Home » , , , , , , » Leslie's Admission - A New Adult Romance (Book 1) by Benita Bing

Leslie's Admission - A New Adult Romance (Book 1) by Benita Bing

Leslie Ford felt the adrenaline that had forced itself into the moment, perhaps a different tinge of excitement surrounding this event than she had envisioned. The gasping last days of a hot, humid summer were getting in their last stings as the heat pressed heavily in the afternoon lull.
Leslie's Admission - A New Adult Romance (Book 1)
Leslie's Admission - A New Adult Romance (Book 1) by Benita Bing
She had finally made it – her very first day of college. Not sure how her contemporaries felt about it, but she found the day delightful. And she knew that her first day at Millard Valley State would be forever etched into her memory. Of course, it was most likely that her peers didn’t view this glorious moment in the same way that she did. This had always been the case. All her life, she felt different and stood apart. She felt as if her thoughts and feelings had been unique, and no one else felt or saw things the way she did. She had been one of the top students in almost every school and class she had ever attended. While this fact earned her a full college scholarship, it proved to be a disadvantage socially. And the fact she had worn glasses for so many years certainly didn’t help separate her from that stereotype. On the other hand, as she was often told, her spectacles hid a pretty face that boasted an olive complexion with beautiful brown eyes. That was complimented by a slender figure on a 5’8” frame along with long dark brown hair. There was no doubt that Mother Nature had been kind to her. Getting dates initially was not a problem for Leslie, but going out on them had been. She was one of those girls who didn’t really like dating around, she preferred something more meaningful. In her mind, dating carelessly could lead to places that you might regret later. It was her belief that you really shouldn’t go out with someone unless it had the potential to get serious. And if it happened to get serious, then you needed to be with the right person in the first place. Needless to say, this belief resulted in too many times where Leslie politely declined guys who were asking her out. And over time, a reputation grew. And then finally, the invitations stopped. All this left the mental scar of believing that love wasn’t in the cards for her. In spite of her wonderful qualities, the absence of ever having a sustainable relationship in her life left a feeling of brokenness. Leslie could only surmise that there was some sort of defect in her psyche. And this flaw prevented love from ever smiling upon her. This belief was her deepest and most private thought – she never admitted this to anyone, and she knew deep down that she never would. “Hey Leslie!” she heard a voice from afar. She saw the familiar girl from her Chemistry class. This girl was pretty easy to pick out of a crowd, not because she was tall – she was actually shorter than Leslie – but because of her long curly red hair which was quite stunning. “Hey Holly.” smiled Leslie. “How did your English Comp class go?” “Not too bad. Lots of stuff I’d seen before though.” Holly Roberts was a local girl. Unlike Leslie, who’d moved up from Hollister, a small town that was located about 300 miles south of their campus. They had met during orientation where they discovered two cool things. The first was finding out that each of them were pre-med students and secondly, that they had several of their classes together. “This morning, you mentioned something about Glowing Wood Apartments that are close by?” asked Leslie. “Yes, they’re about 2 blocks away from the East Side of campus. From there, you could easily walk or ride a bike to class.” “I like the sound of that.” Replied Leslie. “I assumed most of you out of towners stayed in the dorms.” “Oh no. I’m much too private for that. I’d rather have my own place. Of course, I’m banking on finding some work nearby as well. It’d be nice if I could keep everything close and not have to rely on buses or outside transportation.” “That shouldn’t be a problem.” Said Holly. “I may be able to get you a job where I work.” “Where is that?” “Samson’s Diner. It’s a greasy spoon not far from here. The food is really good actually and it’s close to the apartments too.” “What do you do there?” “Oh, I wait tables. The tips are really good – most of the time anyway.” “I’m definitely interested in talking to them.” Said Leslie. Their conversation was interrupted by a disturbance that broke out across one of the beautiful lawns that were a trademark of the Millard Valley State campus. Virtually all passersby stopped and turned to see a group of guys engaging in a very loud round of horseplay. Most viewers chose to ignore the ruckus and continued along their way. But not Leslie – she found herself unable to turn away. For some reason, the site of the tall athletic guy who was bear-hugging his friend and laughing hysterically just wouldn’t let her turn away. She was taken in by his tall athletic physique. She watched intently as he joked with his buddies. “Who is that?” She could barely get the words out of her mouth. “Oh, that’s Bobby Black,” replied Holly. “Not sure if you want to go there.” “What do you mean? I was just curious …” “Uh-huh.” Said Holly, grinning to herself. “Do you know him?” “Kinda. We’ve talked a little. He’s a local guy, but went to a different high school than I did. The thing is most every girl on campus has ‘noticed’ him too and he’s all too aware of that fact.” “Does he have a girlfriend?” “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure that he’s really boyfriend material either.” Leslie kept staring and remained silent – smiling just a little to herself. * * * * * * * Leslie and Holly made the rounds that afternoon. Things could not have been more productive for Leslie. Holly took her to Samson’s and introduced her to Holly’s boss, April, who offered her a job right on the spot. “Leave your class schedule with me and I’ll work you in,” April told her. “Can you start tomorrow, or would you rather start day after tomorrow?” “Day after tomorrow,” replied Leslie. “I don’t have a place to live yet.” She and Holly then went to Glowing Wood Apartments. She was disappointed to learn that there were no single bedroom units available. “Two and three bedroom units are all we have available right now.” The property manager told her. Holly looked at the property manager, “Can you give us a minute?” “Absolutely.” The two girls stepped out of the office on to the sidewalk outside. “Leslie, what do you think about having a roommate?” Asked Holly. “But I don’t know anyone here.” “I’m talking about me, silly.” “Why would you need an apartment? Your family lives here.” “Well, I’ve been thinking about moving out anyway. I have two brothers and a sister, so I could use some privacy too.” Holly smiled. “Well, I think that’s a great idea actually,” said Leslie. “Would we get too tired of each other? I mean, having so many classes together, living together, and working at the same place too …” “We won’t be working that much together. April will probably spread out our two work schedules. And you have to admit, we’ll be doing a lot of studying in our spare time.” “Well, okay. Let’s do it then!” * * * * * * * The next day after classes, Holly borrowed her Dad’s pick-up truck and drove to the hotel where Leslie had been staying. They began loading up Leslie’s belongings. The biggest thing Leslie had was a small computer desk which had been neatly disassembled for travel. Aside from that, she had mostly boxes. They began loading the truck which took a little more than 20 minutes. Leslie then gave the room one last scan before checking out. They noticed one lone box in the corner that had been overlooked. “Go ahead and check out, Leslie.” Holly said. “I’ll get that last box.” “Okay. Thanks.” Holly grabbed the box and carried it to the truck. As she slid the box into the back of the truck, an adjacent box refusing to slide chose instead to topple over – spilling out its contents. “Shit!” Said Holly. Not really wanting to jump up into the truck to pick up the mess. She got into the back of the truck and hovered over the scattered items. Her eyes focused on a file folder labeled “Legal Stuff” that had several documents sticking out. As she looked closer, she couldn’t help but notice the words “Final Court Judgment” appeared at the top of one of those documents. Underneath the title was the name of Leslie Anne Ford who was labeled as the “accused”. When she opened the folder, those big red words, “GUILTY” was stamped across the body of the document. “Oh my God!” Holly said to herself. Before she could investigate any further, the office door opened and Leslie came out. Holly quickly gathered the contents of the box, stuffed them back inside, and placed the box back in the upright position – hoping that Leslie hadn’t noticed. “What are you doing back there?” asked Leslie as she approached the truck. “Clumsy me … I knocked over one of your boxes.” Holly admitted. “Don’t sweat it. Nothing back there is breakable anyway. Let’s go to our new place!” * * * * * * * Over the next few weeks, Leslie and Holly settled into their new life. At first, Holly wondered about the court document she had discovered. She had even thought about asking Leslie about it, but then she would have to admit to peeking into Leslie’s personal file. Holly didn’t want to lose Leslie’s trust, so she figured that the court document wasn’t any of her business in the first place. Besides, they were getting along very well together. But Holly would be lying if she said she wasn’t just a little curious about it. There are very few times in life when two people would meet randomly as they had done, and then become good friends as quickly as they had done. That just never happened. She actually felt closer to Leslie than she did many of her friends she’d known since grade school. It was a great feeling to share that kind of connection with someone. She felt a feeling of trust with Leslie that seemed to have always been there. In spite of their closeness, Holly actually didn’t know very much about Leslie’s background. It was like pulling teeth to get Leslie to talk about herself, her family, or anything about her past. She assumed that Leslie would be open up more as time went on. * * * * * * * Leslie kept checking her watch. She wondered if it were possible to sit through another lecture as boring as the one she was attending. Good grief, what was I thinking when I chose Philosophy as one of my humanities electives? She wondered. Philosophy was actually a fun class in high school. Her instructor Mr. Lindsay would basically toss up a topic to the whole class by asking a thought provoking question. He would then let his students take over and toss ideas around to see where the discussion led. She loved that format. More than one time she had skillfully beat down an opponent in a healthy debate about life’s complexities. She smiled to herself while recalling those times. Of course, that high school class only had about a dozen students. This class has over a hundred students! Open class debating probably wouldn’t be very practical with so many points of view and opinions to digest and navigate. As she focused her thoughts back on the class, she was delighted to hear those magic words, “See you next time.” Thank God, she thought. As the classroom began to empty out, she was thinking about the quickest way to get to her Chemistry Lab. It was on the other side of campus, and was a challenge to get there on time. Worst yet, Professor Logan was not pleasant at all with stragglers who wondered into her lab class late. She turned left down the hallway and then made a quick right into the stairwell. Then it happened … She felt a brain jarring collision that left her on the floor. Her books and papers had flown all over the hallway. “What the hell?!?” a voiced shouted. She looked up and realized she had blindly crashed into Bobby Black. Up close, he was even more adorable than she had originally observed. The combination of his thick jet black hair and sky blue eyes was stunning – to say the least. “I am so sorry … “ Leslie said meekly. “I wasn’t paying attention ..” “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to start paying attention?” Bobby said rudely. “Maybe you should get a refund on those geek glasses you’re wearing, because you’re blind as a damn bat.” This drew laughter from several onlookers. Bobby smiled at them as he’d just delivered a great punch line. The guy who was accompanying Bobby was laughing especially hard. He was tall like Bobby, but had curly blonde hair and an evil smile. “Don’t you just love these damn nerds who carry around more books than a freaking library, Bobby?” said blondie. “I think half of these geeks are really dumb asses trying to impress everyone by carrying around lots of books.” agreed Bobby. “Is that what you are doing, sweetie?” More giggles and snickers from the gallery. Leslie could feel a rush of anger bubble up inside her. But what she felt even more was hurt and humiliation. Mockery and contempt oozed out from the crowd like a thick morning fog. She wanted to respond, but for some reason, she was too upset to say anything. Embarrassment has a way of completely dominating person inside, like thousands of little needles injecting a powerful potion designed to paralyze. Leslie finally broke through the hesitation and gathered herself. She got off the floor quickly and with purpose. A couple of guys who dared to defy the majority were kind enough to stoop down and help her gather her books. Once she collected her stuff, she turned and glared angrily at Bobby Black and his