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            “Are you annoyed, Tripp?” Ryan asked, fidgeting in his chair.

            Tripp tapped his feet against the ground. Spending Friday night in his dorm room while most students partied wasn’t ideal. Being seventeen meant being carefree. But sitting in a chair by his mahogany desk while moonlight trickled through his window wasn’t his fault. It was about helping his best friend, Ryan, with his English paper, which was due on Sunday.

            Tripp lifted his gaze off Ryan’s rough draft. “There’s no point in complaining.”

            Ryan sighed. “Not like I could ask Angie.”

            “I know. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. Being your best friend means always supporting you,” Tripp said without flinching. Yup. He was serious. It wasn’t like Tripp could forget about how Ryan included him with group work during freshman year English class when Tripp had no friends.

            “Although maybe Angie could’ve helped me with my paper if I asked her before she went away to her cheerleading tournament this weekend,” Ryan said.

            “You cranked out a rough draft of the paper before asking me for help, so that’s good.” Tripp chuckled. “Anyway, do you really want your girlfriend’s help with your homework? School takes up enough time as it is, and you two should be more concerned about going out on dates.”

            “Good point. Anyway, how bad is my essay?”

            “I’m still reading it, but how blunt should I be?” Tripp asked.

            “Is it that bad?” Ryan fanned himself with his tee-shirt while sweat clung to his brow.

            Sure. The calendar said it was the second to last week of April. However, it might as well have been the hottest day of summer. The temperatures hadn’t gone below eighty degrees Fahrenheit in over a week, begging the question of if summer would be a scorcher.

            “I’m kidding—I’d never be rude to you,” Tripp said.

            Ryan took a deep breath. “I didn’t come here for an ego boost; I need a good grade on this essay.”

            “Relax. I’m sure you can raise your D average.”

Yup. Tripp blindly gave away free hope to Ryan. Nothing good would’ve come from being harsh. Being thankful for friendship didn’t just mean helping Ryan with homework. It also entailed believing in Ryan when he didn’t believe in himself.

            “There’s only two weeks left in the quarter.”

            Tripp forced a grin. “Don’t be so negative. You can do it—even if you need help from your best friend.”

            “Please tell me what’s wrong with the paper, because I meant what I said. I won’t be angry. Even if you think I should restart from scratch.” Ryan grabbed potato chips from the bag on the desk in front of him and Tripp. A crunching sound echoed while Ryan devoured the chips. And Tripp almost laughed. His grandmother would’ve rambled for twenty-minutes about proper etiquette if she were in his dorm room right now.

            “I have to finish reading the essay before I give feedback,” Tripp said before his attention drifted back to the paper.

            “Of course. No worries.”

            “Okay. I’m finished,” Tripp said half an hour later while an owl on the tree branch outside his dorm room window hooted.

            “What’d you think?” Ryan asked.

            Tripp coughed. “You have a specific thesis statement, and the writing is concise. However, you paraphrased all of your evidence as opposed to using direct quotes in addition to how you didn’t give much analysis.”

            His mouth gaped. “Oh…”

            “The important thing is you have a good foundation, though.” One quick glance around his dorm room made his shoulders shudder even though nothing bad happened. It just didn’t matter how many times Tripp stared at Jordan’s (his roommate’s), side of the room. A creepy feeling always existed from no family photos on Jordan’s desk or even a poster of a favorite band, television show, or movie. Tripp had several posters hung up on his side of the room—like his Harry Potter poster or Green Day poster. Also, Tripp had two photos of his mother, father, and him, which were in gold frames on his desk. A few clumps of dust even coated his photos. However, the messiness was fine. The flaw revealed Tripp was human, and once again contrasted Jordan’s side of the room. He didn’t even have one crushed soda can, empty container of food, or crumpled tissue scattered on the floor. And his bed was always made. Like right now. His gray comforter and sheets remained tucked over his mattress and didn’t have one crease.

            Ryan grabbed more chips and finished them in a matter of seconds. “I see.”

            “That’s my way of telling you that your paper is probably in better shape than most of your classmates.”

