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one
Butts-printed shorts

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"Danny," I called all the while engaged in an intense staredown with my fat cat. The calico himself, Mister Fluffy Butts AKA Butts, feasted like the master thief that he was. "Danny, we fucked up."

Danny AKA Father Dearest poked his black bedhead from the kitchen-to-living-room window. "How so?" he asked from his rectangular view as his attention was focused on making breakfast. Which, from the smell of our morning, might be sunny-side eggs and almost-burnt toast.

But let's look at Butts. Cheerful meows filled our kitchen as he gobbled cat kibble, 'cause tuna pate stunk up our house to high heavens after his business, for what I knew was not the first time today. Eight o'clock was breakfast and not second breakfast.

Hands on my hips, I popped the big breakfast question, "Did you feed Butts already?"

After Danny popped my breakfast onto the island counter, he dried his hands on a dishtowel and sighed, "Lottie, do we need a system for this?" Then he glanced shortly at his watch, before he spread the towel across his face. "Ah, darn, eat the toast, we have to leave now if we want to make it to class."

Jamming my jammed toast into my mouth, I told my dad, "A'ight 'ow?"

"Yes as in right now."

Then some time later that I wouldn't say was right now, I was loop-de-looping the laces of my lemon yellow high tops. My shoes appeared even more worn out against the impeccable dashboard, but they were my best go-to pair. As I chewed on my to-go toast in great boar-like mouthfuls, Danny started up the small talk train, "Are you feeling okay?"

"Fine." I frowned 'cause I was fine, but deep, deep inside, I really wasn't. Let's say your girl had a bit of quandaries, all internal. "Seriously though, Dad? I'm not expecting anything different than last year. Freshman year was my college debut, and now as a Sophomore, it's like. Blech, whatever," I mumbled.

A smudge of a grudge didn't forward in any direction when Danny didn't get it. Between you and me, I might still regret that while I chose the university my father professor-ed at, I didn't want to be in his major and I didn't want to attend from home. I wasn't a Biology major, thank the Lord, but here I was carpooling with my dad. Danny wasn't the type to present me with one option, but being around sullen, sulky Danny only hours after telling him I wanna live twenty minutes away was already unbearable.

Breaking me outta Lottie's Landmine of Mind (aka the land-mind) was Danny's positively bright paternal voice. "Let's focus on the bright sides," he suggested. "What are you hoping to change this year?" Oh, I had a plan to change alright but he wasn't supposed to know it right now. Step A wasn't even in motion yet. "You mean Step One?"

And to think I got this brain-to-mouth filter under control.

"I have a plan," I blurted, completely making up a plan right now, "to better… My. Grades?"

"But you always aim for A's with some oddball B's. Those aren't so bad." Danny might even look worried that my two brain cells were wasted to thunk up that bit of genius.

Genius might've pulsed through bio-nerd, Danny, but not for me. By stereotypical Korean-American standards, my grades were unspeakable; however, Danny knew not to expect much. I was smart enough to get into his university, but it wasn't my grades that got me in. It was my dedication to the arts, and the arts were soooo much more easier to get into than, say, STEM.

I told him, "Thanks, Danny, but I'm older and wiser. A little more studying won't kill me."

He sent me a smile crossed with a smirk. "I beg to differ." I scoffed before he tacked on, "I've watched you suffer to be here."

With an upturned nose, I retorted, "Danny, I'm surprised you haven't suffered from, like, seeing me over and over again."

He shook his head, his hair sticking out even more. "I'll never be sick of my lovely flesh and blood, Lottie," he cooed and, just as we parked it onto campus, he one-armed hugged me.

Time was a'ticking though so I tapped at his nerdy sweater vest. I could sense his reluctance, but Danny let go, just to straighten my top and eye my shorts. To distract him, I finger-brushed through his unprofessor-y bedhead. "Kay, I'm going now!" I kissed his cheek, licked down my thumb then down one astray lock of his, and out I went. Walking backwards, I said to him, "Bye, Dad. Love you lotts!"

"Love you lotts more," he yelled through the open window. "And close the door, Lottie!" After his demands, I didn't spare a glance back as I entered another year in fun ol' university.

#

"What's up, K-bitch?" yelled my longest bestie. Perched on a campus table, Vera Lomeli was decked out in flexible, dance wear— fitting for her major after all and the daughter of a Mexican agency president—with her dark hair appropriately tightened into a ponytail as her darker eyes glittered with mischief at the sight of me.

I plopped below her, on the actual bench, and tossed back my nonexistent ponytail. I chopped it all off back in middle school and decided I liked being mistaken as a prepubescent boy. "Bitch," I replied as one would say hello before swiveling over to our groupie's darling. "How are you, Ada darling?"

