It was late, the dead of night—she had to be hearing things. But no, her roommate, Sarah, poked her again. Julie rolled her eyes. "What?" she growled, swatting the annoying hand away.
Sarah tilted her head to the window. "You may wanna look down there, Juls."
Julie raised an eyebrow and pushed back her desk chair, wincing as it scraped loudly against the tile floor. She shuffled over to the open window and peered out. "Shit," she muttered under her breath.
There he was, in his leather jacket glory, hair cut short and slicked back, five o'clock shadow skittering across the sharp line of his jaw. The moment he saw her he stumbled on the archaic words he was reciting and moved on to another verse.
"'But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?'"
Julie's face split into a grin and she pushed up the screen, leaning halfway out the window.
"'It is the east, and Juliet is the sun'," he continued, tossing his arms out to his sides. He was already amassing a small crowd behind him. "'Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief…""
"Portman!" Julie yelled as his Shakespeare began to fail him. She leaned forward and teetered on the windowsill. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he yelled back up at her.
Julie raised her eyebrows. "It looks like you're making a fool of yourself," she pointed out, her face flused. Her teeth sunk into her lower lip.
He dropped his arms, and it was then she noticed the flash of red in his hand. "I'm fucking reciting Shakespeare," he said, exasperated. "Because…y'know, Juliet."
Julie pressed her lips together. "Portman," she said softly. He probably couldn't hear here down there. "My name isn't Juliet. It's just Julie."
The crowd was beginning to disperse. Dean scrunched up his face as he processed her words, then he raised a hand and dragged it through his hair. "Well, fuck…"
Julie glanced at Sarah, who was standing in the corner. She raised her eyebrows and gave Julie a hand motion that she was apparently supposed to know how to read. "But thank you," Julie called down, leaning out just a little more. "It's the thought that counts."
"Damn straight," Dean said, switching back to his old self without a hitch. "So, can I come up?"
Julie snorted out a laugh and shook her head. "Dean, it's the middle of the night."
"I know, I just sat on a fucking bus for sixteen hours to get here."
Julie's face fell slightly. Sixteen hours? God. "Dean…I have a roommate," Julie pointed out, reaching out a hand and dragging Sarah into view. She smiled and waved down at Dean.
He raised his hand and waved in return. "Look, I'm not asking for much, just let me up," he said again, persistent as ever. She couldn't remember if he was always this persistent or if this was a new adult thing. "C'mon, kitty, don't leave me hanging."
The pitifully giddy smile returned to her face. Sarah whispered to her to just let him up, she didn't care. "Okay, okay, fine! Walk around to the front of the building, I'll be right down," Julie said finally, ducking back into the room. She pushed down the screen.
"Oh my god," Sarah whispered, as if Dean could hear them. "Julie! What is going on?"
Julie shook her head. "I have no idea," she said honestly, slipping her feet into her sandals and grabbing her student ID.
"Who is that guy?"
Julie glanced at Sarah with a look that said "now is so not the time to ask me that" before grabbing the doorknob and wrenched open the door. She walked down the hall, passing all of the doors that led to the other dorm rooms. She and Sarah were some of the very, very few seniors who still lived in dorms. Most had already moved off campus, long before they hit the four year mark.
As she walked, she dragged her fingers through her hair, which was just as long, straight, and blonde as ever. She went through a phase, during her senior year of high school, where she colored it purple and green. She was happy that hadn't lasted.
She got down to the lobby, taking a deep breath. She could do this. It was just Dean Portman—what could he do? Nothing she couldn't handle. Pushing open the door, she stepped outside. It was still early in the semester and it was still technically summer. She walked a few steps, letting the door close behind her.
"Hey." Dean came up to her from around the corner of the building. He had a bag slung over his shoulder that she hadn't seen when he was standing below her window. He brought out his other hand, revealing a red rose. "I got this for you."
Julie hesitated, but she took it, holding the stem between her fingertips. "Thank you," she said, because it was appropriate. And then she looked up at him, and was reminded that neither of them were kids anymore. She was already twenty-one and he was two years older than she was. "Dean, what are you doing here?"
He didn't answer, only looked over her shoulder at the entrance, and said, "You said you'd let me up."
She nodded. "I did." She turned around and he followed. She slid her ID through the scanner and the door unlocked. He grabbed it from behind her and let her walk in first. "You need to sign in." She motioned toward the security desk. She stepped toward it and put her ID down.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. "Uh…license?" he asked. She nodded and he put his card on the table, too. The girl working the desk started to write down their information.
