Authors: Micki Fredricks
by Micki Fredricks
Copyright 2014 by Micki Fredricks
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any format without written permission from the author, except by a reviewer who may use passages for review purposes. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.
Editing by Kathy Anderson, Klassy Editing and Writing Services
Cover Design by Robin Harper, Wicked by Design
You can always tell when two people are best friends because they are having more fun than it makes sense for them to be having. ~Author Unknown
This book is dedicated to my best friend, Lori Rattay.
Thank you for walking beside me through every tear, laugh and emotional breakdown that happened along this journey. You are the reason I had the courage to finish this book. I love you, Friend!
I couldn’t look at him; so afraid of the pain it would cause me to see him in a different way. He was all I had left, my second chance, my escape.
The paper I held in my hand told a different truth, one I was unable to accept. Over and over I read the name that would change everything I perceived to be good and safe.
I struggled to contain the fear buried deep inside of me since childhood, while it poured out into this small, dungeon like room … drowning me. Drawing in even a shallow breath became nearly impossible.
I swallowed, attempting to wet my dry throat but my words were only a raspy whisper, “What is this?”
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered. Heat radiated off his body as he leaned into me slowly – like a lover wanting to gain access.
I closed my eyes and melted into him, welcoming his closeness, while terrified of it at the same time. My mind understood, but my heart refused to believe my protector was now my biggest threat.
“What is this?” I asked once more. His two word answer shattered my already broken world.
Three months earlier
“Breathe,” I whispered to myself. My knuckles burned as I gripped the steering wheel like a prized possession. From inside the safety of my car, I took in my massive surroundings. The campus looked picture perfect and scary as Hell. This was college.
Anxiety attacked my body, shaking me from the inside out. I dropped my hands and wiped the sweat from my palms onto my jeans.
Taking classes at the community college in my home town for the last two years, had given me a warped sense of what college was. Nothing had changed when I started classes there, except the building I drove to. I continued to waitress at the restaurant my Mom and I lived above. She worked the day shift, I worked the night. My life consisted of school, work and homework. While other people my age went to football games, parties and lived the college lifestyle, I worked to pay the electric bill.
I wasn’t a mama’s girl by any means. That’s a hard thing to be when you feel like the adult most of the time. But right now the two hundred miles between me and my mother made me feel little again. I wanted my mom, or at least the comfort zone she represented.
She’d been ready to ship me off the day I was awarded my scholarship. We argued about it actually; I thought college could wait a year but she’d insisted I go as soon as possible.
“Jenna, listen to me,” she said. “You can be anything you want to be. This is your opportunity, your chance.” She really meant this would be my only chance to avoid ending up like her.
It’s pretty terrifying to know you have just one chance to carve out a different path for yourself. It wasn’t that my life was horrible, it just wasn’t good. I wanted good.
Gathering up my courage, I tried another deep breath, relieved that the threat of hyperventilation seemed to have passed. My new life tempted me, waiting ... just outside of the car. I was ready – but for what I wasn’t sure.
The fresh air rushed in as I cracked open the car door, teasing my senses with an invitation to the outside world. The old car door moaned in opposition as I pushed it fully open and stepped out into the sunshine.
The atmosphere seemed different, almost alive. A typical fall day – the air felt refreshing and crisp. Multiple conversations went on around me and blurred into a musical hum of excitement. The grass was greener and the trees taller than anything I’d seen before.
I turned in a circle, staring in admiration, at the tall buildings surrounding me. A huge clock tower stood in the middle of campus like a sentinel of pride. The brick buildings had an authenticity to them that gave the account of generations of students. I could feel the traditions and practically hear the stories these buildings whispered.
I gazed around, like a tourist on vacation. All that was missing – a Camera and a fanny pack. Seriously, I have to pull it together before I change my mind, jump back into my car and drive home.
My heartbeat jumped into overdrive when I stopped gawking at the inanimate distractions and noticed the people around me. I dropped my gaze to the ground, avoiding any possibility of eye contact with way. A side effect of growing up poor, in a small town. Pity in someone’s eyes is recognizable, even to a child. I’d gotten enough of those looks to last a lifetime. In response, I mastered invisibility. I could blend into a crowd before anyone was aware of me.
I found, if I didn’t look at them, they wouldn’t notice me. Juvenile, I know, but usually effective.
Even at the restaurant, in the middle of a room full of chaos and noise, I could fade into the background. I wasn’t socially awkward; at least I didn’t think I was. Talking to people actually came easy. It was something that had to be done if I wanted decent tips.
But today I was intrigued. This was my new life, right? Maybe I could be a new Jenna, a better Jenna. Maybe I would look at everyone. And maybe today, I would let everyone see me.
Lifting my eyes, I scanned the crowd. People milled around, some walking arm and arm, yelling hellos and waiving to their friends. They smiled and laughed, comfortable in their own skin. No apprehension about starting school shown on their faces, no anxiety – induced sheen of sweat on their foreheads. Nothing. It looked like they were filming a commercial for the college and soon someone would yell, “CUT! Get that strange, new, girl out of here.”
To make matters worse, people here were beautiful ... Magazine beautiful.