On the other side of our quartet's personality spectrum was Ada Anderson. Petite, princess-like, and our prettiest bestie, Ada turned heads with her ballet-slipper pink afro. She instilled a protective instinct into anyone, like an adorable duck you'd rather die than let anything happen to her. Vera especially wouldn't let anyone hurt Ada's feelings 'cause—oh, I almost forgot. Did I mention two of my closest friends were dating each other? Yeah, make those connections, so where did that leave me? Fortunately, Verada were the kind of couple, when you third-wheel them anyway, who didn't make you feel like a sad shitty single and not a lesbian. They were my closest friends, and three outta four were present.

Screen light to Ada, she swept a regal hand over her outfit and replied, "Am I overdressed?"

She wore the cutest ruffled blouse and a chiffon a-line skirt, like, think of princess academia. Adorbs, so I said, "It's a first day best impressions day, Ada. Everyone is pulling off their best."

Note to self: Maybe don't be a poster child to shoot your own statement to flames. I happened to don the same Butts-patterned (my cat, not posteriors, you lech) shorts I slept in, matched with my bright-red top with the peter pan collar, and my worn-out high tops. Yeah, wow, I sure looked like my personal shopper was a four-year-old.

"Erm…" I trailed off when Vera slid off the table.

"What's your first?" she asked, waving her schedule.

Grabbing her wrist, I noted that she marked all over her paper. Despite her IDGAF, IDGAS personality, Vera held herself together pretty well. Thankfully, while I was looking off Vera's schedule, Ada pouted and answered, "Learning about dead people in the morning?"

"History here too," Vera spoke up with a roll of her eyes.

As for me, I quickly glanced down and sighed exasperatedly, "Soph's Biology in the morning."

Apparently, this class was for those who skipped their required biology back in Freshmen year. Kinda like a 'Bitch, you thought?' class, because it was also admittedly harder to pass. Danny got a good laugh when he'd already told me to take freshman's biology.

A couple's collaboration, Verada frowned. "Sorry, Lottie."

"It's fine," I said when it wasn't. Oh, the other breakfast students were throwing their trash and heading off, usually signalling the first class of the day. Clocks were officially out. "I'll see you guys at lunch!"

Both of them gave me fervent assurances and quick hugs before leaving together. Alone, I made my way to the bio building where the halls were as fancy as ever with students not blocking the way as they did in the movies. Major inaccuracy, like. This was college where we got shit to do like study or work or nap. But not in here. These hallways were to accommodate students who appreciated the conspicuous signs that reminded the dumbasses where exactly was where.

Destination found, I ducked into Room 105 and plopped into a seat near the window. Perfect for minimal attention and dazing away, 'cause I did not pay attention. Aside from right now as I retrieved pencil and paper for my professor (who wasn't Danny, 'cause he only taught hardcore, sleep-deprived Biology majors) who started writing on the board. Sophomore's Introduction into General Biology. Then my professor went over the attendance and the syllabus, none of which we listened to. We'd go over it when we felt like it (the week before the final) but then my professor rewinded back to attendance again?

"Elías Lopasnost?" she read off the one person who hadn't said "Here!" ten minutes ago.

I looked up from doodling cat butts when someone, probably Elías Lopasnost, claimed that name naturally with a smile I could only describe as lazy. Except for the professor, everyone gave Elías their full attention. He didn't seem to mind—rather he welcomed the sea of eyes like an oncoming storm—as their stares appreciated his relatively healthy body that bore a head of dark hair that swept into light eyes. I hate him. My thing with jealousy was that he needed to drop his skincare routine. Not so much with his complexion, like he was so smoothly pale like milk and marble, or as far as I could tell 'cause he kinda covered up with. That.

Imagine your typical bad boy fashion and Elías had the checklist down to a BB. Leather jacket, ripped jeans, black and more black, yep, yep, ugh. When he sat down, the move was so impossibly flowy like water pouring into an empty glass. I thought some of us were second-guessing if he was real as if we could experience a classroom hallucination.

I attempted to ignore that hallucination when it was clear everyone else divulged into this delusion. Especially his back buddies who looked at him like he was some kind of symbolic, all-in-black Jesus. Thankfully, Elías was only a class's distraction when I attended my second class. After first-day to the arts, I zoomed for the usual lunch spot. Usually top-secret, there was barely anyone at the third floor cozy corner of the DreamFacts Library. But my girls, Verada, were already there, cozing it up in the cushy armchairs that came with movable desk-ish tops for books, tablet or laptop preferred, or the perfect Korean street toast.