"Nice digs," he said. As if she didn't know that his family was far from poor and he actually lived in a bigger house than she grew up in in Maine.
She rolled her eyes. "Shut up," she said, playfully, but he did anyway. Which was weird. Dean, even as he grew up, wasn't one to actually listen to someone. He was very much a confrontational person, on and off the ice.
"Room number?" the girl asked.
"307," Julie answered, taking the IDs back. She held hers against her palm and handed Dean back his. "C'mon, we're taking the stairs."
"Lead the way," he said, sweeping an arm out. She rolled her eyes again and his chuckle followed her down the hall to the door leading to the stairway.
"You know my roommate is still in the room and I'll feel really bad if we have to kick her out to have a conversation," Julie pointed out, pushing open the door. The hallway was stuffy, even with the windows open.
"I don't plan on having a conversation," Dean said, following her up the stairs.
She stopped halfway up the second set and looked back down at him. "Excuse me?"
"Hmm? What, no, Julie, c'mon," he said, waving a hand. "Did you not hear me earlier? Greyhound, sixteen hours. Sleeping on a bus is shit."
"So you came to a college campus, tracked me down, recited Shakespeare, and all you want is a place to crash?"
He shrugged. "For now."
She rolled her eyes and stopped on the third floor, opening the heavy door and stepping into the hall. It was a normal college hall, nothing fancy: white walls, bulletin boards, and colorful safe-sex posters taped every few yards.
"Just—try to be quiet, okay?"
"You're not still with that toolbag, are you?" Dean asked once they stopped in front of 307.
Julie turned to him, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "You'll have to be a little more specific." She knew he wasn't exaggerating. She naturally attracted douchebag boyfriends.
"Scooter," Dean said.
She parted her lips and wondered if he had some innate ability to know just how hard it was for her to shake her first boyfriend, her on-again-off-again-for-eight-years boyfriend, the boyfriend she'd been trying to move on from ever since the first time they broke up during her freshmen year at Eden Hall.
"No," was all she offered him, not wanting to get into any of that out here in the hall. She turned back to the door and opened it, ushering Dean inside.
Sarah was perched at her desk, trying desperately not to act like she had been waiting here like a parent who waited for their child to come home from a first date.
Dean walked in, taking in the two beds, the two desks, the two of everything except a fridge. The ceiling was laced with what Sarah called fairy lights—they were, in fact, just Christmas lights—that were bright enough to be the only lights on at the moment except for the desk lamps.
"Right um…Dean, this is my roommate, Sarah," Julie introduced, stepping aside and waving a hand between them. "Sarah, this is Dean." She offered no explanation of who he was to her, and Julie could see the flash of gossipy need cross Sarah's face.
They both said appropriate greetings and then Julie spoke again. "Dean just needs a place to crash tonight. Would that be okay? I mean, maybe we could sneak him into the lounge down the hall, but I don't want him to get kicked out if Mac sees him." Mac was the RA on this half of the floor.
Sarah shrugged and shook her head. "No, no, it's fine. He can stay." She glanced at the clock on the top shelf of her desk formation. It shown out 1:27 AM. "I mean, it's super late."
Julie nodded. "Yeah, Dean," she turned to him and moved to stand directly in front of him, "it's really late. Couldn't this have waited?" She twirled the thornless rose between her fingers.
"Nope," Dean said, sliding his bag off his shoulder, and letting it hit the ground loudly by her feet. "I'll take the floor."
Julie was going to ask him if he even thought he had a choice, but decided against it. Sarah slid from her desk and up to her lofted bed. Beneath the bed was where her desk and bureau lived. Julie's bed was a normal height, her desk and bureau at the end and against the wall next to the window. There was plenty of floor space.
"Okay, let me get you something to sleep on," Julie said, moving to her small closet and pulling blankets, necessary for the latter half of this semester when it started getting cold, and unfolding them to lay on the floor for cushioning. Since Julie had an army of pillows on her bed, she tossed him a few.
He leaned down to toss them on one end of the blankets and froze. Between the surface of her desk and the shelf-lamp contraption attached, the wall was plastered with photos. Right in the middle was a print copy of the Ducks at Eden Hall after their first year there. Everyone was young with smiles stretched across their faces, as if they couldn't have been happier than in that very moment.
"Dean," Julie said, noticing that he had stopped moving. "You okay?"
He blinked and shook his head, straightening his back and turning to look down at her. "What? Yeah. Just looking at your pictures," he said, waving a hand at the collage.
Julie blinked and smiled sadly. "Feels like a whole other world, huh?"
