She hates him before she even learns his name.
She’s working the first time she sees him. The boy with dark hair, sticking straight up—ruffled like he’s run his hands through it one too many times. The one with the big nose—crooked like he may have broken it at least once. The one with the lopsided grin that crinkles his eyes—too cocky for his own good. The one who catches her staring at the way his muscles ripple under his too tight white polo and smirks and quirks his eyebrows—making her turn a violent shade of pink and shrink in on herself. She hates him. She doesn’t know him—yet—but she knows she hates him.
It’s student happy hour at the bar—dollar beers that come in little 8oz plastic cups between the hours of nine and ten. She’s been on her feet for four hours, already having worked the dinner rush, and all she wants to do it clock out and go home. He and his friends are crammed into the corner booth, in her section. They are typical rowdy frat boys, fashioning napkin projectiles and hollering absurd requests at the band. She is tired and she instantly hates them all.
She brings over their third tray of little beers, balancing it precariously on one hand as she tries to navigate around the other tables. They’ve been here fifteen minutes, have pounded back four beers each and their table is already wet and sticky with sloshed alcohol. And they are loud. So loud in fact that she can hardly hear the live band over their hollering. There are six of them and three of them wink at her as she puts the tray down in the middle of the table. One of them moves to grab her ass and she narrowly avoids the contact. On second thought, hate maybe isn’t strong enough a word.
He is sitting in the middle of the booth staring at her. His piercing gaze follows her as she carefully takes the overflowing beers off her tray and places two in front of him and he simply watches her. It isn’t a leer, his eyes don’t rake over her tits and her ass like she’d expect, he just looks into her eyes like he is trying to see inside of her, like she is a puzzle that he wants to figure out. There is a warmth to his gaze that she doesn’t understand; she shivers under the heat of it, goosebumps prickle the skin of her arms. She feels naked and exposed. She honestly wishes he’d check her out like the rest of his friends—let his eyes travel the length of her body as if she were nothing but an image on a screen—and be done with it.
Instead she is caught up in his unwavering gaze, swimming in his strange coloured eyes. She can’t really discern what colour they are; they looked brown when she approached but now, even under the low light, they look brighter, almost green—like her own. This isn’t how she is used to being looked at and she doesn’t know what to think, can’t wrap her mind around what he’s thinking and she doesn’t like it.
“You just gonna stare at her Moir, or you gonna ask her to suck your dick,” one of the friends says and the rest erupt into laughter.
He finally breaks eye contact, looks her up and down and dramatically rolls his eyes, as if to say she isn’t worth his time. “Fuck off, Zach!” he says.
She hates him.
A few hours later once they’ve paid their tabs and are finally leaving, he puts his hand on her arm and says, “Your tip is on the table. Sorry about the mess and my friends.”
His touch is warm and soft and his voice wraps itself around her like an embrace. She thinks, for the briefest moment, maybe she was quick to judge, maybe he isn’t so bad. She thinks this until she gets to the table to find it soaking wet and littered in sodden napkins. There is a glass filled with water somehow flipped upside down on the table creating a vacuum, holding in the contents—there is a ten dollar bill floating inside.
Fuck you, she thinks.
The next time she sees him is the first day of the winter term. She has crammed her Mondays full so that she can have Fridays completely off—Thursday nights are student night at the bar and she’s always exhausted on Friday. She’s been at the school since 9am; it’s now 7pm and she is rushing from her dance class—on the west side of campus in the student athletic complex—to the far east side of campus for a three hour seminar on banned books. It’s a course she somehow managed to talk her way into because it is a fourth year level class and she is only in her second year—because she wanted to prove she could do it and because it fit her schedule.
She pushes the door to the seminar room open with a little too much force and stumbles over her feet, gusting into the small room like a tempest. As she manages to get the door pulled shut behind her she is met with silence, as all fifteen other faces in the room turn to look at her. Her face is faced, her hair pulled messily into a bun on top of her head, her oversized sweater, which she pulled on over her bodysuit and tights, is sliding off her shoulder and down her arm exposing a deep red mark where her school bag rubbed against her skin as she ran. She smiles shyly as she scans the room for a seat.
She recognizes him immediately. Of course he is here, of fucking course. He is sitting next to the only free seat around the large rectangular table, already pulling the blue plastic chair out for her with a crooked grin. Of course he recognizes her. Of fucking course.
She takes a deep breath through her nose and exhales through her teeth, ducks her head and scurries over to the other side of the table where he is holding the chair out for her.
“Late on the first day,” he smiles. “Not a great way to make a first impression.”
“I had a dance class across campus,” she mumbles, still a little breathless, taking her notebook out of her shoulder bag and putting it on the table in front of her. She isn’t sure why she’s justifying herself to him, or why he is still smiling at her.
“Dancer, eh?” he asks.
“Something like that.” She used to be, used to dance until her feet bled and her legs gave out on her. She used to attend camps at the national ballet. Now, she takes a few advanced contemporary and hip hop classes and teaches an intermediate ballet for the university dance club—it’s all her traitorous legs can handle now. But he doesn’t need to know any of this. He doesn’t deserve to know her.
