A continuing serial by Camille Leone

Copyright © 2013 Camille Leone
This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

QUINN

He was just about to turn his cellphone off when a call came in. In his anxiousness Quinn almost dropped the thing in a bucket of ice he was using to nurse his bruised knuckles. “Hey Quinn.” Eva’s sounded voice was breathy and sweet, just like she was. “Are you really busy?” Yeah, kinda sorta. But he’d never tell her that. “Naw,” he lied. “I’ve got a minute to talk.” “I can’t really hear you that good. Are you at a game or something?” “Or something,” he repeated. “Just a little get together. There’s mostly guys here, that’s why it’s so loud.” “Oh-okay. I’m sorry to bother you, but I wondered if you could give me a ride to bible study tomorrow.” Quinn closed his eyes. He wasn’t planning on going anywhere tomorrow. Usually after one of his bouts he needed to crash for at least a day. Watching his battered reflection in the mirror across the room, he calmly promised to give her a ride. Eva’s sigh of relief was loud enough for him to hear. “Quinn, I really appreciate this. I owe you.” “Don’t worry about it. It’s my pleasure.” The little croak in her voice was unmistakable. And just like that, she changed her mind. “Let me call you back. I might not need a ride after all. I’m sorry I bothered you.” Quinn’s jaw clinched and his eyes rolled up to the ceiling. He’d fucked up again. Made her feel uncomfortable, because she knew how much he liked her. Hell, the truth was that he loved her. Only she didn’t feel the same. “Ay, whatever.” “Don’t be mad.” “Who said I was mad? It’s fine. If you don’t get a ride, just hit me up and I’ll take you.” “Are you sure?” He forced his voice to become light and nonchalant, like he didn’t care either way. “It’s all on you, baby girl. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll know you’re straight.”

“Okay, I guess I better let you go.” “Yeah, I’ve got to head back to my dorm.” “Goodbye Qu-” He hung up just as she was saying his name. It was just as well. Gingerly, he rose from the examination table, wrapping an arm around his aching ribcage. It was too bad she hadn’t called before his fight, ‘cause her could’ve used the boiling anger he was feeling now. As his bare feet slid along the chilly floor, the cold was a blessing in disguise. At least he could feel it. But as stiff as he walked, he worried about trying to stuff his battered frame into his car. Driving back to his dorm was gonna hurt like hell. At a time like this, he wished there was someone he could call. Someone who’d volunteer to be there for him, no questions asked. As he examined his face in the mirror, he was thankful that the shiner on his eye wasn’t as bad as the one he’d given his opponent, a pretty boy who had all his frat brothers cheering for him. Sometimes, when he looked out into the crowd, he wished for faces that he knew. Only it wasn’t that simple, not for a theology student who got off competing in underground fighting. But his rage had to go somewhere, so it was better that it was directed at another boxer, since they both knew the risks.

*****

“Ay, ay man, wake up.” Each “ay” was followed by a tap on sixteen year old Terrence’s forehead. “You’re talking in your sleep man, saying crazy shit. You gotta wake up.” Terrence grunted out an “um,” turning his face away in order to snuggle deeper into the warm of the sofa. His refusal to answer only made the ex-Marine standing over him, an older dorm mate named Angel continue to knock on the back of the teen’s head. “Leave me alone,” Terrence mumbled, one of his long legs kicking out in order to get Angel to back off. “Why aren’t you in your own bed?” Angel wanted to know. The sofa in the common area of their suite wasn’t just too small for Terrence. It was a stained, craptastic piece of furniture that had to be uncomfortable. There was no way a six foot tall guy could fold himself like a paper

