A/N: Hope this isn't too confusing, but I'm posting a re-write of chapter 1, which I've never been happy with. I'll be posting chapter 11 tomorrow if I'm able to get some computer time. Cheers!
The pounding of my running shoes on the sidewalk kept perfect time with the heavy beat of the Grand Massive song that was playing through my ipod. It was a fast tempo, and strategically placed on my song list to get me up the killer hill along the park on Stanley Street. As the song rose to a crescendo my focus narrowed on the distant bus stop sign at the top of the hill. The rhythm of my breathing was right on track: inhale-three-steps, exhale-three-steps, inhale-three-steps. It was a mantra on a constant loop, filling my thoughts and almost obliterating the ache I was beginning to feel in my quads and my right side.
I had reached my favourite part of the song, a heavy drum solo that was so intense and pulsating that it blocked out any other thought. I blew past the bus stop sign at top speed, immediately feeling the leveling of the slope and relief in my legs. The punishing rhythm of Grand Massive faded as a Ripcord Thirteen song kicked in; the tempo slightly slower, allowing me to catch my breath as I rounded Battery Park.
The slower pace permitted me to let my thoughts wander and I glanced to my right to catch sight of a children's birthday party that was taking place in the gazebo on the North East corner of the park. I noted with interest that it appeared to be a princess party – a Little Mermaid theme by the looks of the plastic seaweed and blue crepe paper decorations.
I slowed to a walk, keeping a keen eye on the birthday party as I rounded the North edge of the park. Within minutes, I saw Ariel herself waddling in her mermaid tail across the plush manicured lawn of the park, heading for the small gathering of little girls. Even from this distance, I could hear their excited squeals when they spotted her. Ariel's dazzling smile never betrayed her frustration with having to walk in that ridiculous costume and I knew that my housemate Karyn – Ariel – would earn every penny of the hefty fee the birthday girl's Mom and Dad were paying her.
I accelerated into a light jog as the path took me past a densely wooded area and the gazebo disappeared from view. If I'd had the time I would have stuck around to watch Karyn's routine, which included a song, a re-enactment of her story and a blessing for the birthday girl. It was pretty amazing to watch the effortless way she was able to hold the attention of a bunch of six-year-olds. Karyn was taking Con-Ed at Pillar's Point University, destined to become a primary school teacher, and considered herself pretty lucky to score the job with the children's party talent agency Princess for a Day to hone her performance skills.
I checked my watch, noting that I had only 40 minutes before my Microbiology lab was to start. I quickened my pace, emerging from the wooded path onto the sidewalk of Preston Drive. From here, I was five blocks from home and should arrive with just enough time to shower, throw on some clothes and head down to Bartlett Hall for my lab. Luckily, I had prepared for the lab the night before so I would be able to get straight to work.
Minutes later I bounded up the steps of my 100-year-old house on Earl Street, pausing on the front porch to unhook the front-door key from my running shoe laces. Realizing the front door wasn't locked after all, I let myself in and hopped over the huge mountain of shoes in the foyer and into the living room. Sprawled on the couch were my roommate Carol, and Larry, a friend from down the street. They were playing soccer on the xbox and were so enthralled in the game that they hardly noticed me come in.
"Hey guys," I yelled as I ran up the stairs, taking two at a time.
"Hi Gabs," I heard them yell in unison, quickly followed by a tormented scream and an excited war whoop. Figuring one had just scored on the other and they weren't, in fact, reliving their breakup from a few months ago, I continued on to the shower.
When I came back down the stairs ten minutes later, I was carrying my backpack and my barely towel-dried hair was casting rivulets of water down my back. A glance at my watch let me know that I had made good time and had a few minutes to kill before I had to leave. Grabbing my sandals, I sat down on the chair opposite Carol and Larry, who were still immersed in their soccer game.
"How was your run?" Carol said without moving her eyes from the screen; her thumbs and fingers moving at lightning speed. From my vantage point, I couldn't see the TV screen but had a much more entertaining view of the two of them and their animated attempts to control their tiny electronic soccer players.
"Fine," I said, as Larry leaned over to nudge Carol with his shoulder in an obvious attempt to throw off her game. Carol reciprocated with a shoulder check of her own. "I saw Karyn doing the Little Mermaid thing at Battery Park." I said, shaking my head at their antics. I was continually amazed that the two got along so well, considering they were a terrible couple for the two months that they dated. We all agreed that they were much better friends.