“You look like a dancer,” he says with a wink, leaning back in his chair, tipping it so the front legs lift from the floor.
Tessa rolls her eyes at him, as she straightens her pen out next to her notebook. She really hates him.
A throat clears at the front of the room and her head snaps up to find the professor sitting directly across the table from her. He adjusts his horn-rimmed glasses, his wiry grey hair sticking up every which way.
“Good evening everyone, I’m professor Lauzon but you all can call me Patrice, or Pat. Welcome to Banned Books.” His voice is low and raspy and cracks a bit on rise of words, he also has just the smallest hint of a lingering French accent.
The boy next to her, with his scruffy hair, big nose, and dumbass grin, leans in close and whispers in her ear, “He used to play hockey as a teenager, was hit in the throat with a puck. That’s why he sounds like that.”
She isn’t sure if she believes him, but she files the information away anyways.
“So,” Patrice begins again, “I trust everyone got the course reading list over break and read Ovid’s The Art Of Love , so let’s get through some quick introductions and then we’ll jump right in. Scott why don’t you start us off?”
The boy beside her tips his chair back down with a thunk. He must be Scott. God she hates his name too. Hates the harsh consonant sounds and how they sit on her tongue. Hates how he leans forward before he starts talking, hates how he looks right at her when he says, “Hi, I’m Scott.”
She hates how she can hardly pay attention to the fact that he is in fourth year Con-Ed, a physical education major, taking English as his second teachable, that he plays for the hockey team, and wants to coach. She hates that she can’t focus on his words because she is too busy watching how his jaw works as he talks, all sharp edges, and how his throat bobs when he swallows, and how he fiddles with his fingers as he tells the class about himself, and she notices the veins that bulge across the tops of his hands. God she hates him.
She realizes he has stopped talking when he turns to look at her expectantly. She realizes it’s her turn to speak.
“Uh, hi I’m Tessa, my friends call me Tess and I’m in second year English Lit,” she starts, not really knowing if she should add anything else. “And I, uh, I like to dance...I just finished teaching a ballet class actually,” she decided to tack on to the end.
When she is done speaking, Scott, leans back over to her, “Second year, eh? Are you sure you can handle this class?”
She huffs, as she goes to withdraw her copy of Ovid from her bag, the Christopher Marlowe translation, turning her notebook to the several pages of neatly prepared notes. She hears him scoff beside her. He takes out his own worn copy and tosses it on the table in front of him.
It’s the first class of the semester. Tessa, being in second year and having taken this fourth year class on recommendation from her academic advisor, has never had a three hour class before. It’s exhausting. She is already tired from being at school all day so for the most part she just sits and listens as her classmates and Patrice discuss the poet’s work on how men should seduce women. She takes notes, comparing her classmates’ thoughts to her own. Unsurprisingly, Scott talks a lot. And loves to argue. By the start of hour three she has started to keep a tally of the amount of times that he has said, “I hate to play devil's advocate here…” and she knows he is full of shit, she knows that he is loving it.
When class finally lets out she is half asleep and the three quarters hot chocolate, one quarter coffee that she got on break is long gone and is losing its effect. Her legs drag like lead and she shuffles her way through the halls, a familiar sting shooting up her calves. She barely makes it to the bus before the last one of the night leaves campus.
She’s flopped on the couch in her apartment, her legs elevated on a pillow, blue gel ice packs draped over her shins. She’s holding her book above her, a pack of brightly coloured sticky tabs next to her too, easily accessible, to mark passages she thinks might be useful when it comes to writing her next paper.
She can hear her roommate Kaitlyn and her boyfriend Andrew giggling from Kaitlyn’s bedroom and she is just about to put her iPod headphones in when the two of them walk hand in hand into the living room. Kaitlyn looks like she is radiating sunshine, a yellow glow reaching out beyond the ends of her platinum blonde hair. Andrew has the dopiest grin. Tessa rolls her eyes.
Tessa flips the cover over to show them, “ We Have Always Lived in The Castle , it’s for Gothic Lit.”
“Is that the class you have with that really annoying guy? Scott?”
She shakes her head against the pillow, and she can feel the static she is creating pulling at her hair and sticking it to the cushion. “No that’s the fourth year class. Banned Books.”
Kaitlyn sits on the couch by Tessa’s feet, tossing a throw blanket over Tessa’s legs. She raises her eyebrows at her curiously.
“You look cold and it was making me cold,” she says.
Tessa tries to go back to reading her book as Andrew sinks down and folds himself into their small armchair.
“So, tell me more about Mr. Annoying...is he cute?”
“Scott,” Tessa corrects though she doesn’t really know why. “He is definitely not cute.” He is. “He talks too much, he’s always staring at me and he plays hockey.”
She sees Andrew’s eyebrows lift at that, “Scott Moir?”
“Uh, yeah.” How does he know that?
“I play with him, he’s not that bad once you get to know him. He’s just a passionate guy, tons of energy. So he comes on strong.”
Passionate . Sure.