"Excuse you," Vera called in a tone anyone else would've taken as offensive. "You can't sit with us."

Sticking my tongue, I sidled close to Ada. "So! What's poppin'?"

Vera seized the chance to kick things off, blurting all at once, "So fuck rumors and all that biz, but here's the tea with Elías. I heard he got kicked outta UCL because." Pausing, she stole a sip from Ada's berry banana smoothie. After her girlfriend, Ada gave me an extra straw as Vera finished off, "Because the main band for their Homecoming Concert, like, didn't show up for their gig. Not until campus police found the members having a mini orgy with ya-know-who."

"Mini-orgy?" I guffawed. "How many is it for an actual orgy?"

"It's a vulgar term and I don't like it," Ada said with a wrinkle of her button nose. "Babe, you should have said he was having sexual intercourse."

"If it's your fetish," Vera laughed, stabbing a cherry tomato, then pushed it against Ada's lips. "So Elías was apparently having sexual intercourse with the band, Like, getting it with three other girls. Lucky bastard." As Ada checked her phone, she passed me a tomato when Vera added on with a swipe of her fork, "Anyway, he got caught in the stadium's bathroom."

Straight-faced, I monotoned, "A stadium bathroom. A public place. How classy."

"Five," chipped in Ada as she scrolled down her phone. "Five people are required to be an orgy."

My lips pressed together, I nodded in enlightenment. Having been informed, Vera pecked Ada's cheek before going off, "Lottie, shut the fuck up." She was about to criticize so I raised my brow in a challenge, like one of those Elizabethan-age duels. "If that one actor, Gong Goo or whoever, if he looked in your general direction in an IHOP's parking lot, you'd be in the first stall and all over his dick."

I wanted to laugh out loud 'cause Vera was completely correct, but I kept that locked up as I too went off, "First of all, he's Gong 'Fuck' Yoo, and second of all, he's a god among gods, leagues above that punkass Zeus, and third of all, Elías would be that one spawn-kid of Aphrodite, that even she would sigh outta concern and say to him, 'Bitch, how many will it take to satisfy you?'" Sounded all according to Greek mythology or whatever. Not like Verada would myth-check.

Their lips twitched once before Ada giggled behind a decorous hand. Vera broke down too, laughing into her fist like I wouldn't catch that. Though color me surprised when Ada leaned forward and asked, "But in all honesty, Lottie, you're attracted to men. (Vera mumbled, "Unfortunately.") Don't you find Elías somewhat physically attractive?"

Yes and hella yes. "I have eyes," I admitted 'cause it was for Ada. Vera rolled her eyes. "He came in late to my Bio class, so, yes, I looked. Sue me. But if his looks are a window into his personality then no thanks." My hands up, acrylic-ed fingernails out, I counted off, "Like, I could do better than a self-centered, pretentious, possessive, manipulative, and misogynistic so-called bad boy." With that, I had defended my honor.

Of course my girls heard none of my honor defense. "He's in one of your classes?" gasped Vera then Ada was gasping.

"Of course I noticed him. So did thirty-one other students and the prof." That much was true. The girls could see that and the doubt released from their brows. "But just because I'm looking at him doesn't mean I'm gonna keep doing that. Watch me not care 'cause I won't. Care about him, like at all," I said and, had I known back then, lied.

#

The Art of English Literature, damned be you or whatever.

Alphabetical order and my corner seat was right next to Elías Lopasnost.

Imagine me walking in with no care in the world when the professor asked for my last name and pointed to That Seat. Yes, that one right next to Elías friggin' Lopasnost. He happened to be the only neighbor to my right. I meant, sure, I could talk with the two in front and back, but who did that? It wasn't like eye contact in a conversation was that important, but—

This wasn't going to end well. However, no fear! I had a plan. A very simple-minded one, but it shouldn't fail me. I meant it worked in Bio so it should work here, right? Just act like he wasn't—

"Hey." Note two to self; this was already failing. "Hey left neighbor, I know you."

Welp, this wasn't Mr. Roger's Neighborhood where everyone could be trusted with open arms and a song about unconditional acceptance. The only thing I'd be accepting from him was silence. You will not involve me in your mini orgies! Obviously, for his own good, I ignored him. Yep, just looking. Something on the window. Cool beans.

"Aren't you in my Bio class?"

Eww, it was a spider. A shitty-brown spider with long, hideous legs. And it created an intricate spider web between the window and my desk so it could just walk right over to my—

"Hell nah!"

Professor Greene stared all concerned at me while everyone else was gave me irritated gazes (like they were paying attention, I bet you not). As for me, I kneeled on my chair, clutching my bag against my chest as if it was a lifejacket and my desk was a bridge to death. But that was in poor comparison when the real danger resided on the window.

"Professor Greene," I said, straining to speak, "there's a tarantula."

She looked at the tarantula and said, "That's not a tarantula."

Weirdly enough, Elías had some resistance to tarantulas as everyone watched him stand like some sort of sinewy-limbed dancer and walk over to the window. I immediately backed away as he squashed the eight-legged monstrosity with his naked palm. While my class was entranced with his pretty boy face, I caught that he'd opened the window in the slightest and a small life scrambled out of his fist.

Whatever! Like that place was Hell on Earth, I zoomed out of English Not-So-Lit like, exactly like Butts did when dinner fell on the floor. However, Elías proved to be a hallucination alright when he made it to the exit before me. How the hell did he do that?

"Charlotte Leefeld." He rolled my full name off my tongue and I tried not to like it. I really did. "I was talking to you," he said or more so claimed.

Well, that was fan-friggin'-tastic.

"Somehow, I don't believe that," he drawled, hooking his fingers into his belt loops. I couldn't believe there was like an actual belt, buckled and all, around there. Raising an eyebrow, Elías was distracted as I moved around him like one of those football maneuvers. A feint? A faint? I didn't know! Damn it, I should've passed out on command. This hallucination had to be really mine, mine alone to bear, if he was able to follow me out of everybody here. "Charlotte Leefeld, I want to—"

"Stop right there." I picked up my pointer finger and swung it back and forth before Elías's beautiful face. Someone, please stop me. "Uhhh, one, two, three, now leave me be!"

I made a break for it.

Thankfully, I knew where Danny's car was parked and he knew what time my last class ended. So all I had to do was run like I was in the Olympics for first. I would've plucked that gold if he hadn't plucked my bag strap and used that to his leverage, yanking me before him.

Very much afraid, I squeaked and hoped he didn't ask for my number or the seven dollars in my account or anything to do in a public bathroom. "Charlotte Leefeld," he called quietly enough so that the surrounding students couldn't hear, "Leefeld? I like that better. Leefeld. Listen to me. " He was closing in near me so if I peeked inside his shirt, my nosy eyes got a good memory of pronounced pecs and, up up above, I could observe beauty up close. Damn, damn, oh hot damn. With all seriousness, his pretty face was better than winning Olympic gold. "Can I trust you to sit next to me in Biology as well, Leefeld?"

With that, he let go of me and I said, "You'll sit next to nothing so fuck off!"

Or at least I shouted that super threateningly in my head. Couldn't tell. I was hoofing it out of there, so all my energy wasted into my legs rather than the transfer of my brain to my mouth. He probably got the point anyway when I lunged for Danny's car. Danny wasn't even in the driver's seat anymore, so I grabbed his hand. After we were both planted in the car, I waved at Danny. "Okay, go, go!" Undergoing Dad Mode, Danny wore a sharp-eyed expression that was far worse than my murder face. "Danny," I sighed, tucking back my hair behind my ears. With this length, I couldn't do much less. "It's fine, Dad, I can handle it."

He looked less than convinced. "You were just yelling at me to leave, Lottie."

"He's gone now!" I argued and I hoped he did 'cause I hadn't exactly checked the windows. "It's fine! No bad boy in sight! It's fine, Danny, I'm a big girl."

He frowned. "You'll always be my baby girl."

I didn't like the sounds of that and I let Danny know. Trying not to let the exasperation twist my words, I told him, "Can't I always be your daughter? Why throw 'baby' in there when I haven't worn diapers—geeze, Dad, when you met me, I wasn't even wearing diapers."

Danny gave a chuckle at that, a sound similar to my own. Great, the other topic was long-gone. "I know, Lottie, I wasn't even blessed with potty training you." At a red light, Danny leaned over to wrap his usual one arm around me. We were close, this friggin' close that I'd not deny physical closeness from my own dad. "I wish I was there for everything," he mumbled into my hair.

The argument was over. Damn it. I really had nothing to say when 'everything' back then had been out of his control and I hoped Danny—my dad—I hoped he knew that.


a/n: hello! welcome to the end of chpt 1 :D

EDIT: this story is something i write for fun so it's silly and stupid and mainly played for that romcom charm. but it's also a bit of a passion project so there is a plot, there are puzzle pieces here & throughout, & there will be connections to be made. it doesn't read like that rn, but i do hope this is one of those stories that you binge-read till 2 in the morning (there is 15+ chapters out) so. if you do like, comment at any point please & thanks :)