Welcome back, and take a look at the third chapter of my work in progress: a novel that will turn into a multi-book series loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout! While I’m still editing away on my second draft, I’m still continuing posting just the first few chapters to allow anyone interested to get a sneak peak at what I’ve been working on. It’s been a long couple of weeks with plenty of drama, work kicking my butt, family tragedy, and I’ll admit it’s all caused me to mentally step away and not focus as well as I usually have, but I can’t beat myself up for that! I won’t go into detail, but I’d say it’s pretty well justified; all I will say is be sure to reach out to your loved ones, whether it’s your biological family or your chosen or both, tell them you love them, you appreciate them in your life, and that you cherish them! You never know when life will take a crazy turn, and suddenly someone is taken away from you too soon…
Back to the topic of my project, here is the next chapter to (hopefully) enjoy that follows Luke Mitchell this time around. Get a sneak peak of what’s brought him to campus at the start his freshman year; he’s certainly got some major baggage he carries similarly to Matt and Heather, who you’ve met in the previous posted chapters.
Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE
Hope you enjoy!
The next morning, Luke yawned and stretched his arms above his head before trying to tame his wild, chestnut waves. He coughed when he got a big whiff of his roommate Rob, not expecting the smell of marijuana as soon as he woke up. It did explain where he’d been until three in the morning.
Luke chuckled to himself as he glanced over at Rob’s passed out form in his lofted bed; he wasn’t even trying to be subtle about smoking, but based off how deafening his snoring was, he also wasn’t getting up anytime soon.
Climbing down the side ladder, Luke quietly undressed before snagging his towel, shampoo, and body wash before heading over to the communal showers. He almost forgot his rubber flip flops, which reminded him when his older brother had explicitly warned him to pack a pair. He hadn’t been able to take it seriously, because really, who actually wore flip flops into the shower?
His brother, Brett, remained persistent. “Lukey, it’s a communal shower with a bunch of guys in college… You have no idea what goes on in those stalls, or what stays behind. Trust me, you don’t want to be barefoot in there. If they could talk, those tiles would be screaming louder than Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.”
Luke made the short trek from his room down the hallway towards the communal bathroom, but of course, two girls just happen to walk in from the stairwell with to-go containers. Wearing nothing but a towel, Luke stopped and mumbled a “sorry, excuse me,” with his head down before letting them pass first. One of the girls, who had bangs and green eyes, eyed him up and down in appreciation before whispering something to her friend as they both walked back to the girls side on the third floor of Chinnock-Milnes.
Double checking his flat stomach with what he had to consider a semi-decent pair of abs, Luke also made sure to check out the girls when they looked the other way before he made haste into the bathroom.
I guess I’m not the only early riser anymore, Luke thought to himself. He smirked at the memory of the girl’s gaze on him before he noticed steam lace through the air from behind one of the curtains in one of the shower stalls.
The guy in the stall also wore a cheap pair of flip flops, and Luke couldn’t help but be a little relieved he wasn’t be the only one; maybe it was a serious thing to actually worry about.
In his own stall, Luke turned on the water and as soon as it was hot enough, he hung his towel on the hook and stepped under the hot spray. Water blasted his scalp and all the way down his back, and he felt all the tension leave his shoulders.
He felt himself wake up as he ran his hands through his hair, and reached for his body wash, but it slipped through his grasp. He cursed as it slid into the other occupied stall next to his, then cursed them at how they just had to pick the one in the middle, even though no one was around beforehand.
“Oh shit, someone’s already dropping the soap!” the guy announced, his deep voice filled with humor. Luke was about to respond, but froze when another, more higher pitched laugh also joined in.
Holy shit, I think there’s a girl in here, Luke thought.
The laughter abruptly stopped right before the guy’s hand returned Luke’s bottle over the barrier.
“Hey man, sorry about that,” Luke said.
“All good, bro. No worries.”
There was definitely two voices in the next stall, and they were both trying to be quiet as they whispered to each other, but the more high pitched voice kept giggling or letting out little squeals while the guy kept saying something too low to pick out amongst the running water.
Feeling like a total creep, Luke sped along with cleaning himself off. He flipped the shower off, wrapped his towel around his hips, and tried to escape without being seen or hearing them possibly start to go back at it. He wasn’t against anyone hooking up—he even wished he’d gotten that lucky on the second day of college—but he also wasn’t about to stick around and have it literally be five feet away from him while it was going down.
The next stall door opened behind him, and Luke froze in his spot like somehow it was him who’d just gotten busted. Out walked a tall, blond guy on their floor who might as well have stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. He remembered the guy’s name was Jared from their floor meeting the day before, but he hadn’t expected to see anyone on his floor be completely bare-assed while drying off his hair with his navy-blue towel.