            Ryan tapped his fingers against the desk. “Thanks. Although it’d be nice if I was good at English class like you.”

            “I’m only good at English class because I want to be a writer,” Tripp said.

            “That proves my point. You have a natural gift with words.”

“Don’t tell me that you’re jealous?” Tripp asked.

            Ryan averted his gaze. “I don’t. Maybe. I’m good at baseball, though.”

            Tripp snickered. “I’m sure you’re good at other things too.”

            “Not really.”

            “You should know better than to believe the outdated stereotype about jocks being dumb.”

            Ryan grimaced. “It’s not a stereotype if it’s true.”

            “Not everyone gets straight A’s.”

            “Doesn’t matter. I’m not everyone. Because my father expects me to get into an Ivy League college.” Ryan avoided eye contact, and Tripp couldn’t help speculating about Ryan—at least to himself. This conversation was one of the few times Ryan mentioned his father, and Tripp wondered if there was more Ryan wasn’t revealing. Thinking everyone carried around pain wasn’t complicated. Because Tripp kept things from Ryan. Like his appreciation for Ryan befriending him. Being desperate just wouldn’t help Tripp.

            Tripp gave him a mock frown. “Don’t self-reject. There’s time for you to choose whatever career you want.”

            “If only my father felt the same way,” Ryan mumbled.

            Tripp’s stomach grumbled. “What time is it? Because I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

            Ryan looked at his gold-watch looped around his right wrist. “10:45.”

            Tripp couldn’t help staring at Ryan’s gold-watch, because he would’ve loved to have one. It wasn’t like Tripp ever got fancy things. He was lucky if his parents gave him one-hundred dollars for his birthday.

            “Wow. Maybe I’ll win the award for most distracted teenager,” Tripp said.

            Ryan’s eyes widened. “Have you really not eaten since breakfast?”

            “Yeah, I got sidetracked working on my writing and homework.”

            “Why don’t I order Chinese food?”

            “I appreciate the gesture, but you don’t have to buy me dinner.”

            Yeah, Tripp insisted on modesty. It wasn’t like he wanted to be difficult. Tripp was only trying to be decent. Having a best friend who always wore the latest designer fashion, owned a gold watch, and took impromptu trips to Europe and the Caribbean during school vacations might’ve caused a lump in his throat that he just couldn’t swallow—Tripp was only at boarding school because of a scholarship. However, Tripp didn’t want to leech off someone else.

            Ryan shook his head. “It’s not a big deal! That’s why I have an emergency credit card.”

            I’ll think about it,” Tripp said.

            “Don’t think too long. The Chinese place closes at midnight.”

            “Could you please pass me a tissue?”

            Ryan surveyed the tissue box on the shelf above Tripp’s desk, yet tossed it into the trashcan on the floor in front them.

            “Why’d you do that?” Tripp asked.

            “You’re out of tissues, and I know the only way your tissue box was getting thrown out was if I did it for you.”

            Tripp remained silent.

            Ryan pointed to the opposite end of the room, specifically his roommate’s desk. “I’m sure Jordan wouldn’t mind if you used one of his tissues.”

            “I’m not sure about that…”

            “Anyway, where’s Jordan?”

            Tripp shrugged. “Don’t ask me. He always comes and goes at odd hours.”

            Ryan ran his fingers through his blond hair. “I bet he went to a party tonight.”

            “He doesn’t seem like a partier.”

            “And why is that?”

            Tripp’s jaw trembled. “I don’t know. Some people give off a bad vibe.”

            Ryan snorted. “A bad vibe?”

            Tripp should’ve known better than to mention his roommate. It wasn’t like he had concrete proof that Jordan did something bad. Something about Jordan just never felt right, though. Like when Tripp saw a disheveled person at the gas station when he was on vacation from boarding school. A stranger’s less than ideal image might’ve been creepy, yet he couldn’t make an accusation.

            More mucus dripped from Tripp’s nose, and he was about to wipe it with his shirt when Ryan raised his hand.

            “Stop!” Ryan bellowed. “If you’re afraid to grab one of Jordan’s tissues, then I’ll get one for you.”

