Hopeless Romantic

Second Place Winner of Voyage’s First Chapters Contest for Women Writers judged by NYT Bestselling Author J. Elle

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Chapter One

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“Are you a virgin?”

I’m not sure what I was expecting when my future roommate, Georgie Wendell, demanded we FaceTime after sliding into my DMs, but this certainly wasn’t it.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you a virgin?” she repeats.

Interesting. Apparently, I did hear that correctly.

Georgie stares at me, patiently waiting for my answer as if this is a perfectly reasonable question.

This morning the University of California, Los Angeles, most commonly known as UCLA, told us who our freshman roommates would be and in that short time Georgie has already found my Instagram, followed me, and set up this video call. I already knew we were complete opposites, at least in the physical sense, when I saw her Instagram. She’s got the all-American girl look down with her bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and California sun-kissed skin. Meanwhile, I’ve got dark brown skin, brown almost black curly hair, and hazel eyes.

However, this whole interaction has made it clear we’re very different people in all ways.

I don’t think I ever thought we’d have this conversation, but I figured we’d wait until move-in day to really get to know each other.

Obviously, I was mistaken, so now I’m sitting on my bed with my phone being asked by a girl I barely even know if I’m a virgin. I don’t even think she said hi first.

“Um, I don’t really feel comfortable answering that question,” I say finally.

I glance up at my bedroom door, which is wide open, wishing I had the forethought to close it, and praying my parents aren’t eavesdropping on this conversation. Not that it would really matter anyway, since in answer to Georgie’s question I am, in fact, a virgin.

I’ve also never been kissed.

Or been on a date.

Or been in any kind of proximity with a guy that would count as romantic.

In sum, my parents have absolutely nothing to worry about, a fact they’re already well aware of.

“It’s okay, I am too,” Georgie says, taking my non-answer as an answer. “But I’m thinking I’m going to want to change that once I get to school so we should probably think about some ground rules.”

“Ground rules?” I ask.

“Well, yeah. We don’t want to walk in on each other, especially if it’s our first time. We need a system.”

She doesn’t say, “Duh,” but I can hear it in her tone.

“We could just do the old sock on the door trick,” she continues, “but then everyone in our dorm would know we’re having sex, and that’s kind of embarrassing.”

This is way too much. I tell Georgie to hold on and close my room door before my parents hear what is quite possibly the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had.

When I pick my phone back up, I say, “Is this something we really need to figure out now? I mean, what if you get to school and you decide you don’t want to hook up with anyone? Then this conversation will be pointless, anyway.”

Georgie laughs. “Oh please. Of course, I’m going to want to hook up with people once we’re there. That’s what college is all about.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what college is all about, but I decide to keep that thought to myself.

“Anyway, this is for your benefit too,” she says. “You’re totally going to want to bring someone to the room at some point, and you’re going to want some privacy.”

I have to stifle a laugh. The improbability of that happening is so high I can’t even imagine it. Besides, the one person I would want to do that with is going to Duke in the fall. And even if he wasn’t, he still hasn’t figured out we’re perfect for each other yet, so it’s a moot point.

Still, I’m beginning to feel like it’s best to play along with Georgie than try to argue. “Okay, well what’s the plan then?” I say with a sigh.

“Totally simple,” she says, sounding excited. “We just have to have clear and open communication. So just send a text beforehand, saying you’ll need the room for however long. I’d say a half-hour is reasonable, right?’

“Sure.”

I make a mental note to Google “How long does sex take?” later. “Great, so now that that’s squared away let’s talk about the fridge.”

“The fridge?”

“Yeah,” she says, like this jump in topics makes total sense. “Do you want to get one? I can bring my TV from home since I live much closer to school than you. So, you can get the fridge when you come, and I’ll bring the TV.”

I have a momentary panic attack trying to figure out how she knows where I live before I remember our respective hometowns were listed in the introduction email we got. She also saw my Instagram, duh.

“Uh, sure,” I say. “That sounds good.”

“Perfect!”

I watch as her eyes move to look at something, and I realize she probably has a checklist of things to discuss. I’m not sure how I feel about my virginity being at the top of the list.

“Okay, so how do we feel about bunk beds?” she asks. “I’ve toured the school already and it seems that bunk beds allow us to maximize our space.”

I shrug. “Works for me.”

“Perfect!”

And the list goes on and on, with me mostly just saying yes to everything and Georgie happily saying, “Perfect!” before finally it’s almost 10 p.m. my time (she’s three hours behind), and I convince her we have plenty of time to figure the rest out later. We say our quick goodbyes, and then I fall back on my bed, exhausted from what I thought would be a simple conversation.

