Story Cubes Challenge: First Impressions

Part of my novel-in-stories Story Cubes Challenge.

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First Impressions

Joe O’Leary skirted the Campus Pond, backpack slung over one shoulder. He’d blown off his first class that morning — who wouldn’t? Everybody in the dining hall had wanted to talk after he’d come into the game Saturday and saved the day. He was the quarterback who’d thrown three straight touchdowns in the third quarter after Matt went down, putting the team back on top. He’d remember the sight of the final 21-14 on the scoreboard for a long time. That third one had been the toughest — he’d had to wait with everybody else for the referees to rule if Cal’s foot had come down inside the lines.

The news Sunday that the starting quarterback would be out at least four games, possibly more, had just brought him even more attention. Not just his fellow freshmen either — he’d had plenty of seniors — sorority girls — coming by to talk to him.

Not the one he wanted, though. That’s why he had to be on time for his geology lab. His father had raised an eyebrow when Joe signed up for it during summer registration. “What? I am a jock,” he’d told him. “Better fossils than something I’ll never use again.”

The first day of classes, he was glad he had. Annabelle caught his eye the moment she walked into the lecture hall. Blonde and beautiful, her hair a gleaming curtain that framed her face and those blue eyes, ones that caught him and wouldn’t let him go. He’d tried to talk to her a few times since then, but one of her friends had always swooped in before he got a chance. Seniors, all of them. It figured they had put off their science lab as long as possible — everybody knew girls hated science. But now he wasn’t just another freshman. He could offer to tutor her and she’d want the excuse to spend time with him.

He looked at his watch and pushed a little faster. It paid off when he walked into the lab three people behind Annabelle. Class was a repeat of the dining hall — congratulations and people who’d never noticed him before wanting to talk.

“Break up into groups of three this time,” the teaching assistant said as they gathered. She looked around. “We’ll have one group of two left over, but I’ll provide an extra set of hands when you need it.”

Joe moved so he was next to Annabelle. “Can I work with you and your friend?” he asked.

“No, we’ve-“ she broke off and looked around. “I guess she’d working with somebody else,” she said. “Sure, I’ll work with you.”

As the TA handed out specimens, they did introductions.

“Oh, you’re the one everybody’s talking about,” she said, smiling. She took the box from the TA. “I guess it’s just the two of us. I wonder what we have?”

Joe held out his hand and she gave him the box. He opened it to find several rocks. “I wonder what she wants us to do with them.”

The TA stood at the front of the room. “As you know, we’ve been talking about the types of rocks. Each group has a box of several different rocks. You need to determine which type each is, then describe its texture and other characteristics using the terminology we’ve been studying. There are magnifying glasses in a box at the front, should you need them.”

Joe went up, but he put the second magnifying glass back down almost as soon as he’d lifted it.

“I wasn’t sure there we enough to take two,” he said to Annabelle when he returned with just the one. “We can share, though, right?” She picked the first rock and they started classifying it. She could identify them right away, and he began to doubt his plan.

“You really seem to know your stuff,” he said.

“My father’s a geologist,” she said. “I grew up with this.” She rolled her eyes. “I swore I wasn’t going to take this in college, but I need one more set of science credits and I didn’t want to ruin my chance to graduate with top honors. Good law schools are competitive. This is an easy A for me.”

“I can tell,” Joe said as he tried to rethink his plan. Trying to do that and pay attention to the stupid rocks wasn’t working very well. After the third time she corrected him, Joe knew what he had to do. He made sure to pick a rock that wasn’t obvious. As they studied it, he frowned and reached for the magnifying glass. Joe bent over the rock, peering through the lens. “I think it’s porphyritic,” he said. “Here, take a look.” He moved to the side, just slightly, and tipped the lens just enough that she could see — if she got close enough.

She gazed through the lens, then looked up at him. “Are you sure?” she asked. She had the same look Ma always had when she caught him out.

“Not really?” Joe said. He lowered his voice. “Science isn’t really my thing,” he said. “I took this class because I thought it would be easy.” He leaned down toward her. “Maybe you could help me figure this out?” He waited to see if she’d take the bait.

A squeal from the back of the room kept her from replying.

“It looks like a cat,” said one of the girls. “Isn’t that the cutest thing ever?”

“At least you’re not seeing animals in the rocks,” Annabelle said as she stepped back, rolling her eyes. “Let’s talk about it after class — unless you have someplace to be.”

“No, no place special,” Joe said, ignoring the thoughts of the freshman comp assignment in his backpack. Why had he scheduled so many classes on Mondays again?

When lab finally ended — not nearly soon enough — Joe walked out with Annabelle.

“How about over by the pond,” he said. He had a plan in mind, something sure to melt her heart.

Joe led the way to the fine arts building, then across the footbridge to the small island in the pond. The fountains and the colorful fall leaves made for just the view he needed.

“Would you help me?” he asked, sitting so Annabelle couldn’t help but see the fountains while they talked. Girls went for that romantic junk. “I need to pass this class, or I’ll be suspended from the team. And this science stuff — I just don’t get it.”

“What kind of help are you looking for?” she asked. “Doesn’t the football team have tutors for you?”

Shit. He hadn’t thought about that. Joe fumbled for words. “Uh, well, I don’t want Coach to know,” he improvised. “He only put me in because he ran out of options, and I don’t want to give him a reason to think it was a mistake. Come on, have a heart.” He smiled, the same smile that had always kept a string of girls chasing him in high school.

She looked at him, frowning a bit. “All right,” she finally said. “Let’s figure out a couple of times we can meet.”

When one of those times turned out to be Friday afternoons, Joe knew he’d find a way to get a date out of Annabelle before too long. He could play dumb the first couple of times, just enough to make her feel sorry for him, then make a miraculous improvement thanks to her tutoring. All he’d need to do would be offer to take her out to thank her and make sure to take his fake ID along. A few drinks and she’d be begging him to fuck her.

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