He was definitely startled by my appearance next to him. Good, according to Erin and Maggie.
“Hey,” I said, a subtle smile on my lips, hoping I appeared somewhere between interested and indifferent. According to Erin and Maggie, that impression was a vital part of the strategy.
“Hey.” He opened his econ text, concealing the open sketchbook in front of him. Before he obscured it, I caught a detailed illustration of the venerated old oak tree in the center of campus and the ornamental wrought iron fence surrounding it.
I swallowed. Interested and indifferent. “So, it just occurred to me that I don’t remember your name from the other night. Too many margaritas, I guess.”
He wet his lips and stared at me a moment before answering, and I blinked, wondering if he was purposefully making my loosely-sustained indifference more challenging to maintain. “It’s Lucas. And I don’t think I gave it.”
In the next moment, Dr. Heller entered noisily near the podium, catching his handled case in the door. An audible, “Dammit,” echoed through the lecture hall, thanks to the planned acoustics of the room. Lucas and I smiled at each other as our fellow classmates tittered.
“So… you, um, called me Jackie, before?” I said, and his head tilted slightly. “I actually go by Jacqueline. Now.”
His brows drew down slightly. “Okay.”
I cleared my throat and stood—surprising him again, judging by his expression. “Nice to meet you, Lucas.” I smiled again before turning away and darting to my assigned seat.
Keeping my attention on the lecture and defying the compulsion to peek over my shoulder was excruciating. I was sure I felt Lucas’s eyes boring into the back of my head. Like an out-of-reach itch, the sensation nettled me for fifty minutes straight, and it took herculean effort to refrain from turning around. Unknowingly, Benji helped by making distracting observations on Dr. Heller, like tallying the number of times he said, “Uuummm,” during the lecture with marks at the top of his notebook, and pointing out the fact that our professor was sporting one navy and one brown sock.
Instead of lingering at the end of class to see what Lucas would do (speak to me or ignore me?), instead of waiting for Kennedy to leave (funny, I’d paid scant attention to him for the past hour—that was a first), I swung my backpack onto my shoulder and practically sprinted from the room without looking at either of them. Emerging from the side door into the crisp fall air, I sucked in a deep breath. Agenda: Spanish class, lunch, Starbucks.
Erin: How’d OBBP go?
Me: Got him to tell me his name. Went back to my seat. Didn’t look at him again.
Erin: Perfect. Meet you after next class for more strategizing before coffee. ;)
When Erin and I joined the line at the Starbucks, I didn’t see Lucas.
“Rats.” She craned her neck, making sure he wasn’t one of the people behind the counter. “He was here last Monday, right?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but his work schedule is probably unpredictable.”
She elbowed me lightly. “Not so much. That’s him there, right?”
He came through a door to the back with an industrial-sized bag of coffee. My physical reaction to him was unnerving. It was as though my insides all clenched up at the sight of him, and when they unwound, everything restarted at once—my heart rate accelerating, lungs pumping air, brainwaves running amok.
“Ooh, J, he’s got ink, too,” Erin murmured appreciatively. “Just when I didn’t think he could get any hotter...”
My eyes fell to his forearms, flexing as he sliced the bag open. Tattooed designs wrapped around his wrists, contiguous symbols and script running up both arms and disappearing into the sleeves of the gray knit shirt, which were shoved above his elbows. I’d never seen him without his sleeves pulled to the wrists. Even Saturday night, he’d worn long sleeves—a faded black button-down, open over a white t-shirt.
I’d never been attracted to guys with tattoos. The notion of needles injecting ink under the skin and the confidence of making permanent imprints of words and symbols was foreign to me. Now, I wondered how far the tattoos spread—just the sleeves of his arms? His back? His chest?
Erin tugged my arm as the line moved forward. “You’re botching our carefully crafted indifferent act, by the way. Not that I can blame you.” She sighed. “Maybe we should bail now before he—”
I glanced at her when she fell silent, and watched a devious smile cross her face as she turned to me.
“Keep looking at me,” she said, laughing as though we were having an amusing conversation. “He’s staring at you. And I mean staring. That boy is undressing you with his eyes. Can you feel it?” Her expression was triumphant.
Could I feel his stare? I can now, thanks, I thought. My face heated.
“Oh, my God, you’re blushing,” she whispered, her dark eyes widening.
“No shit.” My teeth were clenched, voice tight. “Stop telling me he’s—he’s—”
“Undressing you with his eyes?” She laughed again and I’d never wanted to kick her more. “Okay, okay—but J, do not worry. You’ve got this. I don’t know what you’ve done to him, but he’s ready to sit up and beg. Trust me.” She glanced in his direction. “Okay, he’s starting a new batch of coffee now. You can do your own staring.”
We stepped closer; there were only two people in front of us. I watched Lucas replace the filter, measure out the coffee, and set the controls. His green apron was haphazardly secured in the back—more of a knot than a bow. The ties drew my eyes to his hips in his worn, low-slung jeans, one pocket holding a wallet to which a loose chain was attached. It disappeared under the apron, linking to a front belt loop, no doubt.