“Why do we have to study?”
I sighed as I stared at the bookshelf, looking for the M-Q section of Encylopedia Simtannica. This was the third full week of tutoring. My boss’ son, Ethan was a nice kid, but easily distracted and lacked good grammar skills. We had been meeting at the Grand Canyon Community Library every night. I reviewed his papers, if he remembered to bring them, or if he even did them. I gave him tips on writing, helped him with his outlines, and read through his assignments with him to make sure he understood. Most nights, he was unmotivated and acted dumb. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my evenings, but I could use the extra Simos. Dad’s medical bills were higher than he expected, and I was trying to help out, since he could only work partial shifts during his recovery.
“Because your dad is paying me good money,” I said beneath my breath.
“What?” Ethan asked.
“Because you need to get an A on your upcoming paper,” I replied, more loudly this time.
“But why?” Ethan whined. “This is only the first big paper of the year. If I flop on this one, I still have like eight more to go.”
“You’re not going to flop,” I narrowed my eyes as my hand found the book.
“Yes I am… can we go for ice cream now?” Ethan asked.
“No,” I shook my head, setting the encyclopedia on the table. “Now why don’t you look up your definitions first?”
“Because… why do I need a lame-o book when I can just find the entry on the Web?” he rolled his eyes.
“Because…” I plucked his phone from his hand. “Last time you used the phone to text friends from school and play that racing game.”
“Aw… Kass… you are no fun… you’re like master Yoda,” Ethan plunked his head on the desk. “I wanna go off and explore the Verse and you like wanna keep me here and work me to death with these training exercises. How am I ever to rescue Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader if you don’t let me go?”
I quirked a brow, amused at the Star Wars reference.
“You have a princess to rescue, Master Ethan?” I replied, bemused. “You know the princess would be most impressed if you wrote in complete sentences.”
He grimaced and sighed, taking the pencil I held out to him.
A half-hour of grumbling beneath his breath, a few furious eraser moments, and several scribbles later, Ethan had finished his first paragraph. I, on the other hand, managed to read six chapters of the Lady Ravendancer biography.
“Hey Kass, look at my hand,” Ethan purposely shook his hands. “I think I’m going to lose it or somethin’ if I gotta keep writing this space junk.”
“Ethan, your hand is fine,” I replied, without looking up from my page.
“But it’s… it’s… it’s…” Ethan replied, each word more punctuated than the one before. He set his elbow on the table and rested his head on his hand. “…it’s time for a break…” he grinned. “How about some ice cream?”
“You only have a paragraph done,” I leaned over and looked at his page.
“Mmm… you smell good… like flowers…” Ethan remarked.
I stared at him in annoyance.
“Yeah… like orange blossom flowers on an orange tree,” Ethan continued.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.
“Say you know what else smells like oranges? Orange dreamsicle slushies at the autumn festival. We should take a break and go over there.”
I sighed. “The autumn festival is probably shut down by now.”
“Nope,” he corrected me. “It’s open til eleven on Fridays and Saturdays. What do you say? Wanna go smell like fruit?”
“I thought you said I smelled like flowers,” I replied with a deadpan face.
“Yeah… whatever… can’t eat flowers…” Ethan stood up and began packing away his books.
“Did I say we were leaving?”
“No… but I figured you’d want a slush… my treat.”
“But, I’m parched.”
“How about I go get us a couple of sodas from the machine and you write another paragraph? Or we can call it an evening and you can tell your dad you’re failing the tenth grade.”
Ethan gave an exasperated sigh and returned his attention to his paper. “Yes dictator!”
I smirked as I closed my book, stood up, and walked out into the outside corridor. The cool Simtember air felt good compared to the stuffy study room in the library. I walked across the tiled courtyard. Ethan was a nice kid. He just needed to focus. He actually wrote semi-decent stuff and I could already see his improvements. I reached the vending machine. They were, unfortunately, out of orange soda, but I figured Lemon Zinger was still citrus-flavored and would have to do as a substitute for Ethan. I pushed the button for my own drink – a Doc Ahhhh.
The sodas falling down the vending machine weren’t the only thing that startled me. Billy Caspian had appeared, leaning casually against the stucco walls with a dangerous grin on his face. I sniffed in frustration, and turned to face him.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to check something out of the library,” he replied. “But maybe I really came to check someone out.”
I chortled. “Really? That’s the best you’ve got?”
“Well, we are in a library,” he moved toward me, swinging his arms suavely.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” I remarked, sarcastically.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Why do you care?” I was pleasantly surprised with myself for my quick responses.
“Because… Kass… I like you…”
“Oh you do, huh?”
“Yeah, you liked me so much, you pressured me, and when I said no, you kicked me out.”
“You left of your own free will.”
“Really? That’s how we’re going to play this?”
I walked to move past him, but he caught my arm.
“Please Kass, give me a second chance,” Billy pleaded with me.
“I haven’t heard from you in almost a month,” I side-stepped his request.
Billy shrugged. “I had to go home for a bit.”
“To Riverview?” I narrowed my eyes.
“Yes, but I’m back now,” Billy replied.
As if that makes it all better.
“Well, good for you…” I frowned.
My quick witted remarks were fading fast. It was probably because I was feeling tired. I reached for my sodas.
“Look, I don’t have time for this. I’m working,” I grunted, walking past him.
“You work at the library now?” he asked, arching a brow.
“No,” I called over my shoulder.