He shrugged and let out a heavy sigh. "Yeah, it really does."
"Wait," Sarah said from her bed, leaning down and peering at Julie's desk. She couldn't see the photos as more than shapes and blobs, not any actual faces. "You guys were on that team together, weren't you?"
Dean glanced up at Sarah. "You caught me," he said, a cocky grin sliding onto his face.
"Sarah, don't start interrogations, please," Julie said, rolling her eyes as she kicked off her shoes. She climbed up onto her bed and pulled her legs under her. "Dean, aren't you tired? Why don't you try out the makeshift bed?"
He glanced behind him and shrugged off his jacket, laying it over the back of Julie's desk chair. He toed off his boots and was about to plop down on the blankets when Julie exclaimed:
"Oh! Wait, can you shut off our lights? There's a switch over there," she said with a hesitant smile and a pointed index finger.
He did as he was asked and the room was plunged into almost-darkness, with nothing but streetlamps leaking light into the room.
"Hey, Julie," he said softly, shuffling over to her bed. She looked up and met his eyes in the dark. "Thanks for letting me stay."
She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, sure thing."
Morning had arrived, and Sarah tiptoed her way down her bedframe, around Dean's sprawled, sleeping form—taking in his wholly angelic appearance that most people have when they're sleeping—and poked Julie's shoulder. Julie inched toward consciousness and slowly opened her eyes.
"Uh, hello," Julie said shifting onto her side and propping herself up on her elbow.
Sarah raised her eyebrows and jerked her head toward the door. Julie rolled her eyes and got out of bed as quietly as she could. They both slipped on their shoes and left Dean behind in the room.
Sarah hooked her arm with Julie's and dragged her down to the lounge halfway down the hall. "Okay, spill," she said, nearly shoving Julie down on one of the couches. "Seriously, what is going on, Julie? I've never heard you mention this guy, not once."
Julie rolled her eyes and shifted on the couch. "It's early, Sarah, I haven't even had breakfast yet," she whined. Sarah, who was usually soft and quiet, grew a backbone and stubbornness leaked out of her like she was borrowing it from Julie herself. Julie sighed and rested her head against her hand. "He's just a guy who was on the hockey team at my high school. We weren't any closer than any one else on the team. He was just…we don't see each other often. I don't know why he's here."
Sarah licked her lips and pushed her hands through her hair. "He's really hot," she said finally. "Tell me you've seen him naked in the showers at least once."
Julie snorted. "Please. Me and Connie always showered first and the coach always had to y'know…make sure the boys didn't peek."
"So that's a no," Sarah said.
"Why are you so invested in this? I mean, I know we're roommates, but we're not usually relationship-sharing-types of friends," Julie pointed out.
Sarah tilted her head to the side. "C'mon, Juls, you should know why."
Julie sucked in a breath and let it out quickly, before she pushed herself to her feet. "C'mon, I'm gonna go wake up Dean and grab some breakfast. You should come."
Sarah trailed behind as Julie walked back into the room and flicked on the lights. Dean groaned and tossed an arm over his eyes.
"Sorry, buddy," Julie said, leaning against her bed. "Wanna grab some food?"
Dean breathed deep before he pushed himself up on his elbows. "Uh…yeah, sure. You got a shower I can use first?"
Julie nodded. "Down the hall to the left."
He got to his feet, grabbed his bag, and left. Sarah gave Julie a pointed look.
"Now's as good a time as any to make up for what, four years of missed naked opportunities?" Sarah said, crossing her arms and smirking.
Julie rolled her eyes and dove into her dresser to put on some real clothes.
Sarah grabbed her purse and pulled out her cell phone, punched in a number, and held the phone up to her ear. "Uh…hey, yeah. Is that offer still open? I mean, yeah…I know! Are you leaving now? Really? Okay…let me just grab some things together and throw on my shoes. Thanks!"
Julie, who was pulling on a pair of high-waisted shorts, arched an eyebrow. "What was that about?" She fished through her drawers for a shirt to pull over her favorite bra. Why she wore her favorite, she had no idea—she chalked it up to it being a subconscious decision.
"Don't you remember that Tiffany invited me on that four day trip to the city?" Sarah asked, running around the room and throwing things together into a suitcase. "Well, I just decided I'm going."
"Because of me," Julie pointed out, grabbing a sky blue sleeveless button down to tuck into her shorts.
"Because of Dean," Sarah corrected. "But really, I need to get out of this place and you two deserve some private space to catch up, all right? Don't try to talk me out of it."
