“Well, the good news is, I think Uncle Dave likes you enough to accept the very large security deposit you just offered, and is willing to allow us to rent month-to-month since we’re not sure how long we’re staying…”
“What’s the bad news?” I’m almost afraid to ask. Ian climbed into the passenger seat of Megan’s car and clicked the seatbelt into place.
“The bad news is: I’m late for my study group,” Megan said. She raised her eyebrows and bit her lip. “So, you either have to ride back to the hotel with Kai and Rhonda, or go with me to the library.”
“You’ve been meaning to show me the library, right?” Ian shrugged his shoulders. “You told me it was really cool and has moving shelves, or something.”
“Stacks,” Megan corrected. “They’re called stacks. They’re like long rows of shelves on tracks that move with a push of a button. And, yes, they’re very cool.” Megan turned her head and backed out the driveway of the duplex that would soon become their new temporary home.
“I’m hearing a subtle hesitancy in your voice,” Ian said.
“The thing is, you can’t distract me during my study group. You pretty much have to go sit somewhere else and wait for us. It could be a couple of hours.”
“I can handle that.” Ian nodded his head. “I’ll go explore the stacks and maybe even pick out a book to read.” What could possibly be more boring than that?
Megan smiled over at him and sighed as if she’d been worrying that he’d be upset. Her shoulders relaxed as they got closer to campus.
Ian watched out the window at the ever-more-familiar campus. The buildings sprawled amidst blossoming trees and grasses so green they almost didn’t seem real. Michigan is beautiful this time of year. He craned his neck to see the fourth floor of the impressive rounded glass building before him. “That’s… the library?”
“Told you it was cool.” Megan crept up and down rows of parked cars trying to find an empty spot and finally pulled into a space that looked out over another building. It was not nearly as tall as the library, but Ian felt drawn to it. The bricks were separated by parallel lines that almost looked like a music staff. Tall, thin windows extended up from the base of the building, and were spaced at interesting intervals, almost like piano keys.
“What… is that?” Ian felt his jaw slack and gape open. He gulped and took a step toward the brick building and away from their intended destination of glass walls.
“That’s the music building,” Megan said. She came around the car and placed her hand lightly inside his, tugging gently. “I’ll take you there another day, okay?”
“Promise?” Ian whispered reverently.
“I promise,” Megan said. “I’m afraid if I let you go alone, you’ll be swallowed whole and I’ll never find you again.”
Ian kept his eyes facing south as Megan pulled him west. He barely registered when they turned and entered the main corridor of the library. Until he regarded the interior. The floor was a complex pattern of zigzags and the lobby opened up to an atrium that reached all four floors and displayed balconies at each level. It was incredible. Students and faculty crisscrossed the cavernous room, barely interacting, a hushed reverence that encapsulated the space.
No one paid them any attention, until they reached the desk where Megan had to present her student ID in order for them to step through the portal. The bored gatekeeper barely looked up from her phone but mumbled “Hey Megan, you guys are meeting on the third floor today. Everyone else is already up there, I think.”
“Cassie, I want to introduce you to my husband, Ian.”
“Oh, hey, I didn’t know you’re married.” Cassie didn’t really glance at Ian, only at Megan’s left hand.
Hmm… I should probably buy her a ring one of these days. Ian looked down at his own left hand and realized he’d never even thought to wear one either.
“We got married over Christmas break,” Megan said.
“What’s your major?” Cassie finally looked up at Ian and her eyes grew wider.
“I’m not a student,” Ian said, his British accent hung in the air. He shook his head slightly and regarded Cassie with more interest. Thick black eyeliner hid what he thought were green eyes, but they almost looked fake, like she was wearing green contacts. A small piercing detracted from what was probably a pretty smile under the dark red lipstick. Bleach blond hair, sliced at an angle, hung across her face and was tipped with purple. She was fascinating.
Cassie took a deep breath and cocked her head to the side. “Megan, yer husband’s hot.”
“Yeah, I know.” Megan grabbed Ian’s arm and pulled him away. “Come on, we’re late.”
“She has no idea who I am, does she?” Ian whispered when they were far enough away.
“Cassie’s pretty much always stoned,” Megan said. “She’d probably get along great with Gary.”
“No way, neither of them would ever accomplish anything again for the rest of their lives. They’d live together in a room painted black graced by the colorful lights of a few carefully placed lava lamps.”
“You’re so funny, Ian.” Megan chuckled as they climbed a long set of stairs. He continued to stare down at Cassie until they rounded a corner and faced the daunting second set of stairs.
“Don’t they have an elevator in this lovely building?” Ian gripped the railing as they climbed more steps.
“You need to get in better shape,” Megan said. She reached over and patted his belly as if it were rounded and fat instead of the tight six-pack of abs he was so proud of. He firmed his muscles under her hand and raised his eyebrows suggestively. The gleam in her eyes teased him as she turned back around, reached for his hand and pulled him up the last few steps to the third floor.
In a little nook, a small group of students sat together with textbooks on the table. They all looked up when Megan came into view. One of the girls at the table jumped up and came running toward them, squealing quietly.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. You brought your husband.” She was talking to Megan but staring at Ian. “Can I meet him?”
Ian took the initiative and stuck his hand out. “Hi, I’m Ian.”
“I know who you are,” she said. He could hear the implied ‘duh’ to the end of her phrase. “You’re Ian Taylor of Buxton Peak! Oh my gosh, I love you!” She held his hand in both of hers as if she was planning to detach it and take it home with her.
