Thursday 14 July 2016

All-Nighters Chapters 1 - 3



Chapter 1
The small King Air plane was darting through the sky, the sound of the engine a mixture between a muffled scream and a dinosaur’s roar. Luke Brennan sat inside, his palms sweaty but his breathing surprisingly steady. His ice-blue eyes were scanning the clouds through the goggles he wore, and he repeated his mantra in his head: The thrill lets you know that you’re alive. His eyebrows were stuck in a frown on his forehead, and his vision was slightly blurry in the rush of adrenaline. He felt like he was drowning in all of the safety gear and equipment, but he forced himself to focus on the mantra: The thrill lets you know that you’re alive.
“Don’t look so scared, Luke! We’ve done a lot worse than this before!” the strained voice of his friend Blair was barely audible over the rumble of the engine. Blair’s long hair was tied back into a ponytail and her expression was one of complete calm. Somehow, Blair’s total immunity against fear was always calming for Luke, and he was glad that he had his friend along for his first time skydiving.
Luke turned to face Blair again, and let out a loud, wolf-like howl which she dutifully joined in on. They laughed raucously and looked over at the skydiving instructor who would be joining them on the dive. He gave them a thumbs up with the broadest smile Luke had ever seen. Luke wasn’t sure who the man was trying to convince. Despite the regular flutter in his stomach that Luke encountered when he went on these crazy adventures, he was never really scared anymore. He hadn’t been scared of anything in over a year… Since then, he had gone white-water rafting, parasailing, rock climbing and deep-sea diving. His friends often admired his wild, thrill-seeking nature. The only person who could keep up with him was Blair, and that’s why she was sitting next to him on his biggest adventure yet: skydiving over the Ridgemont Valley.
Luke took a deep breath, and as he exhaled he felt the entire plane take a dip through the sky. His heart stopped and his stomach felt like it was being yanked out through his throat. Blair grabbed his shoulder as the plane dipped forward and immediately pulled up, throwing them both off balance. Luke wanted to let out a frightened holler, but he tried to hold it together in front of Blair. As the plane steadied again, Luke saw that Blair was completely enjoying the moment, her large, expressive mouth breaking into a guttural laugh. Blair’s sharp features, prominent cheekbones and honey complexion made her very popular with men, and her infectious laughter and spirit for adventure were sure to get her attention wherever she went. Luke enjoyed being around attractive, confident people, especially those who seemed like they didn’t give a damn about what people thought of them. He admired Blair’s features for a moment and joined in her laughter. “That was a close one,” he shouted above the sound of the engine. He turned his pale blue eyes towards the skydiving instructor whose smile had only grown. Was there something he wasn’t telling them? Luke shook away the thoughts of doom and gloom and enjoyed the moment. The thrill lets you know that you’re alive.
The curly-haired instructor walked over to them, still smiling his oafish smile, and patted Luke heavily on his shoulder. “Okay, time to fasten the parachutes. Make sure that you remember where the emergency cord is. I will be right there with you so you don’t need to worry about anything.”
Luke sharpened his gaze at the door, his plump, ample lips filling with blood from the cold of the wind rushing into their cabin. His lips had always been his most prominent feature, something that guys commented on when they were flirting with him. The full lips gave his face a feminine, earthy quality that contrasted with the cold blue eyes that might have been enough to scare people away. His sharp jawline and jet-black Caesar cut hair always got him noticed when he walked into Percy’s Pub on campus or one of the other gay nightclubs in Cape Town. But the lips betrayed something more vulnerable, often flaring bright red in contrast to his pale skin. As he stood up from the seat in the small plane and walked towards the jump doors, his lips were redder than ever.
Blair fastened her skydiving goggles over her face and made sure that her parachute was secure. The instructor stood behind them as they moved closer to the doors. Luke could feel the chill draining all feeling form his cheeks, and the wind blowing through his hair in all directions. His jumpsuit was loose and heavy on his frame, and even though it was freezing cold, he could feel a light sweat on his chest. He saw the clouds and blue sky turn into the horizon as he walked towards the opening. Blair was in her zone, Luke noticed, her stare vacant as she walked beside him. She turned to him suddenly and said, “I heard a story about someone’s parachute that wouldn’t open on one of these dives. Splat!” She gave a mischievous smile and winked at Luke through her goggles, and he laughed half-heartedly in response.
