It takes a little while to get used to walking on two feet again, especially after three weeks of no weight. The air cast had come off under the instruction that I wear my RocketSock instead, because they liked it better. Least I could stash the crutches in the back of my closet, hopefully not to be seen again for quite some time.
When I got to the top of four floors worth of stairs, that is.
Not gonna lie, I was limpin' a little. But I hadn't put any weight on my left ankle and foot for nearly a month. Was nearly like the time I broke it in seventh grade and was in a no water, no weight cast for four weeks. The day I got it off was also the day of my friend's thirteenth birthday party and I almost face-planted more than once on the steep steps (wood, with a glossy finish and slicker 'an shit) to her downstairs.
Going up four floors was going to be no different.
And it was no use stopping at the fishbowl on three since it was the middle of the afternoon and Murph was in class. Then he went from class to the fieldhouse (that's where the football locker rooms are) and then to practice. Both he and Dev wouldn't be back in our building until after dinner. And while I might see them at the dining hall, we usually sat with our respective teams during the season.
Didn't mean we couldn't text, though.
It took me a bit longer than normal to get to my door, and I grinned when I saw the erasable board sticky-tacked to said door. He - they, actually - had erased my "currently" status (it was a week and a half old, anyway) and written The crutches are gone! (Our shins are safe!), signed Murph and Dev, respectively. Murph had left a P.S. saying he'd be downstairs around eight-thirty, and that he'd probably see me at dinner.
Still grinning, I opened the door and arranged the crutches as far back in the closet and out of sight as possible. I had about an hour to kill before practice (the only I could do was run - at Mac's discretion), and no desire to do anything academic. What I should do is the physics homework. What I did instead? Popped in Star Trek. Hello scruffy, Southern-accented Karl Urban, nice to meet you.
The cankle was more than ready to part company with the rest of the body - had even gone so far as to find a lawyer and draw up divorce papers. All that was left to do was have the foot serve the shin, with Mac as the unbribable judge. Thankfully they both chilled their heels in the whirlpool, and I didn't even care that the thing was a balmy fifty-six degrees.
Actually, it felt really good. My ankle had gone numb about two minutes ago.
I was debating the merits of going thigh deep vs waist deep when Sasha came in. She didn't usually whirlpool.
"There room in the pool?" she asked, climbing up onto the padded bench that ringed the industrial metal tub.
"Plenty." I bunched the bottoms of my shorts into my spandex and stood mid-thigh in the water with a hiss.
Mac looked over from Benny's desk. Benny was the trainer for the sports teams that Mac wasn't. No idea which ones Mac didn't cover. "Need more fishies?"
"Why not," Sasha said, sliding both feet in and then standing. The water was only up to her knees. "How are you?"
That simple statement was all I needed to hear to remember that it had been a while - a long while - since we had talked or had a girls night in. And we both knew it.
"I'm good. No more crutches."
She smirked. Mac appeared with a pail of ice from the machine in the back. The "fishies" had arrived. He dumped them unceremoniously into the churning water. The grin was not necessary.
"How are things on the hill?" I asked. The question not explicitly mentioned was how is rooming with your girlfriend?
"Interesting." Sasha bumped some of the floating ice from her left knee.
"In what way?"
"She knows we're in season, Ollie, and that it's hard for us to do things together on weeknights - any nights, really - and I think she's feeling a little neglected." She rubbed her forehead. "And I'm not sure what to do. And she really wants me to dance with her this year."
"In Koshare?" That's the student-run, student-choreographed, student dance collective. There were all kinds of talent in it each year. All skill levels, too - those who were dance majors and minors danced with and alongside those who had never danced before. Sasha was on the fence about whether to double major English and dance, or make one into a minor.
"Yeah. She's an awesome choreographer, so whatever she does is gonna be sick."
I glanced at Mac; he pretended to be engrossed in a rowing magazine.
"But?" I prompted.
"What if we're still playing then, during auditions?" Sasha submerged her kneecaps. "I don't want to promise her that I can do it when I don't know if I can."
And there was the chance that we would still be playing into the middle of November, even December. It depended on us making post-season play, but we'd gone the previous year, with much success. And then it depended on where the Final Four was (usually someplace nice and warm).
"Did you tell her that?"
