My stomach plunged to my feet.
Three steps earlier, I was already tasting the daiquiris I’d be drinking that night and the song “Copacabana” was on repeat, blasting in my mind. I was leaving my last exam of my sophomore year at Hillcrest University, and we were celebrating that night. The whole gang—myself, my roommate, and Wanker, the guy who loved my roommate, but she was too daft to realize it.
But once I left that classroom, I froze.
I took those three steps from the door, just clearing it, when it shut behind me. My butt got a swift whack, not that I was feeling it. All of that registered in the back of my mind. I was too transfixed across the hallway where the student lounge was located. That was the con of having classrooms attached to the social hub of the campus. The person I was staring at, smack dab in the center of the news report, was me.
Not me, me, but me nonetheless.
It was the old me, when I was Jordan Emory, and that girl looked different from how I was now. Current me had short brown, slightly golden-blonde hair. My hairstylist had come heavily recommended, straight from the federal government. But the girl on the television screen still had her long jet-black locks. I needed to move aside the frozen anvil to appreciate how good my hair looked, but damn, it did. I’d been a little bit of a hottie back then, and I never knew it. My nose wrinkled. What a waste. I should’ve taken classes in self-esteem. A lot of problems would’ve been avoided, but I hadn’t. Old me was broken and spineless.
New me was spunky and fierce with extra emphasis on the spine.
Jo, not Jordan. My new nickname was from my new full name of Joslyn Keen. There was that other fact.
Jake Monroe was weaving his way toward me.
My brain needed another two seconds to fully register what was happening. I was on the TV—old me, not new me—and Jake was coming my way. Jake, whom I had been in love with seven months ago, had broken me, like really broken me. I had been in a puddle on my bathroom floor, crying and sniffling with soggy Kleenex, wearing a bathrobe, next to an old pizza box and a box of wine.
It was that Jake.
I couldn’t compute. I just couldn’t.
He wove his way around a group of students, a very bright, fake smile plastered on my face. It felt alien-like, but hey, I was going this route. I felt like I was in a twilight zone anyway.
“Oh, hey…there”—I gave his arm a slight punch—“Jake.” This was awkward. We hadn’t talked in seven months. I should be doing something else, not being nice to him, but at that moment, my brain wasn’t working.
And I wasn’t stopping. I was making it worse.
I raised my hand and pretended to shoot him with my finger. “How are you doing…there?”
His head tilted to the side, and his grin slipped a little, morphing into is-she-nuts territory. “I’m good. How are you?” He was holding a textbook to his chest and leaned forward, motioning with it to the coffee cup in my hand. “Hitting that early today?”
He thought I was drunk. I wish.
“No.” I cleared my throat and glanced behind me to my classroom. “Just finished my last exam of the year. You? What are you doing?”
“Looking for you.”
“Oh?” My eyebrows shot up.
As he started talking, my gaze slid past his shoulders to the television mounted on the wall in the lounge. My face was still there. There were words scrolling across the bottom of the screen along with old pictures of my hometown and other pictures that I didn’t want to register. I knew Jake wouldn’t recognize me, but I scooted around, so he had to turn with me. I tried concentrating on him. Whatever that was in the background, it could wait. I had a lie life to live here.
Occupation: College Juniorish (Might be a senior now.)
Looks: Wide shoulders. Trim waist. Washboard abs. Nicely muscled thighs. Wavy brunette hair with speckles of sunlight. Strong jawline. Dark eyes that could make me groan and sigh at the same time. I had lost many afternoons just gazing into them. He had a young-looking face with a smooth complexion. He was gorgeous—too gorgeous at times.
My history with him: I could already feel the condemnation. Mental assessment turned off.
He was saying, “…Susan, do you think?”
“She’s up for a promotion with the newspaper. There are two spots, but only one—”
No, no, no. I knew where he was going with this, and I could only shake my head. “But only one is getting the full-time promotion.”
He paused, a side grin appearing. “How did you know that?”
“Do you not know who the other person is?”
I was waiting. His friend Susan was my nemesis—or so I heard. Because of my history with Jake, she hated me. Well, hate was a strong word. Loathed was a more correct summary of the situation, but her reasons were twofold.
Here’s the condemnation part—I was the other woman. Jake had a girlfriend when he and I started our fling in the first semester of this year, but I didn’t know he had a girlfriend. I heard, along with many others, that they broke up. I thought Jake was free and clear. And no, Susan wasn’t the girlfriend. Susan was best friends with the girlfriend, Tara Moore. Susan was doing her best-friend duties, which was hating me. And the other reason she hated me was the other part of my current conversation with Jake.
My roommate and best friend, Erica Rouche, was the other one up for the job promotion. They both started as interns freshman year, then were hired on as junior writers. When the senior writers went on strike, Erica and Susan got promoted again. Things were touch and go for a while, but they both proved they could do their jobs well. The job opening was another step up, into full-time employment. It was a big deal for someone still in college.
And Jake was asking me to…what? I wasn’t following that part.
“The other person?” He scrunched up his adorable eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Huh?” He scratched behind his ear. “That’s why I’m asking you. Do you think you could come with me?”
His shoulders bunched up. His arms moved back, and his hands slid into his pockets. The book he was holding moved, so it was pressed between his arm and his chest, right where his rib cage was and right where I knew he had a tattoo.