You can find Chapter One here.  And Chapter Two here.

Chapter Three

 

The library door banged open from the force of Layla shoving her way through, still angry at Evan.  She couldn’t believe his brazen flirting and the way he’d checked her out.  Repeatedly.  Like he thought she might be interested.

She had no desire to be one of the many brainless females that threw themselves at his feet.  Watching the way other girls reacted to him made her want to gag.  They fawned all over him, which just fed into his ego, confirming his belief that he was God’s gift to womankind.

Her irritation kept her warm on the twenty minute walk to her apartment.  On days like today, she missed her old roommate and the knowledge that she’d have a sympathetic ear to vent to.  But Alyssa had gotten married over the summer to her longtime boyfriend.  So now Layla lived in a one bedroom with only her books as company.

The exercise of walking home had calmed some of her anger, but she got annoyed all over again when she realized that she’d intended to look for the book she needed in the campus bookstore.  She wanted to charge the book to her school account rather than having to pay for it out of her spending money if she could.  Or maybe she should see if the public library had it.

Once inside her apartment, she put on the kettle to make some chamomile tea.  She needed something soothing.

With a deep breath, she centered herself, thinking back through her interactions with Evan.  If she had to work with him, she needed to figure out a way to not let him get to her.  Now that she had a chance to think, it seemed like that might’ve been his goal, since every time she got irritated, he did more of whatever made her mad, like he was trying to see how much of a reaction he could get.

If that were the case, then she needed to rein in her temper and treat him politely but without emotion.  Hopefully he’d lose interest when he didn’t get a reaction and go back to flirting with other people.

While the tea steeped, she decided to call Alyssa anyway, not sure if she’d answer, but knowing she’d call back when she could.

Alyssa picked up on the second ring.  “Hey, girl!  What’s up?”

“Not much.  Just thought I’d see if you were around.”  Layla clamped her phone between her ear and shoulder while she pressed the flowers against the steeper to squeeze the liquid out.

“Liar.  You hate talking on the phone.  You usually text me to come over or fish for an invite when you want to hang out.  What’s wrong?”

Stirring in some honey, Layla let out a sigh.  “I have to work with Evan Coopman for a project in World Literature.”

Alyssa didn’t say anything at first, then a muffled snort and a giggle came over the phone.

“Shut up.  Why are you laughing at me?”

Her voice still vibrating with laughter, Alyssa finally spoke.  “You’re the only person I know who can make that sound like a death sentence.”

“What—I’m supposed to be excited about it?  Yippee, I get to work with a dumb football player who flirts with anyone who has a pulse and passes as female.  Hooray.”

Alyssa snorted with laughter again.  “Did he flirt with you?”

“Yes.”  Layla spit the answer through clenched teeth, getting mad all over again.

“Oh, the horrors.  A hot guy who obviously works out all the time flirted with you.  Hurry, hang up so you can call the police and report him.”

“What’s with the sarcasm?  You’re supposed to be on my side.”

Alyssa sighed.  “I am on your side.  But what’s the big deal?  So the guy flirted with you.  Flirt back and have some fun.  It’s not like your professor assigned you to have his babies.  You meet a few times, you turn in your project or whatever, and you go about your life.  It’s not quite the crisis situation you seem to think it is.”

“I know his type.  He flirts with everyone.  It’s not like him flirting with me means anything.”

“Exactly.  It doesn’t mean anything, so why get upset about it?”  Alyssa paused.  “Or wait—would it be better if it did mean something?  Do you want him to flirt with you for real?”

“No.  What?  No.  Absolutely not.  He’s a womanizing douche.  Why would I want him to flirt with me?”

“Because he’s hot.”

“How do you know?”

Alyssa laughed out loud at that, not trying to muffle it.  “One, they show pictures of the players on the scoreboard at games when they talk about them, and you know that Darren and I like to go.  Two, you told me when he sat next to you in class last time.  When you witnessed him flirting with a bunch of other girls right after being super flirty with you.”

Layla chose not to respond, sipping her tea.

“What’s really going on, Layla?”

Sighing, Layla set down her mug on the coffee table and sat down on her couch.  “He reminds me of Mark.”

“That guy you dated in high school?”

“Yeah.  That guy.  The one who was hot and flirty and made me feel like I was special instead of the nerdy, weird girl.  Who made me believe he loved me.  And then bragged to anyone who would listen the minute we had sex.  God, he posted about it on Facebook before I even left his house.  I was just a challenge to him.  Something different and exotic to add to his collection.”  Her voice turned bitter on the last sentence. The way he’d made her feel—like an object, a fetish, something less than human—still stung even though it had happened almost five years ago.

“Look.” Alyssa’s voice softened.  “I know Mark was awful to you.  And you have every right to hate him.  But Evan Coopman isn’t Mark.  He hasn’t done anything but flirt with you, which, by your own admission, he does to every girl he comes across. So maybe try to be polite at least, okay?  Treat him the same you would anyone else you could’ve gotten paired up with.  Do your project and go back to ignoring him.  It’s really not that big of a deal.”

With another sigh, Layla finally gave in to Alyssa.  “Fine.  You’re right.  I should probably apologize the next time I see him.  Maybe it’ll throw him off guard.  And I’ve already figured that I’ll have to do the majority of the work if I’m going to get a decent grade on this.”

“Why?”

“Hello?  He’s a jock.  I’ve heard him talk about his tutor.  He probably needs one to keep his GPA high enough to stay on the team.  I’m not risking my grade on someone like that.  I’ll give him enough to do in the presentation that we both get credit, but no way am I giving him actual work.”

“You’re such a snob sometimes.  Why not give him a real chance?  You hate it when people assume things about you.”

Layla’s lips twisted in a grimace of distaste.  That was true.  She did hate people making assumptions about her, about her background, her ethnicity, her cultural heritage.  When she’d moved to Everett in sixth grade the kids in her class had found out that she’d lived on a reservation before.  They’d asked her if her parents had worked in a casino and called her a squaw and worse.  Her skin was lighter than her dad’s, since she was only a quarter Native American, but with her long black hair that she liked to wear loose and her high cheekbones—plus growing up on the Colville Reservation—they all assumed she was Native American.

And when her mom, who was half white and half Japanese, came to school to pick her up, everyone assumed she was adopted.  Or had been taken away from her Native American parents and placed in foster care.  Anything but that her mom was her mom.

It was bad enough when kids did it in school, but it pissed her off more when it came from grown-ass adults.  Like her history professor who had declared that she was a product of Affirmative Action, like she hadn’t earned her right to be at Marycliff University like everyone else.

“Fine.  I won’t assume he’s a moron.  I’ll give him a chance to prove himself at least.  But I reserve the right to make sure he doesn’t screw this up.”

“Fair enough.”

They chatted for a few more minutes before hanging up, and Layla felt both better and worse after talking to Alyssa.  Better, because Alyssa made good points.  But worse because she had been a raging bitch to him today.  With a sigh, she realized she’d have to apologize to him on Thursday when she saw him in class.  And she should offer to schedule a time to meet with him and discuss what they should do.

The idea still didn’t sit well, but maybe if she made it clear that she would be polite and professional and expected the same from him, he’d quit flirting and save it for someone more receptive.  She could only hope.

 

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