Authors: Kate Laurens
Tags: #Romance, #Young Adult, #Contemporary
Love Me For Me
He wasn’t supposed to notice me.
But as the two of us hovered awkwardly in the hallway, outside of the closed door to our American Lit class, he looked me right in the eye. His left hand rumpled the raven dark spikes of hair on his head as he grinned at me sheepishly.
He caught me at a rare moment in which I was off guard and slowly, tentatively, I smiled back.
Tardiness will not be tolerated
.” His mimicry of the professor, and the words the man with elbow patches on his sweater had spoken the first day of class, startled a laugh from me. He seemed to like that, and as he shifted weight from one foot to the other I studied him, daring to look more closely than I ever had before.
I’d noticed him. How could I not have? But I’d always forced myself to look away. Boys like him weren’t for girls like me.
He was tall, nearly a full foot taller than me. Eyes the color of the sky at night peered out from beneath a long, thick fringe of black eyelashes, lashes that any girl would kill for and that he, being a boy, likely didn’t appreciate.
His face was a study in sharp angles and planes, his lips full and soft in contrast. Black ink, indelibly etched into his skin, peeked out the neck of his black T-shirt, and I could see it on his biceps, too, when he moved.
The tattoos were at odds with the clean cut image he otherwise emanated. He was too damn good looking, the kind of guy that, in high school, had been happy to spend time with me in dark closets, under the bleachers, or in the backseat of a car, but who would scorn me in public, ashamed to associate with
Except he didn’t seem ashamed, even though I was dressed in my usual uniform of faded blue jeans, a plaid flannel shirt open over a tank top. My long blonde hair was in a tight braid, with pieces left down deliberately, so I could hide behind them if I needed to.
I frequently did. I would shake the ribbons of flaxen hair over my eyes, eyes that were blue but were so pale in comparison to his that they scarcely seemed the same color.
Those eyes widened when he grinned casually, hiking his backpack up further on his back.
“Well, no way he’ll let us in now.” This professor liked to verbally humiliate anyone who tried to sneak in once the door had been closed, and he had a sharp, acerbic tongue that I was in no rush to receive a lashing with.
“Right.” I tried to smile, tried to act like a normal girl, but found myself shaking those long strands of hair over my face instead. I dropped my gaze away from the boy in front of me, all the way down to the tips of my black sneakers.
It felt... almost... like he was flirting with me.
I knew better.
“I’d better get to the library. I need to do the extra reading to make up for missing this class.” I hated being late, but the Psych class I had right before American Lit was all the way across campus.
The thought of falling behind made me sick. Though I knew, rationally I knew, that it was getting ahead of myself, the fear of falling behind, of losing my scholarship, of having to return home was acid, eating away at my gut.
“Bye.” I muttered as I began to walk away. I cursed myself as I did—why couldn’t I be a normal girl, why couldn’t I just have a conversation with a member of the opposite sex?
I heard his steps, heavy on the floor behind me as he followed me. I cringed at the tug on my backpack, though I’d swallowed the knee jerk reaction to lash out.
45I managed to shore up my courage, shake my hair out of my face, and look up at him together.
“Why don’t we go study together?” There it was again—that certainty that he was flirting with me, though I couldn’t understand why.
Maybe he knew someone I’d gone to high school with. Maybe he’d heard about the way I used to be.
But there was no innuendo in his tone, nothing overtly sexual in the way he studied my face.
I don’t know what came over me, but after a long moment I felt a shy smile tug at the corners of my lips.
Daily Grind was the coffee shop located in the middle of campus. It was small and dark, with tables that seemed sticky no matter how many times they were wiped clean. The bitter scent of brewing coffee permeated the air, not quite overpowering the lingering hint of cigarette smoke left over from previous decades, when smoking indoors had been permitted.
He led me to a table in the middle of the cafe, which surprised me. I’d thought he would take me to the back corner, where they would be less chance of being seen with me.
I needed to get these thoughts out of my head. I wasn’t that girl anymore.
“What would you like?” He asked. I hefted my backpack into one of the empty chairs, and pulled my wallet out of the front pocket. I started when he placed his large hand on top of mine, gently pushing me wallet away.
“No way. I’m buying.” Startled, I blinked. My mind, being what it was, immediately wondered what he would expect in return, but I bit the inside of my cheek, resisted the urge to shake my hair over my face, and smiled up at those assessing blue eyes.
“Um. Dark roast, please. Just skim milk.” I looked down at my fingers while he got our drinks.
Returning, he handed me the cup, and our fingers brushed. I jolted at the heat that sizzled out from the small touch. His eyes were on me as I jumped, but he said nothing, did nothing, and I was sure that I had imagined it.
He waited for me to sit before he did, something I couldn’t help but notice, though I might have been reading too much into it. He sipped at his drink, then offered it to me.
“What is it?” I didn’t really care—I was more focused on the fact that he was offering to share a cup with me, a stranger.
“It’s a triple latte with caramel and vanilla.” I had been tempted to try it, just for the unexpected intimacy, but I recoiled at the words.
“No, thank you. I can’t.” I picked up my own cup, swigged. The skim milk wasn’t enough to cover the acidic taste of the coffee, but I had become used to it.
“Too much caffeine?” I couldn’t help my chuckle—I could drink a pot of coffee in a day, easily.
