I stepped from the elevator to find Jen still at the RA’s desk. She fixed me with a steady gaze as I approached. The lobby was flooded with light, but fairly quiet. Noise came only from a small TV mounted on the wall, probably installed to keep the RA’s from slipping into a coma. I stopped a foot short of her desk, meeting her gaze measure for measure.
“I have to speak to Erin.”
“Oh?” She quirked an eyebrow and gazed at me placidly.
“I know it’s late, but it’s an emergency.”
“What’s going on? Nobody called to complain, but you’re lucky I recognized you. Someone else might have called campus police. Might have thought you were on drugs or something.”
“What do you mean?”
“He went home, he left. I have to see him. Erin can help. I could wait until morning—maybe—but I don’t think so. I need to see him. I have to speak to Erin.” I tried to make my eyes as large and pitiable as I possibly could, willing her to feel for me.
“If she gets pissed, I’m beating your cute little ass,” Jen muttered and gave me quick directions to Erin’s room. I walked in the harsh light of the dormitory at night, the lights glaring off the white, institutional tiles. Soft music came from behind a number of doors where some students burned the midnight oil. At last I slowed to a door with the low buzz of voices humming on the other side. I knocked, and the voices stopped. When the door opened I was face to face with an obviously aggravated Erin.
“Kody?” Erin said as she recognized me.
“I need to know where Jake is. I have to see him.” My voice held almost no inflection at all.
"Where've you been all day?" Erin demanded, an angry edge to her voice.
“Where’ve I been? What’re you talking about?”
"We've been looking all over for you, and now you show up when it's too late."
"I was at the hospital, what am I too late for? Where is Jake?" At this point she was starting to piss me off, and I wondered if coming here had been the smartest thing to do.
"He went home."
I stared at her for a moment, unable to speak. He went home? "He just packed up and left me?"
"He thought you were avoiding him because you didn't want to be with him anymore."
"He what? That's stupid! Who told him that? Why would he..." I trailed off as I realized what might make him think such a thing. But that wasn't fair! He didn't even talk to me!
"Becca told him that she'd told you everything. He panicked and went looking for you. When he couldn't find you, he decided to leave. His mom came and got him. They left about an hour ago. Wait...why were you in the hospital?"
"Becca...? I wasn't there for me. I had to ride with Max in the ambulance—she got knocked up."
"Who's Max? No, never mind. That's not important. So you weren't avoiding Jake, and you don't want to break up with him?"
"No, I don't want to break up with him, not that I should have to defend myself to you. I came here to find him, not play twenty questions!" I snapped. I would go to Nick, I decided, and get him to help me.
"Wait! Kody!" she called, grabbing me by the arm. Her expression was remorseful. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to grill you. It's just that I was so angry—and not just at you. At Jake for leaving, and Becca for being an interfering bitch...and you because I thought you'd hurt Jake. If you really don't want to break up with Jake—"
"Good, then maybe we can help. Come on in." Erin placed a long arm on my shoulder and pulled me into the room. There was a small audience in the room. There was no way they hadn’t heard our exchange in the doorway. The Asian boy looked familiar, and I recognized Erin’s boyfriend Carlos, but other than that, it was a group of strangers.
"Okay," Erin announced, taking charge. "Jake has created a mess and it's up to us to sort it out. Kody, what can we do to help?"
“I need to know how to find him.”
“What would you do if you did find him?”
I thought for a moment, what would I do? A sudden anger welled up inside me, anger that threatened to blind all my thoughts save one. “I’d kick his ass for running away.”
Erin seemed to think on this for a moment before replying. “He might need that, but maybe I should reword my question. Why should I tell you where he lives?”
“Because he just left!” I stood up and began to walk unsteadily in circles. “He didn’t talk to me—he didn’t even give me a chance to deal with it. He didn’t even let me tell him that…that I love him.” I slowly sank to my knees, wracked with anger and losing hold of my emotions. I had taken hold of them firmly before speaking to Jen, only because she probably wouldn’t have helped me if I was raving at her. Now I felt that control slipping away.
Hands rubbed across my back, and I slowly lifted my tear filled eyes as Erin whispered softly to me.
“Now that’s a good reason for me to break the rules. Now we need flesh out a plan. I can get the address from my friend Diana, but there is the little problem of getting you to Maryland.”
“Maryland.” It sounded like a foreign country.
