“Get your gorgeous ass in here and give me a hug.” Greta slammed the door open with her foot and jumped into my arms. She smelled the same as she had done in high school—floral and sweet. God, I had missed the hell out of my girl. She’d always been a violent hugger and the tradition continued. My lungs were gasping for air by the time she let go.
“Sorry I’m late.” I lugged the suitcase into the apartment and grinned at her motherly expression.
“Unless the reason is some hot guy or some awesome story, then I’ll remained pissed at you for another two minutes. I got afraid—”
“That I backed out? Me?” I held up my hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t back out of our pact from ten years ago. I wouldn’t dare.”
“Glad you learned something from your year off,” she mumbled loud enough for me to hear. We both had a mutual hatred of the deal my parents had forced me to accept and I understood her anger disguised the worry about this not happening. We’d dreamed about living together since we’d become best friends in fifth grade—when two kids get caught cheating on a math test, it forms a bond that’s hard to break.
“I learned, like, two things,” I replied to her comment and she skipped to my bedroom for the next year. “This is my room?”
“Yes!” she cheered. I’d expected the room to be small and I gasped when I saw a dresser, a built-in desk and a twin bed. “Wait here, I have a present for you.”
I obeyed her command and set my cases on the floor. I could fit every piece of clothing I owned in the closet, and maybe a little more. It could even serve as an extra bedroom if needed. I’d lived in my childhood home my entire life. The last year…it had been hell taking a year off to prove to my dad I could make it on my own. Pure hell. But I’d made it and it pleased me to be on my own for the first time.
“Here. I bought it for you.” She waltzed back into the bedroom with a package wrapped in sparkly paper. Greta would buy sparkly paper. “It’s nothing big, just a welcome present.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything, Greta. Come on.” I frowned at the gift, damn well knowing her kindness knew no bounds. She shoved it into my hands, despite my reluctance. “Fine.”
I opened it up to find the very first picture of the two of us, taken when we’d been in our band in high school. I met her eyes and we shared a smile. “Good lord. Why did we name ourselves the Crazy Gals again?”
“Because our names start with C and G. Obviously that made sense when we were fourteen.”
“I regret the name choice, but still dig the outfits.” Closing my eyes in shame, I swallowed down the memory of gaucho pants, clogs and popped-collared shirts.
She shuddered. “Oh, lord. Not me. I regret the outfit, not the name.” Greta’s legs had more style than I had in my entire body. She’d won best dressed in high school. Even now, she wore a trendy sundress with a hat while I was wearing ripped jean shorts and a vintage band tank top. “I have another gift for you, but you cannot get mad.”
“That’s a great opener. No promises, G.”
“It’s kind of small.” She bit her lip and pulled out something from her pocket. What the hell? Sundresses have pockets? A shadow of apprehension crossed her face and I worried what the fuck she’d gotten me.
I took the sticker from her hand, already planning where to put it. “I freaking love it.”
“I know you really don’t play in bands anymore, but you still have the same case.” She motioned her head to the guitar case I’d set down earlier.
“Of course I do.” I collected stickers from everywhere I went or from any large moment in my life. I peeled back the paper and placed the new college sticker on the front of the case, right in the center. Big. Freaking. Deal. “Thanks, Greta.”
“Phew. I’m super happy you love it. I’d been nervous, like, what if you hated it and used your guitar to beat me senseless? Or, what if you assumed we were getting back in business?”
“Greta. Am I crazy?”
“I’ve seen you punch two girls in the face. At the same time, I might add.” She bit back a grin and pointed down the narrow hallway. “Kitchen is down the hall to the right. I already know your first question.”
“Obviously.” I eyed the tile and large counters, sighing in pleasure. They were perfect. “Those girls deserved it, though. Sure, we were in a mosh pit, but they pushed a girl in a cast.” I smiled at the memory.
“Your smile alone is why you’re crazy.”
I flipped her off and she closed the distance between us with open arms. “I’m damn glad you’re going to be my roomie. I’m proud of you. You beat your dad at his own game and I love you more because of that.”
“Love you, too. Now, that’s enough affection. I need to paint my room black or something.” I blinked away the emotions that bubbled up. Those words, coming from her, meant much more than she might ever realize.
“This is going to be hella fun!” she squealed and squished me for another hug.
* * * *
A couple of hours later, I’d gotten my room set up with all my favorite band posters, some twinkle lights that gave the place a nice touch and the oldest, goofiest picture of Greta and me from third grade. The temperature had changed from pleasant to hot as hell and damn, I must have stunk. Thank god I had my own bathroom to hit the shower whenever the hell I felt like. I loved Greta to death, but as an only child, I’d never had to share. I refused to start now. As I belted out the words to Smells like Teen Spirit, waves of happiness flowed through me. I’d worked pretty damn hard, saving money to be at my dream university. Dad and his crazy take-it-or-leave-it deal. ‘Prove you can make it on your own—pay for your own school. You’ll never survive on your own.’
