Preview Fort Marter

Chapter One

No matter how hard she tried, Mackenzie Klein could not
ignore the crooked faux shutter at the second level of the ten-foot set piece.
It was a freshman project, nothing too complicated. She had assumed that since
it was worth a grade, the newbies would have tried a little harder. After all,
Mackenzie warned them that she wasn’t an easy grader. Apparently, no one
believed her. Of course, the golden rule on the stage always turned out to be,
if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Mackenzie grabbed
a prop bench and dragged it over to the set piece. She stepped up in an attempt
to reach, bringing her green screw gun with her, but she was still too short.
Cursing her vertically challenged frame, Mackenzie grabbed a prop chair and
balanced it atop the bench. Once again, she climbed up onto the bench then onto
the wobbly chair. She paused to steady herself then rose up onto her tiptoes
and started to unscrew the shutter. It simply had to be fixed, and Mackenzie
was definitely docking points for this. 

Penn tightened his bowtie before entering the stage and
glancing around the room. He inspected each and every student as they worked.
To them, he was Professor Youngblood, the most intimidating theatre professor
of the university. But to Mackenzie, he was more like a friend. Penn wasn’t
very intimidating in his own eyes, but he remembered from his years as a
student that the professor was always someone to fear. It was just a natural
reaction to authority, and it really didn’t bother him that they felt that way.
He always felt like he was the weak one, as though he were a student. But for the
three years that he had worked at the California Art Institute, he felt strong
and empowered. And even though his dark eyes almost always stood above dark
circles and his dark brown hair was usually a muffled and tired mess, he loved
the job that he had.

He spotted Mackenzie swaying on the prop chair and sighed,
storming off in her direction.

“Mackenzie Klein, what do you think you’re doing?” Penn
asked her, shaking his head. “One of these days you’re going to break your neck
and I’ll just have to laugh at you, because I tell you time and again not to do
things that you can’t handle on your own. Get down from there and get someone
taller, and with a ladder, to take care of that.”

Mackenzie jumped and grabbed the wall for balance. 

“Jesus Penn! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” she said
turning to see her mentor glaring up at her. “If someone tall with a ladder
took care of it the first time then I wouldn’t be up here the first place,” she
stepped off the chair anyway to the bench then hopped down onto the stage. 

“Sean is getting points off for that. This is Les Mis, not
Seussical, that shutter is crooked as hell,” she insisted, pointing up to the
second level. 

“You’re managing the stage, Mackenzie. You’re not doing
everything. Just tell someone to do what you want done and yell at them until
it is finished. That’s how being a leader works. This is a learning opportunity
for the younger students,” Penn rolled his eyes and looked around at the set.
The place was disorganized, but it was always like this when it got close to show
time. 

Truthfully, it did bother him a little. Penn had his share
of obsessive-compulsive qualities, but Mackenzie definitely surpassed him in
that category.

“Should we wrap it up?” Penn asked, aware that the students
around him weren’t doing much but socializing at this point anyway. 

“Probably. If we want them to at least try and clean up,”
she said. “I want to get out of here on time today, I want food,” she said. 

Turning to the curtain she pulled on her headset. “That’s it
boys, get this place cleaned up so we can get the hell out of here,” she said. 

On cue, students started shuffling about the stage and
picking up tools and supplies. Mackenzie turned to Penn. 

“Better?” she grinned. 

“Much,” Penn responded on cue. “I guess we’ll do this the
same time tomorrow. We need to get the set done so that the dress rehearsals go
smoothly.”

 “Right, I’ll be
here,” she nodded

 Penn walked toward
the door with a small wave that seemed to show disinterest, even though he
enjoyed his work. “Mackenzie, do something fun tonight!” he yelled back to her
before closing the door behind him. 

She rolled her eyes at the tiny jab Penn took at her social
life, which of course was null and void. 

“Yeah, fun. Sure,” she laughed. 

Mack moved to the front row of seats in the auditorium and
plopped down, waiting for the students to finish clean up - there were always a
few stragglers. She checked the time on her phone and decided that her fun for
the night would definitely involve studying. The test in the morning didn’t
care whether she enjoyed her time off from work; so why should she?

“See ya, Mack!” the last freshman called. 