Julie held up her hands. "I'm not stopping you. Just…have fun, be careful…and you may want to get dressed before Dean comes barging in."
And he did, two minutes later, just after Sarah pulled on her strappy sandals.
"Oh," he said, spotting her half zipped suitcase. "You're leaving?" He dropped his bag at the foot of Julie's bed. She was currently leaning against the side of her desk, finishing off a braid.
"Yeah, I have a trip with some friends," Sarah said, flashing him a smile before she moved to finish shoving things into her bag. "It was nice to meet you though."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, you too."
She gave Julie a quick hug and then heaved her bag out of the room. The door shut quietly, leaving them alone. Julie took a deep breath before she pushed herself away from the desk.
"C'mon, let's go get some food."
"Not that it's not great to see you," Julie started, waiting in line for the bacon and pancakes, "but it's just…it's been a while."
Dean nodded, towering over her. "Yeah, I meant to show up for Richie's birthday party but I got caught up with work." Richie was Connie and Guy's son. He'd turned four this year. Julie had gone; Richie was the cutest four year old she'd ever seen, and she doted on him as if she were his real aunt. And, with how close the Ducks were, she may has well have been blood related.
"It's okay," Julie said, finally getting to the food and filling her plate. "Charlie couldn't make it either, and Goldberg was back in Pennsylvania, helping out his aunt with the family business."
He nodded again and put twice as much food on his plate as she did. "Everyone else showed up?" he asked, following close behind over to the table.
"Banksie's in California taking his bar exams," Julie pointed out.
"Shit," he muttered, sliding into his seat and putting his plate down. "Everyone's so fucking grown up."
Julie rolled her eyes. "Ha, please. You talk like you're doing nothing with your life." She sat down opposite him, crossing her legs under the table.
He raised his eyebrows and crunched down on some bacon. "Tell me, what am I doing with my life?"
He was teasing. Which was weird. She didn't remember him ever being much of a teaser, at least not in the sense that things were light and happy, and not bullying and littered with dark humor.
"Let me think…trade school, right? In Chicago," Julie said, pointing her fork in his direction. "You're really smart, Dean. You didn't have to go to trade school."
Dean shrugged and cut up his pancakes with his fork. "Thanks. And I know. I like it though. Hard labor's good for me." He arched an eyebrow.
Julie blinked across the table, chewing slowly on her eggs. "All that anger, right? Without hockey to channel things…"
"I was a wild kid," Dean shook his head. "But there's a difference between anger and just liking beating people up."
She smiled and laughed lightly. "Right. I'm glad you're doing something that you…enjoy?"
He nodded and chuckled. "Yeah. So…forgive me for asking, again, but what's the deal with you and Scooter?"
Of course he had to ask. It was gossip that swirled around the team, even to this day. She wasn't really surprised by that, considering how he kept lingering in her life.
"We're not together anymore," Julie said, uncrossing her legs and crossing her ankles under her chair. "I mean…we're never together, and we're never not together. We just…"
"Ah, on-again-off-again," he simplified things for her. "For uh….what, going on eight years?"
"Yeah…it's crazy, stupid, I know, I just can't help it. I'll be fine and then he'll show up and things will be good for a while and then they go to hell. I just can't get him…gone." She frowned at her fork and pushed what was left of her food around her plate.
Dean nodded. "I get it," he said.
"Do you?" She raised her eyebrows at him.
"I am a human being, y'know, I have emotions and relationships just like the rest of you," he said with a chuckle.
She bit down on her bottom lip. "Okay, okay. Sorry. I believe you. I just wish I could cut him out completely."
"I thought he was playing for the Canucks?"
"He is," she nodded. "So I haven't seen him for a while. Which is…awesome."
Dean shook his head at her. "You're insane."
"Says the guy who stood outside my window with a rose reciting Shakespeare."
"Touché. I spent days memorizing two stanzas. Shit is hard."
Julie flashed a small smile and met his eyes across the table. "Just so you know, no one's ever recited Shakespeare to me before," she admitted. "Especially Scooter."
Dean crossed his arms and leaned against the table. "C'mon, Julie, don't make me blush."
She rolled her eyes. "You don't need me to make you blush, Portman."
He looked at her across the table and then pushed back his chair. "C'mon, Gaffney, I'm a guest—you should show me around your campus."
