The brothers immediately knew something was up: Courtney had her arms folded over her chest and her chin jutted out, challenging, and Jessica only was slightly less intimidating. James hovered behind, but even so the three of them were clearly being confrontational.
Before Courtney could leap in and do her usual damage, Jessica cleared her throat. “Do you know if some of the guys on the football team are spiking drinks?”
“Why the fuck would they do that?” Sam murmured. The three of them must have looked at him in such disbelief that he quickly realised his mistake. “Oh.”
James finally stepped up to stand by Jessica’s side. The brothers were still quiet, as if digesting the information. “I don’t know their names, but I guess I’d recognise them again.”
“I could think of a couple of guys who’d do that,” Brian said, and Jessica was surprised to hear there was well contained rage in his voice. “Rich and Geoff.”
“So you believe us?” Courtney asked, with approval in her tone.
“Of course.” Sam sounded insulted. “You’re hardly going to make this up.”
Brian nodded alongside him. “The guys are first years like us, but why has it taken this long to come up?”
James sighed. “Evidence. I mostly just go along to the parties and keep an eye out when I can. If I took it to your captain or whatever, without evidence, what would he say?”
“He’d take it seriously,” Brian protested. “He’s a good guy.”
“But maybe evidence would make the case stronger,” Sam pointed out.
Jessica nodded. “It can’t hurt, and I have an idea. I need Aiden and Aja over here, ASAP.”
Aja and Aiden arrived quickly, both of them curious about why they had been summoned. When Aja walked in and saw Aiden already seated, her gaze immediately swung to Jessica. She looked suspicious, though Jessica gave a tiny shake of her head. No, she wasn’t going to be playing cupid today. They had something far more important to talk about.
Aja narrowed her eyes but sat down. Aiden smiled in greeting, and she grinned broadly in return.
It didn’t take long to give them the explanation. Before Jessica could launch into her half-formed idea, Aiden spoke up.
“James,” he frowned, “Why on earth didn’t you say anything?”
“You love football so much – I just, I don’t know, it hadn’t happened again since and I’d only heard rumours. I didn’t want to spoil your fun if I wasn’t sure.”
“We go to their party tonight,” she said. “If we’re all vigilant, we should be able to catch anything that happens. If we can catch it on a video, even better. Whatever happens, we can call them out as soon as we see it, then the evidence is at least in front of the rest of the team.” She looked around to gauge reactions. “If we don’t catch anything today… Well, there are always going to be more football parties,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“The problem,” Sam started almost as soon as Jessica shut her mouth, “Is that it’s not a big party tonight. Half of the team are away. The captain will be here, but I’m not sure if the guys we think are it will be there.”
Aiden frowned. “Rich and Geoff? I heard them saying that they’ll be here.”
Jessica raised an eyebrow. “How did you know we were talking about them?”
He snorted. “They’re by far the dodgiest guys on the team. I’m fairly certain that Rich comes from a tough Glaswegian family. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re involved in some sort of crime.”
Aja narrowed her eyes. “So, we catch them at it and tell them to get to fuck. I like it.”
The party was held in a large barn the student’s union had bought and converted for rented use a year ago. It was a warm, large place, with plenty to keep people occupied. The music system was, in Ash’s words, pretty wicked.
Immediately, Aiden and Sam pointed out who was who. The guy playing beer pong was the captain; he was a charismatic and loud character whose laughter filled the room. It was more brilliant than James’ laughter, and just as warm and bright.
Next came the two guys: Rich and Geoff. They were both lean rather than muscular, but there was a hard edge to them that Jessica didn’t much like. Rich’s face was set into a constant sneer, and his knuckles were scarred. He was the type of man to take everything and demand more, and act like you should be grateful for it. The other, Geoff, was more weaselly. He was the right hand man; the man who laughed at the jokes and went along with everything, who was the first to back Rich up with his words and the last to back it up with his fists. A cruel coward, through and through.
The flat hung about and took part in the activities, all the while keeping one eye trained on the duo playing at the shuffleboard with a crowd watching. One girl, whose name Jessica hadn’t learned, was giggling and cheering them both on. They seemed to enjoy her company the most. Rich offered her a drink and she accepted gratefully, eyes glued to Geoff as he took his turn. Rich made his way to the drinks table, and then shuffled over to the bathroom. With his shoulders set, Sam followed.
Sam barged in to the bathroom, acting drunk, and pretended to be on his phone while doing so. Rich spluttered in shock as the door banged into him. He had been standing at the sink, bottle of vodka in hand, adding more to the drink. Sam stumbled to the side when Rich tutted and pushed past him. His phone caught nothing except that, but Sam didn’t particularly care. He watched while Rich handed the drink to the already drunk girl with a smile.