The towel he formerly had tucked around his waist.
“Seriously dude? What the fuck?!” Luke raised his arm to shield his eyes but it was too late, he’d gotten a full-frontal glimpse of the guy’s junk.
Jared laughed with complete nonchalance. “My bad, bro. You know what they say when you’ve got it, amiright?”
Thankfully, he wrapped his towel to hang low around his hips while he tossed Luke a wink and grabbed a second towel off the hook, but kept it just out of reach. A slender, very obviously female arm reached out and snagged it after a few failed attempts, and the two of them laughed as she tried to whip him in retaliation.
Jared regarded Luke once again and shrugged with a cheeky grin.
The back of his neck red, Luke practically flew out the door to get back to his room and away from the happy couple before they went back at it with him right there or worse: possibly offering him to join them in a threesome. He was so completely done with this weird as hell situation he’d stumbled upon.
Luke scoffed under his breath. “Great, we have a man-whore on the floor.”
Making sure to avoid anyone else on his floor for rest of the morning, Luke snuck down the stairwell towards the HKMC lobby to head out to his brother’s house, which was about a twenty minute walk from the dorms.
It’s been a Mitchell family tradition to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout; both his parents met each other when they’d attended back in the day and were engaged before graduating together. Both of Luke’s older brothers, Brett and Jason, also had enrolled: Jason graduated two years earlier with both a Bachelor’s Degree and a fiancé, very much like father like son. Brett was still enrolled as a Junior, but had a girlfriend he was getting pretty serious about, so it seemed like a pattern had strangely developed amongst the men of the family in those regards. It wasn’t premeditated, it just sort of happened like that. Luke never really considered himself superstitious, but he was sure there was some sort of unspoken expectation, so there was just one more thing to constantly tug on the back of his mind while we was at school, besides simply trying to make up for all that’s happened to him in the last year and what he’s put others through.
Same shit, different day, Luke always told himself to shrug it off, but how does someone simply move on from the fact that their own father could no longer trust them, that they breathe down their neck about every little thing, and constantly reminded them of their mistakes?
Luke reminded himself that he could finally loosen up again and enjoy his first real sense of freedom, which included brats on the grill and plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon once he got to Brett’s house. He had a feeling he was going to be visiting quite a lot over the course of the next two semesters.
Exiting the stairwell, Luke rounded the corner towards the lobby, but failed to see the person right there, and bumped into them before he could stop himself. It was becoming a tragic habit for him, it seemed.
Even wearing sandals, the girl had legs for days with flowing waves of blonde hair cascading down to her lower back, and dark eyes stared back at him while full lips spoke words his way, but Luke was actually struck dumb and didn’t hear any of it.
“Sorry about that.” Luke grinned. “Still waking up I guess, I guess. What’d you say?”
The girl sighed with a jutted-out hip, her arms crossed to cover her chest with a bemused expression of learned patience.
“Oh, you know, just talking to some guy with serious hearing problems who may or may not have been staring at my ass, so it’s making me reconsider any apology of bumping into him”—she rolled her neck while giving him a side eye—“but I figure I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt to try and redeem himself.”
Luke winced while scratching the back of his head before officially apologized. “Well, I appreciate the second chance. Not every girl is as forgiving about that sort of thing.”
“Ah, so you do totally admit to checking out my ass,” the girl replied, but at least she looked amused while she said it.
Luke could only shrug in response before stepping aside in an attempt to be a gentleman, but that made the girl actually laugh and smile his way.
“Oh no, I appreciate the honesty, but I think I’ll go after you.” She gestured for him to walk ahead of her, so Luke reluctantly did so while trying to ignore the way his face burned.
The only positive thing to come out of it was she could possibly be checking him out too, so maybe he should glance back and see exactly where her eyes are traveling towards.
As they entered the lobby together, she sped up her pace until they were side by side, and Luke noticed she wore short cutoff denim shorts and a white tank top with a pair of aviators resting along her crown.
“Is there a beach somewhere nearby?” Luke asked.
She shrugged a tan shoulder. “Actually, I was going to start a game of volleyball out on the court, you want in?”
Luke grunted in disappointment. “I’m actually going somewhere already, but for sure next time.”
What. The. Fuck?!, Luke screamed inside his head. When a girl asks you join her, you don’t freakin’ say you can’t… fucking dumbass.
While he inwardly cussed himself out, at least the girl gave no indication that she was aware of his inner turmoil. “For sure. I just figure it’s a good way to meet new people, so there’ll probably be other games to join in over the next few days.”