Dean used Julie's desk and she curled up in her bed, going through her textbooks and working on her homework. He had brought books with him, which he was reading. She kept glancing up from her work to the curvy waves of his hair and the slope of his shoulders—
It wasn't like she wasn't accustomed to being around attractive men, especially almost naked and muscular ones. But—
She wasn't a fifteen year old girl anymore. She shouldn't get flustered. And yet, she found herself entirely distracted. However, after the two hour long walk around campus, followed by another meal, she really had to get some homework done. Dean, luckily, had brought things to entertain himself with and was keeping to himself.
Time slipped by, and he just kept reading.
"Portman," she said after a while, breaking the silence.
He twisted around in the chair, his arm hung over the back. "What's up?"
"Nothing, I just…what're you doing here?" She asked this cautiously, like she was trying to comfort an injured and cowering animal. She didn't know why she said it that way—it just happened. She wasn't afraid of the answer, she just—
"You want me to leave?" he asked, moving to stand up.
She shook her head and scooted to the edge of the mattress. "No, it's fine, you don't have to leave. It's good to see you. And I mean that."
He nodded, crossing his arms. "Yeah, sorry. I should have called first or something."
"It's okay, really. I just feel really bad because you're here and I have homework…"
"Don't sweat it." He walked away and peered at her photo collage. "How long's it been since you were on the ice?"
"Hmm?" She looked over at him, over at the big photo of the Ducks, surrounded by polaroids and CVS printouts.
"When's the last time you skated?" he clarified.
Julie licked her lips and folded her hands together. "Remember how we all went to the rink the day after Averman's…funeral?" she asked. It had been two years and she still couldn't bring herself to put those two words together without faltering.
"Yeah," Dean said, leaning on the end of the bed frame.
It wasn't something any one wanted to think about more than they had to. Averman was the one who always got hurt. But he always got back up again. He was supposed to be invincible. He wasn't supposed to get sideswiped by an 18-wheeler and end up in a coma until his parents couldn't keep him on life support any longer. The entire team got together to share their grief and they honored him with a morning skate the next day. Julie had her left arm in a sling, the blue clashing with her black outfit.
"Yeah, that was it," Julie said, nodding softly and picking at the blanket she was sitting on.
"That's a long time."
"Yep," she said, popping the 'p'. "What about you?"
"I live on the ice, baby," he said with a smirk. "Once a week, at least. You hear about the thing that happened three years ago?"
Julie looked over at him and frowned, pushing loose hairs back behind her ear. "Yeah. I can't believe that happened to you," she sympathized. The word on the streets was Dean Portman hit someone too hard on the ice, got a lawsuit slapped on him and was kicked out of the NCAA. It wasn't fair.
"Yeah." He shrugged and then pursed is lips before he glanced around. "I uh…brought my skates."
She raised her eyebrows. "Did you?"
"C'mon, let's go. I know for a fact this place has got a rink, or you wouldn't be here."
"Dean," she whined.
He reached out a hand and grabbed her wrist. "C'mon, Cat, live a little. I'll even turn my back so you can put pants on."
"What a gentleman," she rolled her eyes. But she did get off her bed and into some jeans with little encouragement.
"Now, where are your skates? You have 'em with you, right?" He started pushing through her things.
"Excuse me! That's private," she screeched, slapping his hands away. "They're right here." She crouched down and pulled her skates out from under the bed. "See?" She stood up and swung her skates over her shoulder.
"How are we getting in?" she asked. He pulled out his wallet and tried out the door. It jingled. He tried the others, and found the last one open. He grinned and held his arm out.
Julie half smiled and ducked into the building.
"Uh, can I help you two?" An older woman walked out, looking like she owned the place.
"Uh, yeah. Is there any way we can get on the ice tonight?" Dean asked.
"This isn't a public rink."
"Oh, we know. I go to school here," Julie said, flashing her ID. "I know there's practice tonight but it's not for a little while. Can we just get on the ice for a few minutes?"
"We can pay," Dean added, waving his wallet around.
"And we have our own skates."
The woman pressed her lips together. "We usually don't let…"
"We're professionals," Julie said. "I mean, literally. We were both in the NCAA. Hockey."
Dean pulled out a twenty and handed it to her, forcing her to make up her mind. "Thanks a lot," he said, slipping his arm around Julie's shoulders and walking around to the lower tunnel that led to the rink.
"Think you even remember how to skate, Gaffney?" Dean teased once they got their skates on. He pulled open the gate and flourished a hand once again. She slid onto the ice, smooth and unblemished.
"Dean, I tore my rotary cuff, I can skate fine," she said, turning around and floating backward, watching him join her.
"That's not what I meant," he pointed out. "You're a goalie. Goalie's don't skate."
"Excuse you," Julie said, "is that a challenge?"
He grinned. "Let's see how fast you can go, kitty."
Julie rolled her eyes—she seemed to be doing a lot of that lately—and skated to the edge of the ice. She got into a smooth rhythm and Dean followed, keeping pace next to her. He sped up a bit and she pushed herself harder.
"Oh, c'mon, Portman, you practice every week—it's been years," she whined.
He just laughed at her and showed her up by swapping his forward movement to backward while still keeping pace with her.
"You suck, Portman," she yelled, though her words were laced with laughter.
He laughed along with her and then straightened out his line, simply floating around and watching her arms swing and her legs move in swift motions as she gained speed.
"Looking sluggish, Gaffney. Ain't as fast as you used to be, huh?"
"My hands were fast," Julie corrected. "And then that went to hell. I'm outta practice."
"I can tell." He slowed to a stop in the middle of the ice.
She straightened her back and slowed down, watching him teeter around the center of the ice. "What's up, Portman?" she asked, making her oval into a circle and skating closer and closer to him.
"How do you do it?" he asked.
Julie kept her eyes on him as her speed slowed. "What do you mean?"
"Everything," he said as she straightened out her toes and gently glided toward him, stopping in front of him. "Not skating, that shit with Scooter…how did Julie 'The Cat' turn into this?"
"This?" She raised her eyebrows and let her hands fall to her sides. "You mean, me? What if I want my life to be this way, Portman?"
"Do you?" He echoed her words from earlier.
She took in a deep breath and leaned her head back, closing her eyes. The feel of the skates tight around her feet, the coldness of the ice, the familiarity of all of it…she could hear crowds roaring around her, feel the weight of the pads testing her strength…
"I miss playing," she confessed. "But I can't play with my fucked up shoulder."
She didn't see it, but his expression changed with the curse; Julie didn't curse, it wasn't her style.
"And Scooter is a hassle, but he's gone so often, I…I'll deal with it when it happens," she continued. She took her time opening her eyes and moved her head forward so she could see him. "I like going to school here. I miss everyone, but I like it here."
He nodded slightly, scooting forward a few inches. "So, you're happy." Statement, not a question.
"Yeah," she said, which wasn't always true, but at the moment, it was. Her legs would be sore in the morning, but she didn't care. As bitter a taste as being around a rink brought up in the back of her throat, she missed it. It had been part of her life until her accident and then she cut it out, cold turkey. "What about you? Are you happy?"
She had no idea where this was coming from. The ease at which they were acting around each other, the way she felt like they were the best of friends and had no secrets when she knew, for a fact, that they weren't close friends and they most definitely did not know everything about each other.
"I dunno," Dean said, voice more serious than she'd expected. She blinked, her face falling to a semblance of concern. She raised her eyebrows and waited.
"Dean? Are you all right?" She reached out and touched his shoulder.
"Yeah," he nodded, lifting his hands and cupping her face. She didn't protest or object. He just shook his head in opposition of his positive statement, and then he kissed her.
It should not have happened, but she couldn't help it. She kissed him back, her hands curling around the collar of his jacket. And then…and then reality came crashing down.
Her eyes fluttered open and she pushed him away. He slid an inch or two back and she clamped her hands over her mouth.
"Oh my God," she gasped out. "Dean…"
"Shit…Julie," Dean said, running his hands through his hair. "I'm sorry. I didn't…"
"It's…I just have…I'm seeing someone," she said, face growing pink and it was not from the cold of the rink. "His name is Alex, he's on the hockey team. And I'm…I'm sorry."
Dean nodded, averting his gaze and rubbing the back of his neck. "Julie, please, don't…it's fine. I don't even know what I'm doing here."
He twisted around and skated off the ice, leaving her in the middle of the rink, alone. She watched him as he sat on the bench and leaned down to unlace his skates, but he changed his mind and just leaned his arms against his knees and sat in still silence.
Julie pushed her hands through her hair and took a deep breath before she followed him off the ice. "Dean," she said softly, tiptoeing to the bench and sitting down. She straddled the bench and faced him, his back hunched, tension in his shoulders.
"Dean," she said again. "Dean, what happened? I may not know you as well as I know some of the guys, but I know you enough…you're not just here to give me advice about my love life." Her words hung in the air. "Dean…"
"My sister," he said, like it was a word that tasted bad and he wanted out of his mouth. "My sister, she uh…she got…she was in a car wreck."
A chill ran through Julie's body that had nothing to do with the ice.
"She didn't make it."