“Later,” she replied half-heartedly. The freshmen were her
favorite and least favorite all at once because they were a mixture of defiant,
compliant and inexperienced. Most of them listened well enough if threatened
properly, she managed. Mackenzie scooped up her bag off the floor and headed
out to the quad.

 

********************

 

Carter staggered down the path to his dorm room, not paying
attention to the people surrounding him. He apologized, and then chuckled at
their angry expressions. He stared at the rocky cement path that connected
every building and ran through the campus. The array of colored rocks
interested him, and he kept his attention off of what was in front of him and
focused on the path itself. 

“Hey, blondie!” he heard a familiar voice call from behind
him. “Are you even allowed on campus?”

“Are you even
allowed on campus? I got back in. Perks of being the lawyer’s son. Phil Jacobs
is officially my hero,” Carter laughed as his friend, Jason, caught up to him
on the walkway.

“I dropped out, I didn’t get kicked out,” he rolled his eyes
at Carter’s inability to walk straight and grabbed onto the fabric of his worn
leather jacket to keep him standing. “Where is your dorm?”

“I don’t remember,” he laughed and spotted a girl walk
across the quad, her red hair trailing behind her in the wind. She had a mature
air about her. It was clear that she was the cultivated type, likely wise beyond
her years. Carter wasn’t the type to be intimidated, but there was something
different about this girl. He stared until she disappeared and Jason
investigated his face with a tiny grin. 

“You’re more drunk than I thought. Is there anyone I can
call?”

“Nah, I can sleep here,” Carter sat down on the curb and
took a deep breath, looking up at Jason and chuckled at his annoyed expression.
“Calm down, Sanford. I’ll get up.” 

 

********************

 

Mackenzie continued toward the library and disappeared
inside. She breathed in the musty dank smell that clung to the building,
probably from the rainstorm that had soaked through some ceiling tiles last
summer and the fact that more than half of the books on the shelves were very
rarely touched.  She looked around at the
scattered tables through the open space, all occupied. Students were murmuring
to each other with books lying in front of them as decoys. None of them were
really studying. With a groan, she continued further back past the higher
traffic areas, until she found a small table behind the reference section with
only one other person at it. 

“Mind if I sit here?” she asked quietly.

“Shhh!” the girl hissed, giving her a glare. 

Well fuck you too, she thought, sitting in the farthest chair from the girl.
She set her bag on the table, earning another glare from the slick haired
brunette across from her. Mackenzie rolled her eyes and pulled out her notes.
She read over them a few times, then wrote the vocabulary words on a separate
sheet and tried to write the definitions from memory. 

 

********************

 

Jason tugged at Carter’s jacket again and groaned, the
frustration beginning to become obvious in his face. Carter picked at one of
his curls. His hair was wet, and he couldn’t quite remember why. Had it rained?
Not that he could remember, but he couldn’t seem to recall much of anything. 

“Fuck. Man, you just got out of rehab. You can’t be doing
this in public,” Jason rubbed his hand through his straight brown hair, his
baseball cap in his left hand. Carter investigated the hat with more interest
than he normally would have. It was a hockey team, or a basketball team; Carter
didn’t know anything about sports. 

“Who was that girl?” Carter asked him, doing his best to
speak through his pasty mouth.

“The ginger?” Jason looked around as if she would still be
there, but she had clearly disappeared into the library.

“I think she might be a senior or a grad school student, or
something. I don’t know. She was Professor Youngblood’s TA when I went here. I
went to that class like once, so I couldn’t tell you anything about her. But
she doesn’t seem like a casual fuck, so you’re probably shit out of luck,”
Jason tugged at his elbows and

Carter stood on shaky knees.

“That’s enough out of you, Dr. Seuss,” Carter stumbled off
down the path and into the library, glancing around the too-bright room. Jason
just stomped off in the other direction, giving up on the fight to get Carter
back to the safety of his dorm. 

She seemed to be the only redhead there, so she wasn’t tough
to spot. He composed himself as much as he could in the state he was in, and
then walked down the hallway. He didn’t have any books and he wasn’t even
wearing his backpack, so he knew that it probably didn’t look normal for him to
be there. 

He sat down across from her and smiled softly. 

“Come here often?” he asked, clearing his throat awkwardly
and adjusting one of his blond curls, doing his best to keep his hair from his
face, which was proving to be difficult with his unruly hair. He hadn’t had it
cut in a while, and that one piece always seemed to be a struggle.  