origami onto a four foot couch. Yet one of Terrence’s legs was propped on the top, while the other hung off the side. Angel was getting mad, but not at Terrence. In an effort to calm himself, he walked over to the window, peering down onto the parking lot. Quinn was just pulling in to an open spot, so there went his idea to just let Terrence sleep on his bed. “You still there?” Terrence said, his voice muffled by the sofa cushion. “Yeah, I am. And I want an answer. Why are you out here?” “You know why.” “Fuck this shit.” Before Terrence could scramble off the couch, Angel was banging on the door to Terrence’s room. “Ja’Marii! Open up! Ja’Marii!” Terrence came up behind him, breathing just as fast as he tried to explain. “You know how he gets. Little things bother him way more than us. It’s just Jam being Jam.” “Quit excusing his shit. That’s your room too. He needs to either take his damn medication or get the fuck out. Open this door you skinny ass-” With his forearm on the door, Terrence pleaded with Angel, hoping to talk him out of what ever he was planning to do. Visions of Ja’Marii being lifted off the ground by his long dreads came to mind. “It’s okay, man. I volunteered to leave. Honest. This time it wasn’t on him.” The look of disbelief he got from Angel said it all. But at least he stopped banging on the door. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself Terrence. He never would’ve pulled this shit if Poppo or Quinn was here. And you know he wouldn’t try it on me.” Terrence nodded, silently praying Ja’Marii was either so drunk that he was sleeping it off, or smart enough not to open the door. Still, he worked himself between Angel and the door. “Come on man. You know it’s only been a few weeks since the accident.” “Oh, is that what y’all calling it now? An accident?” “I just-” “Keith’s suicide wasn’t an accident, so you need to squash that shit right now. Because if you don’t then Ja’Marii might be the next one.” Angel let the words hang in the air, the painful truth of what he’d said settling into silence, because he’d get no argument from Terrence. Their suite had three rooms that could fit two students, and when the semester first started, there were six of them. Now there were five. Quinn came through the suite’s main door, his dark eyes full of questions. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe we should ask you the same thing,” Angel said, nodding towards Quinn’s nearly shut eye. “Is the Holy Ghost into giving black eyes now?” Quinn just stared him down, not bothering with an explanation. The last time one of his lids had sealed shut, he’d lied and said it was pink eye. He kinda hoped Angel wouldn’t let him slide with yet another excuse, but after breaking eye contact, Angel fished for the keys to his room, unlocked the door, and went in. The door slam that followed rattled the windows and Terrence’s nerves. “I smell another dorm meeting coming on,” he joked. Too bad Quinn wasn’t in any mood to laugh. “What exactly did I just walk into?” “It’s . . . it’s nothing.” Terrence slumped onto the sofa, feeling a lot older than his sixteen years. “Are you out here by choice? Or-” “Ja’Marii’s having a bad night.” Weren’t they all? Sighing, Quinn straightened his shoulders, realizing he’d have to play Junior Pastor. “I’ll take care of Ja’Marii. Why don’t you sleep in my room tonight?” “I’ve got to be up in a couple of hours for class.” “Then you need to get into a decent bed, pronto.” “Yeah. This sofa’s pretty lumpy, just like my hair.” Terrence said, after using his fingers to pick out his thick afro, to no avail. When he got up to stretch, Quinn noticed he was wearing the sweat pants he’d given him, the same ones Eva had tried to use as a peace offering. Terrence looked down at the pants, realizing that they brought back memories. He started to make a joke about how high water they were around his ankles, but the moment had already passed. If he said anything now it would just sound corny. Instead he just said, “Thanks, I owe you-” “Don’t . . . ‘cause I may have to call you on that favor in a few.” “Why?” “It’s Eva. She may need a ride.” “Oh, okay.” That’s what he liked about Terrence. If he’d told Angel or Ja’Marii the same thing, they would’ve come back with something like “Man, tell her she needs to get her own ride after all the shit she pulled,” or even “Why are you still dealing with her?” But getting over someone, especially someone like Eva wasn’t gonna be easy.

As he handed Terrence the key to the dorm room he shared with Poppo, Quinn could tell Terrence was checking out his almost completely shut eye and the bruise on his cheek. Again, to his credit Terrence didn’t mention it. He just lowered his gaze while he backed away, jiggling the keys the whole time.

To Be Continued . . .

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