A/N: Apparently, this is connected to my other story Whiskey Tea Café, which takes place about a year after this one. Both stories were written after I finished college, so I can say with utmost confidence that this will probably not require as much brain bleach as some of my archaic works.


- I -

With his lips set in a straight line, Gage tucked the results of his most recent English Composition I exam into an envelope addressed to his mother back in Tallahassee. Although he loved her dearly and missed her (for the most part), he sometimes questioned her sanity and emotional health in recent days. Ever since his admission and subsequent relocation to the University of West Florida a few months back, Violet Silveira had devised and executed every possible desperate strategy to bring her son back home.

The first occurrence was before he even left. He had been in the middle of packing his suitcase and preparing to move into the dorms on campus. Violet marched into his room and began squawking about college costs, from tuition and books to his undoubtedly impending porn subscription and condom funds. He just stared at her in utter shock and revulsion, at a complete loss for words.

The second occurrence was while he was attempting to get from Point A (his front doorstep) to Point B (his vehicle). It was proving to be a most difficult task, what with his mother physically clamped onto his arm and all. Speaking in her native language of Portuguese, she began laying out the guilt trip about how he had been such a rebellious teenager the past year or so, sneaking out every weekend (she could never remember that he was a volunteer for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program) and then applying for college without even telling her, and now leaving her all alone in a "cold, empty house."

"I even grounded you, and here you are running off to Pensacola!" she had wailed. "You're so disobedient, you ungrateful child!"

"Woman, it's for college! Plus, I'm already eighteen! You shouldn't be grounding me anymore!"

She also threatened to take him back to Brazil with her. Fortunately, his friend Ryan Lorrens had stopped by to see him off and he hurried over to help pry Violet off her son's arm. Gage promised to call her every week while he was at college. He had felt remorseful during the four-hour drive to Pensacola, his mother's scrunched-up face and gush of tears burned into his memory.

The third, fourth, and fifth occurrences happened one after another via phone calls over the course of his first week at UWF. During the last occurrence, Violet had launched into a frantic symphony of (shouted) reasons for him to come home, the finale entailing her dramatic portrayal of a heart attack. Gage calmly hung up and called Ryan to verify his mother's health. His dependable friend reported that Violet was actually currently in his parents' backyard for a social gathering, lounging on a lawn chair with a margarita in hand.

Despite his mother's increasingly eccentric behavior, Gage felt some degree of responsibility for her insecurities. He was, after all, her only child and only immediate family member in the United States. While her frenetic description of a "cold, empty house" was a bit extreme, she was indeed living alone now even though their family friends made it a point to visit her often. Furthermore, his busy extracurricular life had strained their relationship, as his weekly disappearances had implanted in her the belief that he was in a stage of juvenile mutiny.

As a last-minute decision before his high school graduation, he began applying to several universities and colleges, and was surprised when the University of West Florida responded first with his acceptance letter for the fall term. Unlike Ryan, he had already resolved not to go to Florida State University in town since he wanted to attend a smaller school with a better student-faculty ratio. The hardest part was breaking the news to Violet, who of course resisted the idea with every fiber of her being.

She punctuated her protests with the excuse that he owed it to her to be around since he had accelerated her aging by distressing her, but he suspected that she was just afraid of being left alone. To this day he still knew nothing about her story with his father, other than the fact that she may have been a mistress to a Native American casino owner from the Southwest who abandoned her once she became pregnant. He didn't particularly care to learn the truth at this point, but his mother seemed to possess some attachment issues.

He eventually made it to the UWF campus without Violet ripping off one of his limbs in an effort to forcibly prevent his departure. After a rocky first week dealing with her chain calls to his cell phone, he settled into a routine as a serious university student. He was diligent in his studies and selected courses covering subjects he may be interested in pursuing; his major was as of yet undecided.

Earlier today he had phoned his mother after receiving his exam results to tell her the good news and assure her that he was still doing well in school, but she appeared to have lost all memory of the first five exams—all A's—he had sent home and demanded that he prove himself by mailing her this latest one, complete with the professor's signature.

Sighing, he slipped the envelope into the outgoing mail chute and turned to exit the post office. Even though his mother was most definitely very close to suffering an emotional breakdown (not that she hadn't already), he was certain that the Lorrens family would be there to help and support her. She would have to accept that he had grown up sometime, and he couldn't spend all his energy worrying about her when most of her theatrics were just that—theatrics. With that final thought, he redirected his focus to the warm September afternoon that greeted him once he stepped outside the building.

It was a lively Wednesday with clear skies. Campus bustled with students heading to and from class, organizations setting up bed sheet signs for various events, and vehicles driving along the main road. Gage took a deep breath, reveling in the fragrance of actual trees, which were somewhat absent from the FSU campus back home. He loved the freedom and diversity here. The people that made up the population of UWF came from different backgrounds and cultures, and they were all remarkably interesting.

