Palm South University_ Season 2, Episode 5

By: Kandi Steiner
 (Palm South University #2)

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IF EVER IT WERE TRUE THAT BEAR hugs are the best hugs, right now would be that moment. Wrapping my arms around my baby brother, I clap him hard on the back, holding him longer than usual and fighting back the sting of emotions threatening to form as tears. We’re in the middle of the airport and I know I’m probably embarrassing him, but I don’t give a shit. It’s the start of Family Weekend and my baby brother is here.

My baby brother is here.

“Nice to see you too, loser,” he mumbles into my chest, voice cracking a bit less than our last long phone call. He weaves his way out of my grasp and I ruffle his hair.

“Don’t act like you’re too cool to hug your big bro.”

“Well, if you didn’t hug like Aunt Shonda at Easter,” he teases and I sock him hard on the arm, making him yelp and rub the spot with a smile on his face. My little brother is not-so-little anymore. At just thirteen, the top of his head reaches my shoulders and he’s started to bulk, though his frame is still pretty lean in comparison to mine. His curly hair is medium length and unruly, his skin as dark as mine, eyes and nose virtually identical. Anyone who looked at us would know we’re brothers, and I catch Skyler ogling our similarities from the corner of my eye.

“Clayton, this is Skyler Thorne. She’s the one I’m always telling you about.”

“Damn,” he draws out the word, eyes devouring Skyler in her small, tight white shorts and loose tank top. “Please tell me I’m bunking with you this weekend, sweetheart.”

I thump him on the head and he shoots me a glare, but Skyler just laughs.

“You couldn’t handle a night in my bed, Baby Bear.”

He grimaces. “Ugh, please tell me that’s not going to be my nickname.”

“What? I think it’s cute,” Skyler defends. Clayton’s shoulders fall and Skyler fights back a smile as I grab his duffle bag and throw it over my shoulder.

“Come on,” I say, steering us toward the large automatic doors that lead out to the taxi cabs. “Your big brother is taking you to a college party.”

“What?! No way!” Clayton’s dark eyes light up and he holds his hand out until Skyler smacks it with a high five. “Time to get wasted. Make sure you call up all the hottest sorority babes because Baby Bear is looking for someone to hibernate with tonight.” He howls and it echoes off the concrete walls of the parking garage.

“Going to get a thirteen-year-old drunk?” Skyler asks me quietly, cocking a brow.

“I bought some non-alcoholic beer. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” I wink and she shakes her head, a few strands falling from the messy bun she’s paired with her casual appearance. I love her like this—no makeup, hair up, wearing the first thing she found in her closet. Skyler Thorne in her natural element, ladies and gents.

“I smell trouble.”

“Nah, he’ll be fine. He’s a Pennington.”

I beam at Skyler before hailing a cab and climbing in the back with her and Clayton. I throw my arm around his shoulders and tease him about girls and video games and everything else simple in his life because it makes me feel like home. He makes me feel like home. The good part of home that I miss.

When we get to the Omega Chi house, I give Clayton the tour while Skyler sets us up for a game of beer pong, complete with cups filled to the brim with Clayton’s special beer on one side.

“This place is amazing,” he says with wonder as we finally drop his bag off in my room. “No wonder you never come home.”

I frown, trying not to read too much into that assessment. “Ready for your first game of beer pong?”

He laughs. “I’m ready for a game of beer pong.”

“Wait, you’ve played before?”

Clayton shrugs, like it’s no big deal. “Maybe.”

It honestly doesn’t surprise me that he’s already played, because that’s the way it was where I grew up in Pittsburgh—where he’s growing up right now. I was exposed to drinking and drugs well before my pre-teen years—mostly courtesy of our own family—and I know he’s no stranger to it, either. I can only hope he’s smart about his choices, and judging by the way he looks up to me, I feel confident that he is.

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