Authors: Jenna Cox
By Jenna Cox
For the boy who stole my heart.
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“Your jeans. You’re dripping.”
“Shit.” He shifted his wet denim clad leg an inch away from me, still dripping onto the carpet but not on my handbag anymore. I would have moved further, but we were crammed into the row of chairs like sardines.
“So, why are you wearing wet jeans, exactly?”
“That’s not really any of your fucking business, is it.”
I blinked. I saw a girl on the other side of him raise her eyebrows, but tactfully pretend she didn’t notice anything. It wasn’t her bag he had dripped all over.
“Katherine Miller?” I heard my name called from behind the desk.
“Well, fuck you, too,” I murmured, and got up, shaking my bag off next to him. “That’s me,” I said, directed at the woman at the desk. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail so severe I was concerned it was going to pull free of her head.
She just stared at me.
“Uh, I need to schedule a make-up exam.”
“You got the form?” she said in a heavy Geordie accent.
I passed the slip of paper over the desk and she examined it. “Medical?”
“Your reason for missing the exam?”
“Yeah. I was in a car accident.”
I passed that slip of paper to her as well, and she stapled them together, rapped at the keyboard and then turned to the printer. Then she passed me a third slip of paper without a word.
“Brandon Holt.” The woman’s shout almost made me jump. She was staring past me like I was already gone, so clearly I was done. I stepped back a little bewildered and collided with someone solid. And wet. But I didn’t register that right away.
“Sorry—” I stammered, turning rapidly. Then, seeing the recently familiar face, my annoyance overtook the knee-jerk apology and the words died in my throat. I might have sneered a little instead.
I met his amber eyes and he just looked at me deadpan. I swallowed. Then recovered myself and got out of his way, heading for the door.
“Brandon H—” The woman began again. As if she hadn’t seen the encounter three feet from her desk.
“It’s Brendan,” I heard him say over her call.
“I don’t much care what it is, Mr Holt,” was the reply, and I raised my eyebrows as I pushed out into the frigid January air. And he hadn’t even dripped all over her handbag.
But somewhere inside me I felt kind of bad for him. He clearly wasn’t having a good day, and Mrs Ponytail was probably not going to be his friend.
But what the fuck did I care? I shook my head — I felt like I had a tension headache coming on — and pulled the tie out of my hair, letting it fall loose around my face. It smelled like coconut and frangipani. My mum’s shampoo.
The constriction of my throat was sudden and unexpected, and I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I had to lean against the pillar supporting the large stone portico of the student services building I had just exited. I was still slumped there, when I sensed the glass doors opening behind me.
I straightened myself and shoved the rescheduled exam notice into my pocket, before pushing my hair roughly back to retie it. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Wet Jeans passing me. He glanced my way. Then did an almost comical double take.
I turned my face to the side, still pulling at my hair, threatening to yank it into a ponytail as severe as the woman inside. I knew my nose and eyes would be red. They always gave me away when I got close to tears, even when I successfully suppressed them.
“You okay?” His voice surprised me and I froze mid loop of my hair tie. I didn’t trust myself to speak.
“Uh…yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?” I cleared my throat and finished my hair. I was pulling on gloves and pointedly not looking at him, but I could see him still watching me in my peripheral vision. “What?” I looked at him now. Defiantly. But I was wavering. If he hadn’t been so obnoxious not five minutes before, I would have kind of liked his golden eyes. I wished he would stop looking at me.
“You get your re-sit?”
I blinked at him like he was speaking a foreign language. “Uh. Yeah.”
He nodded once. Looked me over briefly. Then he turned to descend the stairs.
“You?” Why I wasn’t letting him just go and get on with his life, I didn’t know, but the question was out before I could stop myself.
He paused on the steps and glanced at me. “Nah.” Then he was going again. And I should have just let him. But my feet were carrying me after him. Fucking traitor feet.
“Wait. Are you really not going to tell me why you are in wet jeans right now?” I caught up to him, and he stopped but didn’t turn. “And socks. You don’t even have shoes on!” I had only just noticed his feet. They had been tucked under the chair earlier, and now I knew why.
“So?” He was looking at me now, a challenge in his eyes. But I couldn’t help noticing how soft his lips looked. I pressed my own together and took a step back, raising my gloved hands in surrender.
“Ok. Whatever. Sorry.” I turned to cross the grass towards the student housing building I lived in, cursing my flaming face.
“Shit.” I heard him mutter. “Look, sorry,” he called.
“Forget it. None of my fucking business, right?” I said, waving a hand at him without turning or looking. I stepped a little quicker. But his voice came from right beside me, and then he was half jogging, backwards, to get in front of me.
“Wait.” His hand on my shoulder stopped me, and I stared at it like I didn’t understand what it was. He dropped it away suddenly. “Sorry, okay. It’s been a long day.”
I looked into his face. When it wasn’t set hard in defiance, it was actually a nice face. Kind. Well, with the potential, anyway. I wasn’t so sure about the reality. In reality, it was the kind of face that was trouble.
“Sorry you didn’t get your re-sit,” I said. I meant it. That shit sucked.
He just shrugged, and for the first time, a hint of a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah. Or Kat.” I took his proffered hand for a strangely formal handshake. “Brandon, right?”
