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Fort Laramie

By: Courage Knight
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: ©2016 by Blushing Books® and Courage Knight
7 Chapters / 40,000 words
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Rules I wish I’d followed, by Carrie Carson:

  1. Don’t lie on your application, claiming to know things you don’t.
  2. Don’t sign up for a summer internship if the really cute, hot grad student in charge wants to date you, unless you’re ready for it.
  3. Don’t ignore your boss’s orders, even if it is hot and the river looks so inviting!
  4. Don’t get even with said boss by letting the air out of the tires of his best friend’s van.
  5. Before falling for the really cute hot grad student, always ask if he’s into anything kinky – like spanking his girlfriend whenever he thinks she deserves it.
  6. Don’t tell lies – not even small white lies – to boyfriends who spank.

If you like new adult & college romances that are hot, funny, a bit naughty and with a happily ever after, then you’ll love this novel by Courage Knight.  Buy your copy of Fort Laramie today!

Prologue

 

Tom McKay stared at the acceptance letter in his hand. The exact words were hard to read as his hand was shaking, but a quick scan gave him the confirmation he had waited nearly six months to hear. It came through! Finally. It had only taken him three years of grant writing, tweaking, rewriting, developing, planning - and praying - and then starting all over again at the beginning to get to this point, and it was critical that he get started as soon as possible. The information gathered from this summer intern project would later be presented in his doctoral dissertation, marking the end of a very long journey. By this time next year, he would be Dr. Tom McKay, Ph. D.

Public history was a fairly recent program. Not many schools offered a degree program for it, although the demand for public historians was clearly growing. Still, anytime someone asked him what he was studying, he had to explain it. He'd gotten pretty good at it, too, since most people wouldn't listen to more than a few sentences before their eyes glazed over and they got that "I'm sorry I asked" look. The simplest explanation that he gave most people was that Public History referred to jobs for historians besides teaching.

It used to be that history majors could only become history teachers. That presented a very narrow view of history, one that was mostly focused on memorizing facts and regurgitating them back to a new group of students year after year after year. No wonder why average citizens knew almost nothing about the rich history that was theirs!

Now a lot of places were looking for historians. Businesses hired historians to work with their senior staff to produce the history of their product, to be presented in brochures, books, or film. Government offices hired historians to conduct educational tours. Historians worked at museums, historic sites or societies, archives, libraries, consulting firms... the list was growing all the time.

His dream job didn't even exist yet, but he hoped that after he published his dissertation, the job would open up for him. He wanted to build living history programs throughout the national park system. This summer, he would focus on just one. He was going to develop a living history program for Fort Laramie and hire twelve undergraduate students from a variety of departments to fill various roles. History majors, of course, to man the posts, but he already had a student in mind for the blacksmith's position. A friend of his, an art major, had done some impressive three-dimensional sculptures with wrought iron. He might consider a few education majors to help with creating programs for younger children, who would benefit from an entire program all their own, instead of just a simplified version of the adult program. It wasn't so much a matter of "dumbing it down" to their level. He hated that expression and all it implied! Children were not dumb, but easily bored. A two-hour demonstration on how to bake bread from scratch over an open campfire was not going to cut it. But a ten-minute hands-on activity, where they could make their own fry bread over a hot rock was perfect.

He was so excited; he couldn't contain it! He tossed the letter in the air and gave a loud whoop, although no one was around to hear it. He had a key to the building and preferred to work late into the night when the halls were empty and silent. Only now, whom could he call to share his good news?

Adrian, the art major, might still be awake. He kept weird hours, only instead of just preferring to work nights, like Tom, he would work "when genius burned." Tom wasn't exactly sure what he meant by that, but guessed it had something to do with whether or not his muse was inspired. When it was, he might work for forty-eight hours non-stop! Then he would crash and sleep for several days. Tom didn't know how he could maintain his health on such a bizarre schedule, but it seemed to work for him.

Taking a chance, Tom pulled his cellphone from his pocket and punched in Number 4. Number 2 was his academic advisor, and Mom was Number 3. He didn't currently have a girlfriend, but Number 5 was reserved for her, when he finally got her to say "yes" to going out with him. The rest of the numbers remained blissfully blank. He hated phones. They were nothing but a major interruption.

