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This whole week has been an absolute wash studying wise.

She’s behind. She’s already playing catch up on her discussion boards for abnormal psych. One half of the blame goes to her for putting it off, but in fairness trying to pry a substantial dialogue about human behavior out of people who only want to talk about Ted Bundy is monotonous on a good day. The other half of the blame is firmly on Grayson’s shoulders for bullying her into last weekend's writers conference. It had been a hasty and terrifying decision but thrilling all the same. Her presentation, an analysis on the rising and increasingly feminine draw to true crime, had been a smash success. Standing room only and then a surprise first prize in the undergraduate category. She hadn’t even minded Grayson’s smugness and Jayce’s countless back pats, she’d been so pleased with herself. So needless to say, she doesn’t regret going, it was a truly worthwhile weekend. It’s just that the celebration afterwards had not been conducive for homework. The hangover the next day had also not aided her.

She had come back to midterms and the normally lax writing center was absolutely swamped as a result. Everywhere she turned were term papers and essays. Which is fine, it means campus outreach for the underclassmen is going well so Viktor was happy, but it cuts heavily into the studying she usually sneaks in when the center is dead. She’d only had time between tutoring students to glance up at the clock and helplessly watch her deadlines creeping closer.

To top it off she’d come home from a long Friday, taking a breather before preparing to jump into everything she has to do. It's looking like a solid weekend of all nighters at this point just to keep pace with all her reading. Just as she had opened her laptop to get started, and comically she had been wondering if her day could possibly get any better, the house next door had decided to kick up the sound system and prove her right.

Far be it for her to roll over and take it. She lives in predominantly student apartments, boisterous raves and loud get togethers happen often and she doesn’t give two shits about knocking on a door and reminding people about the noise curfew. It may mean her mail sometimes doesn’t turn up or her new nickname is bitch but if it means quiet in the evenings she’ll take it on the chin.

Except this time, after stomping all the way down to the first floor and storming her way up the neighboring house’s walk; she’d taken one look at white balloon arches, massive flower arrangements, and the huge pool of people surrounding a couple in the middle of a first dance, and had turned on her heel and fled. Shamefully returning to pack her things and look up the closing times of nearby cafes. She’s a bitch but she’s not going to ruin two people’s day by complaining they’re being in love too loudly.

She had opted for a smaller coffee shop a little off the beaten path to campus. She’s only been to the Brew Ha Ha once but it had been quaint, the music not too obtrusive, small enough to discourage crowds.

When she pushes into the two room shop this time it is as she remembers, concrete floors, vintage furniture, and local art on the walls, the difference is it’s far busier. Exhausted loners with eye bags who hammer away at their keyboards, group projects chattering animatedly at over encumbered tables, all set to a symphony of clinking cups and Bossa nova. Under the weight of her satchel she can feel her shoulders drop.

It’s alright. She can salvage this. She brought earbuds. She won’t have full quiet but she can listen to something lyricless to drown out her surroundings. It’s not her home but the sanctity of it has been invaded by the attention consuming beats of the Cupid Shuffle and other such tacky songs. This will do.

Most faces here are unfamiliar or familiar only in passing. She waves back to a student she recognizes but can’t quite name, absently reaching up to make sure her collar is straight after. As she does this she finally catches eyes with a much more familiar shadow.

Violet Wick is parked comfortably in the best spot in the cafe, a table near the counter while also well out of the way of foot traffic and close to an outlet to plug a charger into. She has a spread of textbooks, empty plates and cups, and a beat up brick of a laptop, across seventy percent of the table's surface. She had stopped glaring down at her phone to flick those pretty blue eyes up towards her. That’s all she takes in before Caitlyn quickly looks away. The next time she peaks over she’s again frantically glancing anywhere else because Vi was still watching her, a pierced eyebrow lifted in confusion.

Vi has haunted a few of the same general education courses since she’d transferred in sophomore year. She’d picked up a huge girlish crush on her in American history, sneaking peeks at the muscle bound woman with a big laugh and a scar on her lip. She’d been endlessly fascinated by her and while Vi at the very least acknowledged her existence they’ve never been properly acquainted. She’d misplaced her spine somewhere on the plane ride over, a new country, new people, culture, school, type. Vi was unlike anyone she’s ever pursued so she’d hesitated and a semester or two later their schedules had diverged.

When was the last time she’d seen her, egads, was it really art appreciation? That had been last fall. She is an engineering major and has mentioned being one of several siblings so Caitlyn knows her life must be hectic. She looks good. She always does and if Caitlyn wasn’t so terribly behind, (and not wearing day-old mascara while in one of her frumpier sweaters) she might do something about it. But life has been unfair lately and if she wants to maintain her 4.0 she won’t chat up the hot buff engineer. The same hot buff engineer who probably doesn’t want to get hit on right now and will likely be gone by the time Caitlyn works up the nerve.

