Highest Bidder Chapter One

Why I chose to go to school in Michigan was a question I asked every winter. Not because I came from some tropical paradise. Far from it. But the Midwest in winter got ass cold. Who was I kidding? I knew why. It was the place that accepted me the furthest from home. And whose idea was it to take a communications class at nine-thirty in the morning all the way across campus? Right. Me again.

 

On that one, there weren’t many choices because by the time I got around to registering, most classes were either taken or I needed a prereq I didn’t already have. I got stuck with Nonverbal Communications, Intro to Sociology, Human Biology, and Women in Literature. Overall not completely terrifying and a somewhat light semester.

 

Plows went out early the first morning of the semester making the walk actually pretty quick, still cold as fuck, though. I didn’t even slip or fall once which would’ve been morbidly embarrassing and also a tragedy if anything happened to the beloved Converse Chucks Mom sent for Christmas. I didn’t go home. I felt bad about that. Mom understood I couldn’t swing the money, neither could she. I talked to her, briefly, and an empty campus was a rarity I enjoyed. Peaceful even. The town had been rather quiet too without the college crowd covering every inch.

 

Since the classroom was completely empty when I arrived, I could pick where I wanted to sit. I liked to sit near the door, that way I could leave without too much interruption should the need arise. Three seats back, I plopped down and rested my head on the desk for a quick nap before class started.

 

It didn’t last.

 

Unfortunately, other early birds started filing in after only three minutes. Not even enough time for a power nap.

 

“Hung over, Tate?” Adam Burger tapped my head with a spiral notebook as he passed to the seat right behind me. I met the blond douche at dorm orientation freshman year. To my complete shock, the dorms were co-ed by floor. I’d been in such a rush to leave Washington that I hadn’t paid any attention to some of the particulars. And he wasn’t a complete douche even if I liked to tell him he was. He’d become a pretty good friend by then.

 

“I wish.” A yawn escaped before I could do anything about it.

 

“Christ. Your mouth is huge. Big enough—”

 

“Go no further.” Throwing up my hand to cut him off, he laughed hard at me, barking like a dog.

 

Hanging out with guys, as I had most my life, I’d developed a sixth sense for when they were going to get gross. And with Adam it was a sure bet he’d always get gross.

 

“Kendra in here, too?” I asked, expecting to see one of my best friends trailing behind him.

 

He shook his head. They’d been all freaking over each other since Halloween. I hardly ever saw one without the other. They were my little group. Me, Adam, Kendra, and Ava, who brought Jared when they weren’t broken up. There were a few other stragglers, like Casey, who the guys called the hot lesbian because she was, in fact, hot and a lesbian.

 

More students filtered in, most of whom I recognized by face if not by name. The last few shuffled in a minute before the professor, filling the room. All so we could discover what each other’s body language was telling us.

 

Dr. Hendrick went through all the normal first-day stuff. What he expected from us, when things were due. Boring. Then he started explaining the semester project. As his voice droned on, I made a mental note to leave early every morning to get coffee. It would be the only way I survived this class. My ears perked back up when he mentioned that the project, which counted as two test scores, by the way, would be a group endeavor. I hated group work. Most of the students I’d been put into a group with slacked off at some point, leaving me and maybe one other person to do everything. Awesome.

 

As Hendrick roamed the room throwing four into each group, I looked around trying to predict who I’d end up with. It wasn’t long before he got to us. Sweet. Adam was in my group. He wouldn’t slack. I’d make sure of it.

 

“Ok,” Hendrick raked his fingers through thick brown hair, making me realize for the first time how young he actually was. Not particularly good looking. But young. “These last fifteen minutes I want you to get together, introduce yourselves, and exchange information. In short, get comfortable. A good portion of your study time will be spent with these people.”

 

Several groans came from the far corner. Come on people, this is college, work is involved. I quickly swung my desk around and while the others did the same, I wrote my name, phone number, and email three times on a piece of paper then tore it into sections. I also kicked Adam under the table to spur him into getting the lame introductions started.

 

“Christ, Flannery, that better not bruise.”

 

“Why? Got a swimsuit competition this week?” The two guys in the group with us snorted. I loved that it was me and three guys. I’d have no caddy Ms. Perfects to deal with. Things were starting to look up.

 

“I’m Adam. This bitchy little thing is Flannery.”

 

I kicked him again for good measure. I wasn’t bitchy all the time. I don’t think.

 

“Ow. Ok. This sweet, docile young lady is Flannery.” He looked over at me. “Happy?”

 

I nodded with more energy than necessary.

 

“Flannery? What’s your first name?” Why I didn’t know this kid, I don’t know and I couldn’t even put his face into context.

 

He seemed young, but I suspected he was a sophomore like Adam and me. He was scrawny, too tall for his weight and, dare I say, a touch nerdy. I wasn’t being mean; he had this pocket protector, tape on the bridge of his glasses quality to him.

 

“Flannery,” I said back without blinking. I got that all the time. It stood to reason since my mom strapped me with her grandmother’s maiden name. It got confusing.

 

“Your first name is Flannery?”

 

“Yes. Flannery Tate. Here,” I passed the small sections of paper to each one, “all the ways you can get a hold of me. You guys should do the same. Ah … what’s your name?”

 

“Matt Mazer.”

 

Yeah, nothing. I didn’t delude myself into thinking I knew everyone on campus or even in my class but being there full time I did meet a lot of people. And I had a great memory for faces. For example, the other guy in our group I’d seen before even if we’d never met and I didn’t know his name. He’d been around.

 

“Cain Dorsey.” The guy on my right offered as he scribbled into his notebook. Looking over, my eyes noticed his broad shoulders first, the way his thin V-neck sweater strained against his chest. Then I traveled up, past totally kissable lips, perfectly proportioned nose, and finally found deep brown eyes. A couple shades darker than his hair even. Our eyes locked long enough to make my cheeks flush and I hoped he couldn’t see it. He was hot, jeez, and far too … manly to be around our age. Where the frig had he been hiding?

