Alistair walked nervously beside Sterling as they made their way through campus to Laila's dorm. Normally, he enjoyed being out in public with his brother, knowing exactly the types of looks they attracted from girls. And Sterling would never reciprocate the attention, leaving it up to Alistair to wink and smile at all the gawking young women. But tonight was different. Tonight, he didn't even notice if girls were staring at them. His mind was on Laila's roommate with the long legs and pretty smile.
The second he had seen Piper, it was as if his entire body went numb. He couldn't feel anything except for his heart beating out of control as he took in her beauty. And then he had heard her speak and his entire world was turned upside down. He had barely said two words to his brother the entire afternoon because images of Piper kept running through his head and he was too distracted by them to think straight.
Alistair stood behind Sterling as he knocked on the door and felt his anxiety rising to an entirely new level. What if Piper answered the door? What if she saw him and smiled? Would he be able to react? Maybe it was best if he waited by the car.
"Hey, I'm going to wait…" he started to tell his brother but stopped as the door opened and Laila's bright face answered from the other side.
"We're all ready to go," she said, standing on her tip toes and kissing Sterling on the cheek. "Piper's just grabbing her purse."
"I'm sorry, what?" Alistair asked before he could stop himself.
"We're ready to go," Laila repeated, smiling at him. "We're just waiting for Piper to get her purse."
"You invited her?" He asked, more forcefully than he intended.
Laila looked hurt by Alistair's outburst. "I didn't think it would be a big deal."
"That's great, Laila. Just great." Alistair's palms became sweaty and his head started spinning with confusion.
"What's great?" Piper's voice sounded just as he remembered. But of course it would. He had just seen her five hours ago.
"That you're coming with us," Sterling answered for him.
"Oh," Piper responded with a smile. "Yeah, this should be fun."
Alistair was mesmerized by her smile; the way her nose crinkled the slightest bit, the way her green eyes sparkled. "I'm really looking forward to it," he offered.
Piper glanced at him and gave a slight nod, her smile turning more brilliant than before. Laila was staring at him like he was crazy and Sterling was rolling his eyes. Alistair turned around quickly and started walking to the car, reprimanding himself for being such an idiot. He could hear his three companions behind him, talking and laughing all the way to the parking lot. Piper's laugh sounded like heaven.
"Shit," he swore to himself as he reached into his pocket to retrieve the car keys. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't be falling for some girl he barely knew. It must be lust, not love. "Fuck!" He swore as his keys slipped from between his fingers and bounced on the pavement.
"You all right?" He heard her soft voice behind him as he felt a warm hand on his arm. Oh God, she was touching him.
Alistair quickly pulled away causing Piper's hand to quickly fly up in an apologetic gesture. He bent down to pick up his keys, cursing himself again, and then stood up straight. He glanced at her once, noting how tall she was. Had she been this tall earlier in the day? He couldn't think of the answer as he looked down her body, searching for the insanely high heels she must be wearing. But her feet were casually sporting a pair of simple flip flops, her perfect toes painted with a bright orange polish.
Alistair quickly looked away. "Girls in the back, guys in the front," he said decidedly, glancing at his brother who was ready to climb into the back seat with Laila. But Alistair shook his head, catching his brother's attention. Sterling sighed deeply and held the door open for Piper who was still smiling as she disappeared behind the tinted glass of the window.
"Sterling," Alistair whispered as his brother moved for the front passenger side door.
Alistair walked around the car so he could lower his voice even more and his brother met him half way. "I don't think I want her here."
"Who? Piper?" Sterling asked, not even attempting to be discreet.
"Shhh. Yes, Piper," Alistair whispered again.
"It's a little late for that now. She's already in the car."
"I know. I just…" Alistair glanced through the windshield at the two girls in the backseat. They were both looking at the two brothers with curiosity but burst into a fit of giggles when they were caught staring. Alistair blushed and turned back to Sterling. "How am I supposed to put up with that all night? She's just so…I don't know…not like other girls."
"I don't really know what to say, Al. She seems pretty normal to me."
"She is not normal!" Alistair whispered vehemently. "She is so not normal!"
"You don't even know her…"
"I don't have to know her."
"Then what is your problem?" Sterling asked, frustrated his brother couldn't give him a straight answer for his adamant objection to Laila's roommate.
"My problem is her stupid laugh and her abnormally long legs and her weird moss colored eyes."
Sterling broke a smile, finally understanding why his brother had been acting so strangely. "You like this girl, don't you?"
"You're an asshole."
"Look," Sterling started, "just relax and be yourself." Sterling knew his brother hadn't been with a girl since Rebecca. He hadn't even shown interest in one so this unwanted attraction was probably doing a number of confusing things to his head and heart. Sterling and Laila both knew Alistair was still working through his grief but he had shown signs of improvement. His smile had returned and he had started making jokes and smart comments about girls he found attractive, much like he used to do in the days before he realized he had fallen in love.
"I can't be myself. That's the problem," Alistair answered.
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't pictured her naked yet."
Sterling laughed out loud. "Excuse me?"
"I thought, maybe what I'm feeling is just overwhelming lust, but then I realized I hadn't pictured her naked, which is usually the first thing I do when I see a girl."
Sterling nodded. He knew that much to be true.
Alistair continued, clearly agitated and clearly considering this to be a serious conversation. "So I don't know what I'm feeling now and I don't think I can spend an entire evening with her."
"Al, listen to me. You'll be fine. She's just a girl. You don't have to talk to her if you don't want to. Don't even look at her if that makes you feel better."
"I can do this," Alistair agreed. Sterling had made it sound so easy. "I'll be fine."
"See," Sterling smiled at his brother. "Nothing to it."
Sterling walked back to the passenger side, an amused smile on his face because he knew his brother was in for a long, torturous night. If Piper was in the same vicinity as his brother, Alistair wouldn't be able to stop looking at her or thinking about her. Sterling now understood his brother had been thinking about the girl all afternoon but didn't want to mention it, hence his unbelievable silence. He hoped Alistair wouldn't shut down completely, his new feelings too scary for him to deal with. But when Laila had announced Piper would be joining them, Sterling had been amused by his brother, not realizing why he was reacting in such a bizarre display of emotions. Acting like a fool in a desperate attempt to conceal his emotions, was better, Sterling supposed, than running away or attaching himself to her hip.
Alistair jumped into the driver's seat of his Lexus, completely distraught but trying to find some courage to make it through the night. He waited until his brother had closed the door and then started the engine, checking his side and rear view mirrors before pulling out into traffic. But Piper's profile was all he could focus on in the reflection. She was turned toward Laila, saying something in a low voice, and smiling.
"Shit," Alistair swore to himself and tilted the mirror away from her.