Sasha looked at the churning water. "Yeah, but she comes to every home game - even when she has to come from class."
Better than Murph's game day attendance. Then again, he was a football player with a schedule about as complicated as mine. We didn't hold it against each other when one of us couldn't make a game.
Then again, Murph was a boy and Cara was a girl. And I only had experience dating boys.
"Are things strained?" Because if that happened, things were going to get incredibly complicated. I might wind up with a temporary floor-sleeper. Or other sleeping arrangements might need to be had. Or...things could just get ridiculously complicated.
Sasha shrugged. "Not yet."
"I think the two of you are done. You've been in there for about twenty minutes and I refuse to deal with frostbite."
We looked sheepishly at Mac, and then dutifully climbed out. Sasha turned the knob to stop the whirlpool. We dried off and chucked the towels in the bin to be laundered.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" It would be Friday. Murph had mentioned doing something on Saturday, so my Friday night was clear.
"Nothing. And Cara's got plans with Chelsea and Danielle."
Which wasn't a great sign.
"Girls night in, then," I said, hellbent on getting out the door before -
I pulled a u-turn and hopped onto one of the beds, half my calf and down hanging dutifully off the end. Mac started prodding and I was really glad the thing was mostly numb because he was ruthless. He made me do some exercises and finally said I could continue running tomorrow.
"But I want a few more days of that before we think about giving you a ball, let alone letting you into any competitive play." Mac's word was law. And there had been no mention of tackling, either.
"Okay." What else was I going to say? No? Like that would fly.
"Get outta here," he said, going back to the empty whirlpool.
Didn't have to tell me twice. Sasha was by the cubbies in the hall. It didn't take me long to stuff my feet in my sneakers (sans socks) and out the door we went.
Right into the middle of parading football men heading for food. Sasha gave me a look as I went with the flow.
"You're not gonna wait for Murph?" she asked, fairly incredulous.
"Not standing between men and food." And was digging in my bag for my phone. The thing was buzzing when my fingers found it.
where r u?
I looked around at the sea of blue shorts. by #s 87 & 13
He sent back noah & john v. we're ahead of u.
ok. "They're ahead of us."
Sasha gave me a look as we continued walking; we had gone only a few more steps with the crowd when a large body sidled up next to mine. I'd know that shoulder anywhere. "Hey, Murph."
"Hey." He snaked his arm around my waist for a quick half-hug and then settled a hand on the small of my back. Possessively. In front of his teammates. Which clearly said multiple things without a word, one of which being a very loud, this is my girlfriend. Respect that and respect her. Or you answer to me.
I had to wait until we were in line to enter the dining hall to do introductions. "Murphy, this my best friend, Sasha. Sasha, my boyfriend, Murphy."
"Nice to meet you, Sasha."
"Nice to meet you, too." She was doing her level best (at least what looked liked it) to break his fingers with her grip while doing the hurt-her-and-they-won't-find-your-body stare. Murph, to his credit, acknowledged and accepted it.
Wasn't aware I was holding my breath until I let it out in a rather relieved manner.
"How's the ankle holdin' up?" he asked; I was occupied digging for my Vera and my ID.
"Fine," I answered as Sasha chimed in, "She's running but might try to do too much, too soon."
"Most athletes try to do that," he agreed.
Oh, hell no. Boyfriend and best friend do not get to double team. "Said athlete is right here."
He chuckled, squeezing my hip. I handed my ID to Rhonda, the dining hall worker, to swipe me in. Murph moved past me with one last touch to my lower back and went to sit with the football boys. Sasha and I headed for the soccer girls, who had chosen to share a table with the men's team. I was tempted to turn around, grab Sasha, Murph, possibly Liam if I could find him, and third tier it.
But no, there were seats. Two. Just for us. Goody.
I dropped my Vera by Gilly and went for some food. My best bet tonight would be salad. Which was fairly ridiculous. There was, however, only so much penne pasta I could comfortably choke down.
Salad it was.
And the table was who knew what when I sat back down. Gilly nudged me. "Salad?"
"Not much else for me to eat tonight." Really. There wasn't.
"Allergies?" Nate asked from across the table.
I kicked Sasha in the foot before she could open her mouth. "Sorta." The boys were looking at me; the girls knew the deal. "There are things that I can and can't eat, but I'm not allergic. I just end up with lots of pain." There were days when the swelling would have been preferred.
