face. Yup, those guys were most definitely not talking about Kylie. The blonde waved with her fingers and blew a kiss. Ugh. Could she be any more obvious? If those guys bought that, they were certainly not Kylie’s type. She didn’t do sexy, dumb jocks.
Kylie picked up her pace, but she missed the curb, and her foot slipped, sending her sprawling forward. Oh no. Dropping the box, she put her hands out in front of her to stop from face-planting on the pavement. The unforgiving sidewalk bit into her palms at the same time the box crashed to the ground, its contents spilling out around her. “Ouch.” Kneeling, she inspected her hands. No blood, but they were red. That’s going to feel awesome tomorrow.
“Oh, shit. Are you okay?”
She looked up to find the guy she’d been ogling a moment earlier crouched in front of her. His eyes were like dark pools of chocolate. She loved chocolate. And swimming. Yeah, she could totally drown in those eyes.
“Are you hurt?” He tilted his head and studied her. That voice…it was deep and rich, and it settled around her like a cool, silk blanket.
“Uh, no, thank you.” Did I really just say thank you? She wanted to smack herself. “I mean, no, I’m not hurt. Thanks for asking.” Yeah, that’s better. She refrained from rolling her eyes at her stupidity.
“Well, good.” He smiled, showing off twin dimples.
She nearly fell back onto her ass at the sight. Holy hell, his smile was A-list movie-star quality. A flash of yellow caught her eye, and reflexively she turned to look. All the color drained from her face, and her heart stopped. Her tampons were rolling down the sidewalk, and all of her personal items—bras and underwear included—were littered across the grass, on display for everyone to see.
Kylie scrambled to her feet, righted the box, and began frantically shoving her stuff back inside. Oh my God. Kill me now. She chased after a stray tampon and scooped it up before the guy saw it. Her shampoo and conditioner had rolled halfway across the parking lot. Looked like she’d have to buy new ones because she was not going to be the lunatic student chasing her shit across campus.
Please let him be gone, please let him be gone. But when she turned back to collect her unmentionables, she found the guy gathering her cosmetics and gently setting them in the box. She plucked her underwear from the ground as quickly as possible, praying she could get them all before the guy offered to help with those, too.
“Kittens?” he said, amusement coloring his tone. He held up a pair of her panties—gray ones with white kittens on them. “That’s…different.”
Kylie’s eyes widened. “My grandmother gave me those.” She grabbed the underwear from his hand and shoved them into the box. A stab of sadness hit her at the thought of her grandmother, but it was quickly replaced by utter mortification. She did not just tell that super-hot guy that her grandmother had bought her kitty underwear. Lightning couldn’t strike her down fast enough.
“They’re cute.” His lips twitched into an almost smile. Actually, it was more of a smirk.
She’d never met a guy who could pull off a smirk without looking like a jackass, but damn if he didn’t wear it well. Really fucking well. Refusing to respond to his teasing, she silently picked up more of her items.
“Now these”—he held up a pair of black, bikini-cut panties with brightly colored polka dots—“are sexy. In a nerdy sort of way.”
“There’s nothing nerdy about those,” she said and tore the panties from his hand. They made her ass look fantastic. Her heart was out of control, and adrenaline spiked through her system, making her arms and legs shaky.
Mouth open, he paused for a beat, then laughed. “Y’know, this is the fastest I’ve ever gotten into a girl’s panties.” He twirled her red thong, grinning.
She narrowed her eyes and snatched the thong from him, shoving it into the box. “Next time, I’ll expect dinner first.”
He laughed, and goose bumps erupted on her arms. “Dinner, huh? I can handle that.”
Her heart jackhammered in her chest. “And a movie, too.”
“Whatever you want.” He winked, then stood and moved around the massive tree that stood near the edge of the sidewalk. Then he held up a pair of white briefs, a devilish glint in his eyes. “Granny panties? Now, this is a surprise.”
She glared at him. More accurately, they were period panties, and she only wore them one week a month. Not that she was going to tell him that. Instead, she said, “Everyone needs backup underwear for laundry day.”
“Not me. I go commando.”
“Oh my God.” She laughed, and then her gaze dropped lower. Was he commando right now?
“Were you just checking me out?”
Her eyes jerked back up to his face. “What? No.” She shook her head. Liar.
“Hmm, too bad.” His smile grew, as if he was pleased with himself. “Because I was totally checking you out.”
“Yo, Xander! We gotta go!” Some guy whistled and waved his hands over his head.
His name was Xander. Was there anything about him that wasn’t perfect? Picking up the final item, she dropped it into the box and then lifted it.
“Want some help carrying that?” Xander asked.
“No, I got it, but thanks.” Like she was going to let him carry the box up to her room and subject him to Celeste’s parents. Or Celeste. It was bad enough he’d already fondled her underwear. A girl could only survive so much embarrassment in a single day.
“Yes.” She adjusted her hold on the box. Her palms stung from falling, and the cardboard rubbing against them wasn’t helping. Without another word, she rushed toward the front door of her res hall, refusing to look back to see if he was watching.
“I didn’t get your name,” he shouted after her.
Stopping, she turned back. “You want my name?” she asked, a hint of disbelief in her tone.
“Well, considering I just spent the last few minutes playing with your underwear, yeah, I want your name.”
Several people walking by slowed to watch their exchange, thanks to the fact Xander was using his outside voice. If he spoke any louder, people on the other side of campus would be able to hear him.
“Kylie,” she said.
“Well, then, Kylie…” He took a few steps backward. “I’ll be seeing you around.”
She blew out a breath.