The brunette girl gave them both a look and gathered her
things in a huff, storming off. Mackenzie rolled her eyes, and then looked up
to see the blond boy in front of her. She glanced around to make sure he was
talking to her, then gave him a smile.

“Um, sort of, I guess,” she shrugged. “Better than the
student center.”

“I’ve never been there, so I can’t say much about that,” he
smirked. “So what is it you’re studying? Science? Mathematics? Kama Sutra?”

Mackenzie giggled. “None of the above, it’s terminology for
my next level stage manager exam. It’s a practical, but I have to demonstrate
knowledge of everything I’ve been doing for the last four years. I just don’t
want to fuck it up over mixing up these stupid terms we don’t even use anyway.”

“I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds
interesting,” he tugged at his sleeve and looked away. “Um, are you new here? I
mean,” he bit his lip awkwardly, “I know you’re not but I-I haven’t seen you
around here before.”

He was stuttering. He hated when he did that.

“I’m a second year graduate student,” she said with a smile.
“I teach classes more than I take them now. Or … I help to teach them anyway,”
Mackenzie shrugged. “I haven’t seen you around either; what department are
you?” she asked. “I’m Theatre.”

 “Uh, Visual Arts, I
guess,” he sighed. “I just got back from some time off. I was gone for a
semester and part of this one. I just had some stuff to take care of. But I
paint and sometimes I sculpt, but I’m terrible at it.”

“Well if you’re in an art school for painting, I really
doubt you’re terrible at it. That’s cool though. I wish I could paint. We
always call in some guys from the Visual Arts department to help us paint the
sets after they’re all built and everything. I just do the base coat.”

“Oh,” he sounded more excited than he wanted to. “That
sounds cool actually. I think that I’d do that, but I don’t stay committed to
things,” Carter laughed and placed his hands on the table. 

It was like he didn’t know what to do with them. He just
picked at his cuticles and smiled her way. He didn’t want to get too close, as
the smell of alcohol lingered on his breath and the smoke from the pot he had
smoked earlier in the day had latched itself to his clothing. 

“Well if you ever want to give it a try just bring some of
your stuff down to the stage and we’ll see if we can use your talent,” she
smiled sweetly at him. “I don’t think you told me your name,” she said, not
paying too close attention to his fidgeting, 

“I’m Carter,” he laughed. “Sorry, I forgot that was an
important part of meeting someone new. My socializing skills have taken quite
the beating lately. What’s your name?”

She giggled, “That’s alright. Nice to meet you Carter, I’m
Mackenzie, but you can call me Mack. People say it’s easier,”

“Mack? Like the computer? Or the apple,” he chuckled softly.
“So, can I call you Apple then? It matches your hair and your name, so it’s a
win-win. You can call me CJ if you’d like, but that’s mostly reserved for my
sister and high school friends that for some reason, thought Carter was too
complicated.”

“Mhm,” she smiled. “Sure, if you want. I have a whole bunch
of nicknames. Mack’s just the most common one.” Mackenzie tilted her head and
laughed a little. “Complicated? I don’t think so.” 

“I didn’t think so either,” he finally glanced up to her
eyes. They were an off green and they sparkled under the dim lighting of the
library. He inspected her freckles and the creases in her cheeks as she smiled.
“So, who has your heart, Apple?”

His confidence was building a little as they spoke. Once he
started to get to know her, she didn’t seem as sophisticated as he had
predicted. She seemed pretty normal and almost as if she had no idea just how
beautiful she was. He could hear the girls seated behind them whispering about
him. Everyone seemed to know Carter, or of Carter. No one really knew him.

“No one,” she answered, her eyes falling on a stray curl in
the middle of his forehead. She resisted fixing it, folding her arms in front
of her and leaning on the desk, tucking her leg underneath of her and leaning
forward slightly. “My heart prances around by itself to show tunes in my dorm
room,” she blushed a little, not quite sure why she told him that. Or why he
was so easy to talk to for that matter. 

“Does it now? I have to say, that’s kind of adorable,” he
blushed and placed his hands on his cheeks to hide it. “You know, I’ve been on
campus for a day. I haven’t even unpacked or said hello to my roommate yet. All
I know is that his name is Todd and about twenty people informed me that he’s
huge. I also haven’t been to a class yet, so I have no reason to be in here
other than to talk to you. What I’m trying to say is, if I’m bothering you, I
can go. I mean it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to do. I just
kind of,” he bit his lip and looked down at the table, “followed you here.”