sidekick. Bobby smiled with amusement and as she stomped off down the stairwell. She heard blondie mocking her with “boo-hoo’s” as she walked away. Chapter 2 Leslie fumed for days over how she was treated by Bobby Black and his friend. Rather than telling Holly, she decided to keep the ugly event to herself. Not that she didn’t want to discuss it with Holly or didn’t trust her; she just didn’t want to relive the incident all over again. While she was angry at how they treated her, she was even angrier at herself. Angry for not defending herself and letting those two knuckleheads walk all over her in front of everyone. After all, she could always go tell those guys what she thought about them, but she could never go back and defend her honor at that moment in time – and that was what really hurt. In the end, college campuses are often just like small towns. News and tales make their rounds – add some juicy drama to the mix and the speed at which those tales travel accelerate beyond all belief. Because of this, Leslie knew that it was probably just a matter of time before Holly put two and two together. And as predicted, when Holly heard about a bespectacled new girl on campus getting intensely mocked by Bobby Black and company, and then noticed the sudden moodiness and social withdrawal of her roommate, it was pretty easy to figure out who that girl was. She approached the matter delicately with Leslie. Once she supplied details of such an incident in a general sense, Leslie broke down like a guilty person on a witness stand in court – eager to rid their soul of the ugly secret inside. “Holly, it was so damn embarrassing,” said Leslie. “I really wanted to forget about it and move on, but it’s hard to let it go.” “Well now you’ve seen the real Bobby Black.” “Yeah. And he’s quite an ass.” “Yep.” “I still don’t know who the other guy was –that was with him.” “Blonde hair, evil laugh?” “Yes.” “Musher.” “Who?” “That was Bobby’s cousin, Rick Musher. Everyone calls him Musher.” Said Holly. “He was even a bigger ass than Bobby was.” “Yes, he is,” replied Holly. “His Dad is one of the Deans here. Word has it that his Dad pulls lots of strings for him.” “That sucks.” “Don’t sweat it, Leslie. Most people around here detest the both of them anyway.” * * * * * * * “Man, I can’t wait to feast on a big ol’ double cheeseburger.” Musher said. “I’m more in the mood for some wings,” Bobby admitted. They crossed Milligan Avenue and stood in front of Samson’s Diner. Bobby stopped. He turned and looked at Musher. “Is Tina meeting us here?” “Naw, she’s shopping with her mommy.” Musher smiled, making a face of mocking ridicule. They both laughed. They walked into Samson’s and got themselves seated. They reviewed the menus, confirmed their selections, and waited for service. The waitress brought them beers and took their orders. “Bobby, look over there,” said Musher. They both looked across the Diner and saw Leslie. She was serving plates of food to a table full of smiling customers. “Isn’t that the ignorant bitch that you knocked to the floor the other day?” laughed Musher. “Yeah, believe it is,” replied Bobby. Musher giggled, “Where do they get these dumbasses?” “Maybe you should ask your Dad.” “Maybe so.” Shortly thereafter, their lunches were served to them. As they ate their food, Bobby kept sneaking a peek at Leslie. He dawned on him that he really hadn’t noticed her before. He watched as she walked back and forth to her assigned tables and began to like what he was seeing. Her figure was as shapely as any he’d seen in a while. A definite diamond in the rough, Bobby thought to himself. Before long, he found himself staring at her. She caught him once, frowned back at him and turned away. When their waitress returned, Bobby asked her, “Who’s that waitress over there? The one wearing the glasses.” “Oh, that’s Leslie Ford. She’s new here.” The waitress replied. “Where is she from?” “I have no clue, I haven’t talked to her very much.” The waitress replied walking away with their debit cards. As Musher was chewing on a toothpick, he directed a puzzled look at Bobby. “Dude, what are you doing?” asked Musher. “Finding out who that girl is. “ “But she’s a geek, and she’s stupid too. Never said a word to us after the way we humiliated her in front of everybody. Is that the kind of girl you want to hang with?” “Who knows? Besides, I wasn’t trying to humiliate her. I was just joking around with her and she got pissed at me.” “I just don’t see the attraction.” “You don’t have to see the attraction,” said Bobby. “I can do that for myself.” Bobby got up and went to the Men’s Room. Musher then pulled out his cell phone and dialed. A female voice answered, “Hello?” “Tina, it’s Mush. I need you to do some research when you get a chance.” “About what?” “Leslie Ford.” replied Musher. “She’s a new student. Find out all you can about her.” Musher hung up and returned the cell phone to his shirt pocket. He watched Leslie stroll by as she delivered a tray of food to a nearby table. “We’ll just see what skeletons live in your little closet, Leslie Ford.” He chuckled to himself. * * * * * * * When the evening came along, Bobby decided to turn in early. Living hard the past few nights was beginning to take its toll. He had informed his household not to disturb him until 9AM the next morning. The great thing about having rich parents was being able to disappear in one quiet end of a mansion to clear your head. Another great thing about rich parents was the fact that you could live with them as long as you wanted. The only catch was that Bobby had to keep his grades up at Millard Valley State. As long as he was doing that, he had a great place to live, a sports car to drive, and a big allowance to spend every month. What made it simple in keeping up his end of the bargain was the fact that Bobby was reasonably intelligent, and he was taking easy classes. The result of that combination was high grades with low class attendance. How could it get any better than that? Bobby only needed a degree – and it didn’t really matter what kind of degree. He would eventually go to work at one of his Dad’s companies anyway. There was nothing better than taking advantage of some good old favoritism within the family business. In the end, he would come right off the street and have a staff of his own waiting to serve him and make him a star. His future was already set. As Bobby lay in his bed, he couldn’t help but think about Leslie at the Diner. The more he thought about her, the more he began thinking she was pretty hot. In fact, he was determined to get to know her better. Bobby was confident that Leslie would be delighted to know he was interested in her. After all, that was how most girls reacted when he paid any kind of attention at all to them. He smiled at the thought and dozed off to sleep while his opinion of himself escalated even further. * * * * * * * The next day, Tina Shoop arrived at work a little earlier than usual. She normally arrived at 8:30AM, but today she reported an hour sooner. The surprised look from her co-workers brought about the need for a fictional excuse from Tina. In many office settings, everyone’s work habits become very routine and expected. Any time a person strays off the path of that routine, it can create a disturbance that arouses shock and even suspicion. Tina knew that any hint of suspicion was a weed that must be immediately plucked from the garden of office gossip – at least in this case. Musher had given Tina her marching orders. She was to find out what she could about Leslie Ford. And she needed a little time when her supervisor wasn’t lurking about. Working in the school’s admissions office had its advantages, and one of those advantages was giving Tina access to all sorts of information. Sometimes the information she sought was well beyond her station, but Tina had learned tricks. In her time on job, she had learned to make most of the office’s vast data available to her when there was a need. And this time the need came from her boyfriend, Musher. Sometimes she wondered if it was really worth the trouble of having a rich influential boyfriend. If she were to get caught and lose her job, and if Musher were to dump her afterwards – Tina would be screwed in a big way – no job, no sugar daddy. That was a scenario she really didn’t want to think about at the moment. She logged into to the dummy account and began pecking away at the keyboard. “Leslie Ford ...“ she mumbled to herself. “Let’s see what your story is …” * * * * * * * Leslie once again found herself hurrying along to class. As much as she loved attending college, she had to admit that these first few weeks were really getting to be a grind. When she factored in the hours spent in her classes, followed by the hours spent studying, and then add in the hours spent working at the Diner – it was taking a toll on her. The good news was that she had survived the first round of exams with flying colors. This was pleasing because those first exams often set the tone of the semester. Even though professors would never admit it, those first exams also established the impressions and expectation levels they had of each student for the rest of the way. Sometimes a bad impression is hard to change. Leslie was hoping things would settle down and relax for the next few weeks. Perhaps she was still trying to get acclimated to college life in general. Satisfied with those two thoughts, she hurried down the sidewalk to her next class. “Hey, pretty lady!” a familiar voice rang out. To Leslie’s astonishment, she looked up to see a grinning Bobby Black standing in front of her. “What do you want. “ Leslie grunted. “I wanted to talk to you, Leslie.” “I don’t think so!” “Why not?” “Maybe it has something to do with how rude you were to me a few weeks ago.” reminded Leslie. “C’mon. That was an honest accident, and I was just cutting up with you.” “The way you and your little sidekick ridiculed me wasn’t much of an accident. In fact, I’d say that was rather deliberate!” “Ok. We teased you a little, but we didn’t mean anything by it. I’m always teasing my friends.” “Good Lord, how do you treat your enemies?” “I think this has just been a terrible misunderstanding. If you could … “ “Get out of my damn way!” demanded Leslie as she pushed past him. “I need to get to class.” Bobby sighed and stood there watching Leslie walk down the sidewalk. He smiled and shook his head as he watched her. She’s going to be a tough nut to crack, he thought to himself. Chapter 3 “It’s amazing how Bobby approached you like that.” said Holly. “I know; can you believe that?” replied Leslie. “What really pissed me off was just how he thought I was going to overlook everything on a whim.” Holly laughed, “The nerve of some people!” “I wonder why he became interested in me like that – all of a sudden.” “Rachel had mentioned a few days ago that Bobby was asking about you in the diner once.” “Rachel?” “You know, the blonde girl who has the cute little boy. She works the breakfast crowd mostly.” “Oh yeah.” “I didn’t mention it to you because I thought it’d only piss you off.” “Well, you were probably right about that.” “Do you realize how many girls in this town would’ve given anything to have Bobby Black show an interest in them like that?” “Yeah, lucky me!” They both laughed. * * * * * * * Musher was starting to get aggravated with Tina. He had given her a simple assignment and had not heard anything from her. How hard could it be finding poop on someone anyway? He picked up the phone and dialed. “Damn Tina, what the hell?” Musher asked. “Haven’t you found anything yet?” “Look Mush, I told you that there’s not much out there about Leslie Ford.” “What do you mean there’s not much out there? Everybody has skeletons!” “Well, I haven’t found hers yet. But there is something that may be of interest to you. Will you be there for the next few minutes.” “Yeah, come on over.” In about twenty minutes, Tina was knocking on the door. “What do you have?” asked Musher. She gave him a folder. Musher made a few faces as he reviewed the contents. “Is this for real?” he asked. “Yep.” “Well, I’ll be damned.” He said. “But I need something more than this. Something that will get her scholarship rescinded.” “I have question. Why do you give a shit about her scholarship anyway?” “Because Bobby is getting the hots for her and I need to put an end to that notion. If I make the scholarship go away, then I make her go away.” “Why do you care who Bobby dates?” “Are you that damn dense? Bobby has nothing in common with that bitch. She’ll just twist his mind around.” “But .. “ “Don’t ‘but’ me, find me some information that I can use.” Musher knew that as long as he kept pushing Tina’s buttons and kept her on the defensive, she would be harmless. The last thing Musher wanted was for Tina to learn the real story. No one must ever discover that. Right on cue, Tina sighed and stomped out of the room and left. * * * * * * * Leslie came home after a late afternoon at the library and discovered that she had the place to herself. Her classes were done for the day, Holly was working late, and she was off for the evening. This was one of those rare times when a person gets to spend time doing anything they want. Whenever life is trucking along at ninety miles an hour and then all of a sudden you get a time of peace and quiet, it can be disconcerting. The problem is that people never prepare for times like this and never know what to do with themselves when they occur. What’s ironic is that such times can be the very pot at the end of life’s rainbow for many people, but they never ever learn exactly how to take advantage of them. Many people choose to do as Leslie had done on this evening – which was simply to ponder their thoughts. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. Leslie wasn’t sure at the moment whether her thoughts would be one way or the other. It remained to be seen. What puzzled her were two things. The first thing was why in the world would Bobby Black be saying ugly hurtful things to her on one day, and then all of a sudden become interested in getting to know her the next day? Leslie just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around this notion. And to make things worse, she was the type of person who needed time and reason to forgive any wrongs done to her. Especially if those wrongs were public and humiliating. Going from anger to friendliness with Bobby was something that seemed foreign to her sense of reason. Her logic train just wasn’t able to compute such a thing. The second thing that puzzled Leslie was why she even gave a shit about the matter. In the past, she always said her piece and moved on. Just like how she’d dealt with Dwight Moreland in high school that time. Dwight kept aggravating her to go out with him. It wasn’t that she disliked Dwight; she just wasn’t interested in him romantically. Dwight was unable to accept this and wouldn’t leave things alone. He made the mistake of pushing the issue in the school cafeteria one day in front of everybody. Some people seem to think that using peer pressure can often times swing the scales in their favor. What they fail to realize is that it can also backfire in a huge way. Leslie put Dwight in his place that day and could have sworn that she heard a balloon burst when she pierced that male ego of his. Dwight gave her no more trouble after that. In fact, he came nowhere near her. She chuckled at that memory, but also realized that it left a bad stain too. It demonstrated to everyone just how unavailable Leslie was to relationships – rather than someone who was simply tired of being hounded by a guy in which she had no interest. It never failed, any time Leslie ventured down that path in her mind that pertained to love and dating, she was reminded of how defective she felt. And how ignorant she was when it came to matters of the heart. It was as if she had missed one of life’s most important classes, a class that everyone else attended but her. Leslie jumped into the shower. As she cleaned herself, her loneliness brought about a dull feeling of sadness and despair that began to flow across her body. Although it was a familiar feeling, it was one that she could never get used to having. She rushed to get in bed before Holly got home. She just didn’t feel much like talking to anyone this evening. * * * * * * * Rick Musher had just finished taking an exam in his Ancient History class. He was irritated because it meant that he had to attend class for a change. When he was a freshman, he could simply pay someone to go take the exam for him. This was because the classes were huge and no one would notice. But now that he was a junior, the classes were small. And since he was the son of a Dean, he was also recognizable – at least among the staff and faculty. Therefore, he had no choice but to show up himself to take his exams and that sucked. These days, he relied on Tina and her magic to get into the school’s computer system. She would always find the exams and their answers for him ahead of time. Bobby had wondered why he seduced Tina into his life. Musher knew what he was doing. Tina would get him through college. And the good news was that he only had to put up with her for another year or so. Musher couldn’t wait to dump Tina and be a free man again. This was especially true given the way she was screwing up the last assignment he’d given her. Good grief! How hard can it be looking up dirt on somebody anyway? Musher and his cousin Bobby had been inseparable since about the third grade. They both came from rich families, they were both intelligent, and they both loved to misbehave and cut-up. Because of their parents’ wealth and influence, they had been given a wide berth all through school. Musher valued his relationship with Bobby more than any other in his life. In fact, he was downright possessive of Bobby. He felt that Bobby was too soft and naïve for his own good and needed to be looked after. He could never figure out why Bobby had such a big blind spot when it came to dealing with others. Musher’s favorite rap song started playing in bursts. “Hello?” said Musher, answering his phone. “What’s up home boy?” asked Bobby. “Not much. What’s going on?” “Did you hear about that get together that Jason is putting together at Lake Maynard?” “I heard something about that. What do you know about it?” “Supposedly, he’s renting out that big cabin and the pavilion at the back end like he did back in June. This time he’s ordering up five kegs. And get this, he is hiring out the Scotch Kings to play for the crowd.” “Wow, that’s sweet! Those dudes are beyond good!” “Definitely. Jason’s really out done himself this time.” “Bobby, would you like for me to get some more of that white hash? I believe Lanny has some more left.” “Could you? That would be unbelievable!” “Consider it done.” “Of course, we’ll probably have to consume it in private since we won’t know the party levels of everybody attending. You have to admit, five kegs equal a lot of people.” “This is true.” “Are you going to bring Tina?” “I wasn’t planning on it. Why do you ask?” “Mush, she’ll hear about the party and she’ll know we will be there. How are you going to explain that to her?” “I don’t know. I’ll think of something.” “Dude, you’ll just piss her off again. Then she’ll follow us around for weeks after the party – making a scene like she always does. Why don’t you just bring her?” “I guess I could.” “I am going to ask Leslie Ford to come with us.” “What? Bobby, are you crazy? What makes you think that nerdy bitch would come to a party like that?” “You don’t know that!” said Bobby. “And quit calling her a bitch.” “Bobby, you have nothing in common with this girl. How in the world will you have any fun with her?” “You don’t know that either. Neither of us have any clue what she likes.” “Maybe so.” replied Musher. “But I do know one thing.” “What’s that?” “She sure as hell doesn’t like you at the moment, does she?” “No.” Bobby admitted hesitantly. “So how in the world would you ever get her to go to the Jason’s party with you?” “Well, I plan on changing the way she feels about me.” “Oh yeah? Well good luck with that, partner. You have a little over three weeks until Jason’s party goes down.” Silence on the other end. Chapter 4 Holly Roberts did something Tuesday morning that she rarely ever got to do. She slept late. Leslie was already off to an early class leaving the apartment totally alone. Normally, Holly would be sitting in her Chemistry Lab right now, but thanks to a break in a gas line, it had been postponed. Thank goodness she checked her class portal on the internet the night before – something she wasn’t in the habit of doing very often. That will definitely become a habit in the future. The phone interrupted her silence and in the blink of an eye, Holly found herself embroiled in the middle of a family conflict. She got the benefit of hearing the entirety of her mother’s side of a heated issue against Holly’s aunt. Thank goodness I moved out of the house, Holly thought. I sure hope I don’t fight with my siblings like that when I get older. Chuckling and shaking her head, Holly stepped into a hot shower. This time it was especially nice since she didn’t have to rush for a change. Her schedule was clear until her Calculus class at 10:45. She finished her shower and then called Carl, her boyfriend. They had been sweethearts since the seventh grade. “Jason’s got this big thing planned in a few weeks up at Maynard Lake,” Carl was saying. “We should really plan on going. Everyone’s going to be there.” “He just had a party, Carl.” “That was back in June. This one is going to be different. He’s got a band set up and everything!” “I don’t know. There are so many things on my plate this semester.” “You always say that. You could be taking only one class and you’d think you’re overwhelmed. Besides, isn’t that even more of a reason to go out for a night and relax?” “Well, you do have a point. It’s just not my favorite kind of outing.” “Please Holly, let’s do this. I’ll owe you one and promise to go somewhere you like. Hell, I’ll even go to one of those goofy formal things you’re always going on about.” “Okay.” Holly and a jubilant Carl finished their conversation and rang off. Dammit! Holly thought. Why do I let Carl talk me into such things? I’ll have to find something he really hates and make him go with me. That’ll teach him. She laughed to herself when thinking about Carl. In the end, there was no one who made her feel like he did. That first day of class in the seventh grade was something she would always remember. This tall blonde guy who had just moved into town was sitting next to her in their homeroom class. Carl made her laugh right from the start. He kept answering roll call in different voices for people who really weren’t there. Holly got in trouble for giggling at him – even though Carl didn’t get caught. Carl was such a passionate person that he got excited about everything. Especially things like Jason’s party. Even though she really didn’t want to go, Holly would tag along because Carl was so much fun to be around. And he loves those kinds of things. Holly finished getting ready for her class and then went out to check the mail. It amazed her how quickly two girls can get so much mail – even though they’ve only been living there a few weeks! Holly started thumbing through the stack of envelopes. “No, I’m not interested in helping out a Nigerian diplomat,” Holly muttered to herself, shaking her head. Wonder why these people would think we’d be interested in lawn care services or a remodeled garage when we only live in an apartment? She chuckled. Her eyes then rested on an official letter addressed to Leslie from a law firm in Hollister. An outfit called Hatley & Morris Attorneys at Law. Holly immediately remembered the legal document she saw in one of Leslie’s files the day they moved into the apartment. She could only assume that this was somehow connected. And as yet, the matter had never been discussed between them. Wonder what’s going on with her? Holly thought to herself. * * * * * * * That evening, Holly and Leslie worked the same shift. Tuesday nights at Samson’s Diner usually wasn’t very demanding on the staff, but lately the diner had been running several good specials that were attracting lots of new business. This was actually a good thing for Holly and Leslie since it meant lots of nice tips. This was also a bittersweet thing because even though the tips were good, it was sometimes a welcome break to not be busy – especially after a long day at school. The other hidden benefit of being busy was that their time at work seemed to go by much faster. So before they knew it, Holly and Leslie was clocking out and on their way home. “What’s all the buzz I keep hearing about a lake party and a guy named Jason?” asked Leslie as they walked home. “Seems like everyone is talking about it.” “Oh yeah. That’s Jason Carter. He’s a local legend in throwing parties.” replied Holly. “I don’t believe I’ve met him.” “You should’ve seen some of the parties he threw when we were in high school. Only problem was his parents’ house would get torn up pretty bad when they were away. He got in a ton of trouble.” Leslie chuckled. “The party you’re hearing about is a really big one. He’s renting out one of the big cabins at Maynard Lake and hiring a really good local band to play.” continued Holly. “How does he afford to do that?” “We’re not really sure how he pulls it off,” Holly smiled. “Most of us are afraid to ask.” “Are you going?” “As a matter of fact, Carl asked me to go this morning. You’re more than welcome to go with us if you’d like. Carl won’t care; he’ll be busy socializing anyway.” “Sounds nice. But I have to be honest, parties aren’t really my thing.” “Well, I didn’t figure you were the party type, but you have to admit that they can be fun sometimes.” “Yeah, that’s true.” “Just think about it. You’re always welcome to join us if you’d like.” “Thanks.” * * * * * * * The next day, Leslie finished her morning classes and was rushing to work. April was counting on her to help cover the lunch crowd. Rachel was on vacation and the last thing Leslie wanted to do was let April down. She had always been more than fair and understanding with Leslie and her busy schedule. As was usually the case, Leslie made it to work with plenty of time to spare. She knew one day that her conscientiousness would literally drive her into a nut house. Why do I always stress about everything? Leslie wondered. She got herself changed into her server’s outfit and strolled out to the hostess station. There was a huge beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting there. Leslie took in all the different colors as she approached the stunning arrangement. She could only imagine what such a display would cost. All the servers were gathered around in admiration. “Who sent that?” asked Leslie as she walked up. “You tell us.” replied April. “What?” “The card has your name on it.” “Really?” A stunned Leslie asked as she meekly reached for the card. This was not Leslie’s ideal scenario. Here were all these girls gathered around breathing on her in anticipation as if they were awaiting the results of a raffle drawing. As Leslie looked at them, their eyes seemed to be begging for the answer to their immediate question – who was the mystery man that sent this beautiful arrangement? The next glob of juicy gossip resided in that very envelope. Leslie wished she could run into the restroom and read the card in private, but