Chapter 1 – Theory of Forms
"Oh, Charlie, don't get up."
"I have to, hon."
I made an attempt to gently remove my leg from between Paige's toned thighs, but she just made a sleepy whimpering noise and clung on tight. I sighed and flopped my head back onto Paige's pillow; she made a contented purring sound and relaxed her grip on me.
Immediately, I seized the opportunity to move, springing from the bed and ignoring Paige's outraged shrieking as I grabbed yesterday's jeans and t-shirt from the floor.
"Charlie, you bastard!" she yelled. Smirking at my own brilliance, I pulled a clean pair of boxers from the drawer I keep in Paige's room, and made my way towards her bathroom.
I love Paige's bathroom. It always smells like fake tan and moisturiser and toner and shampoo and all the other lotions and potions that go into making Paige look as good as she does, and even better, it is always clean, because Paige is completely OCD about cleanliness and is forever scrubbing down every inch of every surface in her entire apartment. I had fantasies of one day leaving my boxer shorts lying around the bathroom, just to see her reaction, but I'd never lived them out; the price was likely to be my life.
I stepped into the bathtub, pulled the bubblegum-pink curtain closed, and turned the shower on as hot and powerful as it would go. Paige thinks that standalone showers are seriously unhygienic, for reasons I will probably never understand, so I'm forced to use her pathetic excuse for a power-shower if I don't want to spend my days looking – and smelling – like a hobo. It's one of the many sacrifices I make for my best friend.
The first time I met Paige Elizabeth Riley, we were rising high school seniors touring Breckwell College. She was the skinny brunette who spent most of the weekend frantically applying and re-applying multiple coats of Lancome lipgloss, and I was the quiet shaggy-haired guy who spent most of the weekend with my eyes firmly peeled for Breckwell talent. We bonded for a brief moment over our mutual appreciation of Strawberries and Cream Frappuccinos, but other than that, I didn't pay her much attention; she didn't exactly have the correct appendages to register on my radar.
Fast forward to the first day of the semester, and all the cockiness that comes with being a high school senior had vanished. I was a new and, frankly, terrified freshman sitting nervously in my very first college lecture, clutching at my plain black coffee cup in its paper sleeve, and I'd been so distracted by my freaking out about this whole college thing that when somebody tapped me on the shoulder, I actually jumped.
"Um, can I sit here?" Paige squeaked. It took me a moment to place her and she obviously took my lack of immediate reply as a bad sign because then she started talking at a rate of approximately one hundred words a minute. "I mean, cause you visited here the same time I did last summer and you know, it's kind of crazy that we're both here and also that we're both in the same lecture, you know? So I figure that means we should be friends, right?"
I blinked at her. I know I blinked at her, because Paige constantly tells me that that moment was the first time she noticed how 'unfairly long and totally fluffy and adorable' my 'guylashes' are.
"Okay, sure," I said, with a shrug, because hey, I'm a friendly guy. And at that point, I didn't exactly have people lining up round the block to befriend me. "I'm Charlie."
"I'm Paige," she'd told me breathlessly, throwing herself down in the seat next to me in a cloud of Vera Wang perfume and Kiehl's shampoo, and looking more relieved than I'd ever seen a human being look before.
Had I known Paige like I know her now, I'd have known that the reason she looked so thankful was that even just approaching me had used up every ounce of courage she possessed in that skinny little body of hers. Paige frequently insists that the reason she managed to do this was that, right from the very moment she set eyes on me, she 'just knew' we were going to be friends. It's our destiny, apparently.
I'm not sure I agree – if you knew Paige's logic skills, you wouldn't either – but one way or another, ever since that moment on that very first day, I have had approximately one-hundred pounds worth of squeaky-voiced female more or less permanently attached to my side.
And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. Paige is my best friend. I love her. I would go to the end of the world for her, and believe me, she'd ask me to, if she thought there was a Jimmy Choo sale going on down there.
"Charlie! Charlie, hurry the hell up, I need to pee!"
My fond reminiscence was interrupted by the very subject of my thoughts, in her usual ladylike manner. I studiously ignored her frantic pounding on the bathroom door and squeezed a good-sized handful of her favourite expensive shampoo onto my palm before rubbing it into my hair, which is that strange colour in between dark blonde and light brown and grows too long too fast and, according to Paige, is in 'terrible condition'. She's forever offering to pay for me to go to her favourite expensive salon and get it cut and styled 'properly', but as far as I'm concerned, my own hands and a pair of scissors do the job just fine. This causes Paige no end of anguish, of course. I have to make sure she's not around when I take to my hair, otherwise she wails and moans and generally behaves as if I'm strangling orphaned bunny rabbits in front of her very eyes.
"Charlie!" she was whining, her voice growing higher and higher with every time she repeated my name. "Charlie, I'm serious!"
It was too early in the morning to deal with a full-on Paige Riley tantrum, so I reluctantly turned off the water and reached blindly for a towel, grinning at the audible sigh of relief and muttered 'finally!' that came from the other side of the door.
Like a good best friend should, I dressed myself practically at the speed of light, collected the clothes I'd strewn over the bathroom, and even hung the damp towel I'd just used – pink, naturally – over the rail. Then I pulled open the door, flashing my sweetest smile at Paige's scowling face and bending down to kiss her on the top of the head.
"You suck," she informed me crankily. I grinned.
"You finally got that message, then."
Paige's mouth dropped open and she began batting at me with her manicured little hands, making odd little squealing noises. "Charlie, that's disgusting!"
"Babe, you walked right into that one, and don't you deny it. Now hop in the shower like a good little girl and I'll see what I can do about getting those Danishes you like so much, okay?"
By the time Paige reached the end of her daily beautifying routine, which can take anything from thirty minutes to three hours, we were right on track to be late to our first classes of the week. I'd already eaten both mine and Paige's share of the pastries I'd run out to get from our favourite coffee shop, and now I was beginning to get a little antsy.
"Paige, come on. I really want to get good seats in this lecture," I whined.
Paige paused in the act of applying her Benefit Bad Gal mascara to her lashes to turn and look at me. Whoever said that women can multitask obviously never met Paige Riley. "That is such a lie, Charlie." She glanced at the slightly grease stained, crumb-covered brown bag the Danishes had come in. "And you ate my apple Danish!"
"So think of all the calories you saved," I said, shrugging. Paige's face fell vacant for a second as she ran through her mental catalog of all the calories in every single food she ever eats, and then, looking mollified, she turned back to the mirror to finish up with the mascara, and, finally, lipgloss.
"Okay, I'm ready."
"Thank Christ for that," I declared emphatically, standing up and brushing pastry flakes from my jeans. I grabbed my bag, which had all my stuff already crammed into it, and was almost out of the door when I realised that Paige wasn't behind me.
"Paige? What are you doing now?"
She wasn't doing anything. Anything at all. She was just standing there, very still, looking at me with this dreamy look on her face.
Oh, God. Not again.
"Earth to Paige. Paige Riley, this is Earth...well, paging." Usually Paige loved pun-related humor. Not today. She didn't even appear to notice it. I sighed, marched over to her, and took her firmly by the wrist.
"Ouch! Charlie!" she yelped, apparently re-joining the Earth's population with a bump. I didn't release my grasp as I pressed onwards, out of Paige's apartment. "Get off me! You're hurting me, Charlie!"
I jabbed at the elevator call button, ignoring her indignant shrieks, and it was only after I pulled her through the heavy metal doors, and there was no way she could need to run back to the apartment to pick up whatever she'd inevitably forgotten, that I let go.
"I hate you," Paige huffed, crossing her arms and scowling at me. She probably would have leaned against the elevator wall, if she hadn't been such a germ-a-phobe.
"Love you too," I said airily. The elevator set us on the ground floor with a slight jolt and the doors slid open. I glanced at my watch.
"We have – ooh – approximately three minutes in which to make the ten minute journey to the Colinton building."
"It's not my fault," Paige said petulantly. "If you hadn't spent so much time in the shower -"
"If you hadn't spent so much time in front of the mirror..." I said, but I grinned and wrapped my arm around Paige's waist as I said it. I could never stay even remotely pissed at Paige for more than five minutes.
