“OH. MY. God. Don’t look now, but you are so screwed that RAs can’t hit on the residents.” Jerry inclined his head, and Eric saw what he meant.
A short, delectable guy with a body that wouldn’t quit had walked into the freshman dorm hallway, carrying a guitar and a duffel bag. He paused and looked around.
“Sports tee, though. Atlanta Falcons?” Eric murmured as he ran his eyes appreciatively up and down the guy’s body. “And straight.”
“So? You love to mentor these poor lost souls. You’ll have him in leather in no time.”
Eric scowled at Jerry. Then he remembered his RA duties and approached the guy with a welcoming smile.
“Hi there,” he said brightly. “You must be one of our new residents. Welcome to Hutchinson dorm. I’m Eric Brown, one of the RAs.”
The guy looked at him calmly, and a smile lifted the corner of his amazing mouth. “Yeah, hi. I’m Will Butler. I’m not a freshman. I’m your co-RA.” His low Southern drawl only added to his sexiness.
“You are?” Eric stared at Will as all kinds of new possibilities entered his mind. “What happened to Phoebe?”
Will shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I was all set to RA Patterson, but Jackson told me to come here instead.”
“But… how come I’ve never seen you before? Are you a transfer student?”
“No. It’s a big campus.”
As Will checked out the crowd of freshmen accompanied by anxious parents, Eric tried to figure out how he could have missed this guy until senior year.
“But you play guitar? Are you in the music school?” He couldn’t have been. Eric would have noticed him among the music kids who shared a building with the theater geeks.
“Looks like we got some more freshmen coming in.” Will put down his guitar and duffel and walked over to welcome them.
Spying Jerry out of the corner of his eye laughing and shaking his head, Eric stuck his tongue out at him and then followed Will to greet the newcomers.
ERIC ARRANGED his zebra-print bedspread, stood back, and considered the effect. Not bad, even though dorm beds sucked for anything but sleeping. He liked that being an RA entitled him to free housing, but after living off campus for the last two years, being in a dorm again was going to take some getting used to. At least he got his own room.
Someone knocked on the door, and he opened it to find Will standing with his guitar and duffel.
“Oh, hi. I thought you’d be moved into your room by now.”
“Yeah. Turns out we’re rooming together.”
“What? No way. RAs get their own rooms.”
“Jackson called and said they had to move another set of freshmen in because the dorms are overcrowded. He said he texted you. Um, can I come in?”
“Oh. Sure.” Eric stood aside to let Will in. “This sucks. I’ve got too much stuff! I haven’t shared a room since freshman year. God!” He stopped at the expression on Will’s face. “Uh, don’t take it personally. I’m a drama queen on my best days.”
“I don’t, man. I’m sorry. Maybe that’s why they changed me and Phoebe, because they knew they had to have the RAs double up.”
“Phoebe would’ve been safer,” Eric grumbled as he glared at the cramped room and tried to imagine another bed in there. At least they wouldn’t have to share their bathroom with the rest of the dorm.
He snapped his attention back to Will, who appeared faintly amused. Might as well get it all out on the table with Mr. Southern Jock here. Eric had experienced enough Virginia good ol’ boys freaking at the whiff of his gay. Jackson could swap Will with someone else if it turned out to be a problem.
“I’m gay. You’re straight, and um, attractive. You do the math.” Eric felt a surge of irritation as Will, cool and seemingly unflappable, continued to survey him. Now he was going to have to stare at that all year. Distracting. Why were the straight ones always so hot?
“I’m not worried.” Will’s gaze fell on the zebra bedspread. “Like your décor, man. So who do I ask for a bed?”
ERIC WATCHED Will fill the one drawer Eric could spare with a ton of sweats and sports tees. To think he’d moved his leather pants for that.
“Work out much?” Ooo, a little too bitchy, Brown. Dial it down.
Will smiled at him. “I like sports and stuff, but mostly I wear ’em to bum around in.”
Will’s Southern drawl was as slow as warm molasses. He was so chill and accommodating he took all the fun out of Eric being a drama queen.
Why would someone like Will, whose laidbackness approached that of a Zen master, even want to be an RA? How was he going to corral a dorm of freshmen all year without getting trampled? Wait a minute. Eric narrowed his eyes. Maybe he wasn’t really an RA. Maybe he was trying to get a free room.
“Hey, how come you weren’t in the RA training last week? I thought that was a requirement.”
“Probably ’cause they did it by dorms. I was supposed to be in Patterson, and we had a training with Hilyard.”
“Oh. Right. Yeah. We did ours with Thompkins.” Deflated, Eric sat on the edge of the desk and eyed Will’s trim body as he took some toiletries into the bathroom. “What did you think of the training?” he called. He was probably talking too much, but that’s what he did when he was nervous or irritated or… actually, that’s what he did most of the time, according to Jerry.
Will stuck his head out. “What’d you say?”
“Sorry. Did you need to pee or something?” Eric cringed. “I have no filter, just so you know.”
“No problem. Naw, I’m good.”
“I was asking what you thought of the RA training.”
“It was all right, I guess. Some of the stuff seemed pretty obvious.” Will came back into the room and stood with his hands on his hips. “Hmm. We need a place for the clothes hampers.”
“Clothes hampers? First of all, even one clothes hamper is way over the top, and you said hampers. As in plural hampers.”
Will seemed unimpressed by Eric’s logic. “Yeah. Two hampers so we can keep our laundry straight.”
Chill about everything else, but anal—do not go there, fool—about laundry? Eric was saved from making another snarky remark by the buzzing of his phone. He checked the text and then hopped off the desk. “Okay, Will, our RA powers are about to be tested. Roommate emergency on floor two.” Although he affected nonchalance, fear crept up Eric’s spine. What the fuck did he know about counseling anyone?
“Cool. Let’s go.” Will strolled out of the room, the picture of calm.
“Aren’t you nervous?” Eric couldn’t help asking as he followed him down the stairs.
“No. Not until I know what to be nervous about.” Will flashed him a smile.
“Our total lack of experience being RAs?” Eric suggested.
Will shrugged. “Gotta start somewhere.”
“Fake it till we make it, eh? I am an actor, after all. Okay, piece of cake—I’m playing a world-class problem-solver and counselor extraordinaire.”
“Sounds legit.” Will gave him a high five.
Laughing, Eric opened the door to the second floor with a flourish. “After you, my good sir.”
They reached the room in question and stopped outside the door where a small crowd was gathered, chattering excitedly. The sound of sobbing came from inside. Will and Eric exchanged a glance, the “you first” silently reverberating between them.
“Excuse us, everyone,” Eric said with fake confidence. “RAs coming through.”
“Thank God. This is too much drama for me.” The speaker was of indeterminate gender, sporting a skirt, facial scruff, and a nose ring. “I can’t stick to their demand of total silence while they meditate or whatever. I’m a gamer. I need my game time.”
“Are you the roommate?” Will asked.
“Yeah. But I think we need to do something different.”
Will said to the crowd in general, “Okay, everyone chill. Eric and I’ve got it from here.”
Most of the kids drifted away, leaving a few pacing with worried expressions. One approached, a wisp of a girl wearing a flowing skirt and dreadlocks. “I’m in Dev’s meditation group.” She directed a glare at the roommate. “She needs her space to be noise-free.”
Eric nodded and said to Will, “Sounds like we’re looking at a roommate switch. I’ll go in and talk to Dev.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll be here.” Will turned to the gamer roomie. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“What games do you play?”
Bo lightened up and started discussing games with Will as Eric knocked softly and entered the room.
Dev sat on a bed, hunched over. Her sobs had subsided, but she sniffled and looked generally pathetic.
“Hi,” Eric said. “I’m Eric, one of your RAs. Dev, right?”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
At Dev’s sound of assent, Eric sat on a desk chair, recalled the RA training’s emphasis on open-ended questions, and launched in. “What’s going on?”
“I can’t live here. It’s too noisy. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a dorm.”
“Dorms can get noisy, for sure. Anything else getting you down?”
Dev rubbed her crossed arms. “I’m… I don’t like it here. I wish I’d taken a year off after high school, but all my friends were going to college. I should’ve gone to the community college instead of this one. It’s costing my parents a ton, and I hate it so much.”
“Yeah, I hear you. It’s a big change.”
“Totally.” Dev’s body uncurled, and she met Eric’s eyes. “I thought I’d be able to do it, you know? But I can’t think with all the racket. And then my roommate.” Pain crossed her face. “They couldn’t have put me with a less compatible person if they tried. I hate TV, and they have it on constantly! And another thing….”
When the door opened five minutes later, Dev had brightened considerably and was talking nonstop as Eric listened. Will and Bo entered, along with the wispy meditation girl, and Dev fell silent.
“Hey, I’m Will, your other RA. Dev, right?”
Dev gave a short nod.
“Bo and I were talking with Kassy here, and we think we have a solution. How about you move in with Kassy? Her current roommate has no problem with TVs or gaming. They’re okay about rooming with Bo.”
Eric shot Will a grateful look. With him around, this RA thing didn’t seem so daunting.
As they were returning to their room, Will said, “Good work, roomie.”
“What d’you mean? You’re the one who came up with the solution.”
“Yeah, and you’re the one who hung out with the person in tears and had her all cheerful by the time we came in.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Eric stopped on the stairs. “I think this calls for another high five, because we’re awesome.”