“Here we go! We’re right above the landing zone! Are you ready?” the instructor hollered. Luke could finally bring himself to look down and appreciate the scene in front of him. There was a stunning landscape of green and gold as he looked down at the farmlands of the Ridgemont Valley. The area was famous for its wine farms, and the neat rows of vines below them offered a spectacular view. In the distance Luke could see the tall towers of Ridgemont University, where he was a final-year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology. He tried to take a mental picture of all of the beauty in front of him, and just as he was deep in thought savoring the magnificent sight, the instructor yelled out, “Jump!”
For a moment Luke felt complete weightlessness, like the world around him had shifted into the realm of nonreality. His head was completely clear; he didn’t even feel the cold anymore. Then, like being jerked down by a giant fist at his collar, he was falling through the sky. His mind raced uncontrollably, an exhilarating rush overcoming him. It felt as if his blood was pumping through his veins at ten times the normal rate. He felt that same feeling of being alive that he felt every time he went on one of his wild adventures. The same feeling he sometimes felt when he met a new guy at a bar. For a few minutes at least, he was invincible.
Luke tried to concentrate on the scene around him, seeing the ground approaching and feeling the push of air against his body as he fell. He could see Blair in the distance, her mouth wide open as though she were screaming euphorically, but he couldn’t hear her at all. The buildings looked like children’s toys on the horizon, and the roads around the Ridgemont Valley looked like the tiny trails of an anthill. Below him was the dazzling colors of the Ridgemont farms at autumn time. He wanted to take it all in and make the moment last.
But he couldn’t keep his mind on the moment. He had flashes of all of the things he was trying to forget. He remembered how he felt when he got the message from his sister Stephanie that morning, asking him to meet her. He remembered the anger he felt as he threw his phone across the room. He thought of how much pain he endured one year before, and how hard he was fighting to forget his past. Why did it creep up on him even in these moments of pure abandon? Luke closed his eyes tightly and felt lightheaded. He knew that it was almost time to pull the cord so that his parachute would open. He reached up and held his hand over the cord, regretting that the moment would soon be over. In the distance he could see the instructor moving towards him. Blair had already released her parachute and seemed to be shooting up into the sky as her parachute countered the force of her fall. Luke pulled the cord, and… nothing happened.
The parachute didn’t release. He suddenly felt his throat become dry and his eyes were filled with tears. His blood, just seconds before rushing wildly through his body, seemed to run cold. He tried pulling the cord again, but nothing happened. He fumbled around, reaching for the emergency cord, but for a second his thoughts were frozen and he felt calm descend over him. He hesitated. His grip on the emergency cord loosened and he focused his attention on the ground that was approaching rapidly. The thrill lets you know that you’re alive. For a brief moment, he remembered a loving image of his sister Stephanie.
Before Luke even knew what had happened, the instructor was behind him and had fastened himself to Luke’s safety harness. The instructor pulled his own cord and both of them were suddenly frozen in the sky as the parachute opened. Luke heard the instructor’s voice in his ear: “Struggling with your cord, eh? Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” Luke didn’t know what to make of his feelings. He smiled nonchalantly and whispered a “Thank you” which the instructor probably couldn’t hear. He looked around for Blair, who was well above him. He felt himself descend back into reality, seeing the ground approaching at what still felt like a rapid pace. The instructor’s body was pressed tightly against his back, making him feel smothered. Finally, they reached the ground and Luke and the instructor synchronized their movements to catch the force of the landing with their feet and roll on the ground. Luke took a moment to gather his thoughts and felt the instructor unfastening the harness which had kept them locked together. “It happens sometimes,” the instructor said. “People just freeze up there. You must’ve forgotten about the emergency cord. Luckily you have me to catch you.” The instructor gave a hearty smile and patted Luke on the shoulder.