“Yeah, problem is that Lisa, one of the other RA’s, went home for a family emergency so I can’t go with you. Carlos has a car, sort of, but it wouldn’t make it all the way to Maryland. Sometimes I don’t think it’ll make it to the grocery store.”
The Asian guy raised his hand, looking guilty. "I, um, have a car—"
"Freshmen aren't allowed to have cars. You broke the rules?" A pretty black girl said, giving the Asian guy a sly smile.
"Cool man, Toshi the Vanquisher of Rules," a fellow leaning against the wall said. His eyes were all red and he looked like he wasn't entirely here. I assumed Toshi must be the Asian guy. Toshi blushed as Erin walked toward him, smiling.
"Toshi, if you want to help this little love affair along, I can forget you said that."
"Not that I don't want to help, but that's blackmail. Can't you just ask?"
"Toshi, can we borrow your car to get Kody and Jake back together?" Erin asked sweetly.
“Only if I get invited to the wedding.”
Erin looked at me, and I nodded dumbly, finally breaking into a hopeful smile. Maybe I could get him back.
"Now all we need is a driver. Any volunteers?" The room broke into a cacophony of sounds, but in the end it all boiled down to one thing: No. There were tests, projects, work, and just plain fear of being near an emotionally distraught couple. I had only one hope left.
“Kody, I know we’re in college, and we’re normally up late, but it’s two in the morning. What can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“Jake. Me. I can’t wait.” My words jumbled together as my thoughts collided in my brain, thoroughly confusing my mouth.
“You better come in. I’ll make some coffee.”
I fidgeted in Nick’s apartment while he brewed something to make him coherent enough to deal with me. He placed a mug in front of me, along with cream and sugar.
“Now, where is Jake, and why is he there?”
“Jake—” I was now confronted with what to say to Nick. He was closer to me than he was to Jake. How would Jake feel about Nick knowing? I shifted in my seat.
“Kody, look, I love you and all, but you’re pushing it.”
“He went home because—there’s been a misunderstanding, and he thinks I don’t want to be with him. I can’t tell you what happened. It’s private and that’s Jake’s business. I need to go after him.”
“So, why are you going there if he ran away? Doesn’t seem real mature Kody.”
“You know why, Nick.”
“I think I do, but I also want to hear you say it. Just once.”
I smiled at Nick, who had become such a close and trusted friend. “Because I love him, Nick. A whole lot.”
“Atta-boy, Kody. What do you need me for then?”
“You have to drive with me to Maryland.”
“Maryland, that’s where Jake went, so that’s where I need to be. Toshi offered his car, Erin masterminded it, but no one can go. I need you, Nick. I can’t drive all that way myself.”
“Why?” Nick looked to the ceiling. “Why are all my friends crazy? Why can’t they be normal? Why can’t they live closer when they run home?”
“Is that a yes?”
“Not until morning at the very least. I need some sleep and this coffee isn’t cutting it.”
“But I can’t sleep!” I wailed.
“I can though, and I will. Look, I need to sleep if we’re driving to Maryland. We can leave first thing in the morning. Who goes to Maryland anyway?”
“Jake’s from there. Can’t be that bad.”
“Don’t bother waking me. I’ll come get you.” Nick eyed me before shuffling off to his room.
I headed back to my room and called Erin to let her know Nick would do it. I could get the keys to Toshi’s car before his first class at eight. I climbed into the shower and thought about Jake, alternating between the desire to kick his ass all the way back to campus and the desire to hold him until the hurt stopped. Definitely a lot of holding, I’ll tell him how I really feel. I’ll tell him that I am here to stay, no matter what happened in his past.
But first, the ass whipping of a lifetime.
I got dressed and sat on the couch, sure that I would go mad waiting for Nick to finish resting. I wondered what Jake was feeling? Did he feel the same aching loneliness that I felt, fear that this might be the end for us? That was a possibility. He might reject me when I got there. I sat up straight in my seat. This thought had never occurred to me before now.
What if he didn’t want to try and work it out? Is that why he ran? Was he too afraid to even confront it? Would he even see me? He could have avoided me or broken it off here if he wanted to do that, though. What was in Maryland? Well, his Mom, but I don’t think most guys go to their mom with boy trouble. I went to my dad, but we had a really close relationship. Jake seemed to love his mom, but he didn’t indicate they talked about stuff.