At least her view will be nice.

The small line has moved on without her notice and she scrambles up to order a large blonde latte, planning on being here a while. Her wallet is of course buried under all her books and folders so she pulls those out and is accidentally a bit too generous with her tip. She turns and scans the area, still juggling an armful, but no tables have cleared since she’s ordered and no one looks keen on leaving either. Perhaps ordering for here was presumptuous. She might have to brave the library instead and pray people aren’t canoodling in the private study cubbies. Again.

Caitlyn’s gaze drifts over towards her again, as if magnetized, how could it not? Even if this was the first time she’d ever seen her she’d be staring because Vi would never not be eye-catching. A bold uneven crown of pink and slouched off worn leather, spread legs in blue ripped jeans. Her jacket is half on, revealing a sliver of dark ink on gorgeous arms she’s seen all too rarely before they vanish under the rolled sleeves of a Joan Jett tshirt.

Just as she’s getting ready to turn around and forlornly tell the barista to make hers a to go order, Vi, arms folded, casually slides the extra chair at her table out.

Caitlyn glances down at it. Back up at her. Vi stares back, eyes bright, eyebrows raised expectantly.

Caitlyn steps over, puts her free hand across the back of it, and confidently around her heart in her throat asks, “Is this seat taken?”

Earbud in hand, Vi’s lip takes on a satisfying curl. “It’s yours if you want it.”

Caitlyn smiles back, taking a seat, distractedly brushing out her skirt as she does.

Maybe life is trying to get back on her good side.

Vi is moving out of her casual lean, sending her weight from the back of the chair forward to quickly clear more space for her. Caitlyn quietly thanks her as she sends the pile of papers in her arms onto the table.

She pushes a loose bang back behind her ear to keep her hands busy, “Thank you so much for sharing your spot. I’m very grateful.”

Vi gives up trying to straighten out a bundle of pages and peers back up at her. “Don’t mention it. You looked like you were having a tough time.”

“Astute.” She compliments. “It’s been a rather long week for me. It’s good to see a friendly face, how have you been?”

“Same here.” Vi rolls her shoulders and Caitlyn forces herself to keep her gaze focused high. “I’m alright. I’ve been here since 3 and midterms are kicking my ass. I haven’t been able to focus for shit.”

Her stomach sinks, she stops herself from pulling her laptop out. “Oh, I’d hate to distract you. You’re generous for sharing but if I’m interfering with your studies–”

“Caitlyn,” And she bites her runaway tongue at the sound of her name leaving Vi’s lips. “It’s okay. I study better with accountability. It helps me if you look busy, makes me want to get my ass in gear if that makes any sense.”

She wishes she’d worn her hair down because her ears have most definitely gone red. Her coffee being set in front of her is a brilliant distraction from her borderline gawking. “Well, if you’re sure. I don’t want to impose upon you. Vi.”

Her name is a last minute addition to her sentence. Tit for tat. If she squints, she swears the skin across her nose has pinkened. Vi chuckles and waves a hand absently. “I promise you’re doing me a favor. You’re the good kind of distraction.”

If she goes for her coffee to avoid her eyes after that, Vi doesn’t call her on it, but the mirth in her gaze when she finally does look back says she wants to.

“You’re sweet,” Caitlyn says, then demurely adds over the rim of her cup, purposefully glancing at her through her lashes. “I’ll try not to be a burden on your hospitality.”

Vi’s resulting grin is charged. She settles back in her seat with a short laugh. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

Then she winks and Caitlyn wonders if they have any hope of accomplishing anything this evening.

-

“A wedding? You should’ve stayed.”

Caitlyn scoffs. “I could never be a party crasher, not for a wedding.”

Vi leans towards her conspiratorially and her poorly contained enthusiasm has Caitlyn leaning close as well. “I highly recommend it. Me and my sister have done it a couple times. Free food, dancing, bridesmaids, it’s a good time, people hardly even notice. Don’t try it on dry weddings though, gotta be a bar. Sober grandmas hit too hard.”

“You are making it sound oh so tempting.” Caitlyn teases with a poorly hidden laugh.

“C’mon, you only live once, Kiramman.” Vi snarks back.

“Maybe someday.” She leans back more comfortably in her chair even though she misses their brief clandestine meeting. As if they’d been whispering over tables diabolically for ages. She wishes suddenly so poignantly then that she had acted on these feelings sooner, so that they could have. Partners in crime for ages. Or just partners.

