Turning back to him, I say, “Yeah. To start my master’s degree. With this job and you providing room and board, I should be able to save up enough for the first semester. I’ll probably have to take the second semester off, find additional work to save up more money. Long process and all that.”
Zack gives a slight nod, starts to turn away, and then looks back again. “What did you graduate with?”
“Well, technically I haven’t graduated graduated,” I tell him with a smile and an effective use of air quotes with my fingers. “The ceremony’s next week, but then I’ll be the proud owner of a degree in child psychology.”
Something filters into Zack’s eyes…maybe it’s a little bit of respect, or maybe it’s just the sudden realization that I’m not some weird loony he’s just agreed to hire as a nanny. I turn away again to open the car door and he says, “What day is your ceremony? We need to make sure Ben’s covered, and I can get my neighbor to watch him if necessary.”
I don’t bother to respond immediately and finally get the door open, because at the rate he keeps asking questions, I may not make it into Mark’s house this century. As I step out, I turn back and lean in to look at him. “I’m not going to the ceremony, so no worries. I’ll be back in a second. It’s just a suitcase and a couple of boxes, so it will take me a few trips. Just hang tight.”
I straighten up and close the door before he can stall me further, then turn to trot up the broken sidewalk littered with weeds browned by the winter cold. Mark’s at work, and his roommate, Dave, is probably still sleeping. He’s a musician and stays up until the wee hours of the morning.
Mark was a classmate of mine, and he graduated last summer. We were pretty tight as friends, and when I got booted out of the dorms, he opened up his couch to me until I could get on my feet. I’m so thankful this job came along, as I was feeling immensely guilty for squatting in his house without paying any rent. I had only about two hundred dollars left in my bank account, which I had been rationing for food items only over the past few weeks. Now that I had this job, though, I was going to leave Mark about fifty bucks as sort of a thank-you for his hospitality.
I unlock the door and swing it open, immediately walking through the small living room, where my suitcase lies packed up next to the TV. My only other belongings are two medium-size boxes filled with all of my old class notes from my psychology courses, which I figured may help during my master’s program, and a few framed photos of my family.
“What’s going with us?” I hear from behind me, and spin to see Zack and Ben standing in the doorway.
“Is this where you live, Kate?” Ben asks as he runs over to the coffee table and grabs the Xbox control sitting there. “Can we play a game?”
“Not now, buddy,” Zack answers for me. “Kate’s going to come stay at our house for a bit, so we’re just here to grab her things.”
I walk over to the suitcase and pull the handle up. It’s big and thankfully has wheels, so I can easily move it. “Just those two boxes,” I say as I point to them. “If you can grab one, I’ll come back and get the other.”
Zack doesn’t acknowledge me but walks over, bends at the knee, and easily picks both boxes up. He’s wearing a long-sleeved black sweater that fits him like a second skin, and I can actually see the muscles in his chest flexing with the effort. Wow…um…just wow.
He turns toward the door and calls for Ben: “Let’s go.”
Ben trots after him and I take a quick moment to dig into my backpack for my checkbook. I write a check out to Mark and a quick note of thanks, promising to catch up with him soon for a beer to update him on how the job is going.
When I get back out to the Range Rover, Ben is buckled securely in the back and Zack is standing at the rear with the tailgate opened. I drag my suitcase over to him and he takes it from me, easily lifting it in. “Thanks,” I say quietly, and turn to head toward the front passenger door.
“How come you’re not going to your graduation?” he asks, and it catches me by surprise. Nothing about Zack Grantham so far has even hinted at him having a remote curiosity about me.
When I look back at him, his eyes are impassive, as if he truly doesn’t care what the answer is.
“Can’t afford to,” I tell him with a shrug. “Too much for the cap and gown. They’ll just mail my diploma to my daddy’s house for safekeeping. I suppose I’ll get it framed and hung one day, once I get settled into a place of my own.”