Stupid Girl

By: Cindy Miles

“Uh, thanks for the warning,” I said quietly. Not only wasn’t I sure Cole had even heard me, he didn’t seem to notice or care, which was okay by me. Staying well below the radar was my goal, and that seemed to coincide with steering clear of Winston’s bad boy. And his teammates. And anyone else who knew him.

I glanced at Tessa, who shrugged, and I didn’t say anything else as we walked back to the dorm. I hadn’t planned on being around Brax at all, making it pretty easy to stay away from him. Besides, all these warnings and talk about Brax Jenkins was sort of ridiculous. He’d knocked me over. He’d reacted on hot-blooded male instinct and given me the briefest of kisses. He’d helped me carry stuff in. That’s it. It wasn’t a big deal, not a date, and he certainly wasn’t interested in me. Not a proposal, as he’d pointed out. As Tessa had so delicately put it, I was not his type. Not at all.

So why did my lips still tingle?

At our room, Cole put down his load. “Later,” he called over his shoulder. He was really speaking to Tessa and not me. He disappeared out the door.

“Sorry about that,” Tessa apologized. “He’s a butthead, just usually not so damn rude. Probably in a bad mood or something. I swear his PMS is worse than mine. Man Periods. They’re a fucking beast.”

A grin pushed passed my lips. “I’ve got three brothers. And a surly old cowboy grandpa. I know exactly what you mean.”

Tessa’s gaze assessed me, and she stared at my lip. “Where did you get that scar?”

My fingertip grazed it, and it felt as huge as the lie I was about to tell. I shrugged. “It was just an accident. I was thrown from a horse I wasn’t supposed to be riding, and a barbed wired fence caught my face when I landed. Several stitches later, and, well, here it is.” The lie came easier and easier every time I told it—especially since I didn’t really remember how my lip got busted, only that it’d happened that night, with Kelsy. The taste in my mouth, like sucking on pennies, I remembered. Only later did I realize it’d been blood. The emergency room, and getting nine stitches in my lip? That memory will always be stuck in my head, no matter what. Forcing myself to shrug the awful recollection, I kept a casual gaze trained on Tessa.

“God! I bet blood was everywhere!” She cringed. “I guess you can’t wear lipstick too often, huh?”

I pushed an uncomfortable laugh out and rubbed my lip. “Yeah, not so much, so I just don’t wear make-up at all.”

“I’d literally die without make-up.” Tessa cocked her head a little and studied me. “What’s that ring for? You’re not married, are you?”

I glanced at the narrow silver band on my ring finger, and met Tessa’s curious gaze. I’d had to answer the same question before, but it never failed to make me shrink a little inside of myself, making me question more than once why I continued to wear it. “No, not married.”

Tessa’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, shit. Is that an abstinence ring?”

I shoved my hand in my pocket. A familiar sick feeling pitted my gut. “Sort of. It’s a pledge of virginity.”

If possible, her eyes grew wider. “No fucking way. Let me see it.” In two steps she was in front of me, grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand from my pocket. She lifted the ringed finger closer, turning it round and round, studying it as though it were some long lost artifact. “God, my mother would’ve given anything to have gotten one of these on me.” She looked at me and smiled. “Pretty ballsy of you, Olivia. Especially here. Kudos.”

I shrugged. “Just something I believe in personally. I don’t make a big deal of it, just like I don’t judge others.”

Tessa’s brow lifted. “You’re not like, Amish, or Mennonite, are you? Not that there’s anything wrong with that—”

“No, nothing like that,” I interrupted her, and smiled. Inside, I calmed myself, making sure I didn’t sound defensive. “It’s just a decision I made in high school. That’s all.” Right now, that’s all the information Tessa needed about me or the ring. I wasn’t ashamed of it; completely the opposite. Yet every time I was asked about it, I felt as though everyone could see right through me. Could see that I was a fake. Didn’t matter that my virginity was taken from me, and I hadn’t given it away willingly, or rather, consciously.

Our stares held for a few seconds, and in that space of time, an understanding passed between us. Tessa nodded, and so did I.

“No prob. It’s cool, Olivia. Sincerely. Let’s unpack!”

The two of us spent a little more time talking classes and family and Tessa’s latest boyfriend ordeal, which included a rather harsh dumping via text, while putting our stuff away. She didn’t mention Brax, my ring, or vow of virginity again, which relieved me on all sorts of levels. The darkness that existed behind that little ring wasn’t for anyone’s ears at Winston. Ever.

Tessa was standing on her bed, hanging a poster of a muscled Calvin Klein underwear model wearing nothing but a pair of white boxer briefs and chiseled-in-stone abs, when a shrill chirp rang from her cell. She answered it and squealed. “Marcie! Oh, shit! I dropped a tack!” She bent down, searching for it, found it and stuck it in the corner of the poster. “Yeah, I’m almost done. I’ll be over in a sec!”

She jumped down, grabbed the wedges she had on earlier, plopped onto the bed and pulled them on. She looked at me. “Hey, you wanna come with? I’ll intro you to my girls. They’re lunatics. We’re all from the same high school. Shopping and dinner? There’s a Welcome Freshmen party over at Cole’s frat, open house, next weekend.” She giggled. “We’re all getting new outfits.”

I gave Tessa an appreciative smile. I couldn’t believe she’d even invited me. “You’re not rushing?”

Tessa grinned. “Nah. Not sure my potty mouth could make it through the week. But I am hitting the Rush parties. You?”

I shook my head. “No. My schedule is way too full.” I’d break it to her later that I just wasn’t the shopping and spa, or frat party kind of girl. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but … it just wasn’t me. Not anymore. Plus, it cost money to join, and it was money I’d rather send home to the ranch. “Thanks, but I’ve got a lot to do today. I’m meeting my new boss later this afternoon at the observatory.”

Tessa stared into a little round mirror she’d put on her desk and ran a tube of gloss over her lips. “Not to sound spoiled, but I’m so glad I don’t have to get a job. Even though one at an observatory might be sort of cool.” She shook her head. “I don’t know how you’ll do it, with school work and all.” She smiled at me, her lips super shiny. “You’re gonna miss all the great parties! You know, the ones my parents won’t know about?” She laughed. “Mom and Dad made me swear I’d keep my GPA up or else I would have to get a job. Until then, I get allowance. Next time?” Tessa grabbed her keys and zebra purse, and started for the door. She turned and flashed a wide smile. “See ya later, roomie!” The door closed behind her, leaving me alone.

I stood in the middle of the dorm room and took a deep breath in as the storm of Tessa dissipated like a funnel into the sky. Tessa and I might have very different backgrounds and couldn’t possibly be more opposite. Where I was a star geek and old for my age, she was a little immature. No, a lot, actually, as if she’d never left high school. Yet, we somehow clicked. She was nice. And, just as I’d noticed her differences, I’m pretty sure she’d noticed mine, too, and hadn’t judged. I appreciated that about her.

After a few minutes of looking around the room and through some of the stuff I hadn’t unpacked yet, I decided to put together the three-tiered bookshelf Jilly had bought for me as a going-away present. Within a few minutes I had all of the disassembled pieces out of its box, each part and the matching hardware displayed on my freshly made bed. After a brief glance at the instructions, I dug my wrench and screwdriver out of the small toolbox Kyle had given me, and set to work. Jilly had made sure the desktop shelving was made of solid oak and not that cheap shitty particle board crap. Just the thought of my grandpa and his old cowboy foul mouth made me laugh out loud. I already missed him. Crazy old man.

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