All this time, I’ve come out here to release some of my most private thoughts, frustrations and sadness. I’ve cried and I’ve screamed. All along, he was fifty yards away watching. This was about a hundred more times mortifying than my courtyard spectacle a month ago.

I stood up and grabbed my bag. “Well, I’m glad I’ve been over here putting on a show for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed my humiliation, but I think now it’s time for the curtain call.” I started walking away from him.

“Emerson, wait…” He came jogging up to me.

“IT’S EM, YOU DON’T GET TO CALL ME THAT ANYMORE!” I yelled at him. I was thankful we were so far away from the mainstream of campus, because I really didn’t feel like having an audience for another scene with Jaxon.

“Em, I didn’t mean to make it sound like I’ve been enjoying your pain. I came over here to make sure you knew that I’m not with Tatum. I don’t know why she kissed me on the cheek like that. I think she just wanted you to think something was going on. I told her not to do that anymore.”

“You don’t need to run anything by me. I don’t have any hold over you or your actions.” I continued walking away from him. What was he doing? Didn’t he understand how much this hurts to talk to him?

This must have set him off finally, because he hollered back at me in the empty field. “You think I’m not in pain? You think my heart wasn’t ripped out of my f**king chest till I couldn’t breathe anymore? You think this is easy for me?”

“Isn’t it though? I mean, this was your idea. I certainly didn’t choose this for myself,” I quietly said, turning toward him.

Trying to throw my words back at me he said, “Didn’t you though? When you decided to run away from me to go bar-hopping with Devon and get so wasted you couldn’t answer your phone?”

“How did you know I was at a bar with Devon?”

“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” he spoke with ice in his words. “Around 3 am, he started answering your phone to let all of your friends and your boyfriend, who had been calling you all night, know that you were with him!” he shouted. “I had to hear from some other guy that my girlfriend was safe. That HE would take care of you!”

“If Devon answered my phone, then you know that nothing happened with us and that he has a fiancé he loves.”

His surprised face showed me that he did have doubts whether I had done anything with Devon. No matter what he said, he still held my previous reputation against me.

“You are the most frustrating person ever! Don’t you understand? It’s not that I thought you were cheating on me. It’s that YOU WERE MINE! Not his. MINE, EMERSON! But in your time of need, you chose someone else over me.”

I felt like I had been slapped. A slap I deserved, nonetheless. The thing was, I hadn’t chosen anyone. I only went with Devon because I knew he wouldn’t make me talk. He just sat there all night quietly, while I zoned off into my own world and problems. It didn’t really matter if I clarified that for Jaxon anymore though, the damage had already been done.

I turned around and walked away. “Don’t follow me, Jaxon.”

This semester I had to take a class in preparation for my summer internship. It was all about what to expect and making sure we knew exactly what we were walking into. I learned that I was going to need an insane amount of vaccines. Quinn was going to have to come along for that because otherwise, I might chicken out. We also found out that we needed to fundraise for a significant amount of money; there were a lot of supplies the school offered to resource us with, but currently the program didn’t have enough funds to get everything. Professor Patterson was in charge of the internship. Since I felt relatively comfortable with him by now, I asked to speak with him after class one day.

I told him how I had come into some money lately that I really had no need for, and I wouldn’t mind in helping out the program. He was floored and very appreciative of my offer. He said that he wanted to try some fundraising techniques throughout the rest of the semester first to see if we could raise the money. If we didn’t reach our goal, I could come back and talk to him again about helping out. I hope he didn’t think I was trying to be a brown-noser, because that certainly wasn’t my intention.

Every time my mom had passed a collection jar for a charity, or passed a homeless person on the street, no matter what, she always tossed in money. Once I asked her why she didn’t just save that money for herself, since she could buy herself something nice if she just kept it. She simply replied that she didn’t need anything nice if there were still people out there that needed food or water. Every day she taught humbling moments and how we should appreciate every little thing we were given. I think she was the one who had inspired my future career choice. I was starting to understand why I never knew how well off my parents were. Thus, my discomfort with having the amount of money I had in my bank account. I knew that there were people out there that needed it and I had no idea how to begin to help them.

I asked Professor Patterson what his ideas for fundraising were. When he told me a few of them, I realized that while they would bring in a decent amount of money, but that they would never bring in enough for us to be able to survive in Africa. I suggested we have a Date Auction., one where we find a bunch of guys or girls and we auction them off for dates. I had heard about other colleges doing it before. He loved the notion and brought it up in class the following day. The students instantly became excited about the idea.

The first thing after that class, I went and requested a meeting with the Interfraternity Council President of our school. I explained to him our idea and how this would put out a good word about the fraternities and their generosity to help out other areas of the university. He loved the idea, but told me that some of the fraternities had been in trouble too often lately. He didn’t want people to think that they were selling sex. I thought that was a gross assumption, but I understood where he was coming from.

Professor Patterson suggested I ask Coach Chase if we could auction off his players now that they weren’t bogged down with Championship practices. Although, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that guys would pay more money for girls than girls would for guys. So I decided to ask Coach Chase if we could get all of his players to go to a Date Auction to raise money for the Journalism Trip.

Coach Chase liked the idea of the Auction, and as long as we said the football team sponsored it, he would make sure all of his players were present. I ended up finding twenty willing females to be auctioned off. It really wasn’t hard. When you post ‘Do You Want A Championship-Winning Football Player to Buy You for a Date?’ all over campus, you have to start turning away girls.

Originally, Patterson suggested we just use the gymnasium for the event, but I convinced a local hotel to donate their beautiful ballroom for the night. The event was blowing up and I heard people talking about it all over campus. I’m not sure at what point I became the coordinator for this whole event, but it was nice to be able to throw myself into something that required all of my attention. It had helped to keep my mind off of everything else, namely Jaxon.

