Because of Dylan
Anger pricks at my skin like biting ants, and it burns hotter with each bite. Anger at him and myself for not being able to say no. For the turbulence that has taken residence inside me because of him. I want to scratch myself until I get rid of this feeling of uncertainty. Of not knowing.
I push the heel of my hand into my chest, willing the gesture to dislodge my building unease. I haven’t been able to think of anything else since I received the text message yesterday.
“Earth to Becca.” River pokes me on the side to get my attention.
“What?” I can’t hide the annoyance in my voice even though it’s not her fault I’m a mess.
River gives me a look.
“I asked you the same question three times. You’re ignoring me.”
“Well, as much as you’d like to believe it, the world doesn’t revolve around you, Miss Look-at-Me.” That’s not fair, and it’s untrue. River never seeks attention. She just always gets it.
“Someone is in a mood today.” She nudges me, making me lose my balance. I step to the side and hike my backpack up on my shoulder.
“Dude!” Irritation gets the best of me.
River gives me a sideways glance and takes a step forward in line.
She lured me here with the promise of buying me a coffee. I have one class in the Maslow building, but I find myself here often because of River. It’s a good place to escape the cold weather and people-watch. The entire front of the building is made of glass windows facing the Green, where there are always people around. And because it’s mirrored glass, I can watch them without being seen myself. I love this building.
Only two more people ahead of us now. I nudge her back. “Sorry. I’m grumpy. What did you ask me?”
She dismisses the apology with a wave of her hand. “About the party this Friday. Can you pick me up?”
“And not leave me hanging this time so you can hook up with some freshman?”
The guy in front of us tilts his head a bit, turning an ear our way. By the look of his clothes, a deep navy-blue suit, he’s a professor or some other staff. I glare at River and nod my head at the guy. We stay in place when he walks up to order his coffee.
“What?” River looks at me like I have five heads. As always, she’s oblivious to her surroundings and what she says around people. River has no filter. Everything that crosses her mind spills out of her mouth. Had it been anyone else, I’d think she does it on purpose.
But she doesn’t. She’s just that honest. She doesn’t say things to hurt or embarrass. Nothing fazes her, and she thinks everyone else should be the same. But I have too many skeletons in too many closets. And there are always too many ears and eyes around for my taste.
The guy ahead of us orders his coffee, then turns and looks directly at us.
“Fuck me,” I whisper under my breath. River hears me.
“You and me both. He’s yummy,” she whispers back. Thank goodness, this time she said it low enough he doesn’t seem to catch it.
Yeah, that’s hot-as-fuck Professor Dick. Tall, tanned, and beautiful—with the body of an Olympic swimmer. And my nemesis.
He walks away but not before giving me one more disapproving glance as we walk up to the counter.
“Two coffees, please.” River turns to me. “Want anything to eat?”
My stomach growls, but I shake my head.
“Two coffees and two blueberry muffins. Separate bags, please.” She ignores my denial and orders me food.
We watch Professor Dick’s retreating form while the guy behind the Coffee Heaven kiosk gets our order ready.
I push at my chest again. A different kind of unease jabbing at me now. “He hates me.”
“Who? Professor Beckett?”
“Professor Beckett for you. For me, he’s Professor Dick.”
The barista calls River’s name, and I grab our coffees while she grabs the muffins. My stomach grumbles again.
River sips her coffee. “Why do you call him that? Wait! Have you seen the goods?”
“What? No! I call him Dick because his first name starts with a D, and he’s a dick.”
“I don’t know. Everyone says he’s an amazing teacher.”
“Not everyone.” I glare at his back, sending imaginary daggers his way. He always looks at me like I’m a bug he wants to step on.
“There’s always a waitlist for his classes. I finally got in. I’m taking his class in the spring.”
“What makes you think he hates you?”
I’ve never told River this story. “He caught me making out with a guy in his classroom,” I mumble behind the coffee cup.
“What? He caught you having sex in his classroom!” She leans into me, her face inches away. Thank God she whispered the words.
“No! Just kissing. But we were really into it, and apparently it took Beckett a while to get our attention.”
“He had to yell at you?”
“Technically, he had to tap our shoulders and pull us apart.” I cringe.
“Holy crap.” Her eyes widen.
“I’m jealous.” She says this with a sigh.
“Jealous? Of one of the most embarrassing moments of my life?”
“Well … I want mind-bending-reality-forgetting kisses too.”
I stop at that. My mouth open while I stare at my best friend.
“Dude. You can have anyone you want. Every guy on campus has the hots for you. And I dare guess about a quarter of the female population too.” At first, I thought being friends with the most beautiful girl on campus would be detrimental to me. But when I’m with River, I become invisible. And that’s exactly how I like it.
She points at me with her coffee-holding hand. “And look at you. You’re beautiful, but you don’t let anyone in. Guys look at you, but you can be as prickly as a porcupine, and you never ever have a problem finding someone to take home.”
She points at herself. “They don’t want me. They want this.” She waves a hand. “All they see is the shell. No guy ever tries to get to know me. And the girls, well, they get catty and see me as competition. Being beautiful”—she makes air quotes with her fingers when she says beautiful, coffee sloshing a little over the side—“isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
A touch of hurt tinges her words. Is River as lonely as I am? Despite having her family’s love and support? I guess we’re both cursed in a way. River by her looks and me by my past.
Beauty fades. But the past? The past never goes away.