“I will definitely be there next time, I just hate canceling plans I’ve already made.” Luke offered his hand. “I’m Luke by the way. Luke Mitchell.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion, so Luke prayed she didn’t notice how he almost squirmed under her scrutiny, but her stony expression cracked along the edges, and her eyes warmed.
“Heather Gracie, it’s a pleasure.” She shook his hand with an impressively good grip. “I guess I’ll see you around, Luke Mitchell. Don’t stare at anyone else’s ass for too long wherever you’re off to. Someone might get weirded out.” She added a wink at the end for good measure.
Luke laughed. “Lesson learned, you can bet on that.” He nodded his farewell, and when he was outside and out of sight, he let loose a deep breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. He couldn’t remember when a girl had ever put him in his place quite like that, but he kind of liked it.
He arrived at his brother’s place about twenty minutes later, and Brett’s house was in full swing. In the backyard, there were two slip-n-slides set up parallel to each other with a table lined up with two rows of red solo cups along the ends. There was actually a decent amount of people there, and someone had their speakers up on the patio blasting some Macklemore.
Luke grinned as he watched the relay start. The group screamed encouragements as two guys slid across before sprinting towards the table, shooting back whatever was in the cups before trying to flip the cup from the bottom off the edge to have it land on its lid. As soon as one was successful, the next person was urged on by their team and repeated the whole process.
“Don’t get any crazy ideas, son,” a voice spoke from directly behind Luke, and he swore his heart skipped a beat. There was no way…
Luke slowly turned to find both of his parents standing right there behind him, and he actually lost the ability to speak for a couple moments.
“What are… wuh… what are you guys still doing here?” Luke managed to stutter out. How could his parents still be around after they’d dropped him off and helped him move in just the day before? Have they seriously still been here the whole time?
His father nodded towards the game still going on. “Apparently, we’re keeping you from fucking up your college career before it’s barely even begun.”
Whoop, there it is…
Luke’s father never missing an opportunity to remind him not only of his past mistakes, but also of how little he expected from his youngest son. He was always able to say all that in a single sentence. Every. Single. Time.
“Oh hush, Hugh.” Luke’s mother swatter her husband on the shoulder with scolding look. “Leave him be. You know he can have a beer or two if we’re here and say it’s okay.”
Hugh chuckled with a deep roll of his eyes. “Don’t give him any ideas, hon. We let him have one, then what?”
“Okay, seriously though”—Luke rested a hand behind his head—“what are you guys still doing here?”
His father was about to make some retort, but his mother threw him another dirty look that shut him up before she answered instead. “We haven’t been back for a couple years now, and since it’s where we met, we wanted to visit some old spots around town, and reminisce about it all.” Her tone went soft and dreamy. “We like to see how much has changed or stayed the same since we enrolled.”
“And to make sure our kids are staying out of trouble,” Hugh added. Any amusement or happiness left his face as he regarded Luke again. “I swear, if I get to know the Menomonie PD as well as I did with Milwaukee’s back home, your ass is out of here, you here me?”
Luke’s jaw clenched and he had to count to ten before he could respond. “Crystal clear.”
He also ignored his mother’s pitying look. There was only so much she could do, but at least one of them has forgiven him for everything he put them through.
“Good.” Hugh looked around at the backyard. “Now, where’s you’re brother? We’ve been here for five minutes, and he still hasn’t come over and offered me a beer.”
“I just hope he finally introduces us to that girl he keeps mentioning whenever I give him a call.” Luke’s mother looked around she smiled and waved at someone on the patio.
Brett was at the grill with bratwurst sizzling, and he had one arm wrapped around a curvy girl with darker tanned skin and hair up in a messy bun. She whispered something in his ear before she nuzzled his short, dirty blonde hair until the front was styled more towards the front. When it was to her liking, she took the spatula out of his hand, and with a quick kiss on the cheek, Luke’s older brother stepped away to wrap him up in a big bearhug.
“Lukey, you made it!” Brett put him down and his smile grew as he turned towards their parents; a more toned down hug for their mother and a firm handshake for dad. “You all did! Great to see you, glad you could all make it.”
“Of course dear, you didn’t expect us to return and not stop to see you too?” Their mom chuckled at the absurdity. “I will say I wasn’t expecting you to have so many friends over today.”
Brett’s green eyes twinkled as he scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, just a couple of ‘em wanted to stop by to celebrate Labor Day weekend the right way.”
“Well that’s alright, you’re of age and want to wind down.” Hugh stepped forward and gave Brett a firm pat on the shoulder. “But I know this is to just get it out of your system before you’re back to hitting the books, am I right?”
