Always: Indigo Falls College
a sneak peek
1. a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged unless acted on by an external force
Dex nudges my elbow with his beer cup. “That girl you came with is looking for you.”
“Okay.” I don’t move from my spot, just reach down to grab the keg hose and top off my cup. I promised her I’d be back in five minutes. And now I’ve been here—in this suffocatingly hot kitchen—for an hour.
He laughs, shaking his head. “This one didn’t even last a night, J.”
I step back from the keg. “Nah, I’ll go find her soon.”
I’m not sure if that’s the truth.
It’s not specific to the girl. I’m not trying to be a dick.
I’m just weary. It took Dex a lot of convincing to even get me out tonight. Last year, parties like this held some interest for me. I’d have a couple beers, chat with Dex or whomever, and get lost in a girl for a few hours. All good stuff. But now I’m five years into a four-year degree and putting off whatever comes next. I know I should get my ass in gear, especially since classes start on Monday, but everything just feels... tired.
And I’ve got to admit that I don’t have much interest when it comes to hooking up with girls recently.
“Sure you're good?” Dex bumps my forearm with his beer again. His olive-green eyes flick around my face with concern. He’s got a slight drawl, and it always comes out more when he’s had a couple of beers. “I know I dragged you out tonight, man. I’ve just been kinda worried about...”
Me. And the permanent impression my ass has made on our couch lately.
“I’m good.” I scrub a hand through my thick hair, which is always stupidly unruly, but even more so in this inferno of a kitchen. I can actually see the strands sticking out from the corner of my vision. “Probably a good thing we came out. I need to get out of this funk.”
But what I know and what I do are often two completely separate things.
“Damn right it’s good.” He flashes me a wide grin, making his dimples pop out under the scruff he’s been growing this summer. “What’s her name?”
He cranes his head toward the living room door, probably trying to get a glimpse of my date on the crammed dance floor. She’d be easy to spot, wearing a silvery, shiny tank-top-thing that drew just about everyone’s attention to the compact body she’s got underneath.
“Michela.” I take a drink, my tee sticking to my bicep as I raise the cup. I’m not sure why he’s pushing about her so much. Likely hoping to brighten me up. He’s a good friend.
Dex and I were finger painting together in kindergarten, riding our bikes off homemade ramps in sixth grade, blowing shit up in Call of Duty in high school, and now we share an apartment on the far side of town, both finishing up college. He’s more of a brother to me than my own brother is, although we look like complete opposites—him with those dimples and, other than the scruff, a boy-next-door kind of thing with shorn sandy-colored hair. And me, Korean-American, with the uncontrollable hair, ink covering both arms, and a couple of piercings that aren’t considered family friendly.
“Michela? Nice name,” Dex says.
“Yeah, she’s smart too. Last year, I had an ethics class with—” I groan in relief as the sliding door into the kitchen opens and a waft of crisp night air blows in, cooling the sweat on the nape of my neck.
I glance over my shoulder at the door, then freeze.
I didn’t know he was here. I clench my cup so hard it pops, beer jumping out over my knuckles and dribbling on the floor.
Kepler Quinn steps into the kitchen, his smoke gray eyes shifting over the room like he’s looking for someone. Towering and stupidly confident, he’s got a cup in one hand, and the other sinks into well-loved jeans as his focus halts on me, and it’s like a bolt of electricity zaps up my spine, hitting every single vertebra on the way.
He raises a single brow in my direction like he knows exactly what he does to me. Like he knows… everything.
He does know everything. Kepler is the smartest guy I know. Fiercely intelligent, he was the valedictorian of his and my brother’s high school class. The guy who set the curves and was supposed to go off to some East Coast college instead of languishing in small-town Colorado where the most popular majors are business and forestry. Now he’s earning a PhD in physics, while still partying on the weekends, apparently.
And I’m pretty sure he can see right through me. That he somehow knows about that zapping hum still quivering low along my spine. That he can shift through my thoughts and categorize my deepest secrets. Which is the last thing I want him to see.
My heart’s pumping about a million gallons per second, my stomach tightening, and my apathy disappears in a whoosh. Just swallowed right the fuck up as I stare back at him. The music from the other room pounds through my entire body, reverberating in every damn muscle and cell.
Simkung. It’s Korean for that throb you get in your chest with some people.
It definitely describes whatever this fucking response is to Kepler Quinn.
He swivels away and says something to the guy stepping through the door behind him. Then he pulls his hand from his pocket to take the guy’s cup before heading toward the keg.
Take a breath, J. Be cool.
With every step he takes, my throat dries more. The hum in my spine multiplies. There’s no normal when it comes to him. My response to him is a sudden onset of flame that always gets hotter. It never burns out. It never goes away.
It’s not attraction. It’s something else entirely. Too intense to parse out or put a name on. And it doesn’t happen with any other guy.
It’s just Kepler. He messes me up.
Which is really freaking inconvenient because he’s also my brother’s best friend. The same way that Dex and I are friends: lifelong, inseparable, more family than friends.
Which makes Kepler and me family?
I shake my head sharply. No.
Dex says something, so I turn toward him, my stance widening as Kepler stops next to the keg. Kepler’s to my right, and I can just see him out of the corner of my eye as he shifts two cups into the same hand, his forearm flexing, long fingers stretched out to hold them both.