she knew she couldn’t. They were relying on her. She finally opened the envelope and pull out the card which read: “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.” Leslie raised her head and wrinkled her brows. Puzzled in thought, she softly mumbled, “Bobby?” “Bobby Black sent those flowers to Leslie!” shouted one of the servers. “Oh my God!” another one shouted. “Can you believe that?” All of them scattered with the dripping morsel of hot news that Leslie had just given them. “Wait” Leslie pleaded, but most of them were gone already. Leslie was now disgusted. What if Bobby hadn’t sent those flowers to her? That would be the ultimate embarrassment. She looked at April, who was still standing there grinning. “April, I don’t know who sent them. There’s no name on the card, Bobby was just a guess.” Leslie explained in a whisper – trying to control a little of what had happened. “Don’t worry about it,” April smiled. “They’re just young girls anyway. They’ll be raving about something else in a few hours.” * * * * * * * That evening, when Holly came home, she walked through the door immediately shouting the name of her roommate.. “Oh Leslie!” she shouted. “I need to talk to you!” “What?” answered Leslie innocently, yet knowing damn good and well what her question was going to be. “What’s all this I hear about Bobby Black sending you flowers?” “See for yourself. They’re on the kitchen table and the card is laying there beside them.” Holly rushed in there to see what the fuss was all about. “Wow, they really are beautiful. That arrangement must’ve cost over a hundred dollars!” “Probably so.” Holly read the card, “Do you really think it was Bobby?” “I’m pretty sure, but I wished I’d kept it to myself. I should have said someone else’s name when I guessed out loud in front of everybody.” “Yeah, the girls around here get pretty excited when Bobby’s name is brought up.” “That’s an understatement.” “Has Bobby called you or anything?” “No, but no one else has claimed them either. Besides, he’s the only one needing forgiveness from me at the moment.” Leslie pondered further for a moment, “Unless … they were from Dwight,” she laughed. “Dwight?” “just kidding, He was this annoying kid from my high school, I’ll have to tell you that story sometime.” “At least you gave the girls at work something to talk about today.” “I’m not sure if that was a good thing.” * * * * * * * Leslie’s official answer came the next day. After her morning classes, she stopped off at Perk’s, a popular coffee shop on campus. Perk’s had been providing students with a place to gather in between classes or just a place to socialize. Some students actually attempted to study there – if they could drown out the noise. Leslie had just gotten an iced latte when she heard a familiar voice. “Those are great, aren’t they?” said Bobby. “I like to add an extra shot or two to mine.” Leslie looked at him and rolled her eyes. “C’mon now. I’d hoped those flowers would earn me at least a few minutes of your time.” “Bobby, how can flowers erase the humiliating things you said to me that day in the hallway?” “Wow, you really hold a grudge, don’t you?” “Don’t turn this around me. Try putting yourself in my shoes and see how you would like getting embarrassed in front of a bunch of people you don’t know.” “Okay, okay. Look, I’m really sorry. I mean that.” Leslie stared at the floor without replying. “What can I do to get you to give me a few minutes? Can you see it in your heart to do that? Please.” Leslie sighed and stood there for a minute. Finally, without saying anything, she strolled to a nearby table and sat down. She looked up at Bobby, “You got five minutes.” “Thank you.” Bobby pulled out the adjacent chair and joined her. “Look,” he began. “I want you to understand that I really didn’t mean those things I said.” “You said that already.” “Yes, but what I want you to understand is that Mush and I get into to this stupid frame of mind sometimes and we go too far. We like to cut up and people sort of expect that from us. Sometimes passerby’s around us sort of become our props.” Leslie kept staring down at the table, not making eye contact with him. “And yes, that can be cruel and I shouldn’t do that, but sometimes I get caught up in the moment.” “Here’s a newsflash. Those who become piñatas to your Tom foolery probably won’t understand your side of this. Surely you know that, don’t you? “I do know that, but I’m also trying to be honest with you too.” Bobby paused and then continued, “Look, I’m human and want to be liked by everyone the same as other people do. It’s nice to being loved by others, don’t you think? The saddest thing in the world is to be afraid that love will never find its way into your heart.” That comment almost floored Leslie. How did he know that? Leslie looked up and made eye contact with him. Bobby’s eyes met hers, and with a tone of sincerity asked, “Do you ever feel that there is something wrong with you inside? And you worry about others finding out? I know I do.” Leslie felt as if he had read her mind. She somehow managed to keep her poker face. “I think a lot of us feel that way.” She answered. “I don’t know, I often feel that it’s only me.” Leslie stared back down at the table, swilling her latte. “Leslie, I really think we could enjoy each other’s company – once we get to know each other.” She remained silent. Bobby continued, “My five minutes are about up. If you’d like to take the next step, I’ve reserved a table for us tomorrow night at The French Connection over on Madison Drive. It’s a wonderful restaurant and I guarantee you’ll love it.” Bobby handed her a business card with an address written on it. “The reservation is for 7:30 PM. I hope you decide to join me. If not, I understand and there will be no hard feelings.” And then he was gone. Leslie sat there for a few more minutes sipping her latte and feeling as if her mind had been opened up like a can of sardines. Chapter 5 “What are you going to do?” asked Holly. “To be honest, I just don’t know.” Leslie replied. “I’m supposed to work tomorrow evening, but Julie owes me a shift.” “It sounds like he made quite an impression on you.” “Why do you say that?” “Well, you were pretty dead set against having anything to do with Bobby before, but now you seem to be considering the idea of meeting him.” “Well, I … “ “Look, I’m not judging you.” interrupted Holly. “Just making an observation, that’s all.” “You’re right in what you say. I don’t know, there was just something I sensed in him – just can’t explain it.” “Well, if you decide to meet him, be careful, you know his track record.” warned Holly. * * * * * * * Musher crossed his arms and looked at Bobby with contempt. He saw his cousin heading down a path that could lead to disaster. Both he and Bobby came from the same bloodline, but why did they see things so differently? It stands to reason that members of the same family would share many of the same values – even though they were individuals. Bobby just didn’t seem to understand this. Musher had his faults, but he understood that as young adults, decisions made today can have drastic results on their lives down the road. People have to be careful in making choices – especially when they’re young. “Mush, I can’t explain it,” reasoned Bobby. “I’m just attracted to her, I don’t know why.” “Dude, she comes from a different cloth than we do. She’ll pull you down.” pleaded Musher. “You make it sound like we’re better than she is.” “Yes, I am!” “How can you say that?” “Hey, in our society, we ARE better than people like her. That’s not my decision; it’s just the rules of life. People with wealth have more influence and power in this country.” “That’s a pretty screwed up way of looking at things.” “Maybe so, but it’s all true. And wealthy people often lose their wealth because of associating with people who have no wealth.” “That’s bullshit!” “Look around you, man. It happens all the time.” “Perhaps, but that doesn’t change my mind.” It became apparent to Musher that once again, he was going to have to interfere in his cousin’s life. Bobby just doesn’t know how to look after his own best interests. Musher would have to do it for him – he just wasn’t sure how yet. He could always reveal what Tina had found about Leslie, but Bobby might not ever forgive him for spying on her. * * * * * * * The warm mist slowly moved in and embraced Leslie, as if it were a lioness clutching its cub in the face of danger. She arose from the bed, with squinted eyes she surveyed her surroundings in search of the heat source from where it came. She could feel no panic or fear at all, but there was a strong sense of urgency. Something was pointing her toward a small orange light beam that was piercing through the fog. There was a light vibration flowing like an electrical current through the floor underneath her feet. Her ear drums were filled by a faint hum that was not intrusive, but yet dominated the sound waves around her. Leslie could not understand what was happening exactly, but her instincts demanded that she move toward the light beam. Obeying her inner self, she stepped forward. With each step, the urgency increased. Then she became aware that perspiration began flowing down her face. The vibrations slowly became thumps which got louder and louder. The sound of the hum intensified with each step. Leslie kept stepping toward the beam. The perspiration was practically blinding her now, but she refused to slow down. She raised her arm, desperately reaching for that beam of light. Out of that orange beam slowly came a hand that was reaching for hers. She became frightened, but the voices inside were commanding her to press forward. The hand grabbed hers and then suddenly it jerked …. “Beep-Beep … Beep-Beep” rang the alarm on Leslie’s cell phone. She quickly raised herself up from the bed, not knowing exactly where she was. Looking around, Leslie was relieved to see everything in her bedroom was completely normal. Good grief, she said to herself. That was a crazy dream! Leslie had experienced wild dreams before, but this one was different. It seemed to strike a much deeper chord inside her as compare to any other typical dream. In addition, the memory of her dreams usually dissipated during the morning rituals of preparing herself for the day ahead. But the memory of this dream remained vivid in her mind – even after she showered and ate breakfast. This is what really left an impression on her. What could it mean? She wondered. The thoughts of that orange beam of light in the mist hovered at the back of Leslie’s mind as she went through her day. She attended two classes and grabbed a latte before heading to her final class. That question kept lingering – what did that dream mean? Why would she step toward that light beam, which obviously frightened her? And why hadn’t she stopped when she felt the fear? About halfway through her Chemistry class – it hit her. Or at least her interpretation of the dream hit her. It seemed to her that the hand coming out of that beam of light was Bobby’s! Something inside was forcing Leslie to face her fears. In spite of her fears, she had bravely moved toward Bobby and a potential relationship – which terrified her. The only problem with the dream was that it provided no outcome. What happened after Bobby grabbed her hand and jerked? When she finally grasped the meaning of the dream, she understood something else too. Once class was over, she pulled out her phone and dialed. “Hello?” “Holly, it’s me,” Leslie said. “I’ve decided to meet Bobby tonight.” “Really?” “Yeah, I know it’s a little surprising. But can you help me get ready this evening? I’m kind of at a loss on what to wear.” “You know I will. I’ll see you this evening.” “Okay, goodbye.” Leslie was satisfied with her decision – in fact, she was relieved – until the butterflies started flying formations in her stomach. * * * * * * * “Sit still a second!” “Okay, sorry.” replied Leslie. Holly was putting the final touches on Leslie’s make-up. “Thanks so much for helping me, Holly.” “You’re welcome, sweetie.” “And casual slacks are okay at the French Connection?” “Oh sure,” said Holly. “The name is fancier than the actual restaurant, but Bobby was right in what he told you. It’s a fantastic place – you’ll love it!” “Sounds nice.” “Looks like you’re all set.” Leslie looked into the mirror. In spite of her intense modesty, she liked what she saw. Her freshly pressed khaki slacks were complimented nicely by her favorite silk red blouse. She had topped this off with her stylish black blazer, along with her black sandals with heels. “Bobby is a fool if he doesn’t think you’re beautiful,” smiled Holly. Leslie smiled, blushed and looked down. They walked together to the door. “Now you know where it’s at, right?” “Yeah, I think so.” “It’s only about a ten minute walk from here. Call me if you get hung up.” “Okay, thanks so much, Holly.” Leslie started down the sidewalk, not really sure of what to expect from the evening. She found herself spending a lot of energy trying to calm down. Having this much nervousness was something she hadn’t anticipated. Her legs were a little shaky and she could feel her heartbeat increase with each step. She stopped at a bench along the sidewalk to gather herself for a moment. Thank goodness she was ahead of schedule and had plenty of time. She sat down on the bench, trying to catch her breath. Looking up, there was a middle-aged couple hurrying down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. What sat them apart was that the man was intensely dressing down and berating his wife. The man turned to his wife to emphasize yet another point when he slipped on a wet spot and landed flat on his backside. It was a picture perfect wipe-out. Leslie only wished she’d had her cell phone