April 1994 - The University of Mississippi
"Hiding from your 'heartless jackass' roommate?"
Nate Morgan glances up from his textbook to flash Joss Sachs a grin. "That's tame compared to what I've heard about your roommate."
Joss rolls her eyes and drops her backpack onto the picnic table before collapsing onto the bench across from Nate. "I bet. Alyssa wants to do the whole ice cream binge and chick flick therapy thing tonight but I'm dreading it. She switches between hating his guts to wanting him back so fast that I can hardly keep up. What's it like with Steven?"
Nate shrugs a shoulder. "Well, there's no ice cream or chick flicks, fortunately, but it's about the same. Calls her a bitch then wonders if he should talk to her. You think they'll stay broken up this time?"
"Who knows? I'm hoping not."
Nate tilts his head as he tries to remember what the current bet was. After a moment's contemplation, he shakes his head. "You put twenty on four times, didn't you?"
"Five. I've still got two to go."
"If Alyssa finds out that you started betting on her relationship with Steven, she's going to kill you."
Half of Nate's dorm had put money down on how many times Alyssa and Steven would break up before the end of the semester. The only one Joss feared would let it slip was sitting across from her. "Then you'd better hope she doesn't find out."
"Or else, right?"
"Or else." Joss pulls out her chemistry text and corresponding lab notebook. If she didn't love science so much, she would have seriously considered changing her major after the first month. The classes weren't too difficult but having two labs was wearing her out. The pair works in companionable silence for nearly an hour before Joss kicks Nate's shin with the toe of her sneaker.
"The hell, Jocelyn?"
"Any particular reason Marcia Flannery is trying her hardest to incinerate me with her eyes? She's been doing it for the past week. I thought you said the split was mutual."
Nate's ears turn a bright red. He refuses to look up at his friend. "I lied."
"Gee, I kinda gathered that much, Nathaniel." Joss leans back and crossed her arms over her chest. Sharp blue eyes catch his wince and the way his eyes dart to the side. He obviously feels guilty so she'll save the lecture on rule three until later. Right now she just wants the truth.
"If you don't want to tell me that's fine but in about two minutes I'm going to march over there and ask her what the problem is. Depending upon how that conversation goes, there's a very good chance that I will hit her. She seems like the hair-pulling type so it will probably deteriorate into a pretty nasty catfight. Security will come running and I may end up in jail. Since Alyssa's in no shape to talk to anyone, you're going to have to be the one to tell my step-father and my brother."
Joss bites back a smile at the way Nate's face pales. She loves winding him up. It's her favorite form of cheap entertainment. "Have you ever seen Tim in action? He's been a prosecutor for almost twenty years, you know. He'll have the story out of you before you even realize what you're doing. I can guarantee that he won't be amused." She leans forward and fixes him with a fierce glare. "So you can either tell me now or you can tell him later. Which is it going to be?"
Nate blows out a deep breath. He knew what he'd told Marcia would eventually come back to haunt him, he'd just hoped he'd have more time to come up with a good explanation. "She wasn't getting the hint about wanting to see other people. The morning after our last date she showed up at my room. I was in the shower so Steve let her in. She saw the handcuffs on my desk. When I came out of the shower she asked about them. I told her that you had given them to me for my birthday."
"I did. It was a gag gift, remember? Every future cop should have a pair."
"That's not what she thought they were for."
"And I didn't try to set her straight." Nate runs a hand through his shaggy dark hair then turns pleading eyes onto his best friend. "It was an excuse and I jumped on it. I told her that you and I were going through a rough patch but I still had feelings for you. She slammed the door in my face."
Joss purses her lips as she considers his story. It's too strange to be a spur-of-the-moment lie so it must be the truth. "Let me get this straight. To get a girl to stop liking you, you told her that I was your kinky ex who you couldn't get over?"
"I promise it sounded better when I said it." Nate waits anxiously for the explosion. Given Joss' temper, he's certain he'll be sporting a black eye shortly.
"Yeah. As in no big deal. It explains why Marcia wishes she could run my intestines up the flagpole and why Steve was looking at me funny the other day. Just ask me next time."
"I will." Stunned by how well she's taking it, Nate studies her intently. Was she sick? She looked a little tired but not ill. He'd watched her devour a double-meat cheeseburger at lunch so there was nothing wrong with her appetite. "You okay? You're starting to lose that Malibu Barbie glow."
Joss wrinkles her nose at the nickname he insisted on using. "I spend all of my time either in the library or in the lab. And it's not like there's any good surfing around anyway."
Making a mental note to take her to the park on Saturday for fresh air and sunshine, Nate turns back to his book. He was done with classes for the day but had an early morning test. He tries to get through the chapter but his mind keeps going back to one question. "Are you sure you're okay with what I told Marcia?"
"Yeah, Nate. It's cool."
Nate grins and nudges her knee with his. "Thanks, Mal. You're the best."
"You're just now figuring that out?" There is a brief pause as she makes a note in her notebook. It's just a doodle but there's no reason for him to know that. It'll do him good to sweat a bit. "Just one thing, best friend o' mine."
Joss lifts her head and smiles sweetly. "Tell anyone else and I'll handcuff you, au natural, to your balcony railing then swallow the key."
Nate gulps. He doesn't doubt for a minute that she would follow through. Vindictive brat. Hopefully he can bribe his way out of the doghouse. "Want to grab a pizza and take over the t.v. room?"
"I really should do the supportive thing with Alyssa even though I know she's going to make me sit through Sleepless in Seattle again."
"I'll let you watch Endless Summer," Nate offers. It's a small price to pay for a little peace and quiet.
"You're not going to do that sarcastic running commentary during the whole thing are you?"
Nate chuckles and starts gathering his books. That's as good as a yes. "No way. I barely survived last time."
"You're on." Joss shoves her books into her backpack before slinging it over one shoulder. "But you're buying the pizza."
"I always buy the pizza."
Joss shrugs her shoulders. "What's your point?"
With a shake of his head, Nate grabs Joss hand and yanks her off the bench. "No point. Just remember that next time our roomies break up, I'm going to leave you at Alyssa's mercy."
Joss raises an eyebrow and holds up three fingers. "Handcuffs. Balcony. Birthday suit."
Joss wraps an arm around Nate's waist as they near the table where Marcia Flannery and her friends are gathered. She ignores the death glares aimed at her direction. "You know you love me."
"Yeah. A sure sign that I'm going to fail the psych eval for my summer internship."