Caleb has been here for about a week now and I still can’t stop thinking about our middle of the night encounter in the kitchen. I knew he was a former football player, but I guess I didn’t expect him to still look like it with his shirt off. I can only compare him to Reid and his football buddies that have been all over our house lately. Caleb’s thinner than Reid, but every part of him is defined with lean muscle, solid and sexy as hell.
I need to slap myself across the face because I know better than this. He’s my best friend’s brother, he’s living in our house and sleeping on our couch, which means we’re together almost every single day. Nothing good can come of hooking up with him.
I whip my hair into a bun on the top of my head and pull in a hard breath. I have to do something to distract myself from thoughts of Caleb and going out for a run is my best option. But when I step out of my bedroom, he’s standing there in the kitchen…again. At least he has a shirt on this time and I’m not so obviously gaping at him either. At least I think I’m not, but I’ve never had a very good poker face.
“Hey Ruby,” he says, as I stand here awkwardly, looking like an idiot. I have no idea why he turns me into a fool. “What are you up to?” He’s so casually cool and every word that comes out of his mouth is effortless.
If I wasn’t living with him, I’d think he has his shit completely together…the perfect guy. But I know he’s struggling after everything that happened back in Providence. The bruises on his ribs have faded, but after everything I’ve learned in my psych classes, the trauma of the event will remain long after the physical appearance has healed.
“I was just going to go for a run. What are you up to?” I ask, leaning against the counter as I try to look as cool as him, but I feel like I’m failing miserably.
“Still looking for a job. Got a couple of interviews lined up this week though.”
“That’s good. Anything close by?”
“Yeah. Most are within walking distance since I don’t have a car just yet, but hoping to get that taken care of soon, too.”
I nod my head, trying to figure out how to keep the conversation going without feeling intrusive, but we both fall silent.
“Do you want to go with me?” I ask, seemingly out of nowhere and Caleb shoots me a confused look. “Do you want to go for a run with me?” I clarify. He must be bored sitting here all day with Sienna, Reid and me in and out of classes. It’s rare for all of us to be together during the week.
“Yeah, sure,” Caleb responds, a tinge of excitement slipping out and a smile now on his face. “It’s been a while since I’ve had someone to work out with.”
“Okay cool. I can show you around campus too. I tend to run along the outside of the main part.”
Ten minutes later the two of us are jogging side by side and while it’s not the best way to have a conversation, at least Caleb isn’t stuck in the house by himself.
We come to a narrow sidewalk and he dips behind me, letting me take the lead until it widens out again. After a few minutes, I look back to make sure he’s still keeping up and what I get is an eye-full of his bare chest. He has his shirt off, his body glistening with sweat as he jogs up alongside me. I’m off pace and my rhythm is a mess and as we near where the sidewalk meets the road, I stumble like a complete idiot. Caleb grabs for me, catching my wrist before I crash face first into the street.
“Gotta watch those uneven pieces of concrete,” he says, like I didn’t just make a fool out of myself, like I wasn’t totally distracted by his amazing body. But in addition to his perfectly flat stomach and his well-defined arms, he has the most striking blue eyes and the small bump on his cheekbone makes him look ruggedly hot.
“Yeah,” I respond, my eyes falling to where Caleb is still holding onto me, and he drops his hand instantly as if he’s embarrassed by his actions.
We pick up the pace again, heading down the street and into the quad of the main campus where things will get a little busier. We’ll have hit three miles by then and it will be a good time for a little break. We can walk through the quad and I can show him some of the buildings.
Hawthorn is an old campus so some of the buildings are pretty historical and honestly really cool looking.
“You doing okay?” I ask as we begin to slow down. While it’s obvious Caleb is an athlete, it’s also obvious he hasn’t worked out hard in a while. He’s a little winded and he’s trying not to show he’s tired by continuing to push himself to keep up with me.
“Yeah,” he breathes out, stopping now to catch his breath. “It been a while since…” He puts his hands on his knees, taking a few breaths, trying to slow his breathing down. “Been a while since I’ve run like this.”
“We could make it a regular thing if you want?” I offer and ask at the same time, trying to keep it casual.
“Yeah, for sure. I need to get my ass back in shape.”
Looks damn good to me.
“I try to run every day, so if you’re around feel free to join me. I’m not one of those weirdos who gets up at the crack of dawn to run though, so if you’re one of them, you’re gonna have to find yourself a different girl.” I’m rambling but Caleb is smiling and there’s something about it that feels natural, like we’re already comfortable with each other.
“I used to own a bar. Do you really think I get up at the crack of dawn?” he asks, shooting me a cheeky smile.
“You wanna take a break and walk through the quad?” I ask, starting to walk in that direction with Caleb walking next to me.
“Yeah sure. I guess I gotta work up to that six mile loop, huh?”
“You weren’t that bad,” I say, trying not to bruise his ego.
“Oh, I was that bad. Trust me, my body is going to be screaming at me tomorrow morning.”
