Jonathan Wallace has a secret – His name isn’t Jonathan, and it doesn’t even include a W. He’s the wildly popular actor who plays the title role in the hit British show Teen Sherlock.
When his best friend (and co-star) Kassi Banach runs away to the United States to try and hide in an assumed identity as a college student, he follows her, also in disguise. He plans to keep his distance and just make sure she stays safe. He didn’t count on Kassi having roommate, or that roommate’s ability to see more than he or Kassi meant her to see.
The roommate, Cyra Doman, is trying to do her own hiding. She left home to build a life far away from the pressure of her famous sister and a passel of needy foster siblings. While Cyra would prefer to shut herself off from the world and all its demands, she quickly learns that she has her foster-mom’s impulse to act when no one else will.
Cyra Doman was even prettier up close. Her dark skin made a nice contrast with that blue sweater, and the curves of her face looked very touchable. Jonathan saw a fleeting image of her face between his hands, perhaps even wiping away her tear with his thumb.
He shook away the thought. Too cliché. Cyra didn’t look like a crier, and she was Kassi’s – Marybeth’s – roommate. He didn’t know yet what the dynamic was there.
Even so, the girl had just nearly fallen out a window. It seemed inappropriate to let her sit alone by the wall. Any minute the shock would wear off and she’d realize she could have died. That might be the better test of whether she was a crier.
“Petrichor,” Doman whispered, huddled around her sketchbook, a tight ball of blue sweater and black skirt. “Petrichor.”
“What does that mean?” Jonathan slid his back down the carpeted wall till he was seated beside her. He didn’t care so much about her answer but wanted to get her talking. “Why do you use that word?”
“Precision steadies me,” said Doman, and it really seemed that her voice became more firm as she spoke, if not actually stronger. “The coming-rain smell is called petrichor. It’s a combination of two Greek words. Petra—”
“Rock,” said Jonathan under his breath, recognizing the word.
“And ichor,” she finished with a small smile.
She smiled at him, a full smile this time. “That’s what I thought too.” She closed her eyes, her voice sinking to a murmur. “But apparently ichor is the word for the blood of the gods. My foster mom used to say that when you love a man, even his farts smell good. Must be something like that with the gods. Even their gore is as lovely as…” she shrugged her shoulder toward the breeze flowing steadily from the next open window. The rush of the evening downpour continued to beat against the near window Jonathan had shut for her.
Doman took a deep breath and leaned her head back against the wall, eyes still closed. The pulse in her neck jerked so fast that Jonathan held his breath. How fast was too fast? And how long? It had to be normal for the heart to speed up after a scare like she’d had. Doman shivered again, rubbing her arms, but there were no more windows in reach. Jonathan wished he had a coat to offer her, then smiled to himself. Speaking of clichés…
“Can you do me a favor?” Doman opened her eyes, huge and shining, then looked away.
“Sure.” Jonathan felt surprisingly relieved to accept an assignment.
“Can you see if there are any oranges left at the table?” She unwrapped her arms from around her body and rotated them, as if to verify they still worked. “I’m not up for getting my own drink yet, and I’m not feeling particularly trusting.”
Jonathan nodded. “I’ll be right back.” She didn’t look like the sort to be particularly trusting in any circumstances. Two steps away from the wall his phone chirped, making him jump.
MB :: OMG is she okay!::
Jon :: Why don’t you ask HER?::
MB :: There’s no reason for me to know she had a shock if I’m not a stalker. I AM NOT A STALKER!::
Jon :: sheesh. K. Fine. I promised her an orange, so I’m going right back, but then I need you to find us so I can go.::
MB:: I thought you wanted to question her tonight. Verify she’s trustworthy and all that crap.::
Jon:: Seems a little unfair to grill someone so soon after a traumatic incident.::
MB: But her shields are down. I doubt you’ll get more some other time.::
MB:: You say that like it’s a bad thing.::
Jonathan looked around for that neon green miniskirt, and saw Marybeth laughing with the RA and a half-dozen other beautiful people. If it wasn’t for the narrow mirror over the kitchenette, he never would have seen her look at him, or the flash of worry in her eyes.
MB::Please stay close to her.::
Jonathan rolled his eyes at her reflection, but nodded. She wasn’t going to be believable in her party-girl role if she jumped away from the pretty folk too quickly. Jonathan was glad she maintained her cover, even if it left him to pick up the slack.
Kassi was usually clearer-thinking than this – freaking out over a girl who was clearly a survivor – but after losing so many people in the last year… Jonathan could see that making anyone jumpy.
When Jonathan got back to Doman with the orange he asked, “Do you need me to call anyone? Local family? A roommate? Counselor? Ambulance? Your roommate?”
“I’m 19-years-old,” Doman said, scanning the room. “No one wants — No one needs to take care of me. I’m not an invalid. But thank you.”
This last she added as she took the orange from him and unclipped a thin pocketknife from the waistband of her skirt. She flicked the single blade open with her thumb and scored the orange rind before starting to peel it.
The anger in her tone sparked Jonathan’s temper, normally a harder thing to do. “Maybe you don’t need taking care of,” he conceded, “but up until about two minutes ago you were staring at nothing and barely speaking coherently. How was I supposed to know you can take care of yourself?”
She looked up at him, towering over her, and seemed to recognize he was angry. Jonathan was ashamed to see fear on her face. He sighed and sank back into his spot beside her on the wall, wrapping his arms around himself and hunching as low as he could.
Doman sat up straighter, irritation replacing the fear in her posture. “Is that’s why you won’t leave me alone?”
