It all started falling apart in Film Noir from Bogart to Mulholland Drive.
“C-minus?” Parker blinked at the grade, stark and circled in red pen on the front of his paper. His stomach churned. This had to be some kind of mistake. Another student nudged him with her elbow, giving him a look until he backed away from the professor’s desk so the others could find their assignments in the pile. Scrolling through her phone, the middle-aged professor stood by the blackboard, which stretched across the front of the lecture hall. Squaring his shoulders, Parker approached.
“Um, excuse me?”
Professor Grindle glanced up. “Yes? Did you have a question?”
Parker thrust the paper toward her, the red cursive on it a damning indictment. He lowered his voice. “I got a C-minus.”
She skimmed over the three pages. “Did you read the comments from the TA? I think there are some excellent points you can keep in mind next time. More analysis and less plot summary, for a start. There’s another assignment this month. Don’t worry—you’ll get the hang of it…” She glanced at the paper. “Parker.”
Even though he knew there was no way she could remember all the names of new students, humiliation flashed through him. He’d almost been valedictorian at Westley Prep, but at Stanford he was no one.
She went on. “I’m sure Adam will be happy to help. Do you have his office hours? They’re on the front of the syllabus. He should be there this afternoon.”
“Look, I don’t…I’m a straight-A student. There must be some kind of mistake.”
The rest of the class was gone, and she scooped up the few remaining papers from the desk. “Why don’t you talk to Adam, and if you’re still unhappy, I’ll look it over for you. I’m sorry. I have to get to my next lecture.” Her shoes tap-tap-tapped as she strode out.
Parker shoved the offending assignment into his messenger bag, wishing he could burn it. Outside, he blinked at the sun and plopped down on the steps of the building, pulling out his phone. He quickly tapped out a message to Jason, his best friend at Westley.
Got a C-minus in a stupid movie class that was supposed to be easy. This is going to screw my GPA! I’m freaking out.
Jiggling his foot, he waited for Jason to reply, watching for the three little dots to appear. And waited.
Then he sent the same message to Jessica, who’d lived three doors down from him in Cambridge their whole lives. He waited again. He was tempted to call Eric in London, but his brother would be way too busy to talk to him about a stupid little college paper, and it was probably dinner time anyway. Although Eric would likely still be at work, trading stocks with the American markets.
Parker stared at his phone as if he could will a text from one of his friends to appear. It was ridiculous. He was being ridiculous. But the wave of loneliness was undeniable, and his breath stuttered. He’d been so excited to come to Stanford and strike out on his own, but it hadn’t been at all what he’d expected.
He watched groups of people laughing and talking on the lawn. Other students rushed by him on the steps, and Parker wondered if they’d made friends. He sat there with his C-minus, and felt utterly, pathetically alone. Jesus Christ. Don’t start crying, you loser.
Jason and Jessica were busy at Penn State and NYU. Before college they’d often spent hours texting each other, and it had rarely taken more than a minute for a response. But in the month since school had started, he’d barely heard from them. Jason was rushing a frat, and Jessica seemed to have a non-stop schedule of classes and partying.
After what felt like an eternity, his phone buzzed, and Parker’s heart leapt.
Dude, you need to unclench. You’ll be fine. It’s not a big deal. School just started.
Parker sighed. Jason had never cared much for academics, much to his parents’ chagrin. He would never understand how big a deal it was that Parker had a C-minus. In a movie class he’d only taken for the allegedly easy grade.
Jason texted again:
Go get laid. There have got to be plenty of hot guys at Stanford. Later, dude.
There was no word from Jessica, and Parker tapped out a text to Jason:
Yeah, you’re right. Thx. Later.
Jason was right—he needed to get laid. Parker admittedly hadn’t really tried, but he was already overwhelmed with homework. He had no idea how his friends were going out so much when he needed to spend every spare hour studying to keep up. School had always come easily to him, but college felt like being tossed out of the wading pool and into the deep end.
Still though, he should make an effort to meet someone. Maybe he needed to check out Grindr or one of those gay hookup apps and put up his picture. Yes, that would be more productive than feeling sorry for himself. He tapped his camera to face him and ran a hand through his short hair.
