Yeah, he’s certainly going to be a politician one day.
“No, s-sorry,” I stammer, not meeting his eyes.
When class starts, I avoid looking at him and instead focus on taking notes, reading over the syllabus repeatedly, and looking at my map of the campus until class is dismissed.
My next class, art history, is much better. I feel more comfortable surrounded by a casual crowd of art students. A boy with blue hair sits next to me and introduces himself as Michael. As the teacher has us all go around and introduce ourselves, I find that I’m the only English major in the room. But everyone is friendly, and Michael has quite a sense of humor, making jokes throughout class and keeping everyone entertained, including our instructor.
Creative writing is last, and most certainly the most enjoyable. I’m lost in the process of writing down my thoughts on paper, and it’s freeing, entertaining, and I love it. When my professor releases us, it feels as if only ten minutes have passed.
The rest of my week comes and goes in this fashion. I oscillate between feeling like I’m finding my way around more easily and thinking I’m just as confused as ever. But most of all, I feel as if I’m constantly waiting for something that never comes.
BY THE TIME Friday evening arrives, I’m exhausted and my entire body is tense. This week has been challenging, both in good ways and bad. I miss the familiarity of the old campus and having Landon there with me. I miss Hardin meeting me between classes, and I even miss Zed and the glowing flowers that fill the environmental studies building.
Zed. I haven’t spoken to him once since he rescued me from Steph and Dan at the party and drove me all the way to my mother’s house. He saved me from being thoroughly violated and humiliated, and I haven’t even thanked him. I put down my political science textbook and reach for my phone.
“Hello?” Zed’s voice sounds so foreign, despite the fact that it’s been no more than a week since I’ve heard it.
“Zed? Hi, it’s Tessa.” I chew on the inside of my cheek and wait for his response.
I take a deep breath and know that I have to say what I called to say. “Listen, I’m so sorry for not calling you to thank you sooner. Everything has happened so fast this week, and I think part of me was trying not to think about what happened. And I know that’s not a good excuse . . . so, I’m a jerk, and I’m sorry, and—” The words are rushing out of my mouth so quickly I can barely process what I’m saying, but he interrupts me before I finish.
“It’s all right, I know you had a lot going on.”
“I still should have called you, especially after what you did for me. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that you were at that party,” I say, desperate for him to understand how much gratitude I feel toward him. I shiver at the recollection of Dan’s fingertips trailing up my thigh. “If you hadn’t shown up, God only knows what they would’ve done to me . . .”
“Hey,” he says to silence me, but gently. “I stopped them before anything could happen, Tessa. Try not to think about it. And you definitely don’t have to thank me for anything.”
“But I do! And I can’t help how much it hurts me that Steph would do what she did. I never did anything to hurt her, or any of you—”
“Please don’t include me with them,” Zed says, clearly a little insulted.
“No, no, I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean to say that you were involved. I just meant your group of friends.” I apologize for the way my mouth has been moving before my mind has approved the words.
“?’S’okay,” he mumbles. “Anyway, we aren’t much of a group anymore. Tristan is leaving for New Orleans early—in a few days, actually—and I haven’t seen Steph on campus all week.”
“Oh . . .” I pause and look around this room I’m staying in, in this massive, somewhat alien house. “Zed, I’m also sorry for accusing you of texting me from Hardin’s phone. Steph admitted that it was her during the . . . Dan incident.” I smile, to try and counteract the shiver that person’s name induces.
He lets out a little breath that might also be a chuckle. “I have to admit, I did appear to be the most likely candidate to have done that,” he replies sweetly. “So . . . how’s everything?”
“Seattle is . . . different,” I say.
“You’re there? I thought maybe since Hardin was at your mom’s house—”
“No, I’m here.” I interrupt him before he can tell me how he, too, expected me to stay for Hardin.
“Have you made any new friends?”
“What do you think?” I smile and reach across the bed to grab my half-empty glass of water.
“You will soon.” He laughs, and I join him.
“I doubt it.” I think of the two women who were gossiping in the break room at Vance. Each time I saw them this week, they seemed to be laughing to themselves, and I can’t help but think they were laughing at me. “I really am sorry it took me so long to call.”
“Tessa, it’s okay—stop apologizing. You do that too much.”
“Sorry,” I say and lightly smack my palm against my forehead. Both that waiter, Robert, and Zed have said that I apologize too much. Maybe they’re right.
“Do you think you’ll come visit anytime soon? Or are we still . . . not able to be friends?” he asks softly.
“We can be friends,” I remark. “But I have no clue when I’ll be able to come visit.” Truthfully, I’d been wanting to go back home this weekend. I miss Hardin and the traffic-less streets further east.