Connected

By: Kim Karr

Connections #1
Chapter One

OUT OF MY HEAD

You’re always in my head

Maybe it’s the way you smile at me

Maybe it’s the way you laugh with me

Maybe it’s that we’ve known each other so long

Thoughts of you are always in my head.

October 2006…
 

Walking through the greek-lettered doors of Kappa Sigma, I felt like I’d just stepped onto a movie set. It was Halloween, everyone was wearing costumes, holding red Solo cups, and dancing . . . well, not everyone. I looked twice to be certain, but sure as shit, there was a large, dark-blue ice luge in the center of the living room. The guy at the bottom of the channel was my boyfriend, Ben, and the person in line behind him was my best friend, Aerie.

I didn’t go to a lot of fraternity parties, and looking at the two of them under the almost kid-sized slide, I now knew why.

Frowning at the sight of the two drunken idiots who had been on the receiving end of the ice luge a few too many times, I headed toward the kitchen to grab a beer. As I crossed back into the living room, I could see Ben sucking on a lime and squinting his eyes with his nose scrunched as he vigorously moved his head from side to side. He was making a vain attempt to relieve the potent impact of the countless shots he had just let flow freely down his throat. While shaking my head in amusement at him, I passed by a couple playing beer pong and giggled. If the state of the girl’s condition was any indication of her skill level, the guy was obviously a much better player.

Noticing me, Ben shot me a wicked smirk and crooked his index finger, gesturing me toward him. He strode a few steps closer; his gaze holding mine as the crowd cleared the way.

Standing face to face, I could see that his forget-me-not blue eyes were slightly hooded, allowing me only a glimpse of his dilated pupils. His sly grin was still present, which alerted me to his somewhat coherent state of mind.

Raising an eyebrow, I pointed to the dark-blue ice sculpture. “Hey, how many times did you hit that?”

Feigning confusion, he raised his hands palms up. “Not sure,” he said as he cocked his head to one side while shrugging his shoulders.

Ben took the cup out of my hand and set it on the table beside us. He snaked his arms around my waist and pulled me to him. “Hey, Dahl. What took so long?” he asked as he rested his strong hands on my ass.

Wrapping my arms around his neck, I rested my forehead on his chin and let out a slow sigh. “Photo shoot took longer than expected. Drake had a meltdown when the models’ outfits weren’t the shade of purple he’d asked for.”

Ben groaned and dipped his head to kiss me. “Drake’s a fuckin’ pansy-ass. He better hope you find a new internship for next semester because he’s really starting to piss me off.”

Flinching a little at his words, I leaned back to place my hands on his hard chest before looking into his slightly glazed eyes. “Ben, promise me you’ll stay away from him.”

“Will do. Promise, Dahl,” he chuckled, the smell of alcohol strong on his breath.

I sighed and ran my hands up to his hair, combing my fingers through it.

Looking at me with concern, he whispered, “You okay?”

“Of course. The wrong color purple isn’t really the end of the world.”

He studied me and hesitated before responding. “Dahl, you know that’s not what I mean.”

I stiffened. I knew what he meant, but I didn’t want to talk about the anniversary of my parents’ death.

“Ben, I’m cool. Let’s have a good time,” I muttered. I broke our embrace, grabbed my beer, and looked around the room for Aerie.

Ben nodded in acknowledgment, his sly grin returning while he watched me chug the entire contents of the Solo cup before chewing on the ice cubes that were left behind. Beckoning me to the center of the room, he swooshed his arm and pointed to the luge. “This way, gorgeous.”

Having refilled our drinks, we stood at the liquor-filled ice dispenser. The party was in full swing, and I watched Ben hit the luge yet again. I excused myself to use the restroom; I glanced around at the mass of people and pushed through the chaos. There were wall-to-wall people in every room. I stumbled into a tall guy with red hair, and I knew he was beyond drunk when he tried to kiss me. I shoved him and giggled when he tripped over his own feet and fell on his ass. I continued making my way to the stairs. They were covered with a throng of people that were drinking, making out, or doing way more than I ever needed to see.

The room smelled like alcohol mixed with sweat, and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t get out of there soon enough. I had to carefully weave around the crowd on the stairs and was thankful when I finally made it to the bathroom.

After I left the bathroom, I went to Ben’s room for a much needed mental break. This particular day was the hardest one of the year for me, but participating in the party festivities always seemed to help me through it. As I headed toward his bed, I noticed the tickets he gave me this morning. I knew he meant well buying us tickets to see one of my favorite bands, Maroon 5, perform at The Greek. I felt horrible about my knee-jerk reaction. When he gave them to me it was because he thought he would brighten an otherwise dark day for me, but I couldn’t go back there. I experienced such joy there with my dad, and I couldn’t bear it. It would only remind me how much I miss him.

Sighing, I threw myself on the bed. Yes, he meant well and he really wanted to be the one to take me there, but he knew I would never go back. I’ve told him this. When he bought those tickets, he probably thought he could bring back the happiness I once shared there with my father. Sadly, I haven’t been back to The Greek since I was fourteen years old and went to the U2 concert. It was the last concert I went to with my family before my mother, my aunt, and my father died in a small plane crash coming home from Mexico. So, going back to The Greek can never bring me happiness, only sadness at the loss of my family and my longing to have them back. I’m not sure how long I stayed in his room thinking about my parents until I finally decided to rejoin the party.

I stopped in the kitchen to grab a third beer, and then I headed back into the living room. All the lights had been turned off and orange candles glowed everywhere as the sound of haunting music filled the room.

I felt a strong arm wrap around my waist and Ben nibbled on my ear. “Where you been, Dahl?”