"So Gabs," Larry said as he frantically jabbed his controller at the TV, apparently trying to get his players to move faster or jump higher. "Did Kelly tell you about tonight?"
He tore his eyes from the TV to glance at me as I shook my head. "No, what's tonight?" I hadn't gotten a text from Kelly today. I rummaged around in my backpack for my cell phone as Larry explained.
"We're having a party tonight at our house YEAH IN YOUR FACE!" He finished with a shout that I initially took as a bit of over the top excitement about a party, but quickly realized he must have scored on Carol.
I had finally found my cell phone and turned it on to check texts. To be sure, there was one from Kelly from an hour ago, about the time I had left on my run.
'Hey, party at my house tonight, u in?'
"So," Larry said as I texted a response, "is that him?"
I nodded as I typed, forgetting for a moment that his attention was elsewhere.
'Just heard from Larry, will be there. Got lab now.'
"Ok guys, I have to jet. Carol, I'll be back around seven." I stood up, hefting my backpack onto my shoulders. "Do you want to head over together?"
"What? Oh yeah, I should be finished smoking this weak-assed kid by then" she said as she practically fell off the couch in her attempts to manipulate the controller.
As I walked out the door, I heard more shouts of victory and defeat, though I couldn't actually tell which one had actually scored. Larry and Kelly lived down the street with Sam - Karyn's boyfriend - and Joedy. We had all completed our second year at Pillar's Point University, and had all elected to stick around Pillar's Point for the summer.
My housemates, Carol, Karyn and Melanie and I had moved into our house a year ago on the same day that Kelly and his housemates had moved into theirs. In all the excitement of moving in, Melanie's cat had escaped from his box and ran down the street, with me in hot pursuit. He found his way to Kelly's house, running in the front door that had been propped open with a beer case as furniture and boxes were being moved in. When I followed him through the door, I ran directly into Kelly's housemate, Sam, who was just coming out.
"Oof!" I grunted as I ploughed directly into a tall wall of muscle. Sam reached out grab my shoulders in an attempt to steady me, and I caught sight of a grey fur ball disappearing around a couch in the living room.
"Hey, are you OK?" he asked, his voice tinged with worry. I guess I must have looked a little stunned. After all, it isn't every day I run straight into a 250 pound football player.
"Oh yeah," I muttered, head reeling a bit. "I was…my cat ran in here… I was chasing my cat in here." I stuttered, suddenly embarrassed that I had run right into this stranger's house – and arms.
Keeping a firm grip on my shoulders, he called over his shoulder: "guys, a little help over here?" As he led me into the living room to sit on the couch – under which Henry was no doubt hiding – three guys came wandering into the room. I was quickly introduced to Joedy, Larry and Kelly as Sam's housemates.
When I got my breath back, I was able to explain the reason for my hasty appearance and all the guys helped me dig Henry out from under the couch.
It had been a natural progression to hanging out with them more and more, particularly when Sam and Karen started dating. Eventually Carol and Larry began dating with disastrous results. Their split up was a relief to all of us, particularly to them. Kelly and I became fast friends, due partly to the fact that our hometowns were close. We often shared rides home on long weekends or holidays and those long drives cemented our friendship. My roommate Melanie, the stereotypical short cute blond, preferred to sample from the dating pool rather than settle down into a relationship, thus foiling Joedy's attempts at seducing her.
As I walked down Earl Street toward the campus, my phone beeped again announcing another text message.
'Have fun at lab, I'll save a spot for u next to the DJ'
I smiled, tucking my phone back into the pocket. Coincidentally, I was walking past Kelly's house just then and I briefly considered darting into his house to say hi, but I knew it would make me late for lab. Besides, I'd see him in a few hours at the party. Kelly and I were often asked by our friends when we were going to get together already. His friends would always ask in a way that questioned his sexuality or masculinity in typical boy humour, while my friends would usually offer advice or an observational analysis on how we were kidding ourselves and were really meant to be together.
In truth, Kelly and I had just fallen into a friendship before anything became romantic. It didn't help that Kelly was dating someone at the time. Though I found him attractive – he was gorgeous really, that ship had sailed.
I continued down the street past Kelly's house and turned down University Avenue toward Bartlett Hall, forcing myself to stop thinking about Kelly and instead give some thought to the next two hours I'd be spending in lab.