“Oh... well don’t let me keep you if you need to go,” she
told him. “I,” she looked at him in surprise. He had followed her? Specifically
came into a building for her? Something didn’t add up, but Mackenzie was never
one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was handsome and charming and thought
he could hide his blushing, which she found adorable. 

“You’re not bothering me at all. It’s... nice to have
company for a change.”

“I know the feeling,” he laughed awkwardly. 

Truthfully, Carter had spent three months in prison,
starting in January. He got out in April and went through a bout of
rehabilitation groups for another three months, spending his free time doing
anything his parents asked him to do. When the summer had started, he found
himself into trouble again. Specifically, the drug variety of trouble. His
parents had no choice but to send him to a rehab center in upstate California,
until the beginning of November. When he was released, his father fought to get
his place back in to the art school closest to his home in Burbank. With Phil
Jacobs being a renowned lawyer, it didn’t take much. Carter was back at the
school that had booted him months before for his legal issues, but it really
didn’t seem as though he was ready to turn it all around.

“So then, you’re graduating soon, aren’t you? I still have a
little more than a year to get through. I should be in my fourth year. Maybe
I’ll work through the summer, I haven’t decided yet,” he shrugged and looked at
her again. He wasn’t aware that he had gotten lost in thought for a moment.

Mackenzie smiled at him as he made an attempt at laughing;
he had dimples she hadn’t noticed before. She paused for a long moment and bit
her lip, looking down at the table for a moment in shyness before seizing the
pause in conversation as an opportunity to really observe his features. His
blonde curly hair looked fluffy and soft, she found herself wanting to comb her
fingers through it, especially to fix that one strayed strand. It didn’t want
to sit with the others as if it wanted to irritate Mackenzie on purpose, but
that was silly. His eyes were a dark brown, almost black if you didn’t look
hard enough. They were deep and dark, she couldn’t help but feel that there
were stories behind them and she was definitely curious to hear them. Mackenzie
could get lost in those eyes, and for a moment, she did. She blinked to snap
herself out of it and stared at him for a second, her mind groping around for
the question he had just asked her. Think
Mackenzie; what did he say? It took her a moment, but she managed to call
it back. 

“Yeah, I graduate from the Master’s program in the spring,”
she smiled. “That’s not so bad, it could be worse. And if you take summer
courses you’ll get out of here on time. But they’re harder. I hated it when I
took them my freshman year. Stupid decision.” Mack shook her head at the
memory. 

“Oh, thanks for letting me know. I probably would have taken
it. I don’t handle pressure too well. I take the easiest classes on purpose.
Except statistics, but I’m actually pretty good at math, whether you believe it
or not,” Carter giggled softly, years of calculating drug money and measuring
out sacks of weed and cocaine seemed to help with that.

“The classes are longer, the semester is shorter and they
teach a weeks worth of stuff in one day, it was hard to keep up. Unless you’re
going to be on top of it at all times, I wouldn’t go for that. Summer classes
suck,” she said. “I’m terrible at math, you’d think building sets would help.
Nope, I can measure things and do simple stuff but otherwise, I’m pretty
horrible at it. But on the site I always have the calculator in my phone, in
class I get points off for that,” she rolled her eyes. 

“Probably for using your phone, more so than for using the
calculator. Maybe you need to buy yourself a really good calculator. An
impressive one. That way you won’t get into trouble for using it in class,” he
smiled softly and mumbled out his last words quickly. “Maybe that can be our
first date.”

“You’re probably right,” she nodded. Mack looked down at her
hands with consideration when her head popped up at the word date. “Wha- you’re
asking me out on a date?” she blushed with a tiny smirk.

“Perhaps,” he smirked in response to her and shrugged his
shoulder. “Maybe calculator shopping is a little too overwhelming for a first
date. Maybe we’ll try a movie or something. That is, if you’re not afraid of
being alone with me. I’m always looking for a cuddle-buddy when the California
chill fills the air in the evening.”

Mackenzie didn’t believe her ears. Was he really asking her
out? “I- you- a movie? With me?” she asked in disbelief. “I, no of course I’m
not afraid. I’d love to,” she finally managed. 