Nate had a look of understanding; Kevin, sitting on Nate's right, kept chewing thoughtfully. I dug my phone out. how's your dinner company?
There was more conversation that honestly went in one ear and out the other before the little black box buzzed.
my twin, my roommate, and various teammates. they talk about girls. and hate on me cuz my gf is awesome.
I smiled. The warm fuzzies were creeping in. i have no idea what we're talking about and i'm okay with it. The salad disappeared fairly quickly and not only did I need to take my after dinner meds, I needed some painkillers.
The phone buzzed. i'm gonna head back. u want me 2 wait and walk with u?
yes. I took a deep breath. "See you guys later."
Gilly and Sasha I would see tomorrow; the boys waved vaguely, and I couldn't get out of the damn dining hall fast enough. Murph was leaning against the wall by the doors and I twisted our fingers together as soon as we were outside.
"How is the ankle?" he asked.
"Hurts." There was no way to lie to Murph without doing it badly and obviously. Might as well not even try. "I have Tylenol in the room." He squeezed my fingers. "And I'm tired."
Murph slipped his hand from mine and slid it around my waist. "Have you...Do you lock your door at night?"
If I hadn't been suckered to his side I would have froze and stopped completely. "What? Why?"
"You check your email today?"
"No." Too much to do.
"There were three safety notices. Two from today, and one from last night. Whoever it is got pretty bold."
"And you want me to lock my door." Sometimes I didn't, in case Jo needed something or anything.
"Please." He was worried.
He used his keys to let us in, and then followed me up to the fourth floor. We rounded the corner to my end of the floor; he poked just under my ribs when we were in front of my door. "Did you like our message?"
"I did. Very much." It was nice to know that they knew it was my day to get off crutches. Not that they would have forgot. Still, it was really nice of them.
Murph looked down at me. "You need anything you let me know. I mean anything, Ollie. My phone'll be on all night."
I had no idea what he thought was going to happen and I didn't want to know. All I could do was nod dumbly. He kissed my mouth as tenderly as he did my forehead and waited until I was in the room before heading downstairs.
As tired as I was, I had every intention of taking my meds, some painkillers, and crawling into bed. What sidetracked me was homework, the rest of my movie, and before I knew it, the clock had flipped from pm to am. Once the pajamas were on, the door locked (for Murph), the lights shut off (and I forewent my usual nightly activity of sending Murph a good night text, because it was so late) and I had crawled into bed, a dorm mattress had never felt so comfortable. Curling around Edgar was the icing on the proverbial cake.
There's this gray area between sleeping and totally awake and with it, and I was there, waiting for my brain to shut itself off to reboot.
The door jiggled.
I froze, heart thudding madly. What. The. Hell.
It jiggled again, thumping. I'd heard that noise before - had been the cause of it, actually - and it only happens when the door is locked and someone tries to open it from the outside.
Which freaked. Me. Out.
Enough to roll over as quietly as possible, fumbled for the phone, and send a text to Murph that said, someone just tried to the door.
He was asleep probably. It was late. He'd gone to bed.
The phone buzzed unnaturally loud on the sheet-covered mattress. dont move. i b rte thre.
And I had no intentions of moving until there was a thump and a half-scream from Maggie's - the girl who lived next door - side of the wall we shared. I scrambled gracelessly off the bed, not caring what state I was in, and not even thinking that whoever had tried to get into my room might very well still be in hers. It didn't even register as I yanked on the door, almost mowing over my own toes, and slapped my left foot on the tile hard enough to make the ankle throb.
"Maggie!" Kelly, Maggie's best friend who lived at the other end of the hallway, careened around the corner and we nearly took each other out. I grabbed the door frame to steady myself; Kelly stumbled into the room to stand by Maggie's bed. Both girls stood looking down at the floor - and what I was assuming to be dirty clothes - Maggie looking decidedly like they were going to bite her.
"Maggie?" Kelly's voice was soft.
"Did - Did you two see anyone?"
I shook my head; Kelly did the same.
"Someone was in my room," Maggie said, arms wrapped around her middle. My stomach fled to my kneecaps. "And they looked through my clothes."
There weren't any dresser drawers open, so it was safe to assume that the clothes she meant were the ones on the floor. The dirty ones. At least, I piled my dirty clothes on the floor, under the bed.
"Did you see him?" Kelly asked. "Is that him?" She pointed behind me.
I jumped, ready to whack whoever it was with my elbow. It was Murph, barefoot with messy hair.
"No." Maggie shook her head. "That's not him. I didn't see him."
"Well, who is that? And why is he here?"
My hackles rose. "That's my boyfriend, Murphy." Who was not a creeper.
"Oh." Kelly continued to stare hard at him; Murph retreated to my room when there was no apology forthcoming. Which, considering that the three of us were probably freaking out, I could understand. It wasn't an excuse to treat someone who had nothing to do with this in this way, but I could see where Maggie was probably leery to be around a guy - even one as sweet as Murph - at the moment. I would be, too, if someone had gone through my dirty clothes.
Well, since Kelly was with Maggie, there wasn't much for me to do except stand there and keep my own impending freak out carefully hidden. Then there was the question of whether or not I was going to be able to go back to sleep in my own bed with the knowledge that Maggie's situation could have easily been mine. Or worse.
Yeah. Like I was going to sleep tonight.
Murph was leaning against my bed when I pushed the door open, holding a gray, over-sized t-shirt. It was then that I realized - and more accurately cared - that I had no shirt on. My pajamas were a pair of soccer shorts and my sports bra. Murph kept his eyes on my desk as he handed me the shirt and until it was over my head.
"You gonna be able to sleep?" he asked.
I took a deep breath. Then another. My mind did great worst-case scenarios for giggles, and it was working overtime.
There was the chance I might puke.
"No," I mumbled, not bothering to find shoes while he grabbed my Vera off its hook by the desk. He locked the room. Campus security was coming up the other set of stairs as we went down the ones closest to my room to the third floor. The fishbowl was dark, for the most part. Dev's desk light was on as he read in bed, propped against the wall. He didn't say anything, though I knew he wanted to. Murph must have torn out of the room like something was burning, and he'd come back with me.
I really started to shiver once I was under the red plaid comforter, Smokey in a death grip as Murph slid in beside me, bracketing me between his furnace-like warmth and the cool wall. The what-ifs circled endlessly in my brain. Maybe he should have moved the trashcan by the bed, though how I was going to vault him to get to it was a bit of mystery....
"You're safe," he whispered.
Pretty sure if Smokey were alive, he'd have been dead from asphyxiation.
He rolled partially away from me. "Dev? Will you lock the door?" There was some rustling, the snick of the lock button as it went in, and Murph rolled back to me, tugging me closer. "Anything - anyone - who might even think about getting you has to get through a locked door, Dev, and me before they can get to you."
Smokey was sandwiched awkwardly between us as I pressed my face to his neck, breathing in his scent. There was probably no reason for me to be afraid. Still I was wired - too wired to be tired.
"You're safe." He started rubbing circles on my back - a sure fire way to relax me.
Which wasn't working.
"Ol. I got you. You're safe."
My mind refused to quit. Which wasn't good.
"Talk to me."
Well, that was different. "And say what?" If we were going to attempt to talk about how a creeper had made me feel practically violated when he hadn't even been in my room I was sleeping on the couch across the hall for the rest of the night.
"Talk about anything. Colby says you have a physics test coming up."
"I do." Really. That was one of those things that I tried not to focus on until absolutely necessary.
"How do you think it's going to go?" His cheek rested on the top of my head.
"It's not." I snorted. Then froze. Almost forgot that Dev might be trying to do something constructive - or maybe sleeping. "I'm not physics minded." Truthfully, I was more chem minded than anything. It was prompting some thinking, mostly about my major. And changing it.
"You'll do fine." He splayed his palm into the small of my back. "What time is your first class tomorrow?"
"Nine-oh-five." Organic chem.
"Goin' to breakfast?"
"Yeah." The warmth of that broad palm was finally seeping in. So was the feeling of being safe. One of my arms detached from Smokey to wrap around his side, fingers tangling in his t-shirt. I tried to burrow closer. He curled his big body more around my smaller one. That palm pulled me closer. "M'tired."
"Go sleep." He nuzzled the top of my head. "I'll wake you up."
I was warm, I was tired, and I could apparently follow directions, even at o'dark-thirty in the morning.