He was playing Madden the first time he met her.
Years later, he would wonder how things might have been different had he been doing something more profound that night. He would always conclude, though, that things had turned out just right anyway. So, Madden? It was all good.
But first things first.
College was awesome. Better than Kenji had anticipated. And classes hadn’t even started yet.
The dorm was old and smelled funny, and it seemed the central air had only been turned on two hours before he arrived, because it was as scorching hot inside as it was outside.
But Kenji didn’t care because the first day he arrived, just two suitcases in hand, a backpack over his shoulder, and a note in hand to pick up the already arrived parcel his parents had mailed from their APO in Japan, Landon was already there with big plans for big fun.
They hadn’t known one another beforehand. It had been luck of the draw, a lottery assignment, that made them roommates. But it had been an easy friendship from the first moment.
“Hey,” Kenji said, grinning as soon as he walked in. “What up?”
Landon stood up from the box he’d been unpacking, gave his new roommate a once-over, and grinned as well. Kenji assessed him quickly. He was a big dude. Athletic, likely, but the kind of athletic that turned into a soft mid-section and baldness around thirty, likely around the same time he’d be sitting in a recliner, drinking a beer, and talking about the glory days of high school. For now, though, he was just the kind of guy everyone would want to know, to be seen with, to have saying their name.
He was that kind. Kenji could tell from the first moment.
“Not much,” Landon responded. “I’m Landon. Landon Peterson.” He held out his hand. So American.
Kenji stuck his hand out as well. “Kenji Fisher.”
“Kenji?” Landon asked. “Dude. You don’t sound… Chinese.”
“That’s because I’m not Chinese,” Kenji grinned, already well prepared for this. There had been a time back during a PCS to the States that Kenji had considered going by Kenny, but it certainly wasn’t worth hurting his mother’s feelings… or generations and generations of their ancestors, as his twin sister, Kimmie, had pointed out to him, highly annoyed. Without the Kenji, though, most people couldn’t exactly pinpoint what he was. He had his mother’s dark hair, dark eyes, and every last bit of her beauty. Paired up with his father’s trim, muscular build, winning smile, and skin that tanned after ten minutes in the sunshine, he had an exotic quality about him that no one could figure out until they saw him with both of his parents. Or until they saw him with Kimmie, who favored their mother entirely with her fair skin and diminutive stature but who was as tough as their father, who had only recently retired from the Marine Corps.
The other three Fishers were far away now, though, so Kenji was left on his own for the first time ever, looking like he had walked straight off the beach, where he spent all of his life surfing.
Which he had. Except his beach was in Japan.
He’d keep this to himself for now.
Landon grinned. “Cool. Where you from?”
Kenji nearly said “Okinawa,” then stopped himself. No need to reinforce the foreign perceptions. “Here and there,” he said, which was true enough. “Military kid. Marine Corps. How about you? You from here?”
Here was Houston. Great, big, beautiful Houston. Blissfully far away from home but close enough to the extended family. His dad’s folks were in Texas, along with two aunts, their husbands, and all their children. Most of them were up in Fort Worth, but a few of them were down in Houston. Literally close enough that Kenji could see them every week if he wanted to, for the first time in his life.
But that hadn’t been his reason for coming all this way. The reason had been the giant check the public university had written and plopped right into his savings account, all for the pleasure of having him come, attend classes, earn a degree, and boost their chances of having a Nobel prize winning chemical engineer listed among their distinguished alumni one day in the near future.
Yeah. Whip smart Asian kid pursuing a career in science. Cliché. But that was the only thing about Kenji Fisher that was a cliché.
Landon nodded. “Yeah. I’m from Pasadena. Just down the road a little.” He grinned. “I’m on the football team. Go, Coogs.”
Obviously. Well, that explained the huge muscles.
“Awesome. Good team this year?”
“The best,” Landon replied confidently. “You play in high school?”
Nope, they hadn’t had American football at his high school. His mother had insisted that he and his sister attend the Japanese school and not the DOD high school that all the other military kids attended. He’d mourned the loss of a normal, American high school experience for a while, but the quality of the education in the Japanese school spoke for itself. And he felt confident in either culture as a result.
Kenji shook his head. “No, baseball is my sport.”
They watched one another for another minute, assessing all of this information and one another, as people are prone to do after meeting. Unlike girls, though, who would have needed more time, more bonding, and more words (many, many more words) to reach any kind of consensus, it only took these few moments for Landon and Kenji to conclude that this would be just fine. And so they moved right on.
Being a guy is easy.
“I talked to the guys in the next room,” Landon said, going back to his box as Kenji opened up his first suitcase. “Thought that since we were sharing a suite, we might consider making one room a… well, a social room.” He raised his eyebrows at this.
Kenji did likewise. “Social room.” He could guess what this meant. And while his faith cautioned him to tread carefully when it came to college parties, college girls, and college fun, he was confident that he could still be a light for Christ, even still, even with potential distractions. Life was about more than temporary, fleeting desires and fancies. Kenji had never had a problem knowing and believing this entirely. So, he had no qualms about this part of college.
Sure enough, Landon confirmed the intent of his plans.