"Oh my God," Julie whispered, one hand clamping over her mouth, mind reeling. As if their lives hadn't been slammed down by curveballs enough in the past few years.
"Portman," she murmured, reaching out her hand. She did nothing but brush her fingertips over the back of his hand, but he crumbled like dust.
He cried, and she held onto him as best she could, running her hands through his hair and saying nothing else. What could she say?
Any thoughts of Scooter or Alex or hockey or anything selfish was gone. Her life was inconsequential in comparison to what Dean was going through. And sure, he hadn't lived a squeaky clean life, but that didn't mean anyone deserved to go through something like this.
He finally quieted, his hands gripping her arms, head resting against her chest.
Julie ran her hands over his hair and rested her cheek against his hair. "I'm so sorry, Dean," she said softly, because it was the only thing she could think of.
"Yeah," he said, voice muffled.
"Wanna go back to my room?" she asked as he started to pull away from her. Her hands slid around his face and he blinked and studied her own. She wanted so much to ask him why he came to see her, why he spent sixteen hours on a Greyhound bus to find her—why he showed up spouting Shakespeare with a rose in hand.
"Yeah, all right." His vocabulary was shrinking as the minutes went by. They silently changed into sneakers and walked with their skates tossed over their shoulders. Once they were out in the open, she slid her arm across his back and kept glancing up at him every other minute to make sure he was okay. He slung his arm across her shoulders and they quietly made their way across the campus to her dorm room.
It started raining halfway there, though it was a light rain. It felt nice, and strangely fitting.
Julie was beyond thankful that Sarah had left for that trip. It saved a lot of trouble having to explain, having to deal with Dean and the things he was going through. This had to be a million times worse than losing Averman; she tried picturing losing one of her brothers and she felt like someone was sitting on her chest, making it unable for her to breathe.
She nudged the door shut and let the room be illuminated by the lights outside the window. "C'mon, you need some rest," she said, dropping her hands from him and stepping away.
"You're mothering me now?" he asked, trying to crack a grin but succeeding in grimacing at her.
"For now," she replied, watching him take his jacket off and carefully put it over the back of her chair. Their skates sat paired together next to her desk. "Get in bed."
He turned to her with raised eyebrows. "What?"
She shook her head and pressed her hands against his sides, nudging him toward her mattress. "It's fine, just get in bed."
"Juls," Dean said, voice low.
"It's fine," she repeated, carefully sliding her hands up his neck and running her thumbs across the line of his jaw. She smiled softly. "Get into bed or I'll kick your ass. You know I can."
He didn't say anything—he did as she said. "How the hell do you get into this thing?" he grumbled, heaving himself up onto the elevated mattress.
"Running start," Julie said, exchanging her damp jeans for cotton shorts and slipping her bra off under her shirt. There was no way she was going to sleep in a bra, she was far beyond that point in her life when she cared about that sort of thing.
She quickly braided her hair so it wouldn't tangle between them, eyes out the window at the summer night. She pushed open the window a few inches and then turned to the bed. Dean had no issues stretching out and using her own pillows for himself.
She crawled up from the end and lay out on her side, pressed close to the cool concrete wall. "Hey," she said softly. Dean rolled onto his back and dragged his fingers through his hair and over his scalp. "How are you feeling?"
He sucked in a breath, lungs expanding, chest rising. "Like hell," he grumbled honestly.
She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at him with careful concentration. "Dean…"
He dropped his arm and looked over at her. "Some Bash Brother I am."
"Shhh, you're only human, Portman. Calm down," she said, running her fingers up and down his upper arm.
"Yeah, yeah." He rolled back over, flipping over onto his stomach and shoving his arm under the pillow.
Her eyes ran over the soft glow from outside and the silence stretched between them.
"Stay close, huh?" he asked her finally, his voice soft.
She pressed her lips together and nodded into the darkness. "Yeah, sure." She scooted down and, with the limited space of a dorm mattress, had to practically lie on top of him to be comfortable. She slipped her arm around his torso and rested her cheek between his shoulder blades. She couldn't help it. He asked, she didn't have anywhere else to go, and couldn't think of anything else to do or say.
He didn't object either.
Julie woke up and felt like she was overheating. She cracked her eyes open and realized she was sprawled out over Dean. Right over, like a ragdoll. Her head resting against his back, her arm curled around him. During the night, he had grabbed her hand and held it close to his chest.
She carefully slipped out of his grasp and onto her side, propping herself up on her elbow and sliding her hand across his back, over his ribs and the line of his spine. She didn't know how long ago his sister had died, or why she was the one he'd come to. She didn't know how to handle this situation, what to say, or what to do. She was clueless.
