Episode 120

Melinda’s Story

After the game, I wasn’t exactly sure how to spend my afternoon. I would have liked to enjoy some time with Pat. Maybe even catch Walter’s wrestling meet, as he’d been begging me to do all season. But Sarah wanted to celebrate her breakup with milkshakes from the MAC Attack.

Although I wasn’t in the mood, I went with her anyway. I had a feeling her elation would soon turn to misery, and I wanted to be there for her.

“So, should we have dinner here, or just a snack?” Sarah asked as we headed up the stairs.

I didn’t want to give the wrong answer, but had no idea what the right one was. “Umm . . . what are you thinking?”

“I could eat.”

I had a feeling Sarah’s appetite was more to do with avoiding Larry in the dining hall than an empty stomach. We sat in the back corner of the loft, watching people below us playing pool below while we ate our burger baskets.

I tried to find a neutral topic of conversation. “So, I don’t think I know Alex what’s his name.”

“Stegner. Sure you do. He’s really tall. Has blonde hair. Glasses. He’s been hanging out with Ava a lot lately.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Walter’s ex? She’s not studying with us, is she?” I really hoped not. I was not a big fan of Ava and really didn’t want to spend my evening with her.

Sarah shook her head. “Nah. I doubt it. I don’t think they’re together or anything. I think she’s just been hanging around him. Hey, can you explain what Mr. Stone was talking about yesterday? I got really confused with all the opera stuff.”

I didn’t believe her in the slightest. I had a feeling she was simply trying to steer the conversation away from Alex, since he had been the root of her fight with Larry. But I didn’t mind. My goal that night was simply to keep the peace.

I took a sip of my milkshake and explained the history and evolution of opera, from its roots to the present day. I took my time and couldn’t help but think I sounded a lot like Walter. I was pretty sure Sarah wasn’t paying me the least bit of attention, but I kept babbling until our baskets were empty.

When we arrived in the study room that evening, I suggested Sarah sit across from me so she could work with Alex more easily. As soon as Walter entered the room, he took one look at the study table and began protesting.

“You’re in my seat.”

I glanced up from my books. “It was my idea. I thought if you sat next to me, you’d be able to copy my math homework easier.”

Walter’s laughter echoed around the room. Even Sarah managed a small smile as Walter took his seat. He had only just removed his notebook from his bag when there was a knock on the open door.

Someone on the basketball team had once suggested Pat was the hottest guy on the planet, and I tended to agree. However, the figure standing in the doorway gave Pat a run for his money. His soft blonde hair fell just into his emerald eyes. His head nearly reached the doorframe, and he obviously spent a healthy amount of time in the gym. When he spoke, his deep voice rumbled into the room.

“Hey, Sarah.”

“Oh, hey, Alex,” Sarah said brightly. “Perfect timing. This is my roommate, Melinda, and my friend, Walter. This is Alex.”

Alex nodded to the table as he sat in the empty seat. “Thanks for helping me. I just don’t seem to understand this translation.”

“No problem.” Sarah placed her book between them, and Alex leaned closer to her. She pointed to the page. “Okay. So, let’s start with this sentence.”

I went back to my math homework, but Walter seemed distracted. Usually, he worked one or two math problems behind me, checking his answers against mine as he went. Tonight, though, he seemed to get every problem wrong. He was constantly erasing his answers. He even did a few problems more than once because he was eyeing the pair across the table every few minutes. Was he doing so at Larry’s request?

I couldn’t blame him, really. Alex had his arm around Sarah’s chair and was leaning very close to her.

But Sarah was crazy about Larry. Even though they had broken up, they would be back together in a few days. It wasn’t so much a breakup as it was they were on a break. Sarah had no interest in Alex as anything more than a study partner. I couldn’t understand why the boys couldn’t seem to understand that.

“You wanna work on something else?” Sarah suggested half an hour later when she and Alex were packing up their German books.

Alex smiled. “I didn’t bring my other books. I can probably find a copy down in the stacks. You, uh, wanna help me? See what we can find?”

Sarah began to nod, but I saved her. “Oh, Sarah. We need to work on that project for music. Alex, you don’t mind, do you?”

Alex shrugged. “Sure. No problem. Maybe another time. See you tomorrow, Sarah.”

Alex grabbed his bag and headed out the door, Walter glaring at him until he was out of sight. I could feel the temperature in the room drop as Sarah’s icy stare pierced me.

“What was that about?” Sarah hissed. “We don’t have a music project.”

It surprised me that she wasn’t more grateful. “You’re welcome.”

“For what?”

I raised my eyebrows. “You wanted to go to the stacks with him?

“Why not? I could help him find a book.”

“Pat took me down to the stacks one day—”

Walter quickly interrupted. “I do NOT want to hear about that.”

I smirked. “He was looking for a book for his history class. We weren’t the only people down there, although we were the only ones looking for a book.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Seriously? You think Alex was asking me to go down there to make out?”

Walter just raised his eyebrows at her.

“Boys are pigs.”

No one argued to the contrary.

Pat’s Story

I convinced Larry that a jam session would make him feel better. He brought his guitar to my room and played halfheartedly until my phone started playing Homeward Bound.

Larry stopped playing. “That’s a new one. Is that your new boyfriend you and Melinda were fighting over?”

I hit him, not too lightly. “It’s Mrs. Lindgren.”


“The community service director.” I checked the message. “She wants to see me. Like, now.”

Larry nodded as he stowed his guitar. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

After putting away my own guitar, I texted Mrs. Lindgren that I was on my way and headed to the office. When I arrived, I was a little surprised to see I wasn’t the only one there.


Mrs. Lindgren looked equally surprised. “You know each other?”

I nodded. “He’s friends with Melinda.”

“Fantastic. Brody here has volunteered for the program. We just did the orientation. He’s going to shadow with you tonight. Brody, I’m going to let Pat answer any more questions you might have.”

Brody stood with a smile. “Thanks.”

I led Brody out of the office and back toward my dorm. “Dude, what are you doing here?”

Brody pointed over his shoulder. “Mrs. What’s-her-name just told you. I volunteered, and I just did my orientation.”

“Yeah, but why not at your own school?”

Brody shrugged. “Oh. The teacher that runs it there has been out sick all week. Mrs. What’s-it said a lot of volunteers have called in sick this week, so she was glad to train me.”

“So, what made you decide to join DMH?”

“Remember I said I had a friend who told me about it?”

I nodded. “Yeah. The one you were going to volunteer with.”

“Well, he drives on Sundays. It’s the one day I’m not at the studio. I figured if I join the program, maybe he and I can spend some time together. But, I have so many questions.”

I showed Brody to my dorm, gesturing for him to sit on the bed. As I sat in my chair, I sent Melinda a quick message about what was going on.

As I stowed my phone, I turned back to Brody. “Fire away.”

Brody sent me a look of confusion. “What?”

“You said you had a lot of questions.”

Brody nodded. “Oh. Yeah. So, when you’re on duty, do you drive around all night? Or do you just hang out at home and wait for someone to text? If you’re home, wouldn’t you have to go pick up your partner on your way? Wouldn’t it make more sense if you and your partner were already together? And—”

I held up a hand. “Brody. Dude. Slow down. Let me answer some of your questions before I forget them. Melinda and I are almost always on duty together. When we broke up—”

He sent me a look of confusion. “You guys were together?”

“We are together. You knew that.”

He shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”

“Brody. I was there. Melinda introduced me as her boyfriend.”

“I completely missed that. The whole meeting Patrick McGregor thing. But you just said you broke up.”

I sighed. “We broke up for a little while. Then, I got put on restriction and Mrs. Lindgren took me out of the driving rotation while I got my life back in order. Last week, I told her I was ready to drive again. I think she was relieved. She mentioned being down a few volunteers. Now I forgot your question.”

Brody laughed. “Do you drive around all night?”

“Sometimes. Although I really like DMH, my favorite part is that it lets me have my girlfriend in my car despite my restricted license. Sometimes we go out to dinner or just out for a drive using DMH as an excuse. We don’t have to, but we do.”

He gave a knowing nod. “Ingenious.”

“Yeah. Don’t let Melinda know, because I don’t think she’s figured that out yet.”

Brody mimed zipping his mouth. “My lips are sealed. So, when you’re not driving around, are you still hanging out together? Or do you wait for a call to come in?”

“Did you miss the part about she’s my girlfriend? I like to spend most of my free time with her.”

Brody smiled. “Sorry. Dumb question. I’m trying to think about my situation.”

I shrugged. “I think that’s just something you and your partner would have to work out. The handful of times I’ve been on duty without Melinda, I just had my partner stay on call. And remember having pickups those nights. What else?”

“Um . . . Well, I was wondering how it worked with two drivers being partnered together. Would you alternate who drove? But your partner can’t drive.”

I shook my head. “Nope. That’s another conversation for your new partner. Does he know yet? That you volunteered?”

Brody didn’t get to answer my question. My phone beeped like an eighteen-wheeler. I held it up to Brody. “We’re in business.”

He looked so excited. He jumped off the bed and followed me out of the dorm to the TRAC parking lot. “So, have you ever had a call in the middle of the night?”

I shook my head. “Nah. Had a couple after curfew, but we were already driving around, so Mrs. Lindgren didn’t make us go pick her up.”

Brody made a face. “Yeah, my parents loved the idea of me volunteering until I told them one of them would have to drive with me after midnight. Have you ever had more than one call at the same time?”

I nodded. “Yeah. There was this one night we got two calls from the same party. Then, as we were dropping them off, another call came in. But honestly? I think that was the only time that happened.”

“What’d you do?”

I shrugged. “Well, I was driving, so I just had Melinda text them our ETA. Thankfully, the addresses were all sort of close together.”

As we got in the car, I put the address into my phone, showing the map to Brody. “Hey. Isn’t that your school?”

Brody frowned at my phone. “Yeah. There are a lot of activities tonight.”

A few minutes later, I pulled into the student lot and found someone standing alone near the main entrance. He looked familiar, although I couldn’t quite place him.

I turned to Brody. “Okay. So, this is where you would ask if he needs a ride.”

I pulled up to the curb and Brody rolled down his window. “Can we give you a ride?”

The guy raised his eyebrows. I just facepalmed and shook my head. “Brody? Could you sound any more stranger danger?” I leaned over Brody to shout out the window. “Did you text Drive Me Home?”

The guy looked a little relieved. “Yeah, I did. Thanks.” I turned back to Brody as the guy got into the car. “You can’t just offer people a ride. We always need to make sure it’s the person who texted us.”

Brody nodded. “Yeah. That makes sense. I’ll remember next time.”

I turned around to my fare. And got the mental image of him at a MAC dance with Melinda, leaning in to kiss her. I tried to ignore my lunch trying to make its way back up. “So, where can we drop you off?”

Townie narrowed his eyes at me. “I know you.”


I turned around and entered it into the maps as he told me. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I felt like something was wrong, and it had nothing to do with my passenger.

After a mile or two of silence, I turned to Brody. “So, this is the part of the ride where my partner usually makes small talk with the passenger while I drive.”

“Oh! Gotcha.” Brody turned around. “So, what’re you doing at school so late?”

Townie shrugged. “The drama club is performing their Comédie Musicale tonight. I went to see it with a friend, but, well, I decided I needed to leave. My aunt and uncle went to the movies, so when I texted them for a ride, there was no answer. Decided to just text you guys instead. You’re Patrick McGregor.”

I winced. It wasn’t that he recognized me. It was the hint of aggression in his tone.

Brody smiled at me. “Busted.”

I wasn’t nearly as amused. Thankfully, Brody went back to conversing with our passenger. “So, was it the play that sucked or the company?”

“The company. The friend turned out to be just a little too toxic for me. But the show wasn’t that bad. One of my friends is in it.”

Brody nodded. “Yeah? I know most of the cast. Who’s your friend?”

“Kayla Morgan? She’s in tenth grade.”

“Oh, yeah. I know Kayla. We were together for a month or two last year.”