When it came to romance, he was definitely looking. He'd had a few casual girlfriends in high school, but he was so involved with school and outside activities that they quickly dumped him for his lack of availability. He hoped to change that in college, especially since he was usually a solitary figure in this town and had yet to find a circle of friends.

In Tallahassee, he had a niche with Ryan and a few other guys from different school clubs. Now that they'd all graduated and gone their separate ways, forming new relationships was in order. However, Gage would never think of them as replaceable, and hopefully they would still be able to hang out when everyone went home for the summer.

He'd already experienced losing contact with his first childhood friend, a girl two years his senior. She had moved away after finishing elementary school, and he never heard from her again. Once the era of social networking took over the internet, he tried searching for her online, but had no luck. He was now adamant about holding onto his friendships, no matter the time or distance between them.

Still, he was grateful to be here with a minority scholarship that paid for most of his tuition. He had a student loan that covered the rest of his school expenses and a part-time job at the Serials section of the John C. Pace Library.

Which he was about to be late for, by the way.

One glance at his watch sprang him into action. He made a beeline for his car in the parking lot, nearly getting hit by the campus trolley in his haste. He threw open the trunk and tossed in his backpack and English textbooks. His supervisor was a stingy old man with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder who insisted that library staff and employees stuff their personal belongings i in. cubbies in the break room. Anything outside the cubbies would be escorted to the nearest trash receptacle.

With only his keys and wallet in his pockets, he shut the trunk and hurriedly made his way to the library, which was in walking distance. Several individuals he passed by turned to stare after him in interest.

Diverse as the community was, Gage always stood out prominently. He towered over others at a proud six-foot-three, sporting shaggy light brown hair and the russet-colored skin characteristic of most Native American people. The only traces of his Brazilian mother in his physical appearance were the shape of his eyes, which slanted downward. His massive build moved with a canine grace, which inexplicably drew the attention of every eye in the vicinity.

When he reached the Serials floor, he spotted his supervisor hovering ominously over the new pile of serials sitting untouched on Gage's desk. Mr. Gloucenshire was, for lack of a better term, a rather shitty supervisor to have. He brought his strict expectations and meticulous ideals to the office and took offense whenever his employees didn't measure up. His expression was set in a permanent grouchy glower, and he swung disapproving eyes to the newest member of the Serials staff arriving two seconds too late.

"Mr. Silveira…"

"Sorry, sir, I was at the post office sending a letter to my mother," Gage declared straight away.

Mr. Gloucenshire looked unimpressed. "Mr. Silveira, I would go on a tirade about punctuality in the workplace, but fortunately for you, the staff members at Circulation need you to attend a research presentation at the Commons auditorium to fetch the manuscript of the student researcher's report."

Gage's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. "Why does Circulation need me to do it?"

"It seems that their student employees have fallen ill simultaneously—although I severely question the authenticity of that claim—and so they need one of the other departments to yield a mobile body. I volunteered you since you were supposed to come in several seconds ago." The elderly man began waving Gage away as he slid the serials into the TO DO box. "Go on, and hurry back so you can get started on filing these serials."

The young man felt a twinge of irritation, but complied. "Okay…"


The Great Hall of the Commons had been recently remodeled ahead of schedule, and the facility was immaculate. Gage followed the general direction many groups of professional-looking people were going and soon came upon a large, contemporary auditorium that was packed. Evidently, the presentation hadn't started yet but was soon to commence. He picked up a flyer from the table by the entrance and scanned the area for an empty seat.

The first thing he noticed at the front of the audience was an array of large posters held up by what looked like an all-female organization. They wore matching white and blue T-shirts and babbled amongst each other as a faculty member appeared on stage and announced that the presentation would begin in one minute. A collective cheer of, "Omicron Sigma Omega supports our vice president!" erupted from the first two rows. Gage realized that they were a sorority, and their posters proudly displayed their Greek letters as they hollered excitedly for what he assumed was the student researcher giving the presentation.

Somewhat put off by the hyper spirit of sorority girls, he selected a seat near the back and glanced down at the flyer in his hands. The research topic was about growing Camellia sinensis and its two different varieties. The term rang no bells for him. His knowledge of plants and botany was considerably lacking, to say the least. But he did notice that the description referred to two students who had worked on this project, not one.

The lights suddenly dimmed and the chorus of chatter in the auditorium died down into silence. Two individuals approached the stage, their steps echoing on the hollow platform as they made their way to the center.

"Hello, and welcome to this research presentation. My name is Hakan Kramer, and I'm a senior getting ready to graduate with a BS in Business Administration in the spring," a baritone voice said into the microphone. "This is my research partner, Mara Almstrand."

Gage's head snapped up. The name was highly familiar.

The female student researcher leaned into the microphone and gave the audience a little wave. "Hi, everyone. I'm a junior this year, majoring in botany," she declared, smiling.

The rows containing the sorority girls roared with applause.

