Summary: "You're not really a bitch." "Oh no?" "No. You just talk with periods." "… I what?" "You talk with periods. You need more exclamation points in your voice." "Right, this from the guy who doesn't talk." "I say what needs to be said." "Yeah? And what needs to be said right now?" "I want you." "Oh."
"Ah there she is!" I heard Bill's cheerful voice break through the rap music playing in my headphones. Nooo! Please don't be talking about me.
Bill was a great advisor. He was supportive and helpful, but his optimism tended to tire me out. I found myself nodding my head incessantly when I talked to him agreeing with his happy-go-lucky life philosophy simply to avoid prolonging the conversation with dissent.
I kept typing on the laptop resting on my stomach while I sprawled on the couch in the lobby with my legs tossed over the back of the couch.
I could hear Bill approaching from the behind the couch, but I couldn't yet see him. How he recognized me by my shoes, I'm not really sure. I fixed my eyes on the screen and started typing harder as though he'd see my intense concentration and decide not to bother me. Ha, yeah right. Knowing Bill, it was more likely he'd see my lack of a megawatt smile and refuse to leave me alone until I had one. Sigh. I'd had a hard day and I wasn't in the mood to be polite and cheery.
It became hard to ignore him though when he shook my propped foot and sang "Yoo hoo!" Bill was only a few years older than us – a grad student – but he tended to treat us like elementary kids. Annoying? Naw.
"Hey Bill," I deadpanned, sitting up and pulling out the headphones. When I finally looked up I was surprised that Bill wasn't alone. Standing next to him looking down at me with a blank face was some guy. Some really attractive guy. Tall. Dark hair. Dark eyes.
"Um…hey." I said oh so brilliantly looking away from the stranger.
"This," Bill said pointing at the stranger, "is Riley Aspencroft. He just transferred from NYU, and is joining the Learning Union."
"Ah. Great," I said nodding and trying to infuse merriment into my voice. Bill's smile faltered a bit, and I mentally resigned myself to playing along. Bill was kind of a fruit tart, but he was a nice guy. Setting the laptop on the table I stood up and turned to face Riley.
"Ayla Evens." I stated holding out my hand. From the corner of my eye, I saw Bill beam. Riley shook my hand with a firm grip then dropped it and crossed his arms. Oookay…
"Riley hasn't settled on his project yet, but I hoped you'd explain the union to him for me? I have sooo many emails to answer, and I know how you kids prefer interacting with people of your own age."
I mentally rolled my eyes. Jeez, Bill, you're only like three years older.
"Excellent! I'll leave you to it. Ayla, please make sure Riley gets all the paper work from the office too!" he chirped backing away. His voice faded once he turned the corner.
Shooting daggers through the wall, I growled low in my throat. It must have been audible because Riley looked at me sort of weird.
For an awkward minute we stood their staring at each other with no expressions, until he blinked. Haha, I won – and with contacts too!
"So…" I started. He raised his eyebrows but made no effort participate. I rolled my eyes internally. Why'd you join if you're so uninterested, derkwad? He didn't look shy, he looked…blank. Finally, he moved and sat down on the chair across from the couch. I sat returned to my seat, crossed my legs Indian style, and began.
"Learning Union is a dorm-ed program on campus," I started looking at him directly. "Basically the hall has several out-of-class educational projects going on, and every person living on the hall is working on one." He was really attractive, but the refusal to open his mouth was sorta annoying. I couldn't even tell if he was listening. Dark eyes, though, nice dark eyes. "The projects cover various topics – although this year has been more artsy-fartsy for whatever reason." He face was still completely blank. Oookay. Continuing. "One group is doing a knitting project, another group is painting, and another group is working on poetry." I mentally pictured tumbleweed blowing behind him. This was getting frustrating.
Normally, I would have gone into greater detail and better explanation, but he didn't' seem to give a damn.
"Well, there's a list of the projects in the office, and some contracts you have to fill out, so let's just go there." He blinked. I stared at him for a second. Maybe he's blinking to me in Morse code…too bad I don't know Morse code.
I stood up and moved lethargically hoping my pace would allow him to catch on, in case he wasn't as blessed in the brains as he was in his looks. I began walking to the office down the hall and was relieved to see him following. Bill wasn't at his desk. Alas, his emailers will have to suffer another restless night. Snort.
I grabbed some forms from behind the desk, and quickly flipped through them marking X's occasionally. I could feel his presence behind me and it unnerved me. He was standing too close and between myself and the exit. But he smelled really good. "There's the project list," I said pointing to the fall left wall attempting to remove the obstacle.
He walked over and scanned the list.
"You're a dancer?"
I looked up and met his gaze. So he speaks.
"Sort of," I replied looking back down. Hey, he wasn't going out of his way to be loquacious. It was true anyway. I had never taken classes. I wasn't trained in anything, but I had some experience and I liked to move. Nothing worthy of the silver screen productions, but I had fun.
"Here are the forms. It's all straightforward. Sign at the X's." I set them down on the desk and started to leave.