“Hey, I was coming down to find you. What’s taking so long? Everything all right?” Celeste asked.
“Yeah, I dropped a bunch of stuff. But it’s fine now. My arms, however, are about to fall off. I need to set this box down.”
“Why didn’t you leave that one for my dad to carry?”
“I should have.” But then she wouldn’t have met Xander. “It’s fine.” She headed inside and upstairs to her new home for the next year. Celeste’s parents, Mike and Sarah, were in their room bickering over how to get the TV set up.
“No, you have to put that cable there.” Sarah pointed to the back of the TV and then buried her face in the owner’s manual. “Yeah, you’re doing it wrong. See?” She showed the manual to Mike.
“I know what I’m doing, Sarah,” he snapped.
Kylie dropped the box onto her bed and headed back out to grab another one. Thirty minutes and numerous trips later, they finally had everything in their room. Now they had to unpack all of it, which was a daunting task. The boxes were piled high, making it impossible to move around.
“Seriously, Mom? Did you need to pack all this stuff?” Celeste said.
“It’s better to have too much and not need it than need it and not have it,” Sarah said. “Besides, whatever you don’t need, your father and I will just take home.”
Kylie sat on the corner of her bed, and her shoulders slumped. She didn’t have it in her to lug any more boxes unless they were empty and she was taking them to the Dumpster. She rubbed her hands over her face and yawned.
They spent the next hour going through the boxes, picking out what they needed while Mike carried the excess out to his truck. “Mom, we don’t need an ice pack.” Celeste tossed it into a box of items they weren’t keeping.
“Yes, you do.” Sarah retrieved it from the box and put it in the mini-fridge. “You never know when you might need ice.”
“Then we’ll go to the campus health center.” Celeste sighed with aggravation and gave Kylie a “help me” look.
Kylie shrugged. It was a stupid ice pack. She didn’t care one way or another if it stayed or went. Sweat dampened the back of her neck, and her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was now close to four o’clock.
“It will make me feel better if you keep it,” Sarah said.
“Fine, whatever.” Celeste’s voice was defeated and tired.
“All right, that’s the last of it,” Mike said. “We should be going. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”
As if on cue, Sarah’s eyes filled with tears. She pulled Celeste in for a hug. “Be a good girl.” She released her and turned to Kylie. “You, too.” She smiled warmly. “I wish your grandmother was well enough to make this trip with us. She’s so proud of you.”
A lump formed in Kylie’s throat, and she nodded. “I know.”
“No boys.” Mike pointed at them. “And look out for each other. Use the buddy system.”
“Dad,” Celeste groaned. “We’re not five anymore.”
“I know. You’re older and smarter, which means you’ll get yourselves into more trouble. I’m not paying for you to party, Celeste. You’d best remember that.” His tone was sharp.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Anderson. We’ll stick together and be safe.” Kylie flung her arm around Celeste’s shoulders.
“Yeah, you don’t have anything to worry about. Promise.” Celeste smiled and wrapped her arm around Kylie’s waist. “See? Buddy system.”
“It certainly makes me worry less knowing you two have each other,” Sarah said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Okay. One more hug.” She wrapped the girls in an awkward group hug. “Enjoy this experience, but not too much.”
“Bye, Mom. Dad. I’ll call you later this week.” Celeste gave her parents one final hug and then closed the door behind them. She let out a long sigh and said, “I didn’t think they were ever going to leave.”
Kylie looked around the room, and a slow grin spread across her face. “We did it. We’re in college!”
“I know!” Celeste squealed and jumped around. “What should we do first? Explore the campus a bit? Or get something to eat?”
They’d gone on a campus tour the summer before their senior year of high school, but that had been guided and boring. Now they were free to go wherever they wanted, without supervision. “I’m starving. Let’s go find food.”
“If I remember correctly, the closest dining hall is Nelson. We can go there, then wander around campus, see what we can find. There’s got to be something going on somewhere.”
Kylie opened the door and motioned Celeste to go first.
A petite redhead with wild curls stopped in front of them, a clipboard clutched in her hands. “Room two sixty-four… Celeste and Kylie, right?” She looked up at them, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, I’m Kylie. That’s Celeste.”
The girl smiled. “I’m Hannah, the RA for the floor.” She pulled a sheet of paper from the clipboard and held it out. “I’m hosting an informal meet and greet tonight. We’ll play some fun get-to-know-you games, and there will be snacks.”
Kylie took the flyer and glanced at it. “Thanks. We’re headed out to get some dinner, but maybe we’ll check it out when we come back.”
“The complete schedule of events for the entire semester is on the back.”
Kylie flipped the paper over, and her eyebrows shot up. There had to be at least sixty or seventy events listed. “Wow. Lots going on, huh?”
“Well, I like to make sure people have fun, safe things to do. Not everyone is into the Greek, party-hard way of life, y’know?” Hannah said. “Anyway, enjoy dinner, and hopefully I’ll see you later.” With a wave, she moved on to the next room.
“She seems nice,” Celeste said.
“Yeah.” They headed downstairs and outside. “Was it just me, or did she sound bitter about the whole Greek life thing?” Kylie pushed out the door into the warm evening air.
“She totally did.” Celeste nodded. “Maybe she had a bad experience.”
“Probably. Are you still dead set on pledging a sorority?”
Celeste shrugged. “I don’t know. It sounds like fun, and next year we could move out of the dorms and into a sorority house. I’d like to check out a few rush parties.”
Kylie nodded. “I’m game.”
“This is going to be the best year ever!” Celeste looped her arm through Kylie’s.
She couldn’t have agreed more.
(Copyright 2017 Lexi Lawton)