My parents had attachment issues—understandably, as I was their only daughter. But more, they didn’t think of me as college material. I hadn’t gotten straight As. I’d done okay in school, but my focus had always been sports. I scoffed. Huh, odd, isn’t it? My dad’s been a baseball coach his whole damn life, yet I’ve gotta choose a different career path.
Not caring that I still wore a tiny robe, I shuffled into the kitchen to grab a drink before making a list of class materials. We had two full weeks of chilling until classes started and I intended to take total advantage of every free minute, but I needed to get settled in and figure out where the hell the Bookstore was, because I wanted good grades. I needed it more than the average person because, if I could pull off straight As, my parents planned to help me out with payments. Thanks a lot, Dad. For your unfair twofer deal of proving myself to get here and also making me do it again.
“Hey, G?” I hopped up onto the bar stool and flipped through the magazine on the counter. I never read any gossip mags and it didn’t pique my interest, but I saw something about Blink 182. That definitely caught my eye. “Get your tiny ass out here and have a drink with me.”
No response. I took a large swig of water and bent over the magazine. I was reading about the latest tour schedule when someone cleared their throat and I glanced up to find two pairs of eyes staring at me. My heart kicked up, shooting adrenaline down my body. I held the bottle tighter, in case I had to use it as a weapon. I glanced back and forth between them, hoping to figure out who these guys were and what they hell they were doing there. “Neither of you is Greta.”
“G? I like that.” The shorter one with perfect teeth smiled at me as he rubbed his jaw. I’d never seen such a large forearm before. Like, the size of my leg. He could have killed me with one punch. Before thoughts of getting robbed or murdered overtook my brain, he held out his hand. “You must be Callie.”
“Maybe.” I stood and backed up a couple of steps, ignoring his hand. The taller one stared at me with intense blue eyes. Or maybe they were green. I couldn’t tell and should not have been thinking about his eye color when two strange yet attractive guys were in my apartment. “Don’t make me throw a bottle at you.”
The tall one’s lip quirked so quickly that I almost didn’t catch it. I clenched the bottle tighter as the shorter one introduced himself. “I’m Aaron. This is Tanner. Sorry if we scared you.”
“Cool.” If they were robbing me, they were kind about it at least. “Forgive me for being rude, but why are you here? I don’t really have money if you’re burgling me.”
“Shit.” Aaron shared a look with Tanner before smiling. “We’re friends of Greta and we usually walk in. We heard you were moving in over the weekend and we wanted to meet you or see if you needed help.”
His smiled appeared nice and safe, but I’d never heard of an Aaron or Tanner before and I knew of most of her friends. “Listen, guys, I have no idea who you are and G’s my best friend, but if you’re messing with me, you win. You should go.”
“We’ll leave, but you and Greta should start a band up again. Your voice is pretty good.”
I blushed, wanting them to leave that second. Great first impression, idiot. These strangers heard me singing in the shower and know how much of a dork I am.
“Johnson! Hilly!” Greta’s voice carried from the hallway and I smacked a hand to my forehead. Damn. I knew of Johnson and Hilly, Greta’s baseball friends. “I see you met my best friend for life.” She handed a chocolate cupcake to me and I moaned in pleasure. “Isn’t she hot?”
“Greta. Jesus.” I choked on the dessert at her question.
Aaron laughed and nodded. “She lived up to every expectation I had. Although, is she normally violent? She threatened to throw a bottle at us.”
“Hell, yeah, she is. She’s gotten into fist fights a couple of times. She always wins, too.” Greta put her arm around me. “That’s why I love her.”
“Shit. Don’t tell them that. I’m not that bad.” I set the bottle down on the counter. “I just definitely assumed these two were going to rob or kill me.”
“Please. They’re harmless.” Greta ignored them as they flipped her the bird.
“Do they have keys? Should I be worried about them trying on my clothes or something?”
“Hell no. I love them but not that much.”
Relief filled my chest but I didn’t express it out loud. “I’m sorry I thought you were bad guys. I’ve heard a lot about you. Nice to meet you.”
“You as well.” I eyeballed Tanner and smiled at the pair. They were both way too good-looking so I had no idea how Greta remained just friends with them.
“You realize you were in the shower and if we were good robbers, we would’ve taken every penny you had and slipped out without you knowing?”