            Ryan stood, walked over to Jordan’s desk, and grabbed a tissue. Yet Tripp shook his head. Ryan just continued staring at what was under the tissue box while holding a tissue in right hand, and Tripp therefore couldn’t imagine what Ryan was up to.

            “Something wrong?” Tripp asked.

            “I think I found Jordan’s diary.” Ryan grabbed the journal, which couldn’t have been bigger than five by eight inches. Then, Ryan shuffled back to Tripp’s side of the room, and sat before handing Tripp the tissue.

            “Put the journal back!”

            “You’re too uptight,” Ryan said.

            Tripp didn’t have to be involved in a police chase or a victim of a hostage situation for his mind to spin with negative thoughts. A small chance existed that Jordan could return, only to discover him and Ryan “snooping.” Besides, Tripp needed to make a mental note to chat with Ryan about taking less risks. Looking at Jordan’s journal wasn’t the only risky thing they did. Tripp hadn’t forgot about how they snuck into a nightclub several weeks ago, only to have a patron almost start a brawl with him and Ryan.

            Ryan bit his lip. “You need to look at this.”

            “No thanks.”

            Ryan waved the journal at Tripp. “I’m serious. It involves you.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            “See for yourself.” Ryan handed Tripp the journal.

            Tripp rolled his eyes, and took the journal from Ryan. Invading Jordan’s privacy wasn’t ideal. However, Tripp wasn’t an idiot. And that meant doing what Ryan wanted was easier than arguing with him. Like several weeks ago when Ryan got the genius idea to go to the nightclub.

            “Was I wrong about thinking you needed to see the journal?” Ryan asked.

            Tripp remained silent while gripping the journal. He just couldn’t believe it. Getting a funny vibe from someone, and proving creepiness were two different things. However, Tripp’s concern wasn’t in his head. Nothing normal existed from how every page in Jordan’s journal was filled with glued photos of Tripp—most of them outside, around campus, but a few of them were of Tripp sleeping. The photos were also accompanied by dates, ranging from move in week last fall to several days ago.

            “This wasn’t how I expected to spend my evening,” Tripp said.

            “No need to be obvious.”

            “What the hell should I think?”

            Ryan snickered. “Maybe he has a crush on you.”

            Tripp scowled. “He doesn’t give off that vibe. Besides, he once mentioned a girlfriend.”

            “That doesn’t mean he won’t go all Glenn Close on you.”

            Tripp almost smacked Ryan with the journal. Referencing Fatal Attraction would help Tripp sleep at night. It wasn’t as if Ryan made Tripp watch the movie several times.

            “Why would he take pictures of me?” Tripp asked.

            “You should be flattered.”

            Tripp elbowed Ryan. “This isn’t funny. What if he’s a psycho?”

            “An obsession doesn’t mean he’s psychotic; he could be bored. Besides, all the photos are G-rated.”

            Tripp gave Ryan a dirty look. “That’s not the point.”

            “You’re overreacting.”

            Tripp made another mental note. The current conversation proved he needed to impress upon Ryan how some issues weren’t funny. It wasn’t the possible crush part that pricked Tripp’s back hairs—most people experienced crushes, including crushes that didn’t reciprocate. It was how his privacy was invaded for so long that made Tripp almost scream. If this event had been going for so long, then Tripp wouldn’t even speculate about what other things he didn’t know about Jordan.

            A key clinked in the lock, and Tripp and Ryan exchanged glances. Ryan grabbed the journal from Tripp without speaking before sliding it under Jordan’s tissue box, yet Tripp’s pulse echoed in his ear.

            “I’m sorry,” Ryan said. “I don’t mean to invade your side of the room. It was just that Tripp was out of tissues, and needed one, yet he was too afraid to take one of yours.”

Jordan gave a toothy smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’d do anything for Tripp.”

            Tripp’s stomach knotted. Tripp would do something about Jordan; he just needed time. Because Tripp didn’t even wanna speculate about what else Jordan might’ve been hiding.

Chris Bedell is the author of over a dozen books. Also, he graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2016.

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