With a sudden sick lurch, one thought came to mind: Killian. His best friend, the guy he had a crush on, his first love. He ran to something safe, someone he knew he wouldn’t have to explain anything to.
I shouldn’t be allowed to spend time by myself. I am not healthy for me. I leaned back on the couch, feeling mental and physical exhaustion overtaking my body. I dreamed of Jake.
“Please, be really careful, ok? I know it’s not a Cadillac or anything, but I can’t replace it. Okay?” Toshi had a worried edge to his voice.
“I’ll be careful, I promise,” Nick grumbled for what seemed like the thousandth time.
“Okay, so you got the directions from the internet. You have sandwiches and sodas that Alex and Miranda made for you. Do you need anything else? Am I forgetting anything? Oh, wait, yes I am.” Erin reached into her backpack as we all stood next to Toshi’s middle-aged Mazda.
“I have no idea why Carlos has this. His car couldn’t break the speed of smell.” She handed Nick a radar detector. “Put it next to you, right on the dash. If you should get pulled over throw it under the seat or something.” She noticed Toshi’s pained expression before adding, “Not that you’ll need it since you’ll be doing the speed limit the whole way.”
Finally, we were off, with one stop at the ATM for the tolls. We got on the Thruway and headed south for Maryland.
“How long is this trip supposed to take anyways?” Nick asked.
“According to the directions Erin found…six hours and forty-one minutes.”
“Six! Six hours!?”
“And forty one minutes.”
“I gotta spend six hours with you in the car?”
“Yep, and forty one minutes.”
“No way, you never said it was going to take this long.”
“How was I supposed to know? I’ve never been to Maryland.”
“That’s because nobody goes there!”
“Are you going to bitch the whole way?”
“You’re damn right I am! Who in their right mind is going to go almost seven hours to see someone in Maryland?”
“Well, if it’s a good someone—“
“I don’t care if it’s the fucking Queen of England wanting high tea! Maryland?”
“Look, you got coffee, there’s food, and we have drinks! Why are you fighting with me now?”
“What else are we going to do for seven hours?” He smirked.
“We could sing show tunes?”
“Oh, no, no way. If you want to be a big old gay stereotype, you can just swish there all by yourself.”
“Well, I did bring some music with me.”
“We are not singing for six hours.”
“And forty one minutes.”
“Don’t make me turn this car around.”
“Then will you quit bitching and let me think for a little bit?”
“No fucking way.”
“Because you’ll wonder what Jake is doing, then you’ll pout, and then you’ll cry, and then I’ll feel bad and be forced to console you, and I can’t do that.”
“I have to drive!”
“Well, do you think I’m doing the right thing?”
“Oh, that’s great. That’s just great, Kody.”
“What now?” I sighed in frustration.
“I thought we were friends. I thought you liked me. You wait until we are already on the road to ask what I think?”
I was in shock. I had totally done that. I didn’t even ask him what he thought before getting him in the car. And he came anyway.
“Kody, I’m kidding.”
“Now I feel like a bad friend.”
“Kody, don’t start.”
“No, I mean it.”
“God, I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to get to Maryland!”
“So I can give you to Jake and get some damn peace!”
“Thanks Nick, I needed the distraction. I don’t know what to do when I get there, and I had some pretty bad…ideas about why he went home.”
“Kody, you need to trust in what your heart tells you. I know Jake is the guy for you. I don’t know why he ran away, but he must have had a reason. I can only think he’d feel so good that you came and got him. But Kody, you can’t always do that. Jake needs to deal with whatever this is or you’ll be chasing him your whole life.”
“You go from bitchy to Ann Landers in under ten seconds?”
“Maybe I didn’t tell you I’m versatile?”
“I don’t want to know.”
“I don’t want to know!”
“Kody, I thought you loved me, man.”
I opened and closed my mouth several times before finally falling back on an old standby. I stuck my tongue out at him.
We stopped twice in New Jersey, and Nick ogled guys openly. I felt so embarrassed. I practically ran back to the car while Nick sauntered in bright daylight, big as life and twice as queer.
“Why did you do that?” I hissed at him once his door closed.
“Hey, if they didn’t want to be looked at, they wouldn’t dress like that.”
I pretended to drift off to sleep, but it wasn’t until then that I realized the truth of Nick’s statement earlier. Without his distracting chatter, I was dwelling on Jake. That meant dwelling on why he was home. That meant, had he gone back to Killian?