Luke swore he saw Brett’s megawatt smile crack just a bit, but he nodded along. “Yes sir, you got it.”
Brett and him shared a look when their dad didn’t notice.
“So, can I get any of you a beer? How was move-in yesterday?” Brett asked as he bumped fists with some random passerby.
Their mother smiled. “It wasn’t too bad this year. I swear, they get more organized with it every time we come back.”
Brett nodded at Luke. “What dorm are you in again?”
“Third floor Chinnock.”
“Aw man, I was in South Hall my freshman year, and let me tell ya, there’s a reason why they call it the ‘Dirty South.’”
Hugh coughed. “Yes, well… I’m sure it’s a riveting story, but more importantly, whatever happened didn’t stop you from staying on top of your courses. We met your brother’s roommate yesterday, and the kids a huge pot-smoking dope. Luke doesn’t need to be around that if he wants to go far.”
Luke winced at his father’s harsh words. The day before as they all met Rob, his father took one look at his roommate’s multi-colored beanie and longboard and started to chew him out with a third degree interrogation that made everyone feel uncomfortable. Thanks to that, Rob probably thought he was a part of a whole family of narcs, so Luke internally reminded himself that he should apologize to him when they ran into each other.
Brett pulled Luke in and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “No need to worry pops, I got him taken care of. Consider me his mentor to show him the ropes and keep him on the straight and narrow.”
That at least seemed to satisfy both of their parents; they both raised their bottles of beer in salute. Both Luke and Brett joined them, the former relieved at his older brother’s magical way to somehow say exactly what their parents always wanted to hear. It certainly helped that he grew up as the “golden boy” of the family: varsity captain of the football team, homecoming king, you get the picture. It certainly helped create some high expectations and plenty of pressure from their father.
Brett gestured over his shoulder. “Well like I said, glad to have you guys stick around and stop by, so I want to introduce you to some people. First, This is my girl, Eve.”
Brett gestured back towards the girl up at the grill. She waved with a bright smile as she scooped the food onto a nearby platter before placing it on the nearby table, leaving it to be devoured by the eager feeding frenzy of eager college students.
Eve walked down the patio steps into Brett’s waiting arm and removed her sunglasses as she greeted the Mitchell family without an ounce of trepidation.
“Eve, such a pleasure to finally meet you,” their mother said. “Brett has told us so much about you.”
Eve nodded. “Same with you for me, I feel like I practically know you both already.”
Hugh nodded at them. “How did you two meet again?”
Brett and Eve shared a look, and Luke took another swig of his beer to hide the smile that creeped onto his lips. If he remembered correctly from what Brett admitted once, Eve and him met while dancing against a stripper pole at one of the local bars, and started going at it in the bathroom forty-five minutes later after about three-too-many tequila shots.
“We met at the one of the Packaging Committee meetings,” Brett said. “She was sitting up front, answering almost every question the president was asking us, and I just couldn’t help but be impressed at how smart she was.”
Eve kissed his cheek before she flashed a bashful smile. “Oh you know, I just had to impress this amazing hunk of a guy. I noticed him when I first walked in, and thought to myself how he was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen.”
Luke snorted, but hid it with a cough and stuttering how his beer went down the wrong tube while ignoring Brett’s stony expression tossed his way.
Hugh’s eyes narrowed on Luke. “Geez son, with all the shit you’ve pulled, I’d assume you’d at least know how to drink a freakin’ beer.”
Well, that certainly caused the gorgeous, warm day to drop a few degrees. Luke didn’t respond as he took another sip, this one long enough to finish off the bottle.
Brett snapped his fingers. “That reminds me, Luke, I got something to show you.” He turned back to Eve. “Babe, can you keep my parent’s company while I bring my brother inside really quick?”
Eve’s smile had an edge of panic, but she hid it in the blink of an eye. Luke had to hand to her, she could really roll with the punches. “Sure thing, honey. Take your time!”
“Love you, babe,” Brett said before he kissed her. She nudged him away with a chuckle before she wandered off between both their parents.
Luke grinned at his brother. “I gotta say, I think you got a keeper there, Brett.”
His brother gave him a smarmy smile before smacking Luke across the back of the head and pushing him up the patio and inside his house.
It was much cooler inside thanks to an AC unit in one of the windowsills. Luke once again reminded himself how he’d have to crash there more often. He certainly wouldn’t run into naked floor-mates getting more than just themselves wet in the morning, plus HKMC was so sticky and disgusting with all the heat still infesting every square inch after move-in day. There wasn’t AC in sight unless someone paid an extra hundred to have one installed into their window, but he needed any extra cash he could manage to scrounge up, and Rob was probably much more interested in using his industrial-sized fan for obvious reasons.
