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Stepbrother Untouchable
Author: Colleen Masters


I bounce from foot to foot as I try my mom's cell phone one more time. I'm practically bursting at the seams wanting to tell her my good news, and she's not answering. I hang up the call as it goes to her voicemail again. She's been a little more unreachable ever since she started dating this new mystery man. She'll have to break down and tell me about him soon—we've never been able to keep secrets from one another for long.

I give up and hold down the number 2 button on my old flip-phone to auto-dial my best friend Allison. Thankfully, she picks up.

“I got it! I got a Lawn Room!” I shriek as soon as she answers, my excitement overflowing into a wild jig around my tiny dorm room. Allison screams on the other end in response—she knows what a huge deal this is for me.

There are only fifty-four Lawn Rooms at the University of Virginia, where I'm just finishing my junior year. They were a central part of Thomas Jefferson's design for the school, and spread out under white columns from his famous Rotunda. They might be small and drafty, but living in one is a high honor. There's a rigorous application process, and they are given to only the most academically-deserving rising seniors. I worked my nerdy butt off in preparation for this moment, and I can barely believe it's actually happening.

“Wait, wait, I'm putting you on speaker. Miriam's here, too,” Allison says when she finally takes a breath. Miriam is the third member of our little group that I met freshman year, and has both supported me and sheltered me through the first three years of college.

“Brynn, I'm so proud of you! I mean, think of how many hundreds and hundreds of hours you worked for this moment!” she gushes.

I laugh. “Don't remind me!” I wince, thinking of how much of college life I've missed while huddled in the back stacks of the library. Not that Miriam and Allison are academic slouches either, far from it, all three of us could probably draw you a map of the library from memory.

“And if it gets too cold in the winter, you can always come crash with us,” Allison adds. She and Miriam have been roommates since sophomore year, and will be again next year. They've always invited me to apply for housing with them, but after freshman year, I decided I was too much of an introvert for roommates.

“The fireplace is probably the best and worst part of the whole thing,” I laugh. The Lawn rooms have almost no trappings of the modern world, so in the winter all you have to keep yourself warm is your own personal fireplace. It sounds romantic now, but come next January, I imagine I might feel differently.

“Are you working tonight? Or can we celebrate?” Miriam asks. I work in the cafeteria as part of my work-study program to offset the cost of my tuition. “Maybe we could go to dinner together, then see a movie?”

“Well, I'm not working,” I admit, guilt already bubbling up from my stomach, “but I was thinking I might go out with these girls from my Poli-Sci class.”

There's a short silence before Allison speaks. “Oh, cool…Sounds fun. What are you guys going to do?”

“Um, they invited me to this party at the crew house,” I say, beginning to tug on the ends of my dark blonde hair—a nervous habit that only really gets out of control during finals.

“The crew house!?” Allison exclaims, and I can't help but roll my eyes at her theatrics. “Brynn, you know as well as we do that those parties get insane! I heard that last semester NINE of their varsity members got alcohol poisoning in one night!”

“Well, there are only eight on a team, so I think that might be an exaggeration,” I murmur. “Though I suppose maybe an alternate—”

“Brynn, the point is, those parties are notoriously crazy,” Miriam cuts in.

“I just want to see for myself,” I say, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice. “I'll call you guys tomorrow morning.”

“OK…” Allison says warily.

“Bye!” I say quickly, before Miriam can renew her argument, and hang up.

As wonderful as my two best friends are, I do get tired of how uptight they can be sometimes. Not that I don't understand where it comes from. The three of us weren't exactly popular during high school, and when we found each other during our freshman year orientation, it was such an amazing relief to be with like-minded girls. We were all serious students, driven, with a penchant for fantasy books that might star Viggo Mortensen in the movie adaption.

But now, I'm beginning to chafe at the boundaries of our friendship. Particularly when it comes to going out to parties, and boys. On my early morning trips to the library, I see girls doing the walk of shame across campus, their makeup smeared across their faces, hair rumpled, and first I feel pity, and then intense jealousy. That post-sex glazed over look…if I’m honest with myself, I want that too.

And I promised myself that if I got my Lawn Room, I'd go to a party. A real college party. The kind Miriam and Allison roll their eyes at as they wonder how many brain cells its attendees are killing by the second. This crew party is the perfect opportunity. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but it remains a possibility that I might actually get to talk to Nate Thornhill tonight.

Just the thought of his name is enough to send tingles down my spine, though I know the real-life man could probably never live up to the fantasy I've built up in my mind. I still remember the first time I saw him, walking across campus the second weekend of fall semester of freshman year. I would’ve bet my life then that he was a senior. Compared to the boys I had just left behind in high school, he was already a full-grown man. He wore a navy blue polo like it was a second skin as he strode across the grass, Jefferson's Palladian architecture spread out behind him like it was built as a set for a movie he was starring in. He wore his wavy brown hair on the long side, and pushed back to keep it out of his dark blue eyes. His nose was perfectly straight and ended over a pair of soft, full lips and a chin with an actual dimple in it. If it were possible for Ryan Gosling and a Kennedy to have a baby, the result would be Nate Thornhill.

I later learned that he was a double major like me, and since one of mine is Political Science and one of his is History, we overlapped in a few of our core courses. I expected him to sit in the back with the rest of the jocks but he was always in the front row, quick to raise his hand with intelligent answers. I always hide right in the center of the halls; my shyness overwhelms me in those big lecture classes. I’ve never got up the courage to actually talk to him, and besides, he always has a different girl on his arm. With his looks, money, and being a star of both the lacrosse and crew teams, he draws women in like a magnet.

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