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Definitely, Maybe in Love
By Ophelia London, Eric M. Chapman, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Mary A. Smith
All rights reserved.
"Spring Honeycutt, nice of you to finally join us."
All eyes, including Professor Masen's, were glued on me as my attempt to stealthily enter the classroom fifteen minutes late failed.
"Sorry," I said, hovering just inside the door. "I was ... held up."
With his gaze still boring into me, Masen tilted his head but didn't speak, as if waiting for me to further explain.
"Um." I gripped my backpack. "On my way to campus, I found a cat in the bushes."
A few guys at the back of the room snickered.
"It was injured. I called the SPCA and waited. There wasn't any blood, but it couldn't walk, so ..." I wondered why Masen was allowing me to take up lecture time. Weren't we discussing Thoreau and Walden today? "It, uh, was a gray tabby with a collar but no tags."
Masen leaned against his desk and did his chin rub thing. It always gave me the impression he was annoyed.
"I don't even like cats," I added for some reason, "but, I mean, I couldn't just leave it." I felt a lump in my throat, remembering how its sad, glassy eyes had looked at me and how, when I'd gently stroked its back, it tried to purr. "There was a group of people by the time Animal Control arrived, so I left then. Anyway, yeah, that's why I'm late."
As breezily as possible, I walked down the third row and slid into an empty desk, wondering how red my cheeks were.
Masen nodded, his expression kind of baffled, then he pointed at the whiteboard, continuing with his lecture.
I barely had time to round my mouth and exhale before a sneery female voice hissed in my direction. "Classic entrance, Spring. So very thorough."
I didn't have to look to see who had just hissed at me. When we were freshman two years ago, Lilah Charleston had forgotten to leave her "mean girl" mentality back in high school where it belonged. It sucked enough that her sorority house was only two blocks away from my digs, but we also both chose Environmental Earth Science as a major. So I was forced to share a classroom with her at least twice a semester.
Usually I just ignored her, but wouldn't that be setting bad precedents for the rest of our junior year? Not that stooping to her level got her off my back. Ever since I'd beaten her out for a freshman-year internship, her goal had been to make my life a living hell. I eyed her outfit. In a perfect world, Lilah decked out in head-to-toe leather while sitting in our Sustainable Earth class would have been grounds for automatic failure.
"Thanks," I whispered to her when Masen's back was turned. "And nice boots." I left it at that. She knew what I meant. Baby cows were so much cuter than any pair of boots Lilah could wear.
She narrowed her icy-blue eyes but then kind of tucked her feet under her desk.
At a quarter to twelve, Professor Masen removed his glasses and ended class. Hallelujah. If I was fast enough, I could meet Mel at the campus café for lunch.
"At least I wash my hair," Lilah said as she gathered up her books. "I can smell you from here." She leaned away, her nose wrinkling in disgust.
Nice. She played the "you stink" card. I guess we really were back in high school.
I reached for a handful of the skinny blond braids hanging over my shoulder and stroked them protectively, my thumb and index finger pausing over the tiny dark blue bead on the end of one.
"Good luck finding any self-respecting guy who'll come within ten feet of those things." As Lilah was talking, a muscly jock wearing a Rugby shirt gave me the half-smile/nod combo, then winked as he strolled by.
It wasn't that I didn't want to date, it was more of a time-constraint thing. There were simply not enough hours in the day and much more pressing issues on my plate. I would think about guys after earning my PhD.
"Are those supposed to make you look tough?" Lilah asked all sneeringly. "Because they don't." She eyed me up and down. "Freak."
"Is that Chanel number five I smell?" I couldn't help replying. Two could play the immature banter game. "Did you wear that in the Peace Corps? That is where you're telling everyone you were over the summer." Lilah froze and stared at me. "Because the rumor going around is that you were on a shopping spree in Paris and not rebuilding houses in Zambia."
I was watering it down. The real rumor was that she'd hid out after some kind of plastic surgery, but I wasn't about to go there. I wore braids, Lilah went up a cup size. Live and let live.
If Lilah was as impassioned about doing good in the world as she claimed, she should have gone to Africa instead of Europe. She certainly had the means to take off like that. Unlike me. With two scholarships, one hefty student loan, and three jobs, I was barely making ends meet. Lilah didn't know how fortunate she was to be financially independent.
She puckered her raspberry-stained lips. "You wouldn't dare tell a story like that."
I was glad I had a good two inches on her. When she goaded me like this, my inner-pacifist evacuated like a bran breakfast, and I wanted to throw a roundhouse kick at her head. But violence wouldn't solve anything.
"No, I wouldn't tell anyone that, Lilah," I said wearily. "And you want to know why?"
We both snapped to attention when Professor Masen called my name.
"Do you have a minute? Or do you have another class?"
"Busted," Lilah sang under her breath as she walked past us, then out the door.