She’s embarrassing herself.

“The appeal of it is hardly the issue.” She reminds her. “The issue is I couldn’t study, not that I can’t have a good time.”

Vi leans back too and Caitlyn must be imagining the flash of disappointment on her face. It too quickly morphs into disaffected casual. “Fair enough.”

“What about you?” She’s not quite ready to get back to that discussion board yet. “I wouldn’t figure the Brew Ha Ha to be a regular haunt of yours.”

Vi tilts her head, giving her credit for the guess. “You’d be right. Normally I’m in my dorm but my roommate’s partner is in town and she very politely told me to fuck off so she could get her back blown out.”

Caitlyn barely manages to keep her coffee in her mouth.

Vi’s smirk is jubilant. “Sorry.”

Caitlyn wipes at the corners of her mouth. “Somehow I don’t think you are.”

-

They had settled into a good five minutes of quiet before Vi pipes up again. Which is just as well, she’d been on her fifth reread of the same paragraph anyway.

“You’ve taken comp two right?”

She hums affirmation and looks up to see a wrinkle in her brow. “Who are you taking it with? Grayson or…?”

“Marcus.”

Caitlyn tsks. “There’s your first mistake.”

“My second actually. I’m retaking and he’s the only one who fits my schedule.”

“He’s a right bastard.” Caitlyn states remorselessly. Because it’s true.

Vi pulls a face. “So it’s not just me. Great.”

Caitlyn gives her a pitying wince. “No, you’re one of the lucky few that he puts on his designated shitlist.”

Vi lets out a humorless laugh. “Yep, I think what got me there was asking for different colored handouts. He also won’t change to a dyslexia friendly font so it takes me forever to read the prompts and I run out of time.”

Caitlyn is stunned, outraged on Vi’s behalf. “Vi, that’s awful. You should report him to student affairs, he should be doing what he can to accommodate you.”

She’s grinding the heels of her palms into her eyes. “I know. I’m just barely passing right now, I’m worried he’ll find a way to make my life worse. I don’t wanna have to take this stupid class again.”

As if she needed more reason to hate that blowhard. Caitlyn fights to not grind her teeth, barely managing to not hiss. “He’s not allowed to retaliate against you for disability accommodations. If he did, you could sue him and the university for discrimination. They’d sooner fire him than be embroiled in a suit like that.”

A palm lifts and Vi slips a thankful smile her way. “Shit, I should’ve made more pre-law friends. Where have you been all my life?”

What a thing to say! Now she’s fighting to maintain her composure but for entirely different reasons. “Usually sitting in front of you. You could’ve said hi.” She sniffs, playing at haughty.

Vi’s hands fall away from her face and her shoulders drop with them. She works her jaw in a rueful way, thoughtful, debating before coming to the conclusion to admit, “You were the pretty, new British exchange student. Everyone wanted a piece of you. I didn’t wanna add to the pile.”

Her reply is breathless. “I wouldn’t have minded.” Fingers fidgeting, she pauses to take a sip of the rest of her drink. To hide her face, busy her hands. “I wouldn’t have minded if it was you.”

She could frame the look she gives her.

-

Eventually her tired eyes can’t take it anymore. Her father would smack her for going on so long without them, but she’s still not used to the weight of them on the bridge of her nose. This time however, the impending headache sends her somewhat bashfully to procuring her glasses for the remainder of her reading. She could cry this prose is so dry. What an absolute slog this piece has been.

Over the yellowed pages she spies Vi staring at her with open mouthed surprise. She peeks around, fingers pausing in their rhythm on the spine. “What?”

“You wear glasses?” Vi asks, sounding just as baffled as she appears.

She begins tapping again, the dull knocks comforting as she’s feeling suddenly very shy. “Yes, though I’m terrible about it.”

Vi’s eyes skirt away, very unlike her. “They’re cute. You should wear ‘em more often.” She admits softly.

She doesn’t have to squint anymore to see her redden.

-

They’re taking a break after she sends in one of her weaker analyses and Vi submits a problem set for…what Caitlyn can’t quite remember. She wants to say calculus? Either way it had set Vi off on a math tangent that Caitlyn only half–no, that’s too generous–she knows a couple of articles and several choice adjectives. Everything else is miles beyond her. She gets so animated as she talks, with her hands moving. She’s not quite all the way into angry, more like exasperated, so much so that she’s nearly right back around into amused.

After a few minutes it’s like she’s looking at her again for the first time and her smile turns bashful. “Sorry, I keep talking. Just tell me to shut up and I will.”

It is far too forward for her to admit that she could listen to her for quite a while before she tires of her. So instead she shakes her head, responds back easily. “You’re fine. You’re a good kind of distraction.”

Caitlyn has always been so struck by how easily Vi’s whole countenance changes when she interacts with people. At first look Vi is usually seen with a scowl on, mysteriously broody and perpetually pissed off. But then something, one of her brother’s or a text on her phone could cause that facade to crack and she’d grace the room with such warmth, deep laughs and crooked grins that asserted startling sincerity.

It is borderline heart stopping to be on the receiving end of one of those expressions.

-

Caitlyn has never been much of a verbal processor. Much of her thoughts stay behind closed lips, to be mulled over dozens of times before ever being uttered. But to ease Vi’s self-consciousness she speaks up this time. Choosing to target her abnormal psych class and its more inane participants. Vi watches her, enraptured, chiming in both helpfully and unhelpfully if not hilariously.

“Vi, seriously!” She cries after they finally stop cackling. “How in the world am I supposed to craft an earnest reply to someone who is a self described Charles Manson stan?”

Ah, poor timing. Vi chokes on her second Americano. 

-

She offhandedly mentions that the cupcakes in the display look incredible. When she comes back from the bathroom, one of them is sitting on a plate on her side and Vi is resolutely not looking at her. Her poker face is top notch, it’s only the twinkle in her eyes that betrays her.

When Caitlyn thanks her mysterious benefactor who may or may not be present, she also promises to cover any treat she may want next time.

Vi finally meets her eyes, awestruck, and her shut lipped smile melts into something dangerously tender.

Oh no, that one, that one deserves to be immortalized in a museum.

“Okay, cupcake.”

-

“No Vi, just because she murdered exclusively men you do not, in fact, gotta hand it to her.”

-

“Your major is still engineering, right?” She’d rather play dumb than mortifyingly admit to having a catalogue of information of Vi she’s latched onto in passing.

“Uh yeah, probably.” Vi says slowly, twirling a stylus in her fingers.

Caitlyn polishes off the cold dregs of her final latte before she responds, arching a brow at her. “Probably?”

The stylus goes flying and Vi shrugs at her, reaching down to retrieve it. “I’m kinda lukewarm on it these days. This shit’s hard. I can do it but I don’t know if I like doing it. Not enough for the rest of my life anyway.”

She catches her eye and smiles in sympathy. “That’s a tough call to make. If it helps I understand. I waffled in gen eds for a long time before I really found what I enjoyed. And even then I ended up double majoring. You could always do that or pick up some classes that spark your interest, see what you like.”

Vi is quiet for a long time. When she does finally ask, she won’t look at her until the questions are completely out of her mouth, trying to grin and failing. “How did you know? What you wanted to be when you grew up?”

Caitlyn’s next breath is especially heavy and her sigh sinks right to the floor. “I had help. My mentor helped break it down to brass tacks. What do I want to do? What do I want to do in the world? And what am I good at? How do I accomplish that?”

“What are you good at?” Vi prompts her, watching her with carefully tamped down eagerness.

“I’m good at arguing,” she confesses and they both laugh quietly. When they settle she goes on. “I’m good at listening. I want the world to be a little more fair. I want to help people.”

Vi stares at her so long, the slant of her jaw caressed by the edge of the nearby yellow lamp light, Caitlyn wonders if she can see through her. All hints of sunlight have been gone for hours now, the nearly empty cafe is a murmuring quiet now. The dark of the evening turns her eyes grey.

“You can’t be real.” Vi whispers, something like awe in her tone. Shock flashes over her features, a thought spoken too loudly.

Caitlyn allows her heart, hammering in her throat again, to roll onto her tongue, to press a similar message past her lips. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing.”

-

With closing time looming and the glares of the employees stark, they regretfully pack up their things. Painfully slow, sneaking glances and exchanging jibes as they do. They’ve barely accomplished anything. Which is why they exchange numbers, already making plans for tomorrow.

Caitlyn has no hope of accomplishing anything then either. She doesn’t care, her cares had fluttered away when Vi had kissed her cheek goodbye in the parking lot.

It feels like she flies home and she doesn't come down for hours.

-

Vi leans back against her truck door, letting the cool metal, the cool air, dig into her. Hoping it'll help her hands to stop shivering as she checks her phone's notifications.

ClaggRoar : yo did you still wanna q with us??

VIolence : cant, still playing catch up

VIolence: i think i jus went on a date with cait kiraman

It feels like her grin is gonna split her face in half when the message sends.

Several people are typing…