The Sophomore (College Years #2) by Monica Murphy


One





Ellie





The text notification shows up every night at approximately the same time. I anxiously wait up for it, anticipation racing through my veins. Anything to do with him leaves me giddy with nervous excitement, which is ridiculous.

He doesn’t feel the same way about me. It’s clear. It’s been clear for a while, since he graduated high school and went off to college. My friends tell me I’m wasting my time on him, but I can’t help it. My heart won’t let him go no matter how hard I try. I care about him.

Too much.

I lie in bed with the lights off, my phone in my hand as I scroll TikTok. I work mostly nights during the summer anyway, so I’m usually up till the early morning hours, still wide awake. He knows this. He’s currently traveling the West Coast and has a hard time sleeping too.

Jackson: You around?

I smile, my heart rate kicking up. I decide to make him wait until the two-minute repeat notification pops up, and then I’ll answer him. Not like he’s sitting around waiting for my reply anyway. I get this image of him living this glamorous, bohemian life. Traveling in a tour bus, his dad actually bought for him, writing beautiful lyrics inspired by his travels and having spontaneous jam sessions with his newfound band members.

What I don’t try and think about are the groupies who he could be getting with on a nightly basis. The girls go crazy for him, and I understand why. I go crazy for him too. I have for a long time.

Too long, according to my closest friends.

His social media has blown up since he’s gone on tour this summer, and most of his followers—and fans—are women. They blatantly flirt in the comments. They blow up his DMs with blatant propositions and even naked photos. I’m sure they say all sorts of dirty, lewd things to him, what they’d do to him, for him. What they want him to do to them.

I’m not like that. Sure, I want him to do dirty, sexy things to me, I can’t lie. But I could never say those things to him. I’m too shy. I don’t think I could ever be that bold, even with Jackson.

Besides, he always keeps me at an arm’s length when we’re in public together, the asshole.

In private? Via text? We’re as close as two people can be—as friends. He shares his hopes and dreams and worries with me, and I do the same. It’s not one-sided. He listens to me. He makes me feel like he cares.

And that is the most wonderful thing in the world, to be cared for by Jackson Rivers.

Now that he’s gone, I miss him fiercely. I’m scared he’ll find so much success, he won’t come back here.

Worse, I’m scared I’ll never see the real him again. The version of himself that he only shares with me.

This is why I live for our nightly text conversations. Just like we used to have when we were in high school. Back then, they meant so much more to me than they did to him, and that secretly devastated me. Especially when we’d be together at a party or whatever, and sometimes, he’d act like I didn’t exist.

He doesn’t do that anymore, thank goodness. We’re friends. He’s friendly toward me, always careful not to lead me on though. And there’s something about him that’s just so damn appealing. He’s charming. A natural charisma you can’t help but be drawn to. Male or female, it doesn’t matter. You either want to be his friend or be with him, if you know what I mean.

I fall under both categories. I’m sure plenty of others do too.

Oh, and then there’s his face. Gorgeous. Blue eyes. The blond hair. The cheekbones, the lips and the little curve upward they always have when he’s performing. The way he looks at me when he sings his songs.

As if he’s singing them to me.

According to my best friend Ava, I let him take advantage of my kindness. She’s probably right. I’m a nice person. Too nice. Tony Sorrento’s girlfriend Hayden has been giving me lessons lately in standing up for myself and learning how not to take any shit. I’m trying my best to stand by what she says, but it’s so hard. Especially when it comes to Jackson.

I do love Hayden, though. We’ve spent a lot of time together since she started dating Tony, and when our friend group gets together, us girls always gravitate toward each other. I call her my mentor. I hope to be just like her when I grow up. I mean, she’s only around three years older than me, but still. She’s strong and smart and she doesn’t back down from anything. While I’m quiet and shy and sometimes a little scared of trying something new.