I stepped up to Masen's desk, about ready to launch into promises that I would never be late again, no matter what wounded creature I stumbled upon. Though I knew deep down that wasn't true. My love of animals in general outweighed my dislike of cats or fear of my academic advisor being momentarily pissed at me.
Masen was squinting at his laptop screen. While I waited, I gripped the strap of my backpack and stared past him at the board, which was covered in a rainbow of terminology and definitions I still hadn't memorized. Two days into the fall semester and I wasn't as on top of my classes as I'd like to be. How had that happened?
"I was just going over the proposal for your independent study project," Masen said, jolting me back to the present. "It looks ... familiar."
Panic seized my insides. Three students had been expelled from Stanford last year for plagiarism. Blood was still in the water, and the teaching staff was circling like sharks.
"Professor Masen," I said, stepping forward. "That work is my own, I swear. I can cite everything." I was about to pull out my laptop and show him the files of proof when a hint of a smile crossed his face.
"That's not it," he said. "What I meant was, this is the stand you took in my Anthropology of Capitalism class last year. Do you intend to spend the next two semesters regurgitating the same opinion?"
"Regurgitating?" I repeated. "Wouldn't recycling be more apropos?" I laughed at my own environmentalist joke, but Masen only stared back. "I ... I chose to research sustainability again because it's what I believe in," I said, all kidding aside.
"I know that, Spring. The entire class knows that. Being vocal about your attitude on preservation has never been your problem."
Problem? Is being a champion for bettering the planet a problem?
My natural instinct was to go on the defensive, but instead I took a moment to breathe, sliding my fingers up and down one of my braids. A calming ritual.
"This is an important project; you know that, don't you?"
I nodded silently, but inside I was reciting that everything about attending Stanford University was important. Just ask the four certified letters my high school counselor had sent to the Admissions Board. It wasn't just getting accepted into Stanford that had been a challenge for me, the succeeding was proving to be an even bigger task — which, obviously, was the most important thing in my life. Over the past year, I'd added more classes, more causes, more claims on my free time with the sole intention of standing out in a sea of fifteen thousand other overachievers.
I had to. Otherwise, I was going to drown.
"You're an exceptional student," Masen continued. I smiled at this, my stomach muscles unclenching. "I have ties to periodicals. I see potential in your thesis, and if it turns out well, I can almost guarantee publication."
Whoa — what? Publication as a junior?
"That's amazingly huge," I blurted and dropped my bag. "Whatever it takes. If you don't think my thesis is strong enough now, I'll work on it. I'll do anything."
He leaned back in his squeaky chair. "I do have a few ideas, but first ..." He toggled to a new page on his computer. "I see that you took twenty-one units last semester and nineteen last fall."
"Yeah," I confirmed, eyeing the screen.
He arched his bushy eyebrows. "Pretty ambitious."
"So that means you're ahead of schedule, credit-wise."
Oh, please don't ask me to be your aid. I'd rather take on another shift waiting tables at the country club than correct freshman papers.
"Have you ever considered picking up an econ minor? A few of your core classes cross over. It looks like you're halfway there."
This was a surprise. "I took the two required business classes," I said, "but other than that, I don't know much about economics."
Masen toggled back to my proposal. "I know," he said deliberately. "That's my point."
"Oh." I swallowed, visions of seeing my name in a periodical vanishing like the Amazon rainforest. "How do you think an econ minor will help?"
"Did you do debate in high school?" he asked, which seemed out of left field.
"No," I admitted.
"But you understand the concept?"
"You argue either side of an issue," I began, hoping it sounded like I knew what I was talking about. "You have to know enough about the opposition to fight for both sides."
"Exactly." He pointed at my proposal on his screen. "That's precisely what this needs. The opposition."
Under my braids, the back of my neck tingled in alarm. The sensation spread up my throat and across my cheeks. A year ago, fearing that I wasn't getting noticed in my classes or community, I'd made some pretty big changes. It wasn't just the heavier work load or Green Peace marches, it was the braids, the vegetarian diet, the purposeful lack of a social life ... all in the name of being taken seriously. Finally, I felt the part and looked the part. Everything should be falling into place by now. But if Masen, my advisor, still didn't get how resolute I was, what more could I do?
I was starting to get that drowning feeling again.
"Professor Masen," I began, "for the last two years, Environmental Science has been my life. Sustainable living, promoting free and healthy land, supporting the local EPA. I chose Stanford because of its liberal programs, and you're saying you think I should —"
He lifted a hand to stop me. "I don't mean for you to drive a Hummer or drill for oil. Sustainability is a critical issue, and I think you've got a handle on it. A clear understanding of the economic side will round out your research, give it some meat." He pointed at the screen again. "Judging by your proposal, you're too close to the subject. I need you to step back and get a new perspective."
"Perspective," I repeated, my head feeling heavy.
"In any arena, to truly best your opponents, you must understand them, inside and out. You have the heart, Spring, but you don't have the business mind. Not yet." Masen did his chin rub thing again. "You mentioned the EPA. What if you went the other way and studied up on the human impact, the benefits of land development?"
Before I followed my natural instinct to blurt out that there was no such thing, I forced myself to stop and think. Perhaps I couldn't see Masen's vision yet, but I trusted him. I kind of had to. The man held my academic future in the palm of his hand.
"The benefits of land development?" I paused, waiting for my brain to wrap around the concept.
"Talk to a few econ students," he suggested, "or better yet, someone who knows the finer points of land development — that's key. Delve into your research. Maybe then your proposal will flesh out and we can talk publication."
That word again. Publication. It was intoxicating. Whether he was using it to guide me or manipulate me didn't matter. It worked. "Whatever you say," I replied, picking up my bag. "I'll start on it right away."
Masen slid on his glasses. "I look forward to hearing about your progress very soon. Let's set up another meeting."
After he gave me a few more instructions, I felt like clicking my heels together and giving a salute, but refrained and headed down the hall, dodging other overachievers as they rushed to class. Once the initial adrenaline was gone, though, panic set in. And by the time I was halfway home, I was in a pretty deep haze, my backpack feeling heavier with every step.
When would I have time to start a brand-new research project and maybe add a minor? Where, exactly, was I going to find a land tycoon at Stanford University? And more importantly: how much of my soul would I be willing to sell to learn from such a creature?
My focus was pulled to a U-Haul truck parked in front of the house across the street from mine. Three moving guys were unloading boxes. So I guessed the wannabe Big Bang Theory physics students had moved out. Too bad, I would miss their weekly explosions.
As I got closer to the house, about to cross the street, a guy came wandering out the front door. Because of his height and long legs, striding was probably a better term. After running a hand through his dark curly hair, he slid on a pair of black sunglasses and stood in the middle of the newly sodded lawn, signing a clipboard one of the movers handed him.
He turned his head. Even from a distance, I noticed the cut of his jaw. It was a nice cut. As he handed off the clipboard, he lifted his sunglasses for just a second, revealing the rest of his face.
Hmm, not bad. Not bad at all. In fact — "Hey," the guy said, kind of barking at one of the other movers. "Do not touch the Viper." He pointed at a long and sleek black sports car parked crooked in his driveway. "It's worth more than your life."
Sheesh. What the hell?
I was halfway across the street, still gaping at the guy, when my roommate Julia called from our front door.
The guy's head snapped in my direction. When my eyes locked straight onto his sunglasses, I felt my face go red.
Totally hated getting caught staring, but it wasn't like I was snooping around. I was crossing a public street in front of my own house in the middle of the day. Not exactly a felony. Still, I knew the guy was watching me as I headed toward my house.
"If you want me to do your nails before tonight," Julia added, "we need to start now. Hurry up."
I cinched the strap on my bag, feeling his eyes on my back. Great. Nice first impression, Spring. I'll be known as the woman who not only cares about manicures, but can't do one herself.
"Yeah, coming," I said, hustling up the path and inside my house. "You didn't have to yell that." I dropped my bag by the door and followed Julia's red hair up the stairs.
I shook my head and laughed under my breath. "Never mind."
Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the floor in a corner of our oversized bathroom, my legs stretched out in front of me. Julia bent forward to apply a second coat of Russian Navy to my toenails. Anabel, our other roommate, drifted in and out of the bathroom with a group of her friends, their banter skipping from lipstick and the new frat house to Adam Levine and stilettos. Before I was tempted to bust in and direct the conversation to an item I'd read in the news, I grabbed a magazine off the floor and concentrated on fanning my toenails.
"Do you have plans for dinner?" I asked Julia.
"I thought I was meeting up with Tommy," she replied, "but I haven't heard from him."
"Tommy called the house phone this morning right after you left for class," I said. "Anabel talked to him."
Julia's bright green eyes grew wide in alarm, but then she smiled and rolled them to heaven. "Oh, really."
I patted her arm. "I'm afraid you lost your date to our demonstrative roommate, bunny."
She rolled her eyes again. "It would seem so."
"Anabel knows no shame when it comes to nabbing a man. What possessed you to give a male of any species our home number instead of your cell?"
Julia bit her lip. By far, she was the prettiest co-ed in a five-mile radius. Tommy, or any guy, was hers for the taking. But she didn't compete for dates.
"It's your own fault," I continued. "You should learn to play dirty. Next time the house phone rings, use your elbows. That's why God created them."
"I'll remember that," Julia said. "Now sit here and don't move your feet." She drifted to the mirror, continuing with her own primping routine. "Do you ever miss this?" she asked as she pulled a brush through her hair.
"Never," I said. "My way is low maintenance."
"I just wondered, 'cause when it's not braided, your hair looks like a movie star's."
I tugged at one braid. "Which movie star?"
Excerpted from Definitely, Maybe in Love by Ophelia London, Eric M. Chapman, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Mary A. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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