Chelsea scratched at Bentley’s ears as she watched the college students. Late fall meant midterms, and judging by the cluster of smokers at the door, stress levels were sky high as the sun edged back towards the endless horizon. Her own were on the rise being around so many people.
“Nice dog.” The guy who strolled over had a preppy, well-cut look that suited his kind face and farm boy aura. He held out a hand and Bentley deigned to lean in for a pet.
She fought off her instinct to chase the guy off. He must be a decent person if Bentley liked him. “Thanks.” She forced a smile she didn’t feel. “How’s class going?”
Mr. Preppy rolled his eyes, fingers still buried in Bentley’s fur. “Crazy. And the headaches aren’t helping.”
This was her third college campus, and she finally got a nibble. Careful to stay casual, she forced herself not to fiddle with Bentley’s collar. “You probably need more sleep.”
He shook his head. “That’s just it. I’ve been sleeping constantly. I think I’m just burnt out.”
No, you’re being poisoned.
The online hunters had been wonderful about answering her questions. So much better than Jackson Hawk or Amber.
Stop. No. They don’t exist. Fuck them both to hell.
She swallowed her rising anger. She’d scraped by the last few months taking easy jobs, but the fifty dollar paydays for monsters weren’t going to cut it with a dog to feed. Even though Bentley’s ribs didn’t show anymore, he was still packing on pounds. She needed to step up her monster hunting, and this man was her way to get more money. She had to hold it together long enough to kill the monster.
“Maybe you need some time off?” She smiled and winked.
To her shock, he blushed, his pleasant smile sharpening into embarrassment as his eyes widen with a touch of fear. “Uh, I’m seeing someone.”
Chelsea fought a laugh at the transparent lie. She had seen too many gay friends fend off the opposite sex to dismiss the signs.
So she shrugged, easing the man off the ledge she’d pushed him towards. “You still need some downtime. Platonic coffee and playing fetch with Bentley?”
Mr. Preppy’s smile relaxed. “That does sound awesome.”
Mentally sighing in relief that she had salvaged the situation, Chelsea produced a tennis ball from her coat. Bentley’s chocolate brown tail thumped against her legs as he narrowed in on the ball. She tossed it and he tore after. “He’ll do this for hours and he never falls for fake throws. Be warned.” She held out a hand. “Chelsea Childling.”
“Miles Greene.” A strong hand with working callouses clasped hers. “And I cannot tell you how much I miss my dog.”
Chelsea swallowed behind her smile. She’d been so lost until she found Bentley.
Now, I’m just wandering.
Miles tossed the ball a few times, much to Bentley’s evident delight. Chelsea watched the man’s eyes. They drooped, and he seemed sluggish.
After a few minutes she piped up, “Where’s good coffee around here?”
Miles gave a surprised laugh. “I thought you were a student.”
“Not these days.” College seemed a dream. There were times when that Chelsea Childling, the one drinking her weekends away and sneaking men past the nuns, felt like an entirely different person. The only thing she had in common with that woman was a sketchbook. “But I could use a cup of good coffee.”
Miles nodded before beckoning her towards the quad. “It’s not good coffee, but it’s coffee.”
She whistled Bentley over and pocketed his ball. He’d never needed a leash, but she’d taken to carrying one, just in case. Sure enough, the coffee shop was inside a building with a big “no dogs allowed” sign.
Chelsea quickly looped the leash around a pole, trying very hard to ignore the pained look Bentley aimed at her. She patted his neck. “We’ll get you a sign that says you’re waiting for your owner and love pets, okay?”
The big dog sighed before flopping over.
The student-run coffee shop overflowed with chatter and books. Miles pinched at his nose, then forced a smile. “How do you like your coffee?”
“Like my soul.”
He gave her a confused look.
“Sweet and black.”
Miles chuckled before straightening his sweater and approaching the counter. Chelsea hung back, fighting a smile. The cute guy making coffee was either straight or oblivious to Miles’ flirting. Either way left Miles slightly dejected as he handed her a hot drink.
She sipped at it and gagged. Sweet it was, but that was all that could be said about it. “This isn’t coffee. This is something that dreams about being coffee one day.”
Miles pressed his lips together, clearly fighting not spit out a mouthful of liquid. He won the war to swallow and gasped a laugh. “You’re gonna kill me if you keep this up.”
She wondered how to bring up his headaches. Would she seem crazy if she asked about them again? Luckily, Miles rubbed at his temple.
Chelsea pounced on the opportunity. “If it’s too loud in here, we can head back out. I don’t like leaving Bentley alone.”
“Yeah, good point.” He staggered to his feet, and Chelsea felt a trill of anger. Miles seemed like a nice person. She had to find a way to kill this damned brain leech.
Bentley had a group of students around him. Chelsea smiled as she unhooked his leash. “C’mon, boy. Let’s go for a walk.”
They left amid a cloud of disappointed sighs. Meandering along, they ended up back at the classroom doors. Chelsea needed to figure out where Miles lived.
This would have been way easier if he wasn’t gay. He’s cute and nice and…
She scratched at Bentley’s ears as she ignored her own relief. “Can I walk you back to your dorm? It’s getting dark.”
Miles chuckled. “Isn’t that my line?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “One of us is ‘seeing someone’, so, no, it’s totally my line.” Her stomach flipped as her shoulders rose and fell. “It’s been nice. See you around.” She waved and headed for her car, cursing, and blessing, incompatible orientation.
Once at the car, she switched her coat for a sweater and prepared to get comfy for a while. Hopefully, Miles wouldn’t notice her shadowing him.
She was pulling a blanket out of her trunk when Miles cried out behind her. “You’re homeless?”
Turning with a shrug, she scrambled for a story. “When my girlfriend left me—”
Miles waved a hand. “Whatever. Crash at my place tonight.”
Chelsea swallowed. The kindness of strangers often coated poison, she knew that all too well. But she also needed to kill that brain leech. “Thanks. I could use a real bed.”
Miles shrugged. “Well, all I have is a couch.”
She smiled. “Compared to my backseat, that is a real bed.”
Oh, thank you, Jesus. I had no idea how I was going to get in there.
It’s not your imagination. This week’s Chelsea is a little less self-contained than normal. And I’m not even sorry.
Keep the Adventure going!
Any donations would be Appreciated!