“Great point. Okay, he has brains and looks. I’m surprised.” I totally checked Tanner out and he ate it up. Flirts I could deal with. The younger kids in my classes worried me. I hated feeling insecure, and already being a year behind put me at a disadvantage. “I only knew of you guys as Johnson and Hilly. I never guessed last names…” I stopped talking. Tanner’s eyes had dropped to my chest. I forgot I was wearing only a robe and it had come undone, revealing a sliver of skin all the way down my body. I quickly tugged at the hem and pulled it together. “I make really good first impressions, if you couldn’t tell.”
Greta chuckled and opened up a beer for herself. Her parents were the cool ones, always buying drinks for her in the summer. Mine, not so much. Tanner continued grinning at me. “I’d say I’m going to remember our meeting…your robe forever etched into my mind.”
I put my face in my hands and laughed. “I’ll be right back. I don’t want to embarrass myself even more.” I threw on the same cut-off shorts and a different band tank top before heading back out there. I rarely wore makeup or did my hair, making my prep time less than five minutes. Greta drove me crazy with her hour-long routine. But to each their own. I came out to see them in the same position reenacting something that had happened the weekend before.
“So you two are the baseball players, right?”
“Well I’m also an Aries and charming as hell, but yes.” Aaron hopped onto the counter and pointed to Tanner. “This guy is totally a Virgo. Shy, cranky and modest.”
“Dude. Not the sign thing again.” Tanner rolled his eyes and sipped his beer. “The latest chick he’s been hooking up with is into astrological signs. It’s all he’s been talking about lately. She’s nuts, meaning he is also nuts.”
“She’s not nuts. She’s curvy in all the right places and her mouth…damn.” Aaron closed his eyes and shook his head as if freeing it of a memory. “But the stars shit is super interesting.”
I stared at Greta and she closed her eyes with a slight stiffening of her shoulders. Hmm. We needed to talk about that later. “I forgot to mention that Aaron here is the biggest flirt on campus. He’ll try to get in your pants at least twice every time he sees you.”
“Greta. Rude.” He gave a sly smile. “It’s more like three times.”
“Great.” I almost choked on my water at their banter. Tanner talked more the longer we hung out and I could see why Greta liked them. They clearly cared for her.
“Now, let me guess what you are. I’ve been reading about astrology and shit.” Aaron stared at me and went up and down my body, but not in a creepy way.
I stood still with my arms crossed until I’d had enough. “Oh, lord. Come on. You will not guess this.”
“I think I can. Give me a minute.”
Tanner shook his head and focused on Greta. “You coming by tonight?”
“Depends. What’s the occasion?” she answered, her tone rising in interest.
“It can’t just be wanting to hang out with us?”
“Eh. You’re already here.” Greta shrugged at me. “Sometimes they throw awesome parties at their house. Other times it’s a slut-infested orgy.”
“Gross.” I scrunched my nose at the thought. “The picture I have in my head of them now is not a good one.”
“It’s probably just like that,” Tanner admitted.
“Legs and asses everywhere. With beer pouring from the ceiling.”
“What the hell? What do you watch, because that sounds like a porn?” Tanner asked.
I laughed and met Greta’s eye. We communicated without words—she wanted to go but didn’t want to make it easy. “I don’t watch porn. At least nothing like that. Legs. Legs and hairy asses everywhere.”
“Sagittarius!” Aaron yelled, causing all three of us to jump. “Sorry, but I figured it out. You’re a Sagittarius. When is your birthday? Greta, when is her birthday?”
Her eyes widened and she put her hand over her mouth. Hell, if he hadn’t gotten it right. He spun to face me, a shit-eating grin on his face. “I fucking knew it. I’m awesome.”
“How in the hell?”
“You’re a wanderer and I know you like to camp.” He paused and pointed at Greta. “She told me. I’m not that fucking creepy. You love being outside and you appear to be athletic. You’re also straightforward and honest.”
I stood with my mouth open at his snap judgment. His correct assessment startled me, what with me never having had anyone read me within minutes before.
“Since I’m clearly right, you both better stop by tonight. It’s going to be awesome.”
“Sure, sure. Bye, Aaron. Way to freak us both out.” Greta indicated the door with narrowed eyes.
Tanner just shook his head and smiled at me as he walked by. “See you around, Callie.”
Aaron walked out with a huge, obnoxious grin but then popped his head around the door and indicated the fridge. “Okay, I don’t want you thinking I’m super fucking weird. I saw the picture on the fridge from your birthday. I read the date. See you tonight. Bye.”
Greta threw the magazine at him and shut the door. “Freaking Aaron. So, you want to go? Hot baseball players and free drinks?”
“I have to run some errands, but after that, why the hell not?”