out recording the incident. “I could’ve made thousands of dollars on one of those blooper TV shows,” she chuckled to herself. The man lay on the ground not knowing what to make of his situation. The puzzled look on his face had completely disarmed his anger. Now he had other things to worry about than being mad at his wife. This made Leslie giggle – which was a good thing. It relaxed her a little. As she walked along, more giggles would ensue every time she thought about the man on the ground. The last portion of her stroll to the restaurant became a blur as her mind was a million miles away. Since dusk was approaching, the lights were beginning to flicker at the French Connection – which was just ahead. Her hazel eyes adjusted as she came within focal range. She could see that Bobby was standing on the front porch. He and another guy were leaning forward on the porch rail laughing. Apparently, the guy with Bobby was a member of the restaurant staff as he was wearing a white shirt with black tie, along with black dress pants. Bobby looked especially nice. He was wearing a sharply pressed white dress shirt, a dark green sleeveless pull over sweater, and dress jeans. Leslie loved how that thick black hair complimented his nice clothes. Nature blessed him with a stunning pair of black eye brows, and then threw in those sky blue eyes for good measure. The genetic lottery was nailed when Mother Nature created this guy. Good Lord! Bobby looked up and smiled when he saw Leslie. He excused himself from the other guy and walked up to meet her. “I’m delighted you decided to join me,” Bobby said warmly. “You’re really going to love this place.” “My roommate agrees, she said it was the best place in town.” “Who is your roommate? Is she a local girl?” “Holly Roberts. I think she went to a different high school than you did.” “I think I know her. She dates Carl Suggard, right?” “Yes, that’s her.” “I’ve known Carl for years; we played football against each other.” They walked up the steps and were greeted by the guy Bobby was hanging with earlier. “Johnny, this is Leslie Ford. She’s from Hollister and a pre-med student at MVS.” Johnny slightly bowed in gentlemanly manner, “Pleased to meet you, Leslie.” “Bobby, would you like to be seated now or would you like to sit at the bar for a spell.” Johnny asked. Bobby paused and thought for a moment. “We’re not busy, your table isn’t going anywhere,” added Johnny. “What do you think? Wanna grab a cocktail?” asked Bobby. “Sure, a glass of wine would be nice,” smiled Leslie. Johnny led them to the bar. He gave Leslie a friendly wink and smile before walking away, “Let me know if this guy gets out of line.” “Okay,” Leslie chuckled. And thus, the process of Leslie and Bobby becoming acquainted began. They talked and discussed all sorts of things and amazingly discovered that they had a lot of things in common. Leslie was pretty shocked at how well things were going considering that she despised this guy a just few short days ago. The experience was nothing short of surreal and amazing. She learned that he had several traits that was particularly endearing. One was how honest and open he seemed to be with his feelings and things that were on his mind. Candor was something she always valued in a person. “Bobby, I’m curious as to why you were so intent of meeting me?” asked Leslie. “I saw you at the diner one day and you really made an impression on me.” “How so?” “For one, you are a beautiful girl – which I’m sure you are already aware of.” Leslie smiled and blushed a little. “But I liked the way you went about taking care of your customers. You treated them with kindness and respect. And you project dignity from a profession that – let’s face it – isn’t always viewed that way.” “Bobby, I’m sure there are lots of servers who do that.” “Yeah, but you don’t have to be that way –because you’re an honor student who’s going to be a doctor someday. That’s what makes you different.” Hearing that made Leslie feel like a million bucks. Bobby’s comment completely described who she was and the things that were important to her. “That’s a nice thing to say.” “Something else I like about you is that you’re smart.” Leslie smiled as she touched her wine glass. Bobby reached out and touched the bottom of Leslie’s glass, taking care not to touch her hand. “You know, I’m really enjoying your company tonight. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had this much fun with someone,” Bobby gently smiled and looked into her eyes. “Not even with your cousin?” Leslie said mockingly, as she raised the wine glass to her lips. Bobby rolled his eyes and chuckled a little. “Yeah, Musher can be a piece of work,” he admitted. He then added, “I think he means well most of the time, but he does go overboard a bit.” “That’s an understatement. He was pretty rough on me in the hallway that day.” “I know and I’m really sorry about that. We just got carried away. I would do just about anything to make it up to you somehow.” “I bet you would,” Leslie said with a slightly evil grin. “That’s not what I meant!” he said sheepishly. They both laughed. Then the intrusion came out of nowhere. “How long are you going to make us wait, Bobby?” said the blonde girl. Blondie proudly displayed a shapely figure, complete with heavy make-up, and a tight fitting short skirt. “What?” Bobby asked with an irritated, but surprised look on his face. “Oh c’mon sweetie, me and Jade have been waiting on you over an hour at the Moonlight Inn. We got that room you love with the gold Jacuzzi. You’re not going to stiff us with the bill, are you?” she said stroking through his hair. Bobby stood up quickly pushing her hand away. “Who the hell are you?!?” he demanded. “Is this your new flavor of the month?” Blondie said as she stared at Leslie, sizing her up. Leslie was completely dumbfounded; she opened her mouth and couldn’t say anything. “What the shit is going on?” Bobby shouted. “I don’t even know you!” “Bobby, we set all this up last weekend. Me, you and Jade did. Is it our fault that you forgot?” “You’re crazy.” Bobby desperately looked at Leslie. “I’ve never even seen this woman before!” “This is the second time you’ve set up a last minute date with someone else and left us hanging.” Bobby’s jaw had dropped open and face was losing color. Oh no, thought Leslie. Unfortunately, what Blondie said was totally correct. Bobby had set up their date at the last minute. How could I have been so blind? She asked herself. Leslie quickly stood up and looked at Bobby. “I believe this night has come to an end,” she sternly said. Bobby chased after her, leaving Blondie standing by the table. “Leslie, please!” Bobby pleaded. “This is a big mistake; I don’t even know this woman.” “No, the mistake was me agreeing to see you tonight.” “Please, you’ve got to believe me.” “Just leave me alone!” she said, disappearing into the night. During the chaos, Blondie had already walked outside and was crossing the street. Moving down the sidewalk, she dialed the number. “Hello?” “Okay, it’s done,” She reported. “You owe me five hundred bucks.” “No problem, my dear.” Musher smiled. “No problem at all.” Chapter 6 Leslie had never been one of those girls who sob incessantly, but this was one of those rare moments when she felt like doing just that. There were just too many feelings going through her. She just couldn’t process all of them, much less get her mind around any of them singularly. During quiet times, Leslie had always looked at things with reason and logic – as do many people. She had always said to herself things like “This is what I’ll do when I get through this again” or “Here’s how I’ll handle that next time”. Now that she was knee deep in one of those emotional moments that she’d “prepared for”, she was drawing a complete blank. And quite frankly, her emotional energy tank had been drained anyway. Certainly, she felt betrayed and deceived by what Bobby had done, but the thing that bothered her most was that familiar little voice inside her head. It reminded her how love would never be there for her, and this incident only confirmed that fact. To be clear, it was the pain from years and years of doubt and heartbreak that Leslie was trying to overcome. As the events of the night unfolded, Leslie could feel the combined weight of every let downs from her past. Coping with the disappointment of tonight was easy compared to all that. * * * * * * * When Leslie got home and saw Holly, she disappointed herself even further by sobbing uncontrollably. Holly hugged her and waited for the calm after the storm before asking any questions. She let Leslie describe what had happened. It seemed that Leslie was feeling better about the events as she discussed them. “So you think the lady in the restaurant was a prostitute?” asked Holly. “Well yeah,” said Leslie, confirming the obvious. “I’ve lived in this town all my life and have never met a hooker here before. This is a small town and everyone knows everyone – or at least knows of everyone.” “If you saw her, you would agree with me.” “Oh, I’m sure they’re here, I’ve just not seen one before.” “She made it sound like Bobby was a regular customer or something.” “You know that I’m not the biggest Bobby Black fan in the world, but honestly I’ve never seen him with any girls that look like hookers. A guy like that doesn’t need to see prostitutes.” “Looks like you may be wrong about that.” “Maybe,” Holly mused, “Something else that’s a little weird about what that girl said.” “What’s that?” “She mentioned having a room in the Moonlight Inn with a Jacuzzi, right? “Yeah.” “The Moonlight is one of the seediest motels in the world. I doubt if the staff there has even heard of a Jacuzzi – much less offer one in any of their rooms.” “Doesn’t matter.” Leslie concluded. “I’m all done with Bobby Black.” “That’s probably for the best.” * * * * * * * “You Son of a Bitch!” shouted Bobby, as he pushed Musher against the wall. “Bobby, what are you upset about?” ask Musher. “What did I do?” “As if you didn’t know.” “I DON’T know, please enlighten me.” “You sent that damn whore to Frenchie’s last night to screw up my date with Leslie!” “What?” “You heard me!” “Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t even know you were out with Leslie.” “Bullshit!” “I didn’t.” “Damn it, Mush. I know you were behind this and if I find out you for sure … God help you!” “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” “Screw you. Ask your whore what happened.” Good God – he is really pissed, thought Musher. Of course, Musher had seen Bobby upset before, but he had to admit that Bobby was about fired up as he could ever remember. Musher wisely chose not to follow after Bobby as he stomped out the door. After a few days, surely everything would be back to normal again. More importantly, Musher hoped that Leslie was now a bad dream that just went away. * * * * * * * After the ugly incident occurred at the French Connection, Leslie decided to retreat back into her safe place – mentally speaking. For Leslie, that meant focusing all her energies on the stuff that really mattered to her. One at a time, she began assessing the important things in her life. But she took that even a step further. Leslie not only wanted to identify what was important to her, but she needed to understand what exactly about those things made them important. Leslie learned the secret of doing this a long time ago. It all had to do with gratitude. A person only had to find out what made them grateful about something to understand its priority level in their life. It was as simple as that. Leslie began feeling grateful for the level of intelligence she had, and how it allowed her to earn a college scholarship. The notion that she was going to be a doctor one day still excited her – it was literally a dream come true. She was thankful at how well classes were going and that she was making good grades. And it was great that she was able to find a job right after moving into town. That wasn’t always the case for people needing jobs – particularly in this economy. Thanks to the Diner, she was able to live there and support herself. And her boss was understanding and flexible enough to work around her classes. And finally, maybe her biggest blessing of all was being lucky enough to meet Holly. They had quickly become close friends and Holly had done lots of nice things for Leslie. Hooking up with Holly had to have been divine intervention because it’s just too hard to find good friends – at least it was for Leslie. In no time at all, Leslie had boiled her life down to three vital things, school, work, and Holly. Not necessarily in that order because each of them were important in their own way. Leslie felt much better now that she had more clarity in her life. * * * * * * * Bobby didn’t take matters lightly. He was still upset at what someone had done to him. And he was willing to bet any amount of his bank account that Mush was behind it somehow. What made no sense to him was why Musher was so dead against Leslie. That explanation he had given Bobby about wealthy people should not date those who have no wealth was total crap! Hell, as far as Bobby knew, Tina didn’t come from a wealthy family. And he told Mush that too. But Mush said that was different. He said that Tina had a purpose in his life, and was by no means a romantic interest. And that she would be gone soon. How could someone have an arrangement like that? Bobby wondered. But that still didn’t explain why Musher hated Leslie so much. He’d never felt that way with any other girls that Bobby had dated. There had to be something else – something that wasn’t obvious at the moment. Of course, his anger at Musher was not the worst part of the situation. The fact that Leslie had gotten upset and once again, refused