Graduation can be killer…
Beth pushes beyond her comfort zone to prove a sociology thesis. She turns a chance meeting with a known player into a personal experiment on first impressions. Weaving herself into casual meetings with the guy reinforces her assumptions… until she’s no longer the one pursuing him.
Jeremy’s only serious relationship is with his studies as he competes for the coveted post-grad theoretical chem spot with Dr. Young. When the campus goes into lockdown and everyone is evacuated to the stadium, his habit of “fun only” friendships turns into a curse.
Can he trust a skittish girl he’s known for ten days to help him find his not-so-theoretical chem project or will her assumptions about him keep her at arm’s length?
Final Year – a fast-paced new adult romantic suspense that keeps you guessing at every turn.
If Beth had known befriending Jeremy’s womanizing ass would lead to this, the apology she’d made seven days ago might have been her farewell, too.
Shivering from a brief gust of wind, she zipped up her jacket and continued to pace. The dim light of the underground passageway clashed with the harsh, grey November day breaking through the ivy at the tunnel mouth. The intermittent wail of the campus alarm made Beth’s nerves spike. I should be heading to the stadium with everyone else, just like I told him. Why am I still here?
Echoes of curiosity jarred with concern as passing voices filtered into the tunnel from the distant crowd beyond the treeline.
I’m not supposed to be here.
You can’t ignore what you saw. If anything happens to him between the tunnel and the stadium, you’ve only yourself to blame.
But he’s a sweet talker. Used to getting his way–
“Gah!” She pressed her fists to her forehead fighting against common sense, logic, the need to follow the rules and still do what’s right. The war between her brain and her gut waged on as the scent of the dank earth and moist concrete clung to the hairs at the back of her nose. Beth drew a deep breath through her mouth to avoid the scent of decay.
A pebble clattered from the depths of the darkened tunnel. She froze. Her heart raced–Run! Leave. Follow the crowd. That could be anyone. She wanted to obey, but couldn’t. Beth barely knew the guy but something–Footsteps. Foot drags. A stuttered stumble and a familiar curse echoed from down the tunnel.
“Jeremy?” Elspeth breathed.
The drip from some distant pipe echoed.
“Elle? You stayed?” He sucked air in between his teeth.
She gave a grim smile at Jeremy’s nickname for her, then breached the darkness of the deeper tunnel, dragging her frantic heart back into the abyss. Relax already. It’s probably a false alarm. Precautionary evacuation. The light in this section burned out, and lack of maintenance meant it would stay that way. The imposing darkness had nothing to do with someone threatening the campus.
In the gloom, she found Jeremy hunched over, leaning heavily against the wall. One hand cradled his head, the other gripped the concrete with pale knuckles. The whiteness of them made her skin crawl, or was it the damp air? She touched his arm.
“Lack of insulin – catching up to me. Making me nauseated. Weak.” He drew in a heavy breath.
“We have to get to the stadium. I’m sure they’ll have medics there–”
“No. Just get me to the pharmacy. I need my medicine.”
“It wasn’t in your room?”
He pushed himself from the wall and stumbled forward. His knees gave out. Shit! He’s not acting.
“Okay! Just give me a minute.” Beth surveyed the situation. He’d forgotten his coat and the wind would pierce his sweater in no time. She liked oversized jackets, but his shoulders were twice a broad as hers. Still… Beth unzipped her coat and pulled her right arm from her sleeve before kneeling down beside Jeremy. Loose gravel bit into her knees. She couldn’t see him well, but the droop of his neck and outline of his parted lips told her she’d made the right decision. Six days ago, Beth had been mistaken and she couldn’t afford a repeat of that ignorance. “Put your arm across my back and grip my left shoulder.” He placed it over the coat.
“Under my coat, Jeremy. The temperature has dropped. Wind chill.”
He carefully slid his arm across her back. She allowed him to breach her bubble of comfort. The jacket pulled tight and tugged against the strain. A brash flitting of her heart startled Beth, causing her to stiffen. Get it together, Donaldson! You’re barely friends. She made herself shift closer to his lean torso and turned her head toward him as she draped the open-half of her jacket across his back. The tip of her nose accidently brushed his ear. He startled at the contact. She couldn’t help but wonder if the jolt was from her unwanted touch or from the feel of her heart pounding against the side of his chest. What are you doing? Is this really necessary? Just get him to safety already!