“Already met a whole bunch of girls while I was filling out all the forms to get my keys. Told them we’d be having a party every night this week.”
“Cool,” Kenji responded. “So… this room, four guys sleeping in here, right?”
“Yeah,” Landon nodded. “If you’re cool with it.”
“And if we can figure out how to fit two more of these crappy dorm beds in here.”
Kenji looked over the bed frames and the dimensions of the room, his engineering mind already clicking through the possibilities. “We can stack them,” he said, very simply.
“Yeah,” Kenji nodded. “I can build some structure supports, easy. Build up the sides of the frames so that they’ll stack. It’ll take up half the floor space, literally.”
Landon followed his eyes, envisioning it with him. “That’ll work.” He smiled at Kenji. “And I know a few things about hammers, nails, drills –”
“Then, we’ve got it covered,” Kenji concluded.
They’d started the project that weekend, finished it up in record time with Blake and Corey, the guys next door, doing their part as well. And with that task behind them, they were able to put their creative talents into designing the social room… and by designing, that meant that they were able to bring the sofas from Landon’s parents’ basement, pool their money together for a big screen TV, and hook up the Playstation and a giant stereo system.
The parties began in earnest before they could even get it all done, honestly. Guys who wanted to fit in with Landon and his friends, girls who wanted Landon… and girls who gave Kenji a glance.
That was surprising.
Most of the Japanese girls back home hadn’t wanted much to do with him at all, given the fact that he was an American and into that culture enough that they found him odd. And the American girls? Were quickly scared away by Kimmie, who could tolerate none of their shallowness. He’d sworn to her more than once that not all of them were like the few girls she’d been teased by while they’d been stationed in the States, but Kimmie had never forgotten or forgiven some of the mean words said. She was petite, thin, pretty, and exotic, which inspired no small amount of jealousy, the brunt of which had made her even more cool and standoffish with Americans in general. (And it made her meaner than a snake, quite frankly.)
Without Kimmie here to run interference, he caught more than one set of eyes turning his way in the social room during those early parties. But with Landon there? They didn’t look Kenji’s way for very long.
And sometimes? They barely saw him at all. Just like with Tara when they met her on the third night of partying in the social room.
All four roommates were plugged into Madden. So plugged in, in fact, that they were oblivious for the majority of the night to the girls who came through the room. Most of the ladies feigned an interest in the game, pretended that they loved football, and when that didn’t pull Landon away from the TV, they fell into conversations with one another, lounging on the other couch.
Tara wasn’t much different. She was like most… except after getting no response from the boys after several attempts to get them talking, she walked herself right in front of the TV, forcing them to look up at her.
And all four of them did.
Kenji had never seen anyone with naturally red hair. Tara’s was more orange than red, but it was her own color. It was all curls, all the way down her back, pulled back very simply in a headband, which didn’t keep spirals of it from poking out around her face, where her large, blue eyes studied them all. She was as fair as Kimmie… but she was certainly not as slight. Not fat, necessarily, just curvy. Very curvy.
And very aware of it as she stood with her hand on her hip, her chest pushed forward confidently, surveying the four of them with a measured glare.
Certain that she had their attention, she settled onto the couch, right in the middle, dividing them equally into two parts.
“What’s this?” she said, waving her hand at the screen.
“Football,” Blake said, after clearing his throat awkwardly.
“Madden,” Corey added, finally pulling his eyes away from her.
“Duh. I actually meant why has it put you all in a vegetative state?” Tara rolled her eyes at them, prompting Kenji to smirk. She glanced over at him for a second, then centered all of her attention on Landon. Of course. Landon. “I’m Tara. Tara Blair.”
Landon touched her briefly with his eyes. “Landon Peterson.” Then, he went right back to the game.
Silence for a long moment. Then, “Not much of a talker, are you, Landon?” She sighed. “That’s okay, because I can talk enough for both of us. Are you a freshman?”
“Football player, right?” she asked.
“How did you –” He looked down at his training camp shirt briefly. He was fun, but he wasn’t very smart. “Yeah.”
“What are you majoring in?”
“Uh, football.” And that was the truth, Kenji had noted, when he saw how many classes Landon would miss every fall in traveling to and from games and cramming in practice. He hardly even qualified as a fulltime student with his light load of courses.
Tara appraised Landon for a moment, wondering at whether or not to take him seriously… then shrugged. “Not me,” she said, “I’m a chemical engineering major.”
“Hey,” Landon said. “So’s Kenji.”
“What’s a Kenji?” she asked.
Landon jerked his head towards his roommate.
“What up?” Kenji said, his eyes never leaving the video game.
“International student. Japan, right?” she assessed.
Kenji looked over at her curiously. “Not an international student, no. But… yeah. Kenji is a Japanese name.”
“Fascinating,” she breathed, clearly not meaning it. “So, you,” she said to Landon. “You’re going to take me out soon, right?”
Landon glanced over at her again. “What?”
She patted him on the back, smiled, and got up to leave, making certain that every one of her curves rubbed against him as she did so. “It’s my bedtime, gents,” she said. “We’ll talk with you later, Landon.”
And then? She was gone. And before Kenji could even open his mouth to say anything, Landon said, “Huh. I think I like her.”
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