 

“Oh right,” Adam perked up, snapping his fingers. “You’re Sam Allen’s roommate, right?” Cain nodded. “Flan, remember that Halloween party?”

 

“The one where your tongue spent most of its time down Kendra’s throat?”

 

“Yeah, that one. It was at their place off campus.”

 

That attitude is what drew me to Adam after we’d started hanging out. He never cared if his business got out there or when I put it out there. Which I only did as a joke and never serious stuff. He was cool about everything.

 

“That’s where I’ve seen you.” I knew it. The corner of his mouth turned up a notch.

 

After glancing up at the clock, I started shoving everything in my backpack.

 

“Gotta run.” I almost forgot to grab Matt and Cain’s info before heaving my winter coat on. When I balled the papers up and put them in my bag, Adam shook his head.

 

“Hot date this early, Flan? I’m scandalized.”

 

“Yeah, Adam. Hot date with my bed. Ava’s crying and whining kept me up all night. Again.”

 

He chewed on the inside of his mouth, eyeing me like he was trying to make a choice.

 

“Why do you look constipated?”

 

“Trying to decide.” He sat back stroking his chin. “I want to make a completely inappropriate joke about joining you in bed but also want to hear what’s up with Ava.”

 

“Well since you have no chance of getting in my bed … Ava and Jared broke up over Christmas. It’s a nightmare.”

 

“I take it you two already know each other.” I kind of forgot Cain was listening to all this. He must’ve thought we were nuts with our verbal sparring. His playful look made me smile but I played it off, of course.

 

“Yeah, I’ve been cursed with him since the first day of college.”

 

“The word you’re looking for, Flan, is blessed.”

 

I rolled my eyes as we started out the door with Matt and Cain snickering behind us. I threw a quick goodbye to them all and headed back to my dorm where I got another two solid hours of sleep before getting ready for the next class.

 

The first week of a semester is usually a poorly choreographed dance of rushing to class, sleep, eat, and basically not a lot of fun. Except I got four-day weekends. Just how I wanted it. Crazy class hours Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday but nothing on Thursday and Friday. By the second week, it became routine.

 

And I was right.

 

Coffee became part of my routine for my only morning class.

 

Rolling over, my eyes didn’t want to open. When I forced them, I could see how much time I’d still get to sleep.

 

The clock had to be wrong.

 

“Nine ten? Fuck.” I threw the covers off, hopped up, and put on the first things my hands touched. I could hear Ava in the shower and hoped she’d alone because I needed to go in to brush my teeth but she’d brought company in there before.

 

She wasn’t.

 

“Gross, Flannery, get out,” she called.

 

“Unless you want to hop in,” Jared teased. Immediately after, a hard slap on wet skin rang into the air. Go, Ava. She hadn’t told me they were back on.

 

“I need to brush my teeth. Maybe you guys can corral all carnal activities to your bedroom.”

 

I wasn’t going to have time to put on any makeup or wash my hair so I pulled the long brown tresses into a loose braid that hung over my shoulder to mid-chest, hoping I didn’t look gross enough to scare anyone.

 

“What is she talking about?”

 

I could only roll my eyes. Jared was cute enough but he came to school more because of his ability to tackle than any academic contributions. I got out of there before she could respond.

 

The worst part of running late…no time for what I’d come to call my “communications coffee”. Walking as fast as I could without running, I made it to the Brown building with three minutes to spare.

 

Adam leaned back in his chair with his feet propped up on mine. I kicked his hoofers off so I could sit.

 

“No coffee?” He didn’t try to whisper or anything.

 

I thought the class rather enjoyed the twice a week comedy we provided. They watched us close enough but could also have been trying to decide if we were a couple.

 

We tried once.

 

Just a kiss but I imagined it was what kissing a blood relative would’ve been like. So, it didn’t work out. It wasn’t an unrequited love kind of thing either. He’d laughed equally as hard as I did. Then he hooked up with Lara Sanders, the village bicycle in West Hall.

 

“Overslept.”

 

“That stinks.” I knew he was messing with me by the tone of his voice. The next thing I heard was loud slurping as he emptied his very large cup of coffee. He even did a satisfied “ahhh” at the end, the rotten son of a bitch.

 

Turning enough for him to see me, I gave my absolute best dusty eyeball. “You suck.”

 

“You can have mine,” the warm voice beside me suggested.

 

Cain Dorsey was offering me his coffee?

 

“I can’t take your coffee.”

 

“Why not? I don’t have cooties. Plus, I haven’t taken a drink yet. Take it.” He reached the cup out allowing me to smell the roasted goodness lurking beneath the plastic lid. The black silk seduced me with one sniff.

 

Trying to stifle the smile breaking out across my face, my natural talent for witty come-backs disappeared. I started thinking that maybe his cooties wouldn’t be so bad to catch anyway. My stomach tingled slightly under his gaze.

 

“Take the fucking coffee so we’ll be able to stand you,” Adam interrupted and I reached back with a playful, yet significant, smack to the top of his head.

 

In the end, I took the coffee. It felt good going down and the effects started immediately. I became awake and sharp.

 

“Oh god.” My eyes rolled back in my head in a slightly orgasmic way. Yup, I loved coffee that much. “I think I need to marry you,” I said to Cain without thinking.

 

Used to sparring with Adam, it didn’t occur to me that Cain might not take my comments as intended.

 

My nerves calmed when he broke into a hearty laugh, filling the entire room and drawing Hendrick’s attention.

 

He didn’t seem to notice the added attention.

 

“If I’d known it’d be that easy …”