It was known by anyone who had ever met her that Charlie preferred novels to Kindles and rotary phones to cell phones. “They have a pulse,” she often told her puzzled IT stepfather whenever he tried to offer her a slick white and pink I-Phone in exchange for her sensible black rotary phone perched precariously on a stack of encyclopedias. ”A pulse means it has a heart. When you talk to someone, you can feel them.”
Now Charlie could practically feel his disgust at herself as she stared at the grainy green screen in her palm. Tell me the one about us, again. Despite the ridiculous use of the comma, it was almost sweet.
She pressed the small black button in the center rapidly with her thumb, scrolling down as fast as the creeping bar on the side would allow. But the number never appeared, giving her only a string of gibberish.
The phone buzzed against her skin and she swallowed a scream. Don’t forget you owe me a story, Farmer Joann.
Bennett. How he had gotten her number she could only guess. A besotted secretary in the student office or sorority girl in her dorm had probably given it to him. Eyes flicking toward the teacher, she painstakingly, letter by incredibly tiny letter, typed, “From what I hear, you have enough stories of your own.” She pushed send and waited. Maybe there were some benefits to being in the back after all.
The green screen was silent. Uncapping her pen, she forced herself to focus on the teacher. Unfortunately, there was nothing interesting about 1831. Nothing as interesting as the mysterious Bennett or Professor Heyer.
Tell me the one about us, again.
If she had been a romance novelist, her fingers would have started filling sketched crooked hearts with tales of kisses and sweet nothings whispered under the stars at garden parties. If she had been a fantasy writer, she would have doodled a couple rouge planets where a nerdy three eyed blue girl from Neptune could moon over her manly martian. But Charlie, as much as she craved it, disdained romance in public and thought fantasy was for weak-minded individuals who had misplaced their creativity.
But history…history was full of stories. She leaned forward, ignoring her teacher’s lecture to stare past him toward the rows of his books. John and Abigail Adams, Dolly and James Madison…history was full of famous couples. Couples that had loved and quarreled over pages of handwritten letters carried over miles. Why even Professor Heyer had been saying the other day that the love between Edward Poe and his Alice had…her fingers gripped the pen.
That was it. That was her assignment. Excitement buzzed in her ears and nearly shouted over the vibrating phone at her elbow. Stabbing a finger into the button, the six words across the screen reignited the butterflies in her stomach from earlier.
Let me tell you a story.
From the window, she saw a flash of red. A few moments later, a knock interrupted her professor’s drone. Charlie was smoothing her hair back before Bennett had even stepped inside, her fingers already wrapped around the strap of her backpack. He handed a pink slip to her professor and winked at Charlie. “Dean says it’s important, sir. Something about her scholarship.”
The professor handed the paper back and waved Charlie to the front. ”Go on, go on.”
Sailing through the aisle, Charlie was prepared to sweep by Jackson without even a smug look (ok, a smidgeon of one) when he grabbed her elbow. ”Don’t, Charlie,” he murmured too low for the others to hear. Her jaw set and she squinted her eyes. But before she could say a harsh word, he added, “Please. You don’t want to wind up like she did.”
The hair rose on her arms. She glanced at Bennett.
His smile was all the confidence she needed.
Without even hearing Jackson’s pleas, she followed Bennett out of the room and down the hall.
It was her biggest mistake yet.
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