But First Must Come the Storm
Brooke Radley © 2016
All rights reserved
Once halftime started, she made a run for the concession stand, eager to get something warm. The line already wrapped around the corner, but the cinderblocks prevented most of the cool wind from entering the area, so Millie didn’t mind the wait. She rubbed her hands together and bounced on her feet to stay warm.
By the time she got to the front of the line, they were running low on hot chocolate and were out of whipped cream. The drink came in a flimsy Styrofoam cup, but it was warm enough to bring feeling back to her fingers. Millie found a small nook several feet away from the concession stand. The area was starting to clear out, but Millie didn’t want to get in the way of anyone scrambling for a snack last minute. Zack and Alex were likely chatting about video games again, and Millie wanted a few minutes to herself. She cradled the beverage and shut her eyes, enjoying the warmth. When she opened them again, Summer stood in front of her, an indecipherable look on her face.
“Good drink?” Summer asked. The corners of her lips turned up into a small smile.
“Enjoying the warmth, actually. It’s cold out there.”
Summer eyed Millie’s outfit, then tutted. “Why didn’t you bring a jacket?”
“I forgot to,” Millie said. She gave Summer an embarrassed smile and attempted to change the subject. “I didn’t expect to see you here! Are you enjoying the game?”
“Yeah, absolutely!” Summer swallowed and looked away. Millie frowned, but her concern was forgotten when Summer stepped closer. Warmth radiated off of Summer, as did the floral scent that almost always clung to her. They were inches apart. Millie’s breath caught in her throat, and she stared up at Summer, her lips parted in surprise. A group of students passed them, and Millie realized Summer had come closer to step out of their way. Millie expected Summer to move back, but Summer remained in place. “What about you?” she asked, her voice quiet enough that Millie had to strain to make out the words. “You look like you’re having fun with your boyfriend and Alex.”
Millie took a step back. She hit the wall and put a hand out to steady herself. Her palm brushed against the gritty concrete, scraping the skin. Summer, surprised by Millie’s retreat, froze in place. “My boyfriend?” Millie asked, not sure she’d heard Summer right. “Alex didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Summer asked.
Millie couldn’t help herself; she let out a giggle. Summer’s lips drew into a thin line, but she didn’t frown.
“I thought he had. I didn’t think he would keep it a secret, after he told me about…” Millie trailed off, the smile falling from her face. She cleared her throat and straightened her stance. Summer tilted her head. “I’m gay,” Millie said with a shrug. “The guy I’m with is my roommate, Zack.”
Summer’s eyebrows rose, but she quickly schooled her face into a more neutral expression. Millie had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep herself from saying anything else. “I’m sorry,” Summer said. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“It’s fine,” Millie said.
“No, it’s not. I should have known better than to automatically assume that you two were together. I’m here with one of my friends, too. Dr. Nguyen.”
Millie did her best not to react. She didn’t know why Summer felt compelled to clarify whom she was with. It wasn’t as if Summer thought Millie would be jealous or that she was owed an explanation. Just because Millie got to call Summer by her first name didn’t mean anything. They were just friends.
The concession stand had cleared out and the game had begun again. If she didn’t head back to the stands soon, she knew either Alex or Zack would come looking for her.
Summer took a half step closer, a contemplative look on her face. Slowly, she began to unwrap the zebra-print scarf she’d worn over her coat.
“I think you need this more than I do,” Summer said.
She held it out to Millie, who shook her head. “You don’t have to lend me your scarf. I’m okay.”
Millie hesitated and then held her hand out. Summer placed the scarf into her palm.
“Thank you,” Millie said. She wrapped it around her neck. The scents of laundry detergent and flowers filled her nose. Millie tugged at it, trying to get it away from her face. She wouldn’t be able to focus at all if she had Summer’s scent surrounding her. Summer reached out to help her adjust the scarf. Her hand trailed over Millie’s shoulder before she grasped onto the cloth and pulled it to the side.
“It looks good on you,” Summer said softly. The back of her hand brushed down the front of the scarf, smoothing out the folds of fabric. Millie looked down just as Summer pulled away. Her fingers were long and slim, her nails shiny with a clear polish. Summer let her hand fall to her side. “I should head back out,” she said. “Susan is probably wondering where I went.”
“Same,” Millie said. “I’m surprised nobody’s come looking for me yet.”
Cheers erupted from the stadium above them. Summer tilted her head toward the exit, and Millie silently followed after her. They stepped out into the open air as the canon went off, the loud crack echoing through campus. The teams were lining up for a new play as the crowds continued to celebrate the recent touchdown. Nobody was watching them. Summer squeezed Millie’s upper arm to get her attention. When Millie looked up at Summer, Summer gave her a quick wave. Millie mirrored the action and then watched as Summer returned to her seat.
Millie went to hers a minute later. She’d thought she’d slipped in unnoticed, but Alex’s eyes flickered between Millie and Summer before he gave Millie a knowing look. Millie pretended not to see it and instead focused on the game.
Alex could think what he wanted, Millie decided. She and Summer were just friends. She repeated it over and over in her mind, but in the end, she wasn’t sure whom she was trying to convince.