The phone rang four, five, six times. Once more and the answering machine would pick up. Tom almost disconnected when he heard a familiar, although sleepy, voice.

"Hey," Adrian said. "This better be important."

"Hi," Tom said. "I think it is.  Sorry, buddy. I didn't mean to wake you, but I never know when's a good time to call."

Adrian perked up at hearing his voice. "Tom! What's up? Did you get it?"

A little of the excitement wilted away. He couldn't even tell his friend about it, as he'd already guessed. "Yeah. Just came today. And I just got around to opening today's mail." He glanced at the wall clock, something he should have done before he called. It was three o'clock in the morning.

"Fan-freakin'-tastic! I'm so happy for you! And for me, since that means I now have a summer job. Hey, thanks, by the way."

"You'll be great. And can you put together a short list of art students that you think might be good at weaving, knitting, spinning, those types of girly things?"

"What are you, prehistoric?" Adrian chuckled at his own joke. "Don't be so sexist. Guys knit, too."

"Yes, of course, but this is a living history, and guys didn't knit back then. I have to hire a girl for that."

"Good luck with that. I'll ask around, but girls today aren't very "girly." They don't know anything - most of them don't even cook."

It was an old horse they often debated. Adrian was more casual. He didn't care if the girl he dated could cook, or sew, or do anything domestic, as long as she could appreciate his art and his work schedule. Tom wanted someone a lot more old-fashioned, which was why he was currently not in a relationship.

"I know," Adrian exploded, in his typical fashion that was either super-enthused or unconscious. "You should check the theater department! They have to sew their own costumes, and they might be able to pull off pretending to be old-fashioned."

Tom had considered and rejected that idea months ago. He wanted historians, not actors. He wanted people who were passionate about their topic, and not someone just spewing a bunch of memorized lines. But if he had to, he could hire one female theater major - if she could do all the domestic arts involved. Knit, weave, spin, sew, and teach it to children.

"We should go out and celebrate," Adrian continued.

Yeah, but what was open at this hour? The student union was available twenty-four hours, but he didn't care if he never set foot in there again. The kids kept getting younger and younger, more and more immature, making him feel positively ancient at twenty-eight.

"I'll pick you up," Adrian said, still on his enthusiastic high. "I found a great little all-night truck stop out past the belt line. And since it's so far off campus, there shouldn't be any students. It'll be great. You'll love it."

"Okay," Tom grunted, unsure now why he'd called Adrian at all.

He made a copy of his acceptance letter, then tucked the original into the thick folder where he stored all the paperwork for his dissertation. The copy he placed in an equally thick binder with "Fort Laramie" stamped on the front and spine. Inside was the bones of this project. A list of the positions he hoped to fill, the material they would be presenting to the various age groups, a map of the fort, a list of the buildings they would need to add to the fort to house some of the educational programs they would be offering, a camping guide, a blank review form for customers to fill out, and more. He'd tried to show it to Adrian before, but he hadn't seemed interested. Maybe tonight would be different.

Sometimes he wasn't sure why he and Adrian were such good friends at all. He didn't understand a thing about art. He could see the welds that Adrian had made in his sculpture, and could tell that he knew how to work with metal, but as for interpreting what the god-awful monstrosity of metal was supposed to represent, he was lost. He just nodded and smiled and told Adrian that his sculpture was "cool."

Tom locked up his office and sprinted down four flights of stairs to wait in the lobby. Before long, he saw headlights pull into the parking lot. Assuming that no one else would be arriving at that hour, he jogged outside, the door locking securely behind him. Once the headlights turned so they weren't shining right in his eyes, he recognized Adrian's banana-yellow conversion van, with garish swirls of color screaming off the paint. He tugged open the passenger side door and climbed in.

Adrian waited until he fastened his seatbelt - one of the few rules that Adrian actually followed - before he pulled back onto the street. During the day, it could have taken almost an hour to get to the truck stop, because of the high volume of traffic that often traveled the belt line, but it only took them eighteen minutes, and two minutes after that they each had steaming cups of fresh-brewed coffee in front of them.