I looked at him. “You were? I didn’t think you were into girls. I thought you had a crush on my brother.”

 “Of course I do. He is such a hottie. But I like girls, too. Kayla was one of my first girlfriends.” He turned back to Townie. “So, how do you know Kayla?”

I saw Townie shrug in my mirror. “We’re on the math team together. She’s the one who suggested I come tonight. She wanted me to see her dance. I don’t know much about dancing, but it wasn’t that bad.”

“She’s a decent dancer. Not my favorite dance partner. That would be your girlfriend.” Brody punched me lightly on the shoulder before returning his attention to the backseat. “But still pretty good.”

Townie’s eyes glared at mine in the rearview mirror. “Your girlfriend is a dancer? Was she in the Nutcracker at Hartfield a few months ago?”

Brody answered for me. “Yeah. We were gingerbread children together. How’d you know that?”

Townie didn’t answer. I glanced in my mirror again and grew very uncomfortable at the murderous looks he was sending in my direction.

I turned my attention back to the road. “Brody, I think it’s time to change the subject.”

Brody shrugged. “So, you’re on the math team, huh? I’m horrible at math.”

Brody talked the rest of the ride while Townie and I said nothing. When I arrived at the house, I waited for him to enter before backing out of the driveway.

Brody looked around. “So? Now what?”

I shrugged. “We can go back to my school or we can just drive around.”

“What would you and Melinda be doing if it were you guys?”

Stopping at a stoplight, I glanced at him. “I’d probably take her to a parking lot to make out for a while. I’m not about to do that with you.”

Brody laughed. “Hey, I’m hungry. Can we stop somewhere for takeout?”

We grabbed some sodas and burgers, deciding to eat inside the restaurant instead of taking the food to my car. I watched in amusement as Brody squirted his paper wrapper with packages of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, then swirled the condiments together with a French fry. He then dipped both his burger and his fries in this as ate.

Between bites, he pointed his burger at me. “So, I got the impression there was something going on with you and that guy we picked up tonight.”

I shrugged. “He’s Melinda’s ex. They broke up because he was jealous I looked at her.”

“Were you hitting on her?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t even talk to her except when she bumped into me after they broke up. And even that was only a handful of words.”

“How long you two been together?”

I sighed. “It’s complicated. We were together for about a month and a half, then we broke up for like a month. We’ve been back together about a week now. How about you? You seeing anyone?”

Brody shook his head. “That friend that I’m being partnered with? We’re in the same English class and we’ve gotten together to study a few times. I texted him this afternoon that I was going through the orientation today. He seemed excited. Told me that he had been telling me about the program in the hopes I would volunteer with him.”

I saluted him with my soda. “Well, I hope things work out for you.”

“You just want to keep me away from your brother.”

“Walter can handle himself. I’m a little jealous of you dancing with my girlfriend, though.”

Brody smiled as he drowned his burger in his strange dip. “I have a rule. No dating dance partners.”

“Why not?”

“You’re an actor. You ever date a costar?”

“Once.” I shuddered at the memory.

“And after you broke up, you still had to work with her? Was it weird?”

I shook my head. “We broke up after the movie. But I can understand your point.”

“Melinda and I? Nothing’s going to happen there. You don’t need to worry.” Brody glanced at his phone. “What time do you need to be back on campus?”

I checked the time. “Study hours is nearly over. I could probably skip the break, but I haven’t had any time with Melinda all day.”

When we returned to campus, I stopped at the parking lot behind the dining hall to drop Brody at his car.

He climbed out, then peered back in through the window. “Thanks for showing me the ropes.”

“No problem. Good luck with your friend this weekend.”

“Oh, hey. Where would you go if you wanted to be alone with Melinda?”

I rocked my head back and forth as I considered. “If it were Melinda and I? The library. But that’s because it’s us. You? I’d recommend the commuter lot over on Bunker Hill Road.”

“Sick.” We exchanged fist bumps, and he climbed into his car.

An advantage of DMH was that I could park at my dorm when I was on duty. There was still a little time before study hours ended, so I grabbed some books from my room and headed over to the rotunda to wait for my girlfriend.

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.