"Anything else?" I asked walking towards the door.
He neglected to answer, and I walked out a few seconds later.
I woke up at 6:30 the next day cranky and unrested. Zooey, my chipper freshman roommate, had been watch reality shows on her laptop all night and her headphones weren't the best quality. Every melodramatic cat fight and overblown emotional breakdown made its way to my ears, not only keeping me up but also giving me crappy dreams when I did fall asleep. But what can you do? Zooey, two years younger than me, was as lighthearted as Bill, and I didn't like cramping her mood.
She's a good person. Don't kill her, I reminded myself when her "Barbie Girl" cell alarm tone interrupted my morning yoga fifteen minutes later. I opened one eye, then the other, and glared at her from my warrior stance.
"Oops! Sorry about that!" she squeaked looking at me innocently from her bed. I sighed and let a smile grace my face. I wasn't really looking forward to rooming with a freshman during my junior year of college, but it wasn't all that bad. She was kind and affectionate, and she never held my constant crankiness against me. Probably because it was half her fault.
"Sooo," she began climbing down from her bed, while I bent into downward facing dog. "I saw the new transfer yesterday in the Union. He's hot! Don't you think?"
"I think he's empty." I extended my right leg into the air.
"Empty?" she asked quizzically.
"He certainly doesn't say much. A lack of organs could explain that." I switched legs.
"I think he's just one of those tall, dark, and mysterious types."
"People tend to mix those up with the tall, dark, and stupid types though" I replied holding the pose.
"You can be bitchy, you know?" she stated.
Zooey was a "glass half full" person. I was a "stop asking me questions and drink" person.
I held the pose longer ignoring the wailing in my muscles and waiting for Zooey to redact her statement as I knew she would.
"Oh sorry! I didn't mean that. You're not bitchy, you're…prickly" she said at last.
I smiled at her, letting her know her insult didn't bother me. Zooey was queen of euphemisms. I wasn't bitchy, I was "prickly". A well-known whore wasn't, well, a whore, she was a "people person." Meathead jocks weren't brainless, they were "otherwise talented."
"Well," she said, brushing her golden locks, "I hope you don't make your dislike so obviously. You are going to have to spend all year with him."
"I don't hate the guy. I just don't like him either."
"You don't like anyone."
"Aww, feeling neglected?"
She shot me a quick glare. "Not to reduce you to a cliché or anything, but you have really high walls around yourself. It takes a lot to get more than a neutral reaction out of you."
I lifted my butt of the ground and held the pose thinking about what she said.
"That's not so bad is it? I don't walk around bitching at everyone. I don't radiate hatred do I?"
"Well, no…you just-"
"I just don't radiate 'Come be my friend' either, right?" I finished for her.
It wasn't until mid-September that I had another face-to-face with Riley.
"I'm telling you, Ryan. No girl LOVES her period, but there is something about taking a neon green tampon and shoving it up lady land that makes a period somewhat more tolerable. Now I'm not saying that I personally match my tampon with my outfit, but I like knowing that I have the option." I was rambling away on the phone while lying on that same couch in the lobby when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
I twisted my neck to see who was behind me and was surprised to see Riley. If it hadn't been for our forced introduction that first day, I wouldn't have even known his name. I'd only seen him in passing over the last few weeks, and he seemed silent as ever. But now, with a smirk plastered on his face, arms crossed, and an eyebrow raised, there was actually some communication going.
"One sec," I said to Ryan, holding my cell away from my ear. I could hear him blabbing away anyway.
"Yeah?" I asked directly to the upside down figure standing above me.
"I'm taking Connor place," he said simply.
I didn't get it.
"He was going to take you to buy supplies today."
"Oh," I said finally catching on. "Okay." I untwisted my neck, which was starting to hurt, and returned to the conversation with Ryan.
"I have practice at seven." I put the phone down again and retwisted. I was supposed to meet Connor in at seven once I was done with work. He was the only one in our group that had a car on campus and luckily our schedules tended to match.
Talking to Riley was almost like talking to a robot. I knew we were exchanging words, but there was absolutely no intonation from him. Despite but unnaturalness of it, I followed suit.
"Then why did you take his place?" I asked.
Surprisingly, the shadow of a snarl appeared on his face. "Let's go now." It didn't sound like a command, but it didn't sound like a question either. He was good at this.
"I have work." He looked at me with an unreadable expression.
Stalemate. I really need this supplies though…damn.
"Okay, let's go." I made a mental note to bitch at Connor late. I hated having to make up work hours late at night.
"I need to get my purse. I'll be right back." He nodded.
Hanging up with Ryan, I went into my dorm room, feeling oddly perturbed.
"I'm going shopping with Riley," I blurted grabbing my wallet and keys from random places around the room.
Zooey spun around on her desk chair. "What?" she asked chewing on a pencil.
"I'm assuming Connor has some sort of conflict and asked Riley to take me instead. Or maybe Riley offered? I don't know. But now I'm missing work."
