A quick volley of texts told me that Alex was at his campus apartment. He found it more convenient for late nights and research than heading back to the ranch in outer suburbs. After packing up my computer, I grabbed my jacket and bag, and then jogged down the two flights of stairs. Classes just let out, so the stairs were crowded. I kept my eyes down and concentrated on getting outside as fast as I could. I don’t usually mind small spaces, or large groups, but too many strangers brushing against me raised my hackles. When one of those strangers stepped in my way, deliberately waiting until I met his gaze before moving, I was unnerved. It was brief, but there was something challenging in his cold blue eyes. Refusing to look back, I swore I could feel his gaze follow me out the door. I tried to brush it off as I hit the fresh autumn air, letting the anticipation of tormenting Alex cheer me.
Halfway there, my unease returned. I hesitated, trying to decide if I should figure out what was wrong, or just hurry to the safety of Alex’s. The quad was full of its normal denizens: those on their way to class navigating around the ones lounging on the grass, or playing ultimate Frisbee. As I tossed my hair over my shoulder, I noticed a broad shouldered fellow heading in the same direction as I was. Nothing strange about that, but the way he slowed when I glanced at him put me on full alert. I decided to pause a moment; pretended to look for something in my backpack while checking out the area. My suspicious friend also stopped a few feet ahead of me, answering a call. I would peg him as an upperclassman, his jeans and jacket too worn and beaten for a freshman, except the school cap had that glossy new look to it. His backpack was not only new, it was practically empty. Now that was odd. It was far enough into the semester that no student left home without provisions. Snacks, notebooks, textbooks, DS, MP3 player – every square inch of space in that bag should have a purpose. Whatever was in it, I didn’t recognize the shape. I grabbed a granola bar from the bottom of my bag, repacked and set off again. I heard the mystery man finish up his conversation as I walked past him, saw him fall into step just behind me.
Just perfect. It could all be innocent enough. Alex had snagged a two bedroom apartment just off the quad where a lot of grad students and upperclassmen lived. I tore into the granola bar packaging. The last thing I wanted to do was eat it, but it gave my hands something to do besides shake. I managed to swallow the last of it as Stalker Boy and I reached the beginning of student housing. I slid my phone out of my jacket, and texted a quick 911 to Alex, hoping he’d at least meet me at the door of his building. Part of me wanted to turn and get a good look at this guy. Furtive glances had gotten me nowhere. The hat was too low to see his face, and he was just a bit too far behind me to see more than the shape of his brown leather jacket. I didn’t think he was much taller than me. I felt ridiculous. Just one more block away, and I could relax, laugh off my paranoia, and spend an afternoon teasing Alex about the latest editions to his research material, and the notion of him as a father. Picking up the pace, I half-jogged to corner, looking for cars as I crossed the street. Two buildings left, and relief washed over me as the door to Alex’s building opened. A familiar half-dressed form leaned out, but not the one I was expecting. Fueled by adrenaline and sheer joy, I sprinted the rest of the way.
“Cameron! What the hell are you doing here?” my momentum knocked him back a step as he wrapped me in a bear hug. From the safety of Cam’s broad shouldered embrace, I watched Stalker Boy continue on. I felt foolish for worrying about him.
Cam squeezed me tight. “Toby and I finished our project in Tokyo and flew in late last night.”
I returned the hug, thrilled to have him home after 3 months away. Firmly pushing him away, I circled him to see what changes he’d made on his journey. Cam never came back from a trip without a tattoo, especially from Japan. This time he’d had the color on his eastern dragon finished. It traveled up his spine and ended with its head peering off his left shoulder. We met just after he’d had the outline done. The last six years was told as a story using the art on his body. I moved his elbow length auburn hair out of the way so I could ooh and ah over how well the finished piece turned out. He pulled it over his shoulder and told me which parts hurt the most. This ritual greeting of ours dulled the sliver of fear still needling me.
Sliding my hands down his well muscled back, I leaned into him, pushing him toward the door. “If you spent the evening partying with Alex, why didn’t you keep him from Sandie’s sister? Since we all know he has no impulse control, I’m holding you responsible for this morning’s assault. And where the hell are your shoes? It’s cold out here!”
He chuckled as he unlocked the door and let me lead him inside. Looking down the block one last time, I saw Stalker boy and the blue eyed stranger talking outside the corner store.