to talk to Bobby, was by far the worst part of all. Bobby had not been dishonest with Leslie in any way. He really did enjoy her company. He really did think that they had hit it off really well. And now he desperately wanted to see her again. How was he ever going to convince her to give him another chance? Hell, it was a real challenge just to get her to meet him on that occasion. Bobby doubted that an entire florist of flowers wouldn’t change her mind this time. He knew his only chance was to give her some space. And then maybe he could think of something that would warm her heart. To do that, he needed to somehow learn some about her. Chapter 7 Leslie was sitting in the campus library working on her latest Chemistry assignment. Since she was a good student, she had brilliant study habits. One of her study secrets was to always read ahead in the text book before the professor lectured about the material. That way, when the lecture came around, it would solidify the knowledge she’s already learned about the topic. It also helped her prepare for the inevitable exam that would be coming later. However, this approach hadn’t helped her very much with the recent Chemistry lessons she had received. As happens to every student eventually, regardless of their intelligence level, she was struggling with her homework. She went over the material again and again, but nothing was working for her. Finally, she remembered that the Chemistry department had a few grad assistants on hand to help students with their lessons. Perhaps one of them was available. When she got upstairs, the lady in the department’s office directed her down the hall. “Ask for Tommy. He’s on hand this afternoon.” “Thanks.” She walked down the long hall and entered the door as she was instructed. No one was in the front room, but she heard some faint music blaring from one of the back rooms. “Hello. Anyone here?” called Leslie. She heard rustling and then a guy who was a few years older than her showed up. “Can I help you?” He said, somewhat softly. “Are you Tommy? I need a little help with my Chemistry lesson.” “Yes, I’m Tommy. Who are you?” “Oh sorry, I’m Leslie Ford - a student in Professor Logan’s class.” “First semester General Chem?” “Yes.” “Let’s go back to the conference room. We see if we can’t get you straightened out.” “I’m really struggling with balancing Chemical equations for some reason. I’m pretty good at Math, so I’m not sure why I’m having trouble.” “Are you a Chem Major?” “No,” answered Leslie. “Pre-Med.” “Oh, lucky you.” smiled Tommy. “You’ll get two semesters of the dreaded Organic Chemistry next year.” “Don’t remind me,” she chuckled. Tommy worked with Leslie for about an hour. She was amazed at how quickly she understood the Chemistry equations after he explained them to her. “You’re a really good tutor.” She told him. “Thanks.” In was obvious that Tommy was a bit introverted, but seemed like a really nice guy. She adored his sense of humor. They talked for a few minutes longer. Leslie then she thanked him and excused herself. * * * * * * * Over the next few days, Holly could see that Leslie had a fresh renewed focus. She was all about getting her studies done, and maintaining her flawless grade point average. While it was great having a roommate that was an excellent academic resource, she was more than a little concerned about Leslie on a personal level. It seemed as if a light have gone out in her spirit – and she was avoiding some dark, scary room inside herself. We’ve all heard that when people lose one of their senses, they often compensate by strengthening the senses that are still available to them. Like a blind person who has the astonishing ability to hear things that no one else can hear. Supposedly, we humans have evolved in a way that allows us to best survive under current circumstances. Holly wondered if such a phenomenon was possible on a spiritual or mental level as well. As she watched Leslie, she wondered if Leslie had totally shut off all emotional energy from relationship activities, and simply redirected them to everything else. This would explain lots of things. Leslie worried her on a personal level. It was as if a part of Leslie was dying a little each day and Holly had no clue what to do about it. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of metal tapping of a key trying to find the lock’s slot in the front door. This was followed by a click, and then the door opened. Leslie was returning from the store with groceries. Just in time, thought Holly. “Got you some nice mangos Holly,” Leslie said with a smile. “They got in a fresh batch. Thought I’d better get you some before they go out of season.” Holly absolutely loved mangos. Leslie was so thoughtful about things like that. “Thank you so much,” said Holly. “I’ll cut some up to go with our dinner.” “Holly, I’m so sorry. I forgot to tell you that I’m going out this evening.” “Oh really? Going on a date?” Holly asked, trying not show how surprised she was by the news. “I’m not sure if it’s really a date. I met this guy, Tommy. He’s a grad assistant from the Chemistry Department. He’s the guy who helped me with those chemical equations.” “That sounds nice. What’s he like? Is he from here?” “No, he’s from the east coast. Really nice guy, kind of cute. He’s not outgoing at all, but really funny when you get to know him.” “What are you guys going to do? “Probably go see that new Brad Pitt movie.” “That’s great, Leslie. I’m happy for you.” “It’s not that big of a deal really, but it’s nice to go out for change. And with someone who’s fun to be around.” * * * * * * * Musher had spent the next few days feeling great about how things had gone for him and Bobby. He had masterfully planned and executed a flawless scheme that got Leslie out of their lives – hopefully for good. Now he just needed to figure out a way to destroy her scholarship. While he was feeling great about himself these days, patting his own back and everything, there was only one problem. And that was Bobby. Since he had spoiled Bobby’s date with Leslie, Bobby just wasn’t himself. Bobby didn’t want to do anything. He wasn’t interested in going out and partying, he didn’t want to run around at all. Bobby wasn’t mean or resentful toward Musher; he was just disinterested and aloof. All Bobby wanted to do was stay at home – he even started going to his classes now! What the hell? Musher just assumed Bobby was a little depressed, because after all – he really did seem to have some feelings for Leslie. But Good Lord, shouldn’t he have gotten over that by now? Musher figured that Bobby would eventually become himself again. It was just going to take some time. At least that’s what Musher kept telling himself. The truth was that Musher needed to devote his energy now to leaning on Tina. He just knew Leslie had some dirt in her past – Tina needed to find it somehow. * * * * * * * “Leslie, there’s someone waiting up front for you.” Rachel told her. “Ok, Thanks Rach.” She glanced over at the two tables that she was looking after. Not too busy at the moment. Satisfied with that assessment, Leslie made her way toward the hostess station. She was surprised to see Tommy sitting there. He quickly stood as Leslie approached. “Hey Tommy.” “Leslie, I hope this is okay,” said Tommy in an almost hushed tone. “But I discovered that Moray Fashion is making a surprise appearance at the Cameo Theatre this evening. One of my students gave me a couple of tickets – I know how much you love their music.” Leslie couldn’t believe her ears. Tommy was right; Moray Fashion was her favorite band of all time. They featured a great acoustical sound with a mesmerizing beat and lots of soul. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Think you’d be able to go with me?” “Absolutely.” Leslie said. “I really appreciate you inviting me.” “Great. The show starts at 7:00.” “Okay, meet me here then. I get off at 6:00.” Leslie confirmed. * * * * * * * Holly left work and headed home. Carl was supposed to come over, but he called and begged out of it because his buddies had put together a poker game at the last moment. Holly busted his chops just for the fun of it, even though she really liked the idea of relaxing at home by herself. Have to keep them honest, she thought, smiling. She was shocked when she got home to see none other than Bobby Black waiting there. He was sitting on the steps leading up to the floor on which their apartment was located. “Bobby?” Holly asked. “Where are you doing here? Leslie is out for the evening.” “Yeah, I know,” answered Bobby. “Actually, you are the one I was waiting for.” “Me?” “Yeah.” “Okay. Let me put my things away and get changed.” Holly said. “You’re welcome to come inside and wait.” “Oh no. I’ll wait out here.” “Alright, I’ll be just a few minutes,” replied Holly, a little shocked at how Bobby took the high road by choosing to wait outside. Holly returned as promised a few moments later. She brought with her a couple of cold beers – offering one to Bobby. “Thanks, Holly,” Bobby said, nodding with a pleasant, easy smile. “What can I help you with, Bobby?” “I wanted to talk to you about Leslie.” “What about?” “I have strong feelings for her and want her to see me again. I was hoping you could help.” A prime example of Bobby’s candor, as Leslie had told her about, Holly thought. “How in world do you think I could do that? She’s pretty pissed at you.” “I don’t blame her for being upset. If she thought I was going to see that prostitute. But that’s the thing – I WASN’T going to see that prostitute. I’d never even seen that woman before. You gotta believe that!” “Well, I’m not the one you have to convince.” “If I am going to get you to help me, then you’re wrong, I DO need to convince you. Not only that, I really want you to know the truth anyway.” Bobby added. “I just don’t want people around here thinking I do that kind of thing.” “Bobby, since when do you give a shit what others think about you?” “Is that what you really think?” “Yeah. In fact I would say most people around here think that about you.” “Really?” “Yes, really.” Bobby shook his head, took a long draw from his beer and stared at the ground – as if to realize that he was powerless in what others thought about him. More surprisingly, he seemed to really care about what others thought. Well I’ll be damned, Holly thought to herself. The Bobby that she was talking with tonight was not the same one she’d heard about all these years. He was not the big jerk who cut up all the time, not caring about others. Chapter 8 As Leslie went about her normal routine over the next week or so, Holly made it a point to take notice of her. She was very concerned about Leslie. She knew that Leslie had a tendency to internalize everything. Holly felt that there were certain emotions going on inside Leslie that were difficult to process. Leslie continued to go out with Tommy from time to time, but it just didn’t seem authentic. It seemed more like an emotional fire escape for Leslie. It was like Tommy was providing refuge from an emotional burning building where Leslie stored her feelings. Because she had grown to know Leslie fairly well, Holly could see the warning signs. Holly believed that Leslie was lying to herself about how she really felt. A desperate act of trying to sell everyone on the idea that life was great, that there was nothing at all to worry about. Depression had a way of doing that. It brought about the need to repaint the world into something that was more tolerable – even though the new world was not real and could actually be dangerously deceptive in the long run. Holly dared not tell Leslie that Bobby had come to see her. She feared that it would only upset Leslie and jeopardize their friendship. * * * * * * * “Dude, you need to snap out of it!” Musher urged. “Go screw yourself,” replied Bobby. “ I don’t need to do anything.” “What has gotten into you anyway? You’re just not yourself these days.” “Maybe I’m just getting wiser, Mush.” “You’re still going to Jason’s party, aren’t you? It’s little more than a week away now. I already got that white hash that you love.” “I’m not sure if I even want to go – to be honest. Just not really feeling it these days.” Musher was upset to hear how depressed his cousin had gotten. They hung up and Musher dialed another number. “Hello?” “Tina, give me something,” Musher pleaded. Surely, she’s found it by now. “Mush, you need to quit bugging me about this; I’m doing the best I can.” Tina answered. “And I can’t talk right now anyway.” Musher can’t believe Tina actually hung up on him! * * * * * * * Holly and Carl were relaxing in front of his TV – taking in some great sit-coms. They both loved comedies and could never grow tired of their favorites – even from the repeated viewings that syndication offered them. Because of all that repetition, they found themselves going about their normal lives using quotes from those shows. How twisted was that? Carl had done pretty well for himself even though he chose not to attend college. All through high school, he had wisely worked weekends and some evenings at his uncle’s insurance office. He got his license to sell insurance within weeks after graduation. Uncle Hank had set him up on a salary – or a draw, as the insurance salesmen called it. Uncle Hank knew as much as Holly did that Carl would be a huge success. How could he not be? Carl loved people and people loved him. And he was funny and nice to everybody too. What’s more, he realized that academics weren’t his strength, so he went after something he was good at – how can you argue with that logic? “We still going to Jason’s party, right?” asked Carl, wanting reassurance. “Yes, I suppose,” sighed Holly. “And then the next weekend, we’re going to the opera on Friday and the ballet