It’s the fourth week of class and she still hasn’t managed to figure out how to make it from the student athletic complex after dance to class in the east block without rushing through the door right at seven. This means that for the past three weeks she has had to sit beside Scott. Everyone, it seems, takes the same seats each week, leaving her the chair directly to his right. It is infuriating.
And every week when she comes gusting into the classroom he smiles at her and pulls out her chair. Next week, she thinks, maybe she will leave dance early so that she can get to class before him and sit anywhere else.
“Saved your seat,” he says as he adjusts his baseball cap so that it sits backwards on his head. God, she fucking hates him.
They are discussing D.H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover this week and though she can’t say it was a book that she would find herself reading or even enjoying outside of an academic setting, she finds she has a lot to say about it.
For the first time since the course began she finds herself a full participant in the seminar discussion, and she can see the smile creep up on her professor’s face as she debates her points, hardly even needing to check her notes to make sure she is staying on track
“It seems our little Tess has found her voice,” he says pride evident in his voice as he smiles warmly at her.
Scott shakes his head beside her and she knows that he is going to argue against her point, she can see him gearing up in the way his knees bounce restlessly in his chair and he fiddles with his hands as his mouth opens and closes like he wants to interrupt her. But he waits until she is done talking.
“You don’t need to be in love to have an orgasm,” he says bluntly, as soon as she’s shut her mouth.
“That’s not what I meant! They hardly have any connection and she is all about the value of emotional and intellectual intimacy and then...and..and then he…” she is struggling to get the words out, and she can’t believe she is arguing about orgasms in a literature class—what would her mom think of her higher education now?
“He makes her come,” Scott finishes for her and she shoots him a furtive glance. “What, that’s what he does, isn’t it?”
She can feel her cheeks heating up as she nods, “Yeah...But the love should come first. It’s that love and emotional intimacy that leads to...not the other way around.”
“Why not? Why can’t sexual love come first and lead to the rest? Besides, you can definitely have an orgasm without being in love.” He's looking directly at her when he says, “It hasn’t ever been a problem for the girls I’ve been with.”
She’s blushing furiously now; her whole face is probably and unattractive shade of lobster. She swallows at the same time she inhales sharply, choking on her own spit. He pats her on the back.
“Tess, maybe you just don’t have the experiences to fully understand the nuances of the text.” He raises his eyebrows at her playfully.
Tessa can feel more heat creeping up from her chest to her cheeks—it like she’s been baking in the sun—and she knows that her skin is being stained crimson. Her breath quickens and she knows that all sets of eyes are on her. She knows, logically, that he is calling out the fact that she is the youngest in the class—it’s not sexual experience he is talking about, at least not only that—but she can’t help but feel embarrassed. Logically, she also knows he is joking. He’s trying to rile her up.
But it doesn’t stop her from asking herself if her lack of experience is obvious. She didn’t think she came off as prudish when she talked about Chatterley and her lover. But now her heart is pounding and her chest and cheeks are flushed and if her relative lack of sexual experience wasn’t in question by her classmates before it certainly was now.
She hates him so, so much. She hates him so much that she can actually feel it manifesting as a physical ball in her chest, tight and heavy right above her heart. Fuck you, Scott Moir.
“I don’t need experience to understand the literary merits of the work,” she stammers, thrown off her carefully calculated points. “And I definitely have enough to know I don’t agree with you.”
He doesn’t address her for the rest of the class, and she withdraws back in on herself, only sharing one or two more little points through the rest of the class. She hates him so much.
She is still reeling when she leaves class, gnawing at her bottom lip while she bundles up in her scarf and hat and pink mittens before heading out to catch the bus. She is so lost in thought, in what she should have said to him as a retort, that by the time she looks up the bus is pulling away from the school. She hates him for this too. For getting her so in her head that she missed the damn bus. The last fucking bus of the night.
Tessa is debating who she can call to give her a ride home, whether or not her roommate Kaitlyn’s boyfriend Andrew, who has a car, would mind terribly coming to get her. Or if maybe she wrapped her scarf up really tight and walked really quickly she could make the thirty minute walk home without freezing. She is deliberating all this when she feels a hand, firm but gentle on her shoulder, and an unfortunately familiar voice saying her name.
“Hey Tess.” she turns to see Scott, decked in a Canada toque and scarf standing behind her, looking uncharacteristically sheepish.
“It’s Tessa,” she says, through chattering teeth.
He shrugs, “Whatever you say, kiddo. Look, I’m really sorry about what I said earlier. It was out of line.”
“It’s fine,” she mumbles, trying to pull her scarf further around her face to keep off the biting February air.
“It’s not. Uh, do you want a ride home or something? It’s freezing out here.”
She wants to say no, she so badly wants to say fuck you and your apology and your offer to drive me home, but she is so cold already and she’s only been standing here maybe three minutes and if no one drives her she will never make it home.
“Maybe,” she says, after a few beats.
“I’ll buy you coffee? As an apology.”
“Make it mostly hot chocolate and you have yourself a deal.”
He chuckles and smiles at her and she notices how genuine it looks. The skin around his eyes creases so that he is almost squinting, but his eyes themselves light up.