Adrian added flavored cream and two packets of sugar to his. Tom drank it only black, the stronger the better. They scanned the menus - both breakfast and dinner menus were available. Adrian wanted pancakes and eggs. Tom was a meat-and-potatoes man. Adrian was tall and lanky, a strawberry blond with a light complexion and still a bit of lingering acne. His eyes were clear blue. Everything he felt was clearly displayed in his expression one-hundred percent of the time. No one had to wonder what he felt - because he'd never learned the art of tact.

Tom was his polar opposite. He was tall enough, but about four inches shorter than his friend, who could have played basketball if he'd been at all athletic. Tom was a little stockier. Not heavy - he kept in shape by not even owning a car. He rode his bicycle everywhere. But his shoulders were so broad that he had to buy his dress shirts in the big-and-tall department, and then the extra fabric billowed around his trim waist. He preferred wearing tee shirts, which were soft and comfortable, and would stretch to fit any body type. Tom's hair was dark and unruly, not exactly brown, but not quite black either. His mom loved his blue-green eyes, although he could have wished for 20-20 vision. Instead, because his near-sightedness was complicated by a prism imbalance, he couldn't even wear contacts. His plastic frames were thick and heavy, and prone to break, which was why this pair had a strip of adhesive tape over the bridge.

They had met in cub scouts, and had been friends ever since.

"So, tell me about this project," Adrian began as he swooped a forkful of pancakes into his mouth, dripping syrup on the edge of the table. Tom glared at it, wondering if Adrian saw it, or if he'd be wearing a matching sticky spot on his shirt the rest of the night. "What will I be doing?"

Tom launched into the short version. "We're going to create a living history at the Fort Laramie Historic Site. There are a few antique cabins we can use, but we will have to build a few facilities as well. You'll be all set. There already is a blacksmith's shop, complete with antique tools for you to use. Your character, Henry McBride, is an Irish immigrant, who settled near the fort around 1852. You'll have a wife."

"Thanks, Buddy, but I'd rather find one on my own," Adrian interrupted.

Tom shook his head. "Just for the summer. An actor, or historian, playing a role as your wife. Mrs. McBride will give a guided tour of Old Bedlam, and maybe give bread-making demonstrations. Although she's your wife, you shouldn't really have any interactions with her."

Adrian shrugged his shoulders. A wife without benefits wasn't interesting.

"I'll have a rough script for you, and together we can work on it, practice it, until you find what feels comfortable. Then you'll memorize it. You'll have two different presentations - one for upper elementary students, and one for teens and adults. The younger kids aren't going anywhere near the forge."

"Who are you going to be?" Adrian asked.

Tom cleared his throat, squaring his shoulders for effect. He offered a passable salute. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Sheridan Burt, post commander from 1887-1888."

"Wow, top dog. It figures. Did you pick out the prettiest applicant for your wife?"

Tom grinned. "You know I haven't posted the applications yet."

"I know. But you had already chosen me for the blacksmith, I figured for sure you'd have picked your wife already."

Tom tried to keep a straight face, but failed. Adrian snorted, reached across the table and punched his shoulder playfully. "It's her again, isn't it? The girl you keep asking out, but she keeps turning you down. Why do you bother?"

"I don't know. I guess it's an old adage my mom used to say. 'Good things come to those who wait.'"

"And she's a good thing? I don't know, man. Any girl who is too blind to see what a great guy you are can't be that smart."

"Well, I've got the entire summer to change her mind."

"If she even applies, once she realizes the job you have in mind for her."

"Oh, she'll do it. I know she wants this more than anything. You forget I had her in my class last year."

"Did she pass?"

Tom smiled. "She's smart enough, Adrian. A little flighty, like a lot of undergrads. They seem to feel that they have all the time in the world, and don't take these years of learning seriously."

"Well, if you ask me, all she needs is a good spanking. That will bring her around. The kind like my mom and dad used to give. You know, you step one foot out of line, and they were right there to put you right back in your place."

