“Now, I’ve been teaching here for over thirty years,” Professor Longmire prattles on as he paces the front of the room. “I’ve been around long enough to know that these eight AM Monday classes are a pain in the you-know-what. I know not everyone is going to go to every single class. I know that there’ll be times you’re hung over or you over-sleep or what have you. Don’t email me. Don’t send me your sob story or made up excuses. I don’t want to hear it. Now some of the younger professors, they post lecture notes on the class website. But I don’t have time for that. So here’s what you’re going to do. Everyone’s going to have an accountability buddy.”
“A what?” someone asks from the row before me.
“How old are we again?” one of the girls scoffs.
“I want you each to turn to someone next to you,” he says. “That person is going to be your go-to when you need a copy of lecture notes. That person is also going to be your study partner. Their success is your success and vice-versa. Just because this is Anthro 101 doesn’t mean it’s an easy class. In fact, a quarter of you will drop out before the end of the semester, and the majority of you probably won’t walk out of here with A’s.”
Two people—a guy and a girl from opposite ends of the room—gather their bags and show themselves out, heads tucked.
“Aaaand there we go. That’s when I usually scare them away.” Longmire laughs at his own joke before scanning the audience. “Anyway, I’ll give you all a moment to find your partner. Don’t make a big deal of it, don’t overthink it. Just pick someone—anyone—close by.”
I gather a sea-salted lungful of air and take in my surroundings. The two girls beside me have suddenly replaced their disdain and are now clasping their hands together like a couple of junior high besties. The guys in the row ahead are already exchanging phone numbers, as are the guy and girl to their right. Within seconds, I surmise that everyone else around me seems to be spoken for—everyone, that is, except Talon.
Straightening my shoulders, I angle my body toward his and maintain a neutral expression.
The moment our eyes catch, he bites his lower lip and flashes a cockeyed smirk. “Guess it’s us.”
My stomach somersaults, but I play it cool. “Lucky me.”
“Yeah.” He laughs through his nose, his perfect white teeth flashing as he grins. “Lucky you.”
I’ve never been a believer in bullshit like fate or destiny, but after the way the stars aligned this morning, placing Irie Davenport not only in my sight but directly beside me—I’m willing to reconsider my stance.
“We should probably exchange numbers,” I say to her as our anthro class is in the midst of a chaotic freshmen dismissal. “You know, since we’re partners …”
I refuse to use the word “study buddy.”
It’s just not sexy.
And partner has better … connotations.
Irie flips to a page in the back of her little pink notebook and scribbles something before tearing the page, folding it into thirds, and handing it over. A second later, she slings her messenger bag over her lithe shoulder and tucks a strand of silky caramel-blonde hair behind one ear, revealing a simple golden stud. It’s unpretentious and unexpected—much like her.
“Wait,” I say after unfolding and scanning the paper. “This is your email.”
“Yep.” Her expression is bland and indifferent, and it’s the same one she’s been giving me for the last four years, but her violet eyes flicker with life. With all her years of practice, she’s never been able to master the art of the true poker face. There’s a part of her—however miniscule it might be—that wants me just as much as I want her.
I see it.
I fucking feel it.
And if I feel it, I know Irie does too.
I tend to be numb to most things, most of the time, but not this. Not her. Not us—or rather, what we could be.
Our tension has been ripe since day one, so palpable you could slice it clean with an obsidian knife. Why she tries to fight it and deny it is the one thing I’ve yet to figure out.
For years, I’ve been trying to get her number.
And for years, she’s rebuffed me eight ways from Sunday.
“What if I need you right away?” I ask.
“Then you’ll send me an email and it’ll go straight to my phone,” she says as she begins to navigate her way down the row.
Most girls love to be needed.
I grab my shit and follow closely.
“What if you need me? I don’t always check my email.” It’s the truth, but now that we’re partners, I’m going to have to change that.
“I won’t need you,” she says when she reaches the end of our row. “I never miss a class.”