It was dirty blond, not the golden color his brother had been blessed with. Parker had bleached it once at Jessica’s insistence, but he’d felt incredibly stupid, like he was trying to be in a boy band, or was a big Draco Malfoy fanboy. Either way, it wasn’t a good look. So he didn’t mind his hair, but wished his eyes were something other than ordinary brown. Jess had suggested blue contacts, but he’d put his foot down.
Parker took a selfie, forcing a smile. His wide mouth was decent—his lips could have been a little thicker, but they were nice and red without looking like he wore lipstick. A good cocksucking mouth if he did say so himself. His teeth were white and straight thanks to a small fortune in orthodontics when he was a kid, and his nose was small and inoffensive. He took a few more pics, but hesitated when he went to download Grindr in the app store.
What if no one wants to date me? Or even fuck me?
He thought he was cute enough, but what if no one else did? There were a ton of hot guys at Stanford. What if he put up his picture and there were only crickets in return? It hadn’t even happened yet, and already the promise of humiliation churned his stomach. He slipped his phone away. He’d download the app later.
Parker sighed. Ugh, he had to go deal with this bullshit grade. His throat was scratchy, and he guzzled a bottle of water on his way to the building nearby where the TA for the movie class had his office. With every step, the failure seemed to seep into him another inch, and with it mortification and a growing resentment. It wasn’t fair. He had math and statistics pre-reqs for his economics major to worry about—this dumb elective wasn’t supposed to be actual work.
I suck. I should have worked harder. What will Dad say if he finds out?
He climbed up to the office level at the top of the four-story building and scanned the nameplates beside each door. His sneakers squeaked on the floor, and it felt preternaturally quiet. At the end of the hall, Parker found the name he was looking for, written on a piece of folded paper and fitted into the nameplate slot.
Adam Hawkins: Film and Media Studies
Parker scoffed to himself. Film and Media Studies. It wasn’t like it was a real academic discipline. This Adam Hawkins was likely a pretentious douchebag who wore black turtlenecks and horn-rimmed glasses. He probably drank tea and had a minor in existential philosophy. He—
The door opened. “Oh, hello. Can I help you?”
His throat gone completely dry, Parker could only croak. “Uh…”
Adam Hawkins did not wear horn-rimmed glasses.
The jury was still out on whether he had turtlenecks in his wardrobe, but at the moment he was wearing a black leather jacket over a light blue button-up and jeans. He was a few inches taller than Parker’s own five-nine, and the leather stretched over broad shoulders. His thick black hair was short and lustrous—it freaking gleamed—and his facial hair was artfully scruffy, just the right length to make Parker wonder what it would feel like against his skin.
He watched Parker with hazel eyes that were strangely golden. “Did you need some help?”
“I’m…” Parker tried to ignore the lust humming in his veins and get it together. “C-minus.”
Cheeks hot, Parker grabbed the paper from his bag and held it up, refocusing on his anger. “That’s what you gave me on my assignment, and it’s not fair.” God, he was whining, and he should leave. Cut his losses. Man up.
Adam Hawkins opened the door wider and stepped aside. He simply said, “Okay.” He sat behind his desk and glanced at the round clock on the wall. “My office hours are over, but…” There was a buzzing from his pocket, and he held up a hand to Parker as he answered his cell. “Hi, Tina. Yeah. I’ll be there soon. Okay.” He smiled. “Yeah. You too.” He hung up.
“Look, if you have to go meet your girlfriend or whatever, it’s fine,” Parker muttered.
“She’s running late, so I can stay for a few minutes. You’re obviously upset and—”
“I’m not upset!” Parker perched on the guest chair, his foot tapping restlessly. “I just think there’s been a mistake. I don’t get C-minuses. Ever.”
“You’re a freshman?” Adam reached for the paper and looked it over.
He nodded. “Economics major, but I’m pre-law.”
Adam continued reading through the assignment before handing it back. “A lot of people think film studies will be an easy elective. You’re clearly intelligent, but this paper reads as though you wrote it in fifteen minutes the morning it was due and didn’t even watch Laura.”