“It’s Bren—” He noticed my grin too late, then smiled a little wider himself. “Right. Got off to a great start. Joan Rivers in there was never going to give me anything.”
“Joan Rivers?” He pulled the skin around his hairline taut with his hands imitating a facelift. I laughed.
Then we just looked at each other for a moment.
“You’re seriously not going to tell me why you’re in wet jeans and bare feet?”
“My feet aren’t bare. I’ve got socks on.”
I groaned a little, rolled my eyes, and then slipped past him.
“I’ll tell you if you buy me a drink,” he called. I turned to look back at him.
a drink. Is this a pick up line that works for you?”
“I’m waiting to find out.” He was grinning at me, and my stupid traitor face was responding with the same. I bit my lip trying to suppress it, and assessed him. Really I was just trying to still my thudding heart so I could speak again. His currently extra-fitted jeans weren’t helping me.
What would one drink hurt? If he turned out to be a loser — which surely he was; who else would be in wet jeans and no shoes, being denied a re-sit in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon? — then at worst I’d have a funny story to tell my friends that night. At best, I’d have a welcome distraction for a little while.
I glanced over my shoulder then back at him. “I live just up there. I’ve got alcohol in my room,” I said, “if you want a drink. And maybe even a heater if you want to dry your jeans.”
I hadn’t really planned to say that. A public place probably would have been better. But then again, I knew no-one else was home, and this saved me from being seen in a public place with a soggy, barefooted stranger.
His grin wavered for a second, and I felt a flush in my cheeks as I panicked. He was going to turn me down. I was such an idiot. I was about to be turned down by a near drop-out in wet jeans. And bare feet. And messy hair. Although I had to admit I kind of liked his hair. Just a bit too long to be respectable, but it suited him. Fuck. I should never have said anything.
I almost didn’t hear his response, already mentally formulating a plan to recover my dignity and flee the situation.
“Ah…yeah. Alright then. Come on.” I turned without waiting for him, almost hoping he didn’t follow. But who was I kidding. My stomach was doing flip-flops. I was screwed.
“Deal’s a deal. You’ve got your drink and a heater. And a pair of trackies.”
“Just tell me the fucking story. I bet it’s not even that interesting after all this,” I said, rolling my eyes and taking a swig of the drink I had poured myself. Rum and coke. It was actually my roommate’s, but I was hoping I’d have a good story to tell her later as payment.
“Yeah, it’s not.”
“You want me to take the drink back? And the trackies?”
Brendan gulped the rest of his drink in two swallows. “I’d like to see you try and get that back. And the trackies.”
I was blushing again. He’d already peeled off his wet jeans to hang them over a chair, and changed into the trackies in the middle of my room. I’d half turned away, but couldn’t resist watching him out of the corner of my eye.
Now I just scowled at him, trying to cover my embarrassment. It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen a guy in far less than his underwear in my room before. Plus my other roommate, Justin, walked around practically naked every day. It was just something about this guy that was making me squirm. And he knew it. And liked it, I could tell.
“I will. Don’t tempt me. I’ll make you walk home in your underwear.”
He just grinned wider.
“Fine. I’ll tell you why I was in wet jeans if you tell me why you have a pair of guys’ trackies in your room.”
“That wasn’t the deal.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me and started pouring himself more rum.
“Maybe I just find guys’ trackies comfortable,” I said, but he didn’t buy it.
“Good. I mean, ‘cause I doubt he’d like me getting undressed in your room right now, otherwise.”
My ‘ex’ had hardly been a boyfriend to begin with — he probably wouldn’t care about anything to do with me anymore. But I wasn’t going to spill my relationship failures to Brendan.
We both took slow sips of our drinks, appraising each other over the rims of the cups.
“You’re right,” he said finally. “It’s really not an interesting story. I went to the laundry room out the back of my house but the drier had crapped it, so everything was wet. I got locked out. Was running late for an exam so just put the wet jeans on and went.”
I gave a short laugh. “Shit. You missed it, though?”
“Yeah. Only by seven minutes but the fuckwit of a professor wouldn’t let me in.”
“Maybe because he knows you think he’s a fuckwit.”
“That could be it.” Brendan grinned at me. God, it felt hot in the room.
“And you couldn’t get a re-sit?”
“No. Apparently laundry isn’t a good enough excuse.”
“Hey, whatever. I’ll work it out.” There was a flicker of something in his face, something more serious than just one mildly amusing series of events, and one missed exam. He avoided my eyes for a moment and looked out the window.
By the time he looked back at me, the moment was gone. “And you? You seemed to have a better excuse than me. Did I hear you say car accident?”
“Yeah.” My stomach knotted uncomfortably and I could barely swallow the mouthful of drink I tried to sip.
“Lucky,” he said with a tight smile, oblivious to the sudden panic in my body. I could feel my face going white. And then either he noticed, or he rethought his comment himself, because he grimaced. “Shit. I only meant… well you seem okay, I just meant that you had a legitimate… are you okay?”
I had sunk down to sit on the edge of my bed, clumsily putting the glass of rum on my bedside table, then gripping the side of the mattress to stop myself sliding all the way to the floor.
“My mum was in the car with me. I was driving.” I was talking before I could stop myself. The words tumbling over themselves to be told, to be out, to lay my guilt out there to be shared by someone else, anyone else. Brandon seemed as good a someone as any. “She’s in the hospital.”