I laugh a little at his self-deprecating humor. As much as he’s like Sienna, he’s also totally different and it’s really cool. It’s like getting the best of Sienna with a few extras added in.
“Reid has a hot tub down at his place. I’m sure a soak would do you some good,” I tell him, but he scrunches up his face in response to my words.
“I’m not getting in that thing. Can you imagine the number of times he and Sienna have had sex in it?”
“They do it everywhere so if you’re going with that theory nothing in our house is safe,” I joke back making Caleb chuckle. “I hold out hope that they haven’t done it in my bathroom, but I’m sure that’s wishful thinking.”
“I’m sorry to break it to you…” Caleb says, his nose wrinkled up and his teeth clenched.
“Oh my god, no. Seriously?” I say, my voice a little whiny as I push out my bottom lip pouting.
Caleb laughs, his head falling back and when he looks at me again, he pins me with his eyes that are as blue as the sky.
“No. I’m just giving you shit, but you’re pretty cute when you’re bothered so it was worth it.” He jabs his elbow into my side and I feel my face flush, heat moving from my cheeks, down my neck and onto my chest. Thank fuck we’ve been running or it would be totally obvious how his words affected me.
“You’re a shithead,” I say, shoving him as we continue to walk toward the science buildings. “So this where Sienna spends most of her days. I have a few classes in here, too.”
“What are you majoring in?” Caleb asks, and it feels good to have someone take an active interest in what I’m doing.
“I’m majoring in counseling. I want to be a school counselor or maybe a mental health counselor. I haven’t fully decided yet, but I know I want to help people deal with trauma…” My words trail off, getting a little quieter at the end when I realize Caleb has been through some serious trauma. “I’m sorry,” I say not sure how to continue without bringing up his situation. That’s not what I was trying to do here and I feel like I’ve been insensitive to him by babbling on about helping people.
“Sorry for what?” he asks. “Sorry that I’ve had to deal with some shit in my life?” He shrugs. “Not your fault, but I think you’ll make a great counselor. You’re easy to talk to. Maybe someday you can help me.”
I nod, but neither of us says anything more about it. It’s hard to talk about how fucked up your life is and when you’ve left it behind, it’s even harder. I dealt with this with Sienna and when she finally opened up to me, I know she felt lighter and freer, but I wouldn’t dare push Caleb to do the same. We hardly know each other.
We walk for a bit in silence with Caleb looking around, taking in all the oversized buildings and crowds of students walking and gathering. It’s then that we both turn when we hear someone call my name.
“Ruby?” the male voice calls, testing my name as if he doesn’t think it’s me. “It is you,” he says when he gets close enough to Caleb and me.
It’s the assistant professor in my Diagnosis and Mental Health Issues in Children and Adolescents class. He walks up to meet us, greeting us both, but shooting an intimidating look in Caleb’s direction.
“Hi, Professor Keller,” I say, stepping away from him slightly and closer to Caleb’s side.
“Ruby, it’s great to run into you. I just read your research paper on the effects of parental alcoholism on children and it was excellent. It was the highlight of my night,” he says, laughing a little. “I guess that makes me kind of a loser.”
“No, not at all,” I respond, trying to be respectful, because after all, he is my professor. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really put a lot of effort into my research.”
“It definitely shows,” he says, running a hand down my arm leaving a trail of goosebumps in its path. “I’d love to set up a time with you to meet and talk about how we can sharpen up your research skills. You have real potential.”
His words strike a chord with me, making me smile. It’s nice to be recognized for hard work, especially when I put in a ton of effort.
“That would be great,” I respond. “I’ll check your office hours and bring some things I’ve been working on.”
“Perfect,” Professor Keller says, again reaching out and squeezing my arm, his fingers wrapping tightly and the way he looks at me, sends a shudder up my spine.
He turns and begins to walk away, and when he’s out of earshot, I turn to Caleb, still beaming over my professor’s encouragement.
“Can you believe that? He’s supposed to be one of the hardest to please and he loved my paper,” I say to Caleb, but he tilts his head to the side, his eyebrows knitted together.
“Yeah, that’s great, but he didn’t strike you as…” Caleb doesn’t finish his thought, stopping short, but I know what he was going to say.
“I know. He can be a little handsy, but he’s harmless.” I shake my head and give my eyes a roll. It’s well known on campus that Professor Keller is a bit of flirt and there have even been rumors he’s had affairs with students. But personally, I think it’s just campus gossip. He’s married and has kids, a family. He’s young enough that his interest in students comes across as something more, but I think he just sees the potential in people.
“He’s creepy,” Caleb deadpans, his mouth set in a firm line.
“He’s not,” I defend, but add, “Okay, maybe a little.” Because even though he’s never done anything more than stand a little too close or touch me a few too many times, he seems harmless.
“Or maybe a lot,” Caleb asserts, but I just shake off his comment, knowing boys get jealous even when there’s nothing going on.