Forever Now
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Anti-Stepbrother(10)

By: Tijan



As we trekked across campus, Avery had a way of asking me questions, but also talking so I never felt put on the spot. I could see why she was a resident advisor, except that I was pretty sure RAs weren’t supposed to party or drink with students on their floor. Still, Avery was good with people. We ran across different groups along the way, and almost everywhere someone knew Avery—not only knew her, but liked her. They waved, said hello, or threw out a joke to her.

She returned it every time. If it was a quick, teasing insult, she gave a grin and sent one right back. If it was as simple as a hand wave, she did the same. She was very even keel.

That made me relax even more, and when we got to her friend’s room, I wasn’t worried. I would’ve expected to have my stomach tied up in knots, but not with Avery. Whatever happened, I knew it’d be fine. I wouldn’t be left out, or left behind, or made to stand out like a social outcast. In the past, being around girls like Avery and her friends had always made me feel those things.

As she introduced me, her friends seemed to be a lot like her. There were six of them, and I didn’t get all their names during the introductions. We had to wait for one more girl, and as we did, they prepared their drinks. Wine, rum, soda, vodka—all of it was poured into water bottles. Each girl had a backpack, and they stuffed the containers inside, sometimes two of them. They offered me one, I took it.

I’d had drinks before. The act of drinking or getting drunk wasn’t a big deal to me—it was who I drank with. In a group of strangers, I wouldn’t have taken one, but I trusted Avery. She asked if I wanted to stash a back-up in her bag, and I nodded.

We’d just finished when the last of the group arrived, and the whole alcohol-prepping process started again. The last girl took three bottles.

“When we go to a big party, we bring our own booze,” Avery told me. “We might know the guys who live in the house, but we don’t always know everyone. We’ve heard too many stories, and none of us feels like getting drugged or raped. That’s why we look like full-on alcoholics.”

I nodded. That made sense. These girls were smart.

Another girl chimed in. “And we move in a buddy system. It’s not obvious at the parties, but none of us is ever alone unless we explicitly tell the others we’re doing a one-nighter.”

“One-nighter?” I echoed.

“One-night stand.” A different girl shrugged. “It happens. There’s no judgment here.”

“Unless someone has a boyfriend.” A third girl nudged the one who’d explained. “Right, Shell?”

Shell rolled her eyes. “I still wouldn’t regret a night with Caden Banks.”

I paused. “Wait. What?”

The girl who’d nudged Shell laughed and looked back over her shoulder at me. Her eyes twinkled. “Caden Banks. He’s one of the bigwigs in a fraternity around here. If you meet him, trust me, you’ll know it.”

I was pretty sure I had.

Avery glanced sideways at me. “She might already have met him. Kevin Matthews is her stepbrother.”

I wasn’t prepared for the effect those words had.

Everyone stopped and turned around. I suddenly found myself the center of attention as seven girls each gave me a different look—surprise, caution, intrigue, nervousness. Everyone was silent for a moment until Avery laughed out loud, forcing the sound a little bit.

Her hand perched on her hip, and she lifted her chin. “What? Don’t hate her because of what her stepbrother’s done.”

Wait. What? I fixed Avery with a look and raised an eyebrow. “What haven’t you told me?”

One of the girls stepped forward. “Your brother’s an asshole.”

“Claudia,” Avery reprimanded.

I held my tongue on that one. I couldn’t really argue with her, but I did say, “Stepbrother.”

Shell let out a sigh. “He dated me last year and slept with two of my best friends.” She paused before adding, “In the same weekend.”

“We’re an against-Kevin Matthews group. Neither of those girls is friends with us anymore.” Claudia looked at Avery. “Well, the rest of us. They’re not friends with us.”

Avery shifted back on her feet, letting out a small sigh. She crossed her arms over her chest. “One of those they’re talking about is Maggie.” She said to them, “And I went to high school with Maggie. There’s a whole group of us who are still friends. I can’t just leave them.”

Shell said, “We know. We’ve talked about it, but you know how we feel about him and Maggie.” Claudia raked me up and down. “And if you think bringing his stepsister around us is going to make us soften, think again, Av.”

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