“No. It’s all the sugar you added.” I waved my cup at him, then sipped again. For some reason, rather than unnerving me, the fact that all of his attention was focused on me made my muscles relax, just the slightest bit. “If I drink that, I’ll have to exercise for an extra hour.”
“It’s sugar free, if it helps.” Still, I shook my head.
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who’s obsessed with her weight.” His eyes raked over me then, slow and assessing but not lecherous. Rather than the shame I’d felt in the past when other boys looked at me, I instead felt my skin prickle to awareness.
“Not weight, not really.” My mouth was dry, and I drank to wet my lips. “Just... health. I... once I was really heavy. I don’t ever want to be like that again.”
I couldn’t stop the surge of defiance in my voice. I’d been heavy in self defense. Once I’d been able to guard myself in other ways, I’d worked hard to regain the figure that I nonetheless refused to play off.
I wouldn’t let my past make me unhealthy. But that didn’t mean I was interested in attracting the opposite sex.
As he smiled slowly at me, I wondered if that wasn’t rapidly becoming a lie.
“Do you like to exercise?” His eyes only left my face for a moment, long enough to open the zipper of his backpack and to extract a copy of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, the story we were studying in class.
Studying. Right. That’s why we were here, to catch up because we’d both missed class. Nothing more.
Pinching my lips tightly together, I pulled my own copy from my bag, along with the binder that held the notes I’d made on it so far. As I was bent over, I two sets of feet, both clad in those stylish, high heeled boots that only popular girls can pull off minced by.
When I sat up, I saw that they were eyeing him with undisguised interest. I didn’t look at him to gauge his reaction—of course he would look back.
Instead I answered his question.
“It depends. I run because I have to, to keep the weight off. I hate it.” I wasn’t pretty when I ran—I was a sweaty, panting mess. “I also teach yoga here on campus. I like that.”
I wasn’t prepared for the interest on his face when I finally slid my book and binder onto the table and looked at him.
“Yoga. That helps with strength and flexibility, right?” I nodded, suddenly wary.
Yoga, even when students were present, was time for me, a time when I could truly blank my mind of
. If he joined my class, I would be a nervous wreck.
I waited for the comment that I was sure was going to come. Something degrading disguised as a flirtation, something about flexible yoga instructors that turned into a demand for sex.
The comment didn’t come. Though the way he looked at me told me he was interested, he didn’t take it any further than that.
“I play football.” He nodded, commenting no further. I tried not to notice the way his lips looked as he chugged the last of his coffee, then scrunched up the cup in large hands. Cracking open his book, he looked over at me expectantly.
“We’d better get to it.”
It wasn’t until after I’d left Daily Grind that I realized I didn’t know his name. I racked my memory, and was certain that he hadn’t asked for mine, either.
The realization put me into a funk. Clearly he didn’t care. I’d just been a diversion, someone to entertain him during the hour until his next class.
Well, what had I expected? He was tall, athletic, gorgeous. I had to exercise six days a week to keep my figure down to what could kindly be called curvy. I wore denim and flannel, and I had secrets that I would never tell.
It was better that he hadn’t asked.
Still, I found myself searching for him, both before class and after. I caught a glimpse of him during one, as he skidded in just as the prof was closing the door. He slid into a seat in the back row, and was gone before I was even out of my seat at the end.
I told myself it didn’t matter, as I jogged along the river that bordered campus. I pretended that I didn’t care while I studied in the dorm room that I shared with my best friend Kaylee. I reminded myself that I was likely only fascinated by him because he was the first male in years to pay any attention to me and not expect a blow job in the parking lot after.
Despite all that, I thought about him for an entire week, even as I met Kaylee at the library for a study date. She liked to meet on the main floor, a better place to check out the cute guys who were cramming for exams.
I preferred the individual study carrels on the upper floors. Though Kaylee was an exception, I really preferred to be alone.
“Serena! Over here!” I winced as Kaylee stood up at the table she’d commandeered. Her books and papers were strewn over the entire surface, even though library rules stated that we had to share.
She was so damn loud, not caring that everyone in the place was now staring. Knowing Kaylee, actually, that was probably the point. She’d certainly caught the attention of the guys, who were looking at her slender, big boobed figure in its fitted jeans and white tank.
“Hey.” I slid into the seat across from where she’d set up her laptop—pink, of course. I knew from experience that asking her to quiet down wouldn’t go well.
She slid back into her seat, but not before smirking at the guy the next table over. He was tall, skinny and very pale, with a baggy T-shirt that said
in bright red letters.
He flushed under her stare before returning his attention to a tablet that looked like it launch a spaceship.
I rolled my eyes, then gestured to the paper coffee cup that was sitting next to Kaylee’s computer. The rim was covered with dark lipstick.
“You’re not supposed to have drinks in here.” I pulled out my book—the copy of The Portrait of a Lady from American Lit. The cover, glossy and colorful under the neon lights, made me scowl, grumpy all over again that I’d let a guy get under my skin.
I knew better. I was the not kind of girl who could date.
Kaylee grinned at me, picked up the cup and drank what looked like cold coffee. I shuddered—she never cared how long it had been sitting there, sometimes nursing the same cup all day. She’s take it with cream or without, with milk and sugar or black.