I nodded in agreement. "Giuseppe doesn't need to know about this, not yet."
Turning to Dylan, Courtney instructed, “Call him back and tell him we're still at the ranch, for all you know."
Dylan nodded, understanding the importance of the lie. We had a common goal, and for now, that meant withholding the truth from Giuseppe. The call had injected a shot of reality into our evening, reminding us of the seriousness of our situation. But we were in it together, ready to face whatever came next.
Later, as we sat around eating burgers and fries, cheering for our teams during the football game, I took a moment to appreciate the normalcy of it all. Looking at Courtney, her eyes alight with laughter, a surge of warmth coursed through me. As the laughter from Jenna's antics subsided, I glanced at my watch and stifled a yawn. It was late, and we all needed rest.
"I think it's about time we hit the hay," I suggested, getting up and stretching my arms. “Tomorrow’s Monday. You never know what Mondays are going to bring.”
Courtney nodded, adding, "And we all need to stay focused."
Jenna and Dylan exchanged a look, their humor fading as they noticed our serious faces. Finally, they agreed, and we all began to tidy up the remnants of our late-night feast.
With a plan of action settled for the moment, we each retreated to our respective areas. Jenna and Courtney disappeared into their bedrooms while Dylan and I prepared to make do with the available couches in the common area. The arrangement was far from perfect, but it would suffice. We were in uncharted territory, and comfort was the least of our worries.
Courtney's voice stopped me as I was about to settle onto the couch. She stood at the doorway of her room with a determined look.
"Brad, could you... join me for a moment?" she asked. Her tone was hesitant, but the resolve in her eyes had me on my feet immediately.
Inside her room, she motioned for me to take a seat. She began pacing, her hands wringing together in a nervous gesture. "I can't sleep," she admitted. "We lied to Giuseppe, and it... it just doesn't sit right with me."
I nodded, understanding her unease. We had made a decision in the spur of the moment, under pressure, but now we had to live with the consequences. And they could be severe. If Giuseppe found out we deceived him, he might not trust us again.
We grappled with our options, considering the potential repercussions of our actions. After a lengthy discussion, we agreed to keep our secret for now for the safety of everyone involved. But the guilt was a bitter pill to swallow.
Before returning to her bed, Courtney turned to me, her eyes pleading. "Brad... please stay," she murmured.
"Of course, Court," I responded softly, agreeing to her request. I moved to close the bedroom door, catching a glimpse of Dylan heading into Jenna's room. A chuckle escaped my lips. College memories flooded back, but the circumstances were starkly different.
But as I settled in, the quiet camaraderie of the moment gave me an unexpected sense of peace. As I turned off the bedside lamp, I found Courtney pulling her nightshirt over her head, and we both snuggled up under the covers.
Bundling upagainst the Wyoming wind, I couldn't help but shiver. Winter's arrival was evident in the crisp fall air, the leaves crunching beneath my boots. "Feels like winter's just about ready to kick the door in," I exclaimed, pulling my scarf tighter.
Brad chuckled, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me closer to share his warmth. "Guess we're not in San Diego anymore, huh?"
His remark brought a smile to my lips, even as it tugged at the ache in my heart. As if on cue, another gust billowed across the campus, carrying away the last remnants of summer. I shuddered, the realization of the change echoing the chill in my bones.
"Guess not," I replied, looking up at Brad's face. I could see my own apprehension mirrored in his gaze. I drew in a breath, ready to voice my fears, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a reminder that my design class started in an hour.
"Come on," Brad said, nudging me forward. "You've got a class to attend."
And so, we trudged on, my mind whirling with a thousand thoughts, none of them about the design principles I was supposed to be learning that day.
Brad met my gaze, his eyes filled with concern. "I think it's best if we find an apartment off-campus," Brad proposed as we walked side by side toward the lecture hall.
"Why?" I asked, even though I already had a hunch about his reasons.
It made sense, especially with the stakes so high, but the thought of more upheaval was disheartening. And yet, I knew he was right. "Fine," I conceded, my tone resigned. "You look for an apartment while I'm in class."
Brad squeezed my hand reassuringly, and despite the dread filling my gut, I managed a small smile.
"Good," Brad replied, pulling me into a quick hug. "I'll pick you up after your last class. Let's grab some breakfast before you have to go."
Our destination was the Campus Common. It was always teeming this time of day with early risers. I glanced at Brad as we got in line for food. He had a determined set to his jaw, his brows slightly furrowed. Seeing him like this, so committed and steadfast, made me feel a little better. And that was enough to quell my unease — at least for now.