“…thank you,” Ian said. He pulled his hand away and placed it protectively back into Megan’s.
“Ian, this is my classmate, Gina.”
“Nice to meet you, Gina.” Ian kept his hand securely in Megan’s and squeezed it gently. She winked up at him. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone else.”
The two other girls stood up and reached out to shake Ian’s hand, with gleaming eyes and excited smiles. But the one guy at the table narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. Ian narrowed his right back but reached across the table, forcing the young man to put down his pen and return the gesture. Megan didn’t seem to notice the hesitancy in the exchange. She draped her arm through his and beamed at her classmates. She told him their names, but Ian only remembered one: Jared. I don’t like him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Well, Ian’s going to find something to read or explore the library or something while we work,” Megan said. She finished introducing her husband but knew she’d kept their study group waiting long enough. “We took too much time house hunting and didn’t get back early enough to drive him back over to the hotel, so he’s stuck with me.”
“I’m very happy to be stuck with you, babe. We were apart for too many months already.” Ian pulled her close and planted a quick kiss on Megan’s cheek. “As long as you promise to take me to see that very intriguing music building soon.” Ian craned his neck in that direction as if he could see it from here.
“There’s a great view of the music building from this floor,” Gina said. She pulled Ian’s arm and tugged him in the direction of the floor-to-ceiling windows. “Better from the fourth floor, but come look. It supposedly looks like a grand piano from an aerial view, but I personally don’t see it.” Ian didn’t hesitate, his apprehension of being mauled by a super-fan briefly overshadowed by the opportunity to see the music building. Megan noticed him shove both hands in the pockets of his jeans, probably preventing Gina from holding his hand again.
While Gina played tour guide, Megan sat down at her usual seat, which Jared had conveniently kept empty for her, like he always did.
“You’re moving in with this guy?” Jared whispered through clenched teeth. “Whatever happened to a long-distance relationship?”
“We got married over Christmas break,” Megan said. She chuckled. “I take it you haven’t seen the YouTube video?”
“Your wedding is on a YouTube video?” He sounded shocked. Jared picked up Megan’s left hand. “Why aren’t you wearing a wedding ring?”
“We just haven’t gotten around to buying any yet.” Megan pulled her hand away quickly and creased her eyebrows. “What’s it to you, anyway?”
“What kind of guy doesn’t buy his wife a wedding ring?” Jared scoffed.
“A guy who needs to keep his marriage a secret for a few months.” Megan was growing uncomfortable with Jared’s interrogation.
“A secret?” Jared’s eyes grew wide. “I have been waiting patiently for you to get over this long-distance relationship so you’d finally go out with me, and you marry a guy who wants to keep your marriage a secret? That’s just wrong!”
“Jared, I was never interested in you as anything more than a friend,” Megan said. She scooted her chair a little farther away. “Plus, I deserve a little anonymity for a few months while I finish college.”
Ian walked quickly back and sat down in the chair next to Megan, glaring at Jared with vitriol in his eyes. Jared shifted away and seemed suddenly very interested in his textbook. He picked up his pen and readied it as if he was taking notes. Always the gentleman, Ian casually changed the subject.
“That music building is beautiful. We should go check it out tomorrow.”
“I’d like that,” Megan whispered. She opened her textbook and pretended nothing was wrong even as she felt the heat rush to her face.
“There’s a stack of magazines on that table over by the windows,” Ian said, nodding his head toward the table. “I’ll go sit over there and enjoy the view and relax for a bit while you all study, alright?”
Thanks for understanding. Megan bit her lip and looked him in the eye. Ian winked at her, glared one more time in Jared’s direction, and stood up. Jared never looked up from his notes. Ian leaned down and kissed Megan lightly, then walked away.
“He is so dreamy,” Gina said as she sat down. She didn’t seem to notice the tension at the table. “You are the luckiest girl alive!”
“Thanks, Gina.” Megan decided to brush off the incident and begin their study session. “Okay, tomorrow’s test is over the molecular proteins we observed in lab last week…”
“Did you know your husband is flirting with two girls?” Jared interrupted. “Oh my gosh, he just gave her his phone number!” They all looked over to where Ian was sitting talking to two students who had sidled up next to his magazine-covered table. One of them had slid her notebook in front of him and he was leaned over it, smiling and flirting.
“He’s just signing autographs for them,” Megan said. She laughed and realization clicked into place. “You have no idea who my husband is, do you?”
Jared creased his forehead and frowned. He glared in Ian’s direction.
“Oh my gosh, you don’t?” Gina said. “He’s Ian Taylor from Buxton Peak!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jared lifted his chin and sniffed dismissively. “Who’s Ian Taylor? and what’s Buxton Peak?”
“Buxton Peak is, like, the coolest rock band ever,” Gina said. “Ian’s their lead singer.”
“I don’t listen to rock music,” Jared said. He glared back over at Ian as the two girls walked away. Ian looked back over at them, winked at Megan, propped his feet up on a chair and picked up a magazine. He looked a little smug.
“I thought I was the only one,” Megan said, chuckling softly. She turned back to her books and picked up her pencil. “Nice to know I’m not alone in my ignorance.”
Buxton Peak Book Two: Center Stage is now live on Amazon!
Buxton Peak Book Two: Center Stage is now live on Amazon!
Also, I highly recommend reading Buxton Peak Book One: Who Is Ian Taylor? before reading Buxton Peak Book Two: Center Stage: