The students were in their seats, and the professor, an old man with a perpetual frown, was already ten minutes into his lecture. Sara Fournier swallowed her nervousness and stepped back into the hall before he could spot her. Late again. She’d been up all night with her friends, watching old reruns of classic TV and had forgotten to set her alarm clock. This was the third time she was late to her Western Civ class. One more time, Professor Weinstein had warned, and he’d drop her.
She clutched her backpack, a breakout of sweat tickling her armpits and under her hair, making her scalp itchy. Maybe she could say her father was in town–that he’d surprised her from his home in Paris and she’d been out all night with him. She almost shook her head at the thought. Unlikely her dad, whom her mom always called The Playboy, would drop in unannounced. His planned visits were rare as it was.
“Are you going in? Or are you holding up the wall?”
Sara jumped at the friendly voice and turned to face the speaker. Brent Reynolds. She’d never met him, but everyone knew who he was. Big Man on Campus, despite his sophomore status. An Honors student with the highest GPA in the world that was San Francisco State University. And owner of the deepest, dreamiest, baby blue eyes she’d ever seen.
She stepped away from the wall, hoping he’d think her face was pink from running to class rather than from his presence. “It’s my third time being late for Weinstein. He said he’ll drop me. I’m just deciding if I’d rather go in and face him or just spare myself the embarrassment and drop it on my own.”
He grinned. “He won’t drop you. I’ll tell him I got lost and you helped me.” He fluttered his class change notification at her.
She quirked an eyebrow. “That won’t work on him. He once lectured a girl who was late because she broke her leg. She came hobbling in with a cast, and he still went off.”
“But her dad probably didn’t just give a grant of two million dollars to the School of Humanities.”
“And your dad…?” She laughed, but quickly sobered. Reynolds….of course! Brent’s dad was that millionaire everyone was always talking about. Invented some kind of software thingie…
The tips of his ears turned pink. “Yeah. My old man keeps Weinstein in cheap cigars and all the research trips to Russia his heart desires. I think you’ll be okay.”
She wanted to feel put off at his casual mentioning of his father’s endowment to the school. She thought about her own childhood, of being raised by a maiden aunt and her single mom, who worked nonstop to keep her in school when the scholarships just didn’t cut it. But Brent looked embarrassed, like he wasn’t bragging about his dad’s success. He stuck out his hand, and she wondered if he did it to break the uncomfortable silence.
She untangled her right hand from the backpack’s strap. “Sara Fournier.”
His eyes widened. “That’s a mouthful! Forn-yay?”
She felt her blush deepen. “My dad’s French.”
He shrugged. “Cool name.” He peered intently at her, and she wondered if he liked brown-eyed girls. “It suits you. You don’t look like the other girls around here.”
“I can’t afford to bleach my hair all the time.”
“Yeah.” He laughed, and she joined him. “So…” He broke off, hesitant. She wondered why he kept staring at her, and tried to remember if she’d heard he had a girlfriend or not. “Do you want to come inside with me? I’ll make sure Windbag doesn’t bark at you.”
“Okay.” She hoisted her backpack with a grunt. He immediately reached for it. “Hey, thanks.”
“No problem.” When he spoke, a dimple in his cheek flashed. Very cute. He opened the door for her and the students looked up at the same time. The professor frowned when he saw Sara, but brightened at the sight of Brent behind her.
“Sorry I’m late, Professor Weinstein,” Brent said, prodding Sara to a seat close by where an empty one was next to it, “but I had some problems finding your class. Luckily, I met Sara here, and she showed me the way.” They sat down, and Sara heard the girl behind her let out a faint sigh. The professor nodded.
“Glad to have you in my class, Mr. Reynolds. Miss Fournier, it was very good of you to show him in. But next time….”
“There won’t be a next time,” she said quickly. Weinstein continued the lecture, and Sara pretended not to notice when Brent shifted his desk a few inches closer to hers. He loaned her a pen when hers refused to work, and she wrapped her fingers around it, absorbing the warmth from his hand. She glanced sideways at him from under her bangs, and he winked at her. Weinstein rattled on about the rise of the Bolsheviks and the White Army, but all she could think about was what it would be like to have a boyfriend as sweet and handsome like Brent Reynolds.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” he asked when class ended an hour later and the students started filing out of the room. She’d lingered over her backpack until Brent seemed ready to go. They were the last ones left, and the professor had already rushed out of there to attend a meeting. She wondered if the rapid thudding of her heart echoed in the empty room.
“Just studying. I have a math test tomorrow.”
His lips pursed. “Math–yuck! Maybe I can help you. I’m pretty good with numbers.”
Don’t act too desperate. She shrugged as casually as possible. “Sure. Where do you want to meet?”
He checked his watch. She caught the first few initials of Rolex, and pretended not to notice. “I have to see my dad for dinner, and then I’m free. About seven? I can pick you up.”
“Or I can just meet you at your dorm.”
Again, the pink-tipped ears. “I don’t live in the dorms. I have a condo.”