Even though I still need to shower and get ready for bed, I let my eyes drift close and allow myself to fall back into my perfect fantasy.

#

It’s prom night and I’m standing in the middle of the dance floor wearing a floor-length, strapless dress that’s the perfect shade of red. My curls are pinned up in some elaborate design I can never get right when I watch the YouTube tutorials, and I’m wearing heels that somehow don’t hurt my feet.

Everyone is dancing around me as if I don’t exist, except for him.

Jeremy Sanders stands on the opposite side of the room wearing a tuxedo that fits him perfectly and he has a red tie that matches my dress.

He strides over to me, totally focused, as if no one else is in the room. When he reaches me, he grins that toothy grin I always see him make when he’s clowning around with his friends in the hallway. But now that smile is just for me.

“Hey,” he says.

He takes hold of my hands and pulls me to him, resting my hands on his shoulders, and then dropping his hands to my waist.

“Hi,” I say back.

The music slows down, and Jeremy starts to move us, pulling me closer as we sway together.

“You look beautiful,” he says.

“So do you. Handsome, I mean. You look cute.”

I duck my head embarrassed, but Jeremy chuckles, hooks a finger under my chin, and tugs it up until I’m looking at him. Then he kisses me gently on the forehead.

“I know what you meant.”

He pulls back, but not far, and his eyes are on mine before they go down to my lips, and then come back up again.

This is it. He’s going to kiss me, right here in front of everyone. “Hope.” He whispers my name as he leans forward.

“Hope!”

My eyes jolt open as I realize someone is calling my name. My mother is standing over me, jabbing at my leg.

“Okay, okay I’m up.”

I pull my leg away from her and up under me as I sit up, my heart still racing after being pulled away from my almost first kiss. Ma reaches over me and pulls my phone up. It’s playing the slow song from my dream.

“Your alarm has been going off for ten minutes,” Ma says as she swipes it off. “This is why I told you making music your alarm is silly. It never wakes you up.”

I take my phone from her and notice the time. I must have been more tired than I thought last night because somehow it’s now morning and I’m still wearing my clothes from yesterday, a fact my mother seems to notice as soon as I do.

“Did you sleep in your bed with your street clothes on?”

“Um, no?”

She pins me with a look, and I sigh.

“Yes, I must’ve fallen asleep after my call with Georgie,” I say.

“Who’s Georgie?”

“My new roommate.”

I push myself up off my bed and start looking for something to wear. First period starts in an hour, and there’s no way I’m going to make it at this rate.

“You didn’t tell me you got a roommate,” Ma says. She follows me around the room as I grab clothes from my closet. “You never tell me anything. Always keeping secrets.”

I sigh. It is way too early for my mother’s dramatics. I have no secrets. Honestly, I wish my life was interesting enough to have secrets to keep from my parents. Unfortunately, I’m the most boring teen on the planet. Not that she’d ever believe me. Personally, I think she wishes I had secrets too. She’s always looking for some way to make her life more interesting like the telenovelas she loves to watch.

“I just found out yesterday,” I say. “Georgie reached out to me and wanted to FaceTime, so we did. It’s not a big deal.”

Ma only grunts her ascent as I move past her to go to the bathroom. She follows me out into the hallway where I almost run smack dab into Dad.

“Whoa whoa whoa, what is the hurry?”

He places both hands on my shoulders, steadying me as I recover. Dad is, to put it mildly, gigantic. He’s 6’7” and takes up almost the entire width of the hallway. He also has thick locs that, when not in a bun like he has them in now, fall down to his waist.

“I’m not hurrying, I’m simply moving at a quickened pace because there is a possibility that I might be late for school.”

“Because her alarm didn’t wake up her again,” Ma says from behind me. “You must like getting to school late.”

I turn to face her. “I’m never late. I’m always right on time.”

“What have I always told you?”

I glance back at Dad and together we say, “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late.”

Ma frowns. “I don’t know why y’all always say it like that. I don’t sound like that.” Dad pats my shoulders and squeezes past me to wrap Ma in his arms.

“Of course, you don’t,” he says, with a kiss to her forehead. “Not even a little bit.”

Ma rolls her eyes, but she’s already melting into his arms, a smile creeping onto her face.

I watch as Dad whispers something in her ear that makes her laugh and it’s like I don’t even exist. They’re wrapped up in their own little world with each other and that is all I want.

Someone who looks at me the way my parents have always looked at each other, like there’s no one else they’d rather spend every minute of every day with.

“Hope, go take a shower!”

Right. I guess they weren’t all wrapped up in their own world after all.

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