Us Again 1
“I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted to see you.” He peered through a steeple of pudgy fingers. Arrogance arched over his thin wire frames perched on a sharp nose and pursed lips. Most of the undergrads would have swooned to be sitting in the same cracked leather chairs that she was, but Charlie itched inside her wool sweater. Her stomach tightened.
“I was curious, yes.”
He let out a short bark. ”Curious is an understatement, my dear. You are a sophomore.” Venom dripped off the words. ”That you should be offered this assignment is exemplary, legendary.” He stared for a moment until she realized she was supposed to speak.
“Yes, sir.” It seemed much safer than thank you. He nodded and she exhaled. One test down, a million to go.
“Your proffessors speak highly of you, Charlie.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me!” He pressed his lips together in a thin line. “How you do in a rudimentary Brit Lit Class and that insipid American lit is no guarantee of what help you’ll be to me.”
She’d already failed. Twice, if you counted being half an hour late. As if reading her mind, the second eyebrow arched. “Particularly an undergrad who doesn’t know her way around campus.”
Charlie pierced her cheek between her two eyeteeth, worn from years of grinding that not even a clunky plastic appliance could prevent. ”What can I help you with, sir?”
Professor Heyer leaned back in his leather chair and ran his stubby pink tongue over cracked lips. The white foam in the corners of his mouth made her stomach curdle. It was a good thing she’d missed lunch. ”You’re a prolific and capable writer, Charlie.”
“How are you at research?” He leaned forward. It wasn’t a question but a demand.
“Well, sir. I mean, I believe”–
“That’s what I thought.” Satisfied, he slid a thick manilla folder over to her. ”This will explain everything. I’ll meet you at the Old Main Library tomorrow at three. Think you can make it or shall I send a guide?”
Humiliation was a slow burn that singed the cuffs of her sweater and ignited the fringe of her scarf. Tossing back her hair, she took a deep breath to keep her teeth from snapping. ”I’ll see you tomorrow, sir.” She slid the folder into her backpack, ignoring the screaming curiosity tingling in her fingers. Her curiosity had already gotten her in trouble once today. Sliding the strap over her shoulder, she turned to the door.
She turned back. Professor Heyer mashed his teeth together in a fierce scowl that only the devil could mistake for a smile. ”Aren’t you going to thank me?”
“Thank you, sir.” She fled, rushing past the disapproving eyes of the secretary and sweeping down the long hall past the stern portraits of brilliant minds long passed. Her heels clattered down the stairs and she burst through the doors and straight into a soft and warm fleece pullover. Red, she thought, before dipping towards the hard sidewalk.
“Hey, Goat girl!” Strong arms pulled her up for the second time that day. ”What’s your hurry?”
“Goat Girl?” She brushed her coat off and narrowed her eyes at Bennett. ”I thought you went back to your side of campus.”
“You don’t know my major,” Bennett pointed out, his lips curling. It was as though impish flames blazed whenever she was near, turning the mischievous twinkle in his eyes into an infuriating smirk that made her want to kiss him and slap him at the same time. Charlie stepped back and tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. She had never been around a boy she had wanted anything more than a lab partner for before. “What are you doing here?”
“Not going to try and guess my major again? Next time, for sure.” Bennett dangled a worn paperback. ”I came to bring you some inspiration. And see how your meeting went with Professor Heyer.”
Her jaw dropped. ”How did you know?”
“I’m a senior, Charlie. I know everything.” He tucked the worn paperback into the clipped opening of her coat and she grabbed for it before it slid down her sweater. ”What’s he having you do? Organize his underwear drawer?”
“I’m not sure. He gave me a big folder and told him to meet him at the library tomorrow.” Charlie nibbled the rough edge of her lip. ”Um– do you want to go get some frozen yogurt or something?” She hurried on as his eyebrow raised. ”I skipped lunch and the TasTfreeze is right there– I was going anyway and just wanted to be polite.”
“Why Charlie, are you asking me on a date?” Bennett slung an arm around her. ”Sophomore asking out big man on campus?”
She jerked back and ducked under a curtain of hair. ”I was being polite. But since you’re an imbecile”–
“I’m not a imbecile, Charlie. I’m Southern. The men doing the asking, not the women.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her close. His nose was inches from hers. Their intermingled breath clouded between them, warming her lips. ”And I’ll definitely be asking. When the time is right, of course.” She closed her eyes and waited. When she opened them, he was already past the fountain and halfway to the men’s dorms.
“When is that going to be?” she yelled.
“When I get a happy ending!” He mimicked scribbling against his palm. ”Better start writing. I expect it by Friday!”
Charlie stood in the middle of the quad, grinning like a misplaced Christmas tree in July.
She’d give him an ending.
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