“My cord was caught or something, and I was just about to pull the emergency cord. But thanks anyway,” Luke said, half-heartedly. He saw Blair land a few meters away and ran over to her, leaving the instructor to gather the parachute.
Blair shouted out to Luke once she found her feet: “I didn’t know my story on the plane would be a premonition! Didn’t you listen during our training, Luke?” Her voice was hoarse from the dive. She laughed her raucous laugh, her sharp features seeming almost unpleasant in the moment.
“I think our instructor was just being overcautious. I could handle myself,” Luke said, running his hands through his messy hair. His lips were bright red and he could feel heat returning to his body.
“Wasn’t that amazing, Luke?” Blair exclaimed, hugging him enthusiastically. “What a rush! We should definitely do it again. Only this time, get your ’chute double-checked beforehand.”
Luke was shaken from the whole experience. Why had he thought of his sister, the person who had betrayed him so callously, when he was hurtling through the sky? And why had he felt so calm when his parachute wouldn’t open? He decided that he didn’t want to think about any of it. Clearly, skydiving wasn’t for him, but there were other ways to get excitement and have fun in life.
“Why don’t we head out to Percy’s tonight to commemorate our first skydive? I can give Busi a call later to join us,” Luke said, forcing a smile.
“Sounds great! I’m in. You know I’m always up for a party. Maybe I’ll even ask our instructor to join. He’s kind of cute, don’t you think?” Blair winked. Luke felt his mind finally come back into his body. He walked towards the hangar where their bags were, noticing a car in the distance already heading out to get them, and tried to focus on the fun they would have at Percy’s Pub that night. He would flirt with the hottest guy there, and make sure that he didn’t have to think about Stephanie or any of the thoughts that flooded his mind during his dive. He looked over at the towers of Ridgemont University, determined to have fun.

Chapter 2

The air was rich with the smell of damp earth. The gentle rustle of the river could be heard in the distance. Jesse Montgomery felt contented, walking with his dog, a bearded collie named Scampers, through the Yvette Uys Nature Reserve, a few kilometres from Ridgemont University. Jesse lived on the edge of campus so that he could easily escape to the nature reserve and go up the mountain trail whenever he needed to. He loved the isolation and the time he spent with Scampers enjoying nature.
He wore his heavy blue windbreaker, the chill of autumn finally descending after a long, hot Summer. Jesse loved the cold weather; it was a great excuse to stay home with a good book rather than have to make excuses for why he didn’t want to go out. Besides, spending time with Scampers was so much more fun than suffering through the loud nightclubs with boisterous and brash Ridgemont students.
The hiking trail up Yvette Uys Mountain was lined with evergreen trees. Scampers ran ahead of Jesse, sniffing at each one. His long, black and white coat of fur was a bit damp from running through the gentle streams along the trail. Scampers would look back at Jesse from time to time to seek his approval and to make sure that he wasn’t getting too far ahead, and Jesse would smile and tell him: “You’re okay, Scamp. I’m right behind you.” Scampers was almost seven-years-old, and was a bit slower and less energetic than he had been in his younger days, but he still had an adventurous spirit and relished the walks Jesse would take him on. He had been a loyal companion to Jesse throughout high school and Jesse had taken him along when he got his own flat at Ridgemont. He was happy that he could have his dog with him; spending time with Scampers was often when Jesse was happiest.
Jesse pushed his medium-length, slightly curly dark-blond hair from his brow, his deep coffee brown eyes surveying the scenery. Jesse had full cheeks that gave him a boyish look, but his eyes showed a certain seriousness that counteracted his youthful features. His broad shoulders helped to make sure that people didn’t mistake him for a teenager; he had just turned twenty-one-years-old. He sometimes wished that he didn’t have such attractive features, that he could just disappear into the background, but his face had the innocent and friendly quality of making most people instantly trust him, and for that reason he often had a lot of unwanted interactions with strangers. Out on the hiking trail, he could be alone and enjoy his own thoughts. He had always been quiet and shy, and his slight stutter didn’t help matters, so being alone suited him perfectly.