"Mara, we love you!"

"Go Vice! Whoo!"

"Omicron Sigs forever!"

Gage ignored the noise and squinted at the young woman on stage. He gradually recognized her, noting that she still looked like a porcelain doll with delicate features. Reaching a modest height of five-foot-three, she was diminutive beside her tall research partner. She wore a tasteful navy blue business suit and stood with a confident posture that would help her stand out in the professional world. Her skin was very fair, her hair honey-colored and cut into an inverted bob that framed her heart-shaped face. Lively gray eyes shone with laughter as she asked her sorority sisters to calm down. Thankfully, they obeyed.

The Kramer guy started talking again so Gage tuned him out as he continued to stare at Mara. Even after doing a double take, there was no mistake. It was really her. All these years of not knowing where she was, and unsuccessful in his efforts to find anything about her on the internet… and he'd ended up at the same university she attended. What were the odds of that? He reeled from the shock as the presentation continued (which he eventually learned was about tea leaves).

They had been next-door neighbors, and she became his best friend since his mother used to babysit her on the weekends whenever her parents left town for business conferences. She had also been his first crush, and he recalled feeling distraught for weeks after her departure from Tallahassee.

He'd be damned if he let her get away again.

Once the presentation concluded, he quickly rose from his seat and hurried toward the front of the auditorium. She and Hakan were taking questions from the audience members, and he elbowed his way none too gently through the white and blue wall of Omicron Sigma Omega girls, nearly trampling over some of the smaller ones. They protested loudly to deaf ears as he strode straight toward Mara.

She saw him coming and trailed off in the middle of her sentence, causing the man with whom she'd been conversing to turn around just in time for Gage to bump him out of the way. His pulse raced uncontrollably as he gazed down at her bemused face, his brain short-circuiting as he realized he hadn't planned what to do next once he plowed a path to get to her.

He settled for the first thing that came to mind.

"Where have you been?" he demanded. Inwardly, he cringed.

Really? That's the best you could do? And to think I kept you healthy by doing well in school instead of being a bum and letting you rot, he told his prefrontal cortex in disgust.

Some of the chatter died down as everyone's attention shifted to the giant standing threateningly over the petite student researcher.

Her blank look implied that she had no idea who he was, he was coming off as some sort of psychopath, and she was two seconds away from calling security. "Excuse me?"

"I'm Gage Silveira. Remember? Gage from Tallahassee?" he all but pleaded, knowing full well he was making an ass of himself in front of an auditorium of witnesses. "We lived next door to each other when we were kids?"

Nearly a minute passed before a light bulb flashed over her head and recognition flooded her features. But before she could open her mouth, her research partner stepped in.

"Is there a problem?" Hakan asked in an even tone. His slanted green eyes narrowed and exuded an unearthly quality.

Gage glanced at him in annoyance. "Back off, pretty boy. She knows me." Without waiting for the older male's response, he grabbed Mara by the hand and dragged her to the back of the stage.

"Hey, I'm in the middle of an important—"

He cut her off as they stopped behind the stage curtain. "You do remember me, right?"

She pulled her hand back and peered up at him wryly. "Yes, I definitely remember your insistent nature and pushy personality."

Ouch. True, but ouch.

"So before we go any further, I have to ask. Where'd you move to after Tallahassee?" he inquired.

Surely the reason they'd lost contact was that she'd gone somewhere out of state. Somewhere far away. Maybe Wyoming. Or Alaska.

"We moved here. To Pensacola," she replied matter-of-factly.

He stared down at her dumbly for a while as he registered this information. To… Pensacola? As in, only four hours away from Tallahassee? Hmm…

Then it clicked.

"What!" he exploded. "Why the hell did we lose touch after you moved, then?!"

She only shrugged helplessly. "I guess my parents lost your mom's number and email. And I never got into the whole social networking thing, so it's hard for me to keep track of my past friends."


Gage rubbed the back of his neck wearily. "Well, it's crazy that I ran into you in person after all this time. I'd always wondered what happened to you."

She beamed at him as he said this, revealing an expression that evoked many forgotten memories and tugged at him.

Feeling encouraged enough to be familiar with her, he joked, "You know, this could be fate. Finding each other like this, I think I'm meant to be your next boyfriend." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, enticing a laugh from her.

"Oh really?" she grinned.

"Yep. And I'm really adaptable as far as type. I can be sensitive, dangerous, you name it," he told her. "Anything you want me to be."

Mara was quiet for a few seconds, her gray irises shining in concealed mirth. "Anything, huh?"

He paused at the peculiar note of amusement in her voice.

Crossing her arms, she flashed him the most radiant smile he'd ever seen in his life. "Well then, I'm afraid you're going to have to be a woman."


A/N: I was going somewhere with this story, but I seem to have lost the next chapter. The premise was interesting enough (in my head), so let me know if this is something you'd want to read more about, and I'll make the rest of it happen.