"I have thought of it," Tom admitted. "Of course, we can't really do that these days. Woman are too quick to cry abuse."

"You could make it part of the internship. I'm sure husbands kept their wives in control back then, didn't they?"

Tom just smiled... but later that night it did give him something to think about. Something that made it extremely difficult to get to sleep. He kept imagining her plump, shapely bottom over his lap, as he delivered stinging swats to her pale flesh, listening to her heartfelt pleas for mercy.

 

Chapter 1

Carrie Anne Carson flipped through her small pile of mail, dropping the bills and advertisements to the floor as she spied the official-looking envelope she had been waiting for. She chewed her lower lip, feeling the pressure of tears build behind her eyes. She wanted this so much! The key to her entire future was locked inside... was it a yes or no? She should have waited to go to her room on the ninth floor of the dormitory, but the suspense was making her lightheaded. She jabbed her finger beneath the flap and tore it open, gaining a paper cut in the process. She let the envelop join the junk mail on the floor as she quickly scanned the letter. Then she had to read it once more, just to be sure.

"Yes!" she screamed. "Yes, I'm in! Julie! Julie? Look in your box!" She spun around and hugged her best friend.

Julie Martin laughed, pushing against Carrie's shoulders. "I will, if you let me go," she teased. She wasn't as touchy-feeling as Carrie tended to be. She inserted her key into the small mailbox and removed a stack of envelopes similar to the bills and junk mail swirling around Carrie's ankles. Finally, she found the twin to the one in Carrie's hand. "Yep! I got one, too," she squealed. Then she quickly tore it open to confirm that it was an acceptance letter, and not the other one.

"What does it say? Don't just stand there, tell me! Tell me," Carrie insisted.

"Hush now, I'm reading."

"For heaven's sake! Hurry up!" Carrie shook her friend's arm. "Well?"

Julie tried to keep a straight face, but she failed. "Yes, I'm in, too!"

Carrie let out a whoop, hugging her friend as she bounced enthusiastically in the crowded hall. No one even bothered to look. The lobby of a university dorm was always full of one drama or another. It was where relationships started and ended, where futures were begun or delayed. The girls' excitement hardly made a ripple in the river of traffic that flowed through the halls. For these girls however, it was a moment when a dream came true.

Carrie read her letter again. "It doesn't really give us any information," she said, a trace of impatience in her tone. "I thought it would tell us what part we're going to play, or what we need to do to prepare for this."

"I'm sure we'll find out soon," Julie said. "At the informational meeting scheduled for Thursday night. See here? It's at 7:00pm, in the Humanities building."

"I know, I know," Carrie whined. "I'm just excited, and I can't wait for summer to begin!"

"We have a lot to do to get ready for this," Julie warned. "We're going to need every minute we can spare. It's not like flinging burgers at McDonalds."

"No! This is going to be way better!"

Carrie's excitement was contagious. Although Julie was generally more controlled than her best friend, even she was bouncing on her feet.

They had been best friends since junior high where they first met. They were as opposite as two people could be, and yet, the best of friends. Julie was tall, slender, calm and composed. Her straight brown hair was never out of place, her snug-fitting blue denims were always spotless. Her fingernail and toenail polish were color-coordinated to match her sandals, and today, she had on watermelon jellies that matched the tiny crocheted top that ended an inch shy of her waist.

Carrie was nearly a head shorter - barely hitting five-foot-two wearing thick soled athletic shoes. She wasn't over-weight, but was curvier than she wanted to be. Being short accentuated her full breasts and hips, which she often tried to conceal under a baggy sweatshirt. Her honey-blonde hair curled and frizzed, spewing over her shoulders like a bee hive had erupted. Sometimes she corralled it into some semblance of order by lassoing a hair tie around it into a thick ponytail, but usually it was just all over the place, like her exuberance.

Julie bent down to gather up all their spilled mail. "Come on, girlfriend. Let's dump this in our room and go someplace to celebrate."

"I wonder who else is going? This is so cool - do you think we got it because besides being history majors, we're also minoring in drama? Of course, this means we can't be in the summer theater, but that was only my backup plan if we didn't make it. You didn't really want to do South Pacific, did you? Of all the musicals they could have chosen, that one is my least favorite. No pretty costumes! Although, there's a few guys I wouldn't mind seeing shirtless on a sandy beach. Julie - wait up!" Carrie called, racing after her friend who was already getting into the elevator.

"Honestly, Carrie. Are you going to be like this the rest of the semester?" Julie heaved a deep sigh.

"Like what?"

"You're nuts. You know that."

Carrie shrugged. "And that's what you love most about me. Admit it!"

* * *

Thursday night was heralded by a spring snowstorm. Big fluffy wet flakes filled the air, swirling lazily on their way to the ground where already five inches had accumulated. Julie shivered in her jacket, her neck pulled down inside as if to hide from the chilly fingers of wind, but her feet were ice cubes. She had opted to wear pretty canvas shoes instead of the fleece-lined boots that would have been far more practical.

"I love this kind of snow," Carrie announced, trying to catch a few flakes on her tongue.

"You wouldn't if you ever had to shovel it," Julie said pointedly.

"Why shovel? It's going to melt in a day or two anyway," Carrie said. She sprinted a few feet ahead, then braced herself as she tried to slide over the sloppy wet pavement. She slid a few feet, before nearly toppling over.

"Carrie, grow up," Julie complained. "People are staring at you."

"This is Madison. Everyone here is strange. Didn't you get the memo?"

"I can't take you anyplace."

"Can't you at least pretend to be excited? This is our internship! We're going out west this summer, to live on a real, historic site! We'll get to share our love of history with people - kids, families, tour groups - and we get paid to do it! I mean, isn't that why we're in college in the first place?"

"Some of us," Julie admitted. She stamped her feet, trying to get some feeling back into them. She pulled open the heavy door to the Humanities building and waited for Carrie to precede her.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, some girls are just here to find a man," Julie said. She tipped her head towards a couple making out in the hallway as if to prove her point.

"That's such a stereotype. I don't think that at all. I think most kids are just here to party. This campus has a big reputation for consuming more alcohol than most. That's not me. I'm not the marrying kind, either. I'm not ready to find a husband - there's too much I want to do first!"

Julie shuddered as her shoes made squishing noises on the shiny tiled floor. She was half tempted to just blow off the orientation meeting and go back to her room. Maybe she was coming down with something. Something more than just the jitters.

Carrie grabbed her arm and yanked. "Hurry up! We're going to be late!"

Together they toppled through the classroom door just as an older student was pulling it shut. Carrie giggled breathlessly, then made her way to the back of the room where they could grab a couple of seats together. She took off her mittens, hat and scarf and piled them on the chair next to her. "Do you see anybody you recognize?"

Julie shook her head. Sitting in the back, she saw a lot of jackets and hats, but no one's face. It was a small group, though. By the end of the summer, they should know one another pretty well.

The student who had closed the door flipped the lights on and off a couple of times to get their attention. Conversations gradually died down, and then the student introduced himself.

"Good evening, everyone! Welcome to the first meeting for the summer internship program. I don't need to tell you that this is experimental. If it goes well, this could become a permanent part of the history department, so a lot is riding on your shoulders. We need you to be completely committed to this. Once you start, there's no backing out. We won't be able to just hire a replacement for you if you later change your mind. So please, be absolutely sure this is what you want to do. At the end of the presentation today, you'll be asked to sign a contract committing yourself to work the entire summer. So now, I'd like to introduce the brains behind this project, my good friend, Thomas McKay."

"What?" Carrie shouted, although there was just enough applause from the other students to muffle her outburst.

"What - what," Julie hissed, tugging her friend's sleeve to get her to settle down.

"Not him," Carrie whined. "Not him - he can't be in charge! He'll ruin everything!"

"Sh! Listen up, he's staring at you!"

Carrie gulped, her face a pale shade. She hunkered down behind the student in front of her, as if she could blot out the speaker's existence by avoiding eye contact.

The man at the front of the classroom cleared his throat. "Okay, then, let's get started," he said.

