“No way! He did not run across the field in nothing but a banana hammock?” My belly hurt from laughing so hard.

“I swear. One of the coaches and an umpire chased him down the third base line before a security guard finally tackled him outside the dugout.” Gareth chuckled. 

I’d lost track of how long we’d been talking. It had been easy and effortless like I’d known him my whole life. He was funny and charming.

“So, what happened then?” I was dying to hear how the story ended.

“The  security guard yanked him up off the ground and escorted him down the tunnel and out of sight. I never heard what happened to him after, but he didn’t come back. We ended up winning the game nine to six.”

I collapsed back on my bed in laughter. The longer we’d talked the more comfortable I’d become. After kicking off my shoes I’d moved from my desk to sit on the bed. My roommate, Jackie, would be home soon, and for some reason I didn’t want to share Gareth with her. At least not yet. It may sound selfish, but I wanted to keep him to myself a little longer. 

“Hey, you okay? You got quiet all the sudden."

“Oh, no, I’m fine,” I rushed to reassure him. “Just thinking.” 

“Ah. Care to share?”

I snuggled into my pillow trying to remember the last time I felt this content. “Just about how much I’ve enjoyed tonight. I haven’t laughed this much in…well, in a long time.”

“I’m glad.” His voice was soft. “Hey, while I’m thinking about it. Ryder invited me to the AEPi party next weekend. It’s not really my scene anymore, not since I graduated. Hell, probably even before then. But I was wondering if you’d like to go with me?” 

I’d been to one frat party since the semester began, and it hadn’t been all that exciting. In fact, it had made me extremely uncomfortable. A bunch of drunk college boys being obnoxious. Some guy had cornered me coming out of the bathroom. I’d been terrified and shoved him out of the way. He’d either been drunk enough or sober enough to get the hint and he left me alone. I’d rushed out of the house and back to my dorm room, thankfully not encountering anyone else. I shuddered remembering the need to get safely behind a closed door.

“You still there? We don’t have to go. Maybe we could just go have some dinner instead?”

“I’m here, sorry. Frat parties aren’t really my thing either. Dinner sounds nice though,” I tacked on the last suddenly feeling nervous. Not because I didn’t want to go, but because of how much I was really looking forward to it.

I could almost see the dimple in his cheek and hear the smile in Gareth’s response. “It’s a date then.” 

My cheeks hurt almost from the grin spreading across my face. “It’s a date.” 

“Do you want me to pick you up or would you prefer to meet at the restaurant?”

“I’ll probably just take an Uber. I live in a dorm so it’s usually easier that way.” 

“You still live on campus?” 

Was that bad? “Yeah. Board is part of my scholarship. Plus, as a freshman, the school ‘strongly encouraged’ it. I’m saving up money for an apartment next year, so I figured if a room was already paid for, why not?”

“You’re a freshman?” Gareth choked out. 

Uneasiness settled in my belly as I sat up, no longer quite as relaxed. “Is that a problem?” 

I wasn’t your typical eighteen year old freshman. Having lived the life I had, I was more driven than most to succeed. I wanted to do something with my life. Something that made a difference.

“No, I’m just surprised is all. I thought you were a sophomore at the least.” 

Gareth’s tone, while not completely standoffish, was different now. I couldn’t describe it. All I knew was that it stung.

“Maybe dinner isn’t such a great idea after all.” In fact, maybe none of this had been such a great idea. I didn’t have time to go out on a date with anyone anyway. I needed to study. Keep my grades up. “Look, I need to get going. My roommate should be home any minute.” 

“Olivia, wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I swear. Please, don’t hang up.” 

His entreaty gave me pause. I really wanted to hang up, but I was torn. He’d been on my mind all day. My insides were all fluttery over him. But I also needed to be cautious. I didn’t need to nurse a broken heart. Something told me if anyone could do it, it would be Gareth.

“Please, Olivia.” 

It was the final plea that sealed my decision. 

“Okay,” I breathed out. 

“Will you still have dinner with me on Saturday?” 

“Yes.” I only hoped I didn’t regret it. 

“Can I call you tomorrow?” I heard the hope in the question.

Forging ahead, I prayed I didn’t get hurt along the line. “I have class until three and then I have to work from three-thirty to nine. I’ll be free after that.”

“Okay I’ll call around nine-thirty if that works?” 

The lock on the door made a snick sound. Jackie was back. “That should work. My roommate just got here. I have to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” 

“Have a good night, then.”

The hall light behind her outlined her silhouette. I blinked when she turned on the overhead light inside the dorm room. 

“You too.” I tapped the end button at the same time she shut the door. 

“Why are you sitting in the dark?” She slung off her messenger bag and tossed it haphazardly on top of her small desk in the corner. Her side eyed glare spoke volumes. I knew she thought I was weird, but I didn’t care. There was something peaceful about lying here in the quiet while talking to Gareth. I could imagine we were in the same room together, lying side by side in the bed, whispering to each other in the night air. Just the two of us. I would never tell Jackie that though. 

“I was getting a migraine and the dark helped it.” It was an excuse I’d used more than once in more than one foster home I’d lived in growing up. Most of the families I lived with thought it was weird. It was fine by me whatever they thought. They’d have thought it even more weird if I’d told them I sat in the dark imagining it was someone who loved me beside me in the intimate quiet. 

Someone who would hold me and protect me. It may seem silly imagining that someone as Gareth. I mean, we’d only met today. But I’d felt a pull every time he’d looked at me. Every time I’d thought of him. Which was why his response to my age had hurt. 

“Well, it’s creepy.” Jackie griped while she grabbed her pajamas and disappeared into the bathroom to change.

I just shrugged her off. We weren’t friends, and neither of us pretended to be. We merely tolerated the other. I could suck it up for one year. Then, I was going to find a nice small, one-bedroom apartment off campus somewhere to live. Jackie would go her way and I’d go mine and in the end, we’d both be happier. 

I needed to get up early for class tomorrow, so I climbed back in bed, turned to face the wall away from Jackie’s side of the room, and closed my eyes. My mind drifted back to Gareth and our first date. Would he kiss me after? I couldn’t invite him up to my room. Jackie would freak out. Plus, that would be another awkward reminder of my freshman status. 

The toilet flushed and then there was the sound of running water. She came out of the bathroom, shut off the overhead light, and crawled into her own bed. Soon, the soft rumble of her snores filled the room. I shut them out and instead turned my mind’s eye back to Gareth. Even with the slight tension between us at the end, I was still looking forward to having dinner with him. I only hoped that things returned back to how they were earlier on the phone. I began to drift off, and I hoped my dreams would be filled with his Gareth.