“Grab the sleeve. Slide it on if you can. Make sure your shoulder’s covered.” Beth slid her hand across his back, noting the contour of each taut muscle and caught her breath. It had been a long time since she’d been this close to a guy. Stop it. You’re not his type. He’s not your type. She moved her fingers, searching for the best grip to help him up, even as their bodies crushed against each other inside her woefully undersized jacket. His torso expanded and contracted as she felt him force slow, deep breaths. Shifting her arm across his spine, Beth settled her hand just under his ribcage.
Grunting and gasping, they struggled to stand. Beth gripped him tighter for stability. The alarm wailed yet another warning, followed by a cop’s bull-horn-voice directing the masses to the stadium. Jeremy flinched, sensitive to the harsh sound, as always. The hair on Beth’s arms and the back of her neck rose. Her insides tried to flee one way as she forced herself to go in another direction.
They stumbled then walked as one, slowly matching their steps and finding a rhythm – just as they had muddled their way these past weeks chatting over coffee.
Beth used her free arm as a counter-balance. The ivy at the opening to the tunnel wisped against her face. She shut her eyes against the daylight.
“Wait. I can’t see yet,” she said. He stopped, allowing her eyes to adjust. She cracked a lid, slowly gaining her bearings. The crisp air bit at her throat as she searched the branching walkway before them. A wall of bushes blocked all but the top of nearby stores.
“Where’s your pharmacy?” Beth asked, squinting. The noise of the evacuation hit her full-force now they were outside, but no one walked on this side of the hedge.
“Other side of the bushes,” he said.
“Have you come this way before?” she asked.
“We’re surrounded by nine-foot hedges. Which way?” She turned them as she looked left and right.
He vaguely waved his hand. “Through. It thins a bit to the right, I believe.”
Beth moved them closer. Surprisingly, there was a break in the trunks covered by drooping branches.
“How on earth did you find this spot?”
“I’ve had a lot of time on campus to discover the best routes to and from certain places. This was a happy accident in my second year.”
“Something tells me this isn’t the first time you’ve stumbled over here with a girl.”
He smirked. She glanced at his loose, shaggy, blond curls, and ice-grey eyes before shaking her head. Leave him. Just leave him. He won’t care about you once he’s got his meds. You’re only a tool, Beth. Yeah, a real tool. But she couldn’t leave, and not just because she felt the quake of his ailing body… From the moment she first saw him, her intuition overruled plain and simple logic.
They pushed through the greenery and emerged on the local campus road, thick with students and professors heading down the extra-wide path toward the stadium.
Jeremy stumbled over the curb. Beth cursed herself for not warning him, tightened her grip around his waist, and widened her stride to compensate. His fingers dug into her shoulder as he staggered, dragging her farther into the crowd. People swarmed around them, jostling and commenting with disgust.
“Which way?” she asked. He leaned on her, his weight making her stagger.
“Should be just ahead. Shop’s in the corner of the plaza.”
Beth squinted through the crowd. The excitement ran the gamut from near-running strides on the edge of hysteria to small groups of friends pushing and shoving each other as if they knew this was a false-alarm. She could still see the top of the long building adjacent them, but no store signs. Too many people. Beth didn’t often travel this way on campus, it always felt so isolated from the main concourse and lecture halls. But not now. She could barely move.
Faceless bodies blocked her view. No one bothered to clue-in that they needed help. Disembodied voices assaulted her ears as she elbowed her way through the throng of students.
“–might be terrorism!” a group of girls shrieked, then whimpered as they passed. Jeremy’s body stiffened.
“–the police say emergency evacuation but no explanation,” a guy tried to make sense of the situation.
Beth pushed them through a small break, but the crowd’s comments lingered like an aftershock.
“I thought I saw the police with the Dean. Whatever it is, it’s serious.”
“–think it’s a bomb. What else could it be?” Jeremy’s breath hitched at the comment and he coughed, his whole body shuddering.