“Perfect. How does Wednesday night sound? I have all morning
classes, so I can pretty much do any day. Fridays are reserved for raves, but
you’re welcome to join me at one if you’d like,” he laughed at the thought.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” she nodded. “Raves don’t really
sound like my thing. I’m not exactly a social butterfly, I’m more like a moth.”
Mack pressed her lips together then wet them nervously with the end of her
tongue, “Where’s your dorm?”

“My dorm?” he thought for a moment. “Uh. It’s the boy’s
dorm. It... It has red bricks on it. I don’t know the name of it. Just look me
up on the directory. To be honest, I don’t even know how to get back.”

Mack giggled again. “Well, Carter the art student, I’ll need
a last name for that,” she reminded him. “Oh, and here,” she scribbled down her
phone number on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. “You know... if you
wanted to maybe... text me or ...something,” she muttered, suddenly nervous
again. 

Carter smiled at her nervousness and shook his head. “What
is this, the 1800s?” he asked. He took out his phone and handed it to her, then
reached his hand out. “Give me your phone.”

Blinking in a brief confusion, she took his phone then
reached into her back pocket, slipping her phone out and handing it over to
him. Then she programmed her number into his phone, chewing her lip again from
nerves. There were a lot of girls in his phone. 

Carter typed his number in and raised an eyebrow. 

“Penn Youngblood just said he’s really looking forward to getting
this project done,” he smirked. “Oh! He sent another one. It says, thanks for
being so much help on this musical.”

Mackenzie rolled her eyes with a smirk to match his. “He’s
so sweet, he always thanks me for a job well done, but it’s not like I have a
choice. If I don’t do the projects I don’t get credits and I fail the class.”
She glanced at his phone, “Nothing new to report on your end, unfortunately,”
she pouted briefly, then laughed. 

He handed her phone back and chuckled. 

“Yeah, I’m kind of lacking in the friend department. I’m
desperate. My only friend is from high school, and he dropped out so... Booty
calls are nice though,” he laughed. “But it doesn’t fill the void.”

“I mostly talk to people from work, Penn tells me to go out
and have fun but there’s no one to do it with. I think sleeping is fun so,
close enough I guess.” She laughed nervously. “Right,” she said at the mention
of booty calls. Mackenzie was starting to wonder about this so-called date.

“S-Sorry, that was inappropriate,” his face burned and he
looked away. “I... uh... I have to unpack so... I-I’ll see you around,” he got
up and stumbled against the chair. 

Mackenzie pressed her lips and slid her jaw back and forth
as if applying invisible Chap Stick. 

“Bye Carter...” she whispered.

People stared at him as he made a ruckus and a girl from the
table behind him glanced up at him with a tiny giggle. She followed him out the
door and onto the path.

“You always make such a scene?” she asked.

“Usually,” he smirked and turned around to face her.
“Carter,” he extended a hand for her to shake.

“I’m Louise,” she grinned, shaking his hand and biting her
lip.

******************** 

Mack didn’t want him to leave; unfortunately her face
usually betrayed her emotions without her permission. A handsome blond boy
wanted a date with her, and he also enjoyed booty calls. Mackenzie huffed in
frustration and gathered her books, moving toward her dorm room. Her mind
racing with a million thoughts. He had seemed so sweet up until that point. Was
it all an act? As far as Mackenzie knew, blushing on command wasn’t something
that just happened to anyone who wasn’t a seasoned actor.  She pulled out her phone to see his contact
information still on the screen. 

“Carter Jacobs...” she muttered to herself. If nothing else,
she was extremely curious. 

 

********************

 

“Louise, huh?” he nodded. “Just curious. Is there a reason
you were sitting with my ex-girlfriend in there?”

“Nothing too important. Evie’s just my roommate.
Nonexclusive. Ex-girlfriend?” Louise backed off a little at that statement.

“It’s not important either. What are you doing for the next
few hours?” Carter asked her slyly, moving a piece of her dark hair from her
face, as the wind took it.

“I was thinking maybe you... I mean you do have a
reputation. I just wanted to check if you live up to it,” she raised an eyebrow
at him in a challenging manner.

“Are you legal?” he laughed, but he was serious.

“Eighteen.”

“Works for me,” he said simply, starting off down the path
to where he hoped his dorm would be.