Seventeen years ago…
“I wonder how he does it,” Andrew says as we watch Dane make his way through the crowded bar toward us.
“You mean manage to attract every female within a fifty-mile radius?” I ask.
Andrew snickers before draining the last of the beer in his mug. When he sets it back on the scarred tabletop, he gives me a pointed look. “It’s that weird facial hair thing he has going on. Chicks love that for some reason.”
I laugh and look at Dane again. He is without a doubt the best-looking man I’ve ever known. Tall, built, and every college girl’s dream. He wears his dark hair a little short on the side, a little long on top, and has that weird but very cool goatee/soul patch thing going on that’s really hot. But if I’m honest, that’s not really what attracts the women. I know Dane Hawthorne better than any female who’s vying for his attention right now. He’s got a razor-sharp wit and a near genius-level IQ that makes him infinitely more attractive than just the face and body that God gave him. When you look into his eyes, you can see that he’s a man who is going to be at the top of his game—whatever game he eventually chooses to play in his life.
Of course, the rumor is that he is crazy wicked good in bed and he’s hung like a racehorse. I wouldn’t know even though he’s one of my closest friends. We’ve never gone there, and that’s totally for the best. Would ruin the friendship, you know.
Andrew is my other closest friend. It’s been that way since our freshman year at Berkeley. Dane, Avril, and Andrew—the Three Musketeers.
Dane shoulders his way through a throng of starry-eyed women, easily carrying three draft beers in his large hands. He sets them down on the table and takes the stool he had vacated not ten minutes ago to go buy the next round. Even though we’re all juniors, Dane is two years older than me and Andrew because he didn’t start college right out of high school. Rather, he spent two years traveling across the United States and Europe, living out of a tent or in cheap hostels so he could experience all the things in life that were out of his imaginable reach because of the way he grew up in the foster-care system. He financed the trip by saving every dime he’d ever earned by working part-time after school, and that was probably an indication of how determined he could be.
Not only does that mean Dane is of legal age and can buy alcohol for us, but it means he is infinitely more mature and worldly than Andrew and me. It still amazes me sometimes that Dane seems to derive some type of pleasure from being such close friends with us two geeks, but I’m very secure in his friendship with us.
“Three fresh beers for my best friends in the entire world,” Dane says with a grin as he grabs the mug closest to him. He holds it up in a toast to us, and I can tell by the sparkle in his eyes that he’s well and truly on his way to getting drunk.
So am I for that matter. It’s how we blow off steam at the end of a week of hardcore studying.
“Cheers,” Andrew says, and I follow suit and pick up my beer so we can all tap our mugs together in the center of the table.
“Any idea which woman you’re going to take home tonight?” Andrew asks Dane before taking a large slug of his beer.
Dane turns and lets his eyes scan around the crowded bar. He looks bored and un-enthused, but Andrew and I both know he’ll bring home one of the women in here. In addition to being best friends, the three of us are roommates, and we are well accustomed to hearing screams of pleasure coming from Dane’s bedroom several times a week. It used to embarrass me, coming from a pretty conservative mid-West upbringing, but now I just ignore it.
To my surprise, Dane shrugs and turns to look at Andrew. “I don’t know. They’re all starting to look the same to me.”
I snort, and then start laughing. “Dane Hawthorne… you are so full of bullshit. As long as girls are pretty and don’t talk too much, they are more than intriguing to you.”
Dane actually looks offended. “You make it sound like I’m not very discerning.”
Andrew and I cock identical eyebrows at our friend.
“What?” Dane grouses as his gaze flicks between the two of us.
A grin breaks out on Andrew’s face as he puts his forearms on the table and leans toward Dane. “Listen, you are one of the most brilliant people I know. But you are also kind of a whore, dude. It’s okay, though. Avril and I still love you.”
I can’t help but laugh as the look on Dane’s face gets even more confounded. Before he can even try to defend himself, I reach across the table and pat his forearm. “We do still love you,” I assure him. “Even if you are likely to die from some sexually transmitted disease.”
Andrew bursts out laughing and slaps his hand on the table. He looks at me with mischievous eyes and says, “But then Dane would just probably go ahead and invent the cure to whatever disease he had.”
I nod enthusiastically. “No doubt about that.”
That goes back to Dane being one of the most brilliant people I know. Every professor at Berkeley in the chemical-engineering department has a keen eye on Dane Hawthorne. He’s already patented a drug-delivery system in the form of a patch that will transmit data wirelessly back to the patient’s doctor so the levels can be adjusted.
“You two can bite me,” Dane grumbles. “And I’m hereby revoking my invitation for you two to join my company when I raise billions in venture capital to change the world.”
Andrew and I look at each other across the table and grin even bigger. We don’t take him seriously at all. He’s not put out by our teasing because Dane has too much of an ego. And while neither one of us doubt he will be more successful than one could ever imagine, we also don’t put any stock into his declarations that we will be along for the ride with him. While I’m a chemical-engineering major same as Dane, I don’t have grand aspirations of changing the world. I just want to do research and make a decent living. Andrew is a molecular-biology major, and he’ll probably go on to medical school when we graduate. It saddens me that we will eventually part ways, and this best friend thing the three of us have going on will probably dissipate.