Later that night, I pulled out my text to prepare for midterms next week. Typically, I would jump into a study group, but tonight I didn’t feel like being social. Professor Patterson always tried to make it easier for us college students when he could. With one of the journalism classes I had this semester, he let us use the same text we used in the prerequisite class, the one I took last semester with Jaxon. He and I just shared this text last time, but I assume by now that he had bought his own book for the class or that he’s sharing with someone else. Why did my thoughts always stream toward him, no matter the topic?

The only annoying thing about college textbooks is that, when you buy them used, they often come with writing and highlighting marks already in them. It’s very distracting when you’re trying to study. This text in particular had no rhyme or reason to all the marks inside of it. One word would be circled on a page and then you could go twenty pages to find one or two more words circled. I started to get distracted by the circled words. I started at the beginning and wrote down every word I came across. It took me two hours to find every word. I began thinking about how much time I had just wasted when I could have been studying, until I realized that all of the words together meant something.

I just met you and I’m amazed by you already.

Your beauty has me blind to all others.

My eyes will always find you in a crowd.

My favorite part of the day is when I get to hear your laugh.

One day you’ll let someone in and he’ll be a lucky bastard.

One day you are going to discover how beautiful and strong you are.

I hope that I’m standing right next to you holding your hand when you do.

My first thought was how impressed I was that he had found the word “bastard” in our textbook. My next thought was unimaginable heartbreak. I couldn’t believe what he had done in my book. I remember how he had borrowed it the night I came over to the guys’ place after work. I’d fallen asleep on him and he’d carried me to my bed. Then he’d taken my textbook, the very same one we both studied in countless times after, and he’d written the most amazing love note I’d ever read. Never in my life did I think I would get something like this.

He had written that he hoped he could be standing next to me when I realized how beautiful and strong I was. There was a moment when I thought those things about myself, he brought them out and reminded me daily. In a way, he had been beside me when I comprehended it. He just didn’t stick around afterward.

I knocked all of my notes and books off of my bed and crawled under the covers. I reached under my pillow and grabbed the t-shirt I had taken from Jaxon’s room the first time we slept together. He knew I had it here, but he never asked for it back. I pulled my knees up to my chest and tried to fight off the tears.

Just to dig the knife in deeper, I heard music begin playing through the wall coming from Jaxon’s bedroom. It took me a couple of minutes to recognize it as the mixed CD I had made, which I had never heard him listen to before. In fact, he hadn’t even mentioned it since I had given it to him, not that we had discussed much of anything since then. Why, now of all times, had he pulled it out? To my torture, he played the disc four times in a row that night. When it finally shut off, I succumbed to a restless sleep.

Halfway through midterm week, Cole and Jace asked Quinn and I to come over to their place and have a couple of drinks. I didn’t drink anymore, but it would be nice to just hang out with them again in a quieter setting than a loud house party. Jace reassured me that Jaxon was gone for the night. I tried not to dwell on where he was staying overnight. I can’t say that the idea of him spending the night at some girl’s house didn’t enter my mind a dozen times, but I was strong enough not to ask.

We all had our textbooks out to at least pretend like we were going to study together. Jace was the only one actually studying; he seemed a little more stressed out over his tests than the rest of us were. I tried to help him by quizzing him from the back of his books. He was insanely smart; I don’t understand how he could remember even half of this material. After hours passed with me stumbling over numerous medical terms and body parts I couldn’t pronounce, he let me off the hook with an appreciative grin. I only had one exam tomorrow and it was in English, so I wasn’t really worried at all about staying up too late.

Around midnight, we were all yawning. “Come on, Quinny, let’s go to bed,” Cole said, mid-yawn.

“Aw, I haven’t been able to spend enough time with Em lately. In a couple of months, she’s going to leave us for Africa. I think I want to stay out here with her,” she whined. Lately, she’s been bringing up my summer departure more and more. The most we had ever been apart was a week, so three months was going to be torture for both of us.

“It’s okay, Quinn, we’re all going to bed anyway. I’ll see you in the morning,” I told her.

“Come on, Ems, come get in bed with us too. I’d never say ‘no’ to two women wanting in my bed,” Cole joked, while Jace started laughing at him.

“I don’t think I ever said I wanted in your bed,” I nudged him in the ribs.

“Just grab her, Cole,” Quinn told him. Before I could protest, Cole threw me over his shoulder and grabbed Quinn’s hand with his free one.

He laid us both down on the bed, got up, and grabbed two of his large t-shirts from the dresser, tossing them at us.

“Y’all change, I have to hit the bathroom,” he said.

After our jeans and shirts were thrown on the floor and we were in ‘pajamas,’ we lay down under the covers and Quinn held my hand.

When I heard her gasp and she sat up, looking down at me, “You’ve never said that back to me before.”

I pulled her back down. “I know, and I’m sorry. That wasn’t right of me, but I always have.”

She snuggled in next to me and not long after, I heard Cole come back and get in bed behind Quinn. He kissed her and told us both goodnight.

The next morning, before I even opened my eyes, all I could smell was Jaxon. I didn’t want to open my eyes because I was too afraid it would disappear. I could stay in this dream forever. I rubbed my face across my pillow and could unquestionably smell him and his cologne. This was like the best dream and worst nightmare, all wrapped up into one. I reached over and knew that I wasn’t in bed with him since the space next to me was empty, but I also realized that I was no longer in bed with Quinn or Cole. With my eyes still sealed, I skimmed my hand across the comforter and felt the pleats that I remembered were on his grey and white bed. For my final test, I searched for the left corner of the sheet and felt the tell-tale rip that my earring had caused once.