Scampers suddenly rushed down the trail away from Jesse, barking furiously. Jesse ran after him, shouting his name and feeling his breathing quicken. Scampers was very obedient most of the time, but when he saw another dog he often couldn’t contain his excitement. Jesse finally caught up with him and found him sniffing a dachshund whose tail was wagging excitedly. “Scampers, come back here,” Jesse called out, but Scampers was too happy with his new friend to pay any attention to Jesse. Jesse took the leash out of his pocket and walked over to Scampers to fasten it to his harness, and noticed an older woman approaching him.
“Oh, I see your dog has taken a liking to my Daisy,” she smiled, her face lined and friendly. She had her greying hair tied into a ponytail, and looked like the type who loved the outdoors.
Jesse smiled back at her, and responded, “H-h-he seems to l-l-like her.” Jesse chastized himself silently. Couldn’t he have one normal interaction with a stranger without the damned stutter acting up?
The woman looked over at Scampers. “He’s a beauty,” she said. “I’ve always loved collies. The most loving and loyal dogs.”
Jesse smiled down at Scampers, who was sitting patiently at his side and watching the dachshund. “He means a lot to me, yes. We’ve walked a long road t-t-together.” Dammit, stutter!
The woman waved a goodbye and continued along the trail, and Jesse came up to where his car was parked. Scampers jumped into the passenger’s seat as Jesse opened the door, and they drove back to Jesse’s flat together. The sky was a clear blue but the air felt heavy and ominous, like it would rain in the near future. Jesse reflected on how much he loved the walks in the mountain. It was the perfect way to relax before test season really kicked into gear.
The car pulled up in the flat complex and Jesse could see a familiar red Jeep in the visitor’s parking next to his flat. He felt his stomach sink and shrugged his shoulders. “Looks like Phillip’s over for a visit again, Scamp,” Jesse said to the patient passenger sitting next to him. “Let’s just hope he’s not trying to get me to be a regular, outgoing student again.” Jesse knew that Phillip had good intentions, but his constant desire to get Jesse to be a social butterfly could be annoying at times.
Phillip sat in his Jeep looking at his phone, and gave a jovial smile when he noticed Jesse pulling up. He stepped out of his car and walked over to Jesse, waving his arms dramatically as he spoke: “I’ve been trying to call you. Where have you been? Luckily I haven’t been waiting too long, but you need to answer your phone, Jess. You can’t just disappear off the grid like that.” Jesse had been friends with Phillip since their first year at Ridgemont together. Jesse was attracted to Phillip’s confidence, since Jesse had always been too shy to make friends and Phillip came right up to him on their first day in Psychology class and started talking to him. Phillip hadn’t stopped talking since then.
Phillip walked across the parking area and gave Jesse a hug, his long, bony arms poking into Jesse’s side. Phillip was tall and lanky, with large, protruding ears and a prominent nose. His dark brown skin was accentuated with light make-up. Despite his oversized features, Phillip still managed to be handsome and charming, his bubbly personality making him instantly likable. His hair was perfectly quaffed with short sides, and his outfits were color-coordinated and styled to a T, making Jesse always feel underdressed around him. Jesse broke the hug and said, “I’m sorry, buddy, I was just out on a hike and left my phone at home.”
Phillip pursed his lips, barely looking at Jesse in his frantic haze. “Well, you can’t do that to me. Don’t you know how stressed out I am about test season? I haven’t been studying enough for Professor Ndlovu’s assignment. You know I’ll probably end up getting the most difficult topic when he announces them on Friday. I just wanted to come and get your notes so I can make sure I study everything beforehand. There won’t be enough time if I only start next week.” Phillip’s was practically cross-eyed from worry, and Jesse tugged at his arm so that Phillip followed him into his flat.