Julie took out a notebook and pencil and began writing notes. She always took notes, putting things in neat little lists, and later color coding them with pastel highlighters. Carrie never took notes. Sometimes she studied off Julie's, but more often than not she just went in and took the tests cold, having memorized whatever she'd heard in the lecture. Julie didn't know how she did it - Carrie never cracked a book and seldom studied, yet her G.P.A was a point higher than Julie's. They were both on the honor roll, but Julie envied her friend's apparent cavalier attitude at times.

They would leave the campus on Saturday morning, after the last day of school. Tom would be driving a campus van, and his friend would follow along with his private van to haul some of their luggage. It was a fourteen-hour trip, and when they arrived, they would be sleeping in tents. Tom had four tents for the twelve students to share - three to a tent. Tom and his assistant Adrian each had tents of their own. There was a public restroom and showers at the campground, and they would take turns fixing breakfast and dinners there. Lunch would be at the Fort, and would consist mainly of traditional foods prepared in the cabins over a fireplace or pot-bellied stove.

Julie glanced around at the other students. Most of them had taken off their jackets by now, so she could tell that there were a lot more boys than girls going. Nine boys. Only three girls. She closed her eyes, hoping Mr. McKay meant what he said about them taking turns with the cooking. There was no way she wanted to be cooking over a hot fireplace all summer long, fixing slop for everyone. This was sounding less and less like fun, and more like her worst nightmare. Camping! Maybe she should just call it quits now.

"So, are there any questions," Mr. McKay said, clapping his hands as if he didn't anticipate any. Julie raised her hand immediately.

"Yes? And you are?"

"I'm Julie Martin," she said.

Mr. McKay studied the papers in his hand, then nodded in her direction.

"Everyone is going to take turns cooking, right? Not just the girls?"

"Yes," he said. "In the campground. But in the fort, cooking was primarily a woman's task. Most of the boys are going to be soldiers. So unless we decide to pack sandwiches, you three girls will be preparing the lunches."

"If we're doing all the lunches, then don't you think we should be exempt from fixing dinner and breakfast?" Julie persisted.

The teacher nodded thoughtfully.  "I'll consider that. More questions?"

"I was wondering if we are responsible for getting our own costumes?"

"Good question. Most of you will be playing soldiers, and you need to get fitted by Mr. Whitman in the theater department. The rest of you, if you have pieces which would be historically correct, please feel free to wear them. If you don't have anything that will serve, you also should see Mr. Whitman. He has an enormous stockpile of appropriate costumes. Make sure that you have at least one change of costume a piece. One to wash and one to wear. Don't forget to get footwear, and leave any non-historical jewelry or accessories at home. Nothing breaks the illusion faster than a pair of Ray Bans or a swatch watch. Anything else?"

One student wanted to know if the uniforms were hot. Another wanted to know if they would get to fire real guns. Another asked if they could bring a dog. The questions were kind of silly, and Julie was getting impatient. She wished they'd just shut up so she could go back to the room and think about this whole adventure.

"Look - it's getting late," Mr. McKay said, interrupting a growing argument between two students who disagreed on whether wool socks would itch or not. "I've got your contracts here. Please think hard before you sign. I've got time to replace you if you change your mind right now, but two weeks from now is too late. Got it?"

He passed out the contracts. Then he passed out pens to a few students. How anyone could go anywhere on campus and not have paper or pens with them, she would never understand. Julie took the contract and stuffed it into her backpack along with her notebook. She tucked Carrie's contract in as well. They had a lot to talk about!

Most of the students scribbled a signature on their contract and turned it right back in. Then they filed out of the classroom, still arguing. Carrie pulled on her hat and scarf, tying it up over her face. She still looked pale, and Julie was itching to find out what the problem was.

She slung her backpack onto her shoulder and started towards the front of the room with Carrie shadowing right behind her. At the door, Mr. McKay stopped them.

"It's good to see you again," he said to Carrie. Carrie shrugged, mumbling something incomprehensible through her scarf.

"I'm glad you applied for this," he continued. "I wasn't sure that you would - since I know how you feel about me. But this is a chance of a lifetime, and I'm sure we can find a way to work together. Right?"