His eyes scanned the barn for the captain. He was done with having these two assholes on his team.
Sam hurried over to their captain. After some quiet words to him and a flash of the video he had taken with his phone, their fate was sealed. The captain didn’t need to hear any thing else, though the flat still gathered around to lend their support if Sam were to need it.
The captain didn’t waste any time.
“I’m done with having you on my team,” he said firmly. Rich’s eyes, which at first widened, now narrowed into slits. “You’re a petty asshole. You enjoy making others feel like shit and you’re a god damn manipulator.” He gestured to Sam. “I’m almost sorry I needed someone else to give me a good reason to see the back of you.”
The sneer was set deeper into his face than ever before. “What, you’re kicking me off the team because of that fag?”
Sam recoiled, though the captain didn’t even blink. “Get out, and take your cowardly friend hiding in the corner with you. If you ever insult Sam – or anyone on the team – or act the same way at another party again, I will make sure the university kicks your worthless self out.”
Rich’s upper lip curled, but he knew when he had lost. He did something shocking, then – Jessica was standing closest to him, and she could have sworn that she heard him growl under his breath. No human growl, either; it was far too deep, far too guttural, far too animalistic. He twisted away and snarled at Geoff to follow him, slamming the barn doors open and stalking out into the night.
Sam was staring after them, face white.
The captain, however, turned away. “I think this party is over,” he said firmly. “And if anyone uses a slur like that again, you can consider yourself off the team too.”
There were curt nods and curious gazes, but Sam had relaxed. The flat wandered back together, and Aiden kept up with Sam and Brian. Jessica could hear him reassuring Sam about what had happened. She was relieved; if the football team didn’t make anything of his sexuality, then maybe he could accept it better himself.
The rest of them were quiet as they walked back. It had been a rushed day. Jessica blinked and almost laughed at herself when she realised she had been staring out into the darkness, convinced she was looking at a pair of bright eyes.
“Why did you think this was a good idea?!”
“You’re right, with your clumsiness it’s just asking for trouble.”
“C’mere,” James said, reaching for her hands before she could fall. Jessica held onto him tightly.
“I don’t like this. Why are we doing it again?”
“Live dangerously,” he told her with an impish grin. “Wanna spin?”
“No I do not want to – JAMES!”
He laughed brilliantly as he spun them around, skilled enough at it that he had to have skated before. His partner must have been a hell of a lot better than Jessica, however, because one wrong twitch and they both collapsed onto the floor. After a minute of stunned silence, James began to laugh again.
“Your flashing your knickers again, sweetheart,” he giggled.
“Asshole,” she seethed.
Their cold-but-dry Winter turned into a surprisingly mild Spring, which was by now well underway. Exams were looming on the horizon, but they were still more than a month away. Jessica could afford to have some fun before then.
“No, because you always win.”
“Well then, you’ve got to beat my streak.”
It was a good thing that this was the university building and not the comic book store; there was lots of foul language and insults exchanged between the two of them.
“No, no no no, NOOOOO,” Jessica gasped as James took the third and final round. She scowled over at him while he did a victory dance.
“Come on, sweetheart, I’ll make it up to you.”
“You better,” she mumbled.
“I told you to meet me here, what did you expect?”
“I don’t know, the bar?”
She could hear him rolling his eyes. “Sweetheart, trust me, bowling is the one thing I’m pretty crap at.”
“So humble,” she sighed.
“Alright, show me what you’ve got.”
“Do I suit it?” He posed in the light.
“Surprisingly?” he gasped, placing a hand on his chest. “Jessica, it’s like you don’t know me at all. I suit everything.”
“Except bowling.” It was good to gloat. He was usually the one doing it, after all.
“You know that the saying is actually used incorrectly? In older times, prove meant test. So it’s the exception that tests the rule.”
“Stop being so smart, you’re making me look bad,” James complained.
“You don’t need any help with that.”
“You’re so mean to me,” he sighed, running his hands down to rest at her waist. “Well, we have an evening to kill, and as nice as you look in that dress, I think I fancy seeing you out of it, too.”
Jessica smirked. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
Morning arrived, but neither of them had classes until twelve, so they gravitated towards the pool table. The dorm was warm enough for them to stay in their pajamas, something that Jessica wasn’t complaining about.
“Look how grey it is out there,” she pouted.
“It’s Scotland,” James replied, lining up his cue. “Why are you even surprised?”
“My, what a long stick you have.”
“All the better to -”
“NOW NOW, CHILDREN!” Ash’s voice rang from her room loud and clear. They both shared a look and burst out laughing.
“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed.
“I’d make a crack about you flashing your knickers, but I’m not entirely sure you’re wearing any.”
She turned to look over her shoulder and flashed a grin instead.