“I watched it!” Okay, so he watched clips on YouTube and read the Wiki synopsis. That totally counted. He got the gist. Like he was supposed to spend his time watching old movies instead of actually studying? He was already up to his eyeballs in readings. “I’m sure the professor will see that I at least deserve a B.”
Adam’s eyebrow arched. “Will she? You seem sure of yourself.”
“Well, I told you. I don’t get C-minuses. I won the state spelling bee when I was nine. I presented for our model UN at prep school and met the Secretary of State! I don’t…I’m better than this.”
“I’m sure you are. For the next assignment, do the work and put some thought into it, and your grade will reflect that.”
Parker knew he was right, but all he could see was the C- on the paper, taunting him. Third week of classes, and he was already coming up short. It felt like all his failures were symbolized by this one grade. He could just imagine what his father would say. “This is what happens when you don’t concentrate. Eric never—”
“I’m not changing it.” Adam’s declaration jolted Parker from his thought.
Pulse racing, Parker tried to keep the desperation from his voice. “My GPA has always been perfect. Except one time. But that can’t happen again. I can’t get a C-minus. You have to change it.”
“Do I?” Adam laughed. He actually laughed.
Parker felt hot all over, and knew this was all spinning out of control. He needed to cut his losses and leave with a scrap of dignity, but he couldn’t stop indignation from slamming through him. “Don’t laugh at me! Who do you think you are? This isn’t even a real academic subject.”
Adam only regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “I think I’m the TA who’s not changing your grade, no matter how much entitled crap you throw at him. So suck it up and learn something from it.”
Parker wanted to leap up and run away, but he was frozen on his chair, flushed and ashamed in the silence that followed.
Adam sighed, and his tone softened. “I bet you were valedictorian, right? Smartest kid at your school? But Stanford isn’t high school. It can be a tough transition.”
His cheeks flushed again. No, he wasn’t valedictorian. He was salutatorian—a.k.a. second place, a.k.a. loser—thanks to Greg Mason’s record-breaking perfect fucking score on the calculus final. Like always, Parker came up short, and now he had a C-minus, and he didn’t have any friends out here, and he hated himself more than he ever had. He should be able to let this go.
“You’re going to have to work hard in every class. Even if you think it’s a Mickey Mouse course. I know it can be a real shock when things don’t come easily for the first time in your life.”
Parker lashed out. “I’ve always worked hard. I am working hard! All I do is study. The important stuff, anyway. I’m going to be a lawyer. What are you going to be?”
Adam’s face was impassive. “I’m getting my MFA in documentary filmmaking.”
“You’ll probably end up working for some crappy reality show,” Parker muttered. He was being a dick, but at the moment he didn’t care enough to bite his tongue.
Pushing back his chair, Adam stood. “If that’s all, I have things to do besides get attitude from a lazy freshman who expects everything handed to him on a silver platter.”
Parker jumped to his feet. “You don’t know me.”
“I know your type. I’ve met a thousand—” he picked up the paper and read the name on the front, “Parker Osbornes in my life.”
Snatching the paper back, Parker tried to think of something to say. He blurted, “I’m dropping this stupid class.”
Adam eyed him evenly. “Okay.” Then he started scrolling through his phone. After a few moments he glanced up. “Was there something else?”
Teeth gritted, Parker spun on his heel. Mortification warred with anger as he tore the paper in half and stuffed it in a garbage can on his way out of the building. He pulled out his phone to check the time and skipped into a jog with a muttered curse. His stats lecture started in two minutes and he was never going to make it on time. It wasn’t even noon, and he was so ready to go to bed and be done with this craptacular day.
# # #
He really should have gone to bed.
Instead, Parker was in an empty classroom sitting in a circle with a bunch of people who looked as if they should be smoking up and playing Hacky Sack at the Oval. He squirmed in his wooden chair, wondering if he could just get up and walk out in the middle of the lesbian’s story about her struggle to add vegan items to the cafeteria menu. He had nothing against lesbians or vegans (or lesbian vegans), but he clearly didn’t fit in with the LGBT student group. Activism wasn’t really his thing.
He’d spotted the flyer for the group meeting after his lecture, and had decided it was high time to stop feeling sorry for himself and to try making friends. Or take Jason’s advice and maybe pick up a hot guy.
Of course the only guy he could think about was Adam Hawkins. All day, Parker had replayed their encounter in his mind, devising witty comebacks and scathing putdowns. Not that he’d ever see Adam again, thank God. First thing tomorrow, he was dropping that class. He’d pick up another elective next semester, or in the summer if he had to.
“What do you think, Parker? It’s Parker, right?” The blonde girl who’d been speaking smiled encouragingly.
Shit. “Um, I think it’s great. Sounds like a plan.”
A murmur buzzed around the circle, and a short Asian guy with a pierced eyebrow spoke up. “You think we should stage a sit-in until the school bans all meat and dairy products? Don’t you think that’s a bit extreme?”
He felt the heat of a dozen pairs of eyes. “Uh…it would get their attention, though. Then maybe they’d compromise?”
The blonde exclaimed, “Exactly!”
As everyone debated the merits of food-based activism, Parker eyed the cute guy sitting next to him. Reddish hair and green eyes, and a tight little body. The guy hadn’t said much of anything so far. Maybe he wasn’t digging it either? It was hard to tell. But he could be cool. He was definitely hot, at least. I won’t meet anyone if I don’t try.
Screwing up his courage, Parker leaned over and whispered, “Meat, I get, but no dairy? And no chocolate? Life isn’t worth living.”
The redhead glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “Chocolate is overrated.”
“Uh, yeah, of course.” Parker waved his hand. “I was just kidding.”
The guy smiled. Hmm. Wait, had he been kidding too? Everyone liked chocolate, right? Heart thumping, Parker whispered, “Want to go grab a coffee after this? We could live dangerously and have a latte with real milk.”
Please say yes. Please say yes.
The redhead’s gaze swept up and down Parker, like a searchlight coming up empty. Parker wanted to puke as the guy pasted on a smile.
“That’s so sweet. But I’ve got a lot of studying to do after the meeting.” Then he turned back to the group. “Marjorie? Can we discuss that stunt Kappa Sigma pulled on the weekend at our cruelty-free bake sale? I think we should petition the administration…”
As they discussed something involving an unholy alliance of snickerdoodles and condoms, Parker wished the scuffed tile floor would open up and swallow him whole. Sadly, the floor was apparently vegan, because Parker remained right where he was, his face burning, sure that everyone knew he’d just been shot down.
He cursed himself for thinking it was a good idea to attend this meeting in the first place. Why did he need to officially meet other gay people? Maybe he should just pledge a frat and put his cocksucking skills to good use like he had in prep school. He didn’t need a boyfriend anyway.
But I want one.
Remembered shame flooded Parker, joining the fresh humiliation of being rejected by the redhead beside him. He’d only tried to kiss Greg Mason once, and he could still feel the hard tile floor of the shower, cold and wet as he’d landed on his ass, Greg staring down at him with a curled lip. “Don’t be a little faggot.”
The fact that he was eighteen and still had never properly kissed someone was so pathetic he could barely stand it. Sitting there in the circle of LGBT students who’d probably all kissed a dozen people, he felt like he had a neon sign blinking over his head.
Loser! Loser! Loser!
But what was the point of finding a boyfriend anyway? It’s not like he could ever really bring someone home. His parents tried their best—they really did—but the whole gay thing made them so awkward and uncomfortable. Not to mention he knew their rich pals at the country club would surely not approve. Parker wondered what his father would say if he dated an anti-establishment hippie type. The mere thought made him bark out a laugh.
Heads swiveled. “Is there something you wanted to share?” The blonde asked, her smile a little strained.
Before Parker could answer, a white guy with dreads interrupted, frowning at his smartphone. “Whoa. Did you guys see this? There are some crazy riots or something in New York.”
“What are they protesting?”
“Probably not meat and dairy, Abrah.”
“Is it Occupy Wall Street? I hope so. I heard they’re trying to make a comeback.”
“Dunno. Oh wait, it’s in DC too. Probably something about police brutality.”
As the group talked over each other, checking their phones, Parker slung his messenger bag over his head and made a beeline for the door. He escaped back to the quad and grabbed a sandwich (turkey and Havarti, thank you very much) on the way to his dorm. The common room was crowded with people watching CNN, but Parker didn’t care about whatever protest or riot or whatever-the-fuck was happening. He probably should, but he had way too much reading to do, especially after wasting time at that meeting.
Embarrassment flooded him again as he thought of the dismissive way the redhead had examined him. Then a voice echoed in his head—Adam Hawkins calling him a lazy freshman.
“I work hard at what matters. Ugh, he’s such an asshole,” Parker muttered as he kicked the door closed behind him.
“Who’s an asshole?”
“Jesus!” Parker’s heart skipped a beat. “Don’t do that.”
Grinning, Chris pulled a T-shirt over his shorn head. “Sorry, bro. Just came back to do some laundry.” He smelled his armpit. “Febreze is the best invention ever.”
“I’ve barely seen you since NSO.” New student orientation had been a week of mandatory activities designed to help frosh settle in and make friends. Parker had learned his way around, but totally failed to meet anyone he connected with. Chris was nice enough, but another pang of missing Jason and Jessica swelled in Parker. He cleared his throat. “How’s Michelle?”
“Spectacular. Seriously, her tits are just…” Chris raised his fingers to his mouth to kiss them. “Bellissimo. I’ve found the woman of my dreams.” He shrugged. “At least for now. Hey, her roommate’s pretty hot too. Wanna come back with me? I got some primo weed. We can hang out and play Call of Duty. I bet she’ll blow you by the end of the night.”
Parker chuckled. He could undoubtedly give Michelle’s roommate some pointers. “Nah. I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Econ test tomorrow already.” Maybe he should go hang with them, but he hadn’t had a chance to come out to Chris, and he had zero interest in weed. Sometimes Parker felt like he was eighteen going on forty-five. Partying and getting high had never really been fun for him.
“Cool. If you change your mind give me a buzz.” Chris raised his hand as he headed to the door.
Parker slapped Chris’s palm and flopped down on his bed. “Later.”
In the silence that followed, Parker found himself actually missing the near-constant thump-thump of the house music favored by the girl next door. Maybe she was watching the news in the lounge. The news channels always made such a big deal out of everything these days, and Parker didn’t see the point in getting worked up.
He stared at Chris’s empty bed. Jason had been his roommate all through high school at Westley, so it should have been nice to virtually have his own room at school for a change. It should have been freaking awesome.
But it wasn’t.
Parker pulled out his phone. No message from Jessica. He hit her number and waited while it rang, sighing as her voicemail clicked on.
“This is Jessica. Quick—leave a message before phones become completely obsolete.”
For a moment, Parker was frozen with indecision. Then he tapped the screen and ended the call. What would he say that didn’t sound ninety-nine percent pathetic?
“Okay, enough.” His voice was loud in the stillness of the room. “Time to get to work.”
After wolfing down his sandwich, he opened his textbooks. The dorm was quieter than usual, and he put his phone on airplane mode and lost himself in free trade theory. By eight o’clock his eyes drooped. He set his alarm for nine and stretched out for a power nap. He was drifting off when a girl’s piercing voice echoed in the hall.
“It’s happening in San Francisco!”
With a roll of his eyes, Parker put in his earplugs and curled toward the wall. He’d check the news later when there was actual information to report instead of just fear-mongering speculation. Let them protest corporate America or the police or whatever they were doing. He had his GPA to worry about.
# # #
It was ten-thirty by the time Parker dragged himself out of bed. He still wore his jeans and a T-shirt, and he zipped on a dark green hoodie before stuffing his feet into his sneakers. The fifteen-minute walk across campus to the coffee shop would wake him up, and sweet caffeine would keep him going all night. He needed to do better. He needed to ace this test. He would ace this test.
He popped in his earbuds and skirted around the people jammed into the dorm’s common room.
“Yo, Parker. Are you seeing this shit?” Mike from two rooms down—nice enough guy, but obsessed with sports—called out as Parker hurried by.
