Jersey Girl (Sticks & Hearts #1)(11) by Rhonda James

"I'm sorry, mom. Is Chris there with you? Do you want me to come home? I can probably get a flight out first thing tomorrow."

"No. You stay put. The doctors seem pretty confident he will be okay, and he's in good hands. Chris is on his way. We'll be okay without you here. I'll call you once I know more, or if anything changes." I know she's trying to ease my worry, but her words have the opposite effect. Knowing I could have gone to school in Colorado rather than take off across the country used to weigh heavily on me when I'd first come to Michigan. This situation just brings all of the guilt I thought I had buried straight back to the surface.

A strange tightness grips my chest, and I feel the sudden need to go out and get plastered. Maybe the alcohol will help me forget everything I just heard.

"Mom, I have to go." I can hear her talking as I hang up, but I don't care. Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and discover it was all just a bad dream.

Even though in my heart I know it's not.

When I step out of my room, the first person I see is Davis. He's on the sofa, playing a video game and drinking a beer. I spin my keys on my finger and cock my head toward the door.

"Feel like getting wasted?" He's up and following me out the door faster than you can say hell, yeah.

CHAPTER FIVE

CASSIE

I stand back and survey my side of the room, loving what I see. After Scotty and his roommates helped me get settled, Ashley and I spent the better part of the afternoon shopping for items to give my space a homey feel. Ashley is getting her degree in interior design, and she found the best selection of random stuff at rock bottom prices.

I find it laughable it took three grown men to help me move six boxes stuffed full of my most precious belongings. But they insisted on helping. Spending the past few days with them has been quite an experience. We laughed, played video games, watched multiple videos where men were blowing up stuff, and bonded over a few meals. My brother has really great friends. They are all sweet guys who support each other fully. The only absent member had been Brantley.

"Our space is totally bitchin'," exclaims my roommate, Veronica, as she comes up behind me and rests her chin on my shoulder. She has a dancer's body, long and lean, and at five-nine she stands a good five inches over me. "I have a feeling this is going to be a great year."

"Yeah, me too." I look around our small, overly decorated space and smile.

"I'm famished. You feel like grabbing a burger?" She reaches for her ID and a credit card. "I know this really great bar down by the train station, and there's a bus that will drop us off a few short blocks from there."

"Oh, yeah, Casey's Tavern. I saw it when Scotty picked me up the other day. Hell, yes I'm in." I stuff my pockets with the necessary items and close the door to our new home.

***

The place is wall-to-wall packed with GL students, and we wait forty-five minutes for a booth. The atmosphere is loud and full of energy. It's not a large space, but it's crammed full of local flavor. Images of Ann Arbor in ages past line the walls, along with chalkboards covered in decorative, handwritten menus. A fully stocked bar lines one entire wall, and the bar itself must be twenty feet long and is packed with customers standing shoulder-to-shoulder. I glance around and smile, getting the sense I'll be spending a lot of my time in this space over the next three years.

"This place is totally badass. I love it!"

Veronica beams with pride as her eyes scan over the small surroundings before hooking a thumb toward the bar. "Yeah, I've been coming here with my parents since I was little. I used to sit on one of those bar stools with my Dad and proudly declare one day I would work behind that bar."

"Well, at least I know where to find you after graduation," I laugh and take a sip of iced tea.

"My Dad used to look me in the eye and tell me "Roni, you can grow up and be anything you want to be. Why would you want to be a bartender?" to which I would happily reply, "So I can have as many cherry sodas as I want."

"That is so precious! I can totally picture you standing on one of those stools with your hands on your hips."

"I dare to venture the picture you're painting isn't too far from the truth." She shakes her head as she smiles.

I've only known her four hours, but I can already tell Veronica Parker and I are going to be the best of friends. You know how it is when you meet a kindred spirit. Within minutes, everything just clicks. I know I've gotten lucky. I've heard horror stories about people going off to college and having a roommate who makes their year a living hell. I have a feeling I've dodged a bullet, and I am very thankful.