My throat began to constrict as I blinked through tears. I felt worthless wondering if the beautiful people could tell the differences between me and them. Was it obvious I came from a small town and had never been away from home before? Could they see how terrified I was and hear my heart pounding against my chest? I became painfully aware that my clothes were all wrong and my hair was different from everyone’s. I wasn’t invisible like I preferred. I dropped my eyes back toward the ground to regroup my thoughts and try to control the panic that surged.
Unfortunately, when I looked down at my Goodwill jeans and Wal-Mart shoes, I realized I’d never be able to compete with these girls. Compared to them I was average, at best. I pulled at the bottom of my t-shirt hoping to release some of the wrinkles pressed in the material from the long drive. I half laughed, half groaned when a good portion of my blonde hair fell out of my messy bun onto my face. Nervously, I tucked it back in, begging it to stay put. If I had known I might be inspected by the entire student body, I would have taken more time to get ready.
I had tried so hard to make sure I wouldn’t stand out in the crowd; in case I needed to fade away. But, here in this new life, being the small town girl with nothing special to offer
'standing out'. I was in serious trouble.
I opened my trunk and grabbed a small bag out, hoping it looked like I knew what I was doing. I leaned onto the bumper, staring at my campus map. Directions had never been my strong suit. As my nerves raged out of control, I wasn’t even sure what way to hold the damn map. A sarcastic giggle slipped out as I realized this map might be my total undoing. The final straw that sent me screaming back to my old life.
The sound of someone else’s voice interrupted my personal joke. “Can I help you find your dorm Miss?”
Everyone reacts differently when surprised. Some scream, some run. I jump at whatever surprises me. It’s a ridiculously poor coping method and completely involuntary… and, what I do almost every time.
“Easy,” he said while holding his hands up in front of him in case I made another unexpected move. “I was only wondering if you needed help finding your way around campus. I don’t mean you any harm.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” I scrambled to retrieve the bag I had thrown in his direction when I launched myself at him. I frantically collected my scattered items, muttering under my breath about how awkward I was.
“Are you okay?” he asked. I think he was questioning my mental stability. He kept his hands outstretched in front of him. I glanced at his hands, realizing how insane I must look to him. He was huge – at least a couple inches over the six foot mark, if I compared him correctly to my petite five foot three. Yet, he felt a need to protect himself from me.
“Yes, I’m fine. A little stressed out I guess. You scared me. I’m really sorry.”
He dropped his hands and smiled but still appeared nervous. “It’s okay. I know how stressful the first day can be. Let me help you.” He was already bending down and picking up eye shadow and lip gloss. Of course it was my make-up bag I used as a weapon … I quickly kicked a loose tampon under my car.
“Is it that obvious?” I already knew the answer. I went after a Velcro roller that had escaped across the sidewalk.
When I turned to say thank you, I caught my first real look at him. He looked official wearing leather loafers and freshly pressed khakis. My eyes leisurely moved to the navy polo stretched perfectly across his broad shoulders. His skin was tan and looked like he had just returned from somewhere tropical. It was a noticeable contrast to my naturally pale skin. I wasn’t sure if it was the softness of his green eyes or the ease of his wide smile, but something made me trust him. Normally, I don’t trust people … ever.
“Well, you’re staring at a map.” He pointed to the now wrinkled and torn paper still in my hand.
I snapped back to the here and now. “I guess that would give me away,” I said under my breath. “Thank you. That’s kind of you.” I took the make-up from his perfectly manicured hands.
“My name is Cale Davis and I’m a member of The Brotherhood House. We volunteer every year to help new students move into their dorm rooms.”
When I realized I had once again gotten lost in those eyes and he was waiting for a response, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.
“Well, I definitely need help.” I clinched my lips together, praying for a sudden case of laryngitis.
He shook his head and chuckled. Probably thinking I needed more help than finding my dorm room. Possibly a trip to the medical center for meds to cure stupidity. I couldn’t argue with that.
His sandy blonde hair, clipped close, highlighted the strong features of his face. I couldn’t help but be embarrassed by how attracted I was to him. His smile made me want to know more about him.
“Okay, where are we headed?” he asked politely. I fumbled around trying to straighten the map so I could read the dorm room assignment again.
“Tower two, room 407.”
“Easy enough, the Towers are just down the street.” He grabbed two boxes from the trunk. Following his lead, I grabbed my bags and locked the car.
“Conversation might go a little easier if you told me your name,” he teased.
I smirked at him, enjoying the fact he wanted to joke with me even after I had made an attempt on his life with my mascara.
“People might be more willing to introduce themselves if you didn’t use scare tactics to get attention.”
He raised a questioning eyebrow at me, a sexy grin lifting the corners of his mouth as he nodded his approval of my comeback. My stomach flip-flopped…he was so out of my league.
“I’m Jenna, Jenna Clausen.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jenna.”
We walked in the warm fall breeze. I wanted to look ultra-relaxed and unimpressed; however, I couldn’t help but let my eyes roam over the campus. There was beauty everywhere. Tall trees lined the busy street that led to the dorms, and made for a stunning display of autumn colors. Even as a little girl, I loved the changing seasons. There was comfort in knowing the end of one thing, allowed the beginning of something new.
As we walked, he pointed out buildings that would be important to me. “The library where all the studying happens.” And, “The student center, where everything else happens.”