Random people chatted on the two mismatched couches in the TV room, but Brett led Luke right past them up the stairs. It looked like they had the whole upper level to themselves, but Brett still closed the door behind him once they were inside his bedroom.
His older brother turned to him, his green eyes looked serious instead of their usual amusement, and he clasped his hands together.
“So, I just wanted to clear the air and make sure that we’re on the same page about pops.”
Luke remained silent.
“I know what I said out there, but I just wanted you to know, I honestly don’t give a damn what he wants.”
Luke crossed his arms. That was rich, coming from one of dad’s golden children…
Brett continued. “I’m being a hundred percent real right now. Lukey, you’re way smarter than both me and Jason…hell, you saved my ass from flunking half my classes.”
It was true. Back home, Luke might not have straight up done all Brett’s schoolwork, but he was definitely the reason why Brett was able to play every Friday night and even remain Captain. Come to think of it, how has Brett been doing with his courses while he’s been away at college? Ironically enough, it’s never brought up.
Brett raised his hands in front of him in calming gesture, like he expected Luke to physically lash out. “I know things have been kind of fucked back home with those assholes you used to run with, plus everything with dad and all, plus I’m sure Jason and I didn’t make it easy for you.”
Luke felt the sharp ache hit him in the chest. “It’s not entirely that… well, it’s not like you guys purposely made it harder for me.”
Brett waved him off. “Like I said, don’t sweat it. I just hope you know, and I’m sorry for getting all mushy on you, but Lukey, I love you.”
And at that, somehow the ache in Luke’s chest continued to twist and contort like someone was trying to wrench his heart straight out of his chest. How many times has he damned his brothers over the years at how big of the shadows they left behind for him to try and crawl out from? Their father already put enough pressure all on them, but when someone has two “perfect” older brothers like Brett and Jason were, it seemed like nothing Luke did ever measured up, and their father was always quick to remind him of that. Even more so now after everything.
Brett rested a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “I know Jason and mom love you too… dad does too, even though he’s godawful at showing it. He pushed Jason and I until we couldn’t stand it either, but it’s just the way he is. Hopefully with age, he’ll learn to calm the fuck down.”
Luke didn’t believe that for a second. If anything, the inevitable retirement would just make the infamous enigma that was Hugh Mitchell even more irritable, but Luke nodded along in silence nonetheless.
“Hey, you don’t actually have to go all straight and narrow like I said earlier, you can still kick it here whenever you want,” Brett assured him. “Hell, I’d say you deserve to let loose more than anyone else I know.”
Luke released a heavy sigh. “I can’t argue with you on that, but I better take it easy for the first semester, just to get him off my ass a little bit.”
“That’s why you’re the smart one, Lukey. You can just head straight over here every weekend, and that way I’m not completely bullshitting Pops when he asks me if I’m actually keeping an eye on you. I can even ask the housemates if it’s cool to get you an extra key.”
Luke couldn’t help but smirk at the look on his brother’s face as they figured this all out; Brett was so proud of himself for (almost) coming up with it all on his own. His green eyes lit up like Christmas lights as he told Luke about what they could do without their parents around, and Luke himself couldn’t help but feel the anticipation rise up at that prospect.
Brett patted him once again on the shoulder. “I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself. I got’chu, and you’re gonna have the time of your life here, buddy. You know what they say, ‘When in doubt, go to Stout!’”
Luke squirmed as Brett pulled him into a headlock and noogied his scalp; his loose waves getting even more messed up. “Fuck off!”
Brett chuckled as he let him go. “Oh c’mon Lukey, you’re my little brother, I gotta mess with ya every now and then.”
Luke shook his head with a smirk. “But in all seriousness, thanks Brett, it’s about damn time I got over here, and be able to start fresh.” He paused and looked down at the carpeted floor. “I just want to make dad proud of me again, you know?”
He hated how small his voice sounded just then, or how vulnerable he felt admitting that out loud, but he desperately needed someone in his corner after everything. Their mom may have forgiven him, but Luke couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a conversation and it was like she was walking on eggshells around him. Jason was also halfway across the country over in Oregon with his wife and two dogs, and only made appearances at holidays or any other major family events. Luke just wanted a sense of normalcy.
He peered up to see Brett’s eyes that were full of sympathy or pity—possibly both—and it was crazy how much he looked just like their dad. Sometimes he forgot that detail since whenever his father ever bothered to speak to him anymore, it was with absolute contempt, distrust, and what felt like barely controlled rage at its worst.
Brett’s voice went soft. “You will Lukey, I know you will.”
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell