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foolproof face, you're studying romances

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Scott roughly twists his key in the ignition of his old truck, the engine, slowly sputtering to life from the cold, has a few false starts. He looks over at Tessa beside him, carefully placing her bags by her feet. She rubs her mittened hands along her thighs—only clad in thin leggings—and he can see how her breath curls in the cold air of the truck cab as she exhales deeply. Her own eyes are focused forward, out the windshield, so he thinks she won’t notice if he stares for a minute too long.

She is so pretty, and that, he thinks, is the thing he dislikes most about her if he’s honest with himself. Too pretty. It was the first thing he noticed when he first caught a glimpse of her, she has a face he will never forget. She had smiled at him in line at Tim Horton’s and let him jump ahead of her in line as she continued to deliberate what she wanted. After that he caught sight of her everywhere. He kept meaning to talk to her, to introduce himself, until one day just before Christmas break he realized that though she had to be one of the most beautiful girls he’d ever seen, with her long chestnut hair and bright eyes, she was a bit of a brat, and therefore not worth his time.

It had been nearing Christmas break and he spotted two girls in the bus shelter—waiting—the darker hair one, Tessa, was sitting on the bench, rubbing at her shins, while her friend a tall blonde was standing next to her. An older woman approached the bench, arms weighed down with shopping bags. As he was getting into his own car he noticed the two young girls having what seemed to be an argument before Tessa finally got off the bench and let the woman have the seat. She then stood there until the bus arrived with a pained look on her face. Breathing through gritted teeth, she was clearly annoyed her friend had made her give up her seat.

The next time he saw her though, he still couldn’t take his eyes off her. He was already a bit on the wrong side of tipsy when he and his roommates had arrived at the bar where she works and he finally caught a good look at her eyes. And wow, those were something else--if he were a better writer he could fill pages upon pages with poems about those gorgeous green eyes. But he’s not, he picked English because he wants to be a high school phys- Ed teacher and needed a minor, he likes to read so it seemed like a good idea. But he is no wordsmith.

But she’s too pretty, too perfect, too damn uptight, and though every class she has seemed the embodiment of the saying sugar and spice and everything nice he can’t get the image out of his mind of her huffing about letting an older woman take her seat.  She sits every class with her spine perfectly straight, prim in her seat, listening intently to every other student in class, her notebook and pen always laid out before her just so. So, he of course is an ass.

He thinks though, that maybe he’s gotten her all wrong, and he really would like to find out.

Now, he has somehow convinced her to let him drive her home. He thinks that maybe it was less him and his sorry excuse of an apology and more the biting cold, but he’ll take what he can get. She has taken her mittens off now and is rubbing her hands together in front of the shotty heat vent in his old truck. Her nose and cheeks are still kissed pink from the winter air and it does nothing to help him out, only acts to make her look even prettier. She hasn’t said a word to him since they got to his car.

“I am really sorry, about earlier in class,” he says, breaking the silence as they pull out of the student parking lot.

She shrugs, but he can tell she is still bothered by it. He shoulders stay hunched up close to her ears and her lips are pulled into a tight line. He was such a monumental ass. He had barely even read half the book and he just had to go an argue with her over orgasms and whether or not they facilitate love and intimacy. He probably shouldn’t have insinuated that she wouldn’t know anything about that, either love or orgasms.

He knew he’d really fucked up when she didn’t talk for the rest of the class. It was their fourth class of the semester and she’d hardly said anything up until tonight. This had annoyed him to no end because he’d seen all her neatly printed notes on the texts. What bothered him the most about it was that her notes were always good. He’d glance over and read some of her thoughts and they were always so well formed, thorough, and intelligent, she just wouldn’t say them. Sometimes he’d catch something in her notes and steal it. Maybe that was why she chose today to finally speak up. And he had to go ruin that. He’d liked debating with her.  

“I’m sorry about the, uh, money in the water cup too,” he says as he puts on his blinker to turn left into the Tim Hortons parking lot. “My friends are assholes sometimes and we were all pretty drunk.”

She sighs and bites her bottom lip, “Yeah, that sucked.”

He pulls into the drive-thru and turns to her, she is still rubbing her hands together and he really wishes the cab of his truck would heat up faster for her, “So how do I order this hot chocolate with a little coffee?”

She smiles at him then, “I usually just ask for three-quarters hot chocolate, one-quarter coffee.”

He nods, “Can I get you a donut or anything?”

Her face scrunches up, her nose wrinkling and wiggling to the side as she thinks and he thinks it’s the most adorable thing he’s ever seen. “Maybe some chocolate timbits, if that’s okay?”

He claps his hands together and the noise is louder than he intended and makes her jump slightly in her seat, “Of course.”

From Tim Horton’s she gives him directions to her apartment and seems to warm up a bit to him, as the hot chocolate and coffee warms her. She is talking a bit more now, between sips and bites of timbit, and he finds he wants to hear more of her small, soft voice, and even more than that her loud infectious laugh--her laugh fills the whole truck and is so much bigger than the tiny, shy girl beside him--that pours out when he cracks a dumb joke.

They finally pull up to her apartment building and he is happy to see that it is only a few minutes away from the house he shares with a bunch of his hockey teammates. As she carefully opens the door, her drink and her timbits clasped in her re-mittened hands, he finds he is reluctant to have her go.

“Uh, thanks for the Tim’s,” she says, lightly, as she hops out of the truck.

“Anytime,” he says, the word cracking a little as he pushes it out over his tongue. “See you next week, Tess.”

She doesn’t correct him on her name this time, just smiles and waves her free hand, “See you next week, Scott.”

 

**

 

It only takes three days before he sees her again. He is walking past the big glass windows of the computer lab--affectionately named the fishbowl--and he spots her over by the printers looking more than a little frustrated. Her long hair is pulled back in a braid

He has a break between classes and was just about to head to the sub shop for lunch but thinks he can spare a few minutes to see if he can help.

She startles when he says her name, spinning quickly on her toes to face him, her hand over her heart.

“Oh, hi,” she says, swallowing, as she takes in his presence.

“Having trouble?” he asks, as she turns back to the printing station, hitting the refresh key on the printing cue over and over and over.

She breathes out heavily through her nose and nods, “I keep sending my paper to the printers but it isn’t showing up in the queue and it’s due in,” she looks at the clock across the room, “fifteen minutes.”

She is clearly flustered and frustrated and maybe, he thinks, on the verge of tears and he wants to wrap her up in his arms and tell her it’ll be fine. He doesn’t know why he suddenly has this protective urge over the annoyingly perfect girl from class, but he finds that he’d do anything to help her. Luckily in this case he is pretty certain he knows the solution and it’s an easy fix. He isn’t the most tech savvy guy, he barely texts, but he’s had this problem before.

“Were you using one of the Macs?” he asks.

She nods again, biting at her bottom lip. He sees her glance up at the clock again, and then back at him.

“That’s your problem, sometimes they can be finicky sending to the printer. You need to resave the file to your student account and make sure the program is closed and then send it through your student account instead of through word.”

She walks him over the the computer station she’d been working at and of course her books and notebook and pen are all neatly lined up next to the right side of the computer, brightly coloured sticky tabs marking important quotes and pages. There is a water bottle with two slices of lemon and a granola bar laid out on a napkin to the left. He rolls his eyes and thinks that this girl really needs to relax and let loose, just a bit. He walks her through the steps to properly send her paper to the printer and he can practically feel the anxiety radiating off her as she glances once more at the wall clock.

Once the document has been sent they walk back over to the printers to find her paper waiting in the queue and he can hear her sigh of relief and actually see some of the tension leave her body as her shoulders drop down from where they’ve been up by her ears.

Once the whirring of the giant printer next to them has started, she squeals and spins on her heels, her arms wrapping around his waist as she pulls him into a quick hug. She feels warm and her body molds perfectly into the contours of his. There is something that feels so natural about having her wrapped around his body and he finds that he wants to pull her into him and hold her and never let go. He tries not to think about that, instead, he puts a single arm around her and pats her back awkwardly.

She pulls away and looks up at him with a smile pulling at her lips, her eyes bright. “Thanks.”

He stands back and watches as she runs, essay in hand, back to her computer station and begins carefully (in what appears to be a practiced order) placing all her texts and notebooks back into her school bag. She then wipes her water bottle with a napkin and places it in the side pocket. God, she’s annoying. Adorable, but annoying.

 

**

It’s a Saturday and she is in the library. It’s a Saturday and it’s also Valentine’s day and she is in the library. Has been here for the past two hours already. With Scott. It’s not like she had any other pressing Valentine’s Day plans--maybe watch sappy movies and eat an entire carton of ice cream but that’s neither here nor there--but she certainly didn’t expect to be spending Valentine’s day alone in the library with Scott. Nope.

She decided, after he bought her Tim Horton’s and saved her from trekking in the freezing cold, that she no longer hates him. But she isn’t sure she likes him enough yet to be spending her Saturday--Valentine’s Day--with him. But here she is, sitting across from him on an overstuffed, vinyl covered, couch in the common area of the library.

“Have you given any more thought to the idea of a powerpoint?” she asks, peeking up at him over top of the screen of her MacBook.

“I don’t know. I still think it’s too structured, we should let the presentation flow naturally,” he smiles at her from behind his own laptop.

“Otherwise known as you want to wing it,” she sighs and puts down her computer, resting her head in her hands. They are getting nowhere.

Last class, five days ago, Patrice had announced that they’d be working on group projects, presenting on one of the texts and themes from the course. Of course he had paired her and Scott together, and they’d drawn the short straw of having to present next class. Today was the only day the two could meet. So, here she is, on Valentine's day arguing with Scott over the merits of power points.

“I don’t want to wing it,” he says, sitting up a little straighter on the couch, shuffling forward so that he is closer to her. “I just think we should keep the discussion organic and be a little more creative...I don’t know spice things up. We could bring in baked goods. That’ll get everyone’s attention.”

He is infuriating. “What do you want to do, bake cupcakes and ice them to look like a nipple. That’ll get the class talking for sure.”

Scott claps his hands together, much too loudly for the quiet space they are in and the noise reverberates through the open space. “Yes! That’s perfect!” he practically shouts.

She raises her eyebrows sharply, she really can’t believe him. His energy is boundless, and he excites so easily—she reminds him of an oversized golden retriever. “Shh, you’re going to get us kicked out!” she grits out through her teeth. “And we are not making nipple cupcakes.”

He pouts and makes a show of crossing his arms over his chest and she can’t suppress the giggle that bubbles out from deep in her chest.

“You’re no fun.” He says.

It’s her turn to pout, her bottom lip sticking out slightly as she sighs a little louder than she meant to. Because she knows it’s true, she’s not a lot of fun, she can be a bit high strung most of the time. She knows this.

“Hey, sorry,” he says, his legs are stretched out in front of him across the long couch and he nudges her thigh with his socked foot. She shoves it away from her in mock disgust (maybe a little bit of real disgust, because who takes their shoes off in the library?).

“It’s okay, I’m just tired and could probably use more caffeine.”

He talks her into going to Starbucks. She really would rather get this project out of the way and be done with it, with him, but there is something about him that persuades her. Maybe it’s the silly way his eyebrows lift up and down, first the right, then the left--making her laugh despite herself--like a wave, when he asks. Maybe it’s the way he grabs hold of her hand, that feels so natural like their fingers had grown apart only to be meant to weave together, pulls her up with an exaggerated grunt. Maybe it’s the gentle teasing in his voice, the way that he prods her that is only intended to get a laugh. Maybe it’s the way his face lights up, the greens in his eyes becoming more obvious, his tooth bearing smile, when she does laugh. Maybe it’s none of these things, maybe he is just right and some coffee and a change of scenery would be good for them.

They pack up their books and computers and head out of the library, following the enticing scent of  freshly brewed coffee to the campus Starbucks upstairs. The small coffee spot is of course tastefully decorated for the holiday--hearts, and cherubs, and roses in various shades of pinks and reds hang from the ceiling on fishing line, or are taped to the sides of tables and the till with scotch tape.

“It looks like cupid puked in here,” Tessa says as soon as they walk up to the counter.

“You aren’t a Valentine’s fan? Not feeling the love today, Tess?” he nudges her in the ribs with the point of his elbow.

She rolls her eyes, “Ah yes, I am irrationally mad at holiday decorations because I’m so happy to be at school doing homework on Valentine’s day...but come on you have to admit that this is over the top. Look, that chubby little baby Cupid has a penis,” she points to one of the red Cupid cutouts behind the till, where someone has clearly added some extra details with taped on red construction paper.

He laughs, it’s a deep rumble that starts from somewhere within his chest and fills the space around her with a warm blanket of sound that she wants to stay wrapped in for as long as she can. He throws his head back and his eyes close and she isn’t sure what she said was the funny, but his laugh fills her with giddiness all the same.

“How about you, am I keeping you away from a hot date?” She is going for light and teasing but even to her own surprise her words come out with a bit of a jealous bite to them.

He chuckles a little again and shakes his head like its a ridiculous question. “Nah. Not this year at least.”

They get their coffees, she insists on paying this time, showing him how overstuffed her wallet was with change from working at the bar Thursday. “What is this good for if not for buying coffee,” she says, paying the barista.

“So, do you only work Thursday nights?” he asks as they find a table to sit, three low hanging hearts dangle above their heads.

“Yeah,” she says quietly, her foot automatically going to run up and down her shin, her heel pushing into the tender muscle. “It’s all I can handle...with school and dance. I, uh, only work a few hours but it’s nice to have a bit of extra money.”

“Hopefully it’s worth putting up with jackasses like my roommates,” he says, taking off the lid of his black coffee and letting steam pour out and curl over the rim. “I’m still sorry about that.”

He sounds so genuinely concerned, his voice turning soft around the edges and curling around her like the steam from his drink.

“It’s really okay, I’m used to it,” she says with a shrug, because she is.

“I’m still sorry.”

She watches as the steam rises off the top of his coffee and swirls around in the air, catching dust and sunlight as is lifts towards the cardboard hearts above them, leaving condensation on their waxy surfaces. They sit in quiet for a moment and she thinks it should be awkward, she should want to fill the silence with something but she doesn’t, and it’s not.

Eventually, they pull out their computers and their books and get to work on their presentation. Though it takes a bunch more needling, he agrees to do a small powerpoint. So long as it’s just images that will prompt their talking points. When they finally wrap up, it’s close to six and her stomach is doing flips, loudly complaining about her lack of sustenance. She knows if she waits another half hour or so the feeling with go away and she won’t feel hungry anymore. It reminds her of being in ballet school and she feels a pang if guilt.

Her stomach growls again, though instead of a low rumble this time is lets out a beastly growl. She bites her lip and turns her head away from him as she packs her things back in her bag, embarrassed that he must have heard her body’s complaints.

“Do you have dinner plans?” he asks.

“No, but I better getting going before I’m too tired to feed myself.”

She can see him thinking. Watches how his eyes flick between her own and the floor. Can see the pull of the muscles in his jaw as he grinds his teeth together. Can see the slight furrow in his brow as he decides what he’s going to say next, his forehead creasing. He swallows and she watches the movement of his throat.   

“Want to go to Boston Pizza with me? We can share a heart shaped pizza and make fun of dorky couples.”