“You’re going to worry yourself into a tailspin, Phillip. Come inside and get a cup of tea and I’ll find my notes for you.” They stepped into the flat and Phillip settled on Jesse’s couch in the small one-bedroom flat, exhaling loudly.
“What would I do without you, Jess?” he beamed.
Jesse found his notes in his bedroom and gave them to Phillip. “You won’t have to find out. Don’t worry. Just make sure you have these notes back to me by Monday. I need to make sure I do well in this assignment. Professor Ndlovu has been a hard-ass with me all semester. He knows how much I want to get into graduate school so he’s really pushing me to do well.”
Phillip smiled: “Jesse, if there’s anyone who’s getting into the Clinical Psychology course, it’s you. Trust me. The rest of us are just clamoring to keep up and you’re miles ahead. You have nothing to worry about. You were born to be a psychologist.”
Jesse smiled contentedly. He walked to the small kitchen area to make some tea, and handed Scampers a treat from the cupboard. Jesse smiled at the dog who took the treat to his bed in the corner of the living room. Jesse’s full cheeks were rosy from the effort of the hike.
Phillip started reading through all of Jesse’s notes and looked up, his eyebrow raised. “These are excellent, Jesse. I’m understanding it better just from looking through your notes than I did when Professor Ndlovu explained it to us. You’re going to do so well in this course.” A look of concern suddenly flashed over Phillip’s face and he whispered to Jesse: “But aren’t you a bit concerned with doing the presentation as part of the final assignment for the course? Won’t you struggle with your stutter if you’re too nervous?”
Jesse felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. Phillip was a good friend, but he could be a bit insensitive at times, and bringing up Jesse’s stutter was sure to make him worry about it even more. “I’ll just have to push through. If I practise enough the stutter shouldn’t be that bad. And it’s a small class so I’m not too worried about being that nervous anyway,” Jesse lied. His stomach was in knots just thinking about it. Jesse had been studying for the assignment for weeks, and had even practised some possible topics for the presentation component, but each time he had tried to get through it he felt overcome with nerves and his stutter was out in full force.
“You know what,” Phillip started, “I just realized that this will be our last chance to have some fun before we have to start working non-stop on our assignments and studying for tests. Why don’t we go to Percy’s Pub tonight just for a short while? It will really help me to unwind, and I know you could use some fun in your life too. What do you say?”
Jesse frowned as he handed the cup of tea to Phillip. He pushed his blond hair out of his face, feeling flustered. He knew that this request would come up; Phillip was always up for a party. “You know it’s not really my scene, Phillip. It’s the last Wednesday before test season and it’ll be chaos in town. Why don’t we just stay here and watch a movie or something?”
“Come on, Jesse. You’re my best friend. I have no one to go out with and if I don’t have a little bit of fun tonight I’ll collapse from all of this stress. Just come out with me for a few hours. We can go and meet some cute boys, flirt a bit.”
Jesse’s face sank as he took a sip of coffee. His deep brown eyes were more serious than usual as he looked over at Phillip. “You know I’m not ready to date yet. I just don’t have it in me.”
Phillip responded dismissively, waving his arm above his head: “It’s been almost six months since the whole incident with Martin. Believe me, every guy isn’t like him. He was a dirty, cheating, lying dog, but there are some good guys out there. You can’t still be hung up on Martin after all this time.”
Jesse sat down on the couch across from Phillip, a shadow falling over his face. “You know it’s hard for me to let people in,” he said, his voice low. “I’m not ready to meet a guy right now.”
Phillip cocked his head from side to side: “Okay, we can just go and have fun. If you happen to meet a cute guy, that’s just a bonus, but come and be a young person for once in your life. And promise me you won’t think about Martin again. If I never see his face again it’ll be too soon!”
Phillip finished his coffee and took Jesse’s notes as he left. Jesse didn’t even remember agreeing to go out with him, but it seemed like he had been overruled again. He felt conflicted about what Phillip had said to him. He was keeping a secret from Phillip, the friend who had been so loyal to him throughout their time at Ridgemont. He hated keeping things from Phillip, but Phillip made it quite clear how he felt about Martin.