When I returned to the study room, Ethan had put away his books. I set down the Lemon Zinger and Doc Ahhh! beverages and frowned. A coffee cup sat on the table in front of my seat.
“Ethan, you’re not down already are you?” I inquired.
“Relax… Kass… I’m just taking a piss. I’ll be right back,” he assured me with a lopsided grin.
“Where did the coffee come from?” I wondered.
“Some guy brought it in here. Said you ordered it,” Ethan snapped the metal on his can and took a sip. “Thanks for the refreshments.”
“Some guy?” I repeated.
“Yeah, said you two knew each other and you’d want the coffee.”
“But I don’t want coffee.”
“Okay… well… bathroom break…” Ethan pointed toward the restroom doors. “Drink your coffee, Kass. You ordered it.”
“I did not…” I threw my hands in the air, and felt someone catch my wrist. I cried out in annoyance, and squirmed, wiggling my way out of Billy’s arms.
“What the hell, Billy!?” I exclaimed.
“Hey, Kass, language,” Billy said, in mock-seriousness. “There’s a kid here.”
“I’m not a kid,” Ethan grumbled, looking down at his feet.
“Why did you grab me?” I snapped.
“Who is this guy?” Ethan asked.
“Kass… look up…” Billy’s eyes lifted toward the ceiling.
I glanced upward and noticed a low-hanging lamp. I would’ve hit it if Billy hadn’t caught my hand. He smiled at me, and I scrunched my shoulders up and down.
“I didn’t order coffee,” I said, darkly.
“Aren’t you going to thank me?” Billy asked.
“What? For rescuing my hand? You don’t need thanks for that,” I scoffed. “You can’t just bring me coffee.”
“Why not?” he shrugged. “It’s better for you than soda.”
“You’re the soda police now?”
Ethan stepped in front of me. “Kass, who is this guy?”
“Her boyfriend,” Billy replied, before I could say anything.
“You didn’t say nothing about a boyfriend,” Ethan looked visibly shocked.
“He’s not… my… boyfriend…” I said, through gritted teeth.
“Oh really? So hooking up with me meant nothing to you?”
The heat rose in my cheeks. I couldn’t believe Billy would say something like that in front of someone else, let alone a teenager, let alone my boss’s son. It wasn’t even the full truth. I clenched my fists.
“Ethan… go to the bathroom,” I said coldly.
“No,” Ethan protested. “I’m not leaving you alone with this creep.”
“Kid, we’ve got this,” Billy took a step forward.
“Hey jackass!” Ethan stepped around us and poked Billy in the abdominal region. “You should just leave her alone.”
“Ethan!” I said, shrilly. “Just go do your business. I need a moment.”
His face fell and I felt momentarily bad for snapping at him. He turned and walked into the restroom, but not before giving Billy an “I’m-watching-you” kind-of stare.
“Billy,” I turned to him.
“So now that we are alone…” he leaned toward me seductively.
“Billy!” I threw up my hands, flustered. “We didn’t even finish so I don’t call that hooking up.”
“We had chemistry, Red. You can’t deny it,” Billy responded.
“Seriously? Do these lines actually work on women?” I said, incredulously.
“Sometimes,” he replied, nonchalantly.
“Look, Billy, you and I had fun, but then you threw me out no matter what you say otherwise. I think ‘next time, warn me if you’re going to be a buzz kill’ qualifies as a verbal kick-to-the-curb.”
“Ouch!” Billy winced and rubbed the back of his head. “I said that? I was wasted.”
“Wasted or not, you seriously…” I couldn’t say ‘hurt’ so I said the next best thing. “…pissed me off. You’re not my boyfriend. You haven’t talked to me for weeks. You bit me and then didn’t apologize and you got all annoyed when I wouldn’t let you keep biting me.”
“Red, it’s just a thing I have…” he said, looking almost remorseful. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just… was so turned on by you… and I got a little too enthusiastic.”
“It’s just a thing?” I repeated, annoyed at how dismissive he was being.
“A stupid thing,” he took a step toward me, and tucked a loose hair over my ear.
I felt electricity tingle through my whole body as his fingers brushed my skin. He was staring deeply, and I tried to avoid swimming in his two vast green oceans. There was something soothing in his touch and exciting in his gaze. I swallowed hard, half-expecting him to kiss me as he lingered only a few inches from my mouth. Shaking my head hard, I took a step back.
“You need to leave,” I said, the edge leaving my tone.
“I’m trying to apologize.”
“You need to leave.”
“You won’t accept my apology?”
“Since you said please…” he conceded, backed away, and bowed almost graciously. “I promise I’ll go, but first, I really am sorry, Kass. I didn’t intend to hurt you, and we both were buzzed and I was acting like a stupid dickhead. So if you won’t accept my apology, at least accept the coffee.”
I sighed, putting my hands on my hips.
“Milk and one sugar,” he smiled slightly.
I watched Billy leave the study room as promised. Ethan returned, and muttered something about needing to finish his paragraph and asked me if I’d find the R through W encyclopedia for his research, surprising me by his newfound interest in academia. I apologized for my harshness and he told me not to sweat it with a casual teenage guy kind-of shrug. I plopped into the desk chair, a soured look crossing my face.
Don’t fall for him, Kass, he’s trouble, and you know it.
With that, I picked up the cup of steaming hot coffee, ignoring the heavenly scent of the dark-roasted beans, and tossed Billy’s peace offering into the garbage can.