on Saturday.” “Shit, are you kidding?” responded a disgusted Carl. “Just kidding,” Holly giggled. “I just couldn’t resist.” “Seriously, we ARE going, aren’t we?” “Of course we are. I did promise you.” “Is Leslie going to go with us?” “I don’t know, she hasn’t told me anything yet.” “Do you think she’ll go with Tommy?” “Maybe, but I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea.” “Why not?” “Because I believe Leslie and Tommy are on different pages as far as where they see their relationship.” “You think?” “Yes, I think Tommy wants more out of it than she does. But I also think she’s trying to convince herself she feels stronger about him than she really does.” “She’ll figure that out eventually though, won’t she? Shouldn’t you just let it run its course?” “Oh, I have no choice but to do that, but what worries me is that Leslie doesn’t date people casually. She takes things pretty seriously. I’m just not sure she knows how to handle this casual arrangement – at least not in a way that best suits her.” “I understand what you’re saying. But don’t you think it might be a good thing for her to get that experience so she knows how to handle it in the future?” “Could be,” Holly said contemplating. “You don’t mind if she goes with us to the party, do you?” “Goodness no, she’s more than welcome.” * * * * * * * Lily Black was in a place she’d never been with her son Bobby. Here he was confiding in her about matters of the heart. It was certainly something she didn’t think would ever happen. For one, she never envisioned Bobby ever fixating his affection on only one girl. And secondly, she assumed that if he ever did, then he would simply talk to his Father and not her. She couldn’t help but feel a bit privileged by the whole thing. “Mom, I’m not really sure what to do.” said Bobby. He had explained all the events and what had happened. He opened up to his Mother and held nothing back. “Have you tried calling or sending a note?” “I tried to call initially, but haven’t done anything since. My instincts told me that just to give her some space.” “I think you did the right thing there,” his Mother agreed. “She’s probably confused and deep down she’ll appreciate you doing that.” “Only thing is I believe she’s been dating someone else now.” “Well, don’t overreact to that. You really don’t know how she feels about him.” “You think?” “Yes. And another thing, she had a very emotional response to your dinner date. That tells me she had some pretty strong feelings for you. That doesn’t go away on a whim – it takes time.” “I never thought of it like that.” * * * * * * * “Carl was asking the other night about the Jason’s party,“ mentioned Holly. “Have you thought about whether you’d like to go with us or not?” “Gosh Holly, I hadn’t really thought about any further – to be honest,” replied Leslie. “Maybe I could see if Tommy would like to go ..” “Leslie, you know damn good and well that Tommy probably won’t be interested in that party.” “What do you mean?” “Don’t get me wrong, I like Tommy and all, but he’s not the least bit social – and I don’t think he’d enjoy that party at all.” “Well Holly, we won’t know that until we ask him.” “Oh bullshit!” “What?” “I said BULLSHIT!” repeated Holly. “Leslie, when are you going to quit kidding yourself?” “What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about you’re spending time with Tommy, that’s what?” “You don’t think I should see Tommy?” “That’s not what I’m saying,” explained Holly. “I’m saying that you’re trying to convince yourself that you have feelings for him when you really don’t.” “Why would I do that?” “Because you think that’s what you should be doing – that it’s the proper thing to do. And because he’s safe.” “Well, isn’t all that true?” asked Leslie. “Tommy’s a really nice guy and we have a lot in common, so what’s wrong with that?” “Nothing is wrong with that, if he’s the right guy, but unfortunately, I don’t believe he’s the right guy for you.” “What makes you say that?” “Because I’ve been watching you the last couple of weeks. I mean, you’ve seen couples who really have deep feelings for each other – they’re connected and any outsider can tell how they feel for each other, right?” “Yes, they come in the diner all the time.” “You and Tommy aren’t like that! You’re just friends.” Leslie almost started to cry at that moment. It was that painful truth about her secret flaw all over again. This was yet another case of love letting her down one more time. She found herself fighting back the tears. “That pretty much tells the story of my life,” Leslie said, admitting the secret to her close friend. “I don’t know if I’ll ever find love.” She began to quietly weep. Holly took Leslie in her arms and gave her a warm hug of affection and caring. “I happen to know that’s not true at all, Leslie,” admitted Holly. “What do you mean?” Leslie pulled back looking at Holly, a bit puzzled. That comment completely interrupted the moment. “I’m pretty sure that Bobby loves you, sweetie.” “What?” “And I’m guessing you feel the same way, too.” “I don’t understand, what makes you say that?” “Because both of you are depressed and moping around. And because neither of you have been the same since your botched date.” “How do you know that Bobby feels that way?” “Because he came by and told me that night you were at the concert,” said Holly. “He also told me how much he misses you and swears that someone sent him up that night. And you know what? – I believe him.” “But I don’t know if I can trust him, Holly.” “Well, that’s the hard part about the love you’re not getting in your life. You have to put yourself out there sometimes and take a chance. The key is picking the right times to take those chances.” “I’ve never thought about it that way before.” “All I know is for that brief time that you and Bobby were interested in each other, your eyes had the biggest sparkle I’d ever seen in them. Hell, why not go for it?” Chapter 9 Tina rolled over on her side, trying to extend her night’s sleep further into the morning. Unfortunately, the thin, flimsy blinds were making it very hard for her. I need to buy some of those ‘black out blinds’, she thought to herself. Of course, a better solution may be choosing not to party so late on Fridays. After she and Musher started smoking that powerful hash he had, Tina felt pretty invincible – not really caring about Saturday morning. Thank God she didn’t have to work today! But what had actually awakened her in the first place was the sound of Musher taking his morning shower. It was quite amazing to her how he could pop right up in the mornings like that – after the crazy night they had before. Sometimes she wondered why she stayed with Musher. He could be adorable at times, although other people thought she was lying about that. But this was probably the main reason why Tina stayed with Musher. He only allowed her to see those adorable times, and that made her feel very special. Even Bobby didn’t get to see that side of Musher. As Musher continued to shower, his cell phone began vibrating on the night stand. Tina grabbed his phone, but didn’t recognize the number, so she answered. “Hello?” “Is Rick there?” a female voice asked on the other end. “He’s not here right now,” replied Tina. “Would you like to leave a message?” “Yeah, This is Millie. Tell him that I’m still waiting on that damn $500 he owes me.” “For what?” “For that little business I did for him at the French Connection, that’s what!” “Oh, that,” said Tina, pretending to know she was talking about. “I’ll tell him.” Tina hung up from the call with all kinds of questions running through her mind. But she knew that these were questions that Musher probably wouldn’t be truthful at all in answering, so she jotted down the number. Let’s see what I can find out about Millie, she thought to herself. * * * * * * * Bobby had just finished his American Literature class and was sitting down at Perk’s with his favorite espresso drink - a double shot iced latte. What had been particularly surprising to him these days was that he was finding his classes enjoyable. He kicked himself for not attending them more often. With a few hours to kill before his next class, he decided to get ahead of the game and start reading the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel that was on the class book list. He fired up the old Kindle and began digesting the words. “You’ll go blind reading on those,” said a familiar voice – out of the blue. Bobby looked up and was shocked to see Leslie standing there. He felt such a jolt of excitement and adrenaline that it almost blinded him. His instincts told him to be restrained in responding to her – sort of the way one would lure a stray cat – even when they are interested in approaching, bold sudden moves will still scare them away. “Yeah, but this is the only way I’ll ever get as smart as you,” he smiled at her. “Oh, you’re smart enough,” she said, pointing to the stool beside him – seeking permission to sit down. Bobby nodded and with an extended open palm toward the stool. Leslie eased onto the stool and began talking. “Look Bobby, Holly told me about your conversation with her,” Leslie started. “And I’ve been thinking about things.” Bobby listened intently with no response. Let her say her piece, his instincts continued to instruct. “Holly pointed out some things that I’d not thought about before. The bottom line is she believes what you told her about being set up that night,” Leslie continued. Bobby nodded, trying to conceal his delight in hearing those words. “I just wanted you to know that I probably overreacted. And that’s because I’ve had such rotten luck with relationships and felt that this was just another bad deal for me.” “I understand,” Bobby whispered considerately. “I have to be honest, up until that blonde girl showed up, I was having a wonderful time.” “Me too,” Bobby agreed. “Do you think we could try again sometime?” “Yes, I would like that.” “Great,” she smiled. Bobby returned her smile, not really know what to say at that moment. Okay then,” Leslie stood up in conclusion. “I’ll leave you to your book; I have a class to attend.” “Thanks Leslie,” Bobby said as he stood up along with her. Leslie smiled and strolled away. Bobby watched her disappear and then allowed himself to smile in the way he wanted to earlier. * * * * * * * Millie Francis. That’s who the girl was on Musher’s phone. It took Tina no time at all to find out everything about this Millie – at least everything she needed to know about her. The really bad news was that it made Tina furious! It turned out that Millie Francis really was a prostitute. And she lived in Dolan – a neighboring city that was about 25 miles away. So that’s what Musher does when he disappears for a day or so, thought Tina. Where there’s $500 owed to a hooker, there can only be one assumption. And it’s not one that Tina found very pleasing either. * * * * * * * “So how did Bobby react?” asked Holly. “Was he happy to see you?” “Yes, he was!” boosted Leslie. “I truly believe he was happier than he was letting on.” “Well, how do you feel about things now?” “I feel relieved, to be honest. And I feel contented too. It was really nice talking to Bobby again.” “Has he called or anything yet?” “Not yet, but he will eventually,” replied Leslie. “I’m not going to worry myself about that. The ball is in his hands now.” “That’s a good attitude to have. Most girls would be sick with anticipation.” * * * * * * * Bobby had just finished his last class of the day and was heading for the parking lot. His Tuesday and Thursday load of classes were brutal, not because the classes were hard, but because there were too many of them and they were too long as well. Since his mind was totally exhausted, he hardly noticed that Tina waiting for him at his car. When he did notice her, he can’t help but see how upset she was. “Hey T,” Bobby said. “What’s going on with you these days? Tina sighed in disgust before answering, “Well, I’ve had better days, that’s for sure.” “What did Mush do this time?” Shaking her head, she asked Bobby, “Do you know if Mush has been seeing any hookers?” “If he has,” replied Bobby. “He hadn’t told me about it.” She looked directly in his eyes, trying to detect if Bobby’s was being honest with her. Understanding this, Bobby added, “Tina, I swear. He hasn’t said anything and I haven’t seen anything like that either.” “Are you sure?” asked Tina once again. “You haven’t seen this bitch?!?” Tina handed him a print out that contained Millie’s picture. Bobby couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the blonde from the restaurant! He could feel his internal temperature quickly rising. “Wh .. Where did you get this!” demanded Bobby, barely able to get the words out of his mouth. “This bitch called Mush Saturday morning asking for the $500 that he owed her. He was in the shower, so I answered his phone and talked to her myself.” “What else did she say?” “I asked her why Mush owed her the money and she said something about a job at the French Connection.” “That Son of a Bitch!” Bobby snapped. “I knew that prick was behind this.” “Bobby, what are you talking about?” After Bobby came out of his angry trance, he responded to her question. He then told Tina all about the incident at the restaurant and how it affected his date with Leslie. “Damn, Mush is a real piece of work sometimes, isn’t he?” stated Tina, shaking her head. “That’s an understatement.” Tina wondered if she should mention to Bobby how Musher had requested that she spy on Leslie’s past. But then she caught herself. She knew that doing this would cause two things to happen. The first thing is that it would end her relationship with Mush, something she did want at the moment. Secondly, it would expose her illegal hacking activities to