Jesse walked to his room to take a shower and wash off the effects of the hike. He undressed and checked his phone. There was a text message from Martin. He opened it: I’m glad we decided to spend time together again. All of the nastiness is behind us now. I miss you, Jesse. M. xxx.
Jesse and Martin had been together for a year and a half, and Martin had made some mistakes, but he was a good guy. Jesse knew he was a good guy, deep down, no matter what other people thought of him. Everyone deserves a second chance, he thought. Besides, you can’t invest so much into a relationship just to give up. Jesse knew that he couldn’t tell Phillip that he was considering dating Martin again until he was sure that it was something real. In the meanwhile, he just needed to go out and pretend like everything was okay.

Chapter 3

Percy’s Pub was brimming with students enjoying the last week before test season officially started. The entrance of the pub had a small step towards a terrace, where groups of young people were surrounding tables with pizzas and tall glasses of beer. Girls with elaborate hairstyles were sipping cocktails and watching guys walk through the door. Guys were flirting relentlessly and smelled of too much Axe deodorant. It was a typical crazy Ridgemont Wednesday night.
Jesse was feeling apprehensive, but had decided that the only way he could appease Phillip was to go out for an hour. He would feign some or other illness later in the evening, he reasoned, and he could escape to his flat. He walked through the swelling crowd at the entrance into the dim, smoky interior of Percy’s. There were people everywhere; all of the seats were filled with loud, excited groups, cackling and counting down until they all took shots together. The dancefloor had students stacked like sardines, waving their arms around idiotically. Jesse bit his lip and stood against a wall.
“Isn’t this great?” Phillip asked, wearing a tight brown jacket and a blue shirt that accentuated his slender frame. His hair was gelled into place, glistening in the multi-colored lights from the dancefloor.
“It’s okay,” Jesse managed to offer. He had pushed back his blond hair and straightened out all of the curls as best he could, and he wore a tight striped red t-shirt that showed off his large chest and shoulders. He had been doing pushups since Martin told him he was too skinny.
“Cheer up, Jess,” Phillip said, nudging Jesse with his shoulder. “Look, those people are leaving over there. Go claim the table for us and I’ll get us a drink.”
Jesse sauntered over in his too-tight pants. His eyes darted around, not wanting to see anyone he knew. He waved awkwardly at the group of people leaving their table, and the two girls giggled at him as they left. Jesse sat down in the corner of the booth and tried to remain inconspicuous.
He watched Phillip over at the bar. Phillip was in his element. He was a born socialite, able to talk to anyone like they were the best of friends. He was flirting with the bartender, running his fingers over the bar suggestively. Jesse shook his head and rolled his eyes. For all of Phillip’s flirting, he had been very unlucky in love. He always seemed a bit jealous of Jesse’s relationship with Martin, and Jesse suspected that Phillip secretly enjoyed the fact that Martin had left Jesse for someone else. He shook away the thoughts; Phillip was a good friend to him, and he had been there to support Jesse after Martin dumped him. There was no reason to doubt his loyalty.
A loud cheer came from close to the dancefloor, and Jesse turned to see what all of the commotion was about, furrowing his brow to glance through all of the smoke. There were three people dancing on a table, two guys and a girl. One of the guys was strikingly handsome, his pale blue eyes visible even in the half-light. He had jet-black hair and a mouth that looked incredibly kissable, with thick, luscious lips that he pouted for effect. There was something about the way the guy carried himself that was at once alluring and off-putting. He seemed incredibly arrogant, dancing with his two attractive friends and throwing his shoulders and head from side to side. His shirt was undone down to below his chest, exposing fine, masculine hairs. He wore a pair of tight black jeans and a belt with a large buckle over his flat stomach. As he danced, a chorus of people around the table were cheering him on, and even the bartenders and bouncers didn’t seem to care that he was doing something that was surely against the rules. Jesse stared at him, entranced. He could never be that confident. He would never be comfortable with so many eyes on him.
