Her friend’s politically correct retraction caused her to grin. “Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. I never knew you thought of me that way.” She used her right hand as a fan pretending to be overwhelmed by the notion.
His shoulders went up in a Gallic shrug before turning away. “What good would it have done? I considered myself content in the friend zone.”
Students talking loudly about an upcoming concert approached in mass, forcing the two of them off the sidewalk.
“Who knew it was rush hour?” Stella quipped as she walked across the grass. Mitch had liked her, all along. She never knew, while she wasted her time on someone who was only grooming her for future opportunities. Now, thanks to her bad judgment, either she or Mitch would lose their scholarship. She couldn’t afford to lose hers, but neither could Mitch.
“I was wondering,” Stella started, unsure how to phrase her question. Her hand tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, a tell, Leah would have recognized it immediately. “You’ve been here longer than I have.”
“True.” His bent finger pushed up his slipping glasses. He angled his head to the right. “Almost to your dorm.”
The aging building indicated she only had a few minutes left. Off to the right, in the side parking lot, a bright spot of red signaled Cam waited. Oh, joy. With any luck, she’d escape into the dorm without attracting his notice. Stella darted to Mitch’s right side using his silhouette as her safety shield. “Um, you’ve been here probably as long as Cam has, right?”
“Possibly. I can’t say I had that much interest in him. Why do you ask?” Their footsteps mutually slowed as they neared the front door. A female student cradling a clothes basket piled high with clothes gave them a cursory look.
Stella flashed a smile at her, not knowing her name. Instead of responding, the girl rested the basket on one hip as her free hand searched for her ringing cell phone. Glancing back over her shoulder, she measured the girl’s progress as she talked. When she thought she was far enough away not to eavesdrop, she asked, “What kind of scholarship is Cam on?”
“What?” Mitch shouted the word and stopped. Stella realizing her Mitch-shaped shield was gone, hurried back to stay in his concealing shadow.
“Lower your voice. I don’t want everyone to know.” She hissed the words. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound harsh.” Conflicting urges to both hide and peek, kept her rooted by Mitch’s side, angling just backward enough to glimpse Cam resting against his car with his arms folded and his mouth twisted to one side. She knew the pose, his irritated one. His sunglasses might hide his eyes, but not his body language. A blonde attired only in short shorts and a glorified pushup bra that masqueraded as a top sashayed toward him with enough hip action to merit a future chiropractor visit. Ah Lily, from the third floor, hard not to recognize her. For once, the idea of him flirting with another girl didn’t upset her. It gave her the distraction she needed.
“Okay, I asked,” she leaned up on her toes, lowering her voice, “if Cam was on any scholarship?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t see how? An academic scholarship would involve showing up at class. We both know he doesn’t do that. If he can’t keep up his grades, then a sports scholarship is nil too. Why do you ask?” He pulled off his glasses to polish them on his shirt.
“Cam told me he was going to lose his scholarship because of his grades.” The rushed statement sounded ridiculous when she said it. Why did she believe him?
“Hmm,” Mitch lengthened the sound, perhaps stalling. “You believed him. Was he trying to work the heartstrings? Maybe you were mad at him?” The corners of his lips tipped up with the inquiry.
“Oh, I was mad all right. He was being a jerk and told me his life would be ruined if his grades didn’t miraculously improve,” She spat out the words with distaste, realizing how easy he manipulated her emotions. He had her going along with worry for Mitch and concern about him, too.
“What’s he expect you to do? Help him with his homework or what?”
Her shoulders went up in I dunno shrug. No reason to tell Mitch and have him worry, too. He probably would insist on confessing to DUI. The type of noble, selfless action, she realized Mitch was capable of and Cam wasn’t.
“What little I heard from my roommate, who had the bad luck to be Cam’s roommate once, is that he comes from money. Already flunked out of one school. With a history like that, not sure why he’s trying to pass himself as a scholarship boy. I’m surprised he’s lasted as long as he has.”
As much as she didn’t want it to be true, she realized Mitch’s portrait of Cam bore more resemblance to the actual male than her romantic one did. Even when she blessed him with good motives, he was still a selfish man who expected her to help him shop and do laundry. He probably had a harem of other girls doing his academic work. The fact he wasn’t passing explained his need to get her to change his grades. They’d been together a couple of months, which made her wonder if she were a backup plan or the original plan all along.
A masculine hand landed on her shoulder. Her focus moved up to the concern in Mitch’s eyes.
“Stella, you’d tell me if you were in trouble. If Cam was forcing you to do something you didn’t want to.”