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My next book story, Bailing Out, is focused on Alex’s best friend, Bren. This is a flashback of how he and Alex met. Enjoy! [JE Note: Bailing Out is on semi-permanent hiatus. Will it live again? The world may never know!]

Bren rubbed his hands tiredly over his eyes and blew out a huge sigh of relief. One summer of his family was enough to make the heartiest soul contemplate ending it all. He saw his older brother David, being carted off after a season-ending football injury—during summer practice, no less— that would all but end any professional aspirations. His father had mourned as though he’d sustained the injury himself, and while Bren knew it was juvenile, the way David had milked the attention he’d received had really lessened Bren’s empathy.

Of course, in the midst of all that, his application for a single had gotten screwed up and he was stuck with a roommate for another year. And he didn’t even have a say in who Residential Affairs stuck him with. Bren groaned and reached for the room assignment. Some Alexander Corrigan. God, even the name sounded douche-y, and the sheet said he was a pre-law major. Great. One of those guys who had his whole future mapped out and was probably so super-focused he thought the “college experience” referred to the number of extra classes in extra departments he could take before he graduated. He’d tried all summer to get the single he was promised, with no luck. Bren hated this guy already.

Bren had propped the door open and could hear the titters and laughter of freshmen outside. He swore he hadn’t sounded that ridiculous last year. He opened the door to a gaggle of girls wearing tank tops and skirts that just barely covered their rear-ends. They all looked the same, like Stepford Wives: College Edition. One woman nudged another and pointed to him. She smiled and waved, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Bren huffed and grinned back. She’d be so disappointed if she knew she did nothing for him.

They made their way down the hall like a herd, and Bren turned back to his room when he heard screeching behind him. A guy was hunched over, dragging what looked like a trunk down the hallway. Bren rolled his eyes but walked down to help, if only for his poor ears. He skirted around the man and hefted up the other end of the trunk.

The guy’s head popped up in surprise. Had he really not seen Bren at all? “Hey, thanks man. Appreciate it.”

Christ on a cracker. Bren gripped the trunk with both hands so he didn’t drop the whole damn thing. This guy, obviously a bit flustered, was hot as Hades, with his dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes that flashed green at him. Bren smiled and started to say something dirty, then remembered that he didn’t know this guy, and that was the fastest way to get himself in some hot water. He cleared his throat and tried for the innocuous “any time.”

They walked down the hall, then the dude smiled and Bren almost swallowed his tongue. “I’m right here,” he said, setting down his end of the trunk and pointing. “This is my room.”

Bren looked up. They were in front of his door. He looked over sharply and frowned. “You’re Alexander Corrigan?”

Surprise flitted across his face before he smiled. “Yeah, that’s me. You must be Brendan.” He held a hand out to shake, then laughed nervously. “You going to keep holding the trunk?”

Bren hadn’t even realized he was still holding his end. He bent down and released it before straightening up and extending his own hand. “Yeah, Bren. Call me Bren.”

Alex shook his hand, the shake strong and firm. “Cool. Call me Alex. Alexander Corrigan sounds pretentious as—“ He cut himself off and shrugged, then strode to the center of the room with his hands on his hips. He pointed to the left. “I take it that’s your side?” he asked with a grin.

Yeah, Bren had made himself at home. He was fully set up and his clothes were already encroaching on the shared space. “Sorry about that. I got here a few days ago. We can switch if you want.”

Alex scrunched his face like the very idea was silly, then leapt onto the bed, landing facedown on the other mattress. “God, I forgot how much these mattresses suck.”

Bren laughed and laid down on his bed, then rolled to the side to face Alex. Alex did the same, and the way the light hit his face lit him up. He was like a baby Thor, and Bren had really naughty thoughts about him and a hammer.

“So, tell me about yourself.” Alex’s voice broke through, distracting Bren from his thoughts.

“I’m gay.” How’s that for shock value?

Alex swallowed hard. “Awesome. Me too. Tell me that’s not the only interesting thing about you.”

Bren scrambled to sitting and stared at Alex, who hadn’t moved, but who had one eyebrow raised, almost like a dare. “You’re gay?”

Alex scoffed and his eyes darkened. “Why do you think I’m lugging around that trunk? My parents wanted to be sure I didn’t have a reason to come back home.” He said it like it was no big deal, but Bren could see straight through it. He was hurting.

“My parents weren’t thrilled,” Bren started—and boy was that the understatement of the century—“but they didn’t kick me out.” Sometimes he wished they had.

“That would’ve been way better than what I got,” Alex muttered, probably more to himself than to Bren.

Bren hopped off his bed and crossed the room to hop on Alex’s. The other man rolled over to face him, and through his smile Bren could see the wetness behind his eyes. All of Bren’s protectiveness came to the fore and he wrapped the man up in a hug.

“What are you doing?” Alex’s muffled voice asked against his shirt. “You don’t even know me.”

Bren shrugged, even though he knew Alex couldn’t see it. “Being a friend. You look like you need one.”

Alex sighed against his chest. A shadow crossed in front of the door and Bren looked up. The RA was in the hallway, smirking. She probably knew how hard he had fought. Bren rolled his eyes and she closed the door softly.

“Thanks,” Alex said, pulling back and giving Bren a wobbly smile. “I needed that.”

Bren would never admit it, but he’d needed it too.

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