The alarm wailed. Both of them jumped. Then the voice of the bull-horn cop carried above everyone. Jeremy slammed his free hand over an ear, bashing his head against Beth’s to cover the other ear.
“Keep calm but keep moving. This is an emergency evacuation. Keep calm but keep moving. Head to the stadium.”
Beth glanced along the road, following the weave of bodies down the hill to the safe-zone.
We have to get out of here.
No. You promised you’d help him to the pharmacy.
A bulky guy in a red York U jersey cut them off. Beth nearly rebounded off his bicep; his cologne reeked of musk and sweat. Coughing, she turned her head and found her nose buried in Jeremy’s collar. The scent of Irish Spring cleared her head. Travelling against the mob wasn’t helping their situation. Jeremy wavered.
“Steady there!” She squeezed to keep him upright as jolts of fear lit up her nervous-system.
“Not so tight–”
“Sorry.” She let go of his stomach to hug his ribcage instead. He dropped several inches and walked with bent knees. With Jeremy being half-a-foot taller it didn’t make hauling him around any easier.
Beth tripped over a passing foot. Come on!
“Hey! Watch out.” The owner of the foot scowled. Jeremy counter-balanced to help keep them standing. More and more students and professors careened past, yelling and calling to each other; some carried stacks of books, others were on their cell phones waving their hands at people who couldn’t see them, but all headed to the stadium just off campus. Exactly where we should be going, too.
“We’re almost there,” she assured. They were more than half-way across the asphalt path now. A faint ray of sunlight broke through the grey clouds and glinted off a modern-looking glass door above which the word PHARMACY was spelled in red block letters.
“There’s an old guy with silver-streaked hair locking up.” That’s not helpful. “Wait!” Beth called. The bodies on the street absorbed her voice. It disappeared, much the same way she did in a crowd. “Mister–”
Jeremy winced. “–probably Pelbourne.”
“Mr. Pelbourne! Wait!”
He turned. She waved wildly at him. The man dropped his keys when he saw them, a flash of disbelief crossing his face. Then he snatched his keys up and strode the last remaining steps between them. He looped Jeremy’s free arm around his shoulder and helped Beth carry him to the storefront.
“Jeremy, what in God’s name are you doing?” Pelbourne asked.
“My medication–” Jeremy leaned against the display window, trying to breathe slowly, deeply. His curls hung moist and limp as his long fingers left smears of cold sweat on the glass. Beth had never seen him this out-of-sorts, the cocky confidence gone. She pulled the jacket from him, back around her shoulder. The wind didn’t cut into the shop corner as it had out in the open.
“My prescription. I need a refill.”
“What am I supposed to do? They told us to leave immediately. There’s an emergen–”
“This is an emergency,” Beth said, following the pharmacist’s gaze as he watched the mass of evacuating people; then he glanced at his watch.
“Please,” she said. He had to help, for Jeremy’s sake.
“Where are the pills I gave you a couple of weeks ago? The prescription’s good for a month.”
“Gone,” Jeremy said.
“Stolen from his dorm room,” Beth clarified, assuming, but it sounded bad even to her ears. She hoped Jeremy’s reputation ended with the ladies and didn’t carry over into selling off his prescriptions. “It’s been over…”
“A week.” Jeremy provided, placing an awkward hand on Pelbourne’s arm. His pale, icy eyes vainly sought a connection with the pharmacist. Beth squeezed her fists tight in the confines of her jacket pockets and stared at the man.
Mr. Pelbourne sighed. His keys jingled as he pulled them out again. I should leave now. The pharmacist can help Jeremy. And yet, Beth found herself resuming her role as a crutch while Pelbourne unlocked the store.
Inside, behind the drug counter, the pharmacist automatically reached for an empty bottle and the medication. Beth sat Jeremy down in a blood-pressure chair. She cringed at the grey wash of his face, making his eyes almost disappear.
“We talked about this,” Pelbourne grumbled, glancing at the time again. “You can’t forget about your medicine even if you don’t need it as often any more. The diabetes is unforgiving – your body is struggling to access your insulin supplies. I–” He opened and closed his mouth a few times then shook his head. “I’m just repeating myself. I’ll put a note on your file. We don’t have time to do this properly. Grab a bottle of water for him, young lady, he’s probably parched.”
