Exclusive Excerpt from Secret Admirer
by DJ Jamison
When I arrived at Benji’s dorm room, the door was open. Pulse pounding in my throat, I edged inside, not sure how Benji would react to the gift I’d left for him. He stood next to his bed, dressed in skinny jeans and his signature hoodie — black with a white samurai sword applique — a stunned expression on his face.
“Hey,” I said, willing myself to sound casual. “Ready for lunch?”
It wasn’t the real reason I’d come by, of course, but it gave me an excuse to be here so I could see his reaction. I hoped the gift would cheer him up. If it weirded him out, I was going to kick myself. I’d wrestled with the idea ever since Sandra suggested it, not sure I should do it, but … I just really wanted Benji to know someone thought he was great. And he’d never believe it if he heard it from me.
Benji dropped a small, red card onto his bedspread and turned toward me. “Oh, um…”
My gaze slid past him to the card. To the gift basket. I already knew what was inside it. Dozens of Hershey kisses, two bags’ worth that I’d picked up at the grocery store that morning.
It might have been better to ignore it — my anonymous gift — but I couldn’t help myself. I crossed the room, picked up the card, read my own message — written in a cursive that wasn’t my usual style. I couldn’t risk Benji recognizing my handwriting. This was already risky. Crazy. Because I couldn’t give Benji gifts, not like this. I couldn’t be his secret admirer, not really. That wasn’t what we were to each other, and it never would be.
I just wanted to see him smile again.
My heart thumped hard as I read the short message. There it was in black-and-white. Even without my name, it felt like a confession. One I shouldn’t — couldn’t — make.
“Secret admirer, huh?” I said, amazed at how cool and calm I sounded to my own ears.
“It just showed up here,” Benji said. “I don’t know when … I guess while I was in class. Dre forgot to lock up again, so anyone could have walked right in.”
Actually, I’d slipped in when Dre went down the hall for a shower, not sure when I’d get another chance. Everyone was told to lock up regularly, but most people didn’t bother if they weren’t leaving the building. Luckily, Dre didn’t appear to have noticed the little addition to the room when he’d returned. I hadn’t stuck around to see. Dre was cool and all, but I wasn’t trusting anyone with this secret. It was too important.
I tossed the card back to the bed and looked up. Benji had ducked his head, cheeks glowing pink now, smile spreading despite his best efforts.
The sweetness of that bashful smile went straight to my head, and I sucked in a breath to steady myself.
Jostling him playfully, I said, “See? I told you it was numbnuts’ loss.”
Benji’s head snapped up. “You don’t think it was him, do you? Maybe he’s sorry.”
I regretted bringing him up. The last thing I wanted was for Benji to latch onto that theory, only to be crushed once again. “Wouldn’t he sign the card if the gift was an apology?”
Benji let out a disappointed breath. “Yeah, probably. He basically ignored me in class, so…”
I almost wanted to backtrack, agree that maybe that asshat did feel bad for standing up Benji. Fuck knows he should feel bad. Benji was the sweetest guy I’d ever met. Never an unkind or careless word. Talented too. I’d give my left nut for an ounce of his artistic talent.
And cute. That one had knocked me for a loop initially. I hadn’t been prepared for how he would affect me, my best friend’s younger brother, when I agreed to welcome him to campus his first day. Little Benji McKenzie took my breath away. Gone was the rowdy little boy and in his place was a slender, pretty guy who looked like he could be a character in the anime programs he loved to watch: alabaster skin, rich auburn hair, the greenest eyes I’d ever seen.