“Just grabbing a beer,” I answered, holding my Solo cup up in the air and twisting around in his arms.

Loud screams diverted my attention back to the ice luge where Aerie was jumping up and down, grabbing her throat, and squealing as if in pain. Motioning my head toward her, I set my cup down on the banister. “What’s she drinking?”

Clutching his arms tighter around my hips, he pulled me closer to him. As he slipped his long fingers inside the waistband of my black leggings, he fingered the lace of my panties and whispered in my ear, “Don’t know.” Then he placed one of his legs between mine and asked, “Want some?”

I shook my head no and was nearly panting as I responded. “I promised Aerie I’d go with her to the bar and listen to some new band. One of us should stay somewhat lucid—at least until we get there.”

He trailed his hands across the top of my panties; the fingertips of his one hand grazed from my backside across to my hipbone. Before I knew what was happening, his fingers started drifting down into the front of my pants.

“I didn’t mean the luge,” he said coyly before plunging his tongue into my ear and grinding his hips into mine.

I pulled back from him and effectively removed his hands from inside my leggings. I needed to stop this very public display of affection before I couldn’t. I brushed his blond hair away from his seductive blue eyes and asked, “You coming?”

Grinning fiendishly, he answered, “I hope to be soon, gorgeous!”

I laughed and shook my head. “Ben Covington, you’re impossible.”

Loud music played overhead in the dimly lit room that was largely occupied by trick-or-treaters who paid no attention to us. I reached around his neck and tugged his head down to mine, melding my mouth to his. He really was something else.

Ben pulled his soft lips from mine and groaned in my ear. “My room now. I need to fuck you.”

I leaned back and stared at his incredibly irresistible grin. Summoning all of my willpower, I tried to decide what to do.

Before I could respond, Aerie tugged my ponytail. She had a light sway to her stance and with her slightly slurred words she said, “There you are, girlfriend! You ready?”

Disentangling myself from him, I shrugged my shoulders and mouthed, “Sorry. Rain check?”

He exhaled and muttered under his breath to Aerie, “Nice fucking timing.”

Aerie, being Aerie, thumped him in the forehead. “Watch the language, asshole,” she quipped haughtily as she reached for my arm.

Leaning back toward Ben, I gave him a swift kiss. With Aerie forcefully tugging me toward the door, I managed to say, “Meet you back here later.” Walking backwards and giggling, I blew Ben a kiss and waved goodbye.

Rocking back on his heels, he stood with both hands in his pockets while biting his lip and shaking his head at me.

The cool night helped to settle the heat Ben had just sparked in my body. Sounds of Halloween echoed from every direction as we walked down fraternity row. I put my hands over my ears to block the shrill of the annoying sounds filtering from house windows. I glanced at Aerie, or more specifically, at her devil costume. She must have been plastered when she got ready because it wasn’t something I could have ever imagined her wearing. It really was the most ridiculous outfit; a very short red sequin dress, high heels, and all the accessories to match. It could barely pass as an acceptable red-light district ensemble—let alone a Halloween costume.

As we walked toward the bar, I grabbed a stumbling Aerie by the arm before she landed on her ass. “Have a nice trip?” I laughed, knowing full well she didn’t like to be made fun of but not really caring right now.

Aerie shrugged, pulling her wavy beautiful blonde hair back and fastening it with the clip she had been fishing out of her purse when she missed her step. “Be nice,” she quipped, stopping me so she could readjust her shoe. “At least you can’t call me a non-conformist!” She stopped pouting, having resolved her anger toward my sarcastic remark by assaulting me with her drunken words.

I had never told Aerie that Halloween was the anniversary of my parents’ death. Ben was the only one who knew. He understood why I disliked Halloween and why I never dressed up. For me, it was already a dark day, and I never felt the need to cover my sadness by camouflaging my feelings with a costume.

I sighed at her intoxicated state and recognized my own, not exactly sober, frame of mind; I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and put on my very best Vincent Price voice from Thriller. “Ahhhahhahaaahaaa, you know I never conform. It’s against my religion.”

We continued walking—Aerie in red high-heel vixen pumps, me in black Converse sneakers—and she tripped again, leaving her shoe behind her this time. “Aerie, really, I think your outfit could have done without those shoes. They’re too big, you dumbass.” I turned around and picked up her shoe. “What size are these?” I asked, squinting to see inside the shoe.

“Don’t worry about it; it’s not like you’d ever wear them anyway, Miss I-Always-Have-to-Wear-Comfortable-Shoes. It was the only pair of red shoes left, and one size too big is hardly an issue when they match your outfit perfectly,” she announced, yanking the shoe out of my hand. “You know it’s all about the look. I’d sacrifice comfort for style any day. Ahem…” she cleared her throat while looking down at my shoes.

Shaking my head at her, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Whatever.”

I walked a little slower so she could keep her shoes on. Aerie said in a much sweeter voice, “Thanks for taking me out. Now, come on. Let’s get moving and have some fun. It’s girls’ night out after all, and I have a broken heart to mend.”

I gave her a little smile as I squeezed her arm. “Sweetheart, I think you started the mending process hours ago!”

Aerie shuffled down the sidewalk to hold her shoes in place, and I just knew this was going to be an interesting night. Aerie, my best friend since freshman year, broke up with her boyfriends like I changed the flavor of my coffee creamer—often.

Aerie was a Type-A personality, but you would never have known this in her drunken state. Her major flaw was her drive for perfection, not just with herself, but also with her boyfriends. When a guy fell short of the perfection she expected, she simply moved on. As was the case with her last boyfriend and she broke up with him yesterday. Tonight she was looking forward to new horizons, and I was looking forward to listening to a new band.

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