"You don't know…?" she seemed as perplexed as I felt.
"You know, it was the strangest conversation. We talked, but nothing was said. It was annoying. Unsettling." I decided right then that I didn't like talking to Riley. He wasn't a good conversationalist.
"Well…have fun" she offered, though it sounded more like a question.
I returned to the lobby with a purse on my shoulder and followed Riley out into the student lot.
He walked directly to some fancy black sports car. I didn't know what type it was but I made a mental note to read the back if I ever got a chance. It was a nice looking car.
We drove for a few minutes in silence. I didn't know where we were going, and it occurred to me that I should probably ask – or at least tell him where I want to go. "You're going to want to go east when you get on the interstate," I said.
He didn't answer.
What the hell? This is…aggravating. And stupid.
I looked around his car, somewhat discreetly. Normally I didn't feel so self-conscious, but he acted…inhuman, and I didn't want my curiosity, a human trait, so obviously demonstrated. When I looked over at the clock and saw 4:00, I remembered that I forgot to email my bosses.
I pulled my phone out of my purse, and looked over at him, before dialing. He was wearing a black button up shirt and jeans. He was sitting back in his seat, with one arm extended to the wheel, but he hardly looked relaxed. He also acted as if I wasn't in the car.
I dialed my boss's number, but got her machine.
"Hi Jane. I won't be able to come in during my regular hours today. I have an important errand to run, but I'll come around ten tonight to finish up the transfer from Zoology. See you tomorrow!"
I tossed my phone back in my purse, but froze when I felt eyes on me – more specifically glaring eyes.
He looked mad. For someone who doesn't show emotion much, he sure does have 'pissed' down.
"What?" I asked starting to feel somewhat scared. What was I thinking getting into a car with someone I know nothing about and someone who doesn't talk or act normal and now looks like he wants to kill me?
"I don't like games."
"Then…don't play?" I had no idea what he was talking about. He was so pithy, I was sure his thoughts only made sense in his own head. That seemed to only make him angrier. Feeling the overwhelming tension in the car, I decided to bite the bullet.
"Look, I don't know what the hell you're talking about. In fact, I doubt anyone in my situation would. You really need to use more sentences."
His face sort of cleared and he gave me a look that sort of said you're an idiot, which I resented.
"Were you trying to make me feel guilty with that phone call?" he asked without feeling. It took me a minute to answer since I was surprised he strung many words together and even managed to use the word "feel."
"Um, no." He made me feel stupid, when I, in fact, was not. He short sentences made me say "um" way more than usual.
"Why didn't you say you had to go to work?"
"No, you said you had work." I looked at him blankly, and then...
"Oh! I had work as in I had to go to work. I guess that wasn't clear."
"No. It was not."
"Well, I wasn't trying to make you feel guilty," I said annoyed. He didn't intonate much but when he did it sounded like he was talking to a child. And it's not as though his misconception was completely my fault. My somewhat vague statement barely stacked up to his expressionless-one-sentence form of communication.
The silence seemed louder this time. I was just about to tell him the take the next exit, when he did so all on his own.
"How did you know where we were going?"
He didn't answer.
Okay! That's it! I don't know what his problem was, but I wasn't going to tolerate being treated this way. I hadn't even done anything bitchy to him yet.
"Okay, I don't know you, so I realize it's premature for me to judge and criticize but you're an ass." He looked over at me with amusement on his face.
"Oh! You're amused! I'm actually glad because up till now I thought you were incapable of feeling. You have crappy conversational skills. At first you just confused me. Then you made me feel afraid and uncomfortable. Then you talked down to me and you ignore me like I'm subhuman to you. And now I'm pissed. I don't think I've done anything to you, actually I know I haven't. But if you're going to keep this up, please just pull over, I'd rather not have your assistance or your company."
The smirk was back on his face as he said "You done?"
I seethed. "Don't do that. Don't talk to me like I'm crazy," I said in a quiet voice.
He arched an eyebrow and said "For someone who has no feelings I certainly seem to bring out a lot in you."
I stared at him with a blank face as he navigated the shopping center. He was right. I had gone from confusion, to fear, to annoyance, to anger all within less than an hour with him. And some of his evidently existent feelings had begun to surface.
I had a few snappy retorts in mind but I decided against it. I'd get hot and bothered, but nothing would really be said. I still didn't know why Connor wasn't taking me. I didn't know what practice he had that lead to my changed schedule. I didn't know how Riley knew where to go. I didn't know what "games" Riley was referring to. The more we did "talk" the more I didn't know, and I didn't like it. Even if I asked, he'd either ignore me, or I'd get another elusive answer.
He parked the car outside of a craft store, and unclicked his seatbelt.
"What kind of car is this?" I blurted. There was one question I could get a straight answer for…that is if he answered. He froze halfway out of the car.
Okay, I still didn't like him. I still felt flustered and overworked, but I did successfully get a direct answer through a conventional conversation route, that was something I felt pretty good about.
How is it?