“Yes, Mr. Pelbourne–” they said together.
Back outside, Beth waved off the pharmacist’s efforts to help her with Jeremy.
“Are you sure?” Pelbourne asked.
No. “We’re gonna stop a minute so he can take his meds, then we’ll catch up.”
Jeremy finished a swig of water, “S’okay, Mr. P. We’re right behind you.”
The pharmacist glanced at his watch. “If I didn’t have to meet my wife, I’d– She’s a– Well, she worries and– You sure you’re okay?”
Jeremy nodded. Pelbourne joined the wave of pedestrians heading for the safe zone. Beth turned, leading Jeremy to the parkette behind the plaza. Every nerve in her body screamed she was going the wrong way. They walked with the crowd to the end of the building then moved off toward the manicured green-space just behind.
“Careful, now,” she said, lowering him to a wooden bench. She sat, too, and fought with the cap on his pills as he rested, head down, forearms on knees. Beth stared at him, so lost and alone. Where were his buddies? Did no one else think to check on him? A strange ache welled up in her chest. She swallowed, forcing it down before refocusing. Her freckled skin pulled with tension as the ribbed plastic bit into her flesh. The burn of it grinding against her palm made the image of the sexy red-head Jeremy followed from the restaurant pop to mind; the perky blonde he’d paced himself to meet outside the pub; and the dark-haired, dark-skinned, beauty
leaving the dorm the day of her surprise visit. Each time her cheeks burned with embarrassment. Why the hell am I here? Where are they?
The cap popped. She dropped an Amaryl in his outstretched hand then swiped a tendril of light-brown hair from her face, locking it firmly behind an ear. Downing the pill, Jeremy then chugged the rest of the water. Beth tossed the empty bottle into a nearby bin.
Neither of them spoke.
She stared at his right ear.
He faced the ground.
The wind gusted past and he shuddered. Part of her wanted to slide over and wrap a protective arm around him, and the other part, well, she wasn’t so sure he deserved her walking off right now. Perhaps a week ago, but not now.
“This isn’t going to cure me,” he said.
“Nothing will cure you. I’m not an idiot. It will help. You said it would help. Maybe I should take you to a medic if it’s that bad.”
“No. It doesn’t work that fast. I’ve been off them a while now.”
“It. Will. Help. Maybe I should get you another water.” She stood, ready to search the shops nearby.
“No. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.” She flopped down again, jamming her hands into her jacket pockets, wanting to stick her face in front of his to make her point but knowing the futility of it – of pitting her will against his.
“I will be. Besides, I need your help.”
“As much as I should, I promise I won’t leave you here. We’ll go to the stadium toge–”
“I’m not going to the stadium.”
“What?” What now? I can’t–
“I didn’t just go back to my dorm for the medicine.”
“The medicine that wasn’t there?”
“Right. The medicine that I knew wasn’t there. I went back for my experiment.”
Beth bristled. You lied to me? “Why? It’s safe,” she said, her voice clipped, edged with anger.
“Actually, it’s not.”
“What do you mean?”
He briefly massaged his temples with one hand. “My pills weren’t the only things missing.”
About M.J.:Growing up in Ontario, Canada, MJ was the only child of a single mom. MJ’s passion for the arts ignited at a young age as she wrote
adventure stories and read them aloud to close family and friends. The dramatic arts became a focus in high school as an aid to understanding character motivation in her writing. Majoring in Theatre Production at University, with a minor in English, she went on to teach both elementary and high school for 10 years throughout Simcoe County.
MJ currently lives with her husband and young son in Caledon, Ontario. She keeps busy these days with her emerging authors’ website Infinite Pathways: hosting writing contests, providing editing services, free publicity tips, book reviews, and opportunities for authors to build their writing platform and portfolio. In addition she writes articles, works freelance writing and editing, and is preparing to launch her first science fiction novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest on October 1st, 2014. She firmly believes that if she hadn’t been born a Virgo, she would not be half as organized as necessary to accomplish everything in her daily agenda.
5 lucky winners will win an eBook of FINAL YEAR, International.
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