“Kody, check out the bridge. We’re in Delaware finally.” Nick played with the radio, flirted with the guy at the toll booth, but other than that all there was to Delaware was me worrying what kind of reception I was going to get in Maryland.
“Welcome to Salisbury, Crossroads of Delmarva.” Nick had taken to reading signs. Aloud. I mean, every one of them, right down to the miles to the next town that had nothing to do with our destination.
At last, we parked in front of a neat peach colored ranch style house on Criswell Street around two-thirty. My palms were sweating. I steeled myself and walked resolutely up the walk. Jake was in there, and he was getting that ass whipping and hug that he so richly deserved. I grabbed the brass knocker on the front door and knocked before I lost my nerve. The sound echoed through the house, almost as if it were empty. I knocked again, impatiently.
If he thinks he’s hiding from me after I spent six hours and forty one minutes in the car with Nick Pedersen, he has got another thing coming. I backed up and yelled at the house.
“Jake Sheridan, you open this door! I am not going home with out speaking to you! Don’t ignore me, I know you’re here!” I stood staring at the house defiantly, daring him to remain mute while I raged on his front lawn.
“Hey, Einstein, he’s not there.” Nick called out from the car.
“How do you know that?” I asked, frustration clear in my voice.
“Because his house number is 1972. You’re at 1973. Didn’t you read the directions?” I glared at him malevolently while he sniggered. I should have driven myself.
I marched across the street, after a moment of looking around in confusion for the right house number. It was a modest white rancher, with lots of flowers in the front yard and a small wooden trellis with ivy at end of the sidewalk. I strode to the front door, rang the doorbell, and waited, shifting from foot to foot. I glanced at Nick who was leaning casually on the hood of the car, a smug look on his face. What he had to be pleased about, I’ll never know.
The door opened, and I turned back to address either Jake or his mom, but instead I was shocked into silence. Standing in the doorway with an inquisitive expression was an attractive guy standing about my height with wavy blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. My worst fear had come true, for this could be none other than Killian at the door. I felt my heart shrink in my chest.
The guy was beautiful. No wonder Jake ran back to him. Who wouldn’t? His blue eyes contrasted with his skin, a light golden brown from a fading summer tan.
“Can I help you?” he asked with an amused look.
“No,” I swallowed hard. “I guess not.” I turned and headed back for the car.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” Nick yelled at me. I glared at him as I headed for the car.
I stopped and looked back over my shoulder with surprise.
“You are Kody, right?”
I looked at him with curiosity. He smiled, a warm smile, an inviting smile.
“You look just like Jake described you. He was pretty descriptive, not to mention accurate. I hope you aren’t leaving already?”
“I—I came for Jake.”
“Good. Somebody needs to.”
“But I thought—He came back to—You aren’t?” I had trouble forming the words. No problem with nasty thoughts, but words, now that was different. Saying them out loud gave them meaning, truth—power even.
“Aren’t what?” he asked curiously.
“You’re Killian, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s me. Jake mentioned me, huh?” That smile again.
“He said you were his first love. I thought he...came back to you.”
“Oh, no, you’ve got the wrong—“
“Hi! I’m Nick, Kody’s friend.” Nick was suddenly in front of me extending his hand to shake Killian’s. For his part, Killian extended a bemused hand toward the hyper Nick.
“Nick,” I said in a tone of warning.
“Boy, what a drive! We’re worn out, aren’t we, Kody? Are those contacts, ‘cause they’re a real cool shade of blue.”
“Nick!” I barked at him. Nick jumped and turned to me with a guilty look. “I’ll meet you in the car.”
“But it’s hot and—“
“Fine, don’t get your panties in a wad.” He turned back to Killian as he walked away. “Well, it was nice to have met you. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?”
“Okay, I’m going. You know you’re a lot grouchier without Jake.”
I turned and faced Killian again. “Sorry about him.” I muttered.
“It’s okay. Why don’t you come in?”
I stepped into the small house. The living room was strategically arranged to provide the most space, though it was cluttered—not dirty, but cluttered. Magazines, coupons, and I think there was even a deck of Tarot cards sticking out from under a drift of newspapers. Killian waved me to a chair as he took a seat on the couch across from me.