Phillip came back to the table and said: “We know him! He’s in our Psych class with Prof. Ndlovu, right? Luke… something. He looks so much hotter tonight than he ever does in class!”
Phillip was right. Jesse had noticed Luke before in some of his classes, and this semester they were sharing Psychology. Who wouldn’t notice those handsome features? Luke was always speaking with an affected tone and posh accent in class. He was never afraid to speak up, even if he gave the wrong answer. He was exactly the type of person that Jesse avoided at all costs.
“He’s not that hot,” Jesse lied. “Looks arrogant to me.”
“You must be ill or something because you’re speaking complete nonsense,” Phillip said, and put his hand theatrically on Jesse’s forehead. “You are feeling a bit warm. You might be having hallucinations. You have to be if you don’t think that Luke is the hottest guy in here tonight.” Jesse knew that Phillip was right, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he was attracted to someone so confident. Martin was confident too, and look where that had led.
Jesse’s phone suddenly vibrated and he checked to see who it was. Speak of the devil, he thought. Martin had left him another message: I’m thinking of you, handsome. In a year and a half of them dating Martin had never been this attentive to Jesse. Jesse wanted to take it as a sign that Martin had changed, but he was being cautious. He couldn’t allow himself to be taken for a fool again. He looked up to where Luke and his friends were dancing, and saw that Luke was staring directly at him!
Luke wouldn’t break his stare, and gave a small, flirtatious smile with his full lips, raising his eyebrow. Jesse tried to look away, but he could feel Luke’s eyes boring into the side of his face.
Phillip squealed excitedly: “He’s looking at you! What are you going to do? This can’t be happening!”
Jesse looked down at the glass of beer in front of him. “I’m not going to do anything, okay? In fact, I’m feeling a bit weird tonight. Might be a stomach bug…”
“Oh no you don’t!” Phillip exclaimed. “It’s hardly been fifteen minutes and you usually give me at least an hour. You’re staying right where you are!”
Jesse sighed and turned to look at the table where Luke and his friends had been. The chanting had died down. They were not dancing on the table anymore, and Jesse scanned the room to spot them.
“Looking for me?” he heard from right behind his line of sight. There, smiling at him with his eyebrow still raised, was Luke.
Jesse almost jumped out of his skin. He didn’t know what to say, and just stared at Luke dumbfounded. Phillip jumped up and reached out his hand to greet Luke. “I’m Phillip and this is my friend Jesse,” he shouted excitedly. “I need to go and get another drink,” he added, pushing his half-full beer to the side of the table. “Do you mind keeping Jesse company while I go to the bar?”
Luke shook Phillip’s hand and continued to smile at Jesse. “Not at all, Phillip. I’d be happy to spend some time with Jesse.”
Phillip rushed off and left Jesse alone with Luke. Jesse swallowed hard, hoping that his voice wouldn’t betray him. He felt his eyes start to water and his round cheeks were flushed. He wanted to shout at Phillip for leaving him alone with a strange guy, but he calmed himself down by doing his counting exercises. They always seemed to help him when he became panicked.
“I’m Luke Brennan. You’re in my Psychology class, right?” Luke said, sitting down and taking a swig of Phillip’s beer. Jesse winced at the sight, but decided to do his best to ignore it.
“J-J-Jesse M-M-M-M-Montgomery,” Jesse said, and reached out his hand. He wanted to punch himself in the gut.
“Well, Jesse, I’ve noticed you around in class. You’ve got beautiful brown eyes that I couldn’t miss,” Luke said, seeming not to miss a beat at all. He must have had a lot of practice with picking up guys, Jesse thought.
“Thank you,” Jesse said, and looked away. He felt his heartbeat accelerating. He could hear it clearly in his own ears, and was worried that Luke would see how nervous he was.
Luke stood up and walked over to Jesse’s side of the table, sitting down next to him. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said, and put his arm over the back of the seat behind Jesse’s back. “I just can’t hear you too clearly from all the way over there.”
