My elbow gives out and I nearly drop my chin on the desk as I fall forward. The entire thing happened in maybe five seconds tops but that was enough to create a loud ruckus that caused every head in the room to swivel up and look straight at me.
“Did you have something you wanted to say?” Professor Bailey called up to me.
I shake my head, my cheeks hot with embarrassment. I’m such an idiot. First day of school and I make a horrible impression. Tonight I’m going to bed early, I don’t care what Gina wants to do. I refuse to fall into the partying lifestyle. I can’t put my education at risk. It’s about the only thing I’ve got to help me gain a solid career and a better life. “No, I’m sorry to interrupt.” I offer him a tiny smile.
He doesn’t smile in return, just resumes talking. What a grump. Slowly, surely, everyone turns around and faces him once more and I breathe a sigh of relief. Could I be more obvious or what?
It’s like someone is still watching me though. I feel every hair on my body stand on end and I subtly look around, hoping to catch someone blatantly staring at me. But I see no one looking in my direction. My skin feels hot. Itchy. I press my lips together and drop my head, staring blindly at my tablet’s empty note page. I broke down and bought an iPad for school, though it’s used. I couldn’t bring myself to spend top dollar.
That being watched feeling is still so strong. I lift my head quickly, hoping to catch someone and that’s when I see him. A quick turn of his head, like he was never looking in my direction in the first place, and I stare at the back of his head, practically willing him to turn around with my mind.
He doesn’t. I continue to stare. It’s like he knows I’m watching him now and I drop my head, let my hair fall in front of my face, though I can still see him.
Slowly, surely, he turns back around and when I catch that first glimpse of his face, I suck in a harsh breath, nearly choking myself. He doesn’t hear it though. Actually, he looks happy. Like, really tremendously happy.
It’s Gabe. Freaking Gabe. My Gabe. My beautiful, sexy, gorgeous, impossible Gabe.
I methodically load my iPad into my backpack, zip it up and hustle my ass out of there as fast as I can.
Lucy rises from her seat, slings her backpack over her shoulder and exits the room like the hounds of hell are chasing after her. I watch in a silent stupor, the clang of the door slamming behind her startling me, surprising the entire classroom and Professor Bailey glares at Lucy’s abandoned seat.
“Perhaps she’s decided she’s not prepared to take my course after all,” he says haughtily, sounding like a complete asshole. Everyone laughs in response, some of them uncomfortably and I decide in that instant I’m getting the hell out.
Leaping into action, I grab my backpack and follow after Lucy, quietly moving by everyone in my row, ignoring the girl who whispers, “You should call me,” as I pass by her. Have I met her before? Probably. Possibly banged her? That’s probable too. Not that I care about that girl, or the professor, or anyone else sitting in that room.
I only care about finding Lucy.
I exit the classroom, making sure the door shuts quietly behind me because I have to go back to that class, I don’t have a choice and I don’t feel like pissing off the professor on the first day. Bad enough that I bailed out but it’s not like I had much choice.
The hallway is empty and I look left, then right, deciding to go left since that’s the way the majority of people enter the building in the first place. Pushing open the double doors, the bright sunlight casts a harsh glare in my face and I shield my eyes as I make my way outside.
There are people everywhere. First day of school and everyone’s gung ho and ready to show up, pretend they’re going to stay on top of things this semester. Eventually as time goes on, the crowds will thin out and everything will return to normal but for now, it’s a giant cluster fuck out here.
And that giant cluster fuck of people is making it impossible for me to find Lucy.
I start to jog down the path that leads back to the campus square, hoping like hell it’s the direction she’s taken. I keep scanning the crowds, looking for a glimpse of her, my heart racing with a mixture of panic and fear as I realize I can’t find her.
Was it her I saw in the yellow dress last night at the bar? I’d been so sure of it but then told myself I’d find her in everything if I looked close enough. Just because I missed her doesn’t mean she’s around here. She could be long gone for all I know. She should be long gone.
This was my rationale last night when I was lying in bed and couldn’t sleep.
The fucking crazy thing is she’s really here. I stared right at her while we were in class. She looked so adorable, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment when everyone turned to stare at her. I have no idea what she did to bring so much attention to herself. All I know is I was so shocked to see her sitting there I wondered for a minute if I was hallucinating. When she turned to look at me, I looked away like some sort of idiot teenager who just got caught drooling over his first crush.
That’s when I caught her watching me in return. And the look on her face when she realized it was actually me…she didn’t look that pleased. No, more like she was completely freaked out right before she got up and bolted out of the room.
Why the hell would she react like that? We ended everything on good terms—at least I thought we did. Hell, I could hardly let her go the morning we left for the airport. She’d held me close and kissed me so hard I could feel the imprint of her lips on mine the rest of the day. I didn’t take a shower that morning because I wanted to smell her on my skin.
Sounds disgusting but damn it, she smells so fucking good. I was in deep mourning when I finally had to take that shower and rid myself of her scent once and for all. I sound like a crazy man. Even in my thoughts, I sound insane. I’ve lost my damn mind.
All over a girl—a girl who now acts like she wants nothing to do with me.
I’d planned on coming to Santa Barbara and picking up my car before I headed back to Santa Augustina for school and I mentioned that I was stopping by. When we were first texting after I left, I asked if she wanted to get together when I returned but she said she wouldn’t be there. And she hadn’t lied about that. When I flew back to Santa Barbara and picked up my car in the long-term parking lot, I’d driven out to her house, but it was empty.
I wrote her off. Told myself to remember her fondly like the summer fling that she was. Didn’t really work but I did try my best. And now she’s here. That first moment of seeing her, realizing that it was really her, in the flesh, sitting mere feet away from me, the excitement, that pure rush of relief at seeing her, had rendered me stupid.
I thought she’d be glad to see me but that wasn’t the case. Worse? My heart cracked when she ran. Like, splintered right down the middle.
She ran like she saw a ghost. Or her worst enemy.
Fucking sucked. Bad.
“Gabe.” The singsong voice is coming at me straight out of my nightmares. Swear to God she’s stalking me.
I turn to give her a strained smile. She is the last person I want to see. “Hey, Audrey.”
“Fancy meeting you here.” She cocks her hip and rests her hand on it, trying her best to look cute. Coy. And I’ll give it to her. She looks pretty damn good, wearing extremely short shorts and an extremely tight shirt. But I’m not interested. She does nothing for me. I look at her and it’s like I’m looking at a dude.