"Just to clear things up, there's nothing between Jake and me. There almost was once, but that was a long time ago. We're just friends now."
“When he talks about you, it sounds like he’s still in love.” My voice was barely above a whisper.
"I'm sure he does love me—and I love him—but we're not in love. There's a big difference. I'm pretty sure someone else has the market cornered where his heart is concerned." He gave me a warm smile.
“Is he—is Jake all right?”
“I think he’ll live, especially now that you’re here.”
“I need to see him.”
“I know.” Killian cocked his head to one side as a door opened down the hall, and then another opened and closed. Killian fixed me in his blue eyes, and I felt comforted by his gaze. “He’s just getting out of the shower. His bedroom is the last door on the left. Why don’t you go see how he is for yourself. It’s why you came here, right?”
I stood slowly, on legs that were not as strong as they had been walking up to the front door. As I walked down the hall, the scene took on a surreal quality for me. Bits of steam wafted from the bathroom door, and the scent of a just finished shower clung in the air as I passed. When I reached the last door, there were no stars with the names Jacob and Foster written on them. It was just a plain wooden door, identical to the rest of the doors in the hallway.
I reached for the well used handle, and then stopped. Should I knock? Would he be mad if I barged in? Fearing I’d die of indecision, I turned the knob and opened the door.
“Who was it?” Jake asked. He was standing in his boxer briefs, a tee shirt over his head as he hadn’t finished dressing. He had his back turned to me, and my heart broke all over again for the indignities he’d suffered, and to those he inflicted upon himself. He wasn’t close enough to touch, but he was close enough to bring me to the brink of tears.
“It was me,” I said softly. Jake’s head popped through the top of the shirt suddenly as he spun around.
“Yeah. Surprise.” I gave him a wan smile and tucked my hands in the pockets of my jeans. I wanted to speak. I had so much to say. But all my words, my recriminations, my heartfelt words of love failed me. The truth was I basked in his presence. I felt more at peace in this uneasy situation than I had since I found out about his past.
“I’m—How did you—”
“Erin. She, uh, helped. Nick too. He’s in the car.”
“You drove all the way down here? I guess you must have something you need to say.” His eyes broke away from mine and looked down on his bed. His long arms dangled at his sides, his left hand toying with the end of his shirt nervously.
“I have a lot to say. I have a lot I need to say.” I chewed on my lower lip. “There’s questions I have, things I need to hear.”
“What things?” Jake said so softly I almost imagined he hadn’t spoken. I closed the door behind me and leaned against it.
“I’m hurt, Jake. You hurt me.”
“Kody, I couldn’t tell you. I just couldn’t.” Jake’s chest began to heave, small tremors that were the prelude to a coming storm.
“Jake,” I stepped away from the door and towards him. I crossed the space between us and took his right hand in my own. My heart beat faster just at the touch of his hand, and I felt encouraged when he gripped mine. I stroked the back of his hand with my thumb. “I’m hurt you didn’t give me a chance, you didn’t even talk to me.”
Tears fell from his eyes, shimmering pools that overflowed with emotions. "I was so afraid... I couldn't take it if you looked at me with disgust. I wouldn't blame you, but I couldn't take it either." He sniffed loudly as large tears rolled down his face. I ran a finger across his cheeks, wiping his tears away.
“I told you I wouldn’t hurt you. You have no idea how happy you’ve made me. When I found out you were gone, the only thing I wanted to do was beat your ass.”
Jake barked a laugh between his tears, a rough sound.
“Jake, I was horrified at what I found out. I admit that.” Jake’s hand pulled away from mine as he wrapped himself up in his arms.
“You don’t want me anymore, do you? Why’d you drive all this way just to break up with me?”
“Jake, let me finish,” I replied as calmly as I could. I pried one of his hands back into my own and stared at his beautiful eyes until he stopped dropping his gaze.
“I was horrified that someone could see you for so much less than you really are. I was horrified that they could only appreciate your beautiful body and not care about your equally beautiful soul. I was hurting, but I was also jealous.”
“Jealous of what?”
“That people touched you without caring, and I couldn’t touch you in love.”
“Nothing else matters to me, Jake. You aren’t who you were.” I took his other hand, and drew them both to my chest. “I’m here to get you back, Jake. I drove all this way to tell you I love you. I want to go on loving you, but I need you to be with me now. Here and now.”
“You...you love me?”