"I don't know," Carrie confessed.

"You have to come," Mr. McKay said. "You were the only one who knows how to spin - you're in charge of the spinning demonstrations. That's always a big hit at any public history event. Please tell me you'll do it."

"I'll think about it," she said. "I've got to run! Bye, Mr. McKay." She dodged out the door, tugging Julie along with her.

They ran down the hallway, down the stairs, and halfway across the block before Julie planted her feet, bringing them to an abrupt halt.

"Okay, Carrie. Spill it! You've wanted this summer internship ever since you first read about it. You were driving me nuts during the weeks we waited to find out if we were chosen or not, and you were thrilled before we got to the informational meeting tonight. Now all of a sudden you don't want to go? What's with you!"

"It's him," she blurted.

"The teacher? Mr. McKay? I thought he was kind of hot," Julie said.

"That's Thomas I-Don't-Take-No-For-An-Answer McKay," Carrie said. "The T.A. who was hitting on me last semester."

"The graduate student who wanted to date you last fall? Really? Isn't that like forbidden by campus rules or something?"

"A T.A cannot date someone in his class, but he can date other students," Carrie explained. "He wasn't teaching my section, but the one before mine."

"So why didn't you want to date him? He's cute. And he's obviously smart, motivated - he's doing exactly what you said you wanted to do. Sounds like you two have a lot in common," Julie pointed out.

Carrie punched the elevator button for their floor, hissing between her teeth. "You'll laugh at me," she said.

"That's never stopped you before. I laugh at you every day."

"It's not that I don't want to go out with him," Carrie said slowly. "I just don't want to go out with him now."

"Why not?"

"Because he's too nice."

Julie laughed and Carrie punched her arm.

"I told you you'd laugh at me."

"Not dating someone because you think he's too nice is just ridiculous! You're ridiculous."

"Just listen to me, okay? I'm not ready for a nice guy. I'm not ready to meet "the one" and go steady or get engaged. Tom is. I can see it in his face every time he looks at me. He's not thinking "let's have some fun." He's thinking, "let's get married and make babies." I don't want that yet!"

Julie continued to laugh. "I think you're making this up. You've invented some fantasy in that overly imaginative brain of yours. I think he's just a nice-looking grad student who finds you attractive. Maybe that's what's wrong with him. How anyone could be turned on by your wild mane and lack of style, I don't know."

"You're just jealous," Carrie said. "Did you fail to notice his assistant checking you out?"

"What? No! You're making that up," Julie said.

Carrie shook her head firmly. "Am not. What was his name? Ashton? Adrian? That's it. The blacksmith. He couldn't take his eyes off you."

"Ew," Julie said, shuddering. "He's creepy-looking."

"No, he isn't," Carrie said defensively. "Not everyone can have a perfect complexion, you know. He was kind of cute, in a Ron Weasley way."

"I never liked Ron Weasley."

"Sure you did. Everyone likes Ron Weasley. Now hand me that contract. You're right. I'm not going to let Tom McKay, or any guy, keep me from making the most of this summer."

Julie pulled the contracts out of her backpack and set them on her desk. Carrie's desk had been buried under clutter since the first week of classes. "I'm having second thoughts, girlfriend," she said hesitantly. "I didn't know about the campground stuff. That's so... so primitive. I don't know if I can do that."

"Don't be so O.C.D. Everyone goes camping," Carrie said.

"Not me. I've never gone. I like flush toilets and an innerspring mattress. I need my morning shower, and fresh brewed coffee. Sleeping in a tent with a bunch of horny college students is just not my thing."

"But it's really going to be a lot of fun," Carrie insisted. "And maybe we can take a motel room on weekends, and get a television fix. You know? Maybe we won't have to camp the whole summer. What do you say?"

Julie hesitated, staring at the contract until the lines blurred.  "I guess," she said slowly.  "If you can stand spending the entire summer with your Tom McKay, I can survive tent camping." She took out a pen and signed.

Carrie signed, too, before she changed her mind again.

Julie folded both contracts and tucked them into her backpack. "I'll make sure these get to his office tomorrow. Now, let's get some sleep."

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