Bobby – and Tina wasn’t sure how much Bobby actually knew about that. So Tina left it at that. * * * * * * * Bobby drove away just wanting to put the garbage about Musher behind him for the moment. He realized that It angered him so much that he really needed to just let it go. Instead, he dialed Leslie’s number. “Hey Bobby,” answered Leslie, in a tone indicating her pleasure. “Hello,” said Bobby. “So nice to hear your voice. I l believe this is the first time we’ve ever talked on the phone.” “That’s right.” “I don’t know what your schedule is or anything, but I was hoping to see you tonight.” “Well I have to work tonight, but I get off at 9:00. Will you still be awake by then?” “Are you kidding? You’re talking to one of the biggest night owls around here.” “Okay, good then,” chuckled Leslie. “Oh, before I forget, there’s one more thing I wanted to discuss with you.” “What’s that?” “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my friend Jason is throwing a big party at Maynard Lake on Saturday.” “Oh yeah. I’ve heard a lot about that.” “Well, I’d love it if you would go to the party with me. I sure hope someone else hasn’t asked you already.” “No one has. Besides, I’d rather go with you anyway,” Leslie said. “Awesome!” Leslie then got an idea and just decided to throw it out there. “Let me ask you this, would you be interested in going with Holly and Carl?” asked Leslie. “They invited me to go with them; so I thought it’d nice for us to join them.” “Sure, I think that’d be a wonderful idea.” “Really?!? That’s great.” “You sound surprised.” “Well,” Leslie said, with a little reluctance. “I thought maybe you’d want us to go with your cousin.” “No, I’m a little irritated with him right now.” Leslie paused for a second, expecting Bobby to add more information, but he didn’t. Now she was feeling as though she might have touched upon a sore spot. Not knowing what else to say, she quickly concluded the conversation. “Alrighty then. I’ll see you at 9, okay?” “Okay. Sounds good.” Chapter 10 When Musher heard the news about Bobby dating Leslie again, he was beside himself with anger. “How could this have happened?” he shouted. “Who knows?” replied Tina. “Love can be strange sometimes.” She tried hard to hide her delight in what was happening. The old saying “what goes around comes around” sprang into her mind. Musher was getting exactly what he deserved, she thought. Tina’s anger at Musher subsided when she discovered that he hadn’t been seeing a hooker, rather he was hiring the services of a hooker. As Musher’s lover, that was much different as far as she was concerned. Since Bobby was already angry with him, she just let things be. Chances were that Musher would discover Tina’s involvement anyway – since she delivered the photo to Bobby AND she talked to Millie on the phone that day. One of those potential leaks was bound to materialize. Tina just had to be ready with a quick answer. But just as Tina suspected, Musher’s anger with the situation would eventually boomerang back to her. And right on clue … “If you’d found something on Leslie by now,” Musher insisted. “None of this shit would’ve happened.” “I told you, Rick. There is absolutely nothing else out there on this girl. You already know what I’ve found on her.” You’re not looking hard enough, Musher thought to himself. But I can’t point it out – you’ve got to find it yourself. “Keep pushing, I’m telling you that there’s something out there. I can feel it.” “What about that thing I found already?” “Maybe I can use it,” Musher said half-heartedly. “Are you going to go to the Lake Party with me on Saturday?” “What’s the matter?” Tina mocked. “Bobby not going with you this time?” Tina knew that she was Musher’s second choice. “No, he’s going with that bitch.” * * * * * * * Carl pulled into the long driveway leading up to the Black family residence. Perfect lines of Bradford Pear trees stretched up both sides of the driveway. This led them to a big turnaround in front of the main house. Several luxury vehicles were parked there. “Bobby said he’d be waiting by the door for us,” reminded Leslie. Who felt a little too intimidated to get out and knock on the door. “Good Lord,” Holly observed. “What a house!” “That house must be over 20,000 square feet inside.” Said Carl, adding a guy’s perspective. “Wonder if they need any insurance?” “Would you hush,” Holly responded, slapping his shoulder. She and Leslie giggled. “There he is.” Bobby rushed out. His mother was standing at the door – she smiled and then waved at the car. Leslie and Holly smiled and waved back. Carl got out of the car and extended his hand, “Hey Dude. I hadn’t seen you in a while.” “Not since we beat you guys down in the City championship.” Bobby smiled, poking at Carl a little. “Now, I could’ve gone all night without hearing that,” replied Carl as he opened the back door for Bobby. Bobby gave Carl a friendly pat on his shoulder, “Thanks, man.” Jumping in the back seat with Leslie, Bobby gave her a greeting kiss, “You look really nice.” “Doesn’t she?” Holly agreed. “Would you guys knock it off?” Leslie blushed a little. * * * * * * * When the four of them arrived at Maynard Lake, there was already a huge crowd. There were a couple of keg stations set up already. “Carl, let’s go get some beers,” Bobby said. “You ladies want one?” “Absolutely.” They hurried off laughing together. “Carl and Bobby seem to get along well.” Leslie said. “Oh yeah, most jocks naturally get along like that.” Leslie stood by and watched Holly speak with and smile at what seemed like a dozen people – all in just a few minutes. “You sure know a lot of people here.” “Leslie, I grew up here,” said Holly. “I’m sure that things would be the same for you in Hollister.” “I’m not so sure about that.” The guys returned with fresh beers. “Would you like a tour of the lake?” Bobby asked Leslie. “Would love one!” * * * * * * * As the evening moved along, the flowing beer tasted even more wonderful, and the music sounded even better. Leslie had never danced so much in her life. She and Bobby had really connected in a way that Leslie couldn’t even have imagined. They slow danced and held hands. Holly saw that sparkle again in Leslie’s eyes. “Wow, they’re really into each other,” she said to Carl. “Isn’t that the truth,” laughed Carl. “Let’s join them!” It wasn’t just feeling connected with Bobby that made Leslie feel great. What she was feeling at the party was even bigger than that. She was beginning to feel a warm embrace from the community too. That was also a new experience for her. Her hometown never made her feel that way. She had met countless people at the party, made new friends and couldn’t feel any happier. “Where did Holly go?” Leslie asked Carl. “I believe she’s talking to one of her distant cousins over there.” Carl answered. “Okay.” Leslie acknowledged. She then told Bobby, “I’m going to powder my nose.” “Need some help?” Bobby joked. “No, I’ve gotten pretty proficient at it over the years.” Leslie did her business in the crowded ladies room. She made her exit and turned up the path to the table they had been using. She then heard a familiar voice that made her cringe. “I guess y..you’re preased with yourself!” She turned to see Musher standing there. Tina was standing alongside him – she had a very concerned look on her face. It was all too apparent that Musher had too much to drink. “Pardon?” she answered, not really knowing what else to say. “Bobby just doesshn’t know your your real deal .. the r..r..real story ‘bout you!” Musher slurred as he stumbled forward. Tina began pleading with him, “Rick, let’s go home now. You’ve had too much.” Leslie just stopped and stared – concerned about what Musher might do or say next. “You jusss wait, missee, “Musher added. “I knnnoww somethin’ on you … “ “I’m sorry,” Tina said, as she hurried Musher away. Leslie returned back to the table. Bobby could sense that something was bothering her. “Leslie, what’s wrong?” “I just ran into your cousin. He’s pretty wasted.” “Did he say something mean to you?” Bobby demanded. “He was just being himself,” Leslie said in an ‘as a matter of fact’ tone. She really didn’t want to stir up a family feud between them. “I need to put him in his place.” “Tina is with him. She pulled him away and apologized.” Bobby seemed to be content with that – for the moment anyway. He then changed the subject. “Hey, I got something that you guys may or may not be interested in doing.” Bobby said. He motioned them forward. Leslie, Holly, and Carl perked up and stepped forward. Bobby first glanced around and then showed them a hash pipe in his partially closed hand. “I’m sorry if this kind of thing offends any of you, but I thought I’d offer anyway. This stuff I have is pretty amazing.” “Doesn’t hurt my feelings,” Holly confessed. “I’m all for it.” Carl chuckled and nodded his head in agreement. Then they all looked at Leslie. Not waiting to be a wet blanket, she blurted out, “Fine by me!” “This way,” Bobby urged, leading the way. They walked for a few minutes and found themselves in a clearing that overlooked the lake. Although they couldn’t see the party, which was around the knoll, they could plainly see the party’s lights reflecting keenly off the water. And of course the music from the band was more than loud enough. Bobby fired up the hash pipe and passed it to Carl. He looked at Leslie, “Don’t feel that you have to smoke it just because of us, it’s okay if you don’t want to.” “Oh no, I’d like to smoke at least a little,” Leslie answered. “It just doesn’t take very much for me.” Bobby gave her a smile of understanding. “Carl, have you ever been at this spot?” “I’ve been here at the Lake many times, but never here. It’s really nice.” “Me and my crazy cousin actually brought chainsaws and weed eaters up here one day and carved this place out. Very few people know it’s even here.” “You guys did a nice job,” Carl complimented – ever the salesman. Before long, the four of them were feeling light headed and giggling. “Goodness,” Holly confirmed. “You were right about that hash. Which way is the trail anyway?” “There’s only one way you can go!” Laughed Carl. “Give me a break, I’m a little lost here.” The four of them laughed hysterically as they fumbled their way down the path. Everything was a punch line all of a sudden. And as jocks tend to do, Bobby and Carl began talking trash about the championship football game in which they played against each other. “Of course you won!” Carl said, raising his voice in a fun way. “You got that late flag that helped you win.” “Hell, I had to do something with my allowance,” joked Bobby. Both of them laughed. They finally got back to the party site and found their table. “I’m ready for a beer,” said Carl. “Anybody else?” Immediately there were three nods of agreement. Bobby rose up to go with him, but Carl motioned him back down, “Keep your seat, old man. I got this.” Bobby smiled, “Okay.” Bobby sat down with Leslie. He put his arm around her, pulling Leslie closer. She felt so nice to him. They turned and looked into each other’s eyes. It was a wonderful moment. Feeling great and seeing the refection of the big campfire in each other’s eyes. Bobby softly stroked his hand across Leslie’s warm, soft cheek. She slowly caressed his hand and kissed it warmly. With her other hand, Leslie gently pulled his face to hers. They kissed one another in the most loving way they ever had to this point. This was a moment that neither would ever forget. Although they said no words, they communicated their feelings in the plainest, yet most simple way possible. “W..we..ll, ain’t you two made foorrr ea,,each other?” came that aggravating voice again. Leslie sighed and felt a pain in the pit of her stomach. Oh no, she thought. Bobby knew the voice all too well. And he knew the voice when it was drunk too. He slowly rose and turned to face Musher. The look on Bobby’s indicated that he was more than disgusted with his cousin. “Mush, why don’t you just move along? I think that would be best.” “I’ll mm .. move along when I’mmm ready to.” Musher replied. “I’mm still tryin to figurre out what you see with dis bitch anyway.” “I told you once and I’m not going to tell you again, quit calling her a bitch!” “Well .. wha .. whae’er you wanna call her, I know somethin’ bout her that you don’t” “Whatever.” “Besides … th.thought she was pi ..pissed at you ‘bout that hooker.” Bobby gritted his teeth, he glanced over at Tina. The worried look on her face was begging him not to let the cat out of the bag. Musher still didn’t know that Bobby knew he’d hired the hooker. “She was pissed at me, but she was kind enough to forgive me.” Tina mouthed a relieved ‘thank you’ toward Bobby. He nodded. By this time, more curious people had started to gather around. Maybe they’d see a fight! “Ha ha ha … hee-hee,” Musher started laughing. “What’s so damn funny?” Bobby demanded. “You du..dumb shit. You don’ even kkknow, do you?” “Know what?!” “Your L ..Leslie is a freakin ORPHAN! She gr.grew up in an.an orphanage!!” “What?” “B..bet you didn’t know, ddid ya? … ha ha .. hee-hee … leave it to ol’ Mu.Mush to look adder you.” Bobby turned to see a concerned Leslie staring back at him, “Is this true?” She looked at him, tears began to flow down her cheeks, she tried to speak and couldn’t. Finally she slowly nodded and whispered, “yes.” Leslie then darted past him, and said “yes” again, much louder this time as her voice was breaking. Holly walked up to Musher, looked him in the eye and warned, “You bastard, if you’re here when I get back, I swear to God I’ll slap those teeth down your throat!” Holly then ran after Leslie. Bobby stared back at Musher and then down at the ground – his mind trying to process the last few minutes.


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