“Oh, a condo.” Of course. Every student who wasn’t on financial aid lived in condos and castles and mansions – “Okay–you can pick me up at seven. I finish my job cleaning up the lab by then.”
He smiled, and she nearly curled her toes inside her Skechers at the warmth rising within her every time he smiled. “Great. It was nice meeting you, Sara Fornyer.” His grin told her that he would now officially be screwing up the pronunciation of her last name for the remainder of their acquaintance.
And then for some strange, unknown reason that would puzzle her the rest of the day, she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips before she could stop herself. She broke away, horrified at her behavior, but he didn’t look shocked or remotely bothered. His gaze held hers for as long as it took her to realize he was going to kiss her back.
He walked her to her next class, holding her hand tightly in his, both of their backpacks slung easily over his broad shoulders. She didn’t feel the ground beneath her or the sharp winter air on her face. They walked in intense silence, their hands linking their hearts and minds so no words were necessary.
Brent skipped class the rest of the day so he could wait outside of Sara’s. She only had two more, and at the end of her third class, through which she hadn’t paid the least attention or taken any notes at all, they walked to the student center to grab a bite to eat.
“Do you want to come with me and my dad to dinner tonight?” he asked, depositing their tray of pizza slices and soft drinks, which he had paid for, at a table.
Sara couldn’t think about eating. Her stomach was full of butterflies and other crawling creatures. She sipped her drink. “Will he mind?”
“Nah. He’s cool.” He gulped his soda. “He likes the fancier stuff now and then, so we’re going someplace nice.” He seemed to hesitate, as if he didn’t want to appear to be bragging. “We usually do subs or burgers, but those get boring after a few weeks.”
She mentally scanned her wardrobe for something to wear. Her roommate, Megan, had a new Dolce and Gabbana cocktail dress she might be able to borrow. She’d write Megan’s term paper for English Lit by way of returning the favor.
“Is your mom coming?” Maybe Brent’s parents were divorced, since he hadn’t mentioned his mother once.
“She died.” He took a big bite of his pizza, shrugging at her question. A few moments later, he added, “It was a few years ago. Cancer. It’s been me and Dad for a while now.”
“I’m so sorry.” She bit into her own slice. “My dad lives in Paris, so I don’t see him often.”
“That sucks.” He touched her arm, and a flush of red stained his neck and cheeks. She smiled encouragingly, though her chest was about to explode with nervous joy. He slid his hand down her arm until their hands brushed. She held his hand before he could move away. He grinned, and she was struck by how – well, how darned cute he was. “Paris is great,” he said. Have you ever been?”
“I was born there. My mom and I left when I was four.”
“You should go back and see it again. It’s a beautiful city. I went with my parents when I was ten or something.”
“Maybe.” Mom would be thrilled if I mention going to visit mon pere, the deadbeat. She changed the subject. “Have you traveled a lot?”
Again, the casual shrug, like he didn’t want to show off. “Here and there. My dad travels for business sometimes and I go with him when I can.”
“You’re so lucky,” she said, then gulped a huge sip of soda so as not to sound like a jealous little kid.
“You’re lucky to have your mom. I miss mine a lot.”
“I would miss mine, too.”
His fingers clasped hers tighter. She forgot her pizza. Who could think about food when Brent Reynolds was holding your hand? He leaned forward, as close as he could with the table between them. The table was small enough and Brent long-legged enough that their knees bumped.
“Sara, I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. Do you think that’s crazy?”
“No. It’s not crazy. I think the same thing.”
A slow grin spread across his face. “About that kiss….”
“Argh!” She laughed, hiding her eyes with her free hand. “I don’t know why I did that! I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” His laughter joined hers. “I’m glad you did it. Broke the ice for when I kiss you later.”
The laughter died in her throat. Rapid heat coursed through her body, waving over each limb until she quivered. “You are?”
“Yes. But why wait?” He pushed back from the table and knelt beside her chair before she realized what he was doing. He was so tall that, kneeling, his head was on the same level as hers. He cupped her face in his hands, drawing her close while the other students in the room cheered and whistled. His lips were warm, and his mouth tasted like pizza. She’d only kissed a few guys in high school and in the first months of her freshman year at State, but this was different. Somehow, Brent was not just a cute guy she could date and hang out with. There was something more happening. Something permanent with the stamp of a future on it.
Her cell phone buzzed in her jeans pocket. They broke off the kiss. He touched his forehead to hers, inhaling her breath.
“It’s my mom,” she whispered, her hands trembling around his neck. “She usually calls me around this time.”
His own phone beeped. “That’s my old man. Good timing, folks.” He kissed the tip of her nose, then stood, extending his hand and helping her from the chair in a gallant, old-fashioned way
“I’m not hungry,” she said, regarding their uneaten food.
“This sounds crazy….”
“…but I think I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
They stared at each other for a breathless moment, then erupted in laughter while a girl at a nearby table shot her an envious look.
“Let’s get out of here,” Brent muttered, draping his arm over her shoulder as they headed out of the building and into the winter sunshine.