Why does the way he’s holding those cups make my breath hitch?
I try my damnedest not to notice the way his light-gray tee pastes to his shoulders with the sweltering heat. His dark-blond hair falls across his high forehead. His sharp jawline clenches slightly. His thin lips stay in an unforgiving line.
I haven’t seen him smile in a long time.
Why is that?
Thinking back about it, I'm hard pressed to picture him with a smile at all. From either across the room or across campus. I can’t remember him truly smiling since we were kids.
Dex frowns, glancing behind me toward Kepler and then fixing back on me. “You were saying?”
“Uh,” I mumble, fighting to remember. “Michela. Yeah. We had an ethics class together last year. She’s pretty damn smart.”
Which is the reason I struck up a conversation with her when I ran into her at the library this summer. We partnered on an assignment for Kant’s Rational Basis of Morality and sailed through it. She also seems like a good person, always with a bright smile. And Dex isn’t wrong—she’s pretty. Or hot as hell, in his words.
She shouldn’t inspire indifference in anyone. She deserves a lot more. Maybe I am being a dick to her.
Out of the corner of my eye, Kepler shifts his hand to fill the second cup, those long fingers tensing.
I scrub through my hair and then quickly shove my own hand in my jeans pocket, not sure what to do with myself. I’m hotly aware of the way my tee’s stuck to my chest, the pinch of the metal barbell in my eyebrow, the sweat covering the ink along both forearms, and the chafe of the thick leather band strapped around my wrist.
Why does he make me so aware of myself? I rarely think about myself like that.
“You’d like her,” I say, trying to stick to the subject. Which is Michela. The girl I’m here with. The girl I should be more interested in.
“Okay,” Dex says, blinking at me.
Shit. Am I acting weird? Do I look normal on the outside?
Because I sure as hell don’t feel normal on the inside.
Kepler reaches out an arm to pump the keg, up and down, up and down. He peers into the second cup as it fills, his cheekbones sucking in slightly.
Christ. Don’t look.
A girl with long, looped up braids stops by the keg, and he straightens to talk to her. I can’t hear what they’re saying.
I shouldn’t care what they’re saying.
I swallow hard and focus on Dex as he chats about getting the landlord to come over and fix the cheap-ass windows at our apartment. Like that’ll ever actually happen. We mop up water every time it rains.
I even say a few things:
“I’ll do that.”
Do what? No clue.
When the girl steps away, Kepler pivots toward me, lingering for a moment, like he’s debating.
“Hey, Jin.” His voice is soft and low, and he lengthens my name like he always does.
He’s the only one who calls me by the second syllable of my name, Jae-Jin. Everyone else sticks with Jae or, like Dex, an even more basic J. But for some unknown reason, Kepler started calling me Jin when we were still kids.
“Hey, Quinn.” My voice is rough, and sticking with his last name seems like a good idea.
His gaze falls to where beer still drips off my hand because I’ve been too freaking distracted to wipe it off. His lips arc in the faintest echo of a smile. It can’t even really be called a smile, actually. It’s that faint, and it disappears almost immediately.
“Need some help with that?” he asks. “A towel, perhaps?”
I shift the cup to my other hand, wiping my knuckles on my jeans. “Think I’ll manage.”
His eyes narrow, but then he turns to upnod at Dex, who returns the gesture. A second later, Kepler strides back toward the guy he came with.
That’s the extent of our exchange. Kepler and I aren’t friends. We never have been. Never will be. He’s always been Shin’s friend, not mine.
He crosses back to the other side of the kitchen and extends a cup to his friend. Some dude I vaguely recognize with chubby lips and a cleft in his chin.
Their fingers brush as Kepler hands him the cup, and the guy’s chubby lips break into a smile.
My mouth dries, my stomach twisting hard. Is Kepler here with him?
I’m numb. Sounds muffle. The only thing left is my pulse hammering in my throat. I know the music is still thumping in the other room, but to me, it feels like the kitchen is silent.
I’ve never seen him with anyone before. Friends, yeah, but not a date.
Is he on a date with the guy?
Doesn't matter, J. I don’t care who Kepler dates.
Besides, it was nothing more than a brush of fingers. Hell, Dex brushes my forearm all the freaking time, and it means nothing.
Dex itches at his scruff. “J? You still in there?”
“Uh, yeah.” I take a sip of my beer and then cough when it gets caught in my throat. “Think I might go dance.”
He gives me a look like I just told him I’ve got a trip to the moon planned for this weekend. Two hours ago, he had to threaten me to get off the couch and now my hands are shaking, my pulse is racing, and the need to move pumps through my chest.
Kepler sidesteps away from the guy he’s with… his date?… and runs his palm over the back of his neck, bicep flexing as his elbow points at the ceiling. Then he suddenly pivots with a jerk, his back to me, gray tee glued so tight across his shoulder blades that I can see his delts, hand still cupping his neck, jeans low, one pocket faded with the outline of his wallet.
There’s something uneasy about the way he moves.
Stop staring, J. I need to get out of this sweltering heat that’s making my jeans chafe against my thighs. I drag in a breath and turn to Dex. I’m making a bad decision. And I fucking know it.
I do it anyway.
“I’m gonna go find Michela,” I say.