By: Tijan

“What do you mean?”

Avery opened her mouth, then paused mid-step and mid-speech. Her head cocked to the side and she seemed to realize what she’d been about to say. She grinned ruefully at me.

“Sorry. I probably shouldn’t say anything. I’m not being a good friend.” She waved her hand. “Forget I said anything.”

I clipped my head in a quick up-and-down motion. “Said what?”

She laughed. “Thank you.”

Her room was closer so we paused outside her door. I could hear techno music blaring inside, and she gazed at the door for a moment, her forehead wrinkling. “You know,” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Do you want to come with us?”

I widened my eyes. “You and Maggie?”

“What?” Understanding dawned. “No.” She laughed again. “Sorry. No, no. Maggie’s probably off with your stepbrother or—” She caught herself again. “Some friends and I are going to a house party. This is a totally different group. Maggie won’t be there.”

“Oh.” Now I chewed the bottom of my lip. What to do? Be pathetic, or…party? “I’m in.”

“Great.” She straightened up, her shoulders rolling back. “Okay.” She pulled her phone from the back of her jeans and scrolled through it. “Okay, yeah. We’re meeting at my friend’s room in twenty, so want to come back here in ten? My friend’s room is all the way across campus and…” She paused for another beat, her chest lifting and holding. “Uh, we’re going to be drinking. I shouldn’t invite you with, but you’re here, and you seem cool, and we’re in college.”

I nodded. “Not another word. Kevin’s a big partier. I have no problems with it.”

“Okay.” She gave me a relieved grin, her shoulders loosening up. “Okay. Yeah. Go make yourself more gorgeous, and let’s head out in ten.”

“On it. Be back.”

I didn’t know what kind of party I should dress for, but I decided to assume this would be the normal deal: Kegs. Making out. And more kegs. Right. So that meant jeans, black tank top, and sandals.

When I got to Avery’s room, I could see I’d dressed right. The only difference between her outfit and mine was a black bra underneath her almost translucent tank top. It was white, but so thin that I could see her belly button clearly. She’d pulled her hair up into two high side braids. With hoop earrings and her tight, faded jeans, she looked edgy and ready to party.

When I met her yesterday morning, I never would’ve suspected she’d go out partying, with me, dressed like this. In her official role as RA, she wore khaki shorts and a red, collared shirt, her bleached blond hair combed and loose, resting beyond her shoulder blades. Seeing her blue eye shadow and red lipstick, I realized she must’ve been wearing natural-tone makeup when I met her, or none at all. I remembered how she’d stood, holding a clipboard, when she met my parents. Her head had been lowered, her shoulders slumped a little. She’d looked demure, and really sweet.

Now she flashed me a grin with blinding white teeth. “Two minutes!”

Typing on her laptop, she paused a moment, then shut it off. She pulled her purse strap over her head and across her body as she came out, keys in hand.

I stepped back as she came into the hallway, and she locked her door. Then she scanned me up and down. She nodded, a look of approval on her face. “Looking good, little Matthews.”

I frowned. “It’s Stoltz.”

“Oh.” She nodded. “Sorry. I gotcha.”

Avery would’ve fit in with the popular girls at my high school, so I wasn’t surprised to find out she knew Kevin. She was beautiful, but it wasn’t just how she looked. She was confident, and sexy too. May would’ve been jealous of her, and that meant we all would’ve hated her because one of us did. This was different now, though. Avery seemed easygoing, and that made me feel comfortable with her. I wasn’t being judged as Kevin’s stepsister. In fact, it seemed the opposite. I almost felt like Avery didn’t care for Kevin, and for some reason, I liked her even more.

As we trekked across campus, Avery had a way of asking me questions, but also talking so I never felt put on the spot. I could see why she was a resident advisor, except that I was pretty sure RAs weren’t supposed to party or drink with students on their floor. Still, Avery was good with people. We ran across different groups along the way, and almost everywhere someone knew Avery—not only knew her, but liked her. They waved, said hello, or threw out a joke to her.