“Later, man. Need coffee.” Parker gave him a wave and turned on his music. They were probably watching the baseball game since the Oakland A’s were one win away from the playoffs, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted.
He’d mapped out this shortcut the first week of school after the RA had confiscated his Italian coffee maker. The night air was crisp, and Parker shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets as he navigated the nooks and crannies between buildings. He caught glimpses of the main quad, where a large number of people milled about. Probably some frat thing; all the better that he avoided it so he could get back to his books ASAP.
But he wondered what the riots or whatever had been about, and he thumbed off the airplane mode on his phone so he could Google it. As the phone reconnected, it vibrated in his palm and the screen filled with notifications. Nothing from Jessica or Jason, and Parker wished he didn’t feel the stab of disappointment and hurt. It wasn’t their fault they were fitting in and making friends at college. He couldn’t expect them to have the time for him that they used to. But it still stung.
He shook it off and focused on the screen. “Seven missed calls from Mom?” he muttered to himself with a smile. “Classic.” When she got something into her head, she was a dog with a bone. As he walked, he listened to the voicemail message she’d left.
“Honey.” The recording was staticy and garbled, with some kind of background noise. Parker stopped to listen harder. He couldn’t make out the next few words. Then, “Cape house. We love you.” The message ended.
Huh. That was weird.
Why would she be calling about the Cape house? His parents went to Chatham most weekends in September, but it was Tuesday. Parker deleted the message and started walking again. He’d call her when he got back to the dorm, or maybe wait until morning. It was after midnight on the east coast.
As he cut behind one of the science buildings, he stopped in his tracks. By a palm tree, there stood Adam Hawkins and his ludicrous cheekbones. Of course—he’d never seen the guy before today, and now he was likely doomed to run into him daily.
Adam had a motorcycle helmet in one hand, and had changed his loafers for black work boots. Wearing earbuds, he peered at the bright screen of his phone with a frown creasing his forehead.
Adam’s gaze shot up, his eyes hard as he removed his earbuds. “Excuse me?”
Parker realized he might have said that out loud. He paused his playlist and cleared his throat, trying to remember one of the witty comebacks he’d had a million of that afternoon. “Um, nothing.” Of course he’d think of ten more the minute he left Adam behind. Which couldn’t be too soon. In his black leather jacket and stubble, he looked ridiculous. Ridiculously hot, which wasn’t really fair since he was a film geek. A documentarian, even! Not to mention a condescending know-it-all. Parker kept walking.
“You didn’t have to complain to the dean,” Adam called after him.
Parker stopped and faced him. “Huh?”
“Are you seriously going to pretend it wasn’t you? I have to meet with Professor Grindle and the head of the department at the end of the week because a student with rich alumni parents put up a stink. She wouldn’t say who, but she didn’t need to.”
“It wasn’t me.” When Adam snorted and started walking away, Parker couldn’t stop himself from following. “Hey! It wasn’t me, asshole.”
“I’m the asshole?” Adam turned, gripping his helmet. His nostrils flared. “Every year I get kids like you taking my courses. Kids who don’t care about the arts and just want an easy grade. And now you’re messing with my future. This job is everything to me. My degree is everything.”
“First off, who says I don’t care about the arts? I like the arts just fine, thank you very much. I played viola in my school orchestra, I’ll have you know. And like I said, it wasn’t me. Whatever, dude. You’re not worth it. I have important things to do like study for my econ test.”
“What? What does that mean?”
“That eighteen-year-olds think they know it all.” Adam shrugged, his flash of passion concealed again behind a flat expression. “If you say it wasn’t you, I guess it wasn’t.”
Jesus, this guy was annoying. “And what are you, twenty-two? So wise.”
“Oh, that changes everything. Whatever. I don’t have to talk to you.”
“Okay.” He shrugged again, now completely calm.
“Econ is a hell of a lot more important than dissecting movies.”
Adam watched him with an inscrutable gaze. Just like with the cute redhead, it felt as though he was being evaluated and found hopelessly lacking. “Okay.”