From up close Luke’s eyes were incredible. They seemed to pierce right through Jesse’s defenses, and Jesse could clearly see why every guy was so taken with him. There was something magnetic about Luke, and he could have his way with anyone he wanted. Jesse was determined not to let Luke get the better of him, although he could already feel himself shrinking in Luke’s presence. That type of cockiness is just too much to resist.
Jesse could feel the heat of Luke’s arm behind his back, electricity flowing between them. His shirt was slightly clammy from perspiration, and Luke’s scent was intermingling with his. For a moment, the entire room disappeared and it was only the two of them. Luke reached up to touch Jesse’s hair, pushing a curl behind his ear, and moved in close, his full, inviting lips only inches away from Jesse’s face. Jesse felt his phone vibrating again, but in that moment he didn’t care. He was under some sort of spell, and he was willing to completely capitulate to it.
The spell was broken by Phillip’s jovial squeal as he returned to the table. “Boys, I’m sorry to interrupt the precious moment here, but I just got the bartender’s number! I had to let you know as soon as possible, Jesse,” Phillip said, holding out a piece of paper with one too many digits on it.
Jesse came back to reality very quickly, realizing how foolish he was to almost make out with a guy in a club. He pulled away from Luke. “That’s great, Phillip. I’m glad the night is working out so well for you.”
Without a word Luke stood up and walked straight back to the dancefloor. He turned around when he got there and looked at Jesse again, full of the same confidence he had exuded before, and waved for Jesse to join him on the dancefloor. Jesse was confused, and he could feel his anxiety returning. He shook his head at Luke to indicate that he didn’t want to dance, and Luke gave a small frown before shrugging and finding his friends on the dancefloor.
“What are you doing?” Phillip demanded. “He clearly likes you! I only interrupted because I wanted to talk you through it all before you made a move. You can’t be moving too fast, you know?”
“You did me a favor. He’s nothing but a playboy. I don’t need a guy like him in my life.” Jesse buried himself in his drink. “Let’s get out of here, please.”
Phillip had a stern look on his face and cocked his head to the side, assuming the pose that he always took when he wanted to give Jesse serious advice. “Listen, Jesse, not every guy is like Martin. Not every guy is going to cheat on you. If you can’t open yourself up to something new, you’ll just end up in exactly the same place you’ve always been. I’m not saying that you should do anything stupid, but at least see where things go with this guy. Put yourself out there. The worst that can happen is he’s not the guy for you, or he’s not looking for anything serious, and either way you’ll have a fun night with a hot guy. I’m going to go over and talk to the bartender again and I expect you to go dance with Luke. Okay?”
Jesse reluctantly nodded, biting his lip. He watched Luke and his two friends dancing wildly and enjoying themselves. Phillip got up and walked back to the bar, and Jesse thought about his options. He stood up and his legs took charge. He ended up walking right out of the pub.
Jesse felt his head swirl with confusion and a heaviness descend on his shoulders. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. He pushed through the wild hordes of students at the exit and finally emerged into the cool autumn air. He took a deep breath in relief and stood watching the street in front of Percy’s Pub. He was disappointed in himself, but glad that he could get out of that place. Why couldn’t he just enjoy the company of an attractive guy like everyone else? Why did his anxiety make him such a klutz? The only guy who ever looked past those things was Martin. Even though Martin didn’t treat him that well, at least he understood that Jesse wasn’t very social and just wanted to spend his time quietly at home. Martin would often go out to bars and clubs without him, and that suited Jesse just fine. Jesse checked his phone and saw the message from Martin that he had ignored earlier: I hope you’re having a good night. Would love to talk to you soon. Jesse wanted to believe that Martin had changed. Martin was the safe, comfortable choice, and Jesse didn’t have time or patience for the drama of dating someone new. Especially not someone who could knock him off his feet the way Luke Brennan could.
Jesse began to walk into the night towards his car, tired and dejected. As he took a step forward, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he heard the words: “And where do you think you’re going?” He turned around to see Luke, pouting playfully. There was no escaping now.

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Book 1 available here.
Book 2 available here.