All her movement dragged him from the edge of unconsciousness. He took in a breath and rolled over, bringing his arm with him, pressing his hand over his eyes and then looking up at her.
"Morning," Julie said softly, rubbing her hand over his heart.
"Hey," he mumbled out, reaching his hand out and touching her face lightly before dropping his hand to circle his fingers around her wrist.
She smiled sleepily down at him. "How are you feeling? Any better?"
She watched it dawn on him that this wasn't some happy good morning, there was darkness in his eyes that settled there. She instantly regretted asking him, but she had to. They couldn't just ignore this and make it a non-issue.
"I uh…I left right from the funeral," he said, closing his eyes and gently rubbing his thumb over her skin, warm and welcoming.
Julie pressed her lips into a line. "Dean…why did you come here? To me?"
"I dunno," he confessed, tilting his head and opening his eyes slowly. "I just…I thought of you."
"You barely…we're not even close."
"We are now." He gave her a pathetic half-smile.
She shook her head. "Don't cheapen this," she said, tone close to a mild threat. "I've really enjoyed being around you the last twenty-four hours y'know."
"Good to know, kitty," he said, trailing his fingers up her arm. "Wanna know something else?"
Julie nodded, looking down at him and trailing her index finger around in little circles over the fabric of his shirt. "Sure."
"When uh…when we were at Eden Hall, when we were together a lot and everything, I…uh… had a crush on you."
She laughed without meaning to. "What? Are you serious? On me?"
"Think that'd make Scooter jealous?"
Julie shook her head. "Cheapening the moment again there, Portman." She moved to get off the bed but he gripped her shoulder and slid his hand around the back of her neck. "Or not…" She leaned down pressed her lips against his without thinking about it. And then, she wrenched herself away and shook her head.
"Oh buddy…we need to handle this like…like adults," she said, sliding off the end of the bed and onto the floor. She bit her bottom lip and walked over to her desk, where the flower he brought was beginning to wilt without water. She gently ran her fingertips over the petals.
"Dean. I don't…" She paused and turned back around. He was sitting on her bed, legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. "I don't want you to be alone right now. And I…have no idea what my feelings are telling me, but I know that you can't stay here. Someone will find out and Sarah can only take so much…"
"I know, I know," he said, nodding and rubbing his hands over his face. "I made a real mess of things coming here."
Julie sighed and detangled her hair from the braid. He stared across the room at Sarah's desk and bureau. She took in a deep breath and stepped in front of him. She hesitated before resting her hands on his knees. "You didn't. You were in shock…you're grieving and I'm so glad you came to me. Like…you thought I could help you in some way. I want to be able to help you. Since all you've been doing here is helping me. Who knew you were such a selfless guy, Portman."
He slid his own hands from her face to her neck. "Nope, I'm totally selfish. I came here for me, not for you. I wanted to ignore what was happening and I infiltrated your life instead."
"You can infiltrate my life anytime you want," Julie said sheepishly, pressing her hands against his sides and leaning her head against his sternum.
"Yeah?" His vocabulary was slipping again.
She smiled and shook her head slightly. "'I shall forget, to have thee still stand there, remembering how I love thy company'." She laughed lightly and then stood back. "You're not the only one who can recite Shakespeare."
"You love my company?"
Julie shrugged. "For now. I'm sure that'll change. We're both hardheaded stubborn jocks, I mean….c'mon." She rolled her eyes and took a step back. "I have classes tomorrow and Sarah will be back tomorrow night…we have enough time to just…y'know, be around each other for a while. Is that okay?"
He licked his lips and hopped off the bed, pushing her back a few steps. "See, I knew there was a reason I came here."
She smiled softly. "I understand that people grow up. You weren't always gonna be a Bash Brother, I wasn't always gonna be Julie the Cat…and here we are."
"Yeah, here we are," he said, wrapping an arm around her neck and pulling her close. She slid her arms around his back and tucked her head under his chin.
She could do this. This was easy. Being a comfort was simple. There was no need to call in reinforcements. There was a reason why Dean was here and not with a group of guys. He needed her to keep his mind off of what happened, to balance out the grief—not a bunch of guys who would do a total other type of distraction than she could offer.
Julie grabbed fistfuls of his shirt in her hands and he looped his arms around her form, holding her close. They were both used to living in a world of ice, cold and unforgiving, they both needed a little warmth to shake off the chill.
Clichés be damned.