“Stop saying that! Oh my god, why am I even having this conversation?” Parker brushed by him and pressed play even though now he was going the wrong way for the coffee shop. He’d loop around, since he couldn’t turn back. “Have a nice life,” he called in his wake. If Adam replied, Parker didn’t hear it over the music in his ears.
He could not drop that class soon enough. He should have known—
A scream pierced the night, so loud he heard it over the new Macklemore song. Parker ripped out the earbuds and glanced around. He and Adam stared at each other. “Do you hear—”
“Yes,” Adam replied, his entire body tensed.
In the distance, the screaming swelled as other voices joined in. Parker’s heart thumped. “That’s a hell of a hazing ritual.”
The din increased, and more shrieks raised the hair on Parker’s arms. A girl and guy raced around the building. “What’s going on?” Parker shouted.
“They’re killing everyone!” the girl yelled, her eyes wild as she shoved past him.
More students streamed behind the buildings, and Parker watched them as his brain struggled to process what was happening. Then he was being yanked so hard he thought his shoulder might pop free of its socket. Adam propelled him forward, and yes, run. Run!
Parker hadn’t heard any gunshots, but the screaming filled the night. He had no idea where they were running to, but he followed the crowd—and Adam Hawkins. Ahead, more people flooded the service road behind the library, and in the glow of the safety light by the path, he saw red paint sprayed into the air and over the students who stumbled there. Other people piled on top of them, their eyes unnaturally wide and bugging out.
They swarmed with frantic desperation, and as one of them bit into the face of a guy wearing a Sigma Nu T-shirt, Parker understood that it was blood arcing through the air.
“This way!” Adam shoved him into a narrow alley.
Parker wanted to scream, the urge batting its wings in his chest, but he sucked in a breath and went on, his feet pounding the asphalt. Adam had pulled twenty feet ahead, and he glanced back.
Parker’s lungs burned, and he pumped his arms. Faster, faster, faster. But he couldn’t keep up.
Adam looked back a couple more times. “Keep running!” he shouted. Then he streaked off faster than seemed possible and disappeared beyond the end of the alley.
Oh fuck. Oh God. Parker wanted to scream for Adam to wait, but he was long gone. He still clutched his phone in his hand, the earbuds dangling. He tore them out and illuminated the screen as he slowed. He had to call nine-one-one. He was alone, except—oh Jesus fucking Christ— he wasn’t alone, because now the crazy people were coming down the alley, their limbs moving in weird staccato jerks, and—what the fuck was happening?
Parker gasped for air as he raced on, the alley seeming longer than before. He was alone and he was going to fucking die, and he was trapped, and fuck this had to be a dream because this couldn’t be real, but they were gaining on him and—
A headlight blinded him. Beyond the bizarre chattering of the people surging closer—like a strange humming and their teeth smashing together—an engine revved. Parker skidded to a stop and raised his arm to shield his eyes as a motorcycle zoomed down the alley. Tires squealed as the driver spun the bike sideways.
“Get on!” Adam shouted, grabbing for him with one hand. He still held his helmet with the other, and whipped it at the head of a man who grasped at Parker.
The motorcycle hummed between Parker’s legs, and he wrapped his arms around Adam’s waist. “Go, go!”
The chattering was louder, and bloody hands clawed at them, one snagging his hood. The material tightened on his throat, choking him for a terrible instant until the motorcycle shot free and careened around the corner.
He hung on precariously, his fingers digging into Adam’s leather jacket. The main roads of campus were clogged with cars, the headlights illuminating packs of jerking people who had become like animals, biting into students while wails echoed across the Oval. Adam deftly maneuvered the bike across campus, weaving around clumps of writhing bodies.
Helicopters circled uselessly in the distance over the pandemonium of Palo Alto. How had he not heard them before? He could only hang on as Adam snaked across lawns and over sidewalks. “Where are we going?” Parker’s voice sounded thin and jagged. God, he was thirsty.
“The preserve,” Adam shouted.
This had to be a fucking nightmare. This couldn’t be real. It was impossible. His mind spun as they sped around Lake Lagunita, wet and marshy after late summer storms earlier in the week. “Then what?”
Adam steered across the driving range and they plunged into the darkness of the golf course. He didn’t answer.
Copyright © Keira Andrews
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