Jonathan’s phone chirped and he pulled it out to read the latest message. And to delay answering Doman. Was there a right answer to her question? He thought the right answer was “No.” Was almost certain.
MB ::OMG ty so much! Taking a puking girl to her room.::
::Will swap w/u soon as I’m back.::
The glowing green of Marybeth’s skirt over her narrow butt moved through the room packed with party-goers, away from away from the wall where he sat. Repressing a groan, Jonathan flopped his head against the wall. He’d used up all his small talk. Why couldn’t this job come with a script? It took all his work-focus not to yell across the room at Marybeth that he was done babysitting.
“I’m not trying to invade,” said Jonathan, looking at the ceiling. “I just know you’re new here, like me, and you probably don’t have anybody looking out for you yet.”
Such. a. lie. Jonathan’s life would be so much easier this minute if that were actually true. He tipped his head forward and pressed his hands through his too-short blond hair. That was one thing he missed. Hair long enough to pull when he was frustrated. He counted to twenty.
“Are you a wallflower, too?”
Her question startled him. He honestly thought Doman was going to ignore him till one of them walked away. If it weren’t for Marybeth’s request he would have walked away already. They’d both feel less awkward.
Jonathan shrugged, forcing himself relax into the job. “Whenever I can get away with it.”
“The only reason I’m still here is a promise.” Doman opened the sketch pad to a clean sheet. “But the promise didn’t require me to mingle.” She reached up her back, under her sweater, and pulled out a woodless pencil.
“You have a pocket up there?” Jonathan asked, wondering how he could still be impressed at the ingenuity of women’s clothing.
She looked at him like he was ten. “It’s called a bra strap.” Heat rushed to his face, and she seemed to relent. “My roommate’s a bit of a control freak. She said I needed to keep both hands free so I can still shake during introductions while holding a drink.”
Jonathan could imagine the serious expression on Marybeth’s face while she declaimed yet another rule made up on the spot. The image provoked a laugh that he tried unsuccessfully to cover with a cough.
Doman actually looked relived. “So you don’t think that’s a rule everyone grows up with? I thought she was just trying to keep me from bringing my drawing stuff, but it sounded like something my foster mom might say…It makes its own sort of sense.”
Tears were leaking out of the corners of his eyes while he tried to talk. “Why do you care what other people grow up with?” Jonathan asked when he had his breath back.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s normal. Make sure I’m keeping up. If I attract attention I don’t want it to be for doing something stupid.” Her eyes followed her hand as it moved over the paper, so she didn’t see Jonathan’s eyebrows lift.
“And you’re not ill,” Jonathan began tentatively, wanting to change the subject. “No— not about the something stupid,” he interrupted before she could. “I mean about the being dazed and whatever you were. Shook up, from — from what didn’t happen when you almost fell.”
She shrugged “My foster mom would have called it trauma.” Doman’s voice was clipped and polite, then she closed her mouth and inhaled deeply before she focused fully on her drawing.
The quiet felt good, even though it wasn’t really quiet; just a bubble in their little space, three feet above the ground.Jonathan waited as the sketch took on solidity, impressed that his new friend didn’t seem to mind if he watched her work. When Cyra noticed his interest she even moved her left hand out of the way. The image was of a stylized pixie, with big eyes and a high, clear forehead.
So Cyra was a fantasy artist, he diagnosed silently. And reasonably good, even if a little clichéd. Damn he was using that word a lot tonight. At least he didn’t say it aloud.
“Do you think she wears that ironically?” asked Cyra, looking up from the sketch and back again. “I can’t decide whether to include it. If that’s part of her true self.”
Not understanding, Jonathan followed Cyra’s line of sight. He saw a pale-faced girl with thick acne, black lipstick, and maroon eye shadow. Her ink-black hair was piled in a messy bun at the back of her head. She was way too young for a college party, even something as tame as this dorm-sponsored meet-and-greet. She wore a choke-style silver dog collar, a second collar with spikes, and an oversized, zip-closed black hoodie with *Twilight* emblazoned across the front in a sparkling font that matched the logo of the best-selling books and movies.
The graphite girl Cyra created looked too perfect to be real, but as Jonathan looked from it to the original, he saw Cyra used accurate proportions and captured the girl’s bone structure with precision. This wasn’t a pixie drawing, this was a pixie girl. The glowering make-up masked her tiny mouth, pert chin and turned up nose. Those all rested in huge contrast to her high forehead, no longer acne-strewn in Cyra’s portrait, the blemishes as insubstantial as the makeup.
It was the real girl. Herself without the costume.
“That’s amazing,” said Jonathan, for the first time not weakening his voice. He didn’t notice he’d slipped out of character, not until Cyra looked him over sharply, and Jonathan felt a haze of sweat under her evaluation.
“Thank you,” she said after a pause that was a second too long.
Jonathan quirked an eyebrow and opened his hand. Cyra held out the sketch for him to study. As soon as he touched the pad, she released it and started scanning the room while she twirled the pencil.
“Simply amazing,” Jonathan repeated. “I can usually reproduce what I see, but this is a skill I’ve never seen before.”
“You’re an artist, too?” Her tone was polite, but shyer then it had been. “How long have you enjoyed drawing?”
“For a bit. I do portraits, too, but I’m not dedicated enough to draw cold like this. Or maybe it’s a courage thing. I’ve only ever done friends. Familiar faces. Sometimes myself for practice. Never with someone watching.”
Cyra nodded and took back the pad to fine-tune the image. “I like drawing. It slows things down. Pauses things long enough for me to catch all the layers.” She pressed her lips together. As if she had more to say, but now wasn’t the time, or Jonathan wasn’t the person to hear it.