"I'm starving," she grumbled, as we walked past a small pizza place that was a favourite amongst the college's students. It was early, so the restaurant was still closed, but the smell of cooking wafted from it regardless, presumably in anticipation of the daily lunchtime rush.
I reached into my bag, pulled out a slightly battered can of diet Coke, and handed it to her. "Quit your bitching, princess, we have a Philosophy lecture to get to." I genuinely think that Paige could not function without her daily cans of diet Coke. It's like crack, but with more caffeine.
Paige's apartment is just a couple of blocks outside of campus. It has a tram stop but Paige hates any kind of public transport unless it's absolutely necessary, and I figure that if I walk to class as much as possible, all that exercise and fresh air kind of counters my smoking habit.
As I'd predicted, by the time we reached Colinton, our 'History of Western Philosophy: Ancient Period' lecture had already started, but ancient Professor Melnick didn't even seem to notice as we slipped in and took two spare seats. I grabbed my pen and my notebook and hurriedly scribbled down today's date, and that was when I caught something out of the corner of my eye, and froze.
Oh my God.
As nonchalantly as I could, I glanced to my left.
My heart quite literally skipped a beat.
I was sitting next to Liam Bettany. There, living and breathing in all his delicious, handsome glory, was Liam Bettany, right next to me. I could smell his cologne, practically feel his body heat. Or was that mine? I definitely felt like I was burning up.
Liam Bettany is campus' very own Adonis. He gives new meaning to the term 'sex God'. He has eyes so blue they don't look real, cheekbones that could cut steel, and lips so soft and full, they look like they belong on a girl. He's intelligent, and, by all accounts, has an excellent dry wit.
He's also very, very straight. Rumor has it, he's on a personal mission to sleep with every single girl on campus before he graduates – twice, if he has time, which he probably will do, because come on, who wouldn't wanna sleep with the guy?
Despite the fact that the lecture had only begun a few minutes previous to our arrival, Liam already had his eyes shut. As far as I was concerned, it was a crime to deny the world of those beautiful blue orbs for a second more than necessary, but, I supposed, it at least gave me an opportunity to unabashedly stare at the ridiculous chunk of perfection that was Liam Bettany.
He was sitting low in his seat, hands crossed in his lap. He had gorgeous hands; long fingers, clean nails, with an indecipherable name and a string of numbers scribbled on one hand in black ballpoint pen. His head was resting on the back of his chair, tilted upwards in just a way that emphasised the almost-aristocratic straightness of his nose and made his cheekbones look even sharper than usual.
He was wearing dark blue jeans and a beat-up leather jacket, left open to reveal a grey t-shirt. He looked like he could be an extra from Grease, and I loved it. I longed to pull the soft black leather from his shoulders, cast it aside and run my tongue along that perfect collar bone of his. I wanted his tongue in my mouth, I wanted to taste his full pink lips.
Get a grip, Charlie, I scolded myself. Any moment now, Liam would probably open his eyes to find me staring at him like a pre-pubescent school girl, and that would not be a good way for our first encounter to begin.
That was what made my hopeless adoration of Liam Bettany even worse. We'd never spoken, never exchanged so much as a 'Good morning', never even officially met. It was highly unlikely that he even knew my name. I'd worshipped him from afar ever since my first day at Breckwell, it was true, but in an unusual display of shyness, I'd never dared approach him. If it wasn't threatening enough that he was so God-like in looks, he was always, always surrounded by a crowd of campus' most desperate girls, practically ripping their skirts and shirts off in front of him, twirling their hair and giggling and showing off all their girly curves. How could I compete with that?
So I hadn't tried. I'd merely watched from afar, lusting after Liam Bettany and having a little part of me die inside when I heard about his latest conquests, which was at least twice a week, because gossip about Liam Bettany was near impossible to avoid, and plus, I got a kind of sick pleasure out of torturing myself, hearing about him.
It was a wonder I was still standing, really.
I let out a mournful little sigh as I dragged my gaze back to Professor Melnick, but it was impossible to concentrate on Plato's Theory of Forms when all I could think about was the gentle rise and fall of Liam's chest. Eventually, I gave up even attempting to pay attention, turning back to the God-like figure beside me and letting my eyes ravish him once again. I guessed all I could do was hope he didn't wake up anytime soon.