I take my first sip of the beer Dane had handed me and enjoy the cool carbonation sliding down my throat. I wasn’t a beer drinker until I came to Berkeley and met Dane and Andrew my freshman year. I was more of a wine drinker since that was what my parents always had at home and was easiest to steal.
After I set my mug down and push off the barstool, I wobble a tiny bit once my feet hit the concrete floor. Andrew reaches out to steady me. “Are you drunk?”
I shrug. “Probably. We’ve been drinking for a few hours.”
“Got your sea legs now?” he asks as he squeezes my elbow once before releasing me.
I give him a mock salute and smile. “I’m perfectly fine. If I’m not back in five minutes, send in the cavalry.”
“Are you sure you don’t want one of us to go with you?” Dane asks.
I give him a soft smile and bat my lashes. “You are both very sweet, but I’m perfectly fine going to pee by myself.”
Before either one of my best friends can say another word, I manage to turn flawlessly, and without even stumbling, head toward the bathroom.
Fortunately, the line is not very long, and it only takes a few minutes to do my business. As I wash my hands, I take an appraising look at myself in the mirror. I should’ve brought my purse to freshen my lipstick, which is worn off except around the edges. My eyeliner is running a bit, so I use a paper towel to wipe the smudges away. For a moment, I wish I had done something different with my hair other than throw it into a quick ponytail, but I do think the new crop of thick bangs I just had cut into my blonde hair makes me look a little bit more hip than normal.
If you were to line Andrew, Dane, and me up and ask someone to identify the link between the three of us, it would not be superior good looks by adding me into the group. While Dane is all dark and mysterious with his cool goatee, Andrew has the quintessential surfer dude look of Southern California. His dark blond hair is highlighted with his sun streaks, but he wears it cropped very close to his head. He loathes shaving, so he always fluctuates between a five o’clock shadow and a full beard. His warm brown eyes hide his keen intelligence and give him more of a puppy dog sort of look.
Me? I’m just a plain, average girl with a good brain, a kind heart, and a sense of humor that appealed to those two morons, so I gelled with them very quickly.
While Dane is the man-whore in our group, Andrew “Puppy-Dog Eyes” Collings has women trying to catch his attention for another reason. That’s because Andrew is the type of man who is looking for true love. He’s the romantic out of the three of us, and he’s been dating the same girl, Claudia, since high school. She goes to UCLA, and I actually like her quite a bit. I figure Andrew will be popping the question to her before we graduate.
Having fixed my eyeliner, I wipe the rest of my lipstick off. It’s more effort than I would usually put in because tonight is nothing more than coming out to drink with my two best friends. I’m not looking for a boyfriend, and I’m not looking for a hook up. So, what does it matter what I look like?
I walk out of the women’s restroom and try not to worry too much about the way my head is swimming. I’ve got quite a high tolerance for alcohol—which is needed when you have friends like Andrew and Dane—but I realize I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast this morning. I had a huge oral presentation today for my differential equations class, and I had to work through lunch to finalize it.
“Avril… you are looking smoking hot tonight,” I hear from behind me.
Before I can turn, a large, meaty arm surrounds my waist and pulls me into a sweaty armpit. I manage to pull my head back and look up into the drunk, leering face of Jordan Massie, also a chemical-engineering student.
I grimace and try to pull out of his hold. “Let go, Jordan.”
Not only doesn’t he comply, but his grip tightens on me before his other hand comes to squeeze my ass as he pulls me to his front. His words are sloppy and slurred, indicating he’s shit-faced. “Come on, baby. Tired of you always teasing me.”
“I do not tease you, jackass. You are vile and disgusting, and your breath always smells like fermented cheese.”
This does not deter Jordan, but I really didn’t expect it to because he’s so drunk. I try a more reasonable tact.
“You had better let me go before Dane and Andrew see you.”
This gets his attention. Everybody knows Dane, Andrew, and I are a threesome. Granted, we are strictly friends, but we always do everything together. They are both overprotective of me. Jordan would not be the first guy they’ve had to put in their place when we are out.
Jordan’s gaze slowly spans the bar before coming back to me with a malicious twinkle. “I don’t see your two boyfriends. Maybe they already left.”
For a split second, I have a moment’s worry. But then I realize that’s ludicrous as they would never leave me here alone. Jordan must not have seen them sitting at our table. Still, I turn my face that way only to be utterly shocked when I see the table is occupied by other people and Dane and Andrew are nowhere around.
Jordan seems to be emboldened, and his hand drops lower on my ass as he tries to push his fingers between my legs. He tilts his head to put his mouth near my ear and says, “What is it with you and those two guys? Do you fuck them both at the same time?”
With a growl of indignation, I slam my hands into Jordan’s chest, but he’s twice as big as I am and doesn’t budge an inch. He just grins down at me as he pulls me in tighter to the front of his body, and I can feel his dick pressing into my stomach.
And then… he’s gone.
“Come on, Avril,” Andrew says as his hand engulfs mine and he starts pulling me away.
My eyes search the area. I see Dane punching the crap out of Jordan, who is on the floor and trying to cover his head with his arms.
“But… you have to help Dane,” I yell at Andrew as he pulls me through the crowd.
Andrew laughs. “Does it look like he needs help?”
I watch as Dane lands a solid punch to Jordan’s nose, and blood sprays. But then that vision